Sorting through the 1,000 pictures I took in Oregon because I can’t help myself, I had a hard time picking the best ones to tell the story. I was trying to find ones that were different from my other visits, but there are always the same ones that I can’t ignore. When I take a break from my semi-retirement regular life, spent with my  family and my part-time job, I also take a break from most of the news and all the other headaches of everyday life. That means I’m there to soak up every healing thing I can see, hear, smell, touch or feel to fill my soul with memories that will override the crap we all have to deal with most of the time.

This year, we started our trip by landing in Portland and driving a quick 5 hours to outside of Crater Lake National Park, one of the National Parks I hadn’t seen yet (they are all on my bucket list – even the ones I have seen several times). It had been touch and go as to whether we would go there because of the fires in the state, but it miraculously snowed early in the week, cleaning the skies. We parked at the Crater Lake Lodge, excited to get to the views. And, of course, it started raining on us as we got out of the car. Dang. IMG_4713We raced inside to be greeted by yet another beautiful historic park lodge with fireplaces roaring.IMG_4718By the time we got outside, the rain was stopping (typical Oregon) and we made our way along the rim before driving to the spot where we would meet our trolley tour around the lake. I have to recommend this trip. The West rim was closed for construction (and earlier for the fires), but we were able to see it all through the tour. Our guide, Ranger Annie, is a retired geologist and was full of information, showing us photos and picking out interesting things to show us at all the stops. We learned about the plants, wildlife, lake life, flowers, trees, and geology of the lake. She also showed us the impacts of climate change on the area and gave us insight into what the park services and scientists are doing to learn more about this area. I can’t tell you how much I love National Park Rangers!IMG_4742I told my friend I just wanted a minute with the sky blue so I could see the lake in all its glory. I’d come all this way, after all. I got more than a minute as the sun came and went all through our visit. Oh my – it truly is glorious to see one of the deepest and the cleanest lake in the world sparkling in the sun.DSC_0059Regardless, it was also beautiful to see it with the silver shimmer when the clouds were overhead.DSC_0022We saw the Phantom Ship island, which looks small as does everything until you can get the scale.DSC_0046Leaving the park, we also stopped at Natural Bridge to get my first glimpse of the raging Rogue River that goes all the way to the Pacific. Nothing like a roaring river to wake up your senses.DSC_0064That was just the first full morning of our trip, which gives you an idea of how many treasures we had ahead of us. It was too much to prioritize which ones to visit again or for the first time. We did see a couple of the many, many covered bridges this time. The first one was on our way to Crafter Lake, Lowell Covered Bridge. IMG_4681The second one we saw was towards the end of our trip, Drift Creek Bridge, east of Lincoln City. Don’t ask me why I’ve never seen covered bridges until this year when I saw these two and a couple of the Bridges of Madison County. They are fascinating, lovely pieces of our history.IMG_5214The view from our condo in Depoe Bay is lovely in clear weather or in storms. IMG_4770Since Depoe Bay is the Whale Watching Capital of the World, we looked for whales. Some years, we had to take the whale watching boats out to see them, but the past two years they have been right outside our window. They came as close as just past the rock in the picture, which was pretty close to the seawall on Highway 101. That’s the closest I’ve ever seen them come in. Here’s one right off the rocks.DSC_0104 One of our favorite beaches is Fogarty Creek, where the creek runs into the sea right out of the magical forests along Highway 101.IMG_5194 Our first morning there, we found driftwood tossed around, looking battered from the journey.DSC_0074This other piece is on the walk to the beach from the car and has been there for years. I always enjoy this angle that looks like a creature peeking at us.IMG_5190The sea was pretty calm for the first few days, but there was sea kelp (or sea whips) and sea weed, and feathers floating and rocks shaped like hearts.DSC_0095DSC_0088DSC_0077DSC_0087We also were standing near this man and I recognized his gesture as giving thanks on the beautiful morning.IMG_4787His name is Mark D. Shelton, http://www.markdshelton.com, and he is the Tribal Artist of the Chinook Tribe. It turned out he has relatives in Oklahoma, another small world moment. IMG_4785Our nightly sunset viewing didn’t look too promising, but it turned into something special by the Depoe Bay seawall when we watched the sun set through a rainstorm, a unique view. IMG_4807The next day we wandered up the road to Lincoln City where a Kite Festival was happening! We’ve always missed it in the past, so it was a treat to see all the colorful kites flying.DSC_0208We walked out in time to watch a synchronized kite contest where teams flew their kites in routines to music, a dance in the skies.DSC_0235My friend was born in Oregon, so she is basically coming home. I pretend I’m not a tourist since I’ve been there so much. When the weekend is over and the weekend crowd is gone, we take longer trips down the coast. On a beautiful day, I had the wild idea of taking a hike I had read about, so we drove down the coast to Yachats (don’t pronounce the c). We had driven through but never stopped, which was a mistake. It’s absolutely charming. Wow! I could stay there any time. Here’s a view from one of the parks. Beautiful parks, views, restaurants, and it’s near Cape Perpetua, another wonderful place.IMG_4890I didn’t do all of my hike due to not really knowing if I was on the right place (I was, but couldn’t tell), but the woods were lovely and I looked down across the Pacific Ocean.IMG_4883DSC_0261IMG_4884From Yachats, we wove around Highway 101, past Cape Perpetua with the Devil’s Churn, Thor’s Well, and The Spouting Horn, stopping below Heceta Head Lighthouse for a quick visit with a friend before heading south to Florence for lunch. We had the iconic view of the lighthouse. The last photos I took showed it covered up for restoration.DSC_0283DSC_0281Around the curve was the view of the Oregon Dunes, a dramatic change from the Cape Perpetua cliffs.DSC_0285In Florence, we ate by the docks. I’m a sucker for piles of colorful buoys.DSC_0289The next day we lazed around Depoe Bay, having a lovely lunch at Tidal Raves and watching whales off our porch as they spouted a heart at us. DSC_0326 Later we headed to Newport for crab for dinner and realized the sunset was coming so we crossed the bridge and headed for a view at Yaquina Bay Lighthouse, gleaming in the fading light on its hill. DSC_0337We were watching the sunset through the trees, IMG_4930when I turned and saw the moon coming up over the Yaquina Bay Bridge behind us. Another lovely image of the most familiar of the Conde McCullough bridges along Highway 101 in Oregon. I fell in love with this bridge the first time I crossed it back in 2009.DSC_0348The next day was for driving north, through beautiful farm country, IMG_4941to a mandatory stop at Tillamook dairies for ice cream before heading on to Cannon Beach. It was a beautiful day on this gorgeous beach where the weather can change in a minute! We parked at Tolovana Park where my friend grabbed her book for a beach read while I started the walk to Haystack Rock. IMG_4990It looks close until you realize that the people beside the rock are ant-size. I think it’s about a mile from where I started, but it’s a wonderful walk on a flat, sandy beach. The last time I was here, the tide was out and there were tide pools with urchins and other critters. This time, I couldn’t get so close, but the reflections were incredible.IMG_4958On the way, I witnessed a life and death fight between a crab and a seagull. My heart was with the crab, although that was a little hypocritical since I ate one the night before. I walked right up, trying to give the crab a chance, but the seagull was persistent and won his dinner. The crab waved his claws bravely, fighting all the way.DSC_0369DSC_0371I’m still a long way away in this photo.IMG_4965There were great views of Tillamook Lighthouse to the north. The story of Terrible Tilly is interesting as men fought to build on the rock.DSC_0386Walking back, the skies changed, of course, but the view to the south was gorgeous too.DSC_0402After a lunch at Mo’s on the beach, we drove back, stopping to see a dahlia farm in all its blooming beauty. So many varieties!DSC_0416DSC_0439DSC_0452DSC_0458I was anxious to get back to our condo as I have driven Highway 101 through the fog and forest – not fun with all the curves. We made it back in time to watch the sunset at Fogarty Creek. Lovely.DSC_0477For our last full day on the coast, we drove back to Newport (only 15 minutes away), stopping at Yaquina Head Lighthouse, where we’ve been several times before. It was such a beautiful day and we couldn’t resist.IMG_5051On that day, the whales were spouting like crazy all around us and visitors were pointing all over. I like the birds lined up on the rock to watch the show.DSC_0522In Newport, we went to the docks on the bayfront,DSC_0541and then to see the funny California Sea Lions that stay there. We’re told only the males come, so it’s kind of like a fraternity house with some lounging around and others fighting for a spot.DSC_0556While watching the sea lions, we spotted a first for us. Jellyfish were swimming around the docks. I’ve seen them in aquariums, but never out in nature. These orange ones were quite fascinating as they undulated along. DSC_0567DSC_0582DSC_0585We next toured the Sylvia Beach Hotel with its rooms named for various authors and the Next Chapter Restaurant. It’s right on Nye Beach with beautiful views.IMG_5140There are rooms for J. K. Rowling with a Harry Potter theme, Mark Twain, Herman Melville, Amy Tan, Gertrude Stein, Ken Kesey, William Shakespeare and others, all beautifully decorated. We loved the Dr. Seuss room with this whimsical bed. Such a fun place for lovers of books!IMG_5109On the cliffs at the point by our condo, I watched our last beach sunset with the same mixed feelings I always have when it’s time to leave. I spotted a whale spouting near the buoy in the bay, DSC_0632and saw the harbor seals sleeping on a rock on the other side,DSC_0614before the sun finally set calmly into the sea. Sigh.DSC_0657.JPGAll week the ocean had been very calm, so we were rewarded the next morning when we made a final visit to the cliffs on the point before we left town. I can’t tell you how mesmerized I am by the crashing waves. On past trips, I’ve had to tear myself away from watching them grow,DSC_0720DSC_0661foam,DSC_0729and crash against the rocks.DSC_0701And I spotted a precious feather on the rocks of the cliff.DSC_0113I have so many photos – I can’t resist. This was a nice way to end our visit to the coast.

As we drove east towards Salem, we drove back to see the Drift Creek Covered Bridge. Looking at the land around it, I took away another memory of a more rural Oregon.IMG_5230So ends my ode to Oregon for this year. When I think of this state, I always know a piece of my heart is there and that’s just fine.DSC_0366DSC_0187

 

One should always sample the local foods while traveling – right? I try never to go to a national chain restaurant, except for a Dairy Queen dip cone, unless there is nothing else around. Little cafes, local people, local foods are part of the experience. In Oregon, I’ve found some favorites that I return to every year while still searching out new places and new tastes! Here are my recommendations!

First, there’s Farmer John’s in McMinnville, a stop we make traveling to the coast from Portland. Farmer John’s has produce and zinnias and hazelnuts if we get there during the harvest,IMG_5237but we stop for the Strawberry Shortcake with a warm biscuit topped with strawberries, ice cream and whipped cream. This isn’t unique to the world certainly, but it’s a much anticipated treat for us.IMG_5242On the Oregon coast, you can find Mo’s in several locations. We like the one at Otter Rock, although I’ve been to the one in Newport (the original) and the one at Cannon Beach. All are great. I go back for the Clam Chowder and the Garlic Cheese Bread.

