Sunday, March 26, 2023

SOL 26/31: The Road Away from Home and the Road Back Home

If you grew up in a small town, then you know well the road that led you out of town. It took you to the big city. It took you to Sears for back-to- school shopping. It took you to the home of a favorite aunt and uncle. It took you to your big sister’s home and your niece and nephews. 


It took you to Super Saturdays so you could gather with other youth in your faith for morning learning (and scripture chase competitions), an afternoon activity, and the evening dance. It took you to quarterly conferences, large events that included church Sunday morning, a shared lunch and playtime with other kids, and afternoon church (not as well attended), but always part of your family’s dedicated weekend four times a year for church meetings and visiting with extended family and friends. 


It took you to the airport to pick up your big sis when she returned from BYU for the Christmas holidays. It took you to the airport for your first airplane flight at age nineteen to Portland, Oregon. It took you to the airport for a flight to the Missionary Training Center in Provo before your mission began in Hong Kong. 


It took you to Mohawk Zoo, Philbrook and Gilcrease Museums, and to see The King Family in concert. It took you to Southroads Mall. It took you to the Sesquicentennial Ball (and your brother married his date)! It took you to weekends at your best friend's house and dates with your future husband.


The best part of the road was the Indian Nation Turnpike which shortened the drive from McAlester to Tulsa. The section we traveled was short, only about forty-one miles. That part opened in 1966. Some of the old timers in our area refused to pay the seventy-five cent toll and continued using the two lane roads, but my dad, ever a proponent of innovation and progress, loved the toll road with its two lanes on each side. He even loved stopping to pay the toll, usually making sure he had three quarters ahead of time, so he didn’t have to go through the toll booth. He even deposited his toll in all nickels once just to see how long it would take the machine to count it and open the barrier.


We had favorite stops and views along the road: the pie and burger place in Okmulgee, gas station stops for the requisite road treats, and my favorite tree which I loved to see in all the seasons of the year.


As much as I loved going to the big city, my favorite way to travel this road was going home. Indian Nation Turnpike with its roomy two lanes on each side was the final forty-one miles of the two hour trek back home after going to the big city.


I remember the time my brother and I picked up our big sis at the airport and encountered the worst fog we had ever seen on our drive home. We welcomed the four-lane highway once we reached Henryetta, feeling that we were definitely safer on this stretch of road.


I remember when I was single, teaching 6th grade, and also teaching home-study seminary (our church’s religious study class for teenagers). Suddenly I was the adult taking the youth to Super Saturday once a month at 10 am on Saturday morning, attending teacher training while the youth engaged in the afternoon activities, shopping at the mall, and then the high point of the day, the evening dance. Mostly, the teenagers climbed in the car and fell asleep. I always had a designated conversationalist to keep me awake for the drive home. The stop at Quik Trip in Glenpool for snacks helped too!


I remember trips home to visit my brother Karl and his family after we moved to the Pacific Northwest twenty-five years ago. There were two viewpoints I loved on the drive home. One occurred as you drove through a cut in the hills to see a beautiful wide panoramic view of a small valley. My best friend, Jan, says she likes to imagine her ancestors coming through these hills when they traveled in a conestoga wagon from Arkansas to Oklahoma in the late 1800s. The other view I loved was of a white farmhouse and a barn on a small hill off to the left. It was always the sign that you were almost to the McAlester exit and almost home.


I remember my last trip home in December 2018 to visit my brother when he received a cancer diagnosis. He was on a very restricted diet and true to my brother’s good nature, he did not complain. We watched Hallmark Christmas movies and relished our time together. And for the first time in a long time, I missed a year going home. 2019 passed and I was not on the road to home.


I remember a trip planned for March 2020 for a cousin reunion in Texas and then a trip to Oklahoma to see my brother and his family. And then the pandemic arrived and life as we knew it shut down. In November of 2020 my brother had surgery and died in early December. Because of the pandemic, I did not go to Oklahoma to attend his funeral. After his death, my sister-in-law moved to Stillwater to live near her son and his family. There is no longer any immediate family in the town where I grew up.


I remember traveling the road away from home and back home via the 41 miles of the Indian Nation Turnpike so well that I can pull up most of the miles in my mind’s eye. In September, I’ll fly into the Tulsa airport and head south with my best friend for our 50th high school reunion. We’ll spend the last 41 miles on the Indian Nation Turnpike. Neither one of us has any family in our hometown anymore, but we already have motel reservations. We are looking forward to visiting old friends, remembering our younger selves, and laughing at our current selves. We will also stop by Oakhill Cemetery so I can visit and remember loved ones: great-grandparents, grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, too many cousins to count, and now a brother. He will want to hear about the reunion.


This is my twelfth year to write a slice of life each day during the month of March.  Thank you Two Writing Teachers for creating this challenge and providing the space and support for us year after year. And thanks to this magnificent community for sharing stories with me and encouraging my writing.



  1. Ramona, I like how you describe your road home as a life-line to who you have become. So many memories on those roads we sometimes take for granted. You have created a detailed "road map" of story for your family. I'm sorry to hear about your brother.
    I read your slice because earlier today, I spoke with my son about living in a small town. Weekend getaways were for buying groceries and getting what we needed from a town 30 miles a way. Going to the mall was an hour drive, and that was a special treat.
    I enjoyed reading your slice today.

  2. Ramona, this is a powerful memory that describes how that road map home was and is constantly changing. While my own story is different and there is no clear "home" designation, I am thinking deeply about this word - home - as I reflect on your powerful post,