Saturday, September 05, 2009

MEMOIR: How I almost became a Texan

George W. Bush was born in New Haven, Conn. to a patrician family of staid New Englanders. When he was a child, the family moved to Midland, Texas. Their new home town was then a small, bustling oil town that was culturally and socially far removed from their prim, sedate community in Connecticut.

I have often wondered how different Bush would have been had his parents not moved to Texas with their children. Would the ex-President's personality have reflected the traditional style of his New England forebears? Or would he still have still turned out to be like the stereotypical, macho, cowboy-like Texan that he is?

The question is relevant to me because I almost became a Texan myself when my father seriously considered moving from our home in the Bronx to Texas during the mid-1930s when I was still a child.

My Dad was often unemployed during that period, after having worked for many years as a traveling men's clothing salesman. His territory ran from Georgia westward through Texas. He did not drive nor fly, and covered the region by train and bus. He took pride in his intimate knowledge of the territory, and particularly of its train and bus schedules.

He often passed through Colorado City, Texas, a small farming town with which he became very familiar. The town had very few retail stores. In 1936, my father decided to open a retail men's clothing store there, despite the grim economic climate plaguing the nation at the time. It was obviously a serious business gamble. Dad figured, however, that the absence of local competition would make the enterprise successful.

He left my mother and me behind in New York when he departed for Colorado City. Apparently, the venture did not require a significant investment because my father's sole New York supplier was my mother's uncle, who was very supportive of my father's plan. Dad intended to operate the store for no more than a year. If successful, my mother and I would then join him in Texas. If not, he would abandon the store and return to New York.

Texas was celebrating its one-hundredth year of independence from Mexico when the store opened. I still recall that my father mailed me an official centennial yearbook, which would probably be a valuable collectors' item if I had kept it. My father wrote home regularly (we did not own a telephone in the Bronx), shipping me such local souvenirs as toy bales of cotton and bags of pecans.

But my father's enterprise was a flop, and Dad was back home, as I remember, in less than a year. I was nearly 12 years old when my father returned from his unsuccessful Texas venture.

I have always wondered what would have happened to me if Dad's store had been a success, and we had settled in Colorado City. I would have been raised in an alien environment radically different from a Bronx tenement neighborhood.

Colorado City is in the heart of west Texas, 296 miles from the closest major airport in Amarillo. Its 2008 population was 3,888, down 9.2% from the 2000 figure. I doubt whether it was much bigger when my father opened his store.

If we had moved, would I have grown up to be a stereotypical Texan with George Bush's macho, cowboy-like personality? Would I have become a small-town redneck who preferred a pick-up truck to a sports car and whose friends included at least two guys named "Bubba"? Would I have sought recreation by clearing brush in the torrid heat of a West Texas summer?

Nearly three decades later, my superficial connection with Colorado City proved to be a valuable professional asset. I was working in Washington as the Pentagon correspondent for Business Week magazine. The chairman of the House Military Appropriations subcommittee was then Rep. George Mahon, a longtime Texas Congressman.

He was an important news source for journalists covering military affairs. I interviewed him a couple of times and never found him very helpful. And then I learned that Colorado City was in his district. I wasted no time on my next interview date with him, informing him about my father's unsuccessful store in that town.

Perhaps it was because he was sympathetic with my Dad's Depression-era business failure. But George Mahon suddenly became one of the most cooperative news sources that I ever developed during my career as a reporter.


Blogger Sylvia K said...

I don't think you have to worry, Mort, you would never have turned out like George Bush even if you had grown up in Texas! As you know, I did grow up there and not far from Colorado City, but I'm about as different from the "Texas" personality as you are. I just attended a family reunion in Houston and while I do love my family, I have no idea how they could all still live there??????

Have a great weekend!


Saturday, September 05, 2009 4:35:00 PM  
Blogger Darlene said...

I agree with Sylvia; you could never be a redneck gun totin', rootin' shootin', cowboy. You have way too much intelligence for that.

Not all Texans are like George Bush, fortunately. He would have been a smirking goofball even if his family had remained in New England. Environment isn't everything.

Sunday, September 06, 2009 4:54:00 PM  
Blogger Chancy said...

I love Darlene's comment and I have to agree:

"He would have been a smirking goofball even if his family had remained in New England. Environment isn't everything."

You Mort, have too much good sense to have become another bush clearing Bush.

Monday, September 07, 2009 5:11:00 PM  
Blogger joared said...

I spent some years in that part of the country, though not Texas. Took some adjustment for me, but found others of my similar mold. I agree -- there's no way you would have become one of the stereotypical characters you describe. In fact, you would have been a welcome breath of fresh air for many of us.

Thursday, September 17, 2009 4:46:00 AM  

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