Prior to last Saturday, it had been over a half-decade since I’ve traveled with any intention of spending significant time in Oklahoma.
Growing up, that would’ve been an extremely difficult concept for me to grasp.
Oklahoma, specifically Tulsa, is one of the most important places on Earth to me. It’s where my dad was born — the youngest of four children in a big Catholic family typical of the late 1950s and early 60s.
It’s where my mom moved after spending the early stages of her life in Alberta, Canada, and where she spent a good portion of her teenage and young adult life. It’s where my parents first met as co-workers at Littlefield Advertising Agency, where they eventually got married at Holy Family Cathedral and where I was nearly born.
My parents moved to Overland Park, Kansas mere months before I was born in April 2000, but Oklahoma remained a significant part of my childhood.
At least once during the summers and multiple times during the year, my family would spend time at my grandmother’s house, my father’s mother. We’ve spent countless holidays and school breaks over the winter and spring in Tulsa, and I have fond memories of playing in her spacious backyard (along with eating Ghirardelli chocolates my grandmother seemingly always had in droves) with my brother.
Spending so much time there, I became increasingly familiar with the area. Brookside by Day and Hideaway Pizza are two of my favorite local restaurants, and it seems like our family would gather there for meals every time we were in town.
As I got older, I remember attending weddings of older cousins in the same place that my parents were married. The point I’m trying to get at here, through my nostalgic ramblings, is that spending time in Oklahoma made a huge impact on who I am as a person today and shaped my childhood significantly.
Until one day it all stopped, for reasons my preteen self struggled to understand.
My dad’s father passed away six months after I was born, and as a result all of my Tulsa-related memories revolve around solely my grandmother. My grandmother showed incredible strength and resolve to not only run a household by herself in the years that followed, but also to be an incredible grandmother to her many grandchildren.
Within the last decade, though, my dad and his brothers began noticing subtle changes in regard to my grandmother’s personality, changes that seemed subtle at first but became increasingly more worrisome over time.
She began forgetting information she’d previously known by heart, like what highways to take to make the 3-hour drive from Tulsa to our house in Overland Park. She began making questionable financial decisions, and her personality began to change.
Eventually, the disease my father feared was eventually what my grandmother was diagnosed with: Alzheimer's Disease.
I don’t feel like I need to spend a ton of time here, but I wouldn’t wish Alzheimer’s on my worst enemy. It’s an absolutely gut-wrenching feeling to see someone you care about so much slowly but surely forget everything about you through no fault of their own. The disease progressed to the point where my dad and his brothers moved everything out of her longtime Tulsa home, and slowly but surely visits to Oklahoma were phased out of my life permanently.
Aside from a one-off club soccer tournament in Tulsa when I was a sophomore in high school, I haven’t been back since.
That didn’t change last weekend, as the distance between Tulsa and Norman, Oklahoma (or between Tulsa and Oklahoma City, where we ended up staying) was too far and our itinerary too tight to make a nostalgic pit stop happen. My grandmother currently lives in a long-term care facility close to my hometown in Kansas, so stopping wouldn’t have made much sense anyway.
Still, I can’t help myself from thinking about how cool it would’ve been to catch up with both of my grandparents before a game that they, both massive college football and sports fans in general, would’ve known a great deal about — Nebraska vs. Oklahoma. Most of Nebraska’s players may not have been the most well-versed on the rivalry in the days leading up to last Saturday’s game, but my sports-crazed self could’ve spouted off information about both programs by the time I was four years old.
My grandmother always loved talking about sports with me when I was younger, and based on stories I’ve heard, my grandfather was a die-hard sports fan too. I even remember playing wiffle ball with my grandmother in the backyard when I was five or six years old, and her getting extremely frustrated with me as I would make up rules in order to win.
When I was in Norman to cover the game, it would’ve been awesome to catch up on what college life has been like so far, all the cool experiences I’ve had with friends and work and so much more. Working in and around sports is something I’ve wanted to do for an extremely long time, and I wish I would’ve been able to share that with them.
The atmosphere in Norman was so incredible last weekend, and the game was great to boot. It was easily the greatest experience I’ve had so far at the Daily Nebraskan, and it was everything my childhood self hoped a classic Oklahoma-Nebraska game would be like.
So please, dear reader, take advantage of opportunities you have to spend with your family and friends while they’re still around. I desperately wish I would’ve had the opportunity to truly meet my grandfather before he passed away, and I would’ve loved nothing more than to see my grandmother at some point during my weekend in the Sooner State.
Eventually, good times spent with friends and family become memories either forgotten or difficult to recall upon after years apart. On Saturday, I was glad that a new generation of Husker and Sooner fans were able to get a sense of what the “good ‘ol days” were like, even if Nebraska ultimately came up short.
For me, I don’t know when I’ll return to Oklahoma, or visit Tulsa for that matter.
What I do know is this: last Saturday meant a good deal to me, and I’m so appreciative of the window that sports provides to both reflect and escape reality for a few hours each weekend.
Oh and my grandparents, who sent their kids — my dad included — to Oklahoma State University, would’ve no doubt loved it if the Huskers could’ve pulled off an upset over the Sooners.
Landon Wirt is the senior sports editor for The Daily Nebraskan. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.