I’ve spent a great deal of my adult life embarrassed to be from Amarillo, Texas. It seems like no matter where I found myself, there was something wrong with Amarillo.
It didn’t start out that way. Amarillo was the big city in the Texas Panhandle, and my school — the Amarillo High School Golden Sandstorm, y’all! — was top notch. I was proud of my alma mater and my town. We cheered out our pride at AHS: “Blow, Sand, Blow!” No, I’m not making that up. Yes, the inevitable shout of “Harder” always followed it. Anyway, the first time I wavered on my Amarillo pride came only two years after my departure from the windy city that smells like cow poop.
I was a student at Texas A&M. A man I didn’t know leaned over from the next table at the ultra popular Fajita Rita’s and asked me if I was from Amarillo. I’m sure I caught a few flies before I lifted my jaw and asked him how he knew.
“Your voice. You sound just like my wife, and she’s from Amarillo. I’d know the accent anywhere. You said ‘peench’ instead of ‘pinch,’ ‘yella’ instead of ‘yellow,’ and ‘fer’ instead of ‘for.'”
I kept my smile in place and laughed to fill the silence. “Why, thanks,” I said. But I realized this was a backhanded compliment at best as I watched the man down his margarita and hee haw with his cronies.
When I was in law school, it got worse. Our mock trial coach chided me. “With your blond hair and big blue eyes, that accent is just strike three to your credibility is an intelligent, strong woman. Lose the accent.”
And so I did just what any intelligent, strong woman would do, I told him to stuff it.
No, actually, I didn’t.
I lost the accent.
As a young lawyer in Dallas, Amarillo was just too, I dunno, hick, maybe? Certainly it wasn’t up to the well-oiled snuff of the movers and shakers in Dallas, driving their Mercedes through Highland Park. I played Amarillo down. Way down. My parents moved away from ‘Rilla about this time, and I saw it less and less.
By the time I lived in the U.S. Virgin Islands in my mid-30’s, people couldn’t place my origin. I was definitely American, or “Continental” as they called it in the islands. But other than that, my voice kept my Panhandle origins a secret. And there, I had an even bigger reason to hide it. The general consensus of the local population was that Texans were ten gallon egos up to the heels of their shitkicker boots in the stink of racism. Amarillo was like Texas to them, only a little worse. It was not an association I needed, even though they were wrong, if I was to succeed in my job and my community, sadly.
They say with age comes wisdom, or at least a mellowing. Of late, I have softened toward Amarillo. I brought my Cruzan husband back to Texas, and I dragged him to every small town within a three-hour radius of our Houston home. He prodded me into attending my 25-year high school reunion last year, which was awesome. My car stereo is tuned to KILT, playing Houston’s favorite country music. I try to get my kids to understand that Taco Bell is but a pale imitation of Taco Villa, and I bore them with stories of Southwest Park, back when; I reminisce when I hear Brad Paisley sing “Old Alabama” of how I went to see Alabama at the Amarillo Fairgrounds when I was 15. When my triathlon-obsessed husband tells me our runs would benefit from hill work, I inform him that I KNOW hills, we ran up Palo Duro Canyon in cross country practice when I was in high school. And I’ve been known to slip into peench and yella occasionally, because, well, I’m from Amarilla, y’all.
What is it that makes us yearn to leave home and deny our past? Or is it just me? My husband couldn’t wait to move back to his island home after college, just as soon as he could land a job in St. Croix. But I suspect many of you are like me, rueful in your maturity of the betrayal of heritage in your youth.
So, where y’all from (she asks in an Amarilla accent, with an emphasis on the two syllables of from). How fast did you hightail it out of there when you got the chance? And how many of you are back there now, at least in your hearts, like me?
Have a good one,