Category Archives: Oklahoma culture

EPOTM Dam Run, Stop 5B: Disney – Russ Hogan Standing Tall


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The stature of a man is not measured in the heights of his frame but by how tall he stands in the eyes of his community.

The worth of a man is not measured in purchasing power but by how much of himself he’s given to others.

The legacy of a man is not measured by the number of buildings bearing his name, but by the number of years others fondly repeat it once he’s gone.

And the capacity of a man is not measured by the depths of his philosophical reservoirs, but by the breadth of his emotional strength to remain resolutely passionate for the people – and ideas -that pulse within the boundaries of his identity.

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The stature of a man

Russell Hogan began his time with us in Disney at PJs over a cup of coffee.  Leaning forward with the energy of a lifetime story teller, Hogan chronicled the history of his rise, fall, and second life as a business man in the Pensacola Dam area of Oklahoma.

The son of a carpenter, he began his business life as a young man with a shop in Langley building docks on the lake.  His business grew with time and effort until he was running an 800 boat marina during Grand Lake’s heydays.  For 28 years his work was filled with boat races, cranes, rigging, and sail craft until one day he received a phone call.

“Russell, you need to sell that marina.”

“What’s wrong, Paul?” he asked of the person on the line.

“T. Boone Pickens bought Phillips Petroleum and they’re moving the oil industry to Texas,” the caller responded.

“And they did.  I couldn’t sell the marina, it was too large.  And as people left and went to different locations I hauled boats across the country for ten more years.  At one time early on I had the marina sold for three million dollars and the deal went sour.  I ended up selling it for $350,000.”

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As Hogan talked of lake life, his growing interest in off roading and perceived social classes of populations who enjoy off roading versus hunters or other outdoors groups, his language was entertaining.  He used words like “regime” to describe rotations of gubernatorial administrations in Oklahoma, and anecdotes to describe his interactions with legal representatives of the GRDA as he fought for rights to access and use the shore areas for off roading activities. Eventually, his personal hobby interests in off roading turned into actions to open a local business and park for such purposes. His goal: to bring industry back to Disney, a town gasping for economic air.

But there were obstacles related to clashing ideals about the use of public lands for recreational sport.

“The GRDA came after me for trespassin’ so I told the old boy, ‘Do you want your education here in the middle of this dirt road, or do you want to get your suit out of the cleaners? I took him to court, and I sued him.'”

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“Did you win?”

“Yes.  A couple of regimes later, we had another guy come down and try the same durn thing. And I sued him. And the lawyer said, ‘Russell, you know more about this than I do, I’m gonna put you on the stand.’ I said, ‘Alright.’ The courthouse was packed. I got on the stand, he asked me the questions and I answered ’em, and when we got done, the COURTroom stood up and applauded me…because what I was contending with was our right to ride. Our RIGHT to use our lands, as under the 1932 Enabling Act. Under the constitution, the lands and waters for this project are to be used for the most and best good. You don’t have to quote me, you can go look it up.”

As he worked through these legal trappings, he purchased “the most lucrative piece of off roading land” in Disney from an “old, retired cowboy,” paying him commercial value to help seal the deal.

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Hogan then painted a fairly animated picture of asking Diana to stock up on food at PJs, and of convincing a closing convenience store business to “fill up the gas tanks and bring in one more load of beer” for the off roaders he was going to bring to town. He recalled bulldozing campsites and trails as people were coming in, asking for bathrooms and power outlets.  In other words, he was building a business and the off roaders were right behind him, demanding what they needed for their fun while he was supplying the goods as the requests came in.

Since that time, Hogan’s Offroad Park has been open for business approximately 15 years.  The city of Disney has attempted to levy various fees upon the four-wheeler community, rules have been drafted related to camping and off roading in State Parks, and according to his Facebook business page, community leaders and Hogan have gone back and forth for years.

It seems the tension between championing a cause and managing a growing business could be a quandary for him.

“In the meantime – my park has expanded to the point…I was looking for something to coast in my retirement because it beats settin’ on the front porch.  [But] it’s seven days a week; I had wrecker trucks pulling guys out of mud holes this morning.”

He pauses, takes a drink of coffee, and says, “You probably need to see it. I’m gonna take you out in the ambulance and show you all over the place.”

