Lift Off

 

I am finding this to be the most difficult page of the narrative to compose, for it is of David’s and my growing up. *  I can say, as a psychiatrist, that one never completely understands their “growing-up.”  As the late aging process continues for me, I have come to understand the wisdom of this said on a blog recently “Emotion has the longest and clearest memory. ”  What follows is mostly “the clearest memory.”

The move to Tulsa was a move to Eden but  I suffered as much as Eve from the learning and mourned for years the loss of family and familiar surroundings of Lawton.

I believe our mother suffered even more. One may forgive her intrusive fears of illness as having a reality base. This was also a time of rampaging poliomyelitis (infantile paralysis); there was no penicillin to treat a host of fatal infections and prevent  rheumatic fever; tuberculosis was ever a threat among the poor and malnourished  greenhouse workers who lived close by.  I had a positive tuberculin skin test by the time I entered college My personal recollections of the leave taking from the first eight years of my life and what we first found Tulsa to be may be read here.

Doing what men must do, our father immersed himself in the business of securing the means for physical sustenance for family. All he ever wanted from the world was a chance to work and introduce some beauty into the lives of others.

In addition to our personal change of place, in 1939, the  whole world changed as “rumors of war” were transformed into reality. Our family was no exception in facing a whole new set of anxieties and deprivations and challenges. The  counter culture of war  began to take hold, especially once the United States became involved in hostilities.  But Mother continued to work miracles with wartime rationing just as she had during the times of little money. She always answered my cries from nightmares of bombings and of tornadoes with reassuring presence.

Our father worked a second job assembling warplanes. His lack of time  and the gasoline and tire rationing intervened to limit our ability to visit our southwestern Oklahoma family. This seemed to especially disrupt the neighborhood quality of the visiting with the Cooke side of the family. Visiting with the Watkins grandparents had always been more formal and though with less frequency that seemed to continue with some constancy. David has recounted to me his primary memory is of the peace of visits to the Watkins home on B Avenue. Both kept alive some sense of continuity.

In Tulsa, before our parents built the home of our high school years we lived in various houses owned by the Tulsa Greenhouse which had since its founding provided housing for greenhouse workers. All of these we lived in were along a spur of U. S. Route 66.  From our front yard David and I, waving and noting the license plates, observed the world go by. During WWII the military convoys all came by way of this route.  We waved many many cheerful young men off to the wars. And we learned about war every Saturday afternoon at the Delman Theater. I know my taste for after dinner Cointreau was spawned by Casablanca.

The culture of  the  enlightened great Art Deco  city of Tulsa and its public school system was an enriching influences.  Beauty is not all but it is much. The city itself was such a contrast to southwestern Oklahoma. There were more trees and expansive  green grass lawns as the drought had never had the hold there as in other sections.  The more affluent engineers and geologists the oil industry had attracted built more homes for beauty beyond utilitarianism. And the new moguls of oil came to their wealth in the midst of the Art Deco period of architecture and filled the public spaces with beautiful work places and churches. There are several YouTube videos devoted to Tulsa’s architecture.

This first one  is a short survey of standing buildings that begins with my high school, Will Rogers High School.    This “Art Deco Buildings”  links to a long richly descriptive film for the serious students of Art Deco.

It was of course school that occupied virtually all David’s and my conscious efforts when Tulsa was home but subsequent history has proven that a lot more was going on in nourishing the hearts and minds of who we were to be. There can be no words of praise high enough to describe the qualities of this progressive school system where we not only learned how to write and speak (even to our grandmother’s standards) but art, and music, and literature.  I had one course that was a field participation in a summer of  cataloging  the flora and fauna of Tulsa County. As a senior at the still celebrated Will Rogers High School, my English class included architecture and the great religions as well as all the “standard” academics.

Tulsa Central High School which David attended also has a reverent following. It’s tradition of excellence extended back to its much earlier in the century beginnings.  In fact it was a Central High School classroom teacher who developed the design for the most famous Art Deco structure in Tulsa, The Boston Avenue  Church. David’s math was provably college level, and his skill in writing today bears the imprimatur of Lula Beckington’s skills in enhancing and refining the natural talent.

And we had time for physical education too!

Our father’s support and our mother’s love of and commitment to books and music created the home environment that nourished the intellectual curiosity and appreciation that the schools inspired.

