The White Sheep
By Clarence O. Weber
Edited By Kristen Weber
by Owen Weber
My father wrote this book in 1971 as an account of his painful childhood, and it reads as a classic human
tragedy. As was not uncommon with second-generation immigrant families in America during the early twentieth century, life meant hard work and
poverty. Dad's writing reveals the cynicism felt by many farmers and blue collar workers during the Great Depression.
Today we tend to judge one's economic plight by the height of his
rung on the corporate ladder, or by one's progress toward the American dream of owning a home and a car. However, we would do well
to remember that there was a time in our recent history when mere survival was a challenge for many Americans. By today's standards, a
large portion of society in those days would have been classified as poverty-stricken, homeless, and needy.
Many proud men had to sacrifice irreplaceable time with their families by working at job sites far from home such as
the WPA. Others sacrificed their dignity by waiting in food lines for a hot meal for themselves and their families. Still
others managed meager survival by riding the rails as hobos. However, even with an understanding of the difficult life for many Americans
during the Great Depression, there were still distinct classifications of society, even within the lower economic class.
Among the poor there existed a subclass of Americans who still could not sustain a meager existence
even after feeling like they had tried everything. These people sacrificed no less than themselves, along with their moral values, and
despite this high sacrifice, as well as persecution from their peers, they still did not have enough to eat. My father's family was
among these desperately poor souls.
Indeed, through the ages, there have been others with a hopeless existence. A brief history lesson
quickly reminds us of the plight of enslaved African-Americans, Native Americans who were unjustly forced off their land, and
Japanese-Americans who were innocently forced into concentration camps during World War II. We often hear of these unfortunate
victims, and even their distant descendants who call for considerable recompense for their sad plight or that of their ancestors. However, for
the victims of the depression era, no such calls are heard. Yet who can say that their measure of poverty, hunger, and persecution was any
less dramatic or unfair.
Still, the story on these pages does not end in despair, although neither is it a rags-to-riches fairy
tale. How can one who has suffered such a fate ever rise above the hopelessness? How can a young man who endured nothing but the
cruel wrath of his fellow man ever mature into a generous and loving man? Though quite revealing, this story will not adequately
answer these questions.
In his original writing, Dad was careful not to mention the real names of any of the characters, and I am sure he
did this to spare any bitter feelings. However, due to the passage of time, and to ease the task of editing, liberty has been
taken to associate names with the characters.
This is the true story of my childhood. It includes the most important events, whether good or bad. I
purposely omitted some of the details because I have found that in order to write about them I have to review these scenes in my mind, and
there are some that are simply too hard to relive.
I find it rather hard to put my experiences and feelings into words. I do hope that I can get my point
across, especially to teenagers and young adults. I have tried to point out that it is not necessary for any individual to become a criminal
just because their parents may have been in the wrong business, because they had to grow up on the wrong side of the tracks, or because they
have been mistreated or criticized. Rather, these misfortunes should be viewed as challenges, to show society that one can live an
honest and respectable life even without the help of others. It's not the easy way, but in the end it could be the proud way.
An old philosopher once said, "I never met a man I didn't like." I envied him for being able to say this and
mean it. I wish I could say the same, but I can't. Instead, I always tried to say, "I never met a man I couldn't get along with, as
long as he just half-way tried to get along with me." This attitude has often proven to be very helpful for me.
Chapter One: Hard Times
During the 50 years preceding the Great Depression of the 1930s, many thousands of families migrated from Europe to America in an
attempt to escape poor economic conditions, or religious or ethnic persecution. They came by ship, most landing on the east coast of
the United States. Their journeys were difficult, and many lost family members to sickness and hardship along the way. Still,
they were glad to be here, and they remained convinced that American was their salvation.
Many continued traveling westward into the very heartland of this new home of freedom and opportunity. Although the
industrial revolution was accelerating, it left much of rural America untouched. Many still lived directly from what the soil could
produce for them, and these immigrants stood in awe of the vast fertile plains of the Midwest. Like their ancestors before them, they
would reap their sustenance as farmers of the rich soil, but in a land thousands of miles removed. They knew it wouldn't be easy, but
they were willing to work hard, and it seemed that this fertile land could sustain them forever. They toiled through long hard days of
manual labor with little more aspiration than providing three solid meals each day for their families. Some owned their own land, and
others worked for a share of the crops they harvested, not unlike the black sharecroppers in the Deep South following the Civil War.
For many years the land yielded good crops, though always dependent upon external influences such as the weather, the market
value of their crops, and the cost of the few essentials they had to purchase, as sugar, salt, flour, and clothing material. However,
in 1929 the world sank into a severe economic depression that would prove devastating for millions of Americans. The depression of
the 1930s was no respecter of persons based upon one's choice of occupation. However, the economic hardships combined with the
uncooperative weather of the Dust Bowl proved insurmountable for many farmers. They found that they were suddenly no longer farmers,
but homeless paupers. They were no longer blessed with the opportunity of exchanging continual work from dawn until dusk for
adequate food and shelter. The land wouldn't, produce, and there were few jobs, so there was no money for buying the essential items of
everyday life. As chronicled in Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, many had to
leave the land. Many moved to California in search of work, others stayed in constant search for mans of survival, and some simply died.
My family came from Germany, by way of Russia. My Mom and Dad settled in Kansas, and both spoke German as their native
tongue. They had purchased a farm in Oklahoma from my grandparents, but they weren't able to pay for it at the time. My
grandmother's untimely death during the midst of this transaction complicated matters further for Mom and Dad. I never fully
understood the complexities of this financial transaction. Suffice it to say that everybody in my family needed more money
than they had.
I was born on a farm in Blaine County, Oklahoma in 1921. I was the youngest of seven children: three girls and
four boys. I have wondered many times why my parents had to have seven children. Why couldn't they have settled for only
six? In those days Dad did the farm work with horses because the tractor was something new and unaffordable, and he didn't know anything
about them anyway. His horses required food throughout the winter, and so did his wife and seven children, so he went to work for
a gypsum company about ten miles from our farm. His job was loading gypsum rock by hand into small railroad cars that were pulled
out of the mines by mules. He lived in a bunk house at the job site, and he tried to come home on weekends. I was too small
to remember if he indeed came home every weekend, but it seemed like a long time to this little boy.
All of my brothers and sisters and I spoke German before we learned to speak English. Being the youngest, I was a
little more fortunate in learning English from my older brothers and sisters before I was old enough to go to school.
Mom and dad were members of the Mennonite church
where they had attended regularly, but I was too young to remember much
I can barely remember one Christmas when I received a sack of candy. I can recall a few times when we would sit
down at the table to eat, and dad would ask the blessing. They did teach me a little prayer that I would say after he had finished,
although I said it in German. When translated it went something like this: "Help us God, all the time, Amen." These
were the only rare occasions I can recall hearing Dad pray when I was a small boy. As for Mom, I do not think that I ever heard her
say a prayer, although I am sure that she did. They did teach me a little prayer that I would say after Dad had finished his. I said
it in German, and when translated it went something like this: "Help us God, all the time, Amen." Other than this, there
were no spiritual activities in our family.
As a youngster, I had to share a bed with my youngest brother, Harvey, who was about six years older than me, and
for some reason he never did like me. He would always curse me when we were out where Mom and Dad could not hear. He would call
me about all that he could think of except a little brother and a human being. He would curse me if I pulled a little too much cover
or turned over too many times or maybe let my feet touch his. It seemed as though no matter what I did, he just did not like
it. I would have liked to have had a brother who loved me, but he didn't
treat me in love.
I suppose, as the youngest of seven children in
the family, there just wasn't enough love to go around, so I had to be left out.
There were times when he would go fishing and I wanted to go along, but he would say I was too little and would keep
the fish from biting, so I always had to stay at home. No matter what he did or where he went, I was not wanted. Maybe his
harsh treatment served to prepare me for the kind of treatment I would have to face in later years.
There was one thing in our house that we kids always enjoyed. We called it a dream book, and we would consult it
in the morning if we had had a dream during the night. It would interpret our dreams for us and tell us whether the dream meant
something good or bad. There was one particular type of dream that Mom would interpret for us; that was if we dreamed of water of any
kind, like streams or lakes. She always said that if we dreamed of water that was muddy or dirty then something bad was in store for
us, but if it was clear and clean it meant that something good was awaiting us in the future.
Chapter Two: The Still
When I was eight years old, dad was still working for the gypsum company. I recall a night in early December
when a car full of strange men drove into our yard. Dad and my brother Harry, who was about nineteen, sat in the car and talked with
these men. As a boy who was interested in whatever his dad was doing, I went to the car only to be sent back to the house by my
brother. I had no idea what the future held in store for our family for the next three or four weeks, especially on New Year's Eve
and New Year's Day of the coming new year.
This was in the early part of the depression; money was scarce, and times were hard. Mom and Dad had already sold
their farm by private sale and they thought that by doing business with these strange men they might be able to save enough money to buy the
My oldest brother, Reuben, was in high school at this time. He made extra money during December and January by
trapping fur-bearing animals. Sometimes he would not run his trap line back in our pasture until evening, and sometimes he would send me
back to see if there was anything in a trap. If there was, I would come back and tell him, then he would go back and get the game.
One night when I came home from school there was no one in the house. I do not recall where Mom was. I
heard some hammering and other noises out by the barn. Our barn was just a lean-to built on to a two-story granary. It was
approximately twenty feet wide and forty feet long, and there was no hayloft above the barn. As I wondered out to the south side
of the barn, which was not visible from the road, I had a big surprise. They had the whole south side of the wall torn out,
or at least it looked like the whole side of the barn. They had already moved everything inside and were starting to close up the
wall. I didn't get to go inside at that time but I did get to see some fifty gallon wooden barrels. It looked like a whole barn
full. There were also some copper tanks and copper tubing. This was about all that I got to see when again I was sent
away. This time they asked me to go run my brother's trap line, which I think had already been done for that day, but this chore got rid of
me for that evening, and it was dark when I returned.
At this time, my two youngest sisters, Helen and Bernice, were still in grade school. That night after
supper, we were told what was happening. We had strange men staying with us. We were told not to mention any of this to our friends in
school because what was being done was against the law and everyone could get put in jail for this if they got caught.
Yes, these strange men had offered Dad fifty dollars a week to use his barn to set up a whiskey still and make
moonshine whiskey. The barrels were used to store the mash which had to ferment for about five days or so before it was ready to be
cooked. Then the operation really began. The sugar was stacked in the barn in hundred-pound sacks. It looked like a
truck load to me because we had been having trouble even keeping ten pounds in the house. The inside walls of the barn had been
covered with sheet rock. This was done mainly to close all the cracks and windows so the still could be run at night while preventing
the light from being visible from the road, and it would also help to keep the barn warm.
The large five-hundred-gallon copper pot was set in place near the north end of the bars with enough space between it and
the wall where they dug a hole in the ground. This was lined with cement and was used to drain the waste out of the pot. After
each batch of mash had been cooked off there was always a certain amount of waste that would not condense into alcohol in each pot. This
was drained into the vat. After the liquid had been emptied from the barrels and out into the pot, the settlings accumulated in the bottom
of the barrels, and this was used to make the mash. This had to be disposed of and replaced with new. This consisted of barley or
rice mixed with malt and yeast. As best as I can remember, there must have been a half-bushel or a bushel in each barrel. Now
this made good hog feed so the hog pen was built on the east side of the barn and extended a little to the south and a little to the east.
Dad didn't have a lot of pigs but I do know that there were some pigs put in this pen. Along with the pot there was a condenser located
a little to the west and south of the pot. From the dome in the top of the pot there was an outlet of about an inch and a half or two-
inch copper tubing which extended over to and emptied into the condenser. From there, it extended over to a coil made of
smaller copper tubing which was placed inside the water tank which was kept full of cool water. The coil had an outlet near the bottom of
the tank that extended to the outside. Under this was a copper tank that would hold approximately fifty gallons. This is where
the moonshine accumulated as it was being cooked in the pot.
Our hand-dug water well was located about one hundred-fifty feet north of the barn. We had a large cement
tank which was about twelve feet long, eight feet wide, and three feet deep. It was built before my time and was used for watering
our livestock. In the summer months previous to this, we kids used it for a swimming pool. It was in this tank that I learned to
swim, but at this time it was being used for the water supply to fill the barrels when setting up the mash, and also for the cooling system in
which the copper coil was placed.
Chapter Three: $50 a Week in 1929
By the time the mash was set up, and all the other preparations were completed, the first batch of moonshine would be
almost ready to be cooked off.
A large gas burner was placed under the pot where a small pipe extended to the south wall. Just outside the door
there was a pressure tank that held about eight or ten gallons of white gas, and air was pumped into the tank with a tire pump. This
forced the gas/air mixture into the burner which provided the heat to cook the mash.
After the pot was filled and the cover put on the dome, then the copper tubing was put in place that extended over to the
condenser and the cooling coil. All of the joints had to be sealed. This was done by using strips of rags soaked in a thin
mixture of flour, water, and maybe a little starch. These were wrapped along each joint that couldn't be soldered, and when it dried it was
tough enough to hold the pressure that built up inside the pot, which consisted mostly of steam. This steam was forced through the
tubing into the condenser, and cooled in the coil. Then it came out the spout and ran into the fifty-gallon copper tank. This
was the finished product called moonshine whiskey.
One of the strange men had an alcohol tester, and as soon as the moonshine started coming out of the spout, he would run a
test on it. I learned by watching and listening that the first part of the batch was the strongest. About half way through
it yielded the best whiskey. Towards the end, when the alcohol had all been cooked off, it produced what they called a "rotten
whiskey." They would then turn out the fire, let the pot cool down a little, then open a valve at the bottom on the back side to
drain the whiskey into the vat. Then they would be ready to refill and cook off another batch.
The whiskey in the fifty-gallon copper tank was filled into half-gallon fruit jars which had been delivered
in cases by the truck load. There were twelve jars in each case. This made six gallons per case. By watching them, I learned
how to tell if it was a good batch. They would take a full jar and shake it to see what kind of a bead came to the top. If it had a
good bead, it was good whiskey. They also said that the best way to tell was to taste it, and this I am sure was Harry's favorite method.
