Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Rest In Peace, Sweet Leo

Leo was born 16 Feb. 1909 in Vista Grande, San Mateo County, Calif. and died on 15 November 1983 in Hanford Calif. He and Georgia Gowin married on 9 April 1934 in Los Angeles , Ca. They purchased a Los Angeles Times newspaper distribution district (route #40) from Leo’s father Howard. Leo and Georgia divorced during early years of the war. Leo joined the Navy in 1942. He trained at the Naval Training Center in Farragut, Idaho and was a Storekeeper. "Sea Bee’s " training was at Port Hueneme (why-knee-me) California before shipping out to the Pacific theater in the Solomon Islands (Bougainville) and New Heberdes Islands (Espiritu Santo). Although he was not on the "front lines" his unit experienced continuous bombings from the Japanese. He sent "war souvenirs" to his son Jerry which included shrapnel fragments, Japanese bayonet, hand grenade, a clip of rifle ammunition, and a mortar shell....still in his possession. He married Patricia Gibson in Las Vegas, Nevada on March 8, 1958 . The address on Leo’s S.S. card is 39 Justin Dr., San Francisco, CA. It is not known when he lived at this address...it has not appeared on any other document. His father Howard (Jerry Howard Cokely dob 1881) owned a barber shop in San Francisco when Leo was born. A post card addressed to the barber shop congratulating "Howard" on the birth of his son is included in the personal memorabilia retained by Jerry Cokely dob 12-25-34. A map showing the shop's location is included in the three ring document binder in Jerry Cokely's possession. He was left handed. After the war he lived on the ranch at 9700 13th Avenue, Hanford with his father until his death on 30 Nov. 1947 The quaint country house was demolished and replaced with a new home built on the same property possible in the early or mid-1950's. This is a very rough estimate. He maintained a forty acre grape vineyard (wine grapes) which later became an alfalfa ranch, then a wheat ranch and later a cotton ranch. Human cotton pickers were employed, dragging their typical nine yard sacks to hold the cotton, before the mechanical cotton picking machines were invented. The hand pickers were known to throw in a couple of dirt clods to increase the weight of their harvest thus increasing their payment. He sold the ranch, with certain conditions, a few years before his death. At his death Pat moved to a double wide home in Hanford and the new owner of the ranch planted the entire forty acres with walnut trees. His wife Pat worked for several years as a legal secretary, newspaper reporter, travel agent and traveled extensively but Leo had little interest in traveling although he did make one trip to Alaska with Pat. He had a "ham radio" receiver and a scanner for the local law enforcement and emergency services which he enjoyed monitoring as he reclined in his stuffed living room chair. He was pleased to "pick up" overseas ham operators and radio transmissions. Jerry introduced him to the Heath Kit electronic kits and he constructed a weather station and a digital clock. The kits came with hundreds of tiny electronic parts and an instruction book on how and where to solder them to circuit boards in order to make it work. He enjoyed having a cat and during his granddaughters (Sandy and Suzie) visits "George" received plenty of attention. Another cat "Momma cat" blessed those girls with a kitten which they had for many years. Leo was an outgoing person who found it easy to start up a conversation with nearly anybody. Maybe this is why he ventured into the insurance sales business for a brief time. Throughout his life he maintained a keen sense of humor and had a "good supply" of jokes to tell. While maintaining the ranch he also worked in the liquid ammonia fertilizer business and distributed liquid ammonia to various ranches in the Hanford area. He drove a school bus for many years, in the autumn of his life, for the Kings County School District. He maintained a "disciplined bus" and the students likely respected him for that. Any student who repeatedly failed to follow school bus rules found him or herself watching Leo's bus pass them by resulting in the parent having to take the student to school. It was a most effective discipline tool. He never expressed an interest in any religion but respected his son's family's decision to become members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. He enjoyed watching the satellites cross above the ranch in the night sky and was very impressed with the immensity and endlessness of space. At his request his remains were cremated in Hanford Calif. and his ashes were scattered in the poppy patch (flower garden) on the ranch at 9700 13th Avenue, Hanford CA by his wife Patricia Cokely. Obituary in the Fresno (California) Bee dated Wed., Nov 16, 1983; " Leo. R. Cokely, Hanford---Cremation for Leo R. Cokely, 74, will be held at Whitehurst McNamara Funeral Chapel. Mr. Cokely died Tuesday. He was as a farmer and he was employed by the transportation department at Hanford High School. Mr. Cokely was a World War II Navy veteran. Surviving are a wife, Pat; a son, Jerry of Utah; and two grandchildren." Obituary from the Logan, Utah "Hearld Journal"; "L. Cokely, Leo Rex Cokely, 74, Hanford, Calif, died Nov.15, 1983 in Sacred Heart Hospital in Hanford, after a brief illness. He was born Feb. 16, 1909, a son of Jerry Howrd (mispelled) and Lulu Cokely. He married Patricia Gibson March 8, 1958. He served in the U.S. Navy as a storekeeper and served in the South Pacific during WWII. He was a retired rancher and school bus driver for the Hanford School District. Surviving are his wife of Hanford; one son, Jerry H. Cokely, and two granddaughters, all of Wellsville." Both obituaries are in possession of Jerry Cokely. He sent his mother a souvenir copy of the 1942 Christmas dinner menu from the U.S. Naval Training Center in Farragut, Idaho. He wrote a letter to his "Ma" on the back of the menu informing her that he was eating well and expected to stay in Idaho after training. The menu is in the possession of his son Jerry Cokely. His original Honorable Discharge from the U.S. Navy is also in possession of Jerry Cokely. Leo had a tailor made Navy uniform which he gave to Jerry after he enlisted in the USN in 1953. The uniform fit and he wore it with pride although non-regulation uniforms were verboten. In his later years he enjoyed making pomegranate jelly from the bush near the front of the house at the ranch. It was not an impressive looking bush but the yield proved to be delicious. In 2006 the neglected bush was still surviving and had dried fruit still hanging on a few branches. Jerry and his family cherished taking a few containers back to L.A. after their visits

