OKLAHOMA CITY -- Out here, in a frozen land, the weathermen are like country music stars.
They have names like Gary or Jed or Brady. Doppler radar is their guitar. It is possible, when you are snowed in (as I have been for days) and all the flights out are canceled (as they have been for days), to talk about nothing but weather and road conditions. It is possible to get little crushes on your favorite weatherman.
All we do is watch them, over and over, as their sport-jacketed arms make sweeping motions across icy pink and blue storm-warning maps of our funny-shaped state, from the panhandle all the way down to Lake Texhoma, across a grandma's quilt of oddly named counties and towns: Okmulgee, Chickasha, Okarche, Shawnee. Our world is under a layer of two or three inches of ice, which came Dec. 24 and 25, topped off with two inches of snow, which came the day after Christmas.
The Okie weather guys (and they are, without exception, guys) all talk in that comfortable, soft twang that I associate with home. "Dew point" is "dyoo-poyant"; "barometric" is "barra-mitrick." There isn't the kind of panic here that you find when it snows in Washington; there is uniform pride in surviving various kinds of bad weather.
For a time, the state motto was "Oklahoma is OK," and that includes the weather. Not horrible, not wonderful, but fine. "This too shall pass" is an article of faith on which I was raised. It only takes one tornado season to make you believe in the FAST! ACCURATE! LOCAL! television forecast.
So when the weather guys said we'd be trapped, I knew, as a native, better than to doubt.
We are trapped. Help us.
Specifically, help me.
(But whatever you do, do not send anything with butter in it. Or salt. Or pecans. Or gravy. Send more diet soda. Send cable television.)
See how I moved, just a few days ago, when life was different: so urbane, such a light packer. Flew into my home town just 36 hours before Christmas. Smiled and hugged and slept, cheerfully, on the pullout sofa in my grandfather's house. Packed exactly two days' underwear and brought my $150 square-toed Kenneth Cole loafers as my only shoes. Went with my mother to Mass on Christmas Eve, in the church where I was baptized, and watched the little kids act out the miracle birth -- the shepherd boys with the good towels wrapped around their heads, the angel girls with the tinsel halos.
During Mass, the clouds gathered. I started feeling remote, cold, antsy. I am at best a closet Oklahoman. In some way I've always been itchy to get away from here. Drumming my fingers the entire time, shifting during the Kyrie.
All I had to do was keep things light for another 12 hours, get through dinner with 20 or so relatives and bam, out the door by 6, on my way to the airport for a Christmas night flight back to Washington. At worst, I would miss the pie. OK, I figured I could take some pie with me on the plane. I would be in and out, no muss, no time for bad vibes.
It occurs to me now that what I was avoiding was the house itself.
This is my grandparents' house. They bought it in 1955 for $14,500. It's about 35 blocks from downtown Oklahoma City. It was built in the 1920s. It's brown brick with corn-color siding. All the Christmas dinners of my childhood happened here. My grandmother died five summers ago and my grandfather, who is 97, has decided it's time for him to sell the house and move into an apartment complex being built for elderly Catholics.
This is the last time we'll need to use my grandmother's chipped and well-loved dishes, all the wineglasses, the rolling pin kept in its tattered Rainbo bread bag. The dining room table legs shake. I didn't want time to dwell on this. I didn't want time (and time, and time) to walk from room to room and try to memorize the wallpaper designs. I wanted in, I wanted out. I wanted to be present and accounted for, then gone.
Oklahoma, frozen and still: For a while it's mine, the sound of the furnace kicking in, the sound of my grandfather breathing, napping in his chair. All we do is watch the news, for road conditions.
I'd like to say we're a Yahtzee family, or that we sit around and sing songs, or finish scrapbooks. All we've done is eat. On Tuesday an ambitious group of us set out for the mall, about a mile away. Most of the stores were closed. We saw a matinee of "Cast Away," which should have resonated in sermon form: Slow down, stop hurrying, don't get your priorities screwed up. It didn't.
Grandpa, who hasn't left the house since Sunday, says he's getting cabin fever. I watch him make his way from window to window. There's a thermometer on the kitchen window. "Twenty degrees," he says. "Hear those birds out there? They're getting thirsty. They got nothin' to drink."
Naturally, there is little news, but we have footage anyhow. The local stations have set up cameras at the big intersections to watch cars slide into one another. Across town, a man has accidentally "blowed up" his momma's house trying to install a gas stove (a Christmas present) and that house, on the news, looks like part of a Yosemite Sam cartoon, the walls leaning in on one another. KA-BOOM. Both mother and son are OK.
Oklahoma is OK.
Stay tuned for the weather.
My watch keeps stopping. Standing in the kitchen by myself, I feel the fleeting, gentle nudge of something I can't quite describe. It always happens in the kitchen. It always happens when I'm about to leave. Is it her, my grandmother? Is she somehow here?
I throw on my coat, and decide to take a walk in the orangey-white night. The neighbors' Christmas lights are blinking. Blink, blink. Blink, blink. Not a sound, anywhere. Blink, blink, hello, goodbye, hello, goodbye. I am once again scheming to get out of Oklahoma, and wondering which part of me stays forever. Finally there isn't much hurry.
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