I can still remember the kinds of odors that was in our barn when I would go out there at night. There was the
odor of the mash in the barrels that was ready to be cooked, the odor that came out of the copper tank from the fresh cooked moonshine, and the
odor of the gas burner under the pot. It was not a bad odor, but one that I can't describe. I also remember how warm and cozy
the barn was at night. I think it was warmer out there than it was in the house. I remember one night when the cases of whiskey
were stacked about five cases high and several rows wide. Each row was longer than I was tall, so I could lay down on top of them and go to
sleep. I must have been sleeping on top of several hundred gallons of moonshine whiskey. I guess I did something that
very few eight-year-old boys ever had the privilege of doing--if you can call it a privilege, as I was never very proud of any of it, even up to
I recall one night when two more strangers came. They probably brought in more supplies and hauled out a
load of moonshine. One of the men said to me, "Sonny, you shouldn't be out here. Suppose that some other men would
come." I didn't know just what he meant, but I figured out later that he must have meant the sheriff.
One evening, after the barrels were emptied and refilled to prepare for another batch, and the waste was dumped
into the troughs in the hog pen as usual. However, on this occasion, there was more waste then the pigs could eat. Now
up to that day, and to my surprise, I had not seen very many drunk men, but I witnessed something else that night that few people have ever
seen. In this waste there was still some alcohol, and when the pigs ate it they got drunk. They would stagger, and some
acted like they were paralyzed in their spine. Some could stand with their front feet while their back legs would just turn
sideways. Others would just sit down on their haunches and squeal and look up as if trying to say, "Man, what have you done to us?" Some of
the pigs got more than they could stand, and they died. As best as I can remember, this was the beginning of what I might say was the
Chapter Four: The Shooting
By this time, the operation was running pretty smoothly and in full swing. However, I was no longer allowed
to go to our neighbor's house to play, nor could I invite our neighbor boy over to our house. He was about three years older than me,
and he had an old saddle horse that he and I had a lot of fun riding during the summer months and on weekends. I was never much of
a horseman. When we would go somewhere, we had to ride double. My place was behind the saddle and this was pretty
rough riding. Most of the time I would get a side ache before getting to the creek, and again on the way home. My friend also a
sulky made from the front wheels and axle of a buggy. It had a seat built on it, and we would hitch the pony to the front of it.
It was a lot smoother riding and I thought it was a lot more enjoyable. Sometimes when I hear that old saying, "Don't get
the cart before the horse," I think of those days, because there were times when this almost happened to us. I guess this is one of the
few things that I enjoyed as a boy, and I am glad to have those memories in my heart. However, those days now seemed to be gone forever
when I could no longer go to his house or ask him over to mine.
I recall one Saturday in mid-December when he was riding his pony down the road towards our house. I was told
to head him off out at the road and not let him come in. As we talked out at the road, I could hear the roar of the burner out in the
barn, as it made a lot of noise when it was fired up. He also heard this roar and asked me what it was. I had to lie to my
friend. I don't recall what I told him but I do know it had to be a lie. I will always think that he already knew what it was,
for I am sure that his dad knew what was going on over at our place. I will never know for sure whether he knew or not. It's
impossible for me to ask him because he died with lung cancer about ten years ago, and since that time his dad also died. Whether or
not he knew that I lied to him is not the question then or now. I know that I did and it leaves a bad memory.
I was told just recently by my mother that the first week's pay of fifty dollars was used for a down payment on a
nineteen-thirty Model A Ford convertible, which they bought from my uncle. He bought it new, and then decided he didn't want it so he sold
it to Harry. The car was almost new, with very few miles on it. As a little boy, I was really proud because it
looked like the folks were going to get rich. It was now late December, but Christmas at our house was just another day; maybe it
meant a holiday or an extra dinner if it came on a week day, but we did get at least one week out of school. But little or nothing did I
know of its meaning or why we even observed it. So this year it was just another day. It came and went with no Christmas tree, no
gifts, and with nothing for us to remember it.
Everything was going big in the barn by this time. Already in the third week, it was getting close to New
Year's. Yes, New Year's Eve, the big night. It was on New Year's Eve that the big truck was on its way to our place with more
supplies and also to haul out a load. They got within a quarter of a mile when the truck broke down so the two men walked the rest of
the way. They had to get the truck off the road as quickly as possible because it was unusual to see a truck of that size in this
part of the country, especially on a country road. They pulled it the rest of the way by car and tried to get it behind the barn and out
of sight from the road as much as possible for the next day.
Harry and the two men then loaded two cases (twelve gallons) of whiskey in the rumble seat of his Model A Ford.
They were to deliver the whiskey to a man in the southern part of the county who had some interest in this big operation. They were also going to
see what they could get done about the truck that had quit running. Harry was about five feet nine inches tall and weighed
about two hundred twelve pounds. In the winter time, he always wore a black leather coat with a sheep skin lining. This made
him look even bigger. He also wore a big brimmed western- style cowboy hat. This made him look a little mean.
Knowing him as I did, I can say that he was not much of a fighter, but with his size he didn't have to be. He was big enough, heavy enough, and
mean-looking enough that nobody would have wanted to tangle with him if it could have been prevented.
Now I do not know whether or not he was wearing his big hat that night, but I do know that he had on his big black leather
coat as he and the two men left to make a delivery and take care of some other business in his little model A Ford. The rest of
us went to bed for the night. I cannot recall whether Dad was at home that night or if he was away working. I went to sleep only to be
awakened several hours later by my mother. She was crying and told me and my two sisters to get dressed and go over to my aunt and
uncle's, who lived about one mile from us, and spend the rest of the night there. She told us that Harry had been shot and taken
to the hospital. She didn't know if he would live until she got there or what his condition was. This was a horrible
nightmare to be awakened to, especially when I thought that everything was going along so good.
The story was told that as he and the two men approached the house where they were going, there were two
men walking down the railroad tracks a short distance away. They didn't think this anything unusual, but after they were in the house
for a while two men came in with handkerchiefs over their face and said it was a hold-up. They told everyone in the house to
stand back against the wall, and they started to search each of them. I suppose they were looking for guns. They searched
everyone except Harry, and for no apparent reason one of the men just looked at Harry and shot him through the stomach. The thieves
then made their get-away in Harry's Model A Ford. They had to drive about two hundred yards to the corner and then turn
east, which put them back in line with the house. By this time, one of the men at the house had gotten to his pistol and fired two shots
at the car, but they got away. Someone at the house rushed Harry to the hospital, then they came to our house to tell the
folks what had happened. The next day, the car was found abandoned about thirty miles southeast of there. I can
remember when they got it home there was a crease in the lid of the rumble seat. We were told that the crease was where one of
the bullets hit and glanced up through the cloth top of the car, but neither of the thieves was hit. However, this story I cannot
believe. The way I picture it in my mind today, the car would have been out of range for the pistol from where it was
fired. This was on New Year's Eve, and I shall never forget it, but this was not the end. It was just the beginning of a miserable eight
years of shame and disgrace to this little boy who had so much love in his
heart for all of his brothers and sisters.
Chapter Five: Busted
It was early in the morning on New Year's Day when the men came. Yes, the men that the stranger in the bar had
warned me about a couple of weeks earlier. It was the county sheriff and his deputies. They found the still and the whole
setup, the man who had been staying with us, and my brother Harvey, who was about seventeen-years-old then. The barrels were dumped
on the floor, and the whiskey ran out the door onto the ground, and it created an awful mess. The wooden barrels were all beaten to
pieces and destroyed. The pot and all the rest of the equipment was cut full of holes with an ax and loaded onto a truck, along with
the full cases of moonshine that had already been distilled. All of this had to be taken into the county court house for
evidence. They also arrested the man who was in the barn. Mom and Dad were
still at the hospital with Harry, and my two sisters and I were still at my aunt and uncle's house.
We could see the highway from their house and we watched the truck loaded down with the biggest still
that had ever been picked up in our county. It pulled out on the highway but it did not turn south towards the county seat.
Instead, it turned north and paraded the street of our home town. It was not bad enough for just the word to get around; the sheriff had
to take it into town and show it off. I suppose after they showed it off all they could, they then headed for the county seat.
There were some large oak tree there, on the courthouse lawn, and the five-hundred-gallon pot was chained to one of these trees. I
think that the main reason for this was that it was too large to go through their door on the room where they stored the smaller
items. Apparently this also made a good display, because anyone who drove by could stop and look at it and ask where it was picked up.
Harry recovered from his gunshot wound and was home from the hospital in a few weeks. Right from the start he
wanted to start drinking whiskey, and he talked about making some more moonshine. One Saturday, the folks were not at home, and
Harry mixed some hot toddy and gave some to me. It didn't taste too bad until, I suppose, I had one too many, and then it really
took effect. Everything started going around and around, then I got sicker than a dog. I was so sick that I had to vomit, and
after that day hot toddy just didn't taste very good anymore.
Harry didn't want to work for his living. He was always searching for some way that he could
make that easy dollar. Later, in the spring of that year, Mom and Dad had a public auction sale and sold all of the machinery, cows, horses,
chickens, pigs, and everything else that they owned. Dad still had part of the crop coming to him but this had to be sold to pay off
the remainder of the debts. He did get to keep a few sacks of wheat that he took to the mill and had ground for flour for us to use
during the winter.
Soon after harvest it was becoming apparent that we would have to move from the farm--my birthplace. One
day before we moved, dad drove into the farm yard with a team of horses and a wagon. I was thrilled and happy because I thought that they
belonged to him, and maybe he would keep on farming and we wouldn't have to move to town. However, to my disappointment as well
as his, he had to tell me that he only borrowed the team from a friend, and we would only use it to move some things into
town. Still, there was one reason why I was thrilled to move to town. I had an old wagon which was kind of dilapidated. Two wheels
had worn out or broken, and Harvey had replaced them with wooden wheels. I was looking forward to playing with my wagon on the
sidewalk in town. However, when I mentioned it I was told that they "would not be seen with that old thing." I suppose that
from that point on, I felt a little ashamed of my wagon, but it was all I had, so what was a boy supposed to do?
Chapter Six -- Jail
It didn't take long for us to move our few belongings to town. We moved into a house that belonged to my
grandmother on my mother's side, and she let us live there rent free for one year. I was too young to realize that there were no
jobs for Dad or Mom, so there was no income for us to live on. However, the most drastic thing that I would learn was that Dad would
have to take the blame for the whiskey that was made on the farm.
Since he had no money for a lawyer, he pleaded guilty to the charges. He was sentenced to ninety days and a sixty-dollar
fine. He didn't have the sixty dollars so that meant another sixty days in jail. The folks didn't let me know what was
taking place until all at once I learned that my Dad was serving time in the county jail. The strange men that had been staying with us on the farm
served some time also, but those who financed the whole operation were never turned in, so they went free. They were supposed to
have paid Harry's doctor bill, which amounted to one hundred-fifty dollars--a lot of money in those days. They only
paid seventy-five dollars with a promise to pay the rest later. Of course they never did, so it was left up to dad to pay, and somehow
he managed to do it.
With Dad in jail, we were faced with a hard winter that year--harder than I could have ever imagined. There were
times when we did not have very much. However, we had plenty of water gravy. I am sure that there were a lot of other
families who had to eat some of the same, but with our family separated, it made things seem much worse to me.
One night I walked out the door and there on the step was a large sack full of groceries. I do not remember
everything that was in it, but I do know that it had some black-eyed peas in it. This was probably the first time I ever
ate any but I learned to like them. On another night, someone unloaded a couple of tons of coal for us to use for heat. I
never learned where this came from either, but I always thought that maybe it was left by some of the people who went
to church where Mom and Dad had attended, and they could not let it be
known that they were helping a family who had turned out to be as sinful as ours had, or they might be put out of
the church if they were found out. This
was not a Christian attitude from my perspective today.
I was in the fifth grade in school that year. Moving from the country, where we only had one teacher
for the first eight grades, made it a lot harder for me in town where we had a teacher for each grade and more children in one grade than we had
in the whole school in the country. I was not too good at learning and too bashful to ask questions if I didn't understand, so
this also made things a little more difficult for me. About the only thing I learned was to dislike school, and some of the people
around town. Some of the grown men started to make remarks to me about my Mom with Dad away, saying things that grown men shouldn't say
to anyone, especially a boy who couldn't the unfortunate events in his life.
On Thanksgiving morning of that year, we awoke to find about two inches of snow on the ground. Some of the
neighborhood boys and I had a big time playing that day since we didn't have to go to school. I can't remember what we had for dinner
on that Thanksgiving Day. I guess the snow meant more to me than anything.
Later in the winter, Reuben borrowed a car from a friend one day, and he took me to the county seat where Dad was
in jail. It was raining a little that morning, and later it turned to snow so the roads became slick. On our way, we
had to pass the house on the farm where Harry been shot. Just as we started around the curve in front of the house, we slid into a
ditch. With a little spinning of the wheels, we finally got back on the road again, then we made it to the county seat where Dad
was. Since it had been a long time since we had seen each other, I was really glad to see him, and I know he was glad to see
me. Reuben visited right in the jail with him. It was nice and warm in there, and I know that he got three meals a day, so he may have
more fortunate than the rest of us. Still it was hard to leave him when it was time to go. I didn't see him again until he came
At this time, Leah, my oldest sister, and her husband Leland lived about eleven miles northeast of
town. On the Friday before Christmas vacation started, they stopped by the school and asked my teacher if I could be excused so I could go
home with them and spend the Christmas vacation on their farm. The teacher and most of the class seemed happy for me to get to
go. It seemed as though I may have had more friends than I realized. I got out of school the rest of the afternoon and went home with
them. Since times were hard for them as it was for everyone else, they didn't have a car. They came to town with a team of
horses and a wagon, so that was my transportation to their farm. I was happy to get to spend a week in the country because that was my heart's
desire. I felt as though that was where a boy belonged. However, it wasn't long until it was over. Then it was back
to the same old thing: school. Still, the school term passed quickly, but I didn't.
By this time, Dad had served his time and was a free man again, but he had to go looking for a job. Luckily
he got on again at the gypsum plant where he had worked several years before. However, this didn't help my situation concerning
spending time with him because he stayed in the bunk house out on the job, and I only got to see him on weekends. As a result, I
started spending a lot of time on the farm with Leah and Leland, who didn't seem to mind having me around. Although I liked it
there, and was treated well, I always seemed to want to go back home after a short time. I guess I must have been a little
homesick. One Saturday afternoon while I was at home, Harry stopped by our house along with a strange man. The man sat in the room
and talked to me as Harry went upstairs to get some clean clothes and talk to Mom. After they left, she told me that the man was a federal
officer and that he was taking Harry to jail for making whiskey for another man. It seemed as though he was heading down the
wrong road and there was no turning back. I think this was his first jail term.
