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Russel, Sr & Bess Windes

In Burneyville, Oklahoma, Principal and Coach Russei R. Windes "kept good discipline," and won a lot of basketball games. He also found the gin he wanted to spend his life with, Bess Ruth Carter, a.k.a., "Fan11 or "Fancy," or "Dolly." The two of them met at a "pie supper" in September, 1923, and were wed by a local minister in Marietta on January 5, 1924, in the presence of only two witnesses. There was celebration in Burneyville at the Carter home, but the Windes family in Durant were not to learn of their son's marriage until Easter recess that late March. Russel feared his mother's anger and disapproval at his marrying a girl "socially and financially beneath him." It took him three months to take the peasant girl from Burneyville to the grand Windes mansion in Durant. Such was the power of Margaret!

Back in March of 1924, three months after their marriage, Russel and Bess arrived for "spring break" in Durant, Oklahoma, and Russel introduced his bride to his mother and father. They had never heard of Bess before, muchless met her. And one can well imagine Margaret's reactions to Bess, the marriage, and the fact that Russel had kept the entire matter a secret for so long, depriving Margaret and Harry the right of veto and the parental right to a large and public wedding. My father enjoyed the game of deception just as much as his brother, Kenneth, enjoyed the games of drinking, partying and philandering. Conceivably, this was his way of attacking dominating parents. Or perhaps he realized that those dominating parents would have never allowed in the first place a marriage he very much wanted. One must question his decision to avoid an open and direct confrontation on the matter, however, since the questionable deed did not get the relationships between his bride and her mother in Saw and father in law off to a very good beginning and surely placed unneeded and unhelpful burdens on both his bride and his parents.

For forty-three years the relationship between Margaret and Bess was, at best, an uneasy one, full of stress, distrust, and unpleasantness. Bess became a member of the Windes family, alright, but not a very high status member, and one who was subject to constant domination and discipline by her in-laws. There was no way a child of a poor cotton farmer and itinerant preacher could be fully accepted in the family of a well-to-do and successful businessman, not even if the cotton farmer was a Texan.

The snobbery of my grandparents was not in any way a part of my father's feelings for my mother. Russei loved Bess deeply and ioved her for herself, not her social and cultural background. And Russel and the Carters enjoyed a close and loving relationship over the years, even though there were but two occasions on record when Margaret and Harry socialized with Henry and Sallie, The Windes family invited the Carter family to Durant for a weekend in 1924, and the Carter family invited the Windes family to Burneyville that same year. End inter-family relationship. Margaret probably drove at night to get out of Burneyville and back to Durant.

From the moment Margaret and Harry met Bess, they were determined that their son would not for long be a teacher in Burneyville, Oklahoma. They let Russel teach the remainder of the year, fulfilling his contract, but after that, at their insistence, he abandoned his career in education and returned to Durant to become, first a cashier at C.W. Slaughter's First National Bank of Durant, and then, assistant manager of Staton's Department Store.
Harry and Margaret bought Russel and Bess a small house next door to their own home at 223 North Third Street, and filled it with new furniture from the Windes Furniture Store. Margaret made sure that Bess had a good wardrobe. And she introduced her to her circle of friends. She even sent her maid, Ola Legg, one day a week to help Bess with the laundry and house cleaning. Bess and Russel lived six years on North Third Street. March 25, 1925, Bess gave birth to a daughter named Margaret Jane Windes, renamed "Peggy" by the parents and grandparents, and Grandmother Margaret (renamed "Ona" by her husband and "Muddy" by my older sister), was out of her mind with joy. She and Peggy were inseparable, and Margaret adored her first grandchild, assuming, of course, a dominant role in raising the child, often to the anger and frustration of Mother Bess.

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Bess suffered what today we would call "panic attacks" while giving birth to Peggy. She subsequently aborted her next pregnancy after two months, and probably did additional terminations. Not until July II. 1930, did she deliver another child, a boy named Russei Rayl Windes, Jr., who was called "Bud" or "June" (for junior) by everyone. Six years later, August 22,1936, Bess delivered her third and final child, another girl named Patricia Ann Windes, who was called "Patty or "Patti."

In the autumn of 1929, Harry learned that a clothing store in Cassville, population 1016, the county-seat of Barry County, just seven miles north of Washburn, was for sale. The last week in October, about the time of the great Wall Street collapse, he and Margaret drove to Missouri in their new I930 Buick Touring Sedan, over "dirt and gravel roads not yet ready for automobile traffic" Harry wrote to Russel, complaining of "fording streams and rivers and having two flat tires on the way." Margaret, of course, did all the driving, since Harry never learned how and didn't see any reason to learn since "Ona" was such a fine driver.

