Mrs. Nitcholas had big hair and a bright laugh, and she didn’t think twice about hugging her students in the maternal kind of way that school districts now discourage. She was a popular third-grade teacher at Meadows Elementary, in Plano, and she taught both my older siblings years before I bounced down the hallway wearing a Roger Staubach T-shirt and frowning at the prospect of something called long division.
I have many memories of her—she used to refer to me as “Sweet Sweany”—but the one that stands out involved my birthday. Nobody had ever mentioned to me that March 2 had any particular significance, but she beamed when she realized that I had been born on Texas Independence Day. With a great sweatered arm wrapped around my shoulder, she confirmed that I was a native Texan, then called over to some of the other teachers, adding, “You know, this also means that you were born on Sam Houston’s birthday!” The ring of smiling women looking down at me made me feel as if I were the chosen one, and I couldn’t wait to share the good news with my mom and dad—and to find out who Sam Houston was.
I suppose that most kids who were born and raised in Texas can supply a similar memory—the moment when they understand, perhaps dimly at first, that they live in a special place, a place that their parents vow never to leave, a place where grand events have happened in the not-too-distant past. This realization might not come until later, when the child leaves Texas and discovers that in other parts of the country, elementary school teachers don’t crowd around a third grader just because he happens to have been born on the same