When Terrie and I got married, I worked at a company that manufactured high pressure washers and commercial hot water heaters. I started as a helper, and moved to building the natural gas and LP gas burners for each unit. I would test the burners for leaks, install them in the units, test the tanks for water links, and install the controls. I would occasionally make service calls as well. I was making $3.50 an hour, which wasn’t Rockefeller-type money, but not the minimum wage either. To earn more money, I knew I would need to further my education.
Three nights a week after work, I would drive to Edmond to attend classes at Central State College. It is now called the University of Central Oklahoma. I was majoring in Industrial Education, but most of my classes were directed toward my general education requirements. One of my classes was a drafting class. I did well in the class and was able to pick up the concept and had the ability to “see” the object I was drawing from various perspectives in my mind.
Terrie had started teaching art lessons at a craft store on Twelfth Street in Moore. It started small, with a couple of classes each week. Her students ranged from the casual to the serious. There were times when a student would come, pay for their time and never paint anything. They just wanted other people to talk too. Terrie has the ability to make the classes’ fun with her stories, her sense of humor, and her ability to listen and ask questions.
The money was tight at times, just like with everyone else. We had moved from our original apartment to a nicer apartment that cost more, but it had a swimming pool and no bugs. It was upstairs in a two-story building. We needed furniture for the unfurnished two bedroom apartment. Terrie’s parents donated a black naugahyde sofa that they used when Terrie and I were dating. It was a comfortable couch, but it would make you sweat if you fell asleep on it. We decided to go to a furniture auction in Yukon or El Reno, which was held every Friday night to get the furniture we needed. I was not that familiar with auctions other than knowing not to raise your hand very often. We bought a wood dining room table with six chairs. Terrie and my mother re-upholstered the seats to our liking. We also bought a couple of easy chairs. I’m positive that as I was bidding that I raised the price by bidding against myself. We got a pickup full of furniture all for forty dollars. I bought six 12”x 12” decorative cinder blocks that I painted black and three 12” x 1” boards that I stained and made an entertainment center. I put our stereo and speakers, LP’s and eight track tapes, books and various flora and fauna to finish the look. The apartment was starting to develop into our taste by adding things that interested us.
One of my favorite memories is after Terrie would finish her evening class, we would go across the street to the A & W drive-in at Twelfth and Janeway. They had coupons in the Moore Monitor newspaper for Papa burgers at half price after a certain time. We would order two Papa burgers and two root beers in a frosted mug. We sat in our car eating our supper, as Terrie would tell me about her class time. It may sound silly to you, but to me it was precious. More valuable than gold. Speaking of precious, somewhere along the line, I started calling Terrie “Precious” because she was and still is to me. Moore’s Little Mexico restaurant had half price off coupons that we utilized as well.
At some point, in the early months of being married, Precious talked me into getting a cat. Her family had both cats and dogs. I didn’t know much about cats, but when we were dating the family cat would stroll into the room, look around, and then jump into my lap and begin to purr. I am convinced that cats sense which person does not like them and then makes a bee line for that person to annoy them. She located a Siamese cat which she named “Po Chow Mao” (little boy cat). I didn’t understand why Po’s litter box had to be located in my closet. I would have placed it on the balcony, but the prospect of escaping our captivity was too great. One day, I was in the bathroom when I heard Terrie loudly say, “That’s disgusting!” The next thing I know she is walking into the bathroom, holding the cat backwards and sticking his butt close to my face and saying, “Look at that!!!” Being so close, I couldn’t help but see a rubber band was coming out of Po’s rectum. I looked at Po’s face, as he had turned to look at me and said, “Po, you can’t eat rubber bands.” He shrugged his shoulders as if to say, “I can’t do anything about it now.” I asked Terrie what she wanted me to do. Her answer was “get it out of course!” Never having faced the situation before, I thought for a moment, got some toilet paper, grasped the rubber band and removed it. I think I became Po’s lifelong friend that day.
