Melvin Chesnut was born in 1908, soon after Oklahoma entered the union. The long-time Lake Highlands resident travels his memory map with clarity as he recalls being a child and delivering provisions, “anything from eggs to paint, in a wagon pulled by two old mules.”
“Years before, when the government came around and told my daddy that his store was now in Indian Territory, they ordered him to come up with a new name for his proprietorship. He just added IT for Indian Territory. The sign read: ‘Shay IT.’”
“My daddy would tell that story and laugh every time,” says Chestnut, with his own hardy storyteller laugh.
Chestnut says he probably inherited the gene for longevity from his mother.
“My mama lived to be 100 years old, 48 years after my father passed away,” he says. “I was 17 when my mother faced raising us kids alone.”
“I had two brothers who fought in World War I. To my generation, we all wanted to get Kaiser Bill (Kaiser Wilhelm). We were living in Kingston, Okla., when my father passed away, and my sister’s husband took over the little country bank my daddy had started.”
“We tried to keep both the bank and the general merchandise store going, but times were hard. In those days, you either went under or sold out. We sold out.”
The years that followed included driving a truck and working in the oil fields of East Texas. Times were tough. “In those days, you were just grateful to have a job,” he says.
But it was a job selling tickets at the Longview pickup stop for the Sunshine Bus Company (later, Continental Bus Company) that led to a pension 35 years later in 1971. Shortly after transferring to Dallas, Chestnut met his wife, Francis, “who lived in Lakewood and worked as a nurse for Baylor Hospital,” he says.
The couple met on a blind date in the fall of 1942 and married in December 1942 after a three-month romance. Peninsula Drive, located on the east side of White Rock Lake, was still in the country when the four small frame homes were built.
“They had been on the market for over a year,” Chestnut says. “Guess people thought they were located too far out. We moved here because we could buy a house for $4,200. We put $600 down and paid the bank $30 a month for 30 years.”
“There was a little grocery store at Garland and Buckner, but we had to go to Lakewood or Garland to do any real shopping. This area was a big cotton patch back then.”
Well, the years rolled along. World War II ended, the neighborhood grew, and cancer claimed each of his three wives. Although he didn’t have children, Chestnut says: “I was blessed with three wonderful wives.”
Now his days are spent mostly alone, still enjoying his grown step-children, and their children, and working in his workshop, which is part of his daily routine.
Before our visit ends, he offers one of his specialty carpentry items, a back scratcher. He says goodbye with life’s twinkle in his eye and a broad smile on his face. Perhaps this is the real secret to a long and contented life.