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Harrington: Vermont And Texas

Even if they've never visited the state or met a Texan, Vermonters know the Lone Star State’s larger-than-life image. It’s the 14th biggest economy in the world. And a recent cover story in Time Magazine predicts that the Texan model of less government and more job creation is the future of our country.

Very different indeed from Vermont. But I think we have much in common – confirmed by visits to my daughter, who’s lived in Austin, Houston, and now Fort Worth. It’s one of the nation’s four fastest-growing cities – yet still feels like a small town with the motto, “Cowboys and Culture.”

Both Vermont and Texas began as independent republics. We were on our own from 1771 to 1791; they were the Lone Star Republic from 1836 to 1846.

Each was founded by a pair of mythical figures – Ethan and Ira Allen in the 1790s, and Sam Houston and Stephen Austin in the 1830s. The Allens considered joining forces with British Canada, and the Texans negotiated with Mexico . Vermonters know the Revolutionary War battles associated with Bennington and Hubbardton; Texans remember the Alamo and San Jacinto .

People came to Vermont for farmland in the late 18th century, and again in the 1970s. More than 100,000 people a year now move from other states to Texas, for cheaper living and one third of the country's highest-paying jobs.

Both states have international neighbors. Mexican immigrants and Spanish have shaped Texas , while Quebecois immigrants and current visitors bring us French Canadian culture and language.

Live music thrives in both states – in towns like Burlington and Austin – and homegrown talent often makes the national scene – like Phish, Grace Potter, Willie Nelson, and Janis Joplin. Visual art is cherished in both states: Sabra Field’s iconic sunsets over Lake Champlain decorate office walls. And three major art museums cluster near Fort Worth ’s Cowgirl Hall of Fame.

For Presidents, we have Calvin Coolidge and Chester Arthur; Texans have Lyndon Johnson and the Bushes, father and son.

Each state celebrates holidays unknown to the rest of the country. We have Bennington Battle Day; they celebrate Texas Independence Day and give state workers a day off for Cesar Chavez.

We all enjoy the outdoors, despite extremes of heat or cold. Texans have out-of-town ranches for hunting and relaxation, and Vermonters head to deer camp or the lake. Bikepaths and charity runs are common in both states.

Eating local is important. We have artisanal cheeses, specialty beers, organic vegetables, and maple. Texans enjoy barbecue, Tex-Mex, and their own microbrews.

Both states are fiercely proud. “Don't Mess with Texas ” began as a highway anti-littering slogan (and expanded to justify all kinds of situations). “Don't Mess with Vermont ” became a bumper sticker when Senator Jim Jeffords left the Republican Party and tipped the political balance of the U.S. Senate.

Vermonters and Texans know what it’s like to belong to a state that has an unmistakable identity. Despite differences, perhaps we should recognize what we have in common.

The late Elaine Keen Harrington of Middlesex was a lecturer in the English Department at the University of Vermont. A former editor for the Rutland Herald and Times Argus, she also owned a fiber arts business.
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