He was born during the Roaring 20’s, the decade of flappers, jazz, and Al Jolson. Cool Cal Coolidge was in the White House; the Model T was at the height of success. That year, you could actually---for the first time---listen to a broadcast of the only post-season football game, live from the brand-spanking-new Rose Bowl stadium, on the radio. Movies were silent, although there had been a test-showing of a new technology, “sound-on-film”, in New York City that year . Alan Shepard, Chuck Yeager, Henry Kissinger, and Bob Barker all made their appearance within the same year, while Gustav Eiffel (of steel construction fame) made his departure.
Life expectancy for a baby born in the US in 1923: 56.1 years.
In Arkansas, there existed about 20 miles of paved roadway outside of Little Rock and Hot Springs. The “Texas Road” was a muddy track through the forest skirting the edge of the hills (it wouldn’t be numbered “US 67” until two years later); if you wanted to go anywhere, you took the train, of course. Razorback Hogs and black bears still ran wild in the hills, and many people hunted and fished, not for pleasure, but for food. Neither telephones nor electricity were plentiful, and most doctors had not been to college (but had apprenticed with an older doctor).
Jester and Stella Jones were at a crossroads in their lives. They lived in Willow, Arkansas, on a small farm. Both their families were farmers, although Stella’s brothers had a tendency to “run ‘shine” from time to time. Jester, being the second oldest of 13 (you had to have big families; you needed help on the farm, and manufacturing them seemed the easiest way; besides, whoever heard of birth control? …and anyway, you were guaranteed to lose at least a couple along the way due to typhoid, cholera, measles, or some kind of cut or other accident that would lead to death from sepsis), looked around him and didn’t like what he saw. His brothers all wanted to be farmers; his sisters all married farmers and started making more farmers. Jester had liked school, so he had studied hard. When he finished eighth grade (the highest level of education available in Arkansas at the time), the teacher offered him an unpaid position as his assistant. The teacher taught Jester out of his own books. Three years later, the teacher left and Jester assumed his position.
So, there they were, the young couple with two girls and a boy, and here came another boy baby. Teaching school and farming part time were not getting the job done financially, and really, Jester had reached the end of his rope. They decided to move to the “big city”; the nearest one of those, a buggy ride away, was the county seat: Malvern. Jester secured a position as “Assistant Teller” at Bank of Malvern (the oldest chartered state bank in Arkansas). He worked for the Bank of Malvern for the next 59 years.
The family moved into a house on Clardy Street, and that was where that baby boy spent his childhood, chasing after (and being chased by) his older brother and sisters.
The oldest, Virginia, held sway as “assistant Mother”, and one imagines she could probably be pretty commanding as an older sister (she certainly was as an adult). She desired to be a “great lady” in the grand old southern tradition---and succeeded. Her quiet voice was, till the day she died, instantly obeyed by her entire family. She was sweet, wonderful, and everybody loved her---but you really didn’t want to make her mad.
The next eldest, Arline, has yet to be tamed, although it’s rumored she began to cut back a bit when she passed 90 last year (this blog does not believe rumors). Arline got to 4’9 and stopped growing, earning her the (then unwanted) nicknames “Stumpy” and “Shorty”. She couldn’t (and can’t) help it if she liked (and still likes) to have fun instead of sitting around all day being religious. Like all her siblings, she feels that, if God didn’t want people to drive fast, He wouldn’t have put accelerators in cars with 400 horsepower.
The oldest son, Houston, was a handsome devil---and the “handsome” part enabled the “devil” part. Houston lived 66 years on this earth, and during those 66 years he ate what he wanted, drank what he wanted, smoked what he wanted, and “dated” what he wanted. He liked his motorcycles, cars, and airplanes like he liked his women: fast and flashy. He lived his life his way, on his terms. In short: he lived fast, died young, and left a good looking corpse.
The baby, Maurice, was a bit of a “decepticon”, and a combination of all the siblings. His sweet looks could mask the desire to play pranks, roam all over the countryside, get into trouble, get out of trouble, fight, play football, box, drive fast, and get into mischief. At age 13, he wanted to go see his Aunt Lois and Uncle Joe (by then living in Atlanta, Texas), so he hitchhiked down muddy, dusty US 67 to do so---without bothering to tell his parents.
He had many adventures: he was hit by a car on his bicycle; he got to hear President Roosevelt give a speech under a great oak tree on the lawn of a local church (they paved the road from Hot Springs to Malvern for the occasion, so the President’s Packard wouldn’t have to jounce him over the dirt track; the Pres had been to Hot Springs for a dip in the waters). His boxing career came to an abrupt end following a broken nose.
He was always crazy about airplanes, and took flying lessons at the local “airport”. As the war clouds gathered, he graduated from high school and stuck out for Nashville, Tennessee for aircraft school. He then went to San Diego, where he worked in an aircraft factory, learning how the things were made. He lived there with his brother, Houston, who was doing the same thing.
He returned to Malvern and accidentally met the woman with whom he was to spend the next 68 years, and with whom he’d have three children. After knowing each other two weeks, they eloped (I’ve told that story elsewhere on here) and settled into married life—such as it was.
Dad went off to war with the rest of his generation, serving in the China-Burma-India campaign. The Allies were flying routes across the Himalayas to keep the Chinese and Americans supplied, as they fought the Japanese on that front. In order to navigate (still not easy today) over the Himalayas in DC-3’s and DC-4’s, a series of radio stations were installed. By homing in on the radio stations, a plane could navigate the treacherous routes (while also trying to avoid the enemy). Dad had one of the radio stations. He doesn’t talk much about the war; many of his generation do, but just as many don’t.
