When I heard Tracy Letts was developing his Pulitzer prize-winning play August: Osage County for the big screen, I was thrilled. I saw August: Osage County when it played on the LA stage. “All roads lead to home.” I could see the country, the sweeping prairie, the old hills encrusted with huge boulders, the gnarled oak trees and the miles and miles of blue sky with breathtaking sunsets. I knew the place Letts revealed. The conflicted characters and how they have endured heartbreak while looking for happiness seemed like people I knew.
Tracy Letts is the son of Oklahoma writer, Billie Letts, whose works many of us know and love. Her best-selling novel Where the Heart Is was made into a movie starring Natalie Portman and Ashley Judd. Both mother and son write about women, women who stare down fear and bitter disappointment to journey forward and rebuild their lives. The expectant teen mom abandoned in an Oklahoma Walmart by her boyfriend is mother Billie’s beloved story. After the unexpected death of the family patriarch, Tracy’s story centers around three sisters who have come home to Pawhuska, Oklahoma for their father’s funeral and to witness their mother’s sufferings. During the course of the play Letts explores the depth of intertwined familial bonds. Letts readily admits he used the title of a poem by dear family friend and mentor, the late Howard Starks, for his title, August: Osage County. Starks’ poem reveals a strong sense of family and place.
My own story begins in a place not far from Osage County. Comanche County in the summertime when I have come home to visit is hot for days and then it will rain. Days become cool and breezy. The local Wichita Mountains are full with flowers of Indian blanket and Mexican sage among the tall grass. The buffalo and longhorn are lazy after finding shade among the oak while clouds lay low and gather. My sisters and I have walked along the trails and made picnics of wine coolers and pimento cheese. We have escaped to Austin and Santa Fe to savor summer’s last days, to listen to music and hit the dance floor, to buy turquoise and share the beauty of Western art.
Just like the women of Where the Heart Is and August: Osage County, my sisters and I, the three of us, have stared down fear and we have rebuilt lives in the face of loss and grief, celebration and joy. Life remains wondrous in every moment.