Editor’s Note: Duffy Martin passed away on the evening of April 17, 2015, just a few weeks short of his 99th birthday. Our team is grateful for the beautiful day we spent with him last summer, and hope this piece helps honor the memory of an exceptional Oklahoman. ~
Sitting in the dining room of Duffy Martin’s home just off the 11th hole at Cedar Valley golf course, the four of us were rolling with laughter. Duffy had just activated his “Handigas” fart toy for the fourth or fifth time, punctuating the sound effect needed for another story.
“I can’t NOT laugh at that!” I chuckled.
“Well, sure,” Duffy remarked, “Everybody does it. I was in the mall here a while back, and here was [a group of] four good-lookin’ ladies, about fifty [years old], Long Tall Sallies…about six foot tall…and I’m six-foot three but one of ’em was about my height…”
He was ramping up another story and had our rapt attention.
“And I could tell they was basketball players, they were having a reunion I found out later…but anyhow…I thought, ‘Well, hell, I just better drop a bomb on them cats [he grins], so I went over by ’em and dropped my keys, then bent over to pick ’em up and I went [makes perfect farting noise with his Handigas; we laughed on cue] and started walking off.”
He continued, “I walked about five or six steps, [we’re still laughing] and this tall one, they didn’t know what…they went into shock…we’re in the middle of the mall, right?…and this lady says, ‘Hold it there, buddy, who do you think you are? What-what, what’s going on here!?’ So, I stopped and I said, ‘Well, I don’t know exactly what’s going on, to tell you the truth…’ But they says, ‘Is that what I heard??’ I says, ‘Exactly. You wanna hear another one? [another farting noise erupts]'”
At this point in the story, he gets even gets ticked at himself.
“So, anyway, she says, ‘Uh, what’s going on!?’ and so I says, ‘If you want me to tell you the truth…, I’m TROLLIN’!!'” He emphasizes that last word with a grin and a little shake of his shoulders.
We lost it. Belly laughs were had by all.
“And she says, ‘What’d you say??’ And I said, ‘I’m trollin’.’ And she said, “Well, the way it sounds, you’d better oil your reel!!'”
He’s laughing. Rachel and I are bellowing. And Grady, the gentleman who led us to Duffy’s house just ten minutes earlier, and had woken him up from a nap to speak with us, was laughing.
“But, hell, the whole world needs more laughter ANYway…” Duffy tied a bow on the moment, looking at each of us with pure delight, sitting back in his chair for a moment of pause.
Cedar Valley is one of the rare late-incorporated towns in Oklahoma. It was officially “put on the map” in 1982, and by a sentimental act of an Oklahoma legislator, Duffy Martin was declared “mayor” of Cedar Valley for “the next twenty years.”
Perhaps the legislator should have worded his declaration for “forty years.” At 98 (he’ll be 99 in May of this year) it appeared that all of Martin’s faculties were not only intact, but functioning in a way that would have been off the medical charts.
My husband had suggested that we stop by the golf course when looking for someone to speak with at Cedar Valley. In the club house bar, co-proprietor and barkeep Jan Hixon was all ready to sit down with us when Grady Briggs chimed in, “You know, you REALLY need to talk with Duffy. Duffy IS Cedar Valley.”
Jan looked at me, her shoulders relaxed into a submissive stance and good-naturedly agreed, “Yeah, Duffy IS Cedar Valley. Okay…yeah, go talk to him.”
Rachel hopped into Grady’s golf cart and I followed him in the car. After a few knocks at the front door, Grady asked us to wait a moment, opened the door and walked right on in.
The community cohesion at Cedar Valley is something every resident mentions, and we were witnessing it at that moment. Later, when I asked Duffy what it was about him that one of his friends could just walk right into his house, Grady answered the question for him, glancing toward Martin with a look of genuine love.
“He’s…perfect,” Grady said quietly.
The mood changed and got a little more serious, and a little more vulnerable. Duffy decided we needed a tour of his weight room. He reports still working out every morning, even though his knee is giving him a little trouble since his recent surgery.
Photo by photo, Martin pointed out his moments as a young athlete, the home he was raised in around the Bridge Creek area of Oklahoma, and moments with celebrities like Leslie Nielsen or Jim Garner. He spoke about the men with respect; he told stories about his wife with a sentimental flair and a quieter voice. He punched up the tempo occasionally with more stories of photos where people around the country were enjoying laughing at his Handigas invention.
Throughout the time in his home, I noticed Martin’s banter keyed in on a few themes. There were “pulling himself up by the bootstraps” stories. The fact that as a cab driver he navigated “The Queen of the Fleet” (Cadillacs or Lincolns), and about when he finally bought his wife a Rolls Royce. And, the narrative that this business deal or selling that golf course was “a letter from home” (made him a good profit). There were also stories of his physical workouts – taking employment as a lumberjack to “build [him]self up,” or his brother riding the horses so he’d “have to run if he needed to get anywhere.”
I also noticed, however, that the most time he spent on certain pictures (with the exception of a story about their trip to Disneyland) was when looking at his roots. He wasn’t telling stories then, he was talking about his family.
“Here’s the house that my dad built, it didn’t have no winduhs…it had a front door and a back door, and dirt floors…but we never was sick.” There is no mistaking his Oklahoma vernacular, and a certainty that he fully embraces his Oklahoma heritage.
When we first walked into Duffy’s home, I was immediately met with what I can only describe as a “70s vibe.” The decor in his home, Duffy’s neatly styled, extremely thick white hair paired with his white shirt and white leather shoes, surrounded by patterned walls and sparkling chandeliers…it all made me personally feel like I was in a Brat Pack home in southern California, and any minute girls in beach wear would come into the room announcing some twist to the plot.
When we walked out of Duffy’s home, nothing immediately came to me other than the sense that we had been treated to something special. Later, however, my thoughts crystalized.
I think that Duffy isn’t just Cedar Valley. I think Duffy IS Oklahoma, for many reasons. Many of which are on the walls of his hall and weight room, but more so, the fact that across the state people are making something from nothing, they care about their roots, and they love to see people laugh.
Thanks, Duffy. And, thanks for that Handigas trinket you gave us on the way out the door, for the photo of you and Tennessee Ernie Ford, and for the biggest belly laugh of the day.
Note: Video editing by April Kirby, who recently joined our team this past months and is helping us with old footage.