All posts by Red Dirt Kelly

A Reason for Seven

Editor’s Note: This article is being reprinted with permission from the author. The original post was deployed on her personal Facebook page around midnight this morning.

***

By Faith Phillips

“Then she told us how times were tough and about how she was thinking about

Bumming a ride back to from where she started

But ya know, she changed the subject every time money came up

She said, ‘Welcome to the land of the living dead’

You could tell she was so broken hearted

She said, ‘Even the swap meets around here are getting pretty corrupt.’ ”

~Brownsville Girl, Bob Dylan

Water Protectors.

A family of four, soon to be five, runs in and out of a flimsy tent on a grassy North Dakota plain. The eldest daughter, Josephine, age 4, wears a pink tutu and wraps herself in a sleeping bag decorated with characters from Frozen, the popular Disney movie franchise. The youngest girl, Charlie, is two. She is a determined force. The entire family remains vigilant to safely contain Charlie’s energy. Their quiet mother manages the camp with an air of humble authority. She wears her waist-length hair tied back at her neck. The father enjoys discussion with relatives when they happen by. He is interrupted here and there to change a diaper and to occasionally yell, “CHARLIE!” when his youngest seizes an opportunity to bolt. The family gathers around a small fire in the evening when Charlie’s energy diminishes at last. Josephine sits on her father’s lap, satisfied to have earned his sole attention. She tosses her head back and laughs, delighted with each joke he tells.

This family’s camping experience differs somewhat from the typical American one. They are surrounded on all sides by a thousand others, gathered together in a field bordering the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. They speak an ancient language with each other, but politely switch to English in the presence of a non-speaker. Perhaps the most telling detail of this story is that the family can’t say exactly how long they’ve been camped here. Neither do they know how long they will stay, for they have no expectation to leave. This Lakota family of the Sioux tribe, along with thousands more Native Americans, constitute an unprecedented gathering determined to protect the main source of water for their tribe and for millions of other Americans downstream.

Continue reading A Reason for Seven

Capturing Oklahoma’s Big Sky: How Audrey Dodgen Sees HOME

"It's like 'Vivian Leigh plays Laurie in Oklahoma!'" ~ Photo by Audrey Dodgen
“It’s like ‘Vivian Leigh plays Laurie in Oklahoma!'” I told Dodgen during a Twitter conversation ~ Photo by Audrey Dodgen (low-density rendering; see website within article for full resolution prints for sale)

“Clean lines, compelling color palettes, refined sense of balance, and the greatest subject matter on earth.”  Thoughts like these run through my mind as I work my way through Audrey Dodgen’s portfolio.

An editorial and commercial photographer who calls Oklahoma her home, Dodgen describes a gravitational pull that seems to draw her back to our state, regardless of where she goes walkabout for a period of time.

“I was born and raised here, and while I’ve lived other places, I keep coming back here. It’s not perfect, but it’s my home, and I love it like no other place,” she wrote during a social media discussion.

A sense of place, the air of familiarity, the peace that recaptures your soul when return home…emotions paralleling these phrases are interlaced within Dodgen’s images. Perhaps most especially a collection entitled “HOME” she has been recently compiling.

If you’ve ever longed to stop your vehicle, breach a barbed wire boundary, and walk among sweet, freshly cut hay bales, her shots have captured that experience for you.

If you’ve ever driven I-40 across downtown Oklahoma City and wished you had time, or the right equipment, to photograph the Scissortail of Skydance Bridge, no need. She’s done that for you with a degree of perfection I could certainly not reach.

And, if you, like Dodgen, ever leave Oklahoma and need a piece of “home” to take with you, her website can most likely fix you right up.

Nice work, Audrey Dodgen. Thanks for standing under our big sky and taking it all in.

People are just SO. SWEET. ~ EPTOM: Camargo, OK

Camargo

Perhaps the “memorable” encounters we have with people in each Oklahoma town are recalled by jokes, jarring narrative, or discovering something unique about our participants.

However, encounters we have with people like postal employee Mary Luman are not as cognitively memorable as they are emotionally comfortable. Mary, who mentioned the degree of kindness in the citizens of Camargo, was herself SO. NICE.

_DSC0185

Care was taken with the words she chose when responding to our questions. Small gestures like a candy dish for those who visited the post office, or herbs growing in the sunlit reception area spoke to Mary’s character. And although her husband had recently retired from the Air Force and taken a clergy job in the area, she exuded almost childlike wonder and appreciation for how “amazing” the U.S. Postal Service was for Americans.

If you’re ever traveling through Camargo and need a soft peppermint, you know where to go. And, if you lost a batch a greeting cards, Mary may still be holding them for you.

