After 12 years in Austin, give or take a year for my youthful dalliances in Vegas and Seattle, I am moving to Houston. (Oh, don’t gasp! Houston isn’t the large pothole everyone says it is!)
My career thus far has been somewhat colorful to say the least. The last eight years have included:
- Working as a minor league baseball account exec where I was hit on by creepy old men for the fabulous salary of $16K a year.
- Taking a huge raise to go work as a manager at Aberyada & Hooey where I danced on the top of clothing displays in an attempt to motivate high schoolers and college kids to fold sweaters.
- Being an advertising assistant for an alternative weekly magazine when I moved back to Texas as attempt to ease myself back into Austin when it appeared so conservative to me after time spent in Seattle and Vegas.
- Serving as a lowly fundraising assistant to a tyrannical supervisor who loved to tell me how she prided herself on the management style of ‘fear as motivator’ - and
- My last job at where I was a construction auditor, loved the people I worked with, and wore a hard hat that came standard issue with the position.
The bulk of my family is from Texas, though I am the only one to currently live here, and I have always had the proud honor of being the only child born out of the state – the, dare I say it, non-native Texan! This bothered me at certain times in my life, but also gave me the freedom to be different. For years I would not tell others the location of my birth, and it is only through long struggles with self-acceptance that I can admit to all of you today that I was born in Little Rock, Arkansas. Kitschy, isn’t it? :-) Oops, I digress. The point of my non-native Texas narrative was to impress upon you that when it came time to choose a law school I felt that I had the ability to go pretty much anywhere I wanted.
For some reason, I had always pictured myself as a northeasterner, though I have no idea why. Besides a trip to NYC with my high school chorus while I stood mouth agape at the wonder of it all while everyone else viewed it is a sleazy, dirty town I have no other memories to draw on besides the fact that people occasionally ask me if I am from there. (Apparently I have a little more candor than the average Southern belle.) But…the south. Come on. So conservative. So backwards. So bible-belt. And the northeast. So cultural! So open-minded! So intellectual! With that in mind, I plotted out cities in the semi-northeast area and as of February, my final destination was a choice between Pittsburgh and Philly.
Yeah, I know. Where is Houston on that list? Well, I’m getting married. GOTCHA! Just kidding. I may be starting law school, but hell has not yet completely frozen over! Oh, that was too fun. Anyway, back to my list. While I had no desire to go to school in Texas when I started, I did apply to several in-state for a specific reason: my grandfather…
As a small child, I was pretty much scared to death of my grandparents. My grandmother didn’t make cookies and my grandfather seldom enfolded me in his arms for a big bear hug. He was stern and she was, uh, more stern. My mother used to put my brother and me on a plane once a year for a two-week excursion to their house in San Antonio. This vacation was always perceived by me to be a form of punishment. I was always underfoot, always breaking something, and always making too much noise or getting into things. To top it off, I was regularly accompanied by the firstborn, male, kind-hearted, could-do-no-wrong brother. I once optioned to visit on my own, but realized that it was only worse as I had no big brother to protect me.
My grandfather’s family came to Texas in the late 1800’s on a boat from Germany through the port in Galveston, settled in the hill country, and never left. My grandfather was born in San Antonio, worked his way through A&M to get a degree in Chemical Engineering, and started a job with Sinclair Oil. World events caused him to end up in the air force in his early adult years and he made a career of it…living just about everywhere except for Texas. When he retired, he returned to San Antonio and virtually refused to leave the state for the rest of his years. I have many memories of my grandfather, but one of my clearest is that of him, sitting in his study smoking a cigarette and telling stories of his travels, always ending it with, “I was born in Texas and I am going to die in Texas.”
My grandmother’s family, after coming to the States on what was practically the Mayflower, ended up in Houston. (While some families take pride in the first-family status, my mother once joked that there was nothing to be proud of in being one of the first families to get kicked out of Europe.) My great-grandfather was one of the earliest pilots in history [While going through grandma’s things after her death, I actually found a license signed by one of the Wright Brothers] and she spent her childhood years of the late 1920's growing up in a house on an airfield just south of town named Ellington (now famous due to the fact that our current president apparently missed a physical there.)
Did I mention that I was born in Little Rock, AR? Are you getting the picture?
