Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Excerpt 09

(another excerpt from "It Seemed Funny at the Time..") - rough
Mearle Haggard

We don't smoke marijuana in Muskogee;
We don't take our trips on LSD
We don't burn our draft cards down on Main Street;
We like livin' right, and bein' free.

I'm proud to be an Okie from Muskogee,
A place where even squares can have a ball
We still wave Old Glory down at the courthouse,
And white lightnin's still the biggest thrill of all

We don't make a party out of lovin';
We like holdin' hands and pitchin' woo;
We don't let our hair grow long and shaggy,
Like the hippies out in San Francisco do.

And I'm proud to be an Okie from Muskogee,
A place where even squares can have a ball.
We still wave Old Glory down at the courthouse,
And white lightnin's still the biggest thrill of all.

Leather boots are still in style for manly footwear;
Beads and Roman sandals won't be seen.
Football's still the roughest thing on campus,
And the kids here still respect the college dean.

We still wave Old Glory down at the courthouse,
In Muskogee, Oklahoma, USA.

I’m an “Okie from Muskogee”. I was born there in 1969, the same year Mearle Haggard’s song of that name was released. The tune was meant to satirize the mindset of small mid-western communities that were resistant to, and fearful of, the cultural changes of the times. However, the very people being mocked in the lyrics embraced the song as their anthem.

Irony doesn’t get much traction in the minds of my people.

When I say “my people,” it’s hard to communicate what I mean, or to even know myself. America is too vast and diverse to claim as a cultural identity. Oklahoma is too narrow, and too young to have much of an identity by itself (the state is barely one hundred years old). The term Midwesterner narrows it down a bit, but still restricts my people to a geographic zone. I guess I’ll claim the rural people as my people, the culture that spawned me.

The image of the people of the Rural Province, as enforced by my progenitors, has been that of no-nonsense practicality. They grow the food, draw out the natural resources, and raise the human resources for the work of the nation, while praising the Christian God that makes it all possible. And they’re everywhere. The Rural Province spans the whole nation and looks like a slice of swiss cheese, with pockets and holes of city folk calcifying the arcadian terrain yearly with sprawl and suburb.

Practicality is relative, of course, though Relativity is not necessary to know when one believes in God’s plan. Renaissance philosophy is not required to plant corn, art won’t milk a cow, and history begins with America. Freethinkers, intellectuals, artistic types and anyone that deviates from accepted cultural standards, finds little support there. The prejudice isn’t necessarily malicious, there just seems to be little appreciation for the life of the mind. The Devil lives in those parts and the provincials know him well, because the Devil/Mind naturally resists the God delusion that serves as the foundation of the provincial perspective. To entertain the Devil/Mind means being seduced away from God by the evil unknown. (see: Chinese Finger Trap)

I know the dangers of lumping peoples into stereotypes. The spectrum of humanity fills every demographic, and Ruralites are, like snowflakes, each unique in their manifestation, though necessarily shaped by the conditions of the atmosphere at the time of their falling to Earth. I don’t claim to be a representative of my people, I only endeavor to portray my perception of my experience of my people (my perception wears 3D glasses, with one lens colored by love and appreciation, and the other scratched with animated emotional graffiti). Behind the gun-gripping, intolerant, xenophobe stereotype there are multitudes of big-hearted, hard working people that will bend over backwards to assist their fellow humans, no mater the differences. And there is the sincere earnestness of the rural folk that allows for the blending of the polarities into a grey area.
Photo:Getty Images; Alan A, Mollar

Fundamentalism tends to be big with the Ruralites. The Karma of the land compels it. The Ruralites look to the sky imploringly for the right rain, or furtively for a funnel cloud. The natural elements are more than ambiance to the Ruralite. Tornado’s, droughts, floods, and pestilence hit the Ruralites hard. One day of tempest can mean the loss of a years work to the farmers. The agricultural communities depend of the grace of the natural elements, and a belief in a relationship with an entity that holds sway over those elements. The farmer and the rancher have their heads full of real-world scenarios that demand constant attention: Livestock ailments, equipment repairs, market prices, payroll, family dramas, etc. The religion of choice needs to be easily understood, easily imparted, and easily implemented.
When the wheat starts to wither you can panic, curse, or pray. Praying helps keep the Sheriff off the property, as it promotes the domestication of humans through a belief in something greater than themselves.

