Growing up Texas-My Fathers Story

My dad was born in 1926 in San Antonio, Texas but spent most of his childhood in South Texas, first in Corpus Christie then finally in Sinton; a small town just north of Corpus. My dad came up rough and tumble with two older siblings, a brother and a beloved sister. I am not sure being the baby of the family got him any special treatment except with his mother, who adored him but I think this might have been because on top of being the baby he was pretty, truly pretty with auburn hair and sparkling hazel green eyes. Yes, my dad in his younger days was a stunner.

During the Great Depression I don’t think pretty got you much of anything, especially with men like my Grandfather. My grandfather was at best rough around the edges, your traditional Texas redneck; perhaps he couldn’t help himself his approach to life and his children, certainly growing up they felt his failure and his fists. My grandfather wasn’t unlike others of his time, he was luckier than many having a skill that allowed him to work more often than his peers. Grandpa was tempered by his times, by poverty and of course by the culture of South Texas. His views and attitudes determined how he treated his wife and children; ultimately they would shape my father but not I think the way his father intended.

Siblings with their grandmother in South Texas
My Dad is the Baby

That my Grandfather was able to work sometimes didn’t change the grinding poverty the family experienced through the years of the Great Depression. What it did accomplish is their ability to build a stable life in Sinton; it led to home ownership and the purchase of my grandfather’s business, a liquor store named after him that would become a hub of activity including sometime poker games with his cronies.  My Grandfather was rattlesnake mean; he was also a bigot and a cheat. I suspect he occasionally abused my grandmother, though I don’t know this and have no proof except my own experience. I only met my Grandfather a few times; one of those times was what led to my intense dislike and fear of him and my identification of his bigotry.

In 1936, when my father was just ten-years old he and his brother were in a car accident. Both of them sustained terrible injuries and while they were home recuperating my grandfather encouraged them to build and fly model airplanes. This would prove to become a life-long interest for my father, becoming his calling and profession. There weren’t many things he followed his father into, amateur photography is one of these; I am the inheritor of his many years of picture taking and his love of recording the world around him on film as well.

Inside with Granddad

My father was different from those around him, he was a thinker, thoughtful and purpose filled. My grandmother once told me he was ‘sensitive’, this wasn’t necessarily a good thing for a boy in South Texas at the time. Although he played football in High School and chased girls, always having the prettiest dates to the dances, my father wanted more than life in small town Texas. He wanted more than what he witnessed around him in his family and his hometown. He watched as his beloved sister fell in love with a boy his father disapproved of and was subsequently disowned, barred from her family. He came to blows, true fisticuffs with his father over minor differences more than once. Ultimately he determined to follow dreams of his own, leaving behind small town bigotry and thinking of a broader world for himself and his future children.

Though my Grandfather was a man of his times, he did instill in his two sons ambition and a work ethic. My father would set his mind to things and achieve them, hobbies or work he did them with single-mindedness. My father carried this through his entire life. He graduated from A&M with a degree and Aeronautical Engineering and ultimately went to work for the premier airplane design and manufacturing company in the world, Boeing. Throughout his career he would be promoted to manager several times and each time would eventually request a return to his true passion, design. He didn’t like management; it wasn’t interesting or engaging (his words).

Dang He was Pretty

When my father met my mother he was following a plan I think.

  1. Finish College – Check
  2. Start Career – Check
  3. Reach Correct age of 25 – Check

He had graduated in 1949, he had his first job at what was then Muroc Army Base (later Edwards AFB); it was time to start looking for a wife. My mother was working at Muroc as a secretary. There weren’t a great number of options; Muroc was extremely remote with little to do and few singles to choose from. Mom must have thought she hit the jackpot with my father’s interest in her. He on the other hand saw a woman who had been raised ‘right’, came from good stock and would be a good mother to his future children (no I am not making any of this up).

The wedding party aka The March to Hell

They dated for just over a year and married in July of 1951. It was a marriage made in Hell, for both of them. I don’t think either were ever truly happy. My mother’s parents, though they attended the wedding, never approved of my father who they did not believe was good enough for their family or their daughter. My father’s family always thought my mother was stuck-up (she was).

Despite the misery they inflicted on each other their marriage remained intact for 22 long years.  I was long gone by the time they separated and did not know they had done so until years later. Perhaps if I had a great deal of pain could have been avoided. The story I heard was this:

Mom:  “When son is 18 I want a divorce”.

Dad: “Why wait?”

Within a week my father had moved out of the house and thus begin a very nasty divorce that saw them duking it out with lawyers for months. The result was my father ended up with custody of my then twelve-year old brother and the home of my childhood. The divorce left both of them bitter for years. Personally, I always asked the question;

“What the hell took so long?”

