His affinity and affection for automobiles was substantial enough even as a child to warrant a full page in Margaret Moser’s The Biography of a Particular Place (Volume 1 page 187-188).
“When we got to town, we started watching the cars. We sat on a bench in front of Mr. Leroy Roberts’ store looking at all the different kinds of cars…Packard(s)…Hudsons and a car called an Essex….They were a sight to see.”
McCarty is blessed with a lucid, exact memory of the history of Bee County — one of the main reasons he still is a member of the Bee County Historical Commission.
HIS TIES to Bee County date back to before the Civil War when, according to historian Moser, McCarty’s great-grandmother moved to the area as a slave.
From his grandmother, McCarty inherited what Moser described as “lots of that old history written down in the Bible.”
A portion of his house that he keeps blocked off because of the cost of heating is a living museum. In the dining room, some of his grandmother’s china is carefully placed in a curved-glass cabinet.
Today, he restricts his reading to past and present history: the Bible and the Bee-Picayune.
His life has spanned 17 presidencies so far — starting with Woodrow Wilson.
“I went to colored school through the ninth grade,” he says. But my father sent me to work when I was 17.”
But he took more high school courses by correspondence.
He spent more than half his life working for cattleman, oilman and rancher George A Ray and his family.
“He had a big ranch. He owned everything from here to Charco. I was a cook, a housekeeper and later a nurse for them,” he remembers. “I worked for Ray, and when he died, I work for Ray’s children until they died.”
He still is working for the family; he oversees one of the Ray mansions east of here. Last week, a conversation was interrupted by one of the Ray grandchildren calling from Costa Rica.
ALMOST ALL of his time and focus has been Pettus, except during World War II, when he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and spent the rest of the war on the island of Guam.
“I remember the voyage from California to Guam. We always were on the lookout for enemy submarines. We made it all right, but it was scary.”
He had planned to stay in the Navy for 30 years but, by two years after V-J Day, “everybody was going out, so I did too. Because,” he says, “I had a letter from the Ray family. It said, ‘you come on back home.’”
Two years later, he married Ruby Jones, a San Antonio teacher, in 1949. But, in the succinct, no-nonsense language of someone 98, McCarty explains, “I found out she wasn’t the woman for me, so I had to get rid of her.”
His hours at the Ray ranch were heavy. “I worked seven days a week,” McCarty says. “I never could attend church.”
But, he had a radio, and in those days, a San Antonio station broadcast the Sunday services from the New Light Baptist Church. “I was a Methodist then, but I always liked the way the Baptists did things.”
He joined the church in 1949; he drives to San Antonio for services every week.
AFTER ALMOST 50 years, he decided to do something else; he worked at the First National Bank for 25 years.
“I started as a janitor, and I left as a trusted employee,” he says. “I opened the doors in the morning and locked them up at night.”He still maintains an account at the bank.
McCarty has a face built for a smile or a laugh. But it grows somber when he thinks about civil rights.
“It was rough back then. I remember watching a Ku Klux Klan parade when I was just a kid. It scared me half to death. Later, when I was working for the Ray family, I wasn’t allowed to come through the front door of a home; there were separate water fountains and restrooms at places.
“I think about the words of that hymn: The Lord has brought us a long, long way – but we still have a long way to go.”
HIS DEDICATION to civic and religious duty is best measured by the almost 30 plaques and certificates that decorate a hall in his home: Historical Commission, Masonic Lodge, Volunteer Fire Department, NAACP, Juneteenth Commission, Lott-Canada Alumni Association, St. Rose Cemetery Association, Lions Club, Sheriff’s Association and the Boys Club of America.
He pauses at the fire department plaque.
“I remember we once were fighting a fire. I was on the roof. One of the firemen opened up a hose right at me. The force of the water lifted me off the roof and lowered me right down to the ground.”
HE LAUGHS, and then grows serious again. “I had eight brothers and three sisters; I’m the only one left.”
Left, and mostly alone.
“I have a son. His name is George, but I don’t know where he is. He never calls.” The last time he remembers seeing George was in Woodboro. “I couldn’t stand the way he looked. Those baggy pants with the waist around his knees.
“He used to be a fine-looking boy. I have the same message for him and for everybody: look intelligent.”
IN THE autumn of his years, McCarty says he often is told he should write a book.
“I don’t have the patience to write a book,” he flatly states, while admitting that age has something to do with it.
“Want to know when you know you’re old?” he asks.
“When the arthritis hits you. That’s when.”
He chuckles, thinking about how he often fills his days.
“I have an 84-year-old lady who calls me all the time,” he says. “I haven’t seen her in person in about 14 years. She’ll say the same stuff over and over. But, I put up with it, because she’s lonely.”
INEVITABLY, IRREVOCABLY, is the question about to what he attributes such a long life?
“Oh, it’s simple,” he laughs again. “I just bought a new truck. I paid half of it down. But I’ve still got to make all those payments.”
Bill Clough is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 122, or at beepic@mySouTex.com.