I will soon be a mother. I guess this realization makes me more sentimental than I otherwise would be. I also guess that most children, no matter how much they say they hated their hometowns growing up, long for home when they are finally grown. I'm having a baby now, am I grown?
My home is a wild land, dry and harsh, hot, cold, empty and barren. Phone companies such as AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint refuse to operate there since it's such a high cost area. My father is employed at Panhandle Telephone, Inc., so I remember him explaining why no one wanted to be there.
And it's true. No one sets out to Guymon, Goodwell, Boise City, etc., looking to start a life unless they grew up there. Heck, I always said I would never come back, and who knows if I ever will. And the people who grew up there are well rooted in families whose great-grandparents came for free farm and ranch land. They are a tough people, friendly, stubborn and determined. They come from people who stayed during the hardest time, and rode out the Great Depression, clouds of dust, and constant loss. These are the people that didn't shudder at hard times, these active and hardworking ancestors. They knew more than anyone what the very bottom felt like. They also knew that helping each other was the only way to survive.
I suppose the only people coming to the panhandle looking to start a life these days are those who are brought in by the hog and beef farms, but until the 1990s, there really wasn't an influx. I hear Guymon is growing now, changing much like other small towns. Things are different. The people coming in are still the hardworking type. They're still the underdogs.
I introduce myself to people and tell them where I'm from--I take my left hand and use it as an Oklahoma map to show them where I call home. I also explain that I'm in the part most weathermen cut off the screen. I'm from where most politicians dismiss as unnecessary when it comes to running for things. People really disregard us, and they shouldn't. But you can't understand this all unless you've lived in the panhandle.
No one wants no man's land, and when I left at 18, I drove away and didn't look back. I didn't cry. The big city awaited me. The nearest "city" to Guymon is Amarillo and that's about two hours away, so you can imagine how a small-town girl felt moving to the city by herself.
It was liberating.
All the same, I can attribute a lot of my stubborn, hardworking tendencies to the panhandle that shaped my daddy, his daddy, and his daddy before him. The same panhandle where my grandmother met my papa on Main Street. The small, sleepy town that endures droughts, dust storms, ice and snow, tornadoes and 90 mph straight winds (trust me, our fence blew over twice) is the town that polished me. The people, all of whom know your parents and grandparents, are friendly and they watch out for each other. There is no road rage. It only takes five minutes to get to the other side of town.
And really, it is a beautiful place, though there aren't any real trees. That's the best thing about the panhandle--the sky is so open, and when the thunderheads come in bringing with them the sweet and rare smell of rain, there really isn't anything more beautiful. Especially when they ride in during the sunset...painted pinks, oranges, and reds. The lightning fills the sky, surrounded by super-cell mountains. After months of arid wind, I can promise you there is nothing else that lifts a panhandler's spirits more than rain. In fact, even when it's flooding here in the city after an overly wet season, I could never tire of it. That's how much I love rain.
I always gripe about that drive back home, but honestly, it's always a good time to listen to my favorite music and take in the scenery and beautiful sunset clouds. It's perfect for soul searching, because nothing does the soul more good than a long journey home to family, friends and memories. That desert-like land will always be a part of me, and someday I'll tell Sampson all the stories I heard from my dad and grandparents. The roots will always run deep.