Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: Becoming Texan

I have three friends who are wannabe Texans. First, there is my “brother” in Bologna, an art historian of a high order of intelligence. He has all the characteristics of a genius—he is creative and he is enthusiastic about what he loves: art, the Palio, hot chili peppers (he grows his own jalapeños and Carolina reapers), his friends, and, of course, Texas; indeed, he is a genius. The other two, also geniuses, are new to loving Texas: one, Argentinian, because she loves Texans, Texan food and Texas’ oldest university; the other, French, for the same reasons, plus boots.

Now the last of these friends is hilarious in no small part because, unlike most people who love boots, she (and I) just fantasize about them the way that perhaps a teenager (and she has two teenage daughters, so I should be careful here) fantasizes about being a pop star; actually, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that her daughters fantasize instead about writing a book like The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which I believe they are now reading in English. But this friend of mine and I both go to boot stores to look, smell, feel and touch, the way I once went to William H. Allen, Bookseller at 2031 Walnut Street in Philadelphia. I would feel the books, touch them, smell them, and fantasize about buying them; and, in the end, I would buy one or two, and invariably Mr. Allen, just as he was thanking me (in spoken Latin) for my business, would give me one or two paperbacks for free. He was a marvelous man, and I treasure my memory of him and keep his books among the many in my personal library in Texas.

A bust similar to this one from the Naples Museum sat steadfastly in the window of William H. Allen’s Bookstore on Walnut Street.

Though I am a native of Pennsylvania who spent most of his childhood in the Philadelphia area, I have now lived in Texas for some twenty-five years; yet, I still do not have a pair of boots.  Yet recently, while my Argentinian friend was dealing with a number of kind Texans, as she was then on a computer shopping spree, my French friend and I, went boot shopping–that is to fantasize about buying boots. We even consulted with a buff and husky salesperson about the general efficacy of wearing boots in inclement weather, for example, what a particular Texan t-shirt’s dictum meant (apparently it comprised an erotic reference neither of us understood), and whether the on-sale boots were of high enough quality to purchase—which he assured us was definitely the case. This is quite a contrast to my friend from Bologna, who when he was visiting Texas, bought two pairs of boots—one for himself, and another for his charming daughter.

Recently, when I was standing there at a funeral for a dear friend who, thanks be to God, passed away at a good old age, and I noticed that all the real Texans were wearing not only their suits, as I was, but also boots, I immediately became alarmed. I realized that, after all these years, I was still a spurious Texan. Jody, one of the pallbearers, pointed out to me that if I were to cross over from dress shoes to boots, I could do it incrementally.  He suggested just switching one of his boots for my shoe—not at the funeral, of course, put presumably later that day at Starbucks or let’s say after work, at a bar for a beer.  That way I could try it.  But what would people think at the bar?  I mean, surely the bar patrons would notice that we were wearing each other’s shoe.  (Some might be bikers and be upset by such an odd development—pace all motorcyclists here).  I know he was joking about putting my best foot forward, but surely going back to the boot store would be a better solution.

Then his brother, Cody—for Texans often have rhyming names—suggested that if I were to go back to the boot store, I should definitely not get a lizard-skin boot.  That would be a sure sign, aside from my Philadelphia accent, which is already problematical, that I am not a Texan. I had no idea that real Texans prefer what he called “rawhide” boots.  So, that is a good piece of information, I thought to myself, for my French friend and I, under the tutelage of the buff and husky salesperson, had noticed that the lizard skin boots were in any case significantly more expensive. 

And then another in our group of pallbearers—and again, I was the sole bootless pallbearer—whom some call “Waco” (a nickname), but whose real name is Glyn (pronounced “Glen”) suggested that I get a ten-gallon hat to go with it. I know he was only kidding. Jody then quipped—I think it was Jody—said maybe start with a nine-gallon version; Cody said, no, “He’s ready for a nine-point-five-gallon hat.”  Of course, I recognized these comments as kind of ritualistic rite du passage, that has moved the transformation of me from a lad from Philadelphia into a man from Texas. 

And then, just when everything had settled down and I had temporarily scratched my itch, to some small extent, to become a real Texan, my French friend wrote me, sending me electronically a picture of a real Texan boot store she found in Paris.  And she told me how enamored of the Texan accent she is, too. (I’ve never known anyone enamored of the Philly accent.) And then, coincidentally, my other friend, from Argentina, wrote to tell me what a wonderful impression she had of Texas and of Texans, and how well her Texan computer is working.  I didn’t want to ruin it for her by telling her that that computer, though purchased in Waco, Texas, which is coincidentally my other friend’s persistent nickname, was not made in Texas. But why ruin it for her? She loves Texans, had a great time in Texas, and anyway, though she bought a Hewlett-Packard, it might as well have been a Dell, right? Dell is at least based in Texas, even if the Dell I am now writing this on was made in China (I checked).  And this friend, even though an Argentinian—and as you know Argentina is famous for its steaks—said that Texan steak is delicious, too.  And that’s a real compliment. I suspect, by the way, that this intellectual friend also likes cowboy boots.  But of the four non-Texans mentioned in this blog, only my brother from Bologna has had the courage to buy them so far.

That said, I think that now I have good start on becoming Texan. I love Texan steak. I have horse and mule riding experience, as I was a muleskinner for circa ten years.  I will probably buy rawhide boots in the next twelve to eighteen months. And, though I may not buy a ten-gallon hat, I am debating about getting a belt with a breastplate sized buckle.  I am not sure about that, as perhaps I have too much belly fat.  But maybe they’re slimming?  After all, even arguably overweight professional wrestlers look pretty good in their championship belts, don’t they?

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