Fay Bailey drove halfway across the country when she was eight months pregnant and gas was hard to come by because of war-time rationing. She hunted rattle snakes on the weekends. She survived a robbery at gunpoint.
Now, the thing that gets her juices flowing is Thunder basketball.
“They've just brought me so much joy,” she said.
The truth is, Ms. Fay is a lot like most Oklahomans. She had a full and rich life before the Thunder arrived.
The team just made that life a little better.
Now at the start of only its sixth season in Oklahoma City, this small-market franchise has taken hold of the state — and beyond. That recognizable hue of blue pops up in the most unexpected places. A tribute video that went viral on YouTube. A hostile arena in Miami or San Antonio or any other NBA city. A remote mountain village in Rwanda.
There are fans in every county of the state, every state in the union and every corner of the globe. Some love the Thunder even though they couldn't have cared less about the team when it arrived. Some love it because of Kevin Durant. Some love it because of the way the team plays.
But no one loves it any more than a red-headed 92-year-old in Choctaw.
“Any time I make 64 pies for a ball team,” Ms. Fay said, “you know I like 'em.”
This is a story about how a woman born less than 30 years after James Naismith invented basketball came to love the Thunder and why she baked them pies.
Ms. Fay, lanky and spry, looks like she could've played basketball in her younger days, but sports was never an interest. Born and raised in the 1920s in Stratford, halfway between Pauls Valley and Ada, she decided from a very young age that she wanted to go out and see the world.
“I knew there must be something better than the cotton patch,” she said.
One of her biggest motivations for wanting to leave was allergies. Hers were bad, and the Oklahoma weather was not kind to her.
She had a sister living in Arizona, so when she was only 17, Ms. Fay moved there.
She lived near a huge copper mine and got a job in a restaurant in town. The owner had her tend bar. Even though she'd never had a drink — she says she still abstains from the stuff — she loved the job. She loved chatting with all the folks who came in, loved making them smile.
She eventually married, moved to California and had four children. She was pregnant with their first when her husband got called to serve in World War II, and she decided to go home to Oklahoma to have the baby. That's when she made her drive across the country in a car that had no air conditioning and balding tires.
When her oldest was only 8, she left her husband. He was abusive and mean.
“He liked to inflict pain,” Ms. Fay said.
Still, she left him at a time when wives didn't do that, no matter the reason.
Ms. Fay raised the kids on her own, and that meant she had to work long hours. Making money was paramount.
“I did anything that was legal,” she said.
About the only thing she didn't do was open an Italian restaurant. That's something Ms. Fay had always wanted, building around her two specialties — spaghetti and meatballs and apricot pies.
The pies are the small, folded over variety, with the apricot inside the crust, and Ms. Fay made them from the time her kids were little.
“And they're all addicted to ‘em,” she said.
But profits from a restaurant can take years to realize, so Ms. Fay never even pursued it.
Moving to Guymon during the oil boom after she remarried — her husband was in the oil business — opened a whole new . She started an answering service for oil companies. She took calls for them during the day, then made the 45-minute drive to Liberal, Kan., in the evening to tend bar at a club.
Then in 1959 when Oklahoma repealed prohibition, she opened a liquor store in Guymon.
She also opened a clothing store and hunted rattlesnakes on weekends.
“I didn't have enough sense to be scared when I was younger,” she said.
Everything she did, she was all in.
That was the case, too, when she got into sports. Her second husband was a sports nut.
“I had to get into sports in self defense,” she said. “Then I got worse than him.”
She started watching everything, which is still pretty much the case today. She starts her days late in the morning because she stays up until midnight most nights watching sports. She watches tennis and baseball and football, though she's soured on it recently. She thinks the players are trying to hurt each other too much. But her favorite sport has long been basketball.
Imagine her delight when an NBA team dropped into her home state a few years ago.
She took to all of them. Durant is her favorite player — she calls him “The Godfather” — but Russell Westbrook runs a close second. She doesn't think he gets the credit he deserves. She loves the look on Kendrick Perkins' face and the passion with which Serge Ibaka plays and the way that Scott Brooks doesn't try to be a tough-guy coach. The list goes on and on.
“I'd like to give every one of ‘em a hug,” she said.
Because she can't do that, she decided to do the next best thing — bake them pies.
It was a three-day operation, starting with cooking the apricots, then letting them chill overnight. Then came the crust making and the pie baking. They had to cool before they could be packaged, so Ms. Fay had pies on pretty much every flat surface in her tiny duplex. The kitchen counters. The dining room table. The ottoman in the living room.
And Ms. Fay can't stand for long periods, so she had to buy a card table and pull a rolling chair into the kitchen where she could sit and work.
Remember, too, that Ms. Fay is on a fixed income.
But she loved baking those pies because of how much she loves the Thunder.
“I just love bringing a little cheer to people,” Ms. Fay said.
Now, tacked to the side of her refrigerator with magnets are pictures of Perk and Nick Collison. Both are signed by the players with a simple note — “Thanks Fay!”
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.