# 296, November 11, 2003
HARLINGEN, Texas: The folks around here asked me to get a message to those of you shivering up North: it’s 80 degrees today, and they have a space in a mobile home park with your name on it.
They’ve got room for at least 20,000 of you in the lower Rio Grande Valley. Make no mistake, it is all “valley”, flat as far as you can see. There’s no mountains to clutter the view, and these folks haven’t seen snow in almost 40 years. So leave your skis and parkas at home.
I’m in Texas to talk with a few school children at Mercedes, a few miles west of here. I mainly just asked questions and let them do the talking. They’re bright kids, after all the name of the town is Mercedes, not Geo, Kia or Volkswagen.
Tomorrow I’ll be in Louisiana, at Baton Rouge, to listen to some more bright youngsters, over in the Mississippi Valley. I’ll check on their Governor’s race, too.
Well, I promised last week to tell you about speaking to the Oologah elementary school children on November 3. They start every day with the kindergarten and first and second grades, about 200 altogether, in the lunch room for a short assembly. Some of them eat breakfast. Every morning different ones take turns leading the whole group in the Pledge of Allegiance, a moment of silence (what used to be a prayer), and various words of wisdom for the day. Just think, giving these little kids experience behind a microphone, they are creating a whole generation of speakers, in this case after-breakfast speakers. I just talked a little, hoping my words of wisdom didn’t interfere with the ones they were learning from each other.
Then the kindergarten invited me to their own little gathering. The kids sat close together on the floor and a teacher asked them to volunteer to tell something they knew about Will Rogers. And she asked them to do it in complete sentences, grammatical sentences, something I never mastered or, at least, seldom practice. Fortunately, they didn’t hit on any obscure facts that caught me by surprise.
After lunch, it was time for the main show with all the third, fourth and fifth graders in the Will Rogers Auditorium at the high school. (This auditorium seats about a thousand and serves all the Oologah schools because they are built together.)
The 4th grade Western Choir, that I told you about last week, started off the program with a few songs to get ’em in a good mood. Then I told ’em a few tales from when “I” was a boy growing up right there in the Verdigris Valley (there’s no mountains in this valley either), and how I used to rope anything on four legs, or two. Goats, calves, geese, but my favorite target was girls.
Teachers did their best to confiscate my lassos before any major mischief, but sometimes they were a mite late. I told how, at one school, I roped a horse that appeared to me to be broke, but he ran wild once my lasso landed around his neck. He jumped a fence, tore through a tennis court and disappeared over the horizon, with my lasso and part of the tennis net tailing along behind him. I didn’t mean any harm, but the Principal expelled me. And I couldn’t rightly blame him, because it was his horse.
I did a little rope spinning (very little), and showed pictures of some friends from Hollywood that they recognized, and some family members including a great-great grandson.
I knew my material might not keep these youngsters excited for my allotted time on stage, so I had asked a couple of the high school cheerleaders, Jennifer and Hayley, to drop in and demonstrate a couple of cheers in the middle of my talk. Well, they came all right, and brought the whole squad, about a dozen, and not just to demonstrate. These girls had the whole auditorium up and cheering for old “OHS”. They are great cheerleaders and they’re cheering for a great football team. The Oologah Mustangs are undefeated, led by a great back, Ryder Hill, and great blockers in the line, and scoring about 40 points a game.
Now, these girls have a tradition of doing push-ups after every score, equal to the total score. On Friday nights they may do 150 to 200. Only school where the cheerleaders are in as good a shape as the players, and better than some. The crowd does their part by counting off the push-ups. You know, there are babies born at Oologah who learn to count by their parents taking ’em to football games. Well, I had to get them to do some push-ups along with the cheers. They did 21, and those kids loved counting for them.
I left Oologah, appreciating more than ever how these teachers keep their young students excited about learning, for hours every day. And with no assistance from cheerleaders or rope spinners.
Historic quotes from Will Rogers:
“There is nothing in the world like home. You can roam all over the world, but after all, it’s what the people at home think of you that really counts.” WA #128, May 24, 1925
“See where there’s a bill in Congress to make a road from Brownsville, Texas, up along the Rio Grande to El Paso, then on out to San Diego along the Mexican boundary. It’s a good idea and should be built, but it’s called a military highway… Can’t you get government aid without calling it military?” DT # 449, Jan. 3, 1928