Mary Luman 1
Mary Luman listening to our team — photo by Rachel J Apple.
April Kirby, EPOTM videographer, and Mary Luman at the Camargo, OK Post Office — Photo by Rachel J Apple
April Kirby, EPOTM videographer, and Mary Luman at the Camargo, OK Post Office — Photo by Rachel J Apple

Note from the Editor

As the editor of the Red Dirt Chronicles and Director of our project, Every Point on the Map, I intentionally remove my personal presence from a good deal of our work. For example, I try to let our videos focus on the person we are highlighting, and not the person asking questions (me).

Other times, I do my best to write “about” places we go, or the people we meet, as opposed to use a first person narrative.

But today, I’m choosing to speak to you with my own voice.  I’ve been out of town for a few days taking care of some research obligations.  Soon, I’ll be leaving my position as an assistant professor at the University of North Texas and begin working as the “Family Initiatives Advisor” for the Chickasaw Nation in Oklahoma.

I know transitions take energy. I know that one way or another, I’ll have to postpone an Every Point article because we’re moving.  However, if there are delays in content being delivered, please know that the silence is temporary.  The voice of those with whom we are documenting our meaningful conversations will return very soon.  And, my own voice, that I try to temper or pull into the background, will move forward once again.

Peace to you all.  I hope your summer provided memory-making moments, love, safety, and gratitude for the goodness we observe every day. Love, Kelly Roberts, aka “Red Dirt Kelly”

Traditional Freedoms: EPTOM ~ Seiling, OK

Screen Shot 2016-07-22 at 7.52.46 PMA quick retrieval of information from Wikipedia provides this about the setting for our recent stories:

Dewey County was founded in 1892 as “County D.” Six years later, the official county name was changed to “Dewey” in honor of Admiral George Dewey, the only person in U.S. history ever to be awarded the rank of “Admiral of the Navy.” His Congressional appointment further specified that this position was equal to “Admiral of the Fleet” in the British Royal Navy.

What you won’t find on your Wiki screen, however, are the large and small pieces of history — some oral, some recounted from texts — that locals shared in almost every conversation we had over the course of our two and one-half days in that area.

Stories of people who disappeared and were never found. The tale of two cowboys so highly conflicted that when they finally killed each other in a gun fight, the locals buried them together as payback for the havoc wreaked upon their community. Skeletons found on the wild tundras. Tough times on massive cattle ranches. Outlaws. Historical robberies and shootouts with the culprit finally found by tracking his blood drops across the snow-covered spaces.

The people of Dewey county imbue rugged resilience, friendliness to strangers, and gifts of time for those who choose to trek into their territorial turf.  It’s as if the auras of those who lived in their niche during the turn of the century continued to transfer to the next generation, and the next. So if the Putnam or Taloga or Vici or Leedey or Camargo or Fay or Seiling humanity had updated historically…the personas — somehow — had not so much.

Chism Sander of Seiling, OK — photo by Rachel J Apple.
Chism Sander of Seiling, OK — photo by Rachel J Apple.

Chism Sander was one of these folks who graciously offered his time…time enough to allow us to take in his articulate vernacular. Time enough to share familial anecdotes about his family’s fireworks business.  Time enough to actually talk about guns and gun ownership, a topic that others in our project have avoided rigorously.

On a personal note, it is this gift of time Chism extended to us in July of last year that made me want to return that gift to him.  A little over a month ago, the Sanders lost a family member.  During that same time, I was ready to publish this work. But I just couldn’t. I felt that even though our team had only spent 45 minutes in the hot summer sun with Chism, it was appropriate that we somehow wait; somehow honor their family’s loss.  We strangers who were given this moment in the Sander fireworks stand paid our respects from afar.

Sander fireworks stand, Seiling, OK — photo by Rachel J Apple.
Sander fireworks stand, Seiling, OK — photo by Rachel J Apple.

I will never be able to quantify what it means to intersect with the life of a stranger. Of being given permission to sit with them and to touch the edge of their life’s boundary and those included in their stories.  But one way I would approach attempting to quantify the encounter we had with Chism is this: when I have thought of Seiling, Oklahoma during this past year, I didn’t associate any of those thoughts with Gary England.

Rather, I associated what I had learned about the autumn foliage as viewed from a creek bed during hunting season. As fish being pulled from the local ponds and cooked in fryers or pans at night. And, I associate Seiling with Chism Sander, a man who seems to be as comfortable selling fireworks to his town-folk as he does waxing poetic about the sense of community knitting him, and them, together.

