Friday, June 19, 2015

School reunions, White pickups, and a little politics

School reunions, White pickups, and a little politics

By Bobby Neal Winters
I’ve been down to visit my people at a school reunion.  My school was so small, we don’t have class reunions; we have school reunions. They try to have it in the Chickasaw Community Center, but there was a mix-up this year, so they had to have it at the Central Church of Christ activity center.  Not that we could’ve done anything at the Chickasaw Center that we couldn’t’ve done at the Church of Christ, but I thought I’d just give you a little background color.
Anyway, social time began at 4:30pm so my brother and I arrived at 4:15 and there were already quite a number of people there.  My people arrive early for things.  I found a parking spot and went in.  As I did, I noted there was a white pick-up truck that was parked “whawmper-jawed” up next to the activity center.  If you’ve never encountered this term before, I beg your forbearance because there is not a better word to describe it.  Even if there had been lines painted there in that particular spot like there was every place else in the parking lot, he wouldn’t have been between them. Even if he was between them, he wouldn’t have been pulled in all the way.
This is not all that unusual among my people.  We are oilfield people and there are not a lot of painted line in the oilfield.  People drive trucks and other oilfield type equipment and they tend to park parallel to the road so they can pull-out instead of back-out.
When I entered the activity center, my eyes scanned the room for candidate for the owner of the white pick-up and I found several.  Men who’d had sun cancers removed from their faces because of years of being unprotected from the weather.  Men with enough wrinkles to impress a shiatsu. Men with open-faces and hands stretched out to shake.  In short, the men who built this country and have earned the right to park any danged old way they please.
I proceeded into the gym wherein the tables were set up and began to mingle.
I am not the world’s best mingler because I am an introvert. I like smaller groups.  The trick is to recognize a group like this is made up of a bunch of smaller groups.  In our case, the group is like an Indian blanket.  The threads in one direction are the classes and they are woven together by the families that span the generations.  So I started working the room and I was reminded of what everyone in the group notices eventually.  An inordinate number of educators have been produced by my tiny, little school and an inordinate number of those of superintendents.
I have my theory as to why both of those things are true.  The ones who go to college become teachers because they have never really gotten to know any other educated person.  It is a rural area and any professionals that might live there do their socializing in town. They become superintendents because in a community like that you get to know everything about everybody at a level of depth and detail that is difficult for someone who lives in a town even the size of Pittsburg to imagine.  
You learn the depravity of man and his ability to transcend that depravity.  You either become a superintendent or a preacher.  We’ve produced a lot of preachers too.
I began to gently probe for political winds.  I talked to one of the superintendents and we played a game I called “whose legislature is worse?”  It goes like this. You ask the question and then alternate saying “Mine is” “No, mine is.”  We had to draw on legislatures but he yielded on governors without a contest.
Politically the group spanned the political spectrum from conservative to ultra conservative with a couple of notable outliers on the left.  There is a broad stripe of libertarianism painted down the middle of all of them.  They wouldn’t mind if you were free to grow marijuana if they were free to gut you with a dull deer antler if you got their child hooked on drugs.
This is in stark contrast to the fact that most of them are church-going, fundamentalist Christians.  I would say this paradox is resolved in the statement that the believe that you ought to be free to go to Hell if you want to, but they will be praying for you and trying to get you to church in the meantime.
Time passed and I was concerned as the meal hadn’t begun.  I was slated to pray because I am Methodist and represent an insignificant neutral minority between the Baptists and the Church of Christ.
Someone went up to the microphone and I thought it was to announce dinner and the blessing but no.  The MC announced that there was a white pickup that was blocking traffic and needed to be moved.  Five minutes passed.  Another of the organizers announced that they didn’t want to bother anyone’s visit, but the white pickup was keeping the caterer from coming in. There would be no food if the white pickup was not moved.
Five more minutes passed, a man with a cowboy hat (who I’ve known all my life but will keep his name out of the paper) got up and with a voice that has been used to announce rodeo told the crowd that they would soon be taking the pickup out in pieces if it weren’t moved.
Ten minutes later, I was called up to pray.
We are a people unto unique and wonderful. There are none to be had like us anywhere else. And that is a danged old shame.
(Bobby Winters, a native of Harden City, Oklahoma, blogs at and He invites you to “like” the National Association of Lawn Mowers on Facebook. )

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Playing in the weeds

This is from 2003

Playing in the weeds

By Bobby Neal Winters

I began kindergarten in 1967 and graduated from high school in 1980. All of these years, nearly half my life, were spent at the same school, McLish. It was named after the layer of sand they found oil in.

I recall very few of the hours I spent in the classroom before the seventh grade, because kindergarten through the 6th grade was all housed in one building that was surrounded by a magnificent playground. We had a swing set, teeter totters, a slide, and monkey bars. There was also a genuine dirt basketball court. During the summer, grass would grow back in and try to take it over, but as soon as school started back, the grass would start looking ground again.

However, these amenities were just the beginning. There were other things to play with that required a bit more from us but paid back so richly.

There was a huge storm cellar with a flat roof that was an ideal location to play king of the mountain. The doors—one on the north and one on the south—were made of iron that had been painted silver, and on cool days they had soaked up enough heat from the sun that you could lay on the south door in the lee provided by the cellar and stay reasonably warm.

There was also the building itself. We would break into groups and play cowboys and Indians. As there were quite a few Chickasaws at the school, there were a lot of Indian cowboys and cowboy Indians. We didn't know who was what most of the time, but there was a lot of running and screaming, shooting and dying.

Then there were the weeds behind the school. After frost had killed the grass, the tall weeds dried up into what we considered good building material. We took them and made them into forts that we then destroyed. The Indian boys were particularly good at this sort of construction.

We weren't always allowed to do this, and it seem to me now whether we were depended upon who had playground duty. You see the reason there were weeds there was because it wasn't mowed that often. The reason it wasn't mowed that often was because it was frequently wet, and I suspect the reason it was frequently wet was that was where the sewer drained. I don't know whether some of our teachers weren't aware that we were playing in the sewer and had to be told, or whether they all knew and just gradually gave into the inevitability of it.

I left that part of the world behind me physically over twenty years ago, but the spirit of it lives on within me. As more of the outside world, by which I mean "outside of there," has been forced upon me, the more I have come to know what a rare place it is in this country. Think about it. How many people can say they had a graduating class of eighteen? Not very many, only 18 per year times the number of schools that small not to put too fine a point on it. We who have come from such a place are a rare breed and look at the world as if we are just playing cowboys and Indians. You might get shot, but you get right on back up.

They can never take that away.

The rains come in the spring and seeds shoot up from the ground. They grow into plants, they bloom, have seeds, the seeds fall into the ground, and the plant dies. This is the way of the world, it is the way God made it, and it is good, but it's not always easy.

Late this may, the doors of McLish School will swing shut, and they won't reopen as McLish School any more. Even things like schools can grow old and die, but like the flowers of spring, McLish has planted seeds in the ground. They are all around you, but you can't see them. The winter will come, but it will be followed by the spring, and it will rain, and those seeds will grow. And little cowboys and little Indians will play among them.