Friday, July 31, 2009

Panhatchapie, The Life of a Princess

I love the phrase, "we celebrate the life of...." It is so much better a remembrance than, "we gather to mourn..." Panhatchapie was not really an Osage Princess, but she was my princess. She was born Emilly Belle but some man in her early life began to call her Panhatchapie which was shortened to Pan, the name I knew her by all of my life until last year when I asked her if her given name was truly Pan. From the first time I remember seeing her, I thought she was beautiful and then I would see movies with actress Ann Blyth (The Helen Morgan Story, The Great Caruso) and think how much alike she and Pan looked. She was a mystery woman in my young life for she would appear with a gift from some strange land and then dissappear again. Pan had little formal education but she was a voracious reader and quick learner. She understood which clothes augmented her natural beauty and educated, wealthy and powerful men were attracted to her. She was married to an air force colonel, a diplomat, and a doctor. She lived in New York and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil where she learned to speak Portuguese. Pan was not above telling a lie, even on an official document for someone catching her beauty suggested she apply to work as an airline hostess. With no experience and her limited education, she basically fabricated a history complete with college education and several years experience as a flight attendant. My mother received a letter from Flying Tigers asking for verification of Pan's story and she didn't want to lie but ultimately, she confirmed Pan's lie as a truth and then worried that the FBI would come and get her. Pan went to work for Flying Tigers and traveled around the world, adding to my toy collection as she did. She kept in touch with me through my navy career and when my son Stephen was born, she visited us in Bartlesville and took us to our favorite restaurant, which we could not afford. She was with us through many visits to Pawhuska, her home town, and Bartlesville and I was able to meet her in California at different times. She never seemed to age to me and I was stunned when she told me that she had told her doctor that she was eighty-three and did not want heroic treatments to fight the cancer that had invaded her pancreas, liver and kidney. How could Pan, who never changed be eighty-three? But I had not seen her in years, although we talked on the telephone often. The last time I had seen her was when her brother, Bud Purvis, had called me at work and said that Pan would meet us in the great hall in the Adams Building and I dropped everything to rush over to meet them. There was Pan, radiant, laughing, beautiful as ever. She was my guardian angel, someone always there for me, when I was a good kid, and when I was confused, lost and in trouble. My brother Charles called me last night to let me know that she had left us yesterday, leaving a hole in our lives that will not be filled. I knew she was going to die for the machines, CAT, PET, and other had told us so, and had even told us she would be here six months. The selfish part of us wanted her to have that six months and more, for ourselves, but now she won't suffer longer and that's good. I have seen too many suffer, especially with cancer. As much as I miss her, and will miss her, I am grateful that she won't suffer longer. Pan was a princess, and an angel to me and mine, and now she rests with the angels. We celebrate the life of Pan Purvis Ray, 1926-2009.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Silent Sentinels

In an earlier post, I had mentioned the Silent Sentinels that guard the entrances to Williams Park, the wonderful and well maintained park in Pawhuska, Oklahoma. They are not monoliths for a monolith is a single stone, like the Washington Monument, yet there is a monolithic quality about them, something from ancient Mexico when the Aztecs and Mayans ruled in the Americas. Each sentinel is made up of many stones placed together, and each has a ramp leading up that could be climbed by a small boy, especially one outfitted in Keds, for the rubber sole gripped fast, allowing us to run up from the back side and climb to the top, a plateau from which we could stake our claim to the tower that had become a fortress for us to defend. It wasn’t so high that it was very dangerous; yet just scaling its heights was an adventure. Once atop it, we usually had a friend or two join us and we fought off all pretenders to keep the sanctity of the tower we had just captured. It was much more exciting if we had just come to the park from a movie at the State or Ki-He-Kah Theaters when there had been a fort in the movie. It could have been a western fort, with General George A. Custer, for we knew few generals by name then, or it could have been a castle fort if we had just seen Ivahoe or Robin Hood. Sometimes we were forced off by bigger, stronger boys but there were several of these Silent Sentinels and we usually just moved to a new one. Once in a while a genuine fight broke out because someone refused to yield their trophy, but that was rare for we were seldom in the park without adult supervision, and that usually meant moms for most of the men worked somewhere during the day. The best times were actually during the school year, in late spring or early autumn, when the weather was still cooler and so many of our friends were together in one collection. The arrival of summer sent many families on vacation or working the oil fields and pipelines; some kids went to summer camps. It was harder to find a group and a mother to take a bunch of us to the park, yet sometimes there might be a church function, although those tended to be over supervised. As I look at this old friend from my childhood, I still see mystery in it and perhaps that is why these great stones attracted us so much. Like the wrinkled face of an old man, the weathered rocks, their cement filled interstices, seem to write a story and make us want to read more, to know how all of those marks and scars came to be and what lies beneath them. The other thing I see when I look at them is kids I knew, though I can’t remember their names or faces, but I remember them, and it brings me joy to see these old rocks doing so well still.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Willams Park and The First Boy in Space

