Leora Henderson and her family rolled in from Texas in a covered wagon in 1912, just five years after Oklahoma made the leap from territory to state. She was 4 years old and shared the wagon with three brothers and a sister. They journeyed for a week before reaching the town of Granite in Greer County.
Henderson spent most of her childhood near Granite in a three-room house in the middle of the plains they shared with her grandparents. The nearest neighbor was about a quarter of a mile away, and the closest town was nearly 8 miles farther.
Recalling the past
As a child, she never minded the solitary lifestyle. She loved roaming the land owned by her family, but some areas were off limits — their farm was near the Red River and there was quicksand along the banks.
“At night, we’d all sit around what we called the center table in our house,” said Henderson, who turned 106 on May 4. “Sometimes our dad would tell us stories, or we’d take turns reading aloud to each other. Our whole family loved books. We spent many evenings like that.”
There was always plenty of work to do. The family cleared and plowed the previously unused land to grow cotton, and together they worked in the fields planting, weeding and harvesting.
When it came time to sell the cotton crop, Henderson’s father would load it into a wagon and take it to the gin. In return for their help, he gave each of the children an allowance out of the profits.
Henderson usually put her share of the money toward new clothes for school. Five days a week she and other children went to the Lake Creek consolidated school about 6 miles north of Granite.
In the early years, they rode in the same wagon used to haul cotton, with seats placed in it like a school bus. Later, her father bought a truck and the students rode in seats placed in the bed.
War and hard times
Henderson was 9 when the United States entered World War I and one of her uncles left to fight. She remembers some of the effects at home, such as rationing.
“We couldn’t buy wheat bread for a while,” she said. “We made our own cornbread, but many other things were short. We couldn’t get sugar. They didn’t even have it in stores. That was what really bothered us.”
Scarcely 10 years after the war ended, the Dust Bowl began. The family struggled to keep the farm going. They had to replant the cotton two or three times when dust, wind, and drought killed the vulnerable seedlings. Many people went west, but they stayed, trying to weather the storms.
“They came nearly every day of the early spring,” Henderson said. “It would blow the sand so much that it looked like a snow storm. You couldn’t keep the dust out of your mouth and eyes. We were always having to clean it out of the house, too. It was awful.”
The end of the Dust Bowl marked the beginning of a number of happy years. In 1935, she married James Holcomb, a fellow student at Central State Teachers College where they were pursuing degrees in education. They were married by her father, a Baptist minister.
After graduation, they moved to Bluejacket, a tiny town in northeast Oklahoma, where James taught high school math and business. They had two daughters, Eyrline and Joan.
The family moved to Oklahoma City in 1942 as World War II escalated overseas. James took a job working as an airplane inspector, and Henderson devoted herself to raising their daughters.
Once again, war made home life hard. Henderson made Joan and Eyrline’s clothes by hand. They did not have a car, so when the family needed to go shopping, they took the bus. On Sundays, they walked to church.
Nothing went to waste. If a sheet got ripped beyond repair, Henderson washed it and cut it into strips to make bandages for the troops.
“It was a totally different way of life, really,” said her daughter, Joan Woolley. “But growing up, we had what we considered modern conveniences — an electric fan, a shade tree in the backyard for the afternoons when it was hot, and indoor bathrooms.”
Living with change
Henderson said her life has been filled with love and sorrow, excitement, and most of all, change. She experienced the loss of one of her brothers in the second World War, her parents, and her husband. At age 80, she was married again, to Chester Henderson, a man from her church, and gained two stepdaughters. Her second husband and one of her stepdaughters have died.
Today she lives with Woolley and her son-in-law, Frank. Her sister, Jean Sims, lives in Apache and the two see each other when they can, such as at Henderson’s 106th birthday party.
She was there for the advent of the space age and the computer age.
“Life’s a lot easier now. Back then, we didn’t have any of the luxuries then that we do now. People just don’t realize what life was at that time. But for us, it was just life. We didn’t think about it being hard.”