Does it ever take an army, or just a town to raise a youngster?
In my case, probably both, dear readers in Our Town and far beyond.
The story begins when we lost our beloved mother, Grace, in March, 1951. At that particular time, our family home was far, far away; Falls Church, Virginia, or better known as a suburb in the massive Washington, D.C, area.
My wonderful father, Clarence H. Breedlove Sr., was on active duty with the U.S. Air Force, and stationed for 4 years in the mammoth Pentagon, working in the U.S. Secretary of Defense office. My mother was diagnosed with her colon cancer in September, 1950, and survived a mere 6 months before we lost her. She left behind four survivors; I was 3, my sister, Beverly, was 12, my brother, C.H. Jr., was 17, and my father was 47.
Losing our family’s matriarch was a terrible blow to our small group, but my father kept us together by making many key decisions over the next few years.
One of the first major things he decided, was not to stay living in that part of our country. With his life partner gone, and a young family to care for by himself, just over a year after our mother’s passing, he moved us to Our Town. My father could have elected to stay working at the Pentagon, and possibly been promoted to a 1-star (brigadier) general during another duty tour there. However, in the best interest of his family’s welfare, he elected to relocate to a small, north central Oklahoma town, where he had been graduated from college (Oklahoma A&M) in the late 1920’s.
He did it because he was very familiar with Our Town. He was born in August, 1903, in Ardmore, IT (Indian Territory, i.e., before our 1907 statehood), so he was a Sooner State native.
Therefore, during the hot summer of 1953, our small family moved here, except my older brother. He elected to stay in that part of the country, finishing high school at Falls Church, then going to beautiful Charlottesville, VA., where later he was to be graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the historical University of Virginia.
We initially rented a nice home for a year at 115 South Orchard Lane, next door to then Oklahoma A&M President, Oliver S. Willhelm. In 1954, we moved south to 1521 West 4th Avenue, where we rented, for several years, a comfortable, unfurnished home @ $75/month, plus our utility bills.
It was at this home, the groundwork was laid for my father’s ingenious idea. He needed a solution for his problems of daily cooking, housework, and, occasionally, watching after me. At age 7, I was entering the second grade at almost new Westwood Elementary School, a mere two blocks west of our home. My father was a very busy working parent, being a U.S. Air Force Colonel, and the commander of the mandatory Reserve Officer Training Corps (R.O.T.C.) on campus at then Oklahoma A&M College. So, in order to get “all the pieces of the puzzle to fit,” he pulled off a lifelike magic trick. What was his act of magic, you ask? Since he had been a member of Acacia social fraternity when he was an undergraduate college student in Stillwater long ago, he became the alumni adviser to the local chapter when our family moved to Our Town. Therefore, he made lots of social connections at the chapter house, and got to know the young fraternity men quite well. From that knowledge base, he hired various undergraduate Acacia men over several years, to actually live in our home. They received room and board, in exchange for providing some cooking, housekeeping and, occasional childcare for me.
Yes, these young college men were “pseudo big brothers” for me. Remember, reading public, my biological older brother was attending college in far off Virginia, and my older sister had gotten married after she finished high school, and moved away to Oklahoma City.
That was certainly an unusual upbringing for me. I will say, my father/college men caregivers, did provide me a great deal of freedom during those gentler/simpler times of long ago. I literally rode my small, 20 inch Colson bicycle safely all over Our Town. I would easily emotionally “latch onto” my many friend’s mothers for their modified female touches with me, and am forever grateful for their attention they gave me, greatly assisting me in my maturation process.
You are able to see clearly now, just why I said at the start of this story, sometimes it takes a town to raise a youngster. From the bottom of my heart, thank you, Our Town!!
Robert Breedlove is an Oklahoma State University news-editorial journalism graduate, and a former newspaper (including News Press) reporter. He may be reached at email@example.com.