Sunday, March 29, 2015

Miami Memories: A st. stories

Dr. Pepper memory from childhood
I'd like to blame my love of  Dr. Pepper on my college life, carrying a heavy load of college classes and needing a sugar/caffeine boost every so often, but the true story is that I first discovered Dr. Pepper when I was in 2nd grade at Lincoln school. We lived on the corner of A S.W. across from Lincoln.  My upstairs bedroom window overlooked the playground, and best of all the drive through at Doc's BBQ and Gene's Tarry-A-While.

I learned a lot about life from that upstairs window. The family up the street from us, the Cantrells, had six children (later seven), but we called them the sixes.  Many summer days one of the sixes would let me tag along
Courtesy of Ron Wagoner.  
as we'd go over to Doc's or Gene's in the daytime and share an ice cream cone or Dr. Pepper.  We never had much money, so we shared and pooled our resources.  (Later as a teenager I looked at Doc's differently and my memories are more emotional.)

Thanks to  MHS Class '64 & Sammie Ketcher
My storytelling days were also born on A street.  With my tiny upstairs window open in the summer nights I could listen to the music blaring from Doc's speakers, and with Dad's binoculars I could spy on the lovers in the parking lot.  We were never allowed to go over there at night! Sometimes Sherry and Judi and I would sit on my bed and take turns watching people. Kissing was absolutely disgusting, and I could not figure out why anyone would cuddle under a hot sweaty arm of a man on a hot summer night, much less put lips together.  Just the same, we laughed and giggled when we saw the moves coming.  

My favorite song of all was "Davy Crockett King of the Wild Frontier."  Even then I was part feminist because I wore a white Polly Crockett hat, not the brown one made for boys, but poor Polly never had a song named after her.  Fess Parker sings Davy Crocket  Sherry and Judy Cantrell and I ventured off to the Neosho River, and walked up and down the banks of the muddy flowing river. When it flooded it was even more dangerous and more reason to walk to the edges of the swirling river.  Most homes didn't fence off their backyards, so we thought it was safe to tread on their property, even the magnificent homes north of Route 66 along the river banks.  Carol Cosby lived very near the river, and we often stood on the bank throwing sticks into the water and searched for snakes. Don't know what we would have done if we'd found one!

My mother had a kind heart and my father was a flamboyant man who loved to tell a good story and drive fast cars, but it was a hobo who spent an afternoon with us on the doorstep that sparked my imagination and opened my eyes to the wide wide world.  We were only a few blocks from the railroad tracks, and it was not uncommon for hobo's to hop on and off the trains passing through.  Mother would always serve them soup or a baloney sandwich, and I would watch from the screen door as they ate alone.

1985 Matt, Michael, Katy, Letty.  
Clouds building in the Grand Canyon
One time a hobo told my mother that he'd once lived in Wichita, Kansas.  That was her home, and she smiled and listened as he told his sad story.  When he sat down on the steps to eat, I asked if I could join him.  Mother watched out the kitchen window, as this seven year old girl sat beside a stranger one afternoon and listened to his stories.  He pointed to the straggly elm trees along the street and said, "Imagine walking into a forest where trees grow so high they touch the sky, and where they are as wide as that garage across the street."  From his stories of giant trees and red golden gorges dug by the hands of God I began to see the world.  He painted a world that I wanted to see, and he was just a hobo, a man, who made a difference in this child's life.  

Hope all of you see these wonders in your lifetime, and toast with a Dr. Pepper to memories.  

This is a link to a great old photo of  Gene's Tarry-A-While in Miami, Oklahoma.  Thanks Fredas Cook.  

Sunday, March 22, 2015

An Opening in the Clouds--Everyday's a Miracle

Baby Helen and mother Pearl Weaver in Ardmore Ok.  
Helen Weaver
     My mother's life was full and richly rewarding for seventy-six years, and I've missed her everyday since she died August 26, 1989. With her death our family experienced a miracle, one that could only have been created by the hands of God.  Born in Lansing, Michigan March 25, 1913 to a father who drilled for oil (a Wildcatter and geologist) and a mother who had known heartache early in life when her mother died so very young, my mother grew up to be a slender flirtatious woman with green eyes and blonde hair and a lifting laughter that enticed people around her to smile.
     My mother, Helen Stapp, like her mother Pearl, wasn't afraid to change the course of her life.  Her father, Tobias Weaver drilled for oil near Bartlesville, Ok when our state was Indian Territory.  He then made his way to Indianapolis to marry Pearl Clendening, a young school teacher.  The family moved on to the oil fields around Lansing, Michigan where my mother was born.  
     Their next home was Ardmore, Ok where Tobias moved his

T.B. Weaver and Helen at Turner Falls.
growing family from a tent to a clapboard home, and eventually to a nicer home for his three children and wife who loved the social atmosphere of the boom town of Ardmore in those years. The Kansas oil fields called Tobias and his family to Wichita.  The Weaver Brother's drilling split up with one of his brother's moving to Houston and the other one to Oklahoma City.  
     As a child, I remember driving from Miami, Ok to Wichita to visit grandparents and cousins.  We often drove through the refinery area around Augusta, Ks, and I would hold my nose and say something like "Pew Wee...That stinks."  Mother smiled and turned to me and said, "I grew up loving that smell because my father said it was the smell of money."  
     My mother met dad through his sister Della when both women
Johnie and Helen Stapp, May 1946
worked at Boeing during the War years.  In May 1946 my mother boarded a train by herself for Las Vegas, where she and my father were married at The Little Chapel of the West ( Thirty-seven years later Jack and I married at The Little Chapel of the West).  