Chapter Seven -- Illness
One afternoon dad came home from work sick and he had to go to the hospital for a while. Again there was no
money, so he had to go to the State Hospital in Oklahoma City. I will never forget the day they took him away in the ambulance. As
the ambulance backed up to the house, I knew I couldn't stand to say good-bye to him. I was never too good at saying
good-bye. I often became emotional, as a young boy, and even today as a grown man. On that day, I went upstairs and watched from a
window directly above. Dad was lying on a stretcher, and they loaded him into the ambulance and took him away to the hospital. I was afraid
that I might not ever see him alive again, and he might have felt the same way. I'm sure he understood why I wasn't there, because he
never asked where I was. Although I realize I should have been there, this seemed like the easiest way out at that time.
Mom took a job cooking for a threshing crew that summer. She cooked in a cook shack that followed the
threshing machine from farm to farm. I spent a day or two out there with her, but her boss didn't like to feed me, so I didn't stay around too
long. I went from there to my Aunt's place because she had a son about my age and we had a lot of fun together. However,
our fun was sometimes ruined by his step-dad. This turned out to be the case one Saturday, so I decided to go home. When I
arrived, I found myself all alone in the house with no food. At noon, I began to get hungry, and I looked for something to eat.
When Mom was home, she sometimes did laundry for the people who ran the bakery. Instead of being paid with
money, she had to take day-old bread and rolls. I always enjoyed these very much, even though they were hard and dry. On this
day, when I searched the house for food, I found a cinnamon roll in the bread box which had been one-day-old when it came from the bakery, and
it must have been in the bread box at least a week, so it was especially hard and dry. However, I was hungry enough, so I ate
it, and I can truthfully say that it was good, but that there just wasn't enough of it.
That evening at supper time, there was still no one at home, and I was beginning to get pretty hungry. I
did my best to clean up, then I went to town, hoping that I would see someone who would help me get something to eat. I suppose I had a
little too much pride to ask for a handout. Maybe I was too shy, or maybe I just didn't have the nerve to let anyone know that I was
hungry. As a result, on this Saturday night, at the age of ten, I can truthfully say that I was hungry as I walked down the main street
of my home town.
I roamed the streets with an empty stomach that night, not knowing what to do. I began to believe that it
would have been better if I hadn't been born. Then, in the deepest moment of my despair, I got lucky. As I was sitting in front
of a store, a car pulled to the curb, and Harry was in it. He was out on bond. The town bootlegger was in the car with him, so I
suppose Harry had been making whiskey for him. They asked what I was doing up town alone that time of night. I told
them I was hungry, and asked for a dime so that I could buy a sandwich or something. They gave me a dime and they went on their
way. I went to the cafe, where hamburgers only cost a nickel. However, that night I ate in style. I ordered a ham
sandwich. The lady brought it and I gave her the dime, not realizing that this may not have been enough, but she took it and never said
anything, so it must have been. I will never forget how good that sandwich looked, and it tasted even better. I felt much better after
eating, so I went home alone and went to bed.
As I awoke the next morning, I discovered that Mom had come home after I had fallen asleep. The threshing
crew didn't work on Sundays, so she was allowed the day off. I didn't have to worry about breakfast because she was there to fix it for
me. It seems rather strange to a boy how a mother can go into a kitchen that does not have anything in it to eat, and with a little
flour, salt, pepper, sugar, and maybe a few other small items, she is able to stir up something that's fit to eat. I don't remember
what it was that day, but it filled up the empty place in my stomach.
The harvest season soon ended, so mom was out of a job, but at least she was home. One Sunday afternoon, we were
supposed to spend the afternoon at my Aunt's place in town. I didn't want to go too early, so I stayed home until about one-thirty in
the afternoon. This was the time the train usually pulled into town from the north. On that day, as the train was just
leaving, I was on my way to my Aunt's house which was just one block from the train depot. As I approached the depot, I saw a man coming
down the other side of the street, and I thought I recognized him. At least I was hoping that I did. As he got closer, I could see
that I was right. It was Dad. He had been released from the hospital in the city. None of us knew that he was coming
home. Mom did not even know. I ran across the street to greet him, and I will never forget how he grabbed me and how glad he
was to see me. I was really happy, and it was wonderful just to think that we would all be together again.
Chapter Eight -- The Family Business
Sometime during this first year in town, Reuben bought a used bicycle for a dollar and a half from some neighbors, and
he gave it to me. It had a girls frame on it but I didn't care about that, as long as I could ride it and have some fun.
This I did, and I enjoyed it very much.
It had been slightly over a year since we had moved to town. We were still living rent-free in my grandmother's
house. However, she had very strict religious beliefs, and she didn't like what was going on. Harry was always making
whiskey, it was always around the house, and he was always in and out of jail, so my grandma asked us to move. Our family life was going
from bad to worse, and Dad started to look for another house. He found a real nice one in the northwest part of town for only ten dollars a
month. However, he didn't think he could afford it, because ten dollars was about ten days' work, even if you could find someone who
could afford to hire some help. As a result, he found another one in the east part of town for five dollars a month. It only
had three rooms, and it had no water and no gas. As we went to look at the house that was to be our new home, I was greatly
disappointed and very much ashamed of what I saw. And to think -- we were going to live there. If the outside of this house had ever
been painted, it had been a long time ago, because there was no sign of any paint left on it whatsoever. The roof and the outside walls
all looked the same, just some old dark weather-stained boards. It was really a sad sight. As the folks prepared to move in,
they got some paint for the woodwork on the inside and some wallpaper for the inside walls. After a lot of work, the inside was
half-way presentable, but the outside remained the same old shabby run-down house that it always was. However, now it was home, and the
big question was how to make a living.
Dad was trying to pick up some odd jobs or any work that was unavailable, but Harry was still looking for that easy
dollar. He convinced mom that they could make a living by selling moonshine whiskey by the drink, pint, quart, half-gallon or gallon --
just whatever anyone wanted to buy. They were going to sell it in our house, the place that we were going to call our home. Dad
disagreed with them on this. He said he knew what it was like to be in jail and he did not want to have to go back. However,
Harry said that if they got caught, he would take the blame and serve the time. He always bragged and said it was easy to serve jail
time. He said he could serve any sentence him by standing on his head in a corner. However, I always noticed that when he was
in jail he was always asking someone to try to get him out, so I knew that it wasn't that easy.
Dad spent a lot of time working away from home on different jobs, usually on farms where he wouldn't come home at night,
and sometimes not even on weekends. I don't know if he agreed to let Mom and Harry sell whiskey or if they just didn't care whether he
did or not, but that's what they did. They began selling whiskey in our house, and we were now known in our town as
bootleggers. It wasn't much of a home anymore. With men coming and going anytime of the day or night, there was no privacy
whatsoever. Some would come in and buy a bottle and just take it along with them, never taking a drink while they were there.
Others would come in and take a few drinks, feeling a little high when they left. Still others had been drinking or were already
drunk before they even arrived at our house. These were the worst, because they would come in and drink some more, with no respect for
anyone. They would curse, tell dirty stories, and sometimes even get sick and vomit. Worst of all, they wouldn't
always even make it out the door before they got sick, and they would vomit on the floor. To me it was sickening, but this was the place
that I was supposed to call home. Our screen doors had to be hooked or latched all the time. We had at least two hooks on each door,
one near the top and one near the bottom, with a bolt in the middle. This was necessary in order to stall the lawmen in the event of a
bust. It would give them time to get rid of the evidence by pouring out the whiskey. Our house didn't have modern plumbing of
course, so they had to devise a way to pour it out in case of such an emergency. They cut a two or three-inch hole in the floor and
made a funnel to set over this hole. If they ever had to pour the whiskey out, they would dump it into the funnel where it would run
under the house and be absorbed by the dry dirt.
Since our screen doors had to stay locked all the time, they also devised a method for answering the door. Every
time someone knocked, they were first observed to see if they were recognized. If so, the door would be unlocked, the customer would
walk into the house, and the door would then be locked behind them. When the customer was ready to leave, the door would be
unlocked, the customer would walk outside, and again the door would be locked from the inside. For me this meant that every time I
wanted to go out, I would have to tell someone so they could lock the door behind me. Likewise, when I wanted to come back inside,
I would have to knock at the door and wait for someone to unlock the door and let me in, and I had to make sure that it was locked behind
me. Yes, this was the place that I had to call home. This house was located on a north/south street on the east side of
town. It was just one block past the railroad tracks, so I suppose, in more ways than one, that I was growing up on the wrong side
of the tracks.
When summer was almost over, and it was time for me to go back to school, Leah and Leland asked me to live with them on the
farm, attend school in the country the next term. I was very happy to get to do this. They had two children of their
own at this time. Madelaine was old enough to go to school, but Richard was still too young. The schoolhouse was at least
two miles away and we had to walk. Since I walked with Madelaine, Leah and Leland didn't have to worry about her being alone.
At least this is what they told me, and it made me feel a little important--a privileged feeling I seldom had.
Leah and Leland also had a difficult time trying to make ends meet and provide for their children, but they took me in and
treated me as if I was one of their own. We didn't always have the best food, but we lived. They treated me a lot better
than a sister and brother-in-law would have had to, and for this I will always be grateful. If it would not have been for them, I might be
writing a different kind of story about my life today, or someone else might even be doing the writing. I guess one of the nicest
things about their house was that the door was never locked.
Chapter Nine -- My Coat of Many Colors
Still, there were times when I would get homesick for the folks and want to go see them, so they would let me go home on
the weekends once in a while. I remember one night when Harry and one of his bootlegger friends picked me up and took me home because Mom
had bought me a new coat. As we drove through town that December evening, the streets were decorated with Christmas lights, and it made
me feel really good, even though I had never been taught the real meaning of Christmas at that time.
We went to the folks' house and picked up my new coat. It was a long utility coat, water repellant like a rain
coat, but I could still wear it in dry weather, too. Since the next day was a school day, Harry took me back to the farm again that
same night. As I went to school that day, I was really proud because I had a new coat.
Shortly before Christmas vacation, I decided I wanted to spend that week in town with the folks, despite the locked
doors. I was allowed to do this, so when school was let out on the Friday before Christmas, I went to town. I met two
neighborhood boys who I had not known before, and we became friends. On Christmas Eve, they asked me to go with them to a
Christmas program at a small church in town. They said we
would each receive a sack of candy at the end of the program. At first I refused because I didn't have any suitable clothes to wear.
I had one good pair of blue jeans for special occasions, but I had forgotten to bring them with me from the farm, so all I had was a
badly-worn and faded-out pair. The boys tried to assure me that these would be just fine as long as they were clean. I was
really anxious to get the sack of candy, because candy was scarce around our house, and I was told the sack might also contain an apple or an
orange. I finally consented to go with them, wearing the best clothes I had, but that wasn't very much.
We started on our way to this little church,
but as we approached the door of the church, I dreaded the thought of
entering. However, remembering that each of us would be given a sack of candy, I decided it would be worth it, so we walked up the
steps and opened the door. I saw the people seated in the pews, from the back pew all the way to the front. As we stepped
inside, everyone turned slowly in their seats and looked back at the door. It seemed as though all of their eyes fell upon me, the
boy who on Christmas Eve was standing in a pair of faded-out blue jeans, feeling unwanted. We were then ushered to a seat and the
program began. When the program was over, we received the candy, which was the main reason for coming. The preacher invited us to
come back to Sunday school on Sunday morning, but I knew that I couldn't because of my clothes. Then the program was dismissed and we
went home. The lesson I learned that night is one I shall never forget. Now as I
attend church on Sunday, when I hear someone
enter the door, no matter who I may think it may be or how badly I may want to know, I always remember not to turn around and look.
I fear that I might see a young boy standing in a pair of faded-out blue jeans, feeling unwelcomed, and that my actions might cause him to turn
away from the house of God forever.
The next day was Christmas, but just another day at our house. There were no gifts, no guests, and no special
dinner. So as the day passed by, so did the week, and soon it was time to go back to the farm and back to school the following week.
The time seemed to pass by rather rapidly and it did not seem very long until it was time for summer vacation again.
As soon as school was out for the summer, I wanted to go home for a while. Still there was nothing there to be proud of, but a lot to
be ashamed of. However, it was home, and I supposed guess that made the difference.
Harry was drinking even more. It may be hard to believe, but some days he would drink as much as one
half-gallon of moonshine from the time he would get up in the morning until he went to bed at night. It is needless for me to say
that he was drunk nearly all the time. Some days he would sober up more than others, but this wasn't always good either. It
seemed to me that the more sober he was, the less respect he had for me, his little brother. I don't think he cussed me quite as much as
Harvey, but he was always telling me how worthless and dumb I was, and how he should have me sent to the boy's reformatory at Pauls Valley and
where they would "learn me some sense." However, when he would get drunk, some of the goodness would show up in him and he would treat
me like a little brother again. I really do not know why everyone disliked me so much. I guess I should have been born a dog,
then maybe I would have gotten a little more loving.
Chapter Ten -- A Drive in the Country
Now Harry had an old Model T Ford that he had stripped down. The only parts that remained were the motor,
radiator, frame, wheels, steering wheel, and the gas tank, which was used for a seat. It didn't need a battery because it would
run on the magneto, so it didn't have any lights. However, with a special bulb that would illuminate while the motor was running, it
could be driven at night. One evening Harry wanted me to go someplace with him, and he went down to the gas station and bought one of
those bulbs that would burn from the magneto. He didn't tell me where we were going, but just about dark we took off and headed south
of town. I really didn't care where we were going, because to me it was a treat just to get to go somewhere.
