What makes a city unique? What are the characteristics that make Claremore different than any other town in Oklahoma? I think about this sort of question a lot. If I’m in the car, driving to the grocery store, I think about it. As I’m in line at the bank, I think about it. As I’m supposed to be writing an article for the paper, I’m thinking about it. So, what is it? What makes us so special?
I used to think it was the people.
But, I’m not sure that’s exactly it. I am a bit of a rarity. I grew up in Claremore. I went to college at Rogers State University in Claremore. I started my professional life at the Will Rogers Memorial Museum in Claremore. As a result, I’ve had to make new friends every few years. Lots of my friends moved away after high school, and those that were left moved away after college. As I made new friends in college and graduate school, they would all eventually move on, too. Lately, I’ve also come to realize the sad reality that the new friends that I have made in the community won’t always be here, either. Some are already gone. Different seasons of life, I guess.
I used to think it was the institutions.
And, maybe it is in some way. I’m not sure that captures all of it, though. Not every town has a university, world-class museums, or Route 66 running through it. These are certainly things that make our town special. But, Rogers State University has changed a LOT over the years, both in name and in the footprint they have made on the city. The Will Rogers Memorial Museum didn’t even exist until 1938. The J. M. Davis Arms & Historical Museum has been at its location since 1969, but before that it was a private collection in a hotel lobby. These things have changed over time, and I’m sure they will continue to do so.
I used to think it was the historic buildings.
But, that can’t be it, either. At least, it’s not that alone. People that know me, know that I strongly believe in historic preservation of historic homes and buildings…especially in Claremore. With every old, rundown, historic house in town, there is a pretty good chance that I have driven by it, and within a matter of days, have convinced myself that I need to buy, show it a little love, and restore it to what it once was. But, one thing I have learned about living in Claremore my whole life, and being a lover of history, is that Claremore is unparalleled in its inability to preserve its historic homes and buildings. Every time I visit the Claremore Museum of History, I look at all the photos of lovely buildings and houses that no longer exist. I used to think that this was normal until I started visiting other towns where they actually do care about historic preservation. As I visited some of these other towns, I’d see some “rescue” projects underway to save an old home or to preserve a neighborhood. There were signs from the National Trust for Historic Preservation out in people’s yards that said, “This Place Matters,” in simple black and white.
This place matters.
That phrase has been ringing in my head ever since I read those signs. Our individual memories, along with the collective memories of everyone else in this town, rely on little things to trigger those moments of nostalgia. A neighborhood is more than the sum of its landscaping and assembled building materials; it’s the countless street baseball games that have happened over the years with all the different neighborhood kids. Experience is so much of what makes us who we are, both as individuals and as a collective group. The shared experiences I have had with my friends are forever burned into each of our individual memories, and have become a shared vision of what Claremore is to us.
Over time, place and experience creates a specific feeling in each of us: a sense of belonging. It’s how houses become homes, and how cities like Claremore become hometowns. And, as those experiences start to accumulate in one particular place, they become a little piece of who we are. Claremore is my home. And, there isn’t another town in the world that has that particular characteristic. That’s what makes us unique.
In the history of the United States, specifically the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the yeoman farmer was considered the model of American values. They were the independent, non-slaveholding, sustenance farmers, who often followed the first wave of pioneers to the settle the frontier. With them came the work ethic, and the independent nature which fostered democratic values. They toiled in obscurity creating a new life for themselves, and laying the foundations of society for those who would come after them.
I used to have a regular campfire where my friends and I would sit around it and tell stories. In some ways, we were all yeomen. In some ways, we were all pioneers. We all toiled in obscurity and sought to create a better world. It was our time to come together to celebrate or lament the daily labors and struggles. It was the Yeoman's Lament.