Every spring, wild flowers spill out across the rural routes of Eastern Oklahoma County. The roads Peebly, Luther, Dobbs and my favorite, Pottawatomie, put on an awesome show of color. Purple poppy mallows and silver-leaf nightshades. Indian paintbrushes and fringed puccoons. Sow thistles that look like giant dandelions. Rumor has it they’re loved by pigs.
I love Oklahoma wildflowers.
Northern Cross Timbers
These roads — no stripes, no curbs — were forged through the northern cross timbers before Oklahoma achieved statehood. This is where a forest of post oaks and blackjacks, grapevines and greenbriars, rise up like an island surrounded by a grassy prairie sea.
Washington Irving who wrote The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, said traveling through these parts was like struggling through a forest of cast iron. In parts the woodland was impenetrable, but as history would prove, not for dreamers.
On Memorial Day we white knuckle it down old Route 66, a mile or so passed Luther to Pottawatomie Road. We pass the pecan farm and the power plant. The round barn and Pops. There are so many things I couldn’t drive off my mind if I tried. Like how my little boy is a stone’s throw from adolescence, but for now, he still asks me to tuck him in at night. I stay with him through his prayers and he always, always, always asks God to bless his Uncle Guy and his late dog Charlie “extra.” I run my fingers through his sandy hair, sing Let It Be, and like the wildflowers in moonlight, he tumbles off to sleep.
And, mothers the world over repeat in unison: “Life. It Goes So Very Fast.”
But, these roads. They were made by dreamers, for dreamers.
Historic Filling Station, Route 66
We turn north at the old Threatt Filling Station, built exactly 100 years ago by Allen Threatt, an African-American farmer. Threatt brought his family to Oklahoma because he saw it as a land of opportunity. But, honestly, I wonder what he was thinking. Had he not heard about what happened to Laura Nelson? How two counties over they ripped her baby from her breast and lynched her up and choked the life right out of her? She dangled like a rag doll from that Okfuskee County bridge. Her calico dress a testimony of her pioneer days.
They killed her boy, L.D., too, right there on the old Schoolton Road at Yarbrough’s Crossing. Some say he was only 11. Others, 14. How cruel is this world? It can be so cruel.
According to reports, the family stole a cow. They were hungry, starving, maybe, and stole a cow. When Sheriff George Loney went to investigate the matter, L.D. shot him in the leg. I’m thinking he never intended for the man to die. He just wanted to stop him. But, stop what, I don’t know. Who can say? Was he beating his mother? Raping his mother? Harassing her? Just arresting her? Nobody ever filled in that blank and I guess we’ll never really know for sure.
And, Sheriff George Loney bled to death and that changed everything. Laura and L.D. were arrested and charged with murder and put in jail. Before they could get to trial, a mob broke in and kidnapped them and took them to that bridge and lynched them. Some reports say the mob raped Laura before they killed her, and well, of course you know they did.
The souls of mother and son broke free from their ruined bodies that day, broke free from the evil in this world. They soared along the Canadian River and straight up to God. These days they’re going about their everlasting.
…Carry on, you will always remember
Carry on, nothing equals the splendor
Now your life’s no longer empty
Surely heaven waits for you
Carry on my wayward son,
For there’ll be peace when you are done
Lay your weary head to rest
Don’t you cry no more… (Kansas)
Four years after Laura and her son died — four years and two counties over — Allen Threatt farmed the land around Pottawatomie Road. Despite the evil that lurked just down the way, he put down roots and carved opportunity out of the impenetrable cross timbers.
Nowadays, these wild roses bloom in tribute along Pottawatomie Road. They grow along barbed wire not far from where Threatt raised crops. They stand in stark contrast to Memorial Day’s perfectly crafted funeral sprays. The built environment with its perfect sewers and polluted air, has helped and helled us at the same time. And, racism, who are we kidding? It is everywhere and it is so godless.
But, Allen Threatt didn’t let worry or fear stop him. He came to Oklahoma and joined up with former slaves of local Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole owners. They stood in racial solidarity with one another and pursued economic opportunities across the young state.
