THE BEAUTY of being a Texan, Molly Ivins wrote recently, is that you can never be shocked by anything tacky. She was right.
The barrage of I-am-a-Texan schlock advertised in Texas Monthly magazine -- Texas passports, engraved belt buckles, diamond necklaces in the shape of the state, jalopena Christmas wreaths, etc. -- doesn't faze me at all.
On the other hand, my husband and I, simple country folks from west Texas, are low key about advertising our origins. We have only a discreet University of Texas decal on one car, a single Lone Star flag, a few orange T-shirts and a plaster-of-Paris armadillo (the "official mammal of Texas") reclining in our living room.
I'm not certain why Texans feel a need to advertise where they are from or why we are accused of being arrogant about our state. (Of course, New Yorkers are also considered arrogant, but no one ever takes them seriously.)
But if Texans are arrogant, there is historical reason for it. Texas was, after all, the only nation to concede to becoming a state. As Sam Houston put it so well, over a century ago, "Texas could exist without the United States, but the United States cannot, except at very great hazard, exist without Texas." Note that this statement was made long before oil had been discovered in Texas.
Some have suggested that Texans' display of arrogance is nothing but a defense, a cover for an actual inferiority. There may be some truth to this. After all, despite the much-publicized and enviable boom in the Sunbelt, Texans have had their problems.
There was the admission of Alaska to the union a few years ago -- a wound not yet healed. And there is the Texas state legislature which occasionally -- and properly so -- goes into hiding. Recently, there was the scurrilous rumor that Dave Crockett surrendered to Santa Anna instead of dying a martyr's death.
Worse, there was the Arabian sheik who offered to buy -- yes, buy -- the Alamo. (A second sheik later tried to purchase the Texas A&M marching band, which goes to show that oil sheiks may be much less shrewd than originally thought.) And, finally, the San Jacinto monument, shrine to Texas independence, continues to sink. No wonder Texans feel a bit defensive.
Or it may be that Texans' hubris and self-advertisement are a search for identity and uniqueness in a crowded, homogenized world. Out of the faceless millions and the great unwashed, who can forget the Stetson-sporting, booted, drawling braggart of a Texan?
Whatever the rationale, Texas has a peculiar hold on its citizens and those of us who have left the state often miss it sorely. I remember its people, who are plain-spoken, open and friendly. The crusty state trooper who caught us speeding across the plains one summer, lecturered us briefly and sent us on our way with a "Now, y'all drive careful, y'hear?" Eccentric millionaires who half-bury cadillacs for the sake of art. The nouveau riche, who are often loud and tasteless, but never dull and never lacking energy (a society built on crude oil, it is said, is a crude society).
And I recall the beer gardens and saloons where Hank Williams plays on the jukebox, and barbecue and nachos are served. And the tavern where beer was washed down, accompanied by the whine of the steel quitar and the suffle of feet on the worn wooden floor; where outside it was cool and black and you could stare across the plains for miles in any direction and hear the whistle of passing trains.
"Once you are in Texas," John Steinbeck wrote, "it seems to take forever to get out, and some people never make it."
Or maybe they just think they do.