When I was just two years old, my folks decided to relocate from Dallas. They chose to travel north up I-35, landing in a small town in Green Country. The tallest structure in town was the grain elevator. The train whistles could be heard constantly. But after the bustling sounds of the city, I’m sure the trains were a sweet relief from Dallas traffic.
For many years, my dad was a big-city cop. High stress and a family history of heart issues forced him into early retirement. The words of a doctor scared him enough to pack up our Richardson apartment, along with my mom and an assortment of toddler paraphernalia, and take a job in Claremore.
Any of you remember Andy’s Hamburgers? It was later Rex’s Chicken. It may have been where Pizza Hut sits today. Well, my dad gave up law enforcement life and moved five hours away to take a job as the store manager at Andy’s. I have vague recollections of sitting in the corner table by the window, and a man named Gordon coming from corporate and bringing me large plastic bags full of kids meal toys. Jim Finley would stop by for a cup of coffee and give me a ride in his bike basket, like he did for so many other Claremore kids.
My childhood in Claremore was everything one could hope for; I remember eating at Ken’s Pizza every Friday night, and sitting in traffic on Will Rogers while all the high school kids dragged Main. We’d regularly dine out at the Chicken Ranch (now El Charro) and Upper Crust Pizza. My dad was a huge fan of Golden Corral (before it was a buffet) and good friends with Bill Biard, who was then the GM, so we ate there several times per week. And of course, Hammett House was a Sunday tradition, sitting in the shiny red booths and slurping matzo ball soup, while Jim and Mark Hammett held down the fort.
My dad spent some time at the Rogers County Sheriff’s Office, where he served as captain under Sheriff Buck Johnson. We spent plenty of hours at the Johnson home, while I ran around with his granddaughters. When I was seven, my parents opened It’s the Pits, BBQ That Is, or as everyone called it, The Pits. I spent five years hanging out there after school, until my dad sold it in 1992. It’s been gone for more than 20 years, but I still get a kick out of people telling me to this day that they remember eating there and loving it. (For you newcomers, The Pits was located where Fried Pie is today, at the corner of 7th and J.M. Davis.)
I have so many memories growing up here. Swimming at the public pool. Skating parties at Roller World. Hours spent at The Bookstore & More in NeMar, or stopping at Gripado’s to get a donut and a car wash, when it was still in the old Texaco station. I played softball at Pecan Park, Optimist basketball at the old armory, and was active in the RoCo Community Playhouse.
Then I became a teen and things were “boring.” There was nothing to do. Nothing to see. The worst. I was determined to leave for college and move back to Dallas, where I was sure I’d find everything I thought I’d been missing.
I came back after college “temporarily.” Determined to escape again, I moved to Tulsa. When that proved to be too dangerous and too much “city,” I moved to Owasso. Slowly but surely, I inched my way home.
Because although I was born in Texas, Claremore is home. It’s where my heart is.
For so many years, Claremore was afraid of change. And now? It’s not. It’s coming alive, waking up again. Thanks to moreClaremore, Claremore Collective, and a lot of passionate and brave people, things are changing for the better. For the best, really.
When moreClaremore started nearly six years ago, the idea was to create a cohesive platform for people to share information. It’s evolved, as all of us have, into a way of connecting people. It turns out, several people can have the same great ideas without knowing each other. Between the four of us at moreClaremore, we know plenty of people who can make things happen. It’s what we do. We connect people who want to make Claremore the best it can be.
I always heard my parents say that Claremore is a great place to raise a family. And you know what? They were completely right. I love that I can take my young son to all of the (mostly free) community events that we have now in town, and he can run free with his friends and play and laugh and not worry. If he wanders too far, someone will fetch him and send him back to me. We are a village of good people who look out for each other.
I’ve lived in other towns, and none of them have the sense of community and belonging that Claremore has. It’s something special, a magic, that even outsiders notice. And the one thing that every visitor says? “The people! The people in Claremore are so nice.” I have to agree.
I went on vacation recently and engaged in small talk with several other resort guests, which inevitably started with, “Where are you from?” When I’d answer, “Oklahoma,” I was greeted several times with, “Why? Would you stay there?” And while I was always struck with a sense of shock and never really sure what to say at first (something usually like, “it’s cheap”), I’d soon find myself talking about the gun museum and Will Rogers and how stunningly gorgeous our corner of the state can be.
And that’s it. Claremore is home. It will always be home. To outsiders, it may be a dot on the map in a flyover state, but to Claremorons, it’s special, and it always will be.