Archives for category: Places

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!

I traveled to Louisville, KY to visit the Filson Historical Society where I had learned some of my family’s papers were stored. One of the items that had been donated was a scrapbook assembled by a cousin of mine, probably 2nd or 3rd cousin or 2nd cousin once removed, however that goes. The scrapbook was full of clippings glued to the pages, overlapping, and dated from 1908 to around 1945. I found all kinds of treasures which I was allowed to photograph. I went through a lot of materials quickly that day and hope to go back to spend more time someday. If not, I learned a lot of interesting things about my Kentucky family.

My father, grandfather, great-grandfather, grandmother and others were all born in Uniontown, Kentucky, a small Ohio River town that flourished during the 19th century and into the 20th until the mighty Ohio River overflowed its banks and into town one too many times. Most of my family was gone by the major disaster of the 1937 flood, but so many good things happened to them before that one caused so much damage to the family home.

A little family history is that my grandfather was one of 12 children, 9 of whom survived infancy and toddlerhood. One of his sisters married a local man, Virgil Givens, but she died soon after the birth of one of their children. Several years later, he remarried – to one of my grandfather’s other sisters. Basically, he married his sister-in-law, and I think the family was very happy about it. In the Uniontown cemetery, you find the graves of the three of them all together, which I think is a sweet story.

In the scrapbook were several clippings about this second marriage, describing the wedding and several bridal showers. I had never thought much about the history of bridal showers although I had several when I got married, as did my daughters and daughter-in-law. When I looked it up, I found that bridal showers date back to around 1890 in this country, beginning in the urban areas and spreading to the rural areas by the 1930s. Since the showers I’m talking about took place in Uniontown in 1908, I think that makes this little town a definitely sophisticated place for its time. I know my relatives traveled to nearby Morganfield, Evanston, Il and Louisville, so they had been to the city!

Here is one clipping from the Morganfield paper, although there is a typo on the date where it says 1808 instead of 1908. The first thing that struck me was the similarity of these events then and now, although we don’t have society pages to post the details like we did in 1908 and back in 1966, when I got married. Note the space given to the list of names of the guests.

IMG_8680I thought the description of the decorations for this Halloween shower were right up to Pinterest standards today as they used jack o’lanterns filled with flowers placed over the doorways. More details show that the guests were served punch before lunch, assisted by young girls, including the soon to be stepdaughter/niece of the bride. IMG_8684We may not dress in blue satin and silk these days and we don’t really have parlors anymore, but the rest of the details are so very familiar to those of us who have been to many bridal showers in our lifetimes.

In these clippings published after the wedding, we get the description of the ceremony along with other shower details. My grandfather gave his sister away at the wedding, so I can picture that ceremony. In details of the other showers, the guests brought recipes, each of which was tried at the shower. At my kitchen/recipe shower, we didn’t get to try the dishes, so I thought this was a nice touch. The gifts were brought into the room in a child’s wagon, something I have done myself. Brick cream and cake were served. Yum. That doesn’t change at all. Ever.

IMG_8683You will notice that six-handed euchre was played at two of the showers. I had to look this up, although I knew it was a card game. Euchre was very popular at this time and was the game that introduced jokers to the deck. I can’t give you many details other than it involves taking tricks, so maybe it’s close to Bridge. I guess the practice of playing cards at bridal showers has gone by the wayside, although I think it sounded like a fun thing to do.

I don’t know if I have a point to this story other than to show that there are some things that change a little, but stay enough the same in order to give us a sense on continuity and community. I don’t know if bridal showers will go by the wayside by the time my great-grandchildren are getting married, but, so far, this little tradition seems to have endured for over 100 years without changing too much. I don’t think they’re the most most important event in a bride’s life, but they do give those who love the couple a chance to share their happiness and present them with something to start their new life.

I bet there is a similar experience in many cultures, but this one is sweet enough to continue in its simplest forms. I will say that I doubt either of my grandmothers had bridal showers since they came from poor families. Anyway, it was nice to find this common experience that tied me and my Oklahoma family to our long ago Kentucky family in ways that haven’t changed all that much in a world where so many things have disappeared or changed so quickly in my lifetime.

It was fun to open a book and find a family thread that made me smile, a precious family link.

Reading about my great-grandmother living in the late 1800s until she died in 1937, I suddenly stopped at the sentence, “Mom had her fussy spells and enjoyed them.” That is followed by, “Dad never seemed to mind.” I’ve read that paragraph so many times over the years and never stopped before. Her spells?

My visit to the Filson Historical Society in Louisville, Kentucky, last week was successful as I was able to go through family papers in their collections. These now belong to the society, so, even as a family member, I went through the protocol as a researcher in order to leaf through files of old bills my great-grandfather saved from his days as the wharf master at Uniontown, Kentucky. He was also a grain dealer and the local Aetna insurance agent, the oldest in the company when he tried to retire. They didn’t let him! Anyway, I also went through a scrapbook of pasted clippings of family events beginning in 1908. On my great-grandmother’s 85th birthday, the Uniontown paper featured this article…DSC_0004 - Version 2Ella or Nellie Hamilton came to Kentucky from Louisiana (the clipping has that wrong, as she was born in Louisiana and moved to Hickman later) and moved to the town of Uniontown at the age of 19. I’m not sure what brought her there, but I know her father had died years earlier and her mother may have had relatives nearby. At the age of 21, she married my grandfather who was 34 at the time. I think it was fairly common for the men to marry younger women as I’ve seen this with others on my family tree. I’m assuming he was fairly settled by then. They were the first couple married at St. John Episcopal Church in Uniontown. I found a clipping that said he was confirmed as a member along with four of his sons years later and I know he served in leadership roles in the church after that.

My great-grandparents had 12 children. It’s no surprise that Uniontown grew quickly back then as my other great-grandparents in that town also had 12 children. The Hamiltons and Spaldings did our best to populate this little river town. Twelve children. The oldest Hamilton child died as a baby after an accident when a nurse let her fall. Two others also died young. This is the earliest picture I have of my great-grandmother, shown with her family.imageShe is holding her youngest baby while one of her daughters holds her youngest. This young mother would soon die and the son-in-law pictured behind the mother and baby would later marry one of the other girls who would raise the children. Hard to keep them all apart in my own family’s saga. My grandfather is the little boy in the grass in the middle, shown with one of the family dogs.

