Photo credit: Jacob Krumwiede
Recently, on a very pleasant summer evening, I found myself in Claremore, again. I was there to deliver, of all things, a backpack on which I’d embroidered my nephew’s name. School was to start in only a few days, and my contribution was the last item on my sister’s checklist of sending her ‘short person’ to commence his education. How can he be in school already? When last I looked, he was barely old enough to walk much less carry his own backpack full of books. But that’s a story for another day.
This story is about how far we’ve come from the first time I came to Claremore, or “little C”, as we fondly refer to this gem in the center of Rogers County.
I first came to Claremore on a cold January day in 1982. I’d flown up from my hometown of Dallas to visit the new town my dad, step-mother and little sister were to call home. How they’d chosen this little berg in Oklahoma was beyond my comprehension. Of course, the priorities of a 19-year-old are vastly different from those of my family-man father. He saw a safe, quiet town where he could make a home and provide for his family. I saw a place that was void of all the fun things a big city 19-year-old could ever want to do. In my eyes, there was nothing for me in this sleepy town.
Less than a year later, I came for another visit and was surprised to feel that “little C” had found a soft place in this big city girl’s heart. During that same visit, I found myself standing beside my father at the flag pole atop College Hill. While enjoying the lovely view of Claremore seemingly spreading out below our feet, Dad posed a question that would ultimately change the course of my life. “Do you think you could live in a small town like this?” I mulled his question around for a minute or two, which looking back, must have been an agonizingly long wait for a parent. Dallas held all the memories of growing up and the rest of my family was there. Claremore was new, uncharted and filled with strangers. Only the tiniest branch of my family was there. Dallas held the promise of a free education as well as the upward potential of a stable job I already had with a large corporation. Claremore offered two years of Rogers State and then a slim chance to get my foot in the door of, at best, a small, local company. No, Claremore didn’t appear terribly promising when I looked at the sensible facts. But something stirred in my heart as Dad & I stood there that evening looking over the valley that cradles Claremore. Maybe it was the way the south wind caressed my face. Maybe it was the way the rolling hills of Green Country beckoned to me of a life that could be. Maybe it was the sound of one of those train horns yelling for me to stay-stay, staaaaaaaaaay! I finally answered. “Yes. I believe I would like to stay here.” I think Dad must have been holding his breath in anticipation of my answer. He hugged me close and told me that he thought I’d made the best decision.
A few weeks later, I left my job, bade Mom a tearful goodbye and in my car filled with things important to a big city 19 year-old girl, sped north towards my future. Dad had enrolled me in Rogers State for the full summer session. I carried the maximum hours a student could for the summer and by August could proudly boast of a 3.75 g.p.a. It was during that time that I drove a thousand miles up and down Will Rogers Blvd on Friday nights, met a few life-long friends, and learned I had a bit of a knack for weaving words, thus this little tale.
The years passed, college ended, friends came and went, addresses changed, last names changed, pain & happiness molded my life, loved ones were buried, married, and suddenly the next generation came over the horizon, career paths forked and curved, then doubled back to ultimately run straight & true. Through all of this, no matter where I called home, I would always come back to Claremore. There were many trips to visit family and friends but sometimes, it was nothing more than a trip there to simply stand on familiar ground and regain my bearings.
Three separate times, my sweet husband and I have tried to move back and call Claremore home, but something would always happen to cause us to settle elsewhere. To me, Claremore will forever be like visiting a favorite Aunt’s house where in the past I spent wonderful summers. I may never again call it home, but it will always be my safe place.
This particular evening, I drove up the hill towards Rogers State. I parked my car near the very spot where my life changed so many years ago and took a moment to gaze down upon the little town of which I’ve grown so fond. As the sun slipped lower on the horizon, I looked toward the shiny gold dome capping Prep Hall. I looked across the rolling terrain of the Memorial, where Will Rogers sleeps peacefully surrounded by his family. At the old park, I saw the shiny new splash pad playing peek-a-boo under the shade of a hundred trees. I looked further down Will Rogers Blvd towards a town that, like me, has changed quite a bit over all these years. Among all the downtown buildings, stood the new courthouse tall and proud with its big clock counting the minutes of this lovely summer evening. While Claremore isn’t my original hometown, nor is it even the town we live in, it will always hold the feeling of home base. My “safe” place in this life’s game of tag. Of course, in the distance I heard the reoccurring song of Claremore: a train blew its horn as it chugged towards Chelsea and points north. “Stay-stay, staaaaaaaaaay!” it called to me. Sorry, not this time. But I’ll always come back for a visit.