Tulsa ’s quaint, Episcopalian university sure has produced some remarkable people. A Hall of Fame football player turned U.S. congressman, the pioneer inventor of voicemail technology, S.E. Hinton who authored the book on which Coppola’s seminal film The Outsiders was based (which also, incidentally, made the Admiral Twin drive-in a national landmark), and even Blanche Devereaux from the Golden Girls. But one of T.U.’s greatest literary products remains largely unknown; and I’m sure he’d have it no other way.
William Paul Winchester graduated from the University of Tulsa with a degree in Botany. Upon completing college, Winchester had that strange ‘now what’ feeling, a feeling common for so many grads these days. He worked as a substitute teacher and traveled a bit before deciding to build and operate a farm. Now, as romantic as the idea sounds, after graduating I don’t think I can ever remember thinking to myself ‘Hmmm, maybe I’ll be a farmer now.’
Winchester purchased some land from a local farmer and dove in headfirst. He built his farm house himself, living in a trailer at night while toiling in the Oklahoma summer’s heat during the day. Before long he had some chickens, a cow, and taught himself everything from basic plumbing and construction to crop cycles. He earned most of his meager funds from bee keeping, selling the honey in mason jars, earning a little extra income from selling the milk from his one and only cow.
Although the subject matter is remarkably interesting (to me at least) the real gem in this small book is Winchester’s writing. In his book A Very Small Farm he comes across as a modern day Thoreau describing his Southwind Farm as Walden Pond. His menial tasks carry immense weight. His descriptions and motivations humble the reader and conjure a time long past of romantic subsistence farming. He lives an intrepid life, foregoing even electricity in his home, reading by candlelight at night, and drawing up schematics for a porch addition, a chicken coop, or a barn when it rains during the day. Between journal entries, there are recipes for jams and pancakes, instructions for canning, when to plant what, and even the small joy and relaxation he finds when weeding his garden. This book is moving and humbling in the truest sense of the words. His words are nonjudgmental of modern society, yet there is something deeply profound about his simple life as a small Oklahoma farmer here in the 21st century… Oh, and I think he may be my hero.