For a good portion of my childhood, I was convinced that I wanted to move back to Texas. My family transplanted from there to Wisconsin when I was very young, and although I was a terminally shy kid, I wore my UT-Austin gear with pride. My favorite shirt in third grade was white with loud, burnt-orange letters: “Don’t mess with Texas.” In a sea of Bucky Badgers, I was the lone Longhorn.
O Texas, my Texas. Every August, my family would cram into our beloved Volvo station wagon, fill a cooler with snacks and Snapple, and wake up at four a.m. for the fifteen-hour drive to our grandparents’ place in Dallas. Typical road trip pastimes included playing “I Spy,” reading Harry Potter, munching on fruit snacks, and watching the sunset over Oklahoma’s Mars-red dirt. We’d roll up to my grandparents’ house around nine p.m., crash into our beds—we each had our own—and rest up for the weeks of fun & leisure ahead.
Get your laughs in, Midwesterners, but for eight-year-old Caitlin, Texas was paradise.
Now, after twenty years in the Midwest, I have been properly indoctrinated to scorn the thought of returning to the South. Texas, after all, is a cockroach-infested cesspit chock full of crazy white folks with cowboy hats, guns, and big hair. Anyone progressive or forward-thinking would be a fool to live there—except for maybe in Austin, but DAMN, it’s hot.
I know, it can get downright nasty here in the summer, too. I remember a recent summer where the temperature hovered around ninety-five for a week, and the humidity was above seventy percent. But Texas in August is in a league all its own. It doesn’t matter where you are in the state, either. I personally prefer the semi-arid scorch of Dallas or Austin to the smothering swelter of San Antonio or Houston—no matter where you are, though, the heat socks you in the face as soon as you step out the door. Pro-tip for drivers: Unless you’ve got one of those tin-foil-looking windshield covers, mind the seatbelt buckles and leather seats: they will burn you through your shorts.
This brings me to my next tip: if you are a pale person like me in Texas, bathe in sunscreen regularly and reapply every hour or two. If you are a tan Midwestern person in Texas, slather some on anyway—that direct sunlight suffers no fool to pass. None of that wimpy-ass SPF 15 shit, either: 30+ is a must if you’d like to avoid looking like a lobster with dandruff for the rest of your trip. Also, don’t be the poor imbecile who slathers on sunscreen and hops straight in the pool. Wait fifteen minutes in the shade to let it do its magic, and then float to your heart’s content.
While I enjoyed the time we spent socializing indoors, the real draw of my grandparent’s house was their beautiful in-ground swimming pool. It was shaped a bit like a kidney bean and wasn’t especially large, but the deep end was deep enough for diving and the water was always sparkly clean and refreshing. On sunny days, my siblings and I would hit the pool upwards of twice per day. The chlorine brittled our hair and dried our skin, but this never deterred us from spending hours fishing for diving rings, swimming lazy laps, and cannonballing into the deep end.
When our fingers pruned beyond recognition, our mom would call us out of the pool. We’d burrito-wrap ourselves in towels and after a few lazy minutes on the deck, we’d be dry again, all moisture wicked away by the hot Texan sun. After a quick lunch of turkey sandwiches and nectarines, we’d throw on shorts and t-shirts and accompany our grandma on whatever errands she’d contrived for the afternoon. Although we tolerated visits to Kirkland Home Goods and gawked at the hugeness of Super Target, our favorite errand by far was a grocery run to Central Market.
I don’t know what made it so magical: the fact that it had a giant silo on the side like a commercial farm, or that they made tortillas in-house, or that all of their fresh produce looked so much more exciting than ours, but in the Gent kids’ minds, Central Market was the grocery destination of Far North Dallas. We’d ogle at the vast aisles of bulk nuts and dried fruit and shiver our way through the frozen food section to gaze greedily at the display of Blue Bell ice cream until our mom consented to buy two gallons. (Pro tip: Blue Bell ice cream is among the best that money can buy. Moo-lennium Crunch is my favorite and if you come across it in your local H.E.B. or Kroger, you ought to eat some.)
I could go on. I could go on, and on, and on. We spent so many summers there that although memories run together, the sensory details are crystalline. The tangy sunscreen smell, crepe myrtle blossoms stuck to pool-wet feet, suction-cup goggle marks. My grandparents have since moved from their house with the pool into a townhome nearer to my aunt’s house. It was a practical move, but my siblings and I—now grown—still miss their old place and our childhood summers.
I don’t suspect I’ll ever again “hook ‘em horns” at a Badgers fan or cook up a master plan to move to Austin. For the latter, I’ll at least wait until March—that’s usually when it happens. I’ll go to my grave defending Texas barbecue, but I hope the Packers crush the Cowboys at their next game. I suspect I’ll spend the rest of my life that way—with my heart semi-split between states. And I’m okay with that. It means I get the best of both worlds: the Midwestern self-deprecating humor, the Texan overblown ego. It means that, should I ever finally decide that I’m tired of endless winters, I have a place to go.
I doubt that day will ever come. Their summers really are too stinkin’ hot, and anyway, Wisconsin has better cheese.
Caitlin Gent (’15) graduated with a writing major. She lives in Milwaukee and works in fundraising & development. When she’s not working, Caitlin is usually walking with a friend or singing in the kitchen. She likes to wax poetic about Wisconsin to anyone who will listen.