Oklahoma seems to have an inordinate number of towns beginning with the letter W: Wetumka, Weleetka, Wichita, Watonga - for a start. If they sound as if their origin is Native American, your ears haven't deceived you. Before Oklahoma became a state in 1907, it was known as the Indian Territory and then the Oklahoma Territory and was where numerous tribes found themselves after being coerced, marched, treatied, tricked and pushed out of their ancestral lands courtesy of the Indian Intercourse Act of 1834. Drive along I-40 or almost any other major road in Oklahoma and the tribe names tick off one after the other on green road signs, one reservation ceding to the next: Chickasaw, Sac-Fox, Seminole, Muscogee (Creek), Shawnee, Choctaw, Cherokee and on and on.
Not far down the road from us is another town beginning with the letter W. It's the county seat of Seminole County, but if you didn't know better, you'd expect that someday soon it would dry up and blow away, like a brittle Black Jack oak leaf in late autumn. Down Route 56 as you come into town from the north a proud stone house sits high above the road - a large estate with tall pecan trees and manicured, rolling hills that ease you towards muddy pastures where a small herd of buffalo graze alongside a couple of llamas and a few head of cattle. A half mile further and just past the bridge is a bright lime green building slowly sinking and decaying into a parking lot; it was once a Chinese restaurant. A mortuary sits across the road from it and then a gas station and a liquor store. A large cinder block building looks impenetrable until you see the huge gaping hole where the roof collapsed. At the stoplight, if you look to your right out your car window you'll see the remnants of an old motel, the open windows and doors black and empty.
On the left, an enterprising couple has renovated a 1940s era gas station and now they sell plants, fruits and vegetables. Piles of bright orange pumpkins are stacked on bales of hay. Across the way a new restaurant has opened, offering home cooked meals. There's the gun and pawn shop, another closed gas station, Moore's IGA with a nearly full parking lot and the Sonic Drive-In which is the most successful business in town. A half block further the Black Sheep Drive-In - Sonic's competition - sits abandoned, Sorry We're Closed and For Sale signs taped to the window.
There's a Daylight Donuts just past the next stoplight, then a tiny liquor store with mesh screen covering the door and windows. A neat and clean, orange-painted Mexican restaurant blinks: Open. Then the retail gives way to the residential - tiny homes, some immaculate, some threadbare - stone, clapboard and several signature Oklahoma-style houses constructed of honey-colored brick with steep-pitched roofs, gables and curved doorways that look designed for elves. There are rusting cars, heaps of garbage, dogs on chains, abandoned toys and neat gardens filled with the brown remnants of the summer garden.
This W-named town could be a stand in for dozens of Oklahoma towns that cling to existence. It eerily resembles the town I call home, also a county seat. But there is enough life yet to keep it going. The old generations linger here, unwilling or unable to relocate and the younger generations - white and Native American - stay on; family ties, the comfort of what is known and the pull of their homeland keeps them rooted here.