Autobiography of Andrew Thomas Tyree

April 4, 1992


Does the fortuity of your existence ever occur to you? In my particular case my grandfather, Dr. Andrew Woodson Tyree, decided to move his medical practice, and of course his family, from Beaumont, Texas back to West Virginia from where he had come. This was in 1878 when my own father was 6 years old. Had this not occurred, my father doubtfully would have become a Methodist preacher and most certainly would not have met my mother when visiting her church in Huntington, West Virginia where her step-father was the minister.

You have read in prior pages that my father and mother eventually moved to Durant, Oklahoma with five children: three girls and two boys. But the boys were soon to outnumber the girls as William Fenton Tyree, Jr. and Andrew Thomas Tyree were born in Durant.

I came into this world surrounded by steadfast love, never waning. My first childhood memories are of a spacious single-story frame house on a large piece of property at the edge of this small town, large enough to accommodate flower garden, truck garden, cows and chickens, a barn and smoke house. There was a large front porch, typical of the times. The heating system was a large pot bellied, wood or coal burning stove, located about at the center of the central living room. On a cold morning it drew a crowd. The old fashioned kitchen stove featured the cast iron, round lids over burning wood or coal, and a warmer above. I can vividly remember seeing the surface red hot and my father searing a big steak directly on the surface. Charcoal broiling won't compete.

The dining room was spacious with a very large table in the center. This table was built of heavy lumber, right in the room. There were plate rails all along the walls. The large leaded glass "Tiffany" light fixture hanging in the center over the table followed the family with our move to Dallas, then with Ellie and me to Miami, the Bahamas, Miami again and back to Texas in San Antonio -- always over our dining table.

The massive library table in our living room was also built in place. Both tables, I recall, were stained a dark green.

These tables were in very big rooms. My Pop designed the house and he always thought big and lived in a big house whenever he could. It reminds me that many years later my daughter, Andrea, said of me, "Pop thinks bigger is better." I came by it naturally.

In an effort not to bore you, I will attempt to give you from my juvenile viewpoint a picture of life in Durant until we moved away when I was 12 1/2 years old -- with the following brief vignettes, not necessarily in the order of their occurrence.

First day of school, being so scared and shy, missing my mother, the teacher held me on her lap.

There were no school busses or family car. We all walked to school -- about two miles, many times in very cold weather. We also walked to and from town, a little shorter distance. We were living at 16th and Cedar. Once my father invited someone to come to our house. When asked how to get there he said, "Go out Main Street and turn right on 16th and when you see a house on the left where it looks like school just turned out, that's it."

Up the hill from our house was a Presbyterian college for young ladies. We roller skated on the long sidewalk leading to and from it. We occasionally used their indoor swimming pool. A 2 story residence called Hotchkin Hall and belonging to the college adjoined our property -- between us and the college. I recall exploring underneath this dwelling and finding a very old crank-up phonograph with a horn shaped speaker along with a few cylindrical recordings. I "rescued" this old instrument and our family was soon hearing "Somewhere a Voice Is Calling."

"Puppy Love - and a Tragedy" When I was in about the third grade there was a beautiful girl by the name of Anna Louise Neely in the class - dimples, brown curly hair, a lovely smile. On a few occasions I mustered the courage to carry her books home. A few years after we moved to Dallas some of the Neely family stopped by to see us - and Anna Louise was along. She did not get out of the car. Bill and I visited with her from curbside. To my chagrin, Bill monopolized the conversation. A few years later we learned that Anna Louise had been killed in a hunting accident.

Finally, a public swimming pool was built -- called the Natatorium. So, swimming and diving became a family activity. My sisters, Joanna and Virginia, were very good swimmers. Joanna was an excellent diver. I didn't have a swimming suit. My sister, Virginia, made me one from an old wool blanket -- so I weighed about twice as much when wet. One time, running around the pool, as I should not have been, I fell, hit my head on the edge of the pool and went into the water unconscious. Needless to say, I was rescued and have partially regained consciousness.

Another mishap I recall: we were playing in a neighbor's yard. A light was hung out the window as it was dark. When it slid to the ground, I ran over and picked it up by the cord at a point where the wires were exposed. I don't remember receiving the shock but do remember coming to at the other side of a nearby bench.

When we finally got a car, a Maxwell, a big deal was to take a Sunday afternoon ride all the way to the town of Ada and back, five miles, five miles back -- about the distance we now drive to a shopping center.

My father built a tennis court across the street from our house, a clay court, chicken wire backstops. The lines were applied with a mixture of lime and water conveyed in a can with a slit in the bottom. Houston was the expert in all of this. The court was actually for my mother as she had played tennis as a girl. The court was enjoyed by the whole family and many visitors. Houston eventually became a tennis pro and my own interest has been lifelong.

Another memory is of my father reading paper backed Western novels. It must have been a means of relaxation for him. Actually, he was well read in many fields and his writings revealed an extensive vocabulary and knowledge.

A picture that stays with me is of my father reading and Virginia standing behind him, gently combing his hair, for what seemed like hours.

He went to Hawaii on a business trip and brought back lava and coconuts -- the first I had ever seen. We used the coconuts for door-stops.

Finally my father began spending a lot of time in Texas, getting into the oil business. Bill and I were often left at home with Houston who instantly developed a way to assign chores. We engaged in knife and ice pick throwing contests against the side of the barn. Needless to say, Bill and I got the chores.

Going back a ways, my sister, Jacqueline (Jackie), had taken possession of our flower garden enclosed by a rose covered, wooden fence. I observed that the beds inside had gotten in poor condition. So, voluntarily, I weeded and manicured the area as a surprise for her and was quite proud. I must have been about 10 years old.

There was a rose arbor at the rear of our house adjoining the flower garden. We would at night hang a sheet at the front end and place a light at the other. Then we would act out a skit, making silhouettes on the sheet, viewed by people sitting in chairs in the front. This was under the direction of Woodson, who was already showing leanings towards the career he would pursue.

I was once "fluffy spinach" in a school play with my costume made of green crepe paper.

Grandmother Gosling came to visit a couple of times from West Virginia. She occupied the "spare room." I set mouse traps in her room with some success. She was the only grandparent I ever saw. others had all passed on by then.

Airplane! And we would all run out to Jay's farm where they landed -- typical, small two-seater by-planes of the time. Rides: five dollars. Don't remember any one of us having the money to do it.

We had a 75 acre farm out from town. There were black walnuts and pecans. My father and older brothers cultivated part of this acreage. It was hilly and woodsy; and Walnut Creek ran through it. My older brother, Houston, once threw me in the swimming hole when I was reluctant to join the others. By necessity, I learned to swim.

I sold vegetables, saved money and bought a mail-order twenty-two rifle and hunted rabbits and birds in the nearby woods. The attitude then -- nothing wrong in killing defenseless birds -- so many of them -- such great sport. But I wish I hadn't. I also hunted with a home-made bow and arrows. Pretty good arrows were made from straight, dead weeds with flattened bailing wire as the tips. I also made lots of kites.

During the latter time we were in Durant, both Joanna and Jackie "ran off and got married" to "traveling salesmen." Joanna to Bill Moon whom she later divorced. Jackie to Raymond Miller; they had five children and wound up in San Antonio. My parents were devastated by these impromptu marriages. There had been a conventional marriage between Woodson and Ruth Chase from Tulsa whom he met at Oklahoma University.

Tricks were the rule of the day. I recall an occasion when Joanna invited a friend over to sample some croquettes which she had made of sawdust.

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