There is talk today in my little town of a new subdivision coming in next year. It will boast approximately 14,000 new homes and a new elementary school. Word is that would more than double our current school population. Some say, “We like our little town to be little—quaint.” They can’t imagine the growth will be good. Others say, “All kinds of gangster-type kids will be moving out here because their parents want to get them out of the big city.” Truth is, a lot of the growth is due to new companies coming into our area bringing jobs. And we can’t forget the Super-loop around Houston that will cross our rice fields. Along with added population comes increased traffic, and between the train and current traffic we are already inundated. Sometimes progress is unpleasant, but we like the prospect of a new hospital and main chain grocery it promises to bring.

The biggest concern seems to be the outside influence on our children. I can understand all the buzz. I really can. See, I’ve been on both sides of that street twice. I moved my kids out to the country to get away from a fast paced, overcrowded school district. And I, myself, was a big city kid who moved to the country only to watch my new little country school grow when even more kids moved out of the city into our school district.

With school about to start and all the talk of a growing school district, I am reminded of the year my parents moved us out of Houston ISD to Huffman. I started High School that year and Huffman ISD only went to the 8th grade. I was bussed from the middle of “Nowhere,” a deep corner of rural Harris county, (where my husband says they had to pipe sunlight in), to attend Humble High—still a small town itself back then. I was one of the newcomers whose parents were trying to get us out of the big city.

Let me share a story with you.  

As a freshman in high school, I found you get picked on a lot. Something like hazing. Carrying upperclassmen’s books and giving up your seat in the cafeteria to show respect to your “elders”. My sister was a Senior and took advantage of that little game more than once.

That spring, we had a sow due to have piglets, and before school one morning, my mom sent me out to see if she had milk in her teats. This would indicate how soon she would give birth. My sister thought it a hoot and told everyone at school that I had ‘Milked a Pig.” By the end of the day I had acquired the nickname “Pig Milker,” and Football players hollering “Soooie” down the hall to get my attention. It was a playful teasing initiated by my football-player boyfriend and guys on the bus. It wasn’t meant to be mean, but it could have been devastating. My sister’s attempt to embarrass me backfired. Humble was a farming community back then with a Future Farmers of America/Rodeo cowboy culture. I fit right in.

By the time I was a Senior, Humble had grown, and new subdivisions were developing. New students moving out of Houston changed the dominate high school culture of Farmers and Cowboys, to Surfers and Hippies. I seldom heard the nickname, Pig Milker anymore, but occasionally someone would crack a joke. It lost its playfulness when the newcomers made snide and catty remarks. Their words hurt me. Made me feel like a country bumpkin. The old saying, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” isn’t true. Words hurt.

The truth is, I had becomea country girl and loved it. It was hard to admit I was not in the so-called ‘in-crowd’ of the new Humble High, but I still belonged to a group of kids that were fun and smart and stylish just in a different way. That year, I met my future husband (of nearly 50 years now). He grew up in Galveston, and unlike most islanders, he hated the beach. Wearing a cowboy hat and western boots with starched Levi’s, he didn’t fit their in-crowd, but he stood strong for who he was and what he believed, and he was well-liked and respected. Accepting who we are is part of growing up. But we must be sure we are accepting the truth not someone’s opinion. We are all a little different because we are shaped by our diverse environments, and varied experiences, which add to our unique personalities.  

I once heard Jack Canfield (Chicken Soup for the Soul) say that if someone told you that you had green hair, it wouldn’t bother you because you know the truth. You know you don’t have green hair. (Although these days maybe it’s blue or pink). You’d blow it off thinking they are either crazy or just colorblind. Our knowing and believing in ourselves gives us confidence. It is the fear that what others say about us might be true that hurts us. When I believe in myself, I am confident.

By the end of my senior year, a few newcomers got to know me, for me, and changed their attitude from insecure, mouthy outsiders to caring friends. We accepted one another for who we were on the inside. They taught me some fun new terms like “wipe out” and “groovy” and I taught them the grace of country charm.

So, I say this to parents and old timers who are concerned about our children being influenced by big city kids moving into our district:  Encourage your children to know what they believe and be confident in who they are. Teach them the difference between good and evil, and that not everyone who is different is necessarily evil. God loves us each just as we are. I’m sure He’d like us to be kinder and more unselfish, but He still loves us unconditionally. Even the “gangster-types” need love. That’s why they join gangs. They need love, not hate.

A lack of understanding of what is different becomes a point of division, and division can get out of control. Fear forms. Gangs develop. Bullies rule. Violence ensues. Instead, let’s embrace our differences. Invite understanding, demonstrate and promote tolerance of those unlike ourselves. Experiencing new people and their culture makes us take inventory of who we are and where we are going. If we don’t like the course we are on, we can change it. But let change be from within us—not some intimidation from an outside source.

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