As a child of Texas (sixth generation in fact), I’ve had many of my home state’s core values instilled into me from the moment of birth. Something that I have no doubt is a result of both nature and nurture. The truth is though, I have not officially lived in Texas since 2002. I was 12 when I left to join my mom and stepdad in the arctic circle, aka Norway. Going from a golden-hued hot-as-hell-place to a colder climate full of an unfamiliar people at such a young age left a lasting effect on the kind of person I would later become.
But even after all these years being so far from my beloved homeland, I have to say, I don’t reckon Texas has ever left me.
Growing up in Texas, some of the first history you ever learn in school are the heroes of our great state; Jim Bowie, Davy Crockett, Stephen F. Austin, and Sam Houston. We were fed a steady diet of stories about fighting for liberty, standing bold in your beliefs, and not backing down. Perhaps that’s why within the first few months in Norway, I was briefly suspended from school for kicking a bully. I slipped on the ice after the kick, and while tending to my ripped knees, the teacher teased me “Wow, even Texans bleed red. Here I was thinking it would be blue..”
Just as I was in a culture shock, my Norwegian peers were equally as culture-shocked with their new mysterious classmate. I was asked all the time if I ever rode my horse to school, if there were real cowboys walking around, and one boy even asked if things were in black and white whose only reference to Texas at that point in time were old westerns. I might have stretched the truth with my answer by bragging about my 12-mile ride to school and back every day (it’s called a Texas embellishment for a reason). Never mind that I grew up in the suburbs and wasn’t even allowed to walk the 8-minute walk to school alone (also a Texas thing, measuring distance with time).
One of the first things people comment upon after meeting me is the fact that I still have a bit of a drawl and say y’all so casually. I don’t consciously make myself stand out with my speech patterns, but my accent is something I wouldn’t ever think to get rid of. Though I did get rid of my bad habit of using ain’t after being scolded by my 6th grade English teacher (hey Ms. Pope!).
I’ve experienced humility in ways that only moving abroad and being in a strange place can do to you. Perhaps that’s one of the traits from home that I’ve lost, the boastfulness that God blessed us mortals with Texas. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I love my home very dearly. I’m, after all, sitting here writing a whole essay about it. Like Tanya Tucker sang, when I die I may not go to heaven… something something… just let me go to Texas. But my eyes have been opened to see just how beautiful the rest of the world can be.
Things that I previously thought were uniquely Texan are exemplified in every corner of the globe that I’ve visited. Kind strangers going out of their way to lend a hand, repressed populations standing up for what’s just and not backing down in the face of adversity, and the kind of friendliness that can warm a spirit through and through.
But, all of those traits are ones that I first learned back home. Examples were demonstrated in front of me every single day by my parents. One of my earliest memories is riding along with my dad, and him pulling over to the side of the road to pick up a stranded stranger to take him to go get gas. Or my mom refusing to back down in her time as PTA president while she valiantly fought to keep our ESL program (English as a second language) at our schools for the bilingual students.
As a family, we had a strong love for the beautiful nature that Texas had to offer. Camping and hiking trips were a regular occurrence when I was younger, long Sunday walks in nature reserves, swimming from morning to dusk in the many lakes surrounding my hometown. My parents even honeymooned at a lake in the hill country, where I would often beg to find the tree where their names were carved into. The “Don’t Mess With Texas” litter campaign made it clear to me at a young age that our Earth was not only meant to be protected but also honored in the way we treated it.
I could do without some of the infamous Texas stubbornness though, as it usually means I don’t back down when I should. I’m learning to be more humble and soft, as evident when I bite my tongue when I’m right and someone else is wrong.
I’ve spent the last seventeen years suffering bouts of persistent home-sickness, longing for the place where the ice-cream truck plays “Home on the Range” in the summer signaling that sweet icy relief from the heat is near. The place where a friendly and genuine howdy is never hard to find. Where I find my spirit soaring as I ride in my daddy’s truck, windows down and country music up, speeding past the rolling plains west of Fort Worth.
Texas is by no means perfect. We as a people have a lot of connecting and healing to do as outside forces continue to attempt to divide us from one another. I don’t care if you’re white, black, Latinx, Asian, Oklahoman or whatever you racially, culturally, sexually, religiously identify as. If you treat others with great kindness, are generous to those in need, greet people with genuine friendliness (whether if it's a howdy or hello), and stand up for what’s right, you are just as much Texan as I am, six generations and all.
People ask me all the time, both Norwegians and Americans: “Now that you’ve lived on the other side of the pond for so long, do you feel more American or more Norwegian?” I always answer that I’m neither of those things. I’m 100% Texan.