Here are some other pictures of her, both with my father, her grandson. The first was 1912…IMG_8886And this one must be about 1915…IMG_8887And here she is on her 50th wedding anniversary in 1922. IMG_8884What were those spells, those fussy spells? I mean, why would she have reason to act anything other than her sweet loving self with 8 children running around a huge house…IMG_3731…even though she had cooks and others to help with laundry and managing the gardens and the cleaning. I mean, really. Her mother also lived with them, so there was some help with the sewing and teaching the children manners and getting them to school. Life was easier in that she didn’t have to drive them to school since they could pretty much walk anyplace in town and everyone knew them so they were safe in that way.

Their life was easier than many others and yet there was still a lot to do. They traveled by buggy or wagon or riverboat to visit friends and relatives in nearby towns and cities. That can’t have been too easy, bouncing along those country roads for 30 miles or more. It was an idyllic life in a small Kentucky river town where they were a successful, respected family. My great-grandmother was active in women’s clubs, the Red Cross, and entertained her friends and family regularly. There were grand parties with guests from other towns at even larger homes in town and burgoos and picnics in the country. There were lots of things going on, it seems.

The Ohio River flooded once or twice a year where you had to take a raft to the store or the kids had to walk to school on stilts and then there was the awful flood in 1884 when the river raged up into their home. If you’ve ever cleaned up after a flood, you know what a nasty business that is with mud and water all through your home and belongings. They moved their furniture up a floor until the water went down, but, still…

After my great-grandfather died, Nellie stayed in the big house, inviting a family with five children to move in with her, rent free, to help them out. Her children, now grown and moved away, protested, but she was happy to share the space and the husband, a miner, helped with the yard. She insisted on staying in the house during the great flood of 1937 until the priest made her leave by the upper floor. She returned against everyone’s wishes to the damp house where she was surrounded by memories. She contracted pneumonia and died soon after.

I have so many questions about my family, more all the time it seems as I uncover new branches and stories. My visits to Kentucky have let me walk in their steps and envision their lives in another time.

This grandmother with her “fussy spells” makes me smile. I bet she had her spells when she needed a few minutes to herself, a few minutes of quiet to rest and recharge. I’m guess this because I can remember needing those times myself. Of course, her story was written by one of her daughters who never had children of her own and, at the age of 55, was looking back at her childhood. I wonder if she and her brothers and sisters snickered at Mom’s spells and stayed out of her way during those times. I’m picturing Mom in her room, quietly taking a nap or reading a book or looking out the window at all those kids at play. Enjoying her well deserved spell in a well lived life.

 

In my old age, as I drove along, I thought it was a pretty good thing to be able to take a trip by myself. I’d been to a funeral for a sweet friend the day before, enforcing the knowledge that I would be going to more of them each year until my own. It was good to be on the road, very good.

I’d been planning a trip to Oklahoma City for the extraordinary exhibit, “Matisse in his time,” the only place it would appear in the US. I was up early and left earlier than I’d planned and found myself the first one there, which was rather strange for a world class show. I wasn’t that early and was soon joined by a man who had flown in from Houston that morning for the show and was as surprised as I was. He had worked for NASA and then for a graphic arts company and was retired to play, which meant a spur of the moment trip that had him getting up at 3:00 am to fly here. Anyway, such was the draw of Matisse. I love that this opened the exhibit!IMG_8399

Anyway, being first in line meant that I was first in the galleries since I didn’t stop to get the headsets. I understand those, but love to experience art for myself. I know enough to appreciate and can read the excellent information posted around the galleries. In the first gallery, I was met by a young security guard and greeted him with a smile. I worked at a museum and appreciate them. This cutie asked me if I’d like to hear something fun and I said sure and he showed me some tidbits about some of the paintings from Matisse’s early works. He ended it with, “I just learned this five minutes ago.” I’d watched the staff being prepped before the doors opened. He was so pumped for the crowd.

I had the galleries to myself for awhile while the people in line behind me did who knows what as they got their tickets downstairs so I absorbed what I could in the quiet before the kids from a boys and girls club, all in matching bright blue t-shirts, who had been waiting with me burst into the galleries. I mean, really, what can be more fun than to watch kids seeing great art for maybe the first time in their lives. They disappeared and came back as they flitted between galleries ahead of and behind me. As I stood before a nude study, I realized that two little boys, one African American and one white, had come up beside me. To their credit, there were no giggles although they were a little wide eyed.

I had many favorites, including this one from 1922, “Interior in Nice, the Siesta.” I related to the colors, the subject, the whole vibe. That’s how art works.IMG_8400It wasn’t a large painting at all. When I saw this Picasso, I felt a big smile. Oh you, Picasso, you! “Rocking Chair” was one of my favorites I kept returning to. Maybe I saw my future!IMG_8415I won’t spoil the show for you, but it was pretty spectacular for art lovers. To think he spent his last years cutting designs and creating fanciful treats for us to enjoy all these years later. Thank you, Matisse!IMG_8425I went downstairs to see the permanent Chihuly exhibition and the rest of the museum, going back through the Matisse show before I finally left. Chihuly brightens my day and brings joy to my heart. Having tried glass blowing, I can only say it takes not only creative talent but an enormous amount of strength to master the manipulation of the hot, heavy glass. His work always makes me go Wow!IMG_8406Since I was by myself, I thought I would do some things I’d been wanting to do. Next was the Oklahoma City National Memorial, just blocks away. Did I mention I was born in Oklahoma City and lived there until my family moved to Tulsa when I was 2 1/2, back in 1948. I spent much of my life traveling back to see my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins and even spent work time here later on. It is a part of me.

When the Oklahoma City bombing occurred, it rocked this state to the core. All of us knew someone who was close to the site or affected by it. My husband and I had driven over a few days afterward and stood by the fence in shock at the horror and the extent of the damage. I could see broken windows for blocks, even in the old Central High blocks from the site, where my father had graduated. My family’s company had started a few blocks away. It was a local, state and national tragedy. I still have a box of magazines and newspapers from those days when the media printed it on covers and in large headlines. We never will forget it. I have driven by the memorial since then, but had never gone in. I’m not sure I was ready.

