Tuesday, January 16, 2018

My "S-Word" Childhood Home #SOL18

Abandoned Superfund site, Pitcher, Oklahoma
When I was five years old, my mother moved my sister and me to Pitcher, Oklahoma. We lived in two separate houses during that time. Both were shacks. One had a front room, a bedroom, a kitchen, and a bathroom. 

The second house had two rooms arranged in shotgun style. The front room occupied half the house. We used it as a bedroom. A bare bedspring peaked out from under the mattress that was too small. I have a scar on my leg from the time I got my knee stuck in the spring. To prevent infection, my mother poured a bottle of rubbing alcohol on the open wound. I howled in pain. 

The kitchen occupied the back part of the house. It had an ice box and a stove. We had no bathroom in the house, so my mom set up a metal tub in the middle of the room for us to bathe in. We used an outhouse down the alley because the house had no toilet. My sister and I often ran the streets in our underwear. 

That shack was a real "S-Word", so was the town.

Even in the 1960s when I lived there, Pitcher was in decline. After the lead and zinc mines peaked in the 1920s, leaving behind the tailings that polluted the town's land and groundwater, Pitcher was designated a superfund site and officially died in 2009 when the city government disbanded. In fact, the Tarheel Mining District, of which Pitcher is a part, is the largest superfund site in the country.

Betty's Drive-In, a place I remember from my childhood.
Over time the process of mining lead and zinc resulted in "mountains" of chat bordering the towns of Pitcher , Oklahoma and Treece, Kansas. I played on these toxic hills. When the mines closed, the abandoned shafts filled with water, contaminating nearby Tar Creek, creating swimming holes that became popular recreational sites for local children. More than a third of the homes were built over mine shafts, and eventually the threat of sink holes drove competing sports teams to refuse to compete with the Pitcher Gorillas, forcing more families to move.

I didn't live in Pitcher long, but I did live there long enough to experience abject poverty and to form memories of life in one of America's most undesirable places. Even though the EPA offered several rounds of buyouts, some remained in Pitcher, knowing each breath consisted of toxins poisoning their bodies. A 2010 expose in Wired chronicles some of their stories, their love of home, a home constructed of fond memories, a home literally labeled a dump by the EPA.

I've come to think of Pitcher, Oklahoma and the "chat-rats" that stayed as a metaphor for life in the Trump era. Many willingly breath in the toxic rhetoric leaching from the White House, refusing to clean up the growing superfund site in Washington D.C. As Senator Lindsay Graham explains, we must send children from the room when the news comes on if we don't want them hearing naughty words.
Chat pile in the  Pitcher, Oklahoma Tarheel Superfund site.
President Trump's recent use of that "S-Word" adjective made headlines and changed the rules for publishing and reporting heretofore taboo words. I thought about Pitcher, Oklahoma when Trump disparaged Haiti and Africa.  I wonder if Pitcher's famous sons Joe Don Rooney of Rascal Flatts and Tim Spencer of Sons of the Pioneers thought of their hometown.

There are places in our own backyards more deserving of a vulgar label than the countries and the continent Trump disparaged. Should Pitcher, Oklahoma be labeled one of them? The town did not create the toxicity that poisoned its children and swallowed its geography. The lead and zinc mining companies did that. Those who called Pitcher home and who stayed with her until they were driven from their homes deserve love and respect, just as Africans and Haitians deserve better than to have their homes denigrated by politicians. 

That is, Trump can't call other places shit-holes without applying the label to the parts of our country damaged by poverty and pollution, places Trump would not think to spend the night in let alone call home. That should tell us all something about what he thinks of poor people in America.

Where, then, does Trump's rhetoric leave us? 

It leaves us mired in the excrement Trump spews. Buried in his racist words and deeds rolling down on us like a river of toxic waste from an abandoned mine.

Tuesday is Slice of Life Story Challenge sponsored by
the team at Two Writing Teachers.


  1. As I read this I first thought y9u have the opening of a memoir. Your description is excellent and I’d like to know more.

    I also thought about the corporations of reaped financial benefits and rarely seem to be held financially responsible nor are they criminally charged. Is ever the term ****hole applies, it would be to the corporations that place greed before community and Thomas politicians who ala los their criminality to continue unabated.

  2. I’ve thought about writing a memoir, but I think I’d have to spend some time back in that area to do it justice. I have stories but am unsure if my memory bin some cases. It was so long ago.

    I think the mining companies went bankrupt. Another tragedy is how the land was stolen from the Quapaw Indians and then returned to them in its denegratec state once all abandoned the town.

  3. Beautifully said, this country is not the perfect shangri-la and with no room to judge other countries. This slice touched my heart.

  4. Your post brought me to tears, not only for you but for all of us who lived in or came from less than perfect beginnings. I lived in TRAILER PARKS until I was 7! Three children in a one bedroom trailer. It was not the most wonderful neighborhood. Your post is a CLEAR reminder that we are WHO we become....not where we are from.....

    1. That last sentence, "we are WHO we become...not where we are from," says it all.

      For me the good news is that I can look at much of the past in a semi-detached way, as though I'm looking at someone else's life.