We lived in Lonoke, Arkansas from the time I was four-years-old to the time I was eleven. Our journey to Norman, Oklahoma in 1984 began many days before our move; the day when my father gathered us into the front living room of our house on Center Street. I don’t remember exactly what he said, but he broke the news that we would be moving to Oklahoma for him to preach at another church. There were no tears or complaints. It was if in spite of our love for Lonoke, we were ready to go. If my mom wasn’t ready, she did not show it. Paul and I were up for an adventure and John may have been too young to really comprehend.
Paul and I knew that going away parties were a thing and we decided to throw ourselves one. I didn’t think this was weird or inappropriate until many years later when Paul pointed out that it was customary for friends to throw the party. I do also recall that we invited people to bring presents. I don’t remember who all was in attendance, but I did remember that Todd, the African-American kid who kindly pointed out that my first day of class clothes were for girl, was there. I point out that he was African-American because I was starting to become more aware of race, and when his mother came to get him, I watched as my mother and his mother had a friendly chat and I realized that my mother was not like other white members of the community who would never have socialized with black neighbors.
I’d become obsessed with kissing a girl ever since my long time crush had a boy-girl birthday party with a dance. I saw her slow dance with the coolest kid in school and he kissed her on the lips. I was very much in a devil-may-care mood about it, but I didn’t know how to do anything about it. I imagined holding a dance myself, but all I got was the party we threw for ourselves and it wasn’t much of a kissing party. I didn’t get my first kiss until church camp the summer before my freshmen year of high school.
My father had brought a chamber of commerce map back from Norman, and Paul and I studied it hard. We couldn’t believe we were moving to someplace so cool. There were restaurants, bowling alleys, a mall, a roller rink, three or four movie theaters, and an enormous public pool. We bragged to our friends in Lonoke about Norman, and I remember bragging particularly about our new house having wall-to-wall carpeting. I’d gotten the impression from flooring commercials that this was a luxury.
I remember very little about leaving Lonoke other than taking note as we passed the rice towers (grain elevators) on I-40 that it might be the last time in awhile that I would see them. They were significant to me because they were always the first and last signs of Lonoke you would see from the interstate.
It was Halloween, but Halloween was the last thing on my mind. I was eager to see our new house and our new town. When we reached the border of Oklahoma, there was a welcome sign and we all got out of the yellow Ford Fairmont station wagon to take a picture. There was trash everywhere.
When we arrived, it was dusk and we were soon greeted by members of our new church with the oddest casserole I had ever seen or smelled. It was beef and rice baked in a whole pumpkin. I’ll always associate that house on Leslie Lane with that smell. I thought we must be lucky to have friends waiting for us.
The woman who brought the casserole also brought her daughter and grandchildren. They were dressed for trick-or-treating. The boy was dressed as Satan and after a few stops I thought the costume was appropriate. Again, I appreciated the welcome. We would have missed trick-or-treating altogether if it weren’t for them.
School would start very soon for us, perhaps the next day. We came from a town where school was a very positive thing for us. We had friends and made good grades. There were no truly rich kids in Lonoke and social strata had not fully formed in our grade, and so Whittier Middle School was a culture shock to me with it’s cliques and wealth. I’d like to write more about that transition because it set some things in motion for me that formed my notions about myself for years to come. Read Finding a Place
I visit Lonoke once in awhile and wonder what my life would have been like if I’d stayed or if I returned to live there, but I ultimately reject that line of thinking because I have been so greatly blessed to live in Norman, Oklahoma. As I matured here, I developed this sense that God had brought us to Norman and that it was the best possible outcome for me and my family.