Sunday, February 24, 2013


No story of my dad’s life would be complete without a large part devoted to Fay, Oklahoma. There’s no way that I can do justice to this remarkable little community, but I’ll have to try.  

Don’s home was Enid, Oklahoma, where my grandfather worked as a barber, but Grandmother was from Fay, and most of her family still lived there. She visited as often as she could, and of course when she went she took her sons along with her. I was raised on stories about Fay, about my dad’s aunts, uncles and cousins. After Don got out of grade school he spent his summers in Fay, working for one of his uncles, on the farm or in town at the filling station.   

Fay would seem to be just an ordinary farming community, inhabited by hard working men and women trying to make a living and raise their families, but it had a fascination for my dad that made it seem almost magical, and he transmitted that feeling to me. 

When I was in college at the University of Oklahoma, Bud, one of my cousins from Fay, was also in school there studying engineering. He was a year or two ahead of me and I’ll never forget a conversation I had with him just before his graduation. He told me that he couldn’t go on in engineering, because he’d have to move away from his home and his family, so after going all the way through the engineering school, he changed his major to education, and went back home to work as a teacher in Thomas, just a short distance from his father’s farm. He became principal of the junior high school there, and that’s where he lives today.  

The other kids from Fay were the same way. My uncle Boyd, who spent his summers in Fay like my dad, worked for the University of Oklahoma, and it was a standing joke that he couldn’t get any one from Fay to go to OU. They all went to Southwestern, a junior college closer to Fay. Actually Bud was the first to attend OU, but now you know how that turned out.

    Boyd in Fay Band (standing between two drummers), about 1925

It has always intrigued me that the kids from Fay were so reluctant to leave. Maybe it’s something about farming, about working with the soil. My dad felt it too. He spent his life living in a city working for an oil company, but he told me once that he wished he had an acreage, just a small piece of land where he could go and putter around, plant a garden and some crops. He always grew flowers and vegetables in our yard, even when I was little. I used to hate his rose bushes because I would scratch myself on their thorns while I was playing.  

My mother also understood the virtues of farm life. I recently ran across a paper she wrote while she was in College in the school of social work. The paper is about Garvin County, the community where she was raised. In it she describes how farm families have a low divorce rate. She concluded that it was because everyone on a farm has to pitch in and work together, and this makes their conflicts seem less important. I think there must be something to that.  

Still, there has always been something special about Fay, and the Boyd family. I know a little bit about the Fay’s history, both from what Don told me, and from a book written in 1994, on the occasion of Fay’s centennial celebration.  

The area around Fay, north of the Canadian River, was first settled by white men during the land run of 1892. The town wasn’t named until a federal post office was placed there in 1894. When the railroad was built in 1903, it only came within one and a quarter miles of the town so the town was moved. Some of the buildings were torn down and reassembled and others were pulled by teams of horses over bridge pilings laid end to end.  

Back then Fay was a bustling town with several hotels, cafes, bars, a  grocery and dry goods store, a blacksmith shop, livery, bank, cotton gin, stockyards, a telegraph office and three newspapers. My great grandparents, Grant and Laura Boyd, came from St. Joseph, Mo. In 1893 or 4 and bought their farm west of Fay for $35, the price of a train ticket home for the man who had unsuccessfully homesteaded there after the run. They also ran a hotel. (see my post of Jan. 13, 2013)  
                                     Fay during the early 1900’s. 

Probably Fay’s earliest claim to fame was Joe Gillespie, who won a 1000 mile horse race in 1893. Joe was working as a cowboy breaking horses in Nebraska when some businessmen decided to organize a horse race from Chadron, Nebraska, to Chicago, Illinois, where Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show was scheduled to perform. Doc Middleton, a Nebraska horse thief, wanted to enter the race, and he asked Joe to be his guide since Joe knew the Nebraska countryside.  

