My Father's Story
Jun 20, 2009
|I once heard it said that "Success is measured not so much by what a person has achieved as by the obstacles he has overcome to achieve it". I happen to believe that with all my heart and it is for that reason that I consider my Dad, Edwin Earl Dray, a Very Successful Man.
My Dad was also a very unique man. He was basically self-educated but very street-smart. His mother died when Dad was only two years old and when his own dad remarried his new wife didn't want to take care of the kids and as a result of that Dad was forced out of his home when he was only 12 years old. He took care of his younger sister, Josephine who also had been forced out of the home.
Dad and Aunt Josephine lived as orphans on the street.
Dad learned to shoot pool standing on a pop case so he could reach the table. He would wager on pool games, which he routinely won, and in that way earn money for food. He also became very skilled at card games, especially poker and pitch which could be played for money. He was very good at "craps" too, learning the odds and how to bet on the dice game. Dad never lost his touch at these games and passed on much of his skill to his sons, although Dad always seemed to win when we played together. In later years Dad and I played cards against Mom and Marilyn. I always knew that when Dad was my partner we would win. Mom occasionally caught Dad doing something unethical (I hesitate to say cheating) and would get very angry while Dad just roared with laughter. I remember once when I was in the second grade in Des Moines, IA that Dad had got into a fist fight over a card game and he knocked the other man out. This was very impressive to me at the time. Dad also played pool with William Boyd who was better known as "Hopalong Cassiday". But as a young man he led a very tough life. He and his sister picked up coal along the railroad tracks to use for fuel to keep warm in the winter and Dad finally found a man named Frankie who took them in. Frankie was more like a real Dad to my Dad. Frankie drove an ice truck delivering ice to the houses and Dad helped him. People didn't have refrigerators back then. They only had ice boxes to keep the food cold. They had a sign with numbers on it and they would put the sign in the window with the number of pounds if ice they wanted showing upright. Frankie would see the sign, chip off the correct size block of ice and Dad would carry it inside, put it in the ice box and collect the money. Dad said this was really a good job during a hot summer. Dad was one of those people who never met a stranger. He was outgoing and charismatic, street smart and very skilled at anything he wanted to do.
Dad said that he was only 12 when he first met Mom. He was with his Dad who married mom's Aunt Esma. Mom's sister Dorothy had the measles so Dad couldn't go into the house but he met Mom then.
Later, Mom's brother, Kenneth, was working in Insurance in Burlington, Iowa and Mom decided to go there to get a job also.
Mom stayed with her cousins, who’s Step-dad, was John Dray. She met Dad for the second time there. They talked a lot and Dad asked her to go to the movies with him. It cost 50 cents for the two of them to go to the movies. They said their second date was when Dad took Mom to a restaurant where they ate oysters. Later, Dad took mom in the truck with him to Peoria, Ill. and they were caught in a terrible snow storm on the way back to Burlington. Mom says she expected Dad to pull over and stop but he didn't. He rolled the window down, stuck his head out so he could see the road and kept on driving. Dad said he couldn't stop because they weren't married and he just had to get her home. Mom said she really respected Dad for that.
After more dates and some time had passed, Dad told Mom as he prepared for a trip to Chicago, that after he came back, they were going to get married. He didn't ask, he just told her. That was just like Dad.
On Feb 4th, 1939, Mom and Dad went downtown where dad bought a new topcoat.
Dad said that he only had $29.00 when they got married and he spent $17.00 of it for the topcoat. Dad's sister, Josephine and her husband, Ed, stood up with Mom and Dad when they were married. They rented a two room apartment in Burlington for $4.00 per week. Dad earned $16.00 per week at that time. Mom said they spent $5.00 per week on groceries. Canned goods were 4 cans for 25 cents so they bought lots of canned goods. Mom hadn't told members of her family that they were getting married and Uncle Kenneth came to their apartment when he heard about it. He told Dad, "Ed, you take good care of her." When Dad was telling of this he said "I did, didn't I Mom?"
The first thing they bought on credit was a small radio. They paid 50 cents a week on it till it was paid for. The first car they ever owned was a 1937 Chevrolet, which they had when they lived in Des Moines, Iowa.
Several weeks after Mom and Dad were married they knew that they had to tell her parents. Zola, Kenneth Fry, and Don Riley went with Mom and Dad to Williamstown, MO in Kenneth’s car. Dorothy and Raymond were parked in the driveway when they arrived but didn't come into the house right away.
When they told Mom's parents that they were married, Grandma Fry went upstairs and cried. Grandpa Fry looked at Dad and said "If you are good enough for Oneta, you are good enough for me." My Uncle Cecil was there and he did the "big brother" thing. He said to Mom "How do we know you aren't pregnant?" Mom simply replied "Well, I'm Not!" I was born on Dec 31st of that year, a 7 month baby, weighing only 4 lbs.
One of the favorite stories in the family is one where Grandpa Vernie Fry played a practical joke on Dad. It happened on the occasion of Cecil and Doris Fry's first wedding anniversary in Williamstown, MO. Following a big chicken dinner at Grandpa and Grandma Fry's home, Dad fell asleep on the sofa. He soon began to snore and drew much attention to himself. As the family members stood over Dad watching him sleep and listening to him snore with his mouth wide open, Grandpa Fry, with a twinkle in his eye, retrieved the bottle of Caster-oil and proceeded to pour caster-oil into Dad's open mouth.
