Earl Henry's Memories of
Mother, Daddy, Family and His Early Days
My memories may not be accurate. I was the youngest of five children
and each family member was already in place when I came along. Lon
Stiver Burnam Sr. was "Daddy". Pearl Elizabeth was "Mother".
Lon Stiver Burnam, Jr. was "Brother". Jess Douglas Burnam was
"Dougie". Willy (Bill) Desmond Burnam was "Boy". And Edna Florene
Burnam was "Sister". AuntHelen (Helen Rosalee Burnam Taylor),
her husband William Radford (Rad)Taylor and their daughter, Novalene
(Dutch), were the only other relatives living in Chillicothe at that time.
Aunt Helen was always around, from early in my life. She was so sweet
to me then, and alwayshas been. She was important to me as family.
But never the less I will tell, as I remember and from my point of view,
about the Lon and Pearl Burnam family and their neighbors and friends.
One evening in Chillicothe,Texas when I, Earl Henry Burnam, was about
six years old my mother, Pearl Elizabeth Johnson Burnam, explained an
important concept to me. This was about 1936. We had not heard of
television. We had no radio. We had already sold our Victrola due to the
depression. So we entertained ourselves. In warm weather we would
usually be outside. This particular evening we were inside, so it must have
been winter. Families talked more to each other then. Mother explained
to me that there were people far away in other countries. She further
explained that each of those people in other countries, as well as others
in our family, town and country, were just as important to themselves
and to God as I was to myself or God. The world was not just for me.
That was a new concept, but she put me on the right road toward accepting
that fact. I thought Mother was very religious.
We rented many houses in Chillicothe in which to make our home from time
to time. Our first home that I remember is the gray house with shiplap
siding and was owned by Lee MacAnnear. It set on the northeast corner of
the block on the northeast side of town near the cotton oil mill and one
of the cotton gins. One of Daddy's life long friends, Charlie Stewart,
and his family lived catty-corner across the street. The Brannons lived
across the street east. The lot across the street north was vacant. The
Childs' lived on the southeast corner lot of our block. Mr. MacAnnear
lived in a small hut between our house and the Childs'. He grew a bunch
of pretty holly-hocs and other flowers. I had my fourth birthday in this
Mrs. Boards lived on the northwest corner of our block. There were no
houses in between the Burnam's and the Boards', only wide spaces that could
be used for gardens or whatever. Someone in Mrs. Boards' family died.
Neighbors took in food. Mother took something in, I don't remember what.
But I do remember she took me. I had my first taste of meatloaf and
English peas. That was wonderful food.
The lots were large. We walked along a small crop of Sudan grass to get
to the pit-style outhouse located by the alley. I was a little scared
when visits were required. Someone would have to go with me. One day Boy
was the lucky designatee. He didn't care for this chore. While I was
setting on the throne, he pulled his long pompadour hair down in his
face, shook his head and said, in a modified voice, "I'm going crazy",
and repeated it several times scaring me into an expedited performance
of my job. I would not go to the outhouse with Boy anymore. As a matter
of fact there were plenty of bushes and trees around that I found after
Some people would come over and bring a guitar and other instruments.
Daddy played their guitar sometimes. I strummed along on the tiny wooden
guitar Daddy had whittled out for me. It didn't bother me that it had no
strings. I was told that I had gone to Sweetwater with Mother when
Grandma Thompson was either real sick or had died. Uncle Henry (Johnson)
and Uncle Little Bill (Thompson) had made a mechanical toy for me to try
to keep me quite. I was not old enough to remember Grandma Thompson,
nor that my uncles had made the toy for me. Anyway, I can sure remember
enjoying the toy back in Chillicothe at the Lee MacAnnear house. The toy
was made of wood and wire. It was about a foot long and had three
wheels. The two back wheels had an axle neatly bent to accommodate a
wire attached to a little wooden man toward the front, and made him
oscillate back and forth. All I had to do was pull it.
I played with J.L. Hammonds from up the street west. Sister played with
his sisters, Opal and Mildred some. Eunice was too grown up. She
"went with" Norman Brannin from across the street to the east of us.
They were both really nice to little kids. I played some with Norman's
younger brother, Bennie, but he was a little older and preferred others.
Virginia and Harvey were between Bennie and Norman. Their older brother
Mike would walk home from work in the street on the east side of our
house, beyond the string of black locust trees where we had our
acting-rod (do chin-ups, hang by our legs, etc.). We would holler "Hi
Mike, Where's Ike." But I don't know why. In those days we played Red
Rover, May I, Hully Gull, Anti-Over, Stiff Starch, Ring-Around-The-
Roses, Tin Can Shinny, Hoop and Tee, and Hide and Seek. Some of the
older Brannon boys were pretty tough. One night we learned that someone
had tied one of the Brannon boys to a car and had drug him nearly to
death. I thought Mrs. Brannon was very religious.
I played with Charlie Ray Stewart and his little brother and sister,
Homer Boyd and Leta Fay, who was also about four. Some older sisters,
Martha and Ruby, played some with Sister. There were some older boys,
Austin and Dean. Everyone thought they were real handsome. Charlie
Stewart and Daddy did carpenter work together in later years at Quanah,
I played some with Milton "Buck" Early. Dougie was friends with Buck's
older brother, Sampson or "Pank". Glendene was near Sister's age.
Mr. Early shaved about every two or three weeks. Most men were
clean-shaven in those days. Their oldest son's name was Jubal. I don't
know if they were descendants of the southern general, Jubal Early, of the
Civil War and the Mexican war. I thought Mrs. Early was very religious.
All the men and boys except me went fishing one night. Some others went
fishing with them. It might have been "Pink" Lance and some of his boys.
Mr. Lance was also a life long friend to Daddy. I was too small to go.
Besides I didn't want to be away from my Mother. It was very exciting
when they came home because they were very successful. But Boy, the
youngest had caught the biggest fish of them all. It must have been an
eighteen inch catfish. Boy was the hero.
I wanted a doll to play with like Sister and her friends. I got one. I
gave it a bath and it came apart. Anyway, it wasn't as much fun to me as
it had looked like when Sister and her friends were playing dolls.
