[Begin Tape 1, Side A]
Kasper: I'd like to start with a sort of chronological order and I know you were born in Lindale, Texas, in 1922. Why don't we start with that? Why don't you tell me about your family and your early years.
Castleberry: I don't remember a great deal about the very early years. I've been trying recently as I have run through family history to reconstruct some of my earliest memories. I know that very critical to my early rearing was an extended family. It was only years later that I began to review and to discover that my brother, who is eighteen months younger than I am, was born a sick baby and was in and out of the hospitals in Dallas for a long period of time, and my mother told me that she was with him most of that time. It's interesting that I never missed her. And I think that's because I have this wonderful extended family—grandmother, aunts, uncles, cousins by the score—who adored me. I have to say, I've always felt like when I interviewed Margaret Mead, that I had that in common with her, but I was a first child, a very wanted child, and a very adored child. And my mother was and continues to be an extremely important influence in my life. Because I was born in '22 and because I just recently celebrated my sixty-seventh birthday, I wasn't of that generation where I was told in words that you were special. But I was told in behavior that I was special and I grew up with a mother who made life wonderful.
We never had any money. My father was from a farm family and in reviewing I get amused because my mother was the world's eternal optimist and my father was the world's eternal pessimist. And yet they were married for many, many years, until they both died, or he died first and then she did. They adored each other. And I grew up in a house where my parents never passed each other without touching. And the closeness, I didn't realize then how much this was structuring me for my later life, but it was a loving kind of family situation. The arms around kind of thing. And as I was the oldest, and then I have two younger brothers, and as each of us was brought into that, it was a family of a very close, loving situation. There were no journalists in my family at all as far back as any of us could remember. And as I grew up, there was a great deal of rebellion between me and my father. And Mother always said that you're just like him. And it took me years and years and years to understand that indeed I have a lot of those characteristics, that is the stubbornness, the will to succeed in spite of, and yet I got my mother's optimism. My mother always—
Kasper: Lucky you, what a wonderful combination.
Castleberry: Yes. If you gave my mother lemons way back there, she would make lemonade every time. And she constantly was on the go. She was so afraid that she would miss something. Mother was in nurses' training when she quit to marry my father right after World War I. And she had also been a musician. She had ridden horseback for many, many years into the small town of Lindale—five miles into Lindale to take music lessons on Saturday. And also she grew up—she had one characteristic that I never had—she grew up playing with her brothers, so she was a tomboy. She grew up riding horses and hunting and fishing with her brothers. She was the oldest of five, but her family reared—her mother and dad reared six other sets of children along the way. My grandmother's story was incredible. At age 19, she had Mother and before she was 21 she had seven children. My grandfather's four half brothers and sisters came to live with them. His own brother came to live with them. And a couple of her relatives came to live with them. So Mother grew up in this big house where just an incredible amount of things were going on all of the time.
Kasper: Now was this a farm family? Lindale was farming country?
Castleberry: Yes. It was a farm family. It's a farming community and my maternal family went there, I have just recently learned, in 1879 from Alabama. They came to Texas in five wagons in 1879 and founded this little community.
It's called Bethesda and it's a Presbyterian community five miles northeast of Lindale and they all bought property there and all of it surrounded each other, and you know it was just a kind of, I guess, womb almost for the family. And yet, from that there was a lot of reaching out. There were always things to read. There was always music in the house.
My grandfather was the superintendent of the black schools. In those days in Texas the black people could not run their own schools. And one of the things that I cherish is that in 1930, when he died, he was brought home from south Texas where he had gone to live and the black people all came and surrounded the church on a snowy, horrible winter day, and my grandmother got up and went outside and invited them all in, and it was the first time black people were ever in the church. So the history of our progression in inclusiveness is rather interesting for East Texas. Grandmother did that, then, you know, we began to make kind of quantum leaps for inclusiveness in the entire family that I have always treasured. So anyway, from that, the first really—I remember going to Sunday school in the church when I was a small child. I remember my mother teaching. I remember her playing the piano in the church. I remember her setting the stage for me to—that there is more out there, that the world—I remember that she always managed to have books, and this is the days when libraries were not—
Kasper: There were not public libraries.
Castleberry: —not public libraries. But there were always things to read and she used to say that if I didn't have a book to read, I read the labels on cans. I read anything that came to mind. And taught myself to read, with her help, before I started to school with newspapers down on the floor. In fact, I recall vividly that I gave myself what the doctor at that time said was ink poisoning because I would lie on the floor on my elbows with my elbows down on the paper copying the letters and finally got an infection in my elbows and had to stop that nonsense.
Kasper: They called it ink poisoning.
Castleberry: I don't know what it was, but that's what they called it at the time. But I did teach myself to read and to write before I went to school with Mother's help, because it was always with my mother's encouragement. Although, my mother almost always had a sideline job in the home. One of my very earliest memories was of her "making cuttings." And that meant that she had a part-time job with a big nursery and the nursery would root rosebushes from the cuttings that she made. And I remember her working with gloves to protect her hands. But she always had some kind of an extra job.
Kasper: This was to make extra money for the household?
Castleberry: This was to make extra money for the household and what I have learned in the years that have followed is that women have almost always provided that little extra. I can recall that in the young days when there was absolutely no money in the house, and you will remember that I very much was a child of the Depression, so there was no money.
Kasper: And your father was farming this property.
Castleberry: My father was farming, and as a result of that, the income was—sometimes you made it and sometimes you didn't.
Kasper: Depending on the economy and the weather.
Castleberry: The economy. One of the years, as I grew a little older, when I was about eight, I guess, we had five acres of commercial tomatoes. And if you have never farmed commercial tomatoes, you get through processing them through one side and go directly to the other side of the field and start over. And Curt and I now say today, God, we can't believe that we came out of a period of time where we were really kind of dirt farmers to—that's the reason we appreciate so much what we have been able to acquire, which isn't a lot of things, but it's certainly a lot of other things.
And then, chronologically, as I recall, I celebrated my sixth birthday in Lindale. It came on Easter Sunday and my mother gave me a birthday party. It was the first birthday party I had ever had where I had other children there, and of course, there was an Easter egg hunt, and I still recall it as vividly as if it were yesterday how much fun it was. And I think, too, that was my opening to the social milieu. That there were people out there who had fun doing things. Mother always had people in the house. She had lots of friends, but my own set of friends, I really catalog from that particular little party that she did for me. And shortly after that, my father and most of Mother's family moved to the panhandle of West Texas, having caught onto the dream and vision at that moment of "go west young man to make your fortune."
Kasper: So this was what, just about 1930?
Castleberry: This was 1928-29 that we moved. See I celebrated my sixth birthday and then we moved. So it was in '28.
Kasper: So, again, it was the effects of the Depression presumably?
Castleberry: Well, the Depression had really stopped almost dead in its tracks already, the produce, being able to sell farm stuff in East Texas. So we went to West Texas because cotton was king out there. And my dad bought a small place out there, I don't remember how much it was, I remember people by those terms saying it was a small place. It seemed to me that it was terribly big, but I'm remembering from—
Kasper: Did the whole family—this was a whole community in Lindale that was your family?
Castleberry: This was a community. Now, not everybody went. My grandparents went, my maternal grandparents. My aunt, my uncle, who were still at home, were not yet married, went. Mother and Dad and one of the other married brothers, Mother's married brother and his family went. So it was not the whole group that picked up and went, it was just this small group of us that, as I remember, wanted to seek our fortune elsewhere. And I think, as I look back, we were there only two years, it was an interesting two years because I started to school in Memphis, Texas, and it's in the Texas panhandle and I can recall as vividly as if it were yesterday, the sandstorms and how they impacted, I mean, there were days you could not see in front of your face. I hated it. I hated it from the word go. But, I got a lot out of it, and I still, one of these days, want to write the difference between an East Texas woman and a West Texas woman. The East Texas, the heritage is from Louisiana and Alabama and the old south and this kind of protected, crinoline skirts, the "Gone With the Wind" framework of reference, and the mental framework is a lot the same too for many East Texas women. West Texas, they have to be survivors.
Kasper: So you're saying the East Texas women are protected, lady of the house, southern belle.
Castleberry: They're protected. Lady of the house. Southern belle type. The West Texas woman is a raw pioneer. So I got, without realizing it, a little of both. I got, in fact, a great deal of both because the ruggedness of West Texas was—I embraced the freedom to roam, the freedom to go. We moved into the most—to me it was an adventure, I know now it was one of the most awful houses in the world because it was the only house on the property and the lower part of the house was dug into a canyon, and then upstairs there were two bedrooms and you had to climb a ladder to get upstairs. And downstairs, in this old canyon where the walls had been cemented in, the scorpions would come out. So we had scorpions and we had snakes.
Kasper: It must have been a horror for parents and an adventure for children.
Castleberry: It was an adventure for children. And my father made two crops there, that is cotton crops. The first cotton crop that he made, he made "a killing." I guess that was in the fall of '29 and everything worked well. The weather was right, the cotton came in, everything was fine. He bought a brand new automobile and we were going into town to visit my grandparents and for a big church event on a Sunday. It had been raining terribly, we had to cross a creek called Indian Creek. The water was too high for us to go the front way, so we went the back way.
Afterwards, people said, didn't we tell you there was quicksand in that creek? Nobody told us there was moving quicksand in the creek, and the car sank. We were halfway across this, what seemed to me an interminably wide creek, that normally was a dry bed, but in this rolling water was certainly not. The wheels on one side of the car sank just instantly. And my father walked us all back to the bank, putting each foot down and finding firm ground, back to the house. The car went completely under. So, Dad had invested a large part of his cotton crop in this car and he sold it for parts for $25.00 when we dug it out. So those are very vivid memories that I remember.
I remember very vividly hearing about the crash of '29 and recently, just shortly before I left the paper, on the 50th anniversary of the crash of 1929, I did a story for the paper on that because we didn't have radio out there, but the news came to the school. Incidentally, my mother would not let me go to school in the small community where we lived. She drove me five miles to school into Memphis, Texas, because, as she said, whatever else I do, I educate my children.
Kasper: And she felt those were better schools.
Castleberry: Oh, they were far better schools. The little school that I would have gone to was a two-room school with two teachers. And all of the grades were stacked together. So she drove me into town for school and that was a hard year because the snows came and sometimes we were iced in and sometimes she had to teach me at home and we had no telephone. But she got me to school, one way or the other, she got me to school. And there was one period of time after the car sank into the creek where she had no automobile and so she let me stay with friends for, I think it was six weeks, to get to school.
Kasper: In town, Memphis, so that you could get to school.
Castleberry: In town, to get to school, so I could go to school. So, her influence was, at that time, and continues to be a—as I grew up, Mother played word games with me when we would work in the kitchen. I was an only daughter. And as we would work in the kitchen together, she would play word games with me, and to this day I sometimes reach for her and say, "My words, my words, where are my words?" You know, I want to say this right, and it's not coming.
Kasper: Well, you are very articulate and I would say that at this point, you probably attribute some of that to your mother's influence.
Castleberry: I attribute a lot of it because the framework that is set, you grow from there. And that framework was set very early for the words that she wanted me to use and for looking for the exact right word. She would paint a word picture for me, and then she would say, "How do you see that?" And to use words—and I've done that with my grandchildren. I didn't do it so much with my daughters, I wish I had, but at that time I was so busy. But I have certainly done it with my grandchildren, playing word games.
Kasper: It's a nice gift. One of the women that I interviewed for my dissertation work, which we talked about yesterday, told me she was raised, I believe it was in Kansas, and her mother was a social worker and she didn't have any child care for her children, the two girls, so she would take them whenever she had to, you know, when they weren't in school, she'd take them around with her as she made her rounds as a social worker. And this woman would recount to me how her mother would tell her stories in the car because, like Texas, there were these vast tracks of areas that she had to cover to go from one client to another. And so she would make up what she used to call the car stories. And she said her mother had this avid imagination and she would start these car stories and they would continue for days, months, even years where they'd get into the car and it's sort of like they picked up from the last chapter. And this woman said she had one of the most wonderful memories of what otherwise would have been incredibly boring car trips over the empty Kansas plains where her mother just created pictures and stories in her mind that were just wonderful. She said, she's been forever grateful to her mother for that.
Castleberry: Yeah. I can relate to that so well. And the influence that a mother has, I don't know about a son because I've never been a son, but the influence that
a mother has on her daughter's life is incredible. I have continued to interview, as I've interviewed, I did quite a series of study stories not too long ago on the mother-daughter relationship and the influence of mothers on daughters.
Kasper: One of my favorite subjects, Vivian.
Castleberry: I started a book and then I got busy doing these other things and I haven't pursued that, but it's something that needs to be done because we have come through a period of time where daughters have denigrated their mothers, torn them to shreds.
Kasper: Oh, Vivian, you are hitting on one of my most favorite subjects. We have got to talk about this.
Castleberry: I've got quite a lot of information on it and I have some stuff that I published at the paper, but I never really followed through and pursued it.
Kasper: And I have all the academic literature on that subject. We ought to exchange—
Castleberry: We've got to get together on it. One of my daughters and I, one of the most fun things that we did about five years ago, we did a program for one of the caring centers here, one of the service centers, on the mother-daughter relationship. I did not know how she would do, that's—it's been six years, because she's the one who's been married now for six years and it was just before she married, my youngest daughter. And I chose her for two reasons. One, she had just finished her undergraduate work in sociology and had specialized in early childhood counseling. And I knew she had the academic beginnings for this. The second reason that I chose her was that she was available. It's something I could put my finger on. But I didn't know how she would do because she'd never done anything like this. And the first time they applauded, this kid was on and she never stopped. [Laughter.]
Kasper: She did well.
Castleberry: She did well and she really tore the skin off in places. They asked her, "Well how did you feel when you were a kid about your mother going out to work everyday?" And Cathy said, "I hated it. Hated every minute of it because I would get sick at school and the nurse would call to get my mother to come pick me up, and Mother would be out in the boonies covering a story somewhere and somebody else would come and get me, and I hated that." And she said, "But just look at me, I turned out all right." [Laughter.] I mean, she was just marvelous. Anyway, I want to keep this flow going.
Kasper: Well we'll get back to that subject another time, if not on tape, you and I will do that at lunch or something, because that is absolutely one of my favorite subjects.
Castleberry: I want to look up some of my material too, because I did do quite a lot of studies on it.
Kasper: I would like to see some of that. Do you still have some of the articles, too, that were published in the paper?
Castleberry: Um hum. Yeah. I did a few. I did some, not near as much as I wanted to, because there is so much there. There is so much there that hasn't been explored. And you have the academic credentials to do it and I have the—
Kasper: Well I have a lot of the scholarly—I have to admit, it was one of my efforts during my eight years in graduate school, not only to read, but then to collect scholarly literature and the not-so-scholarly literature on the mother-daughter bond and I have—we will just have to exchange information, that's all we'll have to do.
Castleberry: Yeah, we do, because through the years as I began to learn the kind of influence that mothers had on daughters, both good and bad, but far more good than bad, and that was what was not being told. That was being buried.
So I kept looking for it. And then as I would interview prominent women, I would say to them, "What impact did your mother have on your life?" For instance, I'll give you a specific. Sarah Hughes, Judge Sarah Hughes, I asked her that question, and she said, "Oh, my father was far more influential on my life than my mother." And then she started exploring that and after a while there was a dead stop and she said, "You know, I never appreciated what my mother did. My mother was there. She was the one that sent me out." It made me cry because the opening of her understanding that it was father that was out in the world, but it was mother that made it all possible. It's marvelous.
