Down a Rabbit Hole Through the Looking Glass

Found your pilot. Died in 1956. Earl Matthew Quigg of Hokenbaqua, Pennsylvania. Born in 1930. Air force. Married. Died on Sept. 17 at 3:15 pm of crushing injuries and conflagration, .7 miles south of Richards, Texas in open pasture.

Thanks to my first cousin Melissa on my daddy’s side who sent me this text message after our conversation earlier in the week, a conversation that went down a rabbit hole and somehow circled to a memory of school children playing softball one afternoon behind the little red brick public school building in Richards – play interrupted by the roar of a jet plane engine as the airplane careened crazily out of the sky.

Melissa is the real journalist in our family; she wore many hats working for Texas newspapers during her career and that background makes her a wonderful sleuth/researcher on all subjects great and small. Naturally she was able to retrieve the information for me about a mysterious plane crash in Richards, Texas that remained a vivid memory for me 65 years later.

I was ten years old at the time, but I still remembered our small group of boys and girls standing frozen together on the playground in the few moments the jet screamed past us to hit the ground in a field just beyond where we played, bursting into flames with thick black smoke billowing from the explosion, causing us to look at each other with horrified disbelief.

For the tiny town of Richards, Texas (pop. 500+) this was the equivalent of the Hindenburg disaster. The theory of 2nd Lieutenant Earl M Quigg’s heroism discussed at great length by my grandparents at their kitchen table was that he refused to safely eject during his spiral in order to save the lives of the children he saw on the playground below. I never forgot the name of this pilot who I believed saved my ten year old life.

As a teenager when I began writing my version of “poetry,” one of my poems celebrated the bravery of Lieutenant Quigg. I mentioned this to Melissa when we chatted earlier, and she made the mistake of asking me if I’d saved the poem. That would be from 65 years ago, in case anyone is counting. She suggested I write a blog about the plane crash and include my poem. Great idea, I said.

While Pretty keeps everything she’s ever had in her entire life, I save almost nothing except words and pictures but that means decades upon decades of words and pictures which have made their journeys with me from the Pacific Northwest to the Atlantic Southeast, zigzagging back and forth to Texas in between. Surely I kept my first poetry attempts. Alas, as of this writing I have had no luck in my search.

However, my digging around through boxes in my office encouraged me to step through the looking glass of another rabbit hole which allowed me to avoid the pandemic and politics (both equally disturbing) of today, transporting me to a time long ago and far away.


my grandfather in his barber shop cutting 

 Melissa’s daughter Nikki’s hair: a Morris family tradition

Maybe this picture of my grandfather in his single chair barber shop was taken Father’s Day weekend in June, 1984, the year I got this letter from my granddaddy. I did have the good common sense to save these words from him. He was born in 1898 and died in October, 1987, three years after this picture was taken. My paternal grandmother wrote me faithfully every week from the time I moved away from Richards at the age of 13 in 1959 to the year she died in 1983, but my grandfather was embarrassed about his lack of schooling and never wrote me until after my grandmother passed. In June, 1984 I was living in South Carolina, a thousand miles from Texas  and my grandpa.

My Dear Sheila, I just came in from church out at Pool’s or Dark Corner as Tom Grissom called it. Bro. W.A. Curtis is doing the preaching not a Bad Preacher Tells a few Tales kinder mixas them up keeps you awake. Sheila, I have something to pass the time with now 15 quail 10 little ones & 5 grown I liked to make a miss count. Had a real good Father’s Day will give you a run down on that later.

Tomatoes have just started to get ripe and the vines are loaded lots of string beans & baby lima looks like they are going to do good I have two rows about as long as a hoe handle. Now for the Father’s day. Your mother came first brought lunch & watermillon & a pretty shirt we had a real good visit enjoyed her so much. We discussed the Sheads at length not too bad. Ray came Fri. Lucille Sat. Sun. Mike, Melissa, Nikki. Ray a radio & Lucille a hat from London she had given me pr.pants Mike & Melissa shirt

Gaylen card & face lotion Gene & Patti card and last but not least was a very pretty sweet card from my Dear Grand Daughter I can’t tell you how much I love you and always have. You ment so much to Ma & me, ole bald headed Pa


Pa, I can’t tell you how much I loved you and Ma and always will. I hope Pretty and I can give our granddaughter the same unwavering love you always gave me.

Stay safe, stay sane and please stay tuned, my friends.

About Sheila Morris

Sheila Morris is a personal historian, essayist with humorist tendencies, lesbian activist, truth seeker and speaker in the tradition of other female Texas storytellers including her paternal grandmother. In December, 2017, the University of South Carolina Press published her collection of first-person accounts of a few of the people primarily responsible for the development of LGBTQ organizations in South Carolina. Southern Perspectives on the Queer Movement: Committed to Home will resonate with everyone interested in LGBTQ history in the South during the tumultuous times from the AIDS pandemic to marriage equality. She has published five nonfiction books including two memoirs, an essay compilation and two collections of her favorite blogs from I'll Call It Like I See It. Her first book, Deep in the Heart: A Memoir of Love and Longing received a Golden Crown Literary Society Award in 2008. Her writings have been included in various anthologies - most recently the 2017 Saints and Sinners Literary Magazine. Her latest book, Four Ticket Ride, was released in January, 2019. She is a displaced Texan living in South Carolina with her wife Teresa Williams and their dogs Spike, Charly and Carl. She is also Naynay to her two granddaughters Ella and Molly James who light up her life for real. Born in rural Grimes County, Texas in 1946 her Texas roots still run wide and deep.
This entry was posted in family life, Humor, Lesbian Literary, Life, Personal, photography, politics, racism, Reflections, sexism, Slice of Life, The Way Life Is, The Way Life Should Be and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Down a Rabbit Hole Through the Looking Glass

  1. Wayside Artist says:

    That letter is so precious. Your grandfather is just the sort of person you want to visit on a Sunday afternoon.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You would have loved a visit with my grandparents on a Sunday afternoon. My grandmother could have regaled you with stories of the preacher that morning. My grandfather could show you his cows out on his “farm.”

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Luanne says:

    OK, thanks for my tears!!! Your grandfather sounds so sweet! The older we get the more we miss and appreciate our grandparents, I think. Ella James’ life is being so enriched by you and T.
    So wonderful to finally have the information on your pilot hero. We live for so long in a kind of a fog until we get the “proof” of what we remember as children.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, my cousin Melissa reminds me of you, Luanne. She has your detective qualities – and the background to figure things out!
      Thank you so much for your kind words about T and me with Ella. We do adore that little girl – she’s going to be in day care before too long, though. She needs to have other children in her life, too.
      My grandfather was the sweetest man you could have met. My first cousins and I always used to say “Pa is the best man on earth.” Which I’m sure annoyed our own fathers.
      The pilot hero was so real to me.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Always, outstanding post and thank you so much for visiting my blog. Your post are always appreciated. E.

    Liked by 1 person

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