The Texanist: The Meaning of Texas Tough
We lost a lot. But there are some things we’ll never lose. Texas will be okay.
Texans are a legendarily hardy people. But Texans are recognized far and wide for an assortment of other Texas-y traits too: pridefulness, bumptiousness, and mesquite stump–like stubbornness come to mind. And that trademark friendliness, of course (remember, “Friendship” is our state motto). And resilience. A bootstrapping resilience.
Nowadays, such qualities are ascribed to the mythic Texan much more than they are to the modern-day Texan. But these characteristics didn’t just vanish into the thin, sweet-smelling Texas air. They’re a part of us, somewhere down in there. They came from our forebears, we say. And they are still a part of us. We think of Jim Bowie, Davy Crockett, and William Travis at the Alamo. The Texanist does, at least. And you might too. We think of the celebrated Texas Ranger Bigfoot Wallace, who in the course of driving a mail hack from San Antonio to El Paso lost his mules to Indians and then walked the rest of the way across the desert, sat down, and ate 27 eggs. We think of Texas Archive War heroine Angelina Eberly, who is immortalized in bronze, firing a cannon in her jammies, on Congress Avenue in downtown Austin. We think of multi-threat athlete Mildred “Babe” Didrikson Zaharias, stateswoman Barbara Jordan, and muckraking wit Molly Ivins.
And then we also think of the likes of the aptly named rodeo cowboy Tuff Hedeman, who after getting his face bashed in by Bodacious the bull, in 1995, memorably walked, blood pouring from his head, out of the ring under his own power and into thirteen hours of reconstructive surgeries. Tuff Hedeman came back for more. And Pearl Harbor hero Dorie Miller. And Lonesome Dove’s Captain Woodrow Call and his vehement intolerance of rude behavior in men. And Nolan Ryan’s similar feelings on the subject. Just ask Robin Ventura. We think of Giant’s Bick Benedict giving it his best shot in a wild fistfight against Sarge, the bigoted owner of Sarge’s Place, as a jaunty rendition of “The Yellow Rose of Texas” plays in the background. (There are some fictional Texans that are so Texan they count as real Texans—even the Winnetka, Illinois–born Rock Hudson.)
“Cowboy up,” “cowgirl up,” and “git ’er done” are funny catchphrases. “Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get back up on that horse” is a cliché. So is “If you want something to happen, just tell a Texan it can’t be done.” But the grit behind all of those words, intangible though it may be, is, we want to believe, based on something. But what, exactly? The right stuff? “Houston. Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”
Whatever it is, it’s been on display of late. The Texanist has seen it and so have you. “Aw, this ain’t nothing,” Ernie Butler, owner of Snoopy’s Pier, a restaurant on Padre Island, told the local paper as he sat in a front-end loader facing a pile of rubble that was once his back deck. “Just needs a little work and some electricity and we’ll be back in business.” And they will. The Texanist looks forward to some crab-stuffed jalapeños, an order of peel-and-eat shrimp, and a few cold beers. Ernie Butler gets it.
The folks hunkering down at Dorothy’s Cowboy Country Corner, in Midfield, “The Town Too Tough to Die,” get it. “We are not afraid of anything here,” the bar’s owner told a reporter. “But we did get lucky, because we had a Category 4 hurricane just down the road, and we have remained open the entire time.” A patron punctuated the sentiment thusly: “Our biggest worry is we run out of beer.” The Texanist tips his hat to this salty lot. Did you see Otis the dog, the South Texas pooch caught on film trotting down a stormy Sinton street carrying a big bag of kibble in his mouth? Good boy, Otis. Good boy.
And then, too, there is Nicole Richert, a 42-year-old Cypress mom. Richert took sixteen complete strangers and half a dozen dogs she found stranded at a nearby Shell station into her home, and then cheerfully, with nary a blink, proclaimed to the media that these bedraggled folks were welcome for “as long as they need to stay here.”
And there was the guy manning the taco truck on Houston’s West Alabama, the one who kindly and discreetly handed a sack of tacos to a hungry homeless man—shielding what little the man had left, shielding a last shred of dignity. That guy gets it. The uncounted everyday Texans who did everything they could to help out their compatriots; they get it.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way. One riot, one Ranger. Houston Strong. Texas Strong. Texas Tough. Texas Proud. One-hundred-year flood? Five-hundred-year flood? One of the largest, most destructive storms in the history of large, destructive storms? Hold our collective beer, says Texas.
We believe we possess something deep within us that is unique, and therefore we do. Remember the Alamo! Remember the Alamo? Remember what followed the Alamo? In the decades after the Alamo? Ask Sam Houston. Ask a Houstonian. Ask a Texan.
Yes, we’ve lost loved ones recently. We’ve lost friends. We’ve lost neighbors. We’ve lost possessions and property. We’ll never forget the storm and the destruction it wrought. We lost a lot. But there are some things we’ll never lose. Texas will be okay.