Did you know that Gen. Sam Houston was a protégé of Gen. Andrew Jackson, the seventh president of our United States? I wonder what ol’ Sam would have thought if someone had told him that his name would be the first word ever spoken on the moon.
What’s got me thinking about Houston? I mean, besides that U2 is playing in concert there tonight and I’m missing it? I’m reading Lone Star Nation by H. W. Brands. It’s a history of Texas from its colonization efforts in 1828 until its annexation into the United States in 1845.
Sound boring? It’s not. It reads like a novel. It’s got political intrigue and war and ambition and love.
You know what was boring? As a seventh grader at O. Henry* Junior High School I was required to take Texas history. I remember three things:
1) the way Mr. R. kept the top button of his pink, button-down polo undone so that his chest hair could cascade over it,
2) the 8-pound Texas history textbook that dwarfed the yellow pages and nearly broke my back as I hauled it from class to locker to home and back again, and
3) repetitive worksheets that finally drilled into my brain that Saltillo, Mexico is the sister city of Austin.
There was one more thing, actually. I remember trying to build a replica of Mission San José out of adobe I manufactured in my backyard. It didn’t work.
Being a native Texan begotten of native Texans (and so forth, back through six generations), I learned most of my history through osmosis. I remembered the Alamo and I remembered Goliad. I knew that “come and take it” was a threat, not an offer, and that “six flags over Texas” meant something beyond a theme park in Arlington. I explored the Capitol and the missions and the battlefields and was educated in a town whose high schools were named after Stephen F. Austin and James Bowie and David Crockett and William B. Travis. I learned Spanish and ate Tex-Mex and hit piñatas on el diez y seis de septiembre, the day Father Hidalgo began the fight for our independence from Spain. (Our independence from Mexico came later, on March 2, 1836.)
I can ramble on for much longer, but you get the point I think. We Texans are proud of our heritage. Name me another state where 90 percent of its residents could draw not only the state outline but its flag.
Go on. Do it.
New Mexico, you say? All right, you got me. They’ve just gotta draw a square with a little tail hanging down on the left for the state and then a Pawnee sun on a yellow background for the flag. That’s easy.
But give me another one, one where the state isn’t square. Can’t do it, can ya?
That’s what I thought.
It’s not a very 2009 kind of thing, this jingoistic pride, but what can I say? I’m a Texan.
And this book is very Texan, even if Brands is a Yankee from Oregon. Not that we’d hold that against him. Houston was from Tennessee, after all.
*O. Henry was the pen name for William Sydney Porter, a short-story writer who lived in Austin and Houston for years before fleeing to Honduras to escape prison time for embezzlement. While in Honduras he coined the phrase “banana republic” in describing the country.
O. Henry was most famous for his story “Gift of the Magi” which Saturday Night Live spoofed in a 1988 sketch starring Phil Hartman and Jan Hooks as Donald Trump and his wife Ivana. (The Trumps exchange Christmas gifts of a solid-gold door and a solid-gold anchor. Unfortunately, one had sold the yacht to buy the door and the other had sold the mansion to buy the anchor.)
I can’t find that sketch on the internet, so instead I bring you another classic Phil Hartman sketch, co-starring Roseanne Barr. Best line? “She gave me several options.”
Categories: Brain Workouts