My early childhood in Kansas was a mashup of the idyllic TV lives of Opie and The Beav. In summertime, boys played wiffle ball and rode bikes all day long. When it got really hot we swam at Wilson Lake (an old sand pit, really). I tagged along with my older brother and friends to the railroad trestle on the river — the Little Arkansas (pronounced ar-KAN-sas once you cross the state line) — to fish and catch crawdads. We shot firecrackers and BB guns and played games with no parental supervision. Dad’s back-porch whistle, which could be heard blocks away, was our dinner bell. After dinner, we held hide-and-go-seek marathons until way past dark.
Then came the first of several oil-industry dips and turns that would shape my life. My dad labored over linen maps as a draftsman for Skelly Oil Company. Fifty years ago this month, in August of 1966, Skelly closed its Wichita District office. Dad’s next Skelly paycheck, they told him, could be picked up at the headquarters office in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the “Oil Capital of the World“.
Moving meant leaving Valley Center, a little bedroom community on the edge of the Great Plains outside Wichita. For me, it meant leaving friends and school. My older sister and brother opted to pursue their educations in Kansas, which was their home. In Tulsa, I would be an only child. The new kid.
First impressions of Tulsa from our house-hunting trip were not good.We drove the 200 miles in blistering heat. Our old Rambler lacked A/C. As we finally arrived on the outskirts of Tulsa, we passed Depression-era shotgun houses along U.S. 64 in Sand Springs. We continued on past refineries and Route 66 motor courts that lined Southwest Boulevard in industrial West Tulsa.
Goodbye to Opie and The Beav and the land where the deer and the antelope play. My 9 year-old imagination ran wild: Would the midwestern Maleys’ new neighbors be the Joads and the Clampetts of Bug Tussle (before Uncle Jed went a-shootin’ for some food)?
First blessing: the Winston Motor Court had a swimming pool.
I was miserable on that house-hunting trip. I couldn’t know it then, but the Maleys’ second blessing was an angel masquerading in the form of a real estate agent named Shatzie Wilson. Shatzie was pleasant, kind and patient with the whiny 9 year-old in the backseat of her station wagon as we scoured available housing in south and east Tulsa. In the days before realtor.com and Redfin, an agent’s only source of market intelligence was a 6-pound Multilist book.
Shatzie had good advice for Ann and Bob. She focused their search on areas with good schools. There were houses in their modest price range in an area called Ranch Acres. Patrick Henry Elementary was a feeder for Edison Junior and Senior High, all schools with great reputations.
Once they found a house they liked, Shatzie advised Ann and Bob to act quickly since the market was brisk. It would be a good idea, she said, to offer $100 over the asking price in case there were multiple offers. (In 1966, $100 was a lot of money.) The strategy worked; another offer had come in at the asking price at the same time.
The little brick veneer ranch on Louisville Ave. would be home for Ann and Bob for the next 30+ years.
To be continued in Part II.