Wednesday, December 18, 2013


I wrote this after reading a new series named #WhereILivedWednesday on a blog I follow called Ann's Rants. Hopefully she'll be doing more of these because I enjoyed reading other people's memories of past homes.

My great-grandmother Elizabeth moved to a nursing home when I was four. Her little house on Tenth Street was empty, so my parents bought it and returned from the suburbs of Tulsa to their hometown. That's how I ended up sleeping in my Nana's childhood bedroom, two doors down from the house where my mother grew up.

My great-grandparents came out from Jackson, Tennessee, in 1920 to work in their brother-in-law Charlie’s dry goods store. Just a couple of decades before, the Creek Indian Nation had been forced by the Dawes Commission to enroll its members and accept private allotments of their reservation land in preparation for statehood. All “surplus” land was sold by the federal government to white settlers. The massive Glenn Pool oil field to the north and the coal mines to the south filled the booming town with refineries and manufacturing plants. When my great-grandparents arrived, new telephone lines and unpaved streets were laid out awaiting the homes of the fortune-seekers who were flooding into the former Indian Territory.

Elizabeth and John built a two-bedroom craftsman bungalow on one of those new streets. A deep, cool front porch stretched across the entire width of the house, with French doors that opened onto the living room and the front bedroom. There was a spacious dining room with more French doors, a kitchen with an alcove for the breakfast table, a bathroom, and a small back bedroom for the children.

My Nana Ruth and her sister Annie grew up there from the jazz-paced growth and oil money opulence of the ‘20s through the Dust Bowl years of the ‘30s when John took to the bumpy roads selling candy door-to-door. Ruth married one of the GIs who came pouring into town during the War and they quickly had four children. Looking for a home of their own during the housing shortages of the 1950s, they decided to buy the Victory Garden plot on Tenth Street. They built a small ranch-style home within spitting distance of Ruth’s parents. The Hardwicks, who lived in the house between them, never minded when I cut across their backyard to my grandparents' house just as my mother had done.

When we moved in, the refrigerator was out on the back porch. There were only six ancient glass fuses in the electrical box and no central air-conditioning -- only the old attic fan that sounded like a freight train and made you feel like you were floating when it sucked all the air up into the ceiling. The driveway was unpaved. The light switches were black push-buttons. My parents spent all their savings updating the place, even renovating the only bathroom while my mother was hugely pregnant with my brother in 1983.

But the wallpaper in my bedroom never changed. It was the same toile paper that had been on the walls when my Nana slept there, faded from it's original color to a dingy taupe on a yellowed background. The kitchen also stayed the pea green color that my Uncle Karl had painted it sometime in the ‘70s.

The headboard in my parents' room was stained by John's hair oil. I tried on my mother’s jewelry at Elizabeth’s dressing table on the stool with the needlepoint seat she stitched herself. We put up our Christmas tree in the same corner of the living room by the fireplace where it had always stood.

On rainy days, I played on the wide porch where my mother once fell and split her forehead open. My parents put up a swing set under the big magnolia tree by the back stoop where, according to my Nana, disheveled men had come up from the alley to the back door to beg for spare food during the Depression. Also the town bootlegger would come in that way to deliver your hooch if you called him up on the telephone and left the light on.

I went to the same elementary school as my mother and grandmother. My music teacher had been my mother’s teacher. We also had the same Sunday school teacher at the First Presbyterian Church where my Nana was an Elder. Same choir director, too, although different minister.

And then things changed, as they do. My father was transferred by his company to another small town north of Tulsa. My parents had to sell the little bungalow on Tenth Street, and it passed out of our family for good.

We came back regularly to visit my grandparents down the street. The new people kept the old place looking nice, but it was disconcerting to see the changes they made. It felt odd not to run back and forth between the two houses anymore. I never asked my Nana how she felt, living two doors down from her old home without being able to pop in any time she liked to commune with her memories there. I can’t imagine it wasn’t painful at times, especially after her mother passed away.

I myself have only driven down that street a few times in the last decade, especially now that Nana doesn't even live there either. It’s still surreal and melancholy, even though so much time has passed. I'm sure the Creeks could tell us exactly how impossible it is to kill that sense of longing for your lost home.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


A rather amazing number of great (primarily country/folk) musicians have come out of my home state of Oklahoma: JJ Cale, Wanda Jackson, Gene Autry, Vince Gill, The Flaming Lips, Leon Russell, Patti Page, and of course, Woody. So many greats, in fact, that I can't even list them all here.