The memorial is one of the most beautiful and powerful tributes I think I’ve ever seen. As I walked by the last of the walls I had seen with dust and smoke still rising back in 1995, I was calmed by the serenity and magnitude of the famous gates and reflecting pond with the chairs for each victim so meaningly placed. At night, I think I would be overcome with the beauty with the chairs lighted from underneath. IMG_8437

I was also so inspired by the Survivor Tree, the lone tree that had been scorched by the blast and survived to shade us all as we look over the scene. You can see it on the hill beyond. It’s a miracle of nature and life. And, you can’t help but feel your heart tighten as you see the small chairs of the children who died so horribly that day. Like Kennedy’s assassination years before, this was another turning point in our country’s tragic history as we faced more violence and hatred. After a last glance at the reflecting pond, I went into the museum, something I had been dreading.IMG_8439A couple of years ago, I toured the JFK Memorial in Dallas and I felt the same way about this one. I lived through it and it is so painful to walk through each detail again. Both are wonderful walks through our history with details that take you right into the moment if you were here at that time. For those who are younger, these are important ways to understand and learn what happened, bringing it to life. In the OKC memorial, you walk into an exhibit that shows what a normal day it was and then you wait to enter a room that is a copy of the ordinary meeting room where the Water Resources Board was meeting that fateful meeting. They had recorded the meeting and you sit in a closed room listening to a woman start the meeting, giving instructions, greeting the visitors, knowing that you are going to hear an actual recording of the bomb exploding. I was lulled into listening to her as she routinely did her job and then jolted by the sounds of bomb, screams, hysteria and confusion. You then enter the rest of the story. I didn’t spend too much time there as the photos and sounds were so very familiar to me. I stood in the memorial room, looking at the portraits of the victims, hearing their names as they were called as each person’s picture was lit. Powerful stuff to see the miniature memorials of stuffed animals, tokens of memory placed by families. Powerful. I was ready to race back into the 100 degree heat and rest in the memorial outside, standing in the shade of the huge tree that showed us we can make it, even through such atrocities.

Leaving there, I wove back to the north of downtown, passing beautiful historic homes and buildings I had driven by most of my life until I reached the neighborhood my grandparents first lived in when they moved to OKC way back when my father was young. Their block is being restored, except for their house which is in terrible condition. I hope the artists and builders buy it soon before it has to be torn down. I was so taken with the loving care with which they are rebuilding the neighborhood. This is where my grandparents raised their four children. Their youngest son is shown behind them on the porch in this fuzzy photo. He was to die at 19 in World War II.Scan 54Here they are, relaxing in that wonderful home, much smaller than I remember it when we gathered for dinners and holidays. My grandad had his workshop in the garage in back and the big kids got to eat at the big table in the room behind the kitchen at the back of the house. The smaller children ate at the kid’s table in the kitchen. The beds were so tall that we could crawl under them easily and had endless games of hide ‘n seek.  We played on that porch and walked that street for hours.July 1949Driving around the corner, I saw the movie theatre we used to walk to, now an antiques mall…DSC_0135…and parked across the street for a fried chicken lunch. It seemed like the right thing to do and the right area to be in.IMG_8447After drinking as much liquid and eating fried chicken and fried okra, I headed further north with the goal of visiting my grandparents’ grave, very far north in a city that sprawls forever. Driving past the more affluent areas where my grandparents and cousins lived later, I finally arrived at the cemetery. I have to tell you that my family isn’t much for visiting graves and I hadn’t been here since my grandmother died in 1977. My parents were both cremated, which I agree with, so here we are. I’ve visited all my grandparents’ graves now along with my great-grandparents, so I’m up to date. There are mixed feelings about graves for me. They are interesting, but I’m obviously not out there all the time. I don’t know if we are losing some history, but I’m about dust to dust too. I’m being cremated myself.

Anyway, I easily found my destination with help from the map I got from the nice lady at the front of the cemetery. What a job – waiting for visitors like me. My grandparents had purchased lots for everyone but ended up being the only ones here, joined on the headstone as they were for 55+ years in life, not counting the years they knew each other growing up. I hadn’t brought flowers, which would have fried in the 115 degree heat index day, so I took a wipe and cleaned the bird poop off the headstone, had a conversation with them and took pictures before I left. Sweet moment. As I took a quick drive further into the cemetery, I saw a monument in the middle of the road ahead. Hmmm. Guess who?IMG_8458Wiley Post, the great aviator from Oklahoma who died in the Alaskan plane crash with his friend, Will Rogers.

Turning towards home, I took back roads until I reached the interstate, because it it almost impossible to get around OKC and all its sprawl without using them at some point. I turned onto the turnpike and was quickly bored with passing and watching big trucks and hurried traffic and took the first exit onto Route 66 to head to Tulsa.DSC_0017I hadn’t been on this stretch in a few years, so it was a new adventure. There are places with stories like this.DSC_0018And then you turn a corner and then modern times hit you as you meet the new Iowa tribe.DSC_0019In the eastern side of Oklahoma, we have brown dirt, regular dirt. About halfway between Tulsa and OKC, you begin to see the red dirt, clay colored dirt. Growing up, we would play in this bright stuff, staining our summer clothes. I guess my mother knew how to get it out because I’m picturing white shorts and tennis shoes with globs of red mud on them. Anyway, that memory came back as I saw this scene with cows and ducks cooling off in the red muddy waters.DSC_0021Across the road, there was a farm with green plants pushing up through the red earth.DSC_0022I kept turning around and going back to see these things. On the last pass by this field, where I had stopped to take pictures, I had to stop at this sign, conditioned by my mother who never saw a road-side stand she didn’t love. IMG_8464I mean, you have to stop, don’t you? Especially when you can meet Mr. Wilson himself.IMG_8463I know he thinks I’m the most ignorant city girl he’s ever seen as I asked him questions about how hard it is to grow crops in that red soil. Of course, he smiled his missing tooth smile and told me it’s no problem if you have water. Of course. And I purchased potatoes and peaches and tomatoes from him, even though I asked and he told me that these weren’t his crops as his aren’t ripe yet. Duh. Of course they aren’t. I know when Oklahoma crops come in. But I wanted to keep his stand going, chickens running around with its cute painted things and all sorts of quirky items on the ground.

Heading down Route 66, coming into Stroud, I turned around when I saw this in a back yard, visible along the road. It was great with the laundry flapping on the line and the aliens playing in the yard flanked by skulls. Isn’t this why you take Route 66?DSC_0032DSC_0053Following along, I approached Depew and took the truck route through the mostly deserted town. It had its own charm as I drove the main street, thinking of the people who came from all over the country to travel this road.DSC_0056IMG_8466Leaving Depew, I crossed the old railroad tracks leading east.DSC_0059Now I was passing through other towns that had jumped on the Route 66 bandwagon and restored their main streets with antique shops and restaurants and museums for those who are hitting the off roads again. Occasionally, I saw one of these signs and jumped off the current Route 66 onto the old one.DSC_0034Driving for just a stretch, I would imagine how it must have been with new fangled cars heading across the country on great adventures – without the air conditioning I was enjoying so much! Whew! These old stretches have wildflowers still alive before our stretch of summer heat wilts them all.DSC_0049At a house on the old road, I saw this basketball goal where someone had made Old Hwy 66 into a private court.DSC_0043Here’s the old sign you see in the background.DSC_0044Turning back from this little touch of the old Mother Road…DSC_0037I kept going, stopping and turning around for things like this that caught my eye as I made my way home.DSC_0060And this. I saw the sign from the road and then turned onto the next street with another one of those Old Hwy 66 signs.DSC_0063It was deserted, but must have been a lot of fun at one time.IMG_8473IMG_8472That was my day on the road alone, not rushing anywhere and stopping to see whatever. Adventures and people I wasn’t expecting made me arrive home hot and happy. I should do this every week, this getting in the car and going somewhere. There’s so much to see out there in ordinary places and I’m old enough to enjoy it and young enough to do it. Thanks for coming with me…