Thus ends Chapter 2 of my father’s story in Broken Chains. Daddy loved his family; he adored his mother and his sister. He was respectful toward his father and I think he loved his father though didn’t like him very much; he kept us away for a reason. My father created his own hell with his marriage and determined to not divorce, he left his children instead to suffer in silence for his absence. My father remained single for nearly twenty years; it would be his remarriage to the mother of my heart that finally brought about our full reconciliation though we had started this process long before that time.

Part One of my Fathers Story – In Your Absense

Comments

  1. I like how you went back to your father’s parents’ time and worked forward including personality traits. I can see this is not an easy story to tell but you do it so well, Valentine.

    • I think it is impossible to tell the story of my family, its dysfunction especially without looking at the main players as human beings first. I did this with both my parents, hopefully with the same degree of sympathy.

      Thanks for the compliment, it was a difficult one to write but I am glad I did.

  2. Val………. just read this… and its an amazing story all parts… Much love to you my friend.. I see MUCH… behind the Mask… Hugs..

  3. I like the detail you give us about your father’s story. Thank-you for your candidness and for the clear love you show in your words.

  4. Wow! Val – such openess. You’re a tough one, I reckon. My respects, Eric

    • Had to be tough Eric. I don’t know that is ultimately the best thing to be but it is where I end up. Part of the toughness was certainly from my upbringing.

      Val

  5. That’s a great story! Yes, we are all products of our time. It’s sad that the hard work ethic seems to have fizzled in contemporary American society.

    • Sad indeed, but my fathers story of course has a larger context in how it attaches to his absence from the family during my childhood. I couldn’t well tell the story of our relationship without telling his back story.

  6. It’s easier to appreciate your parents once you know what they went through. My father grew up in the 1930s and 40s in foster homes and dropped out of school after the third grade because he was hard of hearing, but the teachers back then thought he was mentally disabled. He somehow managed to raise six children by working two or more jobs and serve as a volunteer fireman.

  7. Thank for sharing a piece of your history of family ups and downs.

  8. Valentine,
    I think that everyone has a family backstory that adds significant color to their own. Thanks for sharing part of yours.
    Stacie

    • To tell my own is impossible without telling the story of both my parents. Telling my fathers at least doesn’t leave a bitter taste.

      Thanks for reading, he was an interesting man of an interesting time.

      Val

  9. It’s an amazing story, Val. You know, so much of who we are is based on where we come from and the choices we make. So many people feel they must marry by/at a certain age. I can’t think of one of them that is happy, because they settle for the “Mr.” or the “Mrs.” instead of looking for a soul mate. So sad.

    But the love does shine through. That is, in fact, your gift to yourself (and through your writing, to us). You have overcome so very many things and find yourself caring more instead of less. You are quite amazing, and I am delighted to be a relatively new friend.

    • The truth, his absence because of his misery was his own fault. My dad was one of the most stubborn people I ever knew. We sometimes would sit in the room and see who could out stubborn each other, in silence and anger. His absence from our home for so many years testimony to his bad choices.

      Ultimately though, he finds love and through that love I find him. You will see. Elyse I am also happy to have found you as a new friend through our writing.

  10. Your love for him is so very evident. You have portrayed him in a very balanced light. He exercised a great deal of patience. While my initial instinct is to used the word “wasted”, as he used it on your mother. The characterization of your grandfather is so typical of the era.

    Nostalgia does make we wistful at the years you did not know about their split. I love you,
    Red.

    • The balance of where he came from, history and foundation is important. Strange that it didn’t frame him more than it did. I think he spent much of his adult life fighting against his becoming his father and fighting against the standards his father defined.

      I agree there was much wasted.

  11. the thorns and petals that shape our lives….
    Your father was so Handsome Val….oh i see a beautiful couple and wonder why….why they cant make it work..damn if looks could save marriage..
    Having said they did have a long marriage although….

    • Twenty-two years is indeed long, long to be miserable. I don’t remember a time when my father was happy or even content except after he was not with my mother.

  12. Interesting story. From what you describe of your father, it’s hard to imagine his in-laws not feeling he was good enough for their daughter. Too bad so many years were spent in an unhappy marriage.

  13. One heckuva story, Val!

    • My dad was an interesting and brilliant man, emotionally absent for most of my childhood and difficult through most of my young adulthood. We locked horns frequently though I adored him I was angry at him for a very long time for his absent parenting. His ‘Texas’ shinned through in many ways, but the one thing he didn’t bring was the raging bigotry or small mindedness that was that small South Texas town.

      We had a difficult time and a difficult relationship for much of my life. But I can’t tell my story without telling his.

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  1. […] Part II – Growing up Texas Share this:TwitterFacebookStumbleUponTumblrLinkedInPinterestLike this:LikeOne blogger likes this. Filed Under: Broken Chains, Family Tagged With: Adoption, Blended Family, Family, Family Life, Family Relationships, family tree, human foibles, Prodigal Child, Relationships, Sibling Rivalry « Growing up Texas-My Fathers Story […]

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