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Saturday, July 27, 2013

#Oklahoma Odyssey by John von Daler

                When I was a child in Oklahoma, my great aunt Gertrude would visit us. She was about ninety, I guess. Ninety age-wise, but about thirty in spirit.
                Have you seen Westerns where a new school teacher arrives in a prairie village wearing glasses and a calico, checkered dress with petticoats? Our Hero usually approaches her with the immortal words, "You must be the new school teacher, Mam?" Later she removes her glasses and turns into the New Movie Star.
                Now Aunt Gertrude had been a school teacher just like the one in the movies, glasses and all, in Oklahoma in the days of the great trek westward. But it was not she who was new. She stayed in her place as families moved in and out and taught their children for the weeks or months they stayed on in her town. After many years of this stability she finally dropped her position and moved on to California herself.
                I knew her decades later when she would make the rounds of the family. She was her family's historian. She had written a pot-boiler of a historical novel about one part of the family called "The Courageous Houstons". Let it suffice to say that Freud would not have been taxed in finding and interpreting the hidden crevices in the Houston landscape.
                She would arrive with her little suitcase with her book, her curling irons, her white, embroidered blouses and her little bottle of Bourbon. Every morning she stood up and facing the sun chanted, "I lift up my arms to the hills, from whence cometh my aid!" This seemed fairly pointless in our part of the prairie, but, ok, the landscape did roll slightly around us.
                In the afternoons she would drink a glass of her Bourbon. If any eyebrow made even the slightest twitch she would say to everyone and no one, "My doctor says that a little glass of spirits in the afternoon does me good." You might say, she book-ended her day with spirits.
                Sometimes in the evening she would ask my father to accompany her on the piano as she sang opera arias. She stood primly, stretching up and out towards an unreachable ideal, her red hair as starched and old-fashioned in its waves as the tones that reached our ears.
                Afterwards she would ask my devastatingly honest father if her singing had been off key. After his always prompt and accurate answer she would look nobly into the night and exclaim, "Well, Galli-Curci sometimes sang out of tune!"
                May that dreaming lady rest in gracious and grandiose peace, wherever she is. I loved her madly and presented her book proudly to my school library when I was eleven. I have only read it recently. Let me just add that Homer probably exaggerated in his Odyssey too.     

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