Tag Archives: Oklahoma

How Not to Write An Obituary.

I use to read the obituaries every week in the Sunday Los Angeles Times. I’d look for the oldest person to die and then read their obit for inspiration. Where did they come from? What did they do with all that time they had? And, there was also a tinier voice asking, “How do I get to where they were? How can I absorb so much of life too?”

Then there were always the sad obits. They were of people of my own age, my parents’ ages, friends’ ages. There were the little annual memorials to kids lost far too early; reminders that the memory of them continued to age, though they did not. It was these obits that started to bring me down. I started to identify a little too closely to some stories, some timeframes. In the older obits any form of identification was a bonus, but with these young departed it was too real a reminder of what obituaries signify: someone has left the building.

2016 has been a rough year for death, and particularly for music fans, as several well-known and loved lumnaries of the profession have passed on. On Thursday I found out that my Great Uncle Jerry moved on. He’d been sick for years, in a slow, slow decline that gradually robbed him of the ability to do many of the things the able-bodied take for granted. He wasn’t a musician, but I did learn very recently that he enjoyed photography.

It was almost a funny thing to learn that he liked photography. I knew he worked as a truck driver for years, as he’d tell stories from the road. In all non-obit-like honesty, Jerry presented himself as a tough trucker guy from rural Oklahoma. He’d sit around the house, smoking away, and puffing out homophobic, sexist, and racist things in a loud voice (when he still had a volume dial to turn up on his vocal cords). I never knew anything about him acting on any of his words, but the words were still tough to hear sometimes.

Is this speaking ill of the dead? It is at least speaking truth. I don’t aim to rob him of his humanity by glossing over the way that he presented himself. At the same time I don’t aim to portray him negatively either. I don’t aim to portray him in any other way than the very way he portrayed himself.

I think where this becomes complicated, is that the public presentation of self is often conflated with things that reside outside the self, or roles we are trying to play in society. Depending on the person it can be easy to be consumed by the reflection you’d like to see, rather than drawing on an internal well. It’s tough.

I think there are lovely things about Jerry that I never knew. There was something in him that my Great Aunt saw, and I adore her. He had a good wit, though it was often misdirected to social baggage better left behind in the 20th century. I don’t know enough about where he grew up and what formed him in his early years. I want to know more, I want to better understand.

In the meantime I will remember Jerry. I can’t bring myself to honor the dead by distorting the past, but I can respect the context in which people lived, and strive to better understand all angles of humanity. And sometimes I still sneak a peek at the obits page, and sometimes there is still beauty and inspiration in death.

Application for a Date with a Seabee

While working with 20th century archival materials I think a lot about the privacy of the individuals represented in archives that have no idea some physical detritus of their earlier years is preserved for others to access. Access is one of the primary intentions of preserving anything in an archives, and even temporary restrictions are best avoided, but sometimes you have to look out for people.

There aren’t too many things in my family papers that need restriction before being launched online, but I felt compelled to be a little extra cautious with this Application for a Date with a Seabee from the 1950s. It’s tucked into my grandpa Donald Hickman’s scrapbook (the one that served in the Navy, including a tour in the Philippines). I doubt this individual (it’s not my Grandma) still lives in the same house in Oklahoma, and you wouldn’t get too far with a four digit phone number these days, but just in case.

There’s a blank form and a filled out version in my grandpa’s papers, but the filled out one is way more fun! I don’t know the form’s origin story, but it’s fun to think about really serious questions like: do you think the french kiss will replace the toothbrush?

Seabeedateapplication_onlineversion

Roadside: Lake Murray Lodge, Ardmore, Oklahoma

Lately I’ve been cleaning up my digital life and trying to give my files some semblance of order. Through the process I’ve been reliving a bunch of trips via old photos.

Lake Murray Lodge

Lake Murray Lodge

Lake Murray Lodge is really, really close to where my Grandma and Oklahoma family live, though I didn’t visit until 2012. I think my great grandpa Aubrey Hickman worked on building some things at Lake Murray through a WPA program, but I haven’t found the paper trail to confirm it yet.

Supposedly Lake Murray Lodge (built in 1949) and a group of cabins from the 1930s were going to be demolished to make way for building a new lodge.  I haven’t kept up on the story and I’m not sure what’s still there, but I do know that I fell in love with the little old 1930s cabins and aspects of the 1949 Lodge while I was out there.

There are newer cabins still open for rent, but we stayed in the old Lodge because when we planned the trip the cabins were already all booked for the weekend we were out there.  The rooms were really dated, but as I’ve mentioned in a previous post, dated just means a place has character to me.  The bathroom tile was so great I actually took photos of it.

When I go back through these photos of Lake Murray I imagine these places when they were brand new, when a family from 80 years ago got to take a summer vacation and stay by the water in their very own cabin space.  Beautiful lake views through big windows and screened in porches.

Sadly the only cabin denizens when I visited were wasps, but there’s still some magic in these old wood and glass boxes:

Oklahoma and prohibition

I’ve been a little fixated on my ancestor Andrew Holt lately, mostly because it’s been relatively easy to find a couple newspaper articles on his death.  Since I posted the last article I came across more newspaper bits that relate to him.  On one hand I’d like to pick a more obscure relative to research, but obscurity often doesn’t leave a very obvious paper trail, so for now pardon my obsession with the bootlegging/Prohibition related relative.  I’ll do my best not to glorify or harangue any of the participants too much.

My great grandma Julia Holt Hickman's oldest brother in the papers.  Oklahoma Weekly Leader, 1922 January 19.

