Southern Living, Thank You Notes

Pay It Forward

So much has been written and said about Hurricane Katrina, that I hardly think I have anything more to offer on that topic in terms of how things went so horribly wrong and who is to blame. What I do have to say is how proud I am of my adopted home, the great state of Texas and the many Texans (naturalized or native) who have stepped up to the plate to care for the suffering. We are a big state with big hair, big hats, big ideas, occasionally big mouths, but most of all, big hearts. I am not surprised in the least by the outpouring of help because this was the same response I received when I moved here 24 years ago.

Way back in 1981, before many of my fellow mommy’s were even born, I moved to Texas from the cornfields of the mid-west. I was 21-years-old and greener than the green beans my son lobs at me at the dinner table. I had been working for an insurance company and when an opening in the Texas agency opened up, I jumped on it and transferred. When I say transfer, I don’t want you to get the idea that they paid to move me and set me up. What I mean is that they said, hey, if you’re crazy enough to move to God-forsaken Texas, then we’ll pay you minimum wage when you get there.

When you’re 21, you are long on hope and dreams and short on wisdom and cash. So it seemed like a reasonable thing to do. I loaded up my Honda Civic with what little I had and set off to become a Texan. I vividly remember the January day I was packing all my worldly belongings into my little car. As I was carrying a box down the icy, snowy steps of my parent’s house, I slipped and slid all the way down on my back, bumping my head on each step until I finally came to rest completely under the car. I had figuratively and literally hit bottom. As I was lying there on the dirty snow looking up at the underside of my car, I knew I was doing the right thing.

After I arrived in Texas and got my apartment and paid my rent and my phone bill and utilities, I had exactly $8.43 for two-weeks. But I never felt more wealthy. Everyone I met extended kindness, encouragement and offers to help. And they meant it. A lady who worked for the company in the next office nearly every day would bring by a meal that she said was left over, which I kind of always doubted. “Nell, you mean to tell me this entire roasted chicken and corn casserole is leftover?” I’d ask. She’d wave both her hands like she was shooing away chickens and say, “It’ll just go to waste, honey, now you take it home and put it in the fridge.” I never went hungry thanks to kindness of Nell and many others like her.

I’ve been the recipient of Texas hospitality more times than I can remember in the past 24 years. I hope that maybe I’ve passed a little of that along to others somewhere along the way. Sometimes on the hardest, hottest, most miserable of Texas days, I’ll think back to that January day when I was laying under my car in my parent’s driveway and I remind myself that I did the right thing in coming here. These are my people and this is where I’m supposed to be.

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