June 17, 2014
Granddad Whitlock, whom we affectionately called Pappy, liked to say the people in Texas were among the friendliest folks on earth. Pappy was born in Texas, in the tiny town of Osage. Although he spent most of his adult years in Oklahoma, he was always proud to be a native Texan.
“I was driving back home, still in Texas, when I had a flat tire just north of Denton,” he would tell. “Wouldn’t you know it? Within five minutes someone stopped to help me.” And then Pappy would pause, like a lawyer making the closing argument in court and say: “And that’s Texas for you, son.”
I didn’t totally share my Pappy’s convictions about Texas hospitality. Being “Sooner born and Sooner breed,” I grew up with an automatic dislike for most anything south of the Red River, especially the university located in Austin, a school we adolescent Okies were certain was populated by arrogant ruffians, though none of us had ever actually met one. All it took was a glance at their burnt orange team colors and that Longhorn insignia on their football helmets to agitate us like a bull seeing the wave of the matador’s cape.
The football rivalry between my hometown, Altus, Oklahoma and Vernon, Texas, (in our minds a mini-Cotton Bowl) confirmed my prejudice against Texas, for I had firsthand experience—-complete with a black eye and five stiches in my chin—-to prove that the boys across the state line played dirty ball. Four years of peace at Baylor University in Waco and three in seminary at Ft. Worth may have tempered my qualms with Texas but didn’t completely dissolve my misgivings about Pappy’s advocacy for Texas cordiality.
Then we, my wife, Lori, and son, Dave, recently went on the road, a portion of which traversed the distance from Texarkana to Lubbock, almost stretching from one end of Texas to the other.
The lady at the hotel in Texarkana greeted us with a warm smile and cheery hello, even though it was close to midnight and the end of her shift. “I’m the one you talked to several hours ago,” she told me, referring to my phone call for a reservation when I had expressed my concern that if we didn’t make it that far, we would be charged for the room. “No worries,” she had assured me. “Just call and you won’t be billed.”
I could hear Pappy’s voice, “That’s Texas for you, son.”
The next day we motored into Wichita Falls, stopping for a burger. The waitress at the counter meticulously took Lori’s rather unusual request for a cherry limeade sour soda with extra ice.
Handing the drink to Lori, the waitress asked, “Is that the way you wanted it, ma’am?”
“Perfect,” Lori affirmed.
“Hope y’all enjoy traveling in Texas,” she grinned.
Again I could hear Pappy’s voice, “That’s Texas for you, son.”
Having arrived in Lubbock, we checked into the hotel. My brother, Mark, and his wife, Joy, were already there.
“Welcome to Lubbock, Whitlocks,” Omar greeted us from the front desk. “We know your family, and any friend of a Whitlock is a friend of mine,” he beamed.
“I know, Pappy,” I muttered to myself as I shuffled across the lobby, “‘that’s Texas for you.”’
All along the road it was like that. The waiters at the banquet for my dad’s 90th birthday made sure we were satisfied with the service. “Enjoy your stay in Lubbock,” Aaron and Nathan chimed.
Traveling back to Oklahoma, Lori inadvertently left her cell phone on the counter at a convenience store in Amarillo, Texas.
“Ma’am,” the attendant called out to her, “you left you cell phone here. I kept it safe for you.”
“Well, don’t be surprised,” I said to Lori as we drove away, “that’s Texas for you.”
By the time we crossed the border into Oklahoma, I’d mellowed about Texas. They do have a lot of friendly folks there.
But then again, come to think of it, Texas is a mighty big state with more opportunity for kindness. After all, I reminded myself, it was just outside of Hope, Arkansas that the nice lady at the gas station gave us free coffee. “It’s on me,” she said. “That old coffee has been sitting there since morning and ain’t fit to drink. Enjoy a free cup of the fresh.”
And Ajla, the receptionist at the hotel in Missouri, upgraded Lori’s and my room to deluxe after Lori told her our stay was part of our upcoming ten year wedding anniversary. When we arrived back in the room after dinner, we discovered Ajla had left us two pieces of delicious chocolate cake with a personal note congratulating us on our anniversary.
Those kind people had been there all along. I just had to take time to notice them. And they await you too; they are there, from Kentucky to Texas and back, and beyond.
And that’s America for you.