“Son, She’ll never stay out there at the ranch headquarters. She’ll just never stay.”

“Son, She’ll never stay out there at the ranch headquarters. She’ll just never stay.”


Those words of advice were given to my dad, Don Howard, by his father when Don said he was going to marry Vella Key Mathers.


Don and Vella did come from two different worlds. Don’s family had moved to Oklahoma Territory from Spanish Fort, Texas, to farm and ranch in the Ringling and Claypool area. Don lived with ranch hand buddies at the headquarters, about 12 miles west of Ringling.


Vella lived and worked in Oklahoma City, the granddaughter of two notable southern Oklahomans, J.H. “Foot” Dillard (Ardmore oilman) and James H. Mathers (Ardmore’s first county attorney).
But their worlds intersected when Don’s older brother, Paul, married Vella’s older half-sister, Carlene.


Friendship blossomed in the early 1940s. Due to gas rations, Vella often hitched a ride to Ringling on the truck that brought cattle up to the Oklahoma City Livestock Auction. She enjoyed weekends with the Howard clan, returning to OKC either on the bus or the early Monday-morning cattle truck headed to auction.


Don had an agriculture deferment the first years of World War II. However, he was in his early 20s and felt his patriotic duty was to enlist in the Army. He served in combat in the Philippines and then in the occupational forces in Japan. During the two years he was gone, Vella did her patriotic duty by writing to her soldier friend and encouraging him to come home safely. He returned in September 1946.


On Christmas Eve, 1946, Don and Vella planned to get married. Paul and Carlene would be their witnesses. The Ringling Methodist pastor had agreed to do the service at his house late in the afternoon.


On a gray, snowy, afternoon, the small wedding party made their way to the parsonage. But parked on the side street was a familiar beat-up old pickup truck full of Don’s ranch hand buddies. They were lying in wait for Don.


A man couldn’t get hitched without a proper shivaree. These good old boys had a great shivaree planned for Don — an icy dunk in Howard Lake! Who cared that is was one of the coldest weeks on record (late December 1946/January 1947)?


When the guys were spotted, Paul drove back home. After several hours, the good old boys gave up and figured that Vella had come to her senses and cancelled the wedding. But the wedding party returned to the parsonage about midnight and knocked on the door until a sleepy-eyed preacher came and preformed the ceremony.


Every year, when the family gathers for Christmas dinner, Dad proposes a toast to Mom. This year he said, “Vella, happy 64th anniversary. Honey, I hope you’ll stay at least one more year!”