The entry into Pawhuska's Williams Park is of classic beauty. Pillars of sandstone silently guard the entry way, standing like sentinels on each side of the road. They have been there for as long as I can remember, so at least sixty years for as small boys, my friends and I would climb them, easily done for there are step like structures that lead to the plateau at the top. It was especially rewarding if we had just come from a movie where we had seen a fort and a raging battle for our imaginations took hold and the movie became our real life as we fought, first to gain the high ground, and then to protect it from those dastardly pretenders trying to dislodge us. We had imaginary rifles, bows and arrows, grenades, and dynamite; whatever the movie had suggested. Inside of the park itself were lush green carpets of thick grass that allowed us to run free, play some kind of a ball game, and I suppose it offered some protection for those times we fell from a swing or off of one of the merry-go-rounds there. A graveled road ran around the perimeter of the park and just outside of the perimeter, especially on the north side, were slopes that let our adventures go further. The slope on the north side was steep, rocky and in the bottom was a small stream where we could watch tadpoles, frogs and small fish. We saw snakes there that challenged our manhood but I know now that they were harmless snakes, seeking only to feed themselves on small rodents and nuisances. Then, all snakes were poisonous and dangerous, to be feared, and we escaped, barely of course, with our lives.

We took Williams Park for granted but when I go there now, I simultaneously go to two places. I go the quiet place where nature is at its best and I can relax and breath in the freshness of the park. I also go back in time fifty to sixty years and see boys I knew, having fun, laughing, being the best of friends to each other and making silent vows to each other that they would always be there for each other.

I remember the big swing sets and how we boys tried to outdo each other as we went higher and higher and Bobby Hughes went so high that the tether of the swing set was almost parallel to the ground. Boys on the ground were shouting to him, "Jump! Jump! Jump" and laughing so hard that they almost fell down, and then Bobby moved forward, left the seat and the tether behind and went sailing out into space, the greatest leap to which I was ever witness. I can still see him suspended in air, for a moment, as he laughed and then the wide grin on his face slowly turned to fear. He seemed to sail forever as his arc went above the plane of the swing and then began to level out, and then to sink. He shrieked as the ground moved upward to meet his re-entry to earth and then there was the thud. No sounds came from him as we ran to him, for he had knocked all the air from his lungs. We thought he was dead at first, but he soon began to gather color, and then breath, and then he was on his feet, no harm done, and a smile began to spread on his lips, and for a moment he was our hero, the boy who had gone further, higher, and faster than any of the rest of us.

"Do it again!" said one of the boys.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Triangle Building, north side

Triangle Building, Pawhuska, Oklahoma

This building, more than any other, seemed to symbolize Pawhuska when I was growing up. I took this photograph in September, 2004, when I had fears that the building might be razed. As a boy and young man, I took the old building for granted, assumed that it would always be there, but recent times have been difficult for it. It is old and cranky, with the many problems that beset all structures created by the hand of man. One of its flaws is, and has always been, that there are no parking spaces near the building. When I was a kid, I would see someone park in front of the J.C. Penney store, exit their car and walk over to the Triangle Building to conduct business. My elderly Uncle Franklin Revard once had an office somewhere upstairs and I would stop to visit him, smell the law books that lined the shelves, the clinging odor of his powerful cigars, and step carefully around the brass spittoon resting beside his rich, oaken desk. I often had to reintroduce myself to him. I, along with many others, continue to hope that someone will step in to rescue the building. Time changes everything, including me, but my heart would suffer if the old building was no more.

Court house and its imposing stairway

From when I was a small boy, I was in awe of this building. It sits slightly less than half way up Grandview Avenue's hill, on the west side of the street and faces east; parking is not allowed along the street. I marvel that any adult would start at the bottom of the steps and walk up. I did it as a boy, have done it as an adult but I was breathless from my climb, and I was in good shape then, running more than six miles a day. The building itself is stately, with a sense of humor. Inside, on one of the walls above a stairway is a sign warning about "No spitting" and a subsequent fine of $.25. I was in the building a few times when a trial was in session. Ronnie Havens's father was an attorney and a few times we went to see him. We did not understand much of the trial proceedings, but we watched for at home, he was a quiet man, scholarly to me; in the court room he was speaking emphatically, emotionally, almost angrily and he was a very different man than the one we saw in their home.

Atop the building is the framework of a star and every Christmas it was lighted and could be seen from many places about town. The hill next to the stairs is covered with small boulders of native stone, sand stone, and ivy grows between the rocks. I used to climb the rocks rather than use the stairs as it was both challenging and fun. It was fun except for the times that I stirred angry swarms of bees or wasps and I could not escape their wrath for the uneven surface of the rocks, the tangle of vines, kept me prisoner and so I was stung on a few occasions.