Brother brought a medium size, all white dog home with him one day. We
kept Dixie. One day Dixie started having "running fits". We had to feed
her copperas, I presume to kill worms. Brother had "gone with" Pink's
oldest daughter Earlene some. Brother would hug me and console me, and
would help Mother take care of me. He called me Teddy Bear, or sometimes
just Teddy. But I was mostly Earl Henry to everyone. I was named after
my uncles. Uncle Earl Williamson was Daddy's half brother who had died
before I knew him. Uncle Henry was Mother's brother.
Later in life when I was working at Consolidated in Fort Worth, I
hitched a ride back from Quanah to Fort Worth with Audrey Lance, another
one of Pink's daughters, and her husband one weekend. Audrey told me a
story about my daddy. It was about one Christmas during the depression
while my daddy still had a job as car inspector with the Santa Fe
Railroad (formerly the Orient) in Chillicothe, but her daddy didn't have
a job. She said my daddy brought in Christmas gifts for all of Pink's
younger kids, Audrey, Jewel Faye, Roy and Francis. I guess Earlene and
Leo were too old. Older kids didn't have Christmas in those days. Maybe
that's why Mr. Lance used to bring me crackerjacks later on when we
lived in Mr. MacAnnear's house. Daddy didn't have a steady job.
We moved from Lee MacAnnear's house to go live with Grandpa and Grandma
(Jesse Edward and Sarah Ann Burnam) at White Flat, near Mangum,
Oklahoma. Grandpa was a tenant farmer. He needed help on his farm and
Daddy and his older boys sure needed the work. We took old Dixie with
us, worms and all. Grandpa had a German Shepard named Bob. Old Bob used
to let me get on his back and ride him until the grownups told me I was
too large for old Bob. Anyway old Bob liked me, and Sister too.
One day Sister and I were out playing near Grandpa's haystack. Old Dixie
had another running fit. She had been getting worse all the time. This
time, after doing a lot of running all over, she started after Sister
and me. Sister pulled me upon the haystack. It wasn't very tall though
and we were afraid Dixie would come right on up. So was Mother and
Grandma who were standing at the back door hollering for Grandpa and
Daddy. In the meantime, old Bob ran right in between old Dixie and me
and Sister. Dixie kept circling the haystack like Indians circling a
wagon train. But old Bob stayed right in between her and us. After
circling a few minutes (a lifetime to Sister and me) old Dixie headed
off toward the barn. Grandpa had arrived by then, with an ax. He figured
it was time to put Dixie out of her misery. Neither Sister nor I cried
about old Dixie's death.
Uncle Bill Dean, Mother's older half brother, would come to see us often
over the years, mainly at boll pulling time. The first time I remember
him was in Oklahoma. His son, Rex Dean, lived with my grandpa some and
helped him on the farm. Uncle Bill would usually come around at boll
pulling time (pulling cotton as opposed to picking). He would sometimes
get some "three-two". That's a very light beer they had in Oklahoma. But
it would still do they job. Oklahoma had a coin called a "mill" then.
Mills were worth a tenth of a penny. That wouldn't buy much now.
I guess some of the crops were in when Daddy moved us in to Mangum. This
is where I had my fifth birthday. Daddy made me a little straight chair
out of an wooden apple crate a grocery store had given him. That chair
is out in my garage, sixty years later. I still use it occasionally,
although one cheek hangs off.
The city of Mangum had an Easter egg hunt out at the ball park. I
thought I would find the egg that had a five dollar bill in it. Or at
least one that had gift certificates from the stores. How could a five
year old find any eggs with all those bigger kids grabbing them all.
After it was all over and I was empty handed and crying, Boy took me by
the hand and searched until he found me a candy egg that had been
overlooked. That was good, but Sister and Novelene, Aunt Helen's
daughter (my cousin) who was visiting, found eggs with gift
certificates. It was explained to me that they needed the socks more
than me, so they could have them to wear to school.
I remember Aunt Tura, Daddy's sister, coming in to Mangum and taking me
to Sunday School. I remember getting tired walking home and she carried
me on her shoulders. Aunt Tura was older than Aunt Helen, but she was
still single and living at home with Grandma and Grandpa. She was always
very sweet to me, like Aunt Helen.
I remember neighbor get-togethers to sing and play the guitars. One
neighbor sang "May I Sleep In Your Barn Tonight, Mister" to the tune of
"Red River Valley". Others would sing "Down in the Valley", "Oh You
Fool, You Drunken Fool", and "I Love Mountain Music". Daddy helped a
neighbor kill and clean a hog that winter in Mangum. That old hog was
hung up on a homemade wooden tripod and cleaned. They had boiling hot
water in a big wash pot setting on a wood fire on the ground. It was
really cold that day. They gave Daddy some spare ribs for helping. My
first pork ribs were delicious.
Rad Taylor, Aunt Helen's husband, moved our family back to Chillicothe
before I had my sixth birthday. We lived way out past the Walter
Gollihairs, Otis Ray's daddy, on the south edge of town. There were
climbing roses blooming on the trellis at the end of the porch. The
Duncans lived across the street. Maynard was Sister's age. Billy was a
little younger than me. I don't remember why he got mad at me, but he
bit my leg hard enough to leave a scar for many years. I durn well tried
not to make him mad again. That's where I had my first home-made rubber
gun, a sawed out pistol shape about a foot or so long. A clothes pin was
tied on to the back of the straight shaped handle with circular crosscut
slices from old inner tubes. These inner tube rubber bands also served as
plentiful supplies of ammunition. Simply stick one end into the
clothespin, stretch across the barrel end, aim it and squeeze the
clothespin against the handle. We had wonderful wars. They were also
excellent for shooting down wasp nests. But be prepared to run, because
the wasp sting was much worse than being hit with the rubber gun.
Our next home was the house on the southwest corner of the big lot
behind the Chillicothe fire station, McCaw's Dry Cleaners and the
newspaper office for the weekly "Chillicothe Valley News", etc. There
was a flushing type outhouse, the kind with a gravity tank way up high
and you pulled a chain hanging down to flush. It was a cold winter and I
had no underclothes. Mother made me wear some of Sister's little pink
hand-me-downs that were like union suits, only with short legs and arms.
Rad liked to tease. Boy did he ever tease me about those girl clothes.
Seems like Mother and Daddy gave a dance at that house.
