picture of Chuck, or rather “Charles” or sometimes even “Charles Lee,” was made
in early 1950 or perhaps late 1949, shortly after Charles’s birth parents
divorced, a rare event in the late 1940s.
He was adopted by his maternal grandparents, Lee and Juanita Oates, who
were then in their early fifties (Dad) and middle forties (Mother). Charles lived with his adopted parents
(grandparents) and birth mom, Nita J, until 1953 when Nita J re-married and
moved across town. Charles continued to
live with his adopted parents through high school as something of an only
Charles visited Nita J and her second husband Lee Roy
fairly frequently. They lived across the
street from Wayne Muller, who would be one of Charles’s high school band
directors a decade or so later. This
picture of the sandaled cowboy himself was made at their house when Charles
was about four years old. The horse,
saddle, hat, bandana, and chaps (pronounced “shaps”
in the Texas Panhandle) were supplied by a door-to-door photographer who
happened by one afternoon.
Charles was five in the picture
on the left and had not yet started school, since at the time Texas had no
kindergarten. Notice the brown hair
gradually replacing his toddler’s tow-head.
A proud first grade Wolflin Wolf, Charles posed for his first
school picture on the right.
In the picture
on the left, Charles, a third-grader, age nine, and his dad pose for a
Polaroid camera demonstration picture at the downtown Skaggs Drug Store in Amarillo. Charles is wearing a jacket with his Nard’s
Trampoline Club patch. Having developed
exercise-induced asthma at the age of five or six and being unable to run more than
about 25 steps before starting to wheeze, Charles participated in gymnastics
and trampoline, activities that required exercise and developed skill, but did
not require sustained exertion. Nard Cazzell, the club’s owner, was an excellent coach who produced
several AAU national trampoline champions, including Ronnie Munn, the 1950s and
60s. See Nard's
biographical sketch at the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame. [Biographical sketches of the 2002 USA
Gymnastics Hall of Fame inductees have mysteriously disappeared. Nard is mentioned at the bottom of the text
in the link above.]
Nard, who went by his given name with his students,
commanded instant respect. One of his
favorite pastimes was telling a trampoline student who was ready to try a new
skill that (s)he was ready and should try it. Sometimes, this was met with objections from
the student, who was promptly waved off and again instructed to try the new
skill. As soon as the student had
performed the skill in some fashion or other, Nard would call the student over
and explain that he was now ready to listen to all the excuses the student had
about why it was not possible for him to perform this skill. This sequence of events seldom occurred more
than once per student, because it so clearly showed the student that he could
do what Nard believed he was ready for, even if the student himself had
doubts. The moral: everyone can do more than they think they’re
capable of—the lesson of almost all extracurricular activities. In the picture
on the right, made a year or two later, Charles or “Big Charlie” as Nard
called him, un-tucks and looks for the landing at the end of a front flip
The Oates family traveled.
Spring, summer, fall, and sometimes winter. Charles
and “Dad” are shown here atop Pikes Peak on the way to St. Helens, Oregon to visit Charles’s great aunt and uncle, Belle and
Fred McCrummen. Aunt Belle, Charles’s
(grand-)mother’s older sister, was a K-8 school
principal and was his absolute all-time favorite aunt. Perhaps that had something to do with the
fact that occasionally she would address Charles’s (grand-) mother, her younger
sister, in an authoritative older-sister voice, “Juanita, I am going to do the
dishes tonight; you go sit down in the living room.” The younger sister would look a little
irritated, then perhaps ever so slightly meek, and then comply with the order.
Charles could not imagine such raw power!
The Oateses (yes that is the plural of “Oates”) typically traveled to St.
Helens by car, but sometimes by train (wonderful!), and later by
airplane, every other year or so from the end of World War II until the late
1960s. On the way, they would stop at Colorado Springs (Pike’s Peak) or Yellowstone National Park
on the northern route, or possibly at Zion
and Bryce Canyon National Parks
on the direct northwest route. Each of
these places was a land of wander to a boy who had lived almost all his life on
the ever-so-level High Plains of the Texas Panhandle. The travelers would approach Portland, Oregon
on the Columbia River Drive,
one of the most beautiful stretches of highway in the Lower 48 (and Chuck has
traveled in 47 of them). After a day’s
rest at the McCrummens’ house in St. Helens,
the whole group would pile into the car each morning and go off on a day
trip. The beaches at Seaside and Cannon Beach
were favorite destinations. At more than
45 degrees north latitude, the beaches, even in August, usually required a
sweater over a swimsuit for comfort. The
old town of Astoria,
the Astoria Column, along with the old coastal naval battery at Ft. Stevens
were often day-trip targets, as well.
The favorite trip, though, was over into the State of Washington, near the
town of Randall
where the road led south to Mt.
St. Helens. This was long before the mountain resumed its
volcanic activity in 1980. The area
around Spirit Lake was as beautiful as any place Chuck
could even dream of. Douglas Fir trees standing 150 feet high stood in every
direction. The mountain itself resembled
a gigantic, snow-covered, upside-down ice cream cone. The beautiful blue lake was clear enough to
see the bottom from a boat far off shore, and there were odd floating stones
(pumice) that would remain afloat for several minutes when tossed into the
water. These portended explosive events
to follow, although no one, least of all Charles, knew when that would
come. [When I locate it, I’ll post a
picture of Mt. St. Helens as it appeared in
For the sake of comparison with the photo above, displayed
here quite out of time sequence is a photo of Charles’s (grand-)parents atop Pikes Peak
about two weeks after they were married in late June, 1923. In the 1920s world of almost no paved roads,
few road signs, no road maps, and short mean-time-between-failures for
automobiles, this honeymoon adventure from Mangum, Oklahoma
to Cheyenne, Wyoming in a brand new 1923 Dodge Brothers
Touring Car was remarkable, indeed. (Dad
was a Dodge salesman in 1923, by the way.
See the advertisement, at this link.) The
pictured automobile, however, is a Hudson Super used by a Colorado Springs
business to carry six passengers to the top of Pikes Peak.
Coming Real Soon Now:
[I’ll have much more to say about this in the 1920s
section of the scrapbook, including Dad's
journal of the trip in .pdf form. Stay tuned!
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