Skip to main content

Our Texas, My Texas: "Memories we carry like scars and diamonds"

Carolina days
This post title includes a quote from Hermine Pinson's poem, "Four Sisters and the Dance." As you read, it will become clear why.

I was 7 when my father earned his Ph.D. from Duke. He then accepted a teaching position at a small private college in a rural Texas town in the 1960s. Population was 5,000, give or take a few. Our Texas roots ran deep, and we saw this return to the Lone Star State as a homecoming. So, I left the lyrical landscape of the Carolinas and the small private school where I had become nearly fluent in French. Then, I entered the hot, dry world of that small town. 

We did not yet have a place to live. Our family of five, including our infant brother, camped out in the girls' dorm for several weeks. Our furniture was stored on the university theater stage while my parents searched for a home. I was riding in the car with my dad and a member of the university administration and overheard their conversation. My father wondered where he could find help with moving the stored furniture. His colleague said, "Don't worry. We can find some Mess-cans." I didn't know what a "Mess-can" was, but I knew I didn't like the way he said the word. It felt ugly.

Little sister was always a safe friend on the frontier.
This was the first of many ugly moments for me as I adjusted from a gentle, Carolina-city world to a rural, Texas one. The first thing anyone said to me on my first day of third grade was, "Fuck you." Later, Leonard with flinty blue eyes called me a witch because I could speak French and write in cursive. Brown-eyed Dahlia told me every afternoon that the teacher wanted me to stay late so she could punish me. I was nice to Mark, the one boy in the class no one wanted to play with. That earned me class-wide disdain. My parents had a home built across the street from the elementary school. Marilyn, with the curly hair, told me she'd never live in that house because "n--gers" worked on it. I lived in a family where I would have "my mouth washed out with soap" if I ever used that word. In fact, I didn't know the term then, but I lived in a family of civil rights activists. Age seven was a young age to learn what it felt like to be an outcast, but it was a lesson that actually served me well in life; a lesson I not only cannot, but also choose not to forget. 

As time passed, I made good and dear friends, but I never have and never will see Texas as a place without the barbs on the wire the frontier made famous. While I enjoyed some wonderful teachers and great extracurricular experiences in high school, there were also the football players who felt entitled to feel me up during chemistry class where they sat behind my desk, or the jock who told me to let him look on my test paper "or else." There's more, but you get the idea. Texas was home, and home was thorny. Sometimes it was also scary. I was by nature a shy, intellectual type and worked hard to cover it up to fit in. I even got elected cheerleader my junior year. Then my friend the drum majorette had to pull me out of the restroom where I hid crying before the first pep rally. I was embarrassed about standing in front of the school in such a short skirt. It was, I see now, good preparation to be an expat later in life. I did indeed feel that, though I belonged there, I could not and did not fit in. My home was a foreign country.

Still, I came to love my native state. That love grew first from a love of its land. Long gone now, there used to be a wide field of grass, scrubby trees and bluebonnets that bloomed annually behind the elementary school. As clearly as I remember being called a witch, I also remember walking onto that spot of land and feeling its spirit, hearing it speak to me. I remember its presence as sharply as if it had been a human being. That presence was strong, undiluted, masculine in nature, and holy. Learning to turn to the land as a friend has served me well ever since, including when I did indeed live in a foreign country.

As soon as I could, I made a beeline for the Mex-i-cans. My French class now long-gone, I pestered anyone I could to teach me Spanish. My babysitter, Rebecca, taught me my first word: blusa. That, too, is something I'll never forget. One word set me on a lifelong journey, until Spanish became as much a piece of my heart and soul as English.

I could not have imagined then that one day there would be a book filled with voices and visions of Texas women of all walks of life, of other women who understood the rough beauty that comes with having grown up here, of companion souls who express the friction and discomfort of this place that served to make us stronger and wiser. But, indeed, that book now exists, and my work is part of it. As grateful as I am to be part of this literary and photographic effort, I am most moved by what it means to me spiritually.

Her Texas speaks to the survival of the spirit, wherever that spirit may find itself. The struggle of women everywhere in the world to fully realize and express who they are is a matter of substance; where and how we do it is a matter of style. The substance of that struggle is universally shared. Men and women anywhere in the world can find something and someone to connect to in this anthology. While its geographical center gives it shape, its many messages reach far beyond that center point. 

