More rambling

Still thinking about Okla….

The Okla Historical Assn made a series of podcasts a few years ago. This one, from 2018, is a long interview with former governor George Nigh. He was governor in the 80s, and started his term in the last year that I lived in Enid. According to Wikipedia he’s still alive now at age 94.

Most of the interview is uninteresting on the factual level, but it’s a rare view of a perfectly SANE man who spent his whole life in politics without losing his sanity and humor. It was possible back then. I doubt if it’s possible now.

Nigh literally spent his life in politics, entering the legislature in 1951 while he was still in college. His first important act was adopting the Rogers and Hammerstein song as the state song.

The original state song was a horrible parody of state songs. It was just what you’d expect from a three-name schoolmarm.

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Okla had a crashingly awful state song until 1953 when it smartly chose the lively Rogers & Hammerstein tune. Because R&H were New Yorkers they didn’t understand anything west of the Hudson, but their song does manage to connect with one or two actual Okla things. Most of all it’s GODDAMN FUN to sing.

How awful was the original? The last line is

Tis a toast we all can quaff.

Unquestionably the worst last line of any song published or unpublished or imagined. No possible competition. On top of that, Okla was officially dry during the years when this song was in effect, so quaffing a toast “where the vintage** hangs thick on the vine” would put you in jail.

My father, who learned the song in school, enjoyed singing it to illustrate why the R&H number was so happily welcomed. But his version ended with You’re the state we love the best. He didn’t sing the quaff line. Makes me think there was a ‘clean and sober’ school version that didn’t recommend illegal activities.

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Nigh himself had wondered how two New Yorkers understood the spirit of the state, but then learned that they had simply adapted ‘Green Grow the Lilacs’, written by Lynn Riggs from Claremore.

Nigh also discussed a fact that I had encountered accidentally last month. Contrary to conventional myths, Okla actually GAINED population in the 30s. Okla LOST population in the 40s as war workers moved to industrial centers in LA and Detroit.

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** Footnote: Vintage on the vine? I didn’t remember any vineyards in Okla. Checked the 1915 book mentioned before, and also checked the WPA Guide. No grapes, except for a few home gardens. Illegal corn mash was the only ‘vintage’ in Okla at the time when the three-name schoolmarm wrote her horrible song.