Statue Limitations

 

 

There’s a statue of a man on public display in a major American city. He was a successful white man who owned slaves. He raped one of his teen slaves repeatedly and she bore his children. He committed treason when he rebelled and  fought against the country where he grew up.

So is anyone demanding this statue be removed? Not that I’ve heard of. The man is Thomas Jefferson, founding father, author of the Declaration of Independence  and third President of the U.S.

So why is the statue of a rapist slave owner, the centerpiece of  a national  monument  in Washington, D.C. acceptable while  the statue  of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville is not?

Honestly, I don’t know if the statue should stay or go. I can understand both sides of  the issue. I understand why it is offensive to some people to see a statue of a man who fought for enslavement of their ancestors. But I also understand why people see the statue of Lee and other southern generals as a part of our history and culture, the  same way Andrew Jackson,  a brutal soldier who practiced genocide, is remembered. Have there been any calls for his portrait to be pulled from U.S.  currency or off the walls of the White House and other government buildings? Nope.

Think about your own life, about something  from your past that you  desperately regret that you did. You’d like to go back and undo it, but you can’t. You’re stuck with it, ashamed of it, don’t  like  to think  about  it. Overall,  you’re probably a good person who made a bad mistake. What you can do is learn from it and not make that mistake again. That’s the way  it is with our country too.

You’ve heard of slippery slopes? This issue is the monster mountain of all slippery slopes. Just for example, there was once a country that practiced slavery from its founding  until it was  forced to free its slaves by use of military force.  What was this evil country? No, not the CSA.  I’m talking  about Texas. But while the Confederacy is so evil, statues of its leaders are being taken down, the statues of leaders of the slave country of Texas  are revered. This makes no sense to me.

It gets worse. The United  States of America was founded  as a slave nation.  Slaves were quantified  in the U.S. Constitution as 3/5 of  a human being. Think about it. The United States was a slave nation during the 18th and 19th centuries. George Washington, the father of the country, owned slaves.

You know who else practiced slavery? Every country that’s been around a few hundred years. Slavery used to be an acceptable situation. The Bible endorses  it.  So I guess we have to condemn most of the countries on earth for their slave nation past. And  if  you can’t  fly  the Confederate flag because it was a slave  nation, you also shouldn’t fly the flag of the U.S., Texas or most of the countries on earth.

You know, I don’t much care if the statues stay or go. It’s not that important to me. I wasn’t  planning  any  statue  tours anyway. I wouldn’t  mind if they stayed, I wouldn’t miss them if they’re gone. 

But I do think we need to all calm down and realize you can’t erase our racist past. And we need to realize that nearly all countries  have a racist past, practiced slavery, bigotry, and used violence and even genocide against  people  of color. If we can balance the evil side of Jefferson,  Jackson and Sam Houston against  all the good they did, maybe the anger over the southern generals is overblown.

As a country, the problem is that our racist past is still alive. That racists, neo-Nazis, and White Supremacists are turning violent on our streets is an alarming warning that the thinking that denigrated  some people to lower status in our history is alive and kicking, and punching,  and ramming people  with a car.

Why don’t we just accept that our country has a racist history, and  try to make  that a thing of the  past?  We  can’t  change what happened, getting  rid of statues is slim comfort, and  the only thing we  can do now  is try to stop  racism and prejudice of all kinds in the present. Let’s not forget  the lessons of our slave nation past so  we can have a better future for  all our people.

 

 

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Family Stories – Part 2

Dwight Eisenhower  1952-1960

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Me, a snowman and the shotgun house on Fulton.


 

Dwight Eisenhower, a hero of WWII, was elected in November 1952. He would be re-elected in 1956 and would guide the country through the post war economic boom. It was a golden era in America. We had won the war and we had become the most powerful country on the planet. Life was good.

I started first grade at East Central in the fall of 1952, but I didn’t DSC_0821finish the year there. Mom and dad bought a house in Dawson at 2001 N. Fulton, on the Corner of Fulton and Ute.  It was a shotgun house on a lot that was twenty-five feet wide. There were two plum trees in the small front yard. The streets were dirt. The rooms were lined up, with the living room at the front, the kitchen at the back, and a bedroom in between. We had running water, but no bathroom, just an outhouse at the back of the back yard. Mom and dad paid $2,000 for the house. I finished the year at Bryant Elementary, and would stay there through the sixth grade.

