In the March 28, 2013 issue of Rolling Stone magazine's cover article on Mumford and Sons, bassist Ted Dwane was quoted saying, "We kind of are Okies at heart. I don't really know what an Okie is, but I feel like one."
Well Ted, I can tell you what it means to be an Okie. It means that you come into this world knowing that you're going to take a beating, so when life knocks you down, you just get right back up again.
Timothy Egan described the kind of people who settled the Oklahoma plains in his book on the Dust Bowl, The Worst Hard Time. He wrote about people who had failed everywhere else, who couldn't be content or get along anywhere else, who were looking for their "last best chance" on the last American frontier at that time. They were a people who had nothing left to lose, who nonetheless were forced to stand by and watch as their last best chance dried up into dust and blew away. And yet they endured, watching the horizon for rain, full of hope.
Bob Dylan, acolyte of that good old Oklahoman, Woody Guthrie, got it just right when he wrote these words in his epic poem, "Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie":
You need something to make it known
That it's you and no one else that owns
That spot that yer standing, that space that you're sitting
That the world ain't got you beat
That it ain't got you licked
It can't get you crazy no matter how many
Times you might get kicked
You need something special all right
You need something special to give you hope
But hope's just a word
That maybe you said or maybe you heard
On some windy corner 'round a wide-angled curve
As an Okie, Woody was the perfect person to bring that message of hope and endurance to a weary nation of people beaten down by depression, drought, and war. For all their faults, and they have many, Oklahomans may be best equipped to speak this truth to the world. Hard times are their strong suit.
This morning, Kate's teachers asked about my family in the wake of the enormous tornadoes that have ravaged Oklahoma in the last couple of days and dominated the news cycle all over the country. They asked me how anyone ever gets used to living under such a threat of this kind of deadly weather. How do people live in a place where total disaster strikes so rapidly and mercilessly? And how do they endure it when it happens again and again and again?
It's obvious that Okies are crazy, that's why.
They are crazy with determination. They are the Last Best Chancers. They have pioneer spirit. They are people who've seen the worst of it, who have taken a lickin' but still manage to get back up into fighting stance. They know there's always a wild possibility for rain or sun tomorrow, so don't pack it in just yet. Never let the world get you down for good. Never give up.
More tragedy. More hard times. Oklahomans took it on the chin, but they were back up on their feet before the sun even went down yesterday. They've already been hard at work all through the night, rescuing the living, mourning the dead, patching up the wounded, and cleaning up the mess. They won't stay down. They'll keep putting one foot in front of the other. That's what Okies do.
Hope and Endurance.
Woody Guthrie's "Dust Can't Kill Me"
The Pioneer Woman has a good list of places you can go to give assistance.