I am an official Okie from Muskogee. Don’t know what that means? Merle Haggard sang that song back in the 70s, I believe (see, I barely know what it means). “Proud to be an Okieeeee from Muskogeeeee” Number 1 on our list of 3 things to claim for fame. 2nd being the Azalea Festival, 3rd being the Garden of Lights. Yep! But it really is the only reason people recognize the name of the city I grew up in if they aren’t from Oklahoma. The Chamber of Commerce has built thing around “Okie from Muskogee”; t-shirts, belt buckles and such.
Muskogee has a population of 39,000 as of 2010. The mayor is Bob Coburn, whom I know, of course. And Tom Coburn is the U.S. Senator, whom I know too. I had 332 people in my graduating class of which I was the Class President. (*I went and visited my high school while I was in Muskogee, my niece Hannah was my tour guide.) The etymology of the name comes from the Creek language.
The Indian Removal Act was passed by Congress on May 28, 1830, during the presidency of Andrew Jackson. The law authorized the president to “negotiate” (Emily’s edit) with the southern Indian tribes for their removal to federal territory west of the Mississippi River in exchange for their ancestral homelands. The Indian Removal Act resulted in the transplantation of several Native American tribes and the Trail of Tears.
The Creek tribe was one the Five Civilized Tribes: tribes that the Anglo-European settlers generally considered to be “civilized” according to their world view, because they adopted attributes of the colonists culture. Yeah. Anyway, the Creek tribe was forced over into Oklahoma as well as many other tribes. Which accounts for the 12% of the population in Muskogee being Native American, and 8% of the Oklahoma population being non-Hispanic American Indian.
It’s funny, I remember visiting the Five Civilized Tribes museum (in Muskogee) countless times in my youth. But I, of course, couldn’t fully take in, til now (literally), what that meant. I heard the Trail of Tears many times, had the story told to me by the museum lady, I’m sure, but couldn’t quite take it in the way I am now. So many things in youth like that. Like how we pronounced crayons as “crowns” in Muskogee. Just the other day I was thinking, ‘well I guess there can’t really be an alternate pronunciation, the letters are just what they are. But for posterity’s sake I definitely still have to pronounce it the old way’.
So after 10 glorious (!) days with Lizzie, Aaron, and Jack I head to Muskogee. Only two hours away, piece of cake! And two goddamn toll booths one of which didn’t really accept cards. I had to park and walk into their little office building as the supervisor told me, “you’re not going to be able to count on doing this at the other toll booths, they may not have a supervisor on duty to run a card”. Yeah, Oklahoma! Plus about Oklahoma: you get to drive really fast and in a straight line! So this is the last leg of the trip I would be doing with the little 2006 Scion. First car I bought on my own as an adult, from a dealership, without the involvement of my parents, that had A/C!!!! Super economy in so many ways: super reliable, no cruise control, unlock with the key in the lock (Can you believe it?? Like with my own hand, I had to turn the lock to open it), excellent fuel economy (between 28-38 mpg), size of a golf cart. This was the last leg of my solo trip and where I would sell my car and hop off to the next part of the adventure, with Jeff.
I got there Saturday afternoon and Hannah (my niece from my oldest sister Beth), my mom and dad were there to greet me. My mom and dad kept the Christmas decorations up for at my request. So as I pulled up I saw ornaments on their outdoor pine trees thinking, ‘geez, we’re looking a little white trash….OH! That was for me!’ My dad kept the lights up outside too. But I realized I was waaaaay past Christmas when I saw them. I made sure to get to Muskogee for my nephew’s basketball game. So, its Beth and James (my brother-in-law) à had Hannah (16), Cole (13), & Connor (11). It was Connor’s game. Back at First Baptist. Lots of memories because of the Sisson’s. They were our BEST FRIENDS. Kimmy Sisson was my life. The Sissons’ were my childhood. This was their church. Super-exciting Sunday when I had stayed the night (the best thing ever, “staying the night”, with my little kid suitcase. It had a lock and everything. Seriously. I even had like a really little kid suitcase, and then graduated to a bigger more sophisticated one as I got older) and could go to a different church on Sunday and not my lame church (St Joseph’s, we were Catholic, not as fun as Baptist for whatever reason. The Sunday school was more exciting, I think). So I had many, many memories of the activity center: lock-ins, basketball games, and the FFFF (Fun, Food, Family, Festival?? It was on Halloween and it was AWESOME). Connor had his game at 4:00 and there was a group of about 10 of us from our family and James’. This was a Christian league which I found out meant: 1) they pray before the game and 2) at half time they preach a little sermon. Now, those of you who know me, might know I’ve come a long way with my resentments towards Christianity. Years ago I might have snickered at the whole thing, condemned, etc. But here’s what I thought today, ‘Cool. Sure. You want to carry this message. BUT. You’re not’. There’s this older lady, like 60s, with a headset on coming out of a speaker we can’t hear. So my mind goes to this psychotic place, ‘If I could just sit down with the board in charge of this league I could help them come up with a way to actually achieve the goal they’re wanting to achieve’. These boys are taking in nothing! Its their half-time! They’re all charged up, full of adrenaline. Oh well. This is kind of me when I’m in Oklahoma. Mostly enjoying myself, occasionally thrown off by something strange and very different from what I’m used to, then furiously trying to solve the problem in my head.
