My mother once apologized to me for giving birth to me in Oklahoma. It was one of those moments when life imitates art, or at least life imitates a King of the Hill episode. The one in which Hank Hill’s long-suffering mother apologizes to him for having gone into labor while in New York City. It turns out that Texan of all Texans…not a Texan. For Hank, the news is devastating. For me, not so much.
My mother is a Kansan by birth, as is my father, as are their parents and their parents before them. (With the exception of one streak of Coloradan running in my mother’s veins, courtesy of her great-grandfather, Coyote Monty Cook.) My sisters are all Kansans. My cousins are all Kansans.
I am an Okie.
It’s a shameful business, but I suppose her apology was as much about what had taken her to Oklahoma in the first place: my father. Both things leave me in an awkward position of explaining my origins. Obviously, not as awkward a position as say, Superman trying to explain the whole thing with Krypton.
All the same, I find myself saying things like, “Well, I’m an Okie, but I’m a Kansan.” I was born in Oklahoma, spent my first few years in Oklahoma, and was raised almost on the border of Oklahoma, but I still think of myself as a Kansan. It makes me a little sad on those occasions when I have to put down my place of birth, a reminder I’m not really a Kansan. My passport is a slap in my face, declaring me to the world’s customs officers as an Okie. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)
Similarly, my father’s early defection from my life leaves me saying things like, “Well, my biologicial father is the convicted felon. My dad was a Command Sargeant-Major in the Army.” It makes for an interesting study in language. Words that start out as synonyms shift as they acquire more subtle shades of meaning.
My dad, he’s a Kansan, too.