In high school in Georgia, I found myself with option of going to college within driving distance of either my mother (FSU) or my grandmother (UT). I was a bit-chomping, independence-craving, angst-ridden teenager. Guess which option I thought would be the lesser of what I considered to be two evils at that point in my life? So I moved to Texas. And then this weird thing happened. After they got over their disgust at my choice to attend a school other than A&M and resumed speaking to me, I learned to really like my grandparents. (Although I will say that I think a key element in making this possible was the fact that when they hacked me off I had the ability to walk outside, get in my car, and drive back to Austin).
My table manners had improved considerably since childhood, and my grandmother loved to take me to lunch at Scrivener's and order cheesecake for dessert. I was never overly fond of cheesecake, but somehow we had gotten into that habit, and I carried my secret until she died. I’d learned to do this the hard way when at the age of seven she’d purchased me an Orange Julius at the mall. Upon first sip, I nearly spat it out on the floor and looked up at her as if to ask what I’d done to deserve such an awful concoction. She was thoroughly disappointed in me and told me how when she was younger an Orange Julius was a big treat to receive. I probably made some offhand comment about how bad the food must have been during the Great Depression if this was considered to be the good stuff. To further escalate matters, she expected me to drink it because she had, after all, paid for it and I slam-dunked that puppy into the first trash can that I saw. You get the idea…just eat the cheesecake.
So, over time, she and I grew closer and closer until one day, while lying on the couch – a couch that sat in various apartments of mine for many years; a couch where I would sit waiting for a first kiss from a date and just as they decided to swoop in I would smile coyly and say, “Did I ever tell you that my grandmother died on this couch?” (I’m sick. I know. I’m working on it.); a couch that only left my house because one day my mother told me she'd had enough of walking into my apartment only to find that she had entered her parents’ house - while lying on the couch, about two weeks out from the end of struggle with lung cancer turned to me and said, “You know, you’re the real Texan in your family.” Excuse me? What did you just say? My first thought was that my grandfather must have once again accidentally lowered the intake valve on her oxygen. “You’re the only real Texan in the family,” she repeated, “Because you were the only one who was smart enough to come back here.” I don’t think I could have been any happier if she’d confided that I was her favorite grandchild.
So you can imagine when, a few weeks after grandmother’s death, my mother was working on ways to move her father who was now suffering from Alzheimer’s to Georgia, I, newly bequeathed by the former matriarch of the family as the reigning official full-blooded Texan, said to my mother, who was now merely a former Texan, a transplanted Texan, “Over my dead body will I let you take him out of this state to die.”
And for the wee ones of you in the audience, this is where the moral of “Be careful what you wish for-You might just get it” comes into play.
So yes, eight years, a gallbladder surgery, a broken hip, a staph infection, and several other minor emergencies later, guess what I had just a few miles away from my apartment? I’ve got some good and bad stories from those times, but I’ll just share one. Sometime last year I stopped by my grandfather’s nursing home for one of my regular visits. By this point, he didn’t know who I was, sometimes didn’t even recognize me as familiar, but if he was able to chat he would. His speech by this point was often unintelligible and I could never tell if he was mumbling or just speaking babble, but there were certain things he always knew.
If I ever held up the picture of him in his youth and in uniform he would smile wryly and say, “Well that’s a good-looking guy, huh?” If ever held up something with A&M on it, he knew that he had attended there. He could always read his last name. And so one day while I sat talking to him, I noticed that he had become focused on something else and was deeply confused. I have an odd assortment of t-shirts touting the greatness of the state of New Jersey. (I’m sick. I know. I’m working on it.) On this day, without thinking about it, I had put on one of those shirts. I realized that he was staring at my shirt, a shirt that was an exact replica in font and sizing of the trademark of a local litter campaign except for one thing. Instead of Texas it said, ‘Don’t Mess with New Jersey’. And my grandfather was now stricken with the horror that he might be living there. I tried to explain that it was a joke. I felt so bad. It was only when I covered the part of the shirt showing New Jersey that he finally relaxed. My grandfather never forgot that he was a Texan.