The first wildflowers I noticed along the highway were Indian Paintbrush, which started small12986938_10208256409264599_7286732991570888144_nand then grew taller and fuller until they blanketed hills along the way.DSC_0009As the weeks have gone by, other wildflowers have appeared. There are patches or whole fields of one color and then there are the mixed fields. Driving along, you spot the colors sometimes paired with native grasses as you whiz by.DSC_0102This week, I stopped on a beautiful bright breezy day because the flowers are so different up close. First there were large vistas of purples that appeared over the last week. DSC_0019Look how pretty these flowers are up close. Nothing like you would think from the road.DSC_0023Then there were white flowers, some standing tall above the other plants, waving in the wind.DSC_0065Up close, they are little bouquets.DSC_0033Or these other small flowers for a doll size bouquet.DSC_0060The yellows are in bloom, swaying in the background.DSC_0087These are probably something that irritates those with allergies, but they are so pretty.DSC_0092And smaller yellow babies are bright along the ground.DSC_0101More tiny flowers for the doll tea party…DSC_0074Or flowers as bright as the sun that day.DSC_0095A random flower to accent the field.DSC_0100And more fields of orangey red blazed beside the road.DSC_0070And more and more orangeDSC_0069Indian paintbrush…DSC_0006mixed with Indian Blanket, Oklahoma’s state wildflower.DSC_0045As I was getting in my car on one of the gravel or dirt roads where I pulled off to wade in the flowers, a pickup stopped and a scruffy resident smiled a somewhat toothless grin and asked if I was stuck. I laughed and said I had stopped to see the wildflowers. He laughed back, waved and drove away. I can’t imagine that people who live in the middle of all this color don’t love it as much as I do, but maybe some take it for granted.

If you don’t stop to smell the flowers, you miss so much. If I hadn’t stopped, I’d have missed this fellow fan of the flowers. And that would have been my great loss that day.DSC_0043

Anyone who travels a certain route begins to recognize certain things along the way, things that mark where you are in your drive, how far you have to go. It’s kind of a subtle thing where you suddenly notice something and are kind of amazed that you’ve missed it before and then it becomes something you look for. And you add to your collection of travel markers the more you drive that way.

For me, it’s been driving Highway 51 between Tulsa and Stillwater for the past couple of years. People are amazed that I prefer the old road to the turnpike – and the turnpike is fine – but I really like this old road, the same one I drove when I was in college with massive road improvements in the last 50 years, thank goodness. It was longer and more dangerous back then, more curves and curves and curves. Now it’s pretty much a straight shot from here to there and back again.

I call it my zen drive where I think and watch and look for new things along the way. Since I travel with my camera, I’ll stop and take a picture of something I want to remember (because that’s what I do). Here’s kind of a travelogue of the trip. There are some things I love that I can’t get photos of because there’s no place to stop or I haven’t stopped yet. But, you’ll get the picture.

When I leave Tulsa, I drive through beautiful historic neighborhoods before crossing the Arkansas River heading west. I’m now crossing over the railroad yards and into an industrial area. When I return, I get a wonderful view through oil refineries with trains running through and the skyline of Tulsa in the backdrop. It makes me realize how our city grew from its early days.DSC_0043Here’s the view when I pull up the hill into Chandler Park and look back.IMG_9932I’m mixing pictures coming and going, so there are views from east and west. Bear with me.

Then, I turn onto Avery Road, which winds around under Chandler Park with the Arkansas River to the north of me. This is one of the most nostalgic pieces of the trip to me, although it’s curvy and narrow. No pictures of the drive because there are few places to stop, but you have views of the river in the winter and lush greenery in the summer. There are bluffs to admire as you drive under them and colors of fall and spring to enjoy. This is entering Avery Drive from the west side as I come home. There are more hairpin turns to come.DSC_0037As soon as I turn off of Avery Drive, I see one of my favorite landmarks, a memory of all the years I’ve driven this road. It’s the Monarch Cement…what is it? Pretty cool anyway. In the summer, it’s covered in greenery.DSC_0001Coming from the west, you see it in full frontal, although I still can’t figure out all the words on it. Monarch Cement Co.  ???? Dept. From the west, I can see it from miles away.DSC_0023On the straight road past that, there is usually a train either parked or passing. Who doesn’t love seeing trains? I even love all the tags left by rogue artists decorating the train cars.DSC_0036DSC_0041Next, around the corner, is the little town of Lotsee. I’ve looked it up and it’s named after the owner’s daughter. The whole place is hardly more than a few lots long along the highway as you pass the Lotsee city limit signs on each side in about 15 seconds at 65 mph. From the west, you spot the big cow sign.DSC_0035I’ve actually stopped in to buy pecans and they have lots of varieties in the fall. It’s a 2,000 acre cattle and pecan ranch with horseback riding added called the Flying G Ranch. I don’t think Lotsee was there, but I met her husband, the only two official inhabitants of Lotsee, OK. They are Oklahoma State University people, so we had that in common.

Over the hills, past the Keystone dam, headed for Mannford, you cross over a small part of Lake Keystone and a quick view of the lake. That’s fun as you watch the weather on the water with either peaceful calm or windy whitecaps. Heading into Mannford, I’ve started looking over for this funny sign that I noticed when I stopped there once.DSC_0003Awesome!