He drove six miles south of town and then turned west. It was really dark by then, but he stopped and removed
the bulb from one headlight, the only headlight that we had burning. He then told me that we would drive the rest of the way in the dark
because he did not want to take any chances of being followed by anyone, especially the law, so I knew we were probably in for an
eventful evening. After a few miles down the road, he turned south, and we drove about one-quarter mile further and then we
stopped. He told me to try not to leave any tracks in the road when I got off, so I tried to step in the main track where the ground
was packed hard. When I got off, he turned the wheels toward the ditch and pushed the Model T ahead until the left front wheel and the
back wheels were still up the road. I asked him why he had done this. He said that he wanted it to look like we had had
trouble and maybe had ran into the ditch, then had to walk for help. After doing this, we walked down the road fifty yards or so and, still
trying not to leave any tracks, we jumped across the grader ditch on the east side of the road, still trying not to leave too much of a
trail in the grass. Next we crawled over a barbed wire fence and into a wheat field. Now this was only a few weeks before
harvest and the wheat was about three feet tall, already headed-out but still green. The nights were damp and cool, especially in the early
morning. We were now walking directly east in the wheat field, heading a little downhill and directly toward a small dry-weather
creek which was about a quarter-mile from the road. At this point the creek had a horseshoe bend with a tall bank on the west
and north sides. There was wheat planted on each side of the creek, and the east field again sloped uphill. From this creek
bottom, we were pretty well hidden from all directions excepting straight up, and with no airplanes flying at night in those days, I guess he felt
Harry used a flashlight to find a barrel he had buried earlier, in which he had set some mash. It had
already been set long enough that it was time for it to be cooked and distilled into moonshine whiskey, and this is why we had come out here for the
night. Harry quickly gathered all the necessary equipment he had hidden in the grass and weeds along the creek. He had brought
all of this out earlier in the week so all that he would have to do when he got ready was to set it up. It wasn't long before he had
everything ready to go. He emptied the mash from the barrel into a little pot, and then he started a burner. Now it would not
be long until he had some moonshine coming out from the spout on the other end. This small distill was not anything like the big one
that they had in our barn a few years earlier, but it operated on the same principle. It didn't have the extra condenser that the larger
one had, but it did almost the same job.
Now the night air was becoming cool, so I got up close to the fire that was under the pot, and Harry's moonshine
began to fill a half-gallon jar that he had set under the spout. As he watched, he switched jars. He didn't have a tester for
testing the alcohol content, so he shook the jar to see what kind of a bead came to the top, and then he would taste it. It must not
have been too bad because pretty soon he would sample it again. Sometimes he would offer me a drink but I would always turn it
down. It was getting late in the night and he had drank enough for it to take effect on him and I suppose he realized that he
shouldn't have brought his little brother out there for an operation of this kind. Toward morning, he finally told me that I should
move away from the fire and walk down the creek because he was afraid the sheriff might come out near daylight, and he didn't want me to get
caught here with him. He said if they caught me out here they would probably send me to reform school, and he didn't want that to
happen to me.
I hated to move away from that fire because it was just a little cool in the grass, but I was going to do what he said
because I didn't want to go to reform school. It even made me feel good to hear him say this because he never talked this good to me
when he was sober. As I started walking down the creek, he gave me some final instructions. He told me to go far enough so
the light from the burner wouldn't shine on me and cause me to be seen. He told me to lie down in the wheat and go to sleep if
I could. Now we were only a few miles from the canyons in the gypsum hills and that was diamond-back rattlesnake country. I
don't suppose it was likely that there would have been a rattler in a wheat field, but there was always the thought that there could be a
stray one. Then again, I thought that if there was a snake of any kind around, surely it would have sense enough to crawl under something
or into a hole where it would be warmer than it was in the open where I was. I didn't worry much about this though, because a
rattlesnake bite would have probably killed me before I could have reached a doctor. Also, if the sheriff caught me out there, I would be
sent to reform school. Since that would have been something that would have hurt for the rest of my life, I was willing to take my chances with the
Harry had also told me that he would warn me if the sheriff came. He said he would scream as loud as he
could in order to wake me up in case I had fallen asleep. When he yelled, I was supposed to run and keep down as much as I
could. I wasn't supposed to stop even if the sheriff warned that he would shoot. If he did shoot, he would probably be shooting over my head
because the offense was not bad enough to kill a man over, and besides, they would have Harry. So Harry said that if they did shoot, I
should run and run hard, hide out during the day, and make my way home in the dark the next night. I lay on the ground in the wheat field,
too cold and scared to sleep. I listened to the roar of the burner under the pot. I also strained my ears, trying to make sure I
would hear Harry if he screamed so I could start to run. It was a long night. I was wishing and hoping that daylight would come
quickly, but still I was afraid of what might happen when it did.
As I lay there wondering and listening, I finally heard the sound of the burner gradually dying down. I
raised up carefully and peeked over the wheat, and I could see Harry as he was turning out the fire. I could hear him moving around
in the dark. He had his job done for the night, and now he was just waiting for the pot to cool so he could dismantle it and hide it in the
grass and weeds again. He stacked his whiskey in the field, then he walked down the creek close to where I was, and he called to me
softly. I answered him, and he said, "Let's get out of here." He might have been just a little afraid--not scared-- but
afraid for me, and also a little afraid for himself. He said we would just leave everything and he would come back the next night and
get the whiskey, and he would leave the pot and other things until another time.
We headed for the road and then walked back to Harry's Model T. It was still dark, so I held the steering wheel to
guide it as he pushed it up out of the ditch. Harry then cranked it up, and again we drove a few miles in the dark without
lights. As we got near the highway, daylight was beginning to break. Harry stopped and put the bulb back into one headlight, then we pulled onto
the highway and headed for town. As we drove into the yard at home, the sun was coming up bright and warm. It was a
comfortable feeling after spending a damp and miserable night in a wheat field.
Chapter 11 -- My Role Models
Harvest season was approaching, and it would soon be threshing time again. Mom was planning to work as a cook
again, but not in the cook shack like she had done the previous year. She would be working for some other people this summer, and she would
be cooking in their farm home. She had arranged with them to bring me with her so I would get me three good meals each day and a
place to sleep at night. These people had two boys, both a little older than me. They were very good to me and I really liked
them. As harvest began, I spent each day with one of the two boys. The harvest crew cut the wheat with a threshing
machine, and they would dump the thrashed wheat into a wagon, and sometimes I would get into that wagon. The spout from the machine that
was dumping the wheat into the wagon was always laying on the back of the wagon box. When the box would fill with wheat at the back, it
would have to be shoved to the front until there was a full load. Sometimes I would help by shoving this spout around in the
wagon. Sometimes the older of the two boys would take a wagon-load of wheat into town. This town was about five miles south of there and
I would get to ride in the wagon with him, and this I really enjoyed.
A tractor was used to run the threshing machine, and one of the members of the harvest crew usually stayed on
the tractor, or at least nearby. If something went wrong with the machine, this man could throw the clutch and stop the
machine. One afternoon, I was sitting on the tractor seat. So sometimes I would get to do that. One day I was sitting on the
tractor, and there were several men standing nearby getting a drink of water. One of the men asked the others who the kid on the tractor
was. One of them was one of Harry's drinking buddies, and he said that I was just another one of those Webers who would never amount to a
damn. I didn't like that very much.
In western Oklahoma, harvest didn't last more than a couple of weeks, so Mom and I soon went back home to the locked
doors and the drunks. I told Harry what his friend said about me, thinking that maybe he would do something about it. One day,
this man came in and my brother asked him about me being that worthless kid. "Oh, no," he said. He said that he never said
anything like that about me, and he tried to make me look like a liar and a dumb kid who couldn't understand what he heard. This made me
dislike him even more, so I made a promise to myself that someday when I was old enough and big enough, I was going to whip this man with my own
fists. One thing I have always tried to do is keep a promise even if it was just made to myself. Not long after that, this man
took his family and moved to California, but I didn't care. I had several years to wait until I would be old enough and big enough, but I
knew I could find him when the time came.
The summers were hot and dry during those Dust Bowl years. I remember them as being hotter in those days than
they are now. Oklahoma didn't have as many lakes as we have today, and I suppose that all the extra water in our lakes today could cause a
difference in temperature, especially in the summer. We didn't even have an electric fan in our house, much less air
conditioning. Our electric bill in those days was a minimum of one dollar per month, but we couldn't even afford that much most of the
time. We would have to ask the city to disconnect our electricity, and we would go back to using kerosene lights just like we
used to when we lived on the farm.
Now Harry always had some ideas for getting around problem situations like this. In this case, he would
go outside and use a wire to jump the meter. However, for his system to work, he had to use a very fine wire. Such a fine wire was
sufficient for burning a light bulb, but it was also easy to overload if necessary. If the men from the electric plant stopped by
the house during the day, he could destroy the evidence from inside the house. Using a small pillow for insulation, he would grip a
pair of pliers and shove them into a receptacle in the ceiling which had been left open for this purpose. It would cause a direct
short and burn that fine wire on the outside of the house. Naturally, Harry's schemes often resulted in some innocent victims, and one day the
city pickup stopped in front when he wasn't there. One of my sisters told me to use the pliers to short out the lights and burn the wire
outside. I grabbed the pliers and started to do it, but just then the man started the pickup and drove away, so I didn't have to finish
that little job. This was lucky for me, because no one had ever given me any instructions on how to do that. I didn't know
anything about electricity, so I didn't understand that I was supposed to hold the pliers with a pillow for insulation. If the man
hadn't driven away like he did, I would have probably learned a lesson the hard way that day. However, luck was with me, as it
seemed to be so many times.
I learned a lot of little tricks from Harry and his friends, mostly concerning how to make an easy
dollar. They even talked about counterfeit money and how to make it. I never did get to see any of this no-good money, but we knew
of some other men who made some. They were quickly arrested, and one of them had to go to the penitentiary at McAlester.
Harry was always getting thrown into jail because of his whiskey. I suppose I was taught well on how to
make an easy dollar, but I wasn't being taught anything about the good side of life. I had all the encouragement and temptations to
become a criminal or outlaw. However, for some reason, as I would watch Harry and the kind of life he lived, I couldn't see where he had
profited by that lifestyle. The more I saw of it, the less I liked it. I suppose I was getting quite a unique education
out of all of this, but I did not realize it at the time.
Harry would still offer me drinks once in a while, and sometimes I would take a drink with him. However, most of
the time I would turn it down because it seemed that it would be better to leave it alone than to become like him. When I turned down
his offers, he usually threatened me, but, fortunately for me, he never carried out his threats.
I would watch Harry closely when his drinking friends came around. Sometimes I heard him brag about how
many friends he had. It is true that he had friends, as long as he had a bottle and free drinks. However, when the bottle was empty
and the drinks were gone, so were his friends. He had a certain kind of friends that I hoped I would never have. Somehow, deep
down inside, I was building up a feeling of my own--one that is hard to describe. Maybe it was a feeling of pride, although I didn't
have anything worthy of pride. All I had was a lot of shame and disgrace, and a life full of disappointments.
Now there was a certain man in our town who was known as a tough guy. He liked to fight and to drink, and he
was mean. He seemed to enjoy scaring people. He always carried a big pocket knife, and that alone was enough to scare me.
One night while this tough guy was on a drinking binge at our house, a younger man came in for a drink. He was nicely dressed, and
even wearing a tie. The bully made a remark to him, and the young man retorted. The bully got up with his knife in his hand,
took hold of the other man's tie, and cut it off just below the knot. The younger man's eyes bulged with fear. The bully backed up
with two pieces of necktie in his hand and said, "Now, if that isn't cut close enough, why then I can cut a little closer." I guess
that must have been close enough to suit the young man, because he took his bottle of whiskey and went on his way.
On some of those summer nights, it was too hot to sleep in the house. I had an old quilt, and I often slept on
the ground in the back yard. One Saturday night, the town bully and another man arrived for another drinking binge. This other
man was about the same age as the bully, but smaller and much more decent, although he too liked his whiskey a little too much. They
started to drink, play cards, and gamble a little. The bully always seemed determined to get away with other people's money. If
he couldn't win it gambling, he would get them drunk, and then take it from them.
It was getting late that night and I had nothing to do, so I took my old quilt into the back yard, spread it out
on the ground, and lay down. The ground was hard, but I did not mind, as long as I could be outside away from the drunks. I
could still hear them from the back yard, but at least I didn't have to put up with them. As I lay on my old quilt, I looked up at the
sky and imagined how quiet and peaceful it must be up there among the stars and the moon. I could dream that maybe someday things here on
earth would be more quiet and peaceful. Maybe I would even find some happiness in my life, although the future seemed quite dim at the
time. Nevertheless, I was able to entertain pleasant thoughts, and I soon fell asleep. It seemed somewhat surprising that I
always slept well on that hard ground. I suppose I was getting used to it since it was the best I had at the time. In fact,
I was getting to the point where I could feel at home almost any place I could lay my head.
It was nearly daylight when I was suddenly awakened by voices--one man screaming and another one cursing, so I jumped up to
find the source of the commotion. I saw the town bully chasing the smaller man through our neighbor's yard. I
suppose they had been drinking all night, and now the bully was mad at the little man for some reason, and he apparently wanted to whip
him. The little man was almost too drunk to run, but he was trying his best to get away. Finally the bully caught him, grabbed his
shirt, and ripped it off his back. As both men staggered, the little man tried once more to get away, and he ran around to the back of the
house, onto a little porch above an old water cistern. At that point, he couldn't go any further, and the bully had him cornered.
Meanwhile, I had run over there to see what was going to happen. I began to wish that I would have stayed
away, because the bully hit the little man in the face with his fist. He hit him again and again. The little man was in a
corner so he couldn't fall. His face was a bloody mess. The big man's hands were covered with blood past his wrists.
Finally, as though exhausted from the beating he was inflicting upon the smaller man, the bully stopped, and the little man fell. As he did,
he hit his face on the corner of the cement slab below the cistern pump, and this cut a big gash right across his cheek bone.
The bully came back to our house, laughing and bragging about his fighting skills and how he had just whipped his opponent. From my
vantage point, I couldn't say that the little man had even tried to fight back. The bully then just got into his car and drove
away. When the bully was gone, the little man struggled to his feet, staggered down the street, and headed for town, or perhaps
for his own home. I suppose I was too sick from what I had just seen to even offer to lead him home or help him clean up. He
was a terrible mess, the worst I had ever seen.
Chapter 12 — School
The summer was rapidly slipping away. It would soon be time for me to go back to school. There did not seem to ever be any
profit in the business that was going on at our house. For by now, my brother was getting to where he would drink on the average of one half
gallon of moonshine each day. He would drink until he would have to vomit. Then he would say that he needed a drink to settle his stomach,
and would start all over again. He and I had to sleep together. His side of the bed was pushed against the wall in our little three-roomed
house. There was a window next to his pillow. If he got sick at night, he would just unlock the screen, hang his head out the window, and
vomit. This happened many times. Sometimes, he would start to spit a while before he got sick. There were many times when he would not be
awake when he started to spit. There were several times when I would be awakened by having him spit in my face. I would then try to wake him up
and turn him over because I knew what was going to happen next, and I sure did not want him to think that he had his head out the window
while he was facing me.
