Archives for category: Places

Tracking your family history is an amazing journey down so many trails leading to more names and places and mysteries that make us realize how our personal stories are intertwined with so many others as we strive to see how our present day lives evolved from the layers of our country’s development. A casual question to my mother in her later years opened my eyes to things I hadn’t even envisioned as part of my own story. I think I asked her what her father and grandfather did for a living in Ardmore, Oklahoma. Fortunately, it was so fascinating that I made her tell the story again and made a recording of her telling me all the details.

To begin the story, I have learned that my great-grandfather, E. Z. West (Ephraim Zachariah) and his wife, Hattie, moved north from around Grapevine, Texas. Hattie was born in Alabama and somehow ended up in Texas. I’m surmising that her family kept moving west in search of a better life along with countless others. She and E.Z. had three sons, the youngest dying at age 8 and buried in Grapevine. They moved with the other two sons, Ben (my grandfather) and John to the area around Ardmore. They were probably part of the “Intruder” movement of white and black non-citizens who moved onto land owned by the Chickasaw Nation and eventually quit paying the Chickasaw natives for the use of the land. I’m not sure what year they arrived, but thousands of people were coming to the area to take advantage of all the opportunities. I don’t get the impression the Wests had a lot of money and I see them in their covered wagon looking for a place to settle in this newly developing area.

I know there was a house in the country owned by the West family because I think my mother and her brothers were probably born there. At some point, they began to purchase property in the new town of Ardmore, where E.Z. built a house with a wagon yard next door. This is the part that was new to me. I knew the house because I had been in it many times as a small child when my aunt and uncle lived there. I had no idea what the wagon yard was. I asked my mother when she mentioned it, thinking it was a place where wagons were built or repaired. She explained that a wagon yard was a place where people who came into town stayed and parked their wagons, kind of an old time motel. She picked up a scrap of paper and drew me a picture of the wagon yard as she remembered it.

She was in her 80s at this time and remembered details, even though she only remembered being in it once or twice as a child. Since she was born in 1921, it was not too long before the wagon yard was leased to be a lumber yard. She showed me on the drawing where there was a store for the people to buy supplies and how there were little rooms with a fireplace for them to stay. At the same time, she drew a picture of the house, remembering what every tree in the yard was and where every piece of furniture was, what my great-grandmother wore and what she ate. I couldn’t believe I had never heard this story before, but that’s my fault for not asking sooner.

Here is a map I found later, showing the wagon yard, much as she had described it.

I looked up wagon yards and found they were probably the biggest business in town. Between 1893 and 1925, there were 39 wagon yards in Ardmore, Oklahoma, which was a major importer of cotton at the time and farmers were bringing their crops to town. Rooms in hotels were $1 a night, while wagon yards only charged about 15 cents, so they were crowded and popular. Photos of the times show the main street absolutely blocked with lines of wagons going down the street.

Here is a photo of E. Z. and Hattie with their son John from when they were in Grapevine. John died at the age of 19 and is buried in Ardmore’s Rose Cemetery along with his parents.

This mystery has taken me years to uncover – not that I was spending that much time on it. I would get interested again and the beauty of the internet would unlock another piece of the story. I kept finding out more along the way, even traveling to Ardmore to see if I could find more information in a casual way, unlocking dates on Ancestry.com, etc.

I know my great-grandparents began to purchase more property around town. My grandfather, Ben, died at 50, leaving my grandmother with three children during the Depression. My mother spent a lot of time with her grandmother, who was a widow by this time since E.Z. died in 1920. Here is a picture of my mother and her brothers with Hattie, probably around the time Ben died.

I know that Hattie left each of the grandchildren a house of their own, along with other property in town. Here I am as a child in front of the house that my great-grandparents and later my aunt and uncle lived in, across the street from Ardmore’s Central Park. Since I was born in 1945, you can see that the house was there for a long time. Today, there is a performing arts center on the property along with a law office.

My fascination with wagon yards continued and I recently found photos of a couple of examples in other towns.

