from Sandy Needham

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Tulsa '08 Dispatch

July 15, 2008

The rental car agency in Tulsa handed over the most adorable Cruiser convertible, which we loved driving with the top down when the weather permitted. Newton and I were both able to stay in Mother’s suite at the Methodist Manor, thanks to a roll-away bed for Newt. Wind, rain and tornado warning-wise, the weather was a little rough (God’s punishment for Senator James Inhoff?). Our second night around midnight we were shepherded into Mother’s bathroom, protected from exterior walls and windows, to wait out a tornado watch with sirens. We were up, but what a job the attendant had stirring the elderly inmates from their sleep and ‘convincing’ them to camp out in their bathrooms – sooner rather than later. With Mother sitting on the (closed) toilet, Newton on a low stool from the living room, and me on the shower bench, we followed the storm and watched "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" on Newt’s laptop. Mother was in complete awe that we could do that on a the bathroom! Couldn’t have been more fun. About 45 minutes later we were free to roam the entire two rooms.

We took Newton to see block after block of gorgeous old mansions on the incomparably beautiful south side of town. I grew up on a block very nearby where the houses are already normal-sized, so I went to grade school with some of the mansion dwellers. I spent many an after-school afternoon playing in the ravines and creeks of those estates. That thin margin sent me the other direction for junior high and high school. I just remember all of it being innocent and fun, whichever side of the tracks I was on.

We also showed Newton the lovely Philbrook Museum of Art, formerly the home of the Phillips 66 oil man. Besides the amazing Italian villa, exhibits and gardens, it has a very good café and one of the best museum shops I’ve ever seen.

Newton flew on to a trade show in California. Mother and I drove and drove across the river and into the country with the top down on the loveliest evening of the year to an outdoor summer production of ‘Oklahoma.’ They sang and danced well, and even used live horses. The fireflies were so large I almost suspected they were part of the stagecraft! It is hard to be objective about those Rogers and Hammerstein songs I have known since birth, but my grown-up musical ear decided on ‘People Will Say We’re in Love’ as the stand-out.

When Mother and I exited a Chinese restaurant on a Sunday night in elegant Utica Square, it was SUCH an extraordinary evening and so still – not a breath of wind - that we drove with the top down in slow motion. Utica Square is a shopping center (with streets, not a mall) with strictly chic stores (unlike during the days of my youth), all closed and lit at this hour. A carillon of bells was playing ‘I Love You Just the Way You Are,’ lending a mystique to the otherwise silent and illuminated air. I immediately thought of my old Methodist Sunday school teacher from high school days. She was a gorgeous blond actress, Peggy Dow, who made a few films in the ‘50’s ('Harvey') and appeared on the cover of Life magazine, then married a little oil guy named Helmerich, moved to Tulsa and had five sons. My best friend Lenna and I never missed Sunday school that year because she was so beautiful and dramatic. We were in awe. She even organized a Bible study group at her formidable mansion which we both faithfully attended for the glamour. Her husband’s company became the owners of Utica Square. Just as there is a Helmerich section of the Tulsa zoo, a Helmerich wing at Philbrook Museum of Art, a bench my sister sat on once in Australia and discovered – yep - the Helmerichs had donated it…I knew the carillon of bells at Utica Square had been their idea!

We continued to drive in slow motion the back way home past even bigger mansions, looking magnificent lit up at night beyond their wrought-iron gates and huge lawns. These are not new McMansions, but early 20th century beauties. Once we returned to the Methodist Manor, we walked along the path by the creek (well, it’s concrete) to digest. We could hear frogs and trills (?), the rhythmic humming of the bugs, but there was not a leaf moving. As we approached the door, the wind suddenly whipped the scene into motion and wrapped around us. The downpour hit as we stepped inside.

The Tulsa visit included dinner with my old friends Vivan and Mike (they live down the street from the house I grew up in; I have to hide my eyes when driving by my house to preserve my perfect memories…a guy bought it from Mother and changed it completely), and with my nephew Mark’s model family; and visits with my father’s cousin, Mary Alice and daughter Mary Kaye, and Lynne Morgan, my high school gym teacher (recovering from surgery). Of course, the Methodist Manor is a trip unto itself. The mint ice cream may be suspiciously green and the white ‘gravy’ on the mashed potatoes suspiciously shiny, but my mother, the definite stand-out of the Assisted Living section, is thriving there and doing better than ever. I can’t think of anyone I’d rather tool around town with in a convertible, or hunker down with in the bathroom, for that matter!

I connected through Houston to Newark to São Paulo, then home to Natal. A contingent of older Japanese people were disembarking the plane right behind me in São Paulo. They were there to participate in the city’s commemoration of 100 years of Japanese immigrants in Brazil. The group was all wearing yellow hats like a swarm of school children in Tokyo! I was telling the sweet little old man beside me about my love of Japanese art and how I came to acquire it: my father’s WWII letters describe how he traded his Navy issue cigarettes and chocolate in Tokyo Bay after the surrender for my favorite treasures growing up: kimono cloth, obi ribbon, ceramics, a bamboo pipe, etc., most of which ended up in my possession. The man’s excited response gave one more dimension to my treasures: “Oh, that was our first chocolate!! We always think of chocolate as American!”

I can get back to writing about Brazil now.


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