I was born in Elk City, Oklahoma on June 11, 1925 to Eora and Preston Bland.
When I was almost three years, Preston sent my mother, sister Donella, brother Howard and I to her mother’s for Christmas. We returned home to find my father had left, no forwarding address and we never saw him again.
In a time where single mothers were not acknowledged or respected much, my very courageous, strong and determined mother supported us by doing other people’s laundry and any other chores they had for her. In March of 1927 she moved the family to Muskogee, Oklahoma where she met the only father we ever knew, Oscar Webb. They were married in 1930 and moved to the Boggy Depot area. The name Boggy came from the Boggy River, which ran through town and surrounding areas.
During the Civil War, Confederate troops were stationed at Boggy Depot. The military quarters occupied about 30 acres in the southwestern part of town, where several rows of log cabins were erected for the soldiers. A cannon was placed nearby and used for a booming salute every evening at sundown.
The Webb family owned 360 acres in what was called Boggy Bottom. On this acreage they had a dairy farm and sold milk and cream. The family also owned 180 acres on the other side of the river on which they grew crops on 100 acres and used the remaining 80 for grazing cattle. I spent many hours of my childhood working on this farm.
The Great Depression was on and in addition to farming; my dad bought the Boggy Depot Store and Post Office. It consisted of feed, grocery store as well as an ice house. People from all around came to listen to the radio and have a bit of Dad’s home brew. The brew was a major draw!
At our home on the Boggy farm, we had no electricity, no running water or indoor plumbing. I remember carrying water to the house and using the outhouse. I rode a horse a few miles to attend the elementary school. Later I went to Ada, Oklahoma and lived at a boarding home while going to school until I was about 17. I jumped a grade and received a certificate of graduation. I got a job washing dishes in Ada. From there I went to work as a laborer in the oil fields, making $1.15 an hour. From there I went to Richmond, California to stay with an uncle and aunt. I worked as a welder in the shipyard there.
It was 1942 or early ’43 and I was standing and talking with my Aunt Alice Webb in front of her big picture kitchen window. I saw an attractive young lady, a tall brunette in white shorts hanging clothes on the clothesline two backyards down. It was love at first sight!
Rose Mozell Vaden was 17, I was 19 when we met and started dating. In 1943 I received my notice of draft into the armed services. I chose the U.S. Navy and spent eight weeks at boot camp in San Pedro, California and another four weeks at Distribution camp in Livermore.
I was stationed at Mare Island and lived in the barracks until my ship, the USS Louisville, was ready for sea duty. The ship held 1,250 men. I served as a Machinist Mate in the engine room deep within the ship. I and my crew kept the engines in top order as we headed to the South Pacific Islands. One December day we heard on the radio of the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. We were located west of Pearl Harbor in Saipan, in the Marshall Islands. This attack on the Pearl Harbor fleet was the beginning of the Pacific part of WWII.
I remember one time we were hit by a torpedo and I along with 17 men were trapped in a compartment. We were finally rescued but it was a harrowing experience. Another time a Kamikaze (suicide) plane flew right into our ship. It was mass confusion on deck with the booming of the 40 mm guns and the buzzing of the Kamikaze plane. The ship had heavy damage.
My best buddy “Curly” was the storekeeper on board and I was searching all over for him as the ship was under attack. He was having coffee in the store room! I had met Curly at Richmond and another of our close buddies was Brett Burge who we met in Honolulu. Brett was in the Seabees. The three of us served together at the same time, getting leave together sometimes when stateside. At one leave in early 1945, I married that tall brunette, Mozell Vaden. It was not at the same time, but Curly married her just older sister and Brett married the third oldest sister!
I was at sea for just about a year after my marriage and was honorably discharged in 1946 in New York. A nine-day train trip brought me back home to California to resume civilian life. After the birth of our first daughter Gayle, we left California to go back to Oklahoma where her folks had returned. I went to work in the oil fields for several years, moving to wherever they needed my skills. When the oil fields were pretty much all in and producing, I went to work on a 30-inch pipeline for natural gas.
Starting in Joliette, Illinois to downtown Chicago, this took several years. During the earlier part of this work, I left my family with relatives in Oklahoma. As the pipeline got closer to its final destination, I moved them to Illinois with me.
While I was away working and they were with family, my wife gave birth to our second daughter Sheila. We lived in Crown Point, Indiana, where I carpooled with other pipeline workers. I moonlighted as a cab driver in the city of Gary, Indiana. It was during this time, our third daughter, Jackie, was born. After the pipeline work was finished, we moved to Grand Prairie, Texas for a short time during which my folks called from northern California saying they had a job at a lumber mill lined up for me.
We arrived at Wolf Creek Lumber Camp early December 1955. I worked in the lumber mill for a while then got a job in the town of Leggett; I did mechanic work at a 76 station and later supplemented income by driving the school bus for the local school. In October, 1956, our fourth and last daughter, Terrie, was born in Fort Bragg. My wife hemorrhaged and was in the hospital for weeks; I came close to losing her.
After a few years in Leggett, we moved south to Kerman, where we opened our own auto repair shop. My father-in-law was an integral part of our business, so when he and my mother-in-law were killed in an automobile accident in 1963, we lost interest in owning our own business. I moved the family to Clovis, where I went to work for Hallowell Chevrolet in downtown Clovis.
In February, 1966, at her young age of 37, my girls and I lost Mozell to breast cancer. The next several years during which I remarried, divorced, remarried again, divorced again were difficult for all of us. The girls grew up, graduated high school, got married and then the grandchildren started to come. I was living in Canoga Park most of this time, working as an auto mechanic. I then started to drive truck long-haul and was on the road for a while. Then, in 1990, my brother Howard offered me the opportunity to open his bar and grill business in Leggett. Health issues had him closing it a couple of years before. My oldest daughter and I went up to check it out. After several months of obtaining permits, licenses and so on, we were open for business in May 1990. It was a fun and lucrative time, but after a few months, the stress of the long hours got to both of us and in November of that year we closed up. It was a nice time while it lasted, but not something I would do again. I went back on the road driving until I retired.
Retirement brought good times. I bought a motorhome and traveled a little. It was a few years later when my son-in-law and I went camping at Fish Creek with his brother and his wife along with one of her friends. That is when I met a special lady named Lee.
She was a little taken aback when they brought her into the motorhome where I had taken a strong pain pill for a back strain and was lying down. I looked up at her and garbled something that sounded like “nice to meet you.” Later, when my head cleared, we hit it off like two old friends.
We had several really great years, we travelled to South Dakota, Montana, Yellowstone, and several times we went back to Oklahoma for school reunions at Boggy Depot. When we were not travelling, I worked for a local material hauler, driving belly dumps. In about 2001 I suffered a stroke and sadly, my driving days were over. I was able to stay with Lee for a few years, but age crept up on us. I moved into an assisted living facility for a year or so. Then my girls found me a very nice apartment with an aide to help me. Now Lee is able to come for a weekend visit once in a while and she is always with me at Jolly Times at the Clovis Senior Center.