Wednesday, June 6, 2007

A Girl & Her State & A Few Tough Chicks

I know I’ve already mentioned a couple of times the fancy shmancy photographer that has been coming out here to take pictures. Well the reason I’m mentioning him again is to tell you about a conversation we had. Since this conversation, I keep going back in my mind about an experience I had over two decades ago. It’s funny how defining moments can occur in your life, but not realized for years. In my case, 25 years.

During a conversation with Dan the photographer, he mentioned some other projects he was working on, one of which was assisting with some photography for the girls at Girls State. As soon as he said “Girls State,” I was more than proud to tell him that I went to Girls State some 20 odd years earlier.

This conversation took me on a trip down memory lane. It had been years since the thought of Girls State had even entered my mind. As I reflected back on my experience as a Girls State Delegate in 1982, I realized that it happened exactly this month, exactly 25 years ago. How strange that this conversation was occurring now. Had Dan not mentioned it, I probably never would have even given it a thought. But since our discussion, I haven’t stopped reflecting back on how these two weeks, 25 years earlier and almost to the day, had made such an imprint on my life.

Girls State set the stage in so many ways of the woman I would become. I had just turned 17 when I was chosen by the great folks from the American Legion to represent our special town. I will never forget when Mrs. Bowers got me out of class to tell me the great news - that I would be going to Girls State! She was instrumental in making this happen, something I have never forgotten.

Prior to Girls State I can’t say I was the most engaged student. Well, I was engaged in school all right – the social part of it, just not the scholastic part of it. Not to mention the fact that I didn’t know a thing about politics, a democrat from a republican, or even the executive branch from the legislative branch. To give you an idea of my scholarly ways and my political expertise, I had to write a paper a few semesters earlier regarding the 1980 presidential campaign and who I felt should be the next president and why. This was my depth of knowledge about politics at the time: I wrote that I believed Jimmy Carter, not Ronald Reagan, would be a better President because Mr. Carter had a much sweeter smile, and someone with that big of a smile must be an honest and nice person.

As you can tell, I was just dripping in political ambition and scholastic abilities. I was such a deep thinker. Heck, I probably wrote the paper during the 5- minute break between classes.

And now I’m on my way to Girls State. To be honest with you, I didn’t even understand what Girls State was all about. I just knew it was an honor to be selected. So of course I treated it like I did everything in high school: “What’s Girls State? Do you try out for it? Will I get to buy a new outfit? Do you get any time out of class? Where do I sign up?” I had such substance and well thought out ideals.

My gift of gab must have worked nicely on the nice panel members of the American Legion who decided I was worthy of representing them. I found myself a month later meeting up with 4 other delegates at the crack of dawn one summer morning in June for our long drive to Girls State. I didn’t know what it meant, but hey – I had been PICKED and I got to buy a new outfit!

Let me tell you what a quaint and special little town I grew up in: As we met early in the morning for our 7 hour drive to Girls State, the Sheriff pulled up and decided he would escort us there. He was proud of “his girls” and the leaders they would become. Is that not sweet y’all? I’m so proud to be from a small town where the Sheriff knew everyone and felt responsible for you.

On the trip to Girls State in Seguin, Texas, we stopped at the LBJ Ranch for a tour. This was my first time to the Hill Country. Coming from the desert, I can still remember thinking how beautiful it was - all the trees, creeks, and rivers. The land was green and fertile; I wanted to feel it, I wanted to put my hands in it. It made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I remember thinking to myself what a beautiful place this would be to live; I actually envisioned myself living on a piece of this beautiful Hill Country earth.

During the LBJ ranch tour, we drove in front of Mrs. Lady Bird Johnson’s house. I remember her coming outside to wave to us from her porch. I was elated! It was at this moment that it really registered with me just who she was – a former First Lady. In my wise 17-year-old mind, I guess I just thought people of that caliber probably lived in ivory towers in the city, or in sprawling private estates in Nantucket or something. I never thought about a former President actually living a serene life in the Texas Hill Country. It made me very curious about Lady Bird Johnson. I wanted to know more about her, more about her life and her journey. I remember thinking to myself, “This lady has made such a mark in history and lives so modestly, right here in this beautiful country amongst wildflowers and wildlife”. I thought that maybe someday I, too, could live in a beautiful place like the Hill Country. I became incredibly interested in Mrs. Johnson’s life and to this day have read most everything that is available about her.

Then the next defining moment: Ann Richards. While attending Girls State, she was one of our guest speakers. Other than being told that she had been a former Girls State Delegate, I didn’t know anything about her. As she took the stage to speak, I was completely enthralled. Coming from a small Texas town, I had never been around such an outspoken woman. I knew many women of strength, but not a woman that could take a stage and be in complete control of her audience – especially an audience of 500 hormonally challenged 17 year old girls. She had something important to say, but she was funny and entertaining. She held the audience in the palm of her hand. I had no doubt she could go head to head with any man and easily chew them up and spit them out, never blinking an eye. I was in awe.

She told us that she was going to run for Texas State Treasurer and that if she won, she would be the first woman in 50 years to be elected to a statewide office. I was just completely taken aback by her. I hung on her every word. At that very moment I became interested in politics. I continued to follow her for the rest of her career and life. I didn’t always agree with her politically. On most issues I thought she was right on, but on others, well, I wasn’t quite on the same page. But that was okay. That’s what she was about – using your own noodle to think about what’s important to YOU.

So there you have it. Two women I’ve never personally met that have made a lasting impression.

I still can’t believe I live just a couple of miles from the LBJ ranch. I drive in front of this ranch on a daily basis, and each time I always think about Mrs. Johnson: How she’s doing, if she’s in good health, if she can still remember the details of the magnificent life she has lived. How I would love to just sit down with her and chat. Regarding Ann Richards, she gave me my passion for politics.

I’m not so sure how the American Legion and Mrs. Bowers feel about being singled out on a blog by a girl named Lavender Chick, but regardless, they caused a life-changing event for me - and due to Mrs. Bowers, I was introduced to two more steel magnolias. Is it too late to say THANK YOU after 25 years?

1 comment:

Cote de Texas said...

Ah, this was just fabulous! I'm loving every word. This made me tear up. Lady Bird and Ann, ha! Love it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1