Sunday morning started out with the same question my wife and I inevitably ask each other every single weekend. “So, what are we going to do today?” For some reason, lately I’ve had Weatherford, Oklahoma on my mind. “We should drive to Weatherford,” I said to Susan. “Wow, that’s weird. Did I tell you I dreamt about Weatherford the other night?” Susan said. “Nope,” I responded. Convinced it was a sign, we loaded the kids into the minivan and set out for Weatherford, Oklahoma, 60 miles due west of Oklahoma City.
Susan and I both attended college in Weatherford at Southwestern Oklahoma State University, although neither of us ended up graduating from there. Susan attended school there for three years, starting as a freshman in the fall of ’91. I did two years at Redlands Community College before joining her at SWOSU in the fall of ’93. Susan assured me that I would just be moving in “as a friend”. Exactly two years later we were married.
During the hour-long drive to Weatherford today, I began to realize that both of us have “unfinished business” in the town that unfortunately can never be resolved. During the same time Susan lived in Weatherford, her father was ill with cancer. Every day, Susan drove the 60 miles from Yukon to Weatherford to attend class, and then made the trip back to Yukon to spend time with her family. During this time she basically went AWOL from her job, and was replaced. For someone who epitomizes responsibility, I think the act of being “let go” haunts her (even though we both know her priorities were in the right place).
I have my own Weatherford “demon”, although that’s way too strong of a word for it. In the spring of 1994 after pushing the word “procrastination” to an all-time high, I was let go from my position as SWOSU’s yearbook editor, replaced by my understudy. A month before the book’s final deadline, I showed up to class to find everything from my editor’s desk neatly packed into a box for me to take home. My journalism professor pulled me aside and briefly explained her reasoning, none of which I could argue with. I wasn’t mad; I was embarrassed. I told her I would take my box of junk out to my car and then would come back that afternoon so we could talk about what needed to be done and how to proceed. But I didn’t. Instead, I dropped out of school via telephone and never showed my face on that campus again. For those well versed in O’Hara history, that was the same weekend Susan and I decided to drop out of college and go on a road trip to the Grand Canyon instead of finishing school.
Susan’s old boss has since died of old age and my old journalism teacher retired a few years after I dropped out of school, so nether of us will ever truly be able to fix the things we broke back then. During the hour-long drive, I daydreamed about what I would say should I ever run into that journalism professor again.
The strip of I-40 between Oklahoma City and Weatherford is mostly barren. For a while there are cows and farms, then those disappear too. All that’s left after that are long patches of dried up yellow grass, broken up by small patches of black, burnt grass. The miles are punctuated by billboards that let you know you’re now among the truckers and vacationing road trippers. Other than gas stations, you see advertisements for things like Indian City, USA, the Cherokee Trading Post, Indian casinos and my favorite, “miniature donkeys and llamas for sale, exit now” — as if miniature donkeys are some sort of road trip souvenir. I can see it now, “free miniature donkey with every fill-up.”
Upon arriving in Weatherford, we found not much had changed. The college campus had a few new buildings here and there, but we had no problems navigating the campus or finding where we had worked and lived over a decade ago. To our surprise, much of the campus (and town itself) seemed to be somewhat desolate. We took the kids by the old park we used to go to, but found most of the playground equipment damaged and neglected. Next to the playground someone had gone to the trouble of building a mini skatepark, but the ramps were covered with rotten wood and the chain link fence was padlocked shut. The college campus didn’t look much better. We passed entire dorm buildings that didn’t have a single car in the parking lot. Even if it were spring break (which it’s not) we would have expected to see more cars around campus. “Was there a uranium leak around here or something?” Susan asked at one point.
We spent probably half an hour driving around town pointing at things. “I remember eating there.” “I remember when that was something else.” “Hey isn’t that new?”
While driving around town we stumbled across the Thomas P. Stafford Air and Space Museum. Despite living in Weatherford for almost a year we had never been to the museum, so we decided to take the kids in and check it out. Mason had a good time. The museum had several life-size replicas of Orville and Wilbur’s original planes, as well as several decommissioned jets including an F-16 and a Russian MIG. There was also lots of space stuff, including Stafford’s space suit and lots of his personal artifacts and awards. Cool way to spend an hour or so.
On the return trip we stopped at the Cherokee Trading Post, home of the “buffalo burger” (yes, really) for late lunch/early dinner. Oddly enough, none of us had buffalo. I had an Indian Taco, Sue had the turkey and dressing lunch special, and Mason had pancakes and scrambled eggs. I remember eating at the Cherokee almost a decade ago, and right now I’d say I’m good for at least another ten years.