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Little Sister

Photo taken at the Junior-Senior Prom, Oklahoma A&M
College-Stillwater , 1946.
From left: Charles Smith - Carolyn Lucas - Pat Lucas Holcomb - Chuck, blind date.
When my sister Carolyn died she took a largday.e chunk of my life with her.
I miss her every day.
"Little Sister" is my tribute.
She comes  to me in dreams, my little sister does. Last night we met in San
Francisco, window shopped, sat at a sidewalk café, laughed at the sights and sounds of a great city. I woke with a smile for the first time in months.

            Is it the end of grief? No, it’s just a brief return, through dreams, to happier times. On another level grief remains. I thought I had used up all my tears. Not so. They are a bottomless well.

            Through time’s telescope I see her yet, the little sister at my heels, the bossy one in training to be a mother. Her brown eyes snap with curiosity and she fusses with her hair, walking slightly bent as if trying to catch up with herself. Too soon we leave childhood behind and go out into the wider world, free to make our own decisions, free to make our own mistakes.

            Where is my little sister, the one who didn’t ask questions when I showed up in her college dorm after a disastrous wartime marriage? I was the foolish one, married too young, divorced and humiliated too quickly. She welcomed me into her circle of friends, got me a date for the prom. Gone was my bossy little sister. In her place was my new best friend.

            She married her prom date, the handsome boy who loved to dance, and time passed in a flurry. When they didn’t have children, they adopted a baby girl. I was sitting in the bleachers at a local high school, watching out brother play baseball, when she came climbing up  through  the empty seats, the baby in her arms, so eager to show off her new daughter.

