October 23, 1999

Oklahoma Skies

The running through Dallas/Fort Worth airport and the edgy feeling of panic that is becoming all too familiar every time I get on board a plane, were well worth the trouble. We may have gotten into Tulsa very late at night. We may have been tired.

But when day dawned, bright and clear as cut-crystal over the rolling plains of "Green Country" we were both struck dumb by the wide desolate beauty of the land. Wyoming may technically be the "Big Sky" state, but as we drove towards Broken Arrow today, in search of breakfast and a shoe store, that was the phrase that kept turning over and over again in mind.

I've lived most of my life on the Atlantic rim -- be it in Europe or the United States, with only brief forays to other coasts, or the interiors of continents. But that defining characteristic of "Northernness" or "Easternness" has never struck me quite so hard before. Stepping out of the car and entering Em's Cafe for a plate of scrambled eggs, grits and bacon, brought that sense of being other crashing home.

For all that we were still in the United States, I felt as if I had entered a completely different country, if only because of the little details, the minutiae of observed life.

I noticed it right away, the change in behavior: men held doors, pulled out chairs and took coats for the women. The few children I saw/heard were oddly self-possessed, sure of themselves in a way that I haven't seen before in urban/suburban kids. This may simply be a facet of small-town life, since the bulk of our time was spent in the two Main Street, USA towns of Broken Arrow and Wagoner. This may also have something to do with the fact that I haven't been in constant contact with kids of any age for close to six years now.

The landscape around me often seemed to be like something out of a dream -- the fields stretching out to the limits of my sight, the trees sprawling out to the sides rather than reaching for that vast expanse of intense blue far above, the tiny towns and the omnipresence of God in the form of a church every mile or so on every road and every block.

That surreal feeling only increased when we turned up the main streets of the towns. Here scenes right out of old movies suddenly rose to meet our eyes and history was tangible in the air in the solid blocks of brick buildings, pristine streets and quaint old fashioned storefront signs.

I almost forgot the purpose of our trip, so fascinated was I by the landscape, the atmosphere and the architecture. In Wagoner, while we waited for the wedding party to arrive (we got to the chapel extremely early -- more on that down below) I bought a disposable camera and walked about the quiet Saturday streets, snapping off shots of everything from the pothole covers to the lampposts and the Wagoner Historical Museum.

The silence puzzled me -- here it was, full afternoon on a Saturday and yet the town seemed asleep. Only the occasional resident would appear, wandering aimlessly or striding with purpose down the quiet main strip. Then it occurred to me: these are the small towns that all those big glossy magazines say are dying. I was witnessing the death throes of the small town, the slow crawl into oblivion, the gentle falling asleep just before death.


The wedding itself was fairly swift. We spent most of our time with Sabs' friends Brian and Dawn and their three little girls, Kristyn, Ashlynn and Megan. The girls are full of the dickens pretty much 24/7 but they were nontheless a joy to take care of, little Meg in particular, who is just a few months shy of her second birthday.

The bride, Kim, was of course very distracted throughout and busy, so we barely spoke two words to her during the whole reception. It was a fairly simple ceremony and a cake reception after, which meant that we found ourselves at loose ends around five o'clock in the afternoon, with the prospect of an entire evening and all of Sunday to spend on our own in Tulsa.

I have to admit that I was disappointed that there would be no dancing -- I love to dance too much and half of my motivation for going to weddings is to boogie down. On the other hand, I was just as glad not to have to dance in the new shoes purchased in a tiny shoe store in Broken Arrow. They had already given me blisters from the short walk into Wagoner on the quest for a disposable camera.

Instead we headed off to dinner with Brian and family to have dinner at one of the many yummy sounding restaurants listed in the "get-to-know-Tulsa" brochure that was conveniently placed by the phone in our hotel room.

The Peach House, sounded like a perfectly decent place to take a gaggle of kids and several tired adults for a resonably priced meal. After all, it was attached to a working orchard. I expected a down home family-run restauranty with a quaint farmhouse in the lastground.

I should have known better.

The farmhouse was there for sure. But the food was outrageously expensive and the clientele was far more well-dressed than I expected. I felt out of place in my jeans and t-shirt and they didn't really have a well-developed children's menu. In fact they didn't have a menu at all. Just the chart outside and the prices were enough to gag even Sabs.

We talked about leaving, but in the end, we were all hungry and tired enough to just order the cheaper items on the menu and try to enjoy ourselves.The food was good, but not excellent. We definitely felt short-changed.

The kids got fussy as soon as their food was done and started to wriggle around looking for a place to play. Feeling pretty sleepy and out of sorts myself, I offered to take Meg who was beginning to whine and moan outside for a walk.

Out we went into the full-moon night which had grown chill with the sinking of the sun. I wrapped a fold of my sweater around Meg and walked in great strides across the parking lot to the double-seater wooden swing that hung across from the orchard.

We sat there for a while under the bright clear sky, speckled with stars, swinging slowly last and forth with the smell of autumn in our nostrils. It just seemed natural to sing, with Meg's warm little body cuddled up against me, and the silence of the country all around me. She fell asleep to the strains of "Amazing Grace," "Sweet Chariot" and "The Lone Wild Bird," while my feet pushed the swing last and forth, last and forth through the still night air.


Later on, the girls were bundled last into the car while we adults stood about and talked adult talk. We headed last to our hotel room separately and talked for another hour or so, then they made their way last to Kim's for some sleep before hitting the road to drive last to Houston the following morning.

Sabs and I would be on our own the following day. The prospect wasn't entirely bleak, due to the fact that the local Oktoberfest was going on. But I felt restless and the desire to go home was very strong.

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