It seemed as though if there was a chance to make any profit, my brother was drinking it all up. So mom took a job cooking
and washing dishes in a cafe, where she was paid only fifty cents a day. I would spend a lot of my time going out to the city dump and
looking through the trash for some copper, brass, or aluminum. I could always find a little. I would try to save enough money to buy me one or
two pair of blue jeans to wear to school. I guess every little bit helped.
When school started this fall, I decided that I wanted to stay home this year and go to school in town. I would be in the sixth
grade. I really dreaded going to school. The main reason was that I was ashamed for the other kids to know about who I was, the old house that
I had to live in, and mainly about what was going on there. One night, another boy and I were walking home from school together. He lived a
little south and west from our house. He asked me where I lived. I would have sooner died than to tell him, but I did not have much of a
choice. I told him. If the truth was known, he probably already knew.
Sometime in the fall of that year, another boy in town had an old twenty-two caliber single shot rifle. The front site was
broken off, but it would still shoot, just not very straight. I bought it from him for seventy-five cents. Twenty-two caliber shots cost
fifteen cents a box in those days. With this rifle, I spent a lot of my extra time out along the creek on weekends, sometimes after school, and
on holidays. I would always look forward to Saturday, so I could search the city dump for a little scrap metal. I became friends with another
boy who was a couple of years older than me. He and I would go out along the creek and hunt quite often, and occasionally he would come
over to the house. One day, he told me that his dad would rather that he would not come over to my house anymore. He did say that I was
welcome to come over to his house anytime. This kind of stopped us from being really close friends.
One day before winter was over, we had a long hunting trip several miles down the creek. On the way, we spotted a squirrel up
in the top of a cottonwood tree. He tried several shots with my old twenty-two, but he missed. I just knew that it was hopeless, especially
since the front site of my rifle was missing. Finally, he handed the rifle to me and told me to get him. I took as good an aim as I could and shot.
To my surprise, the squirrel fell from the limb. I was surprised that I even hit it. When we examined it, we found that I hit it right in the eye.
My friend really bragged on me as to how good of a shot I was. He would not believe that it was only an accident, but it did make me feel a
little on the proud side. As we were on our way home, he talked about how much he had enjoyed this hunting trip with me. We talked and made
plans and were looking forward to having another good hunting trip sometime the next winter. I also enjoyed this trip very much. It was
nice to have a friend like him, even though he could not come to my house. Good friends in my life were few and far between.
One evening as mom had finished her day's work in the cafe, she was on her way home. She stopped in the store that was owned
and operated by the man who also owned the old house in which we lived. He told her that dad was several months behind with the rent and he
would like to have some money, as this was the winter time and the temperature outside was below freezing with a little snow on the
ground. He said that it was not very comfortable, especially if you could not afford to dress according to the weather. Mom told him that
they did not have any money and probably would not have any until along in the summer. She also said that if she would have any extra money,
she would like to buy her a pair of socks that she could wear to keep her feet warm, as she had to walk to work each morning and home again
that night. The man looked down at her feet and saw that she was wearing a pair of low-cut shoes without any socks on her feet. He then
told her not to worry about the rent. He never did ask for it anymore after that. Dad always managed to pay his debt during the next summer.
I always appreciated this old gentleman's kindness that he seemed to have for our family. Unfortunately for our family, one day he fell over
and died with a heart attack. To me it seemed like a great loss of this kind old gentleman.
There were times when mom would try to get my brother to quit his drinking and try to live and do better. She would suggest that
maybe he should go out and get a job. But he would only curse, drink, argue, and make her cry. This was kind of hard for me to take. This did
not happen just once, but very often. So I made another promise to myself that I would try to live a better life - a kind of life that my
relatives would not have to be ashamed of. I also promised myself that I would never argue with my mother or do anything to make her cry.
Here in our town, there was a hatchery where, in the spring of the year, they would set some eggs to hatch out baby chicks.
Out of every batch, there would be quite a few eggs that would not hatch. These eggs would be hauled to the city dump. If the sun were
shining warm and bright, some of these eggs would still hatch out. I would get some of these baby chicks and take them home. Most of them
had pretty good luck. Some of them even grew up to make fryers. There were some people who thought they were so superior and they would make
fun of me for getting baby chicks out of the dump. They would say, "Who would want to eat one of those?" But to me, those chickens still came
from an egg, just like any chicken. And to me, they tasted mighty good when they were big enough to butcher and fry.
The school term for this year was about to come to a close, and I was glad. Some of the kids were beginning to make remarks
at me. Even one of the boys that I had always considered a friend started to call me a bootlegger in front of some other kids. He would
ask if I had brought along anything to drink, and this always seemed to hit a spot down inside of me where it really hurt. So when the last day
of school finally rolled around, I was more than glad to get out. I wanted to get away, but there just were not any places for me to go. I
would go down to the creek to hunt and fish, or maybe to the city dump to look for scrap metal.
Chapter 13 — Family Pride
There were few jobs available that could supply a boy with any spending money. Even if there were, I assumed that nobody
would want a kid like me around. Even grown men would see me around town and sometimes ask me if I thought that I would ever be able to
drink as much whiskey as my brother, or if I was going to try to drink even more. They would also ask me how old I thought I'd be when I got
thrown in jail for the first time. They had no respect for me whatsoever, nor did they care what would become of me. It seemed like
they were trying to drive me into a life of crime. They were doing a pretty good job of getting me to dislike a lot of people.
I was getting to the point where I tried not to show any emotion whatsoever, no matter what was said, even when I was shocked or
surprised. I always tried to keep the same expression, no matter how much I hurt. Again, inside of me I was building a unique feeling for
all that was being said and done to me. I tried to accept it as a challenge in my life. I knew that I wouldn't have to drink that rotten
whiskey, and I knew that I wouldn't waste my life sitting in some rotten jail.
I remember one summer day when a carnival came to town. It gave
me somewhere to go at night. Although I didn't have any money to spend, it would pass the time. One night Harry and Harvey came to the carnival. I
was glad to see them, but I quickly realized that they had both been drinking quite heavily. I doubt that they even recognized me in the
crowd. I tried to follow them around, yet still keep my distance. They walked up to a stand that sported a punching bag game. To play the
game, the customer had to put a penny in the slot, pull down a little on the punching bag, which was fastened onto a chain, and then hit it.
If the bag was hit hard enough to ring a bell, the customer got his penny back or another free chance.
Harvey tried it first, but he couldn't ring the bell. Then it was Harry's turn. Besides being able to drink more whiskey than
anyone, he looked like he could whip anyone, anywhere, and he also believed that he could. By the time Harry stepped up to the punching
bag, a large crowd had gathered to watch this big event. Harry put his penny in the slot, drew back his fist, and swung. He was so drunk that
he almost missed the whole bag, and he almost fell down as well. He and Harvey walked away laughing as if they had really done something. As
they walked away, I heard one observer say to another, "That big guy should have been able to knock that thing plumb off the chain if he
wasn't so drunk." I didn't follow them anymore. Instead, I turned away and started down the street toward home.
Oh, how badly I wanted something that I could be proud of! I wished that I could throw my chest out, hold my head up high, and
tell the whole world that these two men were my brothers, but I could not. I was so ashamed as I walked down the street. I was feeling low,
kicking at rocks on the street, wondering why things had to be the way they were. It seemed as though that was just the way it was, and I knew
I better stay prepared to face the ugly consequences. Still, I could always hope that tomorrow might be a better day.
One day a man came by and wanted my parents to rent a house he owned in the south part of town. It was a large house with
three rooms upstairs. This alone was as large as the whole house that we now lived in, so my parents decided to rent it. The rent was twelve
dollars a month, and we moved right away. I was really pleased to get to live in a nicer house. It also had about two acres of land and a
little barn, and I was well pleased with all this. However, it was in the wrong part of town for our particular family business, so they soon
decided to move back into the same old shack across the tracks. They repainted the woodwork and papered the walls, and when the month was
up, we moved back.
During the time that we lived in the nicer house, Harvey began seeing the landlady's granddaughter. Her grandma didn't think he
was good enough to go with her granddaughter, but there was nothing she could do about it. One night Harvey had to make a trip for my parents
to a little town about twenty miles west for some supplies for their business. I wanted to go along because it was nearly the Fourth of
July, and I knew that firecrackers were sold all year around in that town, but they weren't yet available in our town. Mom said I could go,
but Harvey wanted to take his girlfriend along. I didn't care if she went, but he said that if I went, he wouldn't take her along. Since I
was intent on going, he took me and left her at home. During the course of that evening, he cursed me and called me everything except a little
brother. I got my firecrackers, and we came home. I was glad the night was over, but it just didn't seem like there was ever anything very
good for me in life. I got my firecrackers, but at what cost? I also got a cussing, so why should I be happy? My brother and his girlfriend
were married a few weeks later that summer. They had a most unusual wedding, but it's not my place to tell about it.
By this time, the pressures were having a serious effect on Mom and Dad, and they were not getting along very well with each
other anymore. I recall a big argument they had in the kitchen one evening. Harry sided with Mom, and I thought they were going to resort
to a physical fight. I was torn between all of them, and trying to keep them from it. All of a sudden, Dad grabbed a butcher knife from the
table and said he was going to kill himself. He was standing up, and he was feeling his throat with his left hand to locate the spot where he
wanted to jab the knife. He held the knife in his right hand, and it was ready. Just then I jumped in front of him, grabbed his strong
arm that held the knife, and said, "Papa, don't." I took hold of the knife, and he released his grip. Then I took it from him and put it out
of sight. I know that he didn't want to kill himself, but I'm sure that at that moment he was unhappy enough and upset enough to have done so
if I hadn't tried to stop him.
Harry only said, "Why didn't you let him go. He didn't have the guts enough to do it anyway." Dad went outside and walked into
town. Mom and Harry also left. The place was kind of lonesome and deserted, yet quiet. After a couple of hours Harry came home and had
the nerve to ask me to go find Dad and ask him for nine dollars so he could buy himself a new tire for his car to take Mom to her sister's
place in eastern Oklahoma. I refused to do what he asked and, surprisingly, he didn't get mad at me. He just got in his car and left.
Later in the day he returned, still without Mom, but he told me they were going to eastern Oklahoma. Then he left, and Mom never did come
by--not even to say good-bye or to ask me to go along. She went to stay with her sister for a while. When Dad finally came home later that day,
I told him they had tried to get me to ask him for money, and I also told him where they had gone.
Dad was working on the WPA, a government program that provided jobs for the poor. He was allowed to work fifteen days a
month. He tried to do our cooking, and although it wasn't like Mom's, we ate it anyway. My future didn't look good. Most of the people I knew
had broken the law in some way or another.
During the Depression, we were always hearing or reading in the paper about outlaw gangs, led by famous bad guys such as Machine
Gun Kelly, John Dillinger, Clyde Borrow and Bonny Parker, and Floyd and Raymond Hamilton. I always had a little fear of these outlaws, although
I don't think they were quite as wicked as they were portrayed in the tales that are told about them. However, there was one outlaw that I
actually admired. He was known as Pretty Boy Floyd. They said he would take from the rich and help the poor, and also that he worked a lot by
himself. I always thought that maybe I would grow up to be like him, or maybe someday I'd get to be in a gang with him as the leader. However,
I was still too young, except to daydream and wonder what the outlaws would do next.
Chapter 14 — My Illness
When it was almost time for school to start that year, Leah and Leland asked me to stay with them on the farm and go to school
in the country again the next term. With Mom still gone, I thought maybe that would be the best thing for me to do, so I began to look
forward to spending another winter on the farm. One Sunday before school started, Dad asked Harvey to take us to my aunt's place (one of
my Mom's sisters). He didn't tell me why he wanted to go there, but I think he wanted to know if they had heard anything from Mom. While we
were there, I was sitting on the porch and Dad was in the house talking, when all of a sudden I heard my dad cry. He said that he could
get along without her, but that I was still too young to be without a mother. I had thought we were getting along pretty good, and I don't
think I ever said anything about missing her or wanting her to come back. After returning home that night, I had to prepare to go back to
the farm since it was nearly time for the first day of school.
Everything went fine for a few weeks after school started. Then one day at school, I got sick. I wasn't sick to my
stomach, but just sick. I didn't know what had made me sick, but the teacher thought I should go home, so I did. After I stayed in bed a day
or two, I began to feel better. I went back to school only to get sick again before the day was over, so the teacher had to send me home
again. After a couple more days at home, I felt good enough to go back to school again, but the same thing happened a third time. I went home
from school and Leah told me to go upstairs and lie down until Leland came home, so I did.
When Leland came home, I heard Leah tell him that I was sick again. He must have been more concerned about me than I realized,
because he immediately came upstairs to see about me. He sat on the edge of my bed, and placed one hand on my shoulder as he talked to me.
He asked where I felt sick, and he wondered if there was anything he could do for me. It was a wonderful feeling having him sit there and
talk the way he did. I guess I hadn't realized that anyone really cared that much for me. The next day they took me to the county doctor, since
there was no money for doctor bills or medicine. He examined me and gave me two kinds of pills. One was for my liver, which he said was not
functioning properly, and the other was for my heart. We returned home that evening, but after taking pills for a few days, I didn't seem to
be getting any better. I was still too sick to go to school, and I decided I would like to go to town and stay with Dad and the rest of
One day as I lay in bed, I heard Dad talking to my sisters in the other room. I suppose they thought I was asleep, but I
wasn't. They were afraid that maybe I was not going to get well and that I would die. They thought that maybe someone should go see Mom and
see if she would want to come home for a while, but I wouldn't have asked them to do that if had been up to me. Nevertheless, Leland went
after her, and she came home. I will always think that it was against her will, but she came. The next day, she took me to see a young doctor
in town. He examined me and told me to throw away the pills the county doctor had given me because there was nothing wrong with my heart or
liver. He gave us a prescription for more medicine, he told me to get plenty of bed rest, and he restricted my diet for a few days.
One day while I was lying in bed listening to the radio, the program was suddenly interrupted with a news bulletin. They
announced that Pretty Boy Floyd had been shot, and they soon followed up with a report that Pretty Boy Floyd was dead. This was a terrible
shock to me since I admired him so much. Of course I realize now that this again goes to show that crime doesn't pay, and sooner or later it
will catch up with a person. My recommendation is to play it safe, and walk the straight and narrow path. It might seem like the hard way, and
it may take a little longer, but earn what you get. Later in life, you will be able to be proud of what you have, and you won't ever have to
After three days of rest, I was feeling too good to stay in bed any longer. I could hardly believe that I was feeling well
again. I was almost afraid to get up and move around very much for fear that I would get sick again.
