This is our second “Where I’m From” special issue, in which the entire magazine, front to back, is given over to stories about growing up in Texas. Last time, most of the essays were by staff writers. This time we turned to some of our favorite authors, folks like John Phillip Santos, Elizabeth Crook, David Dorado Romo, and Shelby Hearon. We could publish an issue like this every month, so vast and varied is the state. Our cover subject, former first lady Laura Bush, has a new memoir (perhaps you’ve heard) in which she writes evocatively about her childhood in Midland, which is a world away from, say, Beaumont, the subject of a magnificent photo essay by Keith Carter. There’s no end to the stories of Texas.
None of them, however, are mine. I came here in 1999. That’s right, I wasn’t born in Texas. Nor can I lay claim to a boyhood spent wandering the limestone cliffs of the Hill Country or the fertile fields of the Rio Grande Valley. My granddad didn’t teach me how to shear sheep or noodle for catfish. I didn’t grow up rooting for the Cowboys or going to tamaladas or vacationing in Big Bend. I count no Texans at all among my ancestors, all of whom are Eastern European immigrants to the Midwest who struck out in the first half of the twentieth century for California, where I was born and raised.
This is the moment at the party when the needle scratches over the record and everyone falls silent. California? Not even, like, Arkansas? Since the day I took over the job of editor of texas monthly, in October 2008, the uncomfortable fact of my birthplace has never been far from my mind. I have no quarrels with my childhood, but the fact that I’m not from Texas pesters me. And I’m well aware that it galls some folks who feel that only born-and-bred Texans should work at this magazine, let alone run it. But though I have no story to tell about being from here, I have a genuine one about being claimed by this place.
“The best land and the best prospects for health I ever saw, and I do believe it is a fortune to any man to come here.” So wrote Davy Crockett shortly after coming to Nacogdoches in 1836. I sent similar e-mails on the heels of my arrival to the Big Bend area. I fell in love with West Texas quickly—the wide-open spaces, the gritty friendliness of the people, the gallows humor that comes from living in a harsh and unproviding terrain, the night sky, the long lonesome highways, the cultural mix of the borderland. One of the reasons I’m so pleased to have the former first lady on the cover is that her recollections of West Texas speak to what I love about that area too.
Love is one thing, possession another. Aside from the two small parts of it that I legally own, in Austin and Marfa, I can’t say that Texas belongs to me—or ever will. But I now belong to Texas. I was married here, wrote a book here, built a house here, had both my children here (one of whom, as you can see, already has his boots), and I expect to be here the rest of my days. It’s a strange thing to find your place in the world somewhere other than the place where you were born (though, of course, that was the common story among the early Anglo settlers of Coahuila y Tejas, as it was among the Spaniards who fanned out across Nueva España during the centuries prior). But it is abundantly clear to me that this is my place, for reasons that go far beyond the long list of things I would miss if I left. Texas remains a place apart, with its own traditions, myths, terrain, food, clothing, and people.
And stories too. Before I leave you, I have to brag on executive editor Skip Hollandsworth, whose story “Still Life,” from the May 2009 issue, was awarded a National Magazine Award for Feature Writing in April. This is a category we’ve never won before, and it’s a big one. Skip has another great piece in this issue, about growing up in Wichita Falls. I’ll never be able to tell a story like that. Someday, though, my son might.
Alberto Gonzales’ second act, the rise and fall and rise of the Chevy Suburban, a summer picnic for pescatarians, and the twenty-fifth anniversary of Lonesome Dove.