My Uncle, Orin Delbert Cox was born in 1898 and, in 1920, he got a job working at Goodyear Tire and Rubber Factory in Akron, OH. He worked with and made friends with a guy named Clark and they took their money and bought Indian motorcycles together -- leather helmets, goggles, the whole nine yards. One day Clark suggested that they double date. Clark’s girlfriend had found a date for him. Orin was kind of shy but quietly agreed to go on the date. Having only the motorcycles, they suggested the girls wear slacks and off they rode through the Ohio countryside and had a picnic.
After lunch Orin’s date, Clara, asked if Orin would teach her how to ride the motorcycle. He explained, "That’s a heavy motorcycle and you’re not over 5’3” soaking wet."
Indignant, she answered, "I can do anything you can do! Including kicking your butt!"
On a lark, Orin held the motorcycle for her and explained the gear shift pattern, the spark advance, and the brakes. He got the engine up on the compression stroke for her and Clara threw all her weight on the kick-starter and the bike roared to life. She took off down the road and was gone. Clark and his date returned from their interlude and Clark asked, "You let that little woman ride off on your new motorcycle? Cox you’re an idiot, she’s going to kill herself and wreck your bike!"
Just as they were about to start looking for her, they heard the bike roaring off in the distance. They watched as it approached at high speed and then stopped in a cloud of dust as she yelled to Orin, "Hop on!"
As Orin climbed on the back of the bike, Clark just shook his head. They returned on the bike 20 minutes later with Orin white faced and swearing that he would never ride with her again. "Clark, she held the throttle wide open until I begged her to stop!"
Clara could out hunt, out fish, out drink and out gamble any man in Ohio. She was a liberated woman half a century before the term came into existence and then some. After a day of shooting squirrels, Clara could cook some and can the rest, then drink till midnight playing cards, and still have breakfast ready when the men finally woke up in the morning.
When Orin and Clara married, Clark was the best man, but soon after the wedding Clark told Orin that he wasn’t going to spend the rest of his life in a tire factory. "What are you going to do then Clark?" Orin asked.
"I’m going to go out to California and try and get into motion pictures." Orin looked at Clark much the same way Clark had looked at him when he got on the motorcycle with Clara.
With the age difference between my father and his brother, my dad always thought of Clara as almost his second mother. She was always smiling, always fun loving, always supportive. When Clara told you something, you had better take it to heart, because Clara always had friends.
Before they had legal lotteries they had what they called the numbers racket, private lotteries run by mobsters. One day Clara tells my father to play a number and he says, "Sure, but I only have a quarter." It paid off and he won $25.00 dollars for his investment. My dad just kicked himself. "Crap!" he said, "I had just gotten paid and I had ten dollars in my wallet." When Clara tells you something you better listen.
My father wondered how Clara knew about that number. Several days later Orin was rummaging in the closet and found a shoe box full of gaming receipts. Clara had been running the numbers for the Cleveland mob in Akron and when you did a good job they would say, "Oh yeah, on Thursday, you might want to play 6279 it might be lucky!" Orin’s discovery ended Clara’s career with the mob, but because it was the depression and times were tough, Orin would still let her play cards.
If you needed a bootlegger or to know where the best speakeasy was, ask Clara. She played cards there. This little 5’3 women with the innocent eyes and big smile would ask, "Is a dollar too much too bet?"
The sucker would answer, "Oh no! You can bet as much as you want!"
Orin couldn’t watch. Soon only out-of-towners would play with her in the speakeasies. She wasn’t just good she was crooked! Her defense was that poker was about observation and paying attention and, if she cheated you, well then, "You weren’t a very good player were you?"
As a child, I loved to visit Orin and Clara’s. Being in Akron, they had the Soap-box derby racer that Orin and his son Earl had built. The same one that Clara had talked my father into taking the wheel bearings out of and having them reground in his machine shop and repacked with jeweler's oil.
I went with my Aunt Clara to the store one day, when I was about eleven, and I returned white knuckled, this seventy-year old woman drove like a teenager. Jackrabbit starts at traffic lights and never less than twenty miles an hour above the speed limit, with hard turns into the parking lots to beat the traffic. I had never ridden with an adult that drove like that in my life. If teenagers had challenged her to a drag race, mark my words, she would have said, "Show me your money and you’re on!"
Later as I explained to my father what had happened on the trip, he looked at me smiling and bemused and answered, "You should have seen her before she had an automatic transmission! That little woman could really tear up the road in a Model A Ford with a V-8"
When we were kids, Orin and Clara would always ask us things like, "Do you like ice cream bars or was it ice cream sandwiches that you kids like? We weren’t sure so we got both" or "Orin said you liked Pepsi, but I said you liked root beer, so we got both."
I was staying with them for a week once during the summer and I had gone to bed in a converted attic loft. I had to use the bathroom and as I went down the stairs, I opened the door from the attic and there was a group of people on the floor shooting craps against the attic door. My almost eighty-year-old aunt was in the middle of them with the biggest pile of money.
The next day she was up and ready for work, or as she called it, "Going to take care of the old folks!" She delivered meals on wheels to shut-ins and the elderly even though she was older than almost all of her charges. But no, she wasn’t. She was still 25, she was still young and beautiful. She would always be young and beautiful; her spirit and force of life would not allow it to be otherwise. She gained in wisdom but never surrendered her youth, she did things!
I was a teenager in the 60’s with longhair and a guitar under my arm, when my Uncle Orin got out the shower with a towel wrapped around him to show me his hair dripping wet, just to show me his comb-over uncombed over, saying. "See you ain’t the only one in this family with long hair!"
Clara said, "You keep playing boy, them old folks been bitchin’ since Elvis and I think he’s nice lookin." There was no surprise there, the unconventional was welcomed at Orin and Clara’s. The mundane rule followers were excused. Early to bed, early to rise just meant boring to Orin and Clara. She was liberated before there was such a thing, they were beatniks before there was such a thing, and hippies before there was such a thing. They were free people, who lived their lives the way that they wanted to and paid no attention to the crowd of public opinion -- they never had and they never would. They lived every minute of it to its fullest.
They never heard from Clark again after he went off to California and achieved some modicum of success acting with Vivian Leigh, Carol Lombard and Marilyn Monroe. My parents took me to see “Gone with the Wind” and my mother explained, "Clark Gable was the best man at your Uncle Orin and Aunt Clara’s wedding!"
Even as a kid I thought that she was pulling my leg until I saw the wedding album. Orin said, "If I’d have gone out to California and become a big movie star, I wouldn’t have written to him either!"
Clark got to be a big movie star but Orin got Clara. Orin never would have traded places with Gable.