But, wow! I hit the jackpot recently when I opened a book on Ardmore history and found a photo of what I had been looking for all these years, my family’s wagon yard, the largest in town. This photo was taken after E.Z. died and my great-grandmother was leasing it, but there it is. Many have referred to it as the West End Wagon Yard, but the name came from my family, the Wests.

I know this is the one because that is the address where my mother described it and where I remember playing as a child. It’s such a thrill to uncover some real family history when rummaging around so many images and so much information on the internet.

Here is an aerial map of the place today, matching everything my mother told me and I remember.

I’m proud of the pioneering spirit of my family in Ardmore and happy to bring a story to life for my own children and grandchildren. It puts a lot into perspective for me as I keep searching for stories that explain why my family is what it is. It helps me understand personalities in the family as well as what our roles in the country’s history were.

An interesting side note is that at the same time the wagon yard era was coming to a close, my paternal grandfather in Kentucky had graduated as an engineer and was becoming involved in the automotive industry, specifically the aftermarket with parts, which took him to Ohio, then Wichita, Kansas, and eventually to Oklahoma. It seems my family followed the evolution of transportation in one way or another from the late 19th to the early 20th century.

It all makes me feel a part of the story of America as I connect with my ancestors’ stories and begin to feel I know them better. There is so much to learn about the people who are the reason I came to be where and who I am before I am the ancestor story myself.

Lazy summer days are meant for meandering thoughts. Mine came while squinting into the sun, looking for signs of my youngest granddaughter in the vast swimming pool. She’s almost 11, but I automatically check to see where she is. She’s past the age where she delighted in playing with me and is content to be by herself or interacting with other kids, even though it’s 2020 and we’re trying to socially distance even in the water. That leaves me free to remember the years that explode in my mind as I listen to the sounds of happy people in the pool, cooling off on a hot summer day.

I go back over 70 years with this particular pool. Well, it wasn’t this exact pool, but it was this place. We moved to Tulsa when I was about 2 1/2 and my parents immediately joined Tulsa Country Club, the oldest country club in town, having opened in 1908. Daddy was a champion golfer and needed a place to play. He had come back from World War II and married at the age of 32 and rejoined the family business, moving to Tulsa to open a new branch in 1948. At what age they started bringing me to the pool, I have no idea, but we were certainly around the club in one way or another.

My first memories of the pool are of taking swimming lessons. The old pool, opened in 1935, was by the old clubhouse and this was back in the 1950s, my olden days. The pool was a large rectangle with a shallow end and a deep end that had both a low and high diving board. There were dressing rooms at the end of the pool and a grassy area to one side and an area with tables and chairs on the other end. Our swimming lessons were taught by Coach Charvoz, a coach at Central High School, who also managed the pool in the summers. I remember him so well, standing in the pool with a floppy hat to shield him from the sun, demonstrating the different strokes for us. He would stand in front of us and have us swim towards him, stepping back the closer we got until we could make it all the way across the pool. He was an excellent teacher as I can still remember everything he taught me about swimming the backstroke, sidestroke, breaststroke and crawl. I’m still pretty good, although the pool today isn’t as conducive to swimming laps as it was then.

My favorite thing to do for many years was to try and swim the length of the pool in one breath. I don’t know how long the pool was, but I could do it. I wasn’t as much of a fan of the boards, although I could dive off the small one. I’m sure my lifelong fear of heights comes from climbing up the ladder onto the high board and jumping off. It wasn’t a thrill for me – more likely something I did to show I could. Once or twice.

There were so many games we played in the pool, from racing to diving for objects to Marco Polo (why won’t that game go away?). The lifeguards constantly told us not to run around the pool, but we were kids and the pavement was scorching our feet. So many rules back then that have gone away. We were living in the age of polio, so we were constantly reminded to be careful of water. We couldn’t get in the pool for an hour after eating for fear of getting stomach cramps and drowning. This was proven not to be true, but we spent many an hour waiting impatiently for the pool clock to tick to our hour when we could jump back in. We also had to shower before we entered the pool. I still think this is a rule, although few follow it.