IMG_4793IMG_4794This year, we visited Mo’s at Otter Rock on a rainy day for the chowder and then also stopped at the one on Cannon Beach, where I had the Shrimp Medley. Lovely and tasty while looking out at that beautiful beach and Haystack Rock! I love the little bay shrimp every which way!IMG_4997While I’m showing you beautiful plates, here’s one I had in Florence this time. I don’t get there every trip, but this is worth the drive. We ate at ICM on the docks, overlooking the boats with a view of the bridge in Old Town Florence, an absolutely charming place.DSC_0291I don’t remember what this was called, but it had fresh cod, Dungeness Crab and bay shrimp. Yum!IMG_4898Speaking of Dungeness Crab, we NEVER leave without a visit to this place on Highway 101, south of the bridge in Newport!IMG_4921IMG_9783It’s a fish market, grocery store, and has fresh steamed crabs and incredible onion rings. We split the crab, which comes with a pile of french fries. We always forget that and order the onion rings extra and have way too much to eat. But, it’s all about the crab and working to get each little bite of deliciousness!IMG_4918Our other favorite place in Newport is in the historic Bayfront area. We go to see the California sea lions who come to entertain us on the docksIMG_5145 and then we go to Gino’s down the street.IMG_5182There’s just something about this place with its blue and white and scads of buoys that is refreshing.IMG_5177On our first visit, we met one of the owners, a family of fishermen. They sell fish there, too, but we go for their famous Popcorn Shrimp. The batter is incredible and the little bay shrimp are piled up. The onion rings and slaw are pretty special, too!IMG_5171We stay in Depoe Bay, right in the middle of the Central Oregon Coast and the Whale Watching Capital of the World. Depoe Bay is also the World’s Smallest Harbor. We have to go to Gracie’s Sea Hag on either Friday or Saturday night to see Michael Dane perform, watch the bartender play the bottles and share the seafood platter. This was the first meal I ever had in Oregon while driving up the coast many years ago. It’s as good as I remember it every time! I think there are two sea platters, but this one is listed under the appetizers.IMG_4809We top that yummy pile off by sharing Marionberry Tart. Since I can’t get Marionberries in Oklahoma, this is an Oregon dish I don’t miss.IMG_4814The other restaurant in Depoe Bay that we never miss is Tidal Raves, right on the Sea Wall and a short walk from where we stay. It’s always listed as one of the best on the coast with a beautiful view of the bay. Reservations are advised.IMG_9820I’ve had so many great dishes there and I recommend the Rockfish and the Bread Pudding. The one thing we always share is the Seahawk Break, which could be a meal in itself. Once again, those bay shrimp!!!IMG_4909No visit to Oregon is complete without trying Tillamook Ice Cream. I fell in love with the story of this Farmer’s Cooperative on my first visit. The cheeses are great, but the ice cream!!!! I scream for ice cream! It is the creamiest ever. You can get it in the stores, but if you can get to Tillamook and visit the dairy, do it! I think it is the best right there where they make it. I know this is one of the main tourist attractions in Oregon, but it’s worth it. They’re building a new Visitor’s Center now, but the temporary one is just fine. It has the ice cream, after all. This time, I had a double dish of Salted Butterscotch and Udderly Chocolate, but you just can’t go wrong with any flavor!!!IMG_4947On my recent trip, we went to Crater Lake and visited the historic Beckie’s Cafe in Prospect, listed on the National Historic Register. IMG_4706A photo on the wall showed the early cafe, where they specialized in Clean Home Cooking! Yikes! Who wants dirty home cooking? The husband’s nickname was Beckie and after he died, everyone started calling his wife Beckie. IMG_4752We had a delicious breakfast there and returned for their famous pies. Since it was in season, we chose the Huckleberry Pie. Of course! The cream pies sounded pretty yummy too! It was as good as it looks!!!IMG_4754In answer to your question, I didn’t gain any weight in Oregon because we walk so much. If we didn’t, we’d be in serious trouble! I leave you drooling for some Oregon tastes, one of the many things I love about visiting this beautiful state!DSC_0180

Each state in our 50 incredible United States plus our other spaces (Puerto Rico comes to mind) has its own beauty and uniqueness and I can easily sing a song of praise to each one I visit. Oregon is one of the special ones for me, probably because I’ve been able to spend quality time there, including more than a week each fall for the last six years. The glorious Oregon Coast brings me back to explore and find new adventures each year, so I will share my Oregon findings with you.

I love this crazy state with its deserts in the east, forests everywhere, mountains, waterfalls, rivers, creeks, lakes and the coast. If you like natural beauty, you can find just about everything.

I love the fact that you can’t pump your own gas for some reason. It amuses me more than anything and I have to remind myself every time. I love that there’s no sales tax and wonder how they do it.

The casualness of Oregon appeals to me no end. I can’t remember ever seeing anyone dressed up, although I know it happens and I could dress up if I wanted to. It’s hard to imagine dressing up where everyone walks, rides a bike or is off for a hike or a kayak ride somewhere. It’s an adventure for everyone every day.IMG_0639

The political scene is more laid back, although there are different viewpoints everywhere in our country. Legal marijuana is everywhere and we laugh at the Pot Shop that is next door to our condo at the beach, where the barbeque place used to be, across the street from where the friendly Sikhs own the convenience store and pump our gas for usDSC_0622

Coming from Tornado Alley in Oklahoma and having worked for the American Red Cross, I am impressed by the cautions in Oregon. There is danger of earthquake, fire, Tsunamis, and volcano eruptions. And there’s that shelf off the coast that may shift and wipe out the entire northwest coast to worry about. Yikes!IMG_4771And then there are the environmental warnings and sneaker waves and cliffs to fall off and wildlife to protect or beware as you enter every beach. It’s definitely an adrenaline rush to be there.DSC_0070So much to enjoy. I love the old fishing camps like Union Creek Resort in Prospect, listed on the National Historic Register because it brings back those times when people escaped to get away from everything and relax by a rushing creek.IMG_4696There was no cell service, the front desk closed at 8 pm and we were told that we would have to use the pay phone if we needed help. At least I remember how to use one! There was Wi-Fi in case you think it’s way too isolated for you.IMG_4710There were signs of Sasquatch everywhere in Oregon, as there are in Washington, and they go along with our own sightings of Big Foot in Oklahoma. It’s easy to picture him slinking around in the dark woods with the tall pines.IMG_4904I love the winding roads along the coast with the warning signs for either falling rocks or elk. The rocks are easy to imagine since you are driving along roads hewn from cliffs with rocks supported by nets that may be enough to hold them back. My friend and I were envisioning either a huge elk jumping out or a rock falling when we came to a place that had both signs. Both at once – more of that Oregon adrenaline.DSC_0287I have too many photos, too many memories and too many stories to tell for one post, so I’ll leave you today with one of the hearts I found along the coast. DSC_0086I find my heart often in Oregon, one of my favorite places to restore my soul.

My maternal grandfather’s parents settled in Indian Territory, near where Ardmore is now located. It’s hard to find many details, but I know they lived on a farm where my mother was born. My maternal grandmother’s parents lived on a farm closer to Durant, where they must have moved from near Bonham, Texas, where my grandmother was born. I keep finding little details to put this story together.

My grandfather’s parents married in 1876, when my great-grandfather, E.Z. (Ephraim Z.) West married Hattie Artie Mills. My grandfather was born in 1876 in Denton County, Texas. E. Z. and Hattie had two more sons who died young, George at age 8 and John at age 20. E. Z. opened one, possibly two or more, wagon yards, including the West Wagon Yard, in Ardmore and built a house on the property of the wagon yard. The house was on the corner of 1st St SW and E St SW, across from Central Park. My grandfather worked with his father in the wagon yard (kind of an early motel for people coming to town by wagon) until the wagon days were waning due to automobiles and then he went to work for the telephone company, which must have been a pretty new industry.

I’ve seen photos of my grandfather, Ben, mostly at play with other young people or with his lodge. He looks playful and fun and at ease with everyone. In 1915, at the age of 38, he found my 18 year old grandmother, Artie, married her and brought her home. They soon had three children, two boys and a girl, my mother. My grandmother didn’t speak of my grandfather much, but I always think of her telling me how he would get up and start the fire and then wrap her up in a blanket and bring her downstairs. That may be all I need to know about him.

At some point, my grandfather became ill with Bright’s Disease, a kidney disease that could probably easily be cured today. I don’t know how long this lasted, but I know he purchased a small neighborhood grocery store for my grandmother to run after he was gone. Neighborhood groceries were still around when I was a child and they were small, about one room, and located in neighborhoods. I guess they were the first convenience stories. My grandfather died in 1927, leaving his young widow with three children. My great-grandfather had died in 1920, so my great-grandmother was also a widow with only her daughter-in-law and her three grandchildren left. I have a much earlier photo of her, but this is how my mother knew her.Scan 2At some time, between 1930 and 1940 (according to census records), my grandmother moved her family to the house I always associate with her. My great-grandmother owned property around town and made sure that each of her grandchildren owned a house. My mother told me they had dignity during the Depression because they owned their home, even when the gas was turned off. My mother also spent a lot of time with her grandmother and could describe her, her clothing and everything in her house and yard in detail. My great-grandmother died in 1940 so I never got to meet her.

I’ve written about my grandmother before. Her name was Artie but she was so prissy as a child that her brothers nick-named her Dude. She was Mommie Dude to me. She was the cutest thing, always curious, always ready for adventure. With only about a ninth grade education and great strength, she faced the world that was given her. My mother told me once that she thought she never remarried because she was afraid another man might hurt her children. Here she is at the corner of the house in about 1940.Artie West - June 5, 1942My mother left home after high school and sent money home to help her mother for the rest of her life. Mommy went to business school, returning during World War II to work at Ardmore Air Base, where my grandmother worked packing parachutes. My father was a Squadron Commander, a Lt. Colonel, assigned to Ardmore after he had completed his 50 missions, for which he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. They were a glamorous couple when they married and moved to his home in Oklahoma City, where he was in business with his father, brother and brother-in-law.

I was a tiny baby, born at the end of 1945. I was in the hospital for several weeks until I reached 5 pounds. My mother had never been around babies, so she wasn’t surprised when Mommie Dude came to help and ended up taking me home with her. That was the beginning of the bond between us as I was her first grandchild. Until I was married, I spent time in Ardmore with my grandmother and my aunt and uncle, who lived in the house my great-grandparents had lived in until they sold it and moved to a new suburb. My memories of that home are vague, but I remember being in it. When I see photos with a glimpse of the house behind me, I realize how old it was.Scan 1By the time I was 2 1/2, my family had moved to Tulsa and lived in a nice house with modern appliances (well, modern for 1948). We were comfortable, my parents each had a car, and my mother had help with my baby brother and later my sister. It was a different life from my grandmother’s, but I didn’t really think too much about it. I realize now how much I learned from my visits with her.

At some point, my grandmother gave up the neighborhood store. By the time I can remember, she rented out rooms in her house and rooms in another, bigger, two story house across the street from her mother-in-law’s old home. The house I knew had a front porch that I could hardly wait to see. Here is my mother in  about 1940 in front of the house.Scan 63I spent hours alone, with my brother and sister, or with my cousin, swinging on that porch swing, playing on those stairs, catching horned toads in the yard. In the back yard was a pear tree where we ate the juicy fruit right off the branches. She even had chickens for a short time. Her garage was another source of amazement, where we could explore the boxes and trunks. My grandmother also had a wringer washer and a clothesline in the back yard. We had a clothesline at home, but the fun of running clothes through that wringer out in the yard never ended for this kid from the big city. We walked down the street to the ice house for chips of ice in the summer, visited a neighborhood store nearby with the nickels my grandmother gave us, or walked downtown to see the big stores or visit my uncle at First National Bank where he was a clerk and later Vice-President until his health made him retire early.

