I was a journalism and English teacher in high school and college for a total of 36 years. I retired at the end of May 2013. Since then, I have become an adjunct professor in Tarrant County College's dual credit program. Prior to teaching, I was a small town newspaper reporter and editor. I come from a family of journalists and story tellers and learned early to love a good story. I hope you will enjoy the ones I include here.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

One hundred years ago today . . .
On a wintry day in a little farmhouse in Wood County, Texas, near the town of Quitman, a baby boy was born. Of course, he didn’t know it at the time, since it was only his first day in the world, but he had a three-year-old big brother and a five-year-old big sister, as well as a mother and a father and a lot more relatives in East Texas and elsewhere in the state. It was Dec. 16, 1914, not a date when anything much of note happened. The talk around Quitman that day focused on the weather. The children were all hoping for snow at Christmas and looking forward to a visit from Santa on Christmas Eve. Grownups may have talked some about the war in Europe, although it was still in its early stages and not regarded as anything other than a European matter. Besides, Germany was a long way from Texas, and there wasn’t anything particularly “great” about the war at that time. All the big names for that conflict—the Great War, the War to End All Wars, World War I—would come later, and even then, they wouldn’t mean much to the little boy born on this day.
His parents named him Trumon Preston Hail, a big name for such a little boy. His brother was Ray Vernon Hail and his sister, Saba Irene Hail. His parents were Joseph Thomas Hail and Beulah Lenore Moore Hail, and his grandparents were Robert Thomas Hale and Pearlie Edgin Hale and Andrew Jackson Moore and Mattie Jane Tacker Moore. The variation of spellings in the names would be a source of confusion and debate for years to come. The family name had been spelled Hale for generations, but sometime before Joseph and Beulah married in 1907, through some type of official document, the spelling was changed to Hail. That was the spelling that he and Beulah were married under, the name recorded in the family Bible when the children were born. Years later, that was the spelling under which Ray would join the Army in World War II. However, when Trumon followed his big brother to enlist, the name was recorded as Truman Preston Hale.

When the children were young, the family moved around a lot, from the Quitman area back to Central Texas (Lampasas, Kempner, Copperas Cove, and Oakalla) where many of Joe’s brothers and sisters lived, down to the Beaumont-Port Arthur area where some of Beulah’s family lived, then back to San Saba by the time the kids were of school age. They went wherever they could find work, and the children weren’t exempt from the work. All of them picked cotton, even little Trumon. Joe had worked as a blacksmith in the Fort Worth stockyards before he married. He didn’t really have the normal build associated with blacksmiths, as he was a short man, but he was strong and a hard worker. He took a variety of jobs to support his family, even agreeing to work a man’s fields on a farm ten miles from Kempner when Joe had no transportation to get there other than his own two feet. He would leave home long before sunrise to walk to work, work all day, and then walk home in the dark. Beulah took care of the children, fed the chickens, grew vegetables in a small garden, and brought home wild poke greens, referred to as poke salad, which she cooked and served with scambled eggs. She also loved to fish, so when they lived near any body of water, she would often bring home fish to fry up for supper.
Visiting relatives scattered around the state was not easy, but they did it, traveling by a wagon, or, on one occasion, a trip out to Scurry County in West Texas, a covered wagon. The trip took several days. On one day, a storm came up, and they had to find shelter more substantial than the canvas cover on the wagon. They found a one-room church just before the rain started, and carried some bedding and food inside. They stayed there overnight, making pallets on the pews. On that same trip, they spotted what appeared to be watermelons growing in a field alongside the road. The children gathered several of the melons, and they decided to make a meal of the melons. But while they looked like watermelons and apparently tasted like watermelons, they were not. Everyone got sick from eating the melons, and they spent an uncomfortable night with three sick kids until the melons cleared their digestive systems.

It was while they lived in San Saba that the children received most of their education. Saba and Ray went to school there, and when he was old enough, Trumon did, too. In school, Trumon encountered a bully in his class, a boy whose father was a prominent citizen of San Saba. The boy picked on Trumon and tried to fight him. The situation escalated as they moved into second grade. Finally, Trumon stood up to the boy, which resulted in the boy’s parents complaining about Trumon fighting their son. Consequently, the teacher told Trumon that he would have to repeat second grade.  Instead, the family moved back to Kempner, but the children did not return to school. Texas had no compulsory attendance law at that time, so Saba began helping her mother around the house, learning to cook and clean and do other household chores, while Trumon and Ray helped their father in the fields and went hunting with him.

When the stock market crashed in 1929, Trumon was almost 15. Not that the financial collapse of the nation’s major corporations was a big deal to the family. The closest brush with wealth they had ever experienced was when Joe and one of his brothers had found a buried pot of gold coins near the Lampasas River several years earlier.  Since it was late in the day, the two decided to cover the “treasure” up and come back to retrieve it the next day.  However, the next day, Joe’s brother never showed up, and when Joe went back to the place to get the money himself, all he found was an empty hole. His brother, however, soon had an almost twelve-thousand-dollar bank account in the Kempner bank, although he always denied that he had taken the buried coins for himself. And when the Kempner bank, like many banks across the nation, failed, that twelve thousand dollars was lost, too.
Before the Depression ended, Trumon found work with the new Civilian Conservation Corps, which he always referred to as “going to the CCC camp.” He worked on various projects in Central Texas and was able to send money home to help his parents. Saba and Ray both married during the Depression years, but Trumon was single and still concerned about what he could do to help his parents. He also bought a car during that time so that he could be more independent and also help his family when they needed something. By that time his parents were living on a hill just off what was referred to as “the old Austin Highway.”

The war in Europe was in the newspaper in the late 1930s as the country shook off the effects of the Great Depression, but much like the situation in 1914, the war was still regarded as a localized conflict in Europe. Still, in the late ‘30s there were stories of Americans going to Canada and volunteering to fight for the Canadians since the official American position of neutrality was still in effect. But on Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, the American view on war changed when the naval base at Pearl Harbor was attacked by Japanese fighters and bombers. The next day the United States declared war on Japan and shortly thereafter, on Germany and Italy.

