It’s the last meeting of the outgoing board and it’s going to be short but every seat is taken and they’re bringing out more chairs. He settled next to me, learning in so close to hear me after he starts a casual conversation.
How was my Thanksgiving? he wondered, and I tell him I went home to Texas.
He asks me to repeat myself, stressed the word “home.”
“You sure took me by surprise!” he said. “I never woulda guessed you were a Texas girl!”
He called across the aisle to another man: “Does she look like a Texas girl to you?”
And I have absolutely no idea what that is supposed to mean. What, exactly, does he think a “Texas girl” looks like? Should I be insulted or complimented?
They go on for a while, and I smile and laugh and say sure enough, I am from Texas, and he wants to know if my “Mamma and Daddy” are in good health and if the drought was the worst they’ve ever seen and I tell him yes, lots of trees lost but it doesn’t look too bad right now, since the fall rains came.
All the while I’m trying to figure out why he thought I don’t look “like a Texas girl” and what that means. Then I have to explain how I got here, to a small town in Western Pennsylvania, from there, and something falls into place when I tell him my husband grew up in Butler. And I start to understand.
Here, people don’t tend to leave the community they grew up in.
If they do, it’s not far — 15 miles to Indiana, or around the corner to Kittanning. Folks like him, they’ve been here a long time. They’ve raised their families here, and are watching their grandchildren grow up in the same schools. So the thought of growing up in Texas, and moving all the way across the country, probably sounds about as foreign as, say, growing up in Spain and moving to western Pennsylvania.
I ask my coworkers if they’re from here and they say no. They’re from towns about an hour away, but the one’s lived here 25 years or more.
Another covers the same schools he grew up in, decades ago.
A woman standing outside her home in a hamlet called McIntyre said oh no, she’s not from McIntyre; she’s from Irwin, another small town just minutes away.
Maybe the plains of Texas are so far away from these rolling hills that they seem like a foreign country, where people look different and speak differently, and all he has to go on are the Cowboy’s cheerleaders on TV and Western movies.
Maybe he expects boots and hats from me, or big hair and too much bright-red lipstick.
Or maybe he just doesn’t know what to expect from a Texas girl.