For those in my time, born anywhere from the mid 1930s to the mid 1940s, there were historic occurrences that precluded many fathers from exercising as much influence on child rearing as they most assuredly have the opportunity to do today.
The Great Depression was one of those occurrences, World War II the other.
War’s interruption is easier for today’s generations to grasp than the Great Depression, further removed and more difficult to explain. While I was born near the end of the Depression, watching my father’s struggles made it easier for me to understand that era which had more impact on my parent’s philosophies and beliefs than did either of the world wars.
LEARNING OF his struggles as a basically parentless orphan at 11, ultimately gave me insight to the complexities of a man I thought for so long to be single-mindedly selfish. Actually, he was pretty selfless and that was underscored in the efforts he made to provide for his family.
Growing up, maturity and having to face the multitude of challenges that come with providing for a family certainly clears one’s thinking. That clarity provides the 20-20 vision that also comes equipped with hindsight.
I’ve written about his difficult times as a youngster but they’re worth repeating AND underscoring as we near another Father’s Day. He essentially went through much of his childhood with the weighty albatross of being an orphan.
LAWRENCE RAY (known always as L. Ray) Webb was born July 20, 1916, the second child to Claude Webb and Maud Smith Webb.
His father died in 1919, when Dad turned three. His mother died in 1927 when Dad was 11. His older sister, Marie, and his step-father, J.L. Willis, tried to raise the antsy youngster, but corralling him was more difficult than grasping a greased pig. Dad rode a donkey everywhere he went and that led to the event that made him a “hoss trader” forevermore. The brief version of that signal event, of which I’ve written before, is that he sold his pet donkey and means of transportation along with 99 other donkeys to a “Connecticut Yankee” to use in a resort in the buyer’s home state.
Actually, raising cattle was Dad’s forte. He was very good at it.
At the outset of World War II, he and Mother had two sons, me being the oldest. He was deferred from military service more for what he did for a living than having three dependents. Dad sold beef to the Army to feed troops. He committed almost every head of cattle he raised to the military, save the few he held on to in order to feed his family.
In addition to raising cattle, Dad also took a job in Dallas in a “meat packing” plant (now known as “meat processing”) to supplement his income.
As I learned over the years, “providing for his family” always came first for L. Ray Webb. To him, that was what fathers existed for. God put them on this earth to feed their families, clothe them, put a roof over their head and educate them.
He was essentially a quiet, almost shy to a fault man who never tooted his own horn.
DAD DID BUSINESS on a handshake. His handshake on a deal meant he gave his word and his word was his bond. He never reneged on a deal that I knew of, but certainly had the tables turned on him a number of times, usually to his and his family’s detriment. “He’s TOO trusting,” my mom would say with the precise vocal emphasis illustrated here.
This man with an eighth-grade education raised four sons who attained college degrees, at his and our mother’s insistence.
As Dad’s sister said at his funeral: “Four sons with a college degree. What a great legacy.”
Willis Webb is a retired community newspaper editor-publisher of more than 50 years experience. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.