The importance reading and learning was evidenced by the dinners of 10 cents a can mackerel Mother provided in order to afford books of substance to go in the built-in book case in the living room. David found his life-long love for the ice regions in the reading of the encyclopedia and I learned the entrancing facts of the lives of the critters found at the creek. Of course frugality would never had been sufficient to lift David and and me off toward our dream.Kendall Watkins’ mixture of assets in partnership- with those of accountant Bert Arnett proved to be fortunate and led to their building a solid reliable source of income.

Mother’s devotion to letter writing, and her insistence on sharing,also  kept the essence of connection with of the families in Lawton alive;  order and the expectations of civility, service and meticulous honesty from our father’s family; from the Cookes, excitement and participation and unrestrained love. In the words of Gramma, the Cookes were prone to “spells” of hugs and kisses.

To the casual reader I may seem to make a bit too much of the environment of our early growing up, especially for a work dedicated to genetic connection. As I say on another page, the genes make the introduction  and perhaps a sense of familiarity and affirmation that fuels optimism and hope, but the conditions must exist for us to exercise our free choices an and employ assets for fulfillment.  The  affirmation of a civil collaborating community and the economic stimulus of WW II and the following years must be given credit also for their contribution to what successes David and I achieved.  A lot of what Mother and Dad achieved was on hope and belief in spite of poverty and conditions.

David’s memoir of our father is a treasure describing all that is best of what parents do. As maturation progresses the larger environment naturally exerts its influence and that excitement of learning was greatly enhanced by an educational system that not only fueled its joys but gave the confidence to the adults we became as able to trust our learning and reasoning capacities.  Family and Central High boosted brother David into a personally satisfying career at the AT&T Bell Laboratories and one that was visibly productive to the the world community, contributing the explosion in computer technology that has so changed the way of life for virtually the whole world.

Family and Will Rogers High School gave me the academic substance and humanitarian appreciations that propelled me into a satisfying and hopefully productive career in medicine.

David and I have many times shared the appreciation of our very good fortune in having  grown up with beauty  at home and in the community and those who treasured it; this with an optimism that its partners, truth and intellectual exploration, prevail.  It has enabled us  through our work to be part of, perhaps the greatest flourishing of scientific discovery  in history resulting in enhancement of the everyday life of  all people. It was truly a golden era.

What greater proof of the impact than, at these advanced ages, David knowing I would share his emotions emails me a picture of children in school entranced with learning!! It brought tears.

Given the chance to work and to create and genuinely support his family Kendall, our father, flourished. By the time of his death he had become president and half-owner of an impressive multi-operation business in flowers and gifts. He had also gained the high regard of colleagues in the business and service communities. His Tulsa Rotary Club obituary is one of the most moving ever published.

Our family had been among the founders of the Fellowship Congregational church and our father served many terms as Chairman of the Board. We individually and as a family participated in many community affairs. The business was also a sponsor of  a number of them, such as the Tulsa Horse Show and Little Theater.  David and I were taught by example  and experience that a community is more than a place to extract money for living.

David and I, the two children of Kendall and Gladys Watkins, left the nest of home at about the same time, my time being delayed by four years of medical school.

Neither of us was to ever return to Tulsa as home.

After an internship at the University of Oklahoma Medical Center in Oklahoma City I went to Atlanta’s Grady Memorial Hospital where I trained as resident in pediatrics, then to Henrietta Egleston Hospital for Children (now Children’s Medical Center) as Chief Resident in Pediatrics. I remained in Atlanta for fellowship in Oncology; then a faculty position as Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Emory. The  obligations included serving as Chief of the Pediatric Oncology Services,  teaching, NCI research, and private practice clinical care at all Emory affiliated institutions.

The time pediatric oncology, at Emory and later being among the founders of the private practice group, The Georgia Oncology Clinic, brought rich and satisfying experiences for over 15 years.

In 1975 I made a sharp turn leaving oncology and veering into Psychiatry training at Emory. Private practice serving the needs of others, families and children in a different, but unexpectedly similar, way brought another period of professional satisfaction.

