Thursday, September 18, 2014
It's always interesting to unearth forgotten artifacts, which is what happened recently as I was digging through some of my old notebooks while cleaning my office. I came across a few random pages of notes I had scribbled years ago one fine day while sitting in the University of Oklahoma library stacks researching a feature story on the natural and cultural history of wind and drought on the southern plains. Some of the quotes made it into the story, others did not, but they were apparently interesting enough for me to jot down at the time...
"Does the wind blow this way all the time?"
"Hell, no! It blows the other way about half the time."
Edward Everett Dale*, Cow Country
"To the Oklahoman who loves his state, the salient agricultural fact is that much of it has already gone down to the Mississippi Delta."
Angie Debo*, Oklahoma: Foot-Loose and Fancy Free
And curiously, a random quote having nothing to with wind or drought that had been scrawled in the margins of my notebook, a quote from one of my favorite historians, the hell-raising Bernard DeVoto...
"A decisive point has been reached when a culture begins to believe its own advertising copy."
I have no idea where that one came from, because it had nothing to do with the story I was working on...
And then a bit farther down, a bit of my own writing, specifically, a few of my thoughts on the impact of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma! (you know, where the wind comes sweeping down the plains...)
"The fact that a cornpone musical written by a pair of New York composers who had never set foot in the state so quickly became our preferred self-identifying iconography is an indication of just how hard Oklahoma had been buffeted, both physically and culturally, by the winds of the 1930s. The hokey, gingham-wrapped twaddle of "Corn as high as an elephant's eye" easily beat out the grim, quiet dignity of the Joads as our favorite cultural avatar, to this state's everlasting loss."
Yeah, that passage never made it into the story. You just don't criticize an entire state's sappy, beloved pap... although technically the musical Oklahoma! was based on an earlier play "Green Grow the Lilacs", which was written by an actual Oklahoman, Lynn Riggs. I've never seen it. I much prefer that other famous work written by that other out-of-state dandy who also didn't know beans about Oklahoma, or what parts of Oklahoma the Dust Bowl actually withered, but whose work was at least firmly based in the reality of the times and the reality of the human condition, a reality that thankfully didn't include any goddamned dancing cowboys or warbling maidens...
* Both Edward Everett Dale and Angie Debo are the two acknowledged giants of Oklahoma historical scholarship. I took many of my classes at the University of Oklahoma in buildings named after Dale, none named after Debo, but of the two I much prefer Debo, who was a student of Dale's and the better writer and historian. Dale was a Frederick Jackson Turnerite. Debo was not. Her "And Still the Waters Run: The Betrayal of the Five Civilized Tribes" was a landmark book that pissed off a lot of powerful people, sidetracked her career for a long time, and is required reading for anyone interested in the history of white/native relations. Next time the traveling production of Oklahoma! comes to your town, take the money you were going to spend on a ticket and go buy an Angie Debo book instead.
Posted by Chad Love at 1:58 PM