Kasper: And what you're addressing, just to bring us back to where we were before, is exactly that in your own childhood. You're saying that while your father was certainly a presence and a strong influence and many of your own qualities you can identify as coming from him—
Castleberry: Yeah, and he also was more, I would say, most of it came through my mother. And it was Mother that was there. The fortunate thing was that he was there for her. And probably formed a lot of the foundation that I didn't appreciate so much at the time.
Kasper: But then you're saying she also transmitted his qualities and your understanding of his role to you.
Castleberry: That's right. Exactly. And because she was the extrovert, she was the one who said the things, she was the one who made the home nurturing and comfortable and loving, and although, as I now know, he was a very good scholar. He enjoyed that and also she was a fabulous cook. And I am a good cook and that also was nurtured into me as I grew up. And because of her background in health, her early training in health—
Kasper: Did she ever practice as a nurse?
Castleberry: Never did. She dropped out of training to marry my father and never did practice except in the neighborhood. She birthed all the babies, she was the midwife in our small country town. She did all of the things that are done in small country towns in the way of medical care. And we were, as I grew up, many miles from a doctor, and she nursed us through a lot of things that otherwise we may not—well I know I probably wouldn't have been here at all because she nursed me through diphtheria in the epidemic of—1933?
Kasper: Yeah. '32, '33.
Castleberry: '32-33. She nursed me through that. But she formed the shell of nurturing and caring and loving, together with an extended family that intruded constantly upon her.
To get back on target, when we came back from West Texas, we came back because my father's father became ill in East Texas.
Kasper: Did you come back to Lindale?
Castleberry: We came back to LaRue, Texas. And that is a little town that my paternal grandparents founded. It also is in East Texas, and these two little towns are about fifty miles apart, but it's where my father had grown up. And my grandfather on my father's side, my grandfather Anderson, we know nothing about at all except for him. He did not know his father. We know that he has a Swedish background and that came down by word of mouth through the family. The story is, and I have no way of checking this, I haven't gotten into that yet, so I have no way of checking this, but the story is that my paternal great grandmother married this young man who was kind of going through the community and her brothers didn't like him and ran him off right after the baby was born. Now that's the story. I don't know whether she was pregnant out of wedlock, I have no idea what it was. But that's the story and he never knew his father at all. His mother died when he was a very young child and he was reared by old bachelor brothers. And so by the time I knew him, I remember him as kind of god's gift to humanity. He really was a very loving, wonderful man, far more than my paternal grandmother was. My paternal grandmother never liked me.
Kasper: Really? How odd.
Castleberry: And she didn't like me because—well, she didn't like me because I was not an obedient child. To stay in chronological order, when we went back to LaRue, my grandfather had become ill and out of eight living children, my father was the only one who felt the compulsion to go home and take care of Dad in his old age. So we moved back. The grandparents had built a small house on the farm place for the newlyweds, which was the custom in those days. When one of the children would marry, well they usually started out in the small house that was on the family place until they could make enough money to move out. And although my parents had never lived in that house—my parents had moved to Lindale when they married with her folks and had started that way—other children had lived in the house. But by that time all the children were grown and married and when we came back to LaRue, we moved into this little house. It was a little four-room house on the place and my dad farmed the farm. And one of the things that my grandfather had inherited somehow in the genes was—I can't remember the name for it now. My words, my words. But he didn't raise just cotton and corn, he did everything. He had an apple orchard. He had a grape orchard. He had pear trees. It was a very productive kind of farming which was extremely unusual for that part of the country and extremely unusual for those days.
Kasper: Why is that? Is that not fertile farm country in East Texas?
Castleberry: It's sandy. It's sandy loam and you have to fertilize to raise other things. And you also have to be careful of where you plant things. You have to—what I'm trying to say is rotating farming. And my grandfather did that. You know, he would farm cotton on the land this year, and next year he would raise tomatoes on that piece of property, so that it didn't take all the chemicals out of the soil.
Kasper: And he'd had no formal training in this, but he figured it out.
Castleberry: He had no formal training. He figured it out. And of course, then my father inherited that technique and my brothers both inherited the technique of not depleting the soil of the nutrients that were in it, and that way you let the land lie what we call fallow. I haven't used that word in years! But they would do that and they would farm only a certain amount of the land and the next year let that lie idle and farm somewhere else. So, anyway, from that experience, when my grandfather became then really ill, we moved into the big house with them. And that's where my mother inherited things that I don't know how she inherited because she not only ran the house and looked after my father and us, the three children, but she inherited the first cousins who came in from all over the country. They had always come to granddad's and grandmother's in the summertime, so Mother inherited that. And my grandmother was a southern lady. My grandmother didn't do anything.
Kasper: She was one of those East Texas women you were describing.
Castleberry: She was one of those East Texas women. And she mostly sat in the parlor and knitted. And I remember her with a white lace handkerchief, or a white linen handkerchief, lace trimmed. And I remember her walking the halls in the springtime when the storms would come, she would be extremely frightened. We had this huge house with a hallway all the way down the center. On the right hand side was the parlor, a bedroom, the dining room, the kitchen and the screened-in back porch. On the other side of the house was the living room, the bedroom, the bedroom, the bedroom, the bedroom, and at the very back, the bath, that opened on to the back porch. So walking down that hall to the bathroom, and we didn't have indoor plumbing when I was a very small child, that came later. So, my grandmother would walk to the front door and open the door and look out at the storm and cry and wring her handkerchief, and then she would turn and walk to the back door and do the same. And my father wondered why he had a child that was afraid of storms! [Laughter.] But mostly grandmother sat in the living room or in the parlor. And the living room was one of those old-fashioned living rooms. It had a player organ in it and it had the wash stand, the old-fashioned wash stand, and it had all of the things that you read about and hear about in an old—and it was never used. It was a musky, dusty room that was used only when company came.
Kasper: That was meant to be reserved just for guests. Not a living room in the sense of nobody lived in it.
Castleberry: That's right. Nobody ever lived in it. And I had a bad habit of going in there and playing on the player piano and doing other things that children are not supposed to do.
Kasper: Which your grandmother did not like.
Castleberry: My grandmother did not like that. And I also pulled her magnolia blossoms. She had two huge, gorgeous magnolia trees in the front yard. One of them is still there. I was by there recently to see it. It's gorgeous. And I would pull the magnolia blossoms and children just—well, and my grandmother was reared in an era where children were to be seen and not heard.
And on Sunday, the Baptist preacher came to dinner. We were not Baptists, but my grandmother had gotten mad at the Methodist minister somewhere along in rearing her children, and she reared half of her children in the Methodist church, and I was real fortunate, my father was one of those. And then she got mad at the Methodist minister and so she went to the Baptist church and took the rest of them—reared the rest of them in the Baptist Church. And the town was so small that we couldn't afford a minister full-time, so the Baptists had a preacher on the first and third Sundays, and the Methodists on the fourth and second Sundays, and the kids were always glad when the fifth Sunday came 'cause we didn't have to go to church. [Laughter.] But we would walk, the Methodist and Baptist churches were about a city block apart and we would have Sunday school in our church and then walk across the school yard to the Baptist church for church. And my grandfather, then, when grandmother yanked up the kids and took them into the Baptist church, which was before my time, it's just a story I heard, my grandfather became as active in the Baptist church as he had been in the Methodist church and was superintendent of the Baptist Sunday school for twenty-five years. So I remember my grandfather on his knees at the front of the church. But I also remember that he loved children and that he looked, in spite of the fact that I have inherited all of the dark complexion and dark tendencies, my grandfather looked like a Swede, the blonde, wavy hair, the blue eyes—he did. And even when he died, very young. It turned out he had cancer. But in those days, we didn't know. And he was critical before we really had it diagnosed what was wrong with him.
Kasper: And during this time when he was ill and you all were living there and grandmother was sitting in the parlor, you say you're mother really ran the ship.
Castleberry: My mother took care of everything.
Kasper: Was there no farm help in the house?
Kasper: So she did everything.
Castleberry: She did everything. All the cooking, the cleaning. From time to time, as I grew up, there was a wonderful black woman who became very important in my life and in my mother's life, but at that period of time—but interestingly enough, it was also pretty much of an extended family. People did things for each other. Neighbors came in. When my grandfather was very ill, people brought in food. But there also were a lot of people in the house, always. And every Sunday that the Baptist preacher was there we had him to lunch. Another thing that Mother did that grandmother didn't approve of, she fed the children first. She fed them in the kitchen while the adults ate. And in those days, the kids all waited, you know, until the preacher had had his fill and the adults had eaten. But Mother, again, was of that generation or somehow she felt very keenly that children must be taken care of. So she would set up a table on the back porch or in the kitchen and feed us at the time that everybody else was having their meal.
Kasper: So that you didn't have to wait until the preacher had his fill.
Castleberry: We didn't have to wait. And they sit around the table and talk. In some houses that I was in where children were still made to wait, it would be two o'clock
in the afternoon before the children would be fed. And that's a disgrace. It's a sin. So Mother never had us do that, but grandmother didn't approve of that because, again, she was of the old school where children were just to be seen and not heard. And so she really never liked me very much. And also she didn't like me because I would slip off. This house, the old farmhouse, had an attic, and she had thrown magazines and newspapers up there for years, and that was the best hideaway in the world. And I would get lost in that attic and I would read by the—there was in the front of the house this tiny little window and that's the only way the window got cleaned [Laughter.] because I would go up and clean the window so I could read by the light that came through it. [Laughter.] So I would disappear for hours at a time. My mother knew where I was, but my grandmother did not approve of my just disappearing. My brothers didn't approve either, by the way, because they were always out helping on the farm.
Kasper: And they didn't get a chance to go up there and read.
Castleberry: And they didn't get a chance to read. And we raised peanuts. We raised peanuts by the score. And a lot of my very early storytelling happened in that peanut loft because I would tell stories to my brothers, make them listen, they were a captive audience, while we picked off peanuts for the commercial sales.
Kasper: And you would make up stories?
Castleberry: And I'd make up stories and tell them.
Kasper: Just fantasy.
Castleberry: Fantasy, uh huh. Never-never land and all of the wonderful things. They didn't care for that too much either.
Kasper: Were these from some of the books you had read as a child too?
Castleberry: Probably. I think I embroidered an awful lot. And that's one reason even today when I start to tell something, I think, is that exactly the way it happened, or am I embroidering this story for fun and games.
Kasper: I'll have to give you some of my theories on those kinds of memories.
Castleberry: Real good.
Kasper: Yeah. Well, we'll have to talk about that. It's my feeling, I've felt this way for quite awhile, not just in sociology, but from what I've learned about oral history too, that it's not the facts that you remember that are so important, although as we've said, they are hooks. It's the framework, it's the interpretation that you give to events, it's your life as you have, if you will, embroidered it that is what counts, not the reality itself.
Castleberry: Right. Well, good. Now I won't feel so bad now if I'm not—because I really as a journalist I have tried to teach myself to be exactly accurate with the facts, so I'm struggling now in my own life of how much do I really remember and how much was a part of my fabulous imagination.
Kasper: But that's the wonderful fabric of your life, Vivian, is the fact that you have embroidered the facts and you remember a lot of facts, you may have said to me earlier that you don't, but you certainly do. And you have just painted for me the most wonderfully vivid picture of this early childhood. Now, I dare say, if you had just given me the facts, the colors in this vivid picture would be a lot dimmer than they are. So if there's some embroidery in there, it's not only beautiful and wonderful, but it has enriched your account.
Castleberry: It's enriched me, but I don't want to tell my children, now this is a fact and it isn't a fact.
Kasper: I don't think you need to distinguish between the two. I think what's important is the material of your life and how you remember it.
Castleberry: And I've collected along the way. I've tried to collect family stories along the way that get lost otherwise, too, and I'm now at the age and stage where along with the book that I'm writing, I'm also doing the family history because—and I have discovered one of the things that I've done for myself just recently, I said my maternal family went to Bethesda community and founded it in 1879, and I just went on the 15th of June to a memorial service there, the 107th memorial service there. And I took my grandson, who was a seventh generation, direct descendent of the family that founded the community and had him standing in the pulpit with me. So there's a lot of—these things are—they're extremely important to me, and I try to tell my grandchildren—
I have to tell you one funny story. I took my granddaughter who's just ten, who was nine last year, I took her last year with me and I was trying to explain to her before we went the significance of the day and I said to her that these are people that have been in our family for years and they're all buried in the little cemetery back of the church. The church is a picture postcard pretty little Presbyterian church way out in the country. And the cemetery behind it is so well kept and I said, we go in celebration. We go to remember the good things that we knew about these people and we go to reconnect with our roots, who we are and what we're doing. Nothing out of this kid, I mean, we'd drive along and just nothing. So we then go and we have the service; and we have the visiting and the cemetery and the conversations; and we have the picture taking and we have the big dinner that's all spread all over the ground out front. And what Ryann remembers about it is that she sampled six different kinds of blackberry cobbler. So that's what she remembers about it. But we were on our way back and I was still trying to get her to focus on what she had just experienced. So I said, "Now, you see what the day is. You've experienced it. You know what the day is," and I said, "When I'm not with you anymore, you can go to a memorial service and you can remember the good times that we had together. How would that be?" Nothing. We drive along for about ten more miles and suddenly Ryann says to me, "Grandmommy, I want to ask you an important question." Boy, here it comes. I said, "Okay, what is it?" She said, "When you die, can I have all your makeup?" [Laughter.]
Kasper: That's great. Of course, what you wanted was the response you couldn't get, right?
Castleberry: Important, significant things you want and you get what's real. So anyway, when we moved back to LaRue, to get back on the chronology—
Kasper: I was going to begin to ask you about schooling.
Castleberry: When we moved back to LaRue, I went to—I still was, I guess in second grade. And I had been to, at that time, I had had several different teachers because when I went to school in Memphis, it turned out that the school had seventy-five first graders and they had planned for forty. So they kept switching us around until they found the kind of fit. But my first teacher was a woman whose name was Miss Starr in Memphis, and I didn't have her very long, but she was extremely important because she was a maiden schoolteacher, silver hair, and loved kids. And she filled in a lot of the adventure that I had not been able to have at home of the learning to relate to other people, the social skills that went with learning, the opening up of team study. She would put us in little groups of four and five and. Then we moved to La Rue.
[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]
Castleberry: There I had a teacher who was one of my dad's cousins and who recognized that although I had had good learning skills, that I probably needed some supportive help as I went into the third grade. So the summer before I entered third grade, she brought me practically every book in the LaRue setting and I read all those books that summer. And so when I started the third grade, I was way ahead of everybody else and bored stiff. And if it hadn't been for her guidance and her help, I probably would have been cut off at that period in my life. But she kept reaching for the next book and prodding me to, you know, she kept saying, there's more out there that you haven't mastered yet. And then with Mother's help with this, it began to accumulate that there's more out there that I haven't seen yet or done yet.
Kasper: Your mother created a larger vision for you in lots of ways, didn't she?
Castleberry: Yes, she did. Not only that, but Mother also, every year when we were in LaRue from the time I was in the second grade, at the end of the second grade, until I was in the seventh grade when we moved to Athens, Mother gave a party every year at the first of the school for the new teachers and had them in our home to introduce them to the community. And that, I didn't realize at the time, how rich that was for me because it gave me not only a first person knowledge of who all of the teachers were, but it also, they knew who we were. And being in our setting, and in our framework, it made a tremendous difference on how they related to our family. You don't have that anymore. Children don't have that anymore.
Kasper: And it breaks down the barriers between teacher and student.
