This is the second in a series of short essays by local individuals on what Oklahoma means to them. If you are interested in contributing an essay to “Being Okie,” contact us through the contributors’ page.
by Lindsay Hodges Anderson
I have betrayed Oklahoma. I no longer have its rich, red soil beneath my feet. It gave me my first home in America, and now I am half the country away. But I will be back, and I can not wait to see it again.
When I moved from Britain to America for university, it was in Oklahoma that I planted my roots. Frankly, I did not hold high hopes: I knew that OU would be an interesting experience, but I never expected to fall in love with the state. I believe Oklahoma remains one of the most significantly underrated states in the nation. Today, when I tell people where I used to live, I am poised to defend against the all-too-frequent eye rolls, snorts or “Oh, God, why?” responses. Outsiders dangerously underestimate Oklahoma.
I am in Boston now, which was the city my husband and I always dreamed of living in. Yet once we got here, we realized everything we had left behind in Oklahoma. I will not list the many differences between New Englanders and Oklahomans, but only summarize the greater point I wish to make: In general, Okies are good people.
They are deeply kind with a down-to-earth friendliness that is endearing and genuine. I can only assume it comes from the Christian upbringing of most Oklahomans, though not exclusively, since it’s easy to be friendly when everyone around you is friendly, too. And Okies have good manners because their mothers brought them up right (which, of course, is important to me as a polite Englishwoman).
But my Oklahoma is not the Oklahoma of clichés – of cowboys, churches and football (though, while I’m here: Boomer Sooner!). There is such a passionate pulse of life running through Oklahoma City and Norman that outsiders are completely unaware of. The art and music coming out of the city is incredibly exciting. The construction of new downtown housing, clubs and bars, restaurants and galleries is indicative of the new place in culture that Oklahoma is settling in to. The recent renovation of the Asian District is also wonderful: I lived in that area for a year and loved having that culture around me. “Native America”, and all that that implies, will always be crucial to understanding the state, but nowadays, there is so much more to Oklahoma. I encourage all Oklahomans to brag about it as much as possible to anyone who will listen.
My husband, who was born-and-raised in Oklahoma City, and I would often drive around on those warm summer nights when having the windows down in the car felt like heaven and the smell of honeysuckle enveloped the city. He would tell me about how the neighborhoods had changed since he was young. He is always genuinely thrilled when he sees a neighborhood under renovation or a landmark being restored. And his love for the city rubbed off on me.
Inevitably, we would pass the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum on our night drives. The repercussions of the Oklahoma City Bombing are poignant and somber. It speaks to the character of the people that life has moved on and, though people do not forget, they refuse to allow it to keep hurting the state. However, you will never hear a flippant remark or joke about the bombing, as you do about other tragic world events. I was nowhere near Oklahoma at the time of the bombing, but I feel the pain in my bones. I would be crushed if someone attacked my state again. It hurts me as much as the 2005 bombings in London broke my heart. The Oklahoma City bombing was horrific and unexpected and everyone knows someone who was directly affected. And yet, in a typically classy way, Oklahoma has a beautiful memorial and museum honoring those who lost their lives and helped rescue the victims and the city.
Tragedy strikes Oklahoma far too often due to the weather. But people bounce back quickly, and when a community needs it the outpouring of support is another example of the depth of caring which is the backbone of the state. I do miss the weather in Oklahoma – not the tragedy of it, but the excitement. When I was fresh off the boat from calm-weathered England, I thought the Okies who sat on the porch to watch the storm roll in were out of their minds. Indeed, the first tornado I ever came anywhere close to left me in tears while those around me laughed heartily as it brushed past Norman. I grew to enjoy the weather events – where else is weather an “event”? I developed my own Okie compass of knowing when I needed to listen to the weathermen and when I could ignore their excited chatter. While there’s something to be said for not having danger in the clouds every day, there’s a lot more to be said for the adrenalin and electricity of an Oklahoma storm. And even though I was without power for a week during the ice storm in early 2008, I look back on it with grainy, sepia-toned images of trying to warm the cat by a candle without setting him on fire, and I love that I have that tale to tell – of ‘The Week I Lived Without Power During the Deep Mid-Winter’.
I do have to say, I think politicians often betray the people of Oklahoma. There are a few leading voices out of the state who do not represent the people I know and certainly do not represent me. Some of the absurdity coming from the capitol and senators in Washington, D.C., is enough to make me want to deny my inner Sooner. While Oklahoma is a conservative state of many conservative people, I do not think it is as extreme as it may sound to outsiders because of some politicians’ loud mouths. I am hopeful for a political turn-around in the near future.
Once my time in the Northeast has come to its natural conclusion, I’ll be coming home to Oklahoma. I miss it. I miss the people and the spirit. I miss the wild weather and the Wild West. I miss growing up in it and watching it grow up around me. I was not born Oklahoman, nor raised Oklahoman, but, if I had been born an American, I know in my heart that I would have been – proudly, staunchly – an Oklahoman.
Lindsay Hodges Anderson is Web editor & writer for the Harvard John F. Kennedy School of Government in Boston, MA. She lived in Oklahoma August 2003 – July 2008 and hopes to return within a few years. She blogs regularly at http://britsnbobs.blogspot.com/.