Ray enlisted first, followed some time later by Trumon. Both went into the Army. It was the Army that changed the spelling of Trumon’s name to Truman Hale. Truman’s basic training was in Mineral Wells at Camp Wolters, an Army installation that trained 200,000 infantrymen during World War II. When he was able to get a pass to go home on the weekend, he would hitchhike. Often, he would be picked up on Highway 281 in Mineral Wells and dropped off at the foot of the hill where his parents lived just outside Lampasas, all without ever leaving Highway 281. He was originally supposed to be a part of what was known as the Texas Division, the 36th Infantry Division, but an illness caused him to be attached to a unit of the Louisiana National Guard instead when he was released from the hospital. He was sent first to England and served in campaigns in North Africa and Italy, then went to France where he was in the Battle of the Bulge before going to Paris near the end of the war. It was in the Battle of the Bulge that his feet froze. He had problems with his feet for the rest of his life as a result.

Even while he was almost half a world away from home in Lampasas, he received mail and packages from home regularly. Because of restrictions on information in letters, his letters home had little information about where he was or what he was doing. Instead, he wrote about how much he missed his family and hoped for the day when he could return home. Truman ran into Jimmy Roye of Adamsville in France in the last days of the war in Europe. More than twenty years later, Jimmy’s daughter Peggye would be a friend and classmate of Truman’s daughter Ann, a friendship that would last until the present day. Both Jimmy and Truman recalled the story of their meeting in a mess hall in Paris. They passed that story on to their children, and Peggye and Ann once compared each father’s account of that meeting. The stories were virtually the same. On another occasion near the end of the war, Truman had a visit from Ray, who was assigned to a unit in Germany. Ray could get a pass to go to Paris where Truman was, but Truman could not get a pass to go into Germany, so that was one country in Europe he missed seeing.

Truman made the most of his travels in Europe and North Africa. In England, he did a lot of sightseeing, and talked about going to Piccadilly Circus, which was not a Circus at all but a famous square in London. In North Africa, he saw as much as he could, and told of picking almonds from trees and making friends with a monkey that came around the barracks looking for food. From North Africa he went to Italy and took part in the liberation of Rome. While there, he made a trip to Pompeii to see the ruins. He also swam in the Mediterranean where he swam a little too far from shore and had to float on his back for a while to have the strength to get back to the beach. He remembered the water of the Mediterranean being so clear that it looked deceptively shallow, until he tried to put his feet down and realized how deep it was.

By the time he got to Paris, it was clear that the war was winding down. He was assigned to a mess hall as a cook, yet another job he had had since he enlisted. Previously he had been an MP (military policeman) and an infantryman. He was given an unofficial promotion to sergeant in the mess hall as he impressed some of the officers with his creative additions to the menu.  One big success was his pineapple pie. The mess hall had large cans of pineapple that were simply opened and served from the can. The result was that most of the pineapple wound up in the garbage. Truman suggested that they make pineapple pies. After some initial reluctance by the ranking officer, who said he’d never heard of pineapple pie, he finally gave Truman the go-ahead to make a batch of the pies. Truman did, and they were a big success and became quite popular with the officers who dropped in at odd hours for pie and coffee. What the officer never knew was that Truman was not a big fan of pineapple. He much preferred apple, cherry, peach, and even lemon.
While working in the mess hall, Truman also had some contact with German prisoners of war who worked there. Not all of them could speak English, but Truman said they didn’t seem too different from the American boys. Many of them had little choice about joining the German army.

When it was obvious that the war was all but over in Europe, one of the officers talked to Truman about going to the Pacific. The officer said if he would agree to go, his unofficial promotion to sergeant would be made official. Truman thanked him but said he wanted to go home. And that’s what he did. He was assigned to a troop transport ship to return to the United States and was excited that he might have a chance to see New York City. But before the ship reached American waters, it was diverted to Norfolk, Virginia, the same port he had left from three years earlier. He would not see New York City until the 1980s when he and his wife Dorothy traveled up the East Coast with their daughter Ann, seeing Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and New York City.
From Norfolk, Truman traveled by train back to Fort Smith, Arkansas, where he was mustered out of the army. The army also was supposed to provide transportation on to Texas by bus or train in a few days, but Truman didn’t want to wait. Relying on the hitchhiking skills he used back in basic training, he caught rides that took him nearly all the way home.

Back in civilian life, Truman worked a variety of jobs. He worked on a street-repair crew filling potholes with his brother-in-law George Hughes. It was hard, hot work, and periodically, George would hit a glancing blow with the wooden-handled tamper that packed the asphalt mixture in the hole. The handle would snap off, and they would get to sit in the shade and rest until someone brought a new handle. Truman and George also worked for a while for the Santa Fe Railroad, maintaining the track between Lampasas and Copperas Cove. They traveled up and down the track on a handcar, and more than once had to derail the handcar when an unexpected train approached. In the late 1940s, Truman began driving a school bus for the Lampasas Independent School District. His brother Ray also drove a bus route. About the same time, his nephew, Ray’s son, called “Junior,” began talking to Truman about his favorite teacher, Miss Dorothy Lancaster. He was also talking to Miss Lancaster about his “favorite uncle.” It wasn’t long before Junior had introduced the two, and they married on Nov. 22, 1949. The wedding was originally planned for the day after Thanksgiving, but Dorothy learned that some of Truman’s friends were planning a “shivaree,” a noisy celebration of a couple’s wedding that would not subside until the newlyweds invited the celebrants inside for food. So they moved the wedding date up until Tuesday night. It wasn’t a major adjustment since it was held in the living room of her parents out on School Creek and was attended mostly by close family members. The next day, a school day, both showed up for work. When someone asked Dorothy about the wedding plans for Friday, she said, “Oh, that was last night.”
That 1949-50 school year, Dorothy’s second year of teaching, would be her last for more than 15 years.  In the early part of 1950, Dorothy and Truman learned that their little family would expand to three in the fall. Virginia Ann was born on Oct. 22, 1950, exactly one month before their first anniversary. Truman quit driving the bus and took a job as a mechanic at the local Pontiac dealership. They also bought a little one-bedroom house on Howe Street. The family would expand again on Nov. 2, 1953, as their second child, Truman Wayne, was born.
Truman left the Pontiac dealership in the mid-1950s and began working as an electrician for Paul’s Electric. He was allowed to bring the truck he drove on the job home, which left the car for Dorothy to use. They continued to live in the little house until after their third child, Dorothy Jean, was born Nov. 19, 1959, three days before their tenth anniversary. By early 1960, it was obvious that more space was needed. They began looking for a bigger house, and finally succeeded in finding one they could afford in June of that year, an old, rambling house on Chestnut Street that had been built about 100 years earlier, shortly before the start of the Civil War. The house had been owned by an elderly woman, who lived there until she died. She willed the house to her nephew, who lived in the Rio Grande Valley. He sold Truman the house, with almost all its contents, for $5,000. The house payments were $60 a month.

