Monday, June 14, 2010

Where I'm From

The June issue of Texas Monthly features essays by people who consider themselves to be from Texas, even if they weren't born in Texas or don't currently reside in Texas. The special issue's cover heralds the line "Where I'm From".

Where are you from?

I was born in Louisiana and lived there until age five. My mother proclaimed Louisiana to be the armpit of the south. She says we don't have to tell people we ever lived there. In recent years, I find myself fascinated with the rich culture of Cajun people and Creole people. I appreciate the French influence on art, music and architecture that abounds in Louisiana. While I'm no foodie, who doesn't love beignets from Cafe du Monde? I don't consider myself to be from either Shreveport or Alexandria - the two cities in which I lived. I do not feel a desire to live in Louisiana again, but I wish everyone there the best, especially those people still struggling to recover from Hurricane Katrina.

My kindergarten through sixth grade years were spent in Birmingham, Alabama. Our house was Mountain Brook adjacent. (Mountain Brook was, probably still is, THE most desirable real estate area in Birmingham.) My school bus went past all the mansions with their professionally manicured, sweeping southern landscapes. Even at a young age, I knew money and good taste when I saw it combined in such abundance. I thought I wanted that: the country club connections, the Ralph Lauren wardrobe, the refined (as I now see it, restrained) lifestyle. As an adult, I no longer wish for those trappings. It's not me. I have no desire to return to Birmingham. Again, I wish residents of Birmingham well.

Seventh and eighth grade were spent in Cross Lanes, West Virginia near the state's capital city of Charleston. Upon moving to West Virginia, everyone in my family had pretty lousy attitudes about the place, largely due to the Union Carbide plant that was a mere ten miles from our house. This was shortly after the Bhopal, India industrial tragedy at the Union Carbide plant that killed thousands of people, and left nearly half a million people with health problems. We also harbored prejudices about the quality of education and society out in Appalachia. We weren't prepared for the natural beauty of West Virginia or for the warm-hearted people, but we soon came to appreciate both immensely. We lived in the prettiest house in Cross Lanes which everyone in town called "The Castle". A local man designed and built the large Tudor style home on a high hill that backed up to nature preserve parkland. We enjoyed four distinct seasons there. I ranked first in my class. The day I won the student council election to be the president of my class for the next school year, and the same week I secured a spot on the cheerleading squad, my dad dropped the news that we would be moving to Dallas, Texas. WHAT?! We finally like it here and we're moving away... moving again? Just before my parents were set to fly to Dallas to look at houses, my dad suffered the first of many heart attacks. He was only thirty-eight-years-old. He had to be shocked back to life several times during the episode. We thought we'd stay put after that, but Dad, ever the stubborn over-achiever, was on a plane three weeks after his heart attack to start his new job in Texas. It was a charmed life while it lasted, despite the bumpy start. I loved living in West Virginia. It will always hold a special place in my soul.

Next stop: Plano, Texas. We were rewarded for the move to Texas with a pool in the backyard, but our house didn't have the luster of "The Castle". I worked my tail off to stay in the top ten percent of my graduating class of 2,000+ students in the highly competitive school system. I was not popular, but did have a few good friends along the way. I didn't dare run for student council or try out for cheerleading; instead finding my place among the drama geeks and the debate dorks. The material excesses and apparent lack of good taste evident in the parking lots and housing developments were not to my liking. While I was in high school, Plano was infamously dubbed the teen-suicide capital of America. One of the guys I ate lunch with everyday started a chain-reaction of suicides among some of my peers just before graduation. For those people who consider Plano to be home, I wish you well. I'm not from Plano. My family moved around to four, or was it five, different cities since I graduated from high school. I have no ties there.

I'm from Austin, Texas. I knew it the first time I visited. I'm not leaving. I've lived here far longer than I've lived anywhere else, over half my life now. I love this place.