I only saw the cut-off to Hugo when I pulled off at Durant to buy Rollos and a bottle of water, when I was nearly run down by an old guy in a monster pick-up with two freckle-faced kids eating ice cream in the front seat. I thought it looked like a quicker way to get to the Indian Nation Turnpike to Henryetta to a family reunion with cousins I hadn’t seen in nearly three decades.
As a shortcut, it actually cost me an extra 30 minutes over taking the two-lane highway through Atoka. As my dear, departed, philosophical old friend Joe used to say wandering through the Texas back roads in search of photo magic, as serendipity it turned out just fine. As it happens, being on the road, any road, makes me want to roll down the windows and sing loudly, badly, to Tracy Chapman. I was back in the U.S. of A, on the road again like Willie.
The Sunday before Labor Day was fine and sunny, blue-skied with puffy white clouds. Tooling through Bokchito, where the Masonic Lodge snuggled right up against the Penecostal Church on an empty highway, I came across the Mexican restaurant Los Arcos (the arches) with its metal mariachi sculptures, Los Arquitos (the little arches) being my neighborhood in Oaxaca.They are Oaxacans, are these Bokchitans? By the time I passed the sign for the dulcimer shop and show pigs, my head was reeling with the local town names of Antlers, Gay and Idabel.
Henryetta, Oklahoma, where my mother grew up, hasn’t changed all that much except that the high school football team (most famous for producing Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman) is no longer the Fighting Hens but the Knights. Someone got wise there and realized that no self-respecting jock wants to be a chicken, a female chicken at that, though it didn’t seem to hurt Troy any. I was a little sad when McDonald’s modernized to its clone chain roots and got rid of the Troy Aikman shrine it had featured for more than decade.
The next morning my cousin Jan stayed at the house to get ready for the reunion meal while her husband Randy and daughter Lori escorted me to the Henryetta Labor Day parade. My God, I love America. I’ve never seen so many tattoos since, well – ever. It was Americana on steroids. There was a rainbow coalition of black, brown and white folk young to old toting soccer chairs and coolers to line the curbs, bikers pushing strollers of tow-headed kids eating cotton candy, teased blonde big hair to crew cuts. OSU Cowboy orange was in full force in chairs, shirts and baseball caps.
The parade boasted horses, politicians in convertibles, queens of the Creek and Choctaw nations, clowns, monster trucks, Masons in fezzes on scooters, and above all: marching bands and cheerleaders. (My favorite float featured a sign asking the big question “What Has Unions Done for Me?” Answering in part, Brother Hood and Better Benefits among others, but not the obvious “they has not improved my grammar none.”
From every float came a rain of Double Bubble gum and Jolly Ranchers; the kids who’d been around the block a few times had come armed with baskets and bags to scoop up the booty from the streets. I noted that the old Patty Ann restaurant, once the best (maybe only) place in town to get a hamburger and fries, was now a pawn shop specializing in guns, ammo and jewelry.
The day was magic. Randy grilled burgers on the deck and us seven cousins who used to sit at the kids’ table on Grandma’s sunporch at Thanksgiving and Christmas suddenly realized that we were the old farts now. Jimmy’s daughter Phoebe showed up long enough to say hello and goodbye before heading out to spend her last semester of college in London. Yes, England, all the way from Henryetta.
We looked at old photos until the Hall cousins had to pack up and hit the road. I ran up to Jimmy’s farm, where one of his eight dogs hid a flip-flop under the couch so that I almost missed leaving for the fireworks. We parked the truck outside the stadium and finished the day off with a shower of red, white and purple – since blue’s the only true color that fireworks just can’t do.
It all came back to me, how much I love this country where I don’t really live any more. And Joe – my dear and greatly missed Pépé Tejano, the first person I ever told that I had fallen in love with Mexico and was going to find a way to live there – I did indeed find the serendipity.
— Susan Bean Aycock, embracingthechaos.org