Kay Whitfield’s neatly shaped white hair shone against her bright blue eyes, pink shirt and Oklahoma-weathered skin. Rocking casually in the light streaming through her sunroom’s windows, she shared stories about her life, her family, and her passions.
A calm energy served as the foundation for her resolved personality. Kay was someone who has taken stock in what the world has to offer, and staked her claim in the Crescent, Oklahoma earth at a spot where balance, ideals, hard work and hope intersect. Where reflections about her husband bring tender descriptions of his patience with children, and where reflections of her teaching days bring tearful descriptions about “touching the future,” now that she’s retired.
In many ways, Kay embodies what I imagine a case study on “core traits of Oklahoma women” might reveal: problem solvers, resilient, and determined.
Shortly after her first husband completed his time in the Oklahoma legislature, “the war came” (a divorce) and rather than resigning herself to a life of scrapping together what she could muster financially, she fulfilled a two-year teaching contract for the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) in Germany. Returning to Oklahoma so her youngest son could complete his senior year at his hometown high school, Kay was ready to restart her teaching career locally. And ready to begin her “post-war” life in Crescent once again.
She finished a “war” by spending time working for the DOD.
This was the first in many parallel processes I noticed in our discussion with Kay. Indeed, she even has strikingly similar physical characteristics to her mom who had just died that year, even though she describes her personality as much closer to her father’s.
The home we were visiting had originally been a hotel built during Crescent’s boomtown days. Kay had purchased it at an auction for $10,000 dollars and restored it to a beauty that reflected not only the original aesthetic, but in many ways reflected the owner. The walls were simple, the furniture period-appropriate but comfortable, the art on the wall reflecting various artists perspectives.
Similarly, her son had returned to Crescent after a career-changing journey brought him home, and he ended up purchasing a building in downtown Crescent for $4,000. He and his family restored that building, and now he serves as mayor of the town.
See what I mean?
She told tales of her mother’s family, crossing the Arbuckle Mountains in a wagon where they were traveling to the next paying job their father could find. As a child, her mother chalked the horse-drawn wagon wheels with stones so it wouldn’t roll down the inclined earth where they rested. I thought about Kay, shoring up the structure of her home, piece by piece, room by room, so it wouldn’t “decline” as she progressed in her own life.
Kay lives in a historical building, now her home for many years, and taught history at Crescent public schools. She currently partners with the local museum, gathering historical facts about their area to assist with documents they produce. She taught history, lives history, and supports historical documentation.
Kay married a former University of Oklahoma wrestler, and I thought about how pieces of her life she shared resembled wrestling matches: decisions along her way, or with plans to set forth the best historical trip for students and parents…and eventually family members.
On a wall in her front dining room, another artist had drawn the old home from her own perspective. This artist was Kay’s granddaughter, Taryn.
As Kay talked about her plans to save photography or needlework for the times in her life when she can’t move around quite so freely, I thought about Taryn’s interpretation of her grandmother in the artwork above. She had drawn Kay looking out the front door of her home with a smile on her face saying, “Hi!”
I have no doubt that someone in Kay’s family, quite possibly Taryn, will continue the Oklahoma history Kay’s mother and her own family started so long ago. Someday, that might be Taryn in the doorway, drawn by her own granddaughter.
However their story turns out, one thing is clear. Families like Kay’s are made better because members like her honor the full experience of their own histories. And, because she takes care of her stories, her home, and her family, she is – without any doubt whatsoever – fulfilling her own hope of “touching the future.”