Claremore Past: Those Versatile Okies

Originally published in the Oologah Lake Leader, 1987. 

After more than five years of living in Oklahoma, I find that I still experience a little culture shock on occasion. Coming from a city that is large enough to have its phone book issued in three volumes, to a Green Country county where the tallest structure is the grain elevator, requires more than just a little mental realignment. The pace may be outwardly less frantic, but the need for personal and family survival is just as strong. Pursuit of the dollar is every bit as competitive.

New Englanders are credited with being able to skillfully trap a dollar. The only reason they have such a reputation is that they just happened to get all of the press coverage before someone decided to create the state of Oklahoma. If the Sooner State was as old as New England, the Okies would win all the awards for unusual means to trap a loose dollar. Bit city or small town, the competition is every bit as tough.

Case in point: The other day, I set out on the rounds as appointed to me by my wife. With my list of “honey-dos” clutched firmly in hand, I stopped at the old gas station, paid the cable TV bill, and picked up a schedule so I could be sure to watch the Atlanta station in Claremore. Not unusual in this day of electronic wonders. But wait, this has just started. Next, I went to the bank and paid the phone bill. How accommodating of the bank. The next stop was the electronics store to pick up the phone they had repaired for me because the local phone office doesn’t handle phone repairs except for pay phones that they really send out of state. Are you still with me?

Next stop was for a little refreshment, so I stopped by the automobile service station and bought a donut. While eating the donut, I used an old token and ran my car through the donut shop’s automatic car wash. Next stop was the grocery store. No, not for groceries, but to return the movie we had watched last evening. While trying to read the movie labels, I was fuzzily reminded that while it is okay to drop your reading glasses occasionally, you must not step on them. Somewhere over between the motor oil and the fresh flowers, I located a dandy new pair of reading glasses.

Using my newly purchased glasses, I could now read my “honey-do” list all the better and found that I needed some candelabra base light bulbs. I went to the friendly store in town where I had always purchased electrical supplies. All of the regular staffers were in their places but the electrical hardware selection was sadly depleted. Not needing any flowers or a tuxedo, I bought a gallon of milk and one of the hot dogs that had smelled so good. I declined the offer on panty hose at a reduced rate and crossed light bulbs off my list. Being a little confused by all these changes that a tough economy had imposed on my community, I stopped by my favorite used book store. There, amid the shelves of comfortable, old books, I found a few titles that I liked. As I was paying for my purchases, the owner said, “Why don’t you take a look at my bargain table of odds and ends. I’ve got a real deal on candelabra base light bulbs.”

It was too much for me. I hurried home feeling like a fugitive from some weird adventure in the Twilight Zone. I arrived home just in time for my wife in her role as professional photographer to tell me that she was having her school prom customers just stop by our restaurant to pick up their photographs. Sort of like a sliced beef sandwich, please, and one 8×10 suitable for framing? Okies and survivalism seem to go hand in hand. The rest of the world may be in a heap of trouble, but I don’t think I need to lose any sleep over Oklahoma. Somehow, I think everything is going to be okay.

-by James R. May



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