The worth of a man

Ambulance? The team and I eyed each other, not quite sure what to think and extending our trust to a man we had just met. The air of adventure was too strong to resist and we followed Hogan to his business.  The next thing I remember was crawling into the back of a military style vehicle designed to transport wounded soldiers to M*A*S*H units.  That vehicle was so sturdy, it was designed to travel along the bottom of a body of water submerged in 20 feet of water. Rachel and I climbed into the back, April sat up front with Hogan, and I’m quite certain his 75 year-old frame beat all three of us in his nimble ascension to the driving seat.

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He had the vehicle started and moving before we had settled in and readied our equipment.

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The next 1.5 hours were spent in what can only be described as a detailed tour of the beautiful landscape backing up to the Pensacola dam.  We climbed extreme degrees of rock sheers, crossed running water at fairly impressive depths, and got slightly stuck at one point, all the while listening to Hogan’s narrative about those who access this territory, and how it enhances their quality of life.

At some point, we stopped, descended from our seats to the rock-solid footing below and Hogan pointed to the dam.  His narrative switched to stories that men who worked on the project told him as a boy.  He differed with the GRDA account; he asserts people did lose their lives in the project.  Their days were hard, their times difficult, and occasionally there was heartache, mystery or death.  At one point he paused, looked down and said, “Theys somethin’ bad-awful that went on down there at those work campsites.”

In the history of man, whenever there are large projects build upon the backs of men, there is almost always “somethin’ bad-awful” that takes place.

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Hogan’s perspective of the GRDA, how they use their funds, and how he would like for them to enhance the lake shore lands exemplified the eternal conflict between the common man and government – between the intrinsic need for freedom and validation, and the extrinsic compilation of structure and red tape designed to keep the common man safe.

_DSC0464By the time we returned to the campsite, our team was quiet. Humbled. Overwhelmed with the information we had taken in.

But Hogan wasn’t quite finished.

_DSC0545As we sat back in lawn chairs, debriefing with questions, we got to the heart of his heart. During our discussion, April asked him, “Why do you care so much about THIS…this place, this town.”

The capacity and legacy of a man

For a moment, Hogan offered a rare pause then responded.

“Well, I’m a native of here. I’ve been here – my people – since before statehood. We’ve went through hard times: depressions, droughts, small farmers…but eventually people bought up large tracks of land around the lake.  But when I first walked these rocks around THIS part, barefooted with my fishing pole – Huckleberry Finn – [the off roading recreational business] was unheard of. Very few people appreciated the wilderness. I did, but it was a matter of economics.  You couldn’t make a living here.  There were no jobs and no industry.”

But he then said “far-sighted men” put in business and recreational opportunities north of the dam.  Times changed; money changed. People now, he said, have money to purchase these types of recreational vehicles and can make it to this particular area of the dam.

“These vehicles were unheard of. I dreamed of having a jeep, and finally got one – my first jeep is still sitting in the garage over there. That was back in the 60s. Now the Baby Boomers have their own recreational vehicles and they want to enjoy the outdoors.”

Then Rachel asked about his Native American heritage, and if that were a part of his connection to the land.  Hogan agreed that his heritage was Irish, and Cherokee, with roots in the Civil War prior to coming to this part of the country.

“But I am Cherokee Indian, my wife is Cherokee, and when they moved those people out here – burnt their homes and stole their cattle, they moved them at gunpoint out here in the middle of the winter. But my great-grandfather was quite a builder. He built a mill that cut wood into shingles and ground corn out there by Russellville.  I know where that land was, I know where the foundation of the house is that my grandmother was born in…”

At this point, Hogan’s voice cracked with emotion and he paused again.

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“They were wonderful people and they survived a lot. A lot of things our American History books don’t write about. My grandfather lost the biggest cotton farm in the bottom land over there during The Depression when cotton was ten cents a pound, and the bank took all that land. But that didn’t work for the government – socialism is a pendulum that moves back and forth, and it’s time now for people to realize the recreational value of our land. This land is owned by the public, but we have no access.  When I go to visit the graves of my ancestors, the game warden runs me out. That area was CLOSED, yet under the law you can visit those areas and I go in there, but that area should be available to the general public!”

