Today was rodeo day for my daughters. Megan came in from Austin and brought a friend with her. They are staying tonight at the new Drover Hotel on Mule Alley in the Stockyards, and this afternoon Jordan and neighbor Amy Russell met them for the matinee performance at the rodeo. Then Christian, Jacob, and I joined them for supper at Joe T. Garcia’s.
We ate outdoors by the swimming pool, kept comfortable for the most part by giant heaters closely spaced on the patio. It really wasn’t that cool—probably sixty when we got there—but there was a breeze, and the heaters were welcome. Later the wind picked up, and I was glad I had followed Jordan’s rather unusual advice to bring a blanket. I took a thermal blanket that stuffs easily into a small casing—Megan gave it to me during pandemic when all my entertaining was on the patio, sometimes in quite chilly evenings. Tonight that blanket proved its worth.
With seven of us at the table, we had all the usual Joe T.’s things—fajitas, “the dinner” with enchiladas, tacos, beans, rice and guacamole. I had the small dinner, which meant I dug into everyone else’s guacamole—one of the things, along with beans, that I think they do a really good job of. And of course, we came home laden with containers of leftovers and chips and who knows what? Christian and Jacob will eat them, and I won’t miss them.
Because it’s rodeo time in Fort Worth or better, Fort Worth Exposition and Livestock Show (shhh—don’t you dare use the old name of Fat Stock Show)—you see more “western” dress than usual at Joe T.’s. I watched parades of men and women in cowboy hats and fur vests (both my daughters) and western wear. Many came to eat early so as to make the eight o’clock rodeo show.
But as I sat there in that garden setting, slightly cool but mostly warmed but heaters so oversized that they were almost outrageous, and as I watched that parade of western wear and ate Tex-Mex food, it dawned on me that this Chicago girl was having the ultimate Fort Worth experience. A smooth blend of cultures and styles that resulted in something you don’t find even anywhere else in Texas. It’s uniquely Fort Worth. Cowtown earns its name.
My reaction may have been sparked by Megan’s description of the Drover Hotel, which she said was thoroughly Fort Worth—cowboy culture, but well done. Barn doors in the lobby, massive stonework, leather furniture, wood everywhere. And, of course, plenty of people in cowboy hats, jeans and boots. But also, impeccable service, courtesy at every turn, and good food.
Somehow all this mixed in my mind. When I was a kid in Chicago, Texas and cowboys were the farthest things from my mind. Once when my parents traveled to Texas to visit my brother, who was stationed with the Navy at Corpus Christi, I thought they might as well have visited a foreign country, and I was amazed at their report of palm trees and balmy weather. Then my ex traveled to the Panhandle and reported on a barren, born land. What kind of place was this, I wondered, with palm trees and barren land.
Now, all these years later, I have a literary career built around Texas, it’s myths and legends and its reality. I still have to pinch myself sometimes to understand my transition from northerner to Texan. I don’t wear a cowboy hat, I don’t wear boots, and I don’t ride horses, but I am thoroughly a Texan, consumed with the state’s history and mystique (not so much for its present political stance). I can talk much more intelligently about the past than the present, and as I sat there in that garden tonight, eating refried beans (what Chicago girl ever ate such a thing?) it seemed to me that past and present, for me, came together. It was a sweet, nostalgic moment.
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