Two women have made me glad to live in Austin, Miss Kitty from Gunsmoke, and Ann Richards, from the republic of Spitfire. I’ve got a deficit where my mother should be, which left me a keen radar for Southern role models, both real-life and on-screen have been my fill-ins. Gunsmoke’s Miss Kitty was pure mythology, Ann Richards was a dazzling mixture of myth and fact, her Daddy grew up in Bugtussle Texas, and her mama came from a town called Hogjaw, two plain facts that beget a wonderful myth.
I was shocked to hear of her passing, but had no time to grieve since I was due in the Capitol, that would be her Texas Capitol, to track a Senate hearing on higher education. I sat there five hours holding back tears, thinking about Ann Richards, while not one senator mentioned her name. Afterwards I walked into the memorabalia shop, this is
the Texas Government Souvenir shop we’re talking about, to buy a pin or a badge, coffee mug, anything to wear or carry as a show of respect, but there was nothing for sale that referenced Ann Richards. Maybe she was fictional after all. Ha ha ha. They wish.
She understood this mentality more than I ever will. Washington Post, yesterday:
Ann Richards had fun in her 73 years on this Earth. Maybe she had a little too much fun in earlier decades, when the alcohol flowed, certain substances were passed around and she was invariably the life of the party. Some of her ’60s-era escapades as part of a politico-literary crowd came back to haunt her on the campaign trail, but as a recovering alcoholic, she was not inclined to deny her past.
After her friends intervened in the fall of 1980 and she reluctantly agreed to get treatment, she still had fun, just more soberly. Fortunately, the more raucous Ann continued to appear occasionally, even after she won election to statewide office in 1982.
It’s 1983, she’s the new state treasurer and she’s imitating a Texas electronics factory owner before an uproarious crowd at the biennial convention of the National Women’s Political Caucus. “My girls are happy,” she drawls. “My girls are happy, because I know how to treat ’em.”
She’s wearing a rubber pig’s snout.
I know how to pick my role models.
And fuck the neocons, wingnuts, cracker politicians; the people are buzzing, sharing memories, our brushes, we the people are calling her Ann, I remember seeing Ann everyday on the hike and bike trail, see her hair comin’ round the bend. Did she nod and smile? Sometimes, yes, sometimes no, you know how people are… Yes I do, and she was one of us. Well shoot. I never met her, but at a gym once rode an exercycle next to hers and tried not to grin too hard and fall off from happiness.
And tomorrow, Bubba Elvis Clinton man and myth will lead the parade as he accompanies her casket into the Rotunda where it will lie in state under the pink dome.
I’ll be curling up with a few good biographies, The Thorny Rose of Texas, and Storming the Statehouse, where we hear what happened when the ACLU dropped by the governor’s mansion to complain about the manger on Capitol grounds. “You know,” she told them, “that’s probably as close as three wise men will ever get to the Texas Legislature, so why don’t we just let them be.”
Godspeed, Governor Richards. We need a lot more role models like you.