Castleberry: Between home and school. And when we were—if there were any kind of trouble, we were on top of it before, Mother was on top of it, before it happened. So this connectedness between home and school was extremely significant. And Mother continued to enlarge my horizons. Even before I ever said I am going—nobody from that community went to college in those days. Nobody went to college. And even in those days Mother was saying to me, "Now, when you go away to school, when you go away to school—"
Kasper: So it was just a presumption that you would.
Castleberry: It was a given. When my grandfather died, my grandfather had willed the property to us. He had called the whole family together and had told them that, he said, "William Clarence is the only one who has come home to look after me, so I want you all to know that the other property will be divided equally among you and anything that I have will be divided equally among you, but the property itself, the farm, is his." And everybody was just happy and agreeable and on the way home from his funeral, they decided to break the will; they said that father was not of a sound mind. And so anyway my mother put up with that for six weeks or so, with the bickering and the whatever, and I remember so vividly, I was still, you know, a youngster. I was, I guess, in the sixth grade. Well Mother said to my father, "I will not rear my children in a house where there is bickering. I will not do it." So they signed the property, all of it, back over to the heirs and picked us up without leave, without a bye your leave or anything, and moved us out without knowing how we were going to make a living or where we were going or what we were going to do. Mother said, "We will not tolerate this nonsense." So we moved then to a country place not far from the farm that was owned by one of dad's cousins and dad farmed one more year there until—
Kasper: Was this in Athens?
Castleberry: No, this was in LaRue, still. And then at the middle of my seventh grade year, what happened was that my dad led the fight to keep the school in LaRue. All the schools were consolidating at that period of time in Texas, and he lost the fight. We lost the school. And then—I can remember so vividly—but that's one place where I really do credit my father. He said, "I will not rear my children in a town without a school." So he picked us up overnight and moved us to Athens. And he took with him the Jersey cows that he had accumulated and they opened a small dairy and began to dairy farm on rented property and it was—
Kasper: Was Athens in East Texas too?
Castleberry: Athens is in East Texas. It's only twelve miles from LaRue. But it was the county seat. And it was and still remains a very open community, which is an enigma in East Texas. East Texas is a very closed community. If you weren't born there, you don't belong there. I do not like Tyler to this day. I was reared thirty-five miles from Tyler. My grandmother lived there. Went to the First Presbyterian Church. I did not have a friend in Tyler until I got to SMU. They just do not reach out.
Kasper: Well, it's not your personality, that's for sure.
Castleberry: That's right. And so then I went through high school in Athens. Mother and Dad bought a place, my brother still lives on that place, and that became home.
Kasper: Is he still a dairy farmer too, your brother?
Castleberry: No. He has worked all over this country. He's recently retired, but he did, mostly, supervised heavy construction work. And he's worked all over this country.
Kasper: So he's come back to retire on the property.
Castleberry: Well, yeah, but he floated out of there all those years when he was going on jobs hither and yon. He's always lived there.
Kasper: It was home.
Castleberry: It was home. And he brought his family back there to rear—and married a young woman from Oklahoma and brought her there and while he was out working all over the world, she put the kids through school. But he's been home more often than he hasn't been. They're both retired now, but it's still—and I have laughed since then. I used to go home, of course, to Athens and tear up my mother's cabinets and put them back together. Well, I discovered that my sister-in-law was not too open about my going home. It's a different world when your brother and his wife live in the house than when it's your mother's house.
Kasper: Right. So you can't just go in there and start looking through family diaries and picture albums and so forth.
Castleberry: No. Although my sister-in-law and I have become closer and closer and closer through the years. My brother and I—there were two brothers. The older of the two died several years ago.
Kasper: The older of your two brothers died?
Castleberry: The older of my two brothers died several years ago with a heart attack at Christmas time. The younger brother and I have always been able to complete each other's sentences. We are extremely close. We live in the same world. We understand each other without words. And the sister-in-law—my brother was married previously, she was married previously, and they put their two families together and then had a daughter. He adopted her son; she adopted his two children; and then they had a child who is now grown. So it's been a long period of time. But the sister-in-law was much younger, so it took us years to get close. And now, my brother has been going through some critical illness. He's had open heart surgery and he's had several different illnesses and that has made us extremely close. And I feel like now I could walk into her house and go into that attic and pull out all the stuff that's still up there perfectly freely. But for a period of time that wasn't that way.
Kasper: So they're living on the family place in Athens that your father and mother had taken over and dairy farmed.
Castleberry: Bought. And dairy farmed.
Kasper: And so you went to high school in Athens.
Castleberry: I went to high school in Athens—
Kasper: What kind of a high school was that?
Castleberry: It was an excellent high school and it still is. It didn't have all of the academic stuff that it should have had. I didn't have any background much in science. I wasn't encouraged to take science or math. But those were different days, too, and now the girls are encouraged to study those things. I had an excellent history teacher. I had an excellent math teacher, really, he was exceptional in his giving me a background for what I could learn later. I never thought that I cared for math until I joined the paper and I had to learn how to
size pictures and do all those things that you have to do. And I learned it, with the background I had, instantly.
Kasper: What do you think some of your interests were in high school? Did you lean more towards history and writing or English?
Castleberry: No, I leaned more towards writing. I knew from the time I was seven years old I was going to be a journalist.
Kasper: How did you know that?
Castleberry: I do not know. I wrote my first story on the porch swing in LaRue, Texas—
Kasper: When you were seven.
Castleberry: —when I was seven.
Kasper: What kind of story was that?
Castleberry: Oh, I don't remember, but I still have the book somewhere.
Kasper: And what did you do with it? Did you just stash it away somewhere?
Castleberry: I stashed it away. I've got more stuff I stashed away. I still have most of the stuff that I've written like that through the years. I oddly enough do not have a clip of any of the stories that I did for the Times Herald. All those years, it's pretty much wasted, I guess.
Kasper: You don't have any of them?
Castleberry: I don't have any of them. Well, I have a few things that were significant to me at the time that I can show you, but mostly it was stuff that was, you know, tomorrow's newspapers for the birdcage. Yesterday's paper, you just don't keep it.
Kasper: Does the Times Herald have a clipping file on you?
Castleberry: They don't have a clipping file. The Dallas Public Library does.
Kasper: And would some of your articles that have—?
Castleberry: Oh, yeah, they have everything that has ever been published. But I don't have it. But the high school itself, I must say, was excellent. And also, because of my bent and my interest, I always knew I was going to write. And in high school I edited my high school newspaper, which was published by the Athens Review, the daily newspaper once a week.
Kasper: It was called the Athens Review?
Castleberry: Athens Review, Athens Daily Review, and once a week they published the school newspaper. At the time I didn't know what a gift they were giving us, but every Thursday for years they published it.
Kasper: Was it an insert in the Athens Daily Review?
Castleberry: It was an insert. In the Athens Review.
Kasper: So you were the editor of that newspaper that went into the adult newspaper once a week. As editor, did you write articles for it as well as putting it together?
Castleberry: I wrote articles and did the assigning and put it together and ran the ship. And oddly enough, recently I did the speech for the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the National Honor Society at Athens High School because I was one of the founding members. And in order to do that well, I went back and scanned all of those papers, those Athenians, the Athens High School paper was called the
Athenian, from 1939 and 1940. All of them, I looked at all of them. And I found out that I was extremely naive. That was the onset of World War II and I told the kids that night, it was their initiation program, and there were twelve of us who were charter members of that group and ten of us made it back for that. One of them came from Atlanta; one of them came from South Carolina. Fascinating, fascinating experience. Because, as I told the kids that night, we were the last of the innocent generation. We had our heads in the sand. We didn't know it. But it was such a gorgeous period of time to live in because my high school was sandwiched between the Texas Centennial and World War II. And so that period from '36 to '40 was a critical time in American history as well as in my own history.
Kasper: Why is that? Can you describe why?
Castleberry: Yeah, I can describe why. Because we were just pulling out of the Depression, just pulling out of the Great Depression. It's the first time we had had anything and we had had a great many gifts of experience by being a part of the Depression where there was no money at all to float around, and to suddenly be able to go to a movie without having to wonder whether or not when Saturday came you could go to a movie. I can remember so vividly what it was like to walk a mile and a half to town on Saturday afternoon just to go to the movie. And also I could go in and buy a pair of shoes without wondering whether or not I was going to have shoes for the next event that came along. And in those days if a young woman had two pairs of shoes, she was rich, because you had one pair you wore to school and you had one pair that you wore on Sunday and for dress up. And the things that I've said about my father—that he was the pessimist—he also adored me. He bought me my first high heels. Mother let him take me to town when I was in the seventh grade and she had in mind some nice little black patent leather flats. And we came home with a pair of high-heeled blue shoes. [Laughter.] And I never knew why she let me keep them, but she did. I thought at the time, and I still think, those were probably the prettiest shoes I ever owned. I loved them.
Kasper: Do you think your mother and father had, despite their differences, one an optimist and one a pessimist, do you think they both had high expectations for you?
Castleberry: For their children. They had high expectations for their children. Now let me explain that. There were only three careers that were okay for a woman, in my father's eye: nursing, teaching and getting married and having children. And he never understood my yen, in those days, never understood my compulsion to study journalism and to write. People wrote if they didn't have anything else to do. They wrote letters, and you were supposed to write letters and keep up with your family, and he encouraged that, and he saw that I had writing paper to write letters on, or postcards to mail to friends. But to write for a living? That was unheard of! And especially when it began to dawn on him that I intended to get out in the cruel world and lock horns with—but he also saw that there was a newspaper in our house all the time. That was a fascinating thing, as I recall, that even in the days when there was no money, we subscribed to a Dallas newspaper; it came the next day by rural mail. So the first story that I ever remember following all the way through from beginning to end was the Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker story—Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, the outlaws. And I read that day after day. I would go to the mailbox and be there when the postman came so that I could read the latest episode. And I cried when they were killed, and, you know, the whole bit.
Kasper: Now do you think your father intended for the children to read the paper too?
Castleberry: Oh yeah. He intended for the children to read the paper.
Kasper: So it wasn't just for his own edification.
Castleberry: He really intended for us to have a newspaper. Good people had newspapers in their house. And so we had a newspaper when nobody else in the community had a newspaper delivered daily to the house. And I didn't, you know, kids accept those things and you don't know that you're different. But in reviewing I know that we were very different. To have had music in the house, and to have had a newspaper in the house, books in the house. It was different. And I didn't appreciate it, but I certainly do now.
Kasper: And what you've done is, you've cited them as early, deep influences on you.
Castleberry: They were deep influences on me that shaped me into what I could—the possibility.
Kasper: Do you think he had different expectations for your brothers as opposed to you?
Castleberry: Yes, oh yeah. My father was a typical male in that he wanted people to be able to make some money. He wanted them to be able to take care of themselves. But also there's another influence that's threaded through there. My father was also a pacifist. I grew up in a pacifist home. Because my father was in World War I and then was with the Army of Occupation after the war ended and stationed in Germany for a period of time, fell in love with the German people, couldn't stand the French. And I grew up in a house where I can hear my father to this day say, "There are always better ways to solve problems than by killing each other. Always. If you just want to find it." So I grew up in that pacifist home and came of age right at the beginning of World War II where overnight both of my brothers who had been reared in that atmosphere were in the service. And my older brother collapsed in Italy with a mental collapse from the training that he had, you know, he could not—
Kasper: He couldn't handle it, couldn't cope.
Castleberry: The older of my two brothers was a "90-day wonder." Are you familiar with that term?
Kasper: No. What's a 90-day wonder?
Castleberry: Well, in World War II, they took boys from the farm or boys from the classroom and overnight turned them into officers who led troops into battle. With 90 days training, my brother was leading troops up the boot of Italy during the worst of the fighting in World War II. And what happened to him was that he had taken a group, a small group, I think there were five of them, to reconnoiter the enemy lines and a bomb fell and cut them off from their troops. And he came to in the hospital and thought he'd been captured by the enemy—mentally, just wasn't there at the time. And wouldn't give them anything but his name and serial number for about a week. And during this period of time, we at home were going crazy. We didn't hear from him for, it seemed like an interminable period of time, it really was a very short period. But we didn't know where he was. We could tell by the headlines that were coming out of Europe about where he was from some of the things he'd said in his letters, but we didn't know. Anyway, that's a later story which I'll get back to later. But it was interesting how my father's pacifist attitudes, condoned by my mother's nurturing and nurturance, and the loving kind of surrounding in which I was reared and the protection that she gave me from people that didn't like me. That it—you know, it all kind of came together. So, in Athens High School, I'll get back to the—
Kasper: Let me just follow that with one additional question. Do you think there was a difference in expectations between what your mother hoped for you and what you father hoped for you?
Castleberry: Um hum. Definitely. Absolutely!
Kasper: So that even though they both set up what was a very powerful, wonderful, nurturing, influenced background, a loving background, there was a difference—
Castleberry: In the expectation. Oh yeah. My father would have been happy if I had married the farm boy next door and had children.
Kasper: Whereas, he would have wanted for your brothers much more than that.
Castleberry: Brothers to go out into the world.
Kasper: And your mother? How did she feel about you as opposed to the boys?
Castleberry: My mother always, has always said, "Go for it, honey." My mother always said, "When you go to college," "when you do this," "when you leave home." And she always held out the carrot—what the possibilities were in the wider world. And she did that even though—when I got ready for college, I won a scholarship, and I knew I had to because I couldn't go to school otherwise. There wasn't any money in the family.
Kasper: You were valedictorian in your high school, too.
Castleberry: I was valedictorian. And the only way that I could get to school was to win a scholarship and I shall never forget some of the fun things that were happening along there. I had to do it. I had to be first in that class because—and interestingly enough, recently at the National Honor Society, the young man who was the high scoring boy in the class said to me, "I hated you all those years ago. You kept making me—you know, you kept topping me in everything." And I said, "John, I had to. I had to go to school. And that's the only way I could do it."
So I got a scholarship and I also had an extremely wonderful influence in my life at that time. A Methodist minister who had come to town and was light years ahead of his time. He had studied and trained all over the world. He had lived in Europe. I do not know what kind of conditions brought him to—yes, I do. It took me years to find out and I've only recently known. His wife was ill and he needed an atmosphere, a small, nurturing atmosphere, where he would have an opportunity to look after her, too. So he came to Athens and took that church on, and his study was my stopping off ground. It was between the high school and downtown and I very often would drop in there and look at his books and read things. And he prodded and pushed.
Kasper: This was during your high school years? Do you remember his name?
Castleberry: Yeah. William G. Fletcher. Later, he was a professor at Florida Southern College and there's a building named for him there. But he was light years ahead of his time in that the Protestant ethic that is so critical to East Texas, he sought a broader world and he always brought in for lectures the small number of Jewish families that were in town, the small number of Hispanic families that were in town. He made a world that didn't exist for me.
In the meantime, also, this black woman, who had become so influential in my life, when we first moved to Athens and opened the dairy, Mother literally had to have help. She couldn't do it all. And it was the milking, the bookkeeping. She ran the business of the family. She kept all the books. She did all of the—not only helped to deliver the milk, but she kept all of the books, she collected all of the bills, kept all the accounts. All of it was her business. My father could, but he didn't. And also, at the time, he was doing a lot of the hard work, the milking, taking care of the—the hard labor.
And so Mary Jane Baxter, lived not too far from us, I don't know how my mother met her, but she was a bride who had just come to that community and she was black and she would come up and help my mother. And she's the one who taught me to iron. And she'd say to me, "Now, Vivian, do that shirt over. That shirt will not pass." [Laughter.] So, I grew up doing all of the things that are done in a house, including ironing my brothers' shirts when they first started to date because I had one brother who had to have a fresh shirt every time he went out of the house. And I did that. I took care of that.
