Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Oklahoma Winds

Almost no one has ever spent time in Oklahoma.

Whenever people ask about my life, and I mention my time in the state, they nod and say, "I passed through once on my way to Dallas/Los Angeles/Memphis. Not much there." I can't disagree. The Indians, who were marched in on The Trail of Tears from their beautiful homelands elsewhere, felt the same way.

I've said plenty of times that if I'd been on a covered wagon headed West, I'd have turned around and gone back upon rolling into Oklahoma.

The Wichita Mountains near Lawton are the country's oldest range and, in their hey day, would have looked like the Rocky Mountains. Now they're on their way back into the earth, which explains why they're reduced to piles of colossal rocks. Even the mountains want out. Enough said.

Yes, Oklahoma has cities with air-conditioned malls and elaborate suburbs like any place in America. Their universities are impressive. First-run movies play there. They have Starbuck's.

But the lay of the land defines any territory. Despite its post-card pretty spring azaleas, it's basically a hard place with far too many flat acres sliced up by barbed wire. During summer droughts, people give up on lawns and daisies and tomatoes because water is rationed. The blamed hot wind burns the life out of everything green.

So it's an everlasting wonder to me that Broadway's first modern musical was Oklahoma! Set in a simpler time, it's about everyone getting all dolled up to go on a picnic. Such a sweet notion. If you know the story at all, however, you know it takes a bad turn. Tap dancing and fringed surrey aside, a menacing darkness roars through the fun.

That is Oklahoma.

Smack dab in the center of Tornado Alley, it is a horrific place to live. I've seen my share of twisters. They are a swirling, mesmerizing wonder. Dropping out of a bottle-green sky, they massacre the landscape with an unforgiving tunnel of wind.  I've hidden in hall closets and underground shelters and never been hurt.

But that wasn't true a year ago when twenty-four people died from a tornado in Moore. Our relatives there suffered serious property damage. Life is still not back to normal for many and never will be for some.

If you live anywhere in Oklahoma, you know it's a dangerous place. Powerful loss can ride in on the next brutal wind.

So I was especially touched when we saw Maggie's boyfriend in his school's production of Oklahoma! They captured the romantic spirit of a farm on the plains. They whooped and hollered through ambitious dance sequences. They had ruffles and paper lanterns and picnic baskets. But best of all, they had a collection box in the lobby for donations to the Moore High School Theater Department because that 2013 tornado destroyed their construction equipment. A portion of ticket sales went toward the fund, too. These sympathetic students in St. Paul wanted to help.  

Annually in Oklahoma, "where the wind goes sweepin' down the plain," countless valuable things are carried away.

But every now and then, good winds blow in, too. Generously. All the way from up here in Minnesota.

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  1. Thank you, Karen, for this reminder of the power of weather to change lives. The tragedy draws closer when we realize we know someone with relatives in the damaged locale. But that's just it ... we know people everywhere so what happens there happens to people we care about. Bravo! to those students for caring about the students in Moore.

  2. The show closes with the cast singing the rousing "Oklahoma," which always makes me cry. Then when they announced their fundraiser for the high school, I cried even more. I was reminded why I loved teaching teenagers.

    1. I performed as Ado Annie in college, Karen, but I never made the connections with reality that you've described so beautifully.

    2. Ado Annie is a plum of a part, Vicki. I'd have given anything to see your performance. Of all the states I've ever lived in, no place has ever gripped me like Oklahoma does. I've simply never been able to shake it.

  3. Beautifully written, Karen. Indeed, the weather is a terrifying, but I still say the thunderstorms and tornadoes cannot match the menace of the political climate in the Sooner State.

  4. I understand completely, Allen. It's a rough and tumble state across the board.