     Dad's life as a golf pro in Santa Anita, was glamorous for my mother, but family called them back to Kansas a few years after I was born.  My sister, Jonya, was born in Independence, Ks. We both grew up and call Miami, Oklahoma our true home.  
     I was forty-two when  my mother died suddenly from Septic Shock at St Francis Hospital in Tulsa, Ok.  The story of her death is the moment a miracle happened in our family.  Through her death a life was saved, her granddaughter, my daughter Katy. 

     The full length story of  mother's miracle can be found in the book Everyday's a Miracle.  Author, Paul Robert Walker, listened to my story when he was visiting Norman Public Schools in the early 90's. He asked if he could write and publish it in his book.  With a gracious smile I said, "Please do."   Mother's story "An Opening in the Clouds" can be read on pages 144-148 in Paul Robert Walker's book called Everyday's a Miracle (Avon 1995). I think you will find this true story comforting, along with the other stories in his book.  

Everyday's a Miracle   This book can be purchased for pennies on Amazon. 
Paul Robert Walker's website

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Miami Memories: The Muntz

1951 Muntz Jet.  Johnie Stapp's pride and joy.  
Most people knew my dad as the golf pro, but as his oldest daughter I also knew him as a race car driver; jokester; builder of cars and furniture; a man who loved to tinker with things.  Dad brought color and adventure to our lives through the people he met, the trips we made, and the stories he told.  

When I look back I most often cherish the memories my sister and I created through Dad's love of cars. The 1951 Muntz Jet was the epitome of race cars, adventure, and color. The true story of that car may never be known, but my memory says that Dad bought this car from Lou Newell, in Miami, Oklahoma.  It was rumored to have been the lead car in the 1952 Indianapolis 500, but when I wrote the letter of inquiry I found it to be a rumor only. They showed no record of this car.

The picture above shows it painted white, but when purchased it was a shiny sparkling Mustard color, consequently it was lovingly nicknamed "Mustard" by my little sister.  The car sat low to the ground with a wide wheel base, allowing it to travel up to speeds of 160 mph+ and offering a back seat in an original race car. The rolled and pleated leather seats and interior were a striking mustard color. 

"Mad Man Muntz, produced the first American sports car--the Muntz Jet.  A beautiful, well-crafted, speedy car that was a precursor of Chevrolet's Corvette, the Muntz Jet was an aesthetic and mechanical success, but Muntz's first financial disappointment.  The Jets sold for $5,500, but they cost $6,500 to produce, and this at a time, the early 50's, when a new Cadillac could be had for $3,200.  He installed Cadillac V-8 engines, added padded dashboards and seat belts, painted the cars in bright Easter egg colors, and even installed liquor and ice cabinets." The movie poster of Mad Man Muntz says, "7 wives, 3 of a kind."  His biography shows his entrepreneurial abilities and flamboyant lifestyle.
Mad Man Muntz info
Mad Man Muntz

The mustard car lived with us through our teenage years when Jonya and I were allowed to drive it, because the seat belts were required.  Dad painted it several times:  a sleek black, then white, and in its final years baby blue.  If our car had a liquor cabinet I don't remember, but I do remember that in the 50's, when Oklahoma was dry, dad and mom made a regular beer and liquor run to Seneca, Missouri and the state line liquor stores to purchase alcohol for the MGCC. We always buckled up, as dad drove the black asphalt Highway 10 in speeds up to 100 mph.  Our drives back were most miserable as my sister and I sat on a scratchy old wool army green blanket that covered the hidden beer and liquor in the back seat.  On the drive home Dad obeyed the speed limit.

The Muntz also came with a convertible top hard top.  In the summer months the padded hard top could be removed and hung in our garage.  Minnie's and Milts was a well-known dance and dinner club in Joplin, Missouri.  We often made the trip in the summer with the top down and mother complaining all the way that her hair would be ruined by the wind, but we never complained even when the wind whipped our hair into our eyes and stung.  We loved the old drive through pneumonia gulch somewhere between Miami and Joplin on the backroads, and before there was a turnpike. Pneumonia gulch was cold, no matter how hot the day had been when the car sped down the hill and took the turn up the hill and to the right, we screamed in pure joy and thrill of feeling the car hold the ground and climb the hill. Every breath was filled with fresh air, moisture from the nearby streams and rivers, and the dampness of the wooded areas. 