After a few days, Doc fell behind from spending too much time in bars along the way, and so Joe Gillespie decided to finish the race on his own. He had two horses, Billy Shaffer and Billy Mack. Someone gave Billy Mack an extra bucket of oats along the way and foundered him, so Joe had to go on with only Billy Shaffer. Joe was six feet tall and 180 pounds, bigger than most of the other riders, so he would get off and run to give the horse some relief. When he got too tired to run, he held onto Billy Shaffer’s tail and slid along on his feet until his boot soles wore through. Joe won the race and the prize of a Colt 44 six-shooter, a new saddle and two hundred dollars. Joe and his wife stayed with Buffalo Bill’s show until it left the country to tour Europe. They decided not to travel overseas, and to move to Oklahoma where they settled in Fay.   

Billy Shaffer was always spoken of like one of the family, and Joe’s grandson, Harold Comer, who recorded his grandfather’s story, said that he was six or seven years old before he found out that Billy Shaffer was actually a horse. Billy is buried near Fay.
                           Joe Gillespie (L) and Billy Shaefer (Center).

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


Don Gunning, age 10, 1925

This is a picture of Don Gunning, my father, at the age of 10. I don’t know where the picture was taken, but seeing the black eye and his rumpled hair, I’ve always imagined that it was taken after one of his fights to defend his friend Lloyd Zuck from the neighborhood bullies. The photo is one of my prize possessions.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Lloyd Zuck

Don told me a lot of stories about his childhood, and there wasn’t one of them that didn’t include Lloyd Zuck. He was my dad’s best friend.  

Lloyd flunked the first grade, but after my dad joined him the next year, he never flunked again. Don said it didn’t have anything to do with scholarship. Lloyd just decided that he and Don were meant to be together.  

Part of Lloyd’s attachment to Don was a need for protection. Lloyd was little and the other kids picked on him because he looked funny and spoke with a German accent.  Lloyd had suffered from cruel teasing during his first year in school, but at the beginning of his second year he met Don, who was not only bigger than the first graders, but the second graders as well.  

After that Lloyd was in hog heaven. He would search out some of the bullies who had tormented him during his first year and then taunt them into chasing him. Then he would run straight to Don, who would whip the whole lot, with Lloyd cheering him on, and adding a few kicks or punches of his own after Don had softened them up.  

I don’t have a picture of Lloyd as a boy, only as a young man, but you can see how he might have been teased as a child.
                                                 Lloyd Zuck Kelly  

 Lloyd’s real name was Lloyd Kelly, but he was raised by his grandparents and their name was Zuck, so he went by their name. The Zucks spoke German at home, so Lloyd could speak German too, after a fashion. When he was luring Don’s victims to their doom he would hurl insults at them in German. Don said the worst insult Lloyd knew was “du bis frich!” I took German in school and I never figured out what that meant. The closest I got to a translation was “you are a fruit.”  

Lloyd was ornery, and he was always getting into trouble. Maybe that’s what attracted Don to him, besides the need to protect him from the other kids. Lloyd and Don would call the Zoo and ask to speak to Mr. Fox. They would put sand on the railroad tracks on the hill into town and hide and watch while the wheels spun. They explored the neighborhood and learned to swim together, and then there were the skunks.  