Leaving Mannford, you head into areas where your cell phone service can go in and out as you drive through hills with breaks for views across the way. As you cross Cottonwood Creek, you can see an area that links to Keystone and is sometimes dry and sometimes swampy with rainfall. Somewhere along the way, you see this row of mailboxes for inhabitants you can’t see from the road.DSC_0032I also met these guys last week around that area. A couple of weeks before, some of them had escaped somewhere and I found myself passing three black cows as they ambled along the shoulder of the road.DSC_0027Then I cross the Cimarron River, which has the most beautiful view of bluffs, shadowed in the morning and glowing in afternoon light. I look both ways as I cross over. Cimarron reminds of the land run and the book and movie Cimarron and Oklahoma in general.  Miles past this, the road rises and I can look to the south when I’m heading east and see where the river turns into the countryside.DSC_0017One of the great surprises of the drive came this winter when I noticed a herd by the side of the road and turned back to check it out. Sure enough, it was a herd of bison near the crossroads where you can turn towards Oilton. Now I check for it all the time, coming or going. Once I pulled over to watch them and a highway patrolman stopped to see if everything was ok. That was a nice feeling because he was thoughtfully checking on me and I told him I was just watching the bison. He may have thought that was a bit much, but I always find them interesting.DSC_0014This stretch of highway I drive is only about 65 miles and I see all kinds of animals. There are lots of cows, horses, sheep, goats, and even a llama. As I head towards Yale, OK, home of the great athlete Jim Thorpe, 

This building as you come to Yale from the east is intriguing. The basketball goal with the old building is a story of some kind out here along the road.IMG_0051Coming into Yale, I always enjoy this place, whatever the weather. Peacefully falling down in its own time.IMG_6427I slow down as I come into Yale because I know there is a watchful policeman there and I’ve been to their traffic court once (enough). Going slow, I noticed this patriotic painting.DSC_0030Leaving Yale, I cross Salt Creek and am always happy to see the herd of donkeys in a field. There have been adorable babies, but I haven’t caught a picture yet. How many animal herds have I mentioned in this relatively short drive? Not to mention chickens. DSC_0029Past the Salt Creek Arena, I drive through woods where I once saw a deer step out in the early morning until I reach the intersection where my Sky Barn is seen best as you drive from west to east. I did a whole post on it.DSC_0253Past that are the archaeologically interesting Twin Mounds, where remnants of Civil War camps have been found. You only catch a glimpse of both of them coming from west to east. I learned about them when I stopped at the best little museum and antique shop ever, which is a couple of miles off of Highway 51 near Stillwater. I’ll have to write a whole post on this treasure of Oklahoma regional history.IMG_9145Next is one of the goat farms I pass. DSC_0045A new landmark for me is this field that I’ve passed so many times. Recently, I was driving on a clear day and the sky became hazy, smoky for no apparent reason. As I approached this place, the field had been burned in the few hours since I drove by in the morning. I’m hoping it was a controlled burn but it didn’t do much damage. Here is it is right after the burning.DSC_0005Within three days, I could barely tell it had burned for all the green. Amazing. About three weeks later, this same spot looks like this. Gotta love nature.DSC_0010When I pulled off to take this picture, I spotted a Scissortail Flycatcher, Oklahoma’s state bird, on the fence.DSC_0013I now look for this house as I pass. I saw it once and couldn’t find it again for awhile. Now I know the landmarks to look for so I can nod as I pass. In the country, you don’t have to worry about taking down old houses and barns. Charming really.DSC_0004

On the final stretch into Stillwater, I pass a farm with several pumpjacks on Clay Road (my son’s name was Clay). I always look for this one to read the sign and smile. This week, the Indian Paintbrush is in bloom. Gorgeous.

DSC_0003Sometime, I’ll do a post on the different pumpjacks, but this time I’ll just show you more Indian Paintbrush.DSC_0009DSC_0006Next is the road to historic Ingalls, location of one of the great western gunfights. I wrote a post about that awhile back.

And so my drive goes, never knowing who I will meet along the way…DSC_0044…driving into Stillwater where I pass this new exciting Transformer by the road…IMG_7820and see these familiar structures ahead. IMG_9942My final destination is Oklahoma State University with its beautiful campus, but this is the story of the road I take. I travel with beautiful sunrises…IMG_5136 IMG_0087 IMG_0092and sunsets…DSC_0001This trip reminds me to slow down and see all that is around me and notice something new every time. I travel from the city to the country to college town and back again. I drive through the Creek and Pawnee nations. I go from oil refineries and railroads to granaries and see the history of our state unfold before me. There are hills, woods, plains, fields and crops, farms, ranches, small towns, lakes and rivers, all changing with the season and the weather, different on cloudy days or different times of day when the slant of the light accents different objects and views. The skies are wide open and everything is there to remind me I’m alive and so glad to be here!

On my weekly travels from Tulsa to Stillwater and back, I have certain landmarks I always use to mark my way. There’s something comforting about seeing a familiar place in every season, always there to show me how far I’ve gone. Much more fun than mile markers, don’t you think?

One of my favorites I’ve named The Sky Barn. I can barely spot the roof coming from Tulsa on Highway 51 and have to look back to see it even a little from that direction. It’s at the crossroads of Highway 51 and Highway 18 (also known as Twin Mounds Road at this spot, but that’s another story). When I return from Stillwater, I can see it peeking over the hill as I pull up to the 4-way Stop.DSC_0253See why I call it The Sky Barn? There’s just something about it that intrigues me.DSC_0254Months go by and I always look over at it with a feeling of affection.

A few weeks ago, I decided to explore it more closely.DSC_0006The closer you get, the more you can see why the sky shows through. I ventured onto the property and towards the barn. Nobody came out of the nearby house to ask what I was doing, so I drove in and turned around. Here’s the first side view.DSC_0008Now it’s looking like a piece of folk art. When I got past it and turned around, I got the close up front view, complete with the cool cars rusting in front of it.DSC_0009DSC_0010What can you say? I love it! Next, I drove to the road behind the property…DSC_0011…to get the back view.DSC_0016Now you know my Sky Barn, so full of character. In the city, it would be urban blight. In the country, it’s part of the landscape that fuels my imagination and feeds my heart.

Lucky me! I got a break from my regular life at a time when it was much appreciated and went south to Florida with friends for a few days. For something different, we left the beauty of St. Petersburg and traveled north to Crystal Springs on the Gulf Coast.

Amazingly, it was predicted to hit a low of 30 degrees the morning we wanted to dive with the manatees in the only place you can do so by law, when they head from the colder Gulf waters into the springs with a constant temperature of around 70 degrees. We almost chickened out, discouraged by reports of visitors only lasting a few minutes before leaving with chattering teeth. At 70 years old, you think you’ve learned to be smart enough to know when it’s not going to work out. We considered a kayak to see them from the surface, but that was a 45 minute paddle, which sounded worse. My friend and I are nothing but game when it comes to a fun experience, so we prepped ourselves by worrying about the cold all night, packing up all kinds of non-Florida like things to keep warm.

