Born and bred in Canada, and thankful for it, my roots, which I am also thankful for, go back centuries in the U.S.
One of my most memorable experiences was a family trip to visit the American relatives. My mom organized the tour as a gift to my father’s parents.
Spreading from Boston and New York City, the family colonized the interior with the vigor and persistence of the imported English Sparrow.
Our itinerary included North Dakota, where my grandmother attended university, and Minnesota, where she was born; Iowa to visit my grandfather’s brother; Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas; Colorado and Wyoming. Then Idaho and Montana and north to where we started.
I was sixteen. With my precious, just earned license in my wallet, I shared the driving with my father. The distances were great but as a new driver I found them anything but tedious.
Most of the relatives were elderly, the visiting boring. But in Texas, after endless reminders of home, the immense farms and ranches, the oilfield pump jacks slavishly pushing and pulling sucker rods, I struck teenage gold.
I want to make certain things clear. There are fundamental aspects of the cliched Texan character that do not appeal to me. I am not a fan of rabid political conservatism or country music. Nor am I religious in the Southern Baptist sense.
But this is about what I like, not what displeases me.
At sixteen, I was a car freak and hyper aware of girls. So a ride in my cousin’s shiny yellow, chopped and channeled ’32 Ford coup, top down in the warm evening, produced a cache of memories that has lasted a lifetime.
I can almost feel the thrilling acceleration and drag strip speed reached on a highway from Fort Worth into Dallas, my left arm around Dan’s sixteen year old, extremely alluring sister who was squeezed between us on the narrow bench seat.
Jill’s dress was yellow, a shade lighter than the car to both match it and be distinct from it. With the air whipping past and the exhaust rumbling, the rod was not designed for chatting. (Did I say that at sixteen I was hyper-aware of girls? And, really, she was a second cousin, not a first.)
Dan dropped Jill and I off at a Tex-Mex restaurant. As we stepped from the vicious rogue masterpiece we were the coolest couple in Dallas.
Sitting face to face in the restaurant, sparks of attraction flying from my eyes to hers and from her eyes to mine, we forgot to be cool.
We giggled joyously at each other’s accent. That released some of our excitement and we settled in to talk spiritedly over the hottest, most punishing food I had ever eaten. (But I ate it. What the heck, I was enchanted. Would have walked through fire to prove my fearlessness.)
Oh, young love. So innocent yet fraught with adult fervor.
We knew we were fated never to see each other again so we compressed what became a life-long captivation into a burst of acutely lived moments.
Catching each other’s eye, holding the gaze a few beats longer than normal - a glance that could have told our parents everything - we talked about sixteen year old’s stuff. I don’t remember what. But our words expressed just one important thing: that with our swollen emotions and heightened awareness we were completely alive and enfolded in the moment.
Dan came for us. Reluctantly we left the table that had become our nest.
We drove back to Fort Worth, taking the highway through the dark green belt sedately. Under the sky’s narcotic rapture of stars, I sat beside her, my left arm in front of me but our shoulders and upper arms pressed together more tightly, more erotically, than the car’s dimensions made strictly necessary.
And that was it.
With Jill, her longish hair, comely face and teenage vivacity, with a hot rod of the kind I had only ever seen in car magazines, with insanely spiced food, even just the coddling summer air, how could I not still be in love with my Texas?