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Archive for February, 2013

My Oklahoma Connections

“Oklahoma’s OK; why, it’s next to heaven!”
—Jimmy Peacock

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.

Oklahoma State Flag

The Oklahoma State Flag (photo by Storer, from a postcard produced by Prairie Production Company, 1637 S. Boston, Tulsa, OK 74119)

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.”
—Will Rogers

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].

Oklahoma Indian

Oklahoma Plains Indian in Warrior Regalia (photo by John Southern, from postcard produced by Prairie Production Company, 1637 S. Boston, Tulsa, OK 74119)

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!

Oklahoma Dust Storm

Oklahoma Dust Storm during the Dust Bowl (Black Sunday, April 14, 1936, from a postcard produced by Prairie Production Company, 1637 S. Boston, Tulsa, OK 74119; to magnify, click on the photo)

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.

Oklahoma Plains

The Plains of Oklahoma (photo by Chuck Doswell from a postcard produced by Prairie Production Company, 1637 S. Boston, Tulsa, OK 74119)

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”!

Oklahoma End of the Line

End of the Trail, Oklahoma (sculpture by James Earle Fraser, National Cowboy Hall of Fame, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; photo from postcard produced by Prairie Production Company, 1637 S. Boston, Tulsa, OK 74119)

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.

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  The longing for home is a foretaste of heaven. My longing for home prompted me to think of the sacrifice Jesus made when he came to earth. How he must have yearned for all he left behind!” (I know the feeling. I only think of home two times: night and day!)
—Wendy Marshall, quoted in the January 28, 2012
entry in the Upper Room daily devotional

Since this is Ash Wednesday, the traditional beginning of the season of Lent observed in many mainline Christian churches, I thought I would share portions of three recent entries from the Forward Day by Day daily devotional on the subjects of home, Christian service, and the psalms, especially Psalm 119.

Except for some deleted paragraphs, all of these entries are reproduced just as they appeared in the original versions and are used by permission of the publisher. I hope these entries speak to you during this Lenten season as much as they did to me.

“Abide” and “Home”

“Home is that place where you belong, where you fit in, where you are at ease, where you are fully yourself.”
—Jimmy Peacock

This first entry is reminiscent of quotes and definitions of home from my previous blog posts such as the one above. Other than the quoted scripture in the following entry, italics were inserted by me for emphasis.

SATURDAY, January 5

John 15:1-16. Abide in me.

The verb “abide” suggests a long-term situation. When we abide somewhere or with someone, we’re not just passing through. We don’t abide in a hotel room, an elevator, or a parking space. The noun form of the word, “abode,” brings to mind images of home, where we belong, where we can relax and be ourselves.

Home is the backdrop of our lives, an atmosphere that we breathe in and out. Home surrounds and defines us. It is a place we don’t have to think about all the time, affording us the security and freedom to think about other things.

Christ invites us to make our home in him, to allow him to surround and define us, to condition all we say or do, hallowing every moment. He will be with us as a familiar place to abide—a backdrop, an atmosphere enfolding and embracing us.

Copyright 2012 Forward Movement (www.forwardmovement.org). All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Note: To read my previous entries “Quotes about Home I and II” from September 19 and 26, 2012, click here and here.

The Lord’s Use of “Stumbling Blocks”

“We must remember that the disciples were intensely human. [With us as with them] God has to hit mighty licks with crooked sticks.”
—Anonymous Southern Baptist preacher

In this second entry from Forward Day by Day, the italics for emphasis (except for mine in the final paragraph) were part of the original quotation.

FRIDAY, January 18

Matthew 16:13-19. I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.

Following Peter’s confession that Jesus was the Christ—Peter was the first to say it—Jesus said Peter was the rock on which he would build his church. . .

I . . . doubt he was thinking of Peter’s faith, which wasn’t enough to make Peter a reliable friend later on. I don’t know what Jesus was thinking, but just five verses later, Jesus said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me.” So Peter was both the rock on which Jesus would build his church and a stumbling block to Jesus.

