Monday, July 1, 2024

My Story--The Fire 1984

 

 


          It was 4am before the flames were high enough to rouse the neighbors.  Sirens rang as truck after truck sped through the streets to reach the raging fire.  The neighbors stood in nightgowns and thrown together layers of clothes, starring in awe as the 1927 Tudor structured clubhouse burned out of control like an angry lady poking a stick at mad dogs.

          With water hoses surging full blast from all angles, photographers shot pictures of the fire in the night, while word spread throughout Miami, Oklahoma that the club was burning.  Shortly after sunrise it became clear that flames had reached the fifth floor and were screaming through the roof.  Windows had exploded floor by floor, and the town had turned out to see the event, like a circus train unloading lions and tigers.

          It wasn’t known how or when the fire started on if anyone was inside.  The housekeepers from time gone by no longer lived on the fourth floor.  Cars had sometimes been left overnight by members too drunk to drive.  Had the men gone home or stayed behind to win a hand of cards?

          For me, the club was like a home, my touchstone of who I was, who I could be, and eventually who I would become.  We moved to Miami, Oklahoma in 1954 a few years after the flood of ’51.  As a child of five my greatest regret was that we missed the flood, but oh did I ever soak up the stories and seek out proof of flood lines on homes at every outing.

Ladies on the practice green on the north side of the country club.1960's

          My dad was the golf pro at the Miami, Ok. Golf and Country club  and the greatest teacher I would ever know.  In turn, I played golf and loved the fresh air, but it took hours of my life to prepare for tournaments.  Practice was my life as a teen, whereas, my sister was a natural and still has an easy flowing flawless swing. (I must confess we both worked hours on the practice tee. Golf is never easy, even for a person with natural swing.)

 

1967 South-side main entrance with our blue station wagon that would take me to college in 1967 sits to the left of the entrance.

         I went to work in the golf shop at thirteen.  Tuesday through Saturday I opened the shop by sun up in those summer months.  From 2:00 till dinner I played or practiced my golf game. By the time I was a full-fledged teenager I had very little time to drag main, shop with friends, watch “As the World Turns”, or date. What I did have were the friends I made at golf tournaments in those years and the experiences of playing at the highest level of junior golf in 1960's before Title IX.

          Part of me always wanted to be like everyone else, but the other part was willing to stand alone and just be me.  I didn’t know who me was or would become.

          At nineteen, 1967, I left home for college at LSU to complete a teaching degree. Being immature, thinking I was smarter than my professors, I came home in the summer of 1968 married and left home for Ft. Hood, Texas.  Five years later I was a mother of a beautiful child, but divorced, uneducated, and alone. I left home again, and worked my way through college and degrees.  As a librarian, teacher, and mother I began to entertain and teach through storytelling and puppetry.  And we laughed.

          The stories told, laid the next layer of asphalt for the road I would take.  I found those universal truths of stories to be healing for the human spirit.  Listening to the laughter of the crowd rejuvenated me.  Listening to my daughter mimic me as she retold those stories to her dolls and friends, also made me realize how our children watch in detail our every move.

          It was the stories that led me home that weekend the club burned.  On a Sunday July 16, 1984 I drove from Norman, OK in a green Toyota loaded with kids, puppets and books and drove straight to the club.  I needed to feel the soil of my soul and show my children a part of me.  On the horizon I saw only two chimneys.  One four story chimney stood in the center of the broken brick shell, ashes smoldering, people still standing rows deep in the drive way watching. The second chimney stood alone on the west side of the building that connected the dance floor and porches to the main building.  Fire trucks and traffic blocked my entrance.

 

North-side from the putting green.

          I parked on the street and walked quietly cautiously toward the smoldering structure, my broken lady. My children ran ahead. 

 

July 23, 1984 Dad, Johnie Stapp, myself, daughter Katy Rains, and stepson Michael Watt.