I believe our next home was on the east side of town just four houses
north of the Fort Worth & Denver Railroad tracks. This is where we lived
when Mother had explained that new concept about others being just as
important as me. It is also where I lived when I started to school in
the first grade. A neighbor, Cherry Opal Burrows, was Sister's friend.
She said she was lucky because her initials spelled something, COB. Boy,
she was really pretty.
W.L. was my friend. He sucked his thumb, but he
was tough and I didn't tease him. He was really nice to me. Some nice
Afro-Americans lived back behind the Burrows. A man whose name I can't
remember made a toy wooden airplane for W.L. Its propeller would spin in
the wind or when he would run with it. I let the man know how much I
liked W.L.'s airplane. I might have hinted pretty strongly. He made one
for me. When he gave it to me he told W.L. and me that they did not like
to be called "niggers", but they wanted to be called "Negroes". I don't
remember ever using the former term, but maybe he told us because others
had. Anyway, I tried to respect his wishes from then on because he was
so nice to me.
Sister Rambeau was a neighbor a few houses north of us. She was a strong
leader at the Nazarene church just south of the railroad tracks, a short
distance from our house. I believe she did some of the preaching at the
church services. Sounded like it, anyway. One Sunday my sister went down
to the front when they called for us to come and be saved. After a
little I decided to go join Sister. A few years later I decided it
didn't take and went down to the front again at the Baptist church. Then
when I was about nineteen, I knew it hadn't worked. I was pretty bad. So
I went down again. I'm not sure it ever cleaned me completely, but I
later learned that it's trying that counts, even though my college
English teacher once told me "The road to hell is paved with good
Dougie tried to teach me to catch a softball when we lived there. He
kept telling me to keep my eyes on the ball. I don't think I was as good
as he thought I should be.
I believe this is the house where I decided to set the tall dry grass
around the house on fire like I had seen Daddy do. Daddy probably didn't
have the help of a strong wind to spread the flames like I did. I can remember
it became a joint project getting the fire under control.
I had never played with matches before. After Daddy talked to me, I
never did again.
Daddy took my hand-me-down tricycle and converted it to a bicycle. I
learned to ride it down the stretch between the row of lilac bushes and
the house. Daddy brought a screech owl (probably a burrowing owl) home
to me and built a cage for it. I guess I didn't know how to care for it
properly. He didn't last long. We played with the Kitchen kids until
they move away. Then we played with the Walden’s who moved in.
We curled up inside the old tires and let ourselves roll down the hills.
We made tin can telephones.
Daddy taught me to gather wild lamb's quarter so we could have some
greens along with our potatoes and beans. I should have said potatoes or
beans. We had one at a time. Mother had the reputation around the
neighborhood of cooking the best pinto beans, and often a neighborhood
friend of Dougie's or Boy's would drop by at dinner (noon lunch). The
breakfast menu would include some dry salt bacon early in the month,
with gravy and biscuits made with canned Pet's (brand) milk. But late in
the month, some mornings would be just gravy and bread, both made from
water rather than milk. But Daddy managed to get some baby chicken culls
from the hatchery, and we later had some good fried chicken. He also had
a pretty good vegetable garden one summer. That year we were able to get
some food staples and bed quilts from the relief program. Some work
clothes were also available for the older members. Thank God for people
willing to help others in those days.
We didn't have a long walk to the spot on the Fort Worth & Denver
Railroad tracks where President Roosevelt stopped at Chillicothe during
his 1936 campaign for re-election to his second term. My Grandpa and
Grandma Burnam had a picture of President Roosevelt hanging in their
living room in Oklahoma. We appreciated him. He had already started the
WPA (Works Progress Administration) and Shelterbelt Program by then.
Daddy had work although there wasn't much money from it.
Texas had its centennial celebration in 1936. We would all walk about a
mile to downtown Chillicothe for the free open air programs. Seems they
had a movie screen set up out in the open to show some of the
celebrations at some of the big cities such as the Fort Worth Casa
Manana with Sally Rand. I guess that was my first exposure to human
anatomy. But Ms. Rand had balloons or fans very strategically placed.
Daddy got the use of a small flat bed truck, not much bigger than a
pickup. We were riding to the store one day. People traveled real slow
in these old vehicles and on the dirt roads. I was setting at the back
with my feet hanging off. It was going so slow that I knew I could jump
off and run catch it and get back on. I decided to do it. I stood up to
do it. When you jump from a moving base, directly away from the
direction of movement, things don't work out the way you might think.
They said I was spinning around on my head in the road. When I came to,
Mother said I had stood up like I was trying to come up behind the cab
when I fell off the back. Sounded logical to me. So I never had the
nerve to tell her that I jumped until many years later. I wondered if
Brother had actually tried to jump, when he "fell" off the car's running
board back at Mangum, Oklahoma and bonked his head. Sometime when we
were young, I got into the deep end of the swimming pool at Chillicothe
and was hanging on to the sides. When Sister saw me she came running and
slipped on the wet cement. She bonked her head and was knocked out for a
while. The Burnam's were quite the head bonkers.
Sister and I went to see "The Werewolf Of London" when we lived at that
house. I was scared of my shadow after that. "I'm An Old Cowhand From
The Rio Grande" and "Let Me Wahoo" were sung by everyone. We received a
letter edged in black from Roy Burnam. His wife, Effie, had died. Roy
was Daddy's cousin who had lived some with Grandpa and was like a
brother to Daddy. The Dailey family came from the Texas Panhandle to
visit us. They were old friends of the family. Mr. Dailey was a
preacher. Soon afterward we received word that a truck had sideswiped
and several family members were killed. The survivors said they were
singing religious songs when hit by the truck. That made their friends
feel better about the tragedy.
W. Lee O'Donnell's came to Chillicothe to campaign for governor. W. Lee O'
became the governor of Texas in 1939 and resigned to become Senator in
1941, after he had signed a bill appropriating $1.5 Million for the
purchase of additional land for the Big Bend park. Big Bend later became
recreationally important to members of my family. W. Lee O' stumped
with his "Light Crust Doughboys from Burrow's Mills" over at Davis'
"Live and Let Live" grocery near us. We listened to them play their
country music. Daddy had a credit account at Davis' then. We usually had
an account with a store closest to wherever we lived. But often when we
would get too far behind in our payments, they would cut us off. We
would then get credit where ever we could.
