The memories of Charles H. Tankersley's early years
This is my earliest memories of life in Oklahoma. PART I consists of the very earliest memories for the last where I started school at the age of 6 years, 7 months, then moving on to Duncan the following year. PART II includes life in San Antonio, Texas, during World War II. PART III is our life in the Washington DC area up to my induction into the Army in the fall of 1953. These were my formative years and set me on my life's journey with the standards by which I live today.
Part I - Born in Indian Territory, the great state of Oklahoma, from birth into age seven:
The house in Bethany:
The house we lived in was a one story white frame with a front porch about eight feet deep and running the whole length of the west facing front end. The steps onto the porch were centered, as was the entry into the house. There was a railing around all sides of the porch except allowing for the four foot wide steps. The house sat not very far from the street, at the most 30 feet. There was a wire fence about three feet high and covered with vines, some flowering, with a three foot gate and concrete walk leading directly to the porch steps.
I was not yet six years old, so the house seemed to be quite big, but now I know differently. My guess is that its front was 24 feet across, and was about 32 feet long. The back door exited to the south from the kitchen at the back of the house onto a small 3x 3 porch with steps continuing south.
It was a rent house but had a very big yard with a garden out back which ran the entire yard area north and south along the east end of the property. There was a small corral at the south end of the garden, marking the west edge of the garden and the south edge of the property. A small barn was in the northeast corner of the corral. A wire fence continued from the corner of the corral along the south property to the west, turning north a short distance at the western edge of the plot. There was an opening for a vehicle sized gate, but no gate. The rest of the land was fenced as well, forming a rectangle of at least an acre, but more likely four acres.
I know an open field was to our north, with the house only about 10 feet from the north fence. I do not remember what was east, but a gravel street was on the west. I remember a few scattered houses to the west of the street. To the south was a small field, perhaps 100 feet wide, then a railroad track. The rest of the town of Bethany, Oklahoma, lay south of the railroad tracks, so I guess we lived on the "wrong" side of the tracks.
I do not recall much of the inside of the house. It was constructed much like the typical houses built for the lower income of the time. I remember a passage ran straight from the front door back to the kitchen. It passed the living room that had no wall with the passage, then did the same to the dining area until it reached a door to the kitchen.
As one entered the front door, on the left was a door into a bedroom and a hallway running along the main passage but with a wall dividing them. This hallway connected to the bath and two more small bedrooms but with a door to the main passage just before the kitchen. I remember the house was large enough to have either a family Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner one time, but it was crowded. It was at this gathering that I vaguely recall my only meeting with my Grandfather Coates.
Gathering coal along the tracks:
In the 30's in Oklahoma, forced air central heating was not available. A few more wealthy people did have a gas furnace, usually located in the floor in a central part of the house. Air conditioning was not known, except again, the few who could afford it had evaporate coolers which forced water cooled air into the house through a window. This worked well when the humidity was low, usually the case in Oklahoma. My cousin, Benjamin R. Tankersley, tells of my dad, Benjamin A. Tankersley, opening the windows on the north and south of the house and "watering" the large shrubs along the south side of the house with a garden hose. He would make sure the bushes were wet from top to bottom so that the south wind would be cooled as it blew through. This did work, I am told, but required frequent "watering's", especially in the heat of the day.
But for the winter it was a different story. All we had for heat was a wood kitchen stove, a small fireplace, and a pot bellied coal heating stove. The potbelly sat in the middle of the passage in front of the dining area. An iron sheet was spaced a board's thickness away from the wall behind it to reflect the heat and save the wall from catching fire. It sat upon a framework of about four foot square and filled with bricks set in dry sand. The kitchen stove was set up the same way, but was along the east wall of the kitchen. The stoves had iron chimneys that went through the roof. On the coldest days, the kitchen and potbelly were the only warm places, and one needed to continue to turn as if on a spit to warm his other side. In those days, few houses had insulation and the cold winter winds would whistle through cracks in the walls. Some people would hang blankets on the north walls to try to stop the wind.
We were quite poor, so we really did not have the money to buy much coal for the stove and wood was just as hard to come by. The tracks were a major line for the Missouri, Kansas and Texas (MKT or KATY) railroad, and shared the tracks with the steam engine pulled "interurban" trains. All the engines were steam and pulled a tender loaded to overflowing with coal; this was near a major watering and refueling switch-yard for the railroad. Coal often fell from the tenders. Every few days, first me with my grandmother, then later, I would go with my little sister to "walk the tracks". We would take buckets with us and pick up any coal we could find. We did this year round; during the summer we put the coal in the coal bin near the back of the house. This was a concrete slab with concrete walls about two feet high on three sides. Usually we had enough coal collected to last the year both for cooking and heating.
