Don't forget the flowers: A funereal existence
BY MICHAEL OVERALL World Staff Writer
Monday, August 27, 2007
2/04/08 at 3:34 PM
Read other stories in the series: Last real Coyote hunter :: Big-City Cuisine in Small-Town America :: Reaping what we sow :: Prairie family persevered :: 'Not much left' of town except strong local pride :: Oklahoma 'ghost town' still alive and kicking :: ‘We’re all characters around here’ :: Hominy warms to Mexican cuisine :: Remnant of boom days :: Cut from the same cloth
Editors Note: During 2007 -- Oklahoma's
centennial year -- Tulsa World staff writer Michael Overall is traveling the state, writing
about unique Oklahoma personalities.
Much of Lone Wolf's economy revolves around the dead
LONE WOLF -- From a parking spot
across the street, it's hard to tell
whether the store is really open. The
sign in the window says so, but the
window itself looks dark.
A few blocks away in one direction, a tractor
is leaving the farmer's co-op. And several
blocks in the other direction, a few cars are
parked outside the funeral home. But between, the wind is whistling down a long
stretch of crumbling storefronts, and nothing
but a cloud of dust is stirring on Main Street.
The cafe is closed, the hardware store vacant, the bank boarded-up and abandoned.
What used to be a pharmacy looks like it
hasn't filled a prescription since penicillin was
The flower shop has the only "open" sign on
the street. And the door sticks a little, as if it's
teasing -- one final doubt that the shop is really still in business.
Inside, Manuel Martinez and his mother are
putting together a gigantic casket piece, so tall
they have to stand on tip-toes to see over it.
"Hello. How are you?" Martinez says with a
friendly smile. "Are you here for the funeral?"
'Without us': Let's get our priorities straight.
If you live in a remote corner of southwest
Oklahoma and you can have just a couple of retail businesses in town, what would you want
them to be?
A gas station, of course. Everybody needs
gas. Then, what else? A grocery, perhaps?
No, you can buy food at the gas station.
A department store? A drug store? Maybe
even a barber?
No, no. We're talking about the necessities
of life. Must-haves. Something the town
couldn't survive without.
We're talking about a flower shop.
"Without us, I don't know what they would
do," Martinez says, a look of horror on his face
just thinking about it. "They'd have to bring arrangements all the way from Mangum or maybe even Lawton."
'Ready for a change': When he graduated
from high school 15 years ago, Martinez did
what most Lone Wolf kids do when they get a
First college, and then a career as a physical-education teacher kept him away from Lone
Wolf for nearly 15 years.
Then something unexpected happened.
"I started to kind of miss it," Martinez says.
"I was just ready for a change."
At the time, Martinez's mother ran a hair salon, but the flower shop next door was about to
close when the owner retired.
And like Martinez said, Lone Wolf needs a
"One day, my mother said something about
us running a flower shop together," Martinez
says. "And it gave me a reason to move back to
'It's a bargain': People come to Lone Wolf
from all around the world. Most of them just
wait until they're dead to come.
Down the road from the Flower Shop, in a
modern brick building on the edge of town,
the People's Funeral Home Co-op has become
Lone Wolf's biggest attraction.
As a co-op, it can sell memberships to people
while they're young and healthy, so when the
inevitable time comes, the services cost only a
fraction of what a normal funeral home charges.
"It's a bargain," Martinez's mother explains.
"This is one of the cheapest towns in America
to be buried in."
Last year, Lone Wolf buried 120 people. That would be nearly a third of the population,
except only one or two of the funerals were for
locals. The rest came from Alabama, Tennessee, Maryland, Texas and a dozen other states.
'Something to think about': That's a lot of
death for such a small town. And a lot of business for a small flower shop.
But the question facing Martinez is, where
to find some life?
"There were 18 kids in my graduating
class," he says. "They all left, and I'm the only
one who's come back."
A young, single man in a small, mostly married town, how is he supposed to find a date?
And where would they go, anyway?
What kind of future can he have in Lone
Wolf? And if a guy like Martinez can't find an
answer to that question, what kind of future
can Lone Wolf itself have?
"I'm kind of a loner anyway," he says. "But
yeah, it's something to think about. Of course
it is. I think about it all the time."
Michael Overall 581-8383