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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.

 

All the Lives and Virginia Woolf

Well I do know you, don’t I? Otherwise, why did you jump off the shelf in the Kingston public library in Canberra, Australia, into my hands? I took a quick look at the end flap on the front cover of the book All the Lives We Ever Lived. Then I put it on the automatic checkout machine and out the door the book went with me.

The tagline to the title of the book “Seeking solace in Virginia Woolf” did not speak to me. I read Virginia Woolf when I was young and determined to be an intellectual who had read all of the “important” books.  I vaguely remember reading A Room of One’s Own, by Virginia Woolf  which resonated with me because of its assertion of women’s equality. However, I don’t remember becoming attached to either the work or life of Virginia Woolf.

But this book, All the Lives We Ever Lived, sought me out. I knew nothing about it or about the writer. I saw it by chance sitting on the library shelf and brought it home. I started reading. And I kept on reading every day until I finished it. I felt a bit dissatisfied with the ending. I was hoping that the book never ended so I could continue our one-sided conversation with me listening while the author, Katharine Smyth kept talking. As a reader/listener I was never bored, nor did I skip paragraphs or pages. I read/listened diligently.

Throughout the book, Virginia Woolf was present but not dominant. She added an extra dimension to the memoir Katharine Smyth wrote about her life, her father, her family and her attraction to Woolf’s book, To The Lighthouse.

Her relationship to her father was very unlike mine to my father. She was close to her father and shared many activities, including sailing, with him. My father was distant and controlling.  I never really knew him, although I should have.

I am researching and writing a novel Tracking the Human: nobody’s a long time based on events in his life. All the Lives We Ever Lived offers no guidance to the work I am trying to write. Nor should it. For my family, the title might be All the Lives We Never Lived.

Katharine Smyth glories in the written word and the production of art. “Art may not give us the unequivocal truths that we desire from our world, but it can provide a stay against its chaos and confusion.” p. 186.

She speaks to me in my ongoing need to read, read, read, to find myself and to be myself, whoever that may be. “And is not the sight of ourselves laid bare on the page – endlessly complex, and yet not singular at all – one of reading’s humblest, most delightful rewards?” p. 243.

Thank you, Katharine. I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation.

 

The Ramp


Rounding a corner

from a gallery exhibition

Walking up a ramp

with no destination

Black tiled floor

Grey cement walls

Polished silver handrails

Blinking white floor lights

Triangular window

looking down on fern palms

in a secret garden below

No paintings or people visible

in the crowded museum

Silence

only my own footsteps

and the distant click clack

of someone’s high heels

 “Little Italy” Krebs, Oklahoma

In Tulsa Oklahoma in the 1925 probate records of my grandfather, E.S. Hutchison (the murdered “Love Pirate”), I discovered that W. Lon Hutchison, my father, the firstborn child, had been disinherited by his father. Many decades later, my father did the same to his firstborn child – me. In this family history, I found a pattern of revenge and rejection that I want to change.

That’s why I went on this journey – to uncover the mysteries of my father’s life as a basis for reconciliation. The journey has an end point: writing a novel, Tracking the Human: nobody’s a long time, based on events in my father’s life.

Continuing my search for information, I left Tulsa, Oklahoma and drove to Krebs. I could hardly tell where the larger town of McAlester Oklahoma ended and the tiny town of Krebs began, except for a sign, The City of Krebs welcomes you.

My father was born in Krebs in 1907, when Oklahoma was still Indian Territory. Today Krebs is a very small town in what was once coal country.

The population of Krebs is about 2,000. Because of several restaurants and a specialized grocery story, Krebs has chosen the nickname “Little Italy”.

According to Wikipedia, Krebs was founded in the late 1800s. The first post office was established in 1886. The town began as a coal-mining camp, housing European immigrants who came to work in the mines.

Street scene, Krebs, Oklahoma

On January 7, 1892, an explosion in the Osage Coal & Mining Company’s No. 11 mine killed 100 workers and injured another 150.

Here’s a photo of the memorial to that explosion listing all those killed in the coal mine explosion.

I visited the Krebs Heritage Museum, a hodgepodge of stuff from peoples’ attics. I found a record of the birth of the Gilpin girls – my grandma’s maiden name, but nothing more. I bought a tee shirt of the Krebs Heritage Museum and went to look for a cheap motel to spend the night.

 

The next day I left Krebs to drive back to Vinita to find out if the woman at the Forensic Center had found any records relating to my dad… She hadn’t.

Weary of travel and digging for information, feeling somewhat frustrated, I drove back to my friends’ home, outside Lawrence, Kansas.

Talking to the Dead

I had gone to the Tulsa County Court House to try to find out more about my grandfather’s killer. Instead at an annex, I found probate records of my grandfather’s estate. I was surprised by the size of my grandfather’s estate, (over $200,000, a sizable fortune in 1925) and that he had disinherited his first born child, my father.

Disappointed that I hadn’t been able to find out more about my grandfather’s killer, my next stop was nearby – the Roseville Cemetery.