Truman’s mother suffered a stroke in the early 1950s, and when his father Joe could no longer care for her, she was put in a nursing home. The closest one was in Gatesville, and Truman would try to visit her there at least once a week. She died in 1958. Joe moved into town from the little house on the hill south of town. For a while, he alternated between staying with Truman’s family, Ray and Pauline, and Saba and George. He even lived for a while in the little one-bedroom house on Howe Street and in a little house near the Lampasas Public Library.
In the mid-‘60s, the neighboring town of Copperas Cove began to boom as a result of the escalation of the war in Vietnam. Fort Hood, just adjacent to Copperas Cove, was growing rapidly, and off-post housing was needed for the families of soldiers stationed on the post. Truman took a job contracting the installation of air conditioning and heating systems builders were constructing all over Copperas Cove. Truman had begun installing central heat and air conditioners while he worked at Paul’s Electric. The demand in Copperas Cove was so great that he sometimes did two complete installations a day.
In 1968, Truman was working on a job in Lampasas that required him to climb on top of a building where the air conditioner unit was located. The ladder the foreman had delivered to the site was a little too short to reach the roof. Truman tried to use it anyway, but the ladder was unstable, and he fell, crushing the heels of both feet. He spent much of that year in the hospital and at home, recovering. He was 54 at the time. His feet would continue to bother him the rest of his life. For the first time in his life, he began wearing heavily padded athletic shoes to cushion his feet. He did return to work in 1969, but he was no longer able to work as he had before. Eventually he began taking Truman Wayne with him. They worked together several summers, including the summers after Truman Wayne’s first two years of college. The next summer, 1975, Truman Wayne would work for an air conditioning contractor in Arlington as he and Renee would get married in July.
Truman’s father Joe died in early 1975. He had spent his last few years in nursing homes in Lampasas and was in his nineties when he died. By the mid-1970s Truman was less able to work, and the development in Copperas Cove had also tapered off. Since Dorothy had started teaching again once Dorothy Jean was in school, Truman essentially retired. He and Ray would often slip away to fish near San Saba. The first grandchild, Corey Wayne, was born in 1977, followed 18 months later by his little brother, Graham Todd. Their little sister Casey Renee would not arrive until May of 1987. As often as possible, Truman and Dorothy went to visit the grandchildren. Dorothy Jean graduated from high school in 1978, the same year Ann graduated with her master’s degree in English from Wake Forest. Truman flew to North Carolina to see Ann’s graduation and to ride with her as she moved home from three years in Winston-Salem. Her possessions filled the backseat of her car and a U-Haul trailer. After a three-day trip, they arrived back in Lampasas, unloaded, and pulled the now-empty trailer to Dallas to turn it in.

Ann came home and found a job teaching in Lampasas, while Dorothy Jean packed up and headed to Arlington for college. Truman and Dorothy were spared the empty-nest syndrome for a while because Ann was back at home. Truman Wayne and Renee had gone to Arkansas when the boys were small, so there were now trips to Arkansas several times a year. Finally, in 1981, Ann did leave home to take a teaching job in a college in South Texas. By that time, Dorothy had also retired, so they went to visit the grandchildren as often as they could. Ann also saw that they had other opportunities to travel in the summer, taking them to New York one year and up to Canada another summer. On the trip to Canada, they stopped in Yellowstone National Park where Truman had an up-close view of a buffalo who decided to jump up on a raised walkway within two feet of where Truman stood.  Although Truman was still having trouble with his feet and back, he took off running to get away from the buffalo, who barely looked at him before hopping off the walkway and wandering off. The last long trip they went on was to Washington, D.C. again. The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial had been finished then, and Dorothy Jean made the trip with them. Neither Truman nor Dorothy was up to walking through the exhibit, so Ann and Dorothy Jean rented two wheelchairs and pushed them through. On the way back from Washington, they stopped at Carolina Beach on the North Carolina coast to visit with long-time friends Margaret and Everett Calloway. Truman said at the end of that trip that it was probably the last time he would ever see those friends. That statement turned out to be prophetic.

For several years in the 1990s, Truman Wayne’s family would load into the family van and drive down to Fort Worth for a few days before Christmas so that Truman and Dorothy wouldn’t have to make that long drive to Arkansas. When Ann and Dorothy Jean bought a house in South Arlington, the family came there a few days before Christmas. Usually Truman and Dorothy would stay through Christmas and go home between Christmas and New Year. However, in 2001, they went home before Christmas. Dorothy Jean and Ann were planning to go down there for Christmas, but before that day came, Dorothy called to say that Truman had collapsed. He was being taken to the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in Temple.
They had Christmas in his hospital room that year, not realizing that it was to be his last Christmas. Dorothy had been driving from Lampasas to Temple every day to be with him in the hospital. Ann and Dorothy Jean visited on weekends. Sometimes they would rent a hotel room and persuade Dorothy to stay in Temple overnight to give her a little rest.  While he was in the hospital, Dorothy learned that his nephew Junior had died. Junior’s sister Peggy had died of cancer in the late 1980s. Truman’s brother Ray died of cancer in the early 1990s. Ray’s wife Pauline died a few years later of heart problems, and Junior’s wife Wanda died of cancer in the late 1990s. Junior’s death was, however, a shock. He had had a heart transplant years earlier but was in good health. He took a trip to Colorado with a friend and developed a blood infection there.  They returned to Lampasas, and he went to the hospital, but the doctors could do nothing for him. Dorothy was afraid to tell Truman about Junior’s death, but Ann remembered that he had said once, on hearing that the news of someone’s death being withheld from a sick relative, that he would want to know, no matter how sick he was, so Dorothy told him. He got very quiet and said nothing until weeks later, when he knew that he was returning to Lampasas. He said he wanted to drive by the cemetery someday and see Junior’s grave. 