As we walked the tracks we sometimes found copper pennies that had been stacked on the track for trains to flatten together. Sometimes these pennies were in good enough condition to spend as money. If the coins were not placed just right, the trains wheels would knock them off to the side. That is how we could find our candy money.
Since we lived on the wrong side of the tracks, we did not have many children our age to play with. I am several years older than my nearest cousins on my Mother's side and several years younger than on my Father's side. My Mother was the oldest of her siblings and my Dad was the youngest of his. This left me, my sister, and my brother sort of left out in the middle, my sister and I more than our bother. We were for the most part required to play among ourselves. Once in a while, though, a child or two near our age would move into the houses across the street for a while. Since these houses was rentals, too, and not nearly as nice as ours, most who rented them were "short timers" and transients and the houses were about a block further west, too.
One day a few strangers showed up to play. We horsed around from mid morning until mid afternoon. Then one of us, I think I must confess the guilt, thought we should see just how many we could pack into the doghouse. Now this doghouse was about three feet long, two feet wide and two feet to the bottom of the peeked roof. I think we got me, my sister, and the three stranger kids in the doghouse. Only my brother was left outside.
We had set the world's record for doghouse stuffing. It was time to unpack. HELP! We were stuck and could not back out of the opening. It would be a couple hours before dinnertime when we would be missed. Jon was too young to understand to go for help and his command of the language was less than understandable anyway. After a while we began to cry, all of us.
I guess with five screaming brats, and a dog who wanted his house back and barking his head off, Grandma came out to see what all the commotion was about. She laughed until her sides split. Then she picked up the corner of the doghouse and we could all crawl out. It seems there was no floor and all we had to do was just push up.
The cockerel eggs:
One thing we poor people could do in those olden days was have chicken for breakfast, lunch and supper. We lived on an acreage on the edge of town and could raise our chickens. This meant that we had our eggs for breakfast, chicken soup for lunch, and roasted or fried chicken for supper. Would you believe that to this day, those are still my favorite meats?
Each morning, grandma would go to the barn where the chicken roost was placed and gather eggs for our breakfast. She would take them in the kitchen and "candle" them first before she used them. Eggs will not keep long in an ice box so she wanted just the freshly laid eggs that we would use that day. This meant that we did not always collect all the eggs laid, leaving some for the hens to hatch. At times, not all the eggs were fertile and would soon rot, thus, Grandma candled to make sure she had good eggs and not an egg with a chick inside.
One day, as I was bored with all the other things I could do, I decided to help Grandma and dad, and I would check all the eggs to make sure there were no "bad" eggs left for Grandma to throw away the next day. I went to each nest and checked each egg carefully. Low and behold, there were some cockerel eggs that had to be disposed of right then. I gather each and every "Cockerel" egg I could find and threw them as hard as I could against the barn wall. Just as I was finishing, my dad showed up. I proudly showed him all the cockerel eggs I had gotten rid of for him. I know I made him happy, he could not stop laughing nor could my Mom and Grandmother. I guess I got every cockerel egg ever, for to this day no one anywhere has found any cockerel eggs anywhere in the world.
Dad always planted a garden, except when he was in the Navy during World War II. The Bethany house was ideal for this. He planted corn, peas, carrots, beans, potatoes, beets, onions, turnips, and radishes. He let me help him plant some of the things, like corn and beans. Since turnips and beets were an early crop, he would go pull a few and we would have turnip and beet greens with our supper.
With time, the beans were coming up, nice green sprouts reaching nearly six inches tall with several good leaves on them. Since I had helped to plant them, I felt it was only fair that I harvest them, just as Dad had done with the turnips and beets. I finished just as Dad got home from work, and proudly showed him my work; a bushel basket full of young bean plants, neatly pulled out by the roots. We could have a good supper of fresh bean greens.
Oh well, the next day we planted a new row of bush and pole beans, and believe it or not, by mid summer we were eating green beans freshly picked from the garden. And in the fall, we had lots for dried beans to last us the winter.
