By Aaron Latham
Launa Latham - author, teacher, and my mother - used to tell my sister and me stories about a prairie dog grandmother who ran a boarding house. Mom got the idea because lots of animals-dogs, owls, rabbits, turtles, even rattle snakes-often do take up residence in prairie dog holes. Eventually she turned these bedtime (sick-day) stories into small books. But Grandma Prairie Dog was ore than a pleasantly plump face looking out at us from the covers of Grandma Prairie Dog´s Unwelcome Visitor and Pink Ice Cream.
For Grandma Prairie Dog was an emblem of my mother herself. Without even realizing that she was doing so, mom was drawing a self portrait. For my mother-and my father, too-were always taking in "boarders". In the books, Grandma Prairie Dog´s lodgers were Mr. Dog Owl, Mr. Cotton Tail Rabbit, and Mr. Terrapin, but she refused to rent a room to Sam Rattler. My mother differed from her heroine in that she never seemed to turn away anybody.
While my mother and father were still newly weds-long before I arrived-they took in and raised my dads youngest brother, Chick. My mom was his "mom" before she was mine. Chick went on to serve with distinction in World War II and later to redraw the face of Oregon as a soil conservation engineer. Which is to say that with my mom´s help he turned out all right-although he has gotten a little ornery lately.
My parents also "adopted" many of their nieces and nephews. Pat and Marion Latham, .John Alvin Cozby, Margie and Wanda White. Carla Latham, and many others. These young relatives went on trips with us. Or they came and stayed with us for weeks or months or even years.
While we lived in Tucson, Arizona from 1957 through 1979..my mother kept not just a boarding house, but a boarding school. She believed that all these relatives would benefit from exposure to a big-city school system, so she invited them and they came. Soon they found themselves attending a high school that had more students than their home towns had people. They may have been intimidated at first, but before long all were thriving.
When my sister Von Sharon got invited in helping Nigerian students who were studying at the University of Arizona in Tucson, my mother got involved too. Of course, she opened our home to them. When my sister was killed in an automobile accident on May 10, 1967, the bond between my mother and the Nigerians seemed to grow even stronger.
They followed her around all over town-often dressed in colorful native costumes. They made a striking impression. Naturally, some people were curious about them and would ask my mother: Who are they?
In grocery store one day, one of the Nigerian girls told my mom: "The next time they ask you who we are, just tell them, ´They´re my daughters´."
And that is just what my mother did. The girls all called my mother "Mom."
Born in White Flat, she moved to a farm near Spur when she was small child. Even as a little girl, she was already taking in "boarders". Later she would remember those days in a poem about he she and her sister and brother cared for a wounded wild duck.
Alba, Rozzle and I took turns carrying her home,
Rozzle wanted to dress her like a sea captain
I thought she should have fancy hats and dresses,
Alba said she should be a babydoll
Of course, their mother-my grandmother-wouldn´t let the poor duck wear anything but a splint on its wing. But I like to imagine how that mallard would have looked all dressed up in a sailor suit with an eye-patch, a baby bottle tucked under one wing, wearing a hat with bright flowers.
In those days, my mother used to love to ride her favorite hors all over the plains and the Croton Breaks country where she got to know cowboys and rattlesnakes and lots of prairie dogs. There was a prairie dog town on her family´s farm-actually it was more like a prairie dog city because it sprawled over a full acre of ground. Sitting on the outskirts of this prairie dog metropolis-watching its citizens for hours-stories began to take shape in her mind. The burrows, of course, reminded her of boarding houses.
While she was still just a girl, my mother took a job as the only teacher in a one-room school at Wilson Draw. This school-house became her "boarding house" and her "boarders" ranged in age from little kids to grown up teenagers who were almost as old as he was. One of her students from that one-room-schoolhouse recently introduced herself to me at my mother´s funeral.One day out riding, mom came across an old, sick, stray steer.
It was drizzling rain the November day that I found him
Too weak to get up
I rode for grain and water and a blanket to cover him
I could do no more
At dusk, the coyotes began to howl hungrily. She knew they had found her stray. This wild chorus echoed in the canyons and came floating across the brown buffalo grass to the bedroom where my mother lay with a pillow clamped over her head. She thought she heard:
My mother wasn´t able to save that old stray, but she wasn´t discouraged. She went right on trying to rescue other strays wherever she found them. Every Thanksgiving and Christmas she and my father would say, "Well, let´s round up the strays." And they would systematically invite to our family feasts anybody they knew would be alone over the holidays. Actually, I must admit, I often wished they wouldn´t be quite so generous because I am shy and have trouble in crowds. But I couldn´t ask my parents to stop caring for strays because I would have been asking them to change who they were. And now, since my mother is gone, I am afraid my father will too often be one o those strays. I can only hope that there will be those who occasionally round him up when he is alone.
