Family Memories Revisited

Alma Ann Berry Burnam


My mother, Jessie Mae Gilbert, was living with her parents near Slaton,
Texas in 1929, when Chester Maxwell Berry decided to leave Houston to
visit his family who had recently moved to Slaton. Jessie Mae (Jake)
had met some of the Berry children in school and they introduced her to
their big brother Chester (Check). The Berry family returned to their
home in Austin, but there was more than just friendship between Jake and
Check. In a manner typical of Check, he just bought a marriage license
and sent it to Jake without ever proposing. He later told us that the
license was only good for a month and Jake waited until the month was
almost over before she took the train to Austin. When the train pulled
in and Jake stepped off, Check saw that she had let her hair grow out,
so the first place he took her was to the barber shop. They then went
to the minister's house and were married the morning of May 11, 1931.

Check and Jake set up house-keeping in the upstairs apartment in the
home of Mammy and Graddy Griffin. On Friday, March 3, 1933, I arrived
on the scene. Jake (now Mother) was very upset about my Friday arrival
because she had always heard that anything started on Friday was never
finished. I guess at this age in my life I have disproved that theory.
Since Check (now Daddy) worked nights at the ice plant, Mammy and Graddy
were very important in Mother's and my lives. They adopted us and I was
closer to them than to my grandparents. We had moved into one of their
rent houses when Dewana Lou (Dee) joined our family on November 12,
1936. Dr. Woolsey, who had also delivered me, carried me down to the
nursery the day Mother was to leave the hospital. We looked in the
nursery window and the doctor told me to pick the baby I wanted to take
home - and I did. I always felt that explained why I was fair, blonde
and green-eyed while my little sister was dark, had brown hair and was

I started to Palm School in January, 1939. Since Daddy arrived at home
from working all night about 6:30 A.M. and Mother had the little one at
home, Graddy would drive me to school in his very old Dodge. This was a
special treat for me.

Daddy had a job all during the depression years, but he lost his job at
the ice plant in March, 1940. Mother's parents were now living in
Artesia, New Mexico and Pap-pa was a foreman for a dirt construction
company. He had a job for Daddy driving large trucks and learning how
to operate heavy dirt equipment. We arrived in Artesia on April 1, 1940
in a brand new Ford. I finished the second grade at Central School,
having actually completed only one semester of second grade work due to
the differences in the school systems. This was to give me a lot of
trouble throughout elementary school.

My memory of Artesia during the 40's is one of dust storms, war
activities, school, and more dust storms. We moved to two different
houses before Mother and Daddy bought a house on Grand Avenue in 1947.
It was an old house that had been moved from a nearby town, but I had my
own room and Mother let me paint it green. She made the curtains and
bedspread and I thought it was the perfect room. But the most exciting
thing was the arrival of Ray Dean on January 10, 1948.I would hurry home
every day after school to play with my living doll, but Mother accused
me of trying to spoil him.

My senior year in high school was a very busy one because I managed to
be elected the editor of the high school annual. I now believe it was a
punishment and not an honor. I graduated in 1950 and went to Texas
State College for Women with plans to become an interior decorator. I
did real well in all of my academic classes that freshman year, but the
art classes for my major were terrible. I decided that I would have to
change my major. That summer things were not going too well for Mother
and Daddy. Daddy was not working for the same construction company and
I felt that they had just as soon have me stay at home and work rather
than go back to school. So I kept my summer job with the telephone
company on into the fall.

I had worked as a service representative for the telephone company for a
year, saved my money, and had applied to return to TSCW in the fall of
1952. But that was not to be. When we went for our coffee breaks at
>the drug store I would see this guy who worked in an office nearby. Dee
was selling tickets at the movie theater and she knew about this person,
but neither of us knew his name. We nicknamed him "Curly". She would
come home and tell me that "Curly" had come to the movie, or I would
tell her that I had seen "Curly" at the Post Office. Then one evening
my friend and I went to the swimming pool and there was "Curly". We
started talking - he offered to teach me to swim - and we made a date
for Saturday night. Oh yes, "Curly"; had a name, Earl Henry Burnam. I
know no one would call him "Curly" today, and no, he never did teach me
to swim. But we did have that Saturday night date and one every night
after that until I left to return to school. Three weeks later Earl
drove to Denton to get me and we returned to Artesia the same day. We
were married at my parents' home the next Saturday, October 11, 1952,
nine weeks after our first date.