“Americans want to go out in the woods and take their families. They want to go hunting and they want to go fishing and take their families and take pictures and listen to the birds. We are not Russians, happy to sit in a park, listen to a fiddle song, drink a beer and eat an onion. Americans want to explore the land.”

Our Russian comrades would probably not take too kindly to being characterized in the way Hogan recounted. But thanks to Hogan and possibly others, for right now Americans can still explore their land.

He has a visitor that walks around his land and finds flint points and artifacts of the Indians who were here years ago. He personally turns dirt over with his equipment and finds campfires of natives who tread Oklahoma hundreds of years before anyone’s name was registered in a courthouse as the owner.  And if there is a legacy he wishes for us all, it’s to realize our freedoms to enjoy the land we pay for with our taxes to the government.

And I would imagine, he’ll be telling that story for as long as he possibly can.

***

Field notes: April’s birthday was yesterday. Rachel is now shooting for yet another magazine, and Kelly is struggling with how to honor all the stories from all the people we’re collecting with this project.

Hopefully our video to accompany this post will be done very soon.

We had a scare three weeks ago when we thought our video files were lost from the Dam Run, but they are now recovered and our production is back on track.  Look for the wrap up of this particular run with Spavinaw and an outlier stop in Stillwater fitting this recreational theme.  See you soon ~ Red Dirt Kelly

EPTOM Dam Run, Stop 5A: Disney – Diana Is Ready To Fish

American diners serve as the hub of any community wheel.  PJs Corner Grill in Disney is no exception.

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Purchased in 1979 from a friend, PJs owner Diana Owen has been capably running her business for 36 years. The grill stays hot from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. during the winter months and an incredible 7 to 11, seven days a week during the summer. Continue reading EPTOM Dam Run, Stop 5A: Disney – Diana Is Ready To Fish

EPOTM Dam Run, Stop 4: Langley – Mayes County Field Notes

 

Four key events set the stage for a perfect visit with Donna Kuek at the Grand River Dam Authority (GRDA) Ecosystems and Education Center in Langley.  They were, in no specific order: Continue reading EPOTM Dam Run, Stop 4: Langley – Mayes County Field Notes

EPOTM Dam Run, Stop 3: Adair – Mr. Eby’s Wonder Emporium

Larry Eby must have been a bus driver because he definitely took us to school. From the moment we walked into his jam packed “Corner Store” emporium, until we exited an hour later, class was in session and Mr. Eby taught us well.

_DSC0111Leaning casually against the glass cased counter, coffee in hand and
his dog Prince at his feet, our “social studies teacher” covered subjects deeply important to an Oklahoman reflecting on 73 years of change in Adair.

He opened with family history. When his eldest son was born (“a fifth generation”), “that child had 13 living grandparents.” 21 years later when his son’s eldest daughter was born, “she was again the fifth generation on both sides of the family.” Then 22 years later when her  children were born, they were again the fifth generation on Larry’s side of the family. His eyes twinkled as he told us of his nine great-grandchildren.

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It was evident while listening that family was important to Larry.  His grandmother was Cherokee, and he and his wife still live on her Indian allotment land on an area known as Rock Creek.

The Works Progress Administration (WPA) had built a dam on that creek “around 1935, and it backed up a little lake for three-quarters of a mile, and below that dam was the best fishing hole in the country, because when the creek would get up, the fish would come up from the river but they couldn’t get over that dam and they’d pile up…and that’s where I grew up…fishin’…so that’s why that property is important to me.”

His outline moved to the theme of business.  Larry lectured about the importance of hard work, details about local commerce and how downtowns look and feel completely different than times prior to the installation of toll roads.  And, about the day when he realized  he had worked hard enough and it was time to “close the store”:

“I had a convenience store right across the road there, where that car lot is…for 27 years and 8 months, which is almost 28 years (he chuckles). I had got to the point where I had run off most of the help, and it was just me and a woman who run this store. And I went down one morning to open the store, and the first 3 or 4 people that came in were – to say the least – not very nice.

And I stood there after that second or third one, whichever one was left, and I thought, ‘You know, I don’t need this anymore.’ And I just closed the door, I was completely stocked and everything, and never opened it again…practically gave the inventory away. That morning they all had a real bad attitude, and at that point in my life I didn’t want to listen to it….and I’ve got worse as I’ve got older about ‘not wantin’ to listen to it.'”

