Monday, May 18, 2009

Gramma's Ninety Seventh Birthday

It's been a beautiful and crisply cool day for mid-May here in north Texas, so I drove Gramma and the poodle Elliot around my hometown Denton, where she graduated college. She always talks about the University of North Texas and, as she graduated in the 1930s, it has grown a lot since she had been there. It's been the rainiest spring in about one hundred years, so the grass and trees are green, sprouting against the clear blue sky. Gramma put herself through school in the middle of the Great Depression, graduated with a degree in art and managed to get herself a job teaching in west Texas. She's an amazing woman who, with her knit hood and wooden staff, looks every bit a wizard sage. We ate homemade pumpkin ice cream from Beth Marie's and sat on the old 1895 Downtown Courthouse lawn.

She recalls, "I was in a dorm just one summer. One of the girls staying in my dorm was in the New London School Explosion. Her roommate was just gone. She had found her roommate and put her in the car and made her look like she was drivin' the car. I guess you just don't know what you're doin' with somethin' like that. You see she shoulda been helpin' people instead of doin' somethin' crazy."

At the time in 1937, the New London School Explosion was the second deadliest disaster in Texas after the Hurricane in Galveston of 1900. A gas leak caused the explosion and 298 people died. It was after this disaster that the foul smelling mercaptan began being put in gas so that its odor would give away the leak.

"My dad was a Methodist minister. He retired from an injury in the Spanish American War...One time he was walking along Octavia Street in Denton (Octavia street is actually in El Paso, Texas, where she moved in the 1950's) just a huggin' another man. Turns out they were in the war together."

"We (she and her parents) had a boarding house. It was just a little boarding house but it was for college boys...and one of the boys got married and brought his wife over. When they left, the girl started drivin' the car. That was the biggest sight. They didn't know what in the world to think...That was just a treat to see a girl to drive a car. It wasn't long after that that I drove a car."

"When I was out of school I wanted the biggest salary I could get. My first teaching job was Monahans, TX. Shoes, tires and 'bout everything were rationed. I think gasoline was too. You just couldn't buy stuff like that...people that were in the army, they could get around but...I had to drive across Texas and I had three flat tires. I had to buy them on the black market. By the time I had my third one I was almost there. I just got out and walked the rest of the way into town."

"There was a carbon black plant there (in Monahans). So there were lots of young men. I took my meals with a young lady and she had those men over too. Some of 'em didn't have to go (to war), cuz they had important jobs for America like gas...But most of 'em did go."

"I went with a bunch o’ girls who wanted jobs (to the Pyote Air Base). I went out just to be with 'em, I didn't want a job. But the man wanted me to drive a scooter on the base. He wouldn't take anyone but me. I told that man I didn't want a job and he said, "Sign that girl up!" Army guys do any kind of way, I do believe. But I did like that job. All I had to do was deposit the money at the bank on the scooter. I had about more guards than needed. 'Bout ten guards."

"Funniest thing that happened to me in Monahans was at the airport (sic). Well, I was drivin' a scooter and the soldiers went all at attention to watch me on the scooter...and boy, did they laugh when the dogs got at me on that thing. They just stood at attention and laughed. They really did think that was funny. A girl drivin' a scooter and a dog after her. They prolly got reprimanded for it."

She worked on the Rattlesnake Bomber Base in Pyote, Texas. It was constructed in 1942. After WWII, more than 4,000 bombers and planes, including Enola Gay, which dropped the first atomic bomb, were sent to the base to be melted for scrap.

"During the war, we (she and her first grade class) went out into the field to pick up iron and they put it on the troop trains to make ammunition."

"The air base was pretty big. A lot of 'em got killed just trying to learn to fly. That was differn't flyin' than flyin' for pleasure. I was drivin' from Monahans into Pyote and one pilot landed his plane in the middle of the road in front of me."

"I was a USO girl. Not a very good one, had to be (in the USO) to go to some of the dances and I really liked to go dancing so...The air force was always pretty good at payin' for things. They could get whichever band they wanted...more than some of 'em. But they'd get the best. You met lots of people but they were just here one minute and gone the next. That was the bad thing about that. Maybe they'd be there long enough to be there for the date and be gone that afternoon. They went straight from that place to where they were goin'. In the air force you don't wait for a troop train, you just take off in a plane. Get back the next day. Maybe. Maybe you'd get back. It was pretty sad."

"But we won the war."

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