As the war wound down, Dad received an early discharge: his daughter, my older sister Ted, was gravely ill and he made it home in time to meet her---and bury her. The emotional toll exacted on them was severe; they were afraid to try for another child for another 10 years. In the meantime, they moved to Dallas, where Dad went to work in the aircraft industry, while remaining in the “new” USAF.
Korea erupted, and Dad got 48 hours’ notice: report to Greenville, SC or else. He and Mother survived throwing everything they owned into their 1948 Buick (still their favourite car ever) and driving insanely from Dallas to South Carolina (no freeways…). At one point during the trip, Dad woke up as Mother was pulling into a gas station. “Are we out of gas already?” “No, I woke up doing 90 mph on the shoulder and decided you needed to drive.” They made it ok.
They moved back to Dallas after the Korean Conflict, and resumed their former lives. I’ve always said they were stupid: they had a new baby, a new car, and a new puppy simultaneously. Talk about guts. Talk about no cash. Dad had a scooter he rode to work (and occasionally had a passenger…).
Dad exited the USAF and was out of a job. He took 3 part-time jobs to feed his family: Mom had difficulty after my younger sister’s birth and couldn’t return to work; her mother had moved in with them, and of course he had the two kids and assorted dogs, birds, etc. An old boss of his called and offered an interview in Corpus Christi, Texas. Dad took ME (way cool!!!!) and we drove down US 77 (no freeways) to Corpus from Dallas. In LaGrange, a lady ran a red light and Dad plowed into her; there was only one injury: I was asleep in the back of the station wagon and slid forward and bumped my head. I came up out of the back in my usual calm and serene demeanor (ok, had I known any cuss words at age 6, I’d’ve been cussing like a sailor). I sat in the car, looking (for the first time) at the Gulf of Mexico while Dad interviewed at the Naval Air Station. He got the job and we went back to Dallas, packed, and moved to Corpus Christi.
What a nightmare that move was for Dad. He had 2 weeks. He had to pack everything (no “relo” packages then). He had to take a trailer full of household goods to Malvern, to store at his folks’. He had to borrow money from his Dad, plus cash a life insurance policy in order to have the money to have the movers move us. Mother was still in bad shape; he took the twin mattress off my bed and put it in the back of the station wagon (having driven HIS car to Corpus and ridden the train back); in short, we loaded up the (wagon) and moved to “Beverly”.
Two years later, things were much better; he was making good money, they loved the beach (I hated it), they had a great home in a lovely neighborhood---and the same guy who hired him for Corpus, now in Ft. Worth, called. Two weeks later, we were living in Ft. Worth, Dad having once again packed up all the junk, the kids, the dogs, the grandmother, and Mother. Dad pretty much hated his new job, but we were all happier there, so he had some comfort.
But then, as now, RIF’s (Reduction In Force) occur. Once again, he had to go find work (at least this time, the government was in all-out mode; Vietnam was cranking and Dad was in aircraft…). He had the choice of moving back to Dallas to a job he knew he would hate (and a demotion); he could move to San Antonio, Texas for a promotion; he could move to Albuquerque, NM for a BIG promotion. He chose the middle route, and moved a very sullen family (Mom moped; I was apoplectic---how DARE he move me away from my friends??? Grannie and Marla were not happy as well). Things got worse when we pulled up in front of the house he’d rented for us in San Antonio; we had a lovely home in Ft. Worth. This dump in SA---well, it’s still a dump, I saw it recently. It was the best he could do with (again) two weeks to get it all done. We pulled up in front and Mother took one look and said, “Ok, that is a funny joke, now where’s OUR house?”
They lived in San Antonio (having moved to a much nicer home) 8 years, then Tulsa, then (kids gone, parents gone), they retired and moved back to Malvern, Arkansas. Dad lasted about a month before getting bored; he built Mother a ceramics shop, still bored, then got a call to do consulting work. He took that job and had ANOTHER career, one of over 20 years of consulting. Probably his favourite time in Malvern was spent on the boat; he’s always loved boating, and he finally had the cash and wherewithal to have what he wanted.
He loved those trips to Florida, too. We spent several very happy Christmases in Navarre Beach, Florida, trips which he instigated and loved.
When I moved back to Houston, it was going to be very tough for them to remain in Malvern. I hadn’t provided THAT much help, but my presence was enough. Mom had had her stroke, and it was time to move on. So, Dad once again moved, this time back to San Antonio (at least this time, Nathan packed!).
Throughout it all, Dad has maintained his equilibrium. He’s been the Rock of Gibraltar for our family, the one to whom we’ve all turned for advice, wisdom, and counsel (not to mention money….;-). He’s been solid and dependable for all these decades, and if he was ever afraid or worried, he never showed it. (Mad, that one he showed…just mess with the “fine tuning” on the television set, or take one of his tools and not return it and see where it got you….).
Even today, he goes every day to see Mother (who truly is in tough shape), maintaining his equilibrium through the shoals of another major surgery (I think the count is: 2 heart attacks, gall bladder, 6 stents, triple bypass), this time aortic aneurysm. Like John Cameron Swayze’s Timex, he takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’.
Happy 86th birthday, Dad. I love you and respect you more than you will ever know.