It was 30 degrees when we walked to the boat at 7:15 am. I’ll be really honest – I was more worried about squeezing into a wet suit than the cold. Not pretty. I wasn’t shivering and I somehow got into the wet suit as several of us helped each other. Our boat was enclosed which helped.
IMG_9664Their slogan was promising a lot of fun ahead.IMG_9665It was the middle of the week, cold, and we lucked out with the last boat, so there were only 6 of us, my friend and me, two older ladies (maybe our age, but who knows) who are sisters-in-law, and a couple in their 50s celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary. He didn’t end up going in but a few minutes at the end because of heart issues. This was on his wife’s bucket list and he was making sure she got to check it off. Captain Ed has been doing this for 27 years, being a guide for 6. We had an extra photographer and another helper, who stayed on the boat and later served us coffee, hot chocolate or Manatee Mocha (a mix of the two). It was looking good.

We watched a video of rules for approaching manatees before we left and Captain Ed gave us more pointers on how to use the snorkel equipment as our boat approached the location. Everyone had their own dive shoes but us, so the worst cold I felt was taking my shoes and socks off on the boat. The water felt warm, there was no wind, and I climbed down the ladder to be met by a curious manatee.

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This was a great start. I’ve been on whale watching trips in Alaska and Oregon and swam with stingrays in the Cayman Islands, but this was different. For one thing, manatees are so cute. When the first one you ever see swims over and rubs against you as you tickle its back, you fall in love instantly. They’re called sea cows, but a cow could rush you. There is absolutely nothing to fear with a manatee. Nothing! They eat plants and their only teeth are at the back of their mouth. We didn’t want to disturb them, not for fear of them frightening us but because we didn’t want to bother this endangered species whose greatest enemy is man. One had great slashes along his body from the blades of boats, even though their skin is tough.

Manatees can be as large as 13 feet long and 1300 pounds, but those were mostly sleeping. Ducking under water in my snorkel and mask, I quickly came face to face with some smaller ones. Oh, those faces.

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We had seen manatees mating, thrashing around near us, as we approached our site. As the captain said, they’re trying to keep from becoming extinct. We also were so thrilled to see a baby nursing at its mother’s side below us.

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In the springs we visited, there were homes around and the waterway was only 8 feet deep at the deepest. Most of the time, I could stand up if I wanted to stop my floating. We were there almost two hours, petting the cuties we met, watching them roll over in delight with our tickles.

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There were some areas we couldn’t enter, full of large manatees resting.DSC_0081

I can’t exaggerate how very peaceful these funny creatures are.

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When you have a chance to spend time with creatures who are so innocent and passive, you have to compare them to every other person or animal you’ve encountered in your life. I don’t know what their purpose is in our ecological system, but maybe it’s to remind us that it’s sometimes enough to get along with everyone, accepting them without qualm. These aren’t stupid beasts as they are compared to the very intelligent dolphin in many ways. They are gentle in the best kind of way. I felt so special to be in their presence.

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At the end of the trip, I knew I’d had a unique experience. Captain Ed said you’re never going to get as much love as we did that cold January morning in the warm Florida spring water. In the end, we never were cold and had almost missed the adventure of a lifetime over nothing. A friend looked at this picture of me and said my expression was different, the glow of the morning showing in my smile. I know the magic of the manatees had rubbed off on me. I’m very lucky!

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Oklahoma State University bills its Homecoming as “America’s Greatest Homecoming Celebration” with a whole lotta pride and reason to celebrate. As the university celebrates its 125th year, the Homecoming theme for 2015 was “Stillwater…Still Loyal…Still True.” It makes you pause a day later because of the importance of that statement in the aftermath of a year of planning, a week of festivities, a weekend of wonder mixed with unbelievable tragedy.

I’m an alum, was a graduate assistant in the English department back in my day, my first married years were spent in Stillwater, my oldest daughter was born in this town, some of my children and their spouses graduated from OSU, I am now on staff part time, my oldest grandson is a Freshman and I have another grandson coming here next year. I have ties galore. I really hadn’t been back for Homecoming weekend until 2011 when one of my grandsons, who was 13 at the time, and I came up for the weekend. It was such a delight that I couldn’t wait to come back. I only live a little over an hour away, but you have to plan for it. Stillwater is a town of 47,000 population, but there were 85,000 people there on Friday night this year. Yeah!

OSU Homecoming takes a year of planning, thousands of hours of work by student groups, and lasts for a week. There is something for everyone. The festivities kick off on Sunday with a ceremony to dye the water in the fountain in front of the iconic library orange. America’s Brightest Orange is everywhere!DSC_0030Every day is a new activity, with opportunities for any student group to participate. There is the Sign Contest on the library lawn, which shows off the creativity and spirit of the students…DSC_0017DSC_0038There’s a chili contest, a carnival for children, and a Paint the Street night open to anyone. A late week rain washed away some of the work, but the remnants were under our feet walking to the stadium on Saturday.IMG_8787IMG_8789Friday night is the WalkAround, a night where the streets in front of the university are closed and people walk around to see the massive house decorations designed and created by Greek Students. These were here when I was in school, but it’s beyond my imagination to see how these are built. When I arrived in Stillwater for meetings early Friday, it had rained overnight and students were hustling, working with huge equipment and lifts to finish the decorations before the judges arrived at 1:00. These structures are beautiful, inspiring, have moving parts, and are great fun.DSC_0006 It was my grandson’s first time to work on one, so I was sharing his pride.

DSC_0002He’s in this photo in the white shirt. He’s 6’4″ to give you an idea of the size.DSC_0008Before one of my meetings on Friday, Pistol Pete arrived in the building. I’ve shared my love of our mascot, the only college mascot based on a real person. He was in our department to greet alums and I caught this shot of him walking with one of the little fans, who was just learning to say “Pistol Pete.” He had on cowboy boots with the image of Pete and his grandfather was showing him the picture on the boots and then pointing to the real Pete. I don’t know if this little one understood, but he walked off with Pete, to his mom and grandparents’ delight.IMG_8683While I waited for some of my family to arrive in Stillwater for the WalkAround, I took pictures, as I always do, of things that caught my eye. Here’s Old Central, the original building and the oldest on campus, all spiffed up to greet alums.DSC_0020Everything was in place to greet the OSU family.DSC_0010DSC_0013I walked across campus, catching the moon over the #1 Student Union in the country.DSC_0028As the crowd began to build, the strip was ready with its familiar shops, restaurants and bars.DSC_0027The crowds were building, the streets were closed.DSC_0042When I came in 2011, it was harder to find food if you didn’t want to stand in line for an hour at a restaurant. Now there are food trucks everywhere, tents with OSU clothes and gifts, activities for all ages. The lights came on at Theta Pond, way more beautiful than when I was in school.IMG_8686Five of my grandsons did the WalkAround. Four of them, including the Freshman, had never seen it before and it was fun to share it with them. With bands playing, people of all ages filling every street, sightings of campus celebrities, members of the OSU band doing impromptu songs, dancing on the Student Union terrace, alums running into old friends, the memories flooding, the pride swelling, it’s the greatest street party ever.

