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.

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