Kasper: How did you feel about that?
Castleberry: Well, at the time, I accepted it as a given. It was only later that I rebelled and didn't do it at all anymore. But by the time I was in college he was doing his own shirts if they got done. But at the time, it was more or less—and Mother, I think, was so busy doing the things that she had to do that she wasn't even aware of that division of labor so much. My mother also, as I look back over it, was a manipulator. And I say that in the kindest terminology there is because I became one too in my work life. I had to to survive. And that's the world that I am looking forward to for my granddaughters where women do not have to manipulate in order to have the good life.
Kasper: Well, and manipulating, I understand exactly what you're saying, because of my own mother, and I see that in myself. Let's stop for a second. [Tape interruption.]
Let's pick up on high school in Athens. And we're talking about Mary Jane Baxter and the minister.
Castleberry: Yeah. Those two people were influential in that period of my life and a couple of teachers were influential. Sometimes you learn by negatives. Sometimes you learn what you don't want to do. And one of the teachers in high school, who was an excellent teacher and a very good friend, turned out to be a very good friend of mine, but she was very elitist. And I learned from her that I didn't—
Kasper: What was her name?
Castleberry: Her name was Willouise Barron. She's dead now. I adored her. She was an excellent teacher and she was also the sponsor of the student government. And in my senior year in high school, I was president of the student body and editor-in-chief of the paper the same year.
Kasper: And valedictorian. My goodness, you ran away with the place.
Castleberry: But the interesting thing about that was that it couldn't be done, but these teachers, fortunately for me, were in enough of a friendly, competitive spirit that both of them said, "I think she can do both. You know, I think—well, she has to do my thing." So I was kind of caught in getting to do both because neither one of the teachers who were sponsors of the student government or sponsors of the paper would turn me loose.
Kasper: So there was Willouise Barron, and who was the other one?
Castleberry: Waymon Blythe Hood was the newspaper sponsor. And she was there simply because she was on leave from a Dallas school. In those days, in Dallas, pregnant women could not teach. And Waymon made the mistake of getting pregnant, so Athens got her. And she was a fabulously excellent English teacher. Just wonderful! Mrs. Barron taught science—biology, math, mostly biology, beginning science, and Mrs. Hood taught English, and both of them were extremely important in my life. Then, also, at the same time, this darling little woman whose name was Opal Lewis became the debate sponsor and she asked me if I would come out for debate. And I said I didn't have time. And she said, well, just give it a try. So my colleague and I won third place in state in debate in our senior year. And do you know what we were debating? Socialized medicine. We were debating—that was the topic that year. Of course, we didn't call it socialized medicine—until a year ago I could quote the topic, probably could again if I thought about it, but "Resolved that all people deserve adequate medical care regardless of—"
Kasper: Well, I was just going to say that the statement we always used back when I was with the Committee for National Health Insurance was that health care is a right, not a privilege.
Castleberry: Health care is a right. And that was what we debated. And I still think the only reason that we did not win, that we got third place instead of first place, was that we drew the black bean and we had to debate against instead of for socialized medicine there, that third time down. And I wasn't near as good agin' as I was for. But it was so interesting the kinds of things that—anyway, these people—and Mrs. Barron was very—she was hometown, she was Athens, she had married into a prominent Athens family and she was very elitist in that the goodies of life very often were reserved for the daughters of the well-to-do. And I don't know how I was able to break down that barrier, but somehow I was, and we became very close and she was an extremely strong influence. But in the meantime, see, we lived, I was a bus student, so we lived out from town on the dairy farm, and this meant that very often a teacher would have to take me home after a debate session or after a student council meeting, or I would have to stay in town with a friend, or I would have to find a way home.
Kasper: So you often rode with her, did you? And so she would talk?
Castleberry: I often did, yes. And we'd talk.
Kasper: And what were the kinds of influences you think that came out of these conversations?
Castleberry: I think, really, when I said I learned from Mrs. Barron, when I say I learned in negatives, I learned that I did not want to be elitist. I learned that I wanted the world to have everybody to have equal opportunity for their rights. I learned that we should not be handicapped because we don't have the money to buy the dress.
Kasper: We should be fair minded.
Castleberry: One vivid experience that I remember, one of my very early experiences with her and I had to overcome that, was when I was in the eighth grade and I came out for extemporaneous speech and won for the school, and it was unheard of for an eighth grader to represent the school at the county meet, but I did. And Mrs. Barron was the sponsor of that. And she told me how to dress. She said, you know, half of whether or not you win will be dependent on how you look, on the way you present yourself.
Kasper: And you didn't like that.
Castleberry: Well, I couldn't afford that. She wanted me to dress in white with a, at the time the style for—she wanted a—and I remember it so vividly, she said, the dress should have a cape and, you know, when you stand, you throw your cape back and whatever and whatever and whatever. All of the things that you do to get from here to there. Well, I couldn't afford the dress she wanted me to have. So my dress was made over from one of my aunt's dresses and I think she decided right early on that I didn't win that contest because I wasn't appropriately dressed. But, what I learned from that was that although it is accurate that our first appearance makes an impact on other people, that should not be the lasting impact, and I made up my mind that I would overcome that. That I probably would never be interested in fashion to the extent that I would be appropriately right for every occasion. And that to be neat and clean was the appropriate—I think that's what I learned from that. I don't know, but I think that's one of the things I learned.
Opal Lewis was significant as my debate coach in another way. She was a fireball. And she taught me that you don't stand back and let other people do it. She taught me to take up for myself. We traveled extensively in the state on debate teams. Every weekend we were gone—to Waco or to Austin or to Houston or to Dallas—every weekend for that entire year that we were debating that topic. And, of course, learned to stay in hotels, learned to cope, learned to fend for myself, learned to handle what little money I had in making it stretch for the food I had to eat and this sort of thing. And also another experience that was just remarkable for me that I appreciate so much. The boys' debate team was exceptional too. They were exceptional. And one of those two was the Jewish boy in our high school. And I began to really experience other cultures. I began to experience—up until that time I don't think it had ever dawned on me why people go to different churches or different synagogues.
Kasper: Except maybe for the minister that you talked about who brought in some of that diversity.
Castleberry: Oh yeah. He brought in that. He brought in the diversity, too.
Kasper: But this was all still new in high school for you.
Castleberry: But this was new to me. This was new to me. And even then, I graduated from high school still having almost a fear of Roman Catholicism. And I don't know how that got put into me because it wasn't anything that was said, but I was almost afraid of the nuns, the first ones that I met, in their black habits.
Kasper: I think that's true of a lot of us. And I'm not quite sure either how it's instilled. But I think there was some influence in probably my life as well as
yours where the differences between different religions were stressed rather than the similarities being promulgated.
Castleberry: Exactly. You are so right. The differences were stressed.
Kasper: And if you came from a strongly Protestant community—
Castleberry: And I did.
Kasper: —one of the ways they strengthened Protestantism was to set off against Catholics or Jews or—
Castleberry: Um hum. But I do consider that and I saw Rubin recently in Athens. He was back for the National Honor Banquet and we had just a brief conversation. We're going to have lunch. He's a Dallas lawyer. We're going to have lunch right away because I haven't seen anything of him much in these intervening years. But what it did for me was to open my life to the positive influences of the Jewish framework and so that when I got to SMU, my best friends were Jewish girls. And I became, and I have said to this day, I could be more Jewish than I could most Protestant religions because of my deep respect for what the women do, although I have fussed at some of my good women friends here for their handling of women's issues. Up until very recent times, it's been a hard row to hoe with them.
Kasper: What about Mrs. Hood? Now she was your English teacher. Did she encourage you?
Castleberry: She never taught me English. She was the sponsor of the high school newspaper and so I was with her one afternoon a week after school and until we got that paper out, editing copy, making assignments for the next week, putting together the—and the typing. Again, because of the smallness of the town and the smallness of the community, it was a cooperative effort. The typing classes typed the copy. The kids would turn it in under all kinds of conditions, and with her help, I coordinated all that. So it was a good learning experience for me to make assignments, to know where the gifts and talents were for each one, to interview teachers, to draw out community leaders. Dr. Fletcher also was extremely influential because we would have him to school at least once a month to talk to us in assembly. And he had been a chaplain in World War I and he had a lot of experiences that came out of Europe, and he also wrote a weekly column, which I must frankly admit I didn't read at that time as well as I should have. And recently when I went back and went through those papers and read some of his columns, I said, "Oh, wow. That's where he was coming from. That's what he was giving me that I didn't know or appreciate at the time."
Kasper: Well, you probably learned a great deal. You just didn't know you were learning it.
Castleberry: Yeah. I absorbed. It was by osmosis. And when I got ready to go to school—well, one of the fun stories. The day that they were going to average grades for valedictorian, I knew they were going to do it, the teachers were having a meeting after school, and I knew they were going to do it. I knew that they were going to announce that afternoon who the honor students were and so I made it a point to stay at school after school to be there for this. And I told my mother before I left home that morning, I said, "They're going to average grades today, so you say a prayer all day long." So it just happened that Dr. Fletcher dropped by the house that day to visit with her or my parents and she told him what I had said. And he said, "When she gets home, you tell her that if she hasn't been working like hell this whole four years, my prayers for her right now are not going to do any good." [Laughter.]
Kasper: This was from the minister!
Castleberry: This is from the minister. That's the kind of person he was. So it was a wonderful, you know, again. So anyway, that day when they averaged grades and I knew that I was going to get the scholarship and go to school, then Dr. Fletcher started pushing me not to go to a state university. He wanted me to go to a place—even though SMU at the time did not have the reputation of being a scholarly place and still doesn't, he wanted me to have the experience of a
university that had more of a nurturing experience at the same time that it offered me opening to my life.
Kasper: Nurturing in what sense?
Castleberry: Nurturing in that it was small enough that you wouldn't get lost in the shuffle completely.
Kasper: And where socially you would be with people who were like-minded and comforting and so forth so that maybe your transition from a small town—
Castleberry: So the transition would be better. So what he did for me that was so mind boggling, I had no idea where I was going to school. I had a scholarship to Baylor University, a scholarship to Texas University.
Kasper: Were these all full scholarships?
Castleberry: There were all full scholarships in those days. A scholarship to SMU and then several lesser schools—North Texas University, East Texas State University—you know, the lesser ones in our community. And nobody from our class had come to SMU. I mean nobody from Athens had come to SMU. I think that's another reason I did it. I wanted the pioneering spirit of doing it on my own. So he brought me to Dallas with him.
Kasper: To see SMU?
Castleberry: He brought me to Dallas with him, gave me streetcar fare from downtown Dallas, and turned me loose to find my way to the university and to interview with the dean. And I did not know that he had plowed the ground ahead of me. I did not know that he had talked to everybody; that it was all really prepared because, you know, he let me do everything—that independence of going and doing it for yourself.
Kasper: Had he talked to the dean at SMU and so forth?
Castleberry: I hadn't until then, until that day.
Kasper: No, but had he talked to the dean for you?
Castleberry: Oh yeah. He talked to the dean, he talked to the dean of women, he had plowed everything ahead of me, but I didn't know.
Kasper: He was not a graduate of SMU, was he?
Kasper: But he knew he had some admiration for the school.
Castleberry: You know, I cannot remember, and I need to go back and check that out, where his degrees were from, but he had finished a Ph.D., which was unheard of in those days for a minister to take a Ph.D., so his title was an earned degree, it wasn't honorary.
Kasper: He was quite an interesting fellow.
Castleberry: He was light years ahead of his time. To the extent that when one of the things that was required at SMU was freshman religion. Everybody in those days had to take—they no longer do, but you had to take freshman religion. And I walked into that class, see an East Texas kid, with most of the students, my classmates at that time were Dallas, a great many of them were insulated Highland Park kids, who had almost grown up on the campus.
Kasper: Highland Park is an upper class community in Dallas.
Castleberry: You bet. It really is. It's your pocket of wealth and really insulated from the rest of the community. I'll show you. We'll drive around it before you leave.
But it's two and a half square miles of upper middle class, I mean, really upper, upper.
Kasper: Not even middle.
Castleberry: Not even middle. And at the time it was, but I didn't know it, and I was fortunate that I didn't know.
Kasper: It might have frightened you off, don't you think?
Castleberry: Yeah. Oh, it would have. I got a job tutoring for my room and board because my scholarship did not cover—it covered tuition and fees. It did not cover room and board. So I got a job in an oil home tutoring for my room and—
Kasper: In a what home?
Castleberry: An oil home.
Kasper: A family that was into oil.
Castleberry: That was the Jake L. Hamon family. And in my sophomore—well, I lived there for two years, and I tutored their second daughter, Lucretia, who was a student at Hockaday, which is an exclusive girls' school, and she, at the time I went there, I did not know the structure of the family at all. It turned out that the mother was an alcoholic. I did not know that because I didn't know why the servants were taking crackers and tomato juice and coffee to her room. But they had three children when I went there. The children were twelve, thirteen and fourteen. Two girls, the fourteen year old and the thirteen year old that I was tutoring, and a twelve-year-old son. And he was gone most of the time, the father. He traveled extensively with his oil business. And I became by default kind of the caretaker of those children. There were two servants, a man and woman, husband and wife, black, and I wish I had kept notes, because that would make the world's best book, because I came from this East Texas very loving, arms-around family, to this family that was exceedingly rich, excessively rich, whose values were totally, completely different to my own.
When I went there, Lucretia weighed 180 pounds and ate all of the time, and one of my jobs was to keep her on a diet. And the unfortunate thing was that the room from her bedroom led down to the kitchen. And it was nothing unusual at all for me to find a roast beef between her mattresses. I mean food would come up to that room like you wouldn't believe. She would eat her diet food at the table and then bring this food up to her room. Lucretia and I would—
[End Tape 1, Side B; Begin Tape 2, Side A]
Kasper: So you were at the Hamons right from when you left home. They arranged for you to move in with the Hamons from when you left East Texas.
Castleberry: Yes, from when I left home. He had hired me. I did not know that she did not want me there and the kids did not want me there. But he wanted me there as a stabilizing influence for his children. Apparently, he had checked very carefully with the dean of women to get somebody that was—I was eighteen years old, and had the care, really, the—not the physical care, but had the emotional care of this twelve, thirteen and fourteen year old.
Kasper: Because he knew his wife couldn't do it and he was gone.
Castleberry: And his wife was not there some and she was in her room a great deal of the time when she was there. So I came on a Friday, my mother, my grandmother and my aunt brought me up and left me and I guess the loneliest I have ever been in my life was when they left me in this fabulous house over on Turtle Creek Boulevard and nobody there to greet me but the servants. And it turned out later at the first meal we had that Mrs. Hamon asked a few questions, but nobody was really interested in who I was or where I came from and nobody communicated in that house. They communicated by screaming at each other, or by throwing things at each other, and it was a totally different lifestyle in that our meals were all served on white linen in the dining room or on the sun porch by a butler in a white uniform, but we didn't
communicate with each other. We talked around each other. And on Sunday, this was on Friday—on Saturday I got through the day all right. I remember that at one stage the kids, Diana, at the time, was fourteen and driving already, and so she took us out for a root beer to a drive-in place, but she picked up a lot of her friends on the way, and nobody talked to me, nobody was interested in what I was doing there or who I was or anything. It was an extremely lonely experience. And then on Sunday, because I needed something that would be a continuum in my life, I took the streetcar and came to Highland Park Methodist Church and I came to Highland Park Methodist because it was on the SMU campus and I thought I might meet some people who would be in my class, classmates, because Monday was to be registration day. And so on Sunday, then, when I got home from church, Lucretia was sitting cross-legged in the middle of her bed, and her first words to me that I remember, she may have said something to me before that, but the first words I remember was, "Prove to me that there's a God. You've been to church, now prove to me that there's a God." [Laughter.] So it was a very lonely beginning and I was extremely homesick and I was starting a totally new life in a totally new community, a totally new world. On Monday morning, Cleo, the black, all-purpose servant, drove me to school in a limousine. And here was this East Texas kid getting out of a long, black Packard at SMU on the first day of school. I wish I had a picture of that.
