Notice the Field of Empty Chairs Opposite the Reflecting Pool
Day of Remembrance - Oklahoma City National Memorial - Oklahoma City OK
After impulsive, unplanned and spur-of-the-moment trips to both Alaska and Hawaii in 2018, I spent a relatively quiet, event- and attraction-free winter in Apache Junction AZ. I am always working on my “one-of-these-days” long-range mental calendar – the precursor to my “written in pencil” calendar, my “written in ink” calendar and, finally, my etched in stone calendar. Both Alaska and Hawaii had been bouncing around in the mental calendar since the beginning of The Great Adventure
in 2010, but neither had made its way to a sheet of paper by New Year’s Day of 2018. Cousin Marilyn’s son and daughter had taken her to Hawaii in Fall 2017 for her 80th
birthday. That got me to thinking about a momentous landmark to celebrate my 70th
birthday. I decided spending my 70th
in Alaska would be a fitting celebration. For my readers that don’t know me, I had spent the last 3 ½ weeks of 1967 and the first 50 ½ weeks of 1968 in Vietnam, and throughout 2018 a little gremlin in the back of my mind kept reminding me that, “Fifty years ago today you were….” Sooo, I decided to throw myself a Golden Jubilee Welcome Home “Hootenanny in Hawaii.”
Although I returned to Cherry Valley IL a couple of days before Christmas 1968, I found all the Christmas Holiday 2018 interisland cruises were booked, so I settled for a “New Year’s” cruise and ushered in 2019 somewhere in Hawaiian waters (at midnight while between ports). That excursion, in and of itself, is highly recommended! You think a cruise ship in general is a party animal, try it on New Year’s Eve!
In most years, I spend rainy days and evenings during any given summer journey moving plans from my mental calendar to the “written in pencil” calendar for the upcoming summer; however, and because no planning had been done for Alaska (nor for Hawaii), my down time in Summer 2018 and leading up to the departure for Alaska was spent researching Alaskan topics such that no Summer 2019 planning was done. Ditto for the down time after my return from Alaska and the time leading up to my departure for Hawaii. I had listened to the proverbial fiddlers (and what fine fiddlers they were), but reality and payment time had arrived! The end result was that my available winter time was spent formulating and refining a plan for
Spring/Summer/Fall 2019. I guess I’m too anal to depart in the spring with absolutely nothing written, at a minimum, in pencil!
My Fall 2018 arrival at Countryside RV Resort in Apache Junction had been on Wednesday, November 14 which made the expiration of my five-month stay land on Sunday, April 14, 2019. I planned for a beeline trip to Virginia, save a week-long stop in Oklahoma City OK to see the sights, to take a breather from driving and to visit with my newfound cousin, Larry. Oklahoma City is almost half way along the 2166-mile drive from Apache Junction to my first Virginia stop, Charlottesville, so I planned three days to get to Oklahoma City and three days to get from Oklahoma City to Charlottesville. The way the calendar worked out, a Saturday departure would get me to Oklahoma City on a Monday and then to Charlottesville on the following Wednesday and, wa-lah, I’m back on my normal Wednesday travel day schedule!
Sooo, Saturday, April 13, 2019 found Uncle Larry beginning a three-day drive to Oklahoma City with a Saturday night stay at Grants/Cibola Sands KOA in Grants NM and a Sunday night stay at Big Texan RV
Sometimes There Is Just No Explanation
Twin Fountains RV Resort - Oklahoma City OK
Ranch in Amarillo TX before reaching Twin Fountains RV Resort in Oklahoma City on Monday afternoon. As I was checking in, the resident mobile RV repairman noted that there was stuff hanging down from the belly of the fifth wheel. This fly in the ointment was not really unexpected as that seems to be the story of my life. Not major stuff, so far, but a continuous onslaught of minor inconveniences. After getting to my site, I called the aforementioned RV repairman who related he would be there Tuesday morning for a look-see. Then I called cousin Larry. He picked me up, we went for a really nice, no frills, economical catfish dinner at a ma and pa eatery, Jeff's Country Café, and returned to the Bighorn where we chatted for a couple of hours.
Mid-week was spent with the again-aforementioned RV repairman and some unfinished housekeeping chores – i.e., gathering details for Chapter 2019 of The Great Adventure
. It seems that no matter how early the start, something remains unfinished, be it an RV park reservation, completing the details for an attraction I plan to visit or a phone call to a relative or friend. In the process
of chatting with the aforementioned RV repairman, I learned that he too is a retired firefighter/paramedic. He happened to be on duty April 19, 1995, the day of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building
in downtown Oklahoma City. His firehouse was about ½ mile from the blast site, and, of course, they started rolling even before the dispatch. Quite interesting.
Friday, April 19, 2019, I ordered an Uber to take me to the 24th Anniversary Day of Remembrance
. The ceremony was held on the Outdoor Symbolic Memorial
, “a place of quiet reflection,” and contains several elements, including the Gates of Time, a Reflecting Pool, the Field of Empty Chairs, the Survivor Tree (which was on site before the blast but managed to survive) and the Rescuers’ Orchard. It was quite somber to stand on the site of the former Murrah Federal Building as all those gathered observed 168 seconds of silence in honor of those killed in the blast. Listening to family members, survivors and first responders read the 168 names of those innocent victims personalized the losses that were suffered that day. The names were divided into blocks of about 25 names and each began with, “We remember our friends from (AGENCY).” With each block
of names, the reader would inject my brother, my mother, my son or some other familial tie to an individual on the list of names. I could feel their pain even 24 years later.
