“The events in our lives happen in a sequence in time, but in their significance to ourselves they find their own order, a timetable not necessarily – perhaps not possibly – chronological. The time as we know it subjectively is often the chronology that stories and novels follow: it is the continuous thread of revelation.”


The woodworker

Ish Noah, of Battiest, Okla., doesn’t own a phone. He gets his news from his neighbors. He spends most of his time crafting the next piece of his livelihood in a woodshop, or mowing lawns, or taking care of his mother, whose failing health has him planning to move a few miles west to Pickens.

We met Noah at the Bigfoot Festival epicenter in October. Serenely calm, his spirit soothed us as he talked through biographical elements: Because his parents could not meet the economic demands of supporting their family, he dropped out of high school at age 16 to take a logger job in the Kiamichi Mountains. His body, now riddled with chainsaw scars created from ricochet dynamics, or large limb and equipment drops from above, is also riddled with arthritis brought on by years of physical labor.

But he pushes through.

Noah not only crafts redwood clocks, jewelry cases, trunks and benches to sell, but he donates a number of his creations for school fundraisers and to “help people out a little” if they get sick.

While listening to Noah’s measured voice, we began sensing the better angels of his nature.

“I made one of these for somebody who had cancer and needed some help with the bills. They sold it at an auction,” he said. He pointed to a feather, bow and arrow wall hanging — a nod to his own Choctaw tribe.

Ish Noah woodwork
Ish Noah’s woodwork. (Kelly Roberts)

When our discussion turned to mowing lawns, he intimated, “I do one of the mowing shifts over at the cemetery. But the other day, I mowed it when the foreman was supposed to … his son died, and I didn’t want him to hafta mow the lawn on the day of his boy’s funeral.” Noah’s sky-blue eyes misted, fixing on some far horizon; he then folded his arms midsection level, and paused for a bit.

The baker

While it is possible that some news makes its way through Kay Bilyeu’s TV in Criner, Okla., she likely is not paying attention. Bilyeu is writing a cookbook for her children and grandchildren. She says, “It’s quite an undertaking.”

Kay Bilyeu
Kay Bilyeu, right, speaks to Kelly Roberts, left, during an interview in Criner, Okla. (Rachel J Apple)

Bilyeu has opinions on “raw milk versus store-bought milk,” annually raising a garden and storing food, taking care of her chickens and selling eggs to those who drive by and notice her sign, and learning about “Life” through the best and worst experiences on a farm.

All this wisdom — including her recipes for pies, cakes, jams, pickles, vegetables, main dishes, special-occasion foods and more — is going into her cookbook. The love for her family drives her to document, archive, consider and respond to every question her children and grandchildren ask about preparing food.

The concrete slab porch connected to Bilyeu’s home is a remnant of the original Criner cotton-gin scales. While rocking and talking, breezes moved through that historical space, consistently nudging the wind chimes. The angels of loving-kindness within Kay Bilyeu’s cookbook-writing efforts were apparent.

The caretakers

Susan Privett in Cimarron City, Okla., makes her way through each day by gently raising her grandson whose parents were killed in an untimely car accident.

Susan Privett
Susan Privett poses with her grandson in Cimarron City, Okla. (Rachel J Apple)

Russell Hogan works day and night to make sure Oklahoma families can occupy State Park “playgrounds” to understand their surroundings in relation to all that nature offers.

Mike Carrick, as the Cache, Okla., area “Santa Claus,” listens to hundreds of children’s Christmas wishes every year, knowing full well that some of their wishes — for their parents enlisted in the armed services to come home — won’t be filled that season.

Tricia and Travis Fleming lose sleep weekly to perform their roles as an EMT and policeman, respectively. Sometimes they must enter the homes of their neighbors to treat a loved one — a closeness only the tiny community of Strang, Okla., population 100, can fully grasp.

Police dog memorial
A police dog memorial hangs on the Flemings’ wall. Travis Fleming is a policeman. (Rachel J Apple)

When leaving Sperry on cold January day, the wife of a member of a coffee-drinkers’ group called us, intimating covert information “they never would have told you.” Evidently, our Sperry group are comprised of secret benefactors to those in the town who need a new air conditioner, financial help for medical bills, or a project at the school. They conspire to good deeds, enriching the community with as much help as they can provide.

Shelby Husman
Shelby Husman poses at her job in Mounds, Okla. (Rachel J Apple)

Shelby Husman of Mounds, only 21 years old, is raising her sister’s children. Robert Reeder in Schoolton raised his sister’s children because she was in prison, then raised his daughter’s children because of her addictions. In other words, his entire adult life has been spent raising the children of the women in his life. And, Lowell Canaday of Stillwater “raised” more than 100 graduate students before retiring at Oklahoma State University; his house is still open to former students making pilgrimages to their alumni city.

Robert Reeder
Robert Reeder of Schoolton, Okla., raised his sister’s and daughter’s children while their mothers struggled with prison and addiction, respectively. (Rachel J Apple)

‘Angels across Oklahoma’

We have, on our Every Point journeys, encountered countless narratives of giving, loving, goodness, kindness, mercy and generosity. Angels across Oklahoma and within our communities span the state’s full breadth with their wingspan. They gently bestow grace over those hurting, either temporarily or permanently. They lift up, with the strength of thousands, those who need support or mentorship. They accommodate, care about and nurture the souls within their spaces and places.

These acts of courage and bounteousness are immeasurable. They cannot be accounted for on government ledgers; the stories won’t be told in media’s bright lights.

These acts, rather, buoy Oklahoma by their fragility. By their sleightness of hand. And by the one-down posture of all those compelled to move beyond themselves, beyond the angst, beyond the national frame, or the international concerns, to those within arm’s length. To those within the reach of their gentility offered.

In the midst of geopolitical angst, we have found angels on our journey. Thank God.

“The excursion is the same when you go looking for your sorrow as when you go looking for your joy.”

— Eudora Welty,
quoted by Torgovnick