Every year, I make a cemetery run around Memorial Day. I drive 45 miles west to a little cemetery surrounded by little mountains and fields of waving wheat just a few days from harvest. Not a house, not another soul is in sight. It is a place of peace and tranquility and, immediately, that is how I feel. A C-5 from nearby Altus Air Force Base honors my veteran with a flyover as I shove a little American flag in the hard dirt by the bronze marker.
Then I head for the northwest corner of the state and my roots, reveling in the miles and miles of rippling wheat, now more red than golden as different varieties are planted, contrasting with green pastures. The ponds, creeks and rivers reflect the unpolluted blue sky of western Oklahoma. There’s not much traffic until, about halfway, I start meeting convoys of combines heading south to start harvest. I stop at the cemetery where my mother and a baby are and leave purple flowers bending in the hot wind.
That evening I visit with a group of schoolmates. Most of us went to school together from the 1st through 12th grades. Photos are passed around. “Is that me?” someone points, puzzled. “No, there you are,” someone else answers, and we laugh. All the girls are wearing homemade dresses. The boys wear overalls. It is the height of the Depression. But none of us remembered going hungry. We said we didn’t know we were all poor at the time.
“Look!” I say smugly, holding a picture of us as first- and second-graders. “I am the only girl who has her ankles crossed!” I remember the dress I was wearing. It has unusually wide lapels I remember as orange and big buttons down the front. My mother liked to sew and it was obviously a creative outlet for her.
We didn’t talk about war, the economy or politics. I did get into one discussion about religion with a classmate who is a preacher.
We spent the evening remembering. “Remember when you got the measles on the junior-senior trip?” someone always asks me. Of course I did and so did everyone else.
“You’re looking good,” an old boyfriend said to me. “The last time, I thought you looked kind of haggard!”
There are disadvantages to going to a school so small there are only 12 in your graduating class but we talked about the advantages. We all watched out for one another and the whole community watched out for all of us. Adults encouraged us in our small triumphs and discouraged us from mischief they suspected before we even thought of it. We agreed that the community’s stiff standards of morality got every one of us off to a good start.
The next day I made my last cemetery stop to leave more purple flowers by the headstones of my father and stepmother. An old song my Daddy used to sing came to mind, “There’ll be peace in the valley,” although these well-cared-for cemeteries are all on the high plains.
As I headed south toward home, weaving my way in and out of green combines riding high and wide on trucks, I was at peace briefly with a not-at-all peaceful world, with or without valleys.
Mary McClure lives in Lawton and writes a weekly column for The Lawton Constitution.