Last week David Allison died, suddenly. Although not my grandfather, I sort of placed him in that role of my father’s father. He’s actually a Great Uncle, biologically and I got my name from him. My father and I never knew my biological grandfather. (He died when my dad was 3.) Immediately after I received the phone call of his passing, I started looking at flights towards Oklahoma, and the next morning, I was on a plane and headed back to Elmore City, Oklahoma. You’ve never heard of it.
Elmore City currently boasts a population of 693 residents. (The Castro in San Francisco has 12,503 residents.) It’s safe to say that people know their neighbors.
In my time previously in Oklahoma and with David on the farm I wasn’t a guest; I was a strong back and a weak mind. There are plenty of stories including the time David sprayed me in the face with milk straight from the cow’s utter when teaching me how to milk a cow, driving the caterpillar to help create a lake on the property when I wasn’t even close to having a license, showing me how to play and win a game of dominoes, or making me go out and ring one of the chicken’s necks for dinner that night. Let’s not forget, being the master chef for a whole bunch of cows and one stubborn bull in the morning. I carry those stories with me, but I also carry the beautiful landscapes, hayrides at night while watching the fireflies twinkle against the dark sky, not caring about being covered in mud, and most of all, the community.
The funeral for David was held in a small chapel in neighboring Katie, Oklahoma and I was surprised to arrive and see it filled with people. So much so that they had to open up a side event room adjacent to the chapel; the preacher had to project like never before. His usual crowd is that of around 4 people, he told me later. This not only testifies to the outstanding influence that David had among his many friends and relatives, but also to the strong foundation of the community.
The reception followed right after down the road and I was marveled at the spread that was being served. The counters in the community center in Katie were full of different plates of food; fried chicken, brisket and potatoes, salad, more fried chicken, red beans and rice, casseroles, cakes, pies, cookies, and more friend chicken. All of this food was made by the locals of Elmore City and Katie, Oklahoma. It wasn’t planned by anyone specifically, and there was no talk of “you bring this” and “I’ll bring that.” Nobody begrudgingly participated. It sort of just… happened. I had never seen anything like it before, sincerely.
Although a funeral, it turned into a little bit of a party. David was pretty ornery with a side of a twinkle in his eye and that lead to many hysterical stories about the old man, a lot that I haven’t heard before. One man told a story about David that really showed the depth of his character beneath the layer of redneck.
David said to the man to come over and pick up some okra from their garden, knowing that this man had an affinity for okra. The man, gleefully, came over to pick some up, and he brought a small shopping bag to transport it. David let the man into the garden and he started to pick some okra; placing it in his bag along the way. David, seeing what he was using as his okra receptacle, quickly called the man a wimp and walked off. Confused, the man kept picking at the okra. David came back a few moments later saying “You’re not going to get enough okra in that thing, here’s a tub.” David tossed him a 5 gallon tub and made sure the man filled it to the very top. That’s the thing about David, along with the people in these communities; they always go that extra step to help someone else out, making them feel special.
It got me to thinking about communities I’m apart of and how we all support each other. I arrived back to California with a bit of a heavy heart and landed right into a close-knit community of friends at a party that evening. I felt loved, special and could see the similarities of rural Oklahoma and my life in San Francisco.
David Allison carried with him the purest of hearts, and I was lucky to have spent so much time with him, especially in formative years. I’m proud to be part-redneck because of him and miss him greatly.