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Morning Sun
  • OKIE IN EXILE: Made out of mud

  • My cousin’s wife Karen tells a story about a three-year-old boy of her acquaintance. It was August 1965 in the great state of Oklahoma. The grass was dead; the ground was hard; it was dusty.  She asked the little boy what he wanted to play.

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  • My cousin’s wife Karen tells a story about a three-year-old boy of her acquaintance. It was August 1965 in the great state of Oklahoma. The grass was dead; the ground was hard; it was dusty.  She asked the little boy what he wanted to play.
    “Mud pies,” he said.
    “How are you going to make mud pies?” she asked. “There is no mud?”
    Upon hearing that, the lad stood up, dropped his pants, and peed in the dust.  Having made the mud, he sat down in it and proceeded to make mud pies.
    This isn’t exactly the tale of Jesus using mud made from spit to curethe blind man, but it’s about as close as we get to that sort of thing in Oklahoma.
    We are all made from dust, all of us. Some of us, like that three-year-old boy, are closer to it than others.  Indeed, those who are close to the earth in that way know it is possible to do something that needs to be done even if it can’t be done in the best possible way.
    This is a great country.  Here a young boy like that has the chance to discover a broader world.  He can receive an education, get a job, get married, and have children, and he can see those children having advantages he didn’t have.
    I know all about this.  I married a nice little girl more than 26 years ago.  We started a family, got a job, and gave our children advantages.  But there is a price to this.  My children are from a different world than I am. They view things differently.
    Every year the First United Methodist Church sends a group to the Appalachian Service Project, ASP for short.  The purpose of ASP is to help poor people in a poor area. My two eldest daughters have gone. When they return--badly in need of hot showers--they say the people they helped lived in houses like my grandmother, who through my eyes wasn’t particularly poor.  Don’t misunderstand me:  ASP is doing necessary work.  The point is, my daughters are from a different place; they see the world with different eyes, from a different angle.
    There is a price to pay for finding a broader world. You know things that are difficult to explain to those closest to you.  What used to be a funny story your family would tell becomes something that makes your new peers visibly shudder.  And then one day, it becomes something that makes you shudder.  And then you look back at the person you were and he seems like an alien.
    You wonder how you would treat him if he walked in your office door; then you wonder which of the two--you now or you then--is the better person.
    Page 2 of 2 - Back in March we had a hot spell in these parts.  The air-conditioning in some of the buildings at the university hadn’t been turned on yet and it was hot in the classrooms. People grumbled and I was among the grumblers.  But my mind rolled back to the summer of 1980 when I started college at East Central University in Ada, Oklahoma.
    It was blistering hot.  The AC was broken in the Administration Building at ECU which then housed the Math Department, so the Analytic Geometry class I was enrolled in was in the air-conditioned Horace Mann.  As a consequence, I spent a few hours in the morning in air-conditioned splendor, and then went home in the afternoon and worked homework for four-hours in my un-air-conditioned home.
    I did have a dry fan trained on me, but I had to use my forearms to hold down the papers.  When I lifted my arm, they stuck to me.  I could cope with it then, but now I gripe.  Which of the two of these people is better? Need one be better than the other?
    I don’t know.
    But I will tell you this.  If I ever need mud pies and all I have is dust, I hope I still know how to make them.
    Bobby Winters, a native of Harden City, Oklahoma, is Assistant Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and Professor of Mathematics at Pittsburg State University.  He blogs at redneckmath.blogspot.com and okieinexile.blogspot.com.
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