All during nursing school I knew I needed to move away from my home town once I graduated and had my RN license. I needed a chance to get out on my own and find out my own personal likes and dislikes, and just learn who I really was beyond what was either overtly or covertly expected of me. I needed my own life. I decided to move to Austin, Texas since I had biological relatives there. I didn’t know them well, but had met them and been writing to them for over a year. I really liked them, and was glad to have someone to help me figure out a new home 1200+ miles from where I’d grown up. They were wonderful to me, and helped me in many ways as I adjusted to living in the Lone Star State.
My mom drove me to Austin from the Midwest. The car was loaded , and I’d mailed 25+ boxes via the USPS. I’d partially moved by mail. Mom and I had a weird relationship, but we had a great time during the three days it took to get to Austin. We weren’t driving to make exceptional time, and did some things just to goof off on the way down there. We also discovered some of the wonderful foods of the South that I was clueless about. Fried okra? I’d never seen regular okra! Biscuits? I’d only ever had toast or rolls for a ‘bread’ at a meal. We also stopped at a wildlife drive-through park in Missouri, and laughed our heads off as a llama insisted on pursing its lips through the partially rolled down car window. We had some of the animal feed that was sold at the entrance, and that llama wasn’t letting us go by without getting a few bites. I’ve got photos of that goofy llama somewhere. I’ll edit them in if I find them 🙂
We puttered around in Dallas with a friend of mine who lived there with her husband. She was about 30 seconds from delivering her first baby when we were there, but she gave us the tour of Dallas, and it was wonderful to see her. I got photos of the baby a couple of weeks later. Then we hit the final leg to Austin… I-35 South. I was only a few hours away from my new home.
It was night when we got to Austin and made it to my aunt and uncle’s house. I’d been there on a spring vacation train trip a year and a half earlier, and was glad to see their familiar faces and home. That first night was generally just getting there, talking for a brief time, and then going to bed. I planned to get a job and apartment the next day, and I did. The second night, I was in my own apartment (a furnished,modified efficiency unit on the bus route). The manager lived on-site, and knew I was a 22 year old kid just out on my own. She kept an eye out for me.
My first job was at a terrible nursing home (I worked at two amazing ones in Texas later on); I lasted 3 weeks there. During that 3 weeks, I met more of my biological family (I’d been adopted at 10 days old, and had done a search when I was around 19 or 20 years old to find my biological mom, and did). We had a great time seeing some of the sites around Austin and Fredricksburg. I really liked the chance to meet and spend time with my ‘new’ cousins, and hit it off especially well with one of my cousins. She’s one of my best friends to this day.
I got a job at a local hospital and started out my hospital nursing career on a neurology/ neurosurgery floor on the night shift. I loved it. I met some great people there, and while it was a lousy time in my life (I was raped), I learned a lot as a new nurse. I’m still in contact with one of my co-workers from there. I didn’t generally become ‘friends’ with co-workers, but highly valued the ‘friendly co-worker’ relationships I developed through the years. I didn’t see someone as a ‘friend’ if our only reason for knowing each other was being paid to be in the same place at the same time for the same reason. But some people stayed in my life.
I worked at some great places in Texas (Austin and Kerrville). Texas has had a legitimate nursing shortage for decades, especially in the smaller rural healthcare facilities (like being the only RN for 27 beds in a hospital, with 3-4 LVNs doing the direct care). And the people were so much more friendly than where I’d grown up. It was such a joy to meet new co-workers, and much of the time work was actually pleasant. It was hard work, but the vast majority of the people made it so much easier, even on the crazy shifts. I’m still in contact with many Texas co-workers since I’ve been back in my hometown (moved back for family reasons), and they are really the only co-workers I’ve ever wanted to be in contact with. They are from the best years of my life, and I want that connection. They remind me of memories I’ll always be thankful for.
Learning about barbeque was mandatory in Texas! In the Midwest, during the time I lived there as a kid and before leaving home, BBQ was a soggy mess of stringy pork in sweet sauce that was really only good for putting on a bun. It came in a jar. I hated it. Grilling outdoors was called BBQ, but that’s grilling. Grilled steaks are really good, but it’s not BBQ, which is ‘low and slow’. One bite of the real thing, and I was hooked. There is nothing better than a Texas brisket or order of ribs. The smoking process is what does it. Sauce isn’t really a part of Texas BBQ; it’s available, but not what adds the flavor. There is no BBQ without smoke. There needs to be a ‘smoke ring’ on the meat. And no Texas BBQ pitmaster is worth his/her salt without a big smoke-darkened pit, where the magic happens. I’ve got the phone number to Buzzie’s BBQ in Kerrville, TX to get my ‘fix’ one of these days; they will ship the real deal to me in Illinois ! My mouth waters at the thought. No ‘bbq’ (small letters intentional) around here compares. Most of it is baked, and if smoke is used, it usually comes from a bottle of liquid smoke, or a quick trip through a smoker. That’s just not right ! I’m now called a ‘rib snob’ because I’m so picky, and that’s fine 🙂
Spring in Texas, especially the Hill Country which is west and southwest of Austin, is amazing. The landscape explodes in color as the wildflowers start to bloom, starting with the state flower, the Bluebonnet. The fields can look so blue it seems that perfect blue water just appeared where there had been grass. Then come the red Indian Paintbrush,red and yellow Indian Blankets, pink primrose, and other flowers in a succession that tells the folks around there how far into spring they are. Visiting Texas in the spring is amazing. Living there was even better.
Living in the Hill Country was a totally different experience than Austin. I love Austin a lot, but the time-warp in the Hill Country was delightful. Simple things are still appreciated, and there was a sense that I’d been accepted as one of their own. When I first got to Kerrville in 1991, pay phones were still 10 cents for local calls! That was unheard of! There was (and still is, as far as I know) a daily Bible verse in the local paper, and nobody squawks about it. “Howdy” was the way people greeted each other, and on the road, when someone came up from behind, it was common courtesy for the car ahead to move off to the right so the person behind could pass. As they passed, both drivers nodded and waved.
There are so many more things that I love about Texas. Since being disabled my dreams of moving back there are pretty well trashed. I’m so thankful that I had 17 years there. I got to know the reasons that Texans love Texas. It’s not some empty pride- there’s a humility about the privilege of living there, but also a deeply rooted appreciation at the quality of life, friendliness of the people, incredible land, and wide open spaces. The stars are big at night. The sunrises are beautiful, especially during the spring and fall when the fog and mist make the sun a big red-orange ball. People who haven’t lived there understandably don’t ‘get it’. I’m not sure how they could.
Texas isn’t just a place, it’s an experience. It’s where I spent the best years of my life, and met people I’m still in contact with, 10 years after leaving. In Texas, I felt I was accepted, warts and all.
Texas is a place, but it’s also a state of mind. My heart is still there. ❤