By Lynn Ashby 30 August 2010
THE STORE – The first clue is the parking lot. Intermingled are Lexuses and MachoMaster pickups, bumper stickers reading “George W. Forever!” and “I’d Rather be Ropin,’” country club ID stickers and gun racks. No place but Texas. This is a store in Hunt (actually, its official name is The Store because it’s the only store in Hunt), one of many such places around Texas where east meets west or maybe town meets country.
On one work glove we have the locals who live here, work here and don’t want to leave. On the other glove we have the visitors from the big city who come out to toil the soil on weekends or maybe they have retired here. The locals call the city slickers the “mink and manure set.” I call them “strange.”
There are no doubt similar cross-pollinations in other states, but the situation is particularly pervasive in Texas because of three reasons. One: deer leases and bird hunting (see: Cheney, Dick). Every fall and winter, half of Texas is tromping the fields and woods of the other half. For many, those leases become purchases.
Two, while many American cities are contracting and losing population, our metropolitan areas are spreading into rural regions where the deer and the antelope, not to mention Billy Joe and Melba Sue, play. This brings sprawling new housing developments right up against traditional farm and ranch lands. When others think of the Lone Star State (if they ever do), they think of vast horizons, tumbleweeds and dust storms, but 80 percent of Texans live in a metropolitan area – one of the highest of the 50 states.
The third reason is any big-city Texan who can afford it likes to have a place in the country for weekends, vacations, retirement, etc. Sometimes we can best see ourselves through the eyes of others, so let’s read this from John Steinbeck, a Nobel Prize winner for literature. He wrote in “Travels With Charley:”
“The tradition of the land is deep fixed in the Texas psyche. Businessmen wear heeled boots that never feel a stirrup, and men of great wealth who have houses in Paris and regularly shoot grouse in Scotland refer to themselves as ‘little old country boys.’ It would be easy to make sport of their attitude if one did not know that in this way, they try to keep their association with the strength and simplicity of the land. Instinctively they feel that this is the source, not only of wealth, but of energy. And the energy of Texas is boundless and explosive.” (Two quick examples of this: George W. and LBJ.)
Texas is full of “little old country boys” who work M-F defending the guilty, fixing prices or stealing IRAs from widows. On Friday afternoons they trade their three-piece Brooks Bros. suits for boots and Levis, toss shovels and rolls of barbed wire in the back of their $65,000 Dodge Exterminator with the hand-wrought deer-guard and head for the Double Bar Triple X Rocking Umlaut.
I see my neighbors doing that, then returning home late on Sundays, covered in sweat and cow droppings. They smile that absentee landlord’s condescending smile as they head up their driveway. “Yep,” says my dentist on Monday morning, trying to find the right tooth. “Spent the weekend branding 45 cattle, painted the outhouse and poured concrete for a new silo. Man, that’s fun. What did you do?”
“Miffga wattoy un haff.”
I am trying to tell him I went to college so I wouldn’t have to brand cattle, paint outhouses and pour concrete, but these guys love it.
The hustlers and the rustlers have different backgrounds, employment and values, so how do you tell them apart? Here at The Store a hint as to the real origin of Ed Earl and Chauncey Charles is footwear. Nikes and two-toned monogrammed anchovy-skin Lucchese boots practically scream, “Highland Park” or “River Oaks.” Mud-caked work boots mean “West Screwworm.” On occasion I have heard the clink-clink of spurs as some cowboy walks in for lunch. Spurs don’t go with Nikes but do add a certain macho to the monogrammed Lucchese.
The presence of weekend warriors means the locals have sold the very worst piece of land, where they couldn’t grow cattle, cactus or old, to the orthopedic surgeon from Austin. “Doc, just look at this view of the sunset. Right over the power lines and the feed lot. Bet you don’t have that in Westlake Hills. You can truck in about 50 tons of good topsoil, irrigate it and grow crabgrass.”
In addition, the sly country bumpkins can cut their own property taxes because the visitors pay huge taxes on those million-dollar ranch houses with the pool and solarium. And notice the entrances to the different ranches. Working spreads have modest gates with a post box. The mink and manure set, or M&Ms, have gigantic entrances with waterfalls, bugles and stain-glass windows just below “Rich-O Ranch-O” or maybe “Hedge Fun.”
Here at the feed stores, coffee shops (Kountry Kookin’) and Bubba’s BBQ are where we see the greatest contrast with the males. Meanwhile, at the antique stores and flea markets the wives, who sullenly put up with such weekends, go shopping for authentic Texanna for their home away from home. In answer to this demand, the locals dump off stuff they found in the barn which the big city buyers wouldn’t have in their urban homes on a dare. “Oh, look. A rusty, cob-webbed-infested farm doohickey with bent splanges. It will look perfect in the solarium next to the John Deere calf mulcher.”
Finally, in case you are wondering about the parking lot, the locals are the ones who drive a Lexus. This reminds me of Dick Cavett’s observation, “I was born and brought up in the cornfields of Nebraska, then I attended Yale. They say I’m half hick and half sophisticate. Of course, if I’d stayed in Nebraska I’d be all sophisticate.”
Ashby weekends at home at firstname.lastname@example.org