Don Todd rolled the steering wheel clockwise as he guided the 2005 Dodge Caravan off State Highway 74 onto State Highway 15, also known as Henry Bellmon Highway, and headed east toward Billings.
From the passenger seat the former Oklahoma governor looked through the windshield at the February breeze pushing the thick winter hair of black calves grazing on green wheat pasture. Bellmon, 87, was headed home, "to the farm.”
He has Parkinson’s disease and about five years ago he underwent open heart surgery. These days he’ll drive a little, but not much. He leaves that up to Todd and others of Cherokee Strip Transit, who take him from the home he and his second wife, Eloise, have at Kingfisher, to therapy at Enid, and "to the farm” east of Billings.
What I realized while riding with him from Enid to the farm was they’ve never taken the country out of Henry Bellmon.
"I grew up knowing about crops, animals, machinery, land and rural people,” he said. "I would have been a complete misfit in a law office in Oklahoma City or a real estate office in Tulsa. And I’d probably been equally as much of a misfit as a roughneck in the oil field or an 18-wheeler driver. The options I had weren’t too many. It was to do something that I liked to do and knew how to do.”
The same hands that signed legislation into laws also picked cotton, shocked wheat and gathered hen eggs. Those hands have vaccinated cattle, guided a John Deere tractor and chopped ice with an ax.
The farm in northern Oklahoma is where he was raised, where he and wife Shirley raised three daughters and where he raised wheat and cattle.
The closer Todd drove us toward the farm, the more Bellmon seemed at home and the more that one line played through my head.
He took the country with him
They’ve never taken the country out of Henry Bellmon.
Iwo Jima didn’t do it when he was a Marine in World War II.
"The experience I had with machinery on the farm helped me learn what I needed to know about tanks and artillery, mechanized warfare,” he said. "And working as I had done on thrashing crews, you learn to work as part of a team and that’s what we had to do in the military.