My father was tougher than nails and rarely sick before lymphoma took over. He fought it for a long time but the cancer inevitably won. We lived 200 miles from M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and made many trips there while he was undergoing treatment. On one trip it was just Dad and I driving home from Houston. It was a moonless night with only the glow of the dash lights to relieve the darkness. Alone in our little cocoon he started to talk. He told me stories I’d never heard before and so many pieces of the mystery that was Dad fell into place. I would have given anything for an audio recorder but this was years before cell phones or digital recorders so I paid close attention to capture his voice in my memory. This is my favorite of the stories he told and the one I think best illustrates Dad’s optimistic character.
Hiram Stephens Curry was born in 1912 in Altus, Oklahoma. A family friend who came to see the new baby remarked, “He’ll be another Teddy Roosevelt” and the nickname, Ted, was his for life. Dad graduated from high school in 1928 at the start of the Great Depression. His father, already advanced in age when Dad was born, owned a music business which was beginning to fail as people lost jobs and could no longer afford luxuries. Dad knew that his parents had high hopes of sending him to college and saw his father’s bitter disappointment as the family’s savings dwindled away. So he did something out of character for him—he lied. He told his family he had saved enough money for college and that he had enrolled at the University of Texas. His beaming father insisted on a big send-off for him at the bus station with all their friends and well-wishers present. Dad told me he had planned to hitchhike out of town because the reality was he had barely enough saved to cover the bus ticket. He arrived in Austin, Texas penniless and knowing no one. He was 16 years old.
Dad made his way to a nearby park to sleep on a bench his first night in town. He found one with an abandoned newspaper and sat down to scan the classifieds for jobs. He found no listings but he was undaunted. Instead of thinking, “There are no jobs” he thought, “There are no ads. This paper needs someone to sell ads!” And the very next day he went to the newspaper office. They weren’t hiring either but he persisted, “OK, you won’t hire me. But if I do sell ads, will you pay me?” They agreed, probably thinking they’d seen the last of him but they didn’t know Ted Curry. He did sell ads—a lot of them. Then he found a second job taking care of horses in exchange for a place to sleep in a stable. He made friends. And he made enough to enroll at the University of Texas where he studied engineering.
Dad was a good student but he didn’t finish his degree. After 3-1/2 years at the University, an opportunity to open a business presented itself and he took it—in the midst of a depression—but I’ll save that story for another day.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad.