My daddy grew up in Porter, New Mexico, the youngest of ten children. He delights in telling what I think of as “baby of the family” stories (I have a number of my own. . .), about how the older brothers used to torture him by hiding behind the tank and jumping out to frighten him when he had to walk to the windmill after dark to turn the pump off , or how he sometimes had to stay in and help Granny Terry in the house because he was the baby. Or how he had to be the designated driver of my Grandpa Terry’s 1936 Ford sedan when his older brothers and the local boys wanted to go to Tucumcari to tomcat around during World War II. When he was eleven years old.
The way the story goes, the troop train would come into Tucumcari and to celebrate, there’d be dancing at the armory. Dad says my uncles Marvin and Herman and my cousin Merle (who was actually older than my dad) thought they might make a run at impressing all the Quay County girls – the Really Grown Up Boys (my uncles Edward and Lewis Ayres and my uncles Milton and LE Terry) were off fighting the Japs in the Pacific. On those nights at the dances, they all, except for him, used to get skunk as a drunk. His words, not mine.
And then he gets to the best part of the story, which is that Bob Wills provided the dance music. I remember the first time I heard that. “Bob Wills, Dad, really? THE Bob Wills of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys?” I asked.
He says yes. And when I do some research to flesh out the story, it appears that Bob Wills was living in West Texas and playing music all over that part of the state and Eastern New Mexico in the 30’s and 40’s. My dad was a little boy, driving his brothers and nephew and my Ayres uncles to town so that they could get drunk and dance with the pretty girls, and all Dad wanted to do was hear Bob Wills play the fiddle. He says that Bob had to get to where “he could hardly stand up” before the fiddle playing got really good.
My mom has her own memory about those dances – she says that once she and Martha Duke and my cousin Gwen were supposed to be “going to the show” in San Jon, but they snuck off and drove to town to go to a dance in Tucumcari and see Bob Wills. They were all ten and eleven years old.
I love these stories, just like I love Bob Wills music. One other thing I learn when I do more research is that Bob Wills went to barber school as a young man. He got married and immediately moved to Roy, New Mexico, where he was a barber for a couple of years. According to Harding County history, music was a big part of the local social life in Roy. I know that’s true – my parents tell tales of dances every week in someone’s house at Porter with music provided by a couple of local guys.
The Harding County website says that Roy, New Mexico’s claim to fame is that several folks in town played in a band with the town barber, who just happened to be a guy named James Robert Willis. Supposedly the barber played the fiddle and was something of a composer, and wrote a popular little tune in 1927 while living in Roy that he called the “Spanish Two-step”. After two years as a full-time barber and part-time musician, James Robert Wills moved from Roy to Tulsa, shortened his name to Bob, and renamed his tune “San Antonio Rose”. The story is that Wills’ signature “ahh-ha” would bring Roy’s one local policeman running to make them keep the noise down. So, amazingly, Roy, New Mexico was where Bob Wills wrote “San Antonio Rose.”
In my family, we like to dance. There was always a lot of dancing in our household when I was growing up – in the kitchen when a waltz came on the radio or the stereo, in the living room when my brother put on a Bob Wills or a Hank Williams record. The dancing started long before my parents were married. At those house dances in the Porter community, someone would suggest a party, the crowd would move all the furniture out into the yard, a guy with a guitar and another with a fiddle would show up, and everyone would dance all night.
I’m a little envious of those house dances – I’m wishing we did more of that now. And I’m more than a little envious that my parents both got to dance to Bob Wills at the Tucumcari Armory. One of my favorite things is watching my parents dance to “Stay All Night” or “Faded Love”. In their seventies, they still move as effortlessly across the living room floor as they did in their teens at someone’s house in Porter. I’m envious of all that dancing. And just as I’m thinking that, another song starts and my dad extends his hand and I’m the one dancing. It’s some kind of special, getting to dance with my daddy to Bob Wills.