There was a living room, a bedroom behind it, then the kitchen and a sleeping porch. There was a door with a screen door in the kitchen that led to the hall and the bathroom at the end. I remember one bulb which made the hallway a little dark and scary when I had to walk down there alone. The other side of the hall had rooms, also with screen doors. I can’t remember if there were three or four rooms. These were the rooms that my grandmother rented to older men. I finally got curious enough to ask my mother who the men were way too many years later. She told me they were pensioners. I asked what that meant and she said they were veterans, living on a government pension. There was a porch on the side of the house where they could sit outside. Their rooms were tiny with a bed, chest of drawers and a table, as I remember. I think this is the side porch behind my mother.Scan 58

There was another room at the front of the house that you entered either through the living room or from the hall. My grandmother rented this to a lady for a few years and then reclaimed it for another bedroom. I think it may have been my mother’s room when she lived there. Because of all these people in the house, we weren’t allowed to use more than a few inches of water when we took a bath. At night, my grandmother kept a chamber pot, actually an enamel bowl, under her bed for us to use rather than walking down the hall. I never got used to that.

In the kitchen, my grandmother had the phone on the wall that was used by everyone in the house. It was a party line and I loved to quietly pick it up and listen to the local ladies’ conversations. For all I know, they knew I was listening, but they continued talking anyway. At some point, my grandmother got a black phone like we had at home, which wasn’t nearly as interesting. On the window sill, she had various items, including this little pitcher, which once held syrup, and this small enamel coffee pot. They have been on my kitchen window sill or window shelves as a sweet reminder of those days. I also have my great-grandmother’s coffee grinder.IMG_4267I don’t remember what else my grandmother cooked in that kitchen, but I know she made Kool-Aid and poured it into ice trays before we arrived. We called them squares and we could take a couple of the frozen treats in a bowl to suck on while we pushed ourselves as high as we could on the porch swing. I spent my days listening to her old 78 records or looking through her cedar chest where she kept a fur stole and a tissue wrapped piece of her hair. I don’t know how she got a fur stole and why people kept their hair when it was cut, but it was endlessly fascinating to me. Her cedar chest is in my bedroom. I can’t remember if the fur stole is still in there or not, down at the bottom.

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The other piece of furniture I have from that house is my great-grandmother’s desk, which I have had since I was 12. I need to think about passing that along to one of my granddaughters, if either is interested.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs you can tell, I am more than sentimental about my family. The older I get, the more fascinating their stories are to me because they explain so much about who my parents were and who I became because of my ancestors. I like the links to my ancestors and I like having them around me.

My last vivid memory of my grandmother’s house was soon after I was married and my husband and I stopped by. It was early 1967. We probably didn’t visit much after that, being busy having our own kids and getting our first home and building our life in Tulsa. At some point, my grandmother sold the house and moved to a smaller house a couple of blocks away until she was crippled by Rheumatoid Arthritis, almost overnight, and spent the rest of her life in nursing homes, dying in 1981 in Tulsa. At least my children got to meet her, although they didn’t get the joy of being around her when she was at her best.

With no relatives in Ardmore, I hadn’t returned for years until 2014, when a friend of mine and I made an impulse trip to that area. I started driving around town, finding the cemetery and then the houses my grandmother lived in. I found many familiar places and the memories flooded my mind. My grandmother’s house was looking ragged, but was still standing. When I was taking a photo, someone walked up to me on the street and said it was probably a crack house. The neighborhood had definitely changed, but it had been decades since I had been here. My friend and I ate dinner at a Mexican restaurant downtown before we left. The restaurant was in an old store downtown and the food was good, the people very nice. I didn’t think anything else about it.

Last month, I was driving to Texas and had a glitch in my plans, so I ended up with an unexpected stay in Ardmore. The drive down is different with the Interstate highway. When I was young, we drove through small town after small town until we hit the Arbuckle Mountains with the winding roads and steep drop-offs. Large trucks met us as we drove around the curves cut through the rocks. Here’s an old postcard I found showing part of the road. I have to laugh now since I’ve driven through the Alps and the Rockies, but it was scary to a little girl in the back seat looking down the slopes. IMG_4269Once we got through the Arbuckles, we kept our eyes open for the standpipe, signaling that we were in Ardmore. I can’t tell you how it delights me to see it to this day, even though the highway is located a few blocks away.DSC_0011My summer stop this year left me with an evening of daylight, so I drove to the cemetery and then looked for the houses once again. To my delight, my grandmother’s house looked like someone new had moved in and was taking care of it. The whole neighborhood was starting to look a little better. They closed in the front porch years ago, but I can look at the house from each side and see how it used to look. DSC_0016I have no idea what possessed a 71 year old woman, me, traveling alone to suddenly stop and ring the doorbell. I was greeted by a man who wasn’t unfriendly, but was surprised to see me. I started pouring out the story of my family and the house to him and he took interest. He had to leave and I wasn’t going to intrude, but he asked questions about the house and I told him I would send him some more information. He told me his family had moved to Ardmore from Central American and found the house taped up. I think they were able to get it if they agreed to fix it up.

About a week after I got home, I wrote the family (whose name I didn’t catch, but I knew the address) and sent them a rough drawing (I can’t draw) of the inside of the house as I remembered it and a little history and the few pictures I could find. I thanked them again for taking care of the house that had meant so much to me.

This week, I received a letter from the 21 year old son of the family. First of all, how many 21 year old boys would write to a stranger, an old stranger at that? I was immediately touched. He told me the story of his family’s move to America in 2015 from El Salvador, where it had become too unsafe and too economically insecure to stay. I can’t imagine what it took to make that decision. His family consists of his father, mother, and three sons, ages 25, 21, and 19.

The oldest son is a computer programmer and has taken some courses in Oklahoma City since moving here. The middle son, the one who wrote me, had a year of college in El Salvador, studying electrical engineering. He is trying to get into college here and is studying to get his ACT scores high enough to get a full scholarship. He has set a goal for himself and is sure he can reach it. The youngest son just graduated from high school as the Valedictorian (after being here only two years). The mother happens to work in the Mexican restaurant where my friend and I had eaten and makes the tortillas and cleans the tables. The father works as a handyman, learning new skills which are helping him with the house remodel. All the boys have jobs in either restaurants or other places around town. Here’s the family.family - Version 2

In a year when I have questioned what is happening to our country, when I have wondered how I can make a difference or help or educate myself or do something, this is a pretty strong reminder of what America is all about. My relatives on my mother’s side made their way from Europe and worked their way across the south farming until they ended up in Indian Territory before it was Oklahoma. When the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl and all the other hard times of the 1930s and then the War in the 1940s came to test this young widow and her children further, they found a safe haven in their home in Ardmore, where they took care of each other with love and hard work through those years until the children all grew up into productive adults with very nice lives.

Decades passed and that house still stood strong with who knows what families moving in and out. When the house was about at the end of its use, this lovely family arrived in America with new hopes and dreams. They reached out to me with warm hearts and open arms, inviting me to come see the house and meet them in person. The photos they sent show me the work they have done on the house and how delightful it is. Although I can see where walls have been knocked out through the years (such as from the kitchen to the sleeping porch), I could recognize certain things. The kitchen sink is right where it always was and those may be the original cabinets. I knew that spot in my heart immediately.

As my new friend wrote, “We are working little jobs right now because we just haven’t had the opportunity to do something bigger, but we’re making our lives change little by little and one day we’ll be in a better position.” Isn’t that what America offers all of us – the chance to work and make our lives better?

I now have an email, so I wrote back immediately. My new young friend sent me photos of the family, their cat, and the inside of the house. I reciprocated with some of my own family. The photos show a home much like any of ours, including one of a birthday party of his brother where the Santa placemats on the table are similar to some I have and the cake looks like one we would have in our family. We aren’t different at all when you look at it.

Of course, I’m going to find a time to visit again when all of our schedules allow us to be together. A line jumped out at me from the return email I received.

“Is nice to know that there are still nice people in this world!”

Isn’t it?

When I told people I was heading north to Des Moines, Iowa, there was always a moment where you knew they were going to ask “Why?” I’m kind of used to this coming from Tulsa, Oklahoma, but I did have a specific reason. My junior high friend and her husband were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary with a weekend of parties and I was happy to be included. A mutual friend, who has lived in New York City for the past 50 years, was joining me so I knew it would be a fun adventure. Actually, almost everything I do these days is an adventure.

On the way north, we stopped in Joplin, MO due to a tire incident and made a stop at the Joplin City Hall. We had been talking about Thomas Hart Benton’s work and I said there is a mural there. If you go to Joplin’s City Hall, you can see his last signed large work, a mural of Joplin around 1900. Benton used to live and work in Joplin, so he knew the area well. As you can see, it’s not his largest work and you should go to the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City to see the murals there.IMG_8604The interesting thing about this mural is the extra display that shows all the drawings, plans, letters, and models that went into making a mural. It’s a very complicated process. Here is a clay model Benton used.IMG_8601The Joplin City Hall is an interesting building to see and it was a nice stop along the way.

I always enjoy driving through Missouri with its rich green trees and hills. July is a great month for the drive if you can stand the heat. I don’t care what you say about dry heat or humidity – 100 degrees is hot! I’ve been in the heat for the last month from Texas to Iowa and it’s all hot! Other than that, it was a beautiful drive and I should thank all the people who invented air conditioning every day of my life!

At a beautiful Iowa information center, we learned our first new history fact about Iowa. Who knew?IMG_3333We sped towards Des Moines so we wouldn’t miss the first party of the weekend and were awed by the beautiful site for the event, the World Food Prize building. This was an old Beaux Arts library that was scheduled for demolition before wise Des Moines benefactors saved it and spent millions renovating it for the headquarters of this organization which gives an annual prize to the individual who has done the most to stop hunger in the world. It’s quite impressive!IMG_3336The inside is stunning. My favorite part was the sculptures of different grains adorning columns in the Rotunda.IMG_3340Every detail of the building was gorgeous.IMG_3355IMG_3341I was getting more impressed with Iowa and the Iowans who planned this city. Here was a view from the second floor towards the Des Moines River that runs through the city. The state capitol is in the background, as is our hotel, peeking out from behind the hotel in front.IMG_3361On Saturday, we were invited to brunch, so we walked across the river, along the river walk and into the incredible Farmer’s Market with over 300 booths along the way to the Des Moines City Government building at the end.IMG_3607IMG_3377IMG_3380IMG_3400After shopping our way down the street, buying food, clothes, Amish woven ware, and other trinkets, we arrived at the historic Kirkwood Hotel with its wonderful Art Deco lobby. Here is the desk.IMG_3605

