Forging the Steel
I cannot say, and I will not say
That he is dead.—He is just away!
James Whitcomb Riley, “Away”
ALTHOUGH OIL’S REIGN WAS CLOSE AT HAND, cotton was still king when my parents married in 1924. Texas produced a third of the nation’s crop, and Dallas enjoyed a growing prosperity as a major cotton center with an international reputation.1 Recreational activities thrived in the healthy economy—so much so that the city found it necessary to hire a full-time dance hall inspector. Radio, live theater, and sports were also favorite forms of entertainment, but movies were the number one popular pastime, with four theaters located on a single block of downtown Elm Street.
My parents had little cash to spend on such diversions during the first year of their marriage. My father sometimes joked that he married Mother for her money—her wealth consisting of a four-dollar check received each month as her share of a life insurance policy taken out on her brother Sam, who died during World War I. My father’s only assured income was a five-dollar-a-week retainer that he received from a black client who ran a barbecue stand. He and Mother collected the money each Saturday, and afterward used it for their weekly grocery shopping. They did manage to buy a used Model T Ford from Bill Clark and a small but comfortable cottage located in a section considered “the wrong side of the tracks” in otherwise fashionable Highland Park. The house was furnished with an assortment of family donations and miscellaneous pieces received as payment for legal services. My father accepted numerous items from clients who were unable to pay their bills, and ultimately accumu-