Just A Boy From Oklahoma (LTW5034)

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The other day I was listening to some guys on the radio (yep, I still listen quite a lot to the radio, but that’s because we’ve got a great one here in Dallas – The Ticket). Go to TheTicket.com and download their app so you can stream it free.

They were talking about the sweet spot of being on the planet. Artificial intelligence prompted the conversation which had started because of an article that talked about an AI-driven robot defeating 6 players at Texas Hold ‘Em poker. The machine had played trillions of hands and learned how to win through deception, which is a big component of winning poker (so I’m told).

Then this past week that face app was all the rage with people taking selfies that could project, with alarming realism, what they may look like when they’re old. With my face, I don’t need no stinkin’ app! I’ve got the real thing.

The phrase “deepfake” is now in our consciousness. The question being debated by the morning radio guys was, “How are we gonna ever know if what we’re seeing is true or not?” Technology is allowing us to manipulate reality with convincing evidence.

Some think the robots – armed with AI capabilities beyond what we may be able to currently imagine – will destroy us. That prompted the notion that being a Baby Boomer is likely the ideal. Those of us born to the World War II vets between 1946 and 1964 fit that bill.

I’m one of them, born in 1957 in Ada, Oklahoma – a town not known for much of anything really until Blake Shelton hit big. He even released an album featuring the town water tower in 2014 entitled, “Bringing Back The Sunshine.”

My family left Ada when I was in the 3rd grade moving to Louisiana. But I’ve lived in Texas far longer than any other state. I’m still an Okie. It’s hard to explain, but I’ll try. And along the way let’s see if I can bring you some value as you figure out who you are because that’s really the subject. Self-awareness. Self-identity. And the realization that somewhere, deep inside, we’re still the little kids we once were. Roots run deep for most of us. And it’s not just place that follows us the rest of our lives, but it’s also time. The time when we grew up. And how.

So feel free to think about your childhood. Consider the days of your youth. Reminisce. I hope your memories are mostly good, but whatever they are – I hope you find a way to leverage them to make your future better.

Willis Alan Ramsey is a local DFW guy who grew up in the grand privilege of Highland Park, the wealthiest section of Dallas. He released one brilliant album in 1972. On it was a song about another Okie, Woody Guthrie…”Boy From Oklahoma.”

The chorus goes like this…

Just a boy from Oklahoma
On an endless one-night stand
Wan’drin’ and a-ramblin’
Driftin’ with the midnights and
He played the blues and the ballads
And all that came between
His heart was in the Union
And his soul was reachin’ out
For the servant’s dream

I really grew up in Louisiana and I have a special fondness for the culture, music, and food of southern Louisiana, but I have always felt more connected to Oklahoma.

Sooner football was important early. I recall playing in the leaves in our yard in Ada tossing a football to myself, pretending to be a star athlete wearing the crimson and cream.

Sooner state born people were always on the radar. Mickey Mantle, Johnny Bench (even though I was not a baseball fan), Tony Randall, Dale Robertson, James Garner, Ron Howard (hey, Opie) and of course, Will Rogers, the state’s favorite son. These were the Okies of my youth.

Merl Haggard wrote and sang “Okie From Muskogee” but he was from Oildale. A city in California. But both his parents were Okies who migrated like tons of others during The Great Depression. I wonder what California would be like today if it weren’t for The Gold Rush and The Great Depression. Anything with “the” in front of it is a big deal.

Well, all these Okies stars of my youth would be joined by country music stars Reba McEntire, Vince Gill and Garth Brooks. And then came Blake Shelton from Ada, Oklahoma circa June 18, 1976. Nobody more famous ever came from Ada. We’re not gonna claim Oral Roberts. 😉

Ada is the noted location of John Grissom’s only non-fiction book, “The Innocent Man.”

Other than that, it’s just your typical rural county seat kind of town. Main Street literally was the drag where the kids drove up and down ogling one another in an endless loop parade of teenage hormone-filled angst.

Store windows bore shoe-polish painted signs supporting the Ada High School Cougars football team.

Main Street was riddled with Christmas decorations and a parade at Christmas time.

