The Back Road: What’s the matter with Texas?

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The Back Road: What’s the matter with Texas?

Andrew Malekoff

Some of my fondest childhood memories originated in the Lone Star state, a place that has become meaner than a mama wasp.

My father, his two younger brothers and their baby sister Rose grew up in a close-knit Jewish family in Newark, N.J. They were raised by their Russian immigrant parents. What they lacked for materially, they more than made up for in love of family, community and country.

Throughout their lives the boys never lived outside their home state except during the war years. Aunt Rose, who was about 11 when her big brothers left home one by one to serve in the European theater, married a Jersey boy after the war. The new bride and groom had a bold vision of greener pastures in the Southwest, where they settled for good.

I was only 3 years old the first time I flew to Texas. It was just Dad and me. Although I only have fleeting memories of the visit, what I do recall clearly is that upon our return dad had dressed me up in full cowboy attire. I’m quite sure Aunt Rose put him up to it. The joke was that Mom would never recognize me. Unbeknownst to me, she was in on the joke. When we arrived home to our apartment in Newark, she acted puzzled, asking Dad: “Who is this little boy? What happened to Andy?”

Ten years later I took my second trip to Houston, this time alone – my first solo flight. My three cousins, who I had gotten to know well during their trips to NJ in the intervening years, were there to greet me.

The big joke on my second Texas trip was Uncle Myron trying to get me to address my parents as “sir” and “ma’am” during our weekly summer phone calls. My Texan cousins all adhered to that standard and they wanted me to pretend I had been converted. I played along for laughs, even though it didn’t quite fit my Jersey Boy nature.

My next trip to the Lone Star state was by car when I was 22. On that trip Aunt Rose was excited to tell me that she had recently earned her pilot’s license. She couldn’t wait to take me up into the wild blue yonder in her two-seat Cessna. It’s one of her favorite stories.

My last trip to Houston was with my wife and sons sometime in the mid-1990s. I was pleased to complete the circle for the next generation.

I could never put my finger on why Texans seemed so prideful. So, I found this from Texan Logan Kelly on Quora: “Texans think they’re special because they ARE special. Texas has a unique history as a previously independent country. It evolved as a group of head-strong folks capable of enduring hardship and overcoming struggles. Generally, plain-spoken, friendly, big-hearted but gritty, protective people with intestinal fortitude. They are resourceful and intuitive. If you ever found yourself in dire straits, you can do no better than having a Texan on your side.”

Clearly, something has changed in the neighborhood. As Ryan Bort explained in Rolling Stone, “Gov. Greg Abbott has worked hard to establish himself as one of the most MAGA-friendly governors in the United States, but as he gears up for re-election next year, he’s learning that the well of right-wing depravity hath no bottom. Still, he seems determined to try to find it.”

Just when I thought it could not get any worse, the head of curriculum and instruction in a Dallas-Fort Worth suburban school district told her teachers to provide students with “opposing views” of the Holocaust in order to be in compliance with recent statewide legislation. “Remember,” she said, “if you have a book on the Holocaust, that you have one that has opposing perspectives,” she instructed.

What book would that be? “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” – an antisemitic text contending there was a Jewish plan for global domination?

The bill, which went into effect in September, requires that if any social issues are discussed, they should offer various viewpoints “without giving deference to any one perspective.”

After a swift national backlash, the school district superintendent apologized stating: “There are not two sides of the Holocaust” and “we also understand this bill does not require an opposing viewpoint on historical facts.” Yet, isn’t the premise of MAGA culture that facts don’t matter?

One Texas state senator, Beverly Powell, tweeted, “Already, we are seeing the impact of a vague and unnecessary bill that leaves teachers and administrators confused and afraid to teach the history of the Holocaust or the Civil War without teaching ‘both sides.’ ”

Aunt Rose is now in her early 90s. She settled in Texas only five years after the concentration camps were liberated in Eastern Europe and her three brothers returned home from the war.

Auschwitz was liberated in January 1945, with hundreds of sick and exhausted prisoners left behind by the Germans during their swift retreat from the camp. Also left behind were victims’ belongings including 348,820 men’s suits, 836,255 women’s coats, and tens of thousands of pairs of shoes. The liberation of Buchenwald, Bergen-Belson and the rest of the camps followed Auschwitz.

Wherever possible, the retreating Germans attempted to demolish the camps in an effort to conceal evidence of mass murder. Seventy-six years later, Texas has picked up where they left off.

Thanks for the memories.

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