My brother was always wanting to join with Mary and I and do anything we did. But he was just about two years old and could not keep up with us very well. This created a problem for our parents. Because the yard did not have a secure fence to confine us, we did a lot of exploring outside the limits of the yard. Mary and I would "walk the tracks"; or "explore the weeds"; to our north. Of course, Jon wanted to do this too, but Mom and Grandma felt he was too young and Mary and I were not old enough to watch out for him. And in the weeds on the north, he was so short that he could be 5 feet away and we could not see him over the weeds. All too often he would follow us out of the yard, neither Mary nor I seeing him behind us. He would get lost for hours. It got so bad that our parents finally found a harness like used on big dogs, the kind that straps around the shoulders above and below and put that on Jon. Then they used a rope about 30 feet long tied to the clothes line and to the harness. This worked until we moved to Oklahoma
City. But it was funny to see.
The rodeo star:
My dad thought that he would put the corral to good use. He bought a young heifer with the hopes that when she grew to adulthood he could breed her and start his herd plus we would have milk for the table. After all, His father did it and had to start from scratch, homesteading in Oklahoma in 1889. I liked to be "daddy's helper", too. As Dad worked in the corral, pitching hay, raking and shoveling dung, and all those chores a rancher must do, I would sit on the corral fence and pester him with all kinds of questions like; "Daddy, why?", "How come, Daddy?", "Daddy, can I?".
He told me about how cowboys broke horses and rode bulls in the rodeo. I was intrigued. I had never been to a State Fair or a rodeo, but it sounded exciting to a 5 year old. I would dream of being a rodeo star. One day, right after my Dad had raked up all the droppings into a big pile in the center of the corral and had gone into the house to clean up before dinner, I thought I saw my chance to "practice" bull riding. The heifer was standing next to the rail. All I had to do was climb up over the rail and slip right over on her back. The plan worked perfectly, but this heifer did not like the idea too well. I was not on her for more than two seconds when she threw up her back and sent me flying right over her head. Guess where I landed? Head first, right in the middle of all that pile of fresh droppings; I was covered from head to toe. My Dad had just come out to call me in for dinner and saw the whole thing. He and Mom came running, thinking I would be rushed to the hospital. Now, Mom was Registered Nurse and Dad was a Lab and X-ray Tech, both working at the same hospital. But when they saw where I had landed, they knew I was not hurt. I was crying as Mom and Dad were laughing so hard they could not talk.
After a while, Dad told me to come on out of the corral; "Stand right there.", he pointed with a stern commanding voice. Mom went to the house to where Dad's bush-watering hose lay, turn on the water, and dragged it to where I stood, still
crying. She began to hose me down, walking all around me until I was standing in the middle of a cow dung puddle.
Dad made me take off my soaked clothes, leaving them in
a pile next to the puddle, and took the hose and sprayed me all the
to the back door. Needless to say, dinner was cold by the time I had
been scrubbed down in the tub and dressed. I gave up bull riding
that very day.
Moving to the Big City:
I was just about ready to start school and Mom and Dad worked in the Oklahoma City General Hospital where I had been born. From Bethany, they had to take the inter urban to work, which was quite a trip. Also, there was no way I would be able to walk all the way to the nearest school through all the automobile traffic. A house across the street from a good school and walking distance from the hospital became available. It was decided to rent that house although is was not quite as large as the Bethany house and the yard was almost non-existent, except in the back was room for a clothesline, a swing set, a sitting area, and a trash burning cage. There was the School yard across the street for us to play in when the weather was fit and school was out. Of course, this meant that Jon and Mary would have to stay at home during school classes, they were not allowed to cross the street alone nor be on the playground while the big kids were there unless I was with them, too. It is not fun being the big brother.
My first day of school!
My hair, then, was actually very curly but greased down for school.
I am standing if front of the house in Oklahoma City.
Note the long shadow of early morning, the school is to my left.
I was nearly 6 years old when I started school. My Dad took my picture that first day as I was to cross the street to enroll, however, the age and date on it's back does not add up to what happened next. As best as I can figure, my parents must have lied to get me into school a little early.
In this house, the pot belly was right in the middle of the largest room in the center of the house. It was just on a sand filled box, no brick this time, which meant that the floor had to be swept up and the dirt place back in the sand box. This house was also more leaky than the old one, too. In the winter, the bedrooms were so cold we had to sleep under several blankets. It was too cold even to climb out in the night to go to the bathroom. Several accidents had to be dried for all three of us kids in the winter. We sure hated to get up in the mornings for school., too. My brother and sister were allowed to sleep in some, but before Mom, Dad, and I left the house, they had to be up, pottied, dressed, and fed. From then on, Grandma Tankersley would take charge. She fixed our lunch so when I crossed the street a noon I could be fed along with Mary and Jon and watch after us until Mom and Dad got home.
