Thursday, October 22, 2009

Oklahoma State of Mind

I recently received a sweet "tweet" from one of my Twitter friends about this blog. The Twitterer tweeted, "It put me in an Oklahoma state of mind." I'm not sure what others consider an Oklahoma state of mind, but I know what it means to me...

I go back in time to gardening with my Granny. We'd poke holes in the red dirt and drop little seeds into it. We'd pull crab grass from around that little patch of Heaven and watch all the vegetables grow. We grew the best tomatoes, green beans and sage ever. I can't find anything that compares to those veggies.

I see myself sitting on my Granddad's lap, driving around the farm on his riding lawn mower. It was a red and there was barely enough room for him, but he always made space for me. I learned to drive on the red lawn mower. We'd drive around for hours, waiting for Granny to call us in for supper.

An Oklahoma state of mind is huddled in the cellar listening to the wind blow and praying we'd still see the house and barns once we heard Gary England say it was safe to come out. I can see the coal oil lamps flicker against the whitewash on the walls. I can hear my Granny read from the Bible about how Jesus calmed the seas and how His eye is sparrow. "God didn't give me a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind," my Granny would quote. "I'm not afraid of the storm. I have a sound mind and that is why we are in the cellar."

I can't leave out driving to Rush Springs to "pick a good'en." Yes, watermelon is one of my weaknesses. We'd get the best one we could find and drive to a park in Duncan. There we would eat our watermelon and watch the birds in the trees and the squirrels dart around gathering food for the winter. Even the ants couldn't ruin our day. My grandparents had a plan; they would leave a piece of watermelon for the ants a few feet away and those ants wouldn't bother us.

For all of my breaks in college, I'd fly home. I'd watch the travelers at Will Rogers World Airport come and go with all their luggage. I'd make up stories for them, pretending I knew why they were their and what their plans were. That was a great way for me to create characters for all the writing I did. Hugs and kisses with tears of joy and sadness were seen all over the airport.

There is also piling up in the back of a pick-up and driving to the high school football games on Friday nights. "We're big B-I-G and we're bad B-A-D and we're boss B-O-S-S, B-O-S-S, boss!" we'd chant as we pulled into the town of the losing team. I was blessed to attend a school that won state championships year after year.

I remember sitting in the shade of a blackjack tree and watching the clouds. I could see all sorts of shapes and the wind moved the clouds about. Sometimes I'd be in my tree swing, wishing I could swing high enough to jump in the back of the fluffy white turtle cloud. The sun would set and all the colors would swirl around. I'd jump out of the swing into a pile of leaves and run inside to wash up for supper - Granny's soup with homemade biscuits or a big pot of beans. Unless she fixed a "real supper" which is a lot like the holiday meals I cook today. I wish I could make fried chicken, meatloaf and pork chops with all sorts of vegetables and desserts for one meal. My modern life doesn't afford me that luxury.

Oh, the fried pies. I still don't know how Granny made them. She'd go out and pick peaches, apricots and apples and, the next thing I knew, we had fried pies. She made jams and jellies from all the fruit as well. I opened the last jar of her apricot preserves a few years ago. My daughter loved it. It was my favorite as well. There was never a recipe written down so I wont' be able to even try to reproduce her masterpiece. She never used recipes. She could just look at whatever she was cooking or baking and now what and how much to add.

I can't leave out my great-uncle's tent revivals he would have in my grandparent's backyard. We'd place long boards on cement blocks for pews. "Heaven's high and Hell's hot, I'm gonna preach," my uncle would say. He was a fiery Pentecostal preacher that walked the talk he talked. Folks would drive for miles to hear him preach. You'd have to get there early to find a seat. I remember the family picnics before those revivals. It seemed the Riley clan came out of the woodwork to hear him preach. He traveled around the country and seeing him was a real treat; he only made it home once or twice a year, if that. He preached well into his nineties.

An Oklahoma state of mind is driving to downtown Oklahoma City and going to the National Oklahoma City Memorial. I remember bringing supplies to those who were helping rescue people. I saw the paws of dogs bleeding as they searched for survivors of the bombing. People huddled in small groups. Some sang hymns and others just stood silently, waiting for the impact to finally hit them. Folks came from all over to help us. And, we helped ourselves. We banded together and did what we could - still reeling from the shock of the situation.

The smell of a cotton field puts me in an Oklahoma state of mind. I don't see many of them anymore, but I remember them. I also remember the stories about picking cotton my family told me. How the dust bowls hit and some of the men set out to California to be "prune pickers." They worked hard and sent back the money they earned to keep their families and farms going during those dark days. Those stories give me hope. No matter how tough the times are now, I know we will make it through. If they could make, we can as well.

A woman in our community was diagnosed with cancer. Her husband, an oilfield worker, had been laid off and the temporary job he was working didn't offer health insurance. We had countless bean suppers, garage sales and the like to raise money for her treatment. We put together an old-fashion "singing." The Riley boys, my cousins, brought in their guitars, fiddles and other instruments to play and sing. There were lots of other talented folks showed up to "pick and sing" for this lady and her medical needs.

Yes, these are all things that put me in an Oklahoma state of mind. Little pieces of my past that lets me know I'm an Okie. Lets me know I'm proud to be an Okie. I often wonder if other people feel as strongly about their home as I do. Do folks in other states have such stories to tell? Do they understand their rich heritage and use it to make a better tomorrow for themselves and their families? I'm a bit partial so it is hard for me to believe that they have such a history, a history that can put them in to such a wonderful state of mind.

I'm ending it here. I could keep going, but I can't see the computer screen or keyboard through my tears. They are happy ones, though. I have really put myself in an Oklahoma state of mind.

Happy Oklahoma traveling,

Emma Riley Sutton

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