Thursday, August 23, 2007

Texas Plates

1963 - The Beatles released Please, Please Me in the US. George Wallace became governor of Alabama. Patsy Cline was killed in a plane crash along with Hawkshaw Hawkins, and Cowboy Copas. Martin Luther King delivered his famous “I have a dream” speech. The first James Bond movies were released. One day day late in November, I was standing at the chalk board in my 4th grade classroom doing math problems. There was a knock at the door. The teacher stepped out. She came back in a few seconds later, visibly shaken. “President Kennedy has been shot in Dallas,” she said. We all sat down and put our heads on our desks while we waited for more news. At that time, we were told that he was still alive.

1964- Ford introduced the Mustang. Civil rights workers were killed in Mississippi. President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act. The New York World’s Fair was in full swing.

My father decided that we had to see the World’s Fair. We loaded up all the camping equipment that would fit in a ’63 Chevy….tent, army surplus cots, sleeping gear, the Coleman stove, and of course, clothes that we would look nice in. We stayed in campgrounds from Texas to Washington, D.C. and then on up to New York. There was nothing unusual about this. We took such trips almost every summer. We usually pulled into a state or national park, paid a dollar or a dollar and a half, and started unloading. My dad, brother and I would set up the tent while Mom got out the cooking gear and started dinner. My brother and I would set up the cots and and put all the beds together while dinner was being prepared. After dinner, we would roam around the campground in search of any other kids in our age group. We always had a good time talking with them and asking each other questions about life in each other’s home states. It was easy to tell which state each family was from . You just looked at the liscense plates on their car. People had funny ideas about Texas. It took some talking to convince them that we did not have oil wells in our backyard. We would try to explain cotton farming to them but it was seldom that they really got what we were talking about, especially since we had shattered their ideas about oil wells, cattle, six guns, etc.

1964 was a different experience. Several times people looked at our Texas plates and turned up their noses at us. One kid walked up to us and said, “Texas is the murder capital of the world.” People seemed to blame us somehow that Kennedy was killed in Dallas and that Jack Ruby murdered Lee Harvey Oswald on national TV.

In D.C. we saw all the monuments and the Smithsonian Museum. We stood in line in Arlington Memorial Cemetary to pass by JFK’s grave. A large black woman a few feet in front of us began screaming and fell to her knees when she saw the flame. Two marines lifted her off her feet and carried her away. One of the marines was black. Between gritted teeth uttered, “ We must maintain our dignity.” He was visibly ticked off that a person of his race was making such a scene.

We continued on to New York. The exhibits at the fair could fill several posts. We saw mock ups of the equipment used by the astronouts who landed on the moon five years later. We saw the original “It’s a small world” exhibit. The GE theater, the Chevrolet show. It was all amazing. All the while, our Texas plates got us yelled at, sometimes by people mad at Texas and sometimes by homesick Texas expatriats.

Fast forward to 2000. I left Texas to live in Florida for a year. I did not change over to Florida plates on my truck. Evidently there is still a certain mystic about Texas. Living here, we don’t really think about it. Guys went nuts over blond hair and Texas plates in Florida. Several times, I was followed around Fort Lauderdale and had to take evasive action by pulling behind a shopping center and waiting five or ten minutes for some dude to give up and leave the area. Most of the time, it was some guy at least ten years younger than me. I think they would have been surprised to find out they had been chasing after a woman in her mid-forties. I never let them get close enough to find that out.

From Florida, we moved to North Carolina for a few months. In between we came back to Texas for the Kerrville Folk Festival and since that was about the time my registration was due, I re-upped it here and kept my Texas plates. The mountains of North Carolina were not the place for us so we got back to Texas as fast as we could.

I am glad that I have had the experience of living in other states. I think everyone who has a chance to leave home for a while should do it just to get the view from afar.

If I could put a soundtrack on this post, it would be Berkley Hart’s Texas Line.
They made me cry with this one when I was homesick in NC.


heartinsanfrancisco said...

I grew up in New York state, where we rarely saw Texans.

My early impressions of them were formed mainly from the song "Big D" written by Frank Loesser for the musical "The Most Happy Fella." I thought they were all rich, blond and well-dressed.

My father in his youth had left home in NYC and worked as a cowboy on a ranch in Texas for a year before he went back and enrolled in law school. I never knew much about his experience, though, except that he was an excellent rider.

seventh sister said...

I did not know much about New Yorkers either, except that the ones we met on the subway were very nice to us and would tell us which stop to get off at to get to where we were going.

Anne said...

What a great story, interesting memories. :)