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Where Do You Call Home?

A lot of people refer to Houston as the armpit of Texas. I’ve been guilty of it as well. The humidity is so high that if you’re not sticky, you’re dead. The crime rate is horrendous (nothing like heat+humidity to agitate a serial killer) and the traffic is comparable to a line for a ride at Astroworld. Wait 30 minutes, ride for three and then get in line again. Still, it’s home. I was born there at Memorial City Hospital. I had a fig tree and a PoGo ball and a lucrative fudge stand as long as my neighbor Glen the marathon runner could keep his wife off of his chocolate-scented trail. Terms of Endearment was based and filmed there and you can’t do much better than a Larry Mcmurtry story. Life in Houston was not so bad.
I was six when the space shuttle “Challenger” launched. It was a big day for Houston. A t.v. had been wheeled in to my classroom in order to view the live launch. I didn’t understand why my teacher had so hastily scrambled to shut off the t.v. in the middle of the broadcast. Something had gone wrong. As a 6 year old I didn’t immedietely comprehend the magnitude of events. On the night of the memorial us girls were led out on my dad’s office roof. The biggest lazer light show that Houston or the world had ever seen unfolded before us and reflected off of the adjacent building’s windows. Haunting music was performed live and the finale was a spectacle of elaborate fireworks. It’s almost 30 years later and I still don’t understand why a city would choose to honor explosion victims with fireworks.Existence doesn’t come equipped with an answer for everything but I knew that they had good intentions. As a spectator I remember feeling an immense level of sadness and gratitude.Yes, even as a six year old. Not many can claim they’re from a “space town”. Okay, millions can claim they’re from a “space town” but when compared to the world’s population, it’s not that high.
Houston is a sub-tropical climate. We were always just a short drive from Padre Island or an even shorter drive from Galveston where I rode horseback on the beach for my ninth Birthday. The temperature rarely dropped below 45 in the winter and if it did, logs were quickly stacked in the fireplace and lit to keep the “chill out of our bones”.
My Father was an urban cowboy as were many of the men and women who made their homes in the city of my birth. His suit consisted of suede blazers with patches on the elbows, an Ely western shirt, Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo belt buckle, Ostrich cowboy boots and a gray felt Stetson cowboy hat. He wasn’t a poser, just a transplanted country boy like so many other inhabitants of Houston. J.R Ewing’s Dallas character might have brought the look into the spotlight but it didn’t begin and end with him.
I was fortunate to be given a top notch elementary education. I attended the public Wilchester Elementary School but the teachers were so invested and the programs were so modern that I might as well have spent my formative years in a private academy. I felt genuinely loved and appreciated by my teachers. I never felt like “just a kid”. Mrs. Kirkland was both my second and third grade teacher. She loved her life, she loved her husband and her perfume was like a hug. Her signature scent embodied both elegance and approachability. She gave me my first true lesson in humanity when she illustrated the difference between being wealthy and rich. Many of her pupils were very wealthy and many were upper-middle class like me (before we were po’folk). She strived to teach us that wealth is just a figure but the richness of life can be attained under any circumstances. Wealthy or not: if you count all of your blessings, strive to live by example and make yourself content with your lot, you are rich. She inspired me to make straight A’s and I was given $1 per A. I used my report card money to buy a baby powder scented doll that I named Sylvia after her, Sylvia Kirkland. She encouraged us each to develop our own voice in the world. I know now that she didn’t make a lot of money but she definitely made a mark.
For all of it’s bad reputation, Houston did have a lot to offer and I am now proud to say that I’m a native Houstonian. Most of my free time was spent skating my butt off at The Dairy Ashford Roller Rink. This is where I first learned to flirt while whipping my side pony as I whizzed by cute boys. It’s safe to say that the intoxicating aroma of Aqua Net left them breathless, both figuratively and literally.
Houston has it’s share of faults just like any other city but I had a pretty charmed adolescent life while claiming it as my home. My dad’s childhood friend played baseball for the Houston Astros and we were occasionally treated to better seats than we could afford. The Houston Astros don’t have the best track record in the MLB but their loyal fans got quite a show in the 80’s. We had Nolan Ryan, Ken Caminiti and Jose Cruz. Each time Jose came up to bat a chant was recited by the spectators. Split down the middle one half of our side would loudly cheer “Jose!” and the other would follow with “Cruz!” . Maybe it wasn’t that original but it made each fan feel like a thread in the stitching of the city that we called home.
I’ll probably never have a better cheese Enchilada than the one provided by Mama Ninfa’s. Goode Co. Barbeque will always be #1 in my heart followed very closely by Rudy’s of San Antonio. The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo was never missed by my family and 1988 was an especially good year for eight year old me. I’ll never forget seeing Tanya Tucker sing “Delta Dawn” or watching as Reba Mcentire emerged from the depths of the stage in a stunning sequined emerald green dress. After the show we were taken to the fairway and ate more than our weight in cotton candy, caramel apples and funnnel cakes. We didn’t arrive home until 1:30 a.m. and it was a school night. The next day our parents called in “sick” for us girls and we were allowed to recover from the previous night’s adventures while lounging in our p.j’s and watching 60’s reruns.
I wasn’t raised on a ranch with Longhorns grazing in a Bluebonnet filled pasture but we often took our supper in the living room on cowhide rugs that paid homage to our state and our star cattle breed. That counts right?
I’ve lived everywhere man. I’ve lived everywhere. Montana gave me wide open spaces to roam the hillsides with Dixie “The Wonder Dog”, Alaska gave me a view of the Northern Lights and migrating Whales, Missouri gave me an appreciation for anywhere but Missouri, the Texas hill country gave me an appreciation for true cowboys and cowgirls who work and live off the land. Raleigh, NC rarely gets snow but if you miss it in the winter it comes around during spring as the Dogwoods gracefully shed their white blossoms in their own version of a flurry. Aside from the allergic reactions, Raleigh in the spring is truly magical. I can drive two hours in one direction and dolphin watch from a jetty or drive two hours in another direction and be on the top of a lushly forested mountain (hopefully not bear watching).
I’ve called all of these places and more home but my true home is Houston. It’s where I took my first steps, said my first words and developed my first crush. Technically, my first crush was two crushes that were split 50/50. Take me at my word that if you’d seen Todd Collins and Rob Ramsay impersonate Hans and Franz in the talent show you would have crushed hard too!
Nobody’s hometown is perfect but you have to start somewhere.

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