Right across the street lived my dad’s mom and dad. They had a little one-bedroom house

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Side and Lily Mae Pruitt

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Leland in back yard at Grandma and Grandpa’s. Chickens in background.

with a nice garden spot, a storm cellar, and they had a pen full of chickens. Sometimes on Sunday, the Pruitt clan would gather at grandpa and grandma’s house, and they’d  go catch one of their chickens, butcher it, cook it and serve it for Sunday dinner, as it was called, though we would eat around lunchtime. The gathering would often include Elmer, and dad’s sisters, Lorene, Lula May, Leora and Opal and their families.

 

Dad made improvements to the shotgun house. He added a bathroom and a bedroom for me. There was a vacant lot north of the house and he put a big garden there. We played horseshoes in the back yard.  I learned to ride a bike in that same back yard. For maybe my seventh birthday, mom and dad went to Oklahoma Tire and Supply and bought me an expensive bicycle. It was green with a big tank and it had lights, a horn, and even turn signals. It had cost a huge amount, $75, which mom and dad paid off in monthly payments. The thing was, I didn’t know how to ride a bike. Dad tried to teach me in the back yard, but at first I crashed the big bike repeatedly. I kept getting back on though, but by the time I could ride without wrecking, the new bike had suffered some damage.

 

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Church group. Mom and dad are lower right.

Sometime in the years we lived in the little shotgun house, an old neighbor woman named Pittman befriended my mother and was a regular visitor.  She got mom to go to church with her at The Church of God of Prophecy, just a block west of where we lived. Soon dad started going to church too, and so did I. I was too young to realize it at the time, but things changed after mom and dad started going to church. The church had a lot of rules about how you lived life. We stopped going to the movies. I have only a dim memory of watching a movie at the Mars Theatre in Dawson. I didn’t go back to the movies until I was in high school and had my own car.

 

Because the church taught against wearing any kind of jewelry, mom and dad took off their wedding rings and put them away. Mom and dad stopped playing cards. The church taught modesty in dress, especially for women. All the church women wore dresses that revealed as little skin as possible. Shorts were forbidden, as were low-cut or sleeveless garments. Mom followed the church fashion guidelines.

In retrospect, I suspect mom and dad became church goers because they were still reeling

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Pruitt family portrait with our 53 Chevy and shotgun house.

from the loss of their baby girl. It had been a few years, but I think they were still grieving. The church offered the comforting thought that they would someday get to see their baby in heaven. Maybe it helped a little. There were other reasons. The church provided fellowship in a time when interaction with other humans was still very popular. The early 50s were the last, fading years of social activity before television took over everywhere and people started staying home entranced by the tube.  The church gave mom and dad a new social circle, and it included fun stuff like pot luck dinners, pie suppers, church picnics, and softball games. At the time, there was also the moral belief that good people went to church. That peer pressure was even stronger for mom and dad because dad’s brother Elmer became a pastor for the Church of God of Prophecy and so did mom’s sister Imogene’s husband Wallace Lane, so we had preachers in the church on both sides of the family.

 

In those last days before TV became ubiquitous, radio was still a big entertainment medium. We had one of the console radios in the huge wooden cabinets and I would listen to programs like The Lone Ranger, Superman and The Shadow.  Some people were buying televisions, but it would be years before we had one, for two reasons. First, our church advised against TV because of the worldly entertainment programs. Secondly, a small black and white model was expensive, several hundred dollars, which was a lot at the time.

 

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New baby in the family, early 1954,

Another momentous event took place for us in 1952, though I didn’t know it at the time. Mom became pregnant for the third time. My parents never told me a baby was coming, so it came as a shock when dad woke me up in the middle of a cold January night to tell me he was taking mom to the hospital. He took me across the street to grandma and grandpa’s house where I spent the night. The next morning one of my older cousins came by and walked with me to school. I had no idea what was going on until my mother came home a few days later with a brown-skinned baby. Leland Ray was born January 12, 1953, and he looked a lot like my dad, with dark hair and brown eyes. Like my mom, I was fair, red-headed and green-eyed. Leland appeared to have gotten the Cherokee genetics that were said to be in our family.

 

Leland was a good baby and a happy child and I think he brought a measure of joy into DSC_0830our home that had been missing. He was seven years younger, and that was a gap of years that was hard for us to bridge. He was little, cute and well behaved, and quickly became the darling of the family.

In May 1955 my grandma, Lily Mae Wilkett Pruitt died of breast cancer. I would find out later that dad was holding her in his arms when she died and I think it happened in her little house across the street. I have few memories of Grandma Pruitt. She had the same Cherokee look as my dad and always seemed to be cheerful and smiling. I didn’t attend the funeral and was insulated from the whole thing by mom and dad. But I know it had to be hard for dad who was close to his mother and dedicated to her. Lily Mae was buried at New Hope Cemetery in Spiro.