After several weeks in the hospital, Truman was transferred to a nursing home and rehabilitation center in Temple. It was dirty, and residents were not cared for very well. After several weeks of observing the lack of care, Ann and Dorothy Jean found out that a team from the state board of nursing homes was on the site checking on reports of poor care. They found out where the team was meeting and went in to talk with them. Not long afterwards, the nursing home staff decided to transfer Truman to a nursing home in Lampasas. He was pleased because he had been wanting to “go home” for weeks.

He did seem more alert back in Lampasas. He had more visitors in Lampasas than he had had in Temple. When Ann and Dorothy Jean came on weekends, they would sometimes check him out of the nursing home to go for a drive. They went down toward Austin to see the bluebonnets in the spring and over to San Saba to see where he had once lived. One feature of every trip away from the nursing home was stopping to get a hamburger and a Dr Pepper. He also enjoyed the chicken fried steak sandwiches from Brad’s Burgers.
In June his doctor told Dorothy that it was only a matter of time, that Truman might not make it through the weekend, and in fact, it did seem that he was very weak, so weak in fact, that Ann did not want him to be left by himself.  Dorothy Jean went home with Dorothy and Truman Wayne stayed a while with Ann. He left in the middle of the night, while Ann sat in a chair beside the bed.  Truman woke up around five that morning and said he was thirsty. Ann gave him water and asked if he wanted some applesauce that he had not eaten the night before. He did. When the nursing aides made their rounds, they asked if he wanted breakfast, and he did. Ann asked if he wanted to get dressed, get into his wheelchair, and go up to the lobby, and he did. When Truman Wayne, Dorothy, and Dorothy Jean walked in that morning, they found him sitting in the lobby talking to Ann and some of the other residents.
He remained alert for most of the next week. Ann, Dorothy, and Dorothy Jean watched the Fourth of July fireworks with him in his room, and Dorothy Jean even went to Dairy Queen to bring him a strawberry sundae, which he enjoyed. Dorothy Jean and Ann were leaving the next day to fly to California where Dorothy Jean had to attend training the following week. They would be back at the end of that week for the annual Spring Ho festival. Sometime while they were gone, Truman slipped into a coma. Truman Wayne came for Spring Ho and brought Casey with him. They spent some time in Truman’s room talking to him, but he did not respond. Because the man who shared the room with Truman was moaning and making a lot of noise, the nursing home staff moved Truman across the hall so that he wouldn’t be disturbed.
On Sunday morning Truman Wayne and Casey got up and headed back to Arkansas. Dorothy and Ann took longer than usual to get up and get dressed, so Dorothy Jean finally decided to go on to the nursing home by herself. She got there just as Truman was taking his final breaths. She called Ann, sobbing, telling her to get to the nursing home as quickly as possible, but he was gone by the time they arrived. After more tears, Dorothy Jean called Truman Wayne. He and Casey had just made it to Waco. He said he would turn around and head back. Ann began gathering up Truman’s clothes and personal items. The next few days would pass in a blur with funeral arrangements and family arriving for the funeral.  The funeral would be officiated by Roger Fancher, his pastor at the Kempner church, and his grandson, Graham Todd, who was in seminary at the time.
Truman was just five months away from his eighty-ninth birthday. He died on the last day of the Spring Ho Festival, something that he had attended nearly every year since it began in the mid-1970s. He was survived by his wife Dorothy, two daughters, Virginia Ann Hale and Dorothy Jean Hale of Arlington, his son and daughter-in-law, Truman Wayne Hale and Renee Hale of Arkansas, three grandchildren, Corey Hale, Graham Hale, and Casey Hale, also of Arkansas, and numerous nieces, nephews, and friends. 

Author's Note: I first thought of doing this last summer and began the research then. My original intent was to write the text and find old family photos to illustrate it, then have the whole thing printed into a booklet. But my good intentions did not mesh with the requirements of teaching a brand new class this fall. Consequently, what you have here is based on my memories of family stories. I'm certain there are wrong dates and other misinformation from my not-always-accurate memory. Please let me know about any errors you see. I'll try to follow through with a published booklet next summer for everyone in the family who wants a copy.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Remembering people from another time

Today is the 132nd anniversary of my grandfather's birth. My father's father, Joseph Thomas Hail, was one of 14 children in his family. His father, Robert Thomas Hale, had come to Texas by way of Arkansas with his extended family shortly before the Civil War. They first settled in the Leander community north of Austin. Gradually, the parts of the family split up and looked for other homes. One went to the Brady area as a miner, and another group moved north to the Texas Panhandle to Hale Center, then crossed into Oklahoma and settled in the central part of the state. My great-grandfather and great-grandfather were living in Mason when my grandfather was born, but they eventually moved to Lampasas County and settled down in the Kempner area.

By 1900, Joseph was 18 and on his own. As there were a total of 14 children and Joe was one of the oldest, his father sent him off into the world early to take care of himself as there were still younger children to care for at home. Despite being a slender man of short stature, he worked as a blacksmith, moving to Fort Worth for a while to practice his trade in the Stockyards area. Eventually he moved back to the Kempner area, where he met and married Beulah Moore, whose family had moved from East Texas to the farmland outside the nearby town of Copperas Cove. Joe and Beulah had three children, a daughter, Saba Irene, the oldest, a son, Vernon Ray, and the baby, my father, Truman Preston. Two other children died at birth. By this time, the family was spelling their surname as Hail, in spite of the fact that Joe's parents had used the Hale spelling. However, sometime before the birth of Saba, Ray, and Truman, a clerical error changed the spelling to Hail. Another clerical error when my father enlisted in the Army in 1942 changed my father's name back to Hale.

Joe continued to do some blacksmith work, but the family also farmed a little and picked cotton. They also moved around a lot, to Quitman in East Texas where my dad was born, down to the Gulf Coast to the area around Beaumont, where other family members lived, back to Lampasas and Kempner, and even to San Saba for a time when the children were young. None of the children finished school because all of them were put to work to contribute to the well-being of the family. My father only went through the second grade.

