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The Texanist: The Meaning of Texas Tough

We lost a lot. But there are some things we’ll never lose. Texas will be okay. 

By October 2017Comments

Illustration by Tim Bower

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.

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  • Brett Howser

    As a native Texan who no longer resides there, I can say without fear of co trdiction that Texans are terrific generous tough people. I only wish they had better sense in who they elect to represent them statewide and nationally. Please don’t elect Ted Cruz again. He is an embarrassment to the state and the nation.

  • Rich

    Texan`s are a lot like Albertans! Tho` our flood in our little town of High River(aptly named) in 2013 was nothing on the scale of the Houston flood, it did devastate our town which is just now recovering. People pulled together, it was reassuring to see “community” at work. My wife & I put on several dinners at our ranch for displaced folks & distributed hot meals to folks in town who were in cleanup mode. Everyone did what they could.
    Re: Ted Cruz……… he spent some time in Alberta as a youth but we were smart enough to recognize that he didn’t`t have what it takes to be a true Albertan. Sorry he ended up in Texas…..our condolences!

  • CrusaderAXE

    OK, a lot of this is bodacious bullshit. But, there’s also some deep truth in it. There are a lot of people in Texas, some of whom are absolute idiots cross bred by assholes. A lot of them didn’t come from Texas, by the way. Lots of poseurs in King Ranch Ford F150s cruising from Telephone Road to the Pecos, looking to sell oil futures and real estate swindles. As a group of Austin poets once put it, “Biggest hats, biggest hair, biggest egos anywhere…”

    But, there are a helluva lot more working hard, taking care of their friends and families, being helpful to strangers and greeting people by saying “Howdy” unless they’re enthusiastic and then it’s “Howdy, Howdy!” especially in Aggieland. And when you leave, whether it’s after a stop for coffee and a rest room at a Dairy Queen or a week in Amarillo waiting for a new transmission for your King Ranch 150, they’ll smile and say, “Come Back!” and you suspect they mean it. I’ve been gone for almost 20 years with a couple of visits in between, and I still miss the place and the people. Beats the hell out of California…

  • eddeaux

    Wow. Beautifully written. Beautifully said. Proud to be a Texan born and raised. Despite the crazy things we have seen in our world, I haven’t lost my faith in humanity. There are some bad people out there, but there are a lot more good and when hard times come, we have a way of pulling together and taking care of each other. Good stuff.