On the south side of the building is an empty lot, but when I was a kid, it was where the old State Theater stood. I have no photographs of my own of the State Theater as I did not know that I would need them. My memory was good and I knew that the State Theater would live in my heart and mind as long as I lived. It still lives for many of us but the number is fewer. I wish I had known more about the future then but I thought Pawhuska would always be the same. Time marches on.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Top of the Stairs

Downtown Pawhuska, Oklahoma lies on a flat and fairly even surface. Downtown is where the business section was and is, where city hall and the police department are, where the doctors, dentists and lawyers are; in short, most of the working part of Pawhuska. Grandview Avenue, with its severe hill heads directly into the city hall building and runs in front of the Osage County Court House. This marvelous old building sits about half way up the hill and faces towards downtown, towards the east. On the west side of Grandview hill were once a number of stately residences. Many of them are gone now and even as a boy, I wondered how they stayed on the hill. My Uncle Franklin Revard and his wife, Aunt Manzie, had such a house not far from this stairway. It was old then, almost as old as they were, and I loved to go there as we did for many family things. I would go down below, in the cellars of the house, and the earth had begun to move under it and I had concerns that it might slide down the hill. A cousin, Bobby Revard, told me that this could not happen but I was never sure. One day I went by and the house was gone, razed, I'm sure, but those early memories returned to me and I wondered, did it slide down the hill? There are three of these stairways that connect Ki-He-Kah Avenue, down below, to Grandview Avenue, atop the hill. One is about a third of the way from Main Street up the hill, this one is at the top of the hill and a third likes about two-thirds of the way from Main, near the other end and where a house stood that was occupied by the Post family. Others will remember other families that lived there, but for me it was Charolette of my class, her brother Richard Post, who would later play professional football, and their younger sister, Susie. Things change.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Ormand Beach Stadium

Pawhuska, Oklahoma and the stadium where the Pawhuska Huskies played football at home. The stadium is named after Ormand Beach, who played football in Pawhuska and a friend told me that he was a hero in World War II. There is an award, also named The Ormand Beach award that was given to the best football player of the year. In 1960, the award went to Wimpsey Gilkey and the following year to Jay Lynn Hurt. I have not tracked it each year, but I know about those two years. Wimpsey was an outstanding running back and leader; Jay was an outstanding quarterback and leader.

The stadium is not large but adequate for our school size. The school colors are black and orange and for dyslexics, orange and black. The outside of the stadium is beautifully assembled native stone which offers more character than simple concrete. I have sat through many things there and I advise taking something comfortable to sit on for the seats are stone and take a toll on humans, especially older ones, in short order. The field lies from north to south and the home spectators sit on the west side. The visiting spectators sit in a smaller set of stands, on wood, which, ironically, is much more comfortable. Still, it's home.

Street Sign for Grandview Ave

I wish I had made photographs of the street signs when I was a kid for I don't think I recall how they appeared. I know it was not like this sign, with a blue background so that you can easily see the letters of the sign. This has large, all capital letters and it is clearly an avenue. I had a Kodak Baby Brownie 127 then which took rolls of film and I did not always have a roll. I usually used all of the film I had, rushed downtown to send my film off in the hope of Kodak returning photographs, and when I could afford it, I bought another roll of film. It never occurred to me to take as many photographs of the town of Pawhuska as I saw it around me. I assumed without knowing that I assumed and my assumption was that Pawhuska would always be the same. I erred.

Pawhuska Trails

I live near Pawhuska, so when I have time or reason, I visit and habit requires me to travel certain streets. I always drive past a few houses of old friends, such as Bob Hughes (and his big sister Kay), Jay Hurt, Butch Daniels, and a few others. It is nearly impossible to not drive downtown and cross the great old streets: Ki-He-Kah Avenue, Main Street and the numbered streets such as 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th. I feel compelled to go by or over Flanagan Hill. There is no official hill called Flanagan as it is the short (325 feet) but oh so steep hill that rises between 10th and 11th streets and is actually Prudom Street. At least I knew it as Prudom Street but for my book, I labeled it Prudom Avenue as that is what my official sources told me. The needs of the 911 calling system required some things to be changed though, and maybe it was "Street" when I was growing up. No matter though, as whether we called it a street or an avenue, the name of Prudom was there for as long as I could remember. Some one whose last name was Flanagan lived near or on the property that became the hill and it was named Flanagan Hill in honor of that family. I have never heard it called Prudom Hill although the other hills in Pawhuska are named by the street where they reside. We called them Ki-He-Kah Hill, Grandview Hill, 12th Street Hill, which made sense. We had Dial Hill, Castle Hill and Flanagan Hill.