When my father was very young, the family decided to go out to Scurry County to visit some relatives. They packed their clothes, food, and other supplies in a covered wagon and set out, pausing each night to make camp. One night there was a terrible thunderstorm, but a church building was nearby and not locked, so they slept on the floor in that church that night.

The Depression was a hard time for everyone, but Joe took a job with a farmer whose farm was about ten miles away from where the family was living at that time. Joe would leave home before sunrise, walk the ten miles to the farm, work all day, and then walk home after dark. Later he was able to get an old car, and he drove it when necessary.

Truman found a job with the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and was able to send money home to Joe and Beulah. Saba and Ray were already married at this time. When the country declared war on Germany, Italy, and Japan, both Ray and Truman enlisted, Ray first and Truman shortly thereafter.  By then Joe and Beulah were living in a little rock house on a hill along the road that ran from Lampasas to Austin. Truman sent money home and Beulah sent him cookies and candy she had made and packed carefully for shipment to him in England, North Africa, Italy, or France, wherever he was at the time.

When the war ended, Truman came home and found a job working with the Lampasas street department with Saba's husband George Hughes. They patched potholes in the heat of summer. When that job became too much, they found a job working on the railroad. In the late 1940s, Truman began driving a bus. In the meantime, my mother, Dorothy Lancaster, had finished college and returned to Lampasas to teach. One of the students in her class was Ray's son, Ray Jr. At one point that year, Junior, as he was called, told her that he wanted to introduce his favorite teacher to his favorite uncle. They were married Nov. 22, 1949. Truman continued to drive a bus for the school district, and Dorothy taught through the end of the 1949-50 school year. They had bought a tiny one-bedroom house on Howe Street in the western part of the city where they lived when I was born in October, 1950.

My earliest memory is of the entire family near the Lampasas River at Kempner, at night with a fire sending sparks into the night sky. My grandmother Beulah was there and walking around. And I could remember being passed from one person to another. That was late spring or early summer of 1952. I carried the memory for years as a sequence of images, until when I was in my twenties and described what I remembered to my parents. After some consideration, they realized I was describing a family fish fry, and I was passed from one person to another because they were afraid if I walked around on my own I might fall in the river. I remembered only images because I was still not talking much.

We made frequent trips in those years to the little rock house to see Joe and Beulah. At some point between my memory of the fish fry and the birth of my brother, Truman Wayne, in 1953, Beulah had a stroke that left her paralyzed. The little two-room house had a kitchen and a combination living room-bedroom. The bathroom was an outhouse behind the little house. Water came from a well. An electric light bulb dangled from the ceiling in each room. They also had a primitive electric refrigerator that replaced the old ice box that kept food cool thanks to a block of ice purchased from the ice house in Lampasas.

I remember some family gatherings in that little house. On one occasion, my aunt decided to make fried chicken, so she caught a chicken from the yard, wrung its neck, and chopped its head off. I know the rest of the transition from live bird to crunchy fried lunch involved putting the carcass in boiling water and then plucking the feathers out. I remember this because they decided I should have the experience of plucking a chicken. I remember taking only one handful of those wet, soggy feathers and deciding that I didn't like that at all. Another time we were there, and for some reason, probably because of the colors, I got into a bunch of hot peppers growing just outside the kitchen door. The juice from the peppers burned my hands and face, and my mother and aunt had to washed me off and smeared butter on my face and hands.

Truman and Ray decided to enlarge the little house in the mid-1950s, to add two bedrooms, some closet space, and a bathroom, but before they were very far along, Beulah had another stroke and had to be moved to a nursing home. She was put in the nursing home in Gatesville, about forty miles from Lampasas, because Lampasas didn't have a nursing home at that time. She was there until she died when I was in the second grade.

After that, Joe lived on his own for a while or stayed with Ray and his wife Pauline. It was about then that Joe took his only trip out of Texas. He went to Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico.

After we moved to a large old house in 1960, he lived with us for a while. He also lived in the little one bedroom house on Howe Street for a while and in an apartment by the public library. Truman Wayne spent the n the next morning, but after they put the cereal in their bowls, they discovered that the only milk in the refrigerator was buttermilk, so they ate cornflakes with buttermilk.

Joe's health diminished while I was in college, and he moved in again with Ray and Pauline for a time before going to a nursing home. By then Lampasas had two, and he wound up living for a time in both.  I was working at the newspaper in Copperas Cove in early 1975 when my mother came into the office. Joe had been sitting in a chair in the nursing home, when he suddenly straightened and leaned forward as if to stand, then toppled over. By the time the staff reached him, he was gone. He was 92.

Joe was a soft-spoken man who enjoyed playing a fiddle and reading his Bible. He spent hours playing checkers with me and my brother. By 1960 when I was 10, he was approaching 78, but he still was able to walk around the town even though his years of hard work had left him a little stooped over. On hot summer days he could often be found sitting under a shade tree. He was never convinced that the Apollo 11 moon landing happened, even though he watched Neil Armstrong take that "giant leap for mankind" along with the rest of us in July 1969. He was known around the community as a nice old man, a man of his word, who had lived in the county most of his life. His three children had a total of nine children of their own, as well 16 great-grandchildren and one great-grandchild by the time of his death.

When I think of Joe, I remember him as an old man, a pioneer of sorts, who had farmed and chopped cotton and shoed horses, pounding out the red-hot iron on an anvil. He's my connection to the past, to relatives I never met, to a simpler time. His values made my father the man he was, just as my mother's parents' values formed her character. And those same values are being taught today to my three great-nieces, an enduring legacy.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Happy birthday, Mom!

Today, Aug. 30, 2013, would have been my mother’s 91st birthday. She spent the entire summer that last year in a series of hospitals, and she was sick for much of her last year, although she took great pains to keep us from knowing how sick she was.

My father had died in July of the previous year, and she had been driving back and forth to the hospital to see him since he became ill in December of 2001. He spent several months in the Veterans Administration Hospital in Temple, and she made that 120-mile round trip almost every single day that he was there, although on occasion, one of her church friends drove her. A couple of times my sister and I met her in Temple, and the three of us spent the weekend in a motel so that we could visit with Daddy and spare her that long drive. When he was released to go back to Lampasas to a nursing home there, she didn’t have to drive as far, but she would try to spend a big portion of the day with him, which was still tiring.

