I spoke on the phone to a friend in Texas. "You ought to get a copy of the current 'New Yorker' Magazine," I told him. "Your state got a good notice for once." (This was only partly true; the story was of a black man falsely accused of a crime, who died in jail. Later, when the state acknowledged its mistake, based on faulty witness identification, it granted him a posthumous pardon. One Texas locale has now established a fairer system for identifying witnesses.)
"Hooray," my friend said, knowing all too well that his state--also my home state--rarely garners positive news, at least outside its own borders. While we were on today's news, my friend added, "It's a pretty poor lineup these people running for office." Did I hear right? My friend has been a Republican partisan, one of the few I know there or anywhere. Had we been together, I'd have given him a hug. Since we were on the phone, I just threw in, "Yes, I know."
I grew up in the then Democratic Lone Star State and got a great education in a fine school system. To breathe different air and meet different people from different places, I decamped for college outside Chicago in the early 1950's. Since then I've made countless return trip to my early ground, which I find increasingly a place I didn't used to know.
While culturally miles better than when I was growing up, the state seems upended by people who want you to bring your gun when you come, or buy one if you didn't have one, maybe carry it on a holster. If you have a daughter, give her a rifle for her 12th birthday. People who don't cotton up to a marriage (or even hand-holding) between male and male, they don't spread warmth.
I know I sound like a New Yorker, of whom one of my friend's senators has no tolerance. Maybe my friend was just being polite while he talked to me. He knows I'm a New Yorker, but I'm also a friend. I hope it wasn't just politeness.
It was Thomas Wolfe who said that you can't go home again. Some people I knew when growing up defied that--girls who went to colleges in other states, met future husbands there, and rather than moving to the groom's city, brought him back to Texas. In the decades I've lived in New York, the great majority of people I've befriended have, like me, moved here from somewhere else. That covers a lot of people, and I can't think of anyone who decided to put the gear in reverse and go back home to live. To a warmer climate maybe, but not back home.
In many ways the place where I grew up is better now than when I was there, changes that merit applause. More museums of quality, more good music and theater, more good and integrated schools, more good food. I'm glad it's where I started--it has given me happy memories. It was good all around. Talking to my friend, even about politics, makes me figure there's hope for more of that yet to return.
Stanley Ely writes about his home state and adopted state in his book, "Life Up Close, a Memoir," in paperback and ebook.