Long Time Gone

I asked my sister, who lives in White Deer, to send me some panhandle photos to use for the blog. As I was flipping through the photos she sent I kept trying to find a landmark I recognized, or even just a feeling about the general vicinity of the shot. I couldn't definitively place any of them. Maybe I've been gone too long.

I went through them more than once, trying to pick out one or two that might inspire a post. I noticed that I had somehow created a soundtrack in my mind to go along with the images in the slideshow. It took me a minute, but I finally recognized it as "Oklahoma Hills" by Woody and Jack Guthrie, which is, apparently, the state song of Oklahoma. Isn't that odd?

It's not really that odd. My siblings will recognize at least the chorus of the song ...

'Way down yonder in the Indian Nation
Ridin' my pony on the reservation,
In those Oklahoma hills where I was born.
Now, 'way down yonder in the Indian Nation,

A cowboy's life is my occupation,

In those Oklahoma hills where I was born.

... because it was a staple in a list of songs Dad would "beller" out, unannounced, as we bounced around some panhandle highway in some old truck. You'd be nodding off, your neck all twisted trying to find a semi-comfortable and stable spot for your head, when all of a sudden you'd hear Dad at full volume singing:

'WAY DOWN YON-der in the Ind-YUN NAY-shun

It always bothered me a bit because I knew he wasn't born in Oklahoma and who would want to claim that anyway? I'm guessing that the song meant something to Dad. He would've been in California when it was popular, and he was a panhandle cowboy as a young man. The song starts:

Many a month has come and gone

Since I've wandered from my home

I can see him being the homesick type. He must've been because he moved back which is how I wound up being Texas panhandle born and raised.

It's pretty obvious why that song popped into my head. These were photos of home, and even if I couldn't say exactly where they were taken, I still recognized them as home. I'm sure people who grew up in New York City or around California beaches or in Rust Belt factory towns can see a certain type of photo and feel a connection, a familiarity. And I'm also sure those familiar, comfortable scenes shape your world view, like it or not.

Do you recognize the never ending fields? The big blue bowl overhead. Dry air and dust that doesn't just tickle your nose politely, but forces you to adjust to it and not give in to that big head-shaking sneeze. The imaginary horizons existing beyond your ability to see. The fortitude of windmills and fence posts, surviving both drought and blizzard.

If you do, if you can feel those things in these photos, then I suppose it's okay if you were born in Oklahoma. We've probably got a lot in common.

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