They were humorously mentioned as “the spit and whittle club” in The Imaginary Family Project story on “Gary Ireland.”
As I child I fastidiously avoided them in the Tuttle “Save-a-Stop” as they drank coffee every morning and discussed the local, state and national current events. For some reason, any grown man in farm clothes and boots who wasn’t part of my family scared me. Perhaps that’s normal?
Yet as an adult writer trekking across Oklahoma, I now depend upon them when needing information about a local community point of interest. I merely need to ensure these three factors, and can almost guarantee I’ll find them:
1) It needs to be early in the morning, preferably before 9 or 10 a.m.
2) Cruise the entire street in any small Oklahoma town and scope out the quick stop or diner with the most farm trucks parked in the lot.
3) And then simply walk in, look around, make eye contact with the group and say, “I need help!”
This process has never…I mean NEVER failed me. There they will be, a group of local men seated around a table or in a booth or perhaps occupying two or three tables and booths, discussing the morning’s business before heading out to begin the rest of their day.
I was reminded of this this small-town Oklahoma phenomenon while out on the “phase 1 section” of the Base Vines & Cattle schoolhouse deck two days ago. It was 55 degrees, the wind had finally laid, and on a perfectly still and dark evening a few farmers, a distributor and a consumer had gotten together to chat. The subject of the “Oklahoma Table” had come up by way of the delightfully caring female farmer among the group and then someone said something about “the group of men who gather in the mornings for coffee.”
“Oh, yeah…we call them The Board of Directors,” said Aaron Base with a chuckle. And immediately, everyone knew what he meant.
They are the experts in the community. They are men who know the town narrative and probably created it. They are the group who has seen people move in, and people move on. And, they take whatever activity goes on within their community to heart.
They are not without emotion. In fact, just the opposite is true. I checked my hypothesis out about the “compassion factor” of these Boards of Directors in Watonga yesterday morning and came along this group seated in Hutch’s quick stop, near the busiest intersection in the area.
After a few shots and thank yous, one of the gentlemen introduced himself as Dale Green, the mayor of Watonga. As we talked a bit about the community, his cell phone rang three times. Apologetically, he remarked, “Well, if I don’t have one-hundred problems I’ve got two-hundred.” The phone calls ranged from daily business to a disturbance created by a local elderly citizen who was struggling with an illness. All in a days work when it comes to wearing the many hats of a mayor.
But somewhere during the conversation, between talking about commerce and economic development, he shared a portion of local lore regarding two entrepreneurs who had a back-history of land and opportunity, eventually clashed, and now grow their businesses in direct competition to the other. A glance at his face revealed genuine empathy for the two who had chosen their path and were now walking what might be a never ending journey of revisiting old wounds.
In other words, what I got from him was this: he’d seen a great deal, he knew the area well, and wants to bring business and commerce to the area. But he also cares about the people attached to their businesses.
In other, other words? He’s one of the Boards of Directors of the local communities of Oklahoma. In this case, literally and figuratively. I said goodbye to him as he was in the middle of his third phone call.
As I exited the building, I watched the busy interaction for a few minutes. Large semi-trucks with oil field equipment rolled by. There were about 70% pick-up trucks, 20% semis, and 10% sedan-type cars in the area. The grain elevator also occupied a space on that intersection and an occasional truck pulled into that parking lot as well. It was a busy place, and there was definitely a good deal of activity taking place right there in that section of Watonga. The mayor had mentioned the crossroads as being one of the traveling thoroughfares toward Colorado.
He was right. Lots of activity, lots of people, lots of lives.
And, it’s kind of comforting to know that the local Board of Directors monitors the activity quite well. After all, you never know when you’ll need to walk in and ask for help.
But you always know “help” will be there – along with a cup of coffee, a few jokes, and more history than you could ever imagine.