Okie Pride Awhile in Coming

blacksmith closeup

 

It’s always been cool to be “Sooner born and Sooner bred”, at least on a football field. (Thank you Mr. and Mrs. Selmon).

But as for being from Oklahoma, well, that was a different story.

I left Oklahoma as soon as I could. I was 20, I think, when I crossed the Red River and left all that bad Okie stuff in the rear view mirror.

Except for occasional, and very short visits, I stayed gone. Long gone. Way gone.

When I was in Singapore, and people asked where I was from, I often said “North Texas”. That was “sort of true” and much easier.

Even in Asia, everybody knew about J.R. Ewing and Dallas. But if you happened to mention Oklahoma, they’d either break into song — imagine a roomful of Asians singing “OOOOOOOOOOOO-krahoma” — or they would ask if “OklahAma” was in Japan. I swear.

Y2K End of the World

But my attitude started to change a dozen years ago. The Y2K scare was my wake-up call.

If every computer was about to go “pleh” and totally destroy the world, I sensed a need to return to my roots, to reclaim a heritage of firemen and gunsmiths and locksmiths and cowboys and Indians. People who could actually do stuff with their bare hands, even without a laptop.

Mt great-grandfather, Charles L. Moore, photo above with my grampaw, was a full-blood Indian (Potawatomi by birth, and Sac and Fox by marriage). On my wall hangs his “Second June 1887” certificate from the Oklahoma Industrial School. Great-Gramps got 100% in Obedience, Honesty, Industry and Neatness.

Much more than that, he was a blacksmith par excellence who could build or repair anything with his powerful, square hands. I’m told that, for fun, he once made a scale model horse-powered hay-bailer that was displayed in two World Fairs. It’s supposed to be in the Smithsonian.

Covered Wagon

His son, my grandfather, George Henry Moore, came to Oklahoma as an infant, riding in a covered wagon. No kidding. He absolutely had his father’s DNA.

I remember spending countless evenings in Grampaw’s shop on Dakato Street. I played with blanks and skeleton keys, sawed wood and drilled holes while Grampa was working away on something — tinkering or repairing or maintaining. That’s why his stuff, like lawn mowers and window air conditioners, lasted forever and a day. He took care of them, because that’s how he was raised, and because there wasn’t much money.

Even when Gramps was old, and working as a janitor at OU, I knew he was an amazing craftsman, even if the world didn’t get it.

My Dad, Gene, no middle name or initial, also had the “square” Moore hand and fix-any-damn-thing DNA. And, from what I understand, he was an outstanding fireman. I remember him always being under the car, or in his shop, using ingenuity and bailing wire to build or repair something, for no money.

I’m proud of the many, hand-forged tools that were passed down to me by my Great-Grampa, Gramps and Dad, even though I can’t properly use any of them, except the sledge.

I’m pretty sure the fix-it gene skipped my generation. Or maybe it just never fired because of fate (being born with just one square hand) and circumstance (no mentoring).

Okie DNA

Our family’s Okie DNA is active again in our family, through my musician son, Eli.

Last week, the almost 23-year-old unearthed his childhood K’nex set. He promptly made the coolest machine you ever saw because he’d been reading about transmissions and wanted to “see” how they actually worked, with gears and stuff.

When he was little, he made thousands of K’nex vehicles, some simple and small, some motherships that were more complicated than anything in Star Wars. Not that long ago, when he needed a microphone stand and was short on cash, he built one out of K’nex. How Okie cool is that?

Which brings us back to Oklahoma.

I’ve moved on from when the words I associated with Oklahoma were not pleasant ones — failure, ignorance, Okie-engineering, alcoholism, etc. When I was last in Oklahoma in 2007, I was astounded to see a strong economy, a dramatically improved university, and hard-working people who basically just got stuff done. With their square hands.

Now, I don’t want to go all “Alex Haley and Roots” here. But I do mean it now when I say, “Sooner born and Sooner bred, and when I die I’ll be Sooner dead.”

But that bit about being “Sooner dead”? There will have to be a few Kiwis and Hobbits at my funeral. Twenty years in New Zealand will do that to a feller. Even if he’s an Okie Down Under.

Click here for more Oklahoma stories.

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