     When my father saw me, the tears he had held off since the wee hours of the morning fell down his cheeks in rivulets flowing haphazardly.  The hugs and tears came from all directions.  All any of us could do was stand, stare, until at last we began to share.

          On Monday after teaching summer school at PSU, I returned to the club and parked near the yellow tape on the south side.  I followed the tape around a giant circle to the north-side and the entrance to the pro shop.  No lives had been lost, but, oh, so many memories danced in the clouds.  I stood outside the yellow tape. Then I heard a choking voice coming from the ashes that were heaped where the golf shop once stood, supporting the lofty building. From an angry grumble I heard these words,  “Where are you?  I know you’re here.  You’ve got to be here.”

          Quickly, I crossed the line and hollered, “Who are you?  What have you lost?”

          A deep angry voice returned, “It’s John.”

          “Dad?" I rushed through the door frame,  "I thought you were at home.”  

     Stepping into the ashes of golf shop door, I saw a bent over white-haired man swinging a rake wildly at a pile of ashes.  I thought for a moment his khaki jumpsuit was streaked in blood, but my imagination was vivid and dried red paint had the same effect.   Then I realized it was another man, named John, not my father. 

          “Oh my gosh, John, this is Letty Stapp, the pro’s daughter.  What have you lost?”  I asked fearfully.  He stopped, turned at me, and hollered,  “I’ve lost my putter.  She burned up, but I know I can find the mallet head.  Come here and help me, now.  You know where my bag was stored.”

          With two of us digging, and my clothes already covered in ash, we found the mallet head, no wooden shaft, no grip, nothing else to be retrieved.  With rake and mallet in hand we walked to the outside of the ropes and behind the yellow tape.  No words were spoken as we turned to look at shell.

          At last I said, “You know she was my home, my touchstone.  I can see myself and your children, all of us up there in the attic playing and spying on the world below.”

          “It was my home, too,” he replied.  “My father, James Coleman,  and George Coleman had her built.  I grew up there.  I know every nook and corner like the back of my hand.”  One by one we shared our stories through tears and laughter that spanned six decades.  Secrets had been shared.

          Then he placed his arm around my waist and said, “I’ve always said a man is just as old as the woman he’s touching.”  I laughed, for he was known to be a fox around women, but I knew that for a few moments in life we were both younger and shared a deep feeling for a burned out building called home.

 

*A true story by Letty Stapp Watt, as told for three decades on storytelling stages throughout the Midwest. 

**Later that week John Robinson drove to the farm where my parents lived and asked dad to remake his mallet head putter. It took a few weeks before my father found a wooden shaft that would work. 

***Sadly, my mother had finished updating the Miami Ladies Golf Association scrapbooks and delivered them to the ladies locker room a few days before the fire. Without pictures in that scrapbook I thought I had lost a part of me, but the memories floated back easily. In retirement, I took up the mantle (or mallet head) and wrote the history of my club from 1916 to 1984.

****Luckily, the club rebuilt and there are more stories to share. Click on this link to read our history: Miami, Ok. Golf and Country Club Stories

Monday, June 10, 2024

Murphy's Hideaway by Murphy Doodle




i had a hideaway


UNTIL JACK CUT IT DOWN where i would run and hide my toys and self


i could tell that letty liked my hideaway, too, since she could sing her funny songs even if i do not know what the words mean

sometimes when i would hide letty would sing these words

I KNOW A DARK SECULDED PLACE

WHERE NO ONE KNOWS YOUR FUNNY FACE

IT'S CALLED HERNANDO'S HIDEAWAY, OLE!

Letty even made a funny wiggle and tossed my frisbee in the air when she sang Ole! i like to see her laugh when i run after the frisbee

One day Jack cut away my hideaway and i hung my head and pouted

still he played frisbee with me everyday and so would Letty, i kept running to my hide away and they laughed

one rainy day when i could not run and chase squirrels and rabbits and birds and frisbees and toys i had to stay inside


That was my lucky day because now i have a new HIDAWAY.

Hernando's Hideaway from Pajama Game