My great grandma Julia Holt Hickman’s oldest brother in the papers. Oklahoma Weekly Leader, 1922 January 19.

I picked up a book on Prohibition in Oklahoma called Born Sober: Prohibition in Oklahoma, 1907-59 by Jimmie Lewis Franklin, published in 1971.  Before big “P” federal Prohibition was passed and went into effect in 1920, Oklahoma had little “p” prohibition.  Before statehood Oklahoma was divided between Indian Territory and Oklahoma Territory.  Indian Territory was always dry, and when Oklahoma became a state in 1907 (uniting the two territories), it too went dry.

Born Sober mentions a saloonkeeper in Ponca City, who reacted to statewide prohibition by posting this statement above his business, “Hush little saloon, don’t you cry; you’ll be a drug store, by and by.” (Franklin 24)  I wish the book had more tasty tidbits like that.  It’s a great statewide overview, but leans more toward political machinations than cultural history.  I also think there is something to be said about race and alcohol prohibition, but maybe someone else wrote that book between 1971 and the present day.  I haven’t done any research on that yet.

I do give the author props for at least touching on the role of religion in the prohibition debate.  Catholics (often more recent immigrants) were sacramental wine users, while Protestants (who made up the majority of Oklahomans at the time) didn’t need booze to satisfy the rituals of their religious practice, and were more likely to be vehemently anti-booze.  For the record, my Oklahoma relatives were somewhere in the Methodist-Episcopal-Baptist range.  Andrew Holt’s grandpa was itinerant minister Thomas Crutcher Holt.  T.C. Holt  is an entire series of posts on his own, so I’ll leave that there for now.

Anywhoo, statewide prohibition was difficult to enforce (hey, just like federal Prohibition a decade or so later).  Local sentiment played a big role in whether or not enforcement was feasible in particular regions.  It was also expensive to enforce and difficult to control liquor coming over the border from wet states. (Franklin 37-40).  Despite enforcement difficulties and attempts to amend or do away with prohibition of alcohol in Oklahoma, the statewide ban remained.

There are some nitty gritty details on the particulars of alcohol prohibition – things like adjustments in the enforcement of the law, restrictions, and the exception that allowed individuals to get a prescription for alcohol from their doctor.  There is also a lot to be said about the background of the whites who moved to Oklahoma before and after statehood, and how that came into play in terms of the political power dynamics.  And, even after federal Prohibition ended in the early 1930s, Oklahoma still had another form of state alcohol prohibition.

For family history purposes in this particular case study I’m going to stick to the 1900-1933 period and keep it general unless it directly pertains to my family in Love County.  I’m mostly interested in better understanding the context of the 1922 shooting of my relative Andrew Holt in Marietta, OK, and any other info is bonus material.

I really hope someone has a picture of him somewhere.  I’d love to put a face with a name.  I do have several pictures of his youngest sister, my great grandma Julia Holt Hickman.  She died when I was young, but I did get to meet her on several occasions.  My Mom was really close to her and has told me a lot of very nice things about her, so I’ll have to do a post on her sometime.

(Researching alcohol prohibition has been a nice build up to the Boardwalk Empire premiere in September!  I can’t wait.  It’s like a birthday present to me – sensationalized history with some of the best costuming and set design.  And the music!  Only place on modern TV to have 1920s dance tunes show up that I can sing along to.  I’m still ecstatic “Barney Google” was at the end of last season……”with the goo goo googly eyes….”  So cool.)

Legacy Guilt.

Today I went to the Western History Workshop on Dr. Alice Echols’ work in progress project on her grandfather’s involvement with a Building and Loan Bank scandal in Colorado Springs in the Great Depression.  At the beginning of her presentation she brought up the problematic nature of mining family history for history narratives.  Past lives, like present lives, are riddled with tragedy as much as they are stories of success and triumph.

In my own personal genealogy research I semi-recently learned that my great great great great grandpa was a slave owner in Tennessee.  Most of his sons moved to Texas as young adults and remained there until their deaths.  The sons fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War, while their slave owning father actually sided with the Union.

Thomas Crutcher Holt, one of the sons (and my ancestor) worked as an itinerant Methodist and Baptist preacher in the South.  His son Edgar Eugene Holt moved to southern Oklahoma.  And it was there in southern Oklahoma that Edgar’s son Andrew Holt, my great grandma’s oldest brother, ran whiskey during Prohibition in the 1920s and was shot down by a sheriff (and family oral history also says a U.S. Marshall) in a nighttime raid.

The Morning Tulsa daily world. (Tulsa, Okla.), 21 Jan. 1922. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

The Morning Tulsa daily world. (Tulsa, Okla.), 21 Jan. 1922. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85042345/1922-01-21/ed-1/seq-5/

I don’t feel bad at all about having a Prohibition violating ancestor, though I do feel a little bad about having a slave owning gggg grandfather.  I’ve decided to call this legacy guilt.  It’s a non-monetary inheritance that you can’t really do anything about.  The longer I’ve known about it the easier it has been to reconcile that what an ancestor did is very much in the past, and what you do as an individual in the present is far more important than the actions of any one of the hundreds of ancestors that rotated around the sun before you.

Their actions had far reaching implications and greatly impacted the lives around them, but there is no remedy for that when you are nothing but an agent of the present.

If anything, learning more about the potentially negatives aspects of my family’s past illuminates a general history narrative that often feels generic and impersonal.  I’ve been pursuing information on the cultural context of my slaveowning ancestor in Tennessee and his sons’ move to Texas.  It’s been an exciting journey so far to try to understand the push and pull factors of their choices through the contexts of their lives.