            It broke some kind of physical or emotional logjam and she had four little boys in rapid succession. Now she was a farm wife living on Old Route 66, coping with wind, dust, school activities, muddy boots, and snowy television beamed in from Amarillo. She cooked big meals, served boarding house style, for custom combine workers who followed the wheat harvest all the way from North Dakota.

            Life unfurled slowly. I moved to California> my little sister stayed where she was but we kept in touch.

            And the years picked up speed. The handsome boy who loved to dance was an agriculture teacher, a farmer and finally a cattle broker for many years. They left the farm and moved to Oklahoma City, putting him closer to the stockyards where he did his work. His final illness was my little sister’s descent into hell.

            When my husband died and I moved back to the Oklahoma City area, my little sister helped collect furniture from relatives to fill the apartment she helped find for me. For a few years we spent precious time together.

            But my little sister was lonely after her husband died and she decided to move back to the western Oklahoma town where they had farmed are reared their children. Things didn’t go as smoothly as she anticipated. She was more a creature of habit, accustomed to city living, than she had realized.

            She missed the cafes and the shopping centers. She missed the daily paper she liked to read while she drank her morning coffee. Getting her TV up and running took a while and she couldn’t always get the programs she liked. Still, she took it in stride, and we talked on the phone every afternoon.

            One day she complained of a pesky pain, some kind of infection, she thought. She ended up in the hospital, and from there she moved into a nursing home. Just before her birthday a brother, a younger sister and I drove out to visit. Her children were still bringing in some of her favorite possessions. She was in pain, so thin her hands were almost like claws, but her dark brown eyes still snapped and she was in a cheerful mood. We chatted and laughed about old times. Before our planned return visit, quite suddenly, she was gone.

            Everywhere I look now, I see her. My apartment is filled with things she gave me, homely things she didn’t need and I did – a floor fan, a floor lamp, a heating pad, a walking cane, an old sweater, a man’s plaid shirt, a pair of walking shoes, too wide for her slender feet but a perfect fit for mine.

            Behind my computer desk hangs a framed snapshot taken more than twenty years ago at a café in San Francisco. Studying it one day she said, “I wish I still looked like that.” I could have, and should have, told her she looked even better than she did on that long-ago afternoon. A lifetime of caring for her family, being everyone’s go-to person, loving children and grandchildren, all of it aged her beautifully.

            And now it is a Sunday in June. Our family gathers at a famous steak house. The handsome boy who loved to dance and my little sister ate here almost every day. Their cattle brand is burned into a couple of the tables.  

            The restaurant is a museum. Buckboards hang from the ceiling on the main floor. The walls are covered by paintings – Indians, cowboys, western landscapes – and artifacts – rugs, animal skins, spurs, lassos. A trophy buffalo head glares down at us.

            The lively couple who started a family more than fifty years ago – the patriarch who ruled it and the matriarch who mothered it – are surely here in spirit. Their children are settling comfortably into middle age; the grandchildren have matured well; the youngest great-grandchild is three days old. The gathering is a tribute to two lives lived fully and joyfully.

            It is the right time and place to say a nostalgic goodbye, and to say with love, thank you. Thank you for everything you meant to us. Thank you for simply being who you were.

 Copyright 2014 Patricia C. Browning


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

For anyone struggling with a computer, here's a laugh --  a parody of the old Abbott and Costello routine “Who’s On First?” A friend sent it to me several years ago and I have no idea where it came from. I tried tracking it through the Internet. It’s everywhere but so far I can’t find out who wrote it. It seems to be like the old World War 2 slogan “Kilroy was here” – it just appeared and spread like a rash.
If Bud Abbott and Lou Costello were alive today their famous sketch "Who's on First?" might have turned out something like this:


ABBOTT: Super Duper computer store. Can I help you?

COSTELLO: Thanks. I'm setting up an office in my den and I'm thinking about buying a computer.


COSTELLO: No, the name's Lou.

ABBOTT: Your computer?

COSTELLO: I don't own a computer. I want to buy one.


