One of the things I enjoy most in the world is to open our mailbox and find a letter from Sis.
Sis is my cousin. Her mother, Lizzie Gibson, was my Granddad Otwell’s sister.
She will be 96 next month and lives alone in her home in my hometown of Snyder, Oklahoma. There has not been a more loved person in the history of the town than Sis. The most of her loved ones and those who have loved her are two miles away in Fairlawn Cemetery. She makes new friends on her daily two-mile walk through town.
Flora (Sis) first walked down Main Street in Snyder in 1924. The town was 22 years old and a thriving community. She accompanied her mother and sisters, Jewel and Pauline, and brother Clarence. They had arrived from Alabama.
This trip was out of desperation. Lizzie’s husband had deserted her and the children and provided no financial support. He had worked for a railway company and some of his co-workers helped by giving her chickens so that she could raise chickens and sell eggs. She refused the idea of a divorce and was told that her only alternative was to give up her children for adoption.
Moving to Snyder was Lizzie’s only hope of holding her family together. Some of the husband’s co-workers collected $300 for their train trip. She had two brothers (Jim and Will) and a sister, Fannie Vise, living there with their families. A few years later, Lizzie’s father and younger brother, John, also moved there but were of no help to her.
They first lived in a small farm home belonging to Granddad a couple of miles from town. Lizzie and her children, aged from 5 to 15 years old, found it hard to obtain work to provide food and clothing. In the spring and summer they would toil in the cotton fields chopping cotton to keep the weeds away from the plants. In the fall they would pull bolls (pulling the whole cotton boll as opposed to picking the cotton out of the boll). They were paid for the pounds they picked.
Some of the relatives were friendly and helpful and some were not. Sis told me that my family was friendly as well as that of Aunt Fannie.
Somewhere along the way, Clarence began to be called Smokey and he opened a small cafe in town and was living nearby. When Flora was ready for high school, she moved to town and lived and worked with Smokey.
One of the first mornings she was working in the café, she was standing by the cash register and a man handed her a dollar bill and obviously was waiting for his change. Bill McLaury from the Rexall Drug Store was eating at the counter and saw the befuddled look on Flora’s face and came to her rescue and showed her how to make change. Bill shouted to Smokey “What is this girl’s name” and Smokey shouted back “Sis.” Soon everybody in town was calling her “Sis” and didn’t know her real name. She is still known as Sis to everyone.
By the time Sis finished high school in 1935, Smokey had married and moved to Front Royal, Virginia. She and Jewel continued working in the café. While working there, Sis was smitten by a dashing, good-looking man, Bill Fulps, and they started dating. Bill was a little older than her but not enough to matter.
The next year, Sis and Jewel joined Smokey and his wife, Billy, in Virginia. They worked in a large friendly restaurant and enjoyed the people there very much. While there she traveled with a group on a tour of Washington, D.C,, The thing she tells of that trip was that she got to see the first lady and that Mrs. Roosevelt was just plain ugly.
Bill would write and appeal for her to return home and tell her that her mother needed her. She enjoyed living in Fort Royal but Bill’s pleading resulted in her returning to Snyder after three months. Immediately, Bill insisted that they get married. She says that he was so bad about giving his money away that she told him “We can’t get married, we would starve”.
A few years later she told him “When you save $100, I will marry you”. The first of the month, Bill showed her his bank statement, which showed a balance of $100 and they got married. A few days after the marriage, he received a notice that his loan payment was due. By that time, they were so happy that she forgave him.
I believe that their marriage was one of the few truly happy love stories I have known. Not only were they happy with each other but they were there for others when there were problems. Anytime there was a death in a friend’s family, they were there. Sis would take along some of her marvelous home cooked food for the family.
For a year or so during WW II, they lived in Baytown, Texas where he worked in a defense plant. They were not happy there and returned to Oklahoma.
The delight of Sis and Bill’s life was their only child, Jim Bill. Jim Bill could be seen around town, always friendly, smiling and enjoying life but considerate of all others. His personality reflected the best of both of his parents.
That light of their lives went out when Jim Bill was killed in an automobile accident. He was sixteen years old. It is obvious that the pain of his loss remains with Sis. She still hears from the boys who were with Jim Bill that day and she receives gifts on Mother’s Day.
Bill operated a café in town and Sis worked at the Rexall Drug Store and other jobs where people congregated. The magnetism of their personalities drew people to wherever they were.
Sis and Pauline opened a small department store downtown and named it the F and M Department Store after their last names, Fulps and McCorkle. The store did well. One of the highlights to Sis was her marketing trips to Dallas. In a few years, Pauline left the store and Bill joined in its operation.
Sis was almost always in the store. Bill was there the most of the time but took time to visit his friends, including my dad, Floyd, at the domino parlor. Floyd would get out of the house early every morning and his first stop was the F& M where he and Bill would gossip, kid each other and make dollar bets on their favorite ball teams. Sis put up with them and must have been somewhat amused.
For some time, Sis was the city’s first lady since Bill was the mayor. He made a good mayor and I doubt that he made any enemies. Eventually they closed the store and enjoyed many years of retirement before Bill died in 1999 at the age of 94. His twin brother lived three more years.
Time took its toll on Sis. She lost the vision in one eye many years ago and she has not been able to hear on the telephone for some time. She has survived several operations. Her attitude and zeal for life along with her daily long walks have done much to result in her longevity.
Pauline’s son, Jerry and two grandsons, Tommy and Jerry Dewayne provide help and interests to keep her comfortable at home. There are small great-great nieces and nephews who also add much pleasure and joy to her life. At the boys’ instance, she wears a safety necklace.
Sis is having a great life. I believe it is great because of her strength, attitude and love of people. I sometimes wonder how her life would have been without her mother’s strong faith in God and determined struggle to keep her family together.
I feel that Sis’ marvelous letters will keep coming as long as I am able to read them.