Texas Forever

TEXAS FOREVER - Homes by 1962 - Allison Irwin

These two words not only hold special meaning because they rolled off the tongue of Tim Riggins…please tell me you watched “Friday Night Lights”…but because Texas will always be close to my heart; it was the place I was born and raised (until I was 10) and embodies my grandmother Ann who was Texas through and through. A friend sent me a perfect scene from the great state, via text, a few weeks back. It was a video from SXSW of the iconic Willie Nelson strumming his guitar and singing “Always On My Mind”. Have you ever heard a sadder or sweeter song of regret? As I sat there staring into my phone, I was moved by Willie’s words. The emotion got to me. Not only did I miss Texas, friends and family there, but immediately thought of my grandmother. She would have loved to be right here, by my side, especially for Homes by 1962.

“Texas forever” might as well have been her motto. Ann’s roots were deep in the heart of the Lone Star State. She loved everything from the Hill Country to the Gulf coasts; from it’s ranches to it’s busy cities. She started in on me with her Texas pride at an early age. “There’s no better place to live,” she’d say. She warned me I could never leave, and when it came to college, why go anywhere else? She was scared to death I would drift away and never come back. Needless to say, our hearts broke together when mom abruptly decided we should move to Santa Fe, New Mexico (see “Nice to Meet You”). The scene in Ann’s driveway was a tear jerker. We cried, hugged and could hardly believe it was happening. I was still wrapping my head around the fact that I wasn’t going to the grocery store (mom’s get away plan) but to a new life in another state. My grandmother and I two-stepped across state lines for the years to come with frequent weekend visits and summertime stretches. My Dad was a part of this dance too. He is most certainly “Texas forever” and was left to miss me as well.

Not only did my Texas loving grandmother have an enormous influence on raising me, but she planted the seed for my love of aesthetics and let’s give credit where credit is due…she introduced me to my first Willie song. It was the early 1980’s and we were driving the streets of Dallas in The Big Banana…aka her yellow, Cadillac Seville. Our usual rides were enveloped in meaningful conversation, but on this particular day she popped in a cassette tape. I watched wide-eyed as she belted out every single word of “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before”. She did this with a passion she had never revealed. Eyes closed, she pressed her hand to to her chest and sang as if she were on stage.

Ann explained how Willie was a Texas boy (so of course we loved him) and on top of being born into the greatest state (hands down in her mind), he attended Baylor University for a spell. This was the cherry on top…the same college most of my family had graduated from. Then, she leaned in and spoke of Julio Iglesias as if she were telling me a deep, dark secret. She was practically blushed…giddy as she went on in a hushed whisper describing how handsome, smart and que romántica he was. I had never heard my grandmother talk like this. By the way she spoke, I was convinced their paths must have crossed. After all, my grandparents had spent quite a bit of time in Mexico, (see “Hola”). Little did I know, Julio was actually from Spain. Technicalities aside, I sat there watching my grandmother lost in her song.

Ann’s favorite lessons covered manners, style and decorating. “There’s no substitute for good taste,” she would tell me. She loved all things from beautiful clothes to home decor. Shopping, remodeling or simply rearranging a room made her tick. She schooled me in everything from proper furniture placement to fine china and the significance of Limoges, France. Ann patiently went over table settings, the how to’s of polishing silver, styling shelves, antique ivory, caring for oriental rugs, starting collections and much more. Outings to find just the right outfit or a special piece for her house were always topped off with lunch at Neiman Marcus in The Zodiac Room. We sipped our chicken consommé, relished in popovers with strawberry butter, talked and walked manners.

While Ann had a love for the finer things in life, she always kept grounded. She grew up during the Great Depression and spoke of those difficult times often. She described the two dresses she rotated through her high school years. Not only did this surprise me, but it made me realize how lucky I was to have her buy me several each season. To this day, when I open my closet indifferent on what to wear, I think back to her two choices. Thanks for teaching me perspective at an early age, Ann.

The tides changed for my grandmother when she met my grandfather. Although he too came from humble beginnings, growing up on a ranch in Central Texas, he eventually became a successful doctor and businessman. The world of luxury department stores, fine antique shopping, custom clothes, decorating, redecorating and travel galore opened up for my grandmother. She took full advantage of the loose reins she was given on spending. I benefitted from the ride on regular shopping sprees as a child. I can remember telling her on more than one occasion, that I thought I had enough. I was a bit embarrassed by the pile of “yeses” we had going. She always insisted on adding another outfit or two. “You only live once Allison,” she would say.

The irony is if she were still here, she would be sitting on a folding chair smack dab in the middle of the construction, loving every minute. A veracious reader, she’d have a stack of books beside her with one eye on the page and another on the project. She would shake her cane at each worker making sure they didn’t miss a single detail. Ann was around during two of our renovations and loved telling us and anyone else who would listen, exactly what to do.

My grandmother was Grace Kelly and Lucille Ball combined. She was glamorous, hilarious, simple, complicated, patient, frustrated, timeless, on trend, thrifty, extravagant, flawed and totally together. The one thing she never wavered from was making sure that I knew how special I was to her. She made me feel like I had been the most important baby, treasured child, obedient teenager, wise young adult and finally, a smart woman. When people lift you up like that, it gives you the courage to do anything you put your mind to. You’ll do things like write out your life story for anyone to read. You might even be so bold to think you can gather investors, renovate homes exactly how you envision them and it will be a success. Go figure. Life gives us enough road blocks and dips. Try making someone feel really special and see what happens.

Though she never got to see me as a mother, writer or making over these homes I call Misters, I have to think she has a hand in all of it. I see parts of her come out in my children regularly…especially in my girls. I try and channel the goofiness she’d surprise me with from time to time; it always catches my kids off guard in the best way. I remember to tell them how smart they are because I’ll never forget her telling me the same thing. Hearing that made me hold myself a bit taller. My style and decisive way of pulling together finishes for a house is a nod to her…I watched her closely.

In full disclosure my grandmother wasn’t actually Texas forever. The last three years of her life were spent here in Phoenix. She wanted to be closer to my mom and me. Looking back, I have regret. I was caught up in making a life for myself and navigating my way through a new city. I was just married, forming friendships and taking off in real estate. All of these things seemed to dominate my every hour. Willie’s words resonate. I should’ve gone by to see her more. I should’ve called her to tell her how much I cared and how happy I was to have her here. I didn’t always take the time. She is always on my mind, Texas for (almost) ever Ann.



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