West Texas is, in fact, boring to drive through. I know that this is a revelation to absolutely no one. The same field hour after hour really drags on. Luckily I’m loaded up with audio books on my phone (All the Light We Cannot See is extremely good so far!) and Catie seems content to have her stuffed kiwi bird, her baby doll, and her little penguin have very intense conversations about who-knows-what.
We left Fort Worth early. There didn’t seem like there was really much to do that was 3 year old friendly. I didn’t really look though. I’m anxious to get to Utah and Catie didn’t seem to mind. We drove for two hours towards Wichita Falls following along a railroad that was lined intermittently with wild sunflowers and low-growing cacti. About halfway to Wichita Falls, the farms gave away to ranches with iron gates and names like “Bar A” and “Crossed T”. We saw our first longhorn cow. After W.F., the ranches gave way to scrub brush and oil drills that seemed almost yard ornament sized- just a little bit taller than a person. I’ve always imagined them as the size of buildings, but maybe the giant ones aren’t in this part of Texas.
My GPS announced that we’d crossed the state line into Oklahoma as we crossed the low, nearly dry bed of the Red River. The dirt on either side of the road was all dark red. Occasionally we passed a furrowed field or one sown with sorghum or corn. It’s extremely flat and seems almost abandoned. Every house we passed for the first 30 minutes in Oklahoma hadn’t been a home for at least 10 years. Often it was just the skeleton of a home- cinder block or brick walls propped up against sky. Overall, the picture was a loneliness. I could definitely see why a teenager like my grandfather would join the Navy to get out.
It was beautiful in its way though. The sky was bright and open in a way I thought was exclusive to Texas. Orange-red dust devils swirled through fields. Tiny towns of maybe 20 buildings dotted the highway. Out of nowhere a hill appeared, and in the distance the shadows of mountains began to show themselves.
Cooperton, OK (population 16) is settled in a little outcrop of trees that was visible a few miles away. The Baptist church is the biggest building, the most substantial landmark, and the thing that drew my family there in the 1930’s. My great-grandfather was a bricklayer during the depression and came with his family to Cooperton to build the now non-existent elementary school and the Baptist church. My Papaw was born here, and it is this fact that brought me to Cooperton today.
The church has been abandoned for a long time. The door is boarded up, the sign is rusted and almost illegible, and several of the windows are broken. When we pulled up to the front, a colony of swallows came swooping out of the broken window low in the front of the building and continued to fly low around us the entire time we lingered there.
I know that my Papaw was born in Cooperton and that he left when he was 17, but I know very little else except what Wikipedia has told me. As we drove off, I wondered which buildings were here when he was. Did he climb those mountains only a mile or two in the distance? Did he run wild as a kid and explore the countryside? Which of the small towns nearby did he visit? Somehow, exactly 900 miles from home, I felt close to him.
Soon enough we passed the Texas state line again to the announcement of my GPS. Almost immediately, a red-headed woodpecker flew up from the brush on the side of the road into a nearby tree. It’s strange how much significance I put into these little birds now… Somehow knowing that the Mayan calendar marks them as my totem makes every sighting special. The little detour into Oklahoma feels more validated after seeing them.
Shortly after seeing the woodpecker, Catie fell asleep and droswed all the way to Amarillo. When I woke her up in the hotel parking lot, her first words are “We in Ama-lee-low now?”