The CCCs (Civilian Conservation Corps) was started. Brother (L.S. to the
rest of the family) joined up and sent most of his paycheck home for use
by the family. I don't remember where he was sent at first but he later
was stationed near Deming, New Mexico where he met Nina Louise Bonine.
He later married this pretty seventeen year old girl named Louise, and
she became a very much loved member of the Burnam family.
One winter just about Christmas time, Uncle Henry and Uncle Little Bill
sent a box of second hand clothes to us. They had worked with a civic
group in Monahans to gather and distribute things for poor children in
Monahans. They must of had some things left over, or whatever. There was
some toys in the box. One was a clown acrobat on a string between two
sticks. You could squeeze the sticks and the little clown would gyrate.
But I mainly remember the little sweater that fit me. It had Mickey
Mouse on it. I sure needed it. I wore it everywhere.
By now Aunt Helen and Rad had moved into the house that Charlie
Stewart's family had lived in when we lived in Lee MacAnnear's house, a
few blocks northwest of our current location. We were returning from a
visit with her, walking across a vacant field. As we came near to a
neighbor's house I started up to see what was going on. Their bulldog
met me with a growl and a bark. I turned and ran with him nipping at my
hind end. Daddy said the bulldog nearly took a hunk out of the seat of
my britches before I rejoined the family, and that he had never seen me
run so fast. He also told me that I would stand a better chance by
easing back, while continuing to watch the dog. I thought that was
debatable, but did not pursue it.
Aunt Helen would have us over for a meal occasionally, when we lived
there. Rad worked at the cotton oil mill then, with a more regular
income than most. In those days people would usually have a supper meal
with meat once a month, at payday time. Aunt Helen told me recently that
Mother and Daddy used to have them over for good meals when Daddy still
had his job on the railroad. She said Lon would always come to get her
if they were having a good meal. In fact he had come to get her for a
meal when the Lon Burnam's were living in the Child's house on the
southeast corner of the Lee MacAnnear block, and Novalene (Dutch) was
born in that day at the house where Lon and Pearl were living. (Sister,
Edna Florene, may have been born in that house also.) Rad's nephew,
Wayne Sumner was a good childhood friend of mine. We would shoot
grasshoppers with my air gun and use them for fishing bait.
Back to the house between the Walton's and W.L. Barnett, my
thumb-sucking friend. Some neighbor had a big concrete basement. They
decided to have a neighborhood Halloween party. Mother was asked to be
the fortune teller. They got her a mask that covered her entire face.
When she had come into the room where I was before the party, it scared
me. But apparently she made a big hit with everybody at the party. They
were standing in line to have her tell their fortune.
That party was such a success that Mother decided to give Sister a
birthday party on the seventh of November. We had a trap door in the
middle of the floor of our house. It wasn't a real basement, and it
wasn't very deep. I could crawl into it through an opening on the
outside of our house, although Mother frowned on it. Mother made up a
"fishing" game for the kids at Sister's party. She tied a few pieces of
penny candy to some pieces of string and let them hang down into the
hole under the trap door, along with a lot of other pieces of strings
without any thing tied on. Some kids "caught" a fish (piece of candy),
some didn't. I don't remember if there were any other refreshments
served or not.
Charlie Stewart had moved his family to a farm near Quanah, Texas. He
came over to Chillicothe one day with his truck to pick up a load of
lumber. Charlie was a carpenter too. He wanted us to go spend the night
with his family on his farm. Daddy and I climbed up on that high stack
of lumber and rode all the way. Mother and Sister rode in the cab with
Mr. Stewart. When we got out on the farm, Charlie Ray hitched up the
mule to a sand sled and drove Robert Boyd, Leta Fay, and me all over
that farm. I think Sister came with us. We stopped by the watermelons,
burst one open and ate with our hands. Charlie Ray said there were lots
of them and his daddy wouldn't care. I am not sure that turned out to
exactly true, but Mr. Stewart was too nice to let on. We spent the night
and Mr. Stewart took us back home the next day without the lumber.
Our next home was not too far from down town on the south side. It was
next door to James Monroe Anderson who was in my room at school and
became a real good friend. James was my best friend then. His mother
died in childbirth. Our class walked from grade school to the Baptist
church where the funeral services for his mother was conducted. I was so
sorry for him. For about a year I worried a lot, hoping that my mother
would never have another baby for she might die. When we were in the
seventh grade, James and his family moved to Arkansas. We made a pact
that someday we would get together again. And we did after we were grown
and had families. James would come through Quanah on his way to see his
father. He looked up my mother and daddy. They became friends. They let
me know one time when he was coming through and I was able to go to
Quanah from Fort Worth to see him. Back to our home in Chillicothe by
the Anderson's. We had our first Christmas tree in that house. A man had
given it to Sister. Brother came home from the CCC's that Christmas.
That made it a good Christmas.
Lillian Cooper, Aunt Lillian, had been a friend to Mother when they were
young girls. I believe we lived in this house when the Tom Coopers came
to get Mother, Daddy, Sister and me to take us back to their farm
somewhere near Vernon, Texas for Thanksgiving. I think Doug and Des went
with us. The men and older boys, Elmer and Taz, went hunting for rabbits
for our holiday dinner. Sometimes later we were at the Coopers and went
to a Christmas program at their church. We sang Silent Night. Small
sacks of candy, nuts and fruit were passed out to the children. Ruth
Cooper was Sister's age and Charles was my age. Sister and Ruth slept at
the head of the bed, and Charles and I slept at the foot.
Later, during the mid-to-late thirties when we lived by the water tank
for the train steam engines, the Coopers joined the migration to
California with other victims of the great depression and the "dust
bowl" of Oklahoma and North Texas. I can remember them coming through
Chillicothe and spending a night or two with their friends, the Burnam's,
before heading on out to California. I can remember their car being
loaded on the top with mattresses, and loaded all over the outside with
personal belongings that they could not do without. The Coopers kept in
touch. They had hard times early on, but things got better. Elmer came
back to see us one time. Aunt Lillian came to see us when I was a senior
in high school. She and Mother came to see me in the senior play. Then
in about 1954 she brought Mother to Fort Worth to see Alma Ann, me and
our only baby, Lonnie Max. She continued to correspond with Mother. A
letter to Mother from her, after Mother had died, was forwarded to me.