_DSC0105

Lee of All Trades ~ EPOTM: Leedey, OK

The blades on Lee Blackketter’s road grader scrape, groom and maintain sixty miles of dirt and gravel across eastern Roger Mills County.  We traveled along ten or twelve of those miles just to find him, following his wife who was driving their truck across the sage-covered tundra of mid-north central Oklahoma.

April talks with Lee about setting up our equipment on his equipment. - all photos by Rachel J Apple
April talks with Lee about setting up our equipment on his equipment. – all photos by Rachel J Apple

I resort to hyphenated approximates when describing our whereabouts because, truly, that’s the best I can do. If it weren’t for our guide to lead us there, and then lead us out, our team might still be driving in circles on Lee’s smoothly finished roads.

_DSC0161

Donita Blackketter, a childhood classmate of mine, had cooked us breakfast early that morning after we had spent the night in a converted nursing home-turned-hotel.  A master of her home kitchen, we sat around the island and watched her work at hyper-speed, juggling orange juice smoothies and eggs like an acrobat. Our team agreed that her home-prepared breakfast was equal to or better than anything we’d had on the road since we began the project.

The ambassadorship of Western Oklahomans is immense, just like the vistas of sky, farmland and  red-tinged gravel roads within the sparsely populated areas of Roger Mills and Dewey Counties.   Donita didn’t have to lead us along the rural byway twists and turns to her husband’s location, but she did. And talking with him made me realize one theme I’ve heard over and over: farmers — men like Lee Blackketter, and women like Donita — are people of multiple trades.

They’re also full of meek unobtrusiveness.  Lee shared one story the “old timers” had shared with him, that stuck with him, and that stuck with me.  He said that the Oklahomans who left that area for California during the Great Depression “left in the middle of the night because they were ashamed to show their faces.”

“Because they owed, you know, it probably wasn’t five-hundred dollars, a lot of ’em, but they were ashamed to show their face, and they’d leave in the middle of the night.”

Our 2016 world is so different.

_DSC0146

Lee has welded his way through approximately 20 workshops or buildings and miles of iron fence rows, a trade he kept fresh from his high school ag classes years ago. He purchased a tire machine to fix flats produced by the hazards of their context.  He farms. He is trained in vegetation management, an additional component of his county road maintenance position.  He’s a father and a husband.

He does what he needs to “to get by.”

And for sixty years, the geographical niche wherein we found he and his road equipment, is where he has called home.

_DSC0138

_DSC0156

Teen Spirit: Summer in Vici, OK ~ EPOTM

Twelve months later I’m wondering how Darcy, Austin and Faith are doing.  I have no doubt the students they are today might be surprised to see to see who they were only a year ago. As a mother and a former high school teacher, I know maturity makes gains by leaps and bounds in the lives of our future leaders.

_DSC0131
Darcy Whitley wearing her summer shades. Photo by Rachel J Apple.

Is Darcy still showing goats? Did Austin go to SWOSU like he had planned? Will Faith find time to go “muddin'” this summer? Are they okay?

_DSC0128
Austin Albumohammed. Photo by Rachel J Apple.

I hope so.  For many reasons.

_DSC0122
Faith Shelby. Photo by Rachel J Apple.

To me, students are easy humans with whom to make connections…they are forthcoming, sometimes lighthearted, and for these three…accepting of each other.

_DSC0124

In the light of our recent event in Orlando, and the subsequent politically charged discourse, I thank God for places like Vici, Oklahoma. A place where high school students can have a high school life. Where they can find their way. Where they can realize they live in a fairly quiet town. And where they can openly appreciate all those things.

_DSC0132

Peace to you, Darcy, Austin and Faith. You gave us laughter the day we met you, and we are grateful for our time together.

_DSC0115

_DSC0133
Videographer April Kirby hanging out with the Vici crew. All photos by Rachel J Apple.

Land Tales: Taloga, OK ~ EPOTM Dewey County Run

Dewey County was proving to be a run that felt more personal to me than most. Case in point: second stop, Taloga, OK. Enter, Mel Jean “Jeannie” Weber.

_DSC0076
Jeannie Weber, owner/manager of the Dewey County Abstract Company.

Having been referred to her from a downtown bystander, our team waited patiently in the front room theatre seating of the Dewey County Abstract Company. Jeannie was attending to customers who had questions. And stories.

_DSC0083
Rachel Apple, our team photographer, hanging out in the front area of Dewey County Abstract Company.

Perhaps it’s because I am the mother of two daughters. Perhaps it’s because I grew up as a female child in a universe that historically deemed first-born males with magical powers and hereditary rights.

Perhaps it’s because I’m writing this post the day after Hillary Clinton has effectively won her party’s nomination for the Democratic presidential candidate.  This, in a country that began with women who couldn’t vote, own property, or use their voice without public sanctions.

