Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Days at Arbuckle Lake

The camera of the eye is a truly remarkable machine. With each blink of the eyelid, we record the moments of our lives. It is burned on the film rolls that are stored in our heads, for us to relive in our dreams and nightmares, to pull up that unexpected flash of emotion at the smell of cherry pie or the sound of an ice cream truck. Because our films not only have pictures, but sights and smells and tastes and perceptions, both imaginary and real. Does the garden become more real as we remember it? Does the smell of the rose become more than just that as the references in our minds mingle with the recording of the encounter? Does a priori knowledge make what we've seen more or less real?

Honestly, I don't know, don't pretend to know. I've never pretended that my memories were anything more than what they were. My dreams are always just that, with certain obvious symbols that portray emotions, and the like. But sometimes, a dream is just a dream, and no amount of interpretation will make it anything else.

But we all have our memories, and although they fade and become scratched as time travels on, leaving them as faded as the oldest recordings on my VHS tapes, we still can remember them. By writing them down. By telling them to people who care (or don't). The stories that our elders have of days gone by. If only they were recorded for future historians and authors to hold in their hands, and cuddle them as soft lambskin. When people walk through the empty town of De Pew, Oklahoma, after all the people have died or moved out, leaving the town center abandoned and empty, what will they feel moving through their bones? The bike racks are empty, the lampposts with a lingering staple or two from advertisements of yard sales and the latest soap guaranteed to get your clothes sparkly white, dark as the night sets in. The bricks stand, waiting for the tornado that will assuredly knock them down. But for that time, the town still stands, and when, then, will you hear the laughter of children running down Main Street? Or the old men in short shirtsleeves arguing about the latest baseball game. Those sounds are somehow still there, locked in our heads. We know them, but they fade, as if in translucent shimmers rising up from some outlying farm where the chimney is still on, and an old farmer sits, waiting for the sun to set.

We all have memories like this. At least, I hope we do. I shudder to think what the world would be like if our children, growing up in metropolises and skyscrapers and video games violent and magical, what they will remember as they grow older and look back at their childhoods. Where are the magical places in their lives, where nostalgia takes root and grows and protects the inner memories of our younger days? I pray that someone will take them out to the country, if even for a few days, and show them the soil and the water in the rivers and the squirrels running to their nests. And the old people in rocking chairs and the gravel roads with grass growing in the middle, where tires have never tread. And the stars.... the children of our world will never see the stars. Orion will be dimmed, his sword, and the great nebulae within, left forgotten.

But I am glad that I have such memories. My grandparents, those that lived in Oklahoma City and have since passed on, had in their plans a lakehouse down in Sulphur, Oklahoma, where they would spend their days off. It was a magnificent house, built with a deck around the whole of the house (much of which I saw constructed by my dad, grandfather, and other friends as saw fit to help.) I saw the concrete poured, the metal supports lifted up, the wooden beams nailed together and secured onto the house. And on cool, crisp mornings, with the wind coming off the lake, I would go out and sit on the deck and drink orange juice. It was best in the mornings, when the wasps were still asleep. I was afraid of wasps.

Driving down to Sulphur from Oklahoma City was always an adventure. I created a game to pass my time on the road, namely, to find each one of the letters of the Alphabet on road signs and permanent housings. No license plates. I was always glad there was a Western Sizzlin' along the way, and I knew where there was a small sign that had a 'Q' on it if I hadn't found it yet. The hour drive through the small towns of Oklahoma, the signs saying Pauls Valley, Paoli, Davis, and the counties, marked off the minutes till we got to Sulphur and the Lake house. The curvy road from the main highway to the lake itself seemed to take forever. But soon there were gravel roads that connected A frames and Mobile homes to the real world, and the trees encroached upon society and occasionally you would hear the scrunchings of tarantulas as they tried to cross the road to the next field. Our lakehouse sat at the end of a cul-de-sac, with us owning all the land around it. Open the gate, and the red house stood on the left, and the boat house on the right, where the sand pit and gravel pit stood for us to make endless forts and imaginary places with. The boat house was usually filled with wasps, and so I never went in there.

The house itself was filled with the knickknacks of my grandmother, who collected antiques from her family who lived in the area, and it had a life all to itself. My grandfather's bedroom was blue, with a stand of DIY how-to books on one side, and an ancient black and white TV in it that didn't work. On top of it was a globe procured in the 40s or 50s, when most of Africa was owned by foreign powers. I suspect it was my dad's globe. My grandmother's bedroom was pure pink, with a armoire and a stool that my grandmother sat on to put on makeup. And it spun around and around and around and I got dizzy spinning around on it. I have a picture of me doing that, and I'll post it here when I can find it. And beyond the deck, a path that lead down into the forest, down to the lake where a small beach was that we could go and swim a little, or throw rocks, since the actual beach was at the end of the windy road.

