Longhorns, Aggies & The Texas State of Mind

– Melanie Moss

People who grow up in Texas tend to do so with a state of mind that few truly understand and many wish they could acquire. It is the place of lore and legend, of pride and prejudice. A popular bumper sticker in Texas says, “I wasn’t born in Texas, but I got here as fast as I could.”

From its rich history and diverse population to its bold heroes and countless legends, Texans tend to possess an unmistakable attitude toward their state that most people accept as “A Texas State of Mind.”

Indeed, Texas is as much a state of mind as a geographical location. “Texas is an obsession. Above all, Texas is a nation in every sense of the word,” wrote author John Steinbeck.

Any newcomer to the state will know that Steinbeck was right. Each visit to Texas gives a person a new appreciation of this great state and of its people. Moreover, it takes more than a single visit – perhaps even a lifetime – to appreciate those things that are truly Texan. For those of you who have never experienced the state or only briefly touched its broad horizons, take a deep breath, look around you and get ready to expand your horizons. It’s time to go exploring.

If for some unthinkable reason, you are just “passing” through, you had better plan ahead. As we say in Texas, “ponder” this: the state is so big, even at 65 miles per hour it is impossible to drive from Beaumont to Amarillo (east to west), or from Amarillo to Brownsville (north to south), in a single day. So, the cowboy poet who said, “the sun has riz, the sun has set, and here I is in Texas yet,” knew what he was talking about. Okay, everyone knows about some common stereotypes of Texans. Some are true, others are just plain funny. Let’s start by clearing up a little somethin’ here.

Let’s get some simple facts out of the way. Yes, generally everything in Texas is bigger, better, faster and hotter than anywhere else in the world, so don’t try to compete. You can’t win. Texans are a proud lot and since no other state can compare, don’t try. Remember, you can’t win.

Texans in general tend to be able to handle things that are a little hotter than non-Texans. You know you have been in Texas for a while when you can eat jalapenos and not gasp for water or have tears run down your cheek. Or when you can stay outside in 110-degree weather and not break a sweat.

We all drive BIG trucks, SUVs or cars and if we don’t own a pickup truck, most of our friends and family make up for it by owning several. This may cost us a lot more in the way of gas, but that simply contributes back to the economy, so we’re just keeping Texas strong.

No, not everyone in Texas is named Bubba. Oh, there are a few out there, most of whom have two-word names, one of which is usually Sue, Don, Joe or Bob.

We like to dance our own way too. The Texas Two Step and Cotton-Eyed Joe are among the favorites that most Texans learn even as they learn to walk. However, for diversity, we might try a bit of line dancing, which is a lot of fun.

University of Texas Longhorns tell Texas A&M (Aggie) jokes, and Aggies tell Longhorn jokes. If you don’t get it, you won’t, so just pick a side. Remember, it’s the University of Texas or UT, NEVER Texas University or TU, unless of course you’re an Aggie and want to watch a Longhorn boil.

Believe it or not, radio stations play more than just country music, so if you don’t like it, you can opt for something more eclectic. In fact, the live music capital of the world is deep in the heart of Austin, Texas. And remember that Buddy Holly, Waylon Jennings, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Janis Joplin and Willie Nelson are just a few of Texas’ music legends.

Lizards, cockroaches, mice and bats are native to Texas, and we have learned to co-habitate with them, as well as with longhorn cattle, thoroughbred horses, mohair goats and of course, the mighty catfish.

Contrary to popular belief, Texans do not live off barbecue, four-alarm chili, pinto beans and chicken-fried steak. These may be among the staples, but like the state itself, the food is diverse. From Gulf Coast oysters and shrimp to the best steak anywhere, Texas produces much of the food enjoyed not only in the state, but throughout the United States. Did you know that pink grapefruit (we call them Texas Star or Ruby Red) are unique to Texas? So, don’t go giving California or Florida credit for our hard work!

Some of us speak with a Southern drawl; others speak with a Western twang, but expect to hear other sprinkles of conversations that reflect our Spanish, German and other European routes. Realize that the unique form of Spanish spoken here is Tex-Mex, so just because you speak Spanish, doesn’t necessarily mean you can communicate fully. The Texas accent has a unique cadence with words that are its own and should be respected as such. Let’s talk about a few confusing terms, “y-all” is a term for “you all,” or “you guys.” There is no plural, so don’t try.

“God willing and the creek don’t rise” means “if nothing unforeseen happens we’ll be there.” Whereas, “Slap dab in the middle” means “right in the middle.” These are just a few of the phrases we like the best, though there are “a passel more” that draw responses that range from a polite, uncomprehending nod and smile, to a weird look and even derision. Being the polite folks that they are, Texans prefer the former.

When talking to a Texan, you must always remember they have been taught since birth to say “sir” or “ma’am.” This is a charming habit that cannot and should not be stopped. It is a form of Texas etiquette that a true Texan always displays.

A Texas gentleman tips his hat or touches two fingers to the brim when he passes a lady on the street. Texans respect a person’s right to be in a hurry even if they are not, which tends to be the norm and an easy way to tell the true Texans. So, don’t be surprised if a true Texas driver moves over and allows you to pass on a two-lane road. The proper response in this instance is to offer a friendly wave in return. Texas gentlemen remove their hats for the National Anthem, as well as when they enter a place where ladies are present. All women are ladies until proven otherwise.

Texans wish they all owned ranches and oil wells, but they don’t. However, remember that oil and agriculture are the top two businesses in Texas, but computers are catching up fast (remember that Texas is home to Dell Computers, among other high-tech firms). You won’t forget the strength of agriculture in Texas, it’s particular strong (especially in odor) as you travel through the state’s many rural areas. To us, that is the smell of money. If you don’t like it, I-40 and I-10 go east and west I-35 goes north and south. Pick one.

Football is not everything. However, it is the only thing from September to January — high school, college, university or pro. Texans take their football seriously. Those who can’t play cheer, and if for some reason football is not their sport of choice, the next best place to find Texas sport stars is in the rodeo arena. Keep in mind that baseball is another Texas passion and gave the sport such household names as Texas League, Astroturf and Nolan Ryan.

When Texans tell visitors “Don’t mess with Texas,” they mean it. Texans protect their environment. Lady Bird Johnson initiated the national litter campaign, “Keep America Beautiful.” She raised Texans’ awareness of their environmental heritage, a passion she pursues today at age 90. Thanks to her efforts, Texas highways each spring overflow with color.

There’s magic in Texas that everyone should experience, a magic that arrives in spring as the Bluebonnets and Indian Paintbrush cover the miles and miles of Texas Highways. The sky at sunset reflects this same magic, as do the stars under the West Texas sky, stars that burn so bright they seem to be within reach. The magic exists in the history that fills the San Antonio Riverwalk, or exudes from the high-tech hustle and bustle of cities like Dallas and Houston. That same magic illuminates Austin at night as for a brief moment the sky is illuminated by a flash of lavender, giving the capital its nickname, “City of the Violet Crown.”

There’s even magic in the moment a dark rumbling thunderstorm rolls across the plains, followed by the golden rays of sunset. It’s in the soft call of the state bird, the Mockingbird, as it offers up a twilight serenade. It is in the flight of bats that fill the air from beneath Austin bridges on summer evenings.

These are just a few of the many things that Texans hold dear. They make the magic that is the Texas state of mind, the magic that leads many people to agree that “Texas is heaven on earth.”

As one anonymous poet wrote: “Other states were carved or born, Texas grew from hide and horn.”

Copyright © 2003 HSU Dept. of Journalism and Mass Communication.

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