By September of that year, only two months after Daddy’s death, she was hospitalized in Killeen. She always had tended toward anemia, and she was very weak. But my sister had planned a trip to Alaska in connection with her job in the next month, and Mom was supposed to go with her. That gave her an incentive to take care of herself and get better.
They did make the trip to Alaska, and they had a great time, even though the night skies were cloudy the entire time they were there, so they did not get to see the aurora borealis, which had been something both of them wanted to see. Mom remembered a time from her childhood in Central Texas when, for some reason—solar flares, maybe—the aurora borealis had extended as far south as the little Central Texas farm she grew up on. But the closest they came to seeing the Northern Lights in Alaska was in the post cards and books they brought home.

My sister and I fell into a routine of going to Lampasas most weekends that fall, and we would take her out to eat or to the store. She had a lady who helped her around her apartment several days a week, and one of our cousins made a trip to Lampasas to visit with Mom in the middle of most weeks. Her friends from church also stopped by to keep her company.

When we went to Arkansas for Thanksgiving that year, Mom seemed to tire easily, but she tried to do everything we wanted to do. On the way to Arkansas, we stopped at a McDonald’s in Hope to get something to drink. My sister parked the car near the door and went inside. Both Mom and I were slower. I had to get out of the backseat, which meant moving around some of the items packed alongside me. Mom got out and started toward the door just as I finally got out of the car. As she turned around the front of the car, I saw her fall over backwards onto the concrete. I ran to her where she lay, fearing that she might have broken something. She wanted me to help her up, but I wasn’t sure how to do that without hurting her more.  She was sitting up but still on the concrete when a man came out of McDonald’s. He lifted her up and set her on her feet again. She was sore from that fall the entire weekend.

When we prepared to go to Arkansas again for Christmas, my sister and I decided that she should fly. The trip would be shorter and much easier on her, and our brother would meet her at the Little Rock airport and take her home. That also gave her a little more time with our brother and his family. She had a great time, even though there were a lot of emotional moments that holiday since it was the first Christmas without Daddy. When the holiday was over, she rode back to Arlington with us, and we took her back to Lampasas a few days later.

One Sunday morning a couple of months after Christmas as she was getting ready for church, she told us that she was not feeling well. Her heart was racing, and fearing that she was having a heart attack, my sister and I called the emergency medical technicians. She kept insisting that she would be fine, but we said we wanted to be sure. When the paramedics arrived, they cut her dress right up the middle to place the sensors on her. She was so upset because the dress was her favorite. They took her to the hospital where she was kept in the emergency room for a while, and then released to go home. Because of that experience, we learned that she had a recurring problem with atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat, probably going back to a bout with scarlet fever she had as a child. Although I remembered that she never had much energy in hot weather and occasionally felt dizzy and had to sit down, if we had not been there when it happened, we might not have known about the irregular heartbeat.

In the spring of 2003, she was excited about going to her grandson Graham’s wedding. We had taken her shopping, and she had a new dress for the occasion. I went down to pick her up when I got out of school that day. The plan was that we would drive back to Arlington, pick up my sister, and go part way toward Arkansas that night, then drive on in the next morning. But when I got to Lampasas, Mom was moving very slowly. She didn’t seem to have much energy, but I had no idea how sick she was. As usual, she never complained. When we approached Glen Rose on the trip back to Arlington, Mom finally admitted that she was not feeling well.  She had thrown up several times by the time we got to Cleburne, so she asked me to stop at the Dairy Queen so she could use the restroom and change her clothes. We made it back to Arlington, but my sister took one look at her and decided it would be better if we let her rest that night and leave in the morning.
Mom handled the trip to Magnolia, Arkansas, the site of the wedding, without much trouble, but not long after we arrived, she was sick again. She made it to the rehearsal dinner that night and to the wedding the next night, but in between she stayed close to her bed in the motel. On Sunday morning, June 1, when it was time for us to leave she couldn’t get out of bed. Not only was she still having what appeared to be a major stomach virus, but the racing heart problem hit her again. We called for an ambulance to take her to the Magnolia Hospital and arranged to keep our motel room for a few more nights.

She was released from the hospital in Magnolia on Tuesday, and we took her back to Arlington. The next day we took her to Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas to get checked out. They admitted her, and she was seen by a cardiologist the next day. He talked to her about the atrial fibrillation that was obviously getting worse and recommended surgery to correct the problem. The surgery was scheduled in the next week. The plan was, once the heart problem was fixed, we would move on to the abdominal problems she was having. She made it through the surgery just fine, and we took her back home to Arlington with us. The hospital had also arranged a visit with a specialist for the next week, and I took her to it. I had to push her from the hospital into the medical building in a wheelchair. He wanted to schedule a colonoscopy for her, but before the time of that appointment, she went in to take a nap one afternoon with us, and when she woke up, she could not get up.

We called the ambulance again, and this time she was taken to the Medical Center of Arlington. After we stayed there all night with her, they finally found a room for her around 6 the next morning. Looking back, I think she probably had a mild stroke that afternoon that affected her ability to walk. The hospital began doing more testing. They did the colonoscopy there since she really wasn’t well enough to take back to Dallas. And when she was finally released, it was to go to a rehab hospital in Mansfield. She was there for the remainder of her life. We celebrated her 81st birthday there, just a week before she died. 
In the 10 years since her death, she remains an important part of family celebrations. At family gatherings we still frequently remark on what Mom would enjoy if she were still with us, just as we still talk about Daddy. The family has changed some in the ten years she’s been gone. I retired from teaching this year, after 36 years in the classroom. I don’t get around as well now as a result of a car accident in 2010 and a fall in my classroom last August, both of which resulted in broken bones. My brother’s oldest son, Corey, who came to lived with my sister and me the summer Mom spent in the hospital, has just started his 12th year of teaching. My brother’s other son, Graham, completed college and went to seminary. After serving as an associate pastor in Fort Smith, he moved the family to Jacksonville, Texas, a few years ago where he is pastor of Fellowship Bible Church. He and his wife Leslie have three little girls, Ava Grace, 6, Edy Rose, 3 1/2, and the baby, Joy Tatum, almost 4 months, that their Mamaw and Papaw Hale would have doted on, just as the little girls’ grandparents do now.  My brother’s daughter Casey graduated from both high school and college in the past ten years, and she’s now working on a master’s degree in counseling. 
My parents never had very much, but they left a great legacy for their children and grandchildren, not in material goods but in the values they held and the example they set for us. They would both be so proud of their family today.