COSTELLO: I told you, my name's Lou.

ABBOTT: What about Windows?

COSTELLO: Why? Will it get stuffy in here?

ABBOTT: Do you want a computer with Windows?

COSTELLO: I don't know. What will I see when I look at the windows?

ABBOTT: Wallpaper.

COSTELLO: Never mind the windows. I need a computer and software.

ABBOTT: Software for Windows?

COSTELLO: No. On the computer! I need something I can use to write proposals, track expenses and run my business. What do you have?

ABBOTT: Office.

COSTELLO: Yeah, for my office. Can you recommend anything?

ABBOTT: I just did.

COSTELLO: You just did what?

ABBOTT: Recommend something.

COSTELLO: You recommended something?


COSTELLO: For my office?


COSTELLO: OK, what did you recommend for my office?

ABBOTT: Office.

COSTELLO: Yes, for my office!

ABBOTT: I recommend Office with Windows.

COSTELLO: I already have an office with windows! OK, let's just say I'm sitting at my computer and I want to type a proposal. What do I need?


COSTELLO: What word?

ABBOTT: Word in Office.

COSTELLO: The only word in office is office.

ABBOTT: The Word in Office for Windows.

COSTELLO: Which word in office for windows?

ABBOTT: The Word you get when you click the blue "W".

COSTELLO: I'm going to click your blue "w" if you don't start with some straight answers. What about financial bookkeeping? You have anything I can track my money with?

ABBOTT: Money.

COSTELLO: That's right. What do you have?

ABBOTT: Money.

COSTELLO: I need money to track my money?

ABBOTT: It comes bundled with your computer.

COSTELLO: What's bundled with my computer?

ABBOTT: Money.

COSTELLO: Money comes with my computer?

ABBOTT: Yes. No extra charge.

COSTELLO: I get a bundle of money with my computer? How much?

ABBOTT: One copy.

COSTELLO: Isn't it illegal to copy money?

ABBOTT: Microsoft gave us a license to copy Money.

COSTELLO: They can give you a license to copy money?



 ABBOTT: Super Duper computer store. Can I help you?

COSTELLO: How do I turn my computer off?

ABBOTT: Click on "START"……

"We are here on earth to fart around. What the computer people don't realize is that we are dancing animals." (Kurt Vonnegut, PBS "NOW" Oct. 7,'05)



Friday, May 9, 2014

Remembering Mother

                                   MOTHER -- BORN TO BLOOM
                         Willa McElhannon Lucas, 1973


Reprinted from my tribute in The Hanford (California) Sentinel, front page, Sunday, May 8, 1994.
On the sidewalk in front of the grocery store sat a row of big pots stuffed with zinnias in bloom. By the time I put three of the pots into a shopping cart there was barely enough room for milk and bread.

I didn’t care. I just wanted to rush home, set those pots against the weathered wood fence in the back yard and wait for summer. My kind of flowers zinnias are – sturdy and stubborn and born to bloom.

My mother loved zinnias, too, and probably for the same reason. As a gardener, her tender loving care was lavished on vegetables she could put on the table. The flowers she planted had to make it on their own.

Mother had a good singing voice and a flair for painting with watercolors, but by the time she was married the Great Depression of the 1930s had set in. Through those rock-hard times and the world war that followed, she taught school and raised five kids. Her creativity went into mothering, not only her own brood but the hundreds of children who passed through her classrooms.

 As hard times hung on, both of my parents taught school wherever they could. When the Depression bottomed out we were so deep in the Oklahoma woods that our nearest neighbors lived in a log cabin with dirt floors. We had no electricity, no running water, no indoor plumbing, no telephone and almost no money in the sock.

Our health care provider was Doctor Mom. Sore throats she swabbed with a sticky mix of glycerin and iodine. Stuffy chests she smeared with Vicks salve and covered with warm flannel cloths. For cuts and miscellaneous punctures she kept a bucket of coal oil. Burned into my memory is the image of a tow-headed little brother sitting with one foot in a bucket of coal oil after he stepped on a nail.

