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The Heart of Texas

I love Texas. There’s just no place like it in the United States. In the world, for that matter. And the best thing is that Texas knows this better than its favorite BBQ joint.

Case in point: In what other state could you count 72 state flags between Flower Mound and Holly Lake (just outside of Tyler)? If you’re reading this and you’re from another state, tell the truth … do you even remember what your state flag looks like? Yeah, didn’t think so. But I know you know the Texas flag. Can’t miss it. It’s loud and proud at every bank, fast-food restaurant and car lot in this fine state.

So here I am, driving the kids to their grandpa’s house in Holly Lake, and we’re counting Texas flags to keep us occupied. We’ve already played 12 games of Cash Cab, and I’m out of questions and money. So we either count Texas flags, fireworks stands or meth labs. OK. Just kidding about the meth labs.

Time for a quick pit stop at Dairy Queen. It’s mandatory to stop at DQ when you’re driving through towns smaller than my daughter’s freshman class at Flower Mound High. And what farm-to-market road is complete without some chocolate-dipped goodness that only can be found at DQ? Outside this particularly tidy and newly built DQ in picturesque Emory stands a big, beautiful Texas flag. No American flag in sight. But then again, we’re in Texas – East Texas, to be exact – so that’s no coincidence.

Other than the avidity for the awesomeness of the Lone Star State, small-town East Texas also represents something else to me. Sure, fireworks stands. And, sure, lots and lots of churches. And, yes, lots of successful bond elections that built some wonderful new school buildings. But it also represents an interesting question that occupies my head as I zip from town to town via FM-Whatever …  the question of What if?

As in what if tomorrow I moved to one of these tiny towns of 551 people with the one DQ, 12 churches, countless farms and a Brookshire’s just a meager 24 miles down the road? Not surprisingly, my first thought goes to how big of a mansion I could build in one of these one-horse towns. Of course, then my mind drifts to my daughter hating me forever because I moved her to a town that has no mall, not to mention no meaningful shopping other than a fruit stand (great peaches!) and two weird antique stands, one featuring a giant ceramic gorilla outside and a Vietnam-era MiG jet.

But what if we hadn’t lived in our comfortable Middle-America suburbs all our lives? What if we grew up in Emory or Mineola or Hawkins, home of the Hawks? What if I were the editor of the local weekly newspaper or the local mechanic or the mayor? It always seems so simple when you’re blowing and going down FM-49 trying not to catch a speeding ticket courtesy of the local Barney Fife. And it’s always a success story, the what ifs. My kids are always valedictorians, Homecoming King and Queen and captain of whatever sports team they chose to dominate at their 1-A high school.

Of course the truth would probably be far different. If we moved to one of these tiny enclaves after years of easy living and a doughnut shop on every corner, I’m sure we’d last about three months. Between the lack of a SuperTarget, select baseball and a job that pays more than $8 an hour, we’d never survive. All things considered, when your biggest decision each evening is whether to eat at Pei Wei, Mi Cocina or Palio’s, small-town East Texas probably isn’t for you.

But that doesn’t mean there’s not a teaching moment on this drive through the backwoods. Kids, look at the cool lawn art, except for the one that looks like a gigantic naked lady. Kids, did you know that East Texas has more meth labs per square mile than there are casinos in Las Vegas?

OK, I’ll stop right there. I’m just kidding, East Texas. I’m not laughing at you as much as I’m laughing with you. Small-town living just ain’t for me. I admit that I wouldn’t last long enough to get my Texas flag hoisted or have my above-ground pool filled. I get it. I’m a snobby suburbanite who doesn’t deserve an invite to your next fireworks stand grand opening.

Rudy lives in Flower Mound, works in Fort Worth and plays everywhere in between. He has one wife, one daughter, one son, one published book, one obsession with sports and 20 million observations on marriage and children. Follow him on Twitter: Manifesto10.

Published September 2013