Happy birthday, Mom!  

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Celebrating America's Birthday

Memories of July 4th Past
Today is my 63rd Fourth of July, which means I’ve been around more than one-fourth of the 237 years this country has been in existence. Of course, I don’t remember much about the first few celebrations. But somewhere in my earlier childhood I became aware that there were two times a year, once in the summer and again just after Christmas, when there were fireworks. (Several years later I would learn that the two occasions were the Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve.)
Back in the 1950s when I was a child, there were fewer city-wide fireworks shows and more of the small scale, do-it-yourself fireworks displays. My dad’s fireworks of choice were sparklers, firecrackers, bottle rockets, and Roman candles. He always got sparklers for my brother and me, but he handled the others himself to keep us safe. I didn’t even really like the sparklers because the sparks burned my hands. The bottle rockets and Roman candles produced bright, pretty lights in the night sky so we enjoyed seeing them. I also wasn’t too fond of the firecrackers because they were so loud, louder even than my brother’s cap pistols, and those were loud enough.  Sometimes Daddy put away some of the firecrackers for a more opportune time which he wanted to play a prank on one of his friends.
During the ‘50s, my home town of Lampasas learned just how dangerous fireworks could be when a large fireworks stand located inside the city limits on the main street through town blew up, killing the man who worked there. Our house was only about six blocks away, and we heard the explosion. Daddy knew the man who was killed.
The first big fireworks show I ever saw was at Fort Hood in the 1960s. We had friends from church who had access to Fort Hood, as the father of that family was stationed there. Our family went to that show as their guests, and it was impressive, both the elaborate fireworks themselves and the patriotic music played by a military band.
In the early ‘80s when I lived in Austin, I watched a massive fireworks display over Lake Austin, accompanied by patriotic music from the Austin Symphony. One summer I watched a fireworks display from my sister DJ’s apartment on North Collins when the Rangers still played in the old Arlington Stadium. And then there was the year when I was living in a second floor apartment over on Lamar in North Arlington. From my front porch I could look to the right and see the fireworks in Downtown Dallas or to the left to see the fireworks in Fort Worth.
One memorable Fourth of July was in 1988 when I was traveling with my parents through South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and on into Alberta, Canada. We were in Calgary and Banff on Canada Day (July 1), Canada’s Independence Day, then back into Idaho, Utah, and Colorado by July 4. As we drove through the mountains that night we could see periodic fireworks in the little communities we were passing.
The year DJ and I bought our house, our parents came up for the Fourth of July. It was a cool, rainy July 4 so we spent most of the day inside watching movies on TV. Another year not too long after we bought the house, we went to a Fourth of July party at the home of a friend from church. It was another cool day, and we spent a big part of the day sitting around a chiminea on the back patio enjoying the smell of the burning pinon wood.
We spent the Fourth of July in 2002 sitting in my dad’s room in his nursing home in Lampasas, watching the fireworks display in New York. My sister went to Sonic and brought daddy a strawberry sundae, and he ate every bite. That was about the last time he was alert and able to take part in any kind of family activity or conversation. He died about 10 days later, on the last day of the annual Spring Ho Festival in Lampasas.
And so what was our plan for this year’s Fourth? Nothing fancy. DJ and I went to a movie this afternoon and saw White House Down, then picked up drinks and hotdogs from Sonic on the way home. We’ll watch TV and probably do a little reading tonight. Fort Worth is supposed to have a great fireworks display, so I’ll try to catch part of that on television, too. Tomorrow we have plans to attend another movie matinee (Despicable Me 2) with friends from church, then go out to eat. Not as exciting as some previous years but still enjoyable and more fitting with my senior citizen-retiree status. Besides, my recliner is a lot more comfortable than a lot of those things I used to do. Remember, I’m more than a quarter the age of the entire country.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Top 10 List

10 Things I Have Not Missed
Since My Last Day of School

My last day of a 36-year career in education was June 1. Since then I have stayed busy with a variety of projects and the usual summer vacation activity of doing a lot of reading, as well as keeping up with old friends on Facebook and taking up some new hobbies. Following is a list of what I have not missed in the first month of my retirement.

10. Teenagers who think they know everything.
9. Monitoring students’ cell phone use and confiscating phones.
8. Two words—state testing.
7. Grading papers every weekend.
6. My alarm clock going off at 4:30 a.m. Monday through Friday.
5. Have to eat lunch in the same 30-minute period five days a week.
4. Not being able to buy a Diet Coke from a vending machine until 2 p.m. (after the end of the last lunch period).
3. Timing restroom breaks for the six-minute passing period between classes.
2. Seeing what new traffic configurations and detours are in place every morning and afternoon on almost every major highway in the Metroplex.
1. Early morning traffic on I-35W north of downtown Fort Worth where most drivers of the tractor-trailer rigs that fill the northbound lanes in rush hour apparently think 35 is the speed limit.

Saturday, July 28, 2012


This summer, in an attempt to get some exercise while still not having to deal with the Texas heat, I’ve been going to water aerobics at the YMCA. It’s a good way to work on strength and flexibility without putting undue stress on my weak knees and ankles.   

Those who know me will tell you that I am not now, nor have I ever been, an athlete, despite my brief involvement in jogging for a few years back when I was in my late 20s and early 30s. I didn’t have any speed then, but I had a lot of endurance, so I ran in several 10K races, all with the specific goal of finishing without getting hurt. And I accomplished that at the blazing speed of 12 to 13 minutes per mile. In other words, only just slightly faster than a walking pace.