I was twelve years old, the night Dad ditched the Muntz in the embankment nearing Twin Bridges.  Dad was traveling way to fast to take the final curve on Hwy 137  and down to the right to Hwy 60.  He somehow applied the brakes with enough force that the car spun then skidded into the ditch on the right.  A slide to the left would have left us airborne, and no one to tell this story.  I wasn't scared until I heard my father's voice ask, "Tizzie are you alright?"  I might have cried, but like a trooper I rallied, and we backed out and drove down to Twin Bridges and fished that night.  

Still, my father, zany and flamboyant, like Mad Man Muntz, didn't slow down. Incredibly, I was with him when he hit the top speed of 160 heading up the newly opened Will Rogers Turnpike to Joplin. He taught me to drive in a white Ford station wagon with a "mud flap" on the back, mom's car, but he also let me drive the Muntz on the turnpike with him.  I drove with the understanding that if "ticketed" that I would pay the cost!  The engine changed over the years, like the color, but speed was always it's strength.

There are other stories in heaven now with Dad, Doc Jackson, Dr. Baron, Mickey Mantle, Ray and Roy Mantle plus other Yankee ball players and club members from the Miami Golf and Country Club.  I only wish I knew them.  

 Mad Man Muntz and his incredible car was a part of our lives till my parents died in 1989.  The steering wheel still showed the caricature and logo of Mad Man Muntz wearing a black Napoleon hat and red BVD's. The caricature that  could be found on the steering wheel is shown on this site:  
caricature of Mad Man Muntz

For a picture of the sleek car go to:  The Muntz.

Letty Stapp Watt
Johnie Stapp's daughter and historian

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Readings and Greetings: The Language of Flowers

For 8 years I dreamed of fire.  Trees ignited as I passed them;  oceans burned...The moment my mattress started to burn I bolted awake..the bare synthetic mattress did not ignite like the thistle had in late October...The 18 wooden matches smoldered, and the fire went out.
Pansies: Think of Me 
It was my 18th birthday...The only ways out of a group home like this one were to run away, age out, or be institutionalized.  Level 14 kids weren't adopted.  These girls (in front of me) knew their prospects.  In their eyes there was nothing but fear. (pg. 13-15)

At the age of 18 Victoria Jones "aged" out of the foster care group home program and into independent living. The rule was simple:  three months rent free, after that she must pay for the rent or move out.  Victoria was handed an envelope with a $20 bill and a note that read--Buy food and find a job.  With no high school degree or foreseeable skills, Victoria found herself soon on the streets of San Francisco sleeping in a park flower bed. 

Victoria relates her story from her point of view.  In alternating chapters, the reader meets Victoria in the present on her own and alone,  while the contrast arises in the chapters of her earlier life where she bounced from foster home to foster home until the year she experienced the expression of love through family and flowers.
Tulips: Declaration of Love 

Just before her 10th birthday Victoria was taken to Elizabeth's home for possible adoption.  Her social worker reminded the child, "When you turn ten, the country will label you unadoptable and even I won't keep trying to convince families to take you...just promise me you'll think about that."

Elizabeth's bouquet of Starwort created a hostile conversation until finally curiosity took over.  "Starwart means welcome.  By giving you a bouquet of starwort, I'm welcoming you to my home, to my life," Elizabeth explained. 

"They look like daisies to me, and I still think they're poisonous." Victoria retorted.  Elizabeth went on to explain the intricacies of flower identification. 

Poinsettia, Be of Good Cheer
After the meal the two walked out to the garden, and to the wine vineyard for an visual explanation.  It took weeks and months before Victoria began to relax and enjoy her new home, and when Elizabeth suggested adoption Victoria was thrilled, but both Victoria and Elizabeth had past histories to deal with.  Those histories collided when a young Victoria did not have the skills to understand conflict and a respectable resolution to problems.   

Eventually, the language of flowers becomes the center of the newly independent Victoria's life.  In the next year the reader meets Renata, a florist who gives Victoria her first job, and Grant, a young man who also knows the language of flowers.  Life begins to have a steady path until once again Victoria runs away from love.

This story pulled me two directions. I was so drawn into Victoria's problems once she was pulled away from her only home and only caring person in her life, Elizabeth, that I thought I'd have to stop reading and save anymore heartache.  Luckily, I persevered. 
Zinnia, I mourn your absence.

The other direction the book took me was to begin to look at flowers and the meaning of flowers, just as Victoria did when she began to create bouquets of flowers that seemingly could make a difference in people's lives.  The author's note reads:  My goal was to create a usable, relevant dictionary for modern readers.  

The author, Vanessa Diffenbaugh, accomplished her goal through Victoria's inquisitive mind and drive to learn about life through the flowers, and through relationships.

Mums:  Truth
The pictures are of flowers from my garden that took on new meaning for me after reading this story.  Have you looked at your garden through the idea of the meaning of the flowers? In the back of the book The Language of Flowers is the dictionary that the author, through her character Victoria, created.  The dictionary of flowers can also be found on the authors website:  The Language of Flowers

The author is also passionate about the plight of children who age out of the foster care program.  She has set up a network to help.  It is called  the Camilla Network.  The mission is to:  to create a national network that connects every youth aging out of foster care to the critical resourcesopportunities, and support they need to thrive in adulthood.