After my parents were married, in 1941, they lived in an efficiency apartment on 25th Street, east of Classen boulevard in Oklahoma City, in case you are familiar with the area. Aunt Kaliteyo lived about a block away, with her daughter Lahoma. (See blog entry for Oct. 5, 2011, The First Chickasaw Princess)
My mother, Jim, had quit her job at the state capital on the insistence of her brothers because jobs were scarce and it wasn’t considered right for a woman to work if her husband had a job. It would have been especially embarrassing to her older brother Snip, who was in the state senate and had got her the job in the first place.
At first Jim was busy writing 300 thank you notes for her wedding presents. Snip had invited the whole county to the wedding, and the first thing he told her when she and Don returned from their honeymoon was to be sure to write those thank you notes. She kept a record of her gifts, and she saved the cards in a scrap book. I still have them. She saved some of her gifts, like a serving tray made by Joe Raines. He pieced it together using several types of wood from trees growing in Pauls Valley. She also saved a mirror, a gift from the women she worked with, that magnified your image.
A lot of the gifts though were pieces of cut glass, candle sticks, clocks – I don’t know what all, but things which cost a lot of money, but weren’t really good for anything but show, so Aunt Helen gave Jim a clever idea. Aunt Helen was Snip’s wife. She suggested that she take all these gifts, exchange them for cash and then go buy some nice china, so that’s what Jim did. My parents never entertained, so the china was still just used for show, but it was a good idea. I have the china now, displayed in a china closet. It’s beautiful, but my wife Sarah and I don’t use it either. Maybe my kids will.
Anyway, Jim tried to keep up with her friends, and she volunteered at the United Provident Center down town, which provided relief for the poor, but still she was alone much of the time and stir crazy. She told me that was when she learned to play solitaire. Don taught her to play to give her something to do with herself.
After a couple of months Jim found out she was pregnant, so then she had a new baby to plan for, and Lahoma would come by after school and tell her about her day. She was ten. I have a picture of Jim and Don with Lahoma on the Ferris wheel at the fair.
Meanwhile my dad, Don, was still working at Peppers oil refinery, and he didn’t like it one bit. Mr. Peppers had promised to move him into the office after he got his accounting degree, but months had passed, and Don was still working out in the refinery. The work there was hard and dangerous, and Jim said that he had nightmares about it for years.
Don gave up sports when he got married. He had played football and basketball in high school, basketball and track in college, and AAU basketball after he graduated. He was good enough that his coach at OU, Hugh McDermott, offered him a job coaching there after he graduated. I used to wonder if he missed sports, but he never mentioned it.
Both my parents kept up with their families. Jim’s sister Kaliteyo worked as a cashier. She was good at math, and later worked at the Skirvin Hotel coffee shop down town, but I don’t know where she was working in 1941. Snip, of course, was in the senate, and was building a law practice in Pauls Valley with Uncle Haskell.
Aunt Oteka and Uncle Thurman were living in Norman Oklahoma, and Thurman was working in the oil fields. Their older son Homer Dean was two. Jim’s youngest brother Tom was married and enrolled at Oklahoma A and M. He wanted to be a veterinarian. His wife, Catherine, worked and he made extra money hustling pool.
Don’s older brother Boyd wasn’t using his degree either. He had graduated from law school at OU. Instead he was working for the university, in the Extension Division, which handled correspondence courses, the university press, off campus projects, etc. He also was an announcer on the OU radio station. Don’s brother Everett had just graduated from high school, and his youngest brother J. E. was in junior high.
Don was worried about Everett. He hadn’t done well in school so wasn’t planning on following his two older brothers to college, and he didn’t have a job. Everett was wondering what to do with himself too so he asked for Don’s advice. Don suggested that he go into the military. There was a war in Europe at the time, but no one thought we’d be involved. We had learned our lesson during WWI. Jobs were still hard to come by as the US was coming out of the Depression, and the military seemed like a good idea. It was a good way for a young man to get some structure in his life, and to grow up. So Everett joined the navy and was assigned to the Battleship Oklahoma, which was docked at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.
Everett Gunning, 1941
On December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and the Oklahoma, Everett’s ship was sunk. That was a tough month for my parents, and little Lahoma helped to ease the suspense of not knowing whether or not Everett had survived. (see blog entry for Dec. 24, 2010, Christmas, 1941)