Home Sweet Oklahoma On My Mind

My eyes burn. Puffy, waterlogged, red, dripping. And yet I continue to put them through what’s torturing them so – news coverage from my beloved home, torn asunder by another round of carnage from that bitch Mother Nature.

I can’t stop watching the videos and interviews of my beloved Okies as they try to figure out what the hell just happened to them. A minute ago I watched a guy try to explain how he let his horses out of the pasture so they could get ahead of the storm before he found his own shelter. His mud-streaked face was emotionless – that stale, confused pallor of a victim. He was worried about the horses. He hadn’t even stopped to clean off his face.

When I saw it, my chest heaved and I wailed like I was at a funeral. Those are MY people, and MY people are hurt.

You think you had Hell Week in college? I can guarantee you Oklahoma’s Hell Week is a lot more terrifying – it’s usually in the first few weeks of May, when the weather heats up in the Heartland but winter is still coming to a close in Colorado and beyond. That cold air and our hot blast don’t mix, and what comes out of it is a Tasmanian devil of wind, a heat-seeking missile honing in on unsuspecting Okies doing what they do to survive.

Sunday, May 19 and Monday, May 20 are now in the record books, going along with May 3, 1999 (also in Moore) and May 22, 2011, in Joplin, which is practically Oklahoma.

And though I’ve been through thousands of tornado watches and warnings, and call my local TV meteorologists by their first names like they’re family, I never get used to the chaos and carnage that follow. I usually look forward to storm season because the beauty and majesty of a lightning-filled thunderstorm is unparalleled. You get used to tornado sirens, when to ignore them and when to take them seriously. You get used to your shows being interrupted by weather warnings a few months out of the year. You get used to your satellite dish being the best indicator of how close the storm really is.

That being said, I’ll never, ever get used to not being there when something bad like this happens. As I’ve said before, all Oklahomans are part or all Indian, and part meteorologist. (That doesn’t go away when you leave, either. People here are amazed at my ability to predict the weather.)

I’m just under 1,300 miles away from my home, and it might as well have hit my house in Bristol, Ct. I feel guilty for not being there. I actually considered asking for emergency vacation so I could go home just to be there. I don’t know why – I don’t know what I’d do. So I just donated money – I have some of that to spare, more than time, really – and I watched, prayed, hoped and answered emails from concerned ESPN-ers who asked about my friends and family. Thankfully, as far as I can tell, everyone I know is safe and sound. I heard from my sister near Okmulgee (Preston), cousins in the OKC area, friends, and from college and high school classmates – one had a nephew missing who thankfully was found this evening.

Can you imagine being a child and being away from your parents during something like that? Walking aimlessly afterward, wondering when or if they’d be found? Same goes for pets. I joked with my brother tonight that Leon, if he’d been in the storm, would probably have barked at the rescue workers unless they had hot dogs. That dog is crazy for hot dogs.

My brother feels guilty too. He’s more recently removed from Oklahoma, and was just there a few weeks ago. We talked about how the storm season seemed delayed this year – the first week of May is notorious – and hoped that maybe this year wouldn’t be too bad.

But again we’re reminded of how small we are– how fragile the structures we confidently build on top of the earth, sure they’ll be there tomorrow, are. We dare Mother Nature with our power lines and vaulted ceilings, and thumb our noses at her when we build them right back after she’s done tearing them up. That’s Oklahoma. It’s what we signed up for.

The other day, I was talking to one of the producers who is in charge of Baseball Tonight on ESPN, commenting on how the Cardinals’ Pete Kozma is a Tulsan. He said, “You’re just all about Oklahoma, aren’t you?” And I said, “We’re all like this. We’re just really proud of our state.” And it’s true. We stick up for each other, and even if we leave the nest, we tell everyone how great the nest was. I’ll never stop calling Oklahoma home, and everyone I meet out her finds out pretty quick where I’m from. I may not live there again for a while, but you can bet your bottom dollar it’s where I’ll spend my last days – and it’s where they’ll plant my body. (Hopefully that won’t be for a long time!)

I love you, Oklahoma, as much now as when I left. We don’t always agree on politics, but neither do me and my dad and I think he’s the best man walking this earth.

We will heal, because we have to. We will heal because we’ll all be pulling for the same team. With the rest of the country behind us, we’ll heal even faster. And remember, it’ll be football season soon – something to look forward to. We all know how that both heals and simultaneously rips us apart with a kindred form of Bedlam (but in a good way…)

Remember the Thunder motto: Rise Together. Like there was ever a doubt.

Love you, Sooner State, Home of the Red People – or more simply, HOME.

And before I get back to CNN, here’s some words of wisdom from our patron saint, Woody Guthrie:

Oklahoma Hills

Many a month has come and gone
Since I wandered from my home
In those Oklahoma hills where I was born.
Many a page of life has turned,
Many a lesson I have learned;
Well, I feel like in those hills I still belong.

‘Way down yonder in the Indian Nation
Ridin’ my pony on the reservation,
In those Oklahoma hills where I was born.
Now, ‘way down yonder in the Indian Nation,
A cowboy’s life is my occupation,
In those Oklahoma hills where I was born.

But as I sit here today,
Many miles I am away
From a place I rode my pony through the draw,
While the oak and blackjack trees
Kiss the playful prairie breeze,
In those Oklahoma hills where I was born.

Now as I turn life a page
To the land of the great Osage
In those Oklahoma hills where I was born,
While the black oil it rolls and flows
And the snow-white cotton grows
In those Oklahoma hills where I was born.

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3 Comments

Filed under Oklahoma, weather

3 responses to “Home Sweet Oklahoma On My Mind

  1. Excellent post!!! Great Read, my friend! You do an excellent job of expressing your emotions through your words, as difficult as it is! Even though I was only in OK a short time, I have some very, very happy memories with friends and family! Glad you and your family are all safe on this day!

  2. fellowokie

    You expressed so well the sentiment of us Oklahomans living elsewhere. I lived only blocks away from the destruction in Moore. Drove down those streets and have friends and family there now. What an ache there is in my heart. Only someone who has grown up in Tornado Alley can truly understand what you described about storm season. You did an excellent job. Children sitting in the house or on the porch while dad goes out to see just how bad it is. Waiting till the last moment because it usually turns into nothing but thunder, lightening and rain. How majestic that show is. Then there is that day when this happens and surprises us all. What tragedy! Great post.

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