At age 100, Elizabeth Morris ponders life in Austin
Native of the city can look back on 10 decades of change
Elizabeth Randerson Morris doesn’t look 100.
In fact, she appears remarkably the same as she does in photos taken in the 1940s, when she was in her mid-20s.
And although she speaks slowly and deliberately, she doesn’t sound like someone whose memory reaches back to the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression and World War II.
Yet on Nov. 28, this Austin native turned 100.
Her family threw her a lively party at the Brookdale Round Rock group home.
Maybe there’s a genetic component to her spry, good-natured longevity?
“I don’t feel 100,” Morris says with a wistful smile. “For my grandmother's 100th birthday, I baked and decorated 10 angel food cakes. All by myself. My mother’s mother, Molly Winn, lived to 104 1/2 years old. She'd let you know it was a half, too.”
Morris was born on Thanksgiving Day 1918 at 804 Patterson Ave. in Austin’s Clarksville neighborhood during the global Spanish flu epidemic, which infected some 500 million people and killed as many as 50 million worldwide.
“My mother had the Spanish flu just before I was born,” she says. “They thought she was dying several times, pregnant with me.”
Her mother, Greola “Dimple” Winn Randerson, born in 1894, hailed from remote Rock Springs in Edwards County.
“It was a fightin’ town,” Morris says. “They were always having some kind of spat.”
Her father, Luther Berry Randerson, also born in 1894, grew up first on his father’s cotton farm in the Del Valle area and then in Dripping Springs after the nearby cotton mill folded. Although many of Luther’s friends served in World War I, he received a deferment because was taking care of his parents, and later his wife, Dimple, whom he married in 1916.
Before the war, Morris’ father had joined the U.S. Postal Service and worked, briefly, as a mailman before moving to the registry window. He rose through the ranks to first superintendent of mail, then assistant postmaster and finally Austin postmaster for a short time before he retired in 1957.
The second of six children, Morris had two brothers who were also long-lived. L.W. Randerson lived to be 99. Joe Mullins Randerson died a day before reaching age 96. Both brothers served in World War II.
“Joe was shot down over Yugoslavia,” Morris says. “He was badly burned and went missing. He was then saved by the Underground and returned to duty."
Her surviving younger sisters — Margaret Paige Randerson, 93, and Mary Grace Randerson, 91 — never married. A third sister, Greola “Jackie” Randerson, died in 2003.
“I was a girl between two boys,” Morris recalls of her childhood in the 1920s, “and I worked starting when I was 10. I had to bake dessert every Saturday for Sunday. I liked to bake pies. Lemon meringue is my favorite. My mother was a good cook. She didn't make anything fancy, but we ate well.”
Morris also ironed her brothers’ shirts and babysat her younger siblings.
During her early years, the family lived on a 66-acre farm on Pecan Springs Road in what is now East Austin but then was quite rural.
“Dad raised cotton for a few years, then quit,” Morris says.
She attended Pease Elementary, Allan Junior High and Austin High.
“The schools I went to, you didn’t choose,” recalls Morris, Austin High Class of ‘37. “You just went to the school near you. English and history were my favorite subjects. Didn’t like math.”
When they lived in Pecan Springs, her dad drove Elizabeth and her siblings — along with three neighbor children — to Austin schools in a Model T Ford, not exactly the safest way to travel in a group, especially since many roads were still unpaved.
In photos from the period, Morris looks outdoorsy and athletic, although she missed a semester of high school because of facial paralysis.
After one year at Asbury College in Wilmore, Ky., a private Methodist school, she studied home economics at UT.
“I was supposed to finish in 1941,” she says. “I quit and got married.”
Her husband, Frederick Dale Morris, was 16 months older and also from Austin. They wed on March 5, 1941, at the First Methodist Church on Lavaca Street back when it was still fairly new.
Dale served as an aerial surveyor for the federal government. After they married, the couple traveled around the Midwest. They were in Coffeyville, Kan., on Dec. 7, 1941, when Pearl Harbor was bombed.
“He would do the surveying, and I would follow him in our car,” Morris remembers. “My husband was in Durant, Okla., when he was told to come back to Texas. All the surveying was stopped, and he had no job."
Dale signed up to fly for the military, but they never called him up for service, so he started as a pilot for the still relatively young Braniff Airways in Dallas. During World War II, Braniff assigned all their pilots to also fly for the U.S. Air Transport Command.
“When he was flying for the government, I never knew where he went,” Morris says. “I saw his uniforms, but he couldn’t talk about what he did. There is no record of his service, but I saw his captain's rank on his uniform. Sometimes, I would get a call that he would be at the airport at 3 a.m. and I could go out and just see him through the fence and wave at him.”
Dale passed away in March 1962, which left Elizabeth with three growing boys: Joe Dale Morris, now 74, who worked for the Austin Police Department and the United States Army; David Owen Morris, now 70, who taught school and then retired from the tech business and lives in Liberty Hill; and Jerry Lynn Morris, now 68, who flew for Delta Airlines for 25 years before retiring to Georgia.
Before Dale’s death, the family of five lived for several years in El Paso.
“I didn't like it,” Morris says. “The boys liked it. Nice town, but awfully windy and sandy.”
Back from El Paso, the family settled for a while at 5400 Darlington Lane off Manor Road in the Pecan Springs area, where Morris’ father had owned that 66-acre farm, which her boys had loved because “they could run all over it.”
Meanwhile, Morris needed to make a living. After attending the Dunaway School of Accounting, the woman who didn’t like math as a girl worked as a private accountant for several businesses. She later became the office manager for Rick’s Construction (1967-1979) and for Fonda San Miguel restaurant (1980-1986). She retired in 1986.
Memories of Old Austin
Childhood, youth and adulthood in Austin during the 1920s, 1930s and ‘40s did not include many luxuries, but her family got by, in part because they raised their own food and Morris’ dad worked for the government.
“I never came in when there wasn't a pot of beans on the stove,” Morris says. “We had chickens and pigs and a calf every now and then.”
At age 5, she briefly attended the tiny, segregated country school in Pecan Springs. Among their Pecan Springs neighbors were other ancestral Austin families, such as the Seiders and Willises. As was sometimes the case in the country, one of the teachers boarded with her family during the 1920s.
Like some other Austinites who are old enough to have survived the 1930s, she didn’t notice that the world was falling apart.
“We didn't really know there was a Depression,” Morris says. “We had clean clothes and plenty to eat. Dad had a job at the post office. We didn't know then that we didn't have a lot of things. My mother sewed and made all our clothes.”
World War II shortages and rationing presented other problems, some minor, others not.
“You couldn’t buy candy during the war,” Morris says. “My husband would bring me candy from Chicago. We couldn’t get sugar, tires or gas. His dad and my dad would save up gas stamps so we could come home to Austin from Dallas. The government told us they wanted to take our pots and pans for the war effort. We didn’t argue; we gave them our pots and pans. People wouldn’t do that now.”
Getting new shoes was possible only with saved-up “shoe stamps.”
“You would get a stamp periodically for each member of the family that allowed you to buy a pair of shoes,” Morris recalls. “No stamp, no shoes.”
Yet the lessons to Morris were clear.
“I learned this is a pretty good country,” she says. “Hard to beat.”
She admits to some nostalgia about the “beautiful, lovely town” that was Austin.
“I let the boys go up and down Congress Avenue and look in windows,” she says. “People were friendly. We knew so many. Now it's too big. I think it all began to decline in the 1990s. I'm not blaming Michael Dell; I like him. And I still love Austin. I'm sorry, I do, but it's not the way it used to be.”