 

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Leland and me, Easter 1955

When I was in second grade, my teacher was named Mrs. Frazier, and I made my first real school friend that year. His name was Gary Hawkins, and he lived just a few blocks over and we remained best friends through high school. We’d spend most of our time playing games, chess, board games, card games and later we both had Lionel electric trains sets. As we got older we’d play tennis and miniature golf, go swimming at the pool in McClure Park, go to Bell’s Amusement park sometimes, or attend Tulsa Oiler baseball games.

 

It was during this period of time that I developed a love for reading. There was something called the bookmobile that came to Dawson once a week. It was a big drive home that had been converted by into a small mobile library. It was parked right on my route home from school and I’d always stop and check out the maximum of six books and read all of them before the week was out. I was reading hundreds of books a year and I was soon thinking about how great it would be to be a writer. I wrote to one of my favorite writers, Stephen W. Meader, and he wrote back and sent me a signed cover of one of his books.

In 1957, we moved again, to a two-bedroom rent house at 1936 N. Oxford. I’m not sure

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Leland in the back yard of the house on Oxford.

what occasioned the move, and we only lived there about a year. The house was just blocks from my school where I was in the sixth grade. It was the first house we’d ever lived in that was built by a professional home builder and was in a nicer neighborhood of tract houses. From the front yard of the house on Oxford, you could look across Sheridan and see Spartan Manufacturing, the former Spartan Aviation where dad had worked at the start of World War II.

 

I remember my dad’s brother, uncle Luther coming to visit us at that house. Luther was the only Pruitt sibling who hadn’t settled in Tulsa. He lived in Wichita Falls. He was also the only one of the three brothers who had served in WWII, and had seen action on a tank crew in Europe. He was a heavy drinker and though I was only 12 at the time, I could tell he

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The Pruitt brothers, Luther in Army uniform, Elmer, lower left and Claude, lower right.

was drunk that night. Uncle Luther was the bad boy of dad’s family. I remember once before when he’d showed up unexpectedly a few years before at grandma and grandpa’s house driving a car we hadn’t seen before. He pulled the car into the back yard and did a quick paint job with cans of spray paint. Later I came to realize Luther probably repainted the car because he was on the run from something or someone.

 

Behind my elementary school that year, they were going up with a new junior high school, and the rumor got out that it was going to have a swimming pool. Hamilton Junior High opened in the fall of 1958, but I didn’t go there. In the summer of 1958, we moved back to the house on Apache, out on the lone prairie, and I started junior high that fall at East Central. I didn’t like East Central and complained often to mom and dad. Also I was stuck out in the country miles from town and the fun activities Gary and I had been enjoying stopped.

 

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Dad in 1957

Once again, we were hauling water and going to the outhouse. Dad set out to make improvements. On the lowest part of the property about 200 feet from the house, he hand-dug a well to sixteen feet deep,  blasting out the last few feet of limestone with dynamite. Dad hired me and two of my cousins to dig a ditch from the well to the house for 10 cents per foot of ditch dug. Dad put in a bathroom and had a pond dug, but the pond never held water and the well didn’t provide enough water during dry spells. We were living like pioneers, and not very happily. Mom didn’t like living out either and after a year on the prairie, in 1959, we moved back to town, to the shotgun house on Fulton.

 

I was 13 and I was becoming a problem child. I’d complained loud and long about having to attend seventh grade at East Central, and I’d been strong-headed about it. I was angry about not getting to go to the new school with the swimming pool and I was a malcontent and refused to rid e the school bus. Amazingly, mom and dad put up with my whining and drove several miles to give me a ride to school every day and picked me up after school every day.

I think a lot of my acting out was because I was trying to provoke some kind of response from mom and dad.  I have a theory, it’s just a guess, but I think when Patricia died, mom and dad were so devastated, they withdrew into a shell to protect themselves from the pain. I think they also withdrew from me. They still provided the basic necessities like food, shelter, clothing, but they pulled away emotionally and physically and I felt alone and abandoned. I reacted with anger, with demands to try to get them to connect with me. They found it easier to meet my demands than to reconnect. So that was how I grew up, pretty much on my own in my room.

Leland was a different story. He was easygoing, happy, innocent and he didn’t cause trouble He also didn’t come with the baggage of a dead sister. He was a new start, another chance. I think dad was pleased to have a miniature version of himself running around the house.

