“I moved from the Holy Land (Arkansas) to Babylon (Oklahoma) in 1977 (the year that King Elvis died, see Isaiah 6:1) to take a much-needed job in religious publishing. If ever a man put his hand to the plow looking back, it is me. I only miss home two times: night and day!”
When I found myself in “exile” in Oklahoma in 1977, thirty-five years ago, I began to write humorous and nostalgic, and sometimes poignant and sentimental, pieces about my exile, most of them with a spiritual or scriptural theme.
It was sometime during that thirty-five-year period that I began to refer to these writings in biblical terms as “My Oklahomian Exile Literature.” It is that collection of writings that I have been presenting in weekly posts on this blog.
In the next two posts I would like to share with you some more of these brief anecdotes, many of them expressions of my ongoing defense of my beloved native state of Arkansas. I hope you will enjoy this selection of some of the best of these literary missives and missiles as I continue to pour out my heart and soul in my words and writing.
In this first post I respond to some typical questions and statements from Okies about Arkansas and her people.
“If Arkansas Is So Wonderful . . .?”
When an Okie asks me, “If Arkansas is so wonderful, why are you living in Oklahoma?” I always reply: “You call yourself a Christian, and you have never heard of foreign missions?”
(Incidentally, that statement is literally true since the job that brought me from Southeast Arkansas to Tulsa so long ago was as a French-English translator for an international Christian missionary organization.)
Then I usually add: “Oh, but Oklahoma is okay. Why it’s next to heaven!”
“Why Do Oklahomans Say ‘Over in Arkansas’?”
Several years ago an Okie wrote to the editor of the Tulsa World:
“I am fascinated with the phrase ‘over in Arkansas.’ I hear it from TV weathermen and newscasters. Never ‘over’ into Texas or Kansas. What is there about Arkansas that you go ‘over into’?”
Then he went on to elaborate:
“The jet stream usually goes west to east; the Pilgrims went east to west; the Gulf air goes south to north, and the Canadian air masses go north to south. No answer here. Why do we go ‘over into Arkansas’?”
Of course, provided such an opportunity to offer a bit of enlightenment on a subject that is near and dear to my heart, I was quick to write a responding letter to the editor of the Tulsa World to answer that burning question:
“The reason Oklahomans go over into Arkansas is the same reason that the Children of Israel went over (Jordan) into the Promised Land. It is also the reason why, when we devout Arkies of the Covenant are uprooted, we tell our Okie pilgrims, ‘Thou art not far from the kingdom, over in Arkansas.’”
As far as I know, the Okie never responded to my explanation.
“Why Is Arkansas So Poor, Ignorant, and Uneducated?”
As an example of the way Okies often make disparaging remarks about Arkansas, here is what an Oklahoma newspaper columnist once wrote after spending only five months in Fort Smith:
“Arkansas is another country. I experienced none of that legendary Southern charm. I saw only a state that is mired in poverty and ignorance, with an educational standard that is next to last in the country.”
(What is both ironic and tragic is that it is Oklahoma, and not Arkansas, that now holds the distinction of being forty-ninth in education!)
Then the Okie columnist went on to write:
“Arkansas is a beautiful state. But . . . . Arkansans don’t seem to have the concern Oklahomans do for their environment. The minute I hit the Arkansas state line, I begin to miss Oklahoma.”
Again, I could not let that kind of attack against my beloved home state go unanswered, so I responded:
“That’s funny because the moment I hit the Oklahoma state line, I begin to miss Arkansas!”
Then I added: “I am reminded of an observation by Harry Ashmore, a native of South Carolina and Pulitzer Prize-winning editor of the Arkansas Gazette. ‘To the practiced ear, Arkansans, when explaining their peculiar ways to outsiders, sound as though they are accustomed to dealing with fools, but are too polite to say so.’”
So true to form, I was too much of an Arkie and a Southern Gentleman to say that I was dealing with a fool. I also refrained from stating that the person who made those disparaging statements about my native homeland was—at best—only an average Okie as indicated in a daily Bible Thought that I saw in the Tulsa World about that time:
“Dearly beloved, average not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Romans 12:19.”
So although as a Christian gentleman I could not avenge myself, I could not refrain from writing the World:
“Perhaps your version of Romans 12:19 sets forth an equally applicable principle in this age of mediocrity. I have come to adopt the point of view that when it comes to intelligence, the average person falls way below average.”
I could have added, “Especially any average Okie who has the audacity and the impudence, to say nothing of the lack of good manners, to attack an innocent geographical neighbor without cause or provocation.”
One of my endless self-quotes is that my devout Southern Baptist mother taught me to be honest and to be a gentleman. She just never taught me how to do both at the same time!