Another smile.

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The topic of business was important to Larry.  He had a grandfather who owned “a laundry there” in Adair. His life’s work was spent growing his business holdings, and he and his wife patiently paid for everything they owned in cash while they watched some of their friends suffer from the worries of owing money. “They’d get a new boat, or car…but I’ve slept like a baby every night of my life.”

Larry wrapped up his lecture by discussing the changes in the landscape and land ownership from his perspective:

“When I was young, the older folks lived on their homestead places, 160 acres, and there were 2-4 homes per section. Now their kids have sold off those homesteads into 5,10 and 20 acre plots, and there are trailer houses all over ’em, and there’s not any amount of land that people farm around here any more. 

One thing I really love is to quail hunt. There used to be quail all over this country. But people have chopped up the land, and they pull up those old fence lines where the briars and brush served as protection for the quail, then they bulldoze the land, tearing up the native grasses,and plant their Bermuda or fescue in the dirt, and birds can’t make it on that. So the few that DO manage to survive, the hawk gets. I haven’t seen a covey of quail in years.”

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I felt like we had been on a field trip without ever leaving the store.  Pounds of Depression Glass reflected rainbow colors in Rachel’s eyes as she spent her “recess” walking down the aisles of Larry’s emporium. I looked for April and found her stroking the luxurious sheep hides, her brain calculating how much one would set her back if she spontaneously decided to take one home. Larry shared a story about purchasing a hurricane lamp for $15 and selling it for $200 the following day while our photographer and videographer wrestled with the urge to load the car up with his “inventory.”

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School was out and we drove down the road with Larry’s stories in our heads.  I had an inclination to go fishing and take steps to rebuild the quail population in Mayes County. Rachel was sharing a story about Larry’s wife happening upon a mother lode of Depression glass and how they brought it back to Oklahoma.  Finishing her second official stop, April was beginning to grasp what our project was all about.

And on we traveled…to the next little town whose buildings were shorter, and businesses were almost non-existent, and we wondered what the area might have been like had toll roads never been built.

***

Notes: We skipped our publishing date last week because of a family death, and dedicate this particular post to Emma Lee Bennett who we covered a few years ago in a series called “One Voice on the Oklahoma Prairie.”

Here’s a link on cool Adair history. And, here’s an even better one. The Oklahoma Historical Society always wins against Wikipedia.

April apologizes for the “Strang” slide in the Adair movie above, and will change it as soon as she returns from Haiti.

Rachel really wants this lens if any philanthropic readers happen along and feel generous.

And, we’ll be rolling out a non-profit soon in order to help underwrite our expenses for this project.  Otherwise, we’re all safe and doing just fine. ~ Peace, RDK

_DSC0108This is my favorite picture of Larry Eby, “social studies teacher” and owner of the Corner Store (wonder emporium) in Adair, OK.

EPOTM Dam Run, Stop 2: Strang – View from the Bridge

This video is the second in our Dam Run series completely shot, edited and produced by April Kirby.  All photos were shot by Rachel J Apple.

***

Every Point on the Map has never been as much about the towns in which people live, as it is about the people who live in the towns.

Our time with the Fleming family of Strang wholly exemplifies this philosophy. Their living room environment was intimate, warm, and thoughtful; bursts of occasional laughter were a delight.

The cloudy overcast day, however, seemed to temper the municipality’s mood as we traversed the diminishing town proper four or five times.  I struggled while absorbing what remains of a formerly vibrant area through our car window vantage point.  Strang seems as if “the town” somehow vanished mysteriously, while a random sampling of people remained – still connected to each other, but without a sustaining economy to support their lives. Continue reading EPOTM Dam Run, Stop 2: Strang – View from the Bridge

EPOTM Dam Run, Stop 1: Pryor Creek – Newspaper Man

[Editor’s Note to Readers:  Dear reader, we are currently in correspondence with Merlin Music.  We received express permission to use the music in our Pryor Creek video from the manager of the artist.  However, an outside agency may have purchased the rights to this music and they did not heed our letters for consideration to relinquish their copyright claim.  This process has been ongoing for about two months.  We hope to restore the video soon.  Until then, we are choosing not to replace the video with other music but to go through this process of asserting the rights of artists and entities such as ourselves to collaborate.  Thank you, Kelly Roberts, Editor, Red Dirt Chronicles 7/15/2016]

In about four weeks, Paul Lewis, photographer and ad builder at “The Paper” of Mayes County, won’t be in his downtown Pryor Creek office. Rather, he’ll be as close as his pass will allow to the Rocklahoma 2015 festival main stage, cheering on vocal bombast Lzzy Hale, lead singer of the power band Halestorm.