The next week, I went back to the farm with Leah, and Mom came along to spend a few days. I started back to school and I took it
a little easy for a while, and sure enough, I didn't get sick anymore. Mom stayed a few days, and then went back to town. To my surprise, she
did not go back to her sister's. Instead she stayed at home with Dad, although things didn't seem to be much better than they were before.
One Saturday, I went to town to spend the weekend with my parents. Mom told me that her sister had planted a fall garden. She
said that some of the vegetables were just about ready to ripen when I got sick. However, she had to come home to take care of me, so now she
wasn't going to get to eat any of those ripe vegetables. She said that if it hadn't been for me, she could still be with her sister, eating
her share of fruits and vegetables from the garden. I assured her that it wasn't my idea to have her come home, and that I thought I was
getting along fine with things the way they were. She never mentioned it again, but I was never able to forget what she said, knowing that
she thought more of a garden than she did of me.
Chapter 15 — The Penalty
Harry had a court trial coming up, and he had to report to the county seat before the hearing. Since he had already been in
jail many times for making whiskey, he knew that this time would be a penitentiary offense. On the day of his trial, I was to go with him and
bring home his green-colored Model A Ford (since I had already learned to drive). We left home that morning and had to drive twenty miles to
the courthouse for the hearing. I was somewhat glad to know that he thought enough of me to want me to drive his car home by myself, but I
was sad at heart to think that my brother would have to go to prison.
When we parked in front of the courthouse, it was nearly time for his case to start. When we got out and entered the courthouse,
court was already in session. There was a woman getting a divorce from her husband. We sat down to wait, and soon her divorce was granted.
They called Harry's name next, and asked him to come down and take the stand to hear the judge's decision on his sentence. As he walked down
the aisle to the front of the courtroom, everything seemed terribly quiet. I suppose I was scared, and I wished that I could have been
somewhere else. I also thought that maybe it was just a dream, and I would soon awaken, but I knew it was real.
When Harry walked to the chair at the witness stand, he took the oath, and then he turned and faced the judge. There was a
railing about shoulder-high where he stood, and he placed his left elbow on that railing, and his head was bowed downward as he stood
before the judge. The judge picked up his gavel and banged it lightly on his desk, but it seemed terribly loud to me. I think I could hear my
own heartbeat. The silence was broken when the judge asked Harry if he pled guilty or not guilty. He did not have the money for an attorney,
so he had to plead guilty. Then the judge said, "I hereby sentence you to serve one year and one day in the state penitentiary at McAlester."
By now, the courtroom seemed awfully quiet and I was choked up. The judge then broke the silence again by saying, "However, since this is
your first penitentiary offense, I will give you a suspended sentence for a period of one year." As I sat there in the courtroom, I was happy
to hear what the judge had said. I had to try hard to squeeze back some tears and not show any emotion. I watched Harry, still standing before
the judge, with his head hanging quite low. Maybe he couldn't believe the last few words that the judge said. Then he slowly moved his arm,
and said in a low voice, "Thank you, judge."
Harry walked very slowly back toward me, and I think this was the only time I ever saw him come close to crying, because he
wasn't one to shed tears. As we left the courtroom, we were very relieved, and much happier than when we arrived. On our way
home, we decided to stop by my Reuben's house and tell him the good news. It was a little out of our way, but that didn't seem to make any
Neither one of us thought about Mom, who was home waiting for me to bring Harry's car. As the day went by and I didn't show up,
she began to worry. We stayed at Reuben's longer than we should have, but we finally started for home. It was nearly dark when we arrived, so
again Mom scolded me for not coming straight home to tell her the news. After a few moments of griping at me for causing her some worry, she
finally decided that she was glad that her boy didn't have to go to prison. That was worth something, but I still felt bad knowing that it
wasn't my fault we were late. However, when taking everything into consideration, I suppose it wasn't meant for me to do anything right,
so why should I even try or care?
Things were still about the same way around our house. My family was still selling whiskey, and Harry was still drinking as much
as ever, or maybe even a little more. Business was really good that year, so Harry decided that he wanted a new car, even though he didn't
have the money. However, this was during the mid-1930s when the car dealers were beginning a new policy of accepting monthly payments for
new cars, and Harry bought a new Ford with very little down. This didn't seem to set too good with a lot of people, because it looked
like we were making a lot of easy money. Also, Harry didn't take care of his car at all. It seemed as though he wanted to see how quickly he
could tear it up, and he was sure doing a good job of it.
Things went pretty well for a few weeks until mid-summer. Then, on one hot summer day, a man knocked on our door. He identified
himself, and was recognized as the man who ran a cream station in Hitchcock, a small town about twelve miles south of our town. He came
in, purchased a half-gallon of whiskey, then stood and talked for a while. As he talked, he was watching the road out the front door. After
a few minutes, the county sheriff and his deputies drove up, and this man ran to the front door, unlocked it for the sheriff, ran out of the
house, and gave the sheriff the half-gallon of whiskey he had just purchased. This man had lowered himself to becoming a two-bit snitch
for the county sheriff.
While this was going on, I was at our neighbor's house getting a haircut. Suddenly I heard Harry scream out, "Pour it out!" He
was in our backyard telling someone in the house to pour out the whiskey. Our neighbors and I rushed to the window to see the county
sheriff and his deputies surround the house. One grabbed the top of the back door and just broke it in half. The sheriff himself was in the
front yard holding the jar of whiskey, and that was all they needed.
Bond had to be made for someone in the family, and another jail term hung over someone's head. Dad had already said that
he didn't want to go back to jail, and Harry was out on a suspended sentence. If he took the blame, he would have to go to McAlester for a
year and a day. I wondered what the outcome would be. I really can't say too much about this because it didn't concern me too much, except
that I had to live with it. Bond was made, but the case wouldn't come up until the county held court either that fall or the next spring.
This incident was hard on business for a few days, but my family started it up again before long. Harry was still drinking
as much as ever, and really tearing up that new Ford he had bought. I think he had done everything to it except try to take care of it. One
day he asked me to go out to the country with him. The roads were dry, but they had ruts in them from a previous rain. We drove in smooth
tracks, but we had to straddle one rut. I was watching the speedometer as it registered between ninety-five and one hundred miles per hour,
and Harry's driving didn't seem too good. I looked at him and noticed that his head had dropped, and he was about to either fall asleep or
pass out because he'd been drinking so much. I grabbed the steering wheel and hollered at him. He opened his eyes and wondered what I was
hollering about. He said that there was nothing wrong with him. When I told him we just passed the corner where he wanted to turn, he slammed
on the brakes, came to a stop, backed up about one quarter of a mile, and turned. We were on our way again, and believe it or not, we made it
home, although I'll never know how or why.
Chapter 16 — Grade School Dropout
Summer was passing swiftly, and it would soon be time to go back to school. Leah and Leland wanted me to stay with them and go
to school in the country again, but I thought I would like to stay with my parents and go to school in town. This turned out to be one of the
biggest mistakes I ever made. Things at home were just like they had always been. The doors were still locked all the time, I still had to
knock when I wanted in, and I still had to tell someone to lock the door when I wanted to go outside. When the first day of school started,
it was just as bad as ever. The kids were still the same, and I knew most of them. My old friend was also there, and to him I was still
known as a bootlegger. He made sure to remind me of this every once in a while, sometimes in front of the other kids. I tried to stay to
myself as much as possible. I would stay at home until almost school time, then I'd run all the way just to get there in time for the bell.
At noon, I would hurry home for dinner, and then do the same thing again when it was time to go back.
Another bad thing about going home was that I had to pass within one block of the Catholic school, and the kids there had also
labeled me as a bootlegger. To try to avoid the Catholic school, I would cut across a vacant lot, which would at least put me a half-block
farther from them. This didn't do much good though, because when I got close to that spot I would start to run, and when they saw me, they
would start to holler, "There goes the bootlegger. Hey bootlegger." I would just keep on running so I could get away from them more quickly.
I didn't realize that I was trying to run away from something that I couldn't evade, and that I would still have to live with it at home and
at school. Maybe things would have been different if I had chosen to face the truth instead of running. I am sure that most of the kids
would have understood and accepted me as I was. I should have just ignored those who wouldn't, but I just couldn't.
There were two boys who were a little bigger than me who treated me like a friend. If other kids tried to pick on me when these
two boys were nearby, they would always help me out. They would tell the other kids that if they wanted to pick on me, they would have to
whip them first. How thankful I was for those two friends.
My aunt had a little cafe in town. It was near the school, so she and Mom thought that I should eat there at noon so I
wouldn't have to walk home every day, and I could get a bowl of chili for ten cents. However, I hated this because I had to spend the rest of
the noon hour on the school grounds. As it turned out, I wouldn't have to do this very long though.
By this time, Harry's new Ford had been so mistreated that it was just about ready for the junkyard. Also, it still wasn't
paid for, so the finance company had to take it back. This left Harry afoot for a while, but he soon bought another Model A Ford roadster. It
was nearly worn out too, but I suppose it was a little better than walking.
Time was passing quickly, but not quickly enough for me. It was late November, and trapping season would soon be open through
January. I hoped to pick up a few dollars by catching some skunks, opossums, or muskrats. I was still spending as much time as possible
out in the country along the creek looking for good places to set traps. When the first of December rolled around, I set my traps. Then,
as you might expect, I was always looking for excuses to stay out of school. I asked Mom if I could stay out the first week in December so
maybe I could make a little more money. (This really wasn't the main reason for not wanting to go to school.) By staying out the whole week,
I averaged about one skunk per day, a few opossums, and a couple of muskrats, and I didn't think that was too bad.
That week passed quickly, and the next Monday, I would have to go back to school. I dreaded going back, and when I did the
teacher got all over me for getting so far behind. It didn't really make much difference to me since I wasn't doing too well anyway. There
was a lot that she didn't know anyway. My only good subject was spelling, and that was because I didn't have to talk or ask questions.
I always made a good grade in spelling, and this puzzled the teacher. One day I asked her if I could be moved from my seat
in the back of the room to a seat closer to the front. She wouldn't listen to me because she said that my conduct grade was always good, and she
had to save some of the front seats for some of the other students who didn't behave as well. I will always think that this would have helped
me a lot, but I never did get to try. I just had to stay where I was.
One day, the car dealer in town got in a really nice Model A Ford coupe, and he wanted to sell it to Mom. She thought that I
could drive it, since Harry was away quite a bit. Mom thought that we could use another car, so she bought it. When Harry came home, he just
couldn't stand it. He soon said that there was something wrong with his car and it wouldn't run, so he had to borrow the one Mom had bought. He
went somewhere and didn't come back for a couple of days. When he did, it was raining and the road was muddy, and I saw him as he came driving
in. The front bumper was torn off and there was a tin cover below the radiator that was hanging loose and about to fall off. It was hard to
believe how anyone could drive a car and get it in this kind of shape without completely wrecking it, but he could. My heart was broken, but I did
not dare say anything or he would threaten to stomp the daylights out of me. I suppose I was afraid that he might just do that sometime.
I wanted to have driven this car to school, but Mom thought I shouldn't.
One day at school when the bell rang for lunch and the whole class was marching out, this friend of mine hollered at me for
everyone to hear, "Hey bootlegger. When you come back from lunch, why don't you bring us all back a drink of whiskey so we can all get
drunk?" As I rushed away from school that day with a sad and heavy heart, I didn't know what to do. All I knew was that I never wanted to
go back. When I got home, I told Mom that I wanted to quit school. I said that I was not learning anything and I would not pass anyway,
which was true, but that wasn't the main reason. I couldn't tell her the main reason, but I think she knew. As a result, that day turned out
to be my last day of school. I didn't even bother to go back to get my books.
About two weeks later, Mom wanted me to take her to visit an elderly couple that lived about a block from school. I took her
there and waited in the car for her. It just happened to be at a time when some of the kids were out on the playground, and I was watching
them when Mom came out. She asked me if I was lonesome for school and wondered if I wanted to go back. I told her I wasn't lonesome for it,
but I was. I wanted to be there, if only things could be different at our house. Although I wasn't in school anymore, I never stopped
learning. Most of my learning came from experience. If I found something that interested me, I studied it. However, no matter how much
I studied and learned, it didn't help if I didn't have that diploma or a degree.
Chapter 17 — Mom’s Time
Mom and Dad had another argument, which I didn't know much about, but it was clear they didn't want to stay together right
then. Mom said that she left once and had to come home because of me, so she wasn't going to leave again. She said that Dad would have to go
this time, so that's what he did. I didn't even know where he was for a few days, but I finally heard that he was staying in the north part of
town with an old bachelor friend of his.
It was now the middle of winter and the weather was very cold. It had rained, and all the water holes and gullies were frozen
over. There was a gate at the northwest corner of our house, and underneath the gate was a water hole covered with ice. One night while
we were in the house, I heard someone walk through the gate, causing the ice to crack and crumple. I ran to the back door hoping that it was
Dad, and sure enough, it was. He came to the back door and asked Mom if he could have a quilt because the man where he was staying didn't have
enough for both of them in the cold weather. Mom really raved. She said that he was not worth a quilt and that she didn't care if he froze. I
tried to get him to come in and stay at home with us, but Mom was not about to allow it. Dad started to leave again, and I said, "Wait a
minute, Dad. If you can't stay here, then I don't want to stay either. I'll just go along with you." That caused Dad to come back, and after
he and Mom talked, she decided that he could stay. I will always believe that if Dad would have had a better place to live other than
with that bachelor, he would have taken me along with him. I think that it was just for me that he came in and stayed at home.
One night Harry and I walked to town to see a movie, which is something that we didn't get to do very often. On the way home
after the show, we stopped at a cafe, not to eat, but to visit with the bunch that usually hung around there. I remember hearing the city
marshal talking with the café manager about how much Harry was drinking. The marshal told him that if he didn't stop drinking or at
least cut way back, he wouldn't live very long, because that stuff would surely kill him if he kept on like he was. Harry only laughed at
them and said that he would be around to help carry his little brother (meaning me) to his grave. That seemed doubtful to me, although one can
never tell. I suppose I enjoyed that evening. It seemed like Harry was somewhat sober that night, and I wasn't ashamed to be seen with him.
Besides, it was something nice to remember for a change.