But even with those maternal constraints I do what I can to defend the honor of my sainted motherland, remembering the words of an earlier Arkie who warned: “God loves not him who loves not Arkansas!”
“In the Civil War Neither Side Wanted Arkansas!”
Here is an even more serious and despicable example of an anti-Arkansas attack from an Okie to which I felt obligated to respond on behalf of my fellow Arkies who probably never saw it in print:
Some time ago an Okie wrote a letter to the editor of theTulsa World in which he stated:
“The two Arkansas products most reported in the Oklahoma press these days are Bill Clinton in the capital and chicken manure in the Illinois River.”
He went on to quote an anecdote that appeared in Carl Sandberg’s biography of Abraham Lincoln:
“The cause of the (Civil) War in its later phases was given in a folk tale of Lincoln and Jeff Davis meeting on neutral ground and deciding the war by dividing the territory and stopping the fighting. Lincoln took the Northern states and Davis the Gulf and seaboard Southern states. Lincoln took Texas and Missouri and Davis Kentucky and Tennessee, so that all were parceled off except Arkansas.
“The leaders were said to have backed off when it came to Arkansas.
“Lincoln didn’t want it─Jeff wouldn’t have it─neither would consent to take it.
“So what happened? On that they split; and the war has been going on ever since.”
Of course, I could not let that salacious attack on Arkansas go unchallenged. So I wrote to the editor of the Tulsa World:
“As a native Arkansan living in Oklahoma for 21 years I cannot refrain from commenting on today’s letter citing Carl Sandberg in attributing the continuation of the Civil War to an alleged dispute between Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis.
“The truth is that both Lincoln and Davis greatly wanted Arkansas, witness the fact that they each sent several thousand troops into the state to fight and die for it. To reduce to a rude and offensive farce the tragic struggle and sacrifice of these men is an unconscionable affront not only to them but to all those who honor their courage and devotion.”
I went on to cite a quote from Alan C. Paulson’s Roadside History of Arkansas about the state “which was known as a land of opportunity before the rebellion [i.e., the Civil War].”
I also quoted Peter Applebone of the New York Times who noted: “If any place can engender a sense of being permanently dissed, it’s Arkansas.”
I concluded by quoting native South Carolinian and Pulitzer Prize-winning editor Harry Ashmore of the Arkansas Gazette, the oldest newspaper west of the Mississippi River, who wrote: “Deep in the Arkansas conscious is a tragic sense that across nearly three centuries of existence as a colony, territory and state its people have been misunderstood and put upon.”
I repeat such exchanges on this blog simply to illustrate the fact that after thirty-five years in exile I am still fighting the good fight of faith─defending Arkansas.
“Do We Want Our Country to Look Like Arkansas?”
Years ago the now defunct Tulsa Tribune printed an editorial under the headline “Go Easy on Arkansas.”
In that article the Tribune noted that Marilyn Quale had just unleashed her rhetorical blast, “Do we want our country to look like Arkansas?”
If you don’t remember Marilyn Quale, she was the wife of Dan Quale, the Republican vice-presidential candidate under George Bush who was opposed by Bill Clinton of Arkansas, the Democratic presidential candidate for president.
The Tulsa editorial admitted, “She might as well have answered herself with a resounding ‘Yuk!’”
It then went on to describe Arkansas and comment on “its beautiful lakes and rivers, its lovely hills and hollows, quaint towns and the lovable phoniness of its many tourist attractions.”
It noted that Okies know that Arkansas is more than all that.
“They know the delights of an Arkansas catfish dinner with fried potatoes, fresh tomatoes, green onions and cornbread with a bowl of pinto beans on the side. They know friendly people who aren’t too hurried to engage in a conversation with a stranger.”
In closing, the Tribune stated, “Clinton may be fair game for the Republicans, but they should be a bit more balanced in talking about his state.”
In view of such an unusual defense of Arkansas by an Oklahoma newspaper, it raises the question of whether that kind of unbiased reporting about a friendly neighbor might be one reason the Tulsa Tribune is no longer in existence.
“Can Anything Good Come Out of Arkansas?”
While carrying on this three-decade-long defense of my much beloved and much maligned native state, in my capacity as a religious copyeditor I began to refer to myself by various biblical-based titles, such as: “An Arkie in Whom There Is No Guile,” “The Defender of the Holy Land,” and “The Prophet from Arkansas.”
Of course, these self-composed titles sometimes prompted the equally scriptural though spiritually judgmental question: “Can anything good come out of Arkansas?”
To which I always respond, “Maybe not, ‘cause I must have been a terrible sinner to be driven out of the Promised Land and banished here to Purgatory!”
In my next post I will present some more positive, or at least more amusing and less confrontational, anecdotes about Arkansas and Oklahoma and Arkies and Okies.
So tune in next week, folks, the fun is just beginning.