 I was getting harder to parent. I was willful, opinionated and audacious. Some of my bad

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Sid and Lily Mae Pruitt

attitude was just genetics.  There was major anger streak in the Pruitt line that I inherited. My grandpa Sid Pruitt was an angry, gruff man. I once remarked to one of my cousins that I couldn’t remember having even one conversation with my grandpa Pruitt. Her response was that you didn’t have conversations with him. I could also see the family anger in my dad’s brothers and sisters. Only my dad seemed to have escaped the anger demon, and I think it was because he was a lot like his mother who was a gentle, happy soul. But not me. That old Pruitt anger skipped right past my dad and landed right on me. When, for whatever reason, mom and dad stopped interacting with me, it fueled that anger.

 

51LThtzcJ4L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_QL70_In the fall of 1959, I started eighth grade at Hamilton Junior High and rejoined my friends and classmates from elementary school. The rumored swimming pool?  Did I get to use it? Yes I did, once a week in gym class, but there was something weird about the swim session. We swam nude. No swimsuits allowed. In what still seems to me like a double standard, the girls’ gym classes wore swimsuits. Swimming naked with a bunch of teenage boys was a little awkward, but it was outweighed by the fun of getting to swim. The swimming turned out to be even better than I thought because I became a better and better swimmer because of the regular pool practices, and by the end of ninth grade, I was one the best swimmers in the class.

I was lucky enough to get into a new algebra program that had just started. The new plan allowed students who had some math ability to study first year algebra in the eighth grade and second year algebra in the ninth. Mr. Howard, our algebra teacher, pushed his students, but he was dedicated and he was good at teaching a tough subject. This was an era when students were still paddled in school for  misbehavior. I remember Mr. Howard taking this German kid, Immo Gabbe, out in the hall and giving him swats time and again. I felt sorry for Immo. He was the only student from another culture in the whole school, he spoke with a strong German accent and I think it was impossible for him to fit in. I don’t know if he was really behaving badly or Mr. Howard just had it in for him. But in the small fishbowl of junior high, Immo was one of the first hints that there was a bigger world out there.

Hamilton was better than East Central. Besides swimming and algebra, it had  elective classes and I learned to  type, took a year of Spanish and I  was even in the Glee  Club for a year, despite the fact that I couldn’t sing. For fun, there was a hayride with my algebra class and I went roller skating on Saturdays at the rink on Pine.

I had a friend named Ricky Garrison.  He had a paper route and sometimes when his family went on vacation, I’d substitute for him. After a while, I decided to get a paper route of my own. I think it was the winter of 1959 I got my own route in Dawson. About 1,000 people lived in Dawson, but only about 40 took the Tulsa Tribune, the evening paper. I delivered papers by bike over the rough, potholed streets of Dawson. I made 1.5 cents for every paper  I  delivered Monday through Saturday, but on Sunday morning, I got up early to deliver the Tulsa World and the big Sunday paper paid 4.5 cents per paper delivered. At least that was what I was supposed to make. Actually, I made almost nothing because I had to collect from my customers and some of them dodged paying me. They just wouldn’t answer the door. I’d eventually cut off their paper, but by then I’d lost money. During the few months I had the route, I never made much money. Finally, one month I lost money and mom and dad had to bail me out and I quit.

Family stories – Part 1

One thing I’ve learned from genealogy is that information about your ancestors is nearly always alarmingly scant. I knew three of my four grandparents and had family stories about the grandpa who died before I was born. But before that, information is scarce. I  know very little about my great-grandparents and even less as you go back in time up the family tree.  Often I’ve wished my ancestors would have written something, anything about their lives All of this has convinced me there might be some value in recording the events of my life. So I’m posting, in installments, my story. I don’t know how much interest there will be. I’m posting it on the chance it might be valuable to someone, sometime.

 Disclaimer

This is a true story, or at least it’s supposed to be.  I’ve tried to be accurate, but many of the events happened so long ago that the memories are shrouded by age and memory loss. And memory is also very selective, so there is much more I don’t remember than I do. Some of what I tell is just guesswork or my opinion, and the people I write about might have a very different accounting of the same events. I have also chosen to be selective and not to share some memories about myself and others. Still, I think it’s worth preserving the stories from my life, from my point of view because there may be someone, sometime in the future who finds this helpful.

                                                                                    

1.     Harry Truman 1945-1952

Harry Truman was President when I was born, but he’d only been in office about six months. It was 1945.  I was already growing inside my mother when FDR died in April, and when WWII ended in August we moved to Arkansas where I was born the last day of November.

