Okla­homa and me… and I… and my eye

Where the Wind Comes a-Sweepin’ … Any­thing but Plain

I’m a fifth-gen­er­a­tion Okla­homan. My great-great grand­par­ents bought 40 acres in Haskell Coun­ty in 1913 and my fam­i­ly has alter­nate­ly farmed and ranched it ever since. My folks still live about a quar­ter mile from there, and my dad ran his cat­tle there until about a month ago. Now my nephew runs them there. I love this state. It’s in my blood as much as my blood is here. I knew that as a boy and I know it today. Its prairies, moun­tains, hills, swamps, and deserts are a part of my whole self. It’s true, just as sure as my lifeblood flows through me like the ancient rivers rill and roll —  Red, Cimar­ron, Cana­di­an, Arkansas and Poteau, all.

About … a long time ago, I had the good for­tune to attend a major uni­ver­si­ty here to study what­ev­er I want­ed. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, part of that good for­tune includ­ed doing just that, and THAT turned out to be a career in Jour­nal­ism. Don’t get me wrong. It’s been a life­time rich in expe­ri­ence in adven­ture, and a lot of expe­ri­ence liv­ing par­si­mo­nious­ly. Google it.

Dur­ing that long tenure, I have alter­nate­ly learned about being a good writer, taught oth­ers about it, prac­ticed it, cursed it, praised it and tried to escape it. The lat­ter being mar­gin­al­ly unsuc­cess­ful.

But, as is the case with most long-wind­ed life sto­ries, I have had a lot of fun. I’ve met and worked with good peo­ple from all over the world, and some bad peo­ple from those very same places. I’ve even mar­ried some of them. The lat­ter being trag­i­cal­ly unsuc­cess­ful.

Repeat­ed­ly.

How­ev­er in about 1993, after an enjoy­able, albeit un-sto­ried stint as a grad­u­ate stu­dent, I got the chance to work for a hand­ful of dif­fer­ent mag­a­zines. So var­ied in theme were these pub­li­ca­tions that any­one who looked at one of the cov­ers might nev­er guess that they shared one impor­tant core val­ue.

They ALL loved Okla­homa and its peo­ple.

Seri­ous­ly. LOVED.

So for about the ten years with these var­i­ous pubs, I enjoyed myself tremen­dous­ly. Telling sto­ries about famous sports fig­ures for one pub­li­ca­tion was a favorite. It wasn’t so much that I was a big sports mind — I wasn’t. It was instead that I was some­thing of an Okla­homa sports his­to­ri­an — I was… kin­da. I’d lived through a great deal of some very impor­tant times in Okla­homa foot­ball as it was con­ceived and played out by names like Switzer, Sut­ton, Semore and Sims; Bar­ry Sanders, Pis­tol Pete and Bryant Reeves. I hadn’t actu­al­ly known any of those great men, but I’d sat in the stu­dent sec­tions with the sort of intense atten­tion and enthu­si­asm only afford­ed to young men. And then, only those unfet­tered by fam­i­ly duties and upside-down mort­gages.

So, I told those sto­ries. Looked those men up and talked to them too. I got to trav­el across the cow pas­tures of cen­tral Okla­homa, through the dusty farm towns of Green Coun­try and vis­it the wan­ing burgs of the Red Mesas. I went to towns with names like Winona, Fred­er­ick, Gote­bo, Wilbur­ton, Alice, Maud, and Bowlegs. “You have to go through Bowlegs to get to Maud.” HA ! (I didn’t make that one up. It’s a local favorite say­ing.)

What was remark­able about those places wasn’t that they had huge pop­u­la­tions of immense­ly tal­ent­ed artists. There were few, if any, tremen­dous­ly prof­itable smoke­stack indus­tries from which those peo­ple could make a liv­ing. Tru­ly, there was lit­tle mon­ey to be made at all in most of them. I remem­ber one man who owned prop­er­ty passed to him from the time Okla­homa first became a state. He still scratched a liv­ing out of the soil his great-grand­fa­ther had worn out with corn and cot­ton sev­en­ty years before. It was still good for the cat­tle he loved to raise, so he stayed to live and die there. Always work­ing the cat­tle. He told me that liv­ing in his coun­ty was nev­er mak­ing a liv­ing. But instead to just “live on what you make.”

So, sports lega­cies and beau­ti­ful scenery aside… one might ask why in the HELL do peo­ple stay in Okla­homa. We’re a Fly­over State. The Mid­dle of Nowhere. Only steers and Queers. Out­laws and Hill­bil­lies. Farm­ers. Shit­kick­ers. Lazy Repub­li­cans who vote against their own best inter­ests.

So again… why do we stay?

It’s the Peo­ple. Okla­homa is a true melt­ing pot. Rich with the her­itage of Native Amer­i­cans and their fas­ci­nat­ing, basi­cal­ly mag­i­cal cul­tures. It was a time which I nev­er expect­ed to relive, with a won­der­ful group of peo­ple whose philoso­phies I nev­er expect­ed to encounter again. The adven­tures I had were so var­ied and rich that basi­cal­ly, no one could hope to re-vis­it any­thing like that.

For instance, from the good folks down Hugo way, I’d soon learn the val­ue of a good cir­cus per­former, how they deter­mined their own val­ue and that the “pie car” peo­ple were the ones who fed the whole group. Con­ces­sions were the gold­en tick­et in those per­form­ing arts. Among them, I’d make friends with a rhi­no named Goliath, 39 adult ele­phants, a 600-pound juve­nile Siber­ian tiger named Sam­son and a can­tan­ker­ous camel named Clyde whose prac­tice of bit­ing was only sur­passed by his prodi­gious foamy slob­bers.

