Family Matters

What went through my mind when I learned that I had long-lost relatives in the Deep South? I worried about how Texan I really am.

My state of mind has always been wrapped up in my state. I can’t claim to be a native Texan (my terrible secret is out—I was born in Los Angeles), but surely I’ve done enough time here to expunge my birth record. I grew up in Corpus Christi, married a native Texan, and settled in Fort Worth. I can’t imagine being anything other than a Texan. Life without barbecue and Tex-Mex would hardly be worth living, my heroes have always been cowboys—and cowgirls—and I love cedar, fever and all.

But this year my smug Lone Star identity shattered like an empty Lone Star bottle tossed on the highway. After years of correcting people who had the nerve to suggest that Texas was part of the South—okay, Beaumont maybe, but Fort Worth is where the West begins—I recently rediscovered my other roots. In Alabama.

It had been so easy to live in a state of denial about my mixed heritage. My mother’s family, the Smiths, is a big, lively, close-knit clan from Kingsville, the home of the King Ranch. Heck, my grandfather was called J.R. long before it became a recognized name in everybody else’s household. But my father’s family, the Joneses, was mysterious and faceless. After my dad, Sam, left his hometown of Samson, Alabama, at seventeen to fight in World War II, he’d gone back only once, for his father’s funeral. His mother remarried and moved, and Daddy lost track of his fractured family. He so rarely spoke of Alabama that I felt even more secure in my Texanness—even when he griped about his adopted state. “Everything here has either thorns, stingers, or fangs,” he liked to say when he wasn’t complaining about the weather.

When the pine trees and a mixture of curiosity and regret finally pulled Daddy back home last year, he found, to his great surprise, a sister and a cousin living in Samson. I wanted to meet my long-lost relatives too, but I suddenly had an identity crisis. Would I find die-hard Confederate flag wavers in my bloodline? Or would

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