-Furthur Down the Rabbit Hole-

My mom’s maternal side of the family traces their roots back to the founding of the country. My great-great-great-great-great grandfather, Colonel John Sevier, fought the British in the Revolutionary war during the crucial Battle of King’s Mountain. After that, he then fought the Cherokees in what is now Eastern Tennessee. He and a few cronies filled a power vacuum in the area when North Carolina ceded her lands West of the Appalachians back to The United States Government. The Government was slow in dealing with the territory, so, Col. Sevier and Company commandeered the place, creating the State of Franklin (or as some called it- Frankland;‘land of free men’). A Constitution was written, Senators and congressmen were sent to Washington, and Sevier accepted the role of Governor. John Sevier

A few years into Franklin’s existence, North Carolina changed her mind and decided she wanted her land back. Sevier was tempted by an offer of a promotion to brigadier general, but was persuaded by his compatriots to keep rockin’ on. Spain was nervous about a Trans-Appalachian America, so the Spanish Governor sent an offering of gold and an offer to help back Franklin in a fight for independence. Meanwhile Sevier was involved in numerous battles against the Cherokees, who were fighting him for their own freedom. After establishing fortified outposts to secure Franklin from the Cherokee’s and Shoshone, Sevier entered into some shady business with Georgia, and went to battle Cherokees and other Gulf tribes for some land of interest (in what is now Alabama) west of Georgia.

Sevier returned to Franklin after a frontier battle to discover North Carolina has seized some of his lands for “back taxes”. Sevier and the militia took a fight to the farm of prominent North Carolinian, John Tipton and laid siege for three days. It wasn’t a very bloody battle, as most of the fighters would have to return to being neighbors after. Two of Sevier's sons were captured, and he withdrew on condition of their release. He was then arrested on a charge of treason against the State.

Sevier escaped from prison, and a year later, was elected to the North Carolina State Senate as a Federalist, where he was pardoned by the Governor.

A year later, North Carolina ceded the former State of Franklin back to the U.S., again. The place was then briefly named “The Territory of the United States South of the Ohio River”, before becoming Tennessee. Prsident Washington appointed William Blount as governor of the Territory. Six years later, John Sevier was elected as the first governor of the State of Tennessee. He served three terms (the max allowed consecutively), and then sought a semi-elective position as head of the state militia. He was tied with Andrew Jackson for the position, the tie being broken in Jackson’s favor by his friend, the new Governor Archibald Roane. Col. Sevier said something about Jackson’s wife and Jackson challenged him to a duel. They met, but just cursed a lot and called each other names. No shots were fired. After Roanes first term, Sevier was re-elected and served three more terms as governor, then a turn in the Tennessee state senate, then in the U.S. Congress.
John Sevier's Knoxville plantation (photo by Frank Kehren)

John Sevier died at the age of 70, in 1811, while surveying the Georgia/Alabama lands he had helped win for the U.S. Government. His old enemy Andrew Jackson had successfully pushed the Cherokees, Choctaws, Creek, Seminoles, and Chickasaw west into Indian Territory.John Sevier

My mom’s paternal side was German immigrant stock. My great-gret great grandparents lost their lumber mill in Boonville Kentucky as collateral damage in the Hatfield-McCoy feud. They opted to take advantage of a boxcar provided by the McCoy family and relocated to Kansas. From there it was covered wagon to Oklahoma Territory, where my great grandparents staked a claim and built a sod house. It must have been shocking, the change from running a lumber mill in the Smokey Mountain forests, to living in the endless horizon of the plains, without a tree in sight.

Great Grandma brought her pipe organ to the homestead. She was insistent on having some relic of culture with her to keep her sane in the wilderness of the plains. There wasn’t enough room in the dugout for the organ, and the whole family, so my grandfather and his brothers slept in the covered buckboard through an Oklahoma winter.