Dad was from Oklahoma, mom from Arkansas. They met at Boeing Aircraft in

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Irene, Paris High School, 1943

Wichita where they built B-29 bombers. Maybe you remember those wartime images of Rosie the Riveter. My mom, Velma Irene Brock Pruitt was one of those riveters.  I think she probably went to work at Boeing in 1943, the year she graduated from high school in Paris, Arkansas. She was 21 when she graduated from high school because she and her sisters and brother had to work on the family farm and missed so much school, it was difficult to graduate. Among her four older sisters and one younger brother, Irene was the only one to finish high school.

 

 

Irene Brock grew up on a successful farm in the Arkansas River Valley, off highway 22 at New Blaine. Her father Arthur had five daughters in a row born before a boy came along. The girls were farm labor. Irene had never been far from home before she left her home valley to go to work in Wichita.

 

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Irene (on r.) and friend Wichita during WW2

Before Wichita, I doubt she’d ever been more than a hundred miles from home, and the biggest town she’d ever seen was probably Fort Smith, Arkansas.  In 1943, she went from being a high school student to living in a bustling wartime city and making good money.  It think it was a happy time for her. She was going to the movies (her favorite actor was Ronald Coleman), shopping , riding bikes, and making new friends. But her whirl of  big city lights and fun only lasted about two years.

 Sometime in 1943 or 1944, she began dating my dad.. Claude Reo  Pruitt, came down a harder road. He grew up in abject poverty on a series of sharecropper farms in the

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Claude

Arkansas River bottoms near Spiro, Oklahoma. His father Sid liked to drink and gamble, often leaving his family hungry.  Claude dropped out of school after the eighth grade. When he was only 15 or 16 he was riding freight trains to West Texas with his brother Elmer to pick cotton. Claude would have been 16 when the great depression hit in 1929. He told stories of riding freights with hundreds of people on board during the height of the depression.

 

 

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Claude in CCC camp

By 29, he’d been around. He’d been part of the famous Okie exodus to California where he found work in the fields and then as a gardener and saved enough to buy his first car and drive it home to Oklahoma. Before that he’d been with the Civilian Conservation Corps first in Paul’s Valley, Oklahoma, and later in Douglas Wyoming, where he suffered a severe back injury when he was carrying a log and his foot slipped. He was in the hospital for an extended stay and ended up with a curved spine that made him hunch forward.

 

After the U.S. got into World War II, Claude got a job as a welder at Spartan Aircraft in Tulsa. He lived with his brother Elmer and Elmer’s wife Viola in Dawson, a small town near the airport that was annexed into Tulsa. He was making thirty dollars a week, which was so much money to him at the time, that he said he remembered thinking he’d be happy if he could just make that much for the rest of his life. But Boeing offered to pay him even more if he’d come to Wichita and build bombers.

The romance between my mom and dad bloomed in Wichita and I think it must have been

 

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Claude and Irene

a glorious time for both of them. They both had money, a stirring new romance and the entertainments the city provides. Coming off an Arkansas farm, my mother must have been dazzled by big city life. After the hardships and struggles my father had endured for decades, it had to feel good to have money and a steady girlfriend. It may have been the happiest time of their lives, but their happiness would begin to fade before they left Wichita.

 

 

The first complication was when mom realized she was pregnant early in 1945. At the time, there was a stigma against having sex before marriage, and getting pregnant was even worse. When Irene’s mother found out her youngest daughter had been seduced, she unleashed her anger on Claude. Of course, they had to get married right away, and did so in May 1945. But the embarrassment surrounding their marriage probably took a toll on the romance.

There was something else that was damaging. Sometime early in their courtship, mom had asked dad how old he was and he’d said he was a couple of years older than she was. Actually he was eight years older. But when they went to get the marriage license, they had to give their birth dates and dad’s deception was revealed. He tried lamely to say, well, I am a couple of years older, and a few more besides. Mom was 23 and dad was 31 when they married.  It wasn’t a good time to be caught in a lie by your pregnant bride-to-be. I think Irene was angry she’d been deceived, to her way of thinking, not once, but twice. For mom, it must have been a bitter, disillusioning moment. I’m not sure their romance ever fully recovered. Mom was in her eighties and dad had been dead for fifteen years before she finally shared the story of dad’s lie about his age back in Wichita. They remained married for 45 years, until dad died in a nursing home in 1990, but more heartbreak came along the way.