The Oklahoma City Memorial Museum
occupies the west end of the former Journal Record Building, Located in the same block as the Murrah Federal Building, this 1923 structure, amazingly, withstood the April 19, 1995, bombing although it sustained major damage. The museum begins with “Chapter 1 – A Day Like Any Other” and progresses through ten “chapters” which serve as a timeline. At “Chapter 3A – A Hearing,” the visitor enters a “hearing room” and listens to the official audio recording of an Oklahoma Water Resources Board meeting in progress just across the street from the Murrah Building. The meeting and the recording start at 9:00 A.M. and, within a few dozen seconds, the visitor hears the sound of the bombing that changed America forever. As the blast sounds subside, the visitor leaves the confusion inside the “hearing room” to experience the chaos outside. There one finds helicopter news footage of the ravaged building taken at 9:13 A.M. – the first of the broadcast images. Some of the
subsequent “Chapters” are titled Chaos, Survivor Experiences, World Reaction, Rescue & Recovery, Impact & Healing and Investigation & Justice.
In the Gallery of Honor, one finds the personal stories, photographs and artifacts of the 168 who were killed. Key pieces of evidence including crime scene photos, the getaway car and mangled pieces of the rental truck are on display, and a section of the Journal Record Building is preserved in its damaged state to illustrate the degree of the devastation. The final section, Responsibility & Hope, gives the visitor a sense of the physical and emotional rebuilding that Oklahoma City underwent in the months and years that followed. The Memorial Overlook gives the visitor a look at the Memorial grounds from a different perspective and a glimpse at the ever-changing city skyline that is part of the hope that Oklahomans have found. When I embarked on The Great Adventure
in March of 2010, my goal, in each community I visited, was to gain an understanding of the factors that has made the community who and what it is today. I cannot think of any community that has endured such a watershed as has Oklahoma City, and the Oklahoma City
National Memorial & Museum is an absolute “must see” attraction, even if only passing through the area.
Another Uber ride (sorta on the way back to the RV park) brought me to the Oklahoma State Capitol. When I attempted to visit the capitol in September 2015, it was completely closed for renovations that had JUST begun. In 2019, the landmark is open for modified tours as there are still significant areas of construction activity both inside and outside. I was told total completion is not anticipated for another three years. Save your time until 2022 (be sure to call or check the web site)!
Saturday, Cousin Larry and I had planned to visit the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
in Oklahoma City; however, he had some mechanical issues with his son’s car that held him at the automotive hospital so I went on a solo trip – nothing new for this vagabond! First, the museum is big. Second, it consists of numerous, interconnected, similarly-named – galleries which makes the nicely done museum map a first cousin to a treasure hunt. Third, all of the artifacts on display are first-rate and all are well documented. The natural progression through the museum begins with
flat art (paintings, weavings, etc.) and 3-D art (sculptures) from famous western artists like Remington and Russell as well as Native American artists. A temporary, special exhibit highlights the American Bison. Art forms as a craft are displayed in tack (saddles, spurs, bridles, etc.) and lead into western apparel with less art and more function such as boots, hats and chaps. Traditional cowboy stars such as Hoot Gibson, Will Rogers and Tom Mix give way to modern performers such as John Wayne, Walter Brennan, and Gary Cooper. The history of rodeo and wild west shows is examined, and a mid-nineteenth-century western town is open for exploration. This is not a museum for everyone, but should be included on the list of most western history and/or western art buffs.
I have had sampling rattlesnake on my bucket list for most of my life. Over time, I have learned the round-ups usually happen in the spring as the cold-blooded critters prepare to emerge/remerge from hibernation, so I checked the Oklahoma calendar of events and found the Apache Rattlesnake Festival in Apache OK would occur during my stay. Timing is everything! Only about an hour from Oklahoma City, I decided to make
Saddle and Chaps of Gary Cooper
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum - Oklahoma City OK
the trip. Larry was of much the same mindset as I about tasting the meat and was interested in joining me so Sunday, as planned, Larry and Larry headed for the Apache festival. Apache is a small community, and the festival is the major source of revenue for many of the local organizations. We walked the midway and the vendor booths and went to a live rattlesnake educational demonstration. Milking is not done at the festival as it must be performed in a clean environment. Finally, we happened upon a rattlesnake meat vendor and stopped for a sample.
The product was already in a foil “pouch” and retrieved from a warming device so we bought it sight unseen. I should note that there are big rattlesnakes and small rattlesnakes. I got a big piece while Cuz got a small piece. Even the small piece was sufficient to declare, “Been there, done that!” The breading was quite tasty, but the meat was quite tasteless. There was virtually no meat and what was there was tough and stringy. I would liken the experience to eating the rib meat off the chicken. There was much more work expended than nutrition gained; however,
if one were stranded and there was nothing else to eat, …. I suppose the boys from the Hanoi Hilton would have been delighted to partake in some deep-fried cobra!
I had a nice time in Oklahoma City, despite the reappearance of the RV gremlin. I actually lucked out big time – there was a mobile repairman at the park who had an opening during my visit. Had it not been for him, I would have had to take the rig to the shop for repairs and found a motel. Those two days also allowed me to recover from some of the postponed activities I noted earlier. My previous stops have been to visit my late friend, Darryl, and I’m looking forward to future visits when I can check out some more of Oklahoma City’s attractions – including a COMPLETELY RESTORED state capitol.
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