The time for county court was approaching, and my parents would have to appear in court for selling whiskey. Dad had
already said that he didn't ever want to go back to jail, and Harry already had a suspended sentence hanging over his head. Harry knew that if
he took the rap, it would mean a prison sentence for sure. Despite his bragging about how easy it was for him to do time, he wasn't very anxious
now that the time was here. Mom didn't want Harry to go to prison either, so she decided that she would take the blame and go to jail if the
judge decided on a jail sentence.
On the day of the hearing, Mom, Dad, Harry, and several of us kids all went to the courthouse to see what the outcome would be.
As we were waiting for the time for us to go into the courtroom, I'm sure that Mom and Dad thought about how bad it would be for us kids to
have to witness seeing our mother being sentenced to jail. They hadn't told us younger kids much about what was happening, so we didn't
realize the possible outcome. Mom pled guilty to the charges, so the judge sentenced her without even going to trial. I think she did this
to make it a lot easier for us kids, which it did. At least that is one scene that I don't have to picture in my memory. I had already sat in
one courtroom with my brother, and that leaves memories that are sad enough, so I'm glad I didn't have to see my mother sent to jail.
That was a sad day--much sadder than Mom ever
rest of us had to go home and leave her there to serve her time. When we got home, the house seemed empty. There was someone missing. It was
like coming back from a funeral. The thought of it all was just killing me until I finally broke down and cried. For some consolation, I
reasoned that at least I didn't have to go to school and face all the kids. I could already imagine what they would be calling me now.
By this time Harry needed a better car, so he took the little Model A that Mom had bought for me to drive, and he traded it
for a V-8 Ford, which I was supposed to get to drive once in a while.
Mom's sentencing seemed to put a stop to the moonshine business at our house. Dad had signed up for work with the WPA. He was
allowed to work fifteen days each month, and he received about thirty dollars a month, which helped considerably. I do not remember what
Harry was doing at this time while Mom was away, but he was a good mechanic. He could overhaul tractors and cars if he would make up his
mind to do so.
Time passed relatively quickly even though Mom was away. I suppose I was somewhat used to her being away, because it seemed just
like it did when she stayed with her sister a couple of years earlier. Finally Mom came home again, but my family never did get back
into the whiskey business to the same extent.
Harry still had to have his whiskey, but he was even cutting back on it a little. Sometimes people joke about
seeing pink elephants when they're high, but I have a similar true story to remember. One night Harry and I were sleeping in the back yard, me on
my army cot, and him in an old spring bed. In the middle of the night, I was suddenly awakened when Harry ran toward the house and began
calling for Mom. Mom called for Dad, and I also ran to see what was happening. Harry was on the ground, breathing hard, and trying hard to
stand up. He was panting as if he'd been running all night, and I was afraid that he might die any minute. He said he had been awakened by
some dogs fighting under his bed, and he looked under there and he didn't see anything but snakes—big snakes. They were chasing him.
He also said that everything was on fire, that he saw the devil laughing and trying to get him, and that the only thing that kept the
devil away was an angel that stayed between him and the devil. He asked for a piece of ice to chew on to help cool him off, but when he took
his first bite he threw it away and said that it caught on fire and was burning.
We called the doctor for him, and the doctor came, but he just gave him some pills, got in his car, and drove away. I suppose I
couldn't blame him for not staying. I would have been better off if I hadn't witnessed that scene either, but I couldn't leave. We stayed
with Harry, and tried to help him, but he just jumped, staggered, or ran from one spot to another, believing that he was dodging snakes or
the devil. When daylight was approaching, he finally told us that he thought he would be fine if he had some whiskey, so my parents dug up
thirty-five cents and gave it to me to go to another bootlegger's place and get him a half-pint. I bought the whiskey, and Harry drank it as
soon as I returned. He quickly began to calm down, and soon he was himself again. This brought a close to another miserable night at our
house for me and all the rest of my family.
After that night, for the rest of his life, Harry never felt very good, and he continued to mess around with whiskey. He would
occasionally pick up a little mechanic job, and sometimes he would take me along with him. I would always get to grind the valves for him. I
was always glad to get to do this because it made me feel important. I was also learning a lot about mechanic work, but Harry just couldn't
seem to get very interested in any kind of work.
Chapter 18 — Employment
Another year or so passed by and one day a man offered me a job at a filling station. I guess at first it was kind of
unbelievable, considering the way I grew up and the family that I came from. There was no one else in town that would ever think of trusting
me that far, so to me it was quite an honor. It was kind of hard for me to get out and face the public knowing what most of them thought of me.
I guess it did not make a lot of difference what anyone else thought. If he wanted to trust me, then I was willing to take the job. I went to
work for four dollars a week. That was not much, but it sure beat roaming around in the city dump.
One Saturday night after I had been paid, my brother came by and wanted to take Mom over east to see her sister for a few days.
They needed a little more money to go on, so he borrowed my week's pay of four dollars. I did not have much choice if I wanted to get along
with him. He then asked me to quit my job and go along with them, but I was not about to do anything like that, so I stayed on working for this
man who gave me a chance.
One day at the station, we checked up and we were short a little cash - not much but just a little odd cents. This started to
happen quite regularly. It began to look like I was making some mistakes when I had to make change or maybe I was pocketing some money.
One Sunday, we came up a dollar and thirty cents short and this was quite a lot so the boss told me in a nice way that he thought it was my
fault, and he would have to hold it out of my pay and he did. After this, I would check the money drawer every morning when I opened up. If
anyone came in to loaf around for a while, I would check the money after they left.
One time, one certain guy came in. He was the one who worked here before I got the job. He had to quit on his own free will.
He must have been a little jealous towards me, because when he left, I checked the money drawer, and it was a little short. I kept doing this
for several days. Every time that he came in, he would wait around until I got busy, and pretty soon he would leave. As soon as I had
time, I would check the money again. Sure enough, it would be a little short. One day, the boss asked me if I had any idea what was going on.
I told him what I had been doing. He then told me that he had also suspected him, and that I should keep on doing like I was, and maybe
somehow we would be able to catch him. It was doubtful that we could ever prove what we knew. This man had told my boss that he had found
himself a job in another town and that he would be leaving in a few days.
On about his last day here in town, he stopped by to visit early in the morning. A man stopped in driving a model T truck.
The driver asked if I would check his tires as he was going after a load of wood. While I was doing this, I could not see inside the
station. After I had finished, the truck pulled out of the station, and the man inside was also leaving. I rushed in and checked the money. We
were short an even fifty cents. Just then, the boss drove in and asked if the man had been there. I told him that he had, and that we were
short an even fifty cents. The boss got in his car, went to town, and told the city marshal what had happened. The marshal started down one
side of the street and asked in every place of business if this man had been in that morning. He did not have to go far. When he stopped in the
barbershop, the barber said that he had been there and bought a can of shoe polish and paid for it with a fifty-cent piece. The marshal then
picked this man up and brought him back to the station.
This man was very angry, or at least mad at me for thinking that he would steal the money. He wondered what ever made me
think that it was him. I told him what I had been doing, and it always came up short after he left. Finally, the marshal said that since we
did not have good proof or a witness, the best thing that he knew was for this man to not ever come around this station again, and to just
stay away and forget that we were there. Suddenly, this man broke down and started to cry. He said that he was sorry and that he was the one
who had been taking the money. He said that he was willing to pay it all back if we knew how much it all amounted to, but we did not know
how much the total was, and besides we would have to wait until he earned some money on his new job. By now, I was not worried about what
I had lost; my boss had probably lost more than I had. I was so relieved that it was all over and that my boss and the city marshal
really knew who the thief was.
Chapter 19 — The Death of an Outlaw
There was a small church about one-and-a-half blocks from
the station where I worked. One morning as I was opening the station for business, and pumping the gasoline into the bowl of the pump, the
preacher of that church walked in. He said, "Good morning," to me, and
I probably had a frown on my face that would have soured the whole world. I asked him just what was so good about it. He smiled and said,
"It's good just to be alive, isn't it?" I didn't have an answer for this, and I quickly forgot about it, but I have thought about it many
times since that day. I have even used the same words several times myself. It gives a person something serious to think about, and
sometimes it even brightens the day for others.
By this time, Harry was not feeling very well. He was having trouble with his stomach, and sometimes he had severe pains. The
doctor thought that perhaps he had ulcers, and he told Harry to drink milk. That was quite a change from whiskey to milk, but he still
couldn't leave the whiskey alone. We got some milk from the neighboring farmer who lived south of us just on the edge of town. He always kept a
couple of milk cows, and he didn't charge us for the milk because he said he might need some help on the farm someday, and some of us might
be able to work out the bill then. That was very nice of him because we didn't have much money. That man was nice in every way, but there was
something about him that I could never quite understand. Every time he would see me in the yard within speaking distance, he would either ask
me if I had seen the headlines in the paper that day or if I thought that I would ever amount to a damn. I don't know why he had to ask so
often, or what kind of answer he was expecting. I suppose that I figured that I wouldn't amount to very much, so it wasn't too hard to
give him an answer.
As the days and weeks went by, Harry was not getting any better. The folks didn't have any money for a doctor or hospital bills,
so they had to take him to the state hospital in Clinton, Oklahoma, where he had surgery on his stomach. He was there for several weeks and
didn't improve very much. Finally Mom had him brought home in the ambulance. He had lost a lot of weight, and one knee was bothering him
and he couldn't straighten it all the way. Several more weeks passed without any improvement, so my parents got him checked into the state
hospital in Oklahoma City where he had surgery again, and then again. However, nothing helped, so after a few more weeks Mom had him brought
It was hard to believe how much weight Harry had lost by this time. After each meal, he would have to vomit. He just couldn't
hold anything down. Sometimes he would want to get up and try to walk. He thought that maybe he could regain a little strength. He wasn't able
to walk alone, so he would put his arm around my shoulder and I would help him walk around the room once or twice, but that was just about
all he could do at one time. Then he would have to lie down, and maybe the next day we would do a little more, although there was never any
Harry said he would be glad when summer came so he could go outside into the fresh air and walk around in the sun. At least it
seemed good that he was looking forward to something. One day Mom got our hometown doctor to come and check him to see if there was any way
he could help him. When the doctor walked into hour house and looked at Harry, he was dumbfounded. He couldn't believe what he saw. I don't
think my brother weighed much more than ninety pounds at that point. The last time the doctor had seen him, he weighed two hundred pounds or
more. The doctor told Mom that he needed to be in the hospital, so we had him moved to the hospital in our hometown. The doctor said that he
would have to have another operation so he could see what was wrong with him. First they would have to get him built up a little because he
was too weak for an operation at that time, but after a few days in the hospital, he still was not able to hold anything down. The doctor said
that he was as strong as he would ever be for an operation, so they went ahead and operated again. This was the third operation in six months.
He made it through the operation and seemed to be getting stronger by the second day, so everything looked favorable. Then on the
third day, while I was as work, the city marshal came to the station and told me that Mom wanted me to come to the hospital right away. I
was scared to think what she might want. I tried to make myself believe that maybe she needed me to run an errand for her, so I rushed to the
hospital and walked into Harry's room. Mom was standing by his bed with tears in her eyes. They were giving him oxygen. His eyes were closed
and he was breathing very softly. He never opened his eyes or said anything after I came. In a few minutes, his head sagged on his pillow
and his hand fell limp at his side. I knew that it was all over for him. The doctor told us that he was sorry but that he just got him too
late, but we already knew that.
As I went back to the station, my boss told me to take off a few days, so I did. We had a few relatives who went to the
cemetery and dug the grave. The pallbearers consisted of three brothers (Reuben, Harvey, and myself), two brothers-in-law (Leland and Andrew),
and one friend who later became a brother-in-law (John). After the funeral, the cars were lined up for the customary funeral procession,
and I was driving the family car right behind the hearse. We were ready to leave
the church, but the hearse failed to start, so the funeral director asked me to
give him a shove. I got out from behind the wheel of our car and his assistant got in, started the car, and gave the hearse a shove. It started
after just a few feet, he stopped the car, and I got back behind the wheel. Mom was crying. She said that all his
life he had to be pushed to get his old cars started, even now on his last ride to the cemetery. It was sad, but true.
On the way to the cemetery, a car went by that didn't even slow down for the funeral procession. As it went by, I recognized
the driver. He was one of Harry's old whiskey-drinking "friends". By his actions, he seemed to be saying that since there wouldn't be any
more whiskey passed between them; he was no longer a friend. It really bothered me that he didn't even stop or take off his hat to show a
After a few short words at the cemetery, the casket was lowered into the grave. There was no one standing by to fill in the
grave, so Dad took a shovel and started to shovel dirt and fill the grave. I can still hear the sound as the hard clods of dirt hit the lid
of the rough box. It just didn't seem right for a man to have to bury his own son—especially in a country that was as civilized as
ours was supposed to be. I went over and said, "Dad, you shouldn't have to do this. Let me do it." He handed me the shovel and said, "Somebody had
to do it." Then another man came to me and told me to go home, and that he would see that the grave was filled in before he left, so we got in
the car and returned home. I knew that things would never be the same anymore—although things had never been very good. I knew that
would still miss Harry--primarily because he was my brother.
Chapter 20 — The Marine Corps
I went back to work at the station the first of the next week, but I didn't stay there very long. After a few weeks, I told my
boss that I was going to quit and go to work on the farm. This was during the middle of the summer, and there were quite a few jobs, but
they didn't pay very much. I pitched a few hay bundles, and then I took a job plowing for one dollar per day, plus room and board. I sometimes
plowed twelve-hour shifts, still for only a dollar a day.
Harry had left his old Model-A roadster at home. It had a cracked block, and no one else wanted it, so I decided to try to
salvage it. I found another motor at a salvage yard for only four dollars, so I bought it. One Sunday I found another man to help me, and
we went over to change out the motor. We pulled the old motor out and started to put the other one in, but we had trouble getting the motor
shaft on the transmission to line up or slip into the motor. The sun was quickly setting, and it looked like we wouldn't get the job
finished that day. This was my first mechanic job without having someone to tell me how to do it or what to do next, so I didn't know
what to do. My mind wondered back and I wished that Harry could be there to tell me what to do. However, since he wasn't, I had to try to
figure it out myself. Finally, we got the motor to fit together with the transmission, although not all the way. We finished pulling it
together with bolts, but not before dark. We had to spend the night with the man at his salvage yard. We finished the job and returned home
the next morning, and I went back to work on the farm.