And the row of phone booths that take you back. I expected Clark Kent to be in one of them.IMG_3389In the afternoon, we drove to the Capitol building, one of two in the country with five domes (the other is in Rhode Island). I had to admire the gumption of these Iowans who built this city in the middle of the country with such great aspirations.DSC_0110I guess they are re-gilding the dome. We visited the monuments on the capitol grounds, including the Soldiers and Sailors Monument honoring Civil War heroes. It was very impressive with large sculptures all around honoring the men and women of Iowa. I’m standing by it for scale – it’s 135′ high.IMG_3603One of the things my friend, Edie, and I both loved about Des Moines was the whimsical art everywhere we looked. It is a clean, vibrant, fun city with lots to do. There were unique shops, restaurants, bars and entertainment everywhere we were downtown. Paul McCartney was playing and there was a Broadway play, both within blocks of us Friday night. People were walking and having a wonderful time.DSC_0138IMG_3618IMG_3409IMG_3637IMG_4632IMG_3632IMG_3723Our hosts captured the spirit of Iowa with a photo stop at the big party Saturday night. In fact, we drove by lush fields of corn from Oklahoma through Iowa. What a rich, abundant country we live in!ScanAfter the party, we spotted an outdoor concert on the river and stopped to watch. Phillip Phillips was playing to the paying crowd and the audience along the bridge.IMG_3595Before leaving Iowa, we had to stop at some of the Bridges of Madison County, just south of Des Moines. We managed to see two of them and they were worth the visit. The first was the Holliwell Bridge, built in 1880, and the longest of the wooden bridges still standing.DSC_0149DSC_0147IMG_3719IMG_3720IMG_3644The second bridge we visited was the much smaller Imes Bridge, built in 1870. It was a cutie and a good comparison with the other one.IMG_3667IMG_4672Part of the fun was seeing all the graffiti left by visitors, which they must paint over periodically, just as they do the wall at Graceland.IMG_3673We left the rolling hills and lush cornfields of Iowa, headed back to Tulsa.DSC_0150I didn’t mention the beautiful fields of wildflowers that waved at us as we drove. I love this old gated road.DSC_0153On the way north, we had seen the sign for Peculiar, Missouri, and felt we had to stop and explore this town on our way home. You can look up the origin of the name, but we had fun using it as we drove into town along Peculiar Way and Peculiar Road. Actually, the town has grown and has a lot of new homes. We saw the high school and stadium where the Peculiar Panthers play. I wanted to hear their cheers.

The old Main Street is almost gone, but the three-legged water tower remains.DSC_0158There were a few buildings left and a hint of civic pride and desire to bring back some of the history.IMG_3680.jpgWe were lucky enough to meet ReGina Edmondson, who has lived in Peculiar since her military father and her mother decided to settle there and raise eleven children. ReGina has lived there since she was three and owns the house, one of the early ones on the main street, where she was raised. She is a writer for the paper and is working to have a museum. She was a delight and a source of information we couldn’t find anywhere else.DSC_0162She steered us around the corner to a Feed Store that is being refurbished for something historic and fun to see.IMG_3682IMG_368420286731_10212203272069629_1670150760645299054_oSuch a fun little piece of America. One can only imagine the jokes they have to put up with.DSC_0165We finished our tour of Peculiar, stopping at the local market to find a magnet, which we didn’t find (they’re missing a marketing opportunity). Edie captured this sign, which kind of summed up our trip. IMG_3717We started out as two old friends who kind of knew each other and discovered a mutual passion for photographing and exploring all the places along the way, catching up on 50 years as we drove. That wasn’t so peculiar, but it was a whole lot of fun!

You can call it a road trip, but I was mostly meandering my way from Tulsa, OK to my sister-in-law’s in Spring Branch, TX. Truly, this is something I inherited from my mother, who loved to take off and drive. Something about getting out of the city into the countryside… Remember when everyone used to take Sunday drives?

The interstate was great for what it is great for – getting there as fast as you can. As far as relaxing, forget it as you dodge the semi-trucks and try to keep the pace of traffic going much faster than the speed limit. Sometime during the past few days, I had a memory of our family driving back and forth to Oklahoma City every weekend with no air conditioning listening to the radio on Sunday nights as we came back from visiting our cousins, aunts and uncles and grandparents. When my kids were little, my husband drove a lot for business and got a CB radio. Think Smokey & the Bandit years. His handle was One Tall Tree (he was nicknamed Tree for being 6’4″) and I smiled listening to him use the lingo to talk to the truckers on the highway. Everything is faster now and there are cell phones and the truckers don’t give us a friendly on their air horn as we pass. Sigh.

I stopped in Davis, OK at Bedre Chocolates, the only chocolate factory and shop owned by a Native American tribe, I believe. The Chickasha do it right, selling their fancy sweets to stores like Neiman Marcus.IMG_3062

Down the road, I left I-35 to stop for a fried pie. This trip will begin to seem like it’s all about food, but it’s more about the smells and tastes and memories of a lifetime. Anyway,  I was in the Arbuckle Mountains, the route I used to take to get to my grandmother’s in Ardmore. In my childhood, this part of the drive was curvy roads with trucks zooming around every turn. They’re not exactly the Rockies, but a fall off a mountain is still a fall. Two lanes with no shoulders was a bit of a scare to my little girl view. I found this old postcard with a view from above, although it doesn’t show the S-curves.IMG_3303I had a sense of the old days when I left the interstate. Back to the fried pies. They come in every flavor from meat to fruit to custards and are warm and yummy. IMG_3061IMG_3290I wound through narrow roads, passing old fashioned cabins where hot Oklahomans excepted the brutal heat of summer in the cool waters in these hills (well, mountains). I stopped at the Turner Falls lookout for a glimpse of the people playing in the water below the falls. There was so much more water after the spring rains. It looked like Niagara then. DSC_0001The playground goes above and below the falls in a family favorite place to visit. Delightful!IMG_3286Leaving the falls, I was surprised to see that wind farms have taken over. I’m not sure what my feelings are, but I do think they are mesmerizing to watch, like giant pinwheels. I hope they prove to be a great alternative to the dirtier fuels we use.DSC_0099The Arbuckle roads are carved out of rock and I remember my mother telling us how geologists studied the layers that had been cut through for the roads. When we left these curves, the drive was a straight shot into Ardmore, where the first thing I looked for was the standpipe. It almost makes me cry to still see it, even though it’s surrounded by new business and development. There was a sign saying Happy 108th Birthday on it. You like some things to never change. In the olden days, you could see it from a long way away and it meant we were almost there…DSC_0011Having started later than I planned, I found a motel, checked in and then left to see Ardmore, where I spent many a happy summer day catching horned toads, walking to the ice house, walking downtown with my grandmother, picking pears from the tree in her back yard, swinging on the porch swing, sucking on Kool-Aid squares (made in an ice cube tray, but we called them squares). My aunt and uncle lived in my great-grandmother’s old house, across the street from Central Park with it’s old fashioned band stand. Before they were born, the house was attached to the West Wagon Yard, owned by my great-grandfather and my grandfather. The Wests were early Ardmore settlers and owned property around town.

Before it turned dark, I headed for Rose Hill Cemetery to visit the relatives. I still don’t believe in burial because, after all, I’ve only been to see them about four times in fifty years. I came through a few years ago and wrote down the location so I didn’t have to wander around like I did before. There they were: my great-grandparents, their son who died young, my grandfather and grandmother, my two uncles and their wives. It seems strange that my mother isn’t there, but she was cremated and wanted to be scattered with my father’s ashes. IMG_3065I drove around town, looking for places I remembered. There was the bank where my uncle worked, first as a teller and then as vice-president before he had to retire early with health problems. It still looks like it did when I was a child, although I didn’t want to spoil my memory of the fancy teller cages with the brass and iron by going inside.IMG_3080The high school my mother and uncles attended is run down and for sale. I hope they repurpose the structure to save the history, but I’m one for historic preservation.IMG_3082The Tivoli theatre still stands, but not for movies. Daube’s Department Store is long gone but was one of our favorite places to go with my grandmother.DSC_0019My great-grandparents’ home was sold years ago and is now an art center, which is nice. I found both the houses my grandmother lived in. One looks much the same, while the other one is dramatically changed. I can still tell it’s the house and its familiarity warms my soul. Here is a photo of my mother in front with the porch swing and steps I remember so well. This was maybe 1940.Scan 63Here’s the front of the house today. Driving to see all sides, I can place every room even with the dramatic changes. The biggest mystery is how the street is so much narrower than I remember (Ha), but, it’s been about 40 years since the changes started.DSC_0017Really, I saw this house a couple of years ago and it looked much rougher. I was taking pictures on the corner and someone told me it was probably a crack house. I was so delighted to see that it was being taken care of again and still standing that I pulled up and rang the doorbell. Here is the amazing story of that conversation.

A man peeked through the blinds and answered the door. I told him that I used to live there – or my mother and grandmother did – and thanked him for taking care of it. I could see behind him that the inside is a work in progress so I didn’t ask to come in, but stood there pouring out the story of the house and it’s occupants back in my childhood. He told me that he and his wife and three children had moved from Central America and found the house with a note saying it was unliveable unless someone fixed it, so they took it on. He asked if the house was 50 years old and I told him that I’m 71 and played here as a baby and my mother grew up here. It has to be around 100 years old. He asked if I have pictures and I thought I did, although the one above is the only one. At least I can tell him the stories. He was very pleased and thanked me and I thanked him. He told me the family’s name, but now I’ve forgotten. I was so delighted that this lovely family was caring for the house. My grandmother was widowed at age 27 with three children during the depression. My mother said the only thing that gave them dignity when they were struggling was owning this house. It’s nice to see that it will help another family as they find their place in our society. A fitting ending no matter what happens next.

The next morning, I went to a cafe that was one of the first drive-ins back in the 1950s. My grandmother wasn’t a very good driver, but she had a big old car and piled my brother, sister and one of our cousins in to go there for hot dogs and a Pepsi (her favorite). I have a vivid memory of the day when a reporter for The Daily Ardmoreite wrote a short piece describing us coming to the drive-in. Such was news in those peaceful days – I have the clipping to prove it. DSC_0013Now it’s a cafe, the kind of place that you know is good by the locals who are there. The biscuits were lighter than I have had in years. The folks were talking with friends and I warmed to the lyrical sound of their voices, the sweet sounds of my childhood. When’s the last time you heard someone say “my land” to show surprise? Or talking about gittin’ to work? IMG_3092I left Ardmore where they fly their flags proudly to head to Texas.DSC_0015DSC_0020I was tiring of the Interstate, looking for the way to the back road I prefer. Going towards Ft. Worth, I saw a Buc-ee’s at the next exit. If you’re not familiar with this Texas-sized stop, try one. Hard to explain, but you’ll find everything you could possibly need on the road – from gas to food to gifts and clothing. It’s a road stop shopping extravaganza.DSC_0041Anyway, as I took the access road, Dale Earnhardt Way, or something like that, I realized that I was smack in the middle of the Texas Motor Speedway. Since nobody was around, I drove through, taking in the huge facility. I can only imagine when the races are actually happening. I had the luxury of being the only driving around, so I took it all in. IMG_3109DSC_0028IMG_3102Moving along, I looked for my exit, only to be caught in freeway traffic and construction. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. I circled the city and headed into Texas country. At one point, I turned on my directions on my phone and soon found myself directed out into the hinterlands, off on farm roads. What the heck? It was ok. I was in beautiful country, ranches hidden in the trees.

