Monday, July 26, 2010

Deep in the heart of...

By Jennifer Huffman | Monday, July 26, 2010|
Napa Valley Register.

“The stars at night are big and bright …” clap clap clap clap!

Guess where we went on our family vacation this summer?

You got it. In early July, mom, dad, three girls and exactly 150 pounds of allotted luggage hurtled our way across the Southwest on a seven-day whirlwind family reunion/vacation to the Lone Star State.

We Huffmans are Californians by birth but we happen to have Texas relatives spread out all over the state. So a one-two punch with stops in Dallas and San Antonio seemed like a good way to get reacquainted with a whole bunch of family in one coordinated invasion.

Californians think we’re so tough because we live on earthquake faults. Try living in the sauna of a Texas summer. The day we arrived in Dallas, we stopped at a burger drive-in for lunch. I noticed everyone was eating in their cars with the windows up and air conditioning on. What a waste of gas, I thought. Why, in easy, breezy California we sit outside in the fresh air and eat our lunch. We don’t hide in our cars because it’s a little warm.

We’ll sit outside and eat, I told the family.

I quickly learned you do not attempt this in Texas on a 90-degree day with 90 percent humidity. Us rookie Texas visitors were practically gasping for oxygen. The girls wilted. I felt like I was being sucked to the ground. That was our first lesson of the trip. Air conditioning must be on at all times during a Texas summer. It is not optional.

Swimming pools are another must-have in Texas. And unlike in California, you definitely don’t need a heater for a Texas pool. If anything you need a cooler. The water stays warm all day and night. On our first day in Dallas, the girls swam at my aunt’s pool all afternoon and into the evening, even after dark. You would have thought they had died and gone to heaven, a Texas heaven where there is no bedtime and you never have to get out of the pool. At another aunt’s pool the girls were endlessly amused by a pool slide. First they tried the slide sitting up. Then they got adventurous and slid down on their stomachs. Then lying down. Then sideways. Then backwards. I could only get them to come out when a thunderstorm rolled through in the late afternoon, which caused me to make all kinds of dire predictions about electrocution and lightning zapping children in swimming pools.

They say everything’s big in Texas and that includes the weather. One night at dinner at a restaurant called Pappadeaux’s, which serves huge platters of New Orleans/Cajun style food, it started to rain. Hard. Then the lightning and thunder started. The lights started flickering. We sat at our table, stunned by the downpour. This went on for over an hour. To us Californians this was a biblical rain that would surely lead to mass havoc and flooding. The girls ran between their seats and the windows, videotaping each other discussing the storm while snacking on a plate of fried alligator. “It’s like eating at the Pirates of the Caribbean,” said one daughter. Meanwhile, the Texans around us barely looked up from their meals. Storm? What storm?

With all that humidity and rain, Texas in summer is wonderfully green and lush compared to a brown and dry California. No need for drought tolerant landscaping in Texas. And talk about grass. This is the grass that children, squirrels and lawn care business owners dream of. There’s grass everywhere — acres of green lawn, surrounding office buildings, homes and hotels. If you want to see some serious grass, check out Texas.

I’ve never been to a more patriotic state than Texas. Texans fly their flag everywhere and put their Lone Star on everything including clothing, shot glasses, business signs, street signs, front doors, grocery stores and even highway overpasses. After this dose of Texas-style patriotism, I now believe that Californians have greatly underutilized our own state star. The bear on our flag is nice, but a star really pops out at you. Nothing says “spirit” like a star. California could be doing way more with our star, for sure.

“I want to sound like a Texan,” said the youngest Huffman, so she decided to use “y’all” as often as possible during the trip. Like an amateur sociologist, she studied the accents of our relatives, practicing her new lingo in the car. “Do y’all want to get a snack?” she’d ask her sisters.

She tried using “y’all” as many times as she could in one sentence. “Do y’all want to watch a movie y’all?” She started drawling her words a bit more for effect. They say speech patterns and accents are cemented before age 10. It’s not too late to turn her into a real Texan.

Besides reconnecting with aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents, our Texas trip had another, unexpected benefit. I have discovered the key to keeping three girls ages 10 to 16 from bickering during a family vacation. It’s easy: keep them so busy and occupied they don’t have time to fight.

Is your sister annoying you? Look, it’s the Alamo!

Bored? Check out that giant Texas flag!

Grumpy? Look, a dead armadillo on the highway!

We were constantly on the go, and never saw the same thing twice. In fact, the seven days we spent in Texas added up to be the most conflict-free week our family has had in months, even years. For that reason alone, this trip will go down in Huffman Family History as one of our most successful family vacations.

Thanks y’all.

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