Tulsa, the War Years, and the move to Ft. Smith
Born toward the end of 1942, I was only seven when the Forties were over. Consequently, my memories are like snapshots of events; events that were significant in my life for some reason.
My earliest memories are of two events that happened before age two. I remember wandering away from the duplex we lived in, past the boarding house where my parents met and becoming lost. I was terrified. That terror was so extreme that I can almost feel it still.
The other very early memory was datable by my mother because my description was so clear. My memory is of being in a room with a pot bellied stove in the middle of the room. Chairs were arranged around the perimeter and everyone in the room was a stranger except for my mother. According to Mom, I was 18 months old then and we were waiting in a train station to catch the train from Tulsa to Hugo, Oklahoma. My father was stationed near Hugo for a short period and mother was going to visit him before he was transferred. That may have been the last time they saw each other until the war was over.
Other memories from the war years were centered around the duplex and the Trantham’s boarding house. Several teenage girls taught me to turn summersaults and cartwheels. Mr. Trantham had a motorcycle with a side car and he ran to the grocery store for Mom using her gas ration stamps since the motorcycle used less gas than our 1936 Chevy. On one of the trips he threw me in the sidecar and took me on the trip.
Two additional memories from Tulsa involve jealousy. My Dad returned from Germany after the war and I was really jealous of this interloper who was getting all of my mother’s attention. This is my first memory of Dad. Nine months later, and 2 months before my 4th birthday, my brother arrived, and I had the same reaction toward the lump on the couch that everyone was making a fuss over.
I do remember a few other things from Tulsa. My dog, Micky, was an inside dog, but she had a small picket fenced yard in front of the duplex. We drove to see my grandmother in Chelsea, OK one day and spent the night, leaving Micky in the yard. When we came back, Micky had gotten her head between the pickets and then couldn't get it back. She had worn her neck bloody in the struggle. As I remember looking at Micky stuck in the fence, I can also see that the car had red tires. During the war rubber went to the war effort and the tires were made of some material that lasted only a couple thousand miles. That may have been another reason that Mom gave the landlord her gas ration stamps. Micky was with us until she was 14 and never was placed in a fenced yard again.
We moved to Ft. Smith, Arkansas when my brother was six months old. I remember that we traveled in the ’36 Chevrolet Coupe. I sat between Mom and Dad and my brother lay in a dresser drawer in the “rumble” seat behind us. I don’t have other memories prior to the start of school. I turned six in November of 1948, a couple of months after I entered first grade.
My brother, Andy, Me and Mom in Ft. Smith
First grade and Miss Huddleston:
It is strange that I can’t remember which room of the 4 room school house first grade met in. The first two years I went to school in a four room building, one room of which served as the principles office, store room and cafeteria. The other six grades met two grades to a room in the other three rooms. There was a rather large school yard and the bathrooms were privies located on one corner.
I remember learning to read using the Dick and Jane books. Reading came easy for me, arithmetic not so much. I learned to add and subtract using my fingers and had a hard time memorizing numbers. I don’t have any memory of arithmetic in first grade. I’m not sure whether we didn’t learn it then or I suppressed all memory of the experience. Miss Huddleston was young, married at the end of the year and quit teaching. When I started first grade we picked up two boys who had failed the first grade two years in a row and I went to school with them until they finished the 8th grade, the required amount of education in Arkansas at that time. There will be more about Billy Don and Billy Joe when I share the stories about the Fifties.
Second grade with Mrs. McDonald:
I owe a great deal to my second grade teacher. We continued to expand our reading skills and learned to spell that year. Mrs. McDonald taught reading and spelling using phonetics. She defied authority in doing so. The new approach was to use flash cards when learning to read and memorize spelling by rote. As a result of refusing the new method a really good teacher with years of experience got fired.
We had a fun exercise during the 2nd grade. We were told to paint a light bulb to look like a face. As it turned out, the only spare light bulb that we had at home was a yellow bulb. Yellow bulbs were sold to be used outdoors because yellow was thought to attract fewer insects.
Instead of making the base of the bulb a neck, I turned the bulb the other way, made the base look like a cap and painted the bulb to look like what I imagined a Chinese to look like (yellow light bulb remember). Mrs. McDonald didn’t know quite what to do with my entry. They were all put on display for the kids from other grades to see and I took mine home afterwards and it was the light bulb on the front porch intil it finally burned out. We walked into the house at night and looked up to see a smiling Asian looking down on us.
Because the family was too big for the coupe, Dad traded it on a 1947 Chevy of the turtle back design. More about that car’s fate comes in the Fifties segment.