Aunt Lillian was then blind and in a nursing home. One of the saddest
letters I ever wrote was to let Aunt Lillian know that her dear friend,
my mother, had passed away. I never heard any more about, or from Aunt
Lillian or the Cooper family.
Another house, after the one by James Monroe Anderson, was a bigger one
located on a great big triangular lot, across the street from Ina Jewel
Hindman, one of Sisters good friends. We had a huge mesquite tree in the
front yard that I liked to climb. You could get a way up in it before
reaching the thorns. The leaves on a mesquite are not very thick. That
durn Sister and Ina Jewel would get up in the Hindman's tree with real
thick leaves, and holler that they could see me but I couldn't see them.
It was true. That's the first summer I remember the Texas chiggers.
They'd get all over me. I had a cat, but I didn't become very attached.
Aunt Tura married Joe Drake and they came to see us. "Uncle" Joe gave me
a nickel. I went to the variety store down town before it had a chance
to burn a hole in my pocket. Sister, Ina Jewel and another friend
entered an amateur contest and won it dancing and singing "Organ Grinder
Pete". I was proud of Sister.
Then we moved over to Jeff Worley's house across from the cotton oil
mill. I used to play with Paul Ray Walser there. He was Mr. Worley's
grandson. Boy became Dez and then later Bill. Bill studied with Wayne
Worley. I got a football that Christmas. Wayne and his older brother,
Grover Worley, Bill, Paul Ray, me and some other bigger boys played with
the football. It could not stand up to the kicking of the older boys and
it split out before Christmas day was over. These were the days of
"Three Little Fishes" and "The Old Apple Tree In The Orchard".
This is where a puppy, old Fido, came up to me one day, after I kept
whistling and calling him, as I sat on the front porch. He grew to be
only about half size, but he was beautiful. He had a yellow coat that
blended with white on his stomach and a strawberry blonde tint on his
back. His nose was a pinkish brown, and his tail constantly curled above
his back. Fido became a very important part of my life. I was about nine
or ten years old then. Later in life, during a month long trip in our
travel trailer, I would put my three sons to sleep telling them "Old
Fido Stories". A couple I will include here.
These were the years that Daddy started taking me fishing with him. Fido
would always walk the two miles along the Santa Fe Railroad tracks to
Wonderer's Creek with us. He would run around exploring things, but he
would also often just set on the bank beside us, and observe us. He
watched many times as we pulled out the fish when the corks would go
under. He got so that when he would see our corks bobbing, he would
start whining until we pulled the fish in.
One time we could hear Fido yelping out on the upper bank as he chased
something. The yelping got closer and higher pitched. Then pretty soon
it became muted so we could barely hear him. I got very concerned and we
found a big old tree near-by. The water had eroded around the roots on
the creek side and there were big, exposed roots. There were also big
holes up under the huge tree that extended up into the ground on the
other side. We could hear the yelping coming from a hole and knew that
Fido had followed what we presumed was a rabbit into the hole. I was
beside myself for fear Fido could not get out. Daddy was concerned too,
but tried to keep me calm. He went over to the bank side of the tree and
put his ear to the ground, moving it around until he found a spot about
three feet away from the tree. He started digging with his pocket knife.
About a foot down he reached a tunnel and we could see old Fido's pink
nose and here him whining. His nose was about a foot from the rabbit,
which was at the end of the tunnel. Daddy dug Fido out which made me
very happy. But Daddy could not miss a bet for a meal so he cut a half
inch diameter branch and made a short split in it so he could "twist"
the cotton tail rabbit out of the hole. We hadn't caught fish that day.
We moved to the big house that had been converted from a printing office
or some kind of business where their home was also included. It was
located just north of the FW & D RR station, and across the road east of
the Metcalf's combination gas station, grocery and poultry pens. It was
close enough that I could carry the five gallon can of coal oil
(kerosene) back to the house. The RR water tower was very close. I used
to wonder if that water tank might burst and drown us. One day we heard
a car horn go off with a prolonged unwavering honk. A train steam engine
had run up on a GMC pickup cab and rolled it upside down. The driver got
out and walked away. They don't make pickups like that anymore. Daddy
said the driver might have been drinking as he often did. I do not
remember his name but he would often go to see the widow Minter, Eileen
Minter's mother. Eileen was Ouida Maude Turner's only competition with
those grade school boys. They were both in my class.
I had a form of scarlet fever in this house. I made a portable shoe
shine stand and shined shoes on the streets of Chillicothe on fair
weather Saturdays. I usually made enough for Sister and me to go see a
double feature matinee, five cents for me and fifteen cents for her.
Sometimes had enough for a five cent bag of popcorn. The only spankings
I remember happened at this house. During the long hot summers I would
get to pestering Sister. She would take all she could then holler
"Mother make Earl quit bothering me." This would go on for some time
then Mother would get Daddy's belt. I don't know why he didn't wear that
to work. Anyway Mother could make that belt sting. I would holler that I
would be good. Please stop. Then Sister would cry and beg Mother to stop
spanking me. Then there was the time in the yard that Daddy was making
something out of wood. It might even have been for me. I kept telling
him how to do it. He finally got exasperated and hit me over the head
with a plank. It was a real thin box crating plank. It was so thin, or
my head was so hard, that the plank broke into. It didn't really hurt
me, but I was really startled because Daddy had never lifted a hand to
me before. He never did again. He had always had patience and talked to
me. But I quit agitating him. (I never let him know that after it was
all over I laughed to myself because I had had a board broken over my
head and it didn't even hurt.) Those must have been my bad years. Some
might think they never stopped.
We acquired an old Victrola. I think it had belonged to Aunt Helen and
she gave it to us. The older kids would have their friends over and
dance by the music of the Victrola. Sister started having a lot of young
men come by. So a lot of her girl friends would want to come over to see
the young men. Things seemed to change. Sister became Edna sometimes.
Edna would get to do a lot of things. The young men would pay for her to
go skating at the skating rink, or go to the picture show. I felt like I
was missing out on a lot. But I enjoyed the Victrola.