_DSC0066
Very early history of the business Jeannie runs.

Perhaps…it’s because Jeannie demonstrated a keen sense of social equity, a strong sense of self, a perspective of the journey women in Oklahoma – including her mother – have taken and where they might be going.  A sense of understanding male physical strength as a unique skill for some vocations but where intelligence and critical thinking provide equal footing in others.  Perhaps it’s because she can comically joke about an area brothel going out of business, and in the same breath pledge her allegiance to the place where she was born, raised, and will most likely die.

Whatever the reasons, and most likely “all of the above,” today I have one thought on my mind: Jeannie Weber for President!

_DSC0078
Jeannie and our videographer, April. Coordinated outfits, yes?

 

_DSC0069

_DSC0072

How Tuffy Got His Name: Putnam, OK ~ Dewey County EPTOM Run

(All photos by Rachel J Apple)

A friend of mine took her adopted Vietnamese son on an essential journey in the early 90s.  After watching international news for years, word came of the borders finally, possibly, opening for visitors from the United States.  Armed with supplies, money and large quantities of prayer, they made the long trek to the Vietnamese mountains, found their son’s tribe and watched an amazing reunion.  Although his adult frame stood almost a full foot higher than his siblings’ and mother’s, they connected.  He saw…and felt…the place from where he came. His people.

I thought of my friend’s son as we covered the entire perimeter of Dewey County last June. Meeting Tuffy Howell was the impetus for thoughts linking to that Vietnamese trek.  It was as if, while sitting in the Putnam Co-Op, I had begun my own pilgrimage. I had found “my people,” so to speak.

_DSC0001

Our family had lost my grandmother only three weeks prior to this run.  That moment in our life, intersecting with wheat harvest and an elder in overalls, brought back memories of not only my grandmother cooking meals during harvest but of my grandpa who died six years prior. And, my other grandparents who had passed during my late adolescent and emerging adulthood years.

Tuffy patiently talked through a great deal of his life with us.

_DSC0003

And, everyone in the Co-Op helped us understand wheat sample moisture tests and “appropriate levels for various locations.”

There are so many minutes of video I’m not sharing, but my hope is that what I do share somehow lends you a hint of “my people.” I certainly know that going back through our work and editing this piece help me recall the deep comfort of The Familiar.

~Kelly

_DSC0024

Tuffy and April, our videographer
Tuffy and April, our videographer
_DSC0028
In person, when looking closely, you can see “Howell” painted on this garage owned by Tuffy’s father. Tuffy completed his agricultural education degree from OSU then came back to help his father rather than taking a teaching job the first year. The reason: career counselors said that if your draft number was likely to come up, no one would hire you for fear that you would only work six months before getting called to the armed services. He overcame that, however, with news that the draft was slowing down so much they were only calling one person per month out of his geographical area in Oklahoma. His first teaching job? Helping returning WWII vets reintegrate by beginning their family’s farming careers once again. He was 22. Everyone in the class was older than he.

 

_DSC0035

_DSC0032

All Good Things: 116 Farmstead Market & Table Softly Opens

One glimpse of her yellow, brown and button-accented apron encasing the junior waitstaffer and I was smitten – dually smitten with the wearer, as well as the space within which she was ringing up a coffee for me and a “Dublin Dr. Pepper” for my husband.

We were standing at the counter of 116 Farmstead Market & Table on soft open day.  Nestled between several historical downtown Luther, Okla. structures, the new business was populated with the owners, their children, the store manager, and several walk-ins who had come with well-wishes to “see what they’ve done with the place.”

116 Farmstead Market and Table
Entrance: Downtown Luther, OK main street approach. May 7th, 2016.

As someone who has had a fairly rigorous education of the disappearing downtowns across Oklahoma, I’m especially glad to see any lifegiving effort begin to turn that trend around.  And knowing this particular project was generated by those I knew to be thoughtful and conscientious about their plans, and how they can go about adding good to their world, I asked Matthew Winton for a few thoughts at the end of their first day.

Q: When you stand in 116 Farmstead Market & Table, sun shining, breezes blowing through the new store, what goes through your mind?

It’s difficult to quantify what it means to see my wife, kids, Angela, friends and family gathered together at 116.  Sometimes it diminishes things to define them.  I’ll try [to quantify]:

I saw people serving one another literally and figuratively. I saw neighbors treating others as they want to be treated – kindness, sharing, love. I heard the stories of people who had lived in Luther all their lives trying their best in 15 minutes to sum up what it meant for them to grow up in that place.