In Cassville that late October they signed a contract for purchasing the Walker Brothers store, including the building, the fixtures, and the stock of merchandise as of March I, I930. The purchase price was "$IO,250, all cash at closing after a deposit of $2000.00." They then purchased a substantially large early 1920s two story home six blocks away from the store, with five bedrooms and two baths, located on an acre of land. The cash price for the home was $2500, and the contract called for "closing the contract on or before March !, 1930." They took an '"option" to buy a smaller one-story three bedroom home on ten acres of land just a block away, a place they were hoping Russel and Bess would enjoy. A week later, they returned by train, leaving their Buick to the trusted care of brother Robert. Within four months they sold their businesses, sold their home, and traded the home they had built for Bess and Russel for several hundred acres of land between Altus and Lawton, Oklahoma, land which was potentially oil rich, but otherwise worth very little. They signed leases with the Kerr-McGee Oil Company, allowing it to drill for oil over a ten year period, and if oil were found, to pay generous royalties.
In early March, Harry and Margaret returned on the Frisco to Missouri, and after moving into their spacious home, they both began to prepare for the grand opening of the new H.R. * Windes & Son Department Store. The building had to be significantly renovated, and Harry had carpenters build a number of balconies to house menswear, hats, and his and Russel's offices. Then he and Margaret had to restock the store completely. The job took much longer than they had anticipated, and the new store did not open until August 1, right in the middle of the Great Depression.

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Russel could not join his mother and father until early June because his employer, Frank Staton, had a heart attack and asked him to manage the store until he recovered. Meanwhile, Bess was pregnant with me, and wanted to wait until i was born to move to Missouri. Consequently, Russel and Bess did not arrive in Cassville until a month after I was born, on August 11, 1930, Bess coming by train and Russel by car. The two of them moved into their new home, a block west of Margaret and Harry, the following week.

Even as close as Russel and Bess and Harry and Margaret had to be because of business and children, they never dined together except on holidays, and never partied together. They did take summer evening rides in the country together, and occasionally Sunday afternoon rides. Harry and Margaret and I would drive to near Neosho to visit Granny's Aunt Laura and Uncle Isham and daughter Pearl. Isham Collier had been sheriff of Newton County, Missouri, for twenty years, and Aunt Laura was the cook at the county jail.

Friday nights Bess and Russel always went to a party, or hosted a party themselves. The two loved to play bridge and pitch, and they found a number of other young couples with similar interests Twelve to sixteen of them would meet at seven on Fridays at the home of one of the couples, each couple bringing a dish of food for the dinner to follow. After dinner the games began, three tables of four each, or four tables, depending on the number present. And they would play cards until midnight. The tradition went on for years. To the parties came Kenneth and Avo Brown, Merwyn and Jewel Hess, Cliff and Ethel Edmondson, Bill and Christine Koon; Horace and Gladys Alien; Jolly and Mildred Haines; Rose and Jack Byrd, and, of course Russel and Bess. And what a time they seemed to have, week after week, year after year. When the panies were held at our home, Peggy and I used to sit next to Bess and Russel and watch. I learned to play bridge just that way. At the end of each party, Bess would play the piano for a few minutes, and the group would sing some goodbye songs to relax themselves. And all of this was done with only an occasional glass of wine as the only alcohol served. Neither Peggy nor I couid recall a single incident of anger or antisocial behavior in the many years this group got together Friday nights.

Sometimes they would have kids' nights, and all of us would get to go, say, to Kenneth and Avo Brown s home, dine with the adults, enjoy Kenneth's wonderful homemade ice cream, and watch them play bridge until we went to sleep. There were a lot of young ones, and I was especially close to Sue and Jane Brown, and Joan, Jane, Billy, and Joey Hess. One night when ! was eight or nine, Billy Hess and I undressed each other in the attic of the Hess home and had a long talk about our different looking penises. His was undipped; mine wasn't.

On December 26, 1936, Russel and Bess and three children moved to Rogers, to a lovely, new and spacious brick home on West Walnut Street, and Russel began the month long task of restocking and renovating the new store. Harry and Margaret continued to operate the Cassville store by themselves, and, at the same time, spend as much time as they could making sure that the Rogers enterprise was a success. This meant they spent a lot of time with us in Rogers. Harry hired a young man named Bob Pilant to run his Seligrnan store, which was a very small operation, with only twenty percent of the volume of the Cassvilie store. Both Harry and Russel and Rice-Stix predicted that the Rogers H.R. Windes & Son Store would gross more than $100,000 in 1937, more than twice the anticipated gross for the Cassville operation.