However, because I didn't listen to a lot of pop-country music as a kid, there really weren't a ton of local acts that I followed when I lived there. We mostly had to go to Dallas to see shows, and Austin was just heating up as a premier music hub when I was in college. It's somewhat of a shame then that I'm missing out on this recent boom in amazing acts that are pouring out of Oklahoma.

One of the handful of Okies who are currently getting a lot of attention in Americana circles is John Fullbright. His second and most recent album, From the Ground Up, was just nominated for a Grammy for Best Americana Album. He's a talented lyricist, and I find the stories and places in his songs very compelling.

"Satan and St. Paul" is my favorite song off the album at the moment. It's such an Okie kind of song, full of fatalism, self-recrimination, religious paranoia, and escapist fantasies: I can relate.

"Well it took me twenty years
Just to find myself a pen
For to write down all the words
Just to scratch them out again
I could use another twenty years
To fix the last fifteen
But it never seems to work to my advantage"

He performed this song, "Jericho," at the Americana Music Awards, where he was nominated for Emerging Artist of the Year and Album of the Year.

And if you're playing along at home, you'll know that I've written here before about JD McPherson. He's just incredible. My favorite song is still "Signs and Signifiers" off his album of the same name (which I already posted last time, along with "Fire Bug" and "North Side Gal"). Here's a couple more songs:

*Ten bonus points if you can name that Oklahoma landmark!*

And rounding out the Okie triumvirate is Parker Millsap, another bluesy, Prairie Gothic voice, but coming out of a face that seems much too young and sweet to know about such dark things. His first album, Palisade, is available on iTunes, and the band is working on another record right now.

Collect all three artists' albums and have the complete set for the win!

Besides just making music that's really great that I love to sing along to in the car, these guys make me feel something... it might be... I think it's possibly... Pride. I hope they write the name of our homeplace large across the face of the music industry, just like those old greats did. You're making me proud, boys, and I'm not really quite sure what to do with that strange emotion.

Hopefully now people will stop asking me where Oklahoma is... "Isn't that somewhere near Iowa?" *Sigh*

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

December?! I'm still not caught up from October!

Uh, I think I forgot to update my blog. Oops. I got sidetracked with a few (hundred) other things, and then we went to Oklahoma for Thanksgiving. Here are the photos from a post I started and never finished about the girls raking leaves with Mike. Happy Fall in New England, everyone!

I always wear a dress when I do yard work. How about you?


Not helping.


She said she was pretending to be a tree.

At least they had a good time. Well, if memory serves. It seems like I remember that they had fun. It was kind of a long time ago and I'm getting old.

Anywho... Oklahoma. We flew in to Tulsa last Wednesday and went straight to Okmulgee to stay with Grandma the Great. It was much, much too short, but we did see most all of my family on both sides, and I ate a LOT of pie. The girls were very upset that we had to come home on Sunday. Maggie demanded that we make Oklahoma and Massachusetts be the same place because she wants to live in both places at once. You and me both, kid.

Everyone had their dogs with them, so the girls got to love on a bunch of dogs all weekend. So far they haven't demanded one of their own, but I was worried!

We played a lot of Chinese checkers. With Uncle Alex...

... with Auntie Jasmin...

... and with Papa. But it was Great Aunt Annie who finally put an end to Maggie's winning streak/Reign of Terror.

Hanging out with Nana, Papa, Uncle Ev, and Aunt Sandy.

This is how I spent my Thanksgiving vacation.

I also got to hold my newest little cousin Eli, son of Brad and Natalie and grandson of my Aunt Ann and Uncle Tom. He's a mere six weeks old and the cuddliest little guy. Holding other people's babies (and then going home and getting a good night's sleep) is one of the best things about hanging out with family and friends. I do love to borrow other people's babies. Especially the handsome and smart ones like Eli. Too bad I didn't get any pictures with him!

Ridin' in the Gator with Uncle Karl.

Kate insisted on wearing her seat belt. Safety first!

Rock n roll hay bale with Karl and Ann

Getting a little boost

Smize. What a couple of cheeseballs.