Down at the end of Main Street was a tree. One lone tree on the north side of the street with benches around it where old men would spit and whittle. We just called it “spit and whittle.” That’s likely where I’d be if I still lived in Ada.

Across the street from spit and whittle was Shaw Brothers’ Barbershop where my dad and I always got our haircut.

Geoffrey (my dad) and me

And next door was my favorite store of all time. A five and dime store where candy was embedded in the counter. Other than TG&Y’s toy department, it was my favorite store.

My least favorite? Any place that sold fabric. Because my mother was sure to spend what felt like hours there pouring over bolts of fabric and scads of patterns.

Any clothing store other than Anthony’s because we knew a lady who worked there. But mostly because they had those cool contraptions that would convey paperwork from one part of the store to the other. It was a system of metal tubes, pulleys and cables sending money and paperwork across the store. I loved to watch it. Anthony’s was the only store in town with it. And the floors were wooden. It almost makes me wish I could open a store that looked just like it. I’d sell stereo equipment and records. We’d have to close within 90 days because nobody would buy our stuff, but it’d be a cool place to hang. Maybe Starbucks would lease some space inside making it close to a break-even proposition.

The Dixie Drive-In had the very best cherry-vanilla-milk-Dr. Peppers with one green olive put inside. And they had good crushed ice, to boot. That’s a vital ingredient for a CVMDP.

Huddle was a drive-in combo eat-it-here place with great hickory sauce burgers. Two pickles on top of the beef. My grandmother loved them. So did I. And root beer in a frosted mug was the way to go to help the burger go down.

My lifelong best friend lived in Ada. That likely had a big impact on me. No, not likely. It did. His name was Stanley James Elmore and there’s never been a day in my life when I didn’t know him. He died in May, 2013. I chronicled more than maybe I should have in an episode recorded in July. Nothing wrecked me like losing him. Oh, but life has multiple wrecks in store for us all and I’d learn more were heading my way. And so it goes. (insert my favorite Billy Joel song here – truth is, it’s my ONLY Billy Joel song)

Two Friends Talking: "He Being Dead Yet Speaketh"

Randy, Lexie (my sister), Joni (Stanley’s sister), Stanley (my best friend)

Hayes Elementary is where I spent my first crucial early years educationally. Mrs. Arnold in first grade. Mrs. Fenton in the second grade. Mrs. Goddard in the third. I loved them all. Mrs. Arnold more than the others though. It was in her class where we got the news in the winter of 1963 that our President had been killed in Dallas.

First Grade In 1963 At Hayes Elementary School In Ada, Oklahoma

Mrs. Goddard was reading aloud to the class, The Boxcar Children. And I loved it. When we moved I was mostly sad that I wouldn’t be able to hear Mrs. Goddard finish the book. I doubted I’d ever find out what happened to Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny.

Moving to Louisiana didn’t change my notion of being “just a boy from Oklahoma.”

My grandparents – both sets of them – still lived in Ada. They all died there, too. And are buried there.

That culture of my youth.

The smell of tires in my grandfather’s tire store, Menasco Tire. Visits to his ranch land where cow roamed and hay was stacked in barns.

The smell of the pipe of my other grandfather. Seeing him in his easy chair. Always.

The smells and sight of my grandmother cooking in a flour-dusted kitchen.

The sight of the same grandmother reading her New Testament then napping on a sofa at the back of a long den. Never understood why she’d never go lay on the bed, but folks didn’t do that. And naps never involved getting under the covers. Another weirdness to napping habits of the past. If I’m laying down to sleep, I’m getting IN bed although I confess I’ve napped on top of the bed before.

School recess. When playground equipment was dangerous, but nobody thought so. It was fun. You can Google and see pictures of how fun it truly was.

And nobody wore a helmet to ride a bike. You only wore a helmet to play football.

And seatbelts weren’t yet invented. Which meant car seats for infants weren’t either. Mom’s lap was the car seat. Kids sat wherever and however our parents would allow us. Me? I mostly rode in the back of my grandfather’s pickup truck. Yep, sometimes I’d stand up with my arms resting on the top of the cab. While going down the highway.

