A Kitchen Table, Booster Trains and the Klan

(On the occasion of the late Dick Snider’s birthday, here are the first 500+ words of his memoir, found elsewhere on this site.)

On the morning after I was born, on March 20, 1921, in the tiny western Oklahoma town of Oakwood, my dad wrote a letter to my mother’s two sisters in Oklahoma City, saying, “We will not be naming our latest offspring after his Aunt Elizabeth or his Aunt Mary, as we do not think those names, grand as they may be, are fitting and proper: “IT’S A BOY!”

Years later, I reread the letter and decided that whatever talent I might have as a newspaper reporter must have been inherited from him. After all, he had a big story there, and he had a pretty good lead, he got the facts straight and he spelled the names correctly. And who knows? He may have coined the phrase that lives forever on greeting cards and cigar bands.

I was born on the kitchen table of the town’s only doctor, Edwin Sharpe, and I started life peacefully enough. I barely remember the booster trains that would come from big towns like Watonga and Custer City and throw candy to the crowd while inviting everyone to visit them and shop.

I also have vague memories of playing cowboys with my two brothers and Rollin Shaw, who lived next door. Usually, I was a bad guy and they would tie me to the windmill.

I have a stronger recall of the night the Klu Klux Klan burned a cross in our front yard.  It was, and still is, the worst thing that ever happened to our family, and it was all because we were Catholics – the only Catholic family in town.  I was too young to remember it all, but my two older brothers told me about it many times.

As the cross burned, my mother, crying, pleaded with my Dad not to go outside, but he went out on the porch and confronted the Klansmen.  He told them they might as well take off their white sheets and hoods, because he knew who they were.  He also offered to take any of them on.

The Klan spokesman responded by warning my Dad he had better pack up his family and get out of town.  He added that starting the next day, my Dad’s drug store, the only one in town, was boycotted.

In the days that followed, while my Dad and Mom were facing up to the fact we had to move, some of the town leaders came to my Dad and told him, almost tearfully, they were sorry they participated in the cross burning, or that they did nothing to try to stop it.

We were singled out because we were an undesirable minority, and over the years, in my newspaper career, I’ve had to laugh when editors have lectured me on the fine points of discrimination.

We had no choice.  We had to get out of town, and to do that we had to sell almost everything we owned, including a Jersey milk cow, chickens with baby chicks, furniture and my mom’s few household treasures.  We were sent on our own Trail of Tears – uprooted and told to get to our new home the best way we could.

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