“Oklahoma’s OK; why, it’s next to heaven!”
This post is one of several pieces I wrote back in 1981 in an attempt to persuade the Arkansas newspapers to let me write a column on Arkansiana.
When that effort failed, I revised as many of the Arkansas essays as I could and then wrote a couple of new ones about Oklahoma that I sent to the Oklahoma papers for the same purpose. These I titled “Sooner Living.” Obviously, those articles were rejected just as the ones on Arkansiana had been.
One of those tongue-in-cheek pieces about Sooner Living was titled “The Columnist Manifesto: Two Great Peoples Divided by a Common Language.” It was also offered to the newspapers of both states as part of that proposed column that was rejected by both states. I composed it with an Arkansas audience in mind and have already featured it in an earlier post on this blog titled “Some Southern Stuff IV: Do You Speak Southern?”
So now let’s look at the first of the stories of my Oklahoma connection as I wrote it more than thirty years ago, back in 1981–except that I have added subheadings and photos to break up and illustrate the copy.
My Oklahoma Connections
“You don’t know what a country we have got till you start prowling around it. Personally, I like the small places and scarcely populated states.”
Although I recently marked the anniversary of my fourth year of residence in Oklahoma, my earliest personal encounter with the Sooner State dates back to 1945 or 46, right after World War II.
My First Visit to Oklahoma
Just as soon as war-rationed cars, tires, and gas became available once again, my family (in a “brand-spankin’ new” Mercury with four new tires) set out from our home in Southeast Arkansas for a vacation trip to El Paso, Texas, Juarez, Mexico, and Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico.
Traveling back home from Amarillo, we crossed the length of Oklahoma, of which I can recall nothing except the “gen-u-wine” Indian headdress bought for me (a mere lad at the time) by my folks during a rest stop in Oklahoma City [and which we accidentally went off and left behind, to my great sorrow].
On that first trip to Okieland we stayed overnight in Seminole and even attended a rodeo there that evening. Had a nice time too (or so they told me later).
My Second Visit to Oklahoma
About 1950 or thereabouts my family came back to “Soonerland,” this time to visit my older brother who was stationed out here with the Air Force during the Korean War. [He was actually in clerk-typist school at what was then Oklahoma A&M College in Stillwater, now known as Oklahoma State University]. We spent several delightful days together down around Ada and Sulphur at what was then Platt National Park [now the Chickasaw National Recreational Area].
My Third Visit to Oklahoma
Then in the late fifties as a college kid I once again came west. This time it was with my other brother and one of his enterprising cronies who had hatched the bright idea of hauling a couple of old worn-out rice combines five or six hundred miles from SEARK to the Enid-Alva area where, to hear him tell it, we were going to “make a killin’ in the wheat harvest.”
As far as I know, the closest we came to a “killin’” was on the way back home when one of the Neanderthals he had hired to drive his over-balanced truck rounded a curve on two wheels, very nearly dumping himself and me and several tons of truck and combine down the side of a Ouachita Mountain.
My impression of that first trip out to Northwest Oklahoma was that whoever said “the wind comes sweeping down the plain” sure knew what he was talking about!
I soon realized and resigned myself to the fact that I couldn’t wear the nifty new straw cowboy hat I had bought for the occasion, because I spent more time chasing it than I did keeping it on my sun-scorched head.
I even learned to stand upwind of the tobacco chewers. But I never could quite get used to the idea of losing a one-and-a-half-ton truck to the wind!
During one of my trips to the grain elevator to unload the harvested wheat, I stopped on the way back to the field for a cold drink. The little town on whose one street I left the then-empty truck consisted of a couple of stores, a gas station or two, and a few houses on either side of the ribbon of highway.
As I stood drinking my Coke, the groceryman asked me if that was my truck “rolling down the street.” To which I replied, “Naw, mine’s parked right outside in front.” But it wasn’t.
This Arkansas farm boy could hardly believe his eyes upon exiting the store to discover that the relentless Oklahoma wind had pushed that heavy truck a full half-block down and across that table-flat street and right into the drugstore lady’s parked Lincoln! Neither could the lady, who delivered quite a heated and informative lecture on the subject of the vagaries of the Oklahoma wind and the precautions to be taken in regard thereunto.
But what took the cake was when I would stand in a near gale—legs spread apart for balance, clothes flapping, hair whirling—and ask one of the locals if the wind always blew like that out there, and be told in all seriousness: “Oh, it ain’t windy today; you oughta be here when it’s really blowin’!”
My Fourth Visit to Oklahoma
But I suppose my most vivid remembrance of my early visits to Oklahoma concerns a couple of stalwart young hitchhikers I picked up (or rather who picked me up) late one sticky July evening back in 1964.
Returning to my Arkansas home from a summer institute for French teachers held in Emporia, Kansas, I stopped for gas somewhere west of Sallisaw at one of those Hep-Ur-Sef stations. It was about one or two o’clock in the morning. As I started to pull away, two teen-aged boys—about fifteen or sixteen at the most—approached my vehicle rather tipsily. One was an Indian, and the other wasn’t.
Giving me some story about a broken-down car, they (actually the Indian never spoke) asked me for a lift into Sallisaw, and I rather reluctantly complied.
Once in the car the non-Indian (sans shoes and shirt) began to talk with all the bravado that only a fifteen-year-old-trying-to-sound-thirty can muster.
Obviously full of more than just youthful exuberance, he rambled on for a while, good-naturedly and rather disjointedly, finally ending up by inquiring where I was from.
“South Arkansas,” I replied. To which the youth responded boastfully: “I’ll bet you don’t what to think of these crazy Okies, huh?”
Rather than agree, which I most certainly did, I made some noncommittal remark.
“Well, don’t worry,” he reassured me manfully, flinging his arm back over the seat to point to his Indian friend who sat in the rear, stone-faced and glassy-eyed. “I’m just tryin’ to git this dam’ drunk Ind’in home!”
The “dam’ drunk Ind’in” made no response.
In the course of time we reached Sallisaw where I gratefully deposited my charges, the non-Indian (the one without shoes or shirt) bidding me a hearty “thanks” and “take it way”—the “dam’ drunk Ind’in” holding his peace (if not his equilibrium).
Today, some seventeen years later, I never pass through that area on my way back home to Arkansas without recalling that seemingly inconsequential incident, or without wondering “Who was that gassed man and his grape-full companion?”
So, if by any chance you happen to be a non-Indian male about thirty-one years old who remembers hitching a ride back in 1964 with an inebriated Native-American pal west of Sallisaw from an Arkie in a red Chevy II with a Confederate license plate on the front—give me a call, will you?
I’d really like to know whatever became of that “dam’ drunk Ind’in”!
Note: Although I left the description of this scene as “west of Sallisaw,” upon further reflection I now believe it was “east of Sallisaw” and “west of Fort Smith.” Even today each time we travel I-40 toward Fort Smith on our way “down home,” I always look for that location and recount the tale to Mari though of course those “Hep-Ur-Sef” gas stations no longer seem to exist, all stations now being self-service.
Also time may have erased the memory (which may never have existed in younger readers) of the line that I paraphrased from the close of each episode of the old radio and TV Lone Ranger Show, which always featured someone asking about the Lone Ranger and Tonto, “Who was that masked man and his faithful Indian companion?” Just another example of the hundreds of relics of our youth that are fast fading into the ravenous past.