This spring, I have participated in Let’s Talk About It, Oklahoma, a book club sponsored by the Oklahoma Humanities. The book club meets at the Museum Broken Arrow in the Rose District. The books for this series titled The Oklahoma Experience: The Thirties include Will Rogers: His Wife’s Story by Betty Rogers, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, Roughneck by Jim Thompson, and The Silver DeSoto by Patty Lou Floyd.
Because of a change in Museum Broken Arrow’s leadership, the interim director chose a series of books that members had read only two years ago. Since I was not in the group until last year, I had not participated in those discussions. The number of people attending the discussions has been severely limited since the people who had just read and discussed the books two years ago did not wish to re-read them so soon. However, those who are attending have found the discussions to be lively and informative.
The books include a mixture of fiction and nonfiction. For some reason, when I began reading The Silver Desoto by Patty Lou Floyd, I thought it was a memoir. That assumption left me a bit confused when Ethel, the woman who always appears to help the family when a death is near, keeps calling the narrator Betty when her name on the book is clearly Patty.
After reading a bit further, I realized Patty Floyd has fictionalized her story by changing the names of people and the town where she grew up. She grew up in Duncan, OK, but she calls the city Dixter in The Silver Desoto.
Floyd tells the story through a series of vignettes. They are not in chronological order either, but mixing the order did not interfere with the reading of the book. The first story opens with Ethel showing up at the door. Eighteen-year-old Betty is ready to graduate from high school and go to college. Nana, her maternal grandmother, is her last near relative still living.
Little Auntie, Betty’s mother’s only sibling, dies when Betty is five. She does not understand what has happened and blames herself for Little Auntie’s death—or disappearance. Betty thinks she has misbehaved once too often and now the punishment is the loss of her beloved Little Auntie. Her mother and grandmother do not do well in telling Betty about death and loss; thus, the little girl is left to figure it out on her own.
Little Auntie’s death is only one of the secrets in the household. Mother has divorced and returned home to live with Betty, much to Nana’s chagrin. Divorced women are restricted in what they can do, were, and say, according to Nana.
Grandfather is the next family member to die, leaving the house of women: Nana, Mother, and Betty. Then Mother develops breast cancer. After Mother’s death, Nana and Betty live in their two bedrooms and the kitchen while Nana keeps the rest of the house locked and unused.
Betty does write about funny moments. She describes town characters. Those who have grown up in small towns will recognize the people in Betty’s stories.
Finding information about Patty Lou Floyd is difficult. She is not listed in the Oklahoma Historical Society’s encyclopedia about Oklahoma. A search on Google yields only where her two books can be purchased, all used bookstores online. On the book jacket, readers learn that Patty Floyd “is a Phi Beta Kappa with a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Oklahoma and a Master of Arts degree from the University of Tulsa. She is a trustee of Grinnell College in Iowa. She lives and works in Tulsa, Oklahoma.”