Goliath and I became fast friends, and for some rea­son, I miss Clyde …

I’d meet an octo­ge­nar­i­an cir­cus own­er who’d start­ed his mul­ti-mil­lion dol­lar shows in Vaude­ville. FYI: all cir­cus­es and those who work them have roots in Vaude­ville. ALL of them.  His hum­ble ori­gins began  with a sin­gle pony, a mon­key, three dogs, a Mod­el A Ford and 36 cents.

No kid­ding. He told me that. I had to ask him to repeat it twice. Not because I couldn’t believe it. Instead it was because I couldn’t under­stand him because he refused to put his teeth in for the inter­view. The words just wouln’t form.

Try it. Take a sip of your cof­fee and hold it in your mouth. Now curl your lips over your teeth and try to say, “Thir­ty-six cents.”

Yeah.

So, any­way …

Dur­ing his six­ty odd years on the road, he’d walk away from mul­ti­ple truck col­li­sions, some of them head-on; sev­er­al motor­cy­cle wrecks – some of THEM head-on, and an air­plane crash from which he climbed into anoth­er new plane in two hours and flew away to the next show. You see, he had to use anoth­er plane because the first one had burned.

Wow… reliv­ing those inter­views makes ME tired.

The artists in Red Car­pet coun­try were amaz­ing, as were the ancient moun­tains near Mears Okla­homa, which boasts a fine cheese­burg­er, but none match the juicy dou­ble meat mas­ter­pieces they serve at the Busy Bee in Hugo. There, the scarce seats are at a pre­mi­um and you’re bet­ter to get your mag­nif­i­cent greasy ground beef through the dri­ve-thru.

I could talk about the time a dude pulled a knife on me in the beer joint in SE Okla­homa; then a gun. And nobody looked up either time. Or the sto­ry I did on a busi­ness own­er who was either a man… or a woman… or both. No one knew for sure, so I wrote the whole sto­ry with­out using a sin­gle gen­der-bound pro­noun. I liked that though. Gave me a chance to show off to you and your kind, Decent Read­er.

Then there were the Mom and Pop muse­ums and their eclec­tic own­ers. Like the dude whose pro­cliv­i­ties for col­lect­ing stuffed cats, hun­dreds of type­writ­ers and var­i­ous doo­dads was sur­passed only by his pen­chant for grave rob­bing.

And then there was the lit­tle old lady from Dun­can who met me at her front door in a tube top and Daisy Dukes, insist­ing that we “go in a-swim­min’” at her stock pond lat­er. I didn’t go. She was insult­ed. I remained clothed and in charge of my lunch.

There exist in my mem­o­ry dozens, if not hun­dreds of such sto­ries. I’m proud to say that it was a col­or­ful peri­od filled with four-pound turnips (four pounds !), 800 pound wild hogs and a 60-foot totem pole made of con­crete and wire mesh. There were fid­dle mak­ers, met­al sculp­tors, pecan grovers, sheep drovers and a rov­ing ratite ranch­er who fed his flocks of ostrich and cas­sowary from Cess­na air­planes.

Then there was the sweet lit­tle old lady from Anadarko named Clara Moon­light. I didn’t have the hon­or of inter­view­ing her, but I love that name.

I could go on and on, and prob­a­bly would, except that I wrote many of these sto­ries over 20 years ago, and I’m con­vinced that there are many, many more out there today which have yet to be told. They’re amaz­ing sto­ries. Cool sto­ries. Almost UNBELIEVABLE sto­ries. But they were real. Real as real gets.

I know because the peo­ple who told me were real. They were the sto­ries of their par­ents, neigh­bors, friends and church fam­i­lies. They were THEIR sto­ries.

And the ones I’m “fix­in’ to tell… they’re YOUR sto­ries.

I want to tell the world about you and yours. This is my plea, Good and Faith­ful Read­er. I want to tell about your neigh­bors, your grand­par­ents, your colos­sal farm ani­mals, titan­ic turnips and oth­er pon­der­ous pro­duce. I want to tell the world about the prairie dog city under your garage, the 2 x 4 blown through your oak tree by a Cat 3 tor­na­do last sum­mer, and the ware­house-sized con­crete bunker you built under­ground to escape the next one.

Give me your coal mine fires, your world class minia­ture horse farms, your herds of faint­ing goats.

Seri­ous­ly. I know you’re out there.

So what’s in it for you? Fame? Prob­a­bly, if only of a mild sort. For­tune? Maybe. Not a nick­el from me, but maybe still; that is if you con­sid­er your­self lucky.

Truth­ful­ly, I can offer a few guar­an­tees. I can assure that they’ll almost sure­ly NEVER make New York­er Mag­a­zine, or find their way to the Nobel Lau­re­ate Din­ner. But they’ll be good times for you, good reads for the world and great sto­ries.

You can be there. You will be part of a con­tin­u­ing effort to chron­i­cle the aston­ish­ing group of peo­ple who have woven the human­i­ty and rich fab­ric of a unique and awe-inspir­ing land …
… with the lat­ter being won­der­ful­ly suc­cess­ful.

Jeff Brown

Con­tribut­ing Writer, Unique­la­homa Mag­a­zine

Share This

Share this post with your friends!

X
%d bloggers like this: