Charles managed a smile for his U.S. Army portrait in early 1943. His shoulder patch identifies him as a combat engineer in the "Railsplitters."

New Paths in Texarkana

Charles, at right, and his friends played no hooky at Catholic High. 

Charles idolized his grandfather and grandmother, Belle and Dr. Charles Hale of Boswell, Oklahoma, who were instrumental in rearing him.

Roy House, Charles' father, lost his business in Hugo, Oklahoma, then his wife and baby before moving to El Paso, Texas, where he was killed in a train-auto wreck in 1925. His son never saw or spoke with him.

His name was Roy House, Lillian learned, as she noted the young women lavishing Roy with attention. He was visiting from Hugo, 22 miles east of Boswell. Lillian caught Roy’s eye. Roy intrigued Lillian, who’d had little experience with men. She was stunningly beautiful but not very interested in the opposite sex. Her father, Dr. Hale, doted on her.

Roy evidently knew his charms were consistently irresistible, and he aimed them at Lillian. A whirlwind romance ensued, and they were married by June.

Roy and Lillian took a sunny, first-floor corner room in his mother’s boarding house in Hugo across the street from the Frisco railroad depot. Lillian wrote a check on her father’s bank account for $300 and gave Roy the money to open a small grocery store. Dr. Hale reluctantly allowed the transaction, but the grocery store soon went broke.

As it turned out, Roy loved women way too much, and they loved him. Shortly after Lillian gave birth to Charles, she discovered Roy’s infidelity. Their marriage fell apart. Lillian packed her things, bundled up her baby and left Roy, catching the train home to Boswell and the Hales. She never saw Roy again. He would place telephone calls to her and ask to speak to Charles, but Lillian wouldn’t allow it.

Back in Boswell, Lillian’s parents helped her to rear little Charles while Lillian studied for a career in teaching to make her own way in life. Lillian attended Southeastern State Teachers College in Durant, Oklahoma, about 32 miles west of Boswell – an expensive distance by train in those days that required her to reside in Durant five days a week while her parents cared for Charles.

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He soon encountered Jewell at his stepfather’s pharmacy just two blocks from his home and four blocks from her small frame house filled with brothers. But they didn’t intimidate Charles. He was a scrapper. Not much could stand in his way. He set his sights on winning Jewell.

Jewell’s love of singing and her outgoing personality led to friendships in Texarkana with local musicians and their bands. Dressed in western clothes, she sang on a weekend “Hillbilly” music show on KCMC, a local radio station. And she sang and played her guitar for private parties.

At one such gig in 1939, she charmed Charles House, an aspiring aviator and a tormented young man – one quality that always quickened Jewell’s caring nature.

Charles was born in the southeast Oklahoma railroad town of Hugo, Oklahoma, in 1919 and reared in nearby Boswell, Okla., mostly by his beloved maternal grandparents – the revered physician, Dr. C. H. Hale, and his wife, Belle.

By 1939, Charles had become a handsome, rowdy young rebel with wavy blue-black hair and piercing black eyes.

Jewell, a charismatic girl with a beautiful voice, didn’t know it, but she captured Charles’s heart one night at a party where she sang. When he found out Jewell had left for home, he was crushed and began to search for her.

Cleaners, but was killed in an auto-passenger train accident during a delivery in 1925. After Lillian graduated from Southeastern, she took Charles to Tuskahoma, north of Boswell, where she taught elementary school for a while. In 1930, she learned that her unmarried status as a widow qualified her for an opening with good pay as a teacher at an elementary school in Texarkana, Texas – a position that school district policy limited strictly to single women. Lillian applied for and got the job at Grim Elementary School.

Charles had to leave the grandparents he idolized. He viewed the Hales as his parents, he said. Before moving to Texarkana at age 10, he had to endure three shocks – learning the Hales were not his parents, his real father was dead, and his rightful place was with his mother.

Charles rebelled against the move but had no choice in the matter. He was angry and heartbroken. Within three years, he faced another challenge. In June 1933, Lillian married a longtime bachelor ironically named Jewell – Jewell A. Still, a graduate of Vanderbilt University pharmacy school and a pillar at Hardy Memorial Methodist Church in Texarkana where Lillian and Charles also were members. “Mr. Still,” as everyone called him, was a successful businessman with his own pharmacy and substantial investments in real estate.

Mr. Still, cultured and the son of a physician, was a highly disciplined, rather cold-natured gentleman who was 11 years older than Lillian. They were married in June 1933 at the Hales' home in Boswell.

Once back home in Texarkana, Charles asked his stepfather, “What should I call you?” “You call me Mr. Still,” the pharmacist replied. “I’ll call you Mr. Charles, and we’ll call the dog (Charles’ pet, Bounce) Mr. Bounce.”

A difficult transition lay ahead for Charles, but a happy development came in 1934 when Lillian and Mr. Still had a daughter, Lucille, who was the apple of Lillian’s eye – and Charles’.

