“Flyover country.” It is a term you hear a lot when living on either the East or West coasts of the United States. It is meant as a deriding comment; just one more way to look down on a group of people not living in the vacuums of attention that is New York and Los Angeles. In a lot of ways, it speaks to the elitism that people assume just because they live in massive port cities.
For this year’s letter to my fellow graduates from Frederick High School in Frederick, Oklahoma, I would like to have you spend a few moments reading about what life was like in one of those cities so frequently flown over. My hope is that by the time you reach the end you will choose to get to know these people instead of judging them from 30,000 feet.
I was born in Altus, Oklahoma to a single mother. Before I took my first breath, my biological father was out of the picture. Like a recurring cameo on a short-lived sitcom, he would make appearances in my life. After four seasons, that show would be canceled.
My mom remarried a man who I now consider to be my father. Eldon grew up in Manitou, Oklahoma, graduated from Frederick High School, sailed halfway around the world to fight in the Vietnam War and returned home to take care of his aging parents. Working at the only major plant left in Frederick, he met a woman and fell in love. Shortly after, they were married. As long as I can remember, he has been in my life.
My mother grew up in Snyder, Oklahoma. Moved across the country as a child and a young adult. She would give birth to two children before me and two afterward. It was a long road to walk in order to meet Eldon, but she trudged the miles with grace, dignity, and her own brand of feminism. Moving on from the plant, she would dedicate herself to her family, then a grocery store to earn extra money, before pursuing a lifelong passion for nursing.
They decided to raise their children in a small town, because of an intense dedication to their family. They both knew there were more opportunities in a bigger city, but life had other plans. Understanding the limits of a small town, they instilled within us the ideas of limitless possibilities. We could go anywhere. Do anything. Be anything we wanted to be. The wheat field across from my house stretched toward the horizon. This wasn’t a line meant to box me in. This was a gate opening to a world I was meant to understand and explore. Edmond, Kent, Seattle, North Hollywood, and soon back to Seattle, I busted through that gate with all my might never really slowing down to look back. I escaped. I was giving into an elitist attitude without even knowing it.
While living in Seattle, I was reminded of the power of a small town on November 3rd, 2014 when I got a call that changed everything. For weeks, my house was filled with people. Food filled every inch of counter space. Our every want and need was cared for while we mourned the loss of my youngest brother. As I began preparing remarks for his funeral, I began to realize how safe I felt amid the tight-knit bonds holding this community and my family together. Calls, flowers, and perfectly timed hugs only cemented the feeling. We were loved here because we lived in a town where everyone knew and truly cared for their neighbor.
Sure, small-town life has its unique challenges; most of it caused by outside forces, but these are places meant for more than judgment from economy class. These are people with stories and complicated lives. Those of us occupying the coasts would do ourselves and the country a great service by getting to know them. In our current state, we find ourselves divided along so many man-made lines. If we truly got to know each other, so much of what is holding us back could be overcome.
So, to my fellow graduates, especially those still living in Oklahoma, I want you to know this now West coast kid sees you and hears your story. I am bound and determined to tell more of your stories. For those stumbling across this post from afar, spend some time in these places. I think it will do you some good. Get to know these people. Their love has shaped me for the better.
Be good to each other,
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