No doubt he’ll have more than her powerful vocals on his mind. Paul will most likely be decision-making about the best way to add a signed poster to his burgeoning memorabilia collection covering every square inch of his walls. And couch. And shelves.

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One corner of Paul Lewis’ newspaper office.

 

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Paul’s museum-like space was the first stop on our guided tour of The Paper’s historical workspace. The office walls sectioned off just enough square feet for the entire staff of three: Paul, who clearly loves rock n’ roll (as well as a variety of other music); Andrea “Andie” Finney who sells their ads and manages the billing; and, Terry Aylward.  Aylward “write[s] the stories and [does] all the book work.”

And Aylward was the person we were there to see.  Raised in the Kansas City area, he graduated from the University of Missouri school of journalism in 1977 and took the first job he was offered at an entry-level salary of $150 per week. That job was working for “The Daily Times” in Pryor Creek.

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Terry Aylward discussing The Paper’s business model

For twenty years he worked steadily, many times foregoing his vacation on behalf of the news business.  He met his wife in Pryor, raised a family, became a part of the community.  Things changed radically, however, as a large outside company bought the Daily (now known as simply The Times) and 50 other newspapers across Oklahoma in 1997.

Overnight, the business environment in which Aylward thrived turned from chasing the news and managing a paper, to meetings…and more meetings.  The process became heavy, burdensome.

“Everything [in Pryor] was the same, but in this town of 9,000 people we were always meeting about what we were going to do…instead of just doing it.”

By 1999, Aylward and Lewis left “The Times” and set out on their own with a competitive set of ideas to help launch “The Paper” of Mayes County.  They offered free classifieds, free obituaries, and free engagement or wedding announcements.  They re-focused on their community stories and resisted filler text of outside or national news.

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In other words, they were “sticking it to The Man.”  And it’s been working for 16 years.

“So we don’t have any meetings. We don’t have any policies.  You know, if I need Paul I just holler, and Andie may answer me because she thinks I’m talking to her, or whatever.  That’s the way we…you know, we just…take care of business.”

This business model is all-encompassing.  The three of them only take one week of vacation each year, generally during a five-week month in the summer so they can bill for four weeks and keep the cash flow consistent.

Those two pivotal moments, accepting the job in Pryor Creek and starting his own paper, are defining in Aylward’s life.  The decisions were both leaps of faith, and commitments to his craft. And through a newspaper man’s lens, he’s witnessed his community processes for almost forty years.

“There’s really no REAL news in a small town,” he said with a chuckle.  More seriously, he followed, “The tornado of ’42 was huge, and then there was the Girl Scout murders, [that] happened in Locust Grove which is about 20 miles away. Now the campground’s closed, and I think it’s farmland. But that’s really the only two that would be considered…that ‘the New York Times is coming to cover it.'”

Those two stories were big. Huge, actually.  The 1942 tornado took a booming Pryor Creek metropolis down to ruins.  Moving directly down main street, the twister took off the second and third levels of many of their buildings, and killed 70 people.

Map of The Paper's coverage area.
Map of The Paper’s coverage area on one of their office doors.

Discussing that tragedy, Aylward later told me through e-mail correspondence that “a tornado has not revisited Pryor since 1942 because an Indian medicine man went west and drove a stake into the ground to split future threats to the north and south. Believe it or not, as you watch the TV news reports of storms heading our way, they always seem to split and strike to the north and south if they strike at all.”

And of course, the Girl Scout murders were so big their mention still solemnifies the faces of Oklahomans today.

Conversations in the offices of The Paper echo slightly.  The building itself has many stories. Children used to run to the stoop, then up through the halls as an after school play activity. At one point in history, their building was known as “Robber’s Roost.”  Even walking through the halls now feels as if it would be imperative to locate an office there if you moved to Pryor, but at the same time you might expect turn of the century ghosts to treat you with occasional visits.