Another rule was that the girls had to wear swim caps. This was to keep the hair out of the pool filters, but it was pretty annoying. The guys kept their hair cut in buzz cuts for the summer so they didn’t have to worry. I kept my hair short, but still had to wear that cap. It was no fun squeezing your hair into that piece of rubber, although I guess it did keep it dry. The chin strap was just as irritating as the cap. I still cringe when I think of having to wear those darned things. By the time I was a teenager, it was even more annoying as we were striving to be bathing beauties as we laid in the sun, trying to attract the attention of whatever boys were around.

The sunbathing area was a large patch of lovely grass between the pool area and the clubhouse. To get refreshments, you went to the clubhouse, where there were steps to a window on the side where you could order hamburgers, drinks, ice cream and whatever. Those are the things I remember- cold Grapettes, hamburgers, ice cream bars. We spread our towels on the grass and slathered our bodies with tanning creams, including the all time favorite of baby oil and iodine. Those were the days when all we wanted was a good tan and knew nothing of skin cancers or the dangers of too much sun. We put lemon juice in our hair to bleach it in the sun and worked on getting that coveted beach look of tan skin and sun lightened hair. No wonder so many of us have skin cancers in our old age.

And those summers of my youth melted into the summers when I returned as a young mother. By then, the clubhouse had been moved from the site where it had stood in a wonderful old three story brick building since 1917 to the other side of the golf course into a “modern building,” a move that caused much grumbling among many of the members. The old building burned to the ground in 1986, leaving those of us who were fortunate enough to experience it with only fond memories, which leads me into other memories to be shared another time.

The new pool was a rectangle that flowed  into a smaller rectangle that was the diving area. There was a separate wading pool for the little ones. If I spent many hours of my childhood and youth at the old pool, I spent so many more at this one as a parent. My husband and I were able to get a junior membership and my summers as a stay at home mom were marked by the days we spent in the sun, moving from the baby pool to the main pool in what now seems like a flash. There was golf and tennis, but it was mainly the pool. My kids learned to swim there, taking lessons much as I had, and learning strokes that eventually led them onto swim teams in the winter months. They were genuine “pool brats” that I could leave to swim while I ran errands, went to meetings or played golf. They have their own memories of those days, but mine are of sitting with other moms, trying to talk over the constant cries of “Mommy, watch me.” To this day, I can hear those calls and hear the sounds of play that became the background of so many lovely days.

One of our favorite days in the summer has always been the Fourth of July, when there were swim games and races and fireworks. This has been a tradition that continues into the next generation. Here are my two oldest daughters waiting for a race to start:IMG_4802 2and my youngest daughter catching goldfish in the wading pool. IMG_4805Here is my husband playing with our son in the wading pool:IMG_4804and my middle daughter feeding her brother the wonderful pool water (yikes!)Scan 4and my oldest daughter diving from the board. IMG_4807Life went on and the kids grew up and I probably didn’t spend as many days poolside until the next generation appeared and we were once again gathering there in the summers. Here are my daughters and the oldest five grandsons at the wading pool:Scan 10and then there were a couple of more grandkids at the pool.Kids at TCC PoolAnd before I knew it,  they were growing up.

And then they were in the races and diving competitions. I will note (with a little bit of a grin) that our family is pretty competitive and we have won a lot of club races through the years.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd then there were improvements at the club and by 2012, the old pool was gone and the new pool was in. This time, it is a spa design with a diving area, a slide, and a beach type area for wading, complete with fountains. My grandkids were bigger

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand still doing races in the new pool.DSC_0253By this time, we had lost my son, who was the kid that hung around the pool and knew everyone behind the scenes and everyone knew him by name. We are lucky to have his daughter, who has now grown up at the pool, following her cousins, aunts and father. And me, of course.DSC_0046

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1 1/2 years oldMy three daughters are now the mothers of grown children, but still like to hang out at the pool together.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy grandchildren are growing up, with seven of them in college or beyond. In 2020, it’s just my last granddaughter, turning 11 soon, and me by the pool on this sunny day. Some things are the same. The lifeguards are watching the kids, who are calling to their mothers to see what they can do. Kiddos are asking for snacks, running when they should be walking, doing belly flops off the board, diving for objects, making up fun pool games and making new pool friends. The parents are more diverse and have their electronics with them to read books or check their messages. Now they have their drinks delivered to poolside, where they visit and relax. They look younger all the time to me, as they should.

