Today WeGo Health has asked us to write about the delights of summertime – family vacations, grilling outside, water sports – all of the joys that only summer can bring.
When I think about all the summers I’ve spent in this beautiful state where I was born and raised, I immediately think of my childhood – playing on the soft green grass of my father’s meticulously-manicured lawn, no shoes on; enjoying the endless summer days with sunsets that lingered until 9 o’clock; our days filled with swimming and sports; summer’s tanned skin; highlights in my hair; family dinners and Sun Tea. My sister and I were blessed to spend many summers in intimate fellowship with our parents. My mom stayed home with us, and together with her best friend (also our godmother), was always at-the-ready to create gleeful galavanting for us. My dad took us to work with him sometimes, and he came home early more often in the summer. How I loved to “go to work” with Dad and help him run our family restaurants. He had a way of making me feel useful and important, because he treated every moment as a chance to teach me. I felt all grown up yet with a kid’s twinkly-eyed spirit and a feeling of complete safety to explore life’s every opportunity. I never felt scared or afraid to pursue, imagine, ask questions or find new ways to stretch my young mind, even when school let out for summer.
I’ve learned that many people, if not most people, who are not from Texas, have the perception that Texas is nothing but HOT. For most people, I guess Texas is pretty darn hot, but the Lone Star State is much more than its weather, and since I grew up in the heat, it really doesn’t phase me. What many people don’t know is that Texas is really like five or six small states, and the weather is vastly different across the differing regions, making any given Texas summer the possibility to be a new and exciting memory-in-the-making.
West Texas – For example, I grew up in Lubbock, Texas which is considered to be part of the High Plains or Panhandle Plains. Colloquially, we Texans refer to the region as “The South Plains” or “West Texas.” West Texas is mostly a dessert with its signature hot days and cooler nights, high winds, mesas, cacti and cotton. Of course who could forget all that dirt, all that cattle, all that barbecue, and the uniquely addictive cuisine, Tex-Mex (read: cheese, chili, beans and flour tortillas)! Of course, there are also dust storms that sometimes rival those of the Middle East, big Texas rainstorms over vast horizons, and booming thunderstorms that often produce tornadoes. Despite the dust and accompanying hay fever, West Texas also has all the charm of all four seasons. It even snows!
The city of Lubbock (where I’m from) is lovingly referred to as “The Hub City” since it’s the largest city within hundreds of miles and serves as the main medical, educational and commercial area for this seemingly boundless region of Texas, which includes the Texas Panhandle and even parts of eastern New Mexico. West Texas is also the birthplace of Buddy Holly. The area has an unexpected and rich heritage of music, art and entertainment, not limited to country music or cowboy style. Our summers were spent at summer camps, going to festivals and fairs, participating in July 4th parades, entering family recipes into Chili Cook Offs, countless backyard barbecues and playing in a swimming pool somewhere almost every day. The weather is so dry that a dip in the pool is barely noticeable after 10 minutes. The dry winds have a way of vacuuming every drop of moisture from any surface.
While my personal experiences are probably typical for many families in the area, in actuality, West Texas is quite a quirky place. We are definitely a bunch of rednecks in the middle of a dessert, but the experience of living there seems more like growing up on an island in some respects since the city is so isolated. Collectively, West Texans share many of the same experiences. For example, Texas Tech University is a part of every Lubbockite’s coming-of-age experience, from the powerful and ever-present reverence for football to the not-so-apparent academic side of country life.
Even in this dessert-island of sorts, we had the privilege of growing up in an diverse community surrounded by amazing people – artists and professors; musicians and restauranteurs; researchers and scientists, who come attempting to unlock the secrets of the sky; doctors who teach, research and practice; lawyers who are trained at the university’s well-respected law school; undeterred business owners who learned to make a living in an unpredictable business environment; big construction and real estate moguls; big oil money; deep roots and sometimes deeper pockets. I’ve found that the unique environment has a way of producing some of the most hearty, good-mannered people who are full of character, chivalry, and a big ol’ dose of give-a-damn. West Texans are rebels, pioneers, full of strength and grace, with big dreams and even bigger hearts, high hopes and level heads that are packed with book smarts and street smarts. The older I get, the prouder I am to call West Texas “home,” though I have not lived there full-time since high school.