At the time, Oklahoma was one of three territories in the contiguous states being used to relocate Native Americans. Oklahoma was, and still is, the governmental seat of over sixty tribes. It’s where the tribes, displaced form their ancestral lands were forcibly removed as the black lines of state boundaries rapidly divided their former homelands with geometric shapes. Jackson’s push on the Gulf tribes culminated in their forced removal along the “Trail of Tears,” to Oklahoma. Rapidly, sections of the Territory were opened to settlement by pioneers and freed slaves. Then, in 1903, the discovery of oil precipitated the Territory being “granted” Statehood in 1907.

My Grandfather became a wheat farmer and cattle rancher in Buffalo, Oklahoma (now home of the only traffic signal in Harper County). His formal education stopped at 6th grade, because there were more practical things to attend to, and he attended to them. He met his wife; a schoolteacher named Esther Severe (the French spelling and pronunciation of Sevier was too busy for the sensible plains people), just across the state line in Ashland Kansas and wooed her into the rugged life of a farmer’s wife.

He managed to keep his farm and family solvent through the Dust Bowl and the Depression. He drove combines and rode horses well into his 80’s. He sang in the church choir every Sunday, followed the Ten Commandments flawlessly. He was respected in the community as an honest and upright citizen.

His wife ran the house and family, which sat in the middle of 2000 acres of wheat and cattle. She wore a dress and the pants. She was a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse before having kids. She was the brains and the enforcer, and my grandfather was the brawn, and they were both satisfied with their roles in God’s Country. Gender equality wasn’t an issue. There was no time for that.

My dad’s side of the family is a little more mysterious. One story tells of three Scottish brothers that moved to the Colonies to avoid the Law in England. One became a Plantation owner in the South. The end of slavery was a blow to his operation and it didn’t continue as a family endeavor. One of his descendants, my great grandfather, Dr. Kendrick, moved to the South East part of Oklahoma Territory to set up a practice. He married a Choctaw woman, Stella, who had been raised by the white settlers that had found her left for dead on the Trail of Tears. Dr. Kendrick was a snappy dresser. He dressed his wife up as well. She conformed to the fashion to a point. She would wear the corsets and the hoops, but wouldn’t wear shoes in the summer months.

The relationship soured (possibly the shoe issue). Dr. Kendrick was eventually murdered. They caught the killer (his wife’s lover) when they spotted him wearing Dr. Kendrick’s distinctive boots, which were missing from his corpse.

Stella wasn’t fond of the son the marriage had produced. She locked my grandfather, Burl Kendrick, in the attic of a hotel, which she then set on fire. He was narrowly rescued and returned safely to his mother. He was later found in a streambed with a railroad stake driven through his neck. Luckily, he was taken in and raised by another family at that point.

The mountains of the Southeast part of Oklahoma provided ideal hideouts for criminals on the lam. My great grandmother was part Choctaw and Cherokee. Her house was sometimes used as a hideout for the Younger brothers, contemporaries of the James Gang. Her daughter, Dora, met Burl and they were married, producing fraternal twins, my dad and his sister. Robbers Cave- Wilburton Oklahoma

Burl was an outdoorsman. He reveled in nature, hunting and fishing with his buddies in the summer months, and traveling the world the rest of the year as a top-notch welder. He worked on buildings, bridges, and various infrastructure projects during the era when American steel was king. He, like my other grandfather, had a 6th grade education, but was an avid reader and politically active. He wasn’t much for church going, but was a member of the Mason’s in good standing. He became Justice of the Peace on the Democratic ticket in Antlers, Oklahoma after his retirement.

Dora ran a mercantile shop in the tiny town of Antlers (home to the only traffic light in Pushmataha County). She subscribed to Christianity, but didn’t wear it on her sleeve.

My dad hated camping and wasn’t fond of hunting or fishing. He detested having to visit his grandmother, who still lived in a dirt floor shack and seemed to be happy to do so. There was a new world emerging of shiny objects and modern convenience, a world of great opportunity in a brand new State, in a very new country. People were flying in machines and motoring about the land in mammary shaped automobiles. The oil fields of Oklahoma were making simple, ordinary people fabulously rich. The American Brand Dream was being realized on the heels of conquering the great Satanic Evil of the Third Reich. The tangibility of anything being possible in this great land was palpable.

My dad, at an early age, made the determination to keep the palms of his hands baby soft.

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