By 9:00, the major activities are winding down and the crowd can move towards famous Gallagher-Iba Arena for Homecoming & Hoops, the perfect ending to the evening. This is basically a free pep rally for students and anyone else who enjoys the noise. The arena is famous for the noisy atmosphere during basketball season and this pep rally is perfect in that space. As I entered, the students were seated in groups, waving lighted sticks and screaming. The noise level is intense and my friend had ear plugs. I loved it!IMG_8691

The evening begins with the football coach, Mike Gundy, thanking the students for their hard work and inviting them all to the game the next day. I watched the coach while the music was leading up to him talking. He moved with the music, shooting his hand in the air with the spirit of the evening. On the sidelines, he has to watch the game. Here, he’s a Cowboy all the way – former stat breaking quarterback to coach. Here, he gets to be a fan for a few minutes before he leaves to prepare for the game.DSC_0058Pistol Pete is walking the sidelines, the band is playing. The OSU Women’s Basketball team gives a 10 minute preview of their skills, followed by the pom squad, a skit by the OSU Wrestling Team, a lip sync competition, announcement of winners of various contests during the week, t-shirts are shot and dropped into the student sections, small footballs are thrown to the crowds, a big demonstration by the cheerleaders, ending with a preview of the OSU Men’s Basketball Team. It’s a wild and crazy finish to the day.DSC_0062IMG_8694As we left, by luck of who I know and was with, I got to stand on the field, imagining what a young player must think and imagining what would take place the next day. Those goal posts look very narrow and that goal line is far away from the 50 yard line. Wow! IMG_8706By Friday night, for those of you who are into these things, I had walked over 18,000 steps. And, I still felt good. My head was full of so many years of memories and pride in what was going on in this wonderful place.

Saturday morning, I was ready to go to the Sea of Orange Parade. I remember taking my oldest daughter to it when she was a baby and I loved it the last time I was here. This isn’t really something the student body attends unless they’re in it because many of them have been up all night all week getting ready for Homecoming. This parade is more about families, generations. Stillwater is still a small town and this is the best of what a small town brings to a university experience. I almost didn’t go and visited with my friend I was staying with, but decided I didn’t want to miss any of this great experience and headed downtown alone. I stood near the beginning of the parade so I missed probably the first 1/3 to 1/2 of it, including the OSU Marching Band, all the OSU dignitaries, state politicians, Pistol Pete, the cheerleaders, etc. That’s ok because I got the feeling I was looking for. I’m sharing more photos with you than I planned because it really means more now.

Right after the Stillwater High School band, where I came in, was the OSU Polo Team. I bet you didn’t know we had a team, did you? We also have a Rodeo Team. We do horses here.DSC_0068And there were other horse riding groups…DSC_0072and dogs…DSC_0095and trucks and tractors and motorcycles and cars. DSC_0076DSC_0078DSC_0082

DSC_0069DSC_0114Note the crowds along the street. There were decorated flatbeds and walking politicians and others throwing candy to the kids with nobody acting like they were in any danger of poison candy. I moved down the street and stood beside pick up trucks owned by people who came early to park along the street and use the truck for parade watching. There were generations of families, waving to the parade participants, neighbors knowing everybody who walked by. I overheard people telling each other things like, “she does my hair sometimes,” “that’s my former student,” “he lives in Perkins now.” It’s a small town atmosphere, a family setting at its best.

There were beauty queens…DSC_0075and dance schools, and karate students, and little baton twirlers…DSC_0102There was pride in America…DSC_0090pride in our school and pride in our lives.DSC_0118There were local celebrities…DSC_0109and the ever popular marching lawnmower team, doing its routines along the way.DSC_0083DSC_0087And, bands, small town bands. I’m so very impressed with the number of kids who play all these instruments in the very very small towns. That’s a tribute to some teachers, some tradition, some pride.DSC_0106DSC_0096I walked up to the beginning of the parade in time to see the last of it, the mounted sheriffs turning the corner onto Main, to be followed by the Stillwater Fire Trucks. DSC_0123I walked to my car a little after 10:00, drove to McDonald’s to use the restroom and grab something to eat before I drove to the other side of campus to find a parking place for the game, planning to find some students and meet my friends later. I turned onto Hall of Fame and headed towards the stadium, not realizing what was going on or about to happen a couple of blocks from me. By the time I parked my car on a side street north of campus, I was starting to get messages that someone had driven a car into the parade crowds and people were killed. I was totally ignorant of where the parade ended, so I couldn’t place anything. Dear friends and family were contacting me to see if I was ok. What in the world? I walked the few blocks to the stadium, taking my phone charger with me because it was going down fast. This was becoming a strange day quickly.

The campus was crowded with tailgate parties. I can’t begin to tell you how crowded it gets and how many parties are going on. Here was an elaborate set up near the stadium. IMG_8747Families and friends were gathered to eat and hug and share the day. The smells of grills and barbecue were filling the air. IMG_8772I realized most of these people, thousands of them didn’t know anything or much more than I did about what was happening. But there was a subdued feeling beginning to hover over us. I found one of my student friends and plugged my phone into their trailer (Gad – there is so much to tailgating now!) and heard the first rumors, all of which proved to be false. I had heard a few sirens and saw some helicopters that I assumed were news media. As I left to walk around, I lost cell coverage, maybe due to the stadium, maybe due to the mass of people using all these devices. I saw televisions in tailgate tents turned to the news, but most people probably didn’t know unless they were being contacted. I was getting messages on Facebook, texts, etc. I was using power fast trying to reassure everyone.  For some reason, this orange colored dog made me smile in the middle of this strange time.IMG_8790

 

Mostly the campus was Homecoming as usual, maybe quieter when I think back. It was a day of celebration and of shock. It was time for The Walk, the parade of the band, cheerleaders, pom squad, coaches and players walking across campus to the stadium through a line of fans and well wishers. Usually this is noisy and boisterous. Today was quiet. The band wasn’t playing, other than a few drummers with a somber march. They were followed by quiet, respectful cheerleaders and pom squad. IMG_8763Pete arrived, cheering the crowd as always, somehow reassuring that our world is still there, living and breathing.IMG_8760The team walked by, huge kids. One stopped to give hugs to the people next to me. I’m sure they wanted reassurance, too. They may be big, but they’re somebody’s kid. IMG_8766Coach walked by, slapping the hand of the woman next to me who reached out to him.IMG_8769There was no noise at the end, the parade filtered into the stadium in silence. Game Day was here.