The next spring I went to Enid and got a job working in a plant where they canned liquid eggs. I was paid by the hour, and I earned over
twenty dollars each week. This was a lot more than I had ever earned. The bad thing about the job was that it was seasonal--it only lasted
about four months every spring. My job was stacking cans full of liquid egg in the freezer to be frozen. It was too cold in the freezer to be
comfortable, and the job was not very easy, but I was satisfied since I making pretty good money. I worked at that job for two seasons.
The next winter was when the United States decided to enter World War II, and we declared war on Japan. A welding school was
started in our town, probably to prepare for and assist in the war
effort, so I took a course in electric welding. After I finished the course, I was offered a job as an
instructor in the shop, but I turned it down. In retrospect, I have always thought that this was a big mistake. I suppose that I figured it
was about time to go back to my other job of canning eggs. Also, I was nearly old enough for the draft, so I knew that service in the armed
forces was a definite possibility that might interrupt the steady job of a welding instructor. I did go back to work in the egg plant the
following spring, but I didn't have to work in the freezer this time. Instead I got to work out on the churn. That was much warmer, and I
enjoyed the work, but it ended soon.
Then it was time for me to take a physical for the army. While I was there, I asked the doctor if he thought I could pass a
physical for the Marine Corps. He assured me that I could, so I went to the recruiting office and enlisted in the United States Marines Corps.
My sister Helen, who is two years older than me, often washed and ironed my clothes for me, and she cooked me many meals.
Since I was going off to war and she had always been so good to me, I wanted to give her something to show my appreciation. I went to the
jewelry store and bought her a wristwatch. The girls in the store who sold it to me asked if it was for a girlfriend. I told them that it
wasn't, but that it was for my sister, and they could hardly believe
The folks had a dinner for me the Sunday before I went away. Reuben
and I went for a ride through town in his car. He asked me if I was really doing what I wanted to do, and what I thought was right. I told
him I would be drafted into the Army in a few days anyway, and that I always thought I'd like to be a Marine. When we got home, he gave me
five one-dollar bills. The bills were new and crisp, and the serial numbers on the bills were consecutive. I decided to try to save two of
these bills and carry them through the war if I could.
Reuben then went back home, and it was hard for me to say good-bye. However, the most difficult good-bye came when Leah and
Leland were ready to go home. Leland went out and waited in the car--I'm sure that this really made it easier for both him and me. Leah
held me in her arms and cried on my shoulder. When I told her not to cry because I was leaving, she told me she wasn't crying because of
that. She said that she was very proud of me for what I was doing. Those words she spoke, I will never forget. I couldn't remember anyone
in my life ever telling me before that they were proud of me. The next morning, I bid the rest of my family good-bye, and that wasn't easy
either. I was then on my way to Oklahoma City, where I was sworn into the Marine Corps on August 18th, 1942.
While serving in the Southwest Pacific, I was criticized several times for not having a high school education. Still, I was
always respected by most of the men. One day, our staff sergeant had to go to the hospital, and I had to take charge in his place. I overheard
two men talking about me. They didn't think that I should have that responsibility because I didn't have a high school education. This made
me feel unhappy and unwanted. It seemed like things just always turned out this way for me. I served thirty-one months in the South Pacific,
returned to the states, and received my honorable discharge on November 27, 1945.
Chapter 21 — My Education
I married Grace Grantz on March 20, 1946, and then I went to work for an iron and steel company in Enid where I picked up welding
as my trade. A few years later, I went to work for US Gypsum in Southard as a maintenance mechanic and welder. One day, during our
lunch hour at USG, one of the men was laughing and telling a story about a large whiskey still that at one time was chained to a tree on
the courthouse lawn at Watonga. He said that he didn't know who had been busted with it, but it was the biggest one that he had ever seen.
He didn't know that I could have told him and the others a lot more than he was able to tell. I was very glad that he didn't know who the
owner was. I just let it pass at that.
A few days after New Year's Day in 1950, I read in the paper where a young man had killed a family of five in eastern
Oklahoma. He had thrown their bodies into an abandoned mine in southwest Missouri. He had then fled to California, where he killed
again, and he was finally captured. Shortly after this, he was put to death in the gas chamber, and his body was then sent back to Oklahoma
for burial. An article was published in the newspaper telling about this man's childhood. It said that he didn't have much of a home, and
he had to wear worn-out and ragged clothes. He had been shoved around and criticized by people that he knew. He didn't have any friends, and
he learned to hate, and his hate led him to kill.
As I read this story, my mind wandered back to my boyhood days. I was reminded of myself when I was a boy, and how I also learned
to dislike certain people. It scared me to think that this could have happened to me, and that someone else could have been reading something
like this about me. I am sorry that this had to happen to that man, and I'm very thankful that I had other ways of looking at life. I always
tried to live the kind of life that some people said I couldn't live. I had made a promise to myself when I was a teenager that I was going to
whip a certain man when I got old enough and big enough. Years later, when I inquired about the whereabouts of that man, I was startled to
hear that he had died a few years back. I was a little sad at heart, because I realized that I didn't want to whip him. When you whip
someone, you have to hurt them, and it just isn't in me to want to hurt anyone. I was sorry that he died. The only thing I can say is that I
hope that he was a Christian when he departed from this earth.
One day during lunch hour on the job, one of the men made the remark that he was worth two million dollars. I said, "If you're
worth two million dollars, what are you doing working out here?" He replied, "I don't really have that much in cash, but I have two
children, and I wouldn't take a million for either one, so I guess that makes me worth two million." A few years later, I
was kind of thinking about taking a correspondence course to get my high school diploma. The gypsum company had a young, well-educated man as
plant engineer and they were working me around in several different departments. One day, the plant engineer called me over to one side and
said that I shouldn't get discouraged and quit because he had some plans for me in the future. One day shortly after this, I stopped at
his office and asked him if he thought the company would recognize a high school diploma from a school of correspondence the same as they
would any other. I told him that I wanted to finish high school and get my diploma. He said that he had always thought that I had a college
This was quite a compliment, but still quite a disappointment, because I realized that I was through as far as
advancements were concerned. I probably should have quit right then. Although I was still the same--no dumber, smarter, better, or worse
than the day before--he knew I didn't have a degree. You can see from my experiences that an education is of vital importance in this day and
age. I say to the youth of this country and throughout the world that as you graduate from high school and prepare to go to college, set
goals that you would like to reach in your life. Remember that you have the most important years of your life ahead of you, and what you do
with them depends entirely upon you. Imagine an eagle sailing slowly through the air with his wings spread wide. Picture yourself as being
able to look down from there, where you could see the whole world spread out far below--a world full of opportunities just waiting for
someone like you. But remember this one thing: this world is also full of evil and temptations. Set some good goals and standards for living,
and then strive to reach the goals you have set. If you should happen to fail and fall short of those goals, don't hesitate or be afraid to
start over again. It is far better to try and fail than never to have tried at all.
Chapter 22 — My Family
I really didn't learn to enjoy my Dad until these later years after World War II. He didn't have a car, so I would sometimes
haul things for him. One time he took a job putting a new roof on a house. He asked me to help him, and I did. I really enjoyed this a lot.
Sometimes in the summer we would go fishing, and he really enjoyed that. Dad was not very well in his last few years, and he died in the
spring of 1958. I will always be glad of the joy we shared together those last few years.
At this writing, Mom is 81 years old, and my wife and I built her a small apartment behind our house. We weren't able to hire
any help while building it. We did it all ourselves. It took us fifteen months from the time we started it until Mom moved in. She still takes
care of herself, but we take her most of her meals.
As for those new crisp one-dollar bills that Reuben gave me when I went to the service in 1942, I managed to save two of them as
I had planned. I carried them all through the war. I didn't have them in my pocket all the time. I kept them in my billfold with some
pictures and other things that I cherished. I kept my billfold in a little rubber-lined bag and always had it in my pack when we were in
combat. Somehow, I always managed to keep it dry, so today, in 1970, I still have those two one-dollar bills.
As for Harvey, he's living in California, but I would have to say that he has completely wasted his life. It's hard enough to
know that he's known as an alcoholic, but he's also known as a wino. He uses most of his money to buy cheap wine. When I look at his life, it
appears to me as though he just wasted it away. It's easy to look at him and see that he hasn't done any good for himself, but I do hope
that back along the way he did some good that I know nothing about. I also hope that there might still be some miracle performed in his life,
but the way things are today it makes me sad at heart to know his condition. It hurts just a little more to know that he's my brother.
I'd like to leave a few words of wisdom to anyone who thinks that the bottle is the only way out. "He who tries to drown his troubles by
drinking finds that he only irrigates them."
I don't know what Harvey thinks of my life today. I have to believe that I was put here on earth for some reason, and also to do
some good. That reason still seems to be eluding me. I try to do some good each day, either for someone else or myself, or do something that
might be helpful to someone else, either today or in the future.
Regardless, a lot of water has run under the bridge since I was a boy on the farm and a teenager in town. I have to refer back to
the old dream book that we had in our house, and the way that Mom sometimes interpreted our dreams about water. A lot of the water under
the bridge was clear, but some of it was muddy. I am sorry to have to say that Leah and Leland have passed on into eternity.
Sometimes in these days, I feel as though I have been a total failure. Yet, when I take time to look around, I find that I have
things that money couldn't buy. My wife, Grace, may not be the best woman in the world, but she is certainly one of the best. When I think
back to what the man said in the lunchroom about being a millionaire, I suppose I can say that I am worth three million dollars, plus another
million or so. We have three children--two girls and a boy. Tessora and Clarissa are grown and out on their own, and Owen is already a
sophomore in high school. I like to think back to the days when they were small. At night when I would come home from work, they would come
out to meet me—sometimes to carry my lunch pail, or maybe I would pick them up and carry them into the house. But those days are already
in the past.
However, today there is someone else who adds a lot of sunshine to each day—our little grandson, Shane. He
sometimes crawls up onto my lap and gives me a soft tender kiss and then presses his cheek up close to mine as he slips his little arms around
my neck and says, "Grandpa, I love you." Those words should fill a man's heart
with joy. It makes my mind wonder back to the day when I was a teenage station attendant, and the young minister walked into the station early
one morning with a smile on his face. I can see now that he had something to smile about when he greeted me with a "good morning." I
had asked what was so good about it, and now I have to agree with his answer. Yes, it is good just to be alive.
by Owen Weber
Despite Dad's claim of being "a total failure," Clarence Weber was no failure. Although he never received a standing ovation,
his life was a raving success.
Dad was a Christian. He took his family to church every
time the doors were open. I can't be sure of the extent to which he studied the Bible, but it lay next to his recliner until his dying day.
He was also an honest man, and everyone knew it. He always did what he thought was right, regardless of what anyone else did.
Dad was a good man. In the way that this is meant here, it is no small accomplishment, because I haven't met many people with
an unexplainably and inherently "good" quality. I can make this claim knowing that anyone who knew Dad and who reads these words will agree.
Yet, it is beyond my understanding how he overcame the bitterness from his childhood and became a nice and giving man. He never did accumulate
wealth, and I believe it is because he gave it away before it could accumulate.
Dad was a gentle giant. He was about six feet tall, and he weighed over 200 pounds. He always worked extremely hard physically,
and he was never mistaken for a white-collar worker. He was stronger on the day he died at age 71 than most men ever are. He could lay on his
back, lift a transmission with one hand, and thread the bolts with the
other. As a young boy, sitting next to him at church, he would
sometimes reach over and place my hand in his. I marveled at his gigantic hand as it lay in my lap. It was strong and as hard as a rock
from blacksmith work. As I played with his hand to pass the time, I couldn't imagine anything ever hurting me, knowing that Dad would
protect me. He gave me security. We never had much money, but I never went hungry a day in my life.
Dad was smart. Having never overcome his shame of lacking a high school diploma, he received his GED at age 65, but his
intelligence was not a result of any formal education, or lack of it. Indeed, Dad was a dreamer and a visionary. He could look at a piece of
land, envision a house, a shop, and a pond on it, and then build them all with his bare hands. He could look at a house, envision a
remodeling job, and then perform it with those same strong hands. He invented a boat with its own trailer, and then he built it. He could
do nearly anything he pleased, but he seldom had the time to do so. Most of his time was spent simply working hard, trying to earn enough
money to provide a meager life for his family.
Dad was a U.S. Marine. His military training gave him discipline and pride, although he harbored many horrific scenes from
World War II in his mind, and these were a source of nightmares and nerve problems throughout his life. Nevertheless, since he was so proud
of being a marine, I believe that a fitting close for his book is a tribute to his military career. I had the privilege of writing the
following eulogy and delivering it at his funeral on October 15th, 1992:
On August 8th, 1942, at the age of 21, Clarence Weber enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. He left immediately for
Boot Camp, traveling by train to San Diego, California. On January 10th, 1943, after completing Boot Camp, the 1500 men of his battalion, the
12th Defense Battalion, left San Diego by ship for Hawaii. They arrived at the island of Oahu, and spent three months in Hawaii, including some
time at Pearl Harbor.
In May, 1943, they left Hawaii and traveled to the Samoan Islands, then on to Australia, arriving at Townsville. Next they went
to New Guinea, then on to Woodlark. At Woodlark, they suffered heavy bombing from the Japanese, in their defense of the airstrip, which had
been built there by the Sea Bees. In this defensive effort, Clarence served as a Director on the 90-millimeter anti-aircraft artillery.
From Woodlark, they went back to New Guinea, where they spent Christmas of 1943. They then moved on to New Britain Island,
where they spent the first six months of 1944. In July, 1944, they went to Guadalcanal, and then on to Bonika Island.
Their next stop was at Peleliu, where they endured some of the most heated fighting of World War II. The infantry of the 1st
Marine Division and others, and the anti-aircraft defense of the 12th Defense Battalion combined to provide a slow but decisive victory for
the U.S. It was this victory by the Marines at Peleliu that allowed General Douglas MacArthur to be able to keep his promise of returning
to the nearby Philippine Islands.
Next, the 12th Defense Battalion went to Okinawa, and on to Guam. They then returned to Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, and then set out
for the U.S. mainland, thinking that they were only returning to the U.S. for a short rest and a well-deserved furlough. It was during this
leg of their journey that the U.S. dropped two nuclear bombs on the mainland of Japan, and the Empire of Japan formally surrendered to
MacArthur on the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. The marines returned to San Diego on August 20th, 1945, after 31 months overseas. Clarence soon
traveled by train to the state of Virginia, where he received his Honorable Discharge from the United States Marine Corps on November 27th,
1945, at age 24, after 39 months of faithful service to the country that he loved, as a veteran of war.