I also might mention here that I am not a swimmer, unless you count a weak dog paddle (that looks more like a drowning dog—lots of splashing around and very little forward movement). As a small child on a trip to a local creek to “swim” with my parents, I managed to step into a hole where the water went over my head until Daddy pulled me out. That experience made me fearful of water. Around the time I started first grade, my parents signed me up for swimming lessons, and I did learn to float on my back, as well as face down for as long as I could hold my breath. But when it actually came to swimming, I could never overcome my fear of the water for more than a few strokes. That doesn’t mean that I stayed in the shallow end of the pool during my adolescent years. No, I went all around the pool, everywhere I could go and still be within an arms length of the side of the pool.

As an adult, I had two scary experiences on water, each involving a canoe. I took a relaxing trip down a river with another teacher and some of our students that ended with one short section of rapids. The canoe I was in flipping over, trapping me underneath in water that was over my head until I managed to kick and push upward with my hands to get out from under the canoe and be pulled to safety. Not long after that, I was on a church retreat on Lake Travis. One of the guys from my Sunday School class asked me if I wanted to go for a ride in a canoe, and I foolishly said O.K. I thought we would be just paddling around the little inlet where I had seen canoers earlier. Uh-uh. That would have been too easy. As soon as we got in the canoe, he began rowing toward the middle of the lake.  Ski boats and skiers were passing us on both sides—simultaneously. We were bobbing up and down more than a fishing buoy in a hurricane.

Even with my history, I didn’t anticipate any problems with water aerobics because the part of the pool we use isn’t very deep, certainly not over my head. Also, the water aerobics sessions, at least in the mornings, tends to be geared toward the “Silver Sneakers” group (retirees), some of them recovering from or dealing with limitations associated with strokes and arthritis. I knew I was fairly strong and had only a couple of knee and ankle problems to deal with—and the water should help with those. I surely should be able to do what people 10 to 20 years older could do.

How difficult could water aerobics be? Famous last words.

I’ve been going two days a week, Mondays and Wednesdays. Each day has a different instructor, so the routines vary. To warm up, both instructors use techniques like jogging in place or doing jumping jacks in the water, simple enough for me. To build strength, they asked us to use Styrofoam barbells and foam “noodles” under the water—also simple.

Then they embellished the routines, linking several moves together to music. Sounds a lot like dancing, doesn’t it, and I have almost no sense of rhythm. (One of them incorporates the moves of the “Macarena,” popular a decade or so ago, and I couldn't do it then either.) Even the relatively simple rocking horse move (lunging forward on the right foot while the left foot comes off the bottom of the pool, simultaneously pushing water away from your body with both arms, then rocking back on the left foot as the right foot comes off the bottom of the pool and pulling both arms back toward your body) takes some getting used to. Just look at how many words it takes to describe the action. And then the instructor starts counting—up to 8, then backwards again to 1. We’re supposed to change position every time she calls a new number. I finally decided, if I can start with the class at 1 and end up with the class back at 1, the middle part isn’t all that important. I just keep moving, and sometimes I’m with the class (rarely) and sometimes I’m not (usually).

Another drill one of the instructors loves is when we hold our hands clasped above our heads and run across the pool in chest-deep water as fast as we can, until she stops us and tells us to run backwards. (Did I mention that she’s retired military?) Running in water is less dangerous for me than trying to run on land or even in a gym because I’m not as likely to trip myself and fall by dragging my right foot, the one with the nerve that doesn’t work right. The water offers resistance, which is good exercise, but stopping is more difficult. My momentum always takes me forward another two or three steps when she says to stop before I can initiate the reverse movement. That would be O.K. if I were in the pool by myself, but this is a class, remember? I do not want to be known as the one who ran over some senior citizen in the pool. And I’ve come close to doing just that.

The instructor of the Monday class likes to have us use one of the “noodles,” the ends held securely in each hand, for support in the water as we do some sideways underwater kicks. I don’t fully trust the “noodles” so I keep one foot on the bottom of the pool as I lean forward with the “noodle” and kick with the other foot.  About two weeks ago, as I kicked out with my right leg, the calf muscle cramped. All I had to do was put the right foot down and stand up. Sure, I know that now, but at that moment my instinct was to grab the cramping leg, which meant turning loose of the “noodle” with my right hand, causing me to toppled over backwards and splash everyone within a five-foot radius while I tried to regain my footing. The only thing that could have been more embarrassing would have been if the lifeguard had jumped in to help me, and he was leaning forward with his buoy when I finally managed to get both feet on the bottom of the pool again.

Both instructors like to have us do a cross-country skiing move in the pool, alternating between right leg and left arm forward, left leg and right arm back and left leg and right arm forward, right leg and left arm back. This one has great potential for disaster. First, I have to keep my arm and leg movements coordinated, an almost impossible task for somewhat who can lose her balance and fall while standing still. To complicate the exercise, one of the instructors likes to insert a “tuck” (pulling the knees up toward the body) while changing the foot and arm positions. Second, this is a move based on skiing, and I may be the world’s worst skier. No kidding. No title has been conferred--yet, but I think it probably is well deserved. I flunked ski school years ago in Breckinridge, Colo., on my one and only attempt at the sport after I took the ski instructor down in the snow several times (unintentionally, of course) and then knocked down my whole ski school class just like dominoes as we lined up to climb the bunny slope sideways. (I was at the bottom of the hill when the instructor told us to lean on the side of our skis to hold our position on the incline. I leaned a little too far, fell on the person next to me, who fell on the next person, and so on all the way to the top of the hill.) For my own safety, and that of everyone skiing on the mountain that day, the instructor advised me to go have some hot chocolate and watch the ice skaters on Maggie Pond.

I’ve wondered if I need to put a disclaimer somewhere on my swimsuit, especially on those days when the pool is really crowded: “Warning—Totally out of control waterphobe with bad balance, prone to sudden, unpredictable movements, frantic splashing, and sheer panic. Approach at your own risk.”

Despite the (unplanned) thrills I’ve experienced in water aerobics, I have enjoyed the classes, and I think they’ve been successful in some respects. My upper arms and shoulders seem more muscular, and I do have a greater range of motion in my legs. I’ve also gotten used to the smell of chlorine which seems to cling to me, no matter how much I shower, wash my hair, and launder my swimsuit and towels. It’s not an unpleasant smell, really—mixed with my pineapple-coconut bath gel and body lotion, it smells like summer.