L.S. (Brother) brought his new wife, Nina Louise Bonine Burnam, home
with him one Christmas. This was a great time. He had a car, a coupe,
and he took Louise, Mother, Edna and me over to Vernon to do some
Christmas shopping. I rode up on the shelf between the back of the front
seat and the rear window. Lonnie, as his new wife called L.S., gave me a
dime. I bought Mother a little old glass trinket, the first Christmas
present I had ever given to anybody. Back at home Lonnie and Louise
showed us all a new dance, "Put Your Little Foot". They gave me a Daisy
air rifle. Daddy told me it was all right to shoot the sparrows. They
carried mites that caused trouble for everybody. I became a fair shot
and dealt with those sparrows.
Those were the days Gene Autry sang "South of the Border" and Bob Wills
played "San Antonio Rose". We would have "slum-gullion" often. That's
what Moe Francis, who would eat with us often, called it. Mother would
fix a delicious dish made with short spaghetti, onions, canned tomatoes,
and Irish potatoes. I loved that slum-gullion. We had that the Saturday
night that I had only shined enough shoes to get Sister into the movie
before price changes. She already had to pay adult prices. I sent her on
because I thought I could get one more shine for the nickel. When I was
moping around, Moe asked me why. I told him I hadn't made the nickel. He
asked me why I hadn't let him know. He had one nickel that he offered
me. I told him it was too late, the prices had already changed. I don't
know why I felt put out at Moe. I really admired him. He was funny,
could draw real good pictures, and he taught me to play "Under The
Double Eagle"; on the guitar. He was Bill's friend, but he was mine too.
Moe's sister, Delores, was in my grade from first through graduation
from CHS. Their mother, Mrs. Logan Francis, used to cut the town boys
hair at her house during the depression. There was always a big back-log
and a football game or something would be in order. Delores had to be in
on it, and she was tough. The boys respected her in all ways. One day
they had boxing gloves. When she challenged me, I was ashamed to box a
girl, and ashamed not to accept her challenge. I could not win either
way. Fortunately I was not the boy she beat up that day.
If they'd let girls play on the school team in those days, CHS would
have won more games. Delores was always a good friend though. She was
very smart in school and she was always exceptionally nice, "good-nice"
and nice to everyone, like her mother.
Uncle Clem Burnam, who was helping Grandpa farm up in Oklahoma died.
Grandpa gave uncle Clem's black western style Stetson hat to Dougie. I
would see him when I was shining shoes on the streets of Chillicothe. He
would be wearing that black cowboy hat. I was a little envious. But I
shined his shoes for him one day. He would have paid me if he had had
the money. Somewhere along in here Dougie joined the CCC's and went to
Doug would never be at home for very long at a time anymore. After CCCs
he went to Tiger, Arizona, where Lonnie and Louise were, and worked at
the smelter. He met Ruth Bull out there. He would buy a lot of school
supplies and clothes at the company store in Tiger, box them up and send
them to Edna and me. The school teachers didn't like for me to use that
narrow lined notebook paper, but they let me get away with it due to the
depression. He sent me my first T-shirts. They were made for wearing as
outer garments. They had ribs and pockets. He also sent my first blue
jeans. They had tan front pockets with a cowboy picture on them. I think
everyone got tired of seeing me in those jeans. I guess Dougie would
rack up a pretty good bill at the company store. From there he joined
the army a little later, when World War II came along. He was sent to
Alaska as a cook.
Then we moved out to Word's rent house on the outer fringes of town,
with a large pasture surrounding us. The Words family house was across
the pasture north from us by the equivalent of a couple of city blocks.
The Collins lived in another rent house about as far south. The Pierces
lived across the road about two lots south. Bobbie Pierce started to
school with me in the first grade, and was in my grade through high
school. The Pierces made home-made ice cream and invited the Burnam's
over. The parents played forty two. Bobbie, her older sister Earnestine,
Edna and I would play pick-up-sticks. "You Are My Sunshine" was sung a
lot. Granpa and Grandma Burnam came to see us. Grandma liked the
advertising jingle for Supersuds on the radio. (Uncle Bill Dean had
bought a radio for Mother.)
Billie Joe Word was a grade ahead of me. But he had a pony and we would
ride double to a little creek running through somebody's pasture to
fish. Sometimes we would fish under the railroad trestle where that
creek ran below. Sometimes we'd take potatoes down to "The Willows" and
fry them over an open wood fire. The Words hired me to chop cotton with
Billy Joe as my straw-boss. I would get a quarter for a day's work in
that hot sun. It was in this country atmosphere that I learned that you
shouldn't use gourd leaves for toilet paper.
I saw this pretty bird on a wire one day. It was there. I got my BB gun
that Lonnie and Lou had given me and sure enough I had become a pretty
good shot. That evening when Daddy saw the bird, he didn't spank me. I
wish he had. He talked to me until I was so ashamed. He said: "Son,
never kill anything that doesn't do harm, or unless it is for some
purpose." He explained how that bird ate the insects that ate the crops.
He told me it was a scissor-tail, a thing of beauty. I now enjoy
watching the magnificent scissor-tailed flycatcher. It is one of my
favorite birds. I often think of Daddy when I see one.
Joyce Chandler, who was also in my room at school, lived about four
miles further out. One time she and her Daddy stopped, along the way
from a downtown grocery store, and gave a ride to my daddy and me in
their mule drawn wagon. Daddy and I were carrying a sack of flour, some
potatoes and few other groceries, so the ride home made it easier. I
learned more about the Chandler mules later on. Joyce invited me out to
her house to ride the mules bareback. They were sure rough riding. But I
was real careful, since I had fallen off when Billy Joe's pony started
running, the first time I ever rode it bareback.
We then moved about a mile closer in to town, across the street from the
football stadium, within sight of the swimming pool, and next door to
the Sam Watson's. Mr. Watson played the Chinese block with his drum
sticks and his son-in-law played the mandolin. One hot summer day I was
watching the kids in swimming. Mr. Adrian, owner of the Adrian row block
of houses and several business buildings in Chillicothe, was also
watching from the bleachers. After quite a while he called me over and
asked why I wasn't swimming with the others. I told him I didn't have
the money. He paid my way in. I ran home and got the old second hand
bathing suit and had a good time. I then got a job as locker boy. The
pay was free swims when not on duty. I then learned to swim.
This is where we lived when Mother told me that there were certain times
of the month that I should be more careful with Sister and other girls.
