Oklahomans make state easy to love

"Why on earth would you live in Oklahoma?" I've fielded that question a dozen times since our son, Rocket, moved there a couple years ago to take an engineering job at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City.

"He could have chosen a more exciting state."

Granted, Oklahoma doesn't immediately come to mind when you think beautiful vista or white sand beach. It isn't in the same tourism league as mountainous states that flaunt ski resorts and pine-studded peaks. Oklahoma is bowling alley flat, for the most part, and landlocked in the beating heart of tornado alley.

Its red dirt is unfriendly to basements and underground storm shelters, so few houses have them. The sky regularly rains car-gouging hail. There are earthquakes and raging wildfires. There is wind. Summers are horrendously hot, and winters dish up ice storms.

The place is full of Sooner and Cowboy fans.

At first I didn't get it either. But Rocket's job offer was one he couldn't refuse, so he packed his Husker gear and moved to an apartment in the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore.

Hunka Burnin' Hubby and I came to visit, and learned that Oklahoma City and its surrounding suburbs occupy one of the largest metropolitan areas in the country. It seemed we could drive forever without leaving the city. We took in a Thunder game, and bawled our way through the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum. We enjoyed charming restaurants, and strolled along whistle-clean streets.

We met a lot of stellar Oklahomans.

Now, I'm proud to be a Nebraskan, and always thought we topped the charts in the friendly department. But Oklahomans have turned hospitality into an art form.

They look you in the eye when asking how you are, truly caring about your answer. Generous and helpful, they work hard without being showy.

They're staunchly and unapologetically faithful to God. They let you merge into traffic without a Chicago-style honk or a one-finger salute.

Oklahomans are easy to love.

Rocket settled in for the long haul. He discovered barbecue joints and a Husker bar. He met Trooper, the lovely woman who will soon be his wife. He moved back to Nebraska long enough to finish his master's degree, then pin-balled back to Soonerville a few months ago — trading his Moore address for one in nearby Norman.

He sent me a text when the sirens sounded on the day of destruction: "We're fine here at Tinker, but please pray for Moore. They're getting pounded."

Life changes when an EF-5 tornado pays a visit. We've all seen the aftermath of a world gone mad; glimpsed expressions of grief, trauma and shock. We gasped at the death toll, which includes young children. We cried for strangers in this weather-cursed land.

So why on earth would you live in Oklahoma? That's an easy question to answer. It's because of the people, and they're responding to the crisis with gusto.

Volunteer websites are flooded with Oklahomans signing up to clean and build Moore back to good and vibrant health. Volunteers are so prolific, in fact, authorities are begging them to stay home until search-and-rescue efforts are complete.

Local businesses and organizations have stepped to the plate. Team Thunder and its teammates have donated millions of dollars to the relief effort. Energy companies are responding with generous donations, too. A shoe warehouse distributed a thousand pairs of shoes, and restaurants are feeding victims and rescue workers. A discount store is donating blankets, water and flashlights. Blood banks are flooded with donors. The University of Oklahoma has opened its dorms to those who are suddenly homeless. Rescue workers toiled round the clock, enduring rain, hail and 60 mph winds in the search for survivors.

"The same thing happened after the bombing in '95," said Trooper, "and when a tornado leveled Moore in '99. The 'Oklahoma standard' makes me want to cry with happiness and pride."

That standard springs from a spirit strengthened by crisis and perseverance, and fed by a compassionate, neighbor-helping-neighbor mentality.

Even with a landscape that resembles a war zone, and grievous months of back-breaking work ahead, I completely get the appeal of living in Oklahoma.

Let's demonstrate a dose of "Nebraska standard" by honoring Oklahoma with our prayers, kindness and donations.

Tamera Schlueter

Tam Schlueter adopts a "strike-fast-and-keep-them-laughing" approach to writing. Her column appears every Thursday in the Hastings Tribune, and showcases the wonder of family, dogs, muscle cars, and folks with blue collars and no-nonsense attitudes.

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