How a Native Texan Copes in a Foreign Land

I am a Texan living in Florida. When I say that I am Texan, I mean that my family has been living in Texas since before Texas was admitted as a state to the United States. One of my relatives was the first non-Native American born into his Texas county. Texas is in my blood and my soul.

I was born and raised in Austin with a brief but happy stint in San Antonio during my elementary school years. Growing up, we vacationed most summers in Port Aransas or South Padre Island, swimming, fishing and collecting sand dollars. We spent our childhood summers at an idyllic sleep away camp on Lake LBJ.

As a fully indoctrinated Longhorn by the age of three, I attended The University of Texas for both my undergraduate and law school education. The primary factor motivating my decision to attend UT for college was the ability to attend all of the home (and some bowl) football games. Football may not be the best reason to choose a college, but luckily for me UT also offered a quality education and a breadth of majors from which to choose.

Over the years, people had asked me with a tinge of sarcasm if I had ever left Texas before. I chuckled and replied that yes, I had branched out and left the safety net of my home state. I studied abroad twice during college and law school, and during my post-graduate years, I took a leap of faith and spent a summer clerking at a law firm in South Carolina. I fell in love with Charleston and years later returned to the Palmetto State, where I worked at a low country law firm for one year before feeling the pull of Texas to return to its weathered arms.

In 2009, when I married my husband, I also married into his career, one that requires frequent moves. We were able to ease into this nomadic lifestyle with our first stop in familiar Houston, a city I used to view as a second-class citizen to my beloved green Austin. I came to embrace Houston for its culture, diversity and proximity to the water. We enjoyed two quality years in Houston where we forged friendships and took advantage of nearby museums and family-oriented activities.

Not long after the birth of our third child, we enjoyed one last Christmas in the Gulf Coast before heading out for the great unknown — Connecticut. Having decided that my husband should continue to pursue his current career path, it was time to hold up our end of the bargain. So for the first time since living in Charleston, we started the long drive east as the temperature dropped each time we crossed a new state line.

We shifted from unseasonably warm and humid December weather in Houston to snowy and bitterly cold weather in the Constitution State. We spent six blissful months in a charming community overlooking Long Island Sound, and by the end of our time we were sad to leave our favorite diners, new friends and local attractions (like the beluga whales at the Mystic aquarium).

Our sadness was tempered, however, by our excitement at returning to the South to live near the Florida/Georgia border. We would be in the land of sandy beaches, eternal sunshine, sweet tea and Southern hospitality.

Two years have quickly flown by since we’ve settled into our idyllic spot in Northeast Florida, and I’ve fallen in love with this coastal gem. We enjoy the perks of living in a small town – a quaint feel, knowing your neighbors, civic events and a low crime rate. Unlike many small towns, we also enjoy a rich cultural scene with an active community theater presence, various festivals, the arts and philanthropic events throughout the year.

However…

We do miss Texas. A lot. Texas isn’t necessarily better than Florida, and there are some things in my new town that I like better than Austin. But Texas is always lurking in the back of your subconscious, waiting to remind you of the things you can’t get in Florida. These are the things I miss the most:

1) Killer breakfast tacos. Or any breakfast tacos, for that matter. There are two choices for great Mexican food near us. One is on our island. One is off our island. Can you imagine if I told a Texan that they had two choices for Mexican food? I would get laughed out of the state. The other problem is: none of these Mexican food restaurants open before 11 a.m. Thus, you guessed it, no breakfast tacos. I know, it’s entirely shocking, right?! What the heck is one supposed to eat for breakfast on the weekends other than a breakfast taco bursting to the gills with some form of protein, loads of yellow cheese and the salsa of your choice? There is nary a breakfast taco food truck in sight either (or any food trucks, for that matter).

What’s a Texan to do? We make our own breakfast tacos. They are simple: eggs, bacon (if we’re lucky), salsa and cheese. It’s not Torchy’s, but it will do. The upshot is that we each weigh about 10 pounds less than our Texas weight. However, I would pack on those pounds for tacos any day of the week. Let’s get our priorities straight, people.

2) Texas football. Yeah, yeah, we notice your peppy game day pictures on Facebook. We see you decked out in burnt orange, tailgating in the parking lot or drinking a cold one at the alumni center. Remember when I could name all the first string players, as well as all the coaches? Now I’m lucky to know the starting quarterback’s name and a few key players. Don’t ask me the names of those new assistant coaches – I don’t know them from the Aggies. The days of pouring over the sports section and reading Kirk Bohls’s witty commentary are over. Sure, I get the Austin American-Statesman’s digital edition emailed to my inbox courtesy of my parents’ subscription, but I don’t even have time to open up the attachment.

We watch the Longhorn games that Florida deems worthy of broadcasting, and sadly the SEC Network trumps the Longhorn Network on our cable line-up. These days we usually record the games that we do get, as our three children are too loud and disruptive to make it through an entire game without continuous interruption.

My daughter recently told me she wanted nothing more than to see a Texas game in person, at the stadium, sometime in the near future. My heart just about melted, and I felt the hope rise in me that at least one of these kids would carry on the Texas tradition in our family. “We gotta keep brainwashing them,” I instruct my husband, “That’s what happened to me.” I don’t know if I can handle a Florida Gator or Georgia Bulldog or Florida State Seminole in our family (this is our world in Northeast Florida).

