|West Texas (TheSeafarer, Flickr)
I entered into the Avis rental car place and was heartily greeted by a large woman with a strong
As I exited the Avis rental car parking lot, the man in the booth asked if I wanted a map. “Oh no.” I scoffed. “I used to live here!” I headed west in search of 114. I missed it by a block. Zooming up I-35 I marveled in the wide lanes, the excellence of my stereo system, and was thankful the sun was finally starting to set. My mind a jumble of confusion, I became repeatedly lost. Exits have changed, lanes widened, and my mental map of DFW in my head was rusty like a bike chain in need of WD-40.
|The Groom's Dad & Brother (not) calming Nikki's nerves before the ceremony
Eventually, I arrived at Nikki’s. We smiled, dined on pizza delivery and wine. She took photos of me, covered in plane-funk and all, and posted them on Facebook. I quizzed her on all her family members who I would see that weekend at Cody’s wedding. She was determined to make me stay up until at least
10:00 p.m. in efforts to get over the jet-lag.
“How are the wedding plans going?” I asked and she groaned. “What. What’s going
on? Is there some drama or something?” I pried.
“No, no. It’s just – I’m so nervous.
If I mess up you know my family is never going to let me live it down.
They’ll tease me about it forever.”
She shook her head and sighed. Nikki, a
licensed attorney in the State of Texas,
was going to officiate Cody’s wedding. I
wish I could offer her condolences, but I knew she was right. She has a large,
rambunctious, playful Hispanic family.
If she tripped over her words during the ceremony, they would tell
stories about it at her funeral. I
smiled sympathetically and shrugged.
“You’ll do great. I know you
I first met Nikki’s family in our apartment in
in 1997. She and I were roommates at and in the marching band
together. Eleven of them had come into
town for a football game and as we were wrapping up things at the stadium –
packing up water coolers and other band equipment - she informed me that they
were already at our house, hanging out.
“Oh, okay! They didn’t want to wait for us?” I asked. The mysterious
Rubio clan had arrived into town during the game. I hadn’t actually seen any of
them yet. “Nah, I just gave them a key and they let themselves in.” Baylor
I parked in our broken parking lot in front of our apartment with blue carpet, wood paneling, and bars on the windows. Two large Hispanic men were squeezed on to the cozy white swing outside (Management’s attempt at making the ghetto cozy, I guess.) They both held bottles of Coors light in their hands. I uneasily stepped out of my car and started walking towards my own apartment. They smiled and introduced themselves. After a little more small talk they asked me, “So. Is
dry?” It caught me off-guard. “Well, it rains here quite a bit.” I answered,
confused. They exchanged glances. Later, Nikki explained that they were asking
“Where are they all going to sleep?” I asked her. Eleven people were snuggled into our tiny two-bedroom apartment. “Oh you know, here, there, wherever.” My junior year in college, I learned the carpet is a suitable place for sleeping when hosting a large family get-together. I slept at my boyfriend’s house that weekend.
After that initial awkward meeting and my first trip home with her, I realized what I had inadvertently stumbled upon – a new culture. Growing up in a suburb of
was immune to a truly Texas
lifestyle much less a Hispanic one. I
took off my white-girl suburban glasses and observed, learned, and started to
embrace. Her family is so big. So close.
So welcoming! They have their quirks and squabbles like any other family, but
they also joke, tease, drink, and dance. Over the years, I became a regular
attendee at her family’s functions and her family would often come and visit us
Her cousin Cody is about my brother’s age, four years younger than me. He spent a high school spring break with us in our apartment in
Waco. Nikki worked at Red Lobster and had scheduled
“babysitters” for him each night when she had to be away. Each of us had our own itinerary and I
decided to play off Waco’s and my
own strengths: a trip to the Waco Zoo and a home-cooked meal! It was the first time I’d really spent any
time with him. We laughed a lot and he appreciated my cooking (and he at least pretended to like the Zoo.) He was artistic and creative – something an
accounting major found fascinating. He played football and had plans to go to
Texas Tech. I spent years on in the stands watching football games. My Grandmother lived in Lubbock. He is easy going, has a quirky sense of
humor, and a genuine interest in the people around him. Over a dinner of fried
chicken and mashed potatoes, it was apparent that he and Nikki were very
close. Cody quickly became one of my
favorite people in her family.