So when I began looking for law schools I hedged my bets that my grandfather, given his condition and his age, would not last out the application cycle, but I applied to some schools here in case he did in fact, live and I could not after twelve years, leave him. He passed away in late February. Two days later, I received an acceptance from the University of Houston. A few days after that we buried my grandfather in San Antonio. My mother had dressed him in his officer’s uniform, but underneath he wore a t-shirt with a Texas flag that read ‘Home’. The next week I flew to visit Pittsburgh.
After more than a decade in Texas, Pittsburgh was quite a change. The buildings were so old and so beautiful, and they were everywhere! It was so cold, and I couldn’t remember ever seeing snow! (I had in fact lived in New Mexico where it snowed, but I was pretty young.) The first night I sat outside my hotel room and watched it fall despite that I was suffering from a terrible flu. How fun! How neat! What an amazing thing! And if I moved here I could see it all the time! The next morning I was running late for an appointment with admissions. I had woken up drenched in sweat from my flu…either that or the fact that I could never figure out how to operate the radiator in my hotel room. I showered and after searching endlessly, finally found an outlet for my hairdryer in my quaint 100-year-old hotel room. I rushed down to my car; I could still make the appointment. What had seemed so amazing the night before now stood before me like a nightmare. There was the beautiful snow…piled a foot high on my rental car! I made a mental note to look for apartments with garages.
Pittsburgh was a little sleepy, but Pitt felt very alive. I sat in on a class, walked around campus, and counted the museums within walking distance. What a great place! During my traipse I stopped at a coffee shop in the law library and started a conversation with a few students. They all loved Pitt. So great! So wonderful! And as one Midwesterner pointed out to me, by moving to Pittsburgh, I wouldn’t have to see that obnoxious Texas flag draped every four feet! … … I’m sorry what did you just say? Those of you who know me know that in my apartment there is not a Texas flag every four feet…more like every six inches. I told myself that I would have to make a *few* allowances for cultural adjustment and returned to Texas certain that the move would be somewhat difficult, but that I could do it. Besides I could always come back to Texas if I missed it.
My first day back in Austin, I was driving down MoPac. It was warm and sunny and Lyle Lovett was playing on the radio. A pickup truck passed me, and when it did I noticed that in the bed of the truck was a recliner. In the recliner was a Hispanic man who smiled and waved at me. I smiled and waved back. Where else in the world could you witness something like that but in Texas? Uh-oh. Where else in the world?
I went to visit U of H the next week a little more open-minded than I would have been had I visited earlier. The campus was nice. The people were friendly. The dean was a woman. As I followed my tour guide around campus, I thought it might not be so bad. I might even like it. In one room, the tour guide pointed out that the wall behind me chronicled to the history of the UH Law Center in pictures, and I turned around to look. The first picture I saw showed the original home of the UofH Law Center. I didn’t have to read the caption to know where it was. I’d seen it many times before in the photos of my grandmother’s youth. The first site of the Houston Law Center had been at Ellington Field. Eighty-something years had gone by and here I was back at the beginning. And that’s when I knew. What was I doing? What was I thinking?
Texas isn’t perfect, but neither am I and I like both of us that way.
So I’m moving…just down the road a bit. I might be back. I might not, but I’ll never be too far away.
I’ve rented a guest house just off of Westheimer in the Montrose area. I briefly thought about buying something, but since I’ll already be paying off student loans until I die, I wasn’t interested in getting a mortgage that would extend into my afterlife. I’m within walking distance of half a dozen restaurants, coffee shops, vintage clothing stores, antique shops, and my beloved Menil museum, not to mention a few tattoo parlors and gay bars. School is a straight shot down the road and my house is about 3 miles from the hospital where my mother was born. In essence, I’m home.
I’m thrilled to start school, but leaving Austin makes it bittersweet. Thanks to everyone in town and everywhere else who has been a part of my life (ie put up with me!) up to this point. Supposedly the first year is utter hell so you might not hear as much from me, but I’ll be thinking of all of you. It took me a long time to get here, and I hope it works out. Special thanks go to my mom and grandma who stand out as the two most influential people in my life. This one’s for you as much as me. (Just going to go ahead and give my little speech now in case I drop out after the first semester…ha, ha, ha.) It is with a little trepidation that I head off to Houston, but I think we all know that Houston should be more frightened than I am! I may be getting older, but I don’t think that even law school will fetter the kid who alternates between bookworm, drama queen, and sometimes party girl.