Tag Archives: Texas

The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You – Part 2

texas-postcard.jpg

My Grandpa Russell sent this postcard from Moore Field near Mission, Texas to Julia Suszko (Grandma) in Hamtramck, Michigan in 1943. They later married in Mission, Texas – May 1943. Finding this postcard among family pictures answered a lot of questions about Grandma’s life between graduating from Sterling High School in June 1942 and marrying Grandpa by May 1943. I am so close to answering my questions!

The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You – Part 1
Somehow, I always sensed family ties to Texas, but until fairly recently, I didn’t realize how strong that connection remains. Growing up, I knew that Grandma Reid lived in Texas with Grandpa Russell during World War II. In fact, they married in Mission, near McAllen and the border. After training at Moore Field (near Mission), Grandpa Russell served in the Army Air Corp in Fort Worth. Grandma worked as an ice box riveter, eventually telling me stories about her experiences at Plant 4. I couldn’t get enough of the stories or the era. Unfortunately, I couldn’t simply ask.

Grandma and Grandpa

My Russell grandparents in front of their rec home in Fort Worth, Texas ~ 1943

Or at least I didn’t feel I could. Grandma and I always had a great relationship, but some things didn’t require words. During their time in Fort Worth, 1943-1945, Grandpa Russell, and later, my dad’s older brother Eddie, made up Grandma’s family. My dad and aunt wouldn’t be in the picture for years yet.

Sadly, both Grandpa Russell and Eddie passed away long before I could meet either. I felt bringing up and asking questions about Grandma’s life in Texas would be unnecessarily cruel. Yet, she did tell me a few stories, and I consider myself lucky. Grandma remained a part of Grandpa Russell’s family long after she remarried. It is through her that I gained a sense of what Grandpa Russell and Eddie were like and learned about the Russell family.

During the year I lived in Houston, I finally visited Fort Worth. I drove by the factory where Grandma worked. At a mile long, it continues to impress. What struck me most was the courage it must have taken for two young adults to leave rural Arenac County, Michigan and their family farms for the unknown of wartime Texas. While it is true that Grandma lived in Hamtramck, Michigan with family prior to moving to Texas, neither she nor Grandpa Russell had family in Fort Worth or even Texas. They, of course, were far from alone. Sacrifices made by the Greatest Generation, at home and abroad, will never fail to inspire me.

Consolidated B-24 Liberator

Consolidated B-24 Liberator – Consolidated Aircraft manufactured the B-24 in Plant 4 in Fort Worth, among other locations. This is likely the type of plane my grandmother worked on.

One of my favorite Texas stories is the story Grandma told of meeting her manager at Plant 4 for the first time. He went on about how wonderful it was to have someone with experience riveting in Detroit. In reality, his speech left Grandma terrified. She did have experience riveting in Detroit – true – but it completely differed from what she was now being expected to do. Who knew there were so many different types of riveting? Fortunately, she learned quickly.

After the war, my grandparents eventually moved back to Michigan and the Russell farm. Still, those experiences stayed with Grandma. In June 2002, as I prepared to leave for Austin, I said goodbye to Grandma at the canoe livery. Always the joker, one of the last things she said before I left was: “They’ll call you a damn Yankee, you know.” I brushed it off. In 1943, maybe. 2002? Never.

Well, Grandma proved to be correct. The first words words I heard in Texas were: “Damn Yankee, huh?” After landing in Austin, I loaded up my rental car with all I needed for the next six months. Predictably, in the era before GPS and Google Maps, I became lost on my way to my new apartment complex. I pulled into a supermarket and asked for directions. Of course, as soon as I opened my mouth, the nice man I asked responded jokingly “Damn Yankee, huh?” We laughed as he gave me directions. Yes, my time in Texas started off well.

When I think of family history and Texas, I tend to think of Dad’s family. His parents married there. Uncle Eddie, born in 1945 in Fort Worth, truly was a Texan. Well, there is history in Texas on Mom’s side as well. It is murkier, and I wish I knew it better.

Mom’s maternal grandparents, Bion A. Hoffman and Beatrice Smith, divorced during the 1930s. While my great-grandmother regrouped and went back to school to become a teacher, Grandma B. and her sisters lived with their grandparents in Lincoln, Nebraska. While I am not exactly sure when, Bion, or as my mom knew him, Grandpa Pat, eventually moved to Houston. In fact, he died in Houston in the late 1980s. While I can’t confirm this, I believe he ranched. If it is true, it makes perfect sense. Bion came from a long line of ranchers and farmers who moved west and eventually settled in Nebraska. Hopefully one day I will be able to confirm that my great-grandfather ranched near Houston.