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Settling into our discussion, a few topics were mentioned that help define both Aylward and his job.

Requests to “not print that” – any pressure from the locals?

“You know, we’re always asked to ‘not print that,’ and you can’t. You just have to print it. Especially people who don’t want their name in the paper for when they get a DUI or something…they’re going to lose their job. You just have to say, ‘Look, if you do it, your name’s going to be in the paper.’ I tell ’em , ‘My kids have been in the paper. So, I’m not holding you out.’ And, they know my kids…[then they respond], ‘oh, yeah, I remember…’

And government-wise, sometimes they’ll say, ‘Oh, they don’t need to know all that..’ But it’s a lot better now, that we’ve been on our own.  They just accept what we say because they know, ‘these guys…they’re crazy, they don’t have to answer to anybody.’ Down there (at The Times), they can call people, and go over their heads…but here, it’s beautiful, because it’s just us. And Paul and Andi don’t really care about the news part (he chuckles), so it’s just me. And the community has given up trying to get me not to print things.”

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Caricatures and/or Characters in Pryor Creek?

Caricatures – “Oh, there’s tons of ’em.  The first one that pops into my mind is the mayor.  When you see today’s paper…he’s running for re-election.  However, he goes down to the park, squirms himself into this little bitty kid’s toy, for a picture just to promote his election…with the ‘new toy.’  He’s unbelievable.  He’s in a race for the first time this year with a retired fire chief.  [The current mayor’s] philosophy has always been, ‘If the library employee gets a 5% raise, the fireman gets a 5% raise. There’s no difference. And [the fire department] thinks they should get more because they pay union dues…”

Characters – “Carl Curry, another former mayor here…the thing that stands out to me about Carl was, he’s born and raised in Pryor, and he’s the mayor, and the city’s thinking about having ‘Martin Luther King’ as a holiday. Now, he’s a WWII guy…and he breaks the tie of the city council vote to allow our Martin Luther King holiday.

Well, that did not go over very well with his generation.  And he said, still today, life-long friends of his don’t speak to him because of that. But he told me the reason he did that was when he was a little kid, he remembers a Troop Train stopping, that railroad’s gone through here forever, stopping and getting out was a total Black platoon.  And they double-timed down to ma-whatevers cafe, and they had to go in the back.

And as a little kid, Carl thought, ‘These are OUR soldiers. Why did they have to do that?’ So he said, that’s the picture he had when he voted to break the tie.  He kind of righted that wrong of something he saw as a kid he knew wasn’t right.  And we still celebrate Martin Luther King holiday today in Pryor Creek.

I think there was a survey in the Tulsa World stating that 90% of Oklahomans believe their community is prejudice one way or another. And then 80% believe that it doesn’t keep everybody from achieving the American Dream. Which is…kind of the comical part of that deal.”

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I personally appreciated our discussion with Aylward a great deal.  We waxed philosophical about whether or not removing adults with developmental or intellectual disabilities from the community helps or hurts everyone involved.  We discussed various areas our EPOTM team was preparing to visit and received pointers on where to investigate. We learned about how Google has poured dollars into their community the way Pryor Creek’s water is pouring over the servers to keep things running smoothly for the internet giant.

I think I wanted his NPR baseball cap.  I know I wanted his office space.

“What’s one of the things that makes your team laugh?” I asked.

“Every city council meeting,” he responded with a chuckle.

***

And we laughed too.  Thanks, Terry, for the 50 copies of the The Paper, for your graciousness and tour of your building, and for helping us understand a little better our Pryor Creek point on the map.

***

City of Pryor website

Pryor Creek Wikipedia entry

History of Pryor Creek

All photo credits: Rachel J Apple (except the photo below this line)

Video credit: April Kirby

"Pryor1942tornado". Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Pryor1942tornado.jpg#/media/File:Pryor1942tornado.jpg
“Pryor1942tornado”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Pryor1942tornado.jpg#/media/File:Pryor1942tornado.jpg

Every Point, Part Two, Team of Three

April 10, 2015 marked the day of my last “Every Point on the Map” feature compiled by our original two-person team.  Reaching this small milestone felt good. To celebrate, I sent a text message to Rachel and April with several exclamation marks.

