I'm a Yankee. Born and raised in the armpit of the Rust Belt. In the land of fallen big box giants, frost-bitten morale and Wonder Bread tans.
I have not lived in the North in over seven years, but one can never really change where they're from, right? Where you were born is in your blood. Always.
The fact that I'm a Yankee is not something I advertise, but it's difficult to hide when you develop instant heartburn just looking at Polvo's salsa. The sweat on your brow and the pain-filled look of regurgitated sour in your throat does little to make you look like a natural born Texan.
If the Tums-popping doesn't give it away, then the way I dress like Little Edie in the summer — equipped with head wrap, heavy coat and scarf — might. Or by my snobbish views of Italian food (in Upstate NY one in every four people were born in the second story of a family-owned Italian restaurant/house whether you were Italian or not). Anyone can sense I'm from the Northeast via the ability for my hands to talk faster than my mouth and the way that mouth says "saaal-led", "squaaa-sh" and "a-eggs". Each word sounds like the product of a linguistics class taught by Marge Gunderson.
I always had a rich fascination with the South. I'm not sure what created it. Maybe because it was a land so unfamiliar to me. Or maybe it was because I always wanted to be a 75-year old blues musician from the bayou named Belly Jug Washington equipped with powder blue three piece suit and porkpie hat.
But I always had a rich fascination with the South. I'm not sure what created it. Maybe because it was a land so unfamiliar to me. Or maybe it was because I always wanted to be a 75-year old blues musician from the bayou named Belly Jug Washington equipped with powder blue three piece suit and porkpie hat.
The South had it's architecture of grandeur, snakes and speaking in tongues and sweltering sticky days. In my mind, every woman looked and talked like one of two different Vivien Leigh characters to me — the strong-headed Georgian Scarlett O'Hara or the dainty and docile Mississippian Blanche DuBois.
In high school I planned a road trip through the Deep South during my summer break. My mother looked at me like I had lost my marbles. I knew that though the story of the South wasn't always a pretty one, there was a story waiting to be discovered in every nook and cranny and I wanted in... quite possibly during the hottest days of the year.
Needless to say I never got anyone on board to drive down South with me and my regional travels consisted of visiting the Southern-lite Virginia and Southern-nothing Disney World.
Though I always had an interest in discovering the land down under the Mason Dixon line, I never could have imagined that one day I would live in Texas. Not because I didn't want to — it was just such a foreign land to me! Texas wasn't only the South, it was a country of it's own!
The second I moved to Austin, for the first time since leaving the house and city I was born in five years prior, I felt at home. In fact, I felt more at home in Texas than back in my hometown. Though I missed my family terribly, I felt like I fit in somewhere more my style. The style of being outside 350 days of the year. The style of being friendly and kind to one another. The style of inviting friends over on a weekday to sit on the patio and enjoy each other's company.
Was it possible to happen upon an area where it felt like everyone in the state was extended family?
The second I moved to Austin, for the first time since leaving the house and city I was born in five years prior, I felt at home. In fact, I felt more at home in Texas than back in my hometown.
People often remind me, when I'm gushing about how wonderful Texas is, that Austin is not Texas. Austin is it's own thing. However, I point out that many of the folks in Austin are from elsewhere in Texas. Regardless of the melting pot that is Austin, below the city lies a culture that is distinctly Texan. Guys and gals still incorporate pearl snaps and cowboy boots into their wardrobe. Men and woman will stop you on the street and ask you how you're doing. Friends and family throw regular get-togethers. People have big families and they make sure to spend time with them. The sense of connection is an ever rampant idea in Texas. It may be a big state, but when you're within it's lines, you are one of them. Unless you're a developer from California, then I don't think they want you here.
Recently a relative of a friend died unexpectedly. The departed came from a large Texan family and had a wife and children of his own. His death, which happened the day before Thanksgiving, took everyone by surprise. Two days after his passing, his family held a music-filled celebration of his life at a popular Austin music venue. When we arrived to the memorial, we could barely maneuver around; the place was filled with family and friends, a true testament to how much this man meant to them. All of his family was there and they were singing and dancing in honor of their son and brother and husband. I watched his parents, siblings, wife and children with absolute strength and determination, integrate themselves into the music-filled festivities. Though there were many tears, there were many smiles too.
This was a large family that loved each other deeply and was going to stick together and help each other traverse the road ahead.
The evening brought tears to my eyes. I thought back to my small town in Upstate NY and could never imagine such a celebration of life. Singing and dancing and smiling during such a difficult time seemed impossible.
We also don't have large families up there, families that are seventh generation natives, like this family was. If they are natives, their story is very different than that of Texans. The farmers and the business owners watched their livelihood become obsolete after companies and population moved down South. The economic depression where I'm from has caused a subsequent emotional depression that looms like a dark gray cloud over the area most of the year. Celebrating anything did not seem possible, which is sad, because there are so many hard-working and interesting people up there.
Last night, I was with the large Texan family again. This time it was a holiday party and this time the family was singing and dancing again. Grandchildren hung around as their grandfather played piano and shouted out Christmas tunes and rock songs for the large crowd. Though I'm sure this is a difficult time for them, I saw the same courage and determination on their faces as I had seen before. I admired their courage and their outwardly displayed joy for life and one another. I stood there wanting in and as if they heard my thoughts, they dragged me up in front of the crowd to sing along with them.
I feel guilty every day that I do not have the sense of loyalty to my land like so many Texans do. Where I'm from, you get out if you want a better life. Every day, I tell my mother and grandmother back home that it is heaven down here and they deserve to see it. I tell them that we may have been Texans born in the wrong state.