This is the story of my beloved Mamie Nell Woods Dirkx who was born 85 years ago near Idabel, Oklahoma. This story almost ended in its first paragraph, because Mamie’s mother died 10 days after Mamie was born.
But Mamie survived until just last week. She died on the Fourth of July in a Paso Robles area nursing home, after a full, active and generous life. I know that because she was my loving and supportive wife of almost 64 years.
Mamie was born in 1932 as America continued to sink into the Great Depression. She had two brothers and three sisters. Their father and aunts and uncles discussed their future care. They decided her Aunt Lizzie and Uncle Charlie would take in Mamie.
But making a living in Oklahoma got harder and harder. Eventually Mamie’s aunt and uncle moved the family to California. They then traveled up and down the West Coast working in various crops. Mamie did her share of the work.
But when she was about 14 she went out on her own. She lied about her age and got a job in a movie theater in Hanford. She worked as an usher, ticket seller and bookkeeper. After a few years of that she went to work for the telephone company as an operator.
In those days most places didn’t have dial phones. Instead, when you picked up the phone, a female voice said, “Number please.” It was a live operator sitting at a switchboard. She connected your call for you. Being an operator was good clean work for women and they learned valuable business skills.
During the Korean War, Mamie and several other operators were transferred to Paso Robles. The area’s phone usage had greatly increased because the Army reopened Camp Roberts. The phone company housed the transferred operators upstairs over a store on 12th Street across from the park.
I met Mamie in 1953 in the officers club at Camp Roberts. I was an assistant club officer there. I probably got that job because I wasn’t sufficiently military to be entrusted with training troops.
One of Mamie’s sister telephone operators was the wife of another Camp Roberts lieutenant. She arranged for other operators to attend the dances at the officers’ club. Mamie was one of them. We were married seven months later in a Camp Roberts chapel. I got out of the Army two days later. We settled in the San Jose area and have two children, Mike and Sandy.
In 1962 the company I worked for transferred me to Paso Robles. We’ve lived here ever since. Mamie became office manager for the Paso Robles Chamber of Commerce. Next she was the executive secretary of the Paso Robles Red Cross chapter. She was also a member of the city Human Relations Commission. Finally, she worked 21 years as a secretary at the Ennis Business Forms plant in Paso Robles.
She also attended night school at Paso Robles High and earned her high school diploma. And she instinctively helped people who needed it, such as writing encouraging letters to my mother and bringing a Vietnam War veteran and his Vietnamese bride to our house for Christmas Dinner.
For the past 10 years she has stubbornly fought Alzheimer’s disease. She richly deserves her present peace. My memories of Mamie comfort and encourage me and occasionally break my heart.
Phil Dirkx's column is special to The Tribune. He has lived in Paso Robles for more than five decades, and his column appears here every other week. Reach Dirkx at 238-2372 or firstname.lastname@example.org.