Tuesday , 19 September 2017

Who Are We: Exploring the Culture of McKinney

Recently, I was attending a meeting with some community leaders. As business was being discussed, the groups’ leader commented, “I don’t like the culture of McKinney,” which of course got me to thinking that a discussion on the culture of our city would make for a great story.

My mind raced.  “What did she mean by that comment?”  “What is the culture of McKinney, exactly?”  How has the culture changed in the 20-plus years that I’ve lived here and been an involved citizen?  “Who are we as a city?” Is there a common cultural thread that connects us to each other like the threads of a quilt which connect the pieces?


Culture, as defined by Merriam-Webster, has many different meanings.
1.  the act of developing the intellectual and moral faculties especially by education
2.  a. the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations
b : the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group; also : the characteristic features of everyday existence (as diversions or a way of life} shared by people in a place or time <popular culture> <southern culture>
c : the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization <a corporate culture focused on the bottom line.
d : the set of values, conventions, or social practices associated with a particular field, activity, or societal characteristic <studying the effect of computers on print culture> <changing the culture of materialism will take time

To be fair, the individual who uttered the above words, went on say more, however, the meaning of the comment was not clear, so I followed up to ask for further explanation.

The response was that McKinney has had a dramatic shift in leadership over the past couple of years and there is concern regarding the way that this shift is influencing the culture of our fair city. 

How so?  More questions come to mind. What is the culture of the leadership of McKinney?  Has it changed in the last few years, and if so, how? 

I began to dig for information. I wanted to find out what McKinney residents think. I talked to citizens who grew up in McKinney, some who have lived here for some time, and some who have only moved to McKinney in recent years. And, of course, I have my own thoughts to share on the subject.

Here is the first in the series, written by TSB staff writer and McKinney native, Michele Bernard.

When I think of the changing culture in McKinney, I think of the bumper sticker that reads: “I’m not from Texas, but I got here as quick as I could.”

I am a 5th or 6th generation McKinney native, depending on who you talk to in the family.  I graduated from McKinney High School in 1980, along with roughly 180 other students in my class.  As far as Collin County goes, McKinney, the county seat, was the biggest town, so I for one, never thought much about the fact that our graduating class was so large. I mean, our neighbors to the east, Princeton and Farmersville graduated far fewer students, as did the farm and ranch communities of Celina, Prosper and Frisco, our neighbors to the west.  Allen, our neighbor to the south was the sleepy little town with the great band and drill team that one drove through to get to Dallas.  And Melissa, sweet Melissa, our neighbor to the north, didn’t even have a high school.  Kids in that neck of the woods either had to go to school in the small town of Anna, which housed kindergarten through 12th grade on the same small campus, or, hoof it to McKinney to complete formal education.  I guess it depended on which side of the farm-to-market road a kid found himself on as to which school they chose.

By today’s standards, with McKinney graduating kids by the thousands out of three separate high schools, a private school, and countless home-schools, it seems strange that I thought our graduating class big, and even funnier still, of our town as just about as big as a town could be before jumping to the title of city. 

Thirty-plus years ago, a new kid entering a McKinney school was an anomaly, a breath of fresh air, a delightful surprise. I can’t imagine how scary it must’ve been for them, but it was Christmas come early for us.  I have vivid memories of The Family that moved here from California and The Family that moved here from Philadelphia; of the sweet girls who joined us when their parents opened an ice cream shop in the new Westgate Shopping Center in Far West McKinney, and of the cute, sun-bleached blonde California boy who didn’t wear socks with his shoes.  They were a curiosity.  What wonderful wind blew you here? How on earth did you find us?

Even with Big Town status, there wasn’t a whole lot going on by way of entertainment in McKinney, unless of course, you counted driving up and down Tennessee Street, to see who else was driving up and down Tennessee Street.   But that’s what we did every weekend after dark.  Even the new kids could be seen driving up and down, circling the deserted after-hours square, assimilated and now like us, from McKinney. 
Growing up, I worked in my grandparent’s grocery store.  I routinely road along with my grandfather, or uncle as they delivered groceries to the folks who shopped with us. This is how I came to know so many people in town, and how they came to know me. 

People from the surrounding smaller towns routinely came into McKinney to shop, so, over time, I got to know them too. This is also how I secured future employment at various businesses in McKinney, well into adulthood. The small businesses and agencies, who hired me for various tasks, already knew me or my family, knew my post high school education, dreams and desires, and knew what I could and could not do for them. 

While the majority of our family attended church at St. Michael’s Catholic Church, a few of us found ourselves at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church.  We even have a few Methodists in the bunch, as my great-great grandfather was a Methodist preacher here.  If you ever run across a copy of the Collin County District Attorney’s cookbook, circa 1980-something, there is a picture of said grandpa driving his cow up the street to graze in the church’s yard while he preached the Sunday service.  True Story. 

Regardless of where we worshipped though, every member of the family gathered at my great-grandparent’s house in East McKinney every Sunday afternoon for dinner.  How we all fit in that little house on Anthony Street, I will never know.  But there was always enough room, and more than enough food, most of which was picked out of the garden that made up the entirety of my great-grandparent’s tiny backyard. 

