EPTOM: Schoolton, OK (Letter to Robert)

Dear Robert,

When we parked in your driveway, the first thing I noticed was a medium-sized cluster of tomato plants growing under an eastern window.  The gardner in me instinctively checked out the ripeness of your harvest, and wondered what breed you were growing.

The second thing I noticed was a Duck Dynasty poster attached to the siding outside your home, as if you were making a statement to those who visited.  I never asked you about it, but after speaking with you for more than an hour, I’ll bet a story exists we just didn’t get around to discussing.

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The third thing I noticed wasn’t about the environment in which you lived; it was about you.  Your willingness to sit and talk with us for a while was gracious, and the patience you provided us as we set up our equipment, jerry-rigged with hair bands, cotton balls, and no tripod for Rachel’s large format camera, was humbling.

We were both embarrassed for having set out on a two-day journey with essential elements left behind in Oklahoma City. Your easy spirit buffered our anxiety; it was you who helped along our work, not us.

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From that point forward, I don’t recall sequential memories of our stop at your Schoolton home.  I remember pockets of information I’m now writing because our microphone wasn’t plugged in all the way.

Our time with you, and the fact that we don’t have audio documenting our conversation, is probably the deepest regret I have of our Every Point work to date.  So, I’m going to do my best to share with those who read these words, insights about who you are and why we appreciated our time with you so much:

Robert, I admire you deeply.  You raised your sister’s six children because she was in jail.  Then, you raised your daughter’s two children due to her cycle of jail and rehabilitation.  You take them on camping trips, manage a blow up swimming pool for them during the hot summer months, and have friends who will watch them for you during your trips to the doctor or other errands.

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You hold up your Creek Nation heritage with honor in so many ways.  From sharing their newspaper and Creek Language CD with us, to the stories you shared about your land, your home built by your people, and the funerals. You even attended an Indian school in far northeast Oklahoma.  

All the information you shared with me was new.  I didn’t know your tribe provided $250 for food when a member died.  I didn’t know that funeral times with families last for a few days, or that gifts like blankets are given to the family.  

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I didn’t know that you could have your own family cemetery on the land where you lived – and how beautiful, to walk out your front door each day, to be able to glance over at your wife’s and other family members’ headstones on your two-acre patch of earth.

Your perseverance in so many areas of your life struck me deeply.  In 1979 you were in a car accident that gave you a serious knee injury, and took you to the Muscogee hospital year after year.  Providence must have had His hand on you, because during your appointment when the doctor was to give you the news that you would be undergoing an amputation, your knee began to heal. 

Your humor was good medicine for Rachel and I.  Thank you for the story that she posted on our Instagram account about the local sheriff:

"Robert lives on res land in Schoolton and is Turtle clan of the Creek Nation. One of the few times he chuckled while he was speaking with us was when telling a story about how only Lighthorsemen can come on his land and he had a stand off with a local Sheriff who would park his car across the street and wanted to give him some random traffic ticket, and Robert would just sit on his porch and wave, knowing the sheriff 'couldn't do sh*%.' It was hilarious."

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I’m glad your friend Tiny is so close, and so honest, and so funny.  It was great seeing you two interact with each other.  I loved it when Tiny said, “Oh yeah, we talk all the time.  We just sit out here and solve everyone’s problem’s but our own…just like two heifers!”  It was fun to see you laugh at Tiny’s jokes. And, I love it that Tiny willingly watches your grandchildren if need be.

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I really struggled when you answered  a question in a way I didn’t expect.  I asked what you had hope for, or had learned along the way….and you paused, thought for a moment, and then said, “I don’t know…I just feel…bored.”  

I wondered if that was your way of telling me to you have lived your life raising the children of the women in your family, and that you’ve not ever really done something completely for you.  I don’t know what you meant by that, but I feel like I want to go back to your house and hear the rest of what you didn’t say.  And if you couldn’t come up with an answer, maybe your friend Tiny could tell us.

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Robert, I want to tell you that you might feel “bored” sometimes, but you are FAR from boring.  You have a cool braid, cool glasses, and a beautiful Water Bird tattoo on your arm. You take time for your grandchildren and I can tell you really care about them. You are great to sit and talk with on a Saturday morning, and share cool stories about the Creeks.

And, you put up with us.

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That’s it, Robert.  That’s all I can remember because I didn’t write too many notes that day.  I thought we had all our discussion on video when we headed down the road to our next stop.  But instead, we have you in our minds, and our hearts, and we hope you are doing well.

All my best,

Kelly

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