“New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings.” ~ Lao Tzu
Always thinking of me, Angie sent this special Cherokee National Holiday t-shirt with a card signed, “Just because.” For years Angie has sent gifts ‘just because.’ It’s a wonderful thing to do to let people know you’re thinking of them; a wonderful example to follow, which I try to do. A few weeks ago, the stunning photo album below arrived in my mail unexpectedly, just like the t-shirt. She didn’t send a card that said “Just because,” but she might as well have, because that’s why she sent it. It reminded her of me, she thought it was cool, and so it came to live with me ‘just because.’ I’m going to fill it with pictures from Oklahoma (I have a few), and I might include a selfie in my new t-shirt. Thanks and love you, Angie Bliss Fanning, not only for the gifts, but just because.
“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” ~ Soren Kierkegaard
There’s a great building at the foot of Eldon Hill where highways 62 and 51 split. I think it used to be a grocery. It’s one of those buildings that screams ‘Oklahoma’ with its native red dirt rock walls. It’s within walking distance of the Baron Fork Bridge where I first experienced the joys of Oklahoma summers in clear running water. I’ve wanted to photograph the store for years, but always said, “next time, next time.” It was finally the next time. I thought someone had said the store was going to be torn down because of a road job, but no one I talked to had heard any such thing. I must have dreamed it, and that’s a good thing because I would hate to see the little building destroyed. Many people see it as a landmark, rightfully so. I wish I knew more about its history, but even more than that, I wish it was still in operation. I’d stop and buy something even if I didn’t need it.
Addendum: After the original post, Angie Bliss Fanning found a story about the store in the Tahlequah Daily Press by Brad Agnew from May 15, 2016. The article read, in part, “A sign once proclaimed the building “Hitchcock Place, Since 1913.” In 1982, its [last] proprietor, Roberta Hitchcock, told a reporter, “This place is bristlin’ with history.” She was not exaggerating; that place and four generations of the Hitchcock family contributed significantly to the story of the region and its people. William Ireneus (Rene) Hitchcock, opened a general store on Jan. 1, 1913, at age 28…The store Hitchcock opened in 1913 was probably on top of Eldon Hill, but within a month, it was moved to a location near the railroad switch in Eldon. The Ozark and Central Cherokee Railroad – soon acquired by the St. Louis–San Francisco [Frisco] Railway – reached Eldon in 1902, giving families that had been almost totally self-sufficient since they moved into the isolated foothills of the Ozarks ready access to 20th century products. By the 1930s, construction of highways challenged the dominance of the railroads. As cars replaced horses and buggies, Hitchcock moved his general store to the intersection of two recently constructed highways at the foot on Eldon Hill. For the next half century, Hitchcock Place was the economic and social hub of the Eldon community.“
“Remind yourself that your mental & emotional health are important.” ~ Allan Lokos
Angie took me to the Illinois River Village where many friends have homes or cottages. Some were flooded in the record flood that hit back in December. The rebuilding continues. We went specifically to see Shelley Womack and Charlie Tannehill. They’re building a small cabin in the village, the skeleton of which was, fortunately, spared during the flood. You’ll meet Shelley later, but for tonight, I leave you with this bit of fun we saw. I used to jump off the cliffs of an old strip mine at Malone. That cliff was twice as high as this ledge, but when you’re a kid and you’re hot, it doesn’t matter how high the cliff is. It’s all fun. If I’d had some river shoes and a change of clothes, you can bet I would have followed this boy off the ledge. One of the reasons I love Oklahoma so much is because of the water.
“Never be defined by your past. It was just a lesson, not a life sentence.” ~ Unknown
Ever since last year’s visit to Oklahoma I’ve promised Ken Bailey I would see him the next time I was in the state. I stayed true to my word. Taking the northern route home, I stopped in Vinita, Oklahoma where Ken now lives. He was able to sneak away from work for a late-ish breakfast. I must rate pretty high for him to be willing to do that.
Pam Thurman and Barb Plested live in Grove, OK which is not very far from Vinita. They joined Ken and I. We four made the most of our time together, and to make the memory all the better, we dined at Clanton’s. This little mom and pop eatery sits on Route 66. It opened in its current location in 1947 and has been owned by the same family since 1927. In fact, the owner offered to take our picture. I returned the favor (below in the white shirt). The decor in Clanton’s is just how you’d expect a Route 66 mom and pop joint to look. It was super comfortable. The food was great. The service superb. And best of all, I got good quality time with people I love. I am so very, very fortunate.
“Why does Everything have to be one way? It doesn’t.
One way is narrow mindedness in action…Close the mind and open the heart.”
