The New Book ‘Growing Up In The Lone Star State’ Is Filled With Childhood Stories of 47 Notable Texans

Texas was formative to the subjects of the book, though their experiences were often vastly different.

By Joy DiazAugust 9, 2021 10:21 am,

“Growing Up in the Lone Star State” opens with this line: “To Texans past, present, and future by birth or spirit and everyone everywhere wise enough to cherish childhood for its lasting impact on us all.”

The authors are longtime journalists Gaylon Finklea Hecker and Marianne Odom. Both are native Texans who spent 40 years recording the interviews that would ultimately fill the pages of their new book.

cover of the book, "Growing Up in the Lone Star State"

Courtesy of the authors

“From the beginning, we wanted to know what it was about growing up in Texas that made a lot of people have the courage to follow their dreams. And we found out [these people] did believe there was something special [in Texas] – the independent spirit, the diversity of geography, the close family ties, their love of history. A lot of these things, you know, prepared them to be successful.”  – Marianne Odom


“The real hook is that we insisted they’d be natives. There are a lot of people who are wannabes, but we were very purists that we wanted to find the natives…hard work was brought up very often, good education was another [theme], religion seemed to show up. But interestingly, the influence of grandparents was also very, very important.”  – Gaylon Finklea Hecker

Kay Bailey Hutchison as a child
Courtesy of the authors

The authors also quirky discovered details about these Texan childhoods. Some subjects talked about their favorite toys, others described instances in which they got in trouble and talked about how they were punished. The conversations were intimate and candid. They talked to people like World War II Veteran Richard Overton to former first lady Lady Byrd Johnson.

One fascinating thing about the book is how different the lives of some people were, even though they were born around the same time and even though they were born and raised in Texas. Case in point, the childhood stories of former U.S. Ambassador, U.S. Senator and state lawmaker Kay Bailey Hutchison, and the experiences of Dr. Ruth Simmons, who was the first Black president of an Ivy League school, Brown University.

In the book, Hutchison talks about how her great-great-grandfather signed the Texas Declaration of Independence. Simmons talks about her great-grandmother who was an enslaved person.

Hutchison talks about how she and all her friends had Toni dolls.

“My favorite thing that [Hutchison] says is they had clothes for them, and somebody even made them nightgowns so the dolls could go to sleep,” Finklea Hecker said.

Growing up during the same era, Simmons didn’t have dolls. In fact, she says that’s one thing she and her sisters often talk about – how they never had toys.

So, what about the authors’ childhoods? Did anything happen that was especially memorable, maybe something that a lot of modern-day Texans might find surprising?

Simmons in cap and gown

Dr. Ruth Simmons, the first Black president of an Ivy League university
Courtesy of the authors

“I played with dolls. I remember actually buying a doll when I was in the third grade. My parents would allow me to go downtown. They would drop me off at the library. And Kresge Company was right across the street. And I remember putting a doll in layaway. I still have the doll…[It was] a small enough town that you could have that kind of independence. And then my parents allowed me, you know, to do a lot of things on my own.” – Marianne Odom

“I have a very Texas anecdote. I grew up in such a little town [that] there were horses and cows all over. And my aunt and uncle owned a small-town rodeo and my daddy was a timekeeper [there], my grandma popped pop-corn, my momma sold soda water and I wore my Annie Oakley outfit with the fringe and my cowboy boots and the cowboy hat running around at 5 or 6-years-old acting like I was a cowgirl.” – Gaylon Finklea Hecker

With so many people moving to Texas, making the Lone Star State home and having kids here, will anything substantive change about the Texas spirit?

“I don’t know. I would hope that if people are drawn to Texas that they are here because of the opportunity, you know, that they are here to embrace the spirit that has inspired Texans for generations. I’m sure that’s not the case with everyone. But, we still have a lot of opportunity here. That’s why people are coming.” – Marianne Odom

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