Saturday, June 25, 2011

In the Beginning

In the Beginning

      I was born on July 31, 1923 in Wichita Falls, Texas, the second child and first son of the marriage of William Kirk Sparks and Susie Francile Bishop.  My Birth Certificate correctly states that I was "born alive, male, delivered by A. D. Patillo, M.D."   and,  contrary to what has occasionally been asserted,  "legitimate".  Almost every thing else on the  Birth Certificate is incorrect; I was the second child born "TO THIS MOTHER" of that marriage, but my mother had at least five children from a previous marriage.  Also, my father's occupation was listed as "Local Fireman"; actually, he was a railroad fireman, a shoveller of coal, on the Fort Worth and Denver City Railroad--a much more glamorous job than a local putter-out of fires.  My DATE OF BIRTH was incorrectly entered as July 7, 1923, and both my mother and I were "Certified" White even though we were both legally American Indians.

            My mother was the strongest, both physically and especially psychologically, woman I have ever known.  She was born near Iowa Park, Texas in 1889 to a full blood Cherokee mother who walked the "Trail of Tears" when the Cherokees were evicted from their ancestral home in the Carolinas.  They were supposed to stop in the "Indian Territory", now Oklahoma, but some family groups mistakenly crossed the almost dry Red River into what is now Texas and settled along the Wichita River.  I don't remember, if I ever heard, anything of my maternal grandfather (he may have been one of Waggoner's cowboys; there were lots of "Squaw Men" in those days).  However, one of my earliest memories is of my grandmother with long grey braids and shawl; she lived with us until her death prior to my fifth birthday.
As was the custom in Texas in the early 1900's, my mother married young, to a man named Godfrey, and began producing children.  There were Bert, Bessie, Ruby, Bill (Millard Ellsworth), Lorrenze, and probably others that died as children that I never heard of.  Godfrey was reportedly a flaming alcoholic; my mother, after many years of violent confrontations and, obviously, from the number of offspring produced, reconciliations finally "split the blanket" and divorced him (He lived the terminal years of his life in my sister Ruby's home, so I met him.  My father did not think it proper that my mother go to Ruby's house when he was there).

            After the divorce, my mother took all her children to the big city of Wichita Falls, rented a large house, and opened a boarding house to accommodate the influx of workers in the oil boom.  An excellent novel, A Lady Comes to Burkburnett, that   subsequently was produced as the award winning movie Boomtown, starring Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy and Claudette Colbert fairly accurately portrays those days.  For the rest of her life, my mother cooked as though she was still running a boarding house. On Sunday she would bake a chicken; on Monday a beef roast (pot roast with potatoes and onions) was added to the table along with the left over baked chicken; on Tuesday a ham went onto the table with the remnants of the chicken and the roast; Thursday there was fried chicken and whatever was left over from previous meals; Friday might be steak (chicken fried, of course, and usually veal) and perhaps a pork roast on Saturday night.  She grew all the numerous vegetables we had, fresh in season, and "canned" in a pressure cooker for the rest of the year.  (The first time I ate canned green peas, they tasted "tinny"-- not at all palatable).  She also baked all the bread; we had biscuits and corn bread at every meal and she baked white bread several times a week.

My father was Scotch-Irish and from Fort Worth, Texas.  He was a First Sergeant in World War I and was gassed in France. During the Army of Occupation, he won the Heavyweight Championship of the Army, but lost the A.E.F. (American Expeditionary Forces) Boxing Championship to the Marine Champion, Gene Tunney, on a decision. After his discharge from the army, he joined other "boomers" in the search for fortune in the oil fields of north Texas.  He became a boilermaker and took up residence at my mother's boarding house.  I know nothing of their courtship, but they did marry, much to the annoyance of all the Godfrey children.  Eventually, probably through the influence of his older brother John, he was hired as a fireman on the FW&DC Railroad.  John was an engineer for that railroad and, in those days of staunch unionism, jobs with the "Railroad" were largely family controlled.  You virtually "inherited" a job; sons of firemen or engineers were hired as firemen (in the cab); sons, or even son-in-laws, of conductors were hired as brakemen with the eventual goal of becoming conductors.  Nobody ever moved from labor to management.

            I don't know exactly when they were married, but the union produced a daughter, Charlestra, followed shortly by me.  I never knew my sister because she died from hemorrhage following a tonsillectomy. I was the one who really needed it; hers was part of a reduced price for the dual surgery.  I grew up almost as an only child.  My oldest (half) brother Bert was long gone; my two oldest sisters, Bessie and Ruby, soon married, the latter at 13; Lorrenze bailed out as soon as she could find a husband, leaving Bill, the youngest of the Godfreys and eight years my senior, as my only resident sibling.
            My mother, after the marriage and subsequent babies, gave up the boarding house, and we moved to a barn-red house on Fifth Street.  My memories are fragmentary, but I do remember that the street was not paved; it was across the Wichita River from town and the more desirable residential areas.  However, the Zoo was nearby; what more could you ask?  Apparently my upwardly mobile parents thought there was more; with the new-found affluence of a job with "THE RAILROAD," they bought a house on the other side of town.

1 comment:

  1. What was your maternal grandmother's name? Susie's mother? And was your mother's name, Susie Francile Bishop, a combination of her maiden name and first married name? or her first and middle name?