SANTA ANNA – Doretha Gilmore remembers when she met her future husband.
It was in the fifth grade.
“I just remembered I always wanted to sit by him,” she said. “He was on one row and I was on the other.”
Why did she want to sit by him? Her matter-of-fact answer still holds a slight hint of shyness to it.
“Because I just kind of liked him,” she said, shrugging her shoulders.
John Patrick Gilmore – “Pat to everyone around here” – remembers, too.
“She was the skinniest thing I ever saw, they called her toothpick,” he said, and together they laughed.
Up to that point, Doretha had been attending class in a one-room, country schoolhouse. About 26 kids in different grades learned alongside each other at the Plainview school. When the district consolidated and there finally was a bus to bring Doretha into Santa Anna from their ranch south of town, she quickly realized an advantage over her new classmates.
“When I left there and came to Santa Anna, I knew how to spell and do every math problem in second, third, and fourth grade because I’d been sitting there and listening to them,” she said.
The Gilmores, now of Mobile, Alabama, returned to Santa Anna Oct. 6 for homecoming, accompanied by their daughter Amelia Walker who lives in Abilene.
Members of the Class of 1947, it’s been 70 years since the Gilmores graduated.
“We just had our 65th wedding anniversary on August 9th,” Doretha said. “We were married in 1952.”
A highlight of high school for Pat was when football returned for his junior year. It served to distract their minds from the larger events of the time.
“I and several others were lamenting the fact that we were too young to join the service,” Pat recalled. “All of our older cousins and friends weren't around, they’d shut down football and everything.”
The reason being, Doretha explained, was because the elder students who had been fit enough to play had all gone off to serve in World War II.
“Thank goodness my parents wouldn't sign for me to quit school and go in early,” Pat said.
He recalled the football field being located in the spot where the elementary school is now. When regular play resumed, Pat said Santa Anna lopsidedly found itself in the same conference as Coleman, Ballinger and Brady.
“We had about 190 students and they all had 300 or maybe 400,” he said.
Their uniforms were a bit dated, too.
“Well, this was ’45; these were leftovers from before World War II,” Pat remembered. “They were getting a few plastic, hard helmets, but those leather ones at least were real comfortable.”
Except for when you had to hit somebody, of course.
“We kicked off against Coleman, I believe it was. I was defending and I had a ball carrier coming right at me,” Pat recalled.
Unfortunately, a blocker occupied the space between him and the running back.
“If I hit that blocker hard enough,” he strategized, “I can get both of them.”
Dead-set on scoring a two-fer, he literally put his head into the game.
“I ducked – which you should never do,” he explained, lowering his voice momentarily which caused his wife to laugh.
“I woke up sitting on the ground. They said, ‘You want to get up, Pat?’
“‘Hell, I don't know which way is up!’”
The leather helmet now sported an impressively large dent above the forehead, and the aforementioned blocker was now lying on the ground holding his own noggin. Pat figured his stunt had worked, but he wasn’t about to ever try that maneuver again.
Both of them went on to separate colleges, then married after. Doretha became a teacher and for a time, Pat worked at an airplane plant in Fort Worth.
“I got tired of the 20,000 people trying to get out of the parking lot at the aircraft factory,” he said. “So, I went by the post office one day and I asked them if they've got any good jobs.”
One man suggested the Border Patrol.
“What do they do?” Pat asked.
“Well, they get in their Jeeps and patrol the border,” the man answered.
“That’s for me, I need to get back outdoors,” Pat declared.
After training, they spent time in south Florida where Pat searched for boats transporting ammunition to Fidel Castro’s Cuba, then eventually took a new posting in Mobile, Alabama. Pat reasoned it was at least halfway back to Texas, so they’d take it.
“And we’ve been there 60 years,” Doretha added.
The couple enjoyed the homecoming parade downtown, and then attended the pep rally at the new (to them) football field. It wasn’t their first time back to Santa Anna – they’ve attended other reunions and homecomings – but it still held the same deep meaning now as it had the first time.
After all, this is where they were born.
“We didn't have the hard times the cities had because we all lived on ranches,” Doretha said. “Everybody in our class, we had what we needed. Not luxuries, but plenty of things.
“One person had a car, at that time the big thing was when we got to go to San Angelo because there was kind of a dance hall there. That was a big deal if you got to go over there.”
The simplest things are often the most effective. Her advice to the Class of 2018 fell along those lines.
“They don't have the responsibilities that they will have eventually. They need to enjoy that, they live such a busy life,” she said. “Take time to smell the roses, you have a lot of distractions. You're going to want to remember something, keep in contact.”
And if he had to do it all over again?
“I wouldn’t change a dad-gum thing,” Pat said.
Well, except for maybe that helmet.