How we survived is anybody’s guess. God’s grace? Good genes? Dumb luck? Probably all of those, pulled together by Mother’s determination.

My parents were well into their sixties when they divorced. Mother moved to Texas, got a teaching job and kicked up her heels a little. After a lifetime of pinching pennies, she stocked her closet with high-heeled shoes and party dresses and enrolled at a dance studio. She didn’t need lessons as much as she needed to dance. It was one last chance to be belle of the ball.

Shortly before she retired at 75, we flew off together for a two-week tour of Portugal and Spain. I was carrying a tape recorder to tape fado music in Lisbon and flamenco music in Seville. Back home, we played the tapes. Long stretches of music had been obliterated by the sound of Mother’s voice.

Her intentions were always good and if her action sometimes seemed screwy, they made perfect sense to her.

In her eighties, she liked to read the daily paper with a pair of scissors at hand. As she read, she cut out the stories she thought were worth saving and put them on a stack of clippings beside her chair. When the paper had more holes than a sieve, she folded it up and laid it at the door of the apartment across the hall.

Her neighbor, she said, was a poor boy who couldn’t afford a subscription. The poor boy picked up the papers without ever complaining and did God-knows-what with them. In the safety of his apartment, maybe he laughed himself silly.

A few years after Mother died, I got a tape cassette in the mail from my sister Beth, who had moved from Alaska to Oklahoma. Her note said she found it when she was unpacking boxes. I popped it into a tape player and was stunned to hear the sounds of a long-forgotten morning.

There we were, Mother and I, nattering on about our trip to Spain in an oral letter to Beth. Nothing momentous, just chitchat as Mother packed her bags to go back to Texas. In the background a Mitch Miller record was playing and she began to hum along with Mitch, a few notes before the tape recordcr clicked off.

Of such is the stuff of life – careless hours and forgotten days, and sometimes, if we’re lucky, a moment preserved that turns up again when we least expect it.

Mother was a pistol, as they used to say in our neck of the woods. She wasn’t perfect. She wasn’t even close. But she had passion, and a fierceness of will that reverberates yet in the lives she shaped.

Like zinnias splashing color against a weathered wood fence, she was sturdy and stubborn and born to bloom.

The McElhannon Girls – Wetumka, Oklahoma about 1915 (wild guess). At left, my mother, Willa McElhannon. Seated, my Aunt Velma McElhannon. Their friends are identified on the back of the photo as Pauline Swingle and Jessie Bolen.









Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Sid Caesar -- Comic Genius

Another show biz legend has left us. Sid Caesar, comic genius, died Feb. 12.

The closest I ever came to being struck stupid when meeting a real star was when I wangled a backstage interview with Sid Caesar. He was in San Francisco appearing onstage in LITTLE ME. I was a new stringer for the Fresno Bee and the minute I walked into his dressing room I knew I was out of my league.

I pulled out my steno pad and fountain pen and promptly dropped the pen. It rolled over to Caesar's chair. He picked it up and handed it to me. I looked into the bluest eyes I had ever seen and was struck stupid.

I kept a death grip on my steno pad but didn't take a single note the whole time. Every time I stumbled through a question, Caesar would open his mouth and his "handler" would reply. Only once did Caesar actually get a word in edgewise.

 I asked him why he was so much funnier on stage than on TV.  He raised one of those expressive eyebrows and offered a simple explanation for the magic of live theater. He said that because I had bought a ticket, dressed for the occasion and made an effort to get myself into a seat, I was primed to think he was funny. In short, performer and audience worked together. We expected to be entertained and we helped to make it happen.

That’s a lesson I never forgot and I pass it on to anyone who quakes at the prospect of appearing before an audience. What the great comedian told the green reporter is as true as ever. The audience is not your enemy. The audience is part of your presentation. Whether they know it or not, the people behind those smiling faces want you to succeed. The interaction that Caesar described is 99 percent of a successful program. With a little preparation and practice you can handle the other one percent.

