After Christmas we took trips to a couple of the smaller towns in central Oklahoma. When we've got free days we like to pack up the kids and take long car trips, avoiding the interstates whenever possible. The sights are more interesting and it's the best way to find great local burger joints.
Because my wife is not American, it's all new to her and it's a lot of fun to rediscover my country showing it to her.
Tuesday we drove down to Paul's Valley, population 6,256 and home to the Action Figure Museum http://www.actionfiguremuseum.com/ about an hour from our place. The boy loved it of course. Afterwards we took in a local museum we'd spotted coming into town, located in the old railroad station. It was a standard settlement era to early 20th century display, of the kind that small towns can put together with donations from people's attics.
I'd have found this only mildly interesting at one time, but my wife loves that kinds of museum. Becuse she's not American it's quite foreign to her and she finds it endlessly fascination to see how people lived here when Oklahoma was newly settled. And when people ask where she's from, they're thrilled to talk to her and show her around. Through her, I've come to see it with new eyes.
In my grandparents time, people moved into this land and built a piece of civilization literally from the ground up. It wasn't always pretty, the museum lady pointed out which parts of the station were waiting rooms for "Whites only" and "Colored", and you can read about how the Five Civilized Nations got screwed in Angie Debo's book "And Still the Waters Run" by men whose portraits still hang in the rotunda of the capitol building in Oklahoma City. http://www.amazon.com/Still-Waters-Run-Angie-Debo/dp/0691005788/sr=1-1/qid=1167657838/ref=pd_bbs_1/102-6199134-6384120?ie=UTF8&s=books
Nonetheless, I'm mightily impressed with my grandfolks.
On Wednesday evening we drove to Chickasha, population 16,849, to see the annual Festival of Lights. That's a local park that they festoon with as many colored light displays as will fit in the place without causing rolling brownouts. "Now this is a custom I'd love to take back to Poland." Monika remarked. On the way out of town we found another great local restaurant and discovered an appetizer they call "Armadillo eggs", jalapeno peppers stuffed with cream cheese, breaded and fried.
Oklahoma has a population of about three and a half million, a third to a half of which is located in two major metropolitan areas around Oklahoma City and Tulsa. The rest live in smaller cities, towns and rural areas. The overall population of Oklahoma is growing (2.8% since 2000) due to a healthy birth rate and immigration - about two thirds of which is from outside the US.
We've noticed that there are a lot of Asian and Mexican restaurants in small Oklahoma towns these days, so some of that immigration must be going to the smaller communities.
America is said to be becoming more urbanized as small towns shrink and disappear. Well here at least, small town culture seems to be doing just fine. Oklahoma is still a predominantly agricultural state, so I suppose that has a lot to do with it. I also think that good old consumer technology has made life in small towns a lot more bearable. Small town life may look pretty good to an adult, but can be a hell of boredom for teenagers. Satellite dishes, cable TV and video rental are a godsend in towns that can't support a movie theater or club scene.
When I brought my family to America, we took off car camping from Virginia, across the Great Smokey Mountains and stopped off in Oklahoma to put the goods in storage before heading to Snowmass, Colorado where I had a speaking engagement. So we passed through some of the most beautiful parts of the eastern and western mountains. My wife remarked at one point, "You're showing me this beautiful country, and you're taking me to live in Oklahoma?"
Now she says, "When we move I'm really going to miss the Great Plains."