Page 13


The Texas Observer FEB. 7, 1964 A Journal of Free Voices A Window to The South 25c A Letter from Texas Dallas I shall try to spin out of this typewriter and this closed hotel room, in Dallas city of the President’s death, the subject of what can be said about Texas, the home state of the new President, known to me as the place I live. Let us be done with the stereotypes, please. Let us be done with them. Writers the magazines ask to go do tooth sucking sniggles on Texas gaucheries ought say no, I will do what I see, but not what you expect me to see. Texans in the East ought have better sense than do the absurd things that are expected of them, and we Texans who will stay here at home, as I will, for I love it here and belong here, an animal that feels best when he knows where he is, we have the duty now to communicate what it is and has been to be here, for the President comes from here and therefore through him the world has come here. What will it mean for the country and the world that a Texan is President? I can feel it already, here in Dallas, in the longdistance calls into this distressing detective chase after the truth of the assassination. Well, who can interpret Texas? Will they stop it? No one can interpret Texas, or any other place with more people in it than he can keep track of. What do we know and what do we think, those are some questions; not “What is the Dallas syndrome?” or, “What is Texas really?” John Bainbridge was very shrewd in The SuperAmericans, except that he did spend a good while of his life preparing to explain why the stereotypes are not cogent; and then who named his book? Some supersalesman who is as nearly a SuperAmerican as any lusty, gusty oil zillionaire. Consider the stereotypes about Texas against certain facts known to us who live here. For instance, does it strike you odd that a guy named Hank Brown, a plumber from San Antonio, could become the most liberal state labor president on civil rights in the entire South? That there are intellectuals born and bred Texans? That a thin blonde babe in tight black slacks and a waist-length leather jacket may have character that is personally her own and admirable? That a water color artist in Houston may be doing work that is truly valuable and may never be appre ciated? That the fiercest defender of underpaid Mexicans in the United States is the Archbishop of the Catholic Church of San Antonio? How can anyone honestly tell you what Texas is? Lyndon Johnson will have to show you, himself, who he is, and Ladybird, she, and Katherine Anne Porter has shown you who she is, and Sam Houston showed, he, and that is all any Texan can do. Why, swinging his naturally Olympian gaze toward the Southwest, does the New York editor so often ask for a book “about Texas,” or an article “about Texas”? Perhaps it’s because his enterprise can only get around to Texas once in a while, or perhaps it is not such a simple phenomenon; perhaps it is expressive of a fundamental indisposition in our country to look closely at real subjects and real questions. The best thing about a book or article “about Texas” is that it is gaily colored; it’s like a wit’s tour de force at a cocktail party. It doesn’t have to say anything, except that there sure is a lot going on down there. My, my. The focused inquiry, the painful dislocations, the personal statethese are suitable for magazines of intellectual drudgery, but not for the common people who read the great democratic journals. For them, let’s give a party, courtesy General Advertisers. I CAN TELL YOU MARVELS. Have you ever been startled in a hotel lobby by the face of a cross-eyed cowboy under a Stetson hat? Can you imagine a professor at the University of Texas marching against a S.A.C. base outside of Austin on Easter? Does it vaguely surprise you that Texans get sent to mental hospitals? Have you ever met a Negro intellectual in a country farmhouse? He has been hiding there. What would you make of it if populism awakened again in Texas? Have you ever seen a river that runs over rocks ruined by real estate agents who’ve divided the banks into lots? Then there are Texans who are pragmatic and insist on finding out for themselves how it works, or does not work, to make love of a night on the coast among the dunes. There are Texans who are dogmatic and don’t make love at all. There are children at the beaches as lovely as Gitanjali’, and places in sanctu aries where even thorns caress, and forests like islands’, and great vacant plains whose whole power is meaning nothing. I care what you think, out there beyond here, or I would not write to you about this thing so dear. I care what you think because no state or any borderline can keep me from knowing, just as it cannot keep you from knowing, that of the people we could love we meet but very few and they seem to have to do, not with a place, but with themselves. I can tell you that we breed real people here, because I have met them, and continue to. Some friends and I used to have a floating discussion club. We would gather for weekends at clubhouses on lakes, in a tourist court in Rockport on the Gulf, in a forested place near Houston, and once at the late Walter Webb’s Friday Mountain camp in the Hill Country, and we would talk our dreams into tatters, and tell each other what each other ought be doing instead of what each other were. That’s all over now, we do not meet any more, we got tired talking to each other about the same things that worried each of us, but in a big place like Texas, you come and go with your friends, meet and stop meeting and still go on being friends across distances that often these days become physically insuperable for any casual purpose. If the stereotypers have done Texans no other favor, they have helped those of us who are friends hold on in an awareness of our common place, even across continents. It is an eerily visceral thing to love your home place. I first noticed it powerfully in the way I feel about the gravel play-yard and the exit from it though an alleyway at Bonham elementary school in San Antonio. I can pass there, where I went to school and played and came home through the alley, and although all I remember on the schoolgrounds is drinking from the water fountain, being called a sissy, and being afraid of being beaten up, I am overcome with nostalgic wistfulness. The same thing happens now when I leave Texas a while and return: when I came back from California last, I did not have Texas on my mind, and was not even hereI was in Juarez, the border town across from El Paso, eating cabritowhen suddenly I thought, “I’m home,” and a