You'll find information on the book and its contributors here.   Here's a sampling of the richness  you'll find in its pages (photo by Deana Newcomb. More on the book's visual treats later):

Mijo ... this is your herencia
is what is yours
is what your mother fed you
to keep you alive....    Carmen Tafoya


In the dim air
dashes of new sun backlight
leftover brown bats catching
the last slow mosquitoes
and mockingbirds breaking
their full moon fast 
fly from feeder
to field to feeder....

Jays puncture the air
and in the oldest pecan tree
two squirrels run
spiraled wind sprints 
risking the attention
of the new puppy
sleeping at the feet
of a woman who sings
to meet the morning      Anne McCrady

On Christmas day in 2012, when high winds roared through the sparkling sunlight of a December Texas morning, I began to do what I had vowed never to do, and that was to write about my mother.
Betsy Berry

Kay Sutherland was the hoot-and-holler type, always the mountain-rearranging type. ...she called the sun-sated land of scraggly creosote and prickly pear both beautiful and sacred.
Catherine Rainwater

She put the book in my hands and pointed to a picture of a painted warrior. He was holding a bow and arrow, and his eyes--blazing out through the centuries--were bright blue.   Rachel Crawford


To fight like a girl
you must first become an ocean
to hold the crush of tears
pooling beneath the ducts.

You must learn to walk
through the day with a fish of fear
floating through
the coral of your belly.   Loretta Diane Walker


We outran our own shadows
The song's breath bears traces of the sub-Saharan moan
the gospel holler. We grip our lives in our hands
sure of that much. Joy, like anger, runs deep as memories
we carry like scars or diamonds
or like the potbound onion grass we tend to neglect.  Hermine Pinson


Wondering where my contribution is? Stay tuned. Next post!
Order the book here.  If you order from BookPeople, they will ship worldwide.


Popular posts from this blog

Life without Television, Part 2

I began life without television with relief, which was consistent Monday through Friday. The first few weekends, though, felt awkward, anxious, lonely. When PBS has good programming on Saturday nights, it is extraordinarily good. Father Brown, Phryne Fisher, New Tricks... Extraordinary acting, high production values, and I fantasize about the pudgy, brilliant priest just perhaps having an innocent crush on one of his special parishioners, which would be moi. 

I called a friend one Sunday. "Maybe television helped with my anxiety more than I realized," I said. She told me about her aunt who, after her husband's death, kept the television on in his "man cave" 24/7. He has been gone years now. The television goes on, everlasting, in his absence. I don't blame her. Much of my frequent and prolonged television viewing began with grief.

After my sister died, I would watch almost anything, especially late at night when sleep eluded me. I even watched Convoy with …

Glad to Hear It

This past week, Larry Wilmore and company mentioned Rachel Dolezol again on The Nightly Show. I don't remember who made the comment, but either Wilmore or one of the panelists said, "Did Rachel Dolezol do anything bad? No, she really didn't. Why did we get so uptight about that?" I was glad to hear it. Three cheers for being human.

I looked briefly at what's on Google currently about her and the now much-discussed Shaun White. I intend not to enter any of that fray mentally or verbally. I still maintain that humanity trumps color. We have a long way to go until we can leave our "paint by numbers" mentality behind, but we've made progress. Good changes can come, even in the midst of chaos and controversy. Maybe White and Dolezal will help us see that eventually.

As long as I'm here and continuing on the subject of color, I think I'm not alone in the fact that I don't like being called "white." As for my background, it includes …

Whose day?

Years ago, I made some collages using pages from a desk calendar from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The image that leads this post is one. Inside the hearts and flowers is a picture from the MMA collection of  a Japanese screen made in the 16th century. It is titled Tagasode, which means Whose sleeves?  The title comes from a 10th-century poem:

The fragrance seems even more alluring than the hue, Whose sleeves have brushed past? Or would it be this plum tree blossoming here at home?
Iro yori mo ka koso awaredo omohoyure tagasode fureshi ado no ume zo mo
The word haunts: tagasode. Whose sleeves? The question floats in my mind like a cloud on a still day. The sleeves materialize in my mind's eye. I hear them move through hushed air. I can imagine, though not name, the scent of the person to whom those sleeves belong. It's not unlike smelling the scent of your infant's clothes, or holding the perfume bottle that belonged to your don't need to open it... you know tha…