 For us, it isn’t so much a philosophical proposition as it is a spiritual one. The purpose of 116 is to nourish soul through body.  You likely experience this as an educator with your students, although your experience is nourishment of soul through mind.  It’s the same thing in my thinking. I experience it in my law practice, parents experience it in parenting their children, and on.  This may be getting too esoteric, but it really is the purpose behind 116.  We seek to [meet] a community need, which is a place to eat and buy groceries, but the purpose is simply to create a space for people to intersect and share their stories.  If we are ambassadors, then 116 is our embassy.

IMG_3349
Inside shot of the “table” area looking toward the service counter. May 7, 2016.

Q: I understand you’re open Tuesday through Saturday, and your grand opening is coming up soon.  What information would you like others to know about your store or what to expect?

The full open for 116 will be Saturday, June 4.  Store hours will be: Tues-Fri, 7-3 and Sat., 8-5.  We will modify these as we learn the needs of the community.  Angela Hilliard is the manager (there is a great story behind how our paths crossed and other cool intricacies to how she joined us, but I’ll save that for the first Luther Speaks event).

The goal is to provide locally grown or produced meats, cheeses, fruits and vegetables.  Of course, there are a number of items not produced locally, such as coffee and tea, so we use local roasters and wholesalers for these items.  We want to tell the story of the farms and farmers/ranchers who produce these items.

As producers of all natural beef, we never get tired of sharing what is a daily work with those for whom we produce food.  We believe we were created from dirt, are tasked with caring for the dirt, and want to share that story with others.  The 116 is our attempt to provide a beautiful space for that story to be told.

Wendell Berry once said that ‘eating is an agricultural act;’ he called it an ‘annual drama.’  The 116 Farmstead Market and Table is a stage for that drama to be shown and told, from the Market where producers’ products and stories are shared, to “Luther Speaks” nights, which are opportunities (think: Moth Radio Hour but Luther style) to tell stories about the land, the people, and what they produce together.

The Table is a chance to enjoy a seasonal menu of breakfast and lunch items made from what is sold in the Market.

It seems culture tells us we can have everything all the time, which we know can’t be true.  It is true, though, that we are all tied by place.  Today was a great experience of that truth – from the Luther High Class of 1960 to those who had never been to Luther before…everyone has a story to tell and the 116 is a place to slow down and share those stories.

Social media is great for information, but connection really happens over a cup  of coffee or sharing a meal face to face, spilling drinks, seeing people’s kids run around without pants on, looking at beautiful works of art, slowing down for a moment.  This isn’t pretending life is all okay; it is reconnecting if but for a moment to place, and toil, and dirt.

Americana-style fiber art rendering of the U.S. flag. May 7, 2016.

***

Please plan a trip down highway 66 to visit the 116 Farmstead Market & Table. Please take the time to sit, connect and enjoy your time with the good folks who are creating this shared community story with their new business; spend time looking through all the elements on the mural hanging over their door.  Make sure to ask about their 2nd floor space, and event areas. Read much more information than I can share by visiting their website. And by all means, find out when the first “Luther Speaks” event will take place so we can all attend and listen.

But more than anything, take moments to “nourish your soul and your body,” when visiting 116, and every day.  I’m pretty sure we all want that for you.

Very much.

Western Oklahoma Girl: The Early Life of Drucilla Martin – EPOTM, Grove, OK

Introduction

89 year-old Drucilla “Dru” Martin is almost completely blind. But the life she witnessed prior to her dimming view was, in many ways, quite extraordinary.

We met Dru during our last stop in far NE Oklahoma.  With more energy than most of our discussants, she told stories for well over 1.5 hours, stopping only because we had to return home.  Dru’s memories are clear – her recall dating back to early childhood.

In some ways, I’m sorry we couldn’t have purchased three more memory cards and stayed until sunset.  Her personality, as you will hear, is true grit.  Like so many during the Great Depression, many of her narratives were supported by a rationale that she endured challenges because she, in fact no one during that time, had a choice.

Produced in “bite sized” stories averaging 3-6 minutes long, the sound files below can be downloaded into your podcast app.  I would like to thank our team for documenting this conversation in fairly close quarters with low lighting, and Dru for working diligently to share her life so that others might learn about early Western Oklahoma history through her perspectives.

Finally, I want to add that it was personally difficult to hear descriptions of her younger brother as “wimpy.”  However, it’s clear from her stories that having been put in the role of his protector during some extremely harsh bullying episodes at school, she would have strong feelings.

~ Kelly Roberts, Director, Every Point on the Map

Photographs by Rachel J Apple; Audio by April Kirby

***

Drucilla Martin was experiencing pain the day we visited her in an assisted living center located in Grove, Oklahoma.  This first story tells about how she had recently fallen on her “rumpy bump.”