Sometimes I wonder what my parents would think of the changes around the pool. Not the activities or the pool itself, but the people. From the time I was a child until I was too far into adulthood, the country club was segregated. Now you see a diversity of races in the families, which is nice. It’s more of a slice of our community.

The parents are not as uptight as they used to be and this summer of quarantine, there are more fathers around during the week. I can picture my mother making funny comments about their various tattoos. She wouldn’t have been shocked, but she would have found it as amusing as I do. Since I have so much time to observe, I think about why each tattoo was chosen. Why does this young mother have “Gone Fishing” on her middle right back? What does that woman have a slice of pie on her arm? What was this man thinking when he asked for all those interesting pictures of ships and animals to be inked into his chest? My husband used to amuse me with stories of the tattoos he saw when he was in the Navy back in the sixties. I’m sure he would be rolling his eyes at me. I take it all in when I sit by the pool these days. My mind is full with images of all those decades.

It’s a vault full of memories that flash by with each splash of the water, each squeal of a child, each kid jumping wildly off the board or each girl parading by with her suntanned body glowing with youth and health. It’s just one tiny piece of my life really, but it’s all tied together at this pool in the summer. There are so many places like this for remembering all the good people and things that I have been lucky enough to have in my life. It’s a reminder that I have more good memories than bad ones, more family and friends and love in my life than so many. It’s a good thing to be reminded of on a hot summer day.

Last weekend, I took a long drive to the Talimena Scenic Byway in southeastern Oklahoma to see the fall foliage and enjoy the spectacular views. It is always refreshing to enter the Ouachita Mountains (pronounced wash-i-ta) and begin to see pine trees along with the native oaks along the way. As you turn onto the Talimena scenic drive which runs between Oklahoma and Arkansas, you begin to climb the Winding Stair Mountain National Recreation Area and find numerous scenic view turnouts.

While walking around the Panoramic Scenic View Area, I found myself beside a tall, large, young man (maybe 30), who suddenly turned to me and said, “Have you ever seen a view like this?” He was so excited and thrilled. I told him I have, but that this is one of my favorites in the world, which it is.dsc_0800 He said this was his first time to come here and I told him I come whenever I can. I asked him where he was from and he said, “Checotah,” which is about an hour and a half away. Then he told me that he didn’t have much of a Bucket List because he didn’t have much money, but he had a Thimble List. I told him this was definitely a great place to have on it. He told me he had never seen the ocean, but was planning to go next year. He told me that even if you were Rembrandt, whom he admired, you could never outdo the Lord’s work. I told him it was definitely a place to restore your soul.

About that time, his wife joined him and they walked away, but I stood there, looking at the views, thinking about what he said. A Thimble List. What a great thing for all of us to have.dsc_0789I watched the shadows from the clouds spread across the valley and took in all the beauty around me. dsc_0795We all need a Thimble List, which I define as a list of places to visit and things to do that are not unobtainable, not far from home. I can’t criticize him for just now getting to this beautiful place because I didn’t see it for the first time until I was in my late 50s or 60s. It’s only 2 1/2 hours from my home, but I might have missed it.

We all need to find places of beauty, try new experiences, meet new people and there are so many places we walk by every day or don’t take the time to enjoy, even when they are close to home. Sometimes those places are harder to take time to explore because our daily schedules are so busy and full of activities that range from work to sitting in front of the television and we don’t just get up and do it. We only plan for things that take us far away from our routines.

In the rush of time that I’m facing as I get older, I find that the little things on my Thimble List mean as much to the quality of my life as the larger things that I try to experience. My Bucket List is full of dreams that may or may not happen, but my Thimble List is doable.

