Richard W. Clark Age 16

My dad grew up poor in our small town of Jenks, Oklahoma.  Raised by his maternal grandparents, his father, Elza David Clark, disappeared — apparently just walked away — when Dad was four years old.  Dad neither saw nor heard from him ever again.

Dad said that when he was “near grown”, some “old timers” took him aside and talked to him about his father.  They told how Ed, as they called him, used to come into town and watch from a distance as Dad played when a small boy.  They said that he was a “helluva good man”, and that Dad should be proud of him.

Dad figured his father had his own good reasons for leaving.  He said more than once that his mother “probably drove” his dad away.  He always seemed to be a little angry underneath with our Grandma Edith.  Rightly or not, I think he felt she had deprived him of his father.

It was the depression years and times were rough as Dad grew up with his grandparents in Jenks.  When he graduated high school at sixteen, there was no money for college, and jobs were scarce.  Dad had an uncle, David Cravens, who lived in Lincoln, Nebraska.  He was in the insurance business, was a landowner, and had other business interests.  He was interested in Dad and invited him to Lincoln the summer of Dad’s graduation.  Dad went, spending several weeks there.

One day Uncle Dave called Dad into his office.  His words went something like this: “Richard, there is something I would like to do for you.  I want to send you to college—I’ll pay all your expenses.  When you are through, I’ll take you in the business and train you.  When I retire, I’ll deed you the business and make you my heir.  There is just one thing I want from you.  I want you to change your name to Cravens.”

Dad was still for a moment, then replied, “Uncle Dave, my name is the only thing my daddy left me. I think I’ll just keep it.”

He went home the next day.

Ray Kenneth Clark

March 3 ·

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