A Personal Essay
Matt Deatherage, Publisher
When I was small, if you believe that I ever was small, I lived in a house close to a large field, an undeveloped part of the prairie between other streets of El Reno that we called "mini-bike trails." None of us actually had a mini-bike, of course, and I wasn't at all convinced that going so fast would be a good idea even if I could have one, but we kids in the neighborhood regularly saw older kids jumping over ditches we grandly called "ravines" and puddles we had promoted to "lakes." Rumors of snakes and boogey-men living in the trails were never substantiated, this being before the days of hand-held camcorders and "The Blair Witch Project."
In those days, prairie was seen as wasted space, and El Reno was a growing town, being a hub for the Rock Island railroad and the home of a growing Federal Correctional Institution (affectionately still referred to in town as the "reformatory"). By the time I was halfway through elementary school, the mini-bike trails were gone, replaced by houses and more streets in the pattern of the existing neighborhood, interlocking with the dead ends that had defined the former prairie segment.
Our school classes expanded as families moved into the new houses. There was some turnover, to be sure, but most of the families moved in and stayed there, at least until their kids were through school. We all gained new friends and enemies, and I had a lot of fun climbing through the houses as they were being built before they were sold. Way back then, realtors didn't feel the need to lock empty houses. We tried not to damage anything. We were not always successful, but we were kids and we ran pretty well.
The houses closer to the older streets were built and filled sooner, including one about two blocks away towards the far side of the first part of the addition. That was Virginia Thompson's house. Her two sons, Ken and Phil, were in school with my sister and I -- Phil in her class, and Ken a year ahead of me. (My sister is much, much older than I am. More than two entire years. She rarely let me forget this. Now that we're older, I return the favor.) I knew Ken better than I knew Phil -- kind of a wacky guy, very talented in the dramatic arts. I shared an advanced speech class with him early in high school and watched him take dramatic and comedic readings and pairs to state contest with good results. He played drums in the high school band for some of the years I was there, and was always fun, but not in the "school is unimportant" way that fun-loving students today are often stereotyped.
As a child, I never thought too much about my classmates' parents, unless something came up that brought them to my attention. I can't remember that happening with Virginia Thompson. She was simply a solid person, the kind of lady you'd want to have in the PTA or on the band parents' committee. She participated in the life of the community as her time and talents permitted, even though I got the impression she was the only parent in the household. I knew she worked a lot, but I always pictured it in that typical Oklahoma frame where hard work is a blessing, a gift where you give back to those who make everything possible for you.
I haven't seen Ken or Phil in years, at least not in person. Once I left for college, and then for California and Apple Computer, more immediate family concerns filled my visits home. But I drove by the Thompson house on each visit, of course, because the new roads are the easiest way to get to Interstate 40, and therefore back to Oklahoma City. Like many solid people, the Thompsons were part of my neighborhood. No more and no less. Virginia belonged here. Her life was here, even though her job was at the Federal Employees' Credit Union in Oklahoma City.
The credit union, by the way, was located on the second floor of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
I wasn't in Oklahoma when the building was bombed. I didn't return for nearly a year, but even out of touch as I was, it didn't take long for my parents to let me know that Virginia Thompson had been in the building at the time of the explosion. At first she was missing, and then, after a few days, presumed dead. Mom told me she was one of three people still missing when they demolished the rest of the building, as it was too unstable to support further recovery efforts. There were three bodies recovered in the basement, weeks after the bombing, once the debris was cleared away. Virginia Thompson's was one of them. She was the only victim from El Reno, but you'd think someone had kicked this town in its heart.
The house has been sold since then. Other people live in it, but I don't know who they are; I can't help but resent them somewhat because they shouldn't be living there. Ken and Phil are both quite active with the bombing survivors and families of the victims; I see them on television from time to time as this entire metropolis still works through its grief and loss. Phil is a director of the Oklahoma City National Memorial Foundation.
When I drive by Virginia's house, the one she left nearly five years ago for just another workday, the one I will always think of as hers, I no longer think this is the same old neighborhood I saw built as a child. I think that, even with all I've seen and experienced, I can't imagine a world where someone could be so angry, so filled with rage to extract revenge on those 168 people he had never met.
In the years since I've been home, I have been in downtown Oklahoma City several times, but I've never been closer than a block away from 5th and Harvey, the northwest corner of the block that the bomb devastated. I don't need to get any closer. I can stand on my front porch and look two blocks away and see all the reminder I will ever need.
The "168 Days" campaign honors each of the victims of the Murrah Building bombing, one per day, culminating on 2000.04.19, the fifth anniversary of the attack and the scheduled opening of the Oklahoma City National Memorial at the bomb site. I realize, somewhat selfishly, that most people do not have a reminder of this, the deadliest terrorist attack on US soil, two blocks from their front door. We must all remember -- Americans that we may work that it never happen again, and the rest of the world that we too, in the relatively-sheltered USA, know the pain and senselessness of terrorist violence.
Today, 1999.11.26, the day after Thanksgiving, is the day in the 168 Days campaign set aside to remember Virginia Thompson. Yet the memorial to her and the other victims is not yet paid for -- of the $30 million necessary to create the memorial, at least $5 million has yet to be raised. This should not be. We want to help; we want to act locally even as we think globally, but we don't have much to offer besides our newsletters.
So that's what we're doing. We are auctioning two lifetime subscriptions to all three of our journals (MDJ, MWJ, and MMJ) on Amazon.com, with all proceeds after fees (credit card fees and Amazon.com listing fees) going to the Oklahoma City National Memorial Foundation. When we offered these special lifetime offers for the price of an 18-month subscription back in June, the response was overwhelming -- our available slots were completely subscribed in just 29 hours.
We can't do much of this, because each lifetime subscription cuts off future revenue. The longer we publisher, the more expensive each lifetime subscription becomes. Even so, I strongly feel this is the right thing to do. I'm pretty sure we could sell two lifetime subscriptions at the original price of $765 in just a couple of days. Since demand outstripped supply, we know we could have charged more for these and still sold them. The auction mechanism is one of the best available to make sure the Memorial Foundation gets the maximum benefit possible from our donation, and also provides reasonably equal access to all who are interested in bidding.
It's hard to think globally and act locally. It's even harder for me to stand on the front porch and look south and not think about doing whatever I can to make sure the world does not forget April 19, 1995. If you are moved to bid, whether in support of our newsletters or the Oklahoma City National Memorial Foundation or both, you have my lasting gratitude.
You can find the auction listing at Amazon.com.
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