Then a fearsome thing happened. Mother had to be taken to the Quanah
hospital for radiation treatment to stop some tumor growth. I do not
remember if surgery was required or not. But our mother had to stay at
the Quanah hospital for quite some time. I guess Edna and Daddy ran the
house. After that, Mother did not stay real thin as she had been all my
The next house I remember was located just west and south of down town
between the Constable Henry Bunch and the John R. Davis family. We all
became good friends. Someone from the Bunches or the Davis's were at our
house most of the time, Ola Mae Bunch or Maude Davis to visit Mother,
Mary Frances Davis to visit Edna, and Emmett and Olin Bunch to visit
Bill (or Edna). Henry Larry , Mary Lou and Doris Bunch and Wanda Lou
Davis were often around also. These were the days of World War II. It
was the days of "The White Cliffs of Dover, "Dreaming of a White
Christmas", "Elmer's Tune", Kate Smith's "God Bless America", "There's A
Star Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere", and many others.
Somewhere along these years my sister, Edna Florene, played the snare
drums in the school band. She was voted Chillicothe Band Sweetheart. I
was so proud of my sister. I don't know how good she played the drums,
but she was obviously the prettiest and sweetest girl in town.
When I became a freshman in high school I took agriculture because all
my friends did. I had to have a term project. I had saved up ten dollars
from delivering papers before I was fired for oversleeping. I walked out
a couple of miles to Mr. Jim's, the nearest farmer who I knew raised
hogs, and struck up deal. I wish I could remember his name. He was a
Jehovah Witness and a very nice man. He didn't mind when we fished in
his part of Wanderers Creek. He let me have an eight week old pig for
only eight dollars, a dollar for each week. I carried that pig home in
my arms. Have you ever tried to carry a squirming, squealing, eight week
old pig in your arms for two miles? I would deserve any grade I could
get for that project. I put that pig in a pin at the back of our lot and
fed him morning and night. That feeding sure became expensive. I've
forgotten how much it cost to have him castrated. I had to get a job
ushering at the picture show to keep up with Old Sloakum, as Daddy named
the pig. I had to keep track of all the expenses, even though Daddy had
to pay for a lot of the pig mash. I made a net profit of a dollar off
Old Sloakum when I sold him. That was a lot of work for a dollar.
I shot a white (domesticated) duck at the pond beneath the railroad
trestle about two miles out on the east side of town, out of season with
a twenty-two, and walked home on the west side with it. After I plucked
it in sight of all the neighbors and Mother was cooking it, our neighbor
Henry Bunch, the constable, came over and asked what she was cooking. He
didn't do that routinely. Mother said she was cooking a hen, would he
like to eat supper with us. I guess that was the answer he wanted to
hear. But he didn't stay for supper. I liked Henry Bunch.
One Saturday when I was popping up a lot of popcorn to get ready for the
opening matinee crowd at the Strand, I heard some gun shots. I watched
through the box office windows as a man was stumbling, crawling and
running into the Hollis grocery across the street. The man with the shot
gun was standing at the light standard turn-around in the middle and at
the north end of main street. The gunman waited there and watched the
store entrance for about ten minutes before Mr. Bunch walked up my side
of the street, and then angled out toward the man. Mr. Bunch left his
own revolver in his scabbard, while he walked over to the gunman,
calling him by name, asking him what was the trouble, and why not give
the gun to him. The gunman respected that and gave Mr. Bunch the gun.
They went away, to jail I presumed. Later I learned there had been some
attention given to the gunman's wife. I had thought Mr. Bunch was sure
brave, walking out there without pulling his gun. I realize now that it
was the wise thing to do, but he still had to be brave to do it.
Bobby Cranford became a close friend in high school. He was about a year
older than me, but we were in the same grade. He worked at the Strand
running the projector. I was his relief, while my main job was just
popping the corn. Bob joined the navy during our senior year. While I
was in Tokyo, he got a shore pass and came to see me.
World War II was still underway. Bill and his best friends, Moe Francis
(Kenneth Francis' brother), Benny Northum and J.W. Walker all
volunteered. Bill came down with the mumps. They "went down" on him. His
friends left without him. Moe and J. W. were both good guitar players
and singers. Somehow they got on a radio station and sang "My Buddy" to
Bill. I remember Bill crying as he lay in bed listening. Bill got over
the mumps and was stationed at Sheppard Field Air Base at Wichita Falls,
after training in Colorado. As the war went along, Bill would come home
on weekend passes and bring many of his new friends from Sheppard. Edna
became more popular with all the young girls around and near
Chillicothe. The Burnam's became a virtual USO. I remember at least three
of Edna's friends married Bill's friends who came from Sheppard on
weekend passes. And many other romances. But many of the men came
repeatedly just to have a surrogate "Mom" and family.
Daddy had gone back to work for the railroad, after trying a short two
weeks at a defense plant in the Panhandle. He worked for the Santa Fe on
the Bridge and Building Gang. They sent him all over South and West
Texas. I remember him talking about Presidio. They lived in these
boxcars that had small windows in them and a kitchen where there meals
were prepared. There was no air conditioning. I have now been to
Presidio and know how extremely hot it is even in the spring. I guess
people were tougher in those days. At least I can now appreciate what he
endured, and why he took early retirement at age 59. He used to come
home about every other weekend during those war years. We would go over
to meet him at station. Our house backed up to a huge vacant lot between
us and the Santa Fe depot.
Daddy was able to get free train passes for his dependents. One summer
when Edna was in Arizona visiting with Lonnie and Louise, Mother and I
rode the Doodle Bug to Sweetwater. Uncle Henry and Aunt Hazel drove from
Monahans to pick us up and take us to Big Springs where we visited about
two weeks with Aunt Minnie and Uncle Joe Hoffman. I was amazed that he
had a sliced off half head of lettuce every day for lunch, along with
the rest of his lunch. He came home everyday at noon from the Cosden
refinery. Aunt Minnie paid me to chop some weeds around her house. I
think she just wanted me to have some money to spend. I sure enjoyed the
Eskimo Pies from the creamery. Uncle Henry came back to take us from Big
Springs out to Monahans to spend a couple of weeks with him and Aunt
Hazel. Uncle Henry taught me to take an electric fan apart, clean it up,
and put it back together. It worked. He let me take it home with me. He
taught me how to put a new plug on an electric cord. He was in charge of
the maintenance for the Monahans Water Department. He showed me the
chlorination system for the city swimming pool. He showed me the
electric alarms he had connected from the city water towers to his house
to let him know when to go shut off the water pumps. I knew he was a
smart man. Aunt Hazel was a real gentle lady. She played the piano for
me. Uncle Henry got me a job helping a surveyor one day. Monahans is
also a hot desert, and we had no water. I was glad when that day was
over. Uncle Henry took Aunt Hazel, Mother and me to see the movie,
"Cabin in the Sky" with Rochester, Lena Horne and Ethel Waters. We all
really enjoyed that movie.
