40 Things I Love About Texas
I Love Texas
When the initial issue of Southern Living came off the press, the first word under the title on the cover read "Houston." Ever since that day, 40 years ago, this magazine has loved the Lone Star State, with 2 million of my fellow Texans as readers returning the affection. How much do I love Texas, my family's home since 1848? In honor of the 40th anniversary of Southern Living, here are 40 reasons, in no particular order except for the first and last.
My hometown provides perfect symbols of our state. Our oil helped win World War II. The Rangerettes high-kicked the halftime show into a national symbol. Pianist Van Cliburn grew up here, and this is the home of the Texas Shakespeare Festival, proving both genius and culture thrive in small towns. For pretheater dining, we like the bard with brisket and ribs at Bodacious Bar-B-Q, Boomtown BBQ, and Country Tavern.
The Salt Lick
Call it "I Do Barbecue." The smoke of The Salt Lick in Driftwood reaches into myth and matrimony. People don't just drive to The Salt Lick; they go there on pilgrimages for dinner with friends, for family reunions, and for weddings, held creekside and catered with 'cue.
I moved to Georgia and drove 30 thirsty miles one day before finding a Dr. Pepper in that land of Coke. My favorite soft drink oasis, the Dublin Dr. Pepper Bottling Company, still fills bottles with the original formula. It's the perfect destination if you still tell time by 10, 2, and 4.
Bass Performance Hall
The Bass family wrote "I love you" to Fort Worth when they built this performance center in the Sundance Square district, and built it right. Bass Hall doffs a Stetson to 19th-century European theaters, yet with materials and methods made to last 300 years.
Music has poured through its long windows since the 1870s. Stars such as Lyle Lovett and George Strait found early fame on this bluff above the Guadalupe.
High School Football
Spotting Friday night lights in the sea of a dark prairie, I always stop, buy a PTA Fritos pie at the concession stand, and watch life in the first quarter.
The late writer Jerry Flemmons called Fritos pie the real fall color of Texas, with its amber and umber of cheese, chili, and chips. Add blue and red. Do kids in blue FFA jackets still sell Ruby Red grapefruit from the Rio Grande Valley?
Clayton Christopher, a Beaumont native, makes his "Mimi's" Sweet Leaf Tea with cane sugar and tea leaves.
Biscuits, Cornbread, Kolackies, or Tortillas
Our African, European, Hispanic, Southern, and Western cultures are kneaded, patted, and baked into our breads. Early mornings in South Texas cities such as Harlingen, Brownsville, McAllen, and San Benito taste of pan dulce, cuernitos, and molletes.
Round Rock Donuts
Rush hour in Round Rock begins at 4 a.m. because of these famous doughnuts and other pastries.
Wait for night, drive up to road's end at Davis Mountains State Park, sit in the dark, and reach for millions of stars. Big and bright, aren't they? Run your finger along the hood of your car. Stardust.
Who knows how many games the Aggies won with the Twelfth Man at Kyle Field? You can't help but admire their spirit, even if your school colors are white and burnt orange, or as an Aggie might say, white and barbecue sauce.
Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail
South Texas trees seem to sing on warm winter nights. In the Valley, you can bird even in a bank parking lot. Most birders lift their binoculars at ranches and beside water and grassy expanses of national and state parks.
When you see them, you know there's nothing out there but Texas. They prefer places no bigger than a one-Dairy Queen town. Let's lobby the legislature to make the scissor-tailed flycatcher the state bird.
Texas Horned Lizards
You know what you called them growing up, and it wasn't Phrynosoma cornutum. Thank you, Texas Christian University, for being a cheerleader for the "horned frog." Thanks to Texas Parks & Wildlife's Chaparral Wildlife Management Area and the Horned Lizard Conservation Society for being a horny toad's best friends.
Texas Rose Rustlers
They steal nothing, except beauty from obscurity. These rustlers rescue vintage roses from abandoned homesites and rural cemeteries where they've bloomed as forgotten wall flowers in the dance of breezes. Capitalism proves the best fertilizer for these old roses. The Antique Rose Emporium in Independence spreads their venerable beauty and fragrance to new gardens.
You can throw popcorn and hiss at the villain and cheer for the hero at "Summer Mummers." The Midland Community Theatre stages this locally scripted melodrama in which popcorn and Odessa jokes rain down like West Texas hail.
