This morning I stood in line at a Starbuck’s, one of the only places it seems a person can get passable coffee in this small town in north Texas where I’ll be for another day in order to attend a cheese making class. While filling my cup with cream, I spotted three old farmers sitting around a table in a corner. Each one had a John Deere hat perched on his head, suspenders pulled up over rumpled, button-up shirts. Wrangler jeans in varying shades of blue, boots covered in the tell-tale signs of cattle. They talked quietly to each other. Nodded in agreement, shook their heads in dismay. I wondered if this Starbuck’s was carved out of a piece of one of their old pastures. The image epitomized what’s happening to America, but the boots said “Texas.” I lingered at the door before pushing it open, thought maybe I should introduce myself and ask if – by any chance – any of them were in the dairy biz with some old rusted equipment to sell? Nah, I’m not that crazy. Yet. I headed out of the store and down the road for cheese class.
The unexpected consequence of my path into cheese has been the community that’s risen up around me in the process. During this year, I’ve been to more farms, through more small towns, down more country roads, then the whole of my 20’s. The drive out to this little town was spectacular, and in only 174 miles, I cut through places I never knew existed and across land I had not previously imagined in Texas. Not to mention the discovery of the “Norwegian capital” of this great state (No. Really.).
Over the past few days I’ve met a group of people that likely does not practice the same politics or religion. Our backgrounds are diverse and our stories are different, but the space we’ve shared is small and in little time, we’ve talked loud, slapped our own thighs with laughter, drank wine and broken bread together. It only takes one thin thread to bind people together, I’ve found. And maybe it’s just Texans – this loud land, bursting at the seams but refusing to play nice with neighbors, ferocious about our independence but also about some basic kindness and manners. Hat-tipping and howdy-do’s. And yes, yes sir I will always appreciate having a door opened on my behalf by a gentleman. Or being called ma’am which has never made me feel old, just like I’m home. My new career has thrust me right into the center of what made this state great: agriculture. The towns I’ve traveled through are skeletons of an economy that boomed then busted, but I can still sense the bustle of energy that lingers at the faded grain bins towering over rusted train tracks – empty for years. These tiny communities sit dormant, pockets of the past, the brick store fronts of old town squares hushed and waiting, waiting for a resurgence. No matter where I go for agriculture, through towns merely outlines of their former selves, the BBQ shop still thrives next to the Dairy Queen. The resident cowboy putters along in his Ford. The feed store doors are always open.
There is a lot about this complicated state that I won’t claim or promote, but its original intent is everywhere beneath the politics and shifting demographics that the government grapples with educating, healing, and uniting. I recently talked to someone from the Northeast coast who visited a family member in San Antonio. She wants to move here now, after spending time in a state she maybe wasn’t sure of but, she said “Texans – they are so nice! The weather is warm, the people are warm and so friendly – I’ve never met such friendly people. I can’t believe it but I really want to to go back to Texas.” This vast space where land stretched beyond eyesight and dreams went even further. I know exactly what she means.