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.|
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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