Eventually, the Nigerian students whom my parents had adopted were joined by Brazilian students who were adopted, too. They too called my mother, "Mom". And now, today, right here in Spur, there is another young Brazilian student who is in a sense one of my mother´s children. She had wanted to take him into her home, but her failing health prevented her. Still she managed to find a place for him in a very good West-Texas home not far from her own. His Spur "parents" introduced hi to me beside my mother´s grave. Meeting him summed up so much of who my mother was and what she was about.
Grandma Prairie Dog also looked after other people´s children. Two of her favorites were Yomi and Tomi, the rabbit twins. When she asked them what they wanted for their birthday, they both yelled: "Pink Ice Cream!" Grandma promised: "Then pink ice cream you shall have."
But unfortunately the ice cream factory didn´t make any pink ice cream on the all important day. But Grandma had promised. What in the world was she going to do? At the birthday party, Grandma was very busy, bustling around, putting slices of cake on plates and scooping white ice cream into dishes.
"At the right moment," my mother wrote, "Grandma called the children into the dining room to eat pink ice cream and cake. Soon they noticed that everything was pink-dishes, furniture, friends. Then grandma had to tell them. She had painted a light bulb bright red with..fingernail polish. With the curtains drawn and the doors closed, the lighted red bulb made everything pink. Everybody cheered that ´Grandma´ parties were always the bests."
My mother gave a copy of Pink Ice Cream to my sister-in-law Paula Stahl who cares for abused children. She is another one who rounds up strays. Paula soon asked for more copies of the book because her own abused "boarders" enjoyed it so much.
One little girl told Paula, "I wish I had a pink lightbulb in my whole life."
It was a touching wish, especially to me, because I had had just such a pink lightbulb in my life all the days of my life until a little after 4:00 in the afternoon on Tuesday, October 6. Now that light has bone out and the world seems much darker and colder and, well, let´s face it, less rosy.
Now I realize why so many "boarders" have crowded into my mother´s home over the years. They too wanted to live in the pink light which she shed on all those who were lucky enough to be near her.
©The Texas Spur, Thursday, October 15, 1992 page twelveSubmitted by Lillian Grace Nay
Services for Launa Cozby Latham, 77, were at 10 a.m. Thursday, October 8, 1992 in the First United Methodist Church with church pastor Rev. Kenney Kirk officiating, assisted by Rev. John Dorn, a former Spur pastor, now at White Deer.
Burial was in Spur Memorial Cemetery with Campbell Funeral Home in charge of arrangements.
Mrs. Latham died at 5 p.m. October 6, 1992, in Methodist Hospital, Lubbock, following a lengthy illness.
She was born in Motley County and lived the early part of her life in Dickens County, leaving in 1945. She returned to Spur in August of 1980 from Tucson, Ariz. She married Clyde Latham in Spur on June 25, 1939.
Mrs. Latham was an author of children´s books including "Grandma Prairie Dog;" and "Pink Ice Cream." She also illustrated both books. She taught school for 40 years including schools in Wilson Draw, Spur, Dickens, DeLeon, Desdemona, Abilene and Tucson.
She was a member of the Spur Art Guild, United Methodist Women, Spur Library Board and the First United Methodist Church.
She is survived by her husband, Clyde Latham of Spur; one son, Aaron Latham, New York City; and one grandchild, Taylor Latham, New York City; a brother, Rozzle B. Cozby, Anaconda, Montana.
She was preceded in death by a daughter, Von Sharon Latham who died in 1967 and a sister, Alba White, in 1992.
Pallbearers included Leo Day Sr., Pete Day, Tommy Latham, Carson Latham, Travis Bateman and A.B. Carlisle.
Memorials may be made to the First United Methodist Church.
©The Texas Spur, October 15, 1992<Submitted by Lillian Grace Nay
SPUR Clyde Latham, 92, a former Texas high school football coach, died Saturday in Spur. He coached in Spur, Dickens, Munday, and DeLeon. In the late 1940s, his Munday Moguls won the bi-district championship.
He stayed in touch with the players on that team until the end of his life. A few years ago, he proudly rode atop a float honoring Coach Latham in Dickens Old Timers Day parade. Services will be at 2 p.m. Tuesday, May 27, at First United Methodist Church in Spur. Rev. Larry Burton will officiate. Burial will be in Spur Memorial Cemetery under the direction of Campbell Funeral Home of Spur. Clyde Latham was born Aug. 30, 1910, in the Red Hill community in Dickens County. That made him about a decade older than the town of Spur. He attended Texas A&M University before beginning his coaching career.
After he retired from coaching, he moved to Tucson, Ariz., where he built houses for doctors. When he retired from that career, Clyde Latham - and his wife - the late Launa Cozby Latham, came home to Spur. After the death of his first wife, the then 84-year-old Clyde fell in love with 81-year-old Gussie Lee Lancaster and they married. The story of their romance is told in The Ballad of Gussie and Clyde written by his son.
Clyde Latham is survived by his wife Gussie, his son Aaron, and his granddaughter Taylor.
©Lubbock Avalanche Journal, Monday, May 26, 2003
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