The oil industry was booming in Tulsa in the 1970’s, and according to my mom’s friend and coworker, Sandy, if you couldn’t find work there, it’s because you didn’t want to find it. That’s why she and her husband, Carl, were making plans to move to Tulsa.
For my parents, the promise of opportunity was enough to convince them that it was time to consider moving. Between a burdensome mortgage and my dad’s over-the-road dump truck job to try to keep up with it, both their finances and their marriage were strained under the weight of their obligation to the bank and the responsibility of caring for their two small children.
So in November 1972, my dad came to Tulsa with hopes of creating a new life for his family. He stayed with Sandy and Carl while he looked for a job. Within the matter of a few of weeks, my dad had secured a job as an assistant manager at a nearby service station. He also purchased a brand new, fully furnished, three-bedroom mobile home which he then had set up in the Mingo Village Park, just down the street from Sandy & Carl.
Meanwhile, back in Missouri, my mom gave her notice at the construction company where she worked in the accounting department logging in payroll numbers by hand. She then went to work getting ready for the move which included finding a renter for their house. Since most of the furniture in that house had belonged to her mother, she decided to leave it behind and only packed up the kitchen cabinets, our clothes, and other personal belongings.
As the holidays approached, my dad made a deal with the other guy who worked at the service station with him. If he would work the week of Christmas, my dad would work for him the week of New Year’s. So with his work obligations taken care of, my dad drove back home to Missouri, and my family celebrated Christmas in our little house on Colonial Court for the last time.
Early on the morning of December 26th, my parents loaded up the last of our belongings in the biggest U-Haul trailer they could find that would fit their washer and dryer, but that would also hitch to the back of their 1971 Chevy Impala. As they made their way south on I-44, it felt more like the “Grapes of Wrath” than a new beginning. My parents weighted down Chevy burned through a whole tank of gas before they reached Tulsa. Stopping in Vinita, they scrounged together some cash and spent their last $10 on gas, saving just enough change to pay the toll at the end of the turnpike.
My parents pulled up to their new home in Tulsa running on fumes and flat broke, but they still had hopes of a brighter future for their family. Unfortunately, those dreams lasted less than 24 hours. Later that day, the manager of the service station where my dad worked came with some bad news. Turns out, while my dad was in Missouri, the other employee stole a case of oil and all of the cash from the drawer and closed down the station. The manager was regretful but told my dad that he had no choice but to him go.
For my parents, it felt like things had gone from bad to worse. But thanks to Divine Intervention my mom’s final paycheck from the construction company had come in the mail. And even more miraculous, the Redbud grocery store down the street at the Admiral Circle cashed it for her.
My grandparents arrived a couple of days later to offer their support and help out. They gave my parents the money to pay the bill that had come for getting the blocks under the mobile home set up. They also took care of my brother and me while our parents looked for work. Thankfully, over the course of the next few days, my dad heard about a local trucking company looking for drivers and my mom had secured a job interview through a local employment agency.
The morning of her job interview with F&M Bank, my mom was stressed before she even left the house. My grandparents had already left to go back to Missouri and my dad had left before dawn to start his new job. Adding insult to injury was the fact that she didn’t have one pair of pantyhose that didn’t have a run in them. But my mom was determined to make things work, so she picked out the best pair she could find and then went into the kitchen to grab a quick drink before leaving. Once again though, Providence was on our side because there in the cabinet, tucked in between two glasses, was a $20 bill. And Mom had just enough time to stop at Redbud for a new pair of hose which she then promptly proceeded to put on in the car.
No one ever claimed responsibility for the miraculous $20 in the kitchen cabinet.
Within a couple of weeks of moving to Tulsa, both of my parents had found jobs – my mom got the teller job at F&M Bank and my dad started working at the trucking company. The next order of business was finding a babysitter for my brother and me. Thankfully a lady down the street was able to watch us on those mornings when my mom had to be at the bank at 6:00 am to count the money from the overnight bag drop. It wasn’t easy, but with hard work and Amazing Grace, my parents persevered and created a new life for our family.
I have heard bits and pieces of this story my whole life. Then one night last week, I listened intently to my parents recount their story again. Standing at the bar in their kitchen, I choked back tears as I visualized my mom and dad – both of them in their early 20’s – overcoming these overwhelming odds.
Today my parents are celebrating their 53rd wedding anniversary. And over the years they have faced similar challenges. A couple of years after moving to Tulsa we nearly lost our home to a flood. Later on there were health problems and union strikes and heart-breaking deaths in the family. All of which they met with the same faith, fortitude, and irrepressible determination to survive.
Thinking back, I am so grateful to my parents for creating a good life for my brother and me. For showing us what it means to have faith and to work hard and to be self-reliant. For teaching us how to love unconditionally. And for being a shining example of resilience and living proof of how to overcome adversity.
I am so proud that they are my parents.