The Lessons We've Learned in Texas
In Accepting the Unexpected, I step away from writing about travel to comment on the bigger journey of life. While the topics may vary, the central theme is always the same: living life means learning to deal with the unexpected.
Our move to Texas six years ago was supposed to be a move from the Midwest to our new “forever” home. After nearly a lifetime of living in the cold winters and unpredictable summers, we were ready to see what warm winters and predictably hot summers would hold. We wanted to see new parts of the country. And we saw opportunities available for us in the South that we didn’t have at that moment in the North.
So we headed to the Lone Star State.
When my husband asked me a couple of months ago if I regretted our move to Texas, I had to think for a moment before I gave him an honest “no.” We had a good five years here, and the sixth year was rough for a pile of different reasons. But those good five years, and the good moments in that sixth year, just highlighted the many things, positive and negative, that we learned about our temporarily adopted state.
Everything really is bigger in Texas
The cities are bigger, the big trucks more plentiful, the gas stations bigger (and our family rarely refuses a chance to go to Buc-ee’s), the roads bigger, the food portions bigger…I could really go on and on.
But all that bigger is honestly reflective of the second largest state in the nation. Texas is huge. We’ve learned that traveling to Big Bend National Park twice, as we’ve had to take two days just to safely get to the park. We’ve learned that on two vacations to the American west as it has taken us more than two days to just leave the state. We’ve learned that as we’ve traveled along the I10 corridor to vacations out east, including this summer’s vacation, the interstate highway totaling 878 miles from one end of Texas to the other. We’ve become accustomed to spending three or more hours on the road to visit new cities and state parks, and that is without us venturing past central Texas.
Texas is just big, period.
Texas is not all one thing and Texans are not all one people
We heard a lot of jokes from friends and family in the Midwest as we planned for our move six years ago. My husband was going to come back with boots and a belt buckle, we were all going to pick up ridiculous accents, and moving to Texas meant liberation from the rest of the country.
We’ve learned the significance of belt buckles (and no one in our family is interested), good cowboy boots are both expensive and last forever (and yes, both my husband and I have a pair because I’m a sucker for boots of any kind), I had been saying “y’all” long before we moved and it just meant I wasn’t weird (or less weird), and getting a driver’s license in Texas showed us early on that just because Texas likes to see itself as independent, it didn’t mean that its way of doing things is always best (and that was before the breakdown of ERCOT during the February 2021 winter storm).
To the outside world, Texas seems to be a backward “Red” state with people who are consistently acting against their own interests. We’ve learned that the state, and her people, are so much more complicated than that. Texas is varying shades of purple, with red and blue dots scattered throughout. The energy sector is oil and gas and nuclear and wind and solar, all trying to figure out where they fit in the grand scheme of things. Immigrants from all over the world are spread around the state, making the cities diverse and challenging the traditional stereotypes. We went to the Houston Rodeo only once, and I saw a woman wearing a cowboy hat over a hijab and I couldn’t have seen anything more representative of Houston in that given moment.
And it’s not just the people. We have seen the desert canyon of Palo Duro, the river valley along Big Bend, and alligators in the local swamplands. The Texas ecosystem is just as diverse as her people, and it makes this state all the more beautiful. That incredible biodiversity also drives the diversity in experience, beliefs, and views of her millions of people.
Fire ants are the spawn of Satan
I do not exaggerate. I heard stories about fire ants, I heard their bites were painful, I knew that the numbers increase the further south one went, I knew that my feet would no longer be perfectly safe in the green grass.
But I didn’t know. Not really. I didn’t know the pain of that sting, the bubbling blister as my skin reacted to the poison, the painful itch that could last for weeks afterward.
Then our daughter found an ant pile in a Target parking lot during our first week here. Her blood-curdling scream indicated just how painful it could be. Then I got my first bite, then my second, and then my third experience put my overheated body in an urgent care clinic with hives that covered my body from head to toe.
I have no positive spin to put on fire ants. They are terrible. They serve no purpose. I look forward to getting back my Kentucky Blue Grass and ant hills full of insects not intent on killing me, thank you very much.
You can get acclimated to the heat
I know that it sounds crazy, but just as people up north claim that you can get acclimated to the cold (something I still struggle to accept even after living up north for most of my life), you can get acclimated to the heat. We moved here in July, just as summer really started to heat up. It was hot and we were living in a camper that had an air conditioning unit suited for Indiana summers, not Texas.
But we’ve learned to appreciate summer nights that get into the low 80s. Now, I usually put on long sleeves if the night temps drop below 70. Hot is hot and you won’t find me spending much time outside after 11:00 AM, but we’ve learned how to survive, as long as the power stays on.
The history is incredibly fascinating and frustratingly fraught
Even before we moved there, we knew that learning Texas history would be far more fascinating than the Indiana history our kids would have been learning or the Michigan or Illinois history that we learned as kids. That’s not to say that the history of those Midwest states is boring, but not nearly as colorful as Texas history from the beginning to today.
We’ve been to Goliad, toured the Alamo, walked aboard the Battleship Texas, visited the state capitol, and explored Galveston Island. My kids have learned Texas history in school and in our travels and have internalized the complicated nature of a state that prides itself in fierce independence while plagued by a history of oppression of racial minorities. The history of Texas history is as complex at her people. Texans pride themselves in knowing about Juneteenth before much of the country, while also electing legistatures intent on preventing students from learning the good, the bad, and the ugly of state history.
For an outsider, it is maddening.
While it is a gross oversimplification of a large and incredibly diverse state, it is a state at a crossroads, a crossroads that this non-native Texan has decided she would be better off observing from the sidelines.
Our family is also at a crossroads, a divergence that is taking us back to our own roots in the upper Midwest.
I will miss the incredible amount of diversity throughout the state. I will miss the cool places that we still hadn’t visited and the ones we wanted to return to. I will miss our pool. I will miss wearing a tank top and capris on Christmas morning. I will miss camping in 60-degree weather on Thanksgiving. I will miss our solar panels and the good we could have done by being alternative energy ambassadors. I will miss the friendships that remained once the dust settled.
I’m not going to miss hurricane season (which I will never take for granted again) and torrential rains that last for days. I’m not going to miss saying a state pledge in the mornings (yes, Texas has its own pledge of allegiance, and yes I find it just as weird as it sounds to anyone else who is not from this state). I’m not going to miss the Texas state flag flying at the same height as the American flag or seeing the phrase “Come and get it” on nearly everything (although I finally understand both the historical and modern implications). I’m not going to miss the worst of the heat and the oppressive humidity (all while being aware that I’m not getting away from the summer humidity that will follow us back to Indiana).
But my life is richer because of six years in the Lone Star State. My role as an American citizen is more informed and motivated after what I have seen and experienced here. And we are stronger as a family for the time we have spent exploring and learning together, just the four of us.
For that, I will forever be grateful.
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