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.
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.
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.
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!
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.”
Editor’s Note: If you are just beginning to read these entries, you may wish to start with the first, then the second before you begin this particular work. Thanks, Red Dirt Kelly
During the summer of 1937, at the age of fifteen, I took a job in Oklahoma City caring for three children of Dr. and Mrs. Cooper. I would take the train from Tuttle to Oklahoma City, then ride the interurban to within a few blocks of Dr. Cooper’s. When I’d hear the train blow the whistle down the track [when in Tuttle] I’d start to cry because I was already getting homesick. The first summer I didn’t come home very often. I had Dr. Cooper save up my money until I went home to start to school. I started out making $3.00 a week plus room and board. After Mrs. Cooper went to the hospital to have a baby they raised my salary to $4.00 [per day].
The Coopers had two girls and two boys. I’d cook breakfast, wash, iron, clean house and watch the children. I worked for them three summers and one Christmas vacation. I always bought clothes for school with my earnings. The first year I bought a rust colored coat, black dress with a lace yolk and black shoes. I thought I was really dressed up. I made $36.00 that summer; my coat cost $16.00.
Editor’s Note: This series began on Monday of last week. It most likely will run for five weeks. Please refer to this link for the introductory information and “Entry One” of “My Grandmother’s Memoirs.” Thank you. ~ RDK
“One Spring I was at a widow woman’s house picking up apricots. She was in the tree and hung a bucket on a limb. It broke and the bucket of apricots fell on my head. Did I ever have a big gash! She told me to run home to my mama. By the time I got there my clothes were soaked with blood. I remember all the children of the neighborhood lining up across the screened-in back porch watching Mom clean me up. I had to go to the doctor at Enid for him to dress and care for it every other day.
I had the small pox vaccination at Waukomis by a Dr. Wolfe. I always imagined he looked like a wolf, but he was pretty nice. He gave me a stick of gum and a penny because I didn’t cry.
I had chicken pox in the Spring of 1930; it was near Easter. Our class at school was having an egg hunt, so Papa took me to the principal’s office to see if I was over them enough to go to the event. I was so happy because he said I could go!
One winter we had a big snow. Papa walked ahead of us to school to make tracks so we wouldn’t have as difficult a time getting to school. We were always thrilled when the weather was bad and didn’t have to go home for lunch! Mom would call the grocery store and the owner would prepare a good lunch for us. One of us would go pick it up; he would make pressed ham sandwiches with buns – that was really good!
We children of the neighborhood would gather in the evening by the street light, choose sides and play a game called “Trail.” One side would hide, the other hunt. We would make arrows with chalk marking the direction we were going. Then at the point we decided to hide, we would draw a circle with arrows going all directions making it more difficult to find us.
Another time I remember was my sister Catherine and brother Charles and I went to a Methodist revival. When coming home we had to go past an opera house. We were told a little man lived under it; we were always frightened to go by. We watched the building closely! As we were walking along Catherine slipped on the ice and I fell over her, breaking my collar bone. I was crying so loudly Catherine said, “Be quiet! That little man will hear you!” My parents were at the door to meet us when we got there. It was so painful and difficult to wear a coat that I missed several days of school after that incident.