When the war ended early in August 1945, Claude and Irene were immediately laid off by Boeing. They decided to move back to Irene’s home valley in Arkansas and start farming, and the fact that a baby would be arriving in four months may have contributed to their decision to move to the area where mom’s family lived. They found and settled on a small piece of land near her family home place.  The house they moved into had no electricity or running water. It was to this house they brought me home when I was born in the Paris hospital at the end of November.

Dad made a cotton crop in 1946 and sold it in the fall for a few hundred dollars.  It must

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Claude plowing his fields.

have been hard to adjust to farm life and a drastically reduced income after the big bucks in Wichita.  By late in 1946, mom was pregnant again.

 

 In the winter of 1946-47, dad worked as a logger with mom’s brother Lindell. Except for farming, timber work was just about all that was available around there at that time. Had dad kept the logging job, he and mom might never have moved away from Arkansas, but mom’s sister’s husband complained about dad getting to work with Lindell. Dad was an outsider. It didn’t seem fair for him to get the job. Lindell relented, fired dad, and hired the other brother-in-law.  The family squabble was probably a big factor in mom and dad’s determining to quit farming and move to Tulsa.

In late May 1947, Patricia was born. It may have been that my mom and dad waited until the baby was born, and soon after moved to Tulsa. Dad’s family, including his mom and dad, his brothers Elmer and Luther and his sisters all had  moved  to Tulsa by then and dad knew Tulsa from the time he  had been a welder  for Spartan Aviation. Undoubtedly, he was drawn back to the big city by the prospects of gainful employment.  He soon found work with his brother Luther as a floor sander, the profession he would follow for the next 16 years.

But in May 1948, Patricia died. Dad and mom were visiting back in Arkansas when she

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Patricia at 7 months

became ill. At the hospital in Paris she had surgery for a twisted bowel  but didn’t survive. She was 20 days from her first birthday. She was buried in the McReynolds Cemetery in Harkey’s Valley near New Blaine.  It had to have been  horrific for mom and dad and I think it hung over our family like a dark cloud for many years.

 

We lived in a series of rent houses in Dawson, and I think I was probably two when we moved to Tulsa, so I have no memory of the first places we lived. Maybe the first house I do remember was on Erie Street between Tecumseh and the Frisco tracks.  We had a Chow dog named Tramp and mom had a chenille bedspread with a big peacock on it. I don’t remember much besides that.

I remember one other house, though I doubt I could locate it now. It think it was on Apache west of Sheridan.  Dad’s nephew Charles Pruitt and mom’s cousin Bill Adams both lived with us at that house. I have two memories of our time there. The first one is on the Fourth of July in maybe 1949 or 1950. Mom’s sister Imogene had come by the house that day with her husband Wallace Lane and her three kids, Sharon, Dwayne and Mike. The Lane boys decided it would be fun to fill the gas tank on dad’s car using the garden hose. After they left, dad somehow suspected what had happened and questioned me about it and I told him what had happened. We were supposed to go see the fireworks at the fairgrounds that night, but instead, dad, Charles and Bill spent the evening taking off the  gas  tank  and  dumping it out.

The other memory was a time when mom and I were alone at the house and a hobo came to the door. Mom didn’t answer his knock.  Instead she took me into the bathroom where we hid until he left. I think I retained the memory because I sensed my mother’s fear and it was disturbing.

 

 

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The house on the prairie

Probably in 1950 or 1951, we moved out onto the prairie east of Tulsa to 13920  E.  Apache. Dad bought six acres and a squatty little house from one of his brothers. Living on the prairie six miles out of town was a different world. We had to haul in our water. The phone was a party line. The bathroom was an outhouse. And the rolling treeless prairie was big and open. The sky was huge and we would lay out in the yard on summer evenings and watch the stars come out, and after dark we’d see shooting stars. Dad loved living in the country and got chickens, pigs, calves and a horse . Though she’d grown up in the country, mom didn’t like living out. She wanted to live in town and it was a conflict between mom and dad that went back and forth for years.

 

 

 

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My kindergarten class. I’m on the far right.

In the fall of 1950, I started kindergarten at East Central School. To get me there, mom

 

 

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Linda Killion  and me on the prairie

learned to drive and got her license and I guess dad somehow bought a car for her to drive, though I don’t remember it. I don’t have many memories from 1950. I remember one night mom and dad argued over something and dad got in his truck and left, but he came back after a while. I remember mom and dad playing pitch at the kitchen table with the Killions, who lived next acreage east. The Killions had a daughter named Linda who was just about my age and we played together sometimes.