|Cody and I, 2008
I attended his high school graduation ceremony in
Texas. He went off to Texas Tech, graduated, and I danced to rap,
Mexican, and pop music with his family at the celebration party in Big
Spring. He moved to Dallas
and we spent more time together, especially after Nikki moved back to Texas
after graduating from law school in Kansas. The best times we had together though, were
in Big Spring, that magical place
away from everything and everyone. It’s a tiny town, run-down and seemingly
lonely. But I found it to be the exact
opposite. His Dad turned 55 and everyone
came into town for the party – more dancing, more laughter, more stories
told. Thirty people crowded into Nikki’s
house after the party and lay sprawled and sleeping wherever they could find a
spot – bedrooms, living room, even the dining room. It was fall, football season. When West Texas sports
is at it’s finest – homecoming mums, football helmets, and school colors. “Celeste! Celeste! Wake up!” Cody was shaking
me awake – whispering as to not alert any of the other sleeping family members around
me on the dining room floor. He puts his
finger to his lips as my eyes pop open. He then points to the window. I raise myself up on my elbows for a better
view. A fireball, as large as the sun,
is alight across the road. I jolt upright
and we head out past the screen door and onto the porch. The crackle is loud and the heat can be felt
from where we stand. The wind whips
across the plains, rearranging dust. It
rustles the trees in front of the tiny house, which sits on an acre of
land. The sky looms above us and is speckled
with thousands of stars. My mind races –
I see headlines “Fireball Smokes Out Thirty Sleeping Hispanics!” (and one white girl). I grab Cody’s arm for reassurance. “What is
that?” I whisper. “It must be Cahoma,
the rival high school.” he calculates. “Forsan High, where Nikki went, built
that bonfire a few days ago for the homecoming game this weekend. Cahoma
students must have found it and decided to burn it before the festivities.”
Amazed, I stare at the profile of Cody’s face as he spoke. The light from the fire glows on his cheeks
and I smile. I know there is nothing to
be scared of, now. The fire will burn
itself out. Together we watch the
glowing orb. My cultural education
|Cody and I on his wedding day
Fifteen years after our trip to the Waco Zoo, I enter into the sweeping grandiose of the Magnolia Hotel in Downtown Dallas. Energetic smiles are exchanged with Nikki’s aunts. Hugs are given to her siblings. My beloved Uncle Oscar helps me with my hair. Everyone thanks me for coming. I’ve been excitedly greeted by Nikki’s entire family at the hotel, all except one. My palms are sweaty when the hotel shuttle drops us off at the wedding and reception venue. I take a deep breath of the warm air and walk down the worn brick stairs to the old speakeasy in Downtown Dallas. I’m excited and nervous, and the fact that I’m even there seems like a dream. As I’m distractedly observing the family photos on display, I see Cody enter the hallway out of the corner of m eye. The fabulous cake display is between us. I stand upright and smooth my dress. He sees me and I smile the smile of a girl who’s just traveled five thousand miles to see her long-time friend get married. He looks great, relaxed as always. We embrace and then he holds me back at arms length. “Thanks for coming,” he smiles and pats my shoulder. “No problem. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.” I shrug as if it was nothing.
The ceremony is beautiful, heart-felt and warming. Nikki’s delivery of every line is perfect, erupting in congratulations and tears from everyone. The bride, Kristy, a native of New Orleans, is smashingly beautiful. The reception, like all of their parties, is an outrageous success – complete with cocktails, music, and laughter. I took tons of photos, danced, and met significant others and children previously known only via Facebook.
|Cody and Kristy dancing a New Orleans tradition - The Second Line
I’m in the middle of answering questions about House Hunters when the jazzy sounds of Second Line stop my conversation with Nikki’s aunt mid-sentence. My eyes alight with recognition and I grab the closest napkin and join the parade. I giggle as Cody, the groom from
West Texas, waves his umbrella
awkwardly next to his New Orleans
bride. I smiled with appreciation. Texas
and Louisiana – just like me and
V, is a cultural fusion that makes for some good times ahead. We’re all still
learning, adapting, and embracing.