Unlikely inspiration.

I’ve been writing a lot lately about France.  In fact, I’ve pretty much only been writing about France, in preparation for an upcoming workshop that is, much to my delight, filling up quickly with participants!  However, this past weekend I took a different sort of trip, to someplace decidedly less glamorous and, it could be said, decidedly less interesting.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say, “Hey, you know what?  For our next vacation let’s head to Oklahoma City, rent a car, and drive out to that part of Texas that’s between Amarillo and Abilene, you know, that isn’t even what you could call the panhandle but has more cotton plants and tractors than humans!”

But that is, in fact, exactly what I did last weekend.  I flew into Oklahoma City, rented a car, and drove to Goree, Texas, population 202 by the 2010 census count.  It’s not exactly a happening place, with its single street of abandoned turn of the century buildings that hurt my heart as a person trained in historic preservation and its single flashing yellow light.  There is a post office, I noticed!  That looked open!  But that was pretty much it.  However, I wasn’t looking to visit the living population of the town of Goree.  I was headed just out of the city, to the town cemetery.  It’s a cemetery where quite a lot of my family are buried, including the only one I really cared about visiting:  my mother.

Let me back up just a bit.  I didn’t just fly into Oklahoma City to rent a car and drive to the depths of West Texas to visit a cemetery, though that is important and indeed, I had only done it once before.  No, first, I stopped to visit my grandmother and take her to dinner in Edmond, Oklahoma, stayed the night with her, and then drove to Wichita Falls, TX, to visit one of my girls who is finishing up training there at Shepard Air Force Base.  She and I made the trek to Goree together, after stopping at a lovely little flower shop there in Wichita to pick up a couple of bouquets of flowers.

And then off we went, driving the pretty much straight shot west on Highway 277 from Wichita Falls to Goree.  As we got closer, the cotton fields became more abundant and apparent, many of them with the fluffy bolls still on the plant ready for fall’s harvest.  Most of those fields around there belong to my family, and it comforted me to think of this, this connectedness to a place where my roots run so deep.  These are the family that I travel to see every July at Lake Possum Kingdom, a place where we’ve all been gathering for the last 50 years at least, since my mother was a child and long before I was even born.  It may look desolate to most people, but to me, it looks in many ways like home.

I had called my dad for directions or an address to the cemetery, but he didn’t know an address.  Silly me, expecting to put an address into Google maps and be directed right to a place (though actually, Goree Cemetery does in fact come up on Google maps, unbelievably).  His directions, however, pretty much explained how to find the little cemetery:  “Head through town and then as soon as you’re out of town, look for the only trees around.  They’ve planted trees around the cemetery as a wind break.”  He was exactly right.  The only trees around for miles surrounded the Goree Cemetery.

My girl and I easily found Mom’s headstone and placed the elegant bouquet (which Mom would have approved of) on the ground in front of it.  I couldn’t bring myself to stay very long- I didn’t feel mom’s presence at all there, not in that place, and looking at her name on that stone felt pretty terrible.  But as we were driving away again, my daughter commented to me, “A queen came from here, and raised a queen, who is in turn raising more queens…”

She doesn’t yet know the half of it.  My great grandmother was the original queen, I suspect, if we’re using that word to mean a strong, independent woman who makes things happen.  She raised 4 strong, independent daughters (well, all but one, anyway) and then came my mother, one of the most strong and independent of them all.  What a shame that breast cancer had to take her from us so young- maybe some day that will make sense to me.  Right now, it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever and frankly I’m still pretty angry about the whole situation.  But, that aside, I hope that I am indeed continuing the line of queens.  Looking at my two girls, I’d say that I am.

In any case, I dropped my girl back off at her dorm room Sunday morning after our adventure  out in West Texas.  We had ended our drive with the finest dining that Wichita Falls has to offer (I’m not being sarcastic here- the family-run, hole in the wall Mexican food restaurant had molé enchiladas that are some of the best I’ve eaten, and I know my molé). Upon leaving her, as I made the trek back along I-44 from Texas to Oklahoma, I thought about what she’d said to me the day before, about queens raising queens.  The weather, as I headed north and east back to OKC, was blessedly cloudy and gray, meaning that the lingering summer heat had finally broken and that fall was at last being allowed in.

And meaning that I could more easily see, against the velvety gray backdrop of a clouded sky, what was winging past me in the sky as I drove:  Hundreds upon hundreds of monarch butterflies.

Monarch butterflies.  The queen of butterflies.

Seeing these beauties filled me with hope on so many levels; monarchs are in trouble, as we all know, due to corporate greed and monocrops and glyphosate and all that nonsense, so seeing so many of them made me feel like this world just might survive after all, as illogical as that may or may not be.  But on a more personal level, they felt like a little message to me, from God, or maybe from my mother, that even though things don’t always feel like it, God is in control and that beauty can be found anywhere.

Queens, coming impossibly from the windy plains of west Texas, and queens, winging their way across those plains under ridiculously impossible conditions.

I hope that I too can live up to their examples of strength and beauty, all of them.

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