Saturday, June 14, 2008

Growing Up in Urban Rurality

When I was born I wasn't just born - I had to make an entrance. My mother told me this past January when I had gallbladder surgery, and naturally had a one in a million type complication, that it was typical of me to be so dramatic. I was born several weeks early, I fell out (or crowned) without warning in an elevator of a hospital my mother wasn't registered in, she was visiting someone that day. I was born and quickly pronounced dead - but got over it. After all, what did doctors know about blue-baby apgar scores in 1961? Really, it was a crap shoot - the nurse pronounced me undead - or living, and the doctor scolded her. Remember when doctors used to scold nurses? Oh, gone are those days my friend...well, 1961 was a really really long time ago wasn't it?

So, I was born, I grew up in a little new township outside of the big city of Oklahoma City, and for the most part there were houses but there were no fences. There were stores but to get to them we walked paths through orchards, and we made new paths that later became well known streets. Hey, come to think of it, we, my family and those in my old neighborhood were the trailblazers - literally. I know we got to name some of the streets in the area - well, I didn't, I was a kid, but our community did, not the developers. Those days are gone too huh?

I walked everywhere and I was only four or five when I was allowed to walk around blocks and blocks of real woods and creek - a baby couldn't do it, but heck, four is four gosh-darnit! I was almost five, and believe me, when November 22, 1966 finally rolled around and I was five I walked a good 13 blocks straight up Mueller from 2212 N. Mueller to 3500 N. Mueller - I went to the Bethany branch of the Oklahoma County Metropolitan Library - keep in mind, this was before the movie Matilda. I did it because I could. I was five. I could get a real library card and all I had to do was sign my own name. With a name like Judy Stringfellow (yes, I was a Judy at one point) I had my work cut out - but I did it, and I got that card, and my mother was promptly called nearly every day around closing time to come fetch the little one. I was the one in the Tween section reading because I didn't want anyone thinking I was a kid. I could actually read by age five of course, doesn't everyone? Those days may be gone forever too - sadly.

I grew up in a town that was surrounded by fruit orchards of every kind including pecans, walnuts, cherries, peaches, and most certainly plenty of oaks. We lived in an area called Western Oaks, in fact my school was called Western Oaks Elementary and although it was only 6 blocks straight west of my house, I was walked every day by my first grade teacher and we took the LONG way there. We turned South and headed four blocks to the sacred burial grounds of one of Oklahoma's most cherished Native American tribes - to hunt. Of course we went hunting at 6:30 a.m. nearly every day, and of course I was walked to school hand-in-hand by my first grade teacher who was over 70 years old but stronger than anyone in the world. Of course I was there to help her bag squirrel or rabbit, and of course she let me hold the rifle, but it had the barrel unhinged - but of course.

We would travel the grounds and shoot or not shoot depending on animals, depending on time - and we'd make it to class early because she told me to be early was to be on time. To be on time was to be late, and when she told me we would never ever be late for school - I remembered that she also owned the rifle. Mrs. Earp was yes, related to the other Earps of history-lure, and yes, she was one of the old-fashioned, long haired pioneer women who probably came over to Oklahoma territory in a wagon, I probably read about her in the Little House on the Prairie books. She could aim a wooden eraser with extreme precision, and again, I remembered the face staring at me claiming very sternly that if I were to get myself in trouble at school I could bet my last tooth that I'd be in trouble when I got home. Was it fair that my first grade teacher lived across the street from me? I don't think it was, but it may have something to do with my habit of being early everywhere I go - believe me, I will NOT be late. When I was late with my period I knew I was in trouble at home - all three times. The house got really really small.

At age seven I as able to walk absolutely anywhere I wanted as long as Mom knew where I was, so having the first grade teacher living across the street at that point wasn't bad. I could tell her just before the bells rang that I would be going to the local store, a TG&Y (gone as well) which was about 13 more blocks, but it was in the opposite direction. Somewhere between the dusk and the dark I made my way home a million times through woods and creepy creeks. I suppose it may have something to now with my extremely vivid imagination - I see angels now because I saw them then. I see visions, dreams in full color, I see revelations, acts that haven't happened. I see vapors of smoke that don't exist and smell wet leaves in the driest of summer days when I pass that same area which of course is completely commercial now, not a tree in site.

I didn't always get to walk where I wanted to if the dog was outside the Principal's office when the bell rang. Rover was (yes, I had a dog named Rover) my little Dachshund/Beagle mix dog then. Matrix is my same breed of dog now. Rover, brown where Matrix is black, lived only to be 16 years old. You'd think a good dog who loved me the way he did would tried to hang out a little longer. January 18, 1978 was the day my dog decided to see Jesus, and this year I did mark that anniversary with sober remembrance. I walked the path from Western Oaks Elementary to 2212 N. Mueller in frigid weather - not only to honor my little mutt, but ask myself if a little girl really did this over and over and over again. We didn't have cross guards at every main street, but we didn't have thugs either. The year I was five my mother and I were about to enter a bank when a very nice gentleman asked us not to do so this afternoon. He told my mother she needed to keep her deposit. The bank was robbed. He, the thug, held the door for us as we left and quietly went home. That was before cell phones - of course my mother called as soon as she could.

When you think about it there were horses in Bethany tied up at the police station. There were dirt roads leading to the church, there were muddy rocky roads leading to the grocery store, and the parking lots were gravel. 1966-1969 was certainly a very long time ago - but every now and then I go back...the music was really really good. But the library is so very very small now.

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