Like race. Right? Good topic for the dinner table. Let me step back a few paces. Family is special, right? I’m tuned to my family in ways I’m tuned to no one else. They were there at my inception, that means a lot. So each time a new part of my family came into my energetic field it took some recalibration on my part. And this is not something I just do with my family but with everyone. But family is unique. When someone new enters my field, even if I know them really well, I go through this internal system check that sounds like this: ‘Are they okay? Am I okay? Are they mad at me? Do they like me? Am I doing enough? Is this the wrong thing? How can I solve the problem?’ And then I get used to everyone and settle down, get into a rhythm. But then I guess there’s this other part of me that’s kind of an antagonist. Not just for its own sake, but the same thing that makes me a therapist. Going toward what I perceive to the problem or the incongruence.
Which is why I thought it was a good idea to tell my whole family that it is our obligation to see 13th, a documentary film by Ava Du Verney on the 13th Amendment: Slavery. Being in Muskogee, makes me remember that it is a pretty racially charged place. And I remember what it was like to go to Muskogee High. It was scary. This was not just because of racial tension. Fights would break out between all different kinds of people. We had police at the school everyday. We had our own, set policeman. And I was 14!!!! But I think it simmered right below the surface, unattended. I almost got in a fight with a black girl, in class. In Mrs Brossett’s class! I didn’t understand the anger, why it was directed towards me. And I wasn’t going to back away from it, and I felt defensive. I didn’t want to spend my four years feeling afraid. God knows what I would have done, gone my ass kicked no doubt. It was just a lot of people put together that were unfamiliar to each other. Within each class, I think this got better with time. That girl, Brandy, became my friend in time. We were all very friendly by the time we graduated. Not enough to fully mingle of course. You couldn’t date a black guy without being called a white n-word. And it was a special occasion if your black friends showed up to the party. But much more peaceful than when I was a freshman.
I had carried that defensive indignation with me until this year. Until I watched that documentary and something in me changed. For the better. Something dissolved. I realized I was fighting for nothing. I had no righteous argument to defend. My argument looked mostly like this: ‘Why don’t you like me? Why do you hate me? You know what? I don’t like you! I didn’t do anything to you! Get over it!’ You can imagine I am not proud of any of this. It’s embarrassing to realize. But being in Muskogee helped me realize how it started for me. And that those, above thoughts do nothing to further me in my evolution nor does it do anything to further us as a people.
And after any big realization I have I want to share it (hoist it on) with the people around me. Especially if I perceive there to be suffering around me. It didn’t go very well. I clashed with my sister. Her and I occupy opposite sides of some fundamental beliefs. We are so very typical of a typical Liberal and Conservative. I say all the things you’d expect me to say and she says all the things you’d expect her to say. Its like we can’t help ourselves! It was a bummer for me. Because I’ve worked hard to not be an antagonist in my family. To not be self-righteous and turn everything into a slight against me. And I had felt like I’d failed at that. I don’t want to be so serious! I don’t want to turn everything into an emergency! But remember what I told you about that calibration thing? It’s compulsive. Now I’m worried that I’ve disrupted the whole week. But you know what? I didn’t/It didn’t. I think all of us continued to settle in around each other. Because I cause a disturbance too. I new and different to them.
