Wednesday, May 06, 2015

My First Ride

Published in the Miami News-Record on May 3, 2015 

My first car was a gold 1986 Chevy Cavalier. I drove her until I was nearly 21. I ran her completely out of oil once. I also wedged her driver’s side rear door into the tailgate of Jerry Friend’s truck in the school parking lot one morning. By the time we traded her in she was using a quart of oil a day (turns out, running a car out of oil is a bad thing…who knew?) and you couldn’t go up a hill with the air conditioner on because her four little cylinders were apparently very tired, but she got me where I needed to go. Sometimes it took me awhile, but I got there eventually.

I turned 16 in 1989. It was a glorious time of permed hair and giant bangs that jutted awkwardly off of our foreheads like unicorn horns, though far less pointy but no less rock solid. My bangs were so high-in-the-sky back then I had to drive slouched down in my seat because my bangs touched the headliner and I couldn’t have anything encroaching upon their airspace. Apparently the slouching weakened the seat support. One day, as I leaned back to smooth my skirt underneath my rear, the seat gave way and completely came loose from the car. I found myself looking up at the ceiling of my car, legs smashed into the steering wheel, rocking back and forth, in complete and utter shock at the abrupt change from vertical to nearly horizontal. It was then I also noticed faint shoe prints on the backseat ceiling. Turns out, my sister and best friend thought it would be completely hilarious to put those up there and then watch my mother have a full-blown conniption fit right there in my car if she ever saw them. After I righted my seat and found my way out of my car (all while making a mental note to scrub that ceiling ASAP), I retrieved my father who was coming in off of a night shift. He was exhausted and I was going to be late for school, so he did what any other Oklahoma father in his situation would’ve done – he propped the seat up with a brick and sent me off to get my daily dose of public school education. It worked far longer than it should have and it wasn’t until I was a newlywed that the brick broke and my new redneck husband drilled a hole through the floor of the car and bolted the seat right to the frame.

The seats of that car were particularly quirky and the passenger front seat would lie completely flat. One time while dragging Main in Miami, Sis and I were smack dab in the middle of downtown, cars in front, back, and to the side of us when she said something really funny and made me laugh out loud. While I was sitting in the passenger seat laughing like a loon, tears streaming down my face, she released the seat and laid down making it look like I was entirely alone in that car, laughing for no reason. When my laughter subsided and I opened my eyes to see her out of the view of every other teen on Main that night I then began trying to make her sit up, begging her to stop making me look crazy which only succeeded in making me look even more so because now I was talking to myself as well.

One day Mom said she had a headache and was going to lean the seat back and close her eyes while I drove us to town. About halfway to Miami she quietly asked, “Kristin Dawn, is there something you need to tell me…like why there are shoe prints on the ceiling of your back seat?”

And then it was Sis’ turn to laugh hysterically in that sweet little gold Cavalier. And I had some splainin’ to do. 

The Sisterhood

Published in the Miami News-Record on April 26, 2015

Girlfriends are a necessity of life. I have had the same core group of girlfriends since 1st grade. Over the years our numbers waxed and waned, people were ushered in, some faded out, some moved, but the same fundamental group is still among my dearest friends. The kind you can go awhile without talking to, but when you see each other again you pick right back up like you just saw them an hour ago.

When I was in college I had work friends. As a newlywed I got couples friends. Then with children came new people – other parents with kids my kids’ ages. Now I have homeschooling friends, too. But these ladies from grade school …. well, we are the ones who know each other’s darkest fears, secrets, wishes, dreams, and as we get older, health issues as well. Goodness knows we commiserate about gray hair, aching backs, sneeze pees, and bone density more and more as the years go by.
Last week I got together with this group of four other ladies for dinner. Three of us started Kindergarten together, one joined our merry band in 7th grade, and the other was my little sister, who didn’t attain “cool” status until she was 15 or so and was then allowed into our circle. (I was so gracious, I know.) One of our crew was missing, but we’ll wrangle her in next time. We sat at a table at Los Dos Amigos for a ridiculous amount of time – well, until they turned the “Open” sign off. (To the staff there, you fellas are a patient crew and very gracious hosts. To the other diners that night, I hope we weren’t too annoying with our laughter and reminiscing. My apologies if we were. Truly. You have no idea the therapy that was going on.) Then after we paid our tab (and left big tips) we stood in the parking lot talking until 11:00, well past my elderly bedtime these days.