Kasper: What a series of contrasts, right?
Castleberry: I wish I had a picture of that because I don't believe it myself but it happened to be true. And he drove me to school for the first week until I insisted on taking the streetcar to school. I certainly did not want to make the wrong impression on my classmates.
Kasper: Well, and the degree of contrasts for you, personally, must have been so overwhelming.
Castleberry: It was horrible. It was just overwhelming, it really was. And then because things were so unpleasant in the dining room, very shortly I started picking up sandwiches in the kitchen or doing whatever I could not to eat with the family. And then I got the word from her through the servants that I was to eat with the family, that that was part of the package, that I would be present at meals.
Kasper: And living at the Hamons too, I should imagine, after a while, kind of cut you off from what was going on at the campus.
Castleberry: Oh, it did. Of course it did.
Kasper: Had you been on campus and hanging around the student union—
Castleberry: Had I been on campus and been a part of it, it would have been different, but I was—the work was such that—the interesting thing was, again, you learn in negatives, and the interesting thing was that that's where I learned Shakespeare. I had never really learned it in high school. I'd had some of it, but I'd never really had a teacher that focused on it, but I had to teach Lucretia Shakespeare. And that's when I got an appreciation for some of the giants in literature that I had missed along the way. So, again, certainly nothing is ever all bad if you want to utilize those experiences for learning tools. But, the thing was, by, I would say, three months into that year, I was carrying more of a load than anybody could carry. I was a country kid, alienated from the background that I had, working in hours that didn't allow me time to go home for a weekend visit because I was on duty most weekends, and carrying a heavy freshman load and I just about cracked up over it.
Kasper: Well, and embroiled in this emotional thing.
Castleberry: The emotional thing. And I remember one day I was in the lounge and I dissolved into tears in the lounge and an older student, a senior woman came in and found me in this condition, and took me to the school doctor whose name was Minnie Maffett, who is considered a giant in this town. I hated that woman. It took me years to get over it. She took me in, perfunctorily examined me, announced that I was not a fit student for college, that I had nothing going for me that was of the caliber or quality that I would get through school, and that my best bet was
to go home and marry the farm boy next door and try to get a little enjoyment out of life because I certainly wasn't fit for college.
Kasper: Oh, my god, to add to your troubles, then this was piled on you.
Castleberry: Un huh. To look back over that. At the time, it probably was the best thing that ever happened to me. I walked out of her office—and I walked out of her office in the women's dorm with—I shall never forget it as long as I live—I walked out of there with the attitude, by damn, I will show her. And I picked up the pieces and went to class and I never cried anymore over—one of the things that I've done for myself through the years is taught myself not to cry. I wish I hadn't done that. But the kind of life I have lived has been it's been imperative that I learn. Minnie Maffett was hard-nosed, she had a hard time getting through medical school herself, it took me years to appreciate where she was coming from. I did live to get to introduce her one time at a women's club meeting and to tell her the story of what she had done to me. And she looked at me and said, "I couldn't have done that, Vivian." And I said, "But you did. You did that." And I said, "I'm here today to thank you for it. But at the time, it was the worst day of my life." And I wish my mother had kept my letters to home.
Kasper: It's wonderful that you put some resolution on that.
Castleberry: Yeah. Yeah, I did. I put resolution on a lot of things. I've come full circle with a lot of those things. I also, at the time, had a dean of women who was a traditionalist and who never understood—she was the kind of woman who believed in patting you on the back and saying, "There, there child, it's going to be all right." And no matter what came across, it was out of that old southern framework of "There, there, honey, this is going to be fine."
Kasper: Always look on the bright side. Everything will be better.
Castleberry: She thought she had placed me in the best situation that she could probably place me in in the home and I would have never told her how horrible it was for me to exist there. In the first place, the way the house was divided, it was a gorgeous house, I've always wanted to buy it and make a happy house out of it. It's still there. It's right across the street from Dallas Theatre Center and it's—
Kasper: We should drive by.
Castleberry: We will. It's a gorgeous house and the downstairs has the kitchen, the huge dining room, the sun porch, the entryway, the library and the den. The upstairs is divided into two suites. You go up a wide, circular staircase that divides at the top, and on the right hand side was my room, Lucretia's room, Diana's room, and the waiting room, or the little living room, for that unit of rooms. On the other end was Mr. Hamon's room, Mrs. Hamon's room, Jake Junior's room and their living room. And there was no way between these two suites of rooms that they connected. So that the girls never knew what it was to have a mother. They told me later in words that when they were children the servants always did for them, I mean, the nannies, and when they grew up, the servants did for them. But their mother, they never remembered their mother packing a thing for them, or buying a thing for them, or going anywhere with them, or giving them any kind of mothering. And one of my vivid stories—I lived there when World War II was declared, during those years I was living in that house, and that's when nylons first came in. We had no nylon stockings.
Kasper: So this was 1941-42 when you were living there.
Castleberry: 1941-42. And the girls, Lucretia and Diana, would order two dozen pairs of nylon hose from Neimans and they would wear them until they got dirty and they would put them in the wastebasket. So I never bought a pair of hose while I lived there. I rescued them from the wastebasket and laundered them.
Kasper: Oh, of course. I remember my mother telling me stories about not only there were no silk stockings, no nylon stockings, but when you went out, you pretended you had a pair by drawing the lines up the back of your legs. Oh, my god, they threw them out.
Castleberry: Right, you did. But I always, I mean, nylons I had, because they would wear them and then throw them in the wastebasket. And clothes, they bought—and Lucretia never did lose weight while I was there. She did later. But this child ate everything, and the thing was, there was unlimited money. They could always order, and they ordered, at night they would order hamburgers and pizza, well, pizzas weren't so much in then, but the food would come to that house in cartons and buckets and whatever.
Kasper: It must have been so astonishing for you, a poor farm child.
Castleberry: And I was supposed to see that she didn't overeat. [Laughter.] It was something. She later lost weight and made her debut at Idlewild and then walked off of her Idlewild Ball and married the foreman of their ranch—on horseback yet. [Laughter.]
Kasper: She finally went like this [motion] to her parents.
Castleberry: Glorious stories, just glorious stories.
Kasper: Really. It would make a wonderful book.
Castleberry: Yeah, it would make a wonderful book. But anyway, through the years, then after that second year, well I had earned enough credentials with the school and with the dean of women that I went to work in the dormitory and earned my room and board in the dormitory. In my junior year, I was the monitor on the freshman floor at SMU and I had never—SMU is quite a social school, but I didn't know when I came from East Texas that one went through rush and that one pledged to sorority. Fortunately, I didn't know that. And so it never made any difference to me whatsoever. And by the time I had earned enough credentials on my own to be "rushed," I didn't need it anymore. I couldn't have afforded it anyway, but I didn't need it. And, in the meantime, as I have said earlier, some of the Jewish girls were dear friends of mine—Annie Eisenstein, who rode the same streetcar with me, and she and I became very good friends; and Josephine Israel and I became friends and still are. She's Josephine Goldman now. And Bea Lichtenstein and—so I didn't really run around in that crowd so much because they were pretty much of a closed sorority unto themselves, too. But the intellectual climate that they had experienced in their own families was an opening for me.
Kasper: These Jewish girls.
Castleberry: These Jewish girls. And I appreciated them far more. Annie and I rode the streetcar together and her home was not too far from where the Hamons lived so that sometimes in the early mornings, especially if it was cold, I would stop by her house before we'd take the streetcar together on to school. And so I shall never forget being in her house when her brother was preparing for his bar mitzvah, and that was new to me. I'd never known anything about this. Somehow, I had missed it in my reading. Knew nothing about it. And I was so impressed with this young boy who was preparing for a bar mitzvah. And, also, we were friendly enough that I could ask any kind of questions and get answers. And I felt really good about that so that the Jewish community became then almost my extended family in my freshman year at SMU.
Kasper: And these were girls like yourself who did not live in the dorms. They lived in homes.
Castleberry: That's right. They were town girls. Their parents lived here. They were not boarding or rooming as I was. They were town girls.
Kasper: But they provided a transition for you between the Hamons and SMU, which you desperately needed.
Castleberry: That's right. I had to have. But by the time I moved into the dorm, I had caught the vision. I knew that I could hack it. I knew I could make it.
Kasper: You won the bet against Dr. Maffett.
Castleberry: That's right. In my freshman year, my grades were not too good. They were probably B-C's, my first year, but I was handling so much. So by the time I was a junior at SMU, my grades had come up, my grade point average was high, and I still retained this imperative interest in journalism. And the wonderful thing was that in my freshman year, I had a freshman English teacher whose name was Jim Bond and he had been an editor for True Confessions. But, he was creative to the core. And my writing in that freshman class impressed him sufficiently that by the beginning of my sophomore year, he asked for permission for me to get enrolled in his creative writing class. He was going away on a sabbatical after that year so that I would not be—this was a class that was open only to juniors and seniors, but he allowed me in it because he was going to be away in my junior and senior years working on his doctorate and he wanted this experience for me. And it was the best journalism class I ever had in that there were only twelve of us, we met in the library, we met once a week. We wrote, that's what we did. And we would meet at night in his home, or we would meet at night and read our stuff to each other and critique it.
Kasper: What kind of things did you all write?
Castleberry: Well, some of them wrote fantasy. Some of them wrote children's stories. I just wrote about life as it was. I wrote glorified journalism. I took life as it was and wrote—but we also were required to write short stories and our final examination was a short story, and I still think the short story—I got an "A" on it—and I still think it's a good story. Never sent it to a publisher.
Kasper: What was it about?
Castleberry: It was more or less my story, except it was a glorified—
Kasper: An autobiographical piece?
Castleberry: Autobiographical piece, except that it was fiction. You know, I could embroider along the way, and make it this girl who had succeeded through a traumatic college experience.
Kasper: What did you call it? Do you remember the title of it?
Castleberry: I don't remember the title of it. But it was a really terrific experience in that it—and then our journalism classes, we didn't have a journalism department at the time, and the best training that I got was that Lester Jordan, who was the journalism teacher, let us fall flat on our faces and pick ourselves up.
Kasper: Now, were you a journalism major?
Castleberry: Yes. I was a journalism major.
Kasper: And did you start that straight away your freshman year majoring in journalism?
Kasper: You knew it when you came there and they were able to—
Castleberry: I knew it when I came there and that's what I was headed for and I've never deviated a jot or a tittle. I enjoyed my other experiences and I came, you know, I would fiddle around, for instance, when I took religion as a freshman, a required course, I walked into that class and I couldn't believe that here was a kid from East Texas who was so far ahead in religious thinking because most of my classmates were Dallas kids and I assumed that they had had a wider experience. And I'll never forget when my freshman religion teacher talked about Moses leading the Hebrews across the sea and how the waves parted. And I said, "Well, sure they parted, the tide went out." And my religion teacher went, "Huh." You know, I couldn't—it was incredible to me that people didn't know that. [Laughter.]
Kasper: I remember reading that in the Bible myself and saying, "Well, of course the Red Sea parted, it was a sea, it had tides."
Castleberry: Of course. Exactly. And these kids didn't know that. And the miracle that Christ had performed. I mean, I couldn't believe they didn't know these things. So I had had that good background of experience and brought it with me, but my freshman religion course—a man whose name was Ward Redus, and they're still good friends of mine, they're still living—Ward and Amo Redus. He's a religion professor emeritus, very learned. And they provided a home for me off campus. They lived a block from SMU and he would have us on Sunday night down to his house for rap sessions. We didn't call them rap sessions in those days, but that's what it amounted to. And he would invite the kids from his class who had "shown promise" and I didn't know that that's what they were doing. And they would invite us down. And also at the same time, I volunteered, went to Highland Park Methodist Church, and I volunteered as a Sunday school teacher in the black community. And I stayed with that, I taught black kids until one of the little boys ate all the crayolas and it scared me to death and I left that job because I was afraid he would die. I didn't know crayolas wouldn't hurt him. [Laughter.]
Kasper: Another lesson in life.
Castleberry: Another lesson that I learned the hard way. But all of those people made such an impact in my life. And the religion course that Dr. Redus taught became so significant of how religion shapes people that I then took a minor in religion and studied comparative religion in my sophomore year and could have very easily gone in that direction, and may have gone in that direction, had it been okay in those days for women to get involved in religion as a life tool.
Kasper: Yes. With the prospect of being a minister or something.
Castleberry: Yeah. What really turned me on was how religion shapes us and where—how we—because I was so appalled at some of these kids who had come out of conservative churches in the Dallas community where they were in their life and how they had been shaped and cut off by some of the things that they had been told. I thought all of us had had the experience of being with people who opened our minds rather than closed them down. And also my experience also with the Methodist church was that it was light years ahead of its time in that the Methodist church in those days was one of the leaders in women's issues.
Kasper: It still is.
Castleberry: And I was just amazed at what it allowed me to do. And I would go to Sunday school occasionally with my Baptist friends and find that they were sinners and that they weren't supposed to be doing these things, and I was astonished. So, anyhow, all those things shaped me so that by the time I was a junior in college, I was working all the hours that I possibly could for the Campus, which was a weekly. The Campus was the name of the paper.
Kasper: It was called the Campus and that's the weekly newspaper?
Castleberry: It was the weekly newspaper and at the time we didn't have a publishing company on campus so we had to go downtown to publish. We had to take our copy downtown. So I was doing that from the time I was a junior and working in all these hours I could. I was working in the dorm as a monitor on the freshman floor. That's when I watched girls go through rush and some of them leave because they didn't make the sorority they wanted. And to see what the Greek system did to kids and became very adamantly opposed to the Greek system. It was a quiet "agin'" but I was really "agin'" all the things that cut people off from community. And I had thirty-two freshmen on my floor. And I was nursemaid, mother, monitor, caretaker, nurturer. And in those days, it was against the rules for girls to smoke in the dorm. And most of my girls were smoking. So I simply called a meeting. Again, this is one of those places where you manipulate behind your housemother's back. I adored my housemother and I told her, "I will not lie to you. I will not tell you an untruth." But what I did was call my girls together and say to them, "If I catch you smoking, I'm going to report you. So you better be sure that I don't catch you smoking." So I'd walk into girls' room when the smoke was coming out from under the bed, but I didn't see it. The girls were allowed to smoke in their own homes by their own families, and it just seemed to me to be an obnoxious college rule that they couldn't do in their dormitories what they did in their own homes.
So I guess that's again where I say I was a manipulator because I tried to—
Kasper: You tried to meet everybody's needs.
Castleberry: I kept the letter of the law, but I didn't keep the spirit of the law very well, I'm afraid. And also that year we had our first experience with homosexuality. One of the girls was accused of being a lesbian. And my housemother couldn't say the word. She called me into her room and wanted to know if I smelled anything unusual coming from that room. And to this very day, I don't know what it was I was supposed to smell.
Kasper: Smell? Do lesbians smell different?
Castleberry: So, I went through that experience. While we call things by names that they were not and tried to live through that. Then, let's see, on December the 7th 1941, I sat on the floor of the women's gym and heard President Roosevelt ask Congress for a war, on Sunday afternoon, the day the war broke out. I had made an extremely good friend by that time, another small town girl who also was working her way through school.
