Joyce Whitis

We enrolled at Hardin College in Wichita Falls, September, 1946 before it became Midwestern University and by the second semester were roommates.

She made it clear that she was only attending college classes because they were a prerequisite before her family would let her marry her childhood sweetheart.

Here was an 18 year old whose plans for the future were set in cement. She wanted to marry the man she loved, live on the ranch

his grandfather had homesteaded. She wanted to see her children lined up and dressed for Sunday school, wanted to serve a breakfast of biscuits right out of the oven and cured ham sliced and ready in a blue plate, wanted to watch springtime wild flowers bloom across the pastures, experience glorious summer with swimming parties beside the lake, see red oaks turning to flame in the fall and pull on a sweater as December brought frosty mornings. It would forever be a life wrapped in the arms of nature to share with those she loved. That was all she wanted, no career of her own, if only she could become a wife and mother and live on the land that would be more than enough.

We talked about our dreams sometimes late at night when the dorm was quiet and a harvest moon peered through the first floor window. Mostly I just listened to my friend describe every detail from her planned wedding to the furnishings of the little clapboard house on the sprawling ranch where they would live. I was amazed at how complete she had everything laid out for the future. I knew that I wanted to be a writer but my plans to accomplish that goal were apt to change from day to day. I had no clear plan about how to get where I wanted to be, and certainly no marriage plans yet. There was however a lot that the two of us had in common and we shared those interests that year. We liked to ride horses and on weekends we would often saddle up at her brother’s ranch and ride out to see her special guy. He brought a friend for me so the four of us could spend the day with a cane pole at the lake or eating chicken-salad sandwiches under the live oaks, watching the clouds sail across a pale blue sky.

Dee and I borrowed horses and practiced running the barrels before the annual Crowell rodeo. We entered the competition and determined that we hadn’t practiced enough.

The year ran out, classes were over for the semester and Dee had made passing grades in every subject. Now she demanded to be set free of school so she could get on with her life. The families agreed and the wedding they gave her and her chosen partner was one for folks to remember.

We visited a few times that next year, talked on the phone now and then but after awhile, the babies began to come and we had less in common so that finally regular communication just stopped. Sometimes I would think about DeAlva and wonder if her life was working out the way she had planned. She called me when my dad died and again seven years later when I lost my mother. We did a little reliving on the phone, promised to visit but time moved on and so did we.

On a visit back to my hometown, last November, I decided to go see my old friend. The drive to Crowell was as familiar as if I had just been along that road yesterday and long buried memories sprang to life as the fence posts disappeared behind me. By the time I got to town, the adrenaline was racing. I wanted to see if I could remember the ranch road out to the house but instead stopped at the newspaper office to ask questions. The woman behind the desk answered me. “Oh Hon, she died last week. She had been sick a long time.”

Thirty minutes later, I placed a handful of store-bought flowers on a fresh grave in the little cemetery overlooking the flat lands of west Texas. “I’m sorry, Dee, but I couldn’t find any wild flowers in November,” I said. “These hot house blooms will have to do but next spring this place will be brilliant with bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush.” I turned to go, as a little bird flew down and perched on a granite headstone. It was a scissortail and he began to flick his long tail feathers in the sunlight. I hadn’t seen one of those birds in years but they used to gather down by the lake where we fished and picnicked. “Good-bye”, I said. “I wish I had come sooner.” At the sound of my voice, the scissortail flew straight up from the granite monument and on silver wings disappeared against the sky.