music and poesy: December 2004 Archives

Music and memories - Tahlequah OK

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Certain bits of music take me back in my mind to places and events. For example, I heard a Pearl Jam song last week that took me back to the 6 weeks I spent in Tahelquah OK. It was 1995, the end of the year, and I was finishing up my CNM program. The last rotation of the program was called "Integration" - and the idea was that we would go to someplace outside our school community, and practice midwifery under the supervision of an experienced nurse-midwife. I was able to find funding through a grant from a foundation - they helped me to find a site that was a National Health Service Corps site, and they paid my airfare and a stipend. I flew into Tulsa, rented a car and drove to Tahlequah, and stayed the 6 weeks (November and 1/2 of December) in a small room in a boarding home.
Oklahoma was beautiful. I remember my mom telling me that she learned to tie her shoes in Enid Oklahoma. I went to Tahlequah because it is the capital of the Cherokee nation and my mom raised us to be proud of our little bit of Cherokee heritage. It's not documented - my Cherokee antecedant declined to be listed on the official Census roll. But it's there. My sisters look more Indian than I do.
It was a busy and a lonely time. It was hard to leave behind my husband and kids - the baby was 7 at the time. My rooming house was with kitchen priveliges, but it is so hard to cook for only one after cooking for 7 or 8! Two things stuck in my mind about Tahlequah and food - one was the favorite local fast food of (I kid you not) Calzone. The other was my first ever encounter with a drive-up espresso stand. In the parking lot of the Reser's supermarket was a converted Fotomat, where one could get truly excellent espresso, lattes, etc.
It was in Tahlequah also that I first encountered Wal-Mart. Remember, I'm an Angeleno, and there are no Wal-Marts in Los Angeles. Well, maybe there are one or two now, but there were none in the San Fernando Valley when I lived there. Wal-Mart struck me as a surreal place. And as I drove through OK on my days off, it seemed that the boundary between towns was the presence of the local Wally's World, as I learned to call it.
I drove around a lot in my rented car, almost always with the radio on. I listened to the local alternative rock station out of Tulsa. Now, when I hear some of the songs from that time, I am transported back and can almost see the roads, the rivers I crossed between Tulsa and Tahlequah, the rolling hills and two lane highways heading out to Muskogee, or north to Missouri (where I spent Thanksgiving with an old friend of my dad's) or east to Arkansas (where I drove one day just to say that I had).
My grandpappy (my mom's dad) was born and raised in OK and TX. Even though I had never lived in OK before my trip there, in some weird way it felt like coming home. Can't explain it, never really understood it. I found the local Catholic parish and went to Sunday Mass there every week. That was also 'going home' in a way - one of the things that drew me to Catholicism was that there was a Catholic church everywhere in the world that I travelled, and my Anglican parishes seemed to be unique to their place. So I had this paradoxical set of feelings when I was in Tahlequah - I was homesick for my family yet I was also at home there.
Weather, for example. As a SoCal kid, I was used to the seasonal changes being very subtle, maybe even imperceptable to an outsider. In my 6 weeks away, not much really changed in California, but Tahlequah definitely went from Fall to Winter. I remember going in to the hospital early one morning for a 24 hour call shift - it was in the 70s F when I parked my car and got out. The next morning I had to scrape the snow off it and drive very gingerly across icy roads back to the place I was living. And then there were tornadoes. A birth that is etched in my memory - this young mom was in advanced labor as the tornado watch level became higher and the twisters moved closer. She was reaching the very end of her labor and was pushing when the word came through the hospital that we needed to move to the basement shelter - but we couldn't move her safely or easily - so while the rest of the floor was evacuated, my preceptor and I helped this baby into the world and then we moved to shelter. My prior experience with childbirth during the Northridge Quake stood me in good stead. As I prayed and worked to help this baby out, I thanked God for having given me the chances to prepare for all sorts of unexpected events earlier in life.

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This page is a archive of entries in the music and poesy category from December 2004.

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