Summer in West Texas is wholly different than that of the other regions of the state. West Texas summers during the 70s and 80s, when I was growing up, were truly restful, rejuvenating, full of family time and memory making, full of community and long enough for parents and children alike to be ready for the new school year. We got out of school around Memorial Day and went back after Labor Day, when the first hints of autumn were in the air. I often wonder what good it’s done to keep kids in school through June only to send them right back in August. Most of my school buildings were not air conditioned, so maybe that had something to do with the longer summers, but a lot of my best learning happened outside school, during the long summer days in Texas.
Summer is a completely different experience, depending on what region of Texas you’ve had the occasion to enjoy. Texas is more than just HOT, more than just one season called HOT.
The Hill Country, home to our capital city, Austin, is a beautifully-verdant hippy town and home to my alma mater, The University of Texas (Hook ’em Horns!). Oddly, I’m pretty sure I know the Texas Tech fight song better than UT’s fight song! Football and Texas – any region – go together like peas and carrots. In the Hill Country, also sometimes called Central Texas, the Bluebonnets and other native wildflowers bloom in spring and early summer. The result is a forest of color, unmatched by any other place I’ve seen. Known as the Music Capitol of the World, Austin is beginning to outpace Nashville with its diverse music scene. My college years are some of the best years in my life. From “floating the river,” to Robert Earl Keen concerts, to Zilker Park festivals and El Arroyo, the memories I made here are enough for a lifetime.
The Piney Woods is home to what we Texans call “East Texas,” a secret garden of sorts. There you’ll find pine trees as tall as any you’ve ever seen and Tyler, Texas – the small city where the famous Yellow Rose of Texas blooms. My godmother is from this part of Texas, and my great aunt and grandmother have both retired in these parts, making this my “second home” in Texas. It’s where I got married, and probably where I’ll spend my last days. Summers here smell of toasted pine needles. The damp and humid summer nights are punctuated by lightening bugs, beautiful roses, azaleas and spectacular farm lands.
North Texas is home to “Big D,” that larger-than-life city -Dallas, Texas. According to the regional map, it’s in the Prairie & Lakes region, but we call it “North Texas.” The lore, the tall tales and tall hats, the rodeos & boots, it’s all here. Dallas is a bigger than life city. Over the almost 20 years I’ve lived here, the city has become even more glitzy and glamourous. We still care lots about our hair and lipstick. We have world-class food and world class shopping. Although in many ways Dallas it the most “Texas” Texas city, it has become less and less so over time. For the most part, the people you may meet in Dallas are not originally from Texas at all. It’s becoming more like L.A. – not a good thing in my opinion, since there already is an “L.A.” But what sometimes is our better half, the neighboring city of Ft. Worth gives me a peace that this region will never lose its Texas roots.
Big Bend Country is the land of big skies and even bigger stars. This is where the famous film, GIANT, starring Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean was filmed. It’s where the “Fashion 500” doted upon for a time, by way of the quirky and unmatched town of Marfa, Texas. Did you know Texas has mountains? Guadalupe Peak is our highest peak at an elevation of 8,751 feet!
The Gulf Coast – Sometimes we like to play with the “big boys,” The West Coast and The East Coast, by calling ourselves “The Third Coast.” Despite the little coast reputation of our Big State, we do have beaches and islands. In fact, summer vacations in Galveston and Padre Island are a rite of passage for many 18 and 21-year-olds (for fairly obvious reasons). Summers on the coast are salty, sandy, filled with sand castles and sea shells and the smell of suntan oils and sunscreen. This region of Texas also has its own Gulf Coast Cuisine, a unique mixture of Texas’ fried cuisine, fried fish and the rich Cajun flavors of our coastal neighbors in Louisiana.
South Texas – Texans call it “The Valley,” (Rio Grande Valley). It’s where Texas Ruby Red Grapefruits and oranges are grown. It’s where beautiful Spanish missions of antiquity are still standing. It’s where the rich heritage of the Spanish, the Mexicans and the Texans come together to make an entirely different and rich culture of Texans. Summers here are HOT, but it’s what makes for a Texan who’s full of heart and the sweet harvest of late summer.
To sum it all up, I could spend 100 more summers in Texas and still not be satisfied. Too many grand memories have been made here, too many destinies have been sown here, and if you think the heat will kill ya, just wait ’til you meet the people of Texas. I promise, they’ll make it up to you.
In the words and songs of Lyle Lovett,”That’s right, you’re not from Texas, but Texas wants you anyway!”
All it takes to be a Texan is a Texas-State-of-Mind. Don’t worry, y’all. We’ll teach ya!