The school year 1939-40 was the best yet in my whole life, because it was the year I met the cutest, sweetest girl in the whole school. Her name was Charlotte Elizabeth Sawtelle and everyone called her Shorty. She and I were both about 5 feet tall. Shorty Sawtelle was very popular and was the best jitterbug dancer in the whole school. We had a dance in the school gym every Saturday night, and all the best dancers wanted to dance with Shorty. She was dating a number of the tall popular guys, and I could see this was going to take extra effort and skill on my part, if I had a chance to win her.
I guess this was when I started developing some of my sales techniques. I became friends with her brothers and especially her older sister, Alice. I also began spending a lot of time at her house, supposedly to see her brothers. I remember one time one of her cool dates came to pick her up, and I answered the door to let him in. I put a mark on the wall, “one for me,” when I saw his consternation. Charlotte's mom decided early on that I was the one for her, and Alice was fond of me, too. They both became boosters of mine from then on. Charlotte didn’t have a chance, but didn’t realize it at the time.
In 1940 Mom purchased a new house at 378 Meredith Drive about three blocks west of Thomas Jefferson High School. It was really big, almost 1000 sq ft with two bedrooms and one bath.
That summer I spent with Dad in Kaufman. Dad was building a road from Kaufman to Scurry, right through the Trinity River bottom. We lived in a big Victorian home on about 5 acres. One afternoon, I was sitting on the big wrap around porch watching the rain. All at once there was a blinding flash and a boom that left my ears ringing for days. I had my feet on the railing, and it flipped me over backwards and nearly scared me to death. There was a big black streak down the trunk of the tree-right in front of the porch-where the lightening had struck.
Dad had a big shop at the edge of town, and I spent a lot of time there. He and I were starting to build a miniature sports car, using a four-cylinder motorcycle engine. We also built a motorbike for me to get around on. At first, we mounted the engine on a wheel and just put it on the back of the bike, giving three wheels in tandem. This, as in many new inventions, did not work. After we finished it, I took it on a test spin around the block. Every time I tried to turn a corner it would pitch me off in the street. I had to go through this several times before I got back to the shop. On the last turn, as I was picking the bike up, I looked behind me and Dad was following in his car and about to die laughing. I was not a happy camper, but I got over it and laughed about it too. We took the rear wheel off the bike and slipped the third wheel up to take its place, giving us just the two wheels. This worked fine and I rode the thing like that for years.
It was about this time Dad discovered that apparently the company office manager and bookkeeper back in Lubbock, a man named Fulton, had misappropriated funds, and Field Bros was broke. This was never proven, and the manager was never prosecuted. It was a very tough time for Dad, but he did not declare bankruptcy. In the next three years he paid everyone off. He went to work for Brown and Root Construction Company in Houston as a job superintendent and in three years rose to vice president of the company. He built the Goodfellow Army air base in San Angelo and also the one at Big Spring. He built the ordinance plant north of Amarillo. He then built the Navy Base at Flour Bluff in Corpus Christi and was constructing the Irish Bend Shipyard in Houston when he died. He worked hard 365 days of the year and literally worked himself to death. I remember he did not even take Christmas day off. He would die in 1943 at the age of 42.
Photo of Corpus Christi Naval Air Station found here.
Listen to Louis Prima sing “Jump, Jive and Wail” here.