There is no doubt the privilege of knowing so many families and being an observer of the power of family has influenced my desire to make efforts to pass some of that magic on through telling some of our stories. For those interested I have  Reflections a retrospective of my work as a physician that I hope to get back online soon, though it may still be (in archaic html.

Having received his first degree in electrical engineering at The Rice Institute, David was recruited by and went to work for  AT&T in Winston-Salem,  North Carolina,. His move to The AT&T Bell Laboratories  (the modern era’s “mother of all research  laboratories) in New Jersey came soon afterwards. There he continued a 36 year career as  R&D Manager, managing hardware and software development for military and civilian applications.

Not long after arriving in North Carolina David met. fell in love with and married Carol Appleyard, the daughter of George Thomas and Edith Giles Appleyard.

I risked being fired from my job at Grady when I attended their wedding. But there was no way and no thing to stand in my way. In the  family wedding photo I am wearing a dress purchased in the Regency Room of Rich’s Department store. Lord knows how long it took to pay it off on my $100.00/mo salary.

Then there was Thomas.

Being within driving distance for  my 1955 Chevy David  and Carol and I were able to visit a few special times before we all became captured by our grown up lives.

For David the early years in North Carolina were a time for career, home and family building. It was the time of the Cold War and David, because of his work in a vital industry, served a thankfully brief hitch in the U. S Army. He was able to continue the work and begin his rise in management with AT&T.

Then there was Thomas.

Kendall Watkins, our father, died much too soon from lung cancer and never really was able to know his grandchildren. When one looks at the short time span of his productive years, it seems almost miraculous what he was able to achieve. It is sad he did not live long enough to enjoy the fruits of his work that those who survived him  have. His burial in Memorial Park in Tulsa preceded that of our mother’s by many years.

After a long illness, Gladys Cooke Watkins died in Atlanta in 1989.  My  trip to Oklahoma was once more on the airplane, this time with Thomas to perform that most important of family rituals, the carrying home and burial of our mother. Her death came at its season and we were at peace with it’s coming.  I today recall a time just a year before her death when, frail as she was, I noted her gazing at me and the thought came “this now shrinking woman is trying to determine if it is safe to leave me, her chick, to my own devices. I have come to now  truly believe that for those of us who have served others (and all mothers do)  at some point pause in our aging to decide if it is now safe to give up the obligation.   I thought back to my Grandmother Watkins, comatose for years, would not turn her life over until the day I had safely graduated from medical school.  

Here is my tribute to her. Mother’s Crystal Earrings.

The funeral was the final celebration of the Oklahoma Watkins and we were gratified to have so many to come to be part of that.

Our sensitive intellectually and spiritually talented mother bore the burden of possessing an appreciation of fine things but so often “having to make do,” first because of poverty, then from the deprivations of wartime. The love for her children animated her. Without pause to question our mother delayed the fulfillment all other dreams in our interest. In the end she served her last and most enduring role, that of bringing family together as so many came to celebrate her life and paused to cherish each other.

The presence of family was as it is intended reassuring. Cousin Louise Sheppard Hillman making the trip with Uncle Ralph and Aunt Mae was especially precious as it was really the only time as an adult I had been with her. Mother had kept the contact and I later relied on her andd her sister Ellen for much of the family information for this project.

 

After so many many years the reward of the presence of such a large number of  Tulsans who had  befriended  and or worked for or with with our mother and father was unexpected. Their expressions of respect and love was humbling. We were reminded that our parents had indeed created a family of substance, a presence of importance to a greater community; I think very much in keeping with the visions of our predecessor pioneers. It’s not about property. It’s about building lives.

Mother’s Cooke family was represented by Susan Lee Dooley bringing her mother Hazel Thurman Lee. Though just a bit younger than Mother and in failing health, she was resplendent in her flaming red hair barely touched by gray. And Shirley and Bill McCormick came down from Topeka for what proved to be our last visit. I was delighted to briefly be the child  feeling their warm hugs once more.

I sat next to Thomas as we were leaving  my mother in the ground, buried next to our father, fresh flowers “for our littlest Cookie,” from our Aunt Coystal’s garden, atop her shoulder; and I looked down from the window of the jet and drank deeply the feeling of home from the so familiar land. I knew Tulsa could never again remotely bear that name in reality. Our parents and family before and the culture of the times in these places were truly the winds beneath our wings.

 

 

 

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