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Wilbur and Arlene

March 08, 2011 | Comments: 0 | Views: 111

It was a privilege for me to have met Wilbur and Arlene Harrison. They were they type of people who'd welcome you into their home and onto their ranch, making you feel like a part of their family. Knowing them made me appreciate mylife more.

Despite the odds of living through the dust bowl and The Great Depression, they'd survived many of life's trials and struggles. Although they weren't wealthy in a monetary sense, they were rich in many areas of their lives. The Harrison's were extremely proud, loving, Christian people. It was an honor for me to have known them.

I visited them often on their ranch in Northwest Oklahoma in the late 1990's. I was there on a dry, windy day in the early spring when local television and country radio stations continuously interrupted broadcasts with warnings of high winds and extreme fire danger. That was the day that Wilbur Harrison nearly set the world on fire.

I'd spent the morning in the neighboring town of Woodward, and as I drove back to the ranch going north on highway 50 towards Freedom, I saw dark black smoke billowing high in the sky. Approachingthe Harrison ranch I saw the apparent cause of the billowing smoke. Wilbur, the ninety-year-old, hard of hearing, partially blind determined farmer was riding his riding lawn mower along the dirt road leading to his ranch. As he drove he lit the prairie grass afire never looking back to see the damage he'd caused.

Screaming, "This is insane!" I tried calling his son Henry on his cell phone to warn him of the situation. When I couldn't reach him I called the fire department. Feeling helpless, I watched the destruction the old man was causing with his torch.

Moving slowly towards his ranch, Wilbur continued lighting fires. The wheat field surrounding his range was ablaze, power and telephone poles burned falling down behind him. The site looked like a war zone. Wilbur had recently given up driving because of his failing eyesight, and he'd taken to using his riding lawn mower to get around the ranch. He was unaware of the horrendous destruction the fire was causing as he rolled the riding lawn mower towards the ranch. He continued lighting fires, not looking behind him, apparently believing that he was doing something useful to help out on the farm.

I was relieved to hear the sirens and see the fire trucks descend upon the scene. Wilbur appeared embarrassed and shocked as the firemen approached, screaming at him to stop lighting fires.

Several weeks later, the old man received invoices from the telephone and power companies asking him to pay for the cost of replacing their burned poles.

The day Wilbur Harrison gave up his car keys and stopped driving had been a tormenting day of discovery for him. He'd spent the day driving through his farm's fields, making sure the tractors were rolling and that the harvesting was getting done. As he drove down a dirt road into a wheat field he ran straight into the rear-end of a farm truck stopped on the roadway. He wasn't physically injured in the accident, but the incident took a tremendous toll on Wilbur's pride. He appeared defeated that evening as he handed his truck keys to his son, saying, "I'm done driving." His sight had failed him for some time. He had limited vision from the corners of his eyes but could not see anything straight on. It was obviously heartbreaking for Wilbur to give up his truck keys and his independence.

In the days that followed the truck incident he encouraged his wife Arlene to drive him around the ranch. The elderly couple took daily evening drives to see the progress being made on a new oil well being drilled in their pasture across the highway from their ranch. They were both excited, like children, about the oil and gas wells being drilled on their land apparently looking forward to the financial gain they expected from the wells.

Although Wilbur was not a wealthy man he had an extremely generous side. He'd write out checks to his children, his grandchildren, and his foster kids, for their birthdays and Christmas. They all came around, especially at Christmas, to pick up the money. Even though the foster kids rarely visited the ranch any time other than Christmas, they appeared to worship Wilbur and Arlene. The couple had raised their own four children and several foster kids on a meager farm income. Wilbur or Arlene loved them all equally. That was just the way they were.

Before Arlene became extremely ill with Alzheimer's, she and Wilbur would sit together on warm summer evenings on the dusty old wooden swing on the front porch of their ranch house. Holding hands they appeared very much in love with one another and content with their lot in life.

On a rare occasion a car or pickup truck would pull into their driveway at the ranch, Arlene, who was by then in the early stages of Alzheimer's, served as Wilbur's eyes. He'd ask, "Mom, who is it?" and, if she knew, Arlene would say who was there and what was going on. She was his eyes and towards the end, he was her brain. They worked together well, inseparable during those final years.

Arlene was a nice-looking, strong farm woman before her ugly disease totally took over her body and soul. As her disease progressed she developed a habit of picking up things insisting they belonged to her. She'd pick up and carry away anything that she could put into her pockets having no idea that what she was doing was wrong.

