Continental divide

By Chuck Sigars | Feb 15, 2012

It snowed a little on Sunday in Austin, Texas, a situation certain people considered ironic, considering that (a) the weather has been warm and wonderful in central Texas so far this winter, and (b) it was snowing, in fact, on me.

It was ironic because I’d been fairly vocal about looking forward to some sun, but it was sort of ironic snow anyway.  A few flakes.  Snow with a funny look on its face, “just kidding” snow.  Snow that was nearly rain.  Not like OUR snow.  Texas snow.

You know what else is ironic?  Trying to parent a child in such a way as to ensure the best possible chance of producing an independent adult human being, and then feeling a little blue when he or she turns out to be exactly that.

Let me back up.

A reader kindly pointed out last week that I’d inadvertently banished the fine state of Alaska to another continent by referring to the “continental” 48 states instead of “contiguous.”  

This was an honest mistake, as being a sloppy writer is something I come to honestly, and maybe genetically.  I apologize; as someone who has seen every episode of “Northern Exposure” several times, I should know better.  Alaska is certainly a big part of North America.

So is Texas, of course, although you could make a case that the Lone Star state needs its own continent.  It’s not just the size; the historical and cultural mass of Texas seems to create its own gravity.  I’ve felt it.  If you’ve spent any time there, so have you.

If you’re from Oklahoma, you probably resent it.  I understand.

I resent Texas too, although it’s personal.  I’ve spent a fair amount of time there, I’m intrigued by the geography, my family history is full of Texans, my mother lived there as a girl, and nearly 30 years ago I married a woman from Dallas.  I know something about Texas.

But Texas stole my daughter, drew her to college, enchanted her with a man from San Antonio, and now has sucked her into its capitol city, which she loves and probably will never leave.  

A Northwest girl, reared on sushi and coffee, Pacific Rim from her head to her toes, is now basking in the land of Willie Nelson and Tommy Lee Jones, comfortable with fried food and employing an informal second-person plural.  

And those toes?  Covered with cowboy boots.  I mean, seriously.  

So I’m left with no options but to fly south from time to time, hoist by my own petard, having fathered a child who is perfectly capable of living far away from her father.

Austin is supposed to be an island in Texas, a place where music breaks free of steel guitars and where Whole Foods was born, where South by Southwest draws artists of all kinds, where films and reputations are made, where hipsters are apparently hatched, fully formed and wearing black glasses.

I saw some of this on my visit to Austin, but I also saw spectacular hill country and what appeared to be a thriving downtown.  And while I wandered through that Whole Foods and felt at home, with no need to flash my Northwest ID card and sneer at fake fish, I also traveled east to Lockhart, Texas and encountered Texan barbecue.

Kreuz Market in Lockhart is famous for its barbecue, and for good reason.  The line was long and the smell of smoke was intense; think Dante with a drawl, maybe, and a big hat.  They piled up brisket and sausage for me, and signs proudly stated that no forks were allowed on the premises. I assume cardiac defibrillators were discreetly hidden out of sight, just in case.  It was excellent.

But mostly I did what I came to Texas to do, spend time with a little girl who had the bad manners to grow up.  I was in my mid-20s when she was born, and now so is she.  We laughed together at the snowflakes and the rain that apparently I brought with me.  

We watched movies and multiple episodes of “Kids In The Hall.”  We stayed up late, talked about everything, made some amazing popcorn, drank coffee, slept in, played with the cats, and acknowledged the elephant in the room, if only in passing.

Which was this: If you do your parenting correctly, or at least get out of the way and don’t mess up too much, a fully realized adult will emerge out of the chaos, and you’ll be left with the bittersweet awareness that you’re not needed anymore.

And then, with time, you’ll recognize that of course you are.

You hug her at the airport, this accomplished young woman.  You talk about another trip, soon.  You wave and smile, and then you head for home, leaving Austin just as the weather clears up.  

You smile at this, irony again, and then panic suddenly in the plane, patting your pockets, afraid that you’ve left something behind, something important, and then you remember what it was, and that she will be just fine.
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