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fully prepared me for the taste of ham gravy, hot sausage,
and grits everywhere in North Carolina. I had not antici-
pated the glow of fires in tobacco barns, or a hundred good
fishing holes in a hundred counties, or lighthouses on the
coast, or sunrise out of the ocean.
Julian Scheer recorded for the Charlotte News ten years
ago the things he liked best about North Carolina. I find that
this discoveries parallel my first impressions. He mentions
carnivals, fairs (Oklahoma tastes run to small circuses);
the blue painted windows of textile mills (in Oklahoma we
use the same blue for water tanks and oil storage drums);
black bears in the Smokies (Oklahoma is wolf country, and
ranchers kill the wolves and hang them on fence posts along
the highways).
Oklahoma manufactures Frankoma pottery, but it does
not compare with North Carolina’s production of High Point
furniture, Drexel tables or Cannon towels.
I weigh the smell of wheat and dust and cattle against
the smell of drying tobacco, the smell of cigarette plants,
the smell of seaweed and salt and pine.
In Oklahoma we find the landscape beige for most of
the year, with the big sky and a saffron sun in summer. In
North Carolina one is always aware of red clay, green fields,
dark forests, and orange sunsets. Against wheat, alfalfa,
and vetch, I weigh tobacco fields, the cotton harvest and
strawberry patches.
Oklahoma provides no frame of reference for shrimp
and menhaden boats, for Blowing Rock, Grandfather
Mountain, Cape Hatteras, or Lake Junaluska. But none of
these things could prepare North Carolinians for a real April
tornado in Oklahoma.
So far, I have been primarily concerned with landscape
and the senses, with my impressions of natural phenom-
ena. I must now narrow my view to consider the manmade
landscape to compare houses and gardens, I must take note
of the manner of men who inhabit these two regions.
The shelters we have built for ourselves in Oklahoma
and North Carolina differ sharply. I have marveled at the
beauty of the ante-bellum houses here, with their classical
columns, their wide verandas, the inviting hallways. But
the Oklahoma ranch house has its charm too—set low upon
the land, sprawling, weathered, sturdy against the wind.
The poor we have with us in both states. Poverty
gives a unity to log cabins, to unpainted farmhouses, to
sharecroppers’ cabins in the fields (we called them shotgun
houses in Oklahoma, and oil field roughnecks live in them).
In Oklahoma the houses of the poor turn in time to a sand
color; here they weather to a silvery gray. In Oklahoma the
wind sweeps the refuse of poverty out of the yard; here the
old tires, the broken bits of furniture settle into the weeds.
In Oklahoma it is easier to lay out cities. Because of the
prevailing prairie land the streets are straighter; the plat-
ting of lots is more uniform but less interesting than here.
The people of my two states resemble the regions which
spawned them. The Oklahoma plainsman is plainspoken.
He wastes no words. He meets the visitor at the door with a
hard handshake and a preemptory “Come into this house.”
He will inquire of family and crops or cattle; he may criti-
cize the government. Beyond that he has little to say. He is
a watcher and a listener, and he becomes an astute judge of
character. His world is not complex: what is not good is bad;
the deed that is not right is wrong. He has a keen and earthy
sense of humor. Change makes him cautious, and phoniness
in ideas or people makes him angry. There is warmth, open-
ness, even naivete in him.
The Indian, especially the Cherokee, remains a strong
minority in Oklahoma, much stronger than in North
Carolina. He remains in both places an exotic, a far more
complex personality than the white man and much more
poetic. I am not sure that, after nearly a century of integra-
tion, the whites and Indians of Oklahoma fully understand
one another.
The polish of an extra century of civilized living shines
on the North Carolinian. Where an Oklahoman tends to be
phlegmatic, taciturn, and serious, North Carolinians are
quick-thinking, responsive and gay. There is an elegance
in the style of their greeting, in the graceful exchange
of pleasantries about family, friends, and occupation. I
like your graciousness in even the smallest matters, your
sensibility and your courtesy.
Most of all, I am impressed anew by the speech of the
educated Southerner. It is too bad that we have become so
sensitive about racial and regional differences that we have
ruthlessly exorcised some of our differences. It is too bad
that we cannot tell dialect stories without giving offense. It
is too bad that some of us are ashamed to be identified with
our native heath; it is a pity that we have become culturally
homogenized.
A few years ago one of my teachers at the University
of London was traveling in this country. I had known him
several years, but this was the first time that he revealed
himself as a Yorkshireman. He revealed it so well that he
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