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    Honest Injun and the Okieburger Essay

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    Grandpa grew up in Muskogee. He says he is proud of it, too. He lived with his mom and dad, three sisters and a brother on the west side of town. Boston street, he says. Grandpa went to sixth grade there, then junior high (7-9th grades then) and one year of high school. Central High was on the east side of town. About a mile walk. No school buses then; either had to get a ride or walk. Walking was ok, except in the winter, when it could get really cold. Had to walk through downtown, then cross a bridge over the railroad tracks, then about another 10 minutes to the school. Right at the foot of the railroad bridge was a little hamburger stand.

    Steve’s Place grandpa remembers. Best hamburgers in town, so he says. Had some tables outside during the spring, summer and fall, and a counter with stools so you could sit there and eat your burger. Coneys, too. In the winter they only served inside; six or eight tables and chairs and the counter facing the grill; always a lot of onions on the grill. The aroma was inviting, so grandpa remembers. Mom and Dad would take him there once a month, or so; if he had any extra of his allowance, he would occasionally stop on his way home from school and enjoy a treat. Hamburger with lettuce, tomato and onion slice, and a Grapette soda.

    Hamburger was fifteen cents and soda a nickel. Didn’t have that much extra very often, so was a special occasion when he did. Steve’s was also the gathering place for the “town council.  A group of the older men got there early in the morning for their coffee. Liked the china cups and free refills. Would discuss the football team that year. Oklahomans are fanatics about football. Then they would set straight the mayor and what he was doing or not doing. Steve would also fix up some sage sausage, eggs, and biscuits and gravy for those who wanted. Sometimes hickory smoked bacon.

    Most days Bluebird would walk by Steve’s on his way to the high school. Bluebird was the janitor at the high school. Most people didn’t know if he had another name or not; they sometimes referred to him as Bluebird Jones. He was a Cherokee Indian; lived out on the far west end of town, out by Honor Heights Park. There was a museum of what was called the Five Civilized Tribes out that way; and a group of Indian folk living in the area. About a two mile walk from the Park to the School; but Bluebird walked it every day. Once in a while Bluebird Jones would stop in at Steve’s and get a cup of coffee, especially in the winter.

    Didn’t talk much with any of the other men; maybe just a nod or “hi . Get his coffee with a cream and two sugars, and move on. Didn’t want to be late. On Saturday’s about every other week, Bluebird, his wife and two kids would walk to town to do some grocery shopping. If there was any money left afterwards, they would go over to Steve’s for lunch. Mom and Dad would get a hamburger, and the children would usually get a hotdog with ketchup. They would order some French-fries and share them. Grandpa didn’t remember what they would get to drink; probably just water. He didn’t know the names of the mother or the kids.

    Kids went to Longfellow Elementary school, just about a quarter of a mile from where they lived. Mom had a part time job somewhere, but no one seemed to be sure where it was; generally it was thought that she did cleaning for some people on the west side of town. So said the Council. They all sorta of kept to themselves; not much was known about them. Steve was in his mid-sixties; had been running his hamburger stand for about 25 years. Thinking about retiring if he could find someone who wanted to buy his business. Began letting word out about it. Mentioned it to some of the “town council .

    They weren’t too happy about the news; coffee wouldn’t be the same, and nobody could top Steve’s loaded hamburger. Muskogee and Steve’s were like a pair of kid gloves; one’s not much good without the other. Bluebird Jones and his family stopped in one Saturday in October after shopping. He had a little extra that week and groceries didn’t take all his paycheck, so each family member got to choose what they wanted. The two boys didn’t often get a hamburger so were excited about the opportunity; each got their own drink, an RC and orange soda. The town council was sitting at a table and the Smith family sat on the bar stools.

    There was conversation that day about Steve’s wanting to retire. As Steve served up the burgers, Bluebird casually asked, “Hear you’re wanting to retire . “Yeah , replied Steve. “Got a place between here and Tulsa, out in the country. Got a little cabin on the lake. Like to get in some fishing. Haven’t done that in years.  “Won’t be the same without Steve’s hamburgers  said Bluebird. “What will we do for lunch on Saturday? They kids look forward to it.  “Gotta’ find a buyer. I’ll leave my recipes. A hamburger’s fairly easy to fix. About anyone could do it.  “So, what are you asking for the place? asked the Indian. “Well, it’s in a pretty good spot, right here in town.

