“To flee despair and light out for the territories loses the moral universe and thus makes us atoms of self, prisoners of inheritance, not free at all.”
(The same is true of being exiled in the [Indian] territories for thirty-five years!)
—Clay Lewis, Battlegrounds of Memory
In this post I continue and conclude the two-post series of select anecdotes about the thirty-five years of my “Oklahomian Exile” from my home state of Arkansas.
Specifically, I conclude my responses to attacks against Arkansas and Arkies by Okies who for some reason seem to derive great perverted pleasure from berating and belittling my beloved homeland.
So here are several final examples of my responses to such questions and statements.
“You’re Can’t Be from Arkansas
‘cause You’re Wearing Shoes!”
Mari and I attended a Lenten meeting at our church, Trinity Episcopal in Tulsa. The service was led by an Anglican nun named Sister Ellie.
During her presentation I couldn’t help noticing that Sister Ellie didn’t have any shoes on. I wondered about it, and obviously so did the rector (pastor) who asked her about it.
She explained that going barefoot was a requirement of her order, in conformity to the divine injunction to Moses to remove his footwear because of the holiness of the place on which he stood. (See Exodus 3:5.)
Immediately I realized that I finally had a response to Okies who would say to me, “You can’t be from Arkansas ‘cause you’re wearing shoes!”
“The reason I’m wearing shoes,” I now explain sadly but politely, “is because I’m no longer walking on holy ground.”
By the way, during that service Sister Ellie taught on her order’s strict requirement of poverty, chastity, and exile from home.
In response to her remarks I was moved to ask: “In view of our financial situation (mine and Mari’s) and our advancing age, and our twenty years here in Oklahoma, do poverty, chastity, and exile count as virtues . . . if they are involuntary?”
In deference to her person and position, I am afraid that Sister Ellie’s response must remain confidential.
“Why Do You Arkies Talk So Funny?”
Sometimes Okies, whose accents are as varied and their erratic behavior, will chide me about my Arkansas accent—especially when I use some rural South Arkansas expression such as “ain’t.”
When they do, I am quick to remind them that one of my three folk heroes (besides Elvis Presley and Robert E. Lee), their own Will Rogers, often used “ain’t”—not only in his speech and quotes but also in his newspaper columns and other writings.
Then I also remind them of what famed Arkie baseball pitcher and sports announcer Dizzy Dean used to say when criticized for using that particular word: “There’s lotsa fokes that ain’t sayin’ ain’t that ain’t workin’!”
When I am “corrected” by an Okie for such practice, my response is: “That’s jus’ th’ way us Arkies tawk. Me ’n’ them’s got to keep some vestige of Suthrun birth and upbrangin’!”
However, occasionally I encounter an Okie who actually has enough linguistic and cultural knowledge and taste to appreciate the beauty and grace of an Arkansas accent.
One of these sophisticated Okies I met at our church in Tulsa decades ago in a program called the Episcopal Women Road Show.
In this presentation a group of ladies dress as several Old Testament women and relate their personal stories.
On that particular night the biblical women were Eve, Mrs. Noah, Sarah, and Hagar.
After their individual portrayals, the ladies each answered questions from the audience in character.
That’s when I asked “Eve”: “If you’re supposed to be from the Garden of Eden, how come you don’t have an Arkansas accent?”
She didn’t hesitate or bat an eye. She merely and meekly replied with sorrowful downcast eyes, “The loss of my accent was part of the curse of being driven from Paradise.”
I know the feeling! Except that I have made every effort for thirty-five years to make sure not to lose a bit of my native Arkansas accent. Like the Razorback caps and shirts I wear, my accent is my way of letting everyone know that I am not an Okie, I’m an Arkie—and proud of it!
“Arkansas Traveler? What Is That Supposed to Mean?”
Not long ago during the sports portion of a local Tulsa TV news program, the young male “anchor” reported the final score between the Tulsa Drillers baseball team and the Northwest Arkansas Naturals.
“Naturals?” the obviously uninformed “anchor” said with a raised eyebrow. “I don’t even know what that is!”
I debated about informing him that it is a name derived from the slogan of the state of Arkansas: “The Natural State.” (To read more about the name of this team, click here.) (To read more about the Natural State, click here.)
Now in this case, who was displaying his ignorance? Or at least his laziness in not Googling the term before he “put it down” on regional television?
But ignorance of Arkansas and facts about it (often accompanied with arrogance) is not confined to young TV sports “anchors.” Following is an example from “the print media.”
Some years ago in defense of cockfighting an Okie (who shall remain anonymous) wrote a letter to the editor of the Tulsa World stating that Arkansas Travelers were not people “but are a breed of gamecock that was bred and traveled by Arkansas soldiers during the Civil War.”
Of course, I had no choice but to write the World and let its readers know that that old dog won’t hunt.For one thing, I noted, there was at the time a famous Arkansas newspaper column called the Arkansas Traveler which had been in existence for decades and which was written by Charles Allbright, a native of my hometown of McGehee, Arkansas.
Then I went on to state that there was also the Little Rock baseball team, to say nothing of each of the two million plus blessed citizens of the Natural State—all of them Arkansas Travelers.
“It will come as a big surprise to them,” I concluded, “to learn they are all roosters!”
Note: What I didn’t have time or space to get into was the origin of the term “The Arkansas Traveler” which dates back to the 1840s. It is a famous (or perhaps infamous) bit of Arkansas folklore about a traveler on horseback who encounters a rustic Arkie sitting outside his cabin and sawing on a fiddle trying to play the popular tune of the day, also aptly called “The Arkansas Traveler.” (To hear this song played on fiddle and guitar, click here.) (To read all about this tale and the tune, click here.) This tune should be familiar to everyone since it is almost always played to give a musical impression of rusticity, as in that famous scene from the movie Deliverance. (To hear the song as played in Deliverance, click here.)