One cold morning, I got up to get ready for school, but could not get warm. I turned and backed as close to the stove as I could get. Dad had put a couple extra lumps of coal in it and it was glowing cherry red. I continued to turn on my spit, getting so close that as I turn to warm my back side, I got my butt against the glowing stove. That day, I got to cut class. Grandma spread lard over the big red blistered burns on both cheeks. I could not sit comfortably for days, but had to go to school the very next day. To this day, I hate cold, but learned not to sit on a hot stove.
One Saturday morning I woke up to a lot of strange activity around the house. My dad's mother, Grandma Bixler, had been staying with us for a while. She did most of the cooking since both my mom and dad had to work. Grandma always served up bacon and eggs in the morning with a side of scapple. Now for those of of us who are not familiar with the eating habits of the poor Okie, keep in mind, even though we were dirt poor we still had to eat. Two or three things helped us eat fairly well. One is we always got the cheap cut of meat. Hamburger before World War II was usually horse meat. Pork was a staple meat, but the poor folk usually got only salt port, that is, the hog fat with a few few thin strips of meat in it that had been cured in a wooden barrel with liberal amounts of salt. Then to make the meat go further, after rendering the fat out of the meat, it was broken up into a big pot of well seasoned grits. This was allowed to solidify and could be sliced and fried. There was always enough fat left in the meat to make frying easy. The rendered fat was saved for frying hamburgers and such.
It just so happened that so much salt pork had been rendered that we had several large one gallon sized tins full of the lard. It was time to make soap for the clothes washing. Dad had been burning our trash in an old drum for months. Today he took the ashes and was running water over them, through a big cloth, and into a very big black cast iron pot. He did this for quite a while, re-using the water that was in the tub until he had more or less "washed" all the ashes as the pot was on a fire and the water was beginning to boil. After this, my Grandma brought out the lard and let the cans set in the boiling water until is melted, then poured the greasy mess into the boiling pot. Soon all the lard was boiling, making one smelly mess.
The pot boiled away because, as we all know, a watched pot never boils, and we kids went on about our business of playing while our parents sat around and talked about what ever grownups talk about. Then, Grandma said it was time to finish up. She got out some big square pans that looked like over sized cake pans. Dad got some heavy gloves and a ladle and was skimming that smelly gunk off the top and putting it in the cake pans. the stuff was a sickly tan color with bits of back specks in it. As it sat in the pan, it quickly solidified. After all was hard, my dad took a butcher knife and cut slices in it in each directions to make rectangles about 2 inches by 4 inches. Then he dumped the pan over and banged on it to drive out the bars of soap. Of course, the bars were stuck fast to the bottom of the pan, so he "ruined" one bar to let him get under the rest to take them out. The soap was still soft enough to put the ruined bar back together.
What, you ask, did we do with this home made soap? We had a washing machine. It had a handle on the side that one pushed and pulled back and farther to make the clothes wash. The washer was filled with hot water, hand carried from the wood cook stove to the washer to fill it. Then the bed sheets and such were washed first, followed last with the colored clothes as the water cooled. The soap we had made was sliced into the water with a knife and the same water was used for all the clothes. There was a set of ringers that required the clothes to be removed and run through with a crank on the side to squeeze the water out. At this time, 1938-1939, there was no such thing as a clothes drier, except for a wire or rope run between two trees or poles. The clothes were hung on this to dry.
On the back porch to the right side was a chair and a butter churn. The porch ran the length of the North side of the house, some 24 feet long and 8 feet wide. The back door of the house being centered in the 24 foot run as was the porch screen door, directly in line with the house door. It was screened all around from waist height to the roof line.
We had an icebox which held our milk. Ice and milk was delivered once or twice a week, depending on the season and our finances. The ice came in a big block which just fit in a compartment at the top of the box. As it melted, the water ran through a tube to a catch pan under the box, which had to be emptied several times a week. The box, itself, was not very large and it was all it could do to hold the glass quarts of fresh milk. Leftover storage in the icebox was out of the question. Anything remaining after our main meal was either eaten as a snack later, before bedtime, or thrown out to the chickens. Although we did not go hungry, we did not usually have more than one plate full to eat and had few leftovers.
