A Tribute to Sayre: the understated beauty of western Oklahoma
Saturday started off as one of those do-nothing days we all wish were more plentiful. No schedule. No agenda. No plans. By the time I crawled out of bed, lunch time was near. I was hungry for a burger.
There’s an old-fashioned hamburger joint in west Oklahoma City that I’ve come to love. I’m an old soul, so nothing freshens me up like classic food.
After scarfing it down, I wandered toward El Reno in hopes of catching some trains in action. I wanted to get there on my favorite avenue, the Mother Road. I hopped on Route 66 and drove.
All was quiet on the rail line that day. So, I trekked westward. Before I knew it, I’d arrived at Weatherford on this sleepy Saturday afternoon. This was a favorable outcome; I’d long wanted to visit the Thomas P. Stafford Air and Space Museum, and now I had the chance to.
I walked through an expansive gallery of aircraft and read about this western Oklahoma man’s illustrious space career. I was captivated by the technology on display, but the part of the museum I liked the most talked about his youth in western Oklahoma.
A quote of Mr. Stafford’s is ingrained in my mind: “The town (Weatherford) was a very nurturing town. By being small, you had a lot of people interested in you: the teachers, your friends, their families. You knew everybody in your class, and I think one of the real plusses I’ve had in my life was growing up in a small town in western Oklahoma.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself. My family hails from the tiny town of Sayre, about 40 miles further west of Weatherford. Though my family and I moved to northern Oklahoma when I was only two or so, we often would go back to Sayre to see my maternal grandparents and paternal great-grandparents.
Sayre holds some of my happiest childhood memories. When we would visit in the spring to celebrate my Papa’s birthday, the prairie grass was bright and green, and the sky was a deep shade of blue. This is truly God’s country. The red dirt was of a fine grain and was smooth between my toes as I played in the yard near my grandparents’ house in the country.
I got to see and enjoy much of that kind of scenery with my family. When we weren’t visiting my grandparents, we’d spend our time with my great-grandmother, Granny. We’d ride around the county in her old Lincoln, reminiscing about all the places where Granddad and my dad trained race horses back in the day.
After spending the day with Granny, my family and I would go back to Mimi and Papa’s house. Mimi’s good cooking – golden brown chicken fried steak, creamy, buttered mashed potatoes and dark brown gravy – awaited us. Then Papa and I would hop on one of his old tractors and go for a ride. He’d turn on the brush hog and mow down some tall grass, evoking a sweet aroma as the neatly clipped grass fell to the ground, leaving a clean-cut trail where we’d been.
I suppose that’s part of why I love Sayre so much. I was able to experience this place during my youth, when everything in the world seemed as clear-cut as that trail we left behind the tractor.
With my camera by my side Saturday evening, I drove about 30 miles from Sayre to Willow, where Granny, Grandad and Uncle Don were laid to rest in my early teenage years. I knelt down by their graves, gently placed some new flowers there, and thought back on the good times I’d spent with them.
With memories of Granny’s hugs in my mind, I drove around the countryside. I had no map, no GPS, nothing. I just drove. I stopped to take pictures of the rolling hills, none of which has been soiled by man – save for a few fences and a narrow road.
People haven’t left much of a mark on the land, but some have explored it. As a young boy, my Granddad is said to have climbed Haystack Mountain, a butte jutting out from the rocky earth near Willow. I’ve always been fascinated by the sight of this small land formation, which amounts to little more than a layered red rock pile. But it is well-known in these parts, and I wanted to get a better view.
Being on private property, the mountain isn’t accessible by foot anymore. But with the help of a camera, anyone can get a good look. That’s what I did while I roamed the area as the sun was going down.
Knowing that my time to view the mountain was limited, I tried to get a shot of it from the east, the side to which I was closest. But the sun was setting in the west, and the mountain looked dark and blurry in my photos.
I drove further west a couple of miles toward a hill in the road, thinking it would give me the perspective I’d need. But I missed the stop, so I drove further, looking for a place to turn around.
When I found a wide spot in the pavement, I hurriedly shifted my truck into reverse. But then I looked up, and there before me was the most picturesque view of Haystack Mountain I could have ever asked for.
I smiled. I got out of my truck and climbed up on a gate, taking shots of the fully illuminated side of the mountain. Just like it has always been in western Oklahoma, the sky was a heavenly shade of blue, and the grass was still as green and wavy as it was when I was a boy.
For a few minutes, I was in awe not only of the mountain’s beauty, but of the majesty of the land around it. All of these natural creations work together to make up some of the most beautiful land in all of the world – and here I am, right in the middle of it.
After a while, I got back on the road, which winds and twists through the hills back toward Sayre. I was the only person for miles, and I got to enjoy a perfect sunset all by myself.
Even though I no longer have any immediate family in Sayre, I still find myself out there a few times a year – and almost always by chance. When I got up Saturday morning, I had no plans of making the 110-mile drive there from Oklahoma City.
But if I’ve learned anything in life, it’s that I must follow my heart. And in all of my 21 years, never has my heart stopped taking me back home to Sayre.
I can’t help but think back to that quote from the museum. I, too, am lucky that I got to grow up in western Oklahoma.
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