Kasper: What's her name?
Castleberry: Her name was Edith Hanby. And she was as cynical as I was positive, so we were good for each other. She had been reared in a "broken home" by parents who fought over the custody of her and her two sisters and she had been reared by a grandmother and uncles and aunts mostly. Her dad's twin sister mostly, Aunt Gaye. And she was from a small town near here so I could go out with her sometimes to her house on weekends. Her father had a nursery and we were at his nursery on December 7, 1941, picking chrysanthemums, and had got back to the house and heard on the radio that there had been this disaster in Hawaii and didn't know what it was. It was just so dramatic that you didn't know what was taking place. And then the next day, they called us all together from different parts of classes and there were probably—the women's gym was full—boys and girls, men and women, listening to a radio that they had set up to hear Roosevelt talk to Congress.
And I remember it vividly for another reason. I had kind of had my eye on a young man along about that time, and he had never even said hello to me. And during that session of that, while this was happening, he turned to me and said, "Why don't we go outside and listen to this on my car radio?" And I was just, you know, "Wow!" So we did, and we listened to the rest of it, and it was dramatic and he held my hand because it was a dramatic moment, you know, it was really a dramatic moment. I don't know, I don't even remember his name, I do not know what happened to him, but at the time it was dramatic. And then almost overnight, all of our classmates were in uniform. But SMU had a Navy V-12 unit, so what they did—
Kasper: A Navy V-12?
Castleberry: V-12, was what they called it. And what happened is that our classmates went into uniform and stayed on campus to finish school and lots of other men were brought in. So we were not bereft of having dates at all. It's just that they were all in the service. And by that time I also was doing a lot of other things, and I will always know that I became editor of the SMU paper simply because the war was on. If there had been men here to do it, I wouldn't have been allowed this privilege.
Kasper: Explain that if you can a little bit more in detail.
Castleberry: Well, see, the thing is all the men were in service. And even though they were still on campus, their extracurricular hours were taken care of with the service commitments, and somebody had to run the paper.
Kasper: Now, are you talking about the Campus?
Castleberry: The Campus, un huh. So at the end of my junior year, or toward the end of my junior year, I decided I would run for editor of the Campus. It was an elective office. And I announced my candidacy, and I did not go and tell my housemother,
and I did not go and tell my dean of women because I knew they would tell me not to.
Kasper: There had never been a woman editor of the Campus had there?
Castleberry: There had been, way back in the early days when the school first started, but not in the recent years at all. And it was a man's bailiwick. So I announced for it and it turned out that my opponent, my chief opponent, was another woman who was a sorority girl and a very rich girl in the community. And I won over her hands down, although it was a very organized political campaign and it got nasty. She did not have the credentials that I did and I, for some way or other, was a good politician. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed politicking. I enjoyed going to the dorms. I enjoyed talking to the people. I was credentialed. I had done my homework. I had done the background stuff.
Kasper: How were you credentialed?
Castleberry: I had worked for the paper ever since I'd been there. I had been features editor for it. I had been an assistant editor for it.
Kasper: Straight from your freshman year.
Castleberry: Well, as I progressed. And I had taken all the journalism courses that were offered. I had to have this course in creative writing. And not only that, but I had a wide following in the Independent Students Association by that time and had held an office in ISA. So I had a lot going for me. And when I won—well, one of the funny stories. I met my dean of women face-to-face the day after I announced and, it came out in the paper that I was running for editor of the paper for the next year, I met my dean of women right at the water fountain at SMU and she pulled herself up right in front of me, I was going to speak and pass on, and she said to me, "My dear, have you forgotten that you are a woman student." [Laughter.] And I still don't know what that means. I still don't know what that means.
Kasper: And you didn't care to investigate any further because you'd won the position and that's what mattered, presumably.
Castleberry: Well, see, I had just announced, I didn't know I was going to win. I didn't know I was going to win yet. And she felt very confident that I wouldn't.
Kasper: Yes. Well then that's what the remark meant, sure. You've forgotten your place. Your place is not to run.
Castleberry: Not to be a top person on the campus. But, of course, it happened, and, again, I say the timing was right. I've had a lot of goodies because the timing was right.
Kasper: And as you said earlier, you say the timing was right because the boys were so committed to their service duties that it was an opportunity for a woman to come in and take charge.
Castleberry: And then, too, I had two roommates also for that period of time, and then I will get me through school quickly. I had two roommates. In addition to Edith Hanby, who was my best friend and dearest friend, she became my dearest friend in my freshman year and when the Hamon's would go out of town on weekends, they would allow me to have someone in so I wouldn't be by myself in that big house. And Edith would come and stay with me some weekends. And that was really, really rich because it—and as I say, she was cynical as I was positive, and it gave a good balance. In later years, she never could understand why I followed a career. Because of her background experience, she was an at-home mother. And she was one of those people who promised me that I would rear juvenile delinquents because I insisted on working. She was absolutely positive that that would happen. And I think—she died—she had cancer, she had a spinal cancer, malignancy on the spine and died a number of years back. But we remained good friends. She was maid of honor in my wedding. She was my oldest child's godmother. We were really close friends. But my two college roommates also created an extremely good influence on my life.
Kasper: Who was the other one?
Castleberry: My first college roommate—Neither. Edith was not ever a roommate. The first roommate that I had in my junior year was a woman whose name was Sue Paul and she was an exquisite beauty—brown-eyed, blonde, tall, model, good looking, had signed a Hollywood contract in her senior year in high school. Her parents wouldn't let her go to Hollywood and so she was under contract, and I can't remember to whom, but she quit school at the end of her sophomore year and got married and the talent scouts came back to SMU campus and found me and blamed me for it. How could you let her get married, you know, she was headed for all these great things. She was a natural beauty. She handled her body like an athlete. And she was a very wealthy girl, well-to-do girl, from a small town and was extremely good for me in that she made me do things I wouldn't have other—she dressed me up, she put makeup on me, she made me date, she—
Kasper: She exposed you to a whole wealth of things you hadn't—
Castleberry: She exposed me to a different kind of world. And also, when she married, I was maid of honor in her wedding. We were close friends. And she was a year younger than I. I looked after her. She had the most exquisite wardrobe in the world, and I was very unhappy that I couldn't wear her clothes because she was so tall that I—the only thing I could wear was her sweaters, but she would dress me up in those. And she also had a car at school and in those days nobody had a car. And so we could tool around a lot and have a good time. And she did expose me to a totally different world and I adored her and she did me. She made me date and I made her study. So I pulled her through that year. And then she quit and married on me. I was so mad at her. And the marriage did not last. She married, had one baby the next year, another baby the next year, and then divorced.
And so then, my senior year, my college roommate was a young woman whose name was Cordelia Marshall. And she was a town girl whose family moved her into the dorm because they wanted her to have the dorm experience. And Cordelia was a brain. She was Phi Beta Kappa, but she also had the most delicious, delightful sense of humor. She was born to older parents. Her parents at that time were older and mature and they were not from Dallas, they were from Missouri or somewhere. Anyway, they had given her a different—her brother was grown by the time she was born. And she lived over in Oak Cliff, which is another part of Dallas, and we could go to her house on the streetcar and did often. And she brought a different kind of lifestyle into my life. Her sense of humor was delicious. And our housemother kept saying, "What am I going to do with her? What am I going to do with her?" Because, although she was Phi Beta Kappa, she'd walk right on the borderline of being in trouble all of the time. And I shall never forget, at that time the army had sent a specialized group of high army officers here for some specialized training in engineering. And they ate in our dorm. And one night I got home from putting out the paper, we still went downtown to put out the paper, and I got home about midnight from putting out the paper, I had a key to the dorm by that time because I had to let myself in, and the housemother was waiting up for me and I knew something had happened when she was waiting up for me. And she said, "What are we going to do with your roommate?" And I said, "What has she done now?" She had taken, when the officers went in that night to the dining hall to eat—we had been in a huge scrap metal drive for the war effort, she had taken a box and wrote "Put your scrap metal here" on this big old cardboard box and gathered up all their hats and put them in this box and when they came in to dinner and they hung them where they're supposed to hang them. Of course, they were heavy with metal, high army officers. They did not think it was funny. [Laughter.]
Kasper: So she was a devil.
Castleberry: She was a devil. One night in the middle of the night—the women had moved into the men's dormitory and we were living in little hovels and let the Navy have our dorms, and let the army effort and everybody have our nice plush dorm, and we were all on bunk beds in the little bitty bit of space, and no carpeting, no nothing. And one night, in the middle of the night, Cordelia said, in the middle of the night, we'd been studying, she'd just been poring over her books, in the middle of the night she said, "There's not enough going on in this life, we're not having any fun." And I said, "What do you mean have fun?" And she said, "Watch me." So she took a handful of marbles and took them outside and rolled them down the hall so
that they went clompity, clompity, clomp all the way down. We were on the third floor. All the way to the first floor, got everybody up. Well, finally, I can't remember what she got campused for, but she got campused—
Kasper: What does that mean, campused?
Castleberry: It means that you can't go out for an entire weekend. And by that time we had so many friends and when I got home on Thursday night, she was campused from Friday morning to Monday class time. And when I got home on Friday night, or Thursday night, from putting out the paper, her boyfriends had sent a black wreath to our room. It was hanging on our door in memorial for Cordelia for the weekend. And she just made a ball of it. I mean, the people on the desk had to take messages, and the boys had made up that weekend that they would call her every hour on the hour and leave a long message that the girl at the desk had to take down on the book. And it happened for—and Miss B, Miss Brazelton said, "I don't know what I'm going to do with her. I campus her and she makes a party of it." And we just had a picnic. By that time she had two boyfriends in medical school. One of them sent a big old package that weekend with a sign on it that said, "Beware, this is a cadaver." Things of this kind that went on the whole time. So, anyway, that was a good year, and by the time I graduated, I graduated in June of '44 and the war, of course, was still in full swing and interestingly enough, all of the time that I was doing other things, I was corresponding with Curt Castleberry.
Kasper: Now, how had you met Curt Castleberry?
Castleberry: I met him in the seventh grade.
Kasper: You met Curt in the seventh grade?
Castleberry: In the seventh grade and went all through high school with him.
Kasper: In Athens?
Castleberry: In Athens. Never dated him. When we would get home, after we graduated from high school, if we happened to be home the same weekend, which was rare because I was in college and busy, and he was in business school at that time and busy, we went to a movie together or we did something together. But the background was that the one time he asked me for a date, I had told my mother, I said, "There is this boy in my class who is going to come out and ask me to go somewhere." At the time, we did not have a telephone. And I said, "He's going to come out here and ask me to go somewhere with him and I want you to say I can't go." It wasn't Curtis.
Kasper: It wasn't?
Castleberry: No. That wasn't who I was talking about. It was Curtis that came. I had no inkling that he was going to come out. He came out and asked me to go to a movie with him, and I said, "But Mother I want to go," and she said, "But you can't go." You know. And after he left, I said, "But Mother, I wanted to go." And she said, "You told me when that boy came out here to tell you that you couldn't go." So I had a hard time living that down. I think to this day, after forty-three years of marriage, he still doesn't believe that story. [Laughter.] But it was so funny because when he left the house that day—
Kasper: Was that seventh grade?
Castleberry: Oh, no. That was high school. There was a little bridge that you—in our house in Athens, if I had time I'd take you there too, just to show you, you circle to the driveway. You know, you came in, you circled out. It was out in the country, but it was a big lawn and you circled out. He ran off the bridge when he left. And my father came in and said, "I'm so glad that you said you didn't want to go out with that boy. You will never go anywhere with that boy. He doesn't know how to drive." So I married him. [Laughter.] But we never dated. And then, after we graduated from high school, we were in the same class, graduated in the same class, after we were out of high school, we were in Athens two or three different times and went to a movie or you know, stopped and talked. But I corresponded with
him throughout the war years. All the time I was doing other things, I was dating excessively, you know, having a good time at college. I learned to play in my junior year of college, Sue taught me to play, I'd never learned to play.
Kasper: To play what?
Castleberry: To play. To have fun. To go to parties. To enjoy. Not to be such a drip or a bore.
Kasper: Or somebody who is just working so hard that you didn't have time for playing.
Castleberry: Working so hard that I didn't have time to get my nose out of a book to do anything else.
Kasper: So what you're saying is, even during that time that you had learned to play and have fun with other people, you were still corresponding with Curt.
Castleberry: I was corresponding with him and I kept up that correspondence throughout. I told a group recently, I guess it was the National Honor speech, that things the people laugh about that you think were funny, I said, I thought it was my patriotic duty. [Laughter.] I was writing to a good dozen people from home. My two brothers, you know, Curtis, a lot of other people, boys that were my brothers' friends because my brothers kept the house full of boys, although most of them were my age and younger.
Well, I knew how to relate to boys because I'd had brothers. I knew how to deal with boys because I'd had brothers, but so far as dating is concerned—when I was in high school, my father was strict about that. He would not let me go out without my brother and he wouldn't let my brother have the car without me. So the two of us were inextricably tied together and we'd go out and then he'd pick up his date and pick up—usually it was a group, we went mostly in groups, but we knew how to get around that real quickly. And Mother knew we were doing it, and she condoned it, it was just one of those things that you did. So, anyway, I graduated in 1944.
Kasper: Let me stop you for just a second. When you say that you were a journalism major right from the beginning, did SMU provide you with a good journalism background? Did you feel that it prepared you well?
Castleberry: The only way that it provided me with a good background was that, as I said, they let us fall flat on our faces and pick ourselves up. They let us be responsible for our own mistakes. And it was because you had to do everything, I had to make the assignments, I had to see that the assignments were in on time, I had to credential the people, I had to—everything was up to me.
Kasper: But that's the paper? How about the coursework that you took? How much did that add up to in terms of your training?
Castleberry: As a journalism trainer, Lester Jordan was a good sports writer.
Kasper: That's about the extent of it.
Castleberry: And I adored him. I adored him because he, if he is still living, he will tell you to this day, because I've heard him tell this story several times, he said, "One day I looked up and there was this brown-eyed kid from East Texas in my class and I knew she was headed for something special." He has said that so many times that I think he really did. And he provided the—
[End Tape 2, Side A; Begin Tape 2, Side B]
Castleberry: Navy V-12 unit. I was editing the SMU Campus. The Navy V-12 unit was on our campus. Nobody told me I could not publish what the boys were saying about their commanding officers.
Kasper: So you did?
Castleberry: So I did. Then Lester Jordan came in one day and he said to me, "Vivian, I think maybe you better go home for the weekend [Laughter.] until things clear up a little bit." And they almost pulled the V-12 unit off the campus because the—
Kasper: What did you publish?
Castleberry: I just published what the boys were singing and saying about their commanding officer behind his back.
Kasper: Which was not so nice.
Castleberry: I don't remember what it was, but it certainly wasn't nice. And the Navy didn't like that much. That's the way Lester Jordan taught me. And he called me in Athens while I was down there, by that time we did have a phone. He called me in Athens while I was down there and he said, "Well you can come home now. [Laughter.] We've had a publishing board meeting and the university president and whatever has been called in and everything's calmed down and I think you can come back to the campus." [Laughter.] So I started it early, I started early walking just almost crossing the line that was not allowed. I wouldn't have done that had I known, I really wouldn't have, but I—
Kasper: You wouldn't have done what?
Castleberry: I wouldn't have published it. It was sheer innocence that I did that.
