Sunday, February 13, 2011

I Wasn't Born Here But I Was Born To Be Here

This may surprise a lot of people who know me now, but I an not Oklahoman by birth-I am Oklahoman by choice.  This next revelation surprises even me sometimes-I was predestined to be here at this place, in this time.  I was born in Piggot, Arkansas, where the hospital was, and lived the first 18 years of my life in Rector, Arkansas.  Like every boy child who grew up in the time of Roy Rogers, The Lone Ranger, Gene Autry and Lash LaRue, I spent a lot of time in a kid cowboy hat, a holster with a cap gun, and riding a stick horse.  My friends and I played Cowboys and Indians-who you were depended on whether you had the cowboy gear or the feathers and tomahawk-and when you tired of one character, you swapped gear and went to the other side.  We imagined ourselves in No Man's Land, it had such a dangerous ring to it, galloping across the Red River, running the banks of the Cimarron, moving cattle along the Chisholm Trail, or chasing bad guys in Indian Territory.  I grew up, I have come to realize, in virtual Oklahoma. But my involvement with Oklahoma was not all kid games.
My father was an Arkansas boy who lied about his age and went early into the Civilian Conservation Corps. He helped build State and National Parks in Idaho and Washington State.  He was a child of the Great Depression and took the route of many dirt-poor children of that age.  The CCC gave him a chance to earn money for himself and his family and it took him beyond the boundaries of northeast Arkansas.  This was fortunate for me.
My mother was an Iowa farm girl who grew up in the country near Cresco, a small town a stones throw from the Minnesota border.  She earned an Associates Degree from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa and taught at a one-room country school when she was barely older than some of her students.  It was a long path between an Arkansas boy and an Iowa girl in those days but that path intersected for them in unlikely times in an unlikely place-Norman, Oklahoma.
World War II forced millions of young Americans to reevaluate their lives and, therefore changed them forever.  Olan Stahl, from Rector, Arkansas, and Dorothy Walker, from Cresco, Iowa, met at Norman Naval Air Station, Norman, Oklahoma.  Dad was in fireman training and went on to the war in the Pacific.  Mom was an aircraft mechanic and had to leave the Navy after she and dad got married.  She waited out the end of the war with her family in Iowa until dad was back in the states.  On one of her last visits to Oklahoma, I drove my mom through the site of the old Navy base in Norman.  She pointed to a building and said, "I was sitting on the steps of that building the first time I saw your dad.  He was marching in a parade and he was so handsome." She told me about dates to go dancing in Oklahoma City, taking the Interurban Trolley there and back and the process of falling in love, the loneliness of waiting for her young sailor to come back and the fear that he would not.  But he did and they raised their six sons and daughters in northeast Arkansas.
Mom and Dad are both gone now, but their oldest son moved to Oklahoma in 1978, married a girl from Norman, raised two Okie children, and made a life in the land of his childhood games and the land that germinated the seeds of love between that Arkansas boy and that Iowa girl. 

Thanks, Mom and Dad.


  1. Thank you, Michael. It's good to be here.

  2. Beautiful love story, thanks for sharing.

  3. I loved that story and the photo. :)

  4. Rector Arkansas is your hometown. I was thinking you spent some time in the Great State of Texas...Not sure where I got that from.