It was a very different time.

Jeans were pressed and cuffed.

P.F. Flyers were the Nike of our era.

Shirts were collared and ironed.

Teachers were respected and supported by our parents.

Sir and ma’am, please and thank you were required.

Playtime mostly consisted of figuring out what to do and deploying your imagination to do it. Hence, I played football alone quite often. The game was mostly in my head, made real by the fall air and the smell of the leather football I’d toss to myself. As an imaginary OU Sooner.

Saturday mornings meant Warner Brother’s cartoons. Bugs and all those terrific characters made alive by Mel Blanc, who I still think was the greatest actor of all time. I’m happy Boomerang channel has them back on. I feared the Political Correctness Police would ensure we never saw them again. What with all the violence and other objectional material that might destroy our society. Yeah, like all this gender-bending hullabaloo won’t! We were all quite corrupted by Looney Tunes.

Dominos, card games and board games seemed to be the social activities of our parents. Gathering with other families, the kids going off to play while the adults sat around kitchen or card tables playing games. And engaging in banter along the way.

I envision such a scene today where four adults – two couples – sit at a card table, each with an iPhone in hand. Texting one another perhaps. Or, more likely, each just scrolling and swiping in their own little digital world. Oblivious that three other humans are sitting mere inches away.

I don’t say that to harken back to “good ‘ol days.” Mostly because that’s not my viewpoint really. I point it out to reveal why those talk radio guys thought my generation was hitting the sweet spot of existence. We got to experience that world. The pre-Internet world when life and society were so different than the present age. The diversity of that experience may have rewards. I’m not sure. But it certainly gives my generation perspective.

My great grandmother traveled in covered wagons. She also dipped snuff. A wiry woman who would have never imagined life in anything other than a simple, frame house with screen doors to let the breeze through. I never remember her house having an air conditioner (which were all window units when I was a kid).

Post World War II America was prosperous, but nobody was fancy. Not in Ada, Oklahoma. Not that I knew anyway. The Buxtons had a pool. My grandmother would call and invite herself to bring us to swim in it sometimes. My grandparents didn’t have a pool. But they did have a big cement storm cellar. With a metal door which we’d slide down until the summer sun made it too hot. By the way, that dangerous playground gear we so loved included metal slides. Bottles were glass. Slides were metal. Those were the “good ‘ol days.” 😀

Radios were AM only. Our parents were kids and young adults in the days of radio. TV was the new thing for them. My generation were the first wired generation. We grew up watching TV. But avoided sitting too close because it would do something harmful to us.

TV remote controls were the kids. “Hey, Randy, turn that up a little.”

Or

“Hey, Randy, turn that to ABC.” (you only had 2 or 3 channels)

Rabbit ear antennas was about as hi-tech as any home was. And everybody had balls of tin foil on the ends.

Phones were all rotary dial and everybody’s number started with letters. Like FE was our prefix in Ada. My current cell begins with area code 214, but nobody used the area code. You dialed a 7 digit number. And phones had bells built-in. They rang loudly. Phone calls were a big deal. Just like getting the mail.

Newspapers and magazines were regular reading material. My grandparents subscribed to the TV Guide. Lots of people did. Mostly for the schedule of what was on, and when. “When are our shows on,” was a common question. “Our shows” were the ones folks wanted to make sure they didn’t miss. ‘Cause if you missed it…you missed it. It’d be 10-15 years before the VCR would be invented.

We watched Bonanza. Chevy sponsored it. Andy Griffith, F Troop, McHale’s Navy, I Dream Of Jeannie, Hogan’s Heros, Gilligan’s Island. But the shows I most wanted to see were forbidden. Twilight Zone and Outer Limits. Now, THOSE would corrupt us forever and we’d never be the same. So my mom said, “NO!” to both. Youthful rebellion opportunities were limited because the shows aired at a time when you couldn’t even sneak around to see them.

