When I was a little girl, my brother (The Prince) and I spent Summers with our paternal grandparents in Oklahoma City. I suppose if our Dad had not moved on to another family, we'd have been staying with him, but this was how things were. I adored Mimi & Papa and Summers with them were wonderful. We never went swimming or did any of the normal things kids did during the Summer. Our playground was all of downtown Oklahoma City. It was and still is, a very large downtown area and it was mine.
Mimi & Papa had a dry cleaning and hatters business that was located in downtown OKC and they had operated it since just after the end of WWII. Papa was the only hatter in OKC at that time, which made their's a popular cleaners. Everyone knew my grandparents downtown back then, so I never could get into much trouble even if I wandered about the downtown blocks a bit. I was a far too friendly kid, so everyone knew me as well. I knew the couple around the corner who operated the cafe at the old Hotel Kirkpatrick which had seen better days, even back then. They were always good for an ice cream cone or a Coke. They were Polish immigrants and I loved to listen to them talk. I also knew Tony the Tailor who was an immigrant from Italy. The back of his shop was in the same alley as the cleaners and Tony was a sweet, kind-hearted man who used to pretend to be scary and chase The Prince & I down the alley. It always made me giggle until I nearly wet my pants. Then, there was Mimi's hair salon, where I always stopped in to say hello whether Mimi was there or not. I knew the folks who ran the cafeteria across from the cleaners as well as the lady who ran the beer joint next door that Papa liked to go to & play shuffle board (this is where I acquired my shuffleboard skills). I also strolled boldly into the Catholic Church one day and quickly became friends with the Priest there. I loved the stained glass windows and it was there, that I first discovered what a deep faith I had. Clearly, I never met a stranger. Yes, Social Butterfly that I was, I knew them all. Downtown was mine & I knew it. I. Am. So. Lucky. To. Be. Alive.
Best of all, I knew all of the owners of all of the Old Books stores and I haunted them from the time I could read. I also haunted the downtown Public Library, but it just didn't have the same ambiance as the old stores filled with the musky smelling books that I adored. Whenever I disappeared for hours on end, Mimi always knew where to find me. Each Summer I would return and spend it reading books far too mature for me. The owners were always happy to see me, but always set out their rules if I was to occupy space there throughout the Summer. I always complied. I remember the smell of the old books so vividly. It's a smell I haven't encountered for quite some time. I suppose the the Big Guys like Barnes & Nobles have all but chased off any remaining *mom & pop* stores.
I also hung around the travel agency down the street & dreamed of going to far-away places. Then, I'd stroll on down to my favorite department store, John A. Brown's, where I had a great aunt who worked in the children's Shoe Department and a great uncle who worked in the China Department. They were both always horrified to see me alone, on my own, downtown, and would call Mimi to come & collect me. But, not before they treated me to lunch at my favorite cafeteria in the world to this day. Anna Maude's. Then, Mimi would be there in a taxi to pick me up outside, loudly scolding me until the door of the taxi was closed. No problem. No matter what my grandparents said, I'd find a way to sneak out and make my daily rounds. Doubtless, I was the kind of child who probably should have been on a leash because I was always running off. There were certain office buildings around their block that were off-limits to me too, which was fine since they looked boring anyway.
I loved those days and remember them with so much fondness. Time went on and Mimi passed away from Emphysema when I was 19. My grandfather Papa followed two years later. My grandfather's two sons from his first marriage were at this point, owners & operators of the dry cleaners. As time went by, I lost touch with them and I seldom ever went to OKC by then.
The morning of April 19, 1995, safe & secure here at home with both kids in grade school by that time, I returned from carpool to make coffee & turn on the Today Show. In the middle of the Today Show, a special bulletin interrupted the show. I sat in pure horror & shock as they were trying to report that a building in downtown OKC had been blown up & completely levelled, with hundreds dead. It was total chaos & no one was sure what had really happened. It was the Federal Building, which was one of the places I was forbidden to go as a child. I spent the entire day in front of the TV crying & trying to contact my uncles in OKC. No luck. Phone lines were gone in that area of downtown, from the bomb's damage. In my memory, I was thinking that the cleaners had been several blocks away from this building, so although I knew there would surely be damage, I wasn't too worried. I figured those buildings had been there practically forever and would have damage, but they were built to last.
I was never able to contact my uncles, so I assumed they had sold the cleaners & moved away. It wasn't until 6 years ago that I learned the truth about what had happened that horrible, terrifying day in downtown Oklahoma City.
To Be Continued Tomorrow....