**Adapted from my post to the DorothyL list serv on Dec. 19, 2013, and my article in the SouthWest Sage of August, 2007.
**Photo scanned from a PR handout when I met Sid Caesar.





Monday, February 10, 2014

Outlaws, Indians and Family Fables

Photo: Cousins, from left, Pat Browning, Beth Ridle, Doug Yarholar, Tom Lucas, Carolyn Smith

 Grandpa was Scots-Irish, and illiterate. Grandma was full-blood Muscogee Creek, educated in the white man’s mission school. They lived in interesting times, on a farm at Greasy Creek, Oklahoma.

I’d like to say Greasy Creek got its name because oil ran under the land, but I don’t want to start another family fable. More likely, the name came west with the Creeks who were removed from their ancestral homelands in the southeastern United States.

The Creeks are great storytellers. As my cousin Doug said, they can be a little windy. Take the legend of Grandpa, the illiterate Scots-Irishman with a reputation for reading the Bible, speaking French and curing sick horses.

At a family birthday dinner I sat with my brother Tom, who loves those old fairy tales, and my Cousin Doug, who could probably recite family history in his sleep. Tom heard this story from an elderly relative who merely smiled when you caught her in a flight of fancy.

The story goes that Grandpa was fetched to treat a horse lying prone in a barn. Grandpa said a few words in French, read a few Bible verses, and “laid hands” on the horse. Then he went up to the farmer’s house for a hearty supper. After supper, lo and behold – Grandpa found the horse up eating hay and swishing his tail.

Tom later double-checked the story with an aunt, who said, “That’s absurd. Dad couldn’t read or write and the only languages he spoke were English and Creek.

We had a good laugh. “So much for his fluency in 28 Indians dialect,” I said.

Tom’s wife, who was half-listening, said, “I heard it was nine.”

I did hear a couple of true stories. One concerned my great-grandfather, Old Frank, who was some kind of deputy marshal when Indian Territory outlaws were tried in federal court at Fort Smith, Arkansas. The judge there was Isaac C. Parker, the famous “hanging judge.”

Old Frank was either a volunteer or appointee who transported non-Indian miscreants from Indian Territory to Fort Smith. Since there was no jail in his neck of the woods he kept the prisoners in his home. It’s said that he let them borrow his rifles to go hunting while they waited for the trip to Arkansas. When it was time to go, Old Frank chained them to the horses and away they went.

Indians had their own tribal courts and tribal police for Indian lawbreakers. In the Creek Nation, a tribal member of a violent crime was given a year to put his affairs in order and make arrangements for his family. At an appointed time, he appeared before the council and chose his one-man firing squad. It was usually a friend, or a marksman who could make one shot do the job.

Shortly after the birthday dinner I went to a family wedding on the hottest day of the year, low 100s in the shade. I arrived drenched in sweat. Fast-forward 50 years. A little kid says, “Grandma, tell us about your wedding and the old auntie who stood up and took off all her clothes when the preacher said, ‘Who gives this woman?’” A family legend is born. Didn’t happen, but who will be around to say so?

The truth is, the wedding was lovely. The chapel was once a dance hall, designed like a Spanish hacienda, with ornately carved doors and massive furniture. The ceiling was draped with twinkle lights and Japanese lanterns. The couple wrote their own commitment vows, including this great line: “I promise to love you as you are, and not as I want you to be.”

Five generations occupied the pews, from babes in arms and little girls with flowers in their hair and glitter on their shoes, to a couple of old cowboys wearing straw hats. The bride’s friends had arrived earlier with trays of homemade hors d’oeuvres. After the ceremony there was a rush to the bar. Guess who got to the food first. That’s right. You’re looking at her.

And I was home before dark. Families, God bless ‘em, fables, foibles and all.