Even with a baby sister to love, Charles smoldered with deep anger  and sadness, all of which intensified when Lillian forced him to wear as school clothes a grown man’s pants that she tried to cut down to fit him. There was no money to buy Charles new clothing as the family struggled through the Great Depression. Now married, Lillian had lost her job as a primary school teacher and was taking in sewing and reworking of clothes to earn what money she could.  Women teachers typically were required to be single.

At Texas High School in the 10th grade, Charles had to suffer taunts from students who made fun of him and his baggy pants with huge, misshapen pockets that Lillian hadn’t been able to cut to size.

Lucille recalls hearing later how Charles’ classmates would tease him with, “Hello, Pockets. Where’s Charles?” “I can only imagine how that made him feel,” Lucille said.

Lillian and Mr. Still were worried about the bullying. They also discovered that Charles had been playing hooky to sneak away to Texarkana Municipal Airport for flying lessons from a barnstormer in a Swallow biplane. Their remedy was to enroll Charles at Catholic High School, hoping the faculty of nuns and a position on the Catholic High Eagles’ 11-man football team could work a miracle in Charles’ troubled life and help him to earn his diploma.

He bristled at the nuns’ strict discipline. In typing class, he was the fastest typer. He won a district typing competition, typing more than 120 words per minute.

When his nun teacher presented him with his firstt-place certificate, he slowly tore it in half and threw it back at her. She screamed in frustration, he laughed, he recalled.

Charles reveled in channeling his anger through physical contact on the gridiron.

The Catholic High Eagles had only 11 players, and they were suited up in worn-out gear as they played entire games nonstop, on offense and defense. Charles played center. Lillian later recalled that she worried about Charles because he got “smushed” on every play, Lucille said. But he never gave up.

Ultimately, Charles earned his diploma and a class ring. The night he met Jewell at that party, he had graduated and was working at Still’s Pharmacy, delivering prescriptions and working the soda fountain during the day while leading a fearless, scrappy social life at night, running with tough buddies and getting into occasional fights.

Jewell’s love and gentleness tamed Charles a bit. But when he brought her home as his wife, he faced his disappointed and surprised mother’s wrath. Lillian was slow to accept Jewell. Mr. Still, however, appreciated Jewell’s unpretentious charm, down-to-earth ways and her musicianship. They shared a first name, loved music and played string instruments. Mr. Still played classic violin, cello and double bass. Jewell played guitar, mandolin, accordion and sang. She befriended Mr. Still, who took Jewell under his wings, particularly during WWII.

When Charles was drafted, he requested flight school, hoping to become a fighter pilot. He was rejected. Furious, he asked for “the roughest” service. His request was granted. On Dec. 5, 1942, Charles  was assigned to the U.S. Army’s combat engineers in the 84th Infantry known as the “Railsplitters” – “hatchet men,” Nazi soldiers called them, fearfully, referring to the Railsplitters’ red-and-white shoulder patch that bore Abe Lincoln’s axe splitting a log.  

When Charles shipped out for the European theater, he said goodbye to his pregnant Jewell, who was left to read voraciously to occupy her mind and to attend cosmetology school. Charles served in Belgium, France and Germany, where his action included the Battle of Germany, the Battle on the Rhine and the Battle of the Ardennes. He became T/Sgt. C.D. House and was ultimately awarded the Bronze Star.

While he was at war, Jewell earned a beautician license, worked with her sister, Roberta, and began to write simple poetry, some of which was eventually published by a New York publisher in a 1947 anthology, "Talent: Songwriters and Poets of 1947." And she dabbled with a new interest – songwriting.

A classical musician, Mr. Still (left) poses with his family -- Charles, Jewell, Lillian and Lucille -- on a Sunday afternoon.

With Lillian beside him, pharmacist Jewell A. Still's popular drugstore and soda fountain flourished on the corner on Seventh and Waterall streets in Texarkana.

Newlyweds in 1940 and much in love, Jewell and Charles House embrace life together as war clouds gather over Europe and the Pacific.

With Charles at war in Europe, Jewell focused her life on caring for her first son, David, working as a beautician and writing poetry, including songs.

Turned out he and Jewell were a natural match. Jewell’s mother and brothers quickly warmed up to him. On Jewell’s 20th birthday – June  22, 1940 – they eloped, heading 19 miles north from Texarkana in Charles’ hotrod to Ashdown, Arkansas, where a Justice of the Peace married them.  

The news outraged Charles’ mother, Lillian, a professional educator and the wife of highly respected pharmacist J.A. Still. Lillian was a strong woman who didn’t brook disrespectful, irresponsible behavior. She was an ardent champion of wise living, and she had personal experience to help explain why.  

One evening when she was 18, she had attended a social gathering in her hometown of Boswell, Oklahoma. Also in attendance was a dashing older man. He was the life of the party. The women loved his charisma.

Jewell's popularity in Texarkana as a teen singer landed her on a live KCMC radio program in the late '30s.

Roy House, Charles' father, lost his business in Hugo, Oklahoma, then his wife and baby before moving to El Paso, Texas, where he was killed in a train-auto wreck in 1925. His son never saw or spoke with him.