Let me say at the outset that savvy city dwellers have nothing on country dwellers. When it comes to being canny, I’ll bet on someone fresh off the turnip truck over a city slicker any day.
As relative newcomers to the state of Oklahoma as well as to rural living, Kel and I often have questions; maybe not the most fascinating of questions, but the answers to them are important to us. That’s why we feel fortunate to have befriended knowledgeable locals, good, fine people who were born and raised here, steeped in the customs and traditions, weather patterns, history and legends of this fine prairie state; honest folks who are eager to help out a stranger.
Locals who are certain that we are “visiting relatives” or “just passing through” (one woman was convinced that Kel was the new preacher in town), are not shy about asking us questions. Before a conversation picks up any kind of steam, invariably we are asked: why did you move to Oklahoma? Emphasis on the why. This is accompanied by a look of exasperation and dubious suspicion.
The streets here, unfortunately, go only one way. When we seek answers to our questions – generally about gardening, weather patterns or ranching, more often than not our friend, old or new, suddenly falls victim to the mumbles, shifts their eyes away from ours, seeking refuge in the distant horizon line. Then they say something along the lines of, “well, now…I really couldn’t say…” No amount of rephrasing the question produces a direct answer. One time Kel invited a neighbor over for the explicit reason of having him help us select a site for a new pond. He’d just had one dug on his property and being a local, we took him for if not an expert, at least someone more knowledgeable about pond-building than ourselves. Kel and neighbor spent a few hours mucking across the rain-soaked 160 acres analyzing several potential sites. Dappled in mud and soaked with rain, Kel finally asked him which location he thought would be the best. The answer left Kel just as clueless as before the muddy trek over the pastures. Our neighbor gazed off - surely a nugget of pure, country wisdom forming like storm clouds in his head - and pronounced, “It all depends on what a man wants.”
This gentleman would’ve made a fine match for another friend. When we asked her how many cattle she ran on her property she became vague, her voice dropping into the low registers and then she changed the subject. And this from a lifelong cattlewoman and someone with whom we’ve broken bread many times and exchanged Christmas gifts.
We still ask questions of our friends and locals, not so much because we think we are going to get the answers, but out of habit and routine. A kind of politeness. Maybe it’s even expected of us. But when we really want an answer to something now, we Google it.