Look at your own Thimble List and do something this week! You won’t regret it.

My 10 year old granddaughter was experimenting in the kitchen, trying to make something with ice and a Grapette. Grandmothers know what a mess can be made but are a slight bit more tolerant than parents.

I’m not sure exactly what she was trying to achieve, but I told her I knew exactly what to do. I dug around and pulled out an old ice tray and filled it with Grapette and froze it. This gave her a history lesson (What’s an ice tray?) as well as brought back so many memories for me.img_0459Way back in the 1950s, when I was younger than my granddaughter now, we used to drive to visit my grandmother in Ardmore, Oklahoma. At that time, until the turnpikes and highways were built, the drive from Tulsa took at least four hours and involved going through multiple small towns and then winding along the narrow roads through the Arbuckles until you hit a flat road into Ardmore.IMG_0526This doesn’t look too bad, but it was narrow with big trucks going by quickly.  It used to scare me, sitting in the back seat looking at the drop off. I can now drive myself through the mountains in California and Colorado without freaking out, but it took me a long time to get over this minor childhood trauma (I had a great childhood).

When we got to my grandmother’s house, which was mostly in the summer when school was out, she would greet us and we would run to the kitchen and look in the refrigerator for squares, as we called them. These were the days when Kool-Aid was new and she would make a pitcher with lots of sugar and water (no instant in those days) and then freeze it in ice trays for us. We would grab a few squares (usually cherry or grape) in a bowl and take it to the front porch where we could sit on the porch swing and suck the sweetness out of those frozen treats. In Oklahoma, when it was hot and no or little air conditioning, this was the best.

Now, I know this isn’t the healthiest treat for any of us and I really like fruits and nuts, but this memory was so powerful. Add in the fact that I used a Grapette, which was our favorite drink in the summer (we used to pour it over ice cream for a special treat) and I couldn’t resist. My granddaughter took her bowl of squares to the glider (which was my mother’s) on the deck on a sunny fall day.

I took a square. There is no way that she got the same feelings that I did from this frozen experience. Besides the instant rush of grape flavor, there was a flood of memories of my grandmother, my mother, sitting on the porch swing, the drive, all of it.

IMG_0528Maybe my granddaughter will remember doing this – maybe not. That’s ok since we have plenty of other memories we’ve shared. For me, this was a trip back in time, into my heart and soul, for the sweetest of times, the times of love and family.

It was my second trip to Mt Rushmore, this time with three of my grandsons, ages 16 to about to turn 19. Their excitement was fun to share and I knew it would be a thrill for them as they had told me as we planned our trip. We got there late in the afternoon, catching our first glimpse from the road. They said it felt surreal to see something they had only seen in textbooks.

As we walked up, there were the faces of the four presidents in shade of the afternoon light and we walked through the hall of flags from each of our 50 states, catching Oklahoma’s as it twisted in the breeze.IMG_0469We posed for the obligatory pictures, asking strangers to help us get a shot of us all. This is so much easier now that everyone uses cell phones and knows how to work them. Everyone is helpful and friendly and everyone wants their picture there. There were visitors from all over the United States and we heard various languages spoken, as is the case wherever we travel, reminding us of the universal hope of our country.

After leaving to change clothes for the cooler night, we returned for the evening ceremony. When I had seen it several years ago, veterans were asked to come to the stage and recognized for their service. I noted several veterans seated around us in the amphitheater, including a Vietnam veteran in front of us. That was my era. I looked at the stage and thought to myself that there were quite a few steps to get there, both down and back up. Not all veterans can manage that.

Instead, patriotic music began playing 30 minutes before the ceremony and Ranger Dorothy appeared and walked through the crowd, personally greeting the guests and welcoming them. I’m a big fan of the National Park Rangers and Ranger Dorothy was no exception. They are the protectors of our land, our monuments, our history, our natural resources, and they do so with such humor and strength and wisdom.