When you get out away from the interstates, you find wonderful roads with few trucks, not much traffic, and gorgeous views of all that is big ole wide Texas. Here are roads with mailboxes lined up on the posts, indicating that there are more homes down that dirt way. In Texas especially, you make a statement as people enter your property. Sometimes there is a small ranch with an elaborate gate. It’s all fun to see. I wanted to collect them all, but only got a few. Here’s one with the American and Texas flags flying. You see a lot of flags out here.DSC_0054Here are two that are across the road from each other…IMG_3281IMG_3283Those are slightly more elaborate than some, but interesting. Here’s my favorite of all time, located in Johnson City. El Ranch Not So Grande says it all, doesn’t it?IMG_3233Speaking of this place – who knew there were so many goat farms in this area? I saw more goats than cattle for a long stretch.IMG_3234I made my way south on Highway 281, enjoying the green views, watching thunderheads build from the summer heat, hawks flying across the sky. Little towns, cowboy towns, western towns. I didn’t stop except for gas and the Dairy Queen. What is a road trip without a dip cone in the summer? Driving without dripping all over yourself is fun.IMG_3240I arrived at my sister-in-law’s, deep in Texas Hill Country, where she lives on 7 1/2 acres of rugged beauty. Deer jump the fence and come to the house, birds sing, and you can see only the beautiful Live Oaks and cedars everywhere you look. She doesn’t have a horse any more, but the barn is now her art studio. Since I was last there, the area around has grown up. We debated whether it is better to welcome development in a small town or let the town die. There used to be nothing and now there is a Walmart, Home Depot, medical care, and everything else. She doesn’t have to drive so far, so she’s happy. Her view hasn’t changed, so all is good for her. It’s changing though.IMG_3130The area she has lived in since 1977 is the part of Texas where Germans settled to create their own society. The towns reflect that heritage with names like New Braunfels, Fredericksburg, Boerne, and so on. In the middle of Mexicans and Indians and cowboys, there are Germans. It’s America, after all.

We went to Boerne for lunch the next day, a hot summer day in Texas. We ate in an old building that has been brought back to life as it started with a cafe, bakery and store. In between, it has served many purposes, even as a garage. Outside, it looks like its early pictures with a new coat of paint. It’s located at Hauptstrasse and Main deep in the heart of Texas. IMG_3158With German names everywhere I looked, I thought this statue must be one of the old German settlers. Nope – Wild Bill Hickok. Of course. Note the gazebo where German music has been played for a century in the background.IMG_3162After a day relaxing in the pool visiting with my sister-in-law and her long time neighbor, also from Oklahoma originally, and a dinner of chicken-fried steak at the local restaurant, it was time to head home the next day. Which way to go?

When I got to Johnson City, with these unassuming signs indicating the most famous son, I decided I needed to visit the LBJ Ranch. DSC_0097I’d been around during his political years and there is much to be admired about that old tough cowboy. In Johnson City, the National Park Service offers information and tours of his boyhood home and an old settlement. I drove around and then headed 14 miles out of town to the ranch. On the way, I stopped to take this picture. The town lists pop. 150. Hye, TX.IMG_3181The LBJ Ranch is run by the National Parks and the Texas Parks, so it has to be good. I LOVE the parks, by the way. There is much to see and it can be easily driven, so I gave it a quick look, having visited farms before. After passing the first Head Start School and Lutheran Church, I crossed the Pedernales River to the ranch. There was the one room school house LBJ attended and the house where he was born down the road from his grandfather’s place. The most peaceful place was the Johnson Family Cemetery. What a lovely spot to be, under the spreading Live Oaks in a little walled off cemetery. IMG_3186You couldn’t enter, but there were all the headstones. The flowers are for Lady Bird, our lover of wildflowers.DSC_0070Entering the actual working ranch, I thought it looked too perfect with cattle on both sides of the road as I went through the gate.IMG_3192Those wide open spaces, the cattle, the big skies…I could picture LBJ riding this range with ease. It seemed so natural for him. At one point I spotted a mother deer and fawn in the trees by the road. As a city girl, I still get excited about seeing deer, but I understand when people live with them all the time. They multiply, eat the things in the yard, and can be a nuisance. I still like to see them.DSC_0082DSC_0076I passed the show barns where LBJ’s prize cattle were shown. The park ranger had told me I could stop and learn how to rope steer, but I passed on that. It was hot, for one thing. By the house, I got out, gulping water to walk a bit in the searing middle of the day. First was Air Force 1/2, as LBJ called it. They couldn’t land a big plane on the property, so they used this one. It was so small compared to the luxury of Air Force One. I had to stoop to get through the door and I’m only 5’4″ these days. IMG_3199IMG_3200I walked to the house, checking out the very small command center for the Secret Service. The house is a big ranch house, but nothing too imposing really. It fits nicely on the property, overlooking a pond, big Live Oaks all around. There was a house adjacent that may have been for guests with a swimming pool between. I didn’t wait around for the ranger’s tour.IMG_3205Leaving the ranch, which I thoroughly enjoyed seeing, I made the turn to go to Luckenbach. I’ve been there before, but, hey, I was in the neighborhood. The scenery had changed since I was last here. Now it’s wine country and I probably passed 50 wineries in ten miles. There was even a wine shuttle taking people between the tasting rooms. I passed wineries and peach stands along the way. Peaches and grapes in the Texas Hill Country in the summer are the thing. I stopped on the way back to get some peaches because my mother always stopped at fruit stands and I absolutely cannot pass them by. The peaches were Texas huge. I had just purchased peaches in Oklahoma from one of our orchards, so I was in a peach kind of mood. These were yummy.IMG_3232Luckenbach, Texas is a mecca for tourists and music lovers. It consists of the old Post Office and a couple of buildings for restrooms, food, and one selling cowboy hats. There is a stage for musicians to gather. It’s cute and fun and one of those gotta stop places. On the way, I passed this farm with a front patch of dead trees (pic doesn’t show them all). Must be eerie at night.DSC_0095Luckenbach was as I remembered with more parking places for when it’s hopping. There were people on cycles and tourists galore, picking up souvenirs, just as it should be.IMG_3226There is a bar at the back of the old post office and I greeted the sleeping cat, the bar cat that catches the bar mice, as one man noted.IMG_3217IMG_3218I headed back to Johnson City and then north again, stopping to drive through a few of the towns. My final destination was Hico, Texas, a little western town. Hico has a scenic Main Street with a large Mexican restaurant on the corner. I have to note that when you go through these towns, you should look for the local cafe or the local Mexican restaurant if you want a good meal. It’s true everywhere in the country!IMG_3265I toured the Billy the Kid Museum, which has a fun story since who knows if Billy the Kid really lived there,IMG_3254and checked out the old Opera House around the corner.IMG_3258I circled back to the road and found the famed chocolate shop and walked across the street to the Koffee Kup Family Restaurant. It had to be good. IMG_3270When a menu says their specialties are Chicken Fried Steak, Onion Rings and Pies, you just know. Yes, they were all excellent, especially the pie. I chose chocolate meringue (so rich), but they have a bunch of flavors. People were buying whole pies, by the way.IMG_3277The place was the real deal, complete with some of the owner’s aunt’s salt and pepper collection. IMG_3271IMG_3278I was full even though I didn’t finish everything, but it was time to move along, leaving this charming town behind me. Now I needed to see how far I could get…heading north. Was I too tired to drive all the way home? Probably. The question was answered after I hit the Chisholm Trail Parkway, which follows the old cattle trail but doesn’t resemble anything about it, and headed into Ft. Worth. Everything was pretty smooth for a Saturday night until we screeched on our brakes. I was then trapped on the freeway with no exits, construction for three lanes beside me, inching along, for 45 minutes. I played Dice with Friends on my iPad with my sister-in-law to kill the time. We rose higher and higher on the freeway, locked in place. This was the most tiring part of the whole trip. When I finally escaped, I had to find a motel and ended up back in Ardmore in a complete turn around.

The next morning, I slept late and headed home, leaving the Interstate as quickly as I could to cross Oklahoma in a leisurely, if slow, way. It was beautiful with green hills all around. I drove through into Davis in a quick downpour that caused me to pull over because I couldn’t see. Then through Sulphur, next to the beautiful park that used to be Platt National Park when I was young and played in its creeks, where Little Niagara Falls still runs. Heading north, the highway was smooth and empty and delightful. What a refreshing drive with green all around me.

As I pondered the lakes and creeks and rivers, trees and hills and fields, I was back in forests of Blackjack Oak, rugged trees. I passed from the Chickasha Nation to the Seminole and then Sac and Fox Nations, where I passed a casino across from a beautiful park named for Jim Thorpe, out in the middle of nowhere. I had passed through Ada and Prague, where the Czechs settled in Oklahoma and they hold their yearly Kolache Festival in May. I entered Stroud, where three sizable earthquakes had shaken the land from Oklahoma City to Tulsa to Claremore a few days before. Stupid man-made earthquakes are beginning to damage homes and businesses. A tough issue in an oil state. Stroud looked ok – at least the famed Rock Cafe on Route 66 was still standing. I headed home on Route 66, now lost in thought as I absorbed all I had seen. All the little towns I’d passed through, all the people I had seen. There was a tiny tow-headed girl practicing riding a horse in a small pen while her father watched. There were old buildings, some falling down, all with some kind of history. Through the little towns, heading to the big city, I was almost home.

I take drives when I can. It refreshes me and gives me time to think. Going off the highways, back where the people live, helps to bridge some gaps. We are a nation of immigrants and natives, finding our way, different but the same in so many ways. It all makes me think and hope. Thanks for going with me.

 

 

In 1997, three boys entered my life, my first grandsons. Matt, Alex and Zac were all born that year, the same year that we found out that my husband had cancer. He died a week after Matt turned 1 and these three boys are a big portion of the glue that helped mend my shattered heart that year. In my heart, they are Alan’s boys, the ones he got to meet. I love all eight of my grandchildren, no one more than the others, but these boys just happened to be the first and are part of that year of my life.Scan 20Now I have eight grandchildren and my family all lives in Tulsa, but it’s hard to get us together for a vacation with baseball and soccer and school and work. Besides, when we are all together, the kids tend to hang out together and I don’t get to visit with them as much as they visit with each other. As I get older, my realization of time gets more frantic and I feel the urge to go and do before I just can’t. So many adventures out there…

Last winter, I asked the boys if they would like to go on a road trip with me. I’m not sure what their reaction was. Can you imagine? Your 71 year old grandmother asks you to go on a trip with her? Is that even cool? Sitting together with all three of them as they pondered this made me smile. I ran it by them several times, asking them where they would like to go, over the next few months. I kept expecting them to bail on me, but I persevered. It’s hard to duck out when your cousins are going – who wants to be that one? I chose the week after all their college finals were over, while their siblings were still in school, before they had jobs. And I began to plan. I’ve taken many road trips over the past decade, everything from 6,000 mile trips to day excursions around Oklahoma, so I had ideas. I sat with my iPad, mapping out places and times, trying to schedule things I thought they would like, while leaving flexible time to explore. I didn’t want to waste a minute of this precious time with them.

We took off on a Monday after I picked up a rental car, a big SUV. Did I mention how big these guys are now? 6’5″, 6″4″ and 6″ with athletic builds. There was no room in my little hybrid and the rental car was like a toy for them with all the gadgets new cars have. They took to it like the new computer it was, programming maps, music, and figuring it all out. We took off, heading west.

While planning, I was asked if I was going to have them put their phones away. This was a thought, but I decided we would play it by ear. I’m as glued to mine as they are, so I can’t exactly preach. Besides, this wasn’t about me having a bunch of rules. The first things we figured out is that they would each take turns playing their music. During the course of the week, I told them that they owed a lot of their music to my generation, the 50s and 60s rock. I listened to Matt’s country mixed with some rap, Alex’s blend of pop, rap and a little country, and Zac’s rap and harder rock, all loud. At one point, I figured out how to make my own play list and they were treated to some Beatles, Chuck Berry, Motown, Willie Nelson and others. I liked it all.