Arlene was alone a lot. When the men folk were out in the fields or otherwise gone for the day, she roamed aimlessly around the farm. Her favorite hobby was picking up sticks that had fallen from the broken trees to use for firewood.

Early one spring day the elderly Arlene drove to Freedom in her old Taurus station wagon. Along the road going into town, she came upon a hitchhiker who flagged her down. She stopped the car to pick up the rough-looking guy, asking "Where are you heading?" He said, "I need to get to Kansas." Without a second thought, Arlene drove him over thirty-five miles into Kansas. When she arrived in Kansas and dropped off the hitchhiker she called home from a pay phone to tell Wilbur what she'd done, and that she was on her way back home. Shortly after that incident the family decided it wasn't safe for Arlene to drive any more; they began to hide the car keys.

One day as Henry returned to the ranch from a trip to the feed store in Freedom, he found Arlene alone in the bullpen with several mean bulls. She was tapping each of them on the nose with a switch she held in her hand. God must have been watching out for Arlene that day as the bulls didn't find her threatening, allowing her to walk out of the pen without charging her. She realized that she was in trouble when she heard her anxious son call out, "Get the hell out of there!" as he ran to her rescue. Arlene calmly walked away muttering under her breath Those darn steers won't get outta here!

The men folk left the ranch early one morning asking me to watch over Arlene and to be certain not to allow her to drive the car. Wilbur soon thereafter called from the wheat field, saying, "Drive the red farm truck and meet me at the tree row field." He explained, "The truck has two gas tanks. One is near empty and the other is full of gas. You may need to switch gas tanks to make it here." I tried to follow his instructions, but wasn't certain if I'd properly switched to the full gas tank. As I finished switching the gas tanks Arlene walked up behind me asking, "What are you doing? Where are you going with my truck?"

Arlene insisted she ride along when I explained that I was taking a shovel to Wilbur in the fields. About five miles down the road, the farm truck ran out of gas. Arlene became upset and I tried in vain to calm her down. "You wait here in the truck, and I'll return to the ranch to get some gas." Eighty-year-old Arlene would have none of that insisting that she'd walk with me.

Just as I considered tying the stubborn old woman to the steering wheel and locking her in the pickup, a friendly neighbor and his good-looking sons drove up. Jed asked, "What are you two up to?" and I explained that we'd run out of gas. He offered, "I've got five gallons here in my truck. It is more than enough gas to get you back to the ranch."

Jed's son, who he called Bubba, poured the gas into the tank. Thanking them for the help I started up the old truck turning it around to return to the ranch. Arlene became irate, screaming, "I want to see Wilbur! We need to find him! I'll spank your sorry ass! We're not going back to the ranch! Find my husband!" I tried staying calm but realized that she'd lost her cool. Even though Arlene was eighty years old, she appeared as strong as an ox. Although frightened, ignoring Arlene's threats I drove back to the ranch.

Parking the red farm truck in front of the old farmhouse, I jumped out running for the safety of the ranch bunk house. Realizing that Arlene was sprinting towards the Taurus, I moved swiftly and was two steps ahead of her opening the door and yanking out the keys, I took off in a dead run for the bunk house. Arlene was right behind me, switch in hand, swearing and insisting that I drop the keys. As I ran down the hill to the bunk houseArlene was close behind. When I reached the bunk house I opened the door and jumped inside. Slamming the door closed behind me I locked it and quickly pulled down the window shades.

Arlene acted like a mad cow, cussing and screaming as she pounded on the bunk house door. Picking up the telephone I tried to calling Wilbur but he didn't answer. Making up my mind to hunker down and wait it out I tried not to give Arlene any indication that I was in the bunk house. Knowing that she'd seen me run in there. I moved around the kitchen as quietly as a mouse, walking on tiptoes trying not to make a sound. I'd learned that day that the last person I wanted mad at me was Arlene Harrison. Her son had been right when he'd said, "Watch out for Mom, she has quite a temper. Don't piss her off."

It seemed like an hour passed before Arlene gave up trying to break into the bunk house. I was relieved when I saw her go up the stairs and enter the farmhouse. I spent the rest of the day confined to the bunk house with the doors locked tight keeping the television low and the lights turned off for fear that Arlene would return with ammunition. Such was life on the Freedom ranch.

I'd sometimes see Arlene go up and down the stairs from the ranch house to the bunk house several times a day. If the bunk house door was locked she'd pound on the door and peer into the windows screaming, "Are you in there? Let me in! Who's in there? What are you kids doing in there?" When Arlene spotted anyone coming into the bunk house, she'd scurry down the stairs coming through the front door right behind him. It appeared that her actions were the direct result of her worsening disease.