When the ceremony began, Ranger Dorothy, a small white-headed ranger, told the story of the Star Spangled Banner and read the original poem. She then disappeared, like the Wizard of Oz, behind a screen to start a video. There were technical problems, but she persevered with the patience of the crowd and we were treated to a video about the four presidents and why they were chosen to be immortalized. In National Park fashion, this was a very strong message about our country and its strength. Here is my quick summary:

George Washington was the Father of Our Country, but his great contribution was noted as refusing to let himself be labeled King, leading the way for a country that was governed by the people and not under one person’s rule.

Thomas Jefferson was chosen for his writing of the Constitution, penning the words “Liberty and Justice for All,” creating a nation for people of all creeds and backgrounds.

Abraham Lincoln was chosen for being the President who kept the nation united in its time of greatest division, choosing to keep us one nation.

Theodore Roosevelt was chosen for his work at busting both Wall Street and corporations to keep things fair for all people and for his work in conservation of our natural resources, creating national parks and monuments.

In my education in the 1950s and 1960s, I recognize that we were given a sanitized version of our history and our presidents. I’ve studied and read for most of my life and recognize that none of these presidents was perfect and not all of their actions, both personal and political, were beyond criticism at all times. Nevertheless, they have stood the test of time for their lasting impact on our country and our vision of ourselves as Americans.

At the end of the film, the visitors stood as the monument was lighted and we sang the National Anthem together on a slightly chilly early summer evening in the Black Hills. Veterans were invited to join Ranger Dorothy to lower the flag.IMG_0273I brought the boys back the next morning to see Mt Rushmore in all its glory with the morning sun shining on the faces. We had the perfect blue sky and got another photo with the guys, as we had begun to call them.IMG_2605We had been through the museum and seen the film showing the construction of the memorial the night before and I know the boys will be studying this story more as we all marveled at the men who built this beautiful monument with all odds against the project, both financial and dangerous risks. It is a true marvel of sculptural achievement and a tribute to not only Gustav Borglum, but to his family, including his son, Lincoln, who finished the project, and to the scores of workers. Not a life was lost making this monument.

A note on history: I was so fascinated the first time I visited that I read everything I could about the project and Borglum and watched every video I could find. I still am in awe of him, despite the fact that he was one of those geniuses that aren’t always the easiest to live with. His workers were dedicated, as were his wife and children, which says a lot. His controversial sides are part of the historical times and his story is worth exploring.

As we left the memorial on that glorious morning, we walked by a man striding in. I have been trying to process this since then, trying to put it in perspective of what I know and understand. He was an ordinary man, middle aged, heavy set, wearing a navy t-shirt that boldly said “Trump 45th President” with a lot of words underneath. He was carrying an oversized flag on a pole and I knew he was on his way to wave it in front of the memorial with a friend to photograph the moment. I had actually seen someone else doing this the day before, although not in an obvious t-shirt. I will say the man was walking with purpose, although the expression on his face was just below belligerent. The flag was also probably heavy, so I will give him that.

The few seconds I saw him jarred me. Later, I wished I’d had the nerve to stop him and, with my three grandsons towering over me, ask him to speak about his views. I didn’t want to be judgmental, but it would be a lesson to understand what he was trying to say in front of those faces who exemplify all that is great about our country. Nobody else was proclaiming anything other than that they were moved to be there – or, at the very least, crossing something off their bucket list. There was a neutral area for people espousing causes to gather inside the monument and I saw a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses speaking to whoever would stop. It’s not like you can’t say what you want to in our national parks and monuments.

I guess it made me think about the term Patriot. I think of my father, my uncles and my husband who served in the military, along with all the other who have served to protect us. I think of all of our politicians, most of who go into service with great intentions. Public service is an honorable profession, although we don’t always honor those who work for the public good. I think of the diplomats and the people who work in the government agencies to protect the people and the land. I think of all who vote.

What I don’t think of is those who simply give lip service to flag waving, which is why I was probably disturbed by the man who passed me. There is nothing wrong with displaying our flag, but wearing it on your lapel or displaying it at your home or business is just a sign. I guess I like action. I like the people who work as volunteers or in paid positions to make life better for those around them. Making the world a better place in your own corner of it is just as important as serving in a more visible position.

