Because of the work I do and my creative interests, many people assume that I’ve always lived in a city … at least until they hear my accent.
But that is not the case. I grew up on a dirt road in southern Oklahoma surrounded by wooded hills, streams, pasture land, and peanut farms. Our 20-acre plot was 17 miles south of Calvin, Oklahoma (population 325 at the time). We raised sheep. We had enough, but nothing extra or extravagant. The closest community of any size was Non, Oklahoma 3 miles away. Non is only a small collection of homes, two small churches, and about 15-20 people.
My mailing address was “Star Route, Calvin, OK 74531.” No number, simply Star Route … just like everyone else on Star Route. You can’t get more country than that.
I really enjoyed country life. Roaming woods; laying in the grass under the Milky Way, stargazing; fishing – basically anything outside. I especially loved exploring the canyon behind my house looking for flint arrowheads and caves. The opportunities and beauty of the country fed my soul and stoked my curiosity. But early on I sensed that my dreams (so influenced by my country life) would take me away from that land. I knew my gifts for art, story, and imagination were better suited for the city. I became a restless daydreamer who wanted to know what was out there beyond my small world. But these were the days before the internet and we didn’t have cable TV … our antenna could pick up three or four stations. So the rest of the world seemed distant – almost unattainable at times.
My parents and my church introduced me to my first window to the wider world – the Bible. Reading the Bible took me to ancient Israel, Egypt, and Babylon and introduced me to ANE cultures. My small Baptist church also brought in missionaries from far-off lands who told about the places they served. I will always remember the missionaries who worked along the Amazon River. They had a stuffed piranha on their display table. That blew my 8-year-old mind.
The large set of Encyclopedia Britannica volumes in our living room served as another window to the world. Recently, when we were visiting Mom, I pointed out the encyclopedias and told my son, “that was my Google.” I constantly read about architecture, art, design, history (especially World War II). So I became the country kid with an affinity for Impressionist paintings and modern art. It wasn’t always fun to be that guy. At times these interests seemed frivolous.
One of the biggest writing influences came from an odd source – Car and Driver magazine. I ordered the magazine on a whim at a school book fair … I’m not sure why. I don’t know why I did it or why I picked Car and Driver over Motor Trend or Hot Rod, but it turned out to be the right fit for me.
Each month I received an issue of the magazine in our dusty old mailbox on Star Route. Car and Driver featured a wide range of well-written articles about cars – from everyday cars made in America and Japan to exotic ones made in England, Germany, and Italy. Some articles were news-oriented; others were highly-technical explanations; others were features with much flair and wordsmithing. The magazine always included a first-person editorial as well. So much good journalism in such a surprising source. Reading all of these well-written articles put me on the right track to become a journalist.
God took these random pieces and used them to help me become a better artist, writer, and archaeologist. Most of all, these things exposed me to a bigger world and helped me develop an openness to the places I would go and live later in life. I wouldn’t trade any of my childhood experiences – working with the sheep, hauling hay, living at the end of a dirt road, and tromping through the woods. All of these things taught me to find beauty in God’s creation and in the everyday things of life. I still explore the woods every time I visit Oklahoma. It still feeds my soul. I have been truly blessed … and I am completely comfortable in the middle of nowhere or in the middle of a large city. That said, I sure enjoy living in New Orleans.
Photo by Faith Enck at Unsplash.com