In Texas, September is still summer time; school starts, harvest begins,
but asphalt in the cracks of Main Street still oozes and melts like
bubble gum in the broiling noonday sun. But with October comes crisp
autumn evenings, a huge pumpkin-orange harvest moon hangs low in the
sky, and the State Fair begins. Pigs, horses, cows and rabbits vie for
attention in the Livestock Building; jams and jellies jostle against
prized quilts in the Women's Building; the lights of the Ferris Wheel
spin dizzyingly; the sweet smell of cotton candy hangs heavily in the
air. Looming above it all is a gigantic figure, one hand lifted
shoulder-high in greeting, the other arm outflung as if to embrace all
of Texas, stands Big Tex, the cowboy who symbolizes the biggest annual
fair in the world. He has been standing there all my life. He seems to
have been standing there forever.
As a little girl I was fascinated by Big Tex. He was both the first and
last sight I wanted to see. Riding on Daddy's shoulder, firmly gripping
a handful of his hair or Mama's finger for safety, I stared at the
carefully detailed boots, comparing them point by point to those my
father wore. Then my gaze moved up, up, past the long legs encased in
blue denim, past the red and blue checked western shirt, to the face
shaded by the big-brimmed hat. What would I find there? Would it be the
affectionate twinkle that invites a little girl to snuggle in uncle's
arms? Or the stern stare that nails a small sinner to the floor, awash
in guilt for cookies stolen from Aunt Hazel's kitchen, apple cores
thrown at the old sow, dirty footprints tracked across a clean floor?
When one of my friends told me in breathless secrecy that she knew
where babies came from, I said with infinite scorn, "Shoot, that's
nothing - I know where Big Tex came from!"
He first say the light of day in the small town of Kerens, in Navarro
County, over 50 years ago. As in many small towns, the people there go
all out to decorate at Christmastime - not only their homes and
businesses, but the town square as well. That year my uncle Hardy was
not only the county surveyor, but also the model for the giant figure
that would be the centerpiece of the holiday festivities. Tall,
broad-shouldered and muscular, he was a fine figure of a man, and his
measurements multiplied by seven became the measurements of the
colossus. Back then, the cowboy's uplifted hand held a bag of gifts, and
his bold features were almost hidden under a flowing beard made of
ravelled cotton rope. Instead of a broad-brimmed Stetson, he wore a red
cap trimmed with white, and he was known as Santy---Santy Claus.
After the celebration, this giant figure built of oil field pipe became
a storage problem, which the townspeople solved by offering him to the
State Fair. The company that makes Lee jeans offered to dress him as a
cowboy, and Uncle Hardy helped dismantle him for his journey to Dallas.
I have never visited Uncle Hardy's house without thinking of Big Tex,
and I never visit the fair without going to see my old friend, who is
after all practically a member of the family. There is usually a daddy
with a small child on his shoulders staring round-eyed at those enormous
boots. Sometimes a tiny voice whispers, "Mama, where did he come from?"
And I tell once more the story of Uncle Hardy and the Santa Claus who
became Big Tex.