When I was down in Texas, I took a sidetrip over to my hometown of Port Neches, Tx. "Sidetrip" is a misnomer--I ended up staying there 4 days cleaning out my mother's house, rummaging through old memories, reliving a slice of my childhood days.
Some of the photos dated back to the late 1940s when my father met my mother in the nearby refinery town of Port Arthur. They were like oil and water--he, confident, athletic, handsome; she, intelligent, quiet and shy. But they hit it off and got married in 1950, and started into what looked like a great life, at least for a high school educated refinery worker. He went to work for Gulf Oil, one of the famed "Seven Sisters," and rose to become a "pipefitter" in the sprawling refinery on the Gulf Coast. In 1963 he even made it onto the cover of the Gulf Oil annual report, as part of a group photo (he's the seventh one in line, behind the secretary and the welder). People around town began calling him Mr. Gulf.
But a year later in 1964 he suddenly died of cancer, shocking everyone. He was only 38.
I was only nine but I knew when I saw grown adults crying life was about to change. It did, and now forty years later I find myself closing one of the final chapters. The house he built in 1959 will go up for sale later this summer. Mom lives on, but she's a shell of her former self and gets around in a wheelchair. Strangely she can remember small details from 40 years ago but has a hard time recalling what she ate for breakfast.
One of the things I came across was an article I wrote about him back in the early 1990s for Texas Monthly magazine, a lively, somewhat literary publication hazardous duty article.
I took off a month to research his life, and learn about the man I never knew. I interviewed friends, work buddies, and siblings--he grew up in a family of 9 (7 brothers) in Alabama (I'd recommend this to anyone seeking to find out more about their parents, or ancestors, and themselves). This rekindled long dormant memories--the stories he spun at my bedside every night, the camping trips, vacations, and so many baseball games (he co-founded the local Pee-Wee league).
I have to say he wasn't the most educated or sophisticated man, and would seem out of step with the business crowd I associate with. But he taught me early lessons that would stay with me a lifetime--how to live, learn, and enjoy the people around me, and life. He lived life with grace and good humor, and I can only hope I inherited a little bit of that...and his will to make the earth a little better place.