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.

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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.

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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”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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Austin Albumohammed. Photo by Rachel J Apple.

I hope so.  For many reasons.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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

 

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