Oklahoma OK

Previous to this trip researching about my father’s life for my novel, Tracking the Human: nobody’s a long time, I had never spent time in Oklahoma. Whenever I heard the word “Oklahoma”, I thought of the musical.

Oklahoma! is the first musical written by the well-known team of composer Richard Rodgers and librettist Oscar Hammerstein II. The musical is set in Oklahoma Indian Territory outside the town of Claremore in 1906. The original Broadway production of Oklahoma! opened on March 31, 1943 and was a box-office smash. (source: Wikipedia).

One summer during my childhood in Kansas City, Missouri, my parents bought season tickets to the Starlight Theatre in Swope Park. Starlight Theatre has an outdoor stage and seating. It has operated continuously since 1951. Having been renovated several times over the decades, Starlight currently has a capacity of about 8,000 people.  I saw Oklahoma!  at the Starlight Theatre.

https://www.kcstarlight.com

I consider myself tone deaf and have a poor memory for music. But somehow, even after many decades, I can still hear the lyrics of Oklahoma! somewhere inside my head.

The lyrics come bouncing back, instantaneously when anyone mentions the word Oklahoma.

Ohhhklahoma,
where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain
And the wavin’ wheat can sure smell sweet

When the wind comes right behind the rain.

But I only remember the opening lines (above) and the ending

You’re doin’ fine, Oklahoma!
Oklahoma O.K.

As a child, I never thought much about Oklahoma as being the birthplace of my father, W. Lon Hutchison, and the home of my grandmother, Letha Yates. She was occasionally mentioned and even visited us once in Kansas City. There was never any mention of any grandfather, aunts or uncles.

For me, Oklahoma was a mythic place, based on the musical, much as Kansas is considered by some to be mythical based on the book, The Wizard of Oz.

Having visited a small corner of northeast Oklahoma looking for information about my father and his family, do I think I “know” Oklahoma? Of course not. The words of the musical are indelibly linked in my mind and have not been erased or subsumed by my visit.

 

Author: Pamela Collett

I was born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri. I have a B.A. from Stanford University and a M.Sc. from Cornell University. I have lived and worked in San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland, California as well as in Washington, DC. Outside the United States, I lived and worked in Venezuela, Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, Uganda, Somalia and Kenya. I currently live in Canberra, Australia. I edited three books: Bold Plum: with the Guerillas in China's War against Japan by Hsiao Li Lindsay; Peace and Milk: Scenes of Northern Somalia by James Lindsay and Fatima Jibrell; and Solo vale si piensas rápido by Mehedy Lopez, a book of poetry in Spanish. In 2016, I published a book of my poetry and drawings, Silence Spoken. I have taught communication skills, English as a second language, and English for journalists (in Beijing, China) at university and secondary school levels. I was a features writer for the Daily Journal, (Caracas, Venezuela), and The Chronicle of Higher Education. I am a member of the ACT (Australian Capital Territory) Writers Centre, active in a writers’ group and a contributor to poetry readings, That Poetry Thing, in Canberra, Australia.

2 thoughts on “Oklahoma OK”

  1. As someone who has spent my entire life in Kansas, I cringe a bit at the Wizard of Oz references. But somehow your reflections help me see it differently today. I get it…at least from a fresh perspective. Most people do only know Kansas via the movie. And while us natives might feel slighted by that, usually others don’t intend it to be that way. They are simply searching for some type of connection to a state they have never visited (and likely have no valid reason to visit). In that way, Kansas and Oklahoma (and Nebraska and the Dakotas) are similarly connected as part of flyover farm country. There simply isn’t much in any of these states that would attract many visitors.

    Like

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