Monday, October 26, 2015

My Town - Stillwater

HoCo 2015 - pomp sample
My son, Jake, is 8 years old.  His football team is 7-0 and hopes to be playoff bound next week.  He made a 103% on his last spelling test.  His biggest concerns are figuring out how to get us to agree to let him wear shorts even when it’s 45 degrees outside and who is bringing the football to recess.  Saturday, October 24, 2015 will be a day etched in his memory for the rest of his life.  He is at the age where he will remember.  He will recall where he was when he heard.  The weather, the time of day, the circumstances.  The emotions, the words, the cries and anguish.  The news reports, the tears of his parents, the stories from friends.  ALL OF IT.  Seared on his young, impressionable memory.  This day, his life, as well as the lives of HUNDREDS of others, has forever been altered.

Jake - age 8. 10.24.15

The first national tragedy of epic proportions that I remember was the Challenger Shuttle launch explosion from January 28, 1986.  I was in 5th grade.  Mrs. White’s class at Wilkinson Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida (this was during the Ricker family’s “4 year vacation” away from Stillwater).  A friend and I had been sent from our classroom at the front of the school, around back to the art room to return some supplies.  It was a BRIGHT, cloudless January morning.  My friend and I took the “long” route – outside – to accomplish this chore, as fifth grade girls will do!  We were talking about the launch on the way back, and looked to the sky to see if we could see anything.  We saw what we thought was the smoke trails from the booster engines.  It wasn’t until we wandered our way back to the classroom that we discovered what had dreadfully happened!  The rest of the day was spent watching news coverage, crying, wondering why.  Our innocence was shattered.  I will never forget.

My family has been a part of Stillwater and Payne Country history since the very start.  My ancestors had the first general store, the first gas station, and an early mayor is among my esteemed relatives.  I was born just a few miles up the highway in Perry, but my parents were Stillwater residents at the time.  I attended Skyline Elementary, Sangre Ridge Elementary, Stillwater Junior High School (where my twins are now) and Stillwater High School.  My 4  children will be 4th generation graduates of C.E. Donart/Stillwater High School.  Aside from a short time in Florida when I was a pre-teen, the 8 years in Dallas after college, and a year in Tulsa, I have spent the majority of my 40+ years living in this town.  Even when my address wasn’t in Stillwater, it was still my HOME and I visited often.   I have been to more Homecoming Walkaround and Sea of Orange Parade events than most of these current college kids have even been alive for!  I’ve been a participant, a coordinator, and a spectator of that parade more times than I can actually remember.  Homecoming is SACRED to my family and the parade was often the one time a year we could all get together and be a family as we all grew up and scattered across the nation.  Stillwater will always be HOME.  This is MY town!   “Where I was born, where I was raised. Where I keep all my yesterdays. Where I ran off 'cos I got mad, An' it came to blows with my old man. Where I came back to settle down, It's where they'll put me in the ground: This is my town.” (Thank you Montgomery Gentry for summing that up for me!  And no, I never came to blows with my old man, but I can recall a few times he would have liked to string me up…)

But for some reason, God has chosen this place I call sacred ground for some true tests of resiliency.  We’ve been here before.  This town has been brought to their knees many times.  Natural disasters.  A school shooting at the Junior High that we leaned was a horrific suicide.  And in the last dozen or so years, the OSU community has been shaken especially hard.  We were stunned by a plane crash in 2001 that killed 10 members of the Men’s Basketball family.  (I personally knew 2 members of that tragedy.)  Then, 10 years later, we were shocked again when 2 coaches and 2 others were killed in a plane crash while on a Women’s Basketball recruiting trip (I knew both of those coaches as well from my days in Athletics).   And now.  This.  Rocked to the core, AGAIN. Our beloved Homecoming parade marred by disaster.  Changed forever.  In a split second.   This unfathomable, inconceivable, horrible event.  I can’t call it an accident, I’m not sure it was.  But I do know what IS NOT an accident.  That it happened here.  In MY TOWN.

God said he would lead us beside StillWater(s).  And here we are.  Pulling together.  Holding each other up.  Praying.  Supporting – financially, physically, and emotionally.  Because that’s what MY TOWN does.  Better than most.  It’s the Oklahoma Standard.  And God showed us He did not forsake us in the midst of this heartbreak.  Even when it hurts, He is with us.  Even when we don’t understand WHY, He shows up in big ways.  He loves our souls, He heals our scars.  And to show that promise, He blanketed our whole state (and those that border us as well) with the most SPECTACULAR orange sunset I have ever seen.  He is BESIDE us.

Orange sky over Stillwater, OK 10.24.15

We knew several of the victims of this crash.  Some who died, some who are still in hospitals in critical condition, some who were treated and released, and some who just needed a bandage.  And a hug.  But most of all, we know STILLWATER.  We know this town from its roots.  And we know, we are ALL #StillwaterStrong.  The coming days, weeks, months will be hard.  My 8 year old will grow up a lot and learn some of life’s toughest lessons in the coming days.  And every year, when we go to the Sea of Orange Parade, we will be reminded.  Even though we won’t really need to be.  Because, we will REMEMBER.  That’s what we do.  In MY TOWN.

Some people call it the middle of nowhere; we call it the CENTER of our Universe.