My Uncle Truman

Truman grew up in harder times than most of us have seen.  He was born into a large family of brothers and sisters then lost his father and mother at an early age.   They lived in a small wooden plank house on a sandy land farm.  When illness struck others in the family, Truman and my Dad would sleep on a bed on the front porch to make more room inside the house.   Dad said they had plenty of covers.  He and Truman woke up one winter night covered with snow, they just pulled the covers up a little tighter over their heads and went back to sleep.

The family was poor but rich in spirit and love for one another.   Truman was left with choices of trying to make a living on a sandy land farm around Rising Star where he grew up or leaving the farm to look for work, he chose to leave and found work in construction.  He later learned to operate heavy equipment and worked in the oil field.  Eventually he and his family became located in Andrews, Texas.  As it turned out Truman had followed work from the sandy land of Rising Star to the sand dunes of the Andrews area where the pay was best working in the oil fields.   I can see Truman leaving for work dressed in khakis and a hat tilted a little to the left and a little down in the front, just enough to show a little attitude and a lot of confidence.

During this time of hard learning and hard work, Truman became a man well respected and had accumulated a vast practical knowledge of how to get things done.  He and my dad, either one, could sit down with you and calculate with a pencil and paper and tell you if a business adventure would likely be a good one or not.  Truman had gained a wealth of knowledge that he would gladly share if anyone asked. 

Jack told me this story in front of Truman and I am sure it must be true since Truman didn’t deny it.  This story reminds me of my relationship with my Dad as well. I will be paraphrasing a bit.   As a young man Jack said, “Dad I need a job.”  Truman at the time was operating a Bull Dozer in the oil field.   Truman said, “Well, I can pay you to be a “swamper” for me.  This means you will keep the dozer serviced and anything else I need you to do is included with this job.”  Jack said, “Well, I need the money”.  He went to work for his dad.   Jack said Truman wore out the index finger on a new pair of gloves every day just pointing and showing him what to do.  It could have been said of my dad as well and brings back good memories them both.

When I was a young man looking for work, Truman said “Jerry, if you want to work I think I can get you on with a pipe line crew, laying pipe just outside of Andrews.  So the next day I went with Uncle Truman out to the sand dunes where the work was going on and they very quickly put me to work filing pipe.  That means filing the asphalt off the ends of pipes so the they could be welded together.”    The temperature in the sand dunes was over 100 degrees.  You had to straddle the hot pipe and bend down over the pipe to file away the asphalt. The asphalt was hot enough to drip off the end of the pipe.  Hot sand was pouring into my boots with every step.  The crew was breathing down my neck and moving fast welding the pipe and laying it into the ground.   I started thinking maybe there is something else I can do.

The next day I hired out as a welder’s helper under a shed at the same location.  The temperature was even hotter under the shed.   I’m thinking to myself, I’m tough, but not this tough.   The next day was Saturday; I headed back home to visit.  While I was home, another uncle, Lattie Cawley, (a Superintendent with Lone Star Gas),  had found a job for me doing the same kind of work near Ranger, Texas.  It was hot but I didn't have to wade the West Texas sand.  I called Truman and Vera and told them the situation and asked them to mail my work clothes home to Rising Star and they did.

During my short stay in Andrews, I had my first encounter with the family attitude concerning croquet.   We went to the city park so we could have space to set up a regulation size court.  I soon learned that competition in the game of croquet could be rather fierce and gave no quarter.  Truman, Jack and myself battled to win.  I don’t remember who legally won the game but I am sure the subject was debated for some time.  Truman was a competitor and instilled the same sense of competition in his boys both in business and in the games they played.

I think Truman also enjoyed a good cup of coffee with friends or family and a good debate on political issues, of which there has never been a shortage.  Family folklore has it that a good debate could occur with Truman over politics or over a domino game.  If the debate was really worthy, Truman would take one side of the issue and Jack or JFrank take the other side. To be a good debater you had to be able to convince the other person that you had won whether or not all of your points in the argument were valid.   If a winner couldn’t be declared by midnight, then the parties had to trade sides and argue the other side for a while.   The truth of the matter was it didn’t make much difference about the issue; it was one’s demeanor and ability to present a good case for the issue at hand.    These exercises had great benefits to keeping the mind keen and alert and were good for venting frustrations.

Truman was a great storyteller and I wish I had spent more time with him.  He had a very mischievous smile in his eyes and face, as he would tell a good story.   I never knew if he might be embellishing his stories a bit but it really didn’t matter.   If you sat and listened to his stories you left with a warm glow in your heart and smile on your face.

Besides being a great storyteller, my Uncle Truman loved to play dominoes.

I know when Truman arrives in Heaven; he will see Willis, Lawrence and my Dad sitting around a domino table.  Lawrence will say to Truman, “We have been waiting for you.  Sit down and let’s get this game started.  It’s your turn to play.”

I feel certain the domino game has already begun.


Jerry Davis     11/15/03