We left Texas only days before Hurricane Harvey strengthened and slammed into the Texas coast as a powerful and wet category 4 storm (on a scale of 1-5). The force of the storm destroyed the small coastal town of Rockport where my family has spent countless summer days and weeks (and fall, spring and winter too) since my grandfather was a little boy, and long before. The weather pattern that held the storm in place over Houston and the surrounding area created unprecedented levels of rainfall, and horrific flooding on a scale never seen before — in a city designed to flood (and drain).
I have friends who had water filling the entire first floor of their homes. Others may have stayed dry, but were trapped in their neighborhoods by floodwaters. Some had electricity and drinking water. Others didn’t. Houston isn’t the only place that flooded. The gorgeous town of La Grange (yes, that La Grange) and the surrounding Fayette County also flooded when the Colorado river burst it’s banks.
Towns from Central Texas all the way down to the coast spent sleepless nights nervously watching rivers, creeks and reservoirs as they rose and rose beyond levels ever recorded. East Texas towns flooded as Harvey made its way back out to the gulf to gain more momentum, and move back on shore to dump more rain on an already drenched state.
News sources, social media, and photos from friends and family can only show the visual part of the story. The pictures look awful, but they’re now becoming familiar.
However, something else has happened — is happening — in Texas. Texans are showing the world what it means to be Texan. As the floodwaters rose, and more and more people became trapped in their homes, stuck without electricity, drinking water or food, Texans started helping Texans.
Every good old boy with a boat came out to help move people and pets to safety. A huge furniture store opened its showrooms to provide shelter to those who had nowhere to go. The grocery pride of Texas, HEB, was equipped and ready with relevant supplies like water, mops and bread, workers from across the state came to open their doors so people could access food, and they brought in facilities like mobile kitchens to help feed people in affected areas. This isn’t HEB’s first disaster, and they are often in place before FEMA and the Red Cross.
There were reports of an hours long line of people at a makeshift shelter in a convention centre..waiting to volunteer. A convoy of cajuns with bass boats from Louisiana, a state more accustomed to being on the receiving end of post hurricane assistance, made their way to Texas to help out. On their third day of boat rescues, my brothers were turned away — because there were too many people out being helpful.
Texans show up. It’s what we do.
And in the wake of Harvey (and other hurricanes from my past), they showed up to help their neighbours.
Texas ingenuity knows no boundaries. Hurricane Ike was the first storm to directly hit Houston in over two decades. This meant that the trees covering the city hadn’t had a good whipping around in far too long, and many many limbs and trees were lost in that storm. Houstonians piled up their storm collateral into “green” and “garbage”. The green was taken away by the city, mulched, and given back to residents free of charge to help put their lawns and gardens back together.
Now, as people make their way back to their homes to survey the damage, to cut out wet drywall, and to throw away everything that was contaminated with sewage ridden floodwaters, people are showing up to help. There are no contractors or labourers to do the work. Regular people are doing it. As friends put in the manual and emotional labour to first clean up and then rebuild their lives, people are showing up.
Neighbourhoods are working together, house by house, to do the work. But even more touching – strangers are helping strangers, in the sweltering Texas heat, and that means kids and teenagers too. Entire communities are coming together to load trucks with necessary food and supplies to deliver them to areas hit by the storm. My parents drove a trailer to Rockport, their former home, full of donated supplies from the citizens of Austin County. Texans see work that needs to be done and they just chip in and do it. That is being a Texan.
Texas is big, and the legendary Texas pride is even bigger.
Many people don’t understand it, but it’s now playing out tangibly in the wake of this disaster. I love my home state for this, and it’s what keeps me going back and back and back, and often daydreaming of living there someday again.
We spent just over three weeks in Texas this time, with no agenda other than to be with my family during a difficult time. In the process, I showed my son a glimpse of what it is to be Texan.
How it feels to reel in your first shining golden redfish by yourself…and eat it.
How unbelievably cool the bats are in their nightly stream out of the Congress Ave bridge in Austin.
How it feels to be the only boat on a New Deal WPA built lake in the middle of the Texas countryside, cooling off in the water, water skiing, tubing and drinking warm beer.
The crack of a bat at an an Astros game, checking traps with your uncle, working on a building project after sneaking off to get donut holes with your Papaw, picking dewberries, helping out with the goats, the simple pleasure of throwing water balloons at your cousins, and cooling off in the swimming pool day after day after day.
Along the way, he learned about Texas hospitality and generosity. Friends who open their homes to fill your hearts and your stomachs with Texas love. Shopkeepers who have a little gift or a sample ready to help keep an active boy calm (and his mother shopping). We ate more Mexican food than any human body should eat, and kicked our boots up in a backroad country store.
He snuck oreos from Nanny’s cookie jar, and shared Blue Bell ice cream with his cousin on her mother’s birthday.
All of this is Texas, and it’s love.
Love is what makes Texans who we are. We love our homes, our neighbours, and fellow Texans. We love our proud independent history of everyday heroism, deeply rooted principles, fierce determination, and exuberant love for our state and the people who call it home — all of the people who call it home. Most of all we love being Texan, because that is something special – like nowhere else and like nobody else in the world.
I now have a little Londoner who is desperate to become a Texan. He tried negotiating a two year stay for himself with anyone and everyone who would take the bait. He wants a house in Texas, near to his cousins, but on a hill (to avoid flooding). I don’t know if living in Texas is in our future or not. But Texas is in our hearts, and I’m proud to call Texas home, and honoured to call Texans “my people.”
Note: I included links burn ot photos of the devastation caused by the flooding. I wasn’t there, so I didn’t take any of the photos, but more importantly, we’ve seen a lot of them in the media. However, I did include some photos from our trip, and what being Texan feels like. I hope that’s not insensitive to the people recovering from the devastation of this storm. The photos I did include were mostly taken on a temporary Samsung phone that I bought to use while there, and I have to say the image quality is terrible. I remain an Apple girl.