Oklahoma! Where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain!
And the waving wheat can sure smell sweet
When the wind comes right behind the rain!
Yes, I know all those lines by heart. Every summer when I was a kid, my parents would take us out to see an outdoor performance of the musical “Oklahoma” complete with horses and colorful costumes. My favorite character was always Ado Annie, the supporting actress/comedian who always stole the show. Afterward, they would take me up on the stage to meet the actors. I was usually too embarrassed to say anything, but one year I worked up the nerve to tell the actress who played Ado Annie, “I’m going to be you when I grow up.”
I’m sure my parents were thrilled – unbeknownst to me as a child, Ado’s morals were highly questionable at best. I just knew she was funny. In her breakout song of the show she declares “I’m just a girl who cain’t say no”:
Probably to my parents’ great relief, Ado Annie faded pretty quickly as a role model, although she’s still one of my favorite female comedic characters and I’d jump at the chance to ever play that part in the show myself.
So what’s the real Oklahoma like? Is it full of cowboys, farmers and ranchers dancing and singing through fields, as Rogers and Hammerstein would have it? Not quite. But Oklahoma’s sure got it’s fair share of stereotypes.
For example, my sister emailed me today to tell me that she saw not just one but two TV shows this morning about “Oklahoma Catfish Noodling.” This “unique” hand-fishing technique involves sticking your arm into a muddy hole where a giant catfish might live so that it bites down on your arm so you can pull it out. I’m not even kidding. How could I make that up?
It’s true that Oklahoma is “Tornado Alley.” But it’s not really like the movies. The weather in Oklahoma can be thrilling – there’s nothing like watching a rolling, boiling black wall cloud coming straight at you over a field, flashing with lightning. It reminds me just how small I really am, and how huge and powerful creation is. It’s ironically peaceful in that loud chaos. I’ve never seen a tornado with my own eyes, but they’ve passed nearby.
Oklahomans trade stories about how tornadoes are able to drive straw through a tree like a nail, pluck all the feathers off chickens, take down half of a house and leave the other half completely untouched –even with picture frames sitting in their original positions. Are they true? Not sure, but I saw some strange things after a tornado hit our town in 1991. For example, I remember one home was completely gone – the foundation had been wiped clean- not even the bathtub was there! But the home right next door was left almost completely untouched.
Around here in Texas, Oklahoma isn’t viewed too highly, mostly because of the University of Texas/University of Oklahoma rivalry. The legendary “Red River Shootout” game is coming up next weekend in Dallas – and it’s been known to get a bit rowdy.
Like most stereotypes, if you look hard enough, you can probably find evidence to confirm them. Sure, you can find some funny accents, rednecks, backwoods sports, crazy weather, outrageous football fans, etc. But you can also find stunning, simple beauty and surprising elegance even in unlikely places. When I think of Oklahoma, I think of glorious spring thunderstorms rolling in over bright green wheat fields, spectacular sunsets, little diners and roadside gems left over from Route 66, and intricate art-deco art and architecture that is completely unique to Oklahoma due to the oil boom of the 1920’s.
The following beautiful photos were taken on my grandparents’ farm in Pawnee, Oklahoma by my sister Chelsea. Enjoy!