While I didn’t fall in love with Houston – or even like it much – one good thing did come out of it all. Even though my sister and my brother-in-law met at Michigan State, they fell in love in Houston. Spring break 2005, my sister decided to visit and bring a “friend.” It didn’t take me long to figure out that there was more to the story. My nephews can honestly say that their parents fell in love in Texas. My family may be firmly rooted in Michigan, but there are also deep Texas ties.

The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You – Part 1

Texas

The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You – Part 1

Texas Flag

Ah, Texas.  Where do I even begin?  First, there is my own history in both Austin and Houston.  To make a long story short, I adored Austin and hated Houston.  Go figure.  My Texan friends tried to warn me.  Either way, I spent just under a year and a half in the lone star state, and everything that happened during those times (Austin and Houston) still shape who I am today.

First, there was Austin.  In 2002, I worked at Applied Materials as a co-op from June to December.  I hated it at first, but soon, it became all I wanted after graduation from MSU:  good job, good friends, and good music – maybe love.  It really was as simple as that.  As much as I enjoyed all the wonderful times I had there, the near catastrophes are what really stick in my mind.

On July 24th, 2002, I survived a major car accident:  a moving truck turned in front me of while I had a green light.  While I walked away from the accident with a broken big toe and metatarsal (that is how hard I braked), along with a few minor scrapes and bruises, any passenger probably would have been killed.  Considering that I used to haul my brother around in my 1989 Grand Prix all the time, that shook me.  What if he had been with me?

The accident itself took place out on 290 just before Applied Materials.  I’d been on my way to work, and I later found out that my boss witnessed my crash.  Somehow, I had many people looking out for me that day.  One witness to the accident happened to be a nurse, and she stayed with me until the ambulance arrived.  While I have almost no memory of anything until the hospital – probably due to shock – the Texas State Trooper who came to interview me about the crash couldn’t have been nicer.  Then again, the accident clearly wasn’t my fault.

My mom, of course, was on the next flight out.  When she arrived, she helped me manage buying a new car and finding a lawyer.  We did both in style, and somehow, I negotiated my three-story walk-up sublet apartment in a splint up to my thigh.  Mom, forced to drive in a completely unfamiliar city in an era before ubiquitous turn by turn navigation, marveled at how I already knew the streets and layout of Austin in such a short period of time.  I still have fond memories of the few days Mom and I spent together in Austin.

Then, approximately a month or so after my accident, still in a walking cast and attending physical therapy, I found out that I could only sublet my apartment until the end of August, not the six months I had been promised and needed.  I needed a new place to live yesterday.  I panicked for a hot minute – and then rose to the occasion.  Fortunately for me, Applied Materials had an internal classified section on their intranet.  I started there.  In the end, I found a wonderful roommate – a single mom who had worked at Applied for nearly a decade at that point – who owned a beautiful home minutes from work.  I am still in touch with Karen today.

I could write almost endlessly about the time I spent with friends, including attending the first Austin City Limits Festival (now an institution), meeting Cheryl, the party we threw for Andy, and so, so much more.  As I’ve said before, leaving Austin on a rainy, icy December morning, my heart shattered.  Not so much with Houston.

So many friends tried to warn me about Houston.  I wouldn’t be happy there.  It started off well enough.  My senior year at Michigan State, I intended to end up in Texas in any way possible.  I made it to second round interviews with Applied Materials.  Ultimately, they only took half of the engineers and supply chain people they interviewed.  It did not help that my manager left before he could even evaluate me.  In the end, I had no one on the inside fighting for me.  I also ended up going through second round interviews at Dell.  Less than a week after graduation, I ended up at FMC Energy Systems in Houston purchasing parts for wellheads.  Frankly, it was a great first job – until it wasn’t.  When I initially interviewed, I interviewed with five people in our department.  By the time I left less than a year later, only two were still there – one on long-term medical leave.  I won’t go on and on about Houston.  There isn’t that much to tell:  Wrong job, wrong city, wrong time, and wrong man.  I think that about sums it up.  We headed back to Michigan exhausted and broken.

I intended to write a post discussing my family’s history in Texas, which will now be part two; instead, it became a post describing my personal history in Texas.  Looking back, I truly became an adult in Texas.  I had some wonderful times, along with my share of disappointments.  As much as I loved Austin, there is a reason none of it worked out.  If Houston hadn’t ended in disaster and I hadn’t ended up back in Michigan, I wouldn’t have known my Grandpa Buttrick nearly as well.  I belong in Michigan, even if a little piece of my heart will always be in Texas.

I didn’t know it at the time, but by running off to Texas, I was participating in a well-established family tradition going back generations.

Stay tuned for part two …

Texas