The war continued. The Davis's moved to the Panhandle so John R. could
work in a defense plant up there. We moved into the house the Davis's
vacated. I think this is the house we lived in when I was born. I know
we had lived there when I was very young and had fallen off the back
porch and bonked my head on the gas meter.
We really needed to go see my first nephew, Ronald Earl Burnam, who was
only a few months old. Lonnie arranged for his neighbors, who were
visiting Texas, to come by and take Mother, Edna and me to Tiger,
Arizona with them. I think I was fourteen them. We stopped on the way
and picked up their daughter at the deaf and blind school in Las Cruces,
N.M. She was a special girl, and helped us pass the time on the long hot
trip. We stayed at least a month. Louise was a great cook and a most
hospitable hostess. One big event of the day was when she went to the
company store to buy groceries. We all went with her most of the time.
Some days I would be playing with Tom and Dan Stevenson, Art Idler or
old what's her name that had the horse. I wouldn't tell them that I rode
the horse with her, because I didn't like to be teased about girls, and
Lonnie couldn't miss a bet. Art, Tom, Dan and I planned an overnight
camping back up in the canyons. They knew where they were going and I
went along. Lonnie wanted me to have cool water, so he placed the canvas
covered canteen he was lending me under a dripping water hose outside
all night long. I didn't quite understand that because the boys had told
me to put some ice in it before we started out. The next morning Louise
accommodated me by putting some fresh ice water in the canteen. Now I
understand why Lonnie was a little put out, but Louise laughed. I think
that quart of water might have been nearly depleted by nightfall,
because the next day was sure a dry one. We had a great time, but were
all real glad to get back to water.
The war kept going on and I continued to go to school, usher and popped
corn at the Strand Theatre. We moved a block east and a block or so
south, next door to Emily Ledbetter. Her father had been mayor several
years ago. She was a grade behind me in school. Bill married Dorothene
Anderson. I was their Best Man. Doug married Nava Jo Compton. And Edna
married Kenneth Morgan Francis. I was a senior and was on the CHS
football team. Just barely lettered though. At 128 pounds I had a rough
time competing for tackle position with Red Ward and Red Walton, both
weighing in at 160. I did manage to start some of the games, and I had a
lot of fun being a part of it.
I graduated in May of 1946. On July 3rd of that year I was inducted
into the regular army as a volunteer for an eighteen month enlistment. I
wanted to go to Germany because I had heard about how pretty that
country is. After basic training at Fort Bliss in El Paso. After two hot
summer months training in West Texas and the desert of Southern New
Mexico, I was sent to Japan, not Germany. But I learned to really like
Japan. It had a lot of pretty country too. I had opportunities to do
things not available in Chillicothe for a town boy. I got to learn to
ride horses, even if was in an eastern style saddle. I learn to get the
horse, Seiko, to take brush jumps. We could ride outside the training
tracks and rode through some real pretty sites. I learned to ice skate,
sort of. I visited beaches, got in some swimming and some row boating.
Alpha Dell Elam, a Special Services civilian employee from Wichita
Falls, Texas, took Buddy Dillard, my friend who was also from Wichita
Falls out to a source where they used woodblock printing art techniques.
Buddy and I visited museums, and some taxi dance studios. I always told
Mother I was having a good time, but she always thought I was sad and
worried. My sister's first child, Kenneth Logan, was born on Christmas
while I was in Tokyo. I guess I prayed more during her pregnancy than I
ever have. I guess I was still thinking of James Anderson's mother dying
when giving childbirth.
Grandma Burnam died June 29, 1947, when I was in Tokyo, Japan. Grandpa,
who had lost his sight several years back, went to live the remainder of
his days with Roy and Katie Burnam at their farm near Mangum, Oklahoma.
Grandpa died on June 29, 1948, exactly one year to the day after Grandma
died. I was working in the mine in Tiger, Arizona at the time, living
with Lonnie and Louise.
After my enlistment was over, I attended school at West Texas State
College in Canyon, Texas. I worked part time, made a lot of friends,
played a lot, and ate homemade cookies sent by Louise. My grades were
dropping from fair to not so fair before my eighteen month army
enlistment G.I. bill ran out.
I moved to Fort Worth and got a job at Convair for a dollar ten an hour.
I worked for a little over a year and moved to Artesia to work for a
geophysical company working in the Party Manager's (Ralph Parks) Office.
I would see this certain young lady when we went to the drug store for
coke breaks. Ralph told me she worked at the telephone office and was
sure a nice girl. He sure encouraged me. We finally met at the swimming
pool, where I asked her for a date. Alma Ann Berry and I were married
about two and a half months later on Daddy's birthday, October 11, 1992.
When the geophysical crew left town, I started to work for the refinery
in Artesia. Alma Ann was pregnant with Lon Maxwell. Lon was born July
11, 1953, and we moved to Fort Worth that fall. I started night school
at TCU and eventually got back on at Convair, later General Dynamics.
Daniel Clarke was born on July 5, 1956. Robert Ray was born on October
17, 1959. I finally got a BA degree with a math major in 1965, by
attending night school. Alma Ann got a BS and two MS's after that and
Lon Stiver Burnam, Sr. had struggled with cancer all through the month
of April, saying he wanted to get one more railroad retirement check for
Mother. My daddy died in Quanah, Texas on April 30, 1968 after he
received and signed the check. Pearl Elizabeth, my mother, passed away
sixteen years later in Quanah on May 11, 1984. Douglas Burnam, her
second son, was there with her. I am grateful to Dougie because our
mother was not alone when she died.