As I consider how the culture of McKinney, and even Collin County, has changed, I think the things I find myself most nostalgic for are the things that represent to me, a simpler, less complicated time.  I knew who people were, where they were from, what they did, and what they were about.  I knew who people belonged to and they knew the same about me.  People knew me as Michele, Kay’s daughter, James and Anna’s granddaughter, Diana’s niece.  “Now which Ford girl do you belong to?” one might ask, but that was about as unknown as I ever remembered being at the time.  For me, there was a sense of security in that knowledge.

A few years ago, my husband, who by the way, WAS the boy next door, and I decided to buy a new house.  We toured new homes in McKinney and Fairview, but found ourselves returning to our childhood neighborhood to drive around and discuss the homes we’d seen.  Long story short, we now live in the heart of McKinney’s Historic District.  We love living in the historic district, because when we look out the window, we can hang onto the illusion that this is the town where we grew up.  There is an appreciation for the houses here, that as natives, we appreciate, as the newcomers in our neighborhood are excellent stewards of the homes and the histories. 

The houses around us are the same houses we rode past on our bikes as we headed to the creek to crawdad fish, or are ones I delivered groceries to with my grandfather.  Our neighbors are the parents of or the kids we grew up with, with many delightful ‘newcomers’ to boot.

As much as I love my neighborhood, though, there is one thing.  Even as I say the words ‘historic district’ I giggle and shake my head.  That is a phrase that moved into town with the new kids on the block, and not one used by most of us who’ve lived here for a generation or six.

Routinely, I giggle with delight over all the wonderful things available in today’s McKinney.  I love that I don’t have to drive to North Dallas in search of medical specialists, or live entertainment.  I love the diversity of culture and lifestyle and the ever changing growth that invigorates our city.  If when out to dinner, I want to forgo the sweet tea for a glass of chardonnay, I can do that without driving 30 miles away from the house.  My husband and I joke that we live the perfect distance away from McKinney’s most happening fine dining and entertainment hot spot, the downtown square: we are far enough away that the live entertainment doesn’t blare over a weekend at home, but still close enough to be within staggering distance if we want to partake in the shenanigans up the road.  

The culture change in McKinney has even changed the way I speak. As, I am routinely exposed to different accents and even other languages when out and about in the community, my Texas accent, while still in place, isn’t as thick as it used to be.  My spoken words are more clipped, are less drawn out, and have fewer syllables than they used to possess.  Honestly, I kind of miss it.  So much so, that it is the most comforting love music to my ears, when I hear an older relative or neighbor address me by name, Michele, stretching the word out into 3 distinct syllables, “Muh-SHAY-yuhllll,” they smile, “How in the woor-uld are you?  How’s your Mother?  And Anna?  How is she?”

Speaking of accents, here is a side-note to my friends and neighbors with accents that are different from those of us who’ve been here a while:  Texas drawl doesn’t equal Ignorance.  Nor does it equal the inability to hear you when you tease in a not so nice way about our level of education, or whether or not you hear banjos playing in the background.  I know it’s a two-way street and you probably have experienced the same type of rudeness from one of us, so, on behalf of whoever has engaged in that type of banter in your presence, I’m sorry.  Now let’s get back to the business of being good and polite neighbors.

When I consider how our culture has changed, I also recall that there really was a time in McKinney, not that long ago, when one could figure out and know what a man did for a living by the crease of his cowboy hat, or by the type of cowboy boots he wore.  There were even a few of us who could narrow it down by the type of heel or spur attached to said boot.  We could even pick out the wanna-be’s and tourists at thirty paces, as they favored the pointy two-toned variety made popular by what the guys around here referred to as “Urpin’ Cowboy”.  The other day, I heard a newcomer from Wisconsin complain that she saw more cowboy boots in Wisconsin than she did here.  I’m with her when I mourn that fact, and honestly, I do miss seeing native Texas attire on a routine basis. 

Honestly, sometimes, I do mourn the loss of the distinctly Texas feel and small town lifestyle of McKinney yore.  When I get particularly nostalgic for such, I hit the road and visit those towns that still possess that unique flavor.  I wander the little town squares, and check out the cowboy hats and boots of the passers-by and try to figure out what they do for a living.  I drink sweet tea.  I drive out to the rural areas to watch the farmers tend their fields.  I talk to shop owners and waitresses and elongate my words to match theirs and reintroduce the words Ma’am and Sir into my vocabulary.

What I don’t miss though, are the empty buildings, the neglected town center and old homes, and the limited opportunity faced by those who decided to stay put in McKinney after high school graduation.  Nor do I miss the feeling that I had on some level messed up or missed out by making the conscious decision to return to my hometown after college. 

Probably the thing I love most about today’s McKinney are all the new and wonderful people who have come into my life.  The steady influx of newcomers over the past thirty years, have gifted me with friendships and collegues I can’t imagine my life without.  Also, I love the emphasis on education we have,  and that our kids can stay here if they choose too, and continue their education beyond high school at a fair cost.  And, finally, I absolutely love the fact that for the citizens of McKinney, young and old alike, whether we decide to be doctors, lawyers, educators, performing artists, or fine artists,  athletes, or even freelance writers, there is a place for us to be who we are intended to be, right here in McKinney, Texas.

Editor’s Note: Check back in the coming days for more of the Buzz’s “Who Are We” series.

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