by John C. Westervelt
This story was recorded in September 1997.
As a widower, my Saturday morning chores include the laundry. After sorting the clothes, I start the washing machine, turn, and close the utility room door behind me. I receive the first news of the morning on a weather radio. On this same August date in 1936, the temperature climbed to 108 degrees in Tulsa. At this moment, it’s 68 degrees outside.
At the patio table, I look beyond my pancakes to view the heavy dew on the grass and roses. The wind is calm. Unseasonable August rains have made all the vegetation lush. The rose garden is topped with a covering of red, pink, peach, and white. The zinnias across the back of the yard create a low wall of gold and purple. I feel a sense of pleasure in owning this piece of land. Then I wonder, “Do I own this land, or is it on loan from God?”
With the cool air keeping me at the table, my mind wanders to the beginnings of this parcel of the earth. Over a billion years ago, God began the formation of the earth. Geologists have discovered from drilling for oil around Tulsa that many millions of years ago the lot where my house sits was under a sea. Finally, God raised it up, and in time plants and animals covered the land. Then man came to enjoy this paradise.
Man’s claim to land ownership is only recent. The French laid claim to my lot and all the land west of the Mississippi River, extending to the eastern spurs of the Rocky Mountains, to the Spanish territory on the south, and to the British frontier on the north. In 1803, a wise President Jefferson signed an agreement to purchase the 831,000 square miles from the French for fifteen million dollars. My lot sold for about a penny under this contract.
Later, I found that the Abstract of Title for my lot records the transfer of the land in 1852 from the United States to the Creek Tribe of Indians. The Creeks had been forcefully removed from eastern Alabama, southwest Georgia, and northwest Florida in the 1830’s to Indian Territory in Oklahoma. In 1903 my lot, surrounded by 120 acres next to the Farm Shopping center in southeast Tulsa, was allotted to Lillie Wray, a three-year-old Creek Indian. An inch-thick stack of paper records other transfers of the deed, and on the final page, dated July 17, 1964, is the transfer to John C. and Nelda J. Westervelt. According to the deed, by man’s law, I own this land for this day.
My contemplation continues as I consider God’s dynamic world. Lands moved to new latitudes, so that what once was tropical is now buried underneath Alaska. Though I understand that God’s creation is dynamic, as I view the glistening droplets of dew resting uniformly across the lawn, shrubs, and flowers, it all looks so static.
For a moment, I wish my life were static, with all those I’ve ever loved gathered around to quietly sit and enjoy the view. But then God reminds me that He didn’t design the world that way, so I might as well get up and get going. I’ll begin with the second load of laundry.
With the arrival of a touch of arthritis in recent years, I replaced the dozen multicolored tea roses with low-maintenance red Knock Out roses. Likewise, the zinnia garden across the back has returned to grass. I moved to Crestwood at Oklahoma Methodist Manor in late June 2012. Still I hold out hope of hearing - “Well done good and faithful steward!”
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