From California Suburbs to Texas Ranchlands
Art by Sascha Chesler | Words by Sarah Tamura
Moving away from one’s childhood home can either be a crippling obstacle or a welcomed relief. For me, it was moreso the former. Going from the suburbs of Southern California to the country outskirts of Texas is a hurdle in and of itself. Gone are the hip coffee shops, the colossal outlet stores, the vegan bakeries, the designer purses, the fresh haircuts and the groomed pets, the sun-kissed skin and the long-haired surfers. Instead, my new home is an hour east of Dallas in the country town of Canton.
Canton is home to the famous First Monday Trade Days. What first started as a small flea market over a century ago has now grown to be one of the world’s largest markets of its kind. Shoppers from all over the United States flock to this ever-impressive four-day experience, adding largely to the spirit and cultural identity of this town. First Monday Trade Days is open the Thursday through Sunday before the first Monday of every month, hence the name. Over the past 150 years, this flea market has seen some of the rarest and one-of-a-kind antiques, collectibles, and home-furnishings (such as aged book shelves, dainty mirrors, and trendy art) that can be found in Texas.
Even though I breathed a long sigh of relief at the end of our 22-hour drive across 1250 miles, it was a much different homecoming than I have been used to. Our new house has a fresh green roof that matches the grasslands surrounding it and a quaint crimson red door. It is a typical ranch-style country home that sits atop 2.5 acres of land, accompanied by three neighbors in a back-country cul-de-sac. All around us, cattle graze on the ranchlands and bask in the sun. On any given night, we can sit out on our back porch and watch the nearby neighbor’s calves frolic and chase each other, dodging the few ponds that are scattered across the land. Since one of our neighbors owns a flight training course, we often see little blue and yellow airplanes buzzing just over our heads.
After getting acquainted with our new humble abode, we decided to hit the town — the downtown. I was shocked, to say the least. Having grown up in the heart of Southern Orange County, I have been accustomed to being within a 15-mile radius of the hottest shopping centers. Here, in the deep country of Texas, the downtown consists of ten stores along the cobblestoned Tyler Street.
There are stores like Serendipity, which is a consignment boutique that sells all kinds of clothing, and restaurants like Buttermilk’s, which has the best chicken fried steak I’ve ever tasted. We walked the length of it in less than a minute. The few people who were out on that Sunday afternoon milled about, puffing on their cigarettes and sharing the latest town gossip. They ate fried okra and mashed potatoes and sipped on copious amounts of sweet tea for nearly every meal. All jokes aside, I would estimate that my body consists of 60 percent sweet tea and 40 percent water by now.
The number of bug bites that plague my body has become too large for me to count. Within an hour of moving into our house, one of the movers unknowingly stepped on a pregnant wolf spider. It dispersed about 1000 newborn babies that spread throughout our entire garage within minutes. Our petrified screams and desperate cries for help were heard for miles on end. After that, we were quick to learn that the Texas humidity seemed to be a safe haven for any and all insects.
Out here, life moves slower. The people drive and walk lackadaisically in no particular rush. For example, if someone comes to a stop sign before me, they will wait for me to stop to make sure that I am actually committed to a stop and won’t just ruthlessly plow into their pickup truck. They err on the side of caution as opposed to the fast, sometimes hazardous ways of California drivers. Funny enough, their name for a rolling stop is actually a “Californian stop”.
As I watched the back of one of the townspeople’s car fading away into the distance, popular bumper stickers are normally found glued to the rear windows, such as “People Eating Tasty Animals”, which clearly riffs on the organization PETA, or “Suns Out, Guns Out.” Similarly, one can walk into the local bakery and find a sign that reads, “Lawful Gun Owners Welcome”. Gun ownership seems to be a considerable point of pride in this part of Texas. In fact, hunting appears to be a much larger part of life than it was in Southern California.
The ways in which people interact are different than how I thought they would. Part of me expected the neighborly southern charm to be oozing out of their pores; the other part assumed that the rougher side of their country living would manifest itself in their everyday interactions. To my surprise, they land right in the middle. Some of the country people are as sweet as peach cobbler, while others can be as gruff as their surroundings. Regardless of their differences, these people and their roots run far and wide, leading them to take tremendous pride in their lineage and statehood.
While it’s an entirely different way of living than I have ever experienced or known, country life in Texas isn’t so bad. It can feel like its own little homey world, only known and familiar to those who live in it. My family has been welcomed with home-baked treats, wide smiles, and curious questions about our own upbringings in Southern California. As we tell them our stories, we often become aware and quite conscious of our own accents as they bounce off of their thick southern drawl. After spending only a few weeks in this country town, it seems plausible that my family will integrate smoothly into its culture, with a few speed bumps along the way. This small world and its residents allows me to slow down, catch my breath and drink an ice cold glass of sweet tea.