Jesus builds his church on a stumbling block, an obstacle, a problem. That rings true. Everybody I’ve ever known in church—and I’ve known lots of church people—is a stumbling block, an obstacle, a problem, at least now and then. For reasons unimaginable to me, Jesus seems to prefer to achieve his purposes using the wrong people in the wrong jobs at the wrong time in the wrong place. I’m glad he does, because that’s what lets me in.

Copyright 2012 Forward Movement (www.forwardmovement.org). All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Note: This final paragraph applies particularly to me, especially in regard to my thirty-plus years of exile from my native Arkansas home and my labor as a copyeditor for religious publications, a role for which I had no formal education or training in theology, the Bible, journalism, English, Hebrew, Greek, editing, etc., or even typing except with two fingers (as I still do). To read more about this subject, visit my August 24, 2011, post titled “My Mother’s Bible” and my February 1, 2013, post titled “About Copyeditors.”

Reading the Psalms, Especially Psalm 119

“This is the Psalm (Psalm 119) I have often had recourse to, when I could find no spirit of prayer in my own heart, and at length the fire was kindled and I could pray.”
—Rev. H. Venn from Charles Bridges on Psalm 119,
quoted in Wikipedia entry for Psalm 119

Finally, to sum up the subject of Ash Wednesday, Lent, and daily Bible reading (which I still do in the same French Bible I used to translate French and English more than thirty years ago), here is a portion of a recent entry from Forward Day by Day about the psalms, especially Psalm 119, the longest psalm in the Bible. Except for the quoted portion of Psalm 119, the italics for emphasis are mine with my inserted words in brackets.

WEDNESDAY, February 6

Psalm 119:73-96. Your law is my delight . . . I will never forget your commandments, because by them you give me life.

“Seventy-six Trombones” isn’t the tune for Psalm 119. But this psalm is like 176 trumpets—176 verses that “trumpet” the power of God’s life-giving word, sometimes muted as the psalmist endures difficulty. [I identify with the psalmist because like him and like Peter I also have a tendency to falter in faith during difficult times!]  But since this psalm is long, I often choose others. . .

I was saddened when someone said he easily skips the psalms [in his daily Bible readings], yet realized that I sometimes avoid Psalm 119 [because of its length]. Since this psalm is divided into sections, I’ve decided to add a section to my readings every day during Lent and travel through the psalm twice before Easter. My journey starts . . . on Ash Wednesday, and I’d welcome your company.

Copyright 2013 Forward Movement (www.forwardmovement.org). All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Note:  By following the suggested scripture lessons in both the Upper Room (Methodist) daily devotional and in the Forward Day by Day (Episcopal) daily devotional, over time I am able to cover much of the Bible in my daily reading—including the psalms. (For more on this subject see my earlier post titled “My Mother’s Bible.”) In fact, by holding my French Bible sideways, it is easy to identify the book of Psalms in it because that section is darker and more frayed than the rest of the Bible due to constant use and continuous wear. But besides the book of Psalms, like this writer I intend to add a section of Psalm 119 to my daily scripture readings during Lent, and I would suggest that you do likewise.

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“Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they . . . examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”
— Acts 17:11 NIV 

“Too often, what is presented as theology or history is nothing more than canonized opinion.”
–Jimmy Peacock

In this post I examine the nature and role of copyeditors, especially those who deal with religious copy, as I did over a period of thirty-plus years for several different Christian book publishers and many different individual ministers and ministries.

During that period I also copyedited a wide variety of materials for several secular publishers, particularly non-fiction manuscripts about American history (including biography and autobiography), the Civil War, Southern culture, Western outlaws and lawmen, cowboys and Indians, etc.

In those years as a professional copyeditor, I developed and applied the same traits of innate curiosity, devotion to detail, pursuit of fact, quest for accuracy, and desire for honesty, sincerity, and integrity that had influenced me from earliest childhood. (See the conclusion to my earlier post titled “My Favorite Childhood Books/The Truth about Santa Claus” in which I referred to my “lifelong search for truth.”)