~ Vickie Vest Caskey
Last July Robin Jackson introduced me to Liberty School in Moodys, Oklahoma. I said I was going back. This July, Ang and I were doing some dirt roading in the Moodys area, and she took me back.
It was the day after the 4th of July when we paid a visit to the Liberty School. Coincidentally, it was the same day I received an email from a woman whose cousin is its caretaker. She had found my post from last year, and wanted to order the photo as a gift for his 75th birthday. I was touched.
There are steps on both sides of this fence. One side leads to the Liberty School yard, and the other leads to the road. I’d never seen steps like this before. Turns out that’s how they kept the cattle out and let the people in, or the other way around. Apparently, this is, or was, a common practice in Oklahoma. I love learning new stuff like this! I need to travel more; learn more cool stuff. And I absolutely adore Liberty School. My next goal is to go inside.
“People nowadays are just looking for a reason to be offended. Play with your kids. Walk your dog. Read a book. Take a hike in the woods. Work on being the best person you can be. Busy your mind with things that bring you joy and you will have no time for the things you can’t control or don’t understand.”
~ Brett Williams
We followed this beautiful little creek down a dirt road in Cherokee County. It was so peaceful. With enough rain, though, even the most calm of streams can turn into a raging torrent. Yesterday, the poor people of Flat Gap in Johnson County, not far from the homeland of Morgan County, were washed off the map. Really. As of this writing there are still seven people unaccounted for. Rains continued today, and for the first time in my lifetime, Long Branch, the stream that wraps around Aunt Janet’s house, spilled over the road. It didn’t get in the house (barely), but it washed out some of the ground beneath it. And, of course, more of the yard was washed downstream. It will be tomorrow before we know the full extent of the damage. Thank God we bought flood insurance, and thank God the water didn’t get in the house. I continue to say prayers for the poor folks in Johnson County, and I give thanks that Janet was spared once more.
“Whatever makes you weird is probably your greatest asset.” ~ Joss Whedon
One evening Angie and I went driving. She stopped quickly and pointed to this house. The sun was setting perfectly. I showed the image to Pam Kingfisher the following day. It turns out that this is the house she passes frequently and photographs during stunning sunsets. It also happens that her great grandmother’s house was next door. It has since met its demise, of course, much like this house will do sooner rather than later. There’s nothing quite like an Oklahoma sunset. Even the boring sunsets are something to behold. A good sunset drive with Angie is my favorite.
“Destiny is not a matter of chance; it is a matter of choice.
It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved.”
~ William Jennings Bryan
Every once in a while I catch a glimpse of Angie Bliss Fanning on my refrigerator door and giggle. That day at the creek in Proctor, Oklahoma some twenty years ago was pretty dang fun, as you might imagine. My strongest memory from the day, besides Angie making faces at me, was being held at bay by an angry turkey from across the creek. Regina Barnett, Carol Drake, Kate Michael Gibson, and Tammy Jo O’Neal joined us as we cooled our heels in the crystal clear, cold water that offered protection from said angry turkey. I keep an old Polaroid that Kiya Heartwood took next to Angie on the fridge to remind me of what a special, golden place Oklahoma is. The photos bring me much joy.
“Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another.” ~ Napoleon Hill
This tiny schoolhouse, Liberty School, sits at a red dirt crossroad near Moodys, Oklahoma. Established in 1911, just four years after statehood, I’m told the school is used as a community center these days. It’s in good shape, and the grounds are well tended. It does my heart good to see folks take care of their old buildings. It leaves some history for the next generation. This was the only shot I had time to grab. I’m going back!
There’s a place on the 2 Pony Ranch that’s sacred. It’s a thick grove of Blackjack trees at the edge of the pasture. Angie’s horse, Dandy, is buried here. They call it Shady Grove. When Vicki Cheatwood’s husband, Mark Davies, lost his battle with cancer two years ago, she, their twin boys, and Angie and Jerry scattered some of his ashes here among the red rocks and moss. For a time, a small lounging angel was the only sign humans ever entered the space. Soon, a bench appeared, providing a contemplative place to sit and just be.
Vicki and the boys come often to Shady Grove. They’d visited just the weekend before Jerry died, in fact. Jerry had plans to clear some of the undergrowth and dead limbs from the grove to make it nicer for Vicki’s visits. Vicki writes a compelling blog called Life Unmarked, examining milestones and hardships, real and unexpected, about her life of widowhood. She’s a fantastic writer. No doubt her strength and insight will be a great comfort to Angie in the coming months and years.
Angie had wanted Vicki and I to meet for the longest time. It took Jerry dying to finally make it happen. She is every bit as wonderful as Angie said, and she was so kind to allow me to photograph her in her sacred space. It’s an honor when people let you into their lives in such an intimate way.