When you first meet Mrs. Nerva Gore she seems like many other older ladies out here in West Texas; She is kind, polite and very grandmotherly, which is fitting considering that Mrs. Gore is 102 years old. Yes, she is one-hundred-and-two-years-old. Her memories span more than ten decades. She has had enough experiences to fill a volume of books.
Gore was born on a hot west Texas day, July 10, 1916, in a two-room house on Kickapoo creek to Ernest and Lily Pruitt. Her birth came as Europe fought World War I, as hundreds of thousands of young men fell in battle and the world entered a new era. The United States would not enter the war until Gore was almost a year old, in 1917. Listening to her stories is a surreal experience because you’re listening to living history, someone who had lived through and experienced events that many people only read about in history books. Her age group comprises less than one-hundredth of one-half percent. To be precise, centenarians are .0002 percent of the population of the United States. They are the rarest treasures of our population.
Age has not dampened Gore’s memory, it is just as sharp today as it ever has been. As she sits there talking to me in the room of her West Texas nursing home, I realize that I cannot begin to fathom that amount of knowledge and memories still possessed in her mind. She’s sharp, she’s articulate and she is proud of the life that she has lived. It’s been a full, rich life and it’s been more “ups” than “downs” for this elegant, silver haired lady filling me with wonder and appreciation. As she speaks, one story leads to another story and to another story and so on.
What began as a quick interview before her lunch turns into a one-hour interview, a fascinating odyssey through her mind and west Texas history as experienced by Gore. The majority of her stories are filled with a humor and positivity that we rarely experience in today’s culture. The stories she relates show the power of the human spirit, give you hope that we can overcome anything, just as her family adapted and overcame the Great Depression and found ways to survive and even thrive, and to have a good time in spite of the state of the world.
Her story covers a father who owned a grocery and meat market in Bronte, being raised with two younger sisters, learning to drive in a Ford Model T and learning to play the piano and singing in the family band. Her light still shines brilliantly and her eyes radiate the fondness her memories echo. Gore’s voice rises in pitch as she tells of hanging on for dear life as a spooked horse took her on a heart-pounding foray down an old trail in 1928, even now her hands move and clench and unclench as if she’s still holding the reins. She is not only sharing the memories, she’s reliving them as if they happened just yesterday.
Sundays were family and church days, her father, “Little Ernie” would drive the family car down to the creek to wash it before every Sunday church service. One of her big thrills as a child was getting to sit in the back seat as her father guided the car to the creek.
“He loved to wash that car before every Sunday service and I loved being there with him,“ she said as she gazed up toward the ceiling, as if she was watching the scene play out on an imaginary cloud. “I never learned to swim because I was afraid of the water but I’d sit in the back seat of that car every time he washed it.”
Gore takes pride in the fact that her father could run every piece of equipment in the old gin plant out by Bronte.
“He loved working there. But then he bought a grocery store and meat market in Bronte and really enjoyed it. It was the nicest store in Bronte, which was also the largest town in the area back then. When the Great Depression hit he told mama that the lease on the store was up and that he didn’t know if he could keep it given the uncertainty of the times. So, he built a skating rink out by Christoval. I had two younger sisters that went to live with an uncle on his ranch due to the hard times the country was experiencing. Daddy always wanted a boy to carry on the family name but after the third child was also a girl, mama said that that was enough.”
One of her sisters passed away from Rheumatic fever while in her 20s.
The ability of her family to overcome tough times cannot be overstated. Gore graduated high school two years early because she took summer classes. During this time she says that she also spent eight years “studying the piano.” Her father put together a family band and they played at hotels and other locations around Bronte.
“We played the Roosevelt hotel in San Angelo when I was twelve and that was the biggest thrill in the world,” she said while beaming with pride as she relived the memory. The family always adapted and she continued that with her own life as she grew up. Her husband, Don, worked on aircraft at Goodfellow Air Force base in San Angelo during World War II.
After the war he went to Lubbock and was trained to work on jet aircraft. Gore became a nurse and worked for a nursing service for almost 30 years after they settled in the Lubbock area in 1952. Along the way, she had five sons. One became a police chief and one fought in the army during the Vietnam War.
“He was airborne and he had 23 jumps with the 82nd Airborne Division,” she said.
Of the five children, three are still alive. One passed away from a brain tumor many years ago and another died of a heart attack within the last few years. As we sit there talking, a memory suddenly comes to Gore as she sits up straight, points her finger at me and says in a loud whisper, full of pride, “Five sons, I had. Not one of them was ever in trouble with the law. Ever. They are all good boys.”
Knowing what I had learned about her life and upbringing within that hour, it did not surprise me that her sons had all grown up to become honorable, respected men. That seems to be a family trait at least as far back as her own parents.
I asked her what she was most proud of in her long life.
“I’m most proud of my faith and my family,” she said. “I became a Christian in 1928. When I graduated high school in 1933 women didn’t go to college back then, almost nobody went to college so we got our education in music and life at home, from our parents. It wasn’t always easy but we always had each other. As a family we traveled and played gospel music in churches, at rodeos, in hotels and at balls and some ranches. We played together and studied together. We were a family. Later on after I had married I went to business school and then became a nurse.”
Nerva Gore is part of what Tom Brokaw referred to as, “The Greatest Generation” and when you meet her and spend time with her, you gain a deeper understanding of just why her generation truly is the greatest. From World War I to the Great Depression to World War II to the Korean War and on through history, they’ve never stopped overcoming, never lost their concept of family, never compromised their ideals. Gore is the embodiment of everything that is great about her ever-decreasing generation. People like her are rare, in both numbers and determination, but the lessons are still there, they’re still available to us, we just need to sit down with the folks like Nerva Gore in our lives and listen.