I fell in love with Guthrie the first day I visited. The small Oklahoma town looked like the set of a Disney movie. We were only supposed to stay two days, but we ended up staying seven, with promises to come back. My best friend grew up here and her mother died here. I just happened to be the person who drove her up for the funeral. I had no idea the serendipitous effect this trip would have on my life.
Vanessa was asleep when I exited the highway thirty miles north of Oklahoma City. We had been traveling for almost thirty hours straight and not driving gave her no discernible reason to stay away, as far as she was concerned. I stayed on Seventy-seven as it turned into Division street, enjoying the dips and rises of small hills I was unused to. I drove through downtown and took a left on Highway thirty-three, onto the bridge that hovers over the Cottonwood Creek, a body of water known to overflow at least twice per year. I finally woke her up and she amazed I got so far without directions. I couldn’t explain it. It felt like home.
I had forgotten a few things in my mad dash to get ready for this unscheduled venture halfway across the country. Pajamas were one thing I lacked, so we drove to the local Wal-mart to see what they offered in nightwear. I walked over to a p.j. set with rubber duckies printed all over it and was amazed to see that the whole set was on sale for seven dollars. I asked my buddy “is this for real?” and she laughed and said “everything costs less in Oklahoma.”
To prove a point she took me to another store to buy the local paper, which incidentally was a measly six pages of black and white. It’s printed in color now. I took my place at the back of the line but the customers in front of me insisted I go first because, after all, I was only buying a paper. I couldn’t imagine a Miami where people let you get in front of them in line, anywhere, for any reason. There would be a fistfight! As I perused the local news I ran across an article about a murder trial. The first murder in five years! A further look into the paper provided me with classified articles listing rental prices (I was already in love with the town and its people when I read that 3 bedroom houses were going for three to four hundred dollars a month!), and charming ads for milk and eggs you could buy from someones farm! Now I know I’m a city girl and to many people this sounds completely normal. However, did you know that eighty percent of the United States lives withing 200 miles of the border- which is mostly coastal? These statistics tell me I was not alone in my perspective.
Later that week we drove back to Florida, our hearts heavy. As we entered the southern end of the peninsula, graffiti and garbage started popping up everywhere. I suddenly understood the term “concrete jungle” as compared to Guthrie’s verdant hills and wide open spaces. For the next few months everything that came out of our collective mouths began with “Did you know that in Oklahoma…?” All of our friends must have been sick of hearing of this far away place that, in their opinion, was probably full of cows and hicks.
Two months later I met my second husband. When things started to get serious I informed him that I planned to move to Guthrie and if he wanted a future with me he would have to move, too. One year later we were engaged and moved our family (his daughter and mine) to Guthrie. I have lived and worked in Guthrie for six years now and I currently write tours for the historical society. My children attend school here and are involved in volunteering at a local museum and many academic groups as well.
This town has so many perks that people who were born here take for granted. We have an old fashioned drive-in movie theater, an ice cream parlour, several independent coffee shops and the best BBQ place in the state! There is a parade for every holiday – even an old fashioned homecoming parade with a king and queen of everything from sports to science club. Our high school football stadium has ranked in the top ten in the nation. Our pubic housing is clean and well kept and they are building more every year. I belong to a literacy committee that teaches adult learners how to read and there are three food banks and an aging center that feeds our elderly two meals a day. Guthrie has it’s own transportation, a taxi service open 19 hours a day, except on Sundays when it is open 8, that will pick you up at your door step and take you anywhere in town for three dollars a ride. They provide free rides for seniors during special hours. This is a community that, as they say, takes care of its own.
Guthrie’s charming red bricks comprise most of the Victoria buildings downtown and even some of the streets themselves! Several roads here are still cobblestone. At one time it was referred to as the San Fransisco of the Midwest. This town really has history. A land run town, in the late 1800’s, it was settled overnight by pioneers . Old West figures roamed these streets- such as the Three Guardsmen, the Dalton and Doolin gangs, Lon Chaney, Belle Starr, Tom Mix and even Jesse James was rumored to have spent some time here. Chris Madsen, a legendary Marshall of the Old West, wrote that the corner of Second and Harrison was the most dangerous in America during that time period. There were jail escapes and shootouts, train robberies and brothel escapades. There are haunted bed and breakfasts, rumors of tunnels under the city and a Boot Hill section of the cemetery where Bill Doolin and Elmer McCurdy are buried, among others.
The famous writer O’Henry spent some time in our cozy little town as well and wrote a short story, Love a’la Mode, set here. He is quoted as having said “Rome wasn’t built in a day, but Guthrie was.”