I’ve been out west, pardner. Flew to Texas with the husband on Thursday to attend the Army commissioning and college graduation of a dear friend.
What a surreal experience.
First, there’s the basic change from here to there. Connecticut has been on-again/off-again in its weather; warm and spring-like one day, back to winter the next. And rainy. And green.
Texas is green, too. Greener than we expected, actually. (We can be forgiven, I hope, for being dunces about the climate. All we’d ever seen before was the panhandle.) This was our first visit to Eastern Texas (from Dallas to Nacogdoches) and we had this image of desert in our heads. Not so. It was very green and reminded us both of upstate New York, believe it or not. Lovely.
Can I also be forgiven for humming the “Dallas” theme song everywhere we went? Couldn’t help it! Soon as I saw the first ranch with the soaring wrought iron gate over the driveway (and names like BAR L, LAZY Q, and GRASSY ACRES), the music leaped into my head. I was never a big fan of the show itself, but I loved Patrick Duffy back in the day. (Man From Atlantis; oh, yeah!)
Secondly, people out west are different. I hate to say it, but the truth is that a lot of people you meet in Connecticut are downright rude. And I’m not the only one who thinks so. A lot of Connecticut transplants feel the same way. (Coming home last night, two women sat in front of us — Connecticut natives, btw — and I put the question to them and they agreed! They HATE Connecticut and they were born there! “Why are we going back?” one of them lamented.)
Most everyone we met in Texas was polite and friendly. Okay, some of them were hotel or restaurant employees, so they probably get paid to be nice, but even the people we met over the weekend at the two events were nice (the only exception being the (I’m about to steal a line from ‘Lethal Weapon’) “albino jack-rabbit son of a bitch” bantam rooster cock of the walk who just happens to be our friend’s grandfather.
It’s difficult when faced with that much friendliness not to become, well, suspicious. Are they just being polite, rather than friendly?
There’s a great old joke about that:
This young bride moves down south. First thing, she’s invited to lunch by these 3 local wives so they can check her out, see if she measures up. They’re sitting at lunch and the first wife holds out her hand to the young bride and says, “You see this diamond ring? My husband bought this diamond ring for me and it cost one million dollars.”
The young bride smiles and says “That’s nice.”
Well, the wives are little flummoxed because she doesn’t seem all that impressed. The second wife points out to the driveway and says, “You see that red car out there? My husband bought that car for me and it cost two million dollars.”
The young bride smiles and sips her tea and says, “That’s nice.”
Now the other wives are sweating. What is it with this chick? The third wife waves her hand around and says, “You see this house? My husband bought me this house and it cost 30 million dollars.”
The young bride keeps smiling. “That’s nice.”
They can’t stand it. Finally, one of the wives says, “I don’t understand. You aren’t impressed with the ring, or the car, or the house.”
The young bride smiles. “Well,” she says. “I don’t have a million dollar ring, or a 2 million dollar car or a 30 million dollar house, but when I was a girl, my daddy sent me to finishing school where I learned to say “That’s nice” instead of “Fuck you.”
More things about Texas:
There is a town called Crandall. Not surprising. We Crandalls breed like rabbits. We’re everywhere. Dig far enough back in your own family tree and I bet you’ll find one of us little buggers. We’re like body lice.
Texas has a huge number of churches…and liquor stores. I’m not sure what that means.
The two best neon signs EVER are in Texas.
The first one was for the “Sapphire Rhino Men’s Club.” WTF is a Sapphire Rhino and do I really want to know?
The second read “Condoms To Go.” Well, I suppose that’s better than using them at the store.
A word on the reason for our trip:
Jake Kelly is really more like a son to us than a friend. He came into our lives the fall of 2007 via the US Coast Guard Academy, where he was enrolled as a 4th class (freshman) cadet. Jake give it his all, but after about 18 months, he realized that the Coast Guard (much as he admired it) was not for him. He was drawn to either the police force (not surprising, since his dad is a police officer) or the Army. So he got out.
All hell broke loose. His family went into an uproar. All sorts of hate and discontent were lobbed his way. (Imagine having your grandfather call you on the phone just to tell you that you’re a quitter. Nice, huh?) This was a rough time for Jake. We supported him as much as we could. (How can you not support a 19-year-old who’s sitting on your couch crying because he thinks his family hates him?)
He stuck to his guns. He rode out the turmoil and took his life in the direction he felt it was meant to go. He enrolled in Stephen F. Austin State University and the Army ROTC. (To his family’s credit, things seem to now be on an even keel. I hope so. I hope it wasn’t all show for us Yankees. But he’s bitter about it; oh, yeah.)
This past Thursday was his 22 birthday. On Friday, we watched him be commissioned in the Army as a Second Lieutenant. (Very moving; I cried.) On Saturday (along with his older sister), he graduated. Soon (within weeks) he’ll leave for Washington State for three months, and from there travel to Fort Benning, GA for another six months or so.
It’s the “after that” which scares the shit out of me.
I love this kid. Really, I do. He’s terrific. Funny. Friendly. Kind-hearted. Has an enormous soul and a wicked sense of humor and a soul as large as the universe. I desperately do not want to see his life cut short by a bullet or a bomb or a landmine or some stupid accident. I will pray daily — as I pray for all my family — that he remains “safe out there.”
Almost as great as my love, is my admiration for Jake. He wanted something and went for it. He could have folded under family pressure, he could have given in, but he did not. He knew what he wanted and he took steps to make it happen. He took hold of his life, declared it his own, and went with it. For now, that life is the Army. This is where he’s meant to be. It may not always be so. No one can predict the future. He might decide to get out. He might decide to make it his career. Whatever he chooses, Jake will do things on his terms, based upon a sense of duty and a sense of love.
I’ll worry about him, sure, and he knows that. But the best thing I can do — the best thing everyone who loves him can do — is stand by and support him.
And be proud.
Very, VERY proud.