As the week's supply of milk aged, it began to sour. Dad always skimmed the cream from the top and stored this in a larger glass container in the icebox, using the cream less milk to make pancakes or biscuits. The cream did not sour as fast as the milk, but it did sour. When the big jar was full, he would pour it into the butter churn and away we went, pulling the handle up and down. This forced the cream to rush past the blade and in the area above and below the blade, bits of butter would begin to collect. The little flakes of butter fat would start to stick together, then stick to the wooden disk, especially at the top where there was less flowing of the liquid. This continued until we were able to collect about a pound, more or less, of sour cream butter.
In those days of far less than plenty, nothing went to waste. If it could be used, they purpose was found for it. What was left was buttermilk, and cooled, made for great drinking. It also made outstanding pancakes and biscuits, my dad's specialty, with fresh churned butter and honey on top. Grandma used the buttermilk to make some of the best cakes and oatmeal cookies, too. In that day and age, there was no such thing as pancake, biscuit, cookie, cake mix. Everything was made from scratch, a method which made the treats all the better. After all, they were creations of hands of love, the sweetest of the sweets.
There were times, special occasions when friends and family visited, that dad would make us ice cream. We had an ice cream churn on the porch out back, on the west side. When company was coming, dad would use his special recipe and use our milk supply to cook up his light custard ice cream mix.
What I remember about my dad's ice cream mix is vague to say the least, after all, I was just six years old. What I do remember is that he would pour a couple quarts milk into a pan on the stove, add several eggs, some sugar, some stuff from a little bottle - vanilla I would guess, and sometimes a can of sliced peaches or cherries. This he would heat to almost boiling.
Once the mixture was ready, it would be pout into a can about six inches n diameter and some 12 inches tall. A lid with some paddles on the under side and a gear system on top was placed over this and the whole canister was carefully placed inside a wooden bucket especially made to accept the driver for the gear setup.
Next, crushed ice was packed around the canister in the wooden bucket. Dad had to take a block of ice, about 25 lbs. delivered that day, and with an ice pick and hammer, crush the ice into small enough pieces to fit into the space. On top of this he put a rock salt which cam in a cloth sack, set the driver on the top and lock in place. Wondering why we used the salt, my did explained that the salt let the ice melt at a colder temperature so that it would freeze the water in the ice cream that did not have the salt in it. Thus, Dad taught me a lesson I would use in later life when my own children asked, "What makes grass green, daddy?". I learned that the question should be answered as fully and as completely as possible even though the child did not understand it all. In time, when in school, the question will again come up and my children will know the answer already. Thus, I learned to never talk down to the child but explain to him as best as possible for his understanding.
I was allowed to start the turning of the crank, but it was not long that I tired and dad too over. In a short while, too, the turning of the crank became harder and harder and I was unable to turn it. As the ice cream was setting, I could see my dad struggle to turn the handle and finally, he would say, "Well, I can't turn this anymore so I guess it is ready.".
This was the point when everyone gathered around with a bowl in hand, waiting anticipation of the treat to come. Since I helped to make the ice cream, I always got to "lick the paddles" after the frozen delight was scrapped off. I had to work fast because once removed from the ice bucket melting came fast. My two scoops in the bowl also soften quickly, too, so my rush to reach that part of my reward was heighten as well; I did not want to have to drink it.
Duncan, here we come:
The summer before I entered the second grade, we had moved to Duncan, Oklahoma. The Street in front of the house was gravel, but the street to the right was paved. Across the gravel street, which was east, stood the rectory of a small Catholic Church, the Church building it's self just north of the rectory. On the west side of the house and a bit north, was a broken down garage, filled with used lumber with nails still in it. About 50 feet north of the house was the storm cellar and the fence line another 25 feet or so north of that. It was a large lot. We lived there until we moved to San Antonio in the summer of 1941.
It was while we lived in Duncan, the summer before the 2nd grade, that I fell in love with the physical sciences. My dad worked from dawn to dusk, as did my mother and Grandma Tankersley watch after us while they worked. Grandma was an "older" lady then, by my standards, but my dad was the youngest of her children and he waited until he was in his 30th year before he and mom got married. Dad was almost 33 years old when I was born. I used to watch him struggle to mow the lawn with an old reel type push mower. He would come in the house exhausted on those Saturday evenings, too tired to play with me or my brother and sister.