“Just Where Is Arkansas Anyway?”
But ignorance about Arkansas is not limited to Oklahoma, of course, as we learned when we lived in South Carolina where even college teachers thought Arkansas had deserts and cactus (i.e., Arizona)! There are people right in this country who don’t even know where Arkansas is located.
One of them, believe it or not, was a former U.S. president!
Let me explain. Some time ago in a news article about satellite dishes, there was a map showing Little Rock as one of five cities that would soon be receiving Direct Broadcast television. Two other cities were Tulsa and Albuquerque.
After viewing that map I wrote the editor of the newspaper noting:
“Mari and I wondered whether placing Tulsa in Kansas and Albuquerque in Arizona qualified the artist as a graduate of the George Bush School of Geography.”
That was George Bush Senior who once referred to his opponent Bill Clinton as the governor of a certain state “between Oklahoma and Texas.” Of course, the fact is that Arkansas lies to the east of Oklahoma and Texas and not between them!
Speaking of geography, I once wrote to an Arkansas newspaper about one of our return trips from “down home” in Southeast Arkansas back to Northeast Oklahoma, which I noted is “uphill all the way”:
“As we got in the car, we heard a flock of geese going over. The geese were headin’ south and we were headin’ north, which proves that we Peacocks ain’t got the sense God gave a goose.”
Neither do some other people—especially some Okies—when it comes to identifying Arkansas and Arkansas Travelers.
“Why Are Arkies So Witty?”
Just as Oklahoma has its famed humorist Will Rogers, so Arkansas has more than its share of witty and clever humorists.
In recognition of this fact, C. L. Edson once wrote:
“But wit is so common in Arkansas that it does not distinguish a man—not while he is in Arkansas. It is the tradition of the land.”
So when Okies ask me why I left Arkansas if it is so great, I say that I had to leave “‘cause ‘back down home’ ever’body’s a wit—and them who ain’t are like Okies, either half-wits or nit-wits!”
“Why Is Arkansas So Religious?”
In answer to that question,I like to tell the story I once wrote up for an Arkansas audience.
In this story, I began with a question posed to Jed Clampett of the Beverly Hillbillies by Miss Jane Hathaway: “Is it true what I heard about Jethro, that he went to Eton at an early age?”
“Oh, yes ma’am,” Jed replied proudly. “That boy went to eatin’ right off.”
For much of our lives, more than forty years in fact, like the majority of Arkies of our day Mari and I were Southern Baptists.
But later here in Oklahoma for a period of about twenty years we were active members of the Episcopal Church.
So active that I was elected by my home parish, Trinity Episcopal Church in Tulsa, to serve as a delegate to the 1999 convention of the Diocese of Oklahoma.
That convention was to be held in the lovely town of Duncan, southwest of Oklahoma City.
I couldn’t wait to write back to Arkansas and inform the good Southern Baptist folks back down home, “Guess what! Here in Oklahoma the Episcopalians are gonna go to dunkin’.”
“Why Do Arkies See Humor in Everything?”
Humor, like wit, is an integral part of the Arkie nature. Maybe it’s because our sense of humor has helped us to get through so many hardships and difficult times in the past—and to respond to so many “cute” remarks and outright insults from others.
As wonderful as it is to be Arkies and as proud as we Arkies are of our state and our heritage, to paraphrase Kermit the frog, the truth is that it’s not always easy to be an Arkie—especially when traveling, and particularly living, out of state.
In closing these two posts on the thirty-five years of my Oklahomian Exile, here is an example of the type of stories that have been told to me by often good-natured and well-meaning Okies.
This one goes like this:
An Arkie and an Okie are driving down the highway in an unfamiliar area.
Suddenly the Okie says, “I’m hongry. Pull over to that there store over yonder.”
Once inside the store he tells the clerk, “Gimme some taters ’n’ maters ’n’ nanners.”
The clerk responds, “You must be from Oklahoma.”
“How’dju know that?” the Okie asks in awe.
“Because you said ‘taters’ and ‘maters’ and ‘nanners.’”
The Okie can’t wait to get back to the car to tell the Arkie. “That fella in there knew I wuz a Okie ‘cause ‘a how I tawked.”
Amused, the Arkie decided he would try it so he told the Okie. “Pull over at the next store we come to.”
The Okie did so, and the Arkie got out, went inside, and told the clerk. “Gimme some taters ’n’ maters ’n’ nanners.”
The clerk grinned broadly. “You must be from Arkansas.”
“How’d you know that, ‘cause ‘a how I tawked?”
“No,” the clerk replied. “I knew it because this is a furniture store.”
But lest I end this fascinating Arkie-Okie linguistic and cultural treatise with a negative impression of Arkansas and Arkies, here is an amusing true story I clipped from the local Sapulpa, Oklahoma, newspaper:
“An elderly peeping tom interrupted a Sapulpa resident’s shower Tuesday, according to a police report.”
It turned out that the victim was a thirty-three-year-old man.
“He was taking a shower when he noticed his elderly female neighbor peeking at him through the bathroom window.”
The “peeking Thomas” (actually a “peeping Thomasina”) was about seventy-nine or eighty years old.
The newspaper report concluded:
“The man told police that when he yelled at his neighbor to get back out of his yard, she yelled back at him, ‘No wonder your wife divorced you!’—and fled. No arrests have been made.”
Yep, ‘ats ‘em Okies aw rite! Bless their pore ignernt hearts.