Lloyd had a fascination for skunks. He liked to catch them and of course he would invariably get sprayed. His grandmother hated it. She would make him take off his clothes in the yard and then hose him down. She tried to get the smell out of his clothes by soaking them in tomato juice but they still stunk. Lloyd’s crowning achievement was the day he put a skunk in his locker and forced the principal to close down the school. The prank got him expelled for a few days, but it was worth it to Lloyd.  
Don felt sorry for Lloyd because he didn’t fit in. He not only spoke with an accent and had a big nose, his grandmother used a bowl to cut his hair so he always looked like Moe of the three stooges. One day Don decided to give him a real haircut. After all, his dad was a barber. Well, Don went to work with the scissors and started cutting, but he had trouble getting the two sides even. He’d cut a little off the longer side and then it would look too short so he’d cut more from the other side. Pretty soon Lloyd looked like a new army recruit. 
Don and Lloyd remained friends all through school, and when World War II broke out, Lloyd volunteered for the army. Don was married by that time, and had a son – me. He also worked for Boeing aircraft, the biggest supplier of bombers for the U.S. Air Force, so he got a deferment.  
Lloyd corresponded regularly with Don from the front. I still have a few of his letters. Here’s one he wrote from Sicily in August of 1943. All the letters were censored so it doesn’t say anything about combat, but he hints at it. He didn’t like the place, or the people: 
S. Sgt Lloyd C Kelly, HQ Co., 3rd Btn, 26th (Regiment?), 1st Inf. Division
To Mrs. R. B Gunning
Dear Folks,
I received your letter dated Aug. 1. Sure glad to get it. We are still in Sicily, doing nothing now. They sure were doing plenty here at a time. Sure glad to hear Boyd is a captain and Don is doing OK. I bet J.E is sure big. By Don getting these letters I won’t have to write another. What kind of outfit is Boyd in?
They sure aren’t many left of the old school gang. I never have yet saw any one I knew.
This sure is a hot island. They sure are a lot of roomers here about going out of combat. But we had the same before. We all know we aren’t.
These people here are sure dumb. Boy are they dirty. And they aren’t a thing they have that is modern. Hope to hear from you soon. 
The next correspondence I have from Lloyd is a Christmas card from 1944: 
Dear Don: Sure hope this finds you OK this Christmas. Hope to hear from you soon. Will try to write you a letter as soon as I can. As ever. Lloyd 
Also among my dad’s keepsakes is a tiny clipping from the Enid newspaper. It is dated October 27, 1944:  
     Staff Sergeant Lloyd Kelly Zuck, grandson of Mrs. H. L. Zuck, former Enid resident, is a member of the First Infantry Division that with the Third Armored Division cracked the Seigfried line east of Aachen.
     Sergeant Zuck has fought with his division in Tunisia, Sicily, and Italy, and participated in the D-Day attack in France. He was wounded in France and awarded the Purple Heart, but is back in action in Germany.
The next letter my dad saved was written in March of 1945, shortly before Germany surrendered. The censors must have relaxed a little, either that or Lloyd had just learned better how to give a picture of what it was like for him without giving out tactical information.
Feb. 27, 45.
Dear Don and all:
          I received your letter and the picture. Sure was glad to get it. You sure do have a pretty boy (I was three). Tell your wife that I won’t say who he looks like ‘til I see her, and thank her for writing too. To get letters sure does mean a lot over here. Hope she keeps after you to write.
          We are still some place in Germany but where I am at I can see a river. You sure ought to see the towns. They sure aren’t much left, and when we do move in we take everything and toss it out the window. Some of them have good furniture. The place I am in now has new furniture all wrapped up with the tag on it. It went out the window. 3 of the rooms we could not use. The shells took care of that. We have to have a place to stay. So they are no room for the furniture. You can’t get a very good idea unless you are here. And you can’t tell too much either. We were in the woods before we came here.
          Will close for now. Sure hoping to hear from you all soon.
As ever, Lloyd  
With this letter Lloyd enclosed a Deutsch Mark, a French Frank and a Dutch Frank. He also enclosed some German propaganda:  
First there is a picture of a lonely wife with a list of U.S. servicemen killed in battle on the back of the picture, and a note claiming that the men would have survived if they had surrendered to the Germans.  

                                                 Nazi Propaganda

Next is a picture of an American soldier and his family with a message about how he probably won’t survive.

                                              Nazi Propaganda
Next there is a picture of a beautiful blonde, partly undressed, presumably the wife of a G. I., who is enjoying herself while her husband is risking his life overseas.

                                              Nazi Propaganda
So Don’s funny looking little friend Lloyd Zuck, who needed protection from bullies in grade school, became a hero during WWII. Not only was he involved in every major encounter of the Allied campaign in Europe, he accompanied his unit into Germany and participated in her final defeat. I expect Lloyd was especially valuable because of his knowledge of German, and he probably got a chance to use the insult he taught Don in grade school, “Du bis frich!” a few times.
Don got to see Lloyd after his return from Europe, but they lost touch after that. I hope Lloyd had a happy life. He was a remarkable person. His sense of humor and indomitable spirit certainly enriched my dad's life.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Gunnings

My Grandfather was Robert Benjamin Gunning. He was born in Metcalf, Illinois, in 1888 to James E. and Linnie A. Cooper Gunning. James and Linnie brought their family to Oklahoma Territory in 1893 and made the land run into the Cherokee strip. Grandfather was five years old.  

