God Bless Texas

I’ll never forget the time I learned from my eighth grade teacher that not every student in the nation learned about Texas history the way we did in Houston. I remember thinking “they sure as hell oughta.” Then I was overwhelmed with a sense of great sadness, when I realized that not everyone in the nation was actually a Texan—or indeed could be. It still bothers me. There are just so many things to love about Texas, that I can’t imagine being from anywhere else. To start with, we definitely got the double helping of self-esteem. Man when you got it, you just don’t need it! That’s why most Texans just want to be left alone, especially by government. Beyond that, I defer to Bob Wheeler, who writes so movingly about the subject. What follows are excerpts from a speech he wrote. I’ve paraphrased and edited some:

Great things I love about Texas? Lemme let you in on my short list. It starts with The Window at Big Bend, which in and of itself is proof of God. It goes to Lake Sam Rayburn . . . . Then we can talk about Tyler, and Longview, and Odessa and Cisco, and Abilene and Poteet and every place in between. Every little part of Texas feels special. Every Texan, who ever flew over the Lone Star, thinks of Bandera or Victoria or Manor or wherever they call “home” as the best little part of the best State.

Now recently I went to Europe for the first time. All they did when they saw me was say the same thing, before they’d ever met me. “Hey cowboy, we love Texas.” I guess the hat tipped em off. But let me tell you what, they all came up with a smile on their faces. You know why? They knew for sure that I was gonna be nice to ‘em. They knew it cause they knew I was from Texas. They knew something that hadn’t even hit me. They knew Texans, even though they’d never met one. That’s when it occurred to me. Do you know what is great about Texas? Do you know why when my friend and I were trekking across country to see 15 baseball games we got sick and had to come home after 8? Do you know why every time I cross the border I say, “Lord, please don’t let me die in _______”? Do you know why children in Japan can look at a picture of the great State and know exactly what it is about the same time they can tell a rhombus from a trapezoid? I can tell you that right quick. You. The same spirit that made 186 men cross that line in the sand in San Antonio 176 years ago is still in you today.

What would make a woman say, “I don’t know if I can marry a man who doesn’t love Texas like I do?” Why do we still celebrate a holiday for what used to be a nation that is now a State? Because the spirit that made that nation is the spirit that burned in every person who founded this great place we call Texas, and they passed it on through blood or sweat to every one of us. You see, that spirit that made Texas what it is, is alive in all of us, even if we can’t stand next to a cannon to prove it, and it’s our responsibility to keep that fire burning. Every person who ever put a “Native Texan” or an “I wasn’t born in Texas but I got here as fast as I could” sticker on his car understands. Anyone who ever hung a map of Texas on their wall or flew a Lone Star flag on their porch knows what I mean. Some people were forged of a hotter fire. Well, that’s what it is to be Texan. To be forged of a hotter fire.

To know that part of Colorado was Texas. That part of New Mexico was Texas. That part of Oklahoma was Texas. Yep. Talk all you want. Part of what you got was what we gave you. To look at a picture of Idaho or Istanbul and say, “what the hell is that?” when you know that anyone in Idaho or Istanbul who sees a picture of Texas knows good and well what it is. It isn’t the shape of the State, it’s the state of mind. You’re what makes Texas. When was the last time you went to a person’s house in New York and you saw a big map of New York on their wall? That was never. When did you ever drive through Oklahoma and see their flag waving on four businesses in a row? Can you even tell me what the flag in Louisiana looks like? I damned sure can’t.

When you ask a man from New York what he is, he’ll say a stockbroker, or an accountant, or an ad exec. When you ask a woman from California what she is, she’ll tell you her last name or her major. When you ask a Texan what they are, before they say, “I’m a Methodist,” or “I’m a lawyer,” or “I’m a Smith,” they tell you they’re a Texan. I got nothin’ against all those other places, and Lord knows they’ve probably got some fine folks, but in your gut you know it just like I do, Texas is just a little different.

So tomorrow when you drive down the road and you see a person broken down on the side of the road, stop and help. When you are in a bar in California, buy a Californian a drink and tell him it’s for Texas. Remind the person in the cube next to you that he wouldn’t be here enjoying this if it weren’t for Sam Houston, and if he or she doesn’t know the story, tell them. When William Barrett Travis wrote in 1836 that he would never surrender and he would have Victory or Death, what he was really saying was that he and his men were forged of a hotter fire. They weren’t your average every day men. Well, that is what it means to be a Texan. It meant it then, and that’s why it means it today. It means just what all those people North of the Red River accuse us of thinking it means. It means there’s no mountain that we can’t climb. It means that we can swim the Gulf in the winter. It means that Earl Campbell ran harder and Houston is bigger and Dallas is richer and Alpine is hotter and Stevie Ray was smoother and God vacations in Texas.

It means that come hell or high water, when the chips are down and the Good Lord is watching, we’re Texans by damned, and just like in 1836, that counts for something. So when your chance comes around, go out and prove it. It’s true because we believe it’s true. If you are sitting wondering what the hell I’m talking about, this ain’t for you. But if one of the first things you are going to do when the Good Lord calls your number is to find the men who sat in that tiny mission in San Antonio and shake their hands, then it is. And may you be poor in misfortune, rich in blessings, slow to make enemies and quick to make friends. But, rich or poor, quick or slow, may you know nothing but happiness from this day forward. Amen.