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In order to make all the financial arrangements necessary to purchase the stores in Rogers and Seligman, and keep the store in Cassville, Harry had to use up most of his surplus capital, about twenty-five thousand dollars 1936 money. He had to sell at a loss his oil lease properties in Oklahoma, on which drilling had already taken place, and he had to sell half of his land in Washburn Prairie and the Cassville home that Russel and Bess had left when they moved to Rogers. In short, Harry did what a good businessman does not want to do, use virtually all of his capital and go into debt to make a significant purchase, the return on which, while looking promising, was subject to general business and economic conditions over which Harry and Russel had no control.

In short and in hindsight, 1937 was a very risky time for a business to expand, and one has to wonder why the two men took the risks they did. They were doing very well indeed with their one store in Cassville. There were no compelling needs or reasons to change. My unanswered question has always been, Why did they do it?

Marion Aibright sat at one end of the "whooooooosh." She had been a steady girlfriend of Russel's when he had attended and graduated from Rogers High School before moving to Durant. And there was some reason to believe the two of them still felt something for each other. The decision to seat her at a desk right next to Russel's desk was probably not the wisest one. It took only a short time for Bess to discover that Marion Aibright had once been Russel's sweetheart. When she did, for the first time in her married career, she became a real jealous and angry bitch, demanding that Marion be dismissed.

For weeks the two fought it out every night at the dinner table. For weeks the two refused to speak to each other at all. But finally Bess won, thanks to her behavior and the intervention of Margaret Leona who accused Russei of "needlessly bad judgment." The family crisis ended, and the children went back to enjoying their evening meal without fear that Bess might have poisoned Russel's vegetable soup. Marion was put in charge of the women's department, and was probably happy to climb down from the balcony, because she lived in fear of a Bessian ambush. Leolan Wood became the new Cashier, and Leolan was not even close to a threat to Bess' sovereignty over her husband. I am reasonably confident that Russel and Marion continued their off and on "affair," in absolute privacy for as long as the family remained in Rogers. Marion was a divorcee, and her son, Bob, and I regularly played together. We even gossiped together about my father and his mother.

Still, from the autumn of 1940 until the autumn of 1941 Russel and Bess were gone from Rogers quite frequently, always taking my younger sister Patti with them. That meant that Peggy and I were on our own much of the time.
The absolute unavailability of houses in Neosho and Joplin was a serious problem. Aunt Bess owned a home in a town called Monett, eighteen miies to the east, and she agreed to let Bess and Russei live in it for the months it would take her to restructure our house on Spring Hill. We moved there temporarily in February of 1945 and moved back to Spring Hill in May of the same year, just in time to celebrate Victory in Europe Day (VE Day) in Big Spring Park with a thousand soidiers.

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By late 1946 Bess and Russel had also recovered from their post-war depression. They were playing bridge with their old friends from Cassville once more, and had a number of new bridge companions in Neosho. And father had begun expanding his number of loan offices in Oklahoma, which kept him on the road a lot.
Bess liked to travel with him, and they would put my younger sister, Patti, who was eleven, at the home of friends when they were to be gone for a lengthy time. That suited me perfectly, because I could then have my own friends in to stay with me, my most frequent guest being, of course, Paul.

At home, my life with Bess and Russe! was far less pleasant, regrettably. By this time in their lives, Bess and Russel were hardly speaking to each other. Russel was showing the signs of five years of fairly serious diabetes and doing very little through diet or medication to control the disease. At the same time he was working a horrendous schedule at Biederman, leaving before eight in the mornings and returning about nine at night.

What Bess suspected, and was paranoid and irrational about, was that Russei was seeing another woman, which was in fact the case, and her fears and suspicions plus his illness and exhaustion led them both to constant quarreling and fighting. I stayed away from the place at much as I could, but my younger sister, then a sophomore in college, was stuck twenty-four hours a day with both Bess and Russel. She suffered greatly.

I spent much of my brief vacation on family problems, rather than getting a needed rest. When Russel and Bess did Indeed decide to separate, ! drove Bess and Patti to Springfield, where we found them a home to lease on East Stanford, and I helped them pack and move a week later.

In the meantime, my father simply withdrew from the family. Except for occasional visits with his mother, who was deeply wounded over his behavior, and with Patti, Russel severed ail ties. He refused to correspond, to visit, to allow visits, or even to talk on the telephone. The only times i saw him from September, 1956, to his death, were those times 1 went to St. Louis and virtually forced him to have lunch or dinner with me. Even then he would never give me his home telephone number, or his address.

By both letter and phone, I invited him to attend my commencement exercises at Northwestern in June of 1959 to see me receive my Ph.D. He wouldn't, or couldn't, make the three-hundred mile trip to Chicago, nor could he even bring himself to write a note of congratulations to his son. He and Bess never spoke to each other again after September of 1956. By late 1959 he was so ill he had to be hospitalized, and in January, i960, he passed away in a St. Louis hospital at age fifty-eight.

 

 

 

 

 

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