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Opinion: Dad’s birthday

August is winding down, kids are back in school and pumpkin season means Halloween can’t be far behind.

A special August date is my dad’s birthday Friday, the 26. He would have been 96 years old.

Born in 1926, he grew up during the great depression. Family legend is father, Claude Conley Hill, Sr., went for a pack of cigarettes one day and never came back. He left my grandmother, Virginia “Scott,” Hill to support their eight children alone. Dad and the whole family worked to keep that family afloat. The younger children, including my dad, were sent to Tennessee Industrial School, a combination orphanage/boarding school in Murfreesboro, TN. Children’s support was derived a third from the state, a third from the school and and a third by the students themselves. They worked at odd jobs in the area and on the school farm to earn their keep. Opinions from the experience vary. Children from poor families (we were allowed to call them poor, not low-income) fondly recall the educational opportunities afforded them. Opportunities they would have missed at home, needing to work to help feed their families.

Thankful for the opportunity, Dad served as school drum major. The way he twirled a baton, was amazing. He graduated, valedictorian. Had he stayed home he would no doubt have dropped out of school to help support his mother and younger siblings who also all went to TIS.

After graduation he joined the Navy. Never looking back, it wasn’t until 1967 that he returned to his hometown.

Family lore states he and a friend from Madera were coming here for a visit after their discharge. He encountered a pick-pocket and lost almost all his mustering-out pay. Left with only a $20 bill, pinned in his underwear, he began his new life in Madera all but broke.

He worked odd jobs and lived in a boarding house. A restaurant owned by the late Bob and Marie Brunolli became his daily meal. Bob’s brother, Madera High Coach Frank Brunolli, also worked there part time after school and weekends.

My mother’s first real part-time job had her waiting tables at the restaurant.The romance began with my mother, seeing a down-on-his-luck Navy veteran, served him extra large portions of the daily blue plate special. His slice of pie or cake was always larger than typically served.

They literally fell in love over those meals and endless cups of coffee at the diner. They courted about a year and a half before they were married in July of mom’s junior year at Madera Union High School. They set up housekeeping at 206 South J Street two blocks from the high school. More than anything my father wanted to start a family of his own. It only took two months before the newlyweds caught pregnant while my mom continued to attend high school.

In May my oldest brother, Oliver Ralph Hill, Jr. made his debut.

Naming him after my dad was my mother’s demand. Dad said memories of how his eldest brother, Claude Conley Hill, Jr. was tormented when called Junior as everyone knew Senior had flown the coop made calling him junior out of the question. Everyone knew they needed an acceptable nickname for their newborn.

My parents were married in the pastor’s living room of the Church of Christ. Their best friends were PG&E coworker Tom and wife Marge Kocoris. Called uncle and aunt in a southern tradition, Tom and Marge, “stood-up,” with my parents, is how they always phrased it.

Visiting mother and newborn in the hospital, Auntie Marge said looked like he should be called Rocky.

Now I would never give my child a pun for his name. But forever after he was known to all but Uncle Sam as Rocky Hill. Using his middle name, dad detested the name Oliver, so the nickname offered a way out. I have to admit, as names go, Rocky Hill is still a pretty cool-sounding name.

Eventually my brother Brian Jay, and Tamara Jo joined the family. My mother read thousands of books in her life, she pulled my first name from some Russian historical document but they couldn’t resist giving us a decidedly southern sounding name. Like most kids, the only time Brian Jay and Tami Jo (the French spelling) were called their middle name was when it was about to hit the fan!

People told me all my life just how head over heels in love my parents were when they were married. Even so they divorced my freshman year in high school. Although they rarely fought in front of us, like all kids, we felt the tension, anger, and unhappiness brewing in our household.

So that’s the story of my family’s inception. I’m sure I’ll revisit the efforts of my hard-working parents making their way in the nifty 1950s.

Long days and pleasant nights, have a blessed weekend.

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Readers may contact Tami Jo Nix by emailing or following @TamiJoNix on Twitter.


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