I have been a lot of places, y'all - from sea to shining sea, and sometimes beyond. Somehow, in all my travels, I missed Bryan-College Station, Texas.
It's easy to do. Just glance at a map. College Station sits on the East Texas plain - a couple of hours from everywhere. Now I had been to Texas, understand - Dallas, Houston, Austin, San Antonio - even Amarillo and Pecos - but I had never been to College Station - until last week.
Well now I have, and I don't want to hear any more Aggie jokes!
Aggies, in case you don't know, are folks who share an allegiance to Texas A&M University, which has been right down the railroad tracks from Bryan since about 1876 - thus the name. College Station. It was originally a simple train depot for folks coming to the new university the Texas legislature saw fit to establish - about seven years before they built that "other" school, over in Austin, by the way.
I had heard about Aggies all my life - including many of the aforementioned Aggie jokes. In the jokes, Aggies are depicted as being a little simple, a little slow and a little behind the times. Let me tell you right here and now - that's a myth, perpetrated, I believe, by folks who are just plain jealous because they, themselves, aren't cut from a stout enough piece of cloth to actually be an Aggie.
Now if you happen to be a Longhorn or a Horned Frog or a Red Raider, hold your fire. I am not trying to disparage you or yours, but I'm just saying ...
But I was telling you about my visit to Aggieland, which is the semi-official designation for the area. Actually, it might be the official designation - "Welcome to Aggieland" is on the water tower, and you can't get more official than that.
I came to visit College Station because of a relationship I developed with a large part of the A&M family after I wrote a column last spring commending the school for producing such wonderful people as Capt. Paul Fleming and his beautiful wife Laura, whom I met on Spring Break. Fleming was just back from his second tour of duty in Iraq. Laura's duty involved staying at home and taking care of their two small children.
At any rate, I learned that Aggies are a proud bunch and hundreds of them practically begged me to come out and let them show me what is so special about their school. So I came and they showed and let me tell you - they weren't just whistling Dixie.
I found a school with a thoroughly modern campus that offers 130 different majors to its 47,000 students. There are research buildings and academic buildings and a massive stadium, and a giant arena and a bell tower - pretty much the same things you will find at any major university.
I also found a place steeped in tradition. The wonderful folks who acted as my hosts and tour guides during my stay made sure I experienced all of them - at least as many as I could in the middle of the summer when school was not in session.
I shed tears at the Bonfire Memorial - a moving tribute to 12 young people whose lives tragically came to a premature end in 1999. I saw the statue representing the famous Twelfth Man, and I saw the Memorial Hall, dedicated to Aggies who have given their lives in the sacrifice of their country - and I saw the seven Medal of Honor Citations earned by Aggies - more than any other school in the country, save the military academies. I saw where Silver Taps - a moving tribute to current students who lose their lives - is held and where the roll of Aggies who are gone up yonder in a given year is called each April 21.
I saw Kyle Field and heard about Midnight Yell and the A&M band that has never lost a halftime show and I paid my respects at the graves of the A&M mascots, all named Reveille. I toured the George Bush (41) Presidential Library and even had a cheeseburger and a cold drink at the Dixie Chicken, an off-campus institution. I guess I heard about just about everything there is to hear about.
None of those things were the most impressive part of my trip. The most impressive part of my trip was meeting people; people like Lane Stephenson, who has worked for the school for more than four decades. He dedicated two days of his life to making me feel at home. People like DeeAnn and Kyle Jones and Paul Pausky, former students all, who made sure I was well fed and taken care of. People like the hundred or so folks who showed up to hear me talk in the Memorial Hall Flag Room. People like Mark and Nick and Rachel - all current students who spent time with me and gave me insight into the ultimate product that Texas A&M produces.
That product is what is most impressive about Texas A&M. The institution produces proud, hard working, patriotic and productive citizens, dedicated to making their world and our country a better place.
It took me 56 years to make it to College Station. My next visit will come a whole lot quicker.
And again - I don't want to hear any more Aggie jokes.
Darrell Huckaby is a local author and educator. He can be reached at dHuck08@bellsouth.net.