One day, I took it on myself to mow for him. But try as I may, I could not get that mower to push through the tall native Oklahoma Bermuda Grass. Surely, there is something I could do to make this mower work better. I turned the mower over on it's back to see how it worked. Twirling the reel across the blade showed that that part was working fine, the blade was very sharp. So what was it that made the reel turn as I pushed forward and not turn when I pulled back? Perhaps here was the place that I could fix the mower to work better and easier. Getting closer and turning the reel some more, OOPS---OUCH!, my finger was on the blade and the reel pushed it over the blade, I had cut the end of my index finger of my left hand. Blood was everywhere. Running into the house trailing blood brought quick action from my grandmother. She washed the wound and took a small piece of cloth and told me to hold it over the cut for now. Tears crepe down my cheek but I quickly dried them. I was too big to let my little brother see me cry. To this day, the scare still shows that the cut was almost all the way through, with just a small thread of skin holding the flesh together. But it healed. It was not until several years later that I was able to push the mower to cut the grass.
But from that day on, I was always wanting to know why and how mechanical things worked, but with one exception. I never really go into working on automobiles. I found out how they worked, and even worked in a gas station in my mid teens, but building or rebuilding cars was not my thing. They were for getting me from here to there and nothing more. I did not even like the noise when the muffler went bad like most boys. I did want to know what made airplanes fly, how far away the stars were. I wanted to know how the sun gave us heat yet did not burn us up. These things all interested me from about that time on. My dad told me he could not explain it all, he did not know either, so I would need to study in school if I wanted to know the answers, and would I tell him when I found out, too. From that time on, he and I, and my brother and sister would often discuss the wonders of the world as we discovered them. God certainly did a great job when He invented the universe. Every thing does exactly like He wants it to do. I marvel each and every day of those things He has let me discover about His handiwork. There is nothing that man can do that God has not set the rules eons ago, man can only discover the laws and truths God set in motion with the beginnings of time. God's truth is the universe.
One day, after a rare movie, I thought I would be like the hero of the film. I would learn to throw a spear and then go hunting in the field north of the house. I knew rabbits were numerous in the field and if I could get close enough and could throw in their general direction, I was sure to hit one for the night's dinner. To practice, I found a large bush beside the house and a long straight stick and started trying to hit in just the right place from 10 feet away. Usually, the stick would hit a branch and stop before going through the bush. Only once in ever five or six throws did I have to go to the far side to "pick up sticks". On my last throw, the stick found its way to the other side at a most -inopportune time. My brother, age about 3, had come to see what I was doing. He approached the bush from the far side just as I hurled my projectile. It hit him just above his left eye and actually tore a large gash in his eyebrow. I was scared to death, but luckily missed his eye. This event, however, ending my hunting days.
One afternoon, it was very hot and still, some clouds started gathering right over the town. One could look in any direction and see the sun shining on the horizon. The clouds kept getting darker and darker. The whole family and neighbors, too, began gathering on our lawn to watch the way thing seemed to be developing. Then my grandmother pointed to the southwest and said, "See that cloud, the way it is hanging down? That is a cyclone trying to form!" Grandma had lived in Tornado Alley all her 90 plus years and had seen many a tornado in both Kansas and Oklahoma. She knew what she was talking about.
Then, with a first flash of lightning accompanied with a clap of Thunder, we made a beeline for the storm cellar that was to the north side of the house. As we went in and dad was pulling the door shut, a gust of wind took hold of the door and blew it shut, knocking my dad to the floor. He got up and latched the doors closed. "Wow," he said, " if that wind had been from the other direction, that door would have taken me into the next county!".
We spent that night in the cellar. I could hear the rain pounding down on the sheet metal covered wooden doors and the hail sounded like a machine gun. The wind howled about for hours. Little by little the storm ebbed and late that night, my brother, sister and I were awakened to go back into the house. I remember looking up and seeing the stars shining and flashes of lightning in the distant east. We were safe and our house was not damaged. I never heard if there was anyone hurt or any property damage but I do know a few tree limbs were blown from the nearby trees.
Later in life I had to opportunity to witness tornado's first hand. Our house in Oklahoma City was damaged by one in 1958. I watched a small tornado cross a recreation lake in Camp Rucker, Alabama, where I was serving as a Medical aid man while in the Army. I watch a tornado cross north of our house in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1969, I believe it was, maybe it was 68 or 70, can't fully remember.