Earl was working with a geophysical company and I returned to work at
the telephone company. We lived in what had been a two-car garage and
had been converted to an apartment. We also bought a brand new car and
thought we had everything. On December 7, we drove up into the
mountains with Mother, Daddy, Dee and Ray to cut Christmas trees. We
were in our new car, but Daddy was driving on the return trip to
Artesia. Through no fault of his, Daddy hit a truck parked on the
highway just after dark. Earl was the only one who ended up in the
hospital, but our new car was a mess. A few days later I found out that
I was pregnant. We got another new car and a short time later Earl
found out that his company was leaving Artesia. He did not want to
move, so he quit and got another job at the refinery. It was rough, but
we were young and confident. Lon Maxwell arrived on July 11, 1953,
exactly nine months after our wedding day. He always has been eager to
get things done. In September Earl's job at the refinery ended and the
three of us moved to Fort Worth. A few months later Earl was rehired at

When anyone mentions the '50s I only think of maternity clothes and
diapers. My world revolved around babies. Daniel Clarke arrived on
July 5, 1956 and Robert Ray greeted the world on October 17, 1959. Earl
was taking night classes at TCU in addition to working, while I was
taking care of the boys and a new house on Cork Place.

Earl earned his degree in 1965 and now it was my turn to go back to
school. In the fall of 1965 we moved to our present home at 3821 Burkett
Drive. That December, Daddy, Dee, and her baby daughter, Nancy, came to
see us to bring our Christmas gifts. Daddy and I visited more during
that brief trip than we ever had before. In January, Daddy died of a
heart attack at his cabin near Cloudcroft. I have often wondered what he
would have thought about the changes in my life that were about to
start. I graduated from TCU in 1970, and began a twenty-three year
career of teaching. To celebrate the fact that I was going to be
bringing home a pay-check, we bought a travel trailer and made an
extended trip through the western states. The boys still talk about our
adventures on "the trip".

Lon left home in the early '70s to study at UT in Austin. (He was
continuing the concept that someone must be in college.) Everyone was
now working or going to school. Mother died in March, 1976 and Earl had
his thyroid gland removed due to a malignancy a few months later. 1976
was not a good year. It was about that time that I decided to return
for graduate work; I received a MEd from North Texas in 1980. By this
time Dan had married Charlene Frazier on August 23, 1979 and was in the
Navy, and Lon had married Carol Roark on September 29, 1979. Bobby was
living in Denton and going to North Texas State University, so Earl and
I were all alone.

In 1981 I was asked to apply for, and was granted, the position as a
gifted/talented specialist with FWISD. The school system agreed to pay
for the classes that all of us in the g/t program needed to take, so
back to school for me. This time I was back where I started, at TSCW,
or Texas Woman's University as it is now called. In 1985 I received my
second Master's degree, paid for by FWISD, but I returned to the regular
classroom because I preferred to work with students rather than with

Dan and Charlene had added Brian Frazier Burnam to the family on
September 7, 1981, and returned to live in Denton after Dan's time with
the Navy. Bob and Suzanne Patrice Balliett were married on September 2,
1986. Bob and Suzy now live in Lyons, Colorado.

When Earl retired from General Dynamics, I still had two years to teach
before I could retire with full benefits. But those were two good
years. Earl turned out to be a great house-husband and I really enjoyed
having my evening meal ready for me when I arrived home. But from the
day he retired, I knew that I would be retiring on June 1, 1993. After
my retirement we celebrated with a trip to Alaska - a long time desire
for me.

Now, after almost a year of retirement, I don't know how I ever had time
to go to work. It seems that there is always something to do, or not to
do if I just don't want to put down the book I'm reading.

Alma Ann Berry Burnam
May 8, 1994