If you take a look at a map, Sulphur, Oklahoma is next to the Lake of the Arbuckles, a small hilly region in southern Oklahoma. The town is called Sulphur because the rocks in the area, and the natural minerals in the ground make the water coming from the cold springs near the town smell like sulfur. They even have a fountain where you can go and drink it. The minerals in the water are supposed to be very nutritious. The park used to be called PLATT National Park, and was the smallest National park in the nation. But since it was so small, it was turned into the Chickasaw National Recreational Area, demoted as Pluto was recently. The nature center sat atop the spring-fed river, and it was definitely cold water. We'd go out from the nature center and, already having our swim suits on, take our shirts off and go play in the frigid water beside the center. the river ran through the park and into the lake, where the water was warm as bath water some summers. The beach was made as water ran over the road when the reservoir was made, with sand poured on top of the edge, so if you dug below the sand, you could easily find pieces of asphalt, which was great for skipping rocks in the water. The park is still there, and one day I'll go back and visit.

The reason I bring all this up, at this time, is that I discovered something wonderful recently that made me think about my experiences at the lake house, and I wanted to record it, so happy did my discovery make me. You see, if you pull up the property charts for the original designs for the lake house, you'll see it sits on a road that has a name. I forgot what it was called, and no one would know unless they went and looked at the original plans. Well, one day, as a we were walking down the gravel road to the main one, we got to the end of the road, where the doberman pincers live (and they loved chasing you), and we noticed there was no road sign. Now, I loved looking at maps and knowing where every road in Oklahoma City went (ask my mom, I asked her a million times where each road went... :) ) So the idea popped into my head, "We need a road sign here!" I was probably 7 or 8 at the time.

So names....what do we call this street we live on? The neighborhood where my house was had names of English towns. One of my classmates, Stewart, in elementary school, his dad built neighborhoods from nothing and he named a bunch of streets after his children and family. Denzil Road would have sent chills down my Grandfather's spine (his middle name was Denzil, and he hated the name). So what to call it..... well, the road was made of rocks, so.... Rock Road.... or more precisely, Rock Drive, because the other is an ice cream flavor.

My dad got out his tools, his mountain wood saw and some yellow paint (it had to be yellow!) and we cut an arrow out of wood, pointing the way. It was one of the few positive memories I had of my father, when he was in his garage making things. We painted it and put with large letter stencils, "ROCK DR" on it. Then came the weekend and we went down there, walked to the end of the gravel street, and nailed the sign a prominent tree.

I'd give anything to have inherited that property, as it had been laid out in my grandmother's will. But life being what it is, and after my grandfather died Mema (what I called her) couldn't take care of two houses by herself. So she put it up for sale, and some doctors from Oklahoma City came down and bought it.

Fast forward... Mema died a few years back, and her house was left to ruin. But leave it to technology today to bring windows of the past into our living rooms. It is almost taken from pages of science fiction books, like Asimov, or Arthur C. Clarke. One in particular, The Light of Other Days, is amazing in this respect. Technology was found that allowed small wormholes to be opened in space and time, so that light and sound could be transmitted from anywhere to anywhere. Thus a thousand nano-cameras were positioned above the signing of the Declaration of Independence, or followed the Republicans into the Watergate Hotel. All secrets from the past were unearthed, and honesty became the only policy. A very interesting book, to say the least.

While we don't have that ability yet, there are very large cameras in space and digital cameras here at home, and Google uses them very well. So, I was zipping around Oklahoma City on my computer, looking for addresses of houses that my Grandmother (Granny, my mom's mom) wanted to see, and the location of the Trucking company Papaw (Mema's husband) worked at...etc.... It's such a marvel to travel the roads of America without having to rent a car and pump gas. So I traveled the hour drive down to Sulphur, Oklahoma, passed the Sulphur Springs park, and followed the windy road to where our lake house was. I found it, and on Google Maps, right where our lakehouse was, I saw the words "ROCK DR." written on the screen. I went to Yahoo! maps, and it's there, too. Truly amazing. People from Sulphur, when drawing up the maps for the region, probably had no names for those streets, so when they found the street sign, they recorded it on their maps, and Google took it from there. So now that street is Rock Dr. for all the world to see. It truly made my day.

Because, while Julius Caesar and his successor Augustus named months after them, and Martin Luther King Jr. has thousands of roads named after him, it's not often that you and me can simply name something and have it be named thusly. We are not God, who could say, "You are a Giraffe," and it become thus. But I have a road that I named (well, I have a brother, and he was there, too), and it is still named that, in the maps that the whole world can see, if they know where to look.

Me on the stool.... I was, up until I moved to Georgia (read puberty) very photogenic. You can see where I get my evilness from. :)

My grandfather, Weldon Denzil Pugh, whose dream it was to have a lake house, and built the decks and lit the fireworks we shot every 4th of July in the cul-de-sac. So much fun. I wrote a poem, the only poem I've ever written that rhymed, about the Lakehouse. It's below.

The Lakehouse, with Papa and Mema standing below the back deck.

The back deck. The side deck hadn't been built yet (other side)

Front of the house.

The Lakehouse

The fish drink all the water,
My Papaw would tell me
Late at night, with the moon shining bright,
On the shores of Lake Arbuckle.
He built it as a dream house,
So many years ago,
A place to stay, so far away
From diesel-engine drives down the highway.

Five o'clock in the morning,
Sitting in his kitchen chair,
Smoking cigars, humming bars,
of tunes from yesterday.

Then on the porch we'd sit,
Drinking orange juice and milk.
Watching long-legs crawl, and acorns fall
Off oak trees into the lake.

Can you throw a rock that far?
Don't the fish get full?
I asked those questions, our time passed
On the shores of Lake Arbuckle.

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