Dad, partially awakened, rubbed his mouth and smacked his lips, then muttered those famous words, "That damned chicken grease would make a man half sick".
Dad left for the Army on December 6, 1943. His Dad, John Dray took him to St Louis to Jefferson Barracks.
Dad must have tried to get a furlough to come home from the Army in April, 1944. My Grandma Fry notes in her diary that "Ed called. Didn't get his furlough." Dad was discharged October 22, 1945, having spent his entire Army career at Camp Blanding, Florida.
Interestingly enough, my Uncle Roy Lee Fry was also at Camp Blanding, FL before being shipped overseas.
Teresa Fry Barrows remembered the baby shoes, probably one for each of us kids, which hung from the rear-view mirror of Dads car.
She also recalled Mom and Dad having a big car with push buttons to put the car in gear. She thought that was really neat.
My brother, Bill Dray tells the story of a trip he made with Dad in the Semi-truck Dad drove for many years.
FROM BILL DRAY:
I have a very special memory of my Dad that might be of interest to others in the family. There were several times in my life when I spent special times with Dad, but none that gave me this special perspective. I got to see Dad as others see him and learned how he endeared himself to others. His ability to establish lasting friendships everywhere he went always impressed me.
I must have been seven or eight years old when Dad took me with him on his truck to New York City. Although I can't recall every detail of the trip, I remember climbing up into that great big rig and feeling like I was about to see a whole new world open up to me. And in a way I did have a new world open up to me. I honestly believe it shaped my life forever.
It was late at night and the sky was as dark as I can ever remember it being. Mom drove us to the truck terminal and stayed around to see us off. We pulled out of that terminal in the biggest truck and longest trailer I had ever seen. I was filled with excitement and even though it must have been way past my normal bedtime, I was alert and ready to take in every sight along the way. Little did I know that this trip was going to take days, not just hours. I fell asleep soon after we pulled out but woke up to the sound of the truck slowing to pull into the first truck stop Dad pulled in to for coffee.
Walking in the door of that truck stop with Dad in this "who knows where" town, or even State for that matter, I felt pretty special.
Several men, truck drivers for sure, looked up and said "Hey Bottles, how the hell are ya"? Well, to me this was pretty impressive.
My Dad being known by these strangers so far from home and they seemed to like him too. They asked who he had with him and he seemed proud too when he said "this is my youngest son, Bill". Well, they wanted to buy me a soda or something and I thought that was pretty great. Watching and listening to Dad and his friends made me pretty proud of him. I could see that he really liked these guys and they had a lot of respect for him. As we traveled on throughout this long trip, I saw the same thing everywhere we stopped. Dad was known and well liked everywhere.
He told me while we were driving on, that the richest man on earth was the man with the most friends. He told me to always remember that a friend will always be there when no one else is. I think of that still to this day and I believe it. It's one of many lessons Dad taught me. Even though I didn't know at the time that I was being taught anything.
I guess this trip was the one time I remember most because Dad talked with me so much as we drove across state after state. He pointed things out to me and told stories about his life on the road. I began to admire him so much more after that trip. I had learned that a man is judged by his friends much differently than by others. His friends didn't know his weaknesses and had no desire to. They admired and like the man they knew the way he was when he was with them. Dad always had good things to say about his friends too.
FROM PATRICIA ANN (DRAY) DORFMAN:
My father was a hard working man who, in spite of only a sixth grade education, always managed to provide shelter and food for his family. I remember once when he came home from one of his trips on the road, he brought back with him a dress for my mother and a matching dress for me. It was something to behold! Bright Irish green with white polka dots on it. It fit me perfectly and I was especially proud that it was just like Mom's. I think the thing I liked best about it was that my father had bought it for me. There was another time that Dad bought me a dress, only more indirectly. I don't recall the occasion but I needed a dress and he gave Mom the money to buy it for me. That was a white dress and I loved it too.
Dad and I didn't spend much time together. I suppose mostly because he drove a truck and was gone on the road a lot. I do remember when we lived in an apartment above a store on the square in Kahoka, sitting on the steps with Dad, behind the apartment, looking at the sky together. There was a tornado watch and the sky looked eerie, dark and green. Dad was always afraid of bad weather. He told me how the sky changes color when a tornado is coming. I remember the air was so still and how everything turned dark outside. There was no tornado but I sure enjoyed that time with my father sitting there all by ourselves, just talking. Dad was known for his fear of bad weather of any kind. He would get nervous when the weather threatened, pacing the floor and watching out the window to see if he needed to put everyone in the basement. He stored food in the basement. I suppose being so poor when he was just a boy made him want to have a stockpile of food. We always seemed to have plenty of canned goods and paper products. Later, when they could afford it, mom and dad bought a chest type freezer and stocked it with frozen foods. I liked that because I could sneak down there and eat the ice cream bars.
Dad died on Oct 18, 1990. Five months after our daughter, Kelly was killed and only two days after my grandfather passed away. That was a year for grieving in our family.
There is much more to tell about my Dad, and I documented it for the book about our family history, that I have been working on since 1999.
Dad was a good man and it is a pleasure to share some of his history with you good folks.
Happy Father’s day to all of you Fathers out there!