_DSC0458

Many Oklahomans lived in “oil lease housing” during high production days. Children were sickened, perhaps, due to water problems in the drilling areas. And, evidently, the houses were equipped with open face stoves.

_DSC0430

The paradox of parenting a young cowgirl is illustrated in this story of equestrian triumph.

_DSC0442

The Great Depression is documented in many ways.  However, to my knowledge, I’ve never heard of a “hobo code” – one way wandering homeless communicated during the time.

_DSC0434

Oklahomans understand tornadoes and floods are part of our geospatial landscape. But without modern communication systems, more died. In this segment, young Dru grapples with how to describe weather events to her family.

_DSC0449

It’s clear by this next series that Dru’s father was a giving person. And, there were both positive and negative consequences of his generosity.

_DSC0435

“Digging in and completing extreme task”s as part of Dru’s identity and personality come through with clarity in the following stories.

_DSC0432

As mentioned in the introductory message above, Dru’s brother endured some extreme bullying at school.  And, as his sister, Dru endured some very trying times as well.

_DSC0436

While Dru spent much more time with us than is conveyed in these sound clips, I’ve elected to share the more historically framed illustrations.  I do hope you leave this post with some semblance of awe, as we did, about the “life and times” of Drucilla Miller.

***

Editor’s note:  Dru’s story about the brick reminded me immediately of a gripping saga once told by Native American storyteller, Tim Tingle.  If you ever have a chance to hear him perform, and he tells the story of his grandmother and “Salty Pie,” you’ll understand why I’m beginning to dislike bricks as weapons.  He also published a book by the same name, and I’m assuming it’s the full story in written form.

_DSC0454

My Little Victory Garden: Lessons We Teach Our Plants

12961440_10209494178257688_3396807766348171153_o
Concord grape vine, April 8, 2016. Red Dirt Kelly’s homestead.

Over half my vine’s branches were hewn and burned this past February.

“Give up the weight, dear vine, so you can focus your energies upon doing a smaller job very well.”  My enlivened whispers continued as I ripped a full nine feet of harsh, brown-dry entanglements from the left side. Then again on the right.

Oh, how I might grow if only the lessons I impart upon my plants were turned ’round to myself.

Poverty, Testing, and the Multiple Roles of Male Middle School Teachers: EPTOM, Quapaw, OK

Dusk was settling over Quapaw when we happened upon a tee-ball practice session. The coaches jokingly volunteered each other before Aaron Thomasson finally agreed to sit with us for a bit.

My experience during our discussion was as a teacher listening to another teacher. The fact that he was living the headlines of all that’s wrong with education was both validating and deeply disheartening.

Thomasson could have been from anywhere because his story is the same: over testing does as much harm as good; absent parents are absent for a reason, but their absence makes it that much more difficult for a child to succeed; and, male teachers balance the precarious position of being sometimes the only male role model in a young student’s life.

_DSC0241
Aaron Thomasson hangs out with our EPOTM outside the barn where tee-ball practice is taking place. – photo by Rachel J Apple

But, Thomasson was not from “anywhere.” He was from Quapaw, as was his family, and the generation before.  His children can see their grandparents’ home from their own, and walk across the pasture to visit.  His wife is from the area as well, and is an early childhood teacher in the same school system.

They are deeply embedded, and invested, in the Quapaw community.

We sat with Thomasson at the end of May, 2015.  In the midst of most likely the worst budget cuts in our State’s history THIS year, I just wonder…how is their school doing now?

_DSC0248-Pano

The Solitary Dog Whisperer: EPTOM ~ Picher, Cardin and Commerce, OK

 

When grappling for a descriptive term to help you understand where we were, “as the crow flies” came to mind.

Approximately three to five miles southwest of Picher, OK, as the crow flies, we met Sherry Pierce.  To reach her, we crossed a cattle guard and ambled across the  gravel property entrance. She was attending to trash burning in a barrel at one of two trailers in a desolate setting, her dog skipping around at her side.

Sherry looked minutia-like against the vast gray sky, the empty acreage, vacant cattle trailers and the capable farm equipment scattered close by. Chat piles broke up the landscape to her north and east.  As we drove up, rolled down the window, and explained our project she didn’t blink.  An inner peace and easiness about her permeated our conversation.

_DSC0199
Sherry Pierce of Picher, OK – photos by Rachel J Apple.

After eight years of commuting to Joplin to care for animals every day, and helping her uncle and grandfather during nights and weekends, Sherry no longer lives at this location.  Her grandfather has passed away; her reason for being there is gone, and she – along with her dog named Red Solo Cup – are now somewhere to the north and east a hundred miles. As the crow flies.