Which meant rebellion existed to looking at the ladies underwear section of the Sears & Roebuck catalog. Or the summer catalog with swimwear. 😉

I was in first grade when Scott Fenton showed me a Playboy magazine. His mom would become our second-grade teacher. He was worldly, obviously. I was not.

I told my parents about it. Shows you have naive and stupid I was. I ratted Scott out. So my dad drove me over to the Fenton’s house to inform Scott’s dad. It was clearly his dad’s magazine. I think Scott even told me so. The results weren’t fruitful. I don’t know what my dad hoped to accomplish really ’cause Scott’s dad – based on his facial expressions visible to me while I sat in the car – indicated he couldn’t care less. No matter. I had seen a naked lady. So there was that!

Corrupted at 6. Changed forever. Damaged beyond repair. Thanks a lot, Scott.

My family was religious. Many people used to be religious. My grandfather and father had helped build the church building where I grew up. Nightly Bible reading and prayers were just a way of life. Stanley’s dad, Johnny, was (still is) a preacher. He was working with the congregation where I was a little boy.

Stanley and I sat on the front row. Directly in front of my folks. My grandparents sat on the same row as my folks, at the other end. At least that’s how I think it was because whenever I’d misbehave my mom would thump my ear with a crisp, painful flick of her middle finger. How appropriate, huh?

Stanley was the only reason for my misbehavior. I blame him. Mostly because he was to be blamed.

He was restless. Much more so than me. Had the attention span of a gnat. Men got on their knees during prayer at church. So did we. That was “showtime” for Stanley. Fingers pulling on eyes and stretching cheeks while sticking out a tongue – a favorite public prayer maneuver for Stanely because he knew – with precise certainty – that it would make me laugh. Then my ear would be thumped. That seemed to be the objective.

But the Bible, faith, prayer, congregational Accapella singing and preaching were a major part of life. Still are. My life has been defined by Faith. And in all the best ways. In spite of how others view Christianity or religion, in general. I was fortunate and blessed to have been taught the Scriptures since I was a boy. It’s an enormous gift. That’s my point of view. It will always be my point of view.

Largely because through the years I’ve seen people wrestle with questions about why and purpose. Those questions never existed for me. Not as a boy. Or as a man.

I know exactly why I’m here and why we’re all here. To honor and glorify God. And I believe the Bible is God’s Word instructing us how to do that so God is happy. I never grew up thinking it strange or odd or crazy because faith was never blind. My parents never asked me to believe something simply because they did. We had the Bible as our guide and proof. If the Bible taught something, we followed it. If it didn’t, and the thing didn’t violate any principles taught in the Bible, then okay. Figuring it out for oneself based on using the Bible as our guide and authority was all I knew. It’s still all I know.

Knowing who God was as a little boy wasn’t some fable. Without the Bible how would one know anything about God? Especially how to serve God? I grew up not wanting to be lost, but wanting to go to Heaven.

Stanley and I would be baptized at the same time, by his father, in the summer of 1967. But that’s another story.

Faith was the prevailing thing in life. Church and God entered into every decision. And I’m sure that’s why my father made a big deal out of Scott Fenton showing me that Playboy magazine when I was in first grade.

Those days – and all the associated memories of them – make me who I am today. I’ve always felt it, but I’m not sure I’ve always known it.

Through the years I’ve been approached with career opportunities on one coast, then another, and even some just a state or two north of Oklahoma. I rejected them all. Because I’m just a boy from Oklahoma and I never felt comfortable being too far away. Fact is, the only difference between Oklahoma and Texas is the dividing line, The Red River. Otherwise, you’d never know the difference.

Cattle. Oil. Bible-belt conservatism. Lots of rural towns. Pretty flat. Windy. Tornado Alley.

I’m comfortable here. Always have been. It’s what I know. It’s what I grew up knowing. And loving.

When it comes to time and place I suspect we are who we are. Largely the product of that time and place. Free to bend it, go beyond it or do whatever we’d like. But I choose to stick around this part of the country because I know deep down, it’s who I am. And I refuse to try to be somebody different.

