Those who have read my “stuff” know that I am a Southern boy, with roots deep in Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. But for two periods of my life, I lived in Texas (1956 to 1961 and 1989 to 1991). I don’t remember much about Texas from that first period and I cannot forget the last period of my life.
Explaining Texas is an interesting task. You cannot explain Texas to people from Texas because they already know everything about Texas (or think they do). And many people who have never been to Texas would certainly never believe what you might tell them. So explaining Texas is an interesting and almost impossible task. But I am going to try.
My first try in explaining Texas is to point out that it is in fact a big state. There are parts of the state where you can drive for over 300 miles in any direction and still be in the state of Texas. The weather in east Texas has no relationship to the weather in west Texas. And when serious ornithologists (bird watchers to others) needed a book for Texas, the Texas Game and Fish Commission had to commission Roger Tory Peterson to prepare a book. The books that might work in other states are not sufficient to cover the state of Texas.
But the one thing that I cannot do is explain the people of Texas. It is not because it is impossible but because you would not believe me if I tried. So, instead of explaining the people of Texas, I am going to tell you about three women of Texas.
The first of the three women that describe Texas to me is Barbara Jordan, former Representative from Texas. I never met Ms. Jordan but I heard her, as did many people, during the Nixon impeachment hearings back in the mid 1970’s. Her presence and the power of her soul were felt by many. It has been said that when she spoke it was like the voice of God. As a black woman, she endured discrimination on two fronts, as a black person and as a woman. But her personal perseverance, her integrity, and her intellect showed through the hatred and ignorance of many of those around her.
The night she spoke to the Congress in favor of impeaching Richard Nixon was also the last night of the Texas State legislature session. When she began speaking, the entire political business of the state of Texas came to a halt as all those in Austin who had worked with this elegant lady when she was a member of that same body watched her show the nation what she was made of. It is said that the legislature all stood and cheered that day as though they were watching the University of Texas beat Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl.
When I lived in Odessa, Texas, during my second Texas period, two elementary schools in the area were named after prominent women of Texas named Barbara. The elementary school in Midland, Texas (the more affluent town in the Permian Basin portion of West Texas), was named after Barbara Bush, the wife of the first President Bush and former resident of Midland.
The elementary school in Odessa, Texas (where all those who work for the companies owned by the people who live in Midland live), was named after Barbara Jordan. This was done even though Barbara Jordan was from Houston. It says a lot about Texas. Barbara Jordan died in 1996 and she is missed.
The second woman of Texas was Governor Ann Richards. Governor Richards was elected governor in 1990 and served from 1991 to 1995. She was replaced, only in a political sense, by the current President Bush. I left Texas shortly after she became Governor so I cannot speak to her governance of the state. But I did get a chance to vote for her and that is what I did. It wasn’t that she was funny (she was but don’t ask either President Bush; it has been said by some that the reason that the son ran for Governor is because he was upset at what she had said about his father during the Democratic National Convention one year). It wasn’t that she was smart though she was. She knew people and she worked with them to get the best out of them. In a state where the Governor is not the most powerful politician (there are least five others who have more power than the Governor), she got the state headed in the right direction. Her successor and his successor have done a lot to turn the state backwards.
There is one story that speaks about the personality of this wonderful woman.
At a long-ago political do at Scholz Garten in Austin, everybody who was anybody was there meetin’ and greetin’ at a furious pace. A group of us got the tired feet and went to lean our butts against a table at the back wall of the bar. Perched like birds in a row were Bob Bullock, then state comptroller; moi; Charles Miles, the head of Bullock’s personnel department; and Ms. Ann Richards. Bullock, 20 years in Texas politics, knew every sorry, no good sumbitch in the entire state. Some old racist judge from East Texas came up to him: “Bob, my boy, how are you?”
Bullock said, “Judge, I’d like you to meet my friends: This is Molly Ivins with the Texas Observer.”
The judge peered up at me and said, “How yew, little lady?”
Bullock, “And this is Charles Miles, the head of my personnel department.” Miles, who is black, stuck out his hand, and the judge got an expression on his face as though he had just stepped into a fresh cowpie. He reached out and touched Charlie’s palm with one finger, while turning eagerly to the pretty, blond, blue-eyed Ann Richards. “And who is this lovely lady?”
Ann beamed and replied, “I am Mrs. Miles.”
That says a lot about the character and the nature of Ann Richards. Governor Richards died last September (September 13, 2006) and she will be missed.
The third woman of Texas is the one who told all the stories that no one, except those who have ever lived in Texas for an extended period of time, would ever believe, Molly Ivins.
I discovered Molly Ivins by chance many years ago and when I had the opportunity on September 11, 1995, to hear her speak, I grabbed the chance.
Molly Ivins was smart, she was funny, she was witty, and she was serious, often times at the same time. She spoke the truth; she was the one who pointed out that the emperor wore no clothes. She told you what she saw and many times if what she saw was wrong, she told you so. She was a political writer who politicians feared because they knew she would speak the truth, even when they were trying to hide the truth.
I should point out at this time that my stories about Barbara Jordan and the cheering of the Texas legislature and Ann Richards putting down a pompous, over-bearing Texas politician were written by Molly. Thanks, Molly!
I never got to meet Barbara Jordan; I never got to meet Ann Richards. But I did get the chance to meet Molly Ivins and it is a moment in time that I will never forget. That evening in 1995, the words that I had read gained a voice. And then, when I would read her later work, I could hear that voice calling us to do what is right, even when political expediency and cultural backgrounds say not to do so.
Molly Ivins died this week and like Barbara Jordan and Ann Richards, we have lost people who cannot be replaced. But, just as one cannot explain Texas, one shouldn’t try to replace someone like Barbara, Ann, or Molly. They have shown us the way and now it is up to us to walk that path and continue what they did, bringing hope to the little people and telling wanna-be emperors that they have no clothes.