You can call yourself a Patriot, just as you can call yourself a member of whatever your chosen religion is, but you aren’t truly one unless you practice its tenets in your daily life.

Mt Rushmore is a national memorial, open free of charge, with a minimal charge for parking. My visit reminded me of how inspiring our country is and can be. It was a thrill to experience it with young people as they are the hope of our future. It’s just as magnificent as you expect it to be!IMG_0277

Today would be my Mommy’s 97th birthday. I always called her Mommy and never thought a thing about it. We called her mother Mommie Dude and my children called my mother Grandmommy, so that’s the way it always was.

My mother, Betty West Hamilton, was a strong woman, bred from women who didn’t have easy lives but worked hard. I’ve written about her mother, who was widowed at about 27 and left in the middle of the Depression with three children. My mother was 6 at the time, the youngest with two older brothers. They were a close, tight family.

My mother and I didn’t always agree and she aggravated me no end a lot of the time, especially when I knew she was so often right. I fought to be my own person and not like her, to be more like my father. In the end, I became a mix of them both, becoming more my mother’s daughter as I grew up and realized the strength of the women in my family. She taught me so much, from how to make a bed with hospital corners to how to set the table. She taught me to always want to go places, to be ready for anything fun. Her mother taught us both that. “Let’s go do something!” was our motto.

Mommy was a beautiful woman who didn’t seem to age very much. When she went to the hospital for the last time, they were surprised at her age (almost 85). Her blonde hair (well, who knows what color it really was) and her incredibly smooth skin (moisturize, moisturize – the words still ring in my ears) belied her years. This photo was from years before, but one of my favorites. photoIn the end, she was on oxygen and had painful neuropathy in her feet, but never lost her sense of humor or her ability to listen to us tell about everything in our lives. I would say a fault was that she never liked to admit she was wrong, but she even mellowed in that as she grew older.

She almost always wore white. Sometimes there was a pastel or beige, but white was her preference. Our family and friends were amused by it, but it was so her…

Besides her mother, the woman who had the greatest influence on her was her paternal grandmother, Hattie Mills West. Grandmother West, as she called her, also always wore white – at least when my mother knew her. I only have two pictures of her and the first one was taken with her husband, E. Z. West and their son, John, who died at the age of 20. The original is an old tintype. My mother said Hattie had red hair, which she kept short, unlike the style of the day.Hattie & EZ West with John (2)I’ve tried to track down Hattie’s history, but it’s elusive as is the data on many who lived on farms across our country. From what I’ve found, she was born July 29, 1856 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama to Benjamin Mills and Dorcas Fox. The records get fuzzy because I find their names spelled different ways, etc. Some of those census people weren’t too careful back then.

Anyway, the next thing I could find was a census listing Hattie at the age of 14 as domestic help in Houston, TX. That 14 year gap is a mystery I keep trying to solve. The next thing I know she is marrying Ephriam Zacharius West, known as E. Z., around 1876.  They soon had my grandfather, Benjamin West in Denton, TX, followed by the birth of another son, George, and another son, John. George died at the age of 8 in Denton, Texas. Eventually, they made their way to Ardmore, Indian Territory, arriving by covered wagon as pioneers citizens of that community in 1895.

Ardmore was growing and a good place for a young couple to build a business and a life. They built a house and had a wagon yard adjacent to it. I had to ask my mother what a wagon yard was, thinking it was where they built wagons or fixed them. She explained that it was more like an early motel where people stayed when they drove their wagons to town. There were rooms with a little stove, a store to buy supplies, and probably stalls for the horses. Between 1893 and 1925, Ardmore had 39 wagon yards. The West Wagon Yard was located near where Central Park is in Ardmore today. I also found that E. Z. and his son, Ben, had other wagon yards, too.