My son and I were talking the other day about how we’re wired. We share quite a lot as you’d imagine, but we also have distinct differences. Many that I’m envious of because in some areas where I’m weak, he’s strong. I’m thankful for those differences. And likely more thankful that he’s got those attributes over me.

For some reason, we were talking about bullies and I remarked, “I never got bullied. I’d talk my way out of things.”

“Me, too,” he replied.

I remember being among kids – whether on the playground or in the neighborhood – and being the peacemaker. I always stepped in to negotiate peace so kids wouldn’t fight. Or so none of us would get in trouble.

And if somebody wanted to fight me for some reason, which didn’t happen much because I knew how to navigate socially pretty well, I’d back them down with words. I’ve boxed quite a lot with kids (gloves on), but I’ve never been in a fight!

All these little details add up. You’re thinking of where you were born. I hope. And where you grew up. The names and faces of the kids in your class. Or on your street.

Terry Hart was a friend at Haye’s Elementary School in Ada. He lived right across the street from the school. He could run fast. I was never fast, but I always envied speed. Terry was the first speedster in my life.

I never did dream much about flying, but I did dream of being able to run fast. Only in my dreams.

You’re thinking of friends you had who may have had a talent you lacked. Ability to do things you wished you could do.

It all adds up.

To make us who and what we are.

My uncle Pete died awhile back. He was my dad’s youngest brother. I went back to Ada for the funeral. It’s the first time in years. It’s changed.

Haye’s Elementary School doesn’t even look the same. It was a tall 3-story red brick building when I attended. It’s your typical flat, spread out affair today. Not the same. The room and the window I looked out of in first and second grade are gone. The flag pole isn’t even the same today. It doesn’t matter. It’s still very vividly alive for me. In my mind.

My grandmother’s house, featuring two grand elements – a big hedge down the entire driveway (she once hit the paperboy riding his bike down the sidewalk because she backed out so quickly and couldn’t see him because of it)…and a big willow tree on one side, didn’t look the same at all. The hedges are gone. So is the willow tree. But they’re as grand as ever in my mind.

The old bike I had at that same house, stored in the garage without a door – it was more like an enclosed carport – is long gone. It was blue and carried me all over that neighborhood. Down the block to my great grandmother’s house. Jumping over big cracks in the sidewalk.

Where are YOU from?

What has made you who you are?

How has it impacted your today?

The world has changed. Culture in America has changed. Dramatically. Not all for the worst. Not all for the best.

You can’t go back. Except in your mind. But that’s what matters anyway. What we think.

Because what we think determines how we feel and how we feel drives our behavior.

I’m thankful. Thankful to be from Ada, Oklahoma. Thankful to have been born to Jeff and Becky Cantrell. He oil field trash (his words) from the other side of the tracks as her. His dad, my grandfather, a wildcattter willing to risk it all for some bigger payday. Her, from a successful businessman in town, determined she’d be among the highly regarded in town. An unlikely pair in many respects. Two people who just like you and just like me are their own people born in their own place and time. With their own childhood memories which have served to largely forge them into who and what they are today. Yes, they’re both still living. My father will turn 96 in September, Lord willing. He never figured to outlive all his siblings, but sadly he’s had to bury them all. He’s the last man standing. My mom? Well, she’s younger. She’d tell you “much younger.” But time marches on and we’re all going to leave this time and this place one day. They each know they’re getting closer, but so are we all. They’re here in Texas, but they’re both just kids from Oklahoma, too. The nut doesn’t fall far from the tree, huh?

The strange thing about it all is how deeply we’re impacted by it. How it influences us all of our lives. More so than perhaps we realize.

I do a podcast with a guy named Leo. He’s from Boston. He hasn’t lived there in some time, but in some shows, we recorded during the Stanley Cup Finals, his Boston Bruins were celebrated by him in the wearing of his Boston Bruins cap. Now he’s wearing his Boston Red Sox cap. He’s a Boston boy still. Living in San Diego, but still just a boy from Boston.

Me? I’ve never even been to Boston. Shoot, I’m just a boy from Oklahoma.

Randy

About the author: Randy Cantrell is the founder and CEO of Bula Network, LLC, a boutique training and coaching company