 

 

 

 

It Oughta Be Free

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I have a major gripe. I think if the taxpayers pay for something to be built, and they pay to maintain it, they should get to use it free.

Sounds fair, right? And some things are free, like city parks, libraries, schools, police, and most streets and highways. But there’s also a bunch of stuff you have to pay to use, even though it was built with your money. The justification for charging for the use of these publicly financed and owned facilities is that it takes a continuing revenue stream to maintain them. But here’s the thing. The government already has a continuing revenue stream. It’s the taxes you continue paying all the time. But that’s not enough for the greedy bastards in the government. They want to in effect double dip, and charge you twice. That’s just wrong.

Here’s what I think you should get for free:

Free entrance to all national parks. You own it, you pay to care for it, you should get in free. Camping should also be free. And though they didn’t pay for it, I think it would be a great public relations move and would create a lot of goodwill to allow visitors from all over the world in for free also.16573646931_22fc928bf9_o

Free entrance to all state parks. Free camping also.

Free entrance and camping at U.S. Corps of Engineers lakes You forced Americans off their land, used public money to build a big dam lake, and now you want to charge for it like it’s your private resort? Really?

Abolition of tolls on all roads, highways and bridges. Your taxes built it. Gas taxes maintain it. Asking for more is highway robbery.

Free entrance to public monuments and museums. Same arguments as above.the-104-smartest-public-colleges-in-america

Free tuition at all public colleges and universities. No government should be in the business of selling education. The benefits of providing a free education will far outweigh the outrageous tuition and fees received from students who are struggling with the spiraling costs of  public colleges. Many advanced countries already have this.

Free health care. This one is different, because it’s mostly not funded by taxes. But it should be. In countries that have universal health care, it’s not a for profit business. It’s a free government program. If the Brits and the French can do it, so can we.

Americans are too easy to exploit. The government sticks out its hand, and usually we just give them our money. That needs to stop. It’s hurting people. There are poor families who can’t afford to go to the lake or state park because they can’t afford the entrance and camping fees. There are kids who don’t get to go to the public pool in the summer because there’s a fee to go swimming. College students’ families are being drained by public colleges and young people often are forced under a mountain of debt which marginalizes their life for decades after they graduate. To sum it up, these unfair fees are lowering the quality of life in America.

The critics will cry the government can’t afford to get rid of all these charges. That’s a fallacious argument. There didn’t used to be fees to visit the lake, public tuition was free or affordable, and health care didn’t cost an arm and a leg (pardon the pun.) But somehow, back then, the government was able to operate without imposing an addition burden.

The government doesn’t own all this stuff. We do. Should you be charged to live in your house, drive your car, or sit on your couch? Of course not. You own that stuff. You paid for it. You should get to use it for gratis, zip, free.

 

Rebel Legacy

 

old caswell county courthouse

Old Courthouse Caswell County North Carolina

 

Today has been an auspicious Memorial Day.

When I checked my email this morning I found I had a message from a second cousin. My DNA was  analyzed by Ancestry last year and they link you up with people who share your genetics. But I hadn’t received any messages through Ancestry for months. My second cousin wanted to know from where our ancestors emigrated, so I looked at  my genealogy research and found that my oldest ancestor in that line was a woman named Mourning Wilky, b. 1780 in North Carolina. I haven’t done much genealogy research for the past few years so I decided to see if I could find anything new. I did, and that’s the auspicious part.

I had thought that Mourning was an unusual name and I got lucky and found a family story that explained how she came to be called Mourning. It seems her mother was pregnant when her father John Wilky enlisted in the Revolutionary Army in Caswell County, North Carolina. Her mother  decided if he returned safe, the baby would be named Rejoica, but if he didn’t come back, her name would be Mourning.

So I went in search of John Wilky’s military records. I found his enlistment roster, serving in a company under Capt. Robert Moore and I also found a muster roll which had the comment “died in hospital.” The date of his death and any battles in which he fought I have not been able to find.

Mourning “Mourna” Wilky married Robert Barnabus “Robin” Sisk and they moved to Madisonville, Kentucky where they lived for the remainder of their lives. Their daughter Mary Ellen was my great-great-grandmother.

So this Memorial Day I have confirmed that I have an ancestor who fought and died in the Revolutionary War. Rest in peace John Wilky, and I wish I knew you better.