My best friend of the day was a boy about my age who lived across the street, Mike Hudson. Their house was considerably larger than ours, two story with a big front porch where we could play when it was raining. Often the entire neighborhood could be seen playing hide and seek or kick the can in his back yard. I met lots of kids my age there. However, none made enough of an impression nor were any one of them around long enough for us to form a lasting bond. It was 1940 and many of the people of Oklahoma, especially those in small towns like Duncan, had recovered from the great depression as yet. It would take the War to pull rural Oklahoma out of its depression.
One of the kids that I met was a little girl about a year younger than I. She lived down the street, east past the Church. Some of the boys had thought she was too little to play with us, but I told them to let her play anyway as we were little my sister play. Mary is 18 months my junior but quite the tomboy in her youth. Anyway, the little girl did get to play with us, I do not remember her name or what game we played. At dark, the game was over and we all went home for supper and bed time.
A couple days past and as I was out back alone, looking for something to do, I spied the same little girl walking down the sidewalk that was on the far side of the street. She was slim and about my height, rather tall for her age. Blond hair hung about shoulder length and straight from her head. I did not think much of it until she crossed the street and came right up to me. Wanting to know what I was doing, I explained I had no one to play with, that my brother and sister were taking their naps and all the other guys were gone someplace.
On the south side of the house, near where we stood, was a large thick shrub that I had broken a path into the center. She saw the path and asked why I did that. I told her it was my hideout. She wanted to see, so we worked our way in. The hollowed out place was so small that we were forced to stand very close. All at once, she pressed up close to me and planted a big kiss right on my lips. I was shocked, no one had ever done that before. She smiled and said, "Thank you for letting me play with you. I love you and want to be your girlfriend. I have to go home now." She left without telling me where her house was. I watched her as she disappeared down the block and around the corner to the south. I never saw the little girl again and still, to this day, have no idea who she was. She sure was pretty.
I had thought and I am sure she thought so, too, that we were well hidden in that thick bush. But that night, Mike Hudson's mom told my mom about seeing our embrace and kiss. She thought it was terrible for two kids our age engaging in such activity. My mom was a degree Registered Nurse and was quite liberal, too. Anyway, she told Mrs. Hudson off about it and Mrs. Hudson retaliated by not letting Mike and I play any more. I was teased to death, however, and from that time on up to the time after I was discharged from the army was very shy and never again kissed a girl. Not that I did not want to, but was just too shy and embarrassed to try.
The Spelling Bee:
I was proud of myself. We were given a list of words to learn the spelling. I had studied my list for at least 30 minutes the night before and for perhaps 5 minutes as I ate my breakfast that morning. I was ready for class as I walked the two blocks south and crossed the street east into the school yard. The teacher would go down the rows of desks, each student to stand spell a work in turn. I was in the next to last row on the right, some four rows down the list. Finally, it was my turn and the next word on the list was to be there, I know that work, I had it down pat.
"Charles, please spell stand, the boy will STAND by his desk." "T H E R E". "Charles, the word is STAND." "T H E R E !" "Sit down!" I immediately knew what had happened, for some reason, I heard the teacher call my name and say something, but not a word that she said. I was so sure I knew what I was to spell and spelled it correctly. It was the wrong word! To this day, I cannot understand what the mental block was, other than I was petrified, from that day on, of standing before my classmates and saying anything. This lasted until I began work in the Tulsa Little Theater at the age of 28. I could sit in my desk and talk off and arm and a leg, but to stand, no way.
Father George and Father Ferdinand:
Across the street east from our house was a small wooden Catholic Church, Rectory, and Priest's house. The House was on the corner, was two story, and with a covered porch that ran across the entire west facing front. To the north was the Church with the Rectory standing out on the back end toward the house. Parking for a few cars was provided between the house and Church more on the North side of the Church.
Two Priests, Father Ferdinand and his younger assistant, Father George, said two Masses a day and three on Sunday, the extra one being a High Mass. The sermons were hard to understand, the Priests were recently from Germany and their command of English was not the best. Once in a while, they would slip into their native tongue and have to translate for the congregation. It was most often Father George who broke in to Father Ferdinand's Sermon to turn German into English. The congregation understood and, regardless of the language problems, would be held in awe of the sermon. The church was always packed.
My mother had been raised a Southern Baptist and her mother was very active in the Baptist Church and I do not know my dad's mother's religious beliefs, other than several of my Uncles were preachers in California. I am surprised that either grandmother would accept that we became friends with our neighbors from across the street, often inviting them to dinner at our house. As time went on, the Priest prevailed and we started attending the services across the street, too. Later, we were all baptized as Catholics, since the Church will recognize all baptisms, the words were, "I baptize you in the Name of the Father, the Son, and The Holy Ghost, providing you have not been baptized before." Thus, had we not had our original sin removed before, it was now. Even though the Church believes that all sin is removed with the sacrament, my parents had to go to confession before first communion, just in case they had been baptized before and had sinned afterwards. Their marriage was considered valid in the eyes of the Church, however, and they did not have to re-marry in the Church.