I don’t have many details as I really didn’t ask enough questions until the end of my mother’s life. I know that John Q. West died in 1904 at the age of 20. His tombstone is the marker I use to find the family plot in the Ardmore Rose Hill Cemetery.IMG_3065IMG_3076John lived long enough to join the Woodmen of the World. I guess Ben helped E. Z. with the wagon yards until there was no need for them with the new automobile age. E. Z. died in 1920, the year before my mother was born. IMG_3067Piecing this story together, Ben lived with his mother, working in the wagon yard and then for the phone company as a lineman, as I recall. They had the wagon yard long enough for my mother to have a vague memory of it as she sketched me an picture not too long before she died. Ben met my grandmother, Artie Holt, when she was 18 and he was probably 38. They married and he brought her home.

Not to shorten the story of Ben, but to go on to my great-grandmother, I found that Ben had a small neighborhood grocery before he died. He had Bright’s Disease, which my mother said her doctor told her was probably caused by a childhood disease. Anyway, he died at the age of 50, leaving a young widow with three children and his mother. His is another story to tell.IMG_3072Hattie now is a widow and her husband and sons are gone. She is 71 years old and a respected Ardmore lady. The wagon yard was leased as a lumber yard before being developed in later years. She had her home, which was across the street from what is now Central Park in Ardmore, and she had several other properties. My grandmother and her children lived in a large home and my grandmother left each of the grandchildren their own house.

In the years before my mother died, she started telling me the stories of her grandmother. I’d always known what a great influence she was, but it became more and more clear why. Of course, the grandchildren spent time with her. This photo must have been taken around the time my grandfather died. I hadn’t seen it but recognized my great-grandmother immediately from my mother’s descriptions of her.Scan 2One day, I brought a small tape recorder and turned it on while my mother talked as I asked her to repeat stories she had told me. She didn’t know she was being recorded, not that it would have mattered. She took a piece of paper and sketched as she talked, showing me the inside of my grandmother’s house and sketching her garments.Grandmother West's house in Ardmore_2We went back in time as she described the rooms and the furniture. At one time, Hattie and E.Z. purchased a farm and moved there, although Hattie hated being out in the country. I honestly believe my mother was born out there, but she didn’t admit it. There were barrels around that they used to bring things in from the farm. My grandfather lived at the back of the house and my grandmother had a big armoire in the living room where she kept her opera hats. Yes, there was an opera in Ardmore as artists traveled from town to town. The hats were described as wire frames that Hattie stuffed with chiffon. I know she kept copies of Mary Baker Eddy’s books, although she wasn’t a Christian Scientist.

I remember the house because my aunt and uncle lived there when I was little. Here’s a photo of me in the yard.Scan 1

My mother described a woman who ate very sparsely, but made cookies that were heavy that my mother loved. Once she mentioned that people often came by to visit and talk. My mother said her grandmother never changed the way she dressed. Her clothes were the same as she wore in 1856, which made my mother laugh. Underneath was a pantaloon type thing that was basically two legs with a drawstring. There were other layers with several undergarments, which meant a lot of stuff at the waist. She wore a camisole type undergarment and a shirt waist. Most of these must have been made from feed sacks or cheap cloth.

Hattie lived for thirteen years after E. Z. died, so she was there until my mother was grown and had left town. There are gestures my mother made that I know she must have seen her grandmother do. She described how her grandmother took her fingers and fixed her hair and I could see clearly how that little girl watched. I sense that Hattie had a sense of dignity and a common sense that influenced everything about my mother. Hattie died in 1940, five years before I was born.IMG_3066IMG_6294I wonder what I would have thought of this lady in white who influenced my Mommy so much. I can only take what I know and read between the lines to fill in the story.

Today, as I think about my own mother, I realize how much of me came from her, and how much of her strength and personality came from her mother and her grandmother who both had so much influence on her. I hope that some of this has filtered down to my daughters and granddaughters whose lives have been so much easier than their ancestors.

It is a good feeling to know that you have the blood of these women to see you through the hard times as well as the good ones. I wish I had known my great-grandmother, Hattie. I miss my grandmother, Artie (Mommie Dude), who had so much influence on me.

I especially miss my Mommy. She was a good one!

 

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!