Being in the front seat, I got to talk to each one of them for awhile. Sometimes, I turned the music down to tell them something. As we drove through western Oklahoma, I told them a little about the Land Rush. When we got close to the Panhandle, I told them stories and pulled up photos from the Dust Bowl. There is nothing like being able to look things up while you travel rather than waiting until you get home to find answers. I would look up the history of towns we drove through and point out things they might miss. They started to look more closely at the old houses we passed, wondering out loud how old they were.DSC_1169After eating in a small town diner, rather than a fast food place like they are used to, we made a quick stop at Gloss (or Glass) Mountains in Oklahoma. DSC_1141I’d wanted to stop here before and we discovered that the rocks that shined in the sun looked like pieces of glass close up and were selenite gypsum. The boys read the signs and seemed genuinely interested to have discovered this new fact about their home state. I was tentatively seeing how they reacted to stopping with no warning, exploring a little along the way.

We crossed through New Mexico and on to Colorado, commenting on the ever changing scenery as we went from the plains to mesas to snow topped mountains in our first day. We stopped in Trinidad, CO for the night, across from a mountain range, next door to a pot shop. I posed them in front of the sign so we could text it to their mothers. All I said was “We’re in Colorado.”IMG_2409I thought it was funny, but it went right over their mother’s heads. I pointed it out to my girls and they sent funny emojis. The boys and I talked about alcohol and drugs while we drove. These three are pretty smart about it and I hope it stays that way. Not saying they’re innocent, but they’re smart.

For dinner, I learned that this wasn’t like trips I take with my friends where we share meals. These boys eat. A lot. I have new appreciation for their parents’ grocery bills. I also learned that fitting them in beds was going to be interesting. The best bet were suites with two queens and a sleeper sofa. Zac brought his laptop and hooked up video games for Matt and him to play each night and they sprawled across whatever beds we had. I felt a little, just a little, guilty taking up a whole bed for myself. Well, not too guilty – I’m old.

Conversation was interesting. These three guys’ mothers are sisters and they have grown up together, but they couldn’t be more different. They went to the same elementary school and the same high school, where Matt played baseball, Alex played soccer and Zac played football. They have different friends. Matt just finished his sophomore year and Alex finished his freshman year, both at Oklahoma State, where both are business majors. Matt wants to be an entrepreneur and dreams of flipping houses. Alex isn’t sure. They belong to different fraternities. Zac is following his dream of being a filmmaker and finished his freshman year at Tulsa Community College, trying to decide if he will continue on to the University of Tulsa or head on into his chosen profession after next year. Their talk went from Alex and Matt comparing classes or fraternity experiences to all of them sharing videos on their phones to talking about people they all know or remembering things they had done together. It was like those days when I drove carpool and just listened as the kids talked as if I wasn’t really there some of the time – and that’s ok with me. Sometimes, I spoke up and told them about something from my time that was so much like what they were talking about. Not everything changes from one generation to several on down the line. There’s always the realization that I’m 2 1/2 times their age, but I didn’t point that out. Yikes!

Mornings were the hardest because I tend to get up early when I’m traveling and hit the road, eager to not miss anything. Traveling with three college boys gave me plenty of time to get dressed and wake up – an understatement. Trying to pry three big old sleeping giants out of bed was cute. I tried not to bug them too much, but we had to get moving. Day two started with driving by mountains, while they patiently waited while I stopped to take pics. We saw a herd of antelope and some elk by the road and beautiful scenery. I was traveling with giants, as you can see.IMG_2433In Ft. Garland, we ate breakfast at the Old West Cafe and toured Ft. Garland, where Kit Carson was once in command while protecting the settlers from the Indians. Here is where we had a big generation gap. Not only did they not know who Kit Carson was, but they weren’t familiar with the old westerns my generation grew up on. There was a Kit Carson television series, Kit Carson comic books, and the history of the west, no matter how skewered it was by pop culture. The American West was something embedded in our cultural sense. We played cowboys and Indians, we had images of the west in our minds. Oh well. We toured the old fort and the boys played around with the old soldier stuff, getting a feel for it all. IMG_2444I told them several times, probably once too many, that travel is the best way to learn history, geography and geology. Duh!

Our first big stop was Great Sand Dunes National Park, which I had been wanting to visit for years. My only mistake was having them sit through the film in the visitor center. Usually, these are excellent and informative, but this one was too long and repetitive. They were good sports about it and we got to the river with little expectation. Being kids at heart, they crossed the water, which was freezing cold and running fast. DSC_1236They came back to help me across, which was good since my sandals weren’t all the way on and I would have washed away. They decided to at least climb to the top of the lowest dune and I decided to stay behind and watch. I could have made it, but I could see rain coming from behind the mountains behind us and I didn’t think I could retreat as quickly as they could. Dang. I should have remembered how hard it is to follow them since my husband was 6’4″ and I learned a quick step and a half to keep up with him when I was younger. Now, think how big these guys are as you spot them on the dunes with ant sized people on the higher dunes beyond.DSC_1245They stayed there quite awhile as I could only envision what they were talking about. I know they laughed about filming Star Wars in that environment. We left with the rain moving in and moved westward, climbing higher on mountain roads where snow was falling and spring thaws brought running water down rocks and in the creeks running beside the roads. Beautiful change in scenery as we drove to Durango for the night. After dinner, the guys found the hot tub and that became their nightly routine, while I showered and relaxed. Once again, one can only imagine the hilarious discussions these three had in their hot tub sessions. Did I mention that they are all funny and know how to crack each other up?

Another morning to get them up as we drove to Mesa Verde National Park. The visitor center had been redesigned since I saw it about 8 years ago and it was spectacular. I took over the wheel since I felt very responsible for my three kiddos on the curvy roads. Not that I love driving like that, but I can do it and it is nerve wracking as you wind upwards, looking down into canyons. The archeological museum was as interesting as I remembered and they got their first look at the incredible cliff dwellings. We didn’t get to climb down due to rock slides, but we drove to see the canyons and dwellings. The boys were starting to get more interested, I think. The canyons are beautiful and the experience is fascinating. DSC_1318We took a 3/4 mile hike to get one view and I fell victim to the altitude since I hadn’t had enough water, but was able to follow them reasonably well. Those long legs! Once again, weather started moving in, so we cut our drive a little short to get off the mountain before the rain and snow.

The landscape changed from mountains and mesas to more flat land as we stopped at Four Corners. I told them it was one of those things that you have to do because you are there, and I read them the history of the monument. It is kind of fun to stand in four states.IMG_2518Once again, we left as the rain began to fall and headed for Monument Valley, listening to heavy rock, my stuff and rap as we covered the desert. I had the foresight to book a room for the night, thank goodness. We had a cabin that overlooked Monument Valley and we could see the stars at night. I couldn’t imagine anything prettier.

Monument Valley was a place they had no knowledge of – at least they didn’t think they did. I love the place, so I was hoping this would be the highlight of the trip. As we approached, the weather changed again and the clouds dropped down to cover the tops of the buttes. Hmmm. Where was our starry night? As I ran into the hotel to check in, freezing rain pelted me. By the time we reached the cabin, it had changed to snow and it was getting heavier. Wow. This was unexpected, but one of those unique experiences that you learn to appreciate. At dinner, we watched the snowflakes get bigger and bigger. By the time, we settled in for the night, the snow was covering the ground. This was the view from our cabin before it got to the heaviest point. IMG_2523I was lucky to get the cabin, the last of two rooms, which had a queen bed and bunk beds. We had also brought a blow up bed. The room was tight with a small bath for the four of us, but it would have been perfect for a family with two kids. There was no tv (horrors), but they had phones & laptop. The hilarity of sleeping that night…none of them fit in their beds.IMG_2539Morning was spectacular, as I had planned (hoped), and we had a tour scheduled at 9 with a Navajo guide. We had to get up, although they cut it close. None of us looked too fancy. IMG_2556I had been to Monument Valley twice before, driving it in my car. This time, the roads were muddy and rough, so I was glad for the guide and jeep/truck. This time was the best and I will never go there again without the guide, who drove us into restricted areas and shared Navajo history, stories and songs. Our companions on the trip were a woman from Manhattan and her parents from Columbia. The kids were learning how many people from foreign countries tour the US. Our guide said 70% of the visitors to Monument Valley are from foreign countries and we heard French, German, Japanese and other languages spoken.

The scale of Monument Valley is what I wanted them to see. I’m a firm believer in getting into nature, finding places that are bigger than you are, to put your life in perspective and to restore your soul. I can find God in lots of places, but in nature, I agree with John Muir as to the beauty of natural cathedrals. I love this picture of the boys, huge men, in perspective. DSC_1396Or this one, taken by the guide, showing them near a huge arch. They are the dots under the tree branch. He and I climbed up another spot where he showed me this shot. IMG_2570At this stop, he had them lie back to look up and see the image of an eagle’s head above them. Then he told a coyote story and sang a Navajo traveling song. As we left, he showed us the image of the Mohawk in the rock – can you spot it? The braid is on the right. IMG_2580This tour changed the trip in exactly the way I had hoped. They got it. After we left, we drove to Goulding’s Trading Post across the highway so I could show Zac all the movies that had been made in the valley. They started to recognize it. I love this picture of the three of them with a model of the valley, locating all the places we had been. IMG_2602From there we drove to Albuquerque for the night, where they headed for their hot tub night while I kicked back. Whew. I knew the trip was a success. The next morning we took a detour and spent a few hours in Santa Fe for lunch, tour of Loretto Chapel and walking around before we hit the road, traveling the freeway along old Route 66 to home. Oh, it snowed on us as we got to Santa Fe then cleared for a beautiful day as we ate lunch. We hadn’t expected so much snow in mid-May.IMG_2619A much anticipated stop on Route 66 was the Cadillac Ranch, west of Amarillo. I had brought a can of spray paint and we hit the iconic spot with a rainbow beside us. I wish I could say I planned that, but who plans snow and rainbows?IMG_2624The boys had fun painting whatever on the cars, IMG_2627before we headed to the Big Texan in Amarillo for a perfect last dinner. They consumed 18 oz steaks each with only a tad left on Alex’s plate. Big boys with big appetites. One more hot tub visit, sleeping late, and a final stop at the VW Slugbug Ranch, east of Amarillo, for our final stop. Perfect! IMG_2667At home, they were out of the car and back to their friends and lives. As they should be.

What were the lessons of this road trip?

  1. Maybe they will remember that they spent 6 days with their Mimi, visiting 6 states and seeing new things every day. I hope so. I hope they realize that they are never too old to have adventures and to have them as long as they are able. You never know how many years you have.
  2. I hope they learned to explore, look up information on places they might just drive by otherwise, and take the time to stop.
  3. I hope they learned to take a deep breath and restore their souls in nature. I also hope they respect our natural resources and vow to protect them.
  4. I hope they got a new look at our beautiful country and want to see more.
  5. I hope they want to return to these places with their own families and I hope they want to find more places of their own. I told them the only thing you can give your children is memories, so make them good ones. A friend told me that bit of wisdom.
  6. I hope they know that I am proud of them and love them very much.

