Earlier this month we hitched our trailer to our truck and drove east to Beaver’s Bend State Park in Oklahoma. We parked our home away from home under the shade of enormous pines and just sat around doing a whole lot of nothing for the next four days. We were joined by my brother, sister-in-law and their son and his sweet little family. We had no goals, no plans, no agendas. We simply sat and talked and laughed and listened to the wind blowing through the trees and the crows cackling away. We shared the cooking duty and feasted on arroz con pollo, jambalaya, and beef and noodles. Sometimes we simply soaked in the silence and enjoyed the fact that we had no appointments or schedules pushing us from one task to another.
We live in a frantic world that is almost always filled with uncertainties and obligations. It’s often difficult to find the time to unwind and consider what is really important, like watching a little baby laugh or sharing stories that allow us to get to know each other better. Our calendars are filled even in retirement as though the idea is to just keep moving to prove that we are alive. It’s not often that we have the unadulterated pleasure of doing absolutely nothing other than being present in a lovely moment, but we did on that weekend in October.
I thought of my grandfather and his stories of working in Oklahoma when he was a young man. I wondered if the places he encountered were as lovely and as wild as our campground. Oklahoma is where he met my grandmother and where my father later went to junior high. I felt that somehow I must surely have a kind of kinship with the place. My family has roots there that Grandpa often spoke of in his stories that always enchanted me.
My grandfather had traveled from state to state finding work when he stumbled upon a coworker who insisted on introducing him to a nice widow who also happened to be an extraordinary cook. The two men forged a kind of plan for the meeting that included eating in the boarding house where Grandma worked. After enjoying a tasty dinner my grandfather insisted on seeing the person who had created such culinary delights. According to his account when my grandmother came from the kitchen he felt the joy of love at first sight and he told his friend that he was going to marry that lovely woman. Thus my grandparent’s story began. Mine would follow from theirs.
Grandpa would never stop telling stories about Grandma and how she was his best buddy. They had two children together and also cared for my grandmother’s daughter from her first marriage. I’ve often wondered if her deceased husband had died from the Spanish Flu because he died in 1918 when the virus was decimating the world. She never spoke of him and I never thought to ask. Her devotion was to my grandfather and to her children and many grandchildren. She lived in the present, not the past or even the future. Every day was a special adventure for her and her love of simple things was enchanting.
My father and I have such high cheekbones that I once imagined that we had descended from native Americans, perhaps a tribe from Texas or Arkansas or even Oklahoma. It was a silly thought resulting from a time that we lived in Tulsa, Oklahoma when I was no more than about four or five years old. My father often took us to watch the ceremonies of the people who had once roamed over the plains of Oklahoma and proudly honored the land. Daddy and Grandpa both had so much respect for the native people that I became fascinated and also horrified by the history of those who were the original settlers in the land we call the United States of America.
Grandpa often spoke of his days working in Oklahoma at the beginning of the twentieth century. He lamented the injustices that he saw perpetrated on the native people. He told us about men who traded car batteries for land that they suspected might be rich with oil or soil for growing crops. It angered him to see such dishonorable things taking place. Even as he neared his one hundredth year of life on this earth he wondered how anyone could have been so very unfair.
Our camping trip was a lovely success. We got to know each other even better than we already did. We spoke of our shared history and the people who came before us to demonstrate how to live good and honest lives. They had quietly modeled the behaviors of handwork, integrity, and most of all devotion to people and learning rather than riches that became our own goals. Our storytelling grandfather had taught us with his tales whose themes always centered on the glories of being fair and compassionate. We revelled in the memory of his folksy philosophies.
It was with a bit of regret that we left our wooded haven to return to the faster tempo of our lives, but we were refreshed and reminded of who our ancestors wished us to be. They were hearty souls who shouldered both the joys and the challenges that came their way with determination and a sense of joy. Oklahoma had comforted us in the knowledge that we were from good stock and that no matter what might happen in the future we will know how to survive together. We must remember to return again one day. It is good to remember our roots.