Q: I recently took my born-and-bred South Texas girls to visit their Longview cousins, and on our final night behind the Pine Curtain, we were graciously invited to a shindig that involved a piñata. My girls were quite astute at piñata dismantling, while the East Texas kids rarely made contact with the papier- mâché piglet. I think the advantage was due to the fact that my offspring were raised in a heavily Hispanic culture. Is this phenomenon widely known, or have I made an important anthropological discovery?
Wendy McHaney, Victoria
A: Piñatologists tell us that these brightly colored, goody-filled, dangling party enhancers made their way to Texas via Mexico, where they were introduced by the Spanish, who learned about them from the Italians, who got wind of them from Marco Polo after he visited China in the thirteenth century. They go on to tell us that the name “piñata” is actually believed to have derived from pigna, the Italian word for—drumroll, please—“pinecone”! The Texanist knows, right? East Texas. Pine Curtain. Pinecones. Piñatas. Weird. Anyway, by the time the European piñata made landfall in North America, it was already being utilized by Christians in Lenten celebrations. Fortuitously for the conquering Spaniards, both the Aztecs and the Mayans had their own indigenous piñata-like traditions, and the missionaries were able to entice would-be converts with their fancier European-style booty-stuffed vessels—not to mention the blindfolds and sticks. May the Texanist have a glass of water? Thank you. Whew, that was so much more of a piñata history lesson than he intended. And so much more interesting than he would have ever thought an off-the-cuff lecture, to one day be formally entitled “Brutal Papers: The Colorful and Violent History of the Piñata,” could be.
Now, about this South Texas versus East Texas piñata-whacking hypothesis of yours: the Texanist is skeptical. It seems to him that while the children of South Texas probably do, as you suppose, attend more social functions that feature piñatas than do East Texas kids, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they are inherently better club wielders. In fact, it’s the East Texans, with their timber culture, abundant pinecones, and easy access to sticks, whom you would expect to prevail in this department. And then there is the blindfold, the great piñata equalizer. How do you explain that? The Texanist suspects that the polite hosts of the Piney Woods fiesta y’all attended were just generous with the piñata rope when it was your girls’ turns. But really, the important thing to remember is that it doesn’t matter who among us causes the candy and prizes to spill, so long as the candy and prizes do eventually spill.
Q: When I was growing up, it was always a thrilling treat to get to ride in the back of my dad’s pickup, even though we did it all the time. The other day I pulled up to the home of a friend of my son’s to pick him up for a playdate, and when I told the friend to hop in the back, his mother canceled the playdate. Later that day I got an email from her in which she accused me of child endangerment for letting my son ride in the back and said she wouldn’t allow her son to visit our house again. Tell me she’s overreacting.
A: Up until the time the Texanist was licensed to operate a motor vehicle by the great state of Texas, his favored mode of getting from point A to point B was also in the back of a pickup. Just as soon as he was able to load himself up, this is how he got around. “We’re going to Clem’s for dinner. Get in the truck.” “You have a dentist’s appointment. Get in the truck.” “We’re late for church. Hurry up! Get