Medicine Man: 2

‘Hit The Road Jack’


If I were to make a movie of Poppa’s life—in the scene that I imagine of his drive home from Virginia Beach there would be a song playing on the radio, keeping his thoughts company, lightening the mood. As the car got going, “Hit The Road Jack” by Ray Charles would strike out at mid-volume. “Hit the road Jack and don’t you come back / no more, no more, no more, no more / Hit the road Jack and don’t you come back no more…”

When Poppa got back to Ashland, he had to make arrangements. Mom has told me that he and this girl were not very close. The encounter that had led to her getting pregnant had been a casual one and they were both surprised. Poppa used to tell us, “Watch out!—Girls will try to trap you.” Perhaps that is how he felt—trapped—and I think, how she felt, too. I do not think it was on purpose. They were not innocent, but they were both young.

Southwest Times, Pulaski, VA., Sunday, July 26, 1959

From what I have gathered in various newspaper articles and family stories, Poppa’s dad, Thornton Massie Tice Sr., was away from home often—out on business, writing and editing for various publications. He was also the director of a few Chambers of Commerce. I know of one in Washington County, and another in Abingdon. He was an active member in the Roanoke Kiwanis Club and on occassion gave congratulatory and holiday speeches. He also started a newspaper in 1939 called The Narrows News, and shortly after sold it before taking on a new editorial position at another paper. He resigned and took up new positions often.

In late 1961, the papers reported that our grandfather was negotiating with the city of Ashland to transition his consulting work with their Chamber of Commerce from monthly contracts to a more stable yearlong agreement. Since we know that the Tice family moved from Abingdon, VA, to Ashland, KY, in early 1962, we can assume he was able to get his agreement because Poppa was on the track team in Ashland that Spring.

A few years later in January of 1965, President Johnson would ask our grandfather, Thornton Sr., to join his cabinet—presumably to help him with national business relations, as business owners across the country were not happy about the economic effects of the debt being incurred by the burgeoning war in Vietnam.

It does not seem like our grandfather was very involved when Poppa found himself on the receiving end of a shotgun marriage. He and Poppa did not have a good relationship. And Mom says that he was unnecessarily hard on Poppa. In my mind there are the foggy details of a story where Poppa did not do something with fixing the family car in the exact way that his dad wanted it to be done; I do not remember much more than that, but it was a discouraging moment for him.

At the behest of Granny and the girl’s parents, Poppa and Melinda Gelder agreed to be married. Poppa dropped out of high school and the wedding was arranged quickly. Though the Tice family had a custom of placing even small weekend excursions in the ‘Society’ section of Pulaski’s Southwest Times and other local newspapers, I have not been able to find any mention of the event. Pregnancy outside of wedlock was looked down on, so, in the late Spring of 1962, Ms. Melinda Gelder quietly became Mrs. Thornton Massie Tice Jr.

Seventeen, married, a child on the way, and not even finished with high school—Poppa was launched right into the high seas of life. I do not know where he and Melinda lived right away — if they had a house or lived with their parents, if they had a car, or what kind of help they received from their families. Poppa had the task of figuring out how to support a new wife and a coming child. He had to be resourceful, a skill he would draw on deeply for his entrepreneurial pursuits later in life. But for now, he had to provide for his family, and quickly.

Poppa did not want to be a coal miner. Granny had left West Virginia when she was a young woman specifically because she did not want her children to be coal miners. Poppa was too young to be a salesman, he did not even have a high school education. His grandfather had served as an Army Captain in France during World War I. Poppa’s dad was a Lieutenant in the Navy during World War II. Following in their footsteps, he visited the local Army recruiter’s office, said he was eighteen years old, and they enlisted him.

I wonder how Melinda took this: Relief that she would be taken care of? Happiness that her mostly unknown husband might be stationed far away?

Shortly after Poppa enlisted in the Army, he went to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, for eight weeks of basic training. While at Fort Bragg, he spent his days waking up at the crack of dawn, running, learning how to take orders, standing in parade, doing pushups and deep-knee-bends, crawling through the mud under gunfire, eating Army cafeteria food, writing letters, going to bed early, and looking forward to weekends. He also pulled a paycheck to send to Melinda.

When Basic Training was over, Poppa went home for a short visit with his Mom and Dad, his brother Cabell, and sister Anne. In whatever her situation had become since his new job as an Army private, he also spent time with Melinda, his wife. When his leave was up he left to Fort Sam in San Antonio, Texas, for training to become a Medical Specialist. Poppa’s great grandfather on his dad’s side was a doctor, which may have informed this decision.

If we follow the timing of these events in 1962, we can place Blue Hawaii and the theatre in Virginia Beach at sometime in the middle of March, the shotgun wedding with Melinda in April, and then eight weeks of Basic Training from May through June. Poppa would then take a train or a plane back to Kentucky for a fortnight’s leave before heading off to San Antonio, Texas, for specialization.

Come July, Poppa’s training schedule in San Antonio would have a little more time for leisure and reading, he could pick up a copy of his favorite magazine. National Geographic had just published Vol. 122, №1, and the leading article was: Tahiti, “Finest Island in the World” by Luis Marden.

Ever since he was a boy, Poppa had always loved stories of islands and oceans, shipwrecks and survival. He read Swiss Family Robinson, Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe, Mutiny On The Bounty. Hawaii had just become a state in 1959, and Michener’s hit novel, Hawaii, was published in that same year. There were so many seeds of the Pacific and adventure in the literary wind at that time that Poppa’s mind had to have been taken by the dream.

When he finished his Medical Specialist training, the Army asked him where in the world he wanted to be stationed. He replied, “Hawaii!” ☗

Menashe David Israel is the first son of Thornton Massie Tice II. He lives in Houston, TX where he is writing his late father’s biography in dedication to his youngest brother, Ephraim. He is searching for his long lost sister, Roxanne.

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