The luckiest man in Portales

By William P. Thompson

At 90, Portales’ Harold Knox considers himself lucky. He has a little knee trouble but still gets around town. And the stories he can tell of life in Portales date back to the early 20th century.

“I was born on this site (the 2000 block of South Avenue B) in 1915. My folks built this house in 1926. They moved here from Oklahoma in a covered wagon,” Knox said. “Folks ask me what the secret to my longevity is and I don’t know. I’m just lucky. God made the Earth, the moon and the stars. I guess he’s still working on me.”

Knox points to two reasons why he considers himself lucky: In 1940 he married the best looking young lady in Portales— his late wife Lu, and his only medical expenses are “an aspirin a day,” he said.

“Lu was working at what used to be B & J Drugs as a soda jerk for 18 cents an hour. I was working at Price’s Creamery and I saw Lu walking across the street one day. She was the prettiest thing I’d ever seen,” Knox said. “I told my friend Johnny Morgan, ‘I’m going to marry that girl.’”

Knox said he and Lu dated a year before they married.

“We went to parties at the Church of Christ,” Knox said. “For our honeymoon we went to Cloudcroft and rented a cabin for about $2 a night. We were always so poor back then that anytime we went anywhere it was on a wing and a prayer.”

Jack Carr was a classmate of Knox’s at Portales High School. Carr said Knox was a good football player in his youth.

“Harold was a great old boy. He was always down to earth and still is,” Carr said. “ I was seeing him just about every day at the Community Services Center (over the past decade) but I’ve stopped going as often. We’d talk about the high school days. Harold was a tough football player.”

Knox said just about everybody was poor in Portales during the Great Depression years, but he landed a job in 1933 working at L. L. Brown’s dairy while he finished his senior year at Portales High School.

“L.L. Brown was the principal of the school then,” Knox said. “He sold milk to residents for a dime a quart. I milked 16 cows every morning and every evening. I earned a quarter a day. I was one of the richest kids around. For 25 cents you could buy six hamburgers at Wimpy’s.”

Knox said the town’s poor worked together to make ends meet in those days.

“Neighbors helped you with your farm work and you helped them with their work,” he said. “They called it ‘swapping work.’”

Knox was a member of Eastern New Mexico College’s first class of freshmen in 1934. He was a guard on the football team.

“We had classes on the campus but anytime there was a big assembly we all walked to the Yam Theater or the basement of the Methodist Church,” Knox said. “Only the college president and an English professor had cars.”

After college, Knox was hired by Price’s Creamery. He eventually became a supervisor.

“That was just a title they gave the man who went in at midnight to start the trucks,” he said. “I later became a quality control supervisor for the Safeway milk plant in Clovis. I made better money there. At Price’s Creamery I churned butter from the cream that came in from the cream stations in the small towns. It was pure physical labor at about 12 hours a day.”

Knox said crime was almost non-existent in Portales during his teens and 20s, compared to today.

“Back then the most trouble teenagers got into was smoking some Bull Durham tobacco,” he said. “ A while back I saw two girls walk around outside my house and then I saw the doorknob on my back door start to turn. I yelled, ‘Hey!’, and they took off running. When I was their age, my parents might or might not have had a lock on the door but if they did they never used it.”

Knox drives himself to the Community Services Center daily for lunch and often eats dinner in the Roosevelt General Hospital cafeteria.

“The hospital cafeteria has the best food in town,” he said. “You can get a full meal for $3.”

Knox said he loves everybody in town and that helps him keep his spirits up. Most of his high school classmates have all passed on.

“Jack Carr, Jane Lee and myself, as far as I know we’re the only three left,” he said. “You read the obituary pages and there are a lot of people who have died before they reach 90. I wonder why I‘m still here.”