My grandsons are not Texans … yet.
As a Southern Baptist child in East Texas, I often repeated the memory verse from Proverbs: “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” I assumed that, besides the implied spiritual moorings, the “it” in that verse also meant Texas. By the time I left college and could fake a measure of sophistication, I didn’t articulate these sentiments. I knew that people managed to live reasonably happy lives elsewhere. I had spent a pleasant summer in Chicago as a student. I was mortified on our honeymoon in London when the clerk in the seedy little hotel we inhabited watched me upend a spindly chair in the lobby with my heavy dress bag. “Well, love, I see you’re from Texas,” he said. “Don’t you usually say ‘Yeehaw’ when you break the furniture?”
My husband, John, agreed to our living in Washington, D.C., one summer while he was still in law school. I had worked there every summer of my college years and wanted him to know the city as I did. Through the patronage of my grand old congressman, Wright Patman, we both got jobs, and I learned that being married in the nation’s capital reduced its allure a bit. For three summers as a single Southern girl, thoughts of “What’s for dinner?” had revolved only around whom I’d like to have it with; now I had to buy it and cook it. Still, we loved the museums, Rock Creek Park, the theaters, the interesting food, and the great newspaper. One night we had dinner with some of our new friends from our respective offices. It was an exhilarating evening, with much informed talk of politics and lots of wine. On the way home, my husband seemed glum.
“Oh, nothing. I guess I’m just feeling sorry for those people we had dinner with.”
“Sorry? They have great jobs. They went to better schools than we did.”
“Yeah, and when they meet new people and go home at night, they still have to say, ‘I’m from Delaware,’ or Maryland or whatever the hell state they were from. What could that feel like? They have no history, or if they have it, they take no pride in it—and frankly, I don’t think I’d want to hear about it.”
Our first grandson was born in Denver. It was a bait-and-switch deal. We were still congratulating our son Drew on having the good sense to marry Stacy, a smart Dallas girl with unimpeachable Texas credentials—a girl who, as he put it, “gets it on all levels”—when he whisked her away to Colorado. Our Texas-size grandbaby, Nathan, was ushered into the world by a mountain-climbing obstetrician with a ring in her nose. Never mind. Texans had mentally annexed Colorado years ago. We gloried in the fact that he was breathing fresh, clean air with his dad at the top of the Rockies when he was scarcely a week old.
Six weeks later they moved to San Francisco, where our son’s job in the financial industry would require that he arise at 3:45 each morning. How long could that last? Nevertheless, my husband began pulling out all the stops in a campaign to get our kids back home. He planned and paid for a big family vacation at his favorite spot in Texas, Port Aransas. In August.
Nate’s first Texas adventure at age four months began with a round of lady parties in Dallas, with both grandmothers giving him an A+ for endurance. He traveled between grandparent houses with enough gear to mount an invasion in Baghdad. It was our introduction to the vibrating bouncy seat, a battery-powered gadget with bells and whistles that begins the perpetual entertainment that childhood seems to require now. One of my friends admitted that she’d rigged something similar back in 1970 by putting her baby’s plastic scoop seat on top of her clothes dryer.
Meanwhile, the Texas public relations team—my husband and our compliant chocolate Lab, Cisco—was already headed south. John had rented a huge red Dodge Durango van-type vehicle to haul the stroller, the portable crib, a caterpillar toy that played ten different games and guaranteed a seat in the best reading group six years hence, two dog bowls, two leashes, beach chairs, beach mats, hats, extra towels, golf clubs, Igloo coolers, cases of wine and beer, coffee beans with grinder, and a few kitchen utensils good for cracking crabs. He promised to have the rented condo right on the beach at Port A all set up for us on our arrival. The young prince and remaining entourage followed on Southwest Airlines, where the flight attendant said, “I’m sorry, ma’am, you’ll have to leave that sugar bundle up here with me.” (Listen up, Nate: Nobody in California talks like that.) We could swear that the child smiled every time we said “Texas,” but I guess it could have been gas.
Another son, from Houston, Uncle Will, met us at the Corpus airport and ferried us to the condo. My husband is a beach guy whose dream of retirement is a shack on the Land Cut south of Baffin Bay with a bucket for a bathroom. He greeted us with such glee, pointing to our wonderful view and the great stretch of sand. Had he not noticed the peeling lead-based paint, the splintered veranda, the gritty orange shag carpeting, the nasty kitchen, the broken showerhead, and the wheezing air-conditioning that promised to give up entirely by bedtime?
Fishing guides were lined up for the guys early the next morning, so my daughter-in-law and I spent the first day of the great vacation tracking down the condo manager, pleading for better quarters, and then schlepping the gear, groceries, and other belongings to the new place. Nate had heat rash. He was beginning to look like a Texas baby.
The fishermen, triumphant with flounder, redfish, and plenty of trout, returned to a minimally cooler condo for naps. Generous old friends from San Antonio showed up for the margarita hour with platters of shrimp and crab claws. We decided the fresh-caught fish could wait another day and adjourned to a popular local restaurant, where I spent most of the meal out on the porch watching the sun set over the water and comforting my sweaty little grandson with a tune I hadn’t sung in years: “Beautiful Texas.”
That was three years ago. Nate and his little brother, Owen, who was born in San Francisco, have since moved—not back to Texas but to Malibu. Nice beach, wrong state. We still have work to do.