Texas & Louisiana: Taproot

After the yin of Marfa, some yang: I follow highway back to interstate, and interstate through wine country and into Austin, Texas. Here, I spend a week as my sister’s VIP guest. Juliana was 19 when I was born, and we have different mothers. The first time I remember meeting her, I was in the 4th or 5th grade, and she visited us for a week in Jackson. We continued to see each other in units of weeks, on special occasions, when things were hectic. So, in my solo visit to Austin, we experience our first time alone together–our first time as sisters–between her sunny cottage and the restaurants and bars where her friends treat us. In the course of these days, I fill out the details of the portrait I carry of her. I feel at home. I could stay forever in her guest bedroom. She sends me away with tears and a blue pendant made of Siberian glass.

Leaving, I think of the family I want to interview before I run out of money and find some temporary job. In Vicksburg, Mississippi, only six hours east, is the next-door neighbor I grew up treating as a third grandmother. My little brother and I called Joan (pronounced joe-anne) by her first name, and played hide and seek in her closets. We were over there so often that I can draw a functional map of her house with details as small as where she kept the dog food.

Before I call Joan, I stop in Fort Worth at Joan’s grandson Bert’s apartment and meet his four year old daughter for the first time. Bert and I grew up together. We even had a wedding that the adults orchestrated for us when we were five years old. Now, his expression is unchanged, a smile that could reveal a secret, but that only comes to represent the sweetness and politeness of manner Southern parents hope all their boys will grow into. Seeing people again after those ridiculous lengths of time proves that people don’t change, or at least that what you remember being fond of about them is constant.

Bert, his daughter Avery, and I drive to a touristy part of town and watch a cattle drive. It happens constantly–three times a day, but it’s still crowded like a circus. The cattle drive takes place on a single cobblestone block in Fort Worth that seems to be the economic and cultural motor of the whole town: the ancient architecture, the commercialized restaurants, and the bulls with wide horns. People swarm the sidewalks. The cattle carry their enormous horns down the street, with cowboys on horseback keeping just behind them. After, we stop by a candy store. Avery picks out taffy based on the colors, and Bert approves or vetoes based on the flavors.

In Dallas, I visit my old roommate from Mississippi Teacher Corps and a friend of mine from college, who found one another by coincidence. We go to a birthday party, and end up on a gay scavenger hunt. With experience, the Dallas of my imagination — formerly plain — grows fun and convivial.

The next day, I eat lunch with my mother’s best childhood friend: she is the only woman in the world who speaks and acts like my mother. They are singular. Laverne and Shirley. Paris and Nicole. We laugh and cover the gamut of catch-up conversation in a short time. We both call my mother afterward.

I’d thought of Dallas and Fort Worth as a detour between Austin, Texas, and Vicksburg (I’m skipping over Louisiana for now). But the transition to my visit with Joan in Vicksburg is the natural conclusion to seeing all of these people. As I move closer to home, the people move closer to my heart. I focus less on writing. In fact, I don’t put down these thoughts until months later.

Originally written in March of 2016.


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