Me and the Texas Woman, it was not love at first sight. In fact, my match with her was a bit of an arranged marriage. Once with a rocky start, potholed by cultural misunderstandings and distrust. It took decades of observation to fully appreciate the Yellow Rose in all her glories. All her contradictions. All her glorious contradictions.
Was she Southern? All belles and balls? Or was she Western? Ready to rope and ride and shoot the head off a rattler? You already know the answer. You know, that like sulfur, charcoal, and bat guano, the ingredients don’t really pop until they’re mixed up together into gunpowder. The Texas Woman is a hybrid with all the vigor that comes from the perfect pairing of the best of two species. She is Southern but with the Western grit handed down by her foremothers, who could give birth during a Comanche attack, help out when it came time to turn the bulls into steers, and still end up producing more Miss USAs that any other state in the union.”
― Sarah Bird, A Love Letter to Texas Women
For two years I taught at a small two-year college located on the sunny Gulf Coast of southeast Texas. Those were formative days where I experienced, tasted, and valued cajun culture. There was an abundance of cowboy hats, church, crawfish, gators, glitter, humidity, seashore, shrimp, and endless sayings. Y’all, fixin to, and bless your heart remain my favorites.
It would be easy to stereotype and summarize with stark contrasts of the north versus south, which is what most are prone to do. But I stripped southern understanding and appreciation down to the women I met and worked with, who made me recognize the value in our visceral commonalities and confidence.
My boss, Sherry Steele, was Texas personified. Her strong spirit, unabashed interest in all animal prints, and generosity was what I needed in my late twenties. Moreover, while our surface differences were evident and abundant, she pushed and pulled me to never compromise intellect. In academia, and in life, I needed this woman to emphasize and exploit the things that made me uncomfortable and come to see them as a valuable asset worth promotion and pursuit.
Sherry was tough but tactful. She thrived under pressure and welcomed opposition with a smile and sage wisdom. She listened carefully, crafted replies meticulously and meaningfully, and opened her heart and home consistently.
Sherry passed away on July 1st. I hadn’t spoken with her in years, but upon hearing of her death, my heart ached for the conversations of the past and the many glasses of wine consumed as we chatted about life, love, and the conviction often discovered and deepened in the classroom. Sherry’s sense of self, her pride of family, and her leadership in learning was admirable and contagious.
Texas women impressed upon me many things I hadn’t considered or cultivated. I’m raising my glass to Sherry. Here’s to lipstick applied abundantly and perfectly, no shame, all heart, and feminism that knows no geographic location or situation.