One day when I was about four years old my uncle Don Timbrook was driving by my home on Fayetteville’s South College Avenue when he spotted me kissing one of the neighboring Phillips girls. The next day, he started kidding me about it. Reddening and flustered, I blurted out that next time I kissed a girl I would hide “to-hind a tree” where he could not see me.
Don was tickled by my response, and he never let me forget about this episode. He even incorporated it for a while in the repertoire of stories he told to entertain friends and relatives. He had a big stock of such stories, some funny and others hilarious, and you had to laugh at his often-exaggerated accounts of life’s events. After you knew Don for a while, you would start smiling when you saw him coming, anticipating the whoppers he would tell.
|Don Timbrook, smiling and being funny, as always
Don was lucky to marry Vera Durning, my dad’s sister. She was seventeen and he was twenty-two when they got hitched on February 24, 1934, and pictures of them at the time show they were a handsome pair. She was a good-humored and kind person, who enjoyed Don’s outsized personality. Even though she often seemed exasperated and sometimes outraged by some of his stories, the exasperation was faux, and the outrage was calibrated to reward Don for his provocative humor. She basked in his company.
Both Don and Vera grew up in poor but hardworking families. Don was born in Hulbert, Oklahoma, a rural community a few miles east of Tahlequah on Highway 51, on December 6, 1911, and spent his first years on a rented farm in nearby Crittenden township. He was the sixth child of James A. (Feb. 1881–Aug. 1941) and Roxie Ann Timbrook, née Harris (Sep. 1883–Feb. 1981). The two had met while growing up near each other on farms in Elixir township in Boone County, Arkansas, and married in 1902. Don was their fifth born offspring, and eventually, he had four brothers and four sisters, all but one of whom lived long lives. Don and his siblings did not have much opportunity to attend school. In fact, Don may have never attended school except, as he told a friend, for three days when he went in place of his brother Berry, who had chickenpox.
|Don and Vera, about 1940, with their daughter
Some of Don’s ancestors were Cherokees, whose capital was in nearby Tahlequah, probably on his father’s side of the family. You could see traces of his ancestry in his features, although his dark complexion could likely be attributed in large part to his daily outdoor activities. He had legendary prowess as a fisherman, and I always assumed that was an attribute of his Native American heritage.
Vera also came from a large family that farmed in the Ozarks. She was the granddaughter of George William Durning, who had moved from Tennessee to the tiny community of Cass in Franklin County Arkansas in the 1840s. She was born there on August 13, 1916, the sixth of the eleven children of Nathaniel Elias (1882–1960) and Lillie Samantha Durning (1889–1964). Like Roxie, Lillie Samantha was born a Harris, but her childhood home was in Fort Douglas in Johnson County, Arkansas.
Elias and Lillie Samantha were still living in Cass with their children when my dad was born on April 1, 1925, but soon after that, they moved to Denning, a small settlement near Altus. I think they left Cass after the death of Vera’s older brother, John Lewis Durning, at the age of eighteen in 1928. That death hit my grandmother hard, so much so that she left the Baptist Church and became a Jehovah’s Witness. Vera also joined that church.
|Vera, middle, with her sisters Ruth,
Rheta, Stella, and Norma (L to R)
After a few years in Denning, the family, including Vera, moved in the first part of the 1930s to the outskirts of Fayetteville, renting a farm there. By the time the Durning family had settled into their new Fayetteville-area home, Roxie Ann and her children had already lived in the city for several years. In the middle 1920s, she had left her husband to relocate in the university town. When 1930 census takers asked her marital status, she told them she was a widow. The response would have surprised James A. Timbrook because he was still living in Oklahoma at the time; he remained there until his death in 1941.
No doubt, both the Timbrook and Durning families had to scramble to make a living after they moved to Fayetteville and vicinity. Fortunately, they were no strangers to hard work, and survival during the Great Depression required it. Roxie Timbrook rented a home at 421 South Church Street where in 1930 she lived with her five youngest children and was a self-employed seamstress. By that time, Don, who had been working for many years to help the family’s financial situation, was employed at a “produce house” as a “chicken picker.”
Thanks to Don’s friend Arthur Friedman (1916-1997), who ran around with him during the years between Don’s arrival in Fayetteville in about 1925 and his marriage to Vera in 1934, we have a glimpse of Roxie Timbrook’s life in her early years in Fayetteville. Friedman mentioned her in one of his autobiographical columns he wrote in the 1980s for the Northwest Arkansas Times:
Mrs. Roxie Timbrook, one of the most wonderful persons I have ever known, told me some years ago that she walked from the fairgrounds to a house of Mount Nord, worked 14 hours as a domestic, and tramped back home to take care of a large family. For her work outside the home, she was paid 10 cents an hour.
Friedman told us even more in his newspaper column about Don, whom he had met “one summer day sixty years ago at the Town Branch that runs eastward along the north base of South Mountain” He wrote that sentence in January 1986, so that meeting would have been in 1925 or 1926. Friedman continued, “This encounter developed into a close friendship that was to endure for well over half a century. We played together, hunted together, fished together, and honky-tonked together, and often drank out of the same bottle.” During this friendship, Friedman heard Don’s stories and collected his own stories about him. He told one story that he said was Don’s favorite:
[Don] was at Lake Fayetteville fishing off the bank. A small boy came wandering by, throwing rocks and skipping them on the water. As has been the custom since time immorable [sic], the lad asked Don if he was having any luck. Don replied that he had caught two big catfish, but had to throw them back because they had ticks on them. The child, eyes wide in amazement, went on his way, but a little later returned. “My dad knows you,” he said “When I told him what you said,” he replied, “That’s Don Timbrook – he’s the only man in the State of Arkansas that can catch fish with ticks on them.”
Don with his prize catfish
Friedman liked to recall his hunting and fishing trips with Don and L.D Timbrook, Don’s brother, along with his other “constant companions,” Ray Hinkle, Tom Plant, and Robert Cook. These boys sometimes went to South Mountain to kill rabbits and fish in the Town Branch at the base of the mountain. According to Friedman, their expeditions started at Lewis Brothers Hardware store on the Square where they could buy 12-gauge shotgun shells for three cents each. They and their dogs would walk down the hill to Hunts Pasture, where Walker Park is now, and keep going south on flat land until they reached South Mountain. According to Friedman,
One day as we were walking along, Don Timbrook made his brother L.D. carry his gun, a heavy double-barreled 12 gauge. When Don wasn’t looking, L.D. plunged the end of the gun about an inch into the muddy ground that we were traveling over.
Later on, Don retrieved the weapon and fired at a fast-running rabbit that jumped up and took off in front of us. There was a terrific explosion. Black powder smoke enveloped the whole area. The recoil of the gun threw Don backwards across three rows of strawberries and left a large purple bruise on his shoulder….The concussion of the first shell set off the one in the left barrel and the end of the gun split open like the hull of a ripe cotton boll. For years we tried to explain to Don that a mud-dauber had built a nest in the muzzle of his gun, but to this day, he refuses to buy the idea.
The carefree days of hunting and fishing together on South Mountain came to an end as the young friends took on new responsibilities. For Don, no doubt the first ten years of marriage were an economic struggle. He and Vera had their only child, Carol Sue, in 1935, and work during the Depression was hard to find. In 1939, according to the census taken the following year, Don had worked as a “poultry paster” at a processing plant for sixteen weeks, earning $300. Probably, Don’s hunting and fishing talents helped ensure that the family had plenty of food for its table.
|Don in the Navy, 1945
Notice). 1934. Fayetteville Daily Democrat, Feb. 26, p. 3.