Kasper: So it wasn't guts journalism so much as you just thought—
Castleberry: It wasn't guts journalism so much as I was naive. Even though—
Kasper: But it set a pattern that you then—
Castleberry: It set a pattern that I could push, I could always push beyond. I could always push. And I always knew I could. And I always knew—
Kasper: And you had some encouragement. It wasn't just that you were—
Castleberry: Sure. And I also knew that—I learned pretty early on that the sun was going to come up tomorrow anyway and what I did or didn't do was not in the long run going to make a great deal of difference so I better live life to the fullest. Just live it to the fullest. And I did crazy things, like at the end of my sophomore year, instead of going home, Edith Hanby and I went out and got a room in town with kitchen privileges and then I called my folks and told them I wasn't coming home that summer, I was going to stay in town and work. But when I graduated from college, Dr. Fletcher was severely disappointed that I did not go on for my masters. At that time he had, and I didn't know what he was doing, but he had—I don't know whether he talked them into it, but anyway, at Boston College I was offered a fellowship at Boston College to do my masters in religion.
Kasper: It's a Jesuit school. Right.
Castleberry: And I turned it down. Turned it down flat because I was so tired at that stage of living from hand to mouth, I really had gone to school on a shoestring and there were times that I could not buy a book that I needed. There were times that—because when I came to SMU my father said to me, the total of his advice was, "Honey, we have done all we can for you. If you want to go to school, we will love you and support you to the limit of our ability, but it's not going to be very much financially."
Kasper: So you were on your own?
Castleberry: So, there was no money. People can't work themselves through college now, but I could and I did. And I had—
Kasper: But you're saying, too, it took its toll on you, is what you're saying.
Castleberry: Oh, it took its toll. Oh yes.
Kasper: And you were not about to go off and do this all over again at Boston College.
Castleberry: I didn't want to do that all over again. I wanted some income. At that stage—well, at the time too, by the time I was out of SMU, I had fallen in love twice, and there wasn't time for this. And the young man that I was dating when I graduated from SMU I still would love to know where he is because he became a physician and—
Kasper: What was his name?
Castleberry: Alan Hertell. I had to reach for that one. I couldn't remember all of a sudden. He gave me a Cocker spaniel for graduation. I mean, I needed a Cocker spaniel like I needed a hole in the head because here I was going to work in Dallas. But he was a delightful, very beautiful human being. He was in the Navy, Navy V-12 unit. Our dates were something really special. We did things like ride the streetcar to the movies or take public transportation over to Fort Worth to go to the museum. Things that kids don't do on dates. And that also was a good experience for me.
Kasper: He sounds like he was a very calming, soothing influence on you.
Castleberry: Very calming influence. In the meantime I had also dated another young man who was Catholic and had my first real exposure to the Catholic Church. His name was Jimmie Beggs. And he was the photographer for the paper and a little younger than I and I started dating him because I was more or less thrown with him as the editor-to-be and he was the photographer. We were together a lot. And so he took me to Catholic mass with him downtown and he told me on the way down, he said, "I promised myself one thing for sure, I would never take a girl to mass with me who wasn't Catholic." And he didn't know. Well, you know. But that was another wonderful learning experience. He too was a gentle soul and after his, I guess, junior year at SMU he won an appointment to the Naval Academy, and went to the Naval Academy and I've never heard from him since. But all of these experiences, my life was opening up because it had, people from outside were coming into it all of the time. And I was so ready for these things, I was so hungry to learn what else is out there. So religion is shaping you and your background is shaping you and all these other things are shaping you, but what else is out there.
Kasper: And people. I mean, I have to tell you that what comes through in what we've been talking about this morning is the importance of yes, ideas, yes, new experiences, yes, what is out there.
Castleberry: People, people, people.
Kasper: But people form a kind of center core to your experiences, Vivian, that is very telling.
Castleberry: Yeah. It's because they are so extremely important.
Kasper: Well, they're the transmitters. They are the vehicles through which experience, knowledge comes.
Castleberry: As my mother used to say—I'll never forget my mother saying, I thought it was so strange that she should say this. She said to me one time, "Honey, you don't have to tell me everything." But I would always go home and tell her these things because, you know, my first kiss, my first whatever, I wanted to share this experience. I wanted to know if that was real for her too, if it had validity for her.
Kasper: I have said the same thing to my daughter. And my mother has said the same thing to me.
Castleberry: But it's so wonderful that you have that kind of—and I had that then with my own daughters. I don't think there's anything that we can't say to each other. I just don't think there's anything that we can't talk about to each other.
Kasper: Well, my daughter is one of my best friends, if not my best friend.
Castleberry: Oh, they are. They are my best friends. And I was so angry when my mother died, and that was something I had to come to grips with because when I went to work, this is a later story, but when I went to work for the Times Herald, and my hours were going to be god awful long and I didn't know when deadlines were going to be and I didn't know what planes I would have to meet, my mother said to me, "Honey, I will not come live with you because I don't think that's smart." This is after my father died. She said, "I will be available anytime you have to go anywhere or do anything, I will be available to you with—
Kasper: Within the home and take care of the kids.
Castleberry: "Just call me, that's all you have to do." And she died when my youngest child was four years old. And that removed that—
Kasper: That stability, that source of support.
Castleberry: That source of support that I had really counted on so it was a whole different thing.
Kasper: And besides which, I mean, I have not lost my mother yet, but I know I've heard her say this, and I know that I can even sense it beforehand, is kind of a sense—not only the terrible loss of your mother, which is obvious, but a kind of being orphaned, being left and bereft.
Castleberry: Yes, the thing that I came to grips with on the way home from Mother's funeral, the one thing that hit me right between the eyes is that I am now the older generation. It is now up to me. And that was just like—awful. Wow! And so on the way home from her funeral I made up my mind that I will not try to fill her shoes. Well, Mother had always made popcorn for the grandchildren. I mean, it was just a ritual, that was a given. That night, after her funeral, one of the granddaughters said, "When are we going to have our popcorn?" And I caught myself going into the kitchen and making popcorn. Although I do not eat popcorn. Never have. It was just the continuing of that thing.
So, anyway, I got through school, graduated from SMU, declined a fellowship, went to work in Dallas for the Petroleum Engineer Publishing Company, as an editorial assistant which meant that I did everything from run errands for my female boss. Her name was Ernestine Adams. She recently died. She was a hard-nosed, queen-bee type woman who became a very good friend of mine, but it took years. And because she had been reared in small town newspapers and she had had to fight and claw and work her way every step of the way, she taught me by negatives and I learned—
Kasper: Just like Doctor Maffett.
Castleberry: I learned almost too well. I don't want to be the kind of boss she is, so I almost ingested that to the point that I was too soft. It took me years to find a balance because all of it was a do-it-yourself project. I had no training at all for handling a staff. And Ernestine was, in the first place she was a tiny woman, she was little, unlike Minnie Maffett who was huge. But Ernestine was little, she never married, her work was her whole life. She was given any number of different kinds of awards in petroleum publishing in this country for her pioneering work.
Kasper: So was she the editor of their publication?
Castleberry: She was one. They had four publications, and she was the editor of one of them. Her specialty was in deep wells and offshore drilling. And she made that her bailiwick and it was so dear to her that if anybody touched it it was like touching one of her children. And I did more research for her than anything else on what was going on in drilling in the country. I also went back to SMU and took a special course in mapping, making oil maps, and I hated every minute of that. That was not my thing.
And when the atom bomb fell, I was working for her on the—I can't remember what floor of the downtown thing called the Allen Building. It's changed, it's caddy corner—it's in the southeast quadrant of Commerce. Gosh, what street is that, I can't recall it. Anyway, we were way up on the floor, no air conditioning, and I had everything, it was June, I had everything spread out on my desk, these little tiny pieces of paper, and I was running downstairs, usually, caught the elevator, but sometimes literally took the stairway to pick up extras on the street when the extras would come out at the end of the war. That's such a vivid memory. And one day, I remember it so well, because one day there was a gust of wind that blew a lot of our papers out the window and down into Commerce Street. But I celebrated VJ-Day and VE-Day both in downtown Dallas, with the crowds at night.
In the meantime, I had corresponded with Curt. All this time Curtis was overseas. He was in the South Pacific for three and a half years in the Marine Corps. He worked his way up to staff sergeant through the hard, worst of the fighting, Tinian, Saipan. Was on the first troop ship that landed on the Japanese mainland after the atom bomb fell. And the interesting thing was that literally we fell in love by letter. In the meantime, through the years I'd managed to get myself engaged twice, but I knew, you know, something kept telling me, this is not working, it's not right. One of the relationships was a young man that one of Edith's friends brought home with him, and he was a Georgia boy. And he was tall, handsome, blonde, good-looking, sweet as he could be, but had absolutely no backbone, ability to go for it, you know. I never met his family, I heard from them because he was lovesick. He was so in love with me—
Kasper: What was his name?
Castleberry: His name was Joe King. He gave me a ring.
Kasper: So you actually got engaged.
Castleberry: Oh, I got engaged and I planned the wedding and I heard from his mother and the whole six yards.
Kasper: And this was still while you were at SMU?
Castleberry: No, it was after I graduated. It was right after I graduated. And all the girls at that time were getting married, and if you weren't married, well you were just nothing.
Kasper: If you didn't get your "Mrs." when you graduated—
Castleberry: That's right. But something just kept me from doing it. And although we planned a wedding and talked about it and talked about moving to Georgia after the war and whatever, I just couldn't quite do it. And so I finally called him and told him that I had to give the ring back, that I couldn't go through with the wedding. And, of course, he came immediately to see me. But, having written the letter, or called him and then written the letter to follow it up, I thought that was the end of it, so I had gone home to Athens for the weekend. He followed me down there. So I had to give the ring back down there. I had to make him take it. And I'll never forget as he left how he looked and how tough it was. It was hard. It really was hard on me, you know, because he had been really important in my life. He had been that bridge after I graduated from college and until I got really settled in my work, he had been there for me. He was stationed over at Mineral Wells, so any weekend that he couldn't come, well he either sent flowers or he sent—I mean, he was just in my life.
Kasper: Adoring of you too.
Castleberry: I mean he was just in my life constantly. And I think that's one of the things that scared me. It was too saccharin sweet. And because I knew that he was spending beyond his ability to spend on me, I knew that, because I didn't have any money and he certainly didn't and my ring was certainly more than anybody could afford. So, anyway, I gave the ring back. And then the next weekend, I was in Dallas, and my brother, who had just been sent overseas, the one who had the collapse in Italy, sent his boyfriend to meet me. And this guy's name was Anderson too, and they had been bunk mates in officer's training because their names were
alike and similar so they got thrown together. So Dick, Richard Anderson then, who was from Iowa, came to Dallas and he said, my buddy said to look up his sister when he came to Dallas, so he called me. And, at the time, it was a Saturday morning that he called and I was on my way downtown. I was all dressed to go downtown. I was going to do some work that morning, and so I said, "I will meet you at the Baker Hotel." Well, I got to the hotel and this tall, good-looking, blonde farm boy from Iowa in his officer's uniform was just, "Oh, wow!" So we fell just madly in love immediately. And then he went overseas. And the letters were hot and heavy and whatever, but I was still writing to Curtis all the time.
Kasper: All through this.
Castleberry: All the time, I was still writing to him. Dick and I never became engaged. We talked about it, but we never became engaged. He said, "When I get back from overseas, we'll see how things are," because he needed to finish college. He was working on his masters when he went in the service. And he needed to finish that. And he said, "I really don't know what I want to do with my life, so we'll talk about it when I get home." So, Curtis got home first. [Laughter.]
Kasper: Oh, that's it. That's the key.
Castleberry: But what happened was that Curtis got home and the next week after Curtis got home I got a letter from Dick. And the letters had waned in the meantime. And I didn't know whether the romance was paling. I couldn't figure out whether he might have had a girl back home or what it was that was going on in his life but the ardor had gone out, I thought, from my interpretation. And at that time, that was probably the most lovesick I ever was. I was so lovesick that I would go home at noon to see if I had a letter from him. But, it was interesting in that the week after Curt got home, I got a letter from him and apparently nothing had happened except that he was really giving it, you know, cautious, giving it the time, and that he was coming home and he was coming to Dallas to see me. And I had to write and say, "Don't."
And then, Curt's and my romance, the way that started, we had really fallen in love by letter. I could tell by what he was reading and thinking that his way of exploring life and mine were running in the same pattern. And when he went to Japan from wherever he was stationed, I've forgotten at the time, he went to Japan, I thought he was coming home, he thought he was coming home, the next letter was from the mainland of Japan. And I'll never forget he said, "Since I am here I will not waste this time. I'm going to make it count for something."
Kasper: And that really struck a cord in you.
Castleberry: That struck a cord in me. And so he did, he spent the time that he was in Japan, every leave he could get, going as far as they would let him go and doing everything that he could do in order to learn as much as he could. I know now that he did the worst thing that he possibly could do, but I think maybe we got by with it, he walked in the site where the atom bomb fell, you know, in the ashes where the atom bomb fell. I know, you know, we would know now not to do that, but he didn't know then not to do that. And his experiences are phenomenal. They, too, would make a book because in the first troop ship that went in, the Japanese were so scared of what the Americans were going to do. And when that big troop ship went in, they couldn't see a Jap anywhere. It was like there was just nobody. It was like a beach that was combed clean. And they could, you know, see smoke rising in the distance, but there was just nothing. And then, he said, slowly one or two began to peep out and then finally they came down and helped them unload the ship and made them, you know, they were a conquered people.
And so, the letters that I have from him at that time, and I have some of those letters which are very wonderful and very good to have, and they're not long letters because for the most part he was in situations that were so isolated from the main life that there was not a lot to write. But he wrote me what he could and I kept the letters and I think that says something, that along about that time I started keeping his letters.
Kasper: And he came back after three and a half years overseas—
Castleberry: He came back after three and a half years to California. In the meantime, he had gone to California and gone to work out there in a strategic military operation and could have gotten a deferment indefinitely because of what he did, but chose to go into the Marine Corps to find out if he could hack it, as he said. And again it was the same kind of a situation that I had of wanting to be independent and wanting to be free of all of the connections. So he did it for himself. At the time I didn't know how important that was to me. But that made an impact, that he too was growing in his own way.
So he came back to California and his job was waiting for him there, but the Marine Corps wouldn't let him out because he was the only person in his whole outfit who knew how to average points to let other people go home, so he was stuck there. And he called, the minute he got there, he called me and he wanted me to come out there, and I said, "Curt, I can't, because this is 1945" Remember—maybe you don't remember, but women just didn't go in those days. And I said, our families, nobody would understand why I came out to see you in California.
Kasper: And where would you stay, and how would you explain that to everybody?
Castleberry: Where would I stay? How would I explain to everybody, so I wouldn't go. I wish now I'd gone. But I didn't. I didn't go.
Kasper: As you said, in those days, women didn't do that.
Castleberry: Women didn't do that. So he came home and I knew he was coming home at Christmas time. And I went to Athens for the holidays and he was to be in Athens for the holidays with his family and so we were so looking forward to Christmas Day, it just drug on and on and on and no call. And finally, in the late afternoon of Christmas Day, I had to come back to Dallas because I had to work tomorrow. And my brothers brought me back to Dallas and I walked into my apartment and the phone is ringing. And Curt said, "Where are you?" He had gotten to Athens. So, I said, "Okay, you're there." We talked for quite a long while. And I said, "You're there, you haven't seen your family," (some of them in four years) "not any of your family in three and a half years, you owe it to them." They had all come to Dallas to meet the train. And I said, "You owe it to them. Don't come until you've had a visit with your family."