I can’t wait to plan the trip for the next group of grandkids. I’m already working on it!

My college roommate once told me, way back in college, that I had a great ability to see all sides of a problem. I’m going to consider it a gift to be able to have empathy for people, even those I don’t know. An adult male looked at pictures of me as a little one and said all he could see was a little girl who wanted to please. karen-1948You have a little girl who wanted to please and could empathize with people. A girl who graduated from high school in 1963, right as the world, our world at least, was about to be shaken to its core.

As the events of the 60s occurred, I watched in fascination. In college, we discussed – of course. We also were watching history unfold in real time on television which was new. The assassinations were very real, the war was very real especially since we had the draft, and the student reactions were way too real.

I marched for Academic Freedom in college and signed petitions to get more equal campus rules for females (female students had to live in university housing or a sorority house until they were 23 unless they were married while male students could live off campus at 18. That was one of many rules that were meant to protect us, but were beginning to rankle). I was sensitive to inequality but wasn’t raising my fist in anger.

By the time the Vietnam War was being protested, I was a young wife and mother with a new home starting the life I had been raised to live. A housewife with a college degree who supported her husband by keeping the home fires burning. I had four children while I was in my 20s, even with birth control, so I was busy. Kind of.

For those of us who were fortunate to have occasional help, the newly formed coop nurseries to give us a day off (basically 9-2) for errands, life wasn’t too bad. But, personally, I was bored. I played bridge for awhile, had a wonderful discussion group that kept me up on the world outside, and read a lot. Sigh.

Here’s the thing. I was watching the protests with mixed feelings. I was empathetic to the causes and could feel the unfairness of life for those who weren’t as fortunate by birth as I was. I was learning that it takes a revolution to get the attention of the establishment in order for change to occur, but I couldn’t see me being so radical. I was basically the second line. I wanted to change the world from within the establishment. Or, at least, I wanted to work for my own little corner of the world and make it better.

Starting very conventionally, I worked with children in my church by teaching Sunday School, working with Vacation Church School, helping with the Christmas program to bring food and gifts to needy families. This worked up to me being the Chair of these programs and a Deacon in the church where I could help directly through our reach out programs. Through my mother, I became involved with the symphony, which I had attended growing up. I also ended up being president of both the junior women and the senior women’s auxiliaries, serving on the Board of Directors with the privileged older white men and a couple of token women who kept the orchestra alive. Those early experiences were my first brushes with what it takes to make things happen in communities from both fundraising to administrative responsibilities. I had a lot of admiration for these leaders even though I knew I would always be there because I was smart and did the work rather than just wrote the checks.

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against successful people and admire them for the more part. I make my observations based on their character and how they use their money. There are many incredibly generous people who have worked hard and are giving back. On the other hand, watch a few episodes of American Greed to see what else can happen.

As my kids grew up, I was more involved with their school, serving as homeroom mother, classroom volunteer, and PTA volunteer reaching the super high level of PTA President. That was another learning opportunity as I was close the teachers and the administration, learning how parents advocate for their own children without often caring about the needs of the entire school. That empathy trait was in full bloom as I was introduced to my community from all sides.

To cut to the chase, I spent the next couple of decades working with a variety of causes that appealed to me. The Junior League gave me opportunities to work with the city on opening a nature center, water conservation and city planning, opening a women’s center, learning about the impact of historic preservation, and domestic violence. I chaired committees that worked with all of these issues and my work with domestic violence led to terms on their board where I served as President. I also served on the American Red Cross board and volunteered with disasters and to do some of the earliest AIDS education. I had great opportunities to learn and serve. I wanted to make a difference in my idealism.

As my family grew up, they watched me and I tried to set an example for my three daughters and son. I exposed them to the work I was doing, hoping they would see the value. If you think I was neglecting them, I don’t think so. I was the mom who drove to sports and school and was involved in everything, as women do. Yes, we do.

Eventually, I went to work and had a variety of careers that also taught me a lot as I went from corporate to my own business and back to nonprofits in the years that saw me become a grandmother and a widow by the time I was 52. A lot of life going on.

All of my life history has brought us to the past year and an election that changed everything again. All the causes I’d supported and cared about seem to be on the verge of destruction and I found I wasn’t alone in my concerns (that’s a mild word for it). After the election, I heard about the proposed Women’s March on Washington for January 21, 2017, the day after the inauguration and knew I wanted to go. I suddenly felt that I needed to march this time – my days of working within the system seemed to have done no good.

I couldn’t go to Washington, so I signed up to go to Oklahoma City for our state march. Yesterday, I put on my shirt, texted my kids a photo & said that I was leaving, img_0763and set out early. In the usual chaos of my life, I also had a grandchild’s performance to watch in the afternoon so I would have to leave early. I wanted to be counted no matter what.

Getting to the Capitol early gave me an opportunity to watch the event evolve. I fought the urge to volunteer since I had to leave. As I walked to the line to sign in, I saw this first little girl with her sign. I had to smile. This would have been me at her age, wanting everyone to be nice to each other.img_0772My kids had told me to be careful. I hadn’t forgotten that there are crazies out there and you can’t predict what will happen, but I wasn’t worried. Remember, I’m the 2nd tier kind of radical, the ones who wait for the revolution to be absorbed into the establishment to help with the changes. The rules were posted online and as I entered.img_0764For those of you who have preconceived ideas about a march, I’m sharing some of my pictures and thoughts to help you understand what was happening. This was in the very so-called Red State of Oklahoma.

My first images were all the children and families who were there. This was very much a multi-generational event as I stood in line behind a mother and young daughter as the mother explained very calmly why we should care about women’t issues. There were no raised voices or clenched fists. There was something very loving about everything around me. This little girl wore her Girl Scout vest with badges and carried a sign for women’s rights. Seemed appropriate to me.img_0845There were people of all ages, all races, and all economic levels. I looked around at women wearing expensive running shoes and outerwear mingling with others who obviously had other fashion statements to make. There were actually no social tiers at this march. We were all in this one together. There were the usual women’s rights signs and a few anti-Trump signs. Mostly, this was about being for issues and causes, being pro-active! This man was a veteran of protests and I watched a very stylishly dressed African American woman ask to take a picture with him and her young daughter.img_0809Yes, it was a women’s march and there were lots of women and lots of pink pussy hats (which were just the kind of humor this serious issued needed)img_0798img_0917The biggest surprise, although it shouldn’t have been, was how very many men were there. This man was registering voters.img_0853There were men of all ages and they made up a very big part of the crowd. You saw generations and families. I think that was the most heartwarming thing I witnessed – all the men who understood why there was a march and why the women were there. They were so very supportive.img_0863dsc_0530img_0838I ran into a friend and we spent a few minutes talking about how long it had been since we felt the need to protest like this. She commented that she had always been a Republican and I said I had too. We laughed at how we had left the party as it drifted and were now Independents. Who ever even knew an Independent? That shows something.img_0893I was delighted by all the signs for so many issues but some of these said it best. We were all there for everything!img_0889img_0925img_0865As with all of the marches across the country and around the world, the crowd was larger than anticipated but everyone was content to visit, take lots of photos and enjoy being with people who also cared. There was hope and joy in the air, to tell the truth. As the march was finally starting, I had to make my way to the car, but had to empathize with those of us who thought we had some of these issues solved.img_0861dsc_0517When I got to the car, my phone had died so I reached for my big camera and watched a bit of the march go by me. It came in waves that washed over me. No loud noises, just people who cared and shared and came from all over the state to be heard. This one broke my heart and brought me back to the reality of this for many.dsc_0526So several thousand Oklahomans who couldn’t make it to Washington D. C. came by car and bus on walkers and wheelchairs, carrying babies and pushing strollers and holding children by the hand. They carried homemade signs with messages that were powerful in their many diverse messages for so many concerns. They came to be with others and share something that became more powerful as word started spreading about the size of the crowds in Washington and the numbers of similar marches around the world. The sense of hope built and the strength was palpable.

What’s next? For this unmilitant marcher, this was another step to our hope for a better world for those who follow. We are all on alert now to watch and make things happen and it was proved by the women who organized that it can be done peacefully. This is OUR country and our lives. Here we go…img_0940

The reality that struck me, struck me hard, when my son died was how many many people I know who have lost a child. It’s not that I didn’t know these people, family and friends and even strangers, had suffered as I was, but that I was so clueless. I hadn’t known anything.

Now it’s been six years since I got the early morning phone call that my son was gone and I wish I had some wisdom to share or some comforting words or something clever to write. I don’t. This past year was the worst…but, of course, it wasn’t. There’s no way to compare one year to the another because there’s always the surprising realization that it’s so real.

I’m not sitting around in mourning black or locking myself away and I have fun just about every day of my life and I’m eternally grateful for each and every beautiful moment I get to share with my family and friends. My sense of adventure is alive and I treasure my moments alone to read or enjoy the world around me.

How to describe it? It’s a part of who I am now, implanted on who I was, but it’s not the worst part or the saddest part. It’s a strength that came from losing a child, the strength that pushes me every day to make sure that my children and grandchildren understand the value of each other in their lives and the strength that this gives them to withstand whatever is next, whatever life will throw at us next, because it will.

I feel him in my heart and all around me more than ever. What is that? I just know that it’s true and comforting and yet I miss him all the time. It’s ok…well, maybe not so ok sometimes. It’s what it is and will be and that’s the way it’s meant to be.

The truth is that I see a picture of him or a recording of his voice and it’s sometimes real and sometimes seems to be some strange unreality. I see his daughter and catch something that smacks of his personality or see a familiar expression on her face and that’s nice. He would get such a kick out of her. Or he does get a kick out of her. What do I know?

I know that I had a son I loved and continue to love and he loved me and continues to love me. I know that in my heart and soul.

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I was born in December, 1945, which makes me 71 now. At this age, I have enough life lived to look back and get perspective on the good old days of my life. I can understand the good, the bad, and the ugly of the times, seeing how it shaped the world and my life and me.

My parents married at the end of the war, my father having served in the Army Air Force as a pilot, a Lt. Colonel returning heavily decorated for his missions over Italy. My mother had worked through the war for officers on the air base in Ardmore, Oklahoma. They met there and married soon after. He was 33 and she was 24. They had both lived through the Great Depression with his family building a business and her widowed mother raising three children in the worst of it. Without too much detail, I understand that this is why they didn’t talk about the past much. Their lives were about the future.

Actually, nobody talked much about anything, at least in front of children. We were sheltered from just about everything to do with the real world, which was nice when your life was pretty great, as mine was. The trouble was that there were other things going on that we didn’t see at all until years later, things we couldn’t begin to understand from our narrow world view.

My family moved from Oklahoma City to Tulsa in 1948 and lived in a nice house with a large yard and the white picket fence. 2501-s-birmingham-pl-tulsa-okMy father had his branch of the family business and my mother stayed home with me, my brother and, soon, my little sister. She had help in the house, the first Negro (as we knew them), I ever knew. We met others when we went to the country club where my father played golf and we dined, played golf and swam in the summers. More Negro helpers that we knew so well but didn’t really know at all. I don’t remember meeting any other people of different races or even different religions through the 1950s. It was a pretty white life in my little world, even when I went to visit my grandparents in Oklahoma City or my grandmother in Ardmore.

