My father was tougher than nails and rarely sick but that was before lymphoma took over. He fought it bravely for a long time but cancer inevitably wins. We lived 200 miles from M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and made many trips there while he was undergoing treatment. At times he would be required to stay for long periods so my mother rented an apartment near the hospital to be with him. Once, when his spirits seemed low, my sister, Jackie and I decided to drive down for an impromptu visit to cheer him up. It was to be a quick trip because we both had to work the next day and it was already late when we started the drive home. The night was wet but we were making good time until we had to leave the Interstate and turn onto the rural 2-lane road Jackie referred to as, “The White Knuckle Stretch.” About 20 minutes in, we were enveloped by the densest fog I’ve ever seen-- so thick we couldn’t see the front of the car. We weighed our options. There were no hotels for 50 miles and pulling over was out of the question. Anyone crazy enough to be out driving that night would never see us. Turning back was out, too and there was no way to call anyone—this was 1982 and years before cell phones. We opted to keep going and hope the fog lifted. I climbed into the back seat, opened the door and shined a flashlight onto the white lines. “A little left. A little right,” I’d direct Jackie as she crept along, literally driving blind. With great luck, we didn’t encounter another car, tractor or wandering cow and several hours later, we finally limped into a town. By that time it was early morning and the fog began to lift. We made it home in time to shower and change before work but neither of us regretted our decision to go.
On another late night, it was just Dad and I driving home from Houston. It was very dark because there was no moon and in our little cocoon, he started to talk. He told me stories I’d never heard and so many pieces of the mystery that was Dad fell into place. I would have given anything for a tape recorder but regrettably, his voice is stored only in my memory. This is my favorite of the stories he told and the one I think illustrates Dad’s character best of all:
Hiram Stephens Curry was born in 1912 in Altus, Oklahoma. A family friend remarked, “He’ll be another Teddy Roosevelt” and the nickname, Ted, was his for life. He graduated from high school in 1928 at the start of the Great Depression. His father, already advanced in age when Dad was born, owned a music business which was beginning to fail as people lost jobs and could no longer afford luxuries. Dad knew that his father had high hopes of sending him to college and saw his bitter disappointment when the money dwindled away. So Dad did something out of character for him—he lied. He told his family that he had saved up enough money for college and had enrolled in the University of Texas. His beaming father had a big send-off for him at the bus station with family, friends and well-wishers. The reality was that Dad had barely enough to cover the bus ticket and he arrived in Austin penniless and alone. He was 16 years old.
Dad made his way to a nearby park to sleep on a bench his first night in town. He found one with an abandoned newspaper and scanned the classifieds for jobs. There were none listed but instead of thinking, “No jobs,” he thought, “No ads. This paper needs someone to sell ads!” The very next day he went to the newspaper office. They weren’t hiring, either but he persisted. “OK, but if I do sell ads, will you pay me?” He asked. They agreed, probably thinking they’d seen the last of him but they didn’t know Ted Curry. He did sell ads—a lot of them. He found a job taking care of horses in exchange for a place to sleep in the stable. He made friends. And he made enough to enroll at the University of Texas where he studied engineering.
Dad was a good student but he didn’t finish his degree. After three years at U.T., an opportunity to open a business presented itself and he took it—in the midst of a depression. But that’s another story.
Absolutely amazing!! This is a fantastic story of persistence, tenacity and character that hopefully will inspire generations from now in your family. It certainly inspired me. Excellent!!
No one (except a congenital bum) could help but admire a man with that kind of pluck. I'm an old man now, but I still believe my Dad and the people of his generation were the kind of people that MADE America. Would that character re-emerge if we faced really hard times? Who knows? We may find out.
My sentiments echo Tom's. Hearing about the long, tortuous drive in the fog leads me to believe that you and your sister inherited some of your dad's determination and spunk.
I loved your story, Janet. Thanks for posting it. I agree with what Mr. Carriker said - men and women like your dad really did make this country great.
I grew up in SE Texas, so I know about that kind of fog! Reminds me of some stories that I haven't told about my dad's stay at MD Anderson! Thanks for the writing prompt, Janet!