From these three decades of experience in copyediting I collected the following quotes and excerpts on the subject (with my comments in parentheses), beginning with a definition of the copyeditor and a description of his nature and purpose, followed by my own observations on these subjects (emphasis in italics).

The Copyeditor

“The copyeditor is the guardian of precision, the protector of the facts, a professional perfectionist dedicated to the idea that you can believe what you read . . . Authors and copyeditors get along about as well as children and dentists. A good copyeditor wields his drill with delicacy and skill, but sometimes it hurts . . . If you sometimes feel antagonistic toward your copyeditor, you’re in good company—but like fillings and root canals, the copyeditor’s changes are for your own good.”

From Manuscript to Book

“No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else’s draft [copy].”

—H. G. Wells

Editing is the same as arguing with writers—same thing exactly.” (I never argued with writers, but some of them argued with me–even “gnashing their teeth and rending their garments” against me–because of the changes I made in their scripts, usually those changes required by editorial guidelines. That was not a part of my job that I relished.)

—Harold Ross

“Frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I’m from Missouri. You have got to show me.”

—Rep. Willard Duncan Vandiver,
speaking in Philadelphia in 1819,
Origin of the Missouri state motto,
“The Show Me State”

“You blew in from the Middle West
And certainly impressed
The population hereabouts.
But, honey, I’ve got news for you,
I’m from Missouri too,
So naturally I’ve got my doubts.”

—“You Came a Long Way from St. Louis,”
Song by Bob Russell and John Benson Brooks, 1948

All true copyeditors are from Missouri. Their first question is, ‘Says who?’ Their first response is: ‘Show me.’ They are neither quickly convinced nor easily persuaded. They are not prime prospects for snake oil salesmen, purveyors of get-rich-quick schemes, or unscrupulous politicians, preachers, promoters, or other public panderers.

[Today copyeditors’ skepticism would include forwarded email messages, especially those of a hardcore religious/political nature, which are notoriously unreliable. Naturally, I always try to verify the accuracy of all forwarded messages before forwarding them to others. As someone has said about such unsubstantiated messages, “We must be very careful lest we become fountains of misinformation,” to which I added, “or disinformation!”]

“Don’t look for them on bandwagons or following off after pied pipers or self-appointed gurus. They don’t trust ‘big mouths’ or ‘little voices,’ ‘glad hands’ or ‘glib tongues.’ They are not impressed by fat pocketbooks or inflated egos, hot shots or cool dudes, know-it-alls or self-styled ‘experts.’

“They look for character, not charisma, fruit not gifts. Like God, they search for truth in the inward parts, because they know that it is truth—and not money, power, fame, or success—that sets men free.

“If you are dishonest, stay away from a copyeditor, because he will see through you like a piece of wet toilet paper and will be on your case like ugly on an ape. If you don’t want to hear the truth, then don’t ask a copyeditor because he is going to tell it like it is even if he knows it will bankrupt both you and him.

“But if you are honest, if you have no ulterior motives or hidden agendas, if you really want to know the truth so you can face it and do it, then you have nothing to fear from the copyeditor, because to him integrity is the ultimate virtue—and either you have it or you don’t. It’s just that simple.”

—Jimmy Peacock

“Remember, son, the word is integrity.”

—From a letter written to his son by Gen. William F. Dean,
a POW in the Korean War, just before
his expected execution by his captors

Sample of My Copyeditor’s Zeal for Truth

So think carefully about what you are [reading].”
–Luke 8:18 ERV

To illustrate the above quotations, here is a sample of my copyeditor’s zeal for truth. It is a copy of a letter to the editor of the Tulsa World that I wrote about an editorial that I found inaccurate and hypocritical. It is just one of several that I wrote over the years to the Oklahoma media to correct false information about or impressions of my beloved native state.