Through online records I found out that my father had been buried at the Roseville Cemetery. I got there while the cemetery was open, but the office was closed. In the very extensive grounds, I could not find my family’s burial plot. There was no guiding information posted. It would have to wait for the next day.

Hutchison plot, Roseville Cemetery, Tulsa, Oklahoma

The next morning, the office was open and I got directions to my family’s burial plot. With some difficulty, I eventually found the Hutchison family plot. The Hutchison plot was  right next to the Purdy family plot, which was the surname of my grandfather’s killer.

I avoid cemeteries and have never attended a funeral, but I stayed awhile, talking out loud with everyone who is buried there, including my dad. There were gravestones for my grandfather, grandmother, great uncle, uncle, aunt and my father.

Gravestone of my grandfather, the murdered “Love Pirate”

I went from grave to grave, greeting each person. I spoke with each of them and shared what I was doing. I told them I was researching my father’s history to understand the man I didn’t know and that I was writing a novel, Tracking the Human, based on events in his life. I explained to them that my project was a work in progress for reconciliation for all of us.

Gravestone of my father

Driving out of the Rosehill Cemetery, I noticed a gun shop and firing range directly across the street.

Gun shop across the street from Roseville Cemetery

My next stop would be Krebs, Oklahoma, a very small town just outside McAlester Oklahoma, where my father was born in 1907. I had no particular leads, but thought I would go and take a look at his birthplace.

The Memory Artist

Thoughts about The Memory Artist by Katherine Brabon

A glorious book about writing and memory and the Soviet Union and glasnost and Russia…

A period that I almost didn’t want to think about because of my own activist background… as if somehow I had personally been betrayed by Stalin and the Soviet Union.

The Memory Artist is a gentle, beautifully written novel that carries the reader along, not allowing the reader to fall into the depths of despair despite murders, disappearances and suicides.

Some quotes:

“There’s a moment, I’m not sure how long, one of those never-ending seconds, and whichever hour it is or whatever station I’m in, the words and numbers have no meaning. Then I think of somewhere I’m supposed to be or the next thing I have to do. I cling to those things, and I find myself again. ” p. 213

“I can attest that I’m here, as a man, with a body right now sitting on this seat, but I cannot say I am sure what I’m made up of – what is going on inside. ” p. 222

“Our inner life, consciousness or whatever, made the apartment a place where that manipulated and censored world couldn’t get in.” p. 223

“Looking at those malformed statues, I told myself that if I could make some kind of shape out of the memories of the men and women of my life – then somehow, impossibly, the broken past could be given form. Not put back together so much as refashioned into a kind of warped, fragmented sculpture. But nonetheless it would be something that I could hold, at least in my mind.” p. 243

 

Disinherited

Having gone to Tulsa Oklahoma to find out about the death of my grandfather, I was shocked to learn how he had died. On January 14, 1925, in downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma, my grandfather, E.S. Hutchison, age 43, had his brains blown out by a jealous husband, Charles Eugene Purdy,  (see Blog 18: Love Pirate Murder).

To try to find out more about my grandfather, I went to the annex on the outskirts of Tulsa where probate records were kept.

                                           Tulsa County Annex Building

I shook my head in disbelief at what I found in the probate files. I was astounded that the estate of my grandfather in 1925 was worth over USD $200,000!! A fortune in those days.

There were pages and pages of disputes about who should get the money – the children of his first wife, my grandmother, who had three children, (the first born was my father, W. Lon Hutchison), his second wife, who had four children and was living in Arkansas or the woman Helen Purdy, who was with my grandfather when he was shot and killed  by her estranged  husband, Charles Eugene Purdy.  A  handwritten will left specific sums to his mother, sister and children from both wives, and made Helen Purdy his executor.

The story became more complex reading through over 70 pages of charges and counter-charges, mainly between E.S. Hutchison’s second wife, Mary Hutchison and Helen Purdy, who had been his employee and personal secretary prior to his murder.  In the depositions included in the files, Helen Purdy is accused by Mary Hutchison of conspiring with her ex-husband Charles Eugene Purdy to defraud my grandfather of his considerable fortune.

The issue of why Charles Eugene Purdy shot my grandfather, despite the “Love Pirate” stories, became less clear because the documents state that Purdy had filed for divorce from his wife some months prior to the shooting.  Also at one point, according to the probate documents,  he had received tens of thousands of dollars from my grandfather because Purdy had somehow contrived to have my grandfather  briefly put in jail.

The probate files included a copy of my grandfather’s  hard-to-decipher handwritten will that I forced myself to read and re-read. My grandfather wrote that his firstborn son, my father, W. Lon Hutchison, would get $100 from his estate, but only if my father never returned to Tulsa until after his father had died!

My father, the firstborn child, had been disinherited by his father. Decades later he did the same to his firstborn child – me. I was beginning to get the picture. The more I found out, the more I wanted to try to stop the passing on of rejection generation after generation within this family.

Have you found a pattern of rejection in your family?

What have you tried or are trying to do about it?

Your comments are most welcome!