Alzheimer's quickly destroyed Arlene's life causing her to eventually reside in a nursing home in Mooreland, Oklahoma. She existed there for several years, and although she received necessary care at the home, she had absolutely no life there missing the farm and her family. The wonderful life Arlene had known as a farmer's wife was gone forever.

Despite the circumstance, it took a very long time for Arlene to lose her spunk. She'd occasionally make her escape from the nursing home by sneaking out any door that was left open. She'd be found wandering around on the lawn outside baffling the nurses to learn exactly how she got out. Arlene got a kick out of not letting them in on her secret. She'd wander up and down the halls occasionally creeping into an old man's room to swipe a piece of his chocolate. It became a game between them: she'd sneak in, and he'd loudly yell at her to get out.

During a visit with Arlene at the nursing home, I was grabbed and held in a death grip by Rusty, a mentally disabled patient confined to a wheelchair. He held me by the legs loudly professing his love for me andbegging me not to leave him. The nurses pried his grip loose. It pained me to hear his desperate cries for help. It broke my heart that I couldn't do anything to stop the suffering and unhappiness that prevailed in the nursing home. Rusty wanted my attention, and I was torn between caring for Arlene while I was there and trying to make Rusty happy.

I felt extremely sad that many of the other residents of the nursing home never had visitors. After each visit there I'd think it isn't much fun to grow old. These poor people who really cares if they live or die. Thank you Jesus for my sound mind and good health! I realized that I'd rather be dead than to be kept alive when my mind and body no longer served me.

It was only by God's will that Arlene managed to hold on for several years after she was confined to the home. By the time she passed away, she'd become a mere vegetable not knowing where she was or who was there with her. She lost her ability to speak, and the only sounds you'd hear coming from her were low grunts. She was kept alive by the needles and tubes in her arms. There was no life left in her once-beautiful blue eyes.

When I'd visit I sometimes notice bruises and cuts on Arlene's extremities. It greatly disturbed me that she couldn't tell anyone what had happened. When I questioned the nurses, they'd say that Arlene had fallen out of bed or fallen from her chair. I suspected abuse, but could never prove it.

Arlene's funeral was held at the Freedom Christian Church, a fitting ceremony for a wonderful, strong-willed Christian woman. It was a huge funeral with many people giving testimony and expressing the love they'd felt for her. Everyone in the church loved her. There were no unkind words uttered about Arlene Harrison. She had many friends who acknowledged that the world had lost a terrific woman.

She'd spent much of her young childhood growing up in oil work camps across Oklahoma never knowing a stranger. It was no big deal to her and Wilbur to share what little food they had with complete strangers. On the day a horse trader stopped by the ranch to do some horse trading, Arlene invited him for supper. The cowboy was thankful for the hot meal continuously complimenting Arlene on her good cooking. Wilbur assumed the stranger was flirting with Arlene, and he didn't like it. Before the stranger could finish his meal, the jealous Wilbur ran him off, yelling from the front porch, 'You get the hell out of here! I have no horses to sell to you. Pick up your saddle and get your skinny ass off of my property'!" Once the drifter was down the road, Wilbur returned to the dinner table picking up his fork and nodding to his frightened kids, as if to say, It's okay! Now, let's eat!"

Although it was a blessing that she no longer suffered, the entire family appeared to have a terrible time dealing with Arlene's death, especially her husband, Wilbur.

Arlene's funeral made me wonder what my own funeral would be like. I doubted that there'd be such a massive turnout, or that such great testimony would be told about my life. It forced me to remember my own dear mother, who'd passed away in the early Seventies; and, I said a little prayer for both great women May you Always Rest in Peace!

Farewell to Freedom is Anita Waggoner's first novel. She's written a collection of short stories and a screenplay based on the novel Farwell to Freedom. Her writings have been published online and in local and national media. A second novel is in the works and is expected to be released in the fall of 2011. Writing is her passion. You can learn more about the Author Anita Waggoner by visiting her website.

Farewell to Freedom is a story based somewhat on the author's personal life experiences. The main characters are Cheyenne Stevens (a pretty forty-seven year old wealthy, divorced socialite from Washington State) and Rowdy Harrison (a forty-two year old, handsome, ex-bull riding cowboy from Freedom, Oklahoma).

Source: EzineArticles
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Oklaohma Novel




Freedom Oklahoma


Western Romance






Anita Waggoner



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