During this time, Terrie was giving private lessons, once a week to a woman who came to our home. As time went on, Terrie had told her I was looking for a better job. The lady told her that where her husband worked, they were looking to hire drafting trainees. I interviewed with them and got the job. I would have to work in the shop for a few months, to see what the company produced and then they would move me into the office. This was a big step for us and it set the course for my employment for years to come.
The company was a steel company that had been in business since 1910. They manufactured steel open web trusses for buildings and bridge girders for highway bridges. The office and shop were separated with the office in a two-story brick building. To go into the shop, you had to pass through a guard shack that separated to fenced shop area. The guard was the uncle of the company president and had to be in his seventies. The disturbing thing about the guard was that he wore a gun and if you questioned him, he would put his hand on the butt of the pistol. I learned not to question him in fear of being shot by Barney Fife.
I was assigned to be the helper to a “heater”. A “heater” was a guy who would use an acetylene torch to heat a portion of a truss to straighten a member or to add camber to a member as it was drawn. My job was to place wet rags on the heated part to cool it off. Also, I would operate a pneumatic grinder to clean the end of a piece of steel or clean up a weld. On those days, when I got home I would shower and the bottom of the bathtub would be covered with debris of the girder. It could get very dirty.
I don’t recall the “heater’s” name, but he was a middle-aged black man, who had a good sense of humor and I enjoyed working with him. One day, we took a restroom break. I was in a stall and was watching my co-worker wash his face and hands in the circular wash basin, when he stopped, turned, and started walking toward me. I thought to myself, “What is this guy doing?” As he approached the door of the stall, he produced a glass eyeball, that he began raising and lower the eyeball along the crack of the door. At one point, he raised it above the door to “look” in. When I started telling him to move away, he began laughing and holding his stomach. He got a huge kick out of that! I probably would have pulled the same stunt, if I had an extra eyeball.
After a couple of months in the shop, I was called up to the office to start my training as a draftsman. On my first day in the office, I wore my grey suit, with white shirt and tie and my hair was down to my shoulders. The drafting room was on the second floor and it held sixteen drafting table in a large room and two glass enclosed offices, one office for the chief draftsman and one office for the outside drafting coordinator. It was very, very quiet and very, very structured. Having worked only in a shop environment, this was quite a different atmosphere.
I had nothing to compare the atmosphere with, but it seem to me to be something from the 1930’s or 1940’s that I might have seen in an old movie. Talking was restricted to asking questions and then it was to be in low tones. I quickly missed having my radio from my shop days.
When lunch time came, I went to one of the closest restaurants near my work, Cattlemen’s Steakhouse. I don’t think I impressed the staff very much. I was seated at a table for one located in the hallway to the kitchen next to the swinging door. I ordered the three-piece fried chicken lunch. When my lunch came, I was surprised that one of the pieces was a chicken foot. I didn’t think you could fry a chicken foot, but they proved me wrong. I received it as a message that they didn’t want any long-haired people eating there. I’ve since eaten there two or three times, but it’s not on my favorites list. I think that they are over-rated and I have never ordered their chicken again.
I went back to work and the training time began. They started with teaching me how to read architectural drawings. They showed me a line on the drawing and told me what it was and I was amazed that from that line the shop produced a piece of steel.
We wanted to expand Terrie’s art work and decided to start showing at art shows. Our first show was at the Canterbury Arts Festival in Edmond. While Terrie had been in amateur shows when she was younger, this was her first professional show. I entered the show with a misconception. I thought the idea was to sell paintings. I found out that was not the bottom line. We set up her display, hung her paintings with the prices clearly shown. In the art business, you wanted to have larger paintings to attract attention and smaller works that most anyone could afford. Toward the end of the day, I was showing her work to a doctor. He wanted to buy two for the price of one. So I said sure. That’s when I found out it was about more than sells. It also involved artistic pride, the desire for attention and admiration, and the creativity of the artist. But most importantly, it was too great of a discount.
We were at the beginning of our careers and the beginning of sharing our lives as a couple. We were happy and we were in love and that alone will only take you so far.
Let me know your thoughts.
The Early Years Part 3 next time.