I decided to go into the stadium early because it’s fun to watch it get set up and I knew my friends were somewhere on their way. Besides, I was still having trouble with texts and messages getting through. Walking into the stadium early, the first thing that smacked me in my heart was the great flag at half mast. It’s really true and happening to these families so close by. You couldn’t shake that image all day long.IMG_8797So I filled the next hour watching the crowd build, the team practicing with different units, the school fight songs filling the air. The team came out and warmed up in formation, which I think is so coolIMG_8803They went back to the locker room, preparing to make their entrance. The KU and OSU bands played and everyone got in place to welcome the team to the field. IMG_8808I felt curiosity, waiting to see how this was going to be handled. As seen on television, there was a moment of silence, appropriate for all. The game was played, OSU won in a lopsided victory that made it easy for fans to slip out after the half-time. I stayed to the end, holding my friend as we sang and swayed to the alma mater along with the tradition of the team singing it with the students after the game. IMG_8816I stopped at a friend’s house after the game, welcoming the chance to get dinner and talk a little before I drove home. It was nice to be with good people, Stillwater residents, though there is no sense to be made of the tragedy of the day. Someone said this was not just an OSU tragedy, this was a Stillwater tragedy. I’ve been through senseless things before, I’ve lost loved ones. I watched video of the crash, horrified to see how close the children on a parade truck and walking came to being hit. I’m horrified they had to see this, horrified that it will haunt them forever. My love goes out to those who were there because the rest of us can only hold them in our hearts and hope for their physical and mental recovery.

The one thing I do know is that the irony of having something like this happen in the middle of such a great traditional weekend of Homecoming is offset just a little knowing how strong the ties are in the community of Stillwater and OSU. This is a strong family with shared memories and a lot of pride and love. It will help. It will.  IMG_8752

This all started when I saw a news story on a senior center where the residents were playing Pickleball and I thought it looked like fun. Where have I been? There are Pickleball courts all over town that I knew nothing about. One of the most popular is less than a mile away, so I went down to watch. Wow! It’s in a senior center that uses a church area and gym and offers a wealth of programming for old folks (defined as 50 & over).

OK. I know I’m a senior, hopefully, a young seeming senior. This place was inspiring, positively inspiring. First, I joined at the crazy low price of $25 a year. A year! I started walking because they have an indoor track that circles over the gym floor, allowing me to watch all the various activities. And, then I took Pickleball lessons from the dynamite 81 year old instructor, who was obviously a gym teacher in her previous life. I also learned she had been a nun, so double whammy of discipline there.

In this place, I’m kind of in the middle of the age groups, so I fit right in. Nobody hesitates to welcome you or visit with you, so I jumped into Pickleball, where I’m also in the middle of the skill ranges at this point. Pickleball is a cross between tennis, badminton and ping pong, played with a paddle and a whiffle ball on a short court. I always feel like I’m on a giant ping pong table due to the sound of hitting the ball.

Don’t let the fact that I’ve been playing with 70 and 80 year olds make you think that these people can’t play. Good grief! One of the first people I talked to was a woman who retired last year after working 54 years for the same company. 54 Years! Unheard of for today’s workers. She retired because she had a stroke, but she’s recovered except for a little memory loss. I’d say she has also had knee problems from the way she moves. Anyway, she told me she also plays on the women’s basketball team in the 75-80 bracket and then she spotted a woman she said is on her bowling team. I will say she doesn’t always move fast on the Pickleball court, but she can sure hit the ball hard.

I played with a gentleman who I estimate to be 83 (my firm wild guess). He slowly walks onto the court and then, WHAM! I couldn’t believe this guy. He doesn’t move fast to the ball, but he hits hard with strategic shots. Several of the other women, good players I have played, with have asked him to go soft for us. Very deceptive, these old people. The line to play is always long, so they play fair with everyone changing partners every game and nobody is too obnoxiously competitive so far. Of course, I don’t play on the Advanced play days, so they may change in those games. This lady told me she’s been playing a  year and she’s good. I think she’s finally accepted me as a player and won’t wince when we end up together. She also told me she sometimes lets shots go by because she doesn’t feel like running for them. My kind of player.

IMG_7773At the end of a game, the players meet at the net to touch paddles and tell each other what a good game it was. Very fun. You’ll note the knee brace on one player. I watched a game stop for a minute last week when a lady’s pacemaker came undone. She hooked it up and kept playing. She’s another very good player.IMG_7781From my walking vantage point, I watch some of the other activities, such as Tai Chi, a great activity for balance and strength. There is also Zumba Gold, a low impact dance exercise class. Watching these ladies, listening to the variety of music to which they were moving, I realized that these ladies were always dancers. They did ballroom, swing, cha cha and rhumba, Western line dances, and rock & roll. These ladies did the Twist when they were young and now they’re moving to those same tunes. They cooled down to Frank Sinatra after some faster numbers and I thought of how many dances they had been to in their lifetimes and how many of them were probably dancing without their life long partners these days since the women do tend to outlive the men, no matter what we’d like to think. The memories moving to this music must bring to mind…IMG_7725Another day, I walked my two miles very quickly, watching a Functional Movement class that made me tired to think about. These ladies were bending and pulling in ways that I’m not sure I could do or even want to try, although I should. In this one, they walked with a partner who pulled on the giant rubber band to give them resistance. That’s not so bad, but the floor exercises…IMG_7782Today, I walked while the basketball teams warmed up, watching gray and white haired ladies make basket after basket as they practiced their drills. I don’t know if they played a game or not, but the drills were fun to watch. They all arrived with their own basketballs, which is so amazing to me, although I have my own Pickleball paddle now.IMG_7813These aren’t the only ones moving or active around the place. There is a small gym with exercise equipment, Yoga, and seated exercise and seated Yoga classes which are always full, plus activities for the mind. There is Bridge, Mah Jongg, Skip-Bo, Canasta, a knitting group and a painting group. One of my friends goes to a group called Stories, where people meet to share memories and stories. Some of them bring things to read, others tell stories, some share things they have written. One lady in her 90s reads poetry she writes. There are several 90+ year olds in this group with a great collection of memories to share. And, of course, there are Pot Luck lunch on Fridays.

I find this group so inspiring to watch and be a minor part of, especially since these are my peeps after all. It’s also a nice contrast to the days when I work on the university campus and feel every bit my age watching the students pass me by. I have a lot of things going on in my life, so I’m just walking and playing Pickleball, unlike some of them who are there every day for many things. Mostly, I love seeing that they laugh and share and think and remember and play and, most of all, move! We all need to move, no matter what our age. And, I like movin’ with these nice people. I’ll let you know if I get good enough for the Advanced group in Pickleball. I’m not sure I’m old enough!