The animals who meet you are lucky, Sherry.  You “fall in love with them.” You see the souls in their eyes.

Thanks for sharing your own soul with us when we showed up that day.

_DSC0205 _DSC0208 _DSC0196 _DSC0194 _DSC0190 _DSC0187 _DSC0186

Fading Signals: EPOTM Picher, OK Stop A

The first time I was to pass by a dead body during a funeral service, my stomach twisted into knots. A line of grownups in front of me sauntered alongside the casket, solemnly paused, murmured words to family members on the front pew, and moved on. Those in line modeled what I was to do, and I did it. However, the emotional flooding didn’t fade until much later that day, long after I had followed that single-file row of mourners exiting the church house doors.

_DSC0128

These familiar funeral knots gripped my insides as our team explored rows of vacant houses in Picher, stripped bare of windows, doors, wiring, shelving, and more. These dead house bodies of the multi-year Tar Creek Superfund funeral were once and for all silenced as a 2008 tornado took eight human lives and injured 150 more; that tragedy was followed by a 55-6 vote in 2009 officially calling for the closing of the Picher-Cardin school district. And, the Picher Wikipedia link reads:

The municipality of Picher was officially dissolved on November 26, 2013.[22] Linderman, the only remaining resident of Picher, died June 9, 2015

Gary Linderman only lived 8 days past the Sunday of our visit. The tornado, school closing, and his death tightly sealed the casket lid over the entire town.

_DSC0098

As we walked closer to the homes, each sprayed with a “KEEP OUT” warning, we began to hear noises. Some kind of electronic pinging danced on our ear drums until, finally glancing through the windows, we realized the source.  Smoke alarms in the homes, still powered by the smallest trickle of electricity from their 9-volt batteries, were beeping a warning: time for replacements. Time for replacements. Replacement-replacement…over and over.

The weakening sounds faded as the wind swept any remaining decibels away – past the other dead houses, across and over the piles of chat, and out onto a prairie where no one will hear them.

The knots in my stomach returned slightly when I edited the video and looked at the photos once again.  It’s been 9 months since we were in Picher; I am guessing all the smoke alarms are now silent.  Silent like the sounds of the true graveyard Picher is, and silencing to experience in real life.

_DSC0132
Picher Gorilla high school mascot. Photo by Rachel J Apple.
_DSC0099-Pano
Panoramic view of more vacant houses – Picher, OK. Photo by Rachel J Apple.
_DSC0119
Row of vacant houses – Picher, OK. Photo by Rachel J Apple.

***

Tar Creek Documentary

The Creek Runs Red – PBS Film

Oklahoma Historical Society Picher Page

Backstage at the Coleman with Danny Dillon: EPOTM – Miami, OK

Emotions carried me through our entire visit with Danny Dillon at the Coleman Theatre in Miami, OK.  As he shared anecdotes from teaching high school drama, I was running a parallel process internally.  Having taught high school drama for eight years, I had experienced a similar story for each one he told.  Cripes, I missed the theatre…and Dillon did everything he could to help us enjoy the full experience of the Coleman the day we sat and talked…which made me miss it even more.

Our photographer and videographer filled up too many memory cards to count during our time with Dillon. We could produce multiple pieces of the Coleman’s history, special features about the tourists going walking through the the theatre’s plush hallways with us, profiles of the volunteers who spend hundreds of hours using the donor’s hundreds of thousands of dollars to bring back the original glory, and more.

And we may. Someday.

But our first duty is to those with whom we get to know, and we had a beautiful conversation with Dillon.  His full heart is invested in what he does at the high school, his church, and at the Coleman. It’s as if he has three hearts…no, four.  A heart for his children and wife were apparent as well.

Even after having documented the Miami stop over six months ago, I am quite awestruck when I think about how many children have been introduced to the stage, to plays and musicals, to silent movies with amazing organ music, and to history…because of Danny, the Coleman at large, and the “extra at-large” community that makes it happen.

We are tipping our Tom Mix hats to you, Miami.  You’re really quite something.

EPOTM: Wyandotte, OK ~ Cassie Pearl and the Cool Rock House

Quietly, I watched Cassie Pearl Browning name each relative who lived within a couple of miles of her new home, the lease signed only two weeks before we visited her. She was in her element, surrounded – literally – by family members who had settled in Wyandotte generations ago.

I live on the corner of this mile section – I’m the only one on THIS mile section.

The mile section directly south of us – I have some distant cousins just on this corner across from me.

And the mile section directly east of us, on the corner, the 40 acres was owned by my great-great grandparents.