Arkansas National Guard

Sunday, May 23, 2004
Editorial Page Editor
Tulsa World
P.O. Box 1770
Tulsa, OK 74102

Dear Sir:

“At least the city [of Tulsa] didn’t have the governor standing in the schoolhouse door to block black children from entering a school. That happened in Little Rock.”
—“The great divide,” editorial page,
Tulsa World, Sunday, May 23, 2004

As a native of Arkansas, and a member of the Arkansas National Guard in September 1957 when elements of it were called out by Gov. Orval Faubus at the time of the integration of Little Rock’s Central High School, I feel that your statement above is both inaccurate and misleading.

If memory serves me correctly, Governor Faubus never actually stood in the schoolhouse door to block black children from entering. Rather, he mobilized the Arkansas National Guard to prevent the enrollment of the now famous “Little Rock Nine.” I have verified this fact by a careful re-examination of Little Rock, 1957: Historic Front Pages from the Arkansas Democrat and Arkansas Gazette Aug. 29, 1957-Oct. 4, 1957, published by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on August 29, 1997, on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of that history-making event.

I assume that when you wrote the above quotation either you were speaking metaphorically or you were thinking of Gov. George Wallace who did literally stand in the schoolhouse (actually university) door in a failed attempt to block the integration of the University of Alabama.

In the interest of historic accuracy and journalistic integrity, and on behalf of all Arkansans, particularly the citizens of Little Rock, who had no part in this action by their governor then and who may not be aware of your statement and its implications now, may I respectfully request that a clarification of this important point be made in a subsequent issue of your publication?

Sincerely yours,

Jimmy Peacock

Note: Despite my effort, the editor of the Tulsa World never printed a retraction or even a correction. What I did not mention in my letter was that although a mob of some five hundred people did gather to protest the integration of Central High School, Little Rock did not have one of the worst race riots in American history in which hundreds of blacks were either killed, wounded, or missing or had their homes and businesses demolished in the utter destruction of a thirty-five-square-block area of the black part of the city. That happened in Tulsa, a city that was as racially segregated as any in Arkansas. To read more about the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, click here.

The Hard-Headed, Soft-Hearted Copyeditor 

“I’m nuthin’ if I ain’t honest. As a country boy from Arkansaw, I ain’t got no better sense than to tell it like it is–or at least to call it like I see it! With me, what you see is what you get. I am an Arkie in whom there is no guile.”
–Jimmy Peacock

After reading the reams of material about me on this blog and the quotations and sample of the nature and role of the copyeditor above, you may be wondering how such a self-described “hopeless romantic and helpless neurotic” as I am could have ever become a “guardian of precision, a protector of the facts, a professional perfectionist dedicated to the idea that you can believe what you read.”

The answer was provided in the earlier post titled “My Mother’s Bible” in which I described how I, an unemployed French teacher, was compelled by circumstances beyond my control to come to Tulsa as a French translator and then to take over the job of editorial assistant in order to provide for my family. That position eventually led me–for better or for worse–to become a copyeditor.

So if you are asking, “Who made you the judge of other people’s writings?” I can only respond, “It seems that God did–it certainly wasn’t my idea!”

But besides the actual physical events that forced me to become a copyeditor, there are also the personal and spiritual influences that led me almost inevitably to fulfill that role. After all these years, I can look back now and see that, given my unique combination of a hard head and a soft heart, as well as my “obsessive-compulsive” nature and my inherent desire to seek, find, and share the truth, my becoming a copyeditor was a foregone conclusion, even though throughout all these long years I have continually sought to become a writer.

I used to say, “Rather than being a religious editor in exile, I want to be a Southern writer in residence.” Now given my advancing age and my declining health, as well as the dismal economy and the rapidly changing world of book publishing, it seems doubtful that I will ever be either—at least not back full time as a copyeditor or “back home” as a writer.

And, as sad as it may be, that’s the truth—from one of God’s “noble Bereans.”

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