We have changed since our pilot run, as much by the lives we have encountered as by the information gathering and relationship building process.

Reflecting on my own personal change, I’ve noticed something different about myself compared to last year: I’m not afraid to ask people for conversations any longer.  I used to feel sheepish. I even wrote once, “I don’t want to step on their daisies.” Continue reading Every Point, Part Two, Team of Three

How to Make Redbud Jelly

Redbud blooming season has almost passed in Oklahoma, but the opportunity to make delicate, floral jelly happens every year.

These easy step by step instructions, plus a few common questions and answers should help guide you through the process easily.  Once you’re finished, stand back and admire your stock of unique gifts for friends, or delicious wares for your pantry.  Happy canning!

Redbud blooms in jar

RECIPE – REDBUD JELLY

3 cups of redbuds
Approx. 2 cups boiling water
2-3 Tablespoons lemon juice
3 Tablespoons Sure-Jel powder
2 cups sugar; 1-2 tsp. butter

1.  Gather 3 cups of fresh, new redbud blooms.  Be careful while gathering.  Honeybees like to visit the trees so you’ll have to share with them. Continue reading How to Make Redbud Jelly

EPTOM: Owasso, OK (Email Mondays)

We must have crossed into a funk zone.  That’s the only way I can explain our Owasso point on the map.

Somewhere between our visit with the Roundtable Breakfast Club in Sperry and a middle class neighborhood in Owasso, Rachel and I must have entered an unmarked Oklahoma worm hole.  It certainly felt “alien.”  We literally knocked on ten doors with not one “yes” for our conversation.

Prior to turning south into this particular area with newer homes and nicely paved streets, we had just said to each other, “We really need to sit down with a few middle class folks.  Someone we find at home, not necessarily just outside hanging around wherever we happen to be.”

As we agreed on this plan, I felt it was exactly the right thing to do. Go to a middle-class neighborhood in the middle of American.  After all, I’m a middle class individual and live in somewhat of a middle-class neighborhood.  My people, right?

“Piece of cake,” I said to myself as I walked up to the first door of ten.

Ten. Continue reading EPTOM: Owasso, OK (Email Mondays)

EPOTM: Lima, OK ~ (The Biggest Stone Up There)

Derrick Jackson held a small pit bull puppy close to his chest as he pointed south, north, “over there,” “by the school,” and “down the road.”  As I listened to him patiently laying out the dividing lines between Lima and New Lima, the thought of him spending 15 years in a maximum security prison for second degree murder didn’t make sense. Continue reading EPOTM: Lima, OK ~ (The Biggest Stone Up There)

EPOTM: Cashion, OK (He IS The Job)

The Cashion PD interior was screaming for an HGTV renovation.  Informational messages spewed over the radio system, violently punching an otherwise quiet rural setting.  And Joshua Farrety, Assistant Chief of Police, was preparing for our conversation by finding just the right angle on his chair: far enough back to provide relief from the bullet proof vest he sported, and forward enough to balance his frame.

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Five minutes earlier, Farrety had been on the phone with his Chief who had encouraged him to speak with us.

“She said the experience would do me good,” he retorted.

His put-off tone was counterbalanced with a subtle grin that gave away his enjoyment about the opportunity to represent the agency.  Assistant Chief Farrety was asked to speak on behalf of the department, and he wasn’t going to let them down.

The City of Cashion was the fifth stop on a six-town, one-day run, so by late in the afternoon Rachel and I were more than a little jocular (read: adolescent).  Try as we may, however, Farrety stayed mostly on message.  Even when we chided him about his “lady friend” buying the groceries he remained fairly regulated.

I’m not sure if speaking with a rural Oklahoma policeman was the impetus for “the adolescent” in us, but when I watched our video this past week, my respect for Farrety strengthened.  He was the job.

He was the job…whether it was to:

  • serve up their mission statement,
  • volunteer for the local fire department in any spare time he mustered,
  • or give it up to the reserve police officers across the state who enable towns like Cashion to stay covered when their budgets don’t meet the warm body demand it takes to keep their area safe.

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When I think about the shoestring budgetary funding of local fire and police operations, I’m at the same time impressed in how they made ends meet, and infuriated at the salary levels provided to those who risk their lives every day.