3) Family and friends. This is the obvious thing that we miss the most. I guess I should have put these people above breakfast tacos. Of course we miss holidays, seeing our family, watching our young nephews grow up. We feel out of the loop at times. Luckily we live in a tourist destination, so we have enjoyed our fair share of visits from family members. When you don’t see your family often, you treasure the time you have with them and pack every minute with fun. I also miss having built-in babysitters or dog-sitters (thanks Mom and Dad).

I miss seeing the high school, college and former work friends I used to meet for lunch or go out with on occasion. I am grateful for social media sites like Facebook where I can at least keep up with my friends’ children and goings-on in their lives. And we are mindful that are parents won’t be around forever. I don’t take any moment or conversation with our family members for granted, so that may be a silver lining to living in a different state from our loved ones.

4) I miss the quirky things that make Texas, well, Texas. Gruene Hall, KGSR radio (the best radio station in the world – why can’t they replicate this station anywhere else? Where else can you hear a Lyle Lovett ditty followed by a Band of Horses song?), Schlitterbahn, Southwestern cuisine, Texas barbeque, Mexican martinis, greasy cheese enchiladas, the attitude that we are all in this fight together – some things can’t be bottled up and exported outside of the state.

So what’s a gal out of Texas to do? I have developed several coping strategies to deal with being detached from my home state. I suspect other non-resident Texans have adopted similar strategies in their new locales:

1) Wear your Texan identity loudly and proudly. I once hit up the local park with two kids in tow. Unknowingly, we all wore Longhorn shirts. Another parent started up a conversation with me: “So I guess you’re from Texas.” Another mom at tennis camp: “Are you the family from Texas?” Besides incorporating Longhorn gear into your wardrobe (t-shirts, lunchboxes, visors, etc.), every out-of-state Texan knows that you need to fully deck your car out with Texas paraphernalia to leave no doubt in anyone’s mind where you hail from. I personally love the simplicity of the Texas flag magnetic stick-on – if other cars don’t know what this flag means, they aren’t worth your time anyway.

You also want to proudly display your Texas college roots, if applicable, to alert others to your Texasness, and more importantly to find other Texans on the road. This would have never happened back home, but now we get super excited when we see a bumper sticker for Baylor, Texas A&M (shudder) or even TCU or SMU. These decals are great conversation starters with other Texans, and I have forged many parking lot friendships by chatting up someone from a former Southwest Conference school over our shared bond of Texas.

My favorite moment happened on the main bridge connecting our bucolic island to the mainland. I noticed another Longhorn-stickered car crossing the bridge, and the car eventually pulled in front of me. The elderly driver sped up, laid on the horn for like 10 seconds, and threw his “Hook’em Horns” hand sign with gusto out of the window. I signed back to him, while others around us wondered what kind of gang signs we were throwing.

When you are driving in another state, you are constantly scanning the roads, looking for that elusive Texas license plate or state insignia. I once got excited when I parked next to the same Texas Exes Life Member two days in a row at Publix and then Bealls. We Texans have the same shopping patterns!, I thought.

On occasion, other Texans may doubt your authenticity. You see, we Texans have high standards for who can claim to be from our state, and not everyone makes the cut. Last week at a sports camp, my daughter came home upset that a boy had disputed her claim that she was born in Texas. “You don’t even know the Texas songs,” he told her. Shoot, I thought, I’ve got to teach her “Texas, Our Texas.” “That’s because you started kindergarten in Florida,” I reassured her, making a mental note to order a Texas songs CD the next day.

2) Seek out the most authentic Mexican restaurants you can find. Determine where the Spanish-speakers and the working crowd eat. Avoid the tourist traps and anywhere selling mainly burritos. Often you can find the best Mexican food dives in sketchy looking strip malls. Seek these places out. The perfect margarita is also elusive outside of Texas. I am fortunate that the two acceptable Mexican restaurants near us serve a quality house margarita.

All you really need in life is a perfectly mixed ‘rita paired with flaky chips, flavorful salsa and queso with the right consistency. You will never have the same Mexican food options outside of Texas – if you can find one or two quality joints, count your blessings.

3) Stay in the loop regarding Texas events, cultural happenings and politics. This way you can sound informed when chatting with your Texas friends and family. I look forward to receiving Texas Monthly in the mail every month to read about the latest trendy restaurants, true crime stories and political hijinks. You can get your fix of all things Texas without even leaving your house and daydream about the towns and restaurants to add to your bucket list.

Sometimes I feel like an immigrant from another country who is assimilating to life in a new world. I wasn’t merely a resident of Texas; I consider myself a citizen of the Lone Star State, and thus I miss my native food, customs and quirks. Until we meet again Texas, I will relish the pristine beaches, down-home accents and vibrant sunsets of the Sunshine State.

As Willie Nelson sings, someday we will be on the road again, perhaps back to the land of oil, cattle, Silicon Hills, high-end shopping and the world’s greatest Mexican food.