Thank you, God, for Texas highways like garden paths. Thank you, God, for the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin. Thank you, God, for a First Lady who long ago advocated roadside beauty, while the nation giggled and groaned over her Karnack-and-Alabama pronunciation of "trees and shrubs." I love you, Lady Bird.
Texas Book Festival
And I love you too, Laura. Mrs. Bush helped found the Austin event to remind writers and readers that our own literary landscape stretches as widely as our distant horizons.
Yes, Larry McMurtry, Horton Foote, and John Graves walk our prairies as giants in Texas literature. So does this San Angelo author who finds grace and dignity in common cowboys and sodbusters. Elmer also crafted novels about black cowboys (Wagontongue) and buffalo soldiers (The Wolf and the Buffalo) long before other writers discovered them. His classic The Time It Never Rained belongs in the top 10 of the best Texas books.
I couldn't give a rip about his politics, but he gets my vote as Texas's top humorist and America's next Mark Twain. Kinky, you're too good to be governor, although I like your position on "de-wussifying" Texas.
I think of him sitting with crossed legs on a high hill, but since there aren't any hills around his hometown of Abbott, I just think of him as high. Willie showed us this: You don't need Nashville, just Texas, to be a star, as long as you remember that Bob Wills is still the king.
Ranch Dance Fiddle Band
Wills always will be the king to Lanny Fiel and his band. They do more than play the old fiddle music that blends Celtic strings, Dixieland jazz, African American blues, German polka, and Mexican mariachi. These song catchers are saving Texas sound itself.
Marian Anderson String Quartet
This African American group, the Ensemble in Residence at Texas A&M University, steps down from art's high stage and takes Mozart, Brahms, and other classical composers to arts-neglected small towns and urban neighborhoods.
The Barrios Family
Such a neighborhood might be one on Blanco Road in San Antonio where the Barrios family, with hard work and love, built a fabulous restaurant in an old Dairy Queen. Viola; her son and daughter Louis and Diana; and their spouses, Traci and Roland, still combine fun, food, and family.
African Americans started this celebration on June 19, 1865, the day that word came to Galveston that slaves were free. It's our third independence day in Texas, after March 2 and July 4. Political correctness almost killed Juneteenth in the 1960s, but it thrives again.
I love the Llano Estacado's geometry of earth and air, its straight planes of golden grass and cerulean sky, and the way these roads at the top of Texas tumble now and then from caprock into canyon.
The Big Thicket National Preserve
The first preserve in the national park system feels mysterious, even mystical. You can hear silence, deep in its dense foliage, where spirits seem to come to life. Is that one Lance Rosier, the local botanist who helped save this biological crossroads?
Big Bend National Park
Another reason to visit the high, chiseled beauty of the Big Bend is to spend a night at Marathon's Gage Hotel.
The Left Bank
Ah, Marfa. Along with Alpine and Fort Davis, these enclaves on the left bank of the Pecos River thrive with arts (and cowboys) in a dry, distant, and magnificent land.
The Right Bank
Residents of the Brazos de Dios community, located on a bluff above the Brazos River, farm with animals and cleave to old ways made new again.
The River Banks
No other city but San Antonio beckons you outdoors with a stroll like the one along the River Walk, where air, music, water, and laughter form the streetscape. Mine often ends at Boudro's with Texas Tapas.
South by Southwest
Only Austin offers just the right temperament (and in March, the right temperature) to stage the world's hottest new music.
Van Cliburn International Piano Competition
Every four years (next in 2009) the best classical pianists come to perform in Fort Worth.
Natalie Maines, Lee Ann Womack, and other country music celebrities learned some of their first notes in the Creative Arts Department at South Plains College in Levelland. Attend Thursday Nite Live at the school, and see the next stars.
Her hints now help a third generation. Heloise (this one took over from her mother in 1977) lives and works in San Antonio.
He Makes the World Safe for Chicken-Fried Steak
Grady Spears's epicurean quest to make chicken-fried steak a global food has spurred cowboy cooking from chuckwagon to downtown dining.
From Tennessee to Texas, With Love
That's Tim Love, a Tennessean-Texan. He cooks in his cowboy hat at his Lonesome Dove Western Bistro where he redefines urban and Western flavors.
First, Largest, Most
Those very Texan of adjectives apply to the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center in Austin, with the world's first photograph, a Gutenberg Bible, and 36 million literary manuscripts.
Like number one in this list, I couldn't resist. My youth passed and the rest of my life began at UT. Hook 'em.