Tag Archives: EPOTM

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.  Welding information, can be found if you click for more info. 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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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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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.

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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?

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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.

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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 about it here. 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.

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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.

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

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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.