My mother was right about the Gunnings. They were Yankees. My great grandfather James fought in the Civil War on the side of the Union. It is interesting that my other great grandfather who fought for the Confederacy was also named James. I don’t know anything about James Gunning’s service except that he thought a lot of his commanding officer, so much so that he named one of his sons after him – Captain - Captain Gunning . My dad knew him as Uncle Cap.  

I’m embarrassed to say that I don’t know much about my grandfather’s family. They all lived close to Enid, Oklahoma, where the family settled after the Run of 1893. The family was close - there were five sons and a daughter. They used to get together, but I was never a part of that, because we spent most of our time with my mother’s side of the family.  

I’m not sure how my grandfather spent his early life. Uncle Jay says he has a picture of him with six guns strapped to his waist, so he must have needed to be ready to defend himself. The first thing I know about him after his parents' migration to Oklahoma Territory is that at the age of 22 he was working for the Frisco Railroad operating a pile driver, placing pilings for a railroad bridge near Fay, Oklahoma, where my grandmother’s family lived. I do have a picture of a pile driver that was taken close to Fay about that time.

                          Pile Driver near Fay, Oklahoma, early 1900's

Grandfather’s career as a bridge builder ended when his pile driver fell on him, crushing his leg in the process. When he recovered, he could no longer do construction work, so he served an apprenticeship as a barber in Hitchcock, Oklahoma, about 15 miles from Fay. That's when he met Grandmother, Jessie Boyd. They were married in 1912. My uncle Boyd was born in 1913 and my dad in 1915. My other two uncles, Everett and Jay were born in 1921 and 1928. There were no daughters. 

Footnote: NP GF 1968: The Enid Daily Eagle, Sept. 23, 1968. Robert Gunning Has
Been Clipping People 58 Years.

My grandparents moved to Enid in 1916, where Grandfather’s family lived, and where he opened a barber shop on the town square, but Grandmother still made frequent trips back home to Fay, and it was on one of those trips that my dad lost his thumb.  

You would never have known that my dad didn’t have a thumb unless you just happened to look down at his right hand. He was strong; he played football, baseball, basketbalI, and tennis. He was also a good bowler, and he threw the ball hard too. I was always fascinated by how he could pass a football. He could throw it a lot better than I could, although he couldn’t grip it. He just balanced it somehow on the palm of his hand. 

Anyway, my dad lost his thumb when he was three. My grandmother was visiting her parents, Grant and Laura Boyd, at the time. Don had wandered out to the windmill and he was watching the pump rod go up and down as it operated the piston to pump water. The pump rod had a hole in it for a bolt to lock it in place when the water tank was full, and little Don noticed that the hole was just about the size of his thumb. During a lull in the wind when pump rod had paused, Don poked his thumb through the hole. Just then the wind came up again, bringing the pump rod down, severing the end of Don’s thumb.

Don ran back to the house crying, and his mother and grandmother bandaged his thumb. Then they called the doctor. The old country doctor came out to the house, and after looking at Don’s thumb, decided to try and reattach its severed end. As the story goes, he borrowed a needle and thread from Don’s grandmother, Laura, and after putting some cobwebs on the wound the stop the bleeding, sewed the end of Don’s thumb back on. The doctor’s attempts at repair failed, so Don was left with an inch long stub instead of a thumb.  

                                                  Don, at Age Three

If you look closely, you can see that Don's right thumb is just a stub.

Back in those days it was normal for parents to live with their children as they got older, so just like Jim’s grandfather James Rosser, Don’s grandfather James Gunning also lived with his family. Don’s grandmother Linnie had died before he was born. James helped Don's  mother with her chores. Don told me how his grandfather always turned the crank of the washing machine when his mother did her washing.  

Like my mother’s grandfather, James Gunning told his grandchildren stories, and he entertained them in other ways too. Don was especially impressed by his grandfather’s marksmanship. He used to tell me how James used to sit out in the yard in a chair and shoot flies off the side of the garage with a B-B gun.

Good news! The Blogger picture brouser is fixed so I have uploaded the pictures for my previous two blogs.