We had slumber parties starting in the 5th grade. Most of us were in band together. We have so many blackmail-worthy photos of each other it’s not even funny. We fought passionately, cried together, and shared a boyfriend or two. We attended weddings, mourned the loss of babies, went camping together, babysat each other’s kids, and two of us still send letters and cards in a time of email. 

We’ve comforted in times of divorce and congratulated on graduations and grandbabies. Now we are all in our 40’s (except my little sister who isn’t far behind) and all of us are coloring our hair purely out of necessity now. We all wear glasses and several of us are in the dreaded bifocals. While two of us are still driving sportscars (lucky!), the rest of us are in minivans and SUVs that will haul our broods around. One of us has a baby, one has a toddler, and one of us is a new grandma. We all cross our legs when we sneeze now.

A woman who knew all of us from our days back at Wyandotte High, stopped by our table to say hello. She remarked at how we had stayed friends for so long. DeLisa, my first friend from age 5, said it best with her reply: “We’ve loved each other, hated each other, and now we love each other again.” I don’t think we ever hated each other, but man, did we fight back in the day.  Thankfully we’ve moved past all that and found our way back to the sisterhood.  

That night of chips, salsa, shared pictures, stories, laughter – so. much. laughter. – was balm for my soul. I didn’t know how much I needed those girls at this very point in my life until I drove away that night still giggling all the way home over “muddy chewbaccas” and how we all got tickled and simultaneously crossed our legs while we laughed until we cried.  

Oklahoma Strong

Published in the Miami News-Record, April 19, 2015

It was 1995. I was 22. Paul and I lived in a cute little rental house with hardwood floors, a giant kitchen, and a front porch that I still miss. He was working at Eagle-Picher in Seneca. I had a home daycare. We were young, eager to start a family, and content.

As per the usual morning routine, my daycare babies had finished breakfast and Sesame Street and it was my turn to watch TV while they played in the living room floor; my favorite show at the time was Live! with Regis and Kathie Lee. It was a world without flat-screen TVs and our teensy TV didn’t even have a remote. It was a small console TV with dials. We had a folded-up piece of paper wedged in behind the bottom dial to keep it from drifting off of UHF. The antennas had wadded up balls of aluminum foil on the ends.

My usual morning’s entertainment was interrupted by an “ABC News Special Report”. I was annoyed. I only had one hour of TV to myself each day, one hour that didn’t involve singing monsters and songs about counting and sharing. Break-in special reports were rarely about anything pertinent to my little corner of the world. I sighed and got up to go fix a glass of tea, but the words “Oklahoma City” caught my attention. I can remember stopping in front of that tiny screen and feeling my heart begin to race as the newscaster spoke of preliminary reports of a bomb going off downtown. I was stunned. My stomach was in a knot. My hands were shaking. I needed to sit down yet I stood, rooted to the spot, eyes fixed on the first photos and videos rolling in.

I ran to the phone and dialed my mom at work. “Mom, you need to find a TV. Someone bombed a federal building in the City…..yes, Oklahoma City…, Mom, I don’t know who……I’m in shock…..” and then I remember asking a question she no more had the answer to than any of us did: “Why us?”

A few days after the OKC bombing (maybe the next day, I don’t remember for sure after 20 years), a house just up the block from my where my mom and my aunt and uncle lived – and only a few blocks from where we lived – exploded due to a natural gas leak. I had just set a plate of fried chicken on the table for dinner when our whole house shook and we heard the explosion. All I could think was, “Again?” The bombing of the Murrah building forever changed us, I think. No, I know.

For days after April 19, 1995, I was the victim of a profound sadness. I felt scared, confused, angry, and insecure. I cried a lot (which isn’t anything much out of the ordinary – I’m a cry-er by nature) and didn’t sleep much. Little did I know then that I’d repeat it again in the fall of 2011, some 16 years later.

I have lived in Oklahoma my whole life. Never has another state been able to claim me. I’ve lived all over Ottawa County and even did a brief stint in Stillwater before I met my husband. We Okies are often the butt of jokes about rednecks and being backwards. People from the coasts think we are toothless hillbillies that live in one giant cow field and dodge tornadoes on a daily basis, but if you’re from here you know there is so much more to us than that. Granted, there’s a few of us that live that tooth-free lifestyle, but we are so much more than a backwoods stereotype. We are ranchers, doctors, moms, dads, lawyers, laborers, writers, scientists, teachers, stay-at-home parents, secretaries, and so much more. We are Oklahoma. We are strong.

We are Oklahoma Strong.