So he didn't come for a week. And when he came he brought his best friend, who then started dating Edith. Edith and I at that time were living together. We had an apartment together. And I want you to know, I opened that door to this Marine Corps uniform and it really all came together. It just all came together. Everything came together. Within a week we knew we were going to get married, within a week. But we had all of the background. All of the, you know, all of the background, all of the letters, and he—his job was waiting for him in California. I wanted to go to California. He had been away from home so long, he wanted to come home. I was working here so he could transfer to Dallas and that's what we did. He didn't work for three months. And it nearly killed him because—
Kasper: Why didn't he work for three months?
Castleberry: Because he was playing. He had just gotten out of the Marine Corps.
Kasper: He was tired of working.
Castleberry: He was tired of working and he was dating me and he would leave at night and he would say—and he would drive back to Athens—it's a hundred miles down there—and he would say, "I won't be here tonight. I'll stay home tonight and sleep and you can get some rest." I'd walk out of my office that afternoon, he'd be waiting in the lobby of my building every afternoon. "I told you, I married you to get some sleep." I was so tired. [Laughter.] Physically, I could not keep up this pace at all. But it was, it was a glorious romance and a wonderful marriage because we had all of the background together and then when he did go to work in Dallas, we could do anything we wanted to. We could afford it. He had saved all of his money while he was overseas. And we had a year's honeymoon. We decided that we would wait until Christmas to get married.
Kasper: What year was this that you were getting married?
Castleberry: This was 1945. He got home Christmas night of 1945 and we started dating on January 1, 1946. And we were married on May the 4th, 1946. Now, I'll tell you how that happened. We decided—when we first decided we'd get married, we would get married at Christmas time. And then, he went to work, it wasn't three months, it was about six weeks, because he went to work and the first thing the company did was to send him down to Waco to do some special work. And this seemed awfully foolish. We'd been apart all this time and here he was in Waco and I was here and we couldn't see each other. So I went down for a weekend to Waco. That, too, was unheard of in those days. But I went down and I stayed in a hotel room and, believe it or not, we stayed in separate rooms and we stayed in separate rooms. I mean, those were funny days. But we did.
And I shall never forget, because at the time, we were walking back to the hotel on Sunday afternoon and I saw this gorgeous suit in the window in one of those department stores, and I said, "If it were, you know, a weekday and the stores were open, I'd go in and try that suit on and buy it." And so, of course, he bought it and sent it to me with a note that said, "This is your going away outfit." So, I mean, even my training wouldn't let me send that suit back. So that weekend we decided it was foolish for us to stay apart anymore. We were both old enough to get married, we wanted to get married; it was time we did it. And so we were married on the 4th of May at home, in Athens, in the Methodist Church. By that time Dr. Fletcher had left. And we had a big church wedding and most of my college friends, from SMU days, came down and all of his family came. And we had magnolias to decorate the church.
Now I brought in all I could of the ties of my past history into that ceremony. It was perfectly, absolutely "us" all the way through. And Sue, my first college roommate came down and was my matron of honor. Edith was my maid of honor. Bridesmaids were the girls I'd lived with in Dallas. So it was pure—but, the interesting thing was that both Curtis and I in talking in those days knew that we would have two careers each—one at work, one in the workplace, and one in the home place. We didn't know we were unusual.
Kasper: You didn't know you were unusual?
Castleberry: We didn't know we were unusual, we thought everybody did this. I mean—
Kasper: But you know they didn't. I mean, you know that everybody's mother stayed home.
Castleberry: Well, I guess intellectually I did, except my mother had always worked with my father. His mother had always worked. The examples were there. I knew that most of my friends quit work and got married and had kids. But I knew I wasn't going to.
Kasper: And you knew you'd been different all along anyway so it probably didn't surprise you that you wanted to continue to be different.
Castleberry: I had been different all along. And so, Curt and I were incredibly lucky. We couldn't find an apartment in this town for blood nor money at that stage. And so we rented a room with kitchen privileges and we consciously looked for and rented a room in an older neighborhood in an older house with an old couple where there was just the couple in the house. It would have worked fine except the day we got back from our Colorado honeymoon, their daughter left her husband with her two children and moved home. And so we had six weeks of being nowhere to go really. We could go to our room and lock ourselves in our room, but there were just people there all the time.
So we started looking for a place to live and I took the Yellow Pages of the Dallas phone book and wrote to all the apartment owners and the second week this man called me and said, "Come talk to me, I like what I read about you." And we moved into an apartment in the Avon Apartments on Lemmon Avenue, in Apartment 201, in a one-bedroom apartment but with kitchen, little dinette, maid service. Can you believe it? I mean, we were incredibly lucky.
So that, as I said, we had a one-year honeymoon. We changed every showbill in town. Went to all the summer musicals. We went out to eat when we wanted to, we had friends in all the time. And from the very word go, Curt liked my friends because this had been my milieu. I knew people. He not only liked my friends, he embraced them. He and Edith became closer than she and I were almost. They understood each other. In fact, when I started dating Curt [Laughter.]—I'll never forget about the third time I went out with him, I came home one night and Edith said to me,"Are you going to do him like you did the last two?"
Kasper: She was waiting in line.
Castleberry: And I said, "No, I'm not." And she said, "Well I was just sitting up to give you a lecture. That this person is not to be toyed with." She was crazy about him. And she wasn't waiting in line, she just didn't want me to fool around anymore because she recognized the qualities in Curt that have stayed true all of these years, that have just been sterling all of these years. So, anyway, we had that year's honeymoon.
Kasper: That must have been wonderful.
Castleberry: It was wonderful. We went up—he used most of his Marine Corps savings and bought a car so that we were free and this was at a time when no young couples had a car because they weren't making cars. Hadn't during the war years. No cars were being made. Very few were available. And he had an uncle who was a car dealer who sold him a car and we'd go up to Arkansas on weekends or we went to Oklahoma or down to the coast. And we were both working so we were making the kind of—
Kasper: Where was he working?
Castleberry: He was working for the Veterans Administration at that time because when he transferred in his job from California back to Dallas, that was the only thing in government that was open that had, you know, they hire you by—you're a number one, two, three, I mean, a seven, or whatever. I never have understood how the government rates its employees, but he had worked himself up to a seven or an eight and the only job that was open in that category was with the VA. So he went to work for the VA. And then, the second time that he was offered a promotion and had no college degree, we had always had in the back of our mind that we were going to school. Well the second time he was offered a promotion without a college—and couldn't have it because he had no college degree, he said, "Now is the time." So we threw up what we were doing in Dallas and traded our honeymoon cottage and the whole bit for a guaranteed income of $65.00 a month and went to college. And he graduated three years from the day he went down there.
Kasper: He went to Texas A&M.
Castleberry: With honors. Having had two children and buried one during the time he was doing this. And, you know, incredible. Another thing he did, I will never—he was taking calculus in the summertime and failing it. And I kept trying to get him to drop it. Drop it, drop it, and concentrate on your other courses. He said, "I will conquer this if it kills me." Turned in his final examination paper and said to the teacher, "I'll settle for a 90." And the teacher looked at him like you're crazy and graded the paper and gave him a hundred on the final exam. So, I mean, it's that kind of thing that stayed with him—
Kasper: Just sheer determination.
Castleberry: And also he supported us because I was pregnant and sick. I had a kidney infection throughout my first pregnancy and my second pregnancy that nearly killed me. Carol Castleberry Tate was born in the wake of a 104 temperature and chills and fever. I went into the hospital to get rid of a kidney infection, and she was born seven and a half weeks early, weighed four and a half pounds, in a tiny little hospital in East Texas where you, you know—
Kasper: There was nothing. Where were you living?
Castleberry: Bryan. Curtis was at Texas A&M and I was in Bryan. It's five miles from College Station, the little town nearest College Station where Texas A&M is and where the doctors were. And that's when I learned to love the Catholics. The Catholic sister in that hospital—my baby was in the hospital a month after I went home. And I couldn't drive at the time. And I couldn't go see her. And Curt was working two jobs and going to school full time. And the head nurse said to me, "Honey, don't worry, I will love your baby." And she used to put that baby on her shoulder and make her rounds at night when there wouldn't be anybody in the hospital. She'd cuddle and love that baby. But they wouldn't let me touch her. That, too, was a part of the whole thing. You couldn't go into the nursery and love your own baby. So I cried all the time. I had a baby and I didn't have her. And I got pregnant again right away by accident. Birth control failed. I was using a diaphragm. I would have been a fool to have had another child so quickly because—
Kasper: —because of the kidney infection. And your lives, too, were so busy.
Castleberry: Uh huh. Our lives. Curt's life. But I got pregnant right away and Curt was absolutely divine, just absolutely marvelous. You would have thought he'd planned it. And, you know, not all husbands do that well. And he, you know, he said, "Honey, don't worry. We've gotten through rougher things, we'll make this." So we had the second baby the 25th of June. Carol was one year old on the 23rd of June. And we had this second baby on the 25th of June, on a Sunday afternoon. I came out of anesthesia—
Kasper: And you'd had a kidney infection during the second pregnancy too, the same way.
Castleberry: Just terrible. Just terrible. That baby was born at eight months. I carried—I mean, my skin was so puffy, if you saw pictures of me at that time, you wouldn't even know it was me. I looked awful, and I felt worse. And this was in the days before antibiotics.
Kasper: And you had an infant, too, that you were caring for.
Castleberry: I had an infant that I was trying to take care of. And I was also trying to work part time to help him all I could.
Kasper: You were editor of the A&M Battalion. Was that at that point too?
Castleberry: Un huh. I talked myself into that job. Yeah.
Kasper: Is that all during this time you also edited their newspaper.
Castleberry: Un huh. All during that time. Right.
Kasper: And you were the first women's editor, I gather, of the Texas A&M Battalion.
Castleberry: Yeah. Un huh. Well I was women's editor. They had a male editor, but I did everything because I was there all the time. The other kids were students and they kind of turned it over to me. But the pregnancy was so difficult and the little boy was born on Sunday afternoon and it was June the 25th, 1950. I came out from under anesthesia and I did not hear them say, you have a son. I heard them say, "We're at war again." Korea. That was my first memory—of hearing the nurse and the doctors talking—we're at war again. And that baby lived three days. He died with a congenital heart deformity. And, of course, I've always been so grateful that I didn't misbehave during that pregnancy, even though it was tough and rough and hard—
Kasper: No, that you can't attribute to yourself anything that happened.
Castleberry: You know, I can't. I can't because Curt took care of me and I took care of myself. I did everything I could. And the baby was born at eight months and Carol had been born at seven, and he was born at eight. And he weighed seven pounds. So there was nothing, I mean it wasn't that—
Kasper: It was an accident of nature.
Castleberry: The flap did not cover and in later years, knowing what we know now, surgery could be done and it would have been okay.
Kasper: He had patent ductus is that what he had?
Castleberry: Un huh.
Kasper: Which is a common, as you now know, a common—
Castleberry: Common as it can be. Un huh. And of course they didn't discover it for the first six hours of his life. He was a perfectly formed, beautiful little boy. And, I will always wish that I had held him. You know, I don't carry around a giant guilt complex about that, but what it taught me is to tell young mothers, if you lose your child, hold them. You know, be there with them even though it's hard and tough, you still want to do that because—Curtis, to this day, carries a male burden that he hasn't let go because I sobbed and cried and got it all out. And he was quote "being strong for me." And he was carrying a full summer load. And it was he who had to make all the funeral arrangements. It was he who had to take the baby home and bury him. It was he that had to do all those things because I was physically not able to do it. I was fighting an infection that still—they were, by that time, did have sulfa. They were giving me sulfa to get rid of the infection. It was a pretty horrific experience. But then, after that, I went back to the paper, back to the Battalion. And what is so wonderful is that the Battalion, I don't know whether it still is or not, but at the time it was unique among college newspapers in that it also was the official voice of the city of College Station. So I got to cover the—
Kasper: What went on in town, not just on campus.
Castleberry: I got to cover what went on in town. And my beat was city hall and any important speaker who came to the campus I got to cover, and I got to cover the chancellor's office. So it was a good experience in that I could put things together.
And one of my experiences there was that I covered Lillian Gilbreath. Do you remember who she is? Of "Cheaper by the Dozen" fame. She was one of the first women engineers. Well, she came to lecture and she had twelve children and I got to cover her and listen to her. And I knew, even then, I had to tell her, even then, I'm not going be like you. She said she cried the last time she took a diaper off the line and she knew she wasn't going to hang any more diapers on the line. She cried. Not me. I was so glad to get rid of those diapers. I didn't share that with her at all.
I covered the chancellor's office and that again was one of those times—serendipity pieces where you were in the right place at the right time.
Kasper: Now, wait, is this a weekly paper?
Castleberry: No. It's a daily.
Kasper: It was a daily, so you really worked a lot.
Castleberry: Yeah, I worked a lot. I also became the official caretaker of all the boys' girlfriends. And Curt and I, we never knew, he never knew when he came home on weekends, we had Carol at the time, and her crib was in one of the bedrooms, but we would move it into our bedroom because we never knew when we were going to have extra people coming in. He never knew—
Kasper: You were like a grand house mother and editor.
Castleberry: Un huh. Friday night, how many evening dresses he would come in and find hanging from the ceiling because there was no place else to hang these frilly, frou-frou things that all the girls were wearing. And also, of course, the boys, the students, loved Carol and I would take her up with me from time to time so she became kind of a toy of their young—and taught them some things because they wouldn't have had a baby at all on the premises if we hadn't had her.
They were exceedingly good to me. I was good to them, but they were good to me. They gave me a certificate when I graduated declaring me editor in chief for life of the Texas A&M Battalion, for life.
Kasper: When Curt graduated?
Castleberry: When Curt graduated, they gave me a certificate saying—
Kasper: Now is Texas A&M an all boys school?
Castleberry: It was at that time. It isn't anymore.
Kasper: Okay. But so that's why you were sort of the grand house mother—
Castleberry: Grand dame, I was.
Kasper: —and mother and sister and every female form—
Castleberry: —friend, and protector and what everyone—
Kasper: —as well as the editor.
Castleberry: And the chancellor said to me, "Women will never be admitted to this university. Never." And I said, "I will give it five years." [Laughter.] In Curt's senior year, because he had been a staff sergeant in the Marine Corps, boys, young men who went back to college who had been in service did not have to go into the Corps. Everybody else had to go into the Corps, but he did not have to go in, and people who were coming out of service didn't have to go into the Corps. Well, he didn't, of course. He'd had his service years and he didn't go into the Corps. But when Korea broke out, on the day our son was born, he went into the Corps because he said to me, it is very simple, we're all going to have to be back in service. It's a matter of graduating with a commission so that I can support my family. And so he went into the Corps as soon as the Korean War was declared which meant that when he got out he would be in service. But he was going to be called back anyway.
Kasper: This way if he went in as a commissioned officer he'd be better off.
Castleberry: Yeah. If he went in as a commissioned officer he'd be better off. So he then was doing all the marching and all the stuff that Corps people do. And one day, early on in that senior year of his, they were marching, marching, you know, in the hot September afternoon, he fell out. I mean, literally fell out. It turned out that he had acute appendicitis, was operated on in the college hospital, nearly died. If I hadn't had connections with the chancellor's office where I could move heaven and earth to get medical help for him, he wouldn't be here. Believe me, it had gone into—I mean, salty old country doctor who yanked him in there and did surgery without his permission or my permission or anything. I mean, our medical tales are something. So he really—he was lying there just—he literally, I think, was dying.
Kasper: He must have had a burst appendix.
Castleberry: He did. And they just went in and operated and didn't know how to take care of it. And this salty old country doctor—