I think it was the next day or the following that we’re deep into purging my mom’s attic (its funny the way I give ownership to my mom on some things, I think because the attic is hers. My dad would not keep the things up there). Me, my mom, and my sister. I put it 3-4 days of this while I was in Muskogee. I was bringing about 3 boxes of mine and Jeff’s belongings and I didn’t want to add to the volume. I wanted to take away way more than I was adding. And I wanted to help my mom purge because I’m known to be good at it and enjoy it and she has little harder time with it. So anyway, we all three had a great time. We all love to laugh. My sister is the best audience, she will make you feel very funny. And we love our childhood memories. The three of us love the tapes from our childhood and the pictures. Never gets old.
And I got to have a great conversation with my sister about her kids. I was able to be helpful to her with what I know, and we brainstormed ideas. I could see that she thinks like I do about her kids the way I do about people. Like a puzzle, trying to understand their motivations. She was so appreciative and curious about my observations and they made sense to her. Wow. That meant so much to me. It seemed to neutralize our disagreements. I guess that’s what we all want? I want to be appreciated for what I have to offer and feel like I can contribute. And I helped! I so want to help!
I went through boxes of my belongings from early college years all the way back to baby times. I had my childhood toys and stuffed animals. Its funny Beth and Aaron and I remember each others toys. And clothes. I remember looking at certain things of mine and thinking, ‘oh god, I remember that in my hand! Vividly!’ But then my brother or sister would look at it and say, “Oh yeah, I remember that!” I spent time with each thing in those boxes. A lot of it was precious. Some was garbage. But the precious stuff, like my bunny in a 70s jogging suit. I feel really strongly about (Even now I’m thinking, ‘did we get rid of the bunny? Maybe we should have kept it). As well as my Starlite horse from Rainbow Brite. I, like, had thoughts about this horse, over time. Like, before I came home wondering what happened to it. And then I found it!! I went through all the pictures and only kept ones I really want to look at again. Mostly I kept the ones from childhood, many of me and Kimmy Sisson! I’m telling you, they were my childhood, all the most fun parts. (Country Club swimming pool, SIX FLAGS in Texas, sitting in the way back of the station wagon especially when the partition was down and we didn’t wear a seat belt, the best!!!! Tennis courts, Taco Tico, sleep-overs and so on). I don’t look at my high school years or early college years fondly, so I didn’t keep many of those. It was such an uncomfortable time. And I didn’t know my self and I didn’t stand up for myself. I’ve been trying to make peace with it for years now.
I think that’s partly why I went to go see the high school when I picked Hannah up. I wanted to reminisce but I also wanted to stare it down a little. As a grown person. Who wasn’t scared or pretending. And it looked good! Which was shocking! Because Oklahoma tends to be on the top of the worst lists for many things like schools, teen pregnancy, teacher pay, shit like that. But it had been remodeled in many areas and it looked great. And I was happy for Hannah. And I was sure to be an old lady and tell her, I swear to God, “it didn’t look like this back in my day”. Ha! We just walked through everything. It felt the same size, not smaller. It was good. Maybe help me put a little bit more to rest.
My sister and I always have a good time helping my mom go through things. We both like to get rid of stuff. And there are several jokes that are just never not funny about having to throw away their stuff when they die, something like, from my mom: “well we should probably get rid of this or I can wait til we die and let you guys deal with it”. Never not hilarious to us. Seriously, I’m laughing right now.
Aaron and Jack came down from Edmond towards the end of my stay in Muskogee. Which was great. One more chance to smell Jack’s head. He turns 1 on March 1st. After I settled in I just enjoyed my time with everyone. I played my parents piano, picked up some new sheet music (the Beatles). I made up for all my apathetic time as a kid when I took piano lessons. Just didn’t have the drive then or the discipline. I did for other things, just not that. And I decided to get sick. Oh well. Even at my usual very slow pace my body said, “Nope! Too much”. I cried about it in front of everyone and they felt sorry for me. It truly helped me get better faster I think.
Then our final dinner of meatloaf, another political argument, and sold my car. My grandma’s recipe for meatloaf is famous in the Eby house. It is up there with my mom’s lasagna and homemade bread. Sooo good. And I compulsively got into it with my sister and brother in law about the criminalization of drugs and drug and alcohol treatment. Good one, right? Eh, no real harm done. We kept it civil. Then I sold my car to my sister! For my niece to drive. Boom. My work here is done.
After such a long post I want to just do an Irish goodbye. But I’ll say this: Thank you for reading. If you want to share your thoughts on this or anything we write, we’d love to know you’re there. And to know what you’re thoughts are.
Until next time…