I left our discussion that evening with a few thoughts running through my head.  In no particular order, they are:

  • I would imagine the Cashion PD doesn’t give a damn about their level of office decor;
  • If I was ever in trouble, I’d feel just fine knowing Farrety was involved in some kind of police action to keep me safe; and,
  • I’m incredibly sheltered in my job at the university.

Thanks, Farrety and company, for pulling over the man high on pot so he didn’t kill someone while driving. Thanks, specifically to Josh, for putting up with our interrogatory nature. And thanks, Chief Veronica Thomas, for letting him handle the discussion.

He was the job, and he did just fine.

***

Video clips from our conversation with Josh below. For more on our project, visit the “About” page on this website. The video ending was extended without visuals to highlight our featured artist, Sherree Chamberlain’s song: San Fran, from her album New Skin.

Cashion, Oklahoma is a small town on the boarder of Kingfisher and Logan counties.

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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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EPOTM: Crescent, OK (Parallel Processes)

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.

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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.

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A photo of Kay’s mother, chosen by family members, exudes an outdoor and adventurous spirit.

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.

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The Whitfield home on the day we visited.

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.

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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!”

Perspective from Kay's front room, looking our her front door.
Perspective from Kay’s front room, looking our her front door.

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.”

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33 Down. 561 To Go. Happy First Anniversary, EPTOM!


It’s been 18 months the since Every Point on the Map began to take shape, 15 months since we began planning our first trip, and as of today, it’s been exactly one year since our pilot run to Carney.

Today, we’re sharing a meaningful conversation with each other. Sitting together in the outdoor section of RJs Supper Club and Lounge, Rachel and reflect on various aspects of our first year.

To those of you who have begun to join us by reading or sharing our journeys, we are grateful.

And year two, we can’t wait to meet ya.

Kelly, Rachel…and now April, too.

RDC Editorial: Reflections on the Sigma Alpha Epsilon Racism Exposé

The Red Dirt Chronicles is an Oklahoma cultural blog created specifically for the purpose of shedding light on the unique attributes of our state.  Most of our work contains perspectives which are neutral or positively framed; we tend to stay away from negatively slanted or harsh stories as there are plenty other outlets covering that type of content.

I’m writing this rare editorial because a series of events in our state over the last few weeks has led me to a point where I feel it’s important to use my voice.  Because we’re heavily into our legislative session, we first began dealing with national ridicule of several measures that seem to distract from our state’s $640 million dollar projected budget deficit.  And now, it appears that we are dealing with racism in at least one of our fraternities.

Continue reading RDC Editorial: Reflections on the Sigma Alpha Epsilon Racism Exposé

EPTOM: Cimarron City, OK (Police Versus Golf Carts)

Susan Privett was “having a little visit with her mom,” standing by her mother’s graveside  when the phone rang. There, shattering the quiet cemetery setting, she received a message that her son and daughter-in-law had been in an accident.  While processing her immediate denial, she recounted the word echoing around her brain: “No.”

“No…because it was Christmastime, they were out shopping, no… this can’t be true.” Continue reading EPTOM: Cimarron City, OK (Police Versus Golf Carts)

EPTOM: Cedar Valley, OK (“Duffy IS Cedar Valley”)

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. Continue reading EPTOM: Cedar Valley, OK (“Duffy IS Cedar Valley”)

EPOTM: Guthrie, OK (She Doused Us In Validation)

Missy Hancock said “Yes. Of course. I’d love to,” immediately without hesitation.

An image of what it must feel to be involved in a post-game Gatorade bath flooded over me.  In my mind, electrolyte-filled orange liquid pressed down over my head, hit my chest, ran down my arms and torso. Success, on our first “ask” in Guthrie!

Continue reading EPOTM: Guthrie, OK (She Doused Us In Validation)

EPTOM: Navina, OK (The Day Our Nose Hairs Melted)

We had just left a rather bizarre conversation with a policeman in Cashion and were headed back home when we spied the “Navina” sign.

The central Oklahoma town, if one can call it that, sets just off Seward Road, between May and Pennsylvania Avenues, basically in the middle of pastureland.  The elongated rectangle of road, measuring about three-quarters of a mile at the most, is home to only a few houses.

And one shiny grain elevator. Continue reading EPTOM: Navina, OK (The Day Our Nose Hairs Melted)