Everybody’s parents seemed nice in the 1950s. We played away from the grownups who were busy talking. In the 1950s, lots of grownups smoked and drank. The men came back from the war as smokers since the government practically gave them cigarettes. Daddy smoked a pipe, cigars, and finally just cigarettes. My mother never did. People drank a lot back then, but we were used to it. Daddy kept a bottle in his desk at the office and came home and had a drink. Everyone did that in those days. Except my mother, who wasn’t a drinker either. She made us clean the ashtrays when we were little so we could see the nicotine which was stuck to the ashtrays as it would stick to our lungs. It was an effective lesson for me at least. We didn’t know about cancer from cigarettes until later and we didn’t really know what an alcoholic was except that some of our parents’ friends seemed to drink a lot more than others and slurred their words. For most of us, drinking was something you would do when you were older to be as cool as our parents were. It was a rite of passage.

In the 1950s, we didn’t know much in my little world about the real world that would come soon enough. We had news on the radio, but what little kid was going to sit and listen to that? By the time we got television, it only came on at about 5:00 and went off the air at 10:00. There were short newscasts, but those weren’t too interesting either. Actually, we got most of our information from newspapers and magazines. In my home, we subscribed to just about everything, so I grew up reading both the morning and evening newspaper and magazines that ranged from my mother’s (Ladies Home Journal, McCall’s), my father’s (Argosy, Field and Stream), my brother’s (Boy’s Life) and the children’s magazines (Highlights). And there were Life, Look, Reader’s Digest, and Saturday Evening Post. I read more and more of them as I grew up, learning much about the world that way. We still didn’t talk much at home about anything in the world. I absorbed by listening and reading.

In 1955, my parents built a beautiful home and we moved to a new neighborhood. We changed from private to public schools so we could meet new friends and the world began to open up. I went from a class of 24 kids I had known forever to a class of 650. I was eleven years old and my world was changing. I was in junior high, thrown into a world of pre-adolescence that I embraced with great excitement. I made my first Jewish friends, I met kids who had grown up in other parts of town. I was exposed to the “facts of life” through raging hormones, changing bodies, and the giggling of girls as we awkwardly learned to dance, talk to boys (we always had but this was different). Everything was emotional, our parents didn’t understand, and we thought we were grown up. We were typical kids, living the American teen life.

I realize now that we learned so much from each other about love, sex, relationships, but our information was scattered. My mother talked to me a little, but I probably didn’t want to hear it from her. How embarrassing! We still didn’t know so much, so very much. One of my dear friends lost her mother and I went to the funeral. I remember it well, but it was hard to absorb. I had no frame of reference for anyone losing a parent. By the time I was in 9th grade, I lost a friend to suicide. I didn’t understand why until 40 years later when I learned she was pregnant. Nobody talked to us about it. And, how sad is it that she thought she had to die rather than face her friends, family and society. Such were the norms in those days when your family’s reputation was everything. Everything. You didn’t say anything that would make anyone look bad. You keep secrets.

In high school, we still kept secrets. If you didn’t, it was gossip and nothing could destroy you more quickly. If you were fast or wild, you got that reputation and I can guarantee that we will still remember you that way today, even if we can at least understand now. There was no perspective when everything was black and white. There was little compassion when you were either right or wrong.

Years later, I learned a lot of the things I didn’t know back then. Gradually through the years, friends have talked about the abuse in their homes, the alcoholism, the secrets. There were fewer divorces because there was really no place for the women to go. Whether you agree or not, a lot of people stayed in marriages that were damaging to everyone stuck there. The abuse of women and children was hidden. What could women do? Where could children go if their mother or father was destroying them at home? We didn’t know anything. I found out later that one of the popular boys used to spend his nights at a relative’s, sneaking home in the morning so that he could be seen leaving for school from his parents’ home so that nobody knew the hell he was living in. We didn’t know.

So many things I’ve learned since those days. I made a new friend when I was in my 50s who is Native American. She grew up across town from me, left on a doorstep and raised by foster families. We didn’t know that was going on and nobody admitted they had Indian blood back then. I live in Oklahoma and didn’t know that friends of mine were Native American. It wasn’t the popular thing to admit because people would look down on you.

By high school, we had lost friends to car wrecks (driving too fast with no seat belts because there were none or driving while drinking) and everything in our world was changing quickly. We danced and listened to music our parents hated and drove around in cars looking for other teens to follow and flirt with. We were the kids you later saw in American Graffiti. Here is the music we were listening to my senior year. kakc_1962-10-15_1Most of it was fun and silly. Some of it was sexy. We had learned to do the Twist and we were listening to folk music. We had progessed from The Kingston Trio to Peter Paul & Mary. We were on the verge of Joan Baez and Bob Dylan and songs with messages. Our world was about to be rocked.

I graduated from high school in 1963 and left for Oklahoma State University, formerly an agricultural school but known for engineering and business by now. It was the heartland and the university was in the middle of the Oklahoma plains, formerly land rush country. Now I met cowboys, real cowboys, for the first time. My first roommate was from a class of 6 in a small town. I had traveled to Europe for the first time when I was a senior so my world was expanding and now I was learning the other side of my own state, meeting kids who grew up away from the cities I knew. We talked for hours, sitting on beds in the dorms, learning about new people.

In November of that year, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. I remember the shock and horror. We had never experienced anything like this in our lives. Presidents didn’t get assassinated and here it was being shown over and over on television. We watched the accused assassin shot in front of us. To be on a campus of young people when this happened was the rude awakening we didn’t see coming. Our world was not what we had been led to believe at all. Everything we felt secure about was thrown up in the air and floated down around our confused young selves. Our music changed and the messages got deeper. By spring, we had met The Beatles on Ed Sullivan’s show and the sounds and the beat was driving us. We had rock & roll, folk music, and now the British influence. As those college years went on, we were shaking up our parents’ ideas, questioning everything.

In the 1960s, we faced the Viet Nam war and the boys in my class could suddenly be drafted. The ways to at least postpone it were to be in college or to be married. If you left college, you could be called up immediately. To say this had an impact on us is an understatement. Although many of my friends served since the war dragged on, many were able to avoid it. There were weddings all the time, either because the guy was leaving or to keep him from going.

For girls, college life was restrictive in these days when we were testing our new sense of idealism. On my campus, girls had to wear skirts and couldn’t live off campus until they were 23 unless they were married. We rebelled. As fashion changed in those years with skirts going from mid-calf to mini and micro-mini, the rules eased. We signed petitions for more realistic curfews and questioned why we couldn’t do what the guys could. During my college years, Gloria Steinem visited campus, bringing us the messages of women’s liberation. I listened to her and absorbed so much, wondering how this would fit in my life. The world was changing all around us. There was the sexual revolution and birth control and so much to absorb. Abortion was around and girls got them. Some of my friends were unable to have children afterwards. Do I believe in abortion? It’s a private and personal decision and it should be safe. Abortion will always be an option, but let’s make it safe.

I married my high school sweetheart in December 1966, soon after he was home from the Navy. As he worked on his degree, I taught English as a graduate assistant, and we had our first child, our oldest daughter, while we were in school. I was the oldest mother in the hospital at 22 in this time when birth control was new and everyone was marrying at a younger age.

By 1970, we had moved back to Tulsa, where my husband went to work for my father, we purchased our first home, and had our second daughter. I stayed home with the children, leading a life much like my parents had done. The difference was that I was one of a generation of women who had gone to college and been exposed to all these new ideas. We had birth control and education and degrees and what were we going to do with it? I played bridge and kept the house and did all the things I was supposed to do. I was bored and found volunteer work, which was to sustain me for the next couple of decades as an outlet to use my brain, network with the community, and expose myself to the rest of the world while growing into leadership positions. I worked with women, domestic violence, the arts, a nature center, water conservation, historic preservation, and diversity while working with community leaders, the media, and donors, developing skills and relationships I had used as I entered the work world in the 1980s and 90s.

My other salvation in the early 1970s was a group of women I met who formed a “discussion group.” We met once a week in the Presbyterian church half of us belonged to. The other half were members at the Unitarian Church. We had a sitter for the morning and our goal was to discuss anything but children. We took field trips, discussed books and ideas and used our brains, a welcome relief from our lives with toddlers and babies at home. I still love these women and the special bond we formed. We all went on to have interesting lives while raising our families. We were each other’s salvation for many years. One thing that happened in that group was that an older woman asked us to read a book that was being talked about, The Total Woman. A woman was going to use the church to have a lecture on the book and she was skeptical. I was asked to go to the lecture and report back to the group. The theory of the book was that women should be adoring to their husbands and cater to them so that they will adore you back. That’s simplistic, but one of the ideas was to meet your husband at the door dressed in saran wrap with a drink ready for him. Really. I don’t think that was going to happen in my house where I had three daughters by now. Where were they going to be during this? Anyway, I went to the lecture and took notes and reported back. My main takeaway from this was that it was really demeaning to men and gave them no credit for anything. It was manipulative, to say the least.

By the 1970s, we were talking about everything. We had learned from our own childhoods and were going to raise our children differently. When Our Bodies, Ourselves was published, we read it cover to cover. Who had ever talked about our bodies with us? I had learned everything from women’s magazines and talking to my friends. Doctors didn’t even talk about this stuff with us.img_0481We were talking now. And we were raising our children differently, just like we wanted to. By now, I had three girls and a boy and it was just 1975. I wanted them all to grow up with choices, all kinds of choices. They were raised with this…img_0521Yes, life was different for my generation. We talked about things and we learned about all our choices. By the time we were in our 30s, lives were changing. A friend lost her husband and all those years she had spent home raising the kids were now a challenge because she was a single mother having to enter the work force when she had lost ten years or so of career advancement. Other friends faced divorce because men now had the freedom to leave their wives for the girlfriends they had found. These women also found that they had to reinvent themselves. Life was not as simple as we thought it would be.

I won’t go on with the details of what I’ve learned, but it does make you reflect. Were things better back when men worked and women stayed home and nobody talked about anything? Were we better living in a world full of such dangerous secrets?

My own children’s generation is a mixed bag. They saw divorce up close and many chose to either wait or not marry. They have so many choices. They don’t have to hide the fact they are gay or lesbian as many of my friends did back in the days when you married as a cover because it was too dangerous to live your life the way you felt. We have more technology, different types of jobs, more ways to raise our children, more ideas to absorb and it all changes quickly. There have been movements to get back to basics, back to the earth, back to priorities.

My sons-in-law participate in their children’s lives as my generation’s men were only beginning to be able to experience. My father’s generation would never have left work for ball games or plays or stayed home to raise the kids while the wife worked. In that way, women’s freedom has freed up men to be better people, better parents.

The diversity of our world has changed so much in my lifetime as we learn to be proud of where we come from, to understand our ancestors, to see that we all want the same things for our children. I see families with parents from mixed races, same sex parents, old and young parents, and I see families who understand that love is love is love. We learn more about other cultures, other countries, other people. What we should be seeing is that we all want homes, food, water, security and education for our children. We’re not that different at all.

In times of fear and anger, I look around me and reassess once again what I want. I want to leave this world a better place than when I arrived. I want my grandchildren and their children to have the beautiful wild places to visit to restore their souls from the fast pace of human life. I want their lives to be rich with experiences and friendships and love. We’ll never be perfect as human beings, but we can progress. Or at least try. That’s what I see when I look way back at my life’s experiences and then turn around and look to the future.

We keep trying our best and doing good things and loving, loving, loving.