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The Yellow Roses of Texas
You can’t tell a Texas woman no. If you try, she will smile sweetly, bless your heart, and proceed with her current endeavor. She will become one of the nation’s most recognized governors or its first African American aviator. She will say whatever she pleases about presidents or members of the Junior League. She will fight as fiercely as any Texas Ranger, whether she’s protecting a family homestead from Santa Ana or her army family from nameless government officials carrying unbearable news. Step aside for the lady, and no one will get hurt.
Ann Richards treated the nation to a sound bite that made her a media darling; “Poor George, he can’t help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth,” she remarked at the 1988 Democratic National Convention about President George H. W. Bush. But those few words were not what propelled this steely feminist into the top office in the state of Texas. Richards took her governorship and used it to create opportunities for women, Hispanics, gays, and the disabled. Richards’ determination to overcome conservative bias as well as personal struggles with alcoholism make inspiring and compelling reading in Jan Reid’s warts-and-all biography, Let the People In.
Who doesn’t want to toss back a couple of bourbons with Molly Ivins and listen to her spin one political yarn after another? Molly Ivins Can’t Say That, Can She? brings together Ivins’ most popular essays about Texas. The biting, witty humor of these pieces will remind longtime fans how much they miss Molly and will have new fans wishing they’d known her when.
Unlike Ivins, Frede Ware drenches her words in honey before slicing and dicing. She is Linda Francis Lee’s Devil in the Junior League, Willow Creek, Texas, chapter. After enduring public humiliation from her cheating, stealing, lying husband, Frede makes a deal with another kind of devil, crass lawyer version. She will get the wife of the obnoxious but effective lawyer into the Junior League if he will track down the cheating husband and help her extract the necessary flesh. The novel’s tart dialogue and concluding revenge scenario are Junior League textbook, and no wonder, the author is a Leaguer.
Then there’s the Texanne who thrashes her way into the world, grabbing whatever she wants. Take Bessie Coleman in Queen Bess: Daredevil Aviator. No one was going to tell Bessie she couldn’t be a pilot. She had to leave her home in Texas to indulge her adventurous nature, but she earned a pilot’s license from the French Fédération Aéronautique Internationale and became the first African American to earn an international pilot’s license. She returned to the States knowing how to loop-the-loop and work the publicity machine but never well enough to secure funding for the type of plane she could soar in. Bessie crashed during a test flight before an airshow.
Can’t leave out the Texas girl with a heart, mouth, and hips the size of Dallas. The pages of Virgin of the Rodeo barely contain Sonja “Son” Getz’s personality as she sets off on a picaresque quest through all the zaniest rodeos Texas can corral (the women’s rodeo, the blacks’ rodeo, the gays’ rodeo) in search of the father she’s never met. That’s another thing about Lone Star Staters: they cherish their misfits.
No one has ever doubted the gutsiness of the Texas gal. When Janice Woods Windle discovered how deep her Texas roots ran, she found a family tree sprouting generations of fearless women who helped in the routing of Santa Ana, running the Yankee cotton blockade during the Civil War, and facing off with the Ku Klux Klan. Windle used that family history to craft True Women, a historical novel that traces Texas history as women experienced it.
In You Know When the Men Are Gone, Siobhan Fallon’s women exhibit a quieter courage, but it is no less fierce. In her linked short story collection, Fallon reveals the loneliness, heartache, and in some instances, relief of the army wives of Fort Hood as they wait for their husbands to return from deployment overseas. Some of the women cling to their children, some use the time to spy on their husband’s online activity, and some will soak up a freedom that comes with the cost of a soldier’s life.
These are the roses of Texas—thorny, proud, beautiful, and hardy.
The Devil in the Junior League. By Linda Francis Lee. 2006. St. Martin’s, $17.99 (9780312354978).
Let the People In: The Life and Times of Ann Richards. By Jan Reid. 2012. Univ. of Texas, $27 (9780292719644).
Molly Ivins Can’t Say That, Can She? By Molly Ivins. 1991. Knopf, $16 (9780679741831).
Queen Bess: Daredevil Aviator. By Doris L. Rich. 1993. Smithsonian, $16.95 (9781560986188).
True Women. By Janice Woods Windle. 1994. Random, $7.99 (9780804113083).
Virgin of the Rodeo. By Sarah Bird. 1993. Univ. of Nebraska, $25.95 (9780803261693).
You Know When the Men Are Gone. By Siobhan Fallon. 2011. Penguin, $14 (9780451234391).
Kaite Mediatore Stover is Director, Readers’ Services, Kansas City (MO) Public Library.
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