The downside of growing up in a small town is that everyone knows you and your business. The beauty of growing up in a small town is that everyone knows you and your business.
I grew up in Locust Grove, a northeastern Oklahoma town of around 1200 people, and when I graduated high school in 1980, and left for OSU, I was ecstatic. Though Stillwater was only a few hours away, it might as well have been another country. No one knew me there. No one knew my family. No one knew where I was going on Friday night or where I had been Saturday morning or what my dog’s name was or what car I drove or how often my mom went to the beauty shop and my uncle visited the liquor store.
I enjoyed Stillwater, Manhattan (Kansas–the Little Apple), and Bartlesville, the large towns/small cities where I lived after leaving Locust Grove. I did not plan on ever living in Locust Grove again. However, in 2005, I returned to LG to live near my parents and other family members, and I have never regretted it. When I was young, I valued anonymity, and now that I am in my 50’s, I value familiarity.
Yesterday I had the day off work and the luxury of being out during weekday daylight hours. Those of you who work 8-10 hours a day M-F know what I mean by “luxury.” I accomplished all my morning tasks and then drove through Locust Grove. The sale barn had already closed for the day, but I stopped at a few yard sales where most of the items should have been thrown in the trash months before–though I did get a deck of cards with a dog who looks just like my bird dog Best on it and a bag of old plastic dolls–all naked (My Granny would be appalled. She hated seeing a naked baby doll).
Then I went down Main Street to get a burger and onion rings from DJ’s, and while it was cooking, I went in a consignment store where most of the items should have been thrown away months ago, but I bought a pretty shirt and went back for my burger. Leaving DJ’s, I passed Jerry walking down Main Street. If you are from LG, you know who I mean, no last name necessary. Every small town has a Jerry, someone with a few deficiencies in the brain compartment made up for by congeniality and memory, who serves as the unofficial well-I’ll-be-cotton-pickin’ town greeter and cheer-spreader.
In that little house on Delaware Street where I spent the 70’s, I sat on the roof and put poems under the tiles. That house was the place where my poetry blossomed. Now, in the last place I will live, poetry surrounds me again. It is mine, yours, Robert Frost’s and Emily’s. It is the work of the children who speak in poetry because it has not been shamed out of them yet. It is in the ways that we all see the world–urban, rural, rich and poor.
I opened this museum over a year ago and it continues a work in progress. Hardly anybody knows about it, and I wish that were different. You may not know it, but you need poetry. I don’t care who you are. Locust Grove, Oklahoma: It is the home of great artists (Willard Stone to name only one) and humble people. It is typical of Oklahoma in its extreme love of sports and typical of many small towns–its downtown barely survives. When I was a kid, in just two blocks of Main Street, there were 2 grocery stores, a convenience store, a post office, 2 dry goods stores, an Otasco, a dime store, 2 pool halls, a funeral home, bank, cafe, 2 beauty shops, and 2 gas stations.
Tomorrow, May 11, is Founder’s Day in Locust Grove. This used to be the highlight of the year–a prison band, pea-shooters to torment each other with, a parade, a rodeo, good food everywhere, carnival rides, hide and seek in the park. I remember wearing a brown dress and white cowboy boots one Founder’s Day when I was probably 10 or 12. I was stylin’. If you are in the area, come out to Founder’s Day. I am going to use it as the opportunity to spread the word about my next ROMP Event: Locust Grove Day on May 25, wherein I try to entice the locals out to the museum. (Although anyone is welcome, of course).