Soon I married a Texan, then gave birth to one. Before she entered kindergarten, we moved to Houston. There the sticky air, the rain, even swatting the mosquitoes kept me connected to the south I’d always loved. My grandfather’s camellia cuttings thrived in our backyard and I could hear the ice cream man’s tinny music all year long. I should have known better than to get too comfortable.
Two years later, my husband’s career change caused us to plop a For Sale sign in the yard, pack up and move to West Texas. As we drove the stretch of Highway 287 it was as if someone had plucked the trees from the earth in order to see clear to the other side of the world. This was not the south. It was a flat prairie with a canyon dropped in the middle like a gravy bowl resting in a huge saucer. This was the west. I didn’t know how I would ever call this place home.
The people were friendly enough, but try as I did, I couldn’t fit in. Maybe they sensed my yearning to be elsewhere.
One day I went to the post office to buy stamps. “You aren’t from around here are ya?” a postal worker asked with a Panhandle twang.
“How did you know?”
“Cuz you don’t talk like us.”
At the grocery store, I became excited when I discovered crawfish in the seafood section.
“China,” he said. “Would you like some?”
I shook my head. I didn’t even know they had any crawfish in China.
That was fifteen years ago. Amarillo has changed. We have crawfish from Louisiana, prosciutto from Italy and even a French bakery ran by a genuine Frenchman.
When people ask, “What is Amarillo like?” I tell them we have real cowboys in our Starbucks.
Although I’ve never gotten used to the occasional stench of the nearby cattle feed yards, I have learned to appreciate the wide open spaces. Still there is the longing. I’m not alone. Recently two of my former classmates and I spent a weekend together. Laurie now lives in Arizona and the last twenty or so years, Lisha has made Santa Fe her home.
“I get claustrophobic when I go back to Louisiana,” Laurie says. “All those trees.”
We talk about the beauty of the sunsets, canyons, and mountains. But we understand when Lisha says, “I get homesick whenever they have a hurricane.”
Kimberly Willis Holt continues to write in the west, but makes frequent trips to the south. No matter where she is, she continues to eat grits and butter. You can learn more about her at her website: http://www.kimberlywillisholt.com/