In addition to farming, Threatt sold sandstone from his quarry. When the local alignment of Route 66 incorporated the highway that bordered the north end of his farm, he seized the opportunity and opened a filling station. It was one among a handful that freely welcomed African-American travelers. For nearly 40 years it bustled with activity. The spring-loaded screen doors banging and bouncing with the hopes and plans of wanderers and sojourners. They rode the super highway from Chicago to Los Angeles — and back again — and all the while Allen Threatt helped them along their way.
We gather up a fistful of wildflowers in the gentle rain, say hello to some Texas Longhorns and then head home back south on Pottawatomie Road. We turn west onto old Route 66 and pass Allen Threatt’s filling station, which closed in the 1950s. It’s now on the National Register of Historic Places. Not a bad way to leave a legacy for future generations. About a quarter-mile up the road we blow by an old cemetery. An African-American family — among them, descendants of former slaves — have gathered in a cemetery on the outskirts of Luther. At least 20 people, young and old and in-between, place flowers on the graves of people they loved. The brave dreamers who went before them, who cut lives out of the brutal cross timbers.
And, just like that, I remember something about a picture I took in Arcadia, a town just a few miles west of Luther. It was a picture of a church sign and the pastor’s name was Allen Threatt III.
I believe in leaving a legacy for future generations. Something more than all that moth and rust can and will destroy. For it is better to get wisdom than gold. To get understanding is to be chosen above silver. (Proverbs 16:16)
What legacy will Generation X leave their children and their children’s children? A legacy of over-parenting or a legacy of righteousness? How bad do you want your children to thrive? To live a life that leads to a meadow, everlasting?
That’s the whole reason we drove out to Eastern Oklahoma County. We went to see Camp OLOG. Our Lady of Guadalupe. It’s located on Pottawatomie Road. There were Catholic dreamers, too.
This is the camp where Brenda Berringer said she learned to pray. Berringer was a member of the Class of 1995. A Catholic schoolgirl, she was killed by a drunk driver in 1994. A memorial to her stands outside the rustic chapel, Our Lady of Guadalupe, so many summers, divine.
During her funeral, friends shared stories about how she’d impacted their lives — how she’d helped them make necessary changes when they needed to most. Brenda was good and kind. Sensitive and brave. Selfless. She’d “done more with her life in 17 years than most achieve in a lifetime.” Brenda left behind a legacy for future generations: X, Y and now Z.
Life Is Hard For Everyone
Do you know about Alfred E. Smith? He grew up in cramped tenement housing in New York. Watched the Brooklyn Bridge throughout its construction. The son of Irish immigrants, his father died when he was 12. By 14, he’d quit school to go to work in Fulton Fish Market. That’s where he said he learned about people. Alfred, a devout Catholic, never finished high school. Never went to college. He married the sweetheart of his youth and they had five children. In 1918, he became Governor of New York, and ten years later he ran for president against Herbert Hoover.
Because of fear-mongering Protestants nationwide feared his election. People worried their marriages would be annulled and their children deemed illegitimate. They worried the Pope would take over America and build a tunnel from Washington to Rome. A prominent Oklahoma preacher, Mordecai Ham, told his congregation, “If you vote for Al Smith you’re voting against Christ and you’ll all be damned.”
There is trouble in the world and life is hard for everyone.
The psalmist wrote that the grass withers and the flowers fade and then reminds us that surely the people are grass. Life is fleeting! I can leave an inheritance of money to my children, but how better to leave an inheritance of faith in God. That ambition is what carried us down Pottawatomie Road on Memorial Day. It carried Allen Threatt through the cross timbers and Belinda Berringer through the woodlands of Our Lady of Guadalupe camp.
Robert and I are trying to create a legacy of faith for our children. A legacy that will survive storms and generations. Sometimes, our efforts are weak and fractured. We try, and sometimes, the yield of fruit is small and the road is narrow and we white knuckle it all the way. But, we’re fighting the good fight and I know we’ll finish the course no matter the cost.
And when the night is cloudy
There is still a light that shines on me
Shine on until tomorrow, let it be…