Father George and Father Ferdinand had come to America after escaping from Nazi Germany. After the Nazis took power and began killing the Jews, the two priests helped many escape Hitler's wrath. When it was clear that they, too, would be sent to their deaths, they escaped into the forest in the dead of winter. They and nothing but the clothes on their back, a pocket knife, and no food. They survived by stripping the bark off of the trees and eating the sapwood under the bark. Often, their sermons would reflect the evils they saw in Germany after Hitler took power.
The Mulberry Tree:
The story comes later.
The stories and history of my family is contained in this journal. In this section I am relating only what I remember first hand about you grand parents. My grandparents are Grandfather Tankersley, Benjamin Robert; Grandma Tankersley, Rachel Catherine Baxter; Grandfather Coates, Harry; and grandma Coates, Mary Alice Garrett.
My grandfather Tankersley died when my dad was 6 years old so my dad did not know much about him and could not relate much firsthand information about him to us, just some bits and pieces and nothing in writing. I have, however, been able to gather a great deal of information about him and my grandmother Tankersley from the time they met until his premature death in 1909. The stories gathered can be found in this journal beginning with TANKPAGE in the "Thinktank".
Grandma Tankersley often shared duty with grandma Coates to live with us and baby sit while both my parents worked. Before the war, it was mostly Grandma Tankersley. She taught at what is now Oklahoma State University and had more time than did Grandma Coates who had to watch after her other grandchildren as well. I do not remember much about Grandma Tankersley, other than she was there when we needed her. She one who "saved" the tip of my index finger on my left hand when I all but cut if off with the lawn mower. She had retired from teaching when we lived in San Antonio and spent more time with us until she died on the train returning to Oklahoma during World War II. She was 96 when she died peacefully in a Pullman car bed on the night train.
I was 49, married and divorced and re-married, when Grandma Coates passed away in 1982 at the age of 101, almost 102. Grandma was the rock of our family. She was witty and very intelligent. I was home for her 100th birthday when a local radio stating in Oklahoma City called her. They talked about the wonders she has seen in her lifetime. When they asked about the landing on the moon, her comment was that she was angry; "They did not invite me along!". She did love to travel and see things. I always enjoyed going to "Marty's apartment. she never had an empty cookie jar, and she could chat with me about my personal problems without blame or guilt. Her love and understanding was beyond all others, it seemed. Her autobiography is in this journal beginning with COATESIDE in the "Thinktank".
I do not remember my Grandpa Coates other than a very vague time when he came to our house for Thanksgiving or Christmas when we lived in Bethany. He is mentioned in my Uncle Rugie's autobiography.
Aunts, Uncles, and cousins:
My Dad had one older sister and several older brothers, however, the only ones I can recall are Aunt Lola, Lola Tankersley-McAninch and Uncle Pat, Paul Albert Tankersley. Aunt Lola had one son, Carlyle and his wife Louise. Sadly, my traces back using Rootsweb.com's Family Finder does not do a good job of locating my grandfather. However, I did find one record for Tankersley married to Kate Tankersley. My uncle Pat had one son, Sam, and two daughters, Patricia and Martha. He build his own house on four acres for land west of Oklahoma City on a sand hill. His sister, Lola, had the four acres just to the south of Pat's and build her home there. Before and during WWII, our family did not have much contact with my dad's side of the family so my memories are not too strong with them.
My Mom's side of the family was much more in contact with us as I was growing up, both before and during WWII. Mom was the eldest of the siblings, followed closely by Uncle Butch, Uncle Rugie, and Uncle Charley, in that order. Uncle Butch was married to Aunt Lucile. They had two beautiful daughters, Ann and Jackie. Ann was closest of all my cousins to my age, only a couple years younger than I and Jackie was a couple years younger than Ann. Next in line were Uncle Rugie and his wife, Aunt Jill, and their three daughters, Karen, Janis, and Mary. Uncle Charley's wife was Aunt Dorthy.
This ends Part I - Born in Indian Territory, the great state of Oklahoma, from birth to age seven:
Continued with Part II - World War II and life in San Antonio, age seven to age 14: