DONNA — Jerry Cook had known Patty for years — maybe even back to her crawling stages — but he was a few years older and didn’t take much notice of the younger girl.
Proud to be an Okie from Muskogee, Jerry was raised in Oklahoma City along with his younger brother, Jack. (Find out about Jack in two weeks.) While still a toddler, his parents took the family in their ‘34 Ford out to Lamont, Calif., to tend to a grandmother until she passed away — his parents picking grapes and pulling cotton during their stay.
When at last it was time to head the Ford back Route 66 to Oklahoma, Jerry discovered a new talent.
“My dad was driving and playing Far Away Places on the harmonica,” he said. “I was three.”
Vividly recalling as his dad tossed the harmonica onto the quilt covering the pile of worldly possessions in the back seat, he can still see himself picking up the instrument and beginning to mimic his dad — playing simply by ear. By six, he was playing on a local Oklahoma City TV show — the Danny Williams show.
“That was my big debut — first and last,” he said laughing. “It was the only channel in the city.”
Keeping music in his life, he played first chair trumpet in the high school band, playing also in the All State Band and Oklahoma City University Orchestra. When Jerry went into the Air Force, he became a Missile Guidance System technician after attending tech school at Lowry Air Force Base in Denver, Colo.
“That was the beginning,” said Jerry. “That’s where my computer skills were discovered.” Computers were to become a major part of his life.
Sent to Selfridge Air Force Base in Mt. Clemens, Michigan after tech school, Jerry was descending the steel barrack stairs from the second story and stepped where some fellow had thrown mop water from the porch over the metal steps. It was the middle of winter and water freezes outdoors up there.
“I hit the step and fell all the way to the bottom of the steps,” he said, “fracturing my back in about three places.”
Ending up for quite a few months in the Wright Patterson Air Force Base Hospital in Dayton, Ohio, one day he received a card from a girl back home who was a buddy of his brother, Jack — a girl named Patty.
Patty was an Air Force brat, born in Okaloosa County, Fla., up near Panama City. That’s what her birth certificate says — not even a town! Though her parents separated early in her life, she stayed close to her dad.
“My dad flew 50 missions over Germany as a tail-gunner and went to tail-gunner school with Clark Gable,” said Patty. “Growing up he lived down the street from Carol Lombard.”
An only child, Patty was a latch key kid, roller skating and playing with the other kids on base but always coming home by 4 o’clock. After Dad, Number Two, retired from 20 years in the service they went back to Oklahoma City. There Patty finished her school years and found herself writing the youth bulletin at church with a young man named Jack Cook.
One day she learned his brother, Jerry, was in a hospital with a bad back and thought she would send him a card.
“I read her card and said to myself,” Jerry explained, “‘When I get out of this hospital, I’m going to go marry her.’ And, I did.”
Imagine Patty’s surprise when Jerry started talking of the children they would have while on their second date.
“He hadn’t even proposed yet,” Patty said, laughing.
After returning to active duty, it appeared Jerry was going to be shipped off to Taiwan just as Patty had decided to enter business college.
“I told her, ‘Get on a bus, a plane, train or whatever and get here,” said Jerry.
With her heart on her sleeve she arrived from Waco, Texas, where she had worked for the summer with Dad, Number One, at his travel agency. Eloping, they sealed the deal, but Jerry ended up being discharged prior to the unit being shipped to Taiwan. Back to Oklahoma City they went.
When family became overwhelming to the new couple, they moved to Houston to start a new life. Ultimately working as Regional Field Training Director for Trans America Corporation, Jerry covered Texas and Oklahoma. Patty brought her agency skills with her, working at a local travel agency.
Over the years they’ve been able to travel extensively to places such as Kenya, Guatemala, England, Ireland, Scotland, Norway, Hawaii, not including the eight countries her dad took her to when she was 16 or their own travels around America.
“That was a really big deal,” said Patty, of her trip with Dad.
“Patty was in China and Russia and caught a 25 pound trout in Great Bear Lake, Northwest Territories,” Jerry said, bragging.
Having two daughters during their stay in Houston, they saw drugs causing more problems to the area. After they saw the movie, The Wilderness Family, the call of the wild — a safe port for the family — became too great to deny. Buying a piece of rugged land in eastern Oklahoma with no roads, electricity or water, they set about truly building a new life.
“We had a wood stove and I hooked up a 12 volt electric light to the battery on the truck we drove every day,” said Jerry. “That was our light at night. We had to cut trees for about a mile to within six inches above the ground, with a chainsaw. I cut them and Patty and the girls pulled the trees out of the way so they could get an electric line in.”
“There was a spring down the road,” Patty said. “We would take our five gallon jugs to the spring for water.”
Their picture window looked across a valley towards the Kiamichi Mountains.
“It was gorgeous,” said Jerry.
Though hopes had been high to finish living their lives there, it was not to be. First their daughter, Kim, a vibrant young girl, caught the flu. Somehow she contracted Reye’s Syndrome, though Jerry and Patty never administered any aspirin. A night race to a hospital with a comatose Kim did no good. She never regained consciousness. The family went into a spiral of grief.
“There’s no describing the pain,” Jerry said, with deep emotion. “You hear people say - ‘You want closure.’ You don’t want closure — you cope. This word closure…you don’t close a book.”
Jerry had been elected to the local school board and discovered a secret about their “paradise.”
“We moved out of Houston because of the drug situation and moved right to the biggest drug infested area of that vicinity,” he said. “I’m still convinced to this day that there were people who thought we knew something about things that we didn’t.”
After several life threatening events, then losing Kim, they were through. Renting out their home, then having it burned down, they sold it all and moved west. Starting work as a volunteer chaplain in the prison system of Granite, Okla., Jerry’s been in every prison in Oklahoma.
“I was on the Citizen’s Advisory Board for the State of Corrections in Oklahoma during this period of time,” said Jerry. “It was also during this time I began to start working with the computer systems and became a Microsoft Original Equipment Manufacturer. We moved back to Oklahoma City and ultimately opened a store which is 20 years old this year. Our old customers won’t let us quit.”
Patty had become an auditor at Quartz Mountain State Lodge. She had another talent she uncovered after taking classes back in eastern Oklahoma. She is a tremendous artist.
“She had a painting in the governor’s mansion in Oklahoma City and an official took one to Washington, DC,” said Jerry proudly.
Four years ago Patty retired from the customer service area of the Oklahoma Tax Commission. Jerry turned the store over to a managing partner and they hit the road in their RV.
Recently purchasing a home in Casa del Sol, they plan to “retire” full time in the Valley in a few years.
Meanwhile, Jerry has teamed up with his brother, Jack, really together for the first time, to sing and perform at Samborees and other venues around the Valley. They’re great!
Traveling, teaching computer classes and hanging out with Jack and their dogs, he and Patty keep an active life. Patty is still very much her own woman, preferring to be known as the “motorcycle momma in the hot pink helmet!”
Married 44 years, the Cook’s keep living life to its fullest a top priority — following the roads that keep them curious enough to follow.