I have lived in California for more than thirty years now.  It is the longest I’ve ever lived in one state.  When I was growing up, my father was in the Air Force (he made a career of it) and so we moved somewhat frequently.  My earliest recollections are of New Mexico, where I went to kindergarten, first grade and second grade.  A year in Ohio followed during my father’s first tour of duty in Viet Nam.            

When my father returned from the war he was stationed in Oklahoma.  We lived in the flight path of Tinker Air Force Base.  To this day I can recognize a B-52, C-141 or an F-4 Phantom just by hearing it fly overhead.

            My recollections of Oklahoma are mostly positive.  The back yard of our house butted up against a large parcel of rural landscape.  There were enormous trees, a creek, a pond, open fields—and on the far side of the creek, more trees.  It was a boy’s paradise: a place full of gullies in which to hide and build forts.  My friends and I also smoothed out a section of overgrown weeds and grass and created a baseball diamond.  We were not particularly skilled: we used a push lawnmower to cut the grass down and to create the baselines—that we measured by eyeball rather than with a tape measure.  We created a pitcher’s mound by piling dirt up in the middle and we made bases out of scrap lumber.

            Three trees stood against the fence separating the back yard from the wilderness, and it wasn’t long before I began building a tree house out of the same scrap lumber.  We created a residence among the tangled limbs, with multiple levels. It’s a wonder that the tree remained standing.  As I tramped about the wilderness I frequently stepped on nails, or brush up against some poison oak.  I recall multiple tetanus shots, pink calamine lotion on my arms and legs, and scratching furiously.

            A brick barbecue sat in the back yard that we never used for barbecuing.  Instead, it became a place for my mom and me to put birdseed and breadcrumbs.  We became avid bird watchers.  The most amusing were the blue jays: they would stuff their beaks so full of breadcrumbs that they couldn’t close their mouths.  Then they’d fly or hop to a corner of the yard and bury the breadcrumbs—apparently thinking that they could come back for them later.  They never quite seemed to figure out that bread crumbs and holes in the ground didn’t mix.

            When winter came, the snow fell thick and deep. Besides building snowmen, one year there was enough to build a sort of igloo.  Later, it rained one evening, but by morning the temperature dropped below freezing. All the roads were coated with an inch or two of ice, as slick as an ice rink.  It was not safe for driving and so my school bus did not come.  I spent that morning running and sliding across the smooth surface of the streets, expecting to spend the day playing.  No such luck.  My mom soon announced that school had not been cancelled—so I had to walk to school.

Which turned out to be a waste of time.  When I arrived, I discovered that hardly anyone had shown up.  Within fifteen minutes of arriving (after a 45 minute hike in bitterly cold weather) the principal announced that school was cancelled after all and sent everyone home. 

            In Oklahoma I first got to go to see and hear a symphony in a large concert hall. Our whole school drove to downtown Oklahoma City in buses and filled an auditorium. I think that’s how I came to love classical music. 

In Oklahoma I got to be a crossing guard at our school. 

I got my first bicycle.

And I played baseball in an organized team. I’m not sure if it was little league or just something put together by the school or the city.  I played second base and outfield my first and second years, both of which were winning seasons. After each game we won—which was nearly all of them—we got to go to Dairy Queen for ice cream. But the third year I played, I wound up on a losing team.  They made me one of the pitchers and as I recall, the only games we won were the games I pitched.

            In Oklahoma I was in both cub scouts and boy scouts. I managed to earn First Class and was inducted into the Order of the Arrow. Our troop went camping frequently. Once we even camped in cabins where I got to be a night watchman and during the day rode snowmobiles.

            Looking back on it, my three years in Oklahoma seemed an endless, bright, happy time. They form the bulk of my childhood memories.

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