Ensign & Mrs. Fitzhugh Hastings Pannill

Mary and Hastings, 1944 or 1945

July 13, 2016, would have been my mother’s 100th birthday. She was a remarkable woman with a difficult life and deserves to live in memory.

Mary Ellen Goodrum was born this day in 1916 in Cleveland, Texas, to Charles Goodrum and Lutie Hunt Donaldson (her maiden name). Each parent had been married before. We know little of Charles’s first wife, although he apparently remarried her after two intervening marriages.

Lutie and her first husband, a man named Goss, had four children before Goss up and left for Oregon. Perhaps in consequence of this divorce, Lutie moved to Cleveland, Texas, where she operated a boarding house. Goodrum was a neighbor. They married. The Goss children took Goodrum’s name, and in 1916 Mary was born.

But Charles was “mean” to Lutie – the only description I have been able to get from my cousins – and within a brief time, Lutie divorced him. The family never spoke of him. I never knew him. He died in 1941, but he was never in his daughter’s life.

Although Charles was my maternal grandfather, I had no idea what he even looked like – Lutie had no pictures – until a distant cousin furnished me with an early photo this year.

My mother grew up fatherless. Two husbands having gone, Lutie and her children lived in poverty. They moved to Fort Worth, where Lutie again operated a boarding house. She and her children also took in laundry. They lived by a trolley stop to serve their regular customers. Their hardship knit them together in a way I have seen in few families. Mary went at every chance throughout her life to see her family – and they her.

I can only imagine what life was like for mother. She had three older half-sisters and a half-brother, Leo. He was an outstanding athlete in high school, especially as an end nicknamed “Numa” on the football team.

Central High School chose mother as a cheerleader, doubtless as exciting then as now. But when she went home and told Lutie of the honor, Lutie said, You’ll have to turn it down. We can’t afford to buy you a cheerleader’s costume. Leo, however, said he would work an extra job to pay for the cheerleader’s uniform.
When Leo finished high school, Oklahoma A&M College offered him a football scholarship. This was in the early Thirties. His entire family picked up and moved to Stillwater with him to help pay his way through school. It did not work.

Mary finished high school in Stillwater and graduated at the top of her class. Yet there was never any chance she could go to college. This was the Depression.

Back in Ft. Worth, she had a beau, Hastings Pannill. He was a science whiz whose photograph had made the papers when he built a telescope with a friend.

The story I heard was that Mary and Hastings had met in the youth group at the church they both attended. She was beautiful, he was handsome, and they fell in love.

I am guessing that the year Mary lived in Stillwater was too much for both of them, because in October 1935 at the age of 19, they left Ft. Worth and were secretly married.

Mary worked at Montgomery Ward’s in Ft. Worth. After three years in college, Dad had moved to Austin for law school. It took a year or two before he told his parents he had a wife. Judge Pannill, then a prosperous lawyer, was a paterfamilias with an explosive temper.

Finally Mary joined Hastings in Austin. When he finished school in 1938, they moved to Houston, where Judge Pannill was in charge of the legal department at The Ohio Oil Company.

That caused me to be born in Houston in 1940. By 1942, The Ohio had moved our family to a district office in Marshall, Illinois. On October 12, 1942, my brother Fitzhugh Hastings Pannill, Jr., was born in Terre Haute, Ind. He ever after bore the nickname Hoosier Pete.  He did not care for this moniker.

In 1943, two years into World War II, Dad applied to Officer Candidate School in the Navy. We have movies of him boarding the train at the Fort Worth station in his cadet’s uniform. Mother and the two boys looked on with Judge Pannill.

On January 1, 1944, the Navy commissioned Dad an ensign and assigned him to the Naval Armed Guard. His unit manned the Naval guns mounted on an oil tanker to repel Japanese submarines. We celebrated Dad’s hundredth birthday last January 15 by dedicating a plaque in honor of his service at the Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg.

Mary was exactly six months younger than her husband. She turned 28 that July while pregnant with her third child. On July 31, 1944, with Hastings at sea, she gave birth prematurely to another son. At four, I remembered nothing of this, except we had had another brother.

After mother had died in 2005, I was cleaning out their house in Houston. Under the double bed in the spare room, I found a brownish file folder that Dad had marked “Mary’s letters 1944 Jan. 1 – Aug. 10.” None of us children had ever seen these letters.

I will let her tell the rest of the story in her letter of August 3. She wrote to Dad in her perfect handwriting:

“As I wrote you Monday, I was surprised to find Monday morning that the baby just weighed 4 lbs 13 oz. I had them call Dr. Spivey immediately and he came right away and examined him, and said he was sound, and all he needed was a little milk (Similac) until my milk came. Then Tuesday morning when the nurse woke me and told me had died, I thought I’d lose my mind. It was 4:30 a.m. and no one there – I asked them to phone Nellie [Merino, her sister], which they did, but she came at 5:00 and they didn’t let her in until after 6. In that time I needed you and longed to see you more than I ever had before. I got out your letters and read them and prayed for the little thing. I was nearly crazy.

“They brought me here to Nellie’s that morning about 9:30. I couldn’t stand to stay there with all those babies.

“Papa [Judge Pannill] and Ercel [Aycock, his son-in-law] took care of the funeral arrangements. They brought him here to let me see him after they dressed him. He was so sweet. I’ll never get over it.

“They performed an autopsy to see what caused his death, and found he had two thirds of his lung stopped up – and could never have lived. It was never developed and even if he had gone the full 9 months he couldn’t have lived more than 6 or 7 months, the drs. said.

“Honey, I just can ‘t write any more. I feel I am living in a nightmare. My head and eyes ache so. I am doing all right so don’t worry about me. I will write in a day or two when I feel better. I am trying to hold up for our little boys’ sake, but did want to keep my third little one.

“Your devoted

“Mary”

Mother named the baby David Pannill. I remember nothing of this cataclysm, although snapshots show me and my brother Fitz at his funeral in Ft. Worth.

Mother bore two more children, my sister, Mary Lynn, born July 17, 1948, and my brother Thomas Jonathan, stillborn in 1950. More nightmares were to fell her in the remainder of her life.