NORMAN — The brisk walk from our Norman grade school near the hospital to the OU Field House never seemed to take very long for two boys intent on learning how to wrestle. Cheap lessons were taught there after school, but with two working parents, it fell to kids to make their own travel arrangements.
We were a little young to hitchhike. Our bicycles might get stolen. So, mother said to walk. We made a map. Stay on Ponca Avenue, as far as it would go, walk west across Classen Boulevard and look south for Brooks Street.
“Just get on Brooks Street and don’t venture off of it,” she told us.
It’s been more than 45 years since I was formally introduced to Norman’s Brooks Street, and I can’t seem to get away from it. It runs through the middle of the campus. Cars used to be able to drive from Jenkins Avenue to Elm Street without having to navigate barricades.
Today, Brooks Street has just about all the bases covered. Homes and apartments on the east and west. Academics with OU, McKinley Elementary and Whittier Middle School, an armory, a mobile home park, the duck pond, a football stadium, field house and walking parkway. It’s a favorite among walkers and cyclists who come to campus in the early-morning or late-night hours. ROTC students work out there early.
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In college, Brooks Street was where we would (sometimes) go to the campus library. Basketball games were played at the Field House on Brooks. The football stadium, where we sold Cokes and programs and then waited in line to buy student tickets, fronts on Brooks. There are churches, apartments and even a bed and breakfast.
It was where I first saw real college students, war protesters, football crowds and even a few streakers. Later, my kids’ Volkswagen convertible door would always swing open when they left the safety of Brooks Street and went north on Berry Road to the high school.
When first married, we lived in a duplex apartment a block from Brooks Street. Some of our groceries came from the now-closed Faculty Heights grocery store, on Brooks, halfway between 12th Avenue Southeast and Classen Boulevard. The store’s gone now, but the memories remain.
They carried small, cheap steaks that were easy to grill on one of the multiple Hibachi grills that came as wedding presents. The liquor store, two blocks from Brooks Street, carried cheap red wine, imported from Bulgaria at $2.19 a bottle. No wonder the country went bankrupt.
When he dug out of our backyard, Scoop, the Golden Retriever that also came as a wedding gift, could usually be found running wild on Brooks Street.
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Stratton Brooks, the street’s namesake, was OU’s third president and first war-time president. He didn’t really want to come to OU after David Ross Boyd was discharged as president four years earlier. But he was convinced politics wouldn’t play a role here, and he was inaugurated in front of Evans Hall in 1912. He lasted here until 1923, when he took the job in his home state as president of the University of Missouri.
He was known as a builder, expanding campus structures. He helped acquire land where the stadium and armory now stand. OU’s first president, David Ross Boyd, got a street named for him. The second president, A. Grant Evans, got a building. So Brooks should get his own street, too.
When the wrestling lessons were over, even if it was dark, my mom’s instructions were clear. Walk west, down the hill and across Berry Road to your grandmother’s home on Brooks Street, where your father will pick you up on the way home.
If they were in season, we could climb the tree in grandmother’s Brooks Street backyard, eat the cherries and spit the pits like watermelon seeds into a steel bowl that sounded like a BB shot into a tin can.
Andy Rieger 366-3543 email@example.com