When I was a kid and felt especially unhappy with my life, my grandmother would put her arms around my shoulders and say, “Let’s just go out to Oklahoma and start a pony farm.” She and her sister had inherited about 25 acres of land somewhere in Oklahoma. They’d never laid eyes on it, but my grandmother held that deed in her back pocket as her private escape hatch. Long after I was an adult and she was in her 90s, she’d remind me from time to time. “There’s always that pony farm.”
Kate and I would be driving through Oklahoma on our way to Missouri to visit my dad, and I asked my brother-in-law to help me figure out where this land was. After four generations of pipe dreams, I figured it was time to take a look at this acreage. He pulled out the land papers from my mother’s file box and we studied the yellowed county land maps, comparing them to Google earth maps. Finding just the right curve in the road near just the right creek crossing, we pinned down exactly where this land we now owned was. By this time, I had him hooked, and he and Beth agreed to go, too.
Years ago, my mom had contracted with a natural gas company for mineral rights and her trust was still receiving moderate checks each year. This land was the last holding in our mom’s trust, and we’d been meaning to get it transferred to our names (my brothers’, sister’s and mine), so I made an appointment with a real estate lawyer in Atoka (the closest town near the land) for Tuesday. We’d take care of paperwork and go on a land-claiming adventure.
Kate and I left Waco on Sunday and went to Lake Texoma, right on the Oklahoma border, where we stayed for two nights at a Thousand Trails RV park. Beth and Don planned to leave on Monday and stay overnight somewhere nearby. They love staying at quirky unusual places when they travel, so much so that Beth has a blog devoted to her favorites: www.thebethlists.weebly.com/90-notable-nights. They’ve stayed in barns, railroad cars, tipis, boats, tiny hoses, a converted bowling alley, and numerous historic hotels. But they’ve never stayed in a treehouse. So when Kate found a lavender farm not far from where we were staying that included a tree house B&B, they booked it for Monday night.
Once they got settled in their treehouse, we drove over from our RV park to check it out. Savannah’s Meadow definitely meets Beth and Don’s criteria of quirky. We drove for 90 minutes on farm roads to find it.
The original treehouse on the property had been booked, but the owners had rented Beth and Don a new treehouse that was not officially open yet. Its construction had been overseen and documented on a TV show called “Treehouse Masters” on Animal Planet (to be aired July 14), and it was pretty much finished, although the air conditioner was having a hard time dealing with the muggy heat (upper 90s). Still, it was a comfortable, nicely done place with a kitchen, bathroom, and loft bedroom. It was high up over a swampy creek with a long ramp winding up to the front door. A leafing tree sprouted up through the living room floor, and the trunk of another leaned into the wall, surrounded by plexiglass. There was a balcony with a rocking chair and a rickety stick railing, and if it hadn’t been so hot and swarming with mosquitoes, it would have been a lovely place to hang out.
The owners were out boating for the day, so we lathered up with mosquito repellent and tromped around the place, guided by their old basset hound Fred. There were two small fields of blooming lavender, a chicken coop, and duck pond. A silo by the front lavender field contained a little store and there were tables and platforms set up for entertaining. Signs all around the property offered up public areas: herb garden, playground, Zen path, grotto, creek path. And indications of quirky creativity abounded. A birdhouse made from an old cowboy boot. An overstuffed chair hanging from a tree. Outdoor chandeliers. Unfortunately, the place was run down just enough to push quirky over the edge to creepy sometimes.
For more about this interesting place, check out my sister’s blog post: http://thebethlists.weebly.com/90-notable-nights.
The next morning, we all drove up to Atoka, Oklahoma where we met with a lawyer I’d found on the internet. There were only two, both women, and this one focused on real estate. When I’d called, the receptionist was so casual (“Yeah, sure Tuesday’s fine. When d’you want to come in?”) that I wasn’t sure what to expect. But the law office was the one modern professional building in the whole decaying downtown, and we lucked into a great lawyer.
Pethi was forthright and sharp, emanating the kind of small-town Southern charm that makes you lean back in your chair and start talking a little soft yourself. She eyed the cardboard box that Don was producing tattered legal documents from like it was a box of chocolates. “What else you got in there?”
To clear the deed of any possible red flags for both the gas company and future sales, there were some complications in its lineage that would need to be addressed, and she tackled the puzzle with enthusiastic curiosity, calling up friends to check on taxes and estates. (“Hey, Sally. How’s Bob? Yeah, I hear ya. Listen, do this thing for me, will ya?”) Beth whispered to me, “I think we found our own Norma Rae.”
We were there over two hours, and we walked out with a typed-up list of things we needed to follow up on and a bill for $40. “$15 for the transfer application, $30 to file the change, and the first consultation is free. Just give me a call if you need me to do anything else.” We were stunned by our good fortune.
It was late afternoon and 95 degrees out when we left the law office, but we were determined to find this land of ours, and if at all possible, camp on it. So Beth and Don led the way, and we followed with Bessie and the CRV in tow, out rolling, pastoral farm roads and down a long gravel road, stopping several times to consult the surveyor’s map and Google. When we found it, there was a place we could unhitch and park Bessie nearby but not a bit of cleared land for camping. The land had been fenced by a neighbor in 1950 (to keep his cows from roaming onto it, the letter said), and it was dense with brush. But it bordered an easement strip for electrical towers, which was grassy and clear and a perfect place for a picnic stop. So we sprayed on repellent, put on shoes and long pants (the ticks were already jumping on Bailey), climbed through a saggy barbed-wire fence and laid out blankets.
Beth and Don had brought champagne and glasses and had dressed for the event in cowboy boots. Don had a cowboy hat and Beth had two prairie bonnets that she insisted on posing in with me. (She is the only kid to inherit my father’s director genes and if she thought she could get us to do it, she would have had us performing Oklahoma! right there in the field.) We toasted to our ancestors for passing this land along to us, tromped along the border of it, and came back to Bessie crawling with ticks and dripping with sweat.
We drove back to Atoka where Beth and Don found a motel room for the night, and we found some odd little gravel lot for RVs. We met for dinner at the only place in town still open for dinner, the Atoka Truck Stop Café, and although we stuck out like foreigners (in spite of Don’s cowboy hat), we enjoyed the interesting ambience and the food was actually great.
After weeks of visiting Beth and Don, it was hard to say a true goodbye. Especially for my sister and me. We’re two years apart, shared a room growing up, and have always been close (save for a couple teenage years when I swatted her away like a pesky fly). Here’s a link to a slideshow movie I made for her on her 53rd birthday: http://www.tributewebdesign.com/beth53/index.html