    Everybody knows where it is. With a little fixing up it could do a good business. If I could find the right buyer. Know anyone with some money?  “Maybe do  replied Jones. “Maybe do.  “Well, I really need sixteen hundred dollars for the place “ location and all, equipment, and inventory. I’ll admit it needs a little fixin’ up; so tell your friend with money that I’ll let it go for fifteen hundred, lock, stock and barrel.  Bluebird didn’t reply; he asked if he could have another Grapette.

    After they left, one of the council hollered over to Steve: “Wonder who he knows who has some money. Surely no one in the tribe. Can you imagine one of them buying this place? They would probably be serving up buffalo burgers and poke greens.  The rest of the council chucked. “Yeah  shouted another; “and armadillo steaks with road-runner fries.  Someone else added that he would likely have the entire tribe in here smoking their peace-pipes. “There goes the neighborhood.  “They would build a fire out back and send up smoke signals to their tribe to come get some goat-burger  jested another. I know this; I won’t be getting my coffee here mornings  said one of the more outspoken council members.

    The diner over on third street will do just fine. We’ll move our meetings there if you sell to Bluebird.  “Oh, I think he was just curious what a place like this would cost. He probably has never done any real business transactions and has no idea what’s involved. Just asking. He doesn’t have any friends with money, you know. The Injun folk work mostly odd jobs and live pretty low , said Steve. “No worry, fellows. I’ll find someone who’ll keep coffee going for you. 

    Grandpa was there that Saturday morning. He had finished collecting for his paper route for the month, and came to get an ice-cream with his earnings. He went home and told his mom and dad about Steve wanting to sell, and Bluebird Jones asking about the selling price; and what the town council had said. Mom and Dad advised him to just wait and see. “It’s true that the Indian folks aren’t too highly thought of around here. Oklahoma was once their land, and most people don’t want them trying to get any of it back. Too bad.  The following Tuesday, the local banker walked in to Steve’s about mid-morning.

    The town council was still there discussing the football team, the mayor and President Truman’s handling of the war. “I think I may have a buyer for you  said the banker. Someone came in yesterday, checked their bank account, and asked me if I could handle the transaction. Still wanting to sell for fifteen hundred dollars?  “Sure am!  replied Steve. “Who’s is it wanting to buy. Someone from around here I hope. Not an outsider from Tulsa or Oklahoma City wanting to make a buck off of us small town folk.  “Oh, he’s from here all right. Lives on the west end of town. Jones is his name.

    He can meet you at the bank this afternoon if you’re interested.  One of the council members choked on his coffee. “All right. Tell him I’m come and talk. Nothing definite. Just talk.  “Better not do it  said a council member. “Be the ruination of this place. You really going to the bank to talk to that Injun?  “Just to talk. Probably nothing will come of it, once he finds out how much work there is to this business.  The council left the building. Over the year end holidays a new sign went up at the building at the foot of the railroad bridge. “Honest Injun’s Okie Burgers  it read.

    On January second of the new year the doors opened to the smell of coffee, sausage and fresh made biscuits. Bluebird and his wife had cleaned up the place, painted the walls, hung a few pictures of the city sites on the walls, and had new menus printed. The hamburgers were as good as ever; better say some, with the best pickles and potato salad in town. Mrs. Smith really knew how to make hash-browns; perfect with sausage, eggs and toast. And fresh-brewed coffee in real china cups. There was no armadillo, bison or goat advertised. Some say those in the know could get it on special request.

    The boys would come in after school to sweep floors and do dishes. The aroma of onions cooking on the grill still brought in the customers, many of them new, and most of the past regular customers. A certificate hung on the wall from the high school principal thanking Mr. Jones for his years of service. The Chamber of Commerce gave him a plaque with his first dollar of pure profit. Twenty years later Bluebird turned over the business to one of the boys. It was still there the last time grandpa visited. The town council went to another place and drank their coffee from Styrofoam.

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