I came to Austin in the summer of 1944 to attend the University of Texas, where I roomed with a classmate from Orange whom I barely knew. But we could hardly have been more compatible.
We were both majoring in pre-med, later changing to home economics, and looked so much alike that we often passed as twins. We were both blondes and 5 feet 6¾ inches tall. My roommate thought she was too thin, and I thought I was too fat. According to the height/weight charts, our ideal weight was 115 pounds, but she weighed 113, and I weighed 117.
We lived in Littlefield dorm, where our small room had a wonderful feature: Murphy beds. Mornings, we’d put everything lying around the room on the beds, then fold them into the closets out of sight. That left our room clutter-free, so all we had to do was sweep the floor to be ready for room inspection.
The bathroom was a short walk down the hall. We’d take our grooming and laundry supplies there in baskets, using the sinks to wash our clothing items by hand. If any maintenance men came on our floor, the girls would shout “Man on second!” and we’d run for cover.
We had the same classes because of our majors, so we studied and went everywhere together. We felt quite sophisticated as we learned to love Tex-Mex food and Italian spaghetti. Most of us moved into sorority houses the next fall, but we remained close friends.
Dormitories and sorority houses had curfews and rules about dates that weren’t that restrictive if you didn’t have dates. We seldom did, because most of the boys our age were in the service. On those rare occasions, we’d often go for a soda and dancing above the drugstore on the Drag.
We wore nice skirts at least to the knees and blouses with sleeves to class. Certainly, none of us wore slacks or shorts on campus, except for playing sports or going on picnics. If we were going anywhere special such as church, the doctor, downtown, or on a train or plane, we wore heels, hose, gloves and a hat and carried a purse.
Along came the spring of 1946. The boys were back from the war, and you would have thought we had suddenly turned into beauty queens.
On March 17, I went on a blind date with Bob Shirley. We rode in his 1939 four-door Ford convertible to a stock-car race in San Antonio and hit it off immediately.
We went to stomp dances all around Austin, and since Bob was a enthusiast of Grand Prize, a popular Texas beer (made by Howard Hughes’ brewing company in Houston), we’d often sit at the Triple X Rootbeer drive-in or Dirty’s on the Drag, having a few.
We got pinned that summer and engaged in December 1947. I graduated, and we married in May 1948. I applied for a job at several places in Austin, but having a husband who would probably move us away when he got his degree was a hindrance.
Finally, the T.H. Williams department store on Congress Avenue, which had curbs about two feet tall, hired me to sell ladies’ ready-to-wear.
At once, I saw that the other salesladies needed the money more than I did. They had children to support, disabled husbands, elderly parents dependent on them. They were plagued with customers who were time-wasting lookers who, if they ever bought anything, would bring it right back.
So I, the good Samaritan, offered to take on all of those pests. My base salary was $90 a month plus commissions — which, with my choice customers, I never made.
After about a year and a half, Bob’s father realized that he made more than $90 before noon on any day of any month and he suggested that I go to business school and become a secretary.
I asked at T.H. Williams if I could work part time, and they said yes, but I would receive no commission. My half-day salary would be $125 a month! So I worked as a saleslady in the morning and took shorthand and typing in the afternoon. Soon, I started teaching those classes myself, at night.
In 1949, Bob earned his degree from UT. The following year, as predicted, we left Austin for his new job in Victoria. His work then took us to Woodstown, N.J.; Hagerstown, Md.; Wilmington, Del.; Martinsville, Va.; and Kinston, N.C. — all beautiful places to live.
A change of employers in 1957 took us to the New Orleans area for the next 25 years. In 1982, we moved to our vacation home in Hattiesburg, Miss., which we made into our personal paradise.
Yet for all of those years, we proudly proclaimed, to anyone who’d listen, that we were from Texas.
But by 2010, our Mississippi paradise, a lakefront peninsula now covered with huge azaleas and camellias, was becoming harder to maintain. I started researching continuing care retirement communities and discovered Longhorn Village at Steiner Ranch. I suggested to Bob that if it was prudent to relocate, why not go back to the Texas Hill Country and our beloved Austin?
Best move we ever made. The only problems: Austin has grown so much, we hardly recognize it anymore; time is flying by at the speed of light — and we’re not getting any younger.
Ruth Slocum Shirley and her husband, Bob, live at Longhorn Village. Bob is retired from Freeport-McMoRan after 25 years. Ruth is a retired homemaker and proud of it