Days Gone By...
By John Fooks
Texarkana Gazette, Saturday, August 7, 2004
Thomas J. May of Missouri City, Texas, drives up to help his mother celebrate her birthday on August 6 of every year. A resident of the Clarksville Nursing Center in Clarksville, Texas, Ramah Gray Hooser May turned 107 on Friday.
Emma Williams Hooser stood in the kitchen of her farm home in the Whiterock community eight miles northeast of here and wept for the children. The mother of 10 children herself, she like many Americans was stunned, overcome with grief as reports of the sinking of the HMS Titanic on April 15, 1912, began to filter in through radio and newspapers across the nation.
Although exact numbers will never be known, approximately 1,500 people went down with the largest and most luxurious ship ever built, considered unsinkable until it sank. Of the approximately 2,200 registered passengers, 119 were children. The British Parliamentary Papers of 1912 estimated that 52 of the 119 children went down with the ship. All 52 were third-class passengers.
The thought of so many children dying so tragically was just too much for Emma May, and she cried for them, recalled her oldest child.
"My mother was a wonderful, caring person and I remember that scene as clearly today as anything I can remember," recalled Ramah Gray Hooser May this past Thursday at the Clarksville Nursing Center in Clarksville.
The last surviving and oldest of 10 siblings, Ramah May has probably more-and certainly earlier-memories than anybody in Red River County, perhaps in the state of Texas.
Born on Aug. 6, 1897, she was just shy of 15 years of age when the Titanic went down.
"I want to live a long time and die young," said the feisty 107-year-old. "One reason I've lived so long is because I drink at least one Dr Pepper every day and I love buttermilk, cornbread and fried chicken."
Nursing Center Activity Director Fawna Boggs said just before May's 106th birthday last year, she sent a photograph of her drinking a Dr Pepper to the Dr Pepper headquarters in Dallas.
The company in turn sent May a box of Dr Pepper memorabilia and a certificate stating that she had been inducted into the Dr Pepper Hall of Fame in Fort Worth, Texas.
Another memory that few local residents would still have is of one of the first-if not the first-automobiles that rolled into Clarksville. There were no paved streets or roads in those years, and the "black, loud, ugly beast" came chugging and clanking down the muddy main street into Clarksville as bystanders stood and stared in awe.
Ramah May was observing the scene with her mother, and her mother told her, "Stay away from those things, they'll end up killing everybody."
Years later, when her father, Jesse C. Hooser, finally did break down and purchase an automobile, he offered May an opportunity to drive it. But she had never had driving lessons.
He simply told her to get in and drive, which she did, and promptly drove it into a tree. She never sat in the driver's seat again; she's always ridden as a passenger.
"My only regret in life is that I never learned how to drive," she reflected. "If I knew back then how long I was going to live, I would have."
She remembers the many trips to town in the family wagon, an always exciting journey for the children. One of her most memorable and saddest moments was the time she was refused a ride into town with the rest of the family.
"We raised corn, cattle and cotton and everybody worked hard," she said. "One hot summer morning, daddy told all of us kids to go out and pick cotton and later in the day he'd come by in the wagon and take us to town to buy shoes.
"But I slipped away and piddled the day away in the shade of the smokehouse. When he came to pick us up and saw that I hadn't picked my share of cotton, he made me get out of the wagon and I had to stand there and watch them ride away. I felt awful lonely."
May was born and raised on land that has been in the family for as long as anybody remembers, perhaps as long as 150 years, or more. Her great-grandfather and grandfather were early settlers in the Whiterock community.
In 1909 the family moved into a farm house built by her father. She lived in that farm house until a bad fall and resulting broken hip forced her to move into the nursing center in January 1999.
She is rarely able to get out of her wheelchair now.
Earlier this week, her son, T. J. May, his daughter, Terri Powell, her husband, Jim, and their four children drove up from the Houston area for May's birthday.
She has one son, two grandchildren and six great-grandchildren total.
T. J. was also born on the farm, but in a different farm house. He broke away from farming after graduating from Clarksville High School and then the University of Texas with a degree in accounting. He obtained his CPA license and worked for Chevron for 38 years, retiring at age 61 in 1992.
There is nothing he will not do for his mother.
"For her 90th birthday I gave her a new Daisy .22 rifle that holds nine shots," T. J. said. "She had an old single shot Sears &Roebuck rifle but the firing pin was broken and she said she needed something to protect herself with.
"She was a crack shot even then. Not long after I gave her the rifle she called me at my home in Missouri City to tell me that she had used her new rifle to shoot a rat. I asked her how many shots it took her to kill it and she said, 'I never need more than one shot, son.'"
She was also 90 years old when she called up a local roofer to come out and repair a section of the roof on her house.
It was almost dark by the time he showed up, but by then she was already on the roof and making the repairs herself.
As the roofer began to climb out of his truck, she yelled to him, 'Just climb back in your truck and go on, I'm almost finished."
She and her husband, Joe J. May, married when she was 30 in 1927.
Joe May was a farmer and had moved into the area a few years before they married. He died in 1969 at age 70, but she continued living alone in the farm house she had lived in since 1909.
She's also a cancer survivor, surviving stomach cancer when she was 57 years old, Boggs said.
May has always been a conservative Christian lady.
After an "Elvis" impersonator hired by her family performed on her birthday on Friday in the nursing home, he asked if he could hold her hand.
She drew back and staunchly replied, "No!"
When he asked why he couldn't hold her hand, she replied, "I don't even know you."
She played organ for the Concord Baptist Church virtually all her life. After it closed in 1995, she began playing occasionally for the local Methodist church. She confided to a friend, "I hope the Lord forgives me."
To this day one of her favorite pastimes is reading newspapers. She avidly pours over the Clarksville Times every week and the Paris News every day.
But she doesn't believe everything she sees and reads: She still doesn't believe that man landed on the moon in 1969.
"I guess she's seen more changes than just about anybody alive, but actually going to the moon is just something she finds hard to believe," T. J. said. "She thinks it was all a movie."
But she's seen, and believed, just about everything else first-hand. She's seen the advent of electricity, plumbing, automobiles, telegraph, radio, telephones, television, computers and QVC.
But the biggest change she believes she's seen has been the paving of roads and highways.
"I used to hitch rides into Clarksville every week to do my shopping," she said. "I remember sitting out there on the square and watching them put brick down where once there was only mud. All the roads in those years were mud or gravel. Now everything is paved and people are going everywhere."
This page was last updated February 1, 2005.