Texas is My Elephant

There is an old fable about five blind men inspecting an elephant.  As they each touch different areas of the elephant (the tusk, the tail, the sides), they are convinced that the entire elephant is the same as the one area they are touching.  The moral of the fable is, of course, that you can only judge what’s right in front of you;  the whole may be an entirely different creature after all.  That, and our judgement is always colored by our own particular circumstances.

I don’t really know what Texas is like outside my little corner of it.   It’s hard to make that distinction, though, when I get going on my rants observations on living here.  So, without saying, “Texas this, Texas that,” I’ll celebrate our 2 months of living here by sharing my peeves thoughts.

I am deeply saddened by the amount of garbage that lines the streets of my town.  Any ditch you see – there’s garbage.  Any area of tall grass – there’s garbage.  Heck, come by my neighborhood on any day a circular is delivered to the mailbox, and you’ll see garbage floating everywhere.  There are TWO garbage days a week here – you’d think people could be persuaded to put their trash in a can or something.  But no – my daughter found someone’s entire lunch on my lawn a few weeks ago.  Empty drink can, food wrappers.  Like they sat down for a picnic, and left it for me to clean up.  My town has no curbside recycling, and the nearest recycling facility is not only NOT near, but is a scary, disgusting do-it-yourself deal that my husband dutifully brings our stuff to twice a month.  I’m wondering:  where is the pride in our community?  Where is the connection to our environment?  It’s dirty, and it’s wasteful.

People in my town drive like they’re the only ones on the road.  Notice I don’t say “like they OWN the road.”  People aren’t necessarily agressive – they’re just clueless.  They’re in their own universe, with very little acknowledgement of your presence there.  I cannot count the number of times a car has drifted into my lane.  They don’t need to move over, they’re just not paying attention to their own boundaries.  We honk frequently to keep people awake and aware of us.  In California they joke about the “California stop” – which is just a sort of rolling pause through a stop sign.  I guess here I’d call it the “Texas jumper” at a stop light.  I’ve never seen more people anticipate lights than here!  It makes me laugh out loud.  I want to say, “Relax, it’s ok, it’s bound to turn green any moment now.”

I wondered to my husband if Texas is really considered “the South.”  I have seen NOTHING of what you always hear of as “Southern hospitality.”  In the stores, at the park, on the roads – everyone is minding their own business.  It’s a very solitary life here.  There’s a phrase here that says, “I wasn’t born in Texas, but I got here as soon as I could.”  Oh yeah?  Why?

The schools in my town are top notch.  And they’ve just about managed to kill every ounce of enjoyment my kids ever got out of learning.  EVERYTHING here is high stakes, everything is a competition, and you better believe that academics are at the top of that list.  The only thing is that when you are telling a child in 1st grade that he’s playing for keeps with his education, it tends to put a little pressure on him, you know?  A challenge is good, an ultimatum is bad.  (I’ve been told over and over, “If your kids don’t pass the state tests…they don’t move on!  Period!  I’m sure my kids will pass, but relax, ok?!)  This competitive spirit extends to any extracurricular activity as well.  In Oregon, my girls played on a recreational softball league.  I’m not sure “recreational” is an important word in my town.  The softball league here not only charges a LOT more to participate, but the girls would need to try out for the team and would be encouraged to secure private training for pitching, batting, fielding, etc.  They just want to *play*.  We’ve been working really hard with our kids to encourage them to “hang in there” with the differences at school and band, etc.  Mostly this means offering them a lot of down-time at home and making sure we let them vent and communicate their feelings to us. 

Looks can be deceiving here.  The neighborhood we chose is full of nice, large houses.  An area like this in Oregon would be populated with families and professionals.  Not so here – probably because homes are so totally affordable.  The first week we were here, my husband’s brand new car got keyed (extensively).  At a fast food place just around the corner from us, a teenager was shot twice and lifeflighted to the hospital two weeks ago.  About a month after we moved here, I watched one of my neighbors try to sic his pit bull on the other neighbor’s chihuahua (the neighbors were having a dispute).  I don’t let my kids play alone outside, and when I go for a walk with the baby, I bring something I can swing at a person or a dog (there are plenty of dogs that run loose here).  We get hoardes of door-to-door salespeople, and they walk right across my lawn from the house next door, and I’ve even had a few of them look into my living room windows when I don’t answer the door.  I know I can’t blame Texas for this – I do recognize that it’s my specific neighborhood.  I’m just not used to feeling like I have absolutely no right to my personal space or safety.  It feels like people here are in it for themselves, they have their own agenda, I’m just another something in their way.

And so, not wanting to generalize, I generalize.  I don’t like Texas very much at all.  I think in some negative ways, the idea of the LONE star state gets into people’s psyches.  It does feel very solitary, very independent of community, of environment, of watching out and respecting the existence of your fellow man.

Having said that, we have met some wonderful people at church.  We are working to make friends.  We have tried to seek out activities in our community.  We are slowly but surely exploring the area around us, looking for beauty (HARD to find here!!!) and things of interest.  The career opportunity for my husband was a not-to-be-missed deal.  I know we’re supposed to be here.  I’ve come to a place where I’m not missing and mourning Oregon so much, and I have many happy moments.  I have learned that my family is all the home I need.  I have learned that friendships are lifelines, no matter where you live.  I know that I will be a better person for living through this experience.

But, sadly, I also believe that Texas will merely be a means to an end for me.  There are people who absolutely adore it here, and I’m sincerely glad for them.  But my end of the elephant is one I’d rather not hang on to when I get the opportunity to move on.