She likes the outdoors — a taste acquired when she was born on a day in late September in a homesteader’s dugout in eastern New Mexico — 102 years ago.
Delma doesn’t recall many of the details about her early life. She remembers the tin roof, that her parents got a land grant of 640 acres and that, later, her father expanded his land to 5,000 acres. “I have to think too far back,” she says and laughs.
A few years later, according the family legend, her father lost the farm in a poker game but gained a bar.
He moved his family to Purves, a small town in Erath County, Texas.
Two memories are non-erasable.
The first: When she was “around 12,” walking in a field where she used to pick cotton, a copperhead snake bit her on the hand. She still has the scar.
The second: on her first day of high school in Dublin, a young man named Doyle Hair sat behind her in class. “He touched me on the shoulder and said ‘when we grow up, I’m going to marry you.’”
They did, and he did.
She was graduated from Dublin High School in 1928 as captain of the girls basketball team — which won the state championship.
Today, she is the only surviving member of the team. A few years ago, she had the winning trophy refurbished and donated it to the high school.
Delma was married on Christmas Eve of 1928.
“That was the date, wasn’t it?” she asks her son, Doug. “I don’t know; I wasn’t there,” he replies, and everyone laughs.
Doyle was in the oil business, working when and where the industry demanded. In short order, the couple lived in Humble, Andrews, Miranda City and Welder. Delma remembers one instance when they were in a new residence for only hours before Doyle came home and announced, “We have to move. In the early 1930s, at the eight of the Great Depression, the couple settled in Pawnee.
Her son, Doug, was born in Kenedy; Doylene was born in San Antonio.
“Tell him about the old truck,” Matilda Isaacks suggests to Delma. “It didn’t have a clutch. You used to use an old broomstick stuck through the floorboard to shift.”
“Oh yeah,” Delma smiles.
As his children grew older, Doyle decided enough was enough. Remembering when his job forced him to move five time in one year, after 18 years with the Magnolia Petroleum Company, he quit, bought 80 acres and farmed.
“He said all that moving was no way to raise children,” Delma remembers.
On a morning in early October, in handy reach of a bowl full of Butterfingers and other candy, she is stretched out on a recliner in her living room, dressed up to the nines to be photographed and then interviewed by Matilda — local historian, the Bee-Picayune’s Pawnee correspondent for more than 60 years and one of Delma’s dearest friends.
Their lifelong friendship began when Matilda was in the first grade, where she met Doylene, Matilda’s daughter.
“The other kids called us sisters,” Matilda remembers.
If, during the conversation, Delma couldn’t remember exact details, Isaacks filled in. For her, compiling Delma’s history is both vocation and advocation.
At one point, Matilda and Doug began a long clarification about places and dates. Delma, left out of the conversation, interrupted.
“I’m still here!”
“Delma,” Isaacks asks, “How long have I known you?”
“About my whole life,” she answers.
“Delma used to do needlework. I can remember when she used to sew a blouse every week, hem stitching, no less. I used to share blouses with Doylene when we were in the sixth grade.”
Delma and Doyle lived in a number of places in Pawnee until, in 1976, they built the house on the top of the hill south of town.
Two years later, the home was the focal point of the community for the couple’s 50th wedding anniversary.
For years, both Delma and Matilda were active in church: Matilda as pianist at the First United Methodist; at the First Baptist Church, Delma as mission leader, Bible study leader, Vacation Bible School principal for 16 years and leader of the girls auxiliary. “She ran the church; she fed the minister. She was always running,” Isaacks says. “You had to hold her down.”
Her church family was there for support when Doyle died in 1981.
That was the year her children gave her a gift to take her mind off her loss. In a whirlwind tour, she visited London, Paris, Switzerland and Italy ...and insisted on wearing high-heel shoes on cobblestone streets.
In 2003, during Hurricane Claudette, Delma was afraid the fiberglass roof of her back-door patio would be blown off. She decided to weight it down with bricks. She fell, breaking the bones in a shin.
While recuperating, she refused the use of a wheelchair. “That’s for old people,” she said. She was 93.
“At 95, she was still waiting on people at the church,” Isaacks says.
Four years ago, Delma fell and broke her hip — often a death sentence for someone 98.
“She’s stubborn,” Doug says. “She doesn’t like to take medicine, and she doesn’t like to see doctors.”
But as the years lengthened, both Delma and Matilda began to slow down. Delma uses the despised wheelchair; Matilda relies on a walker. Both depend on home health assistance.
The last time Delma attended church was last Mother’s Day.
Matilda, who is 80, does what she can to bring the church to her. She searches the various bookshelves in the living room for a Baptist hymnal.
“You know I can’t carry a tune,” Delma protests.
“That’s all right; sing along with me.”
The lifelong friends begin singing hymn 260, “When We Walk With the Lord.” Isaacks conducts the impromptu concert, keeping time with her hand.
Their voices echo through the living room that is liberally decorated with photos — an aerial view of the home — a proclamation from Gov. Perry celebrating Delma’s 100th birthday, the purple-and-white basketball jacket she won when her team won state.
Tucked away among the collection is a fading copy of a poem by Helen Steiner Rice, known as the poet laureate of inspirational verse.
There is no night
and I know that my
morning is near.
Delma leafs through a weary family Bible resting on an end table. Between the cracked and worn covers are notes and newspaper clippings of memories fading and faded.
“I love you so much,” Matilda says, her eyes growing moist.
“I know you do,” Delma replies. “You are the daughter that I needed.”
Bill Clough is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 122, or at beepic@mySouTex.com.