And, the corner – my great-aunt had built her and her husband’s house whenever they got married – they moved in there.  We sold it when she passed away, and it went to another family member, which happens to be my landlord’s mother.

And then on the back side of that 40 acres is my aunt…my mother’s sister…and then half-way down that road is my second cousins from Dallas – they moved up here in 98 and built a house, and if you go travel north on that same mile section – you go half a mile and my parents live down there.

But before you get there, my other aunt and uncle live down here.

And, if you go on the mile section that’s cattycornered from us – my brother lives on the opposite side of it – south side of it – facing that section…and, uh,..that’s all of us…maybe…

_DSC0019
Cassie was raised in Miami until she was twelve, when her parents bought their 40 acres in Wyandotte. She’s so attached to the land and the area that she moved back into her parents home for a year after graduating from college, waiting for property in the area to become available.

Just as she was about to give up and “move into town,” her landlord’s son took a preaching job.  So, she’s now living in the home her great-great and possible one more great-uncle built.

In the video, Cassie mentions the rocks with which her great-times-three uncle covered the home. They had been retrieved from the Picher mines, and when you peer close, tiny worlds of crystallized quartz and other formations can be seen.

_DSC0021

_DSC0022Cassie Pearl Browning was surrounded by history, and completely comfortable with those surroundings.

She feels at home in her “new-old” home, as did we on that drizzly day while sitting on her porch.

Happy housewarming, Cassie Pearl.

_DSC0016

_DSC0031

_DSC0034

Rachel J Apple, photographer and EPOTM partner.
Rachel J Apple, photographer and EPOTM partner.

EPOTM Visits NonDoc in Essay Over Truths

_DSC0094

When you glance left, then downward just a bit on our Red Dirt Chronicles homepage, you’ll notice a small section we’ve entitled: “RDC Recommends.”  And, we do.

We choose our recommendations carefully, sharing those we feel not only fit with our mission, but provide a quality read.

One site listed is on our minds especially today.  NonDoc, a site and mission dedicated to quality journalism and “the public good,” launched a series today highlighting broader themes collected through our Every Point on the Map project.

In the kick-off essay entitled “Oklahoma Blog Seeks Beauty from Every Town in the State,” I’ve written about how both food AND wine provide moments of Truth with our discussants (in vino et cibo veritas).

I do hope you’ll take a moment to visit NonDoc, read our essay, and think about where it is you find your Truths.

~Kelly

Abbey Brave and Tall: EPOTM – Peoria, OK

One of the most unjust things I could ever imagine would be to decide whether Abbey or Carolyn Rollins has more grit.
_DSC0048
Carolyn, having been in the periphery of baby Abbey’s community life over nine years ago, took her in…first as a foster child, but soon to adoption court.  Although the State had been grateful for her foster parent status, she was denied her petition to adopt because of her age.

But Carolyn didn’t accept that answer.  She appealed, and was eventually granted permission to become Abbey’s mother.

_DSC0075

Abbey’s high school-level vocabulary and tender heart are a product of her educational deep dive into her studies at Quapaw schools, mixed with being socialized by a mother who volunteers at their local church food pantry every week.

The day we rolled into Peoria was as gray as clouds could bear. Rain dripped from the rooftops, dogs barked as we cruised by aging houses with bars on their windows.

_DSC0050

But as we sat in the wood paneled living room of Carolyn’s trailer, the view was transcendent. Carolyn rocked in her recliner, Abbey sat on the arm rest, and they held hands all the while we were there.

Of this I’m certain: they needed each other, and they are better because of each other. Bless everything about you, Carolyn and Abbey Rollins.

12496229_1694232694196987_4346448997913692134_o

_DSC0043 _DSC0077 _DSC0081

Cigar Philosophy in the Warr Room: EPOTM ~ Yukon, OK

Kyle Warr’s grandfather and father developed much of what is now known as Warr Acres, Oklahoma. Kyle is a business person who lives in Yukon with his family. Get to know a little about him, his cigar shop and music business during this Every Point OK conversation in this video. Continue reading Cigar Philosophy in the Warr Room: EPOTM ~ Yukon, OK

“Surviving Just Right” – EPOTM: Little Axe, OK

_DSC0238

Mike and Michelle Silsby were the first Every Point participants who fed us.

They were also the first couple to witness us being approached by a Lake Thunderbird ranger who asked us for a park entry fee because we stepped out of our vehicle.

And, they’re the last stop for our Highway 9 series.

Peace, Silsby family. It was good to meet you.

~the EPOTM Team

NOTE: Thank you to Sherree Chamberlain for permission to use her music, “Summer Heat,” as the soundtrack to this video.

Continue reading “Surviving Just Right” – EPOTM: Little Axe, OK