Just Say What You Mean

I read a story recently about the perception of Americans by Europeans. One of the things they said was that Americans are always trying to put a positive spin on everything. I think they’re right. We’ve softened our language, deflated it, and taken it to the point that Americans no longer say what they mean. It’s gone so far in some cases that we say the opposite of what we mean. We now often talk in code, the real meaning screened because, after all, it’s not trendy to make negative comments.

An old joke captures the phony optimism of  many Americans. A little  boy and girl came down the stairs on Christmas morning and ran to the tree to open their presents, but the only  thing under  the tree was a pile  of horse poop. The little boy was disappointed but the little girl started  running around  excitedly. The little boy  asked her why she was acting so crazy. “If there’s  horse poop, there must  be a pony  around here somewhere,” she said. It seems like Americans often try to find a positive in any situation, even if the  possibility is remote  and unrealistic.

Here’s another example: On the house hunting shows on HG tv, prospective home buyers doing a walk-through often say something like, “I’m not sure I love the wallpaper.” I’ve heard some variation on that kind of statement over and over. Translation: “I don’t like the wallpaper.” Simple, straightforward, and there’s nothing wrong with saying you don’t like wallpaper. Saying you don’t know if you  love it is dishonest. You know you don’t love it. You don’t even like it and that’s not even the issue. Love doesn’t come into it at all. It’s about your personal taste., what you want to live with every day, and you have every right to have things the way you want. You’re not hurting anybody’s feelings by saying you don’t like the paint color, or even if you say you hate it. Nobody will cry.  Just say what you mean.

Here’s another one I’ve seen ad nauseum  in movies, tv shows and even in commercials. Two people are on a date and maybe it’s not going so well, One of them mentions he or she has an early day tomorrow. Translation: This isn’t going well and I want to leave now.  My wife told me when guys used to ask her out on dates, she would tell them she couldn’t because she had to wash her hair. I know what’s going on in these interpersonal spaces. People are trying to let each other down easy, to not cause hurt feelings. But you think when anyone utters those code words about having an early day tomorrow, the other person knows exactly what they’re saying? Wouldn’t it be more honest to just say something like, I don’t think this is going to work out, which is what you’re really thinking. Everybody who’s been out there on the first date battlefield has been rejected and knows that’s just how it goes. Just say what you mean.

A man from the deep south told me an old story that illustrates my point perfectly. He and his family had gone to town on a Saturday to shop and recreate. While in town, they somehow met and got involved with a young guy they’d never known before. The young man spent the day with the family.  In a fashion typical of southern hospitality, when the family was ready to go home, they  said to the young guy,  “Come home  with us.” This invitation is about as insincere as they come,  and  the correct response in the south is “No, you come home with me.” But that’s not how this young man replied. He said, “I  think I  will,”  and did go home with  them  and spent  several  days.  That’s the kind of boondoggle you can get  in when you say things  you don’t  mean.

Of course, there are times you shouldn’t be honest or direct. When your mate has spent lots of time getting ready for a big event and asks you how he or she looks, you better say they look good, even when they don’t.  If a child asks you if he or she could be president of the U.S., or an astronaut, or a princess. you should say yes. If your wife, girlfriend, daughter, or really any woman asks you if you think she’s pretty, find a way to answer in the affirmative. The key is to sort out the issues that are so sensitive, others really want you to tell them what they want to hear. In these situations, unless the person demands you tell them what you really think, don’t.

But most of the time, whenever you can, put it right out there and say what you mean.

Something Yule Celebrate

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December 21 is the Winter Solstice, the day that should be the celebration of Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, Festivus,  or whatever your cultural year-end holiday happens to be. Why? Because the solstice is a natural astronomical event, the first day of a new season, not an arbitrarily chosen date with no connection to the cycle of the planet.

The Celtic holiday was called Yule. Sound familiar?  The Christmas tradition borrowed heavily from the pagan Celts, though the timing was displaced by four days. The Celts believed you should lay a yule log and warm yourself and yours by a bonfire. If you saved an unburned piece of the yule log, it would protect you through the winter. The Celtic fire festival was called Alban Arthuan, so named because the legend was that King Arthur was born on December 21.

The ritual of the Christmas tree goes back to the Celts, who decorated a tree, usually a pine, with brightly colored ribbons. The Celts also used holly branches and mistletoe to decorate their homes.

Even the Santa Claus tradition is connected to the Celts, and Santa’s elves were called the “nature people” in ancient times.

One Celtic tradition that didn’t get picked up as part of the Christmas festivities is this: Write on a piece of paper something you would like to eliminate from your life and burn it in the flame of a candle and watch your troubles go up in smoke.