Proving Thomas Wolfe Wrong
If Thomas Wolfe had been an Aggie, chances are he never would have dreamed up his novel, You Can’t Go Home Again.
Former students from Texas A&M do go “home,” whether for football games, class reunions or to visit their own children who follow in their parents footsteps and become Aggies themselves.
And, many aging Aggies come home and retire to College Station.
Ellis and Patricia Mooring have retired here. They set a commendable example of how to make the most and get the most from life away from an eight-to-five world.
“What’s the key to thriving in retirement?” Ellis smiles as he looks at his wife while sitting at the breakfast table in their home on Essen Loop in the Edelweiss Gartens neighborhood of south College Station. They have a secret which has led to the contented lives they live.
But, there are other factors, too.
“I think number one it’s health.” Ellis says. “You got to keep your health.
“We eat well. We follow our regimen of medications. We go to the gym three days a week, and work with a trainer one day a week.
“Attitude is also important.”
Ellis and Patricia were teenage sweethearts in Texarkana, Texas. She was 16 and Ellis was 19 when they first met. They dated for three years, while Ellis was away at Texas A&M for school. From the beginning he told her he wanted to be an Air Force pilot.
“I took my first flight in a T-28 at Bryan Air Force Base my sophomore year in the Corps of Cadets,” Ellis says. “Those of us in the Air Force ROTC program got that privilege.
“I remember the instructor I flew with really put me through the ringer with his climbs and turns and loops. But that didn’t change my mind. I knew I was destined to be a flier.”
Ellis made good on that dream, but not in the Air Force. Shortly after that first flight, tests revealed his vision wasn’t good enough to get into flight school.
“I was crushed,” Ellis says. “Everything sort of went south after that. I lost interest in the Air Force and then I lost interest in school.”
He quit school, but soon realized going into the service was still probably his best bet.
He enlisted in the Air Force and was assigned to radar school in California.
He left and soon his relationship with Patricia came to an end.
“He never told anyone what he was doing,” Patricia says of Ellis’s decision to join the service. “I never knew he was that upset. I was a junior in high school and my parents would have never allowed me to quit school and go with him to California.
“Besides, he never asked me to.”
“At that time I didn’t have two nickels to rub together,” says Ellis. “Back then it was easy to hitchhike. To get back to college, all I had to do was put on my cadet uniform, get to the highway, and someone was sure to pick me up.
Ellis stops for a moment before continuing.
“Everyone knew we were going to get married.”
Patricia is quick to jump in.
“And he did, while he was in California. Just not to me.”
Long-distance communications weren’t kind to Ellis and Patricia. He wanted to get his feet on the ground in his new life. He also wanted her to go to her prom and socialize as any young girl should do as she finishes high school.
Eventually, both married other people. Between the two of them they had five children who now have children of their own.
Ellis used the G.I. Bill to return to Texas A&M and complete his education. He spent 40 years at the John Hopkins Applied Physics Lab in Baltimore. There he exceeded his dreams of flying: working on missiles, satellites and rocket systems. He also earned a pilot’s license and flew many different kinds of aircraft, logging 8,000 hours in a variety of cockpits.
During that time, he never came back to College Station.
It wasn’t that he couldn’t go “home,” he just had too much going on.
Then, in 2000 and nearing retirement, Ellis finally returned to College Station for a Texas A&M football game. He was shocked at what he found.
“When I was in school there was no real ‘College Station.’ The university was pretty much the whole town. I was in the Class of ’58, but I didn’t graduate until 1963. There was North Gate, the train station and a gas station, and then there was the City of Bryan. When I came back in 2000, my goodness, it was a whole new world.”
The night after the game, Ellis discovered Cable Channel 10, and its constant programming devoted to local real estate. He knew the kind of home he wanted to retire in: three or four bedrooms, double-car garage and a small yard. As he watched late-night television, he saw local homes like that in abundance.
He was intrigued, but when he checked the prices, accustomed to the cost of homes on the East Coast, he was shocked. Ellis figured the College Station listings he had seen “must be near the garbage dump.”
Back in Baltimore and still intrigued, Ellis called a realtor in College Station. “Why are the homes there so cheap?” he asked. He learned “cost of living” sometimes had an up side.
For Ellis, the return “home” had been a great experience. Home prices there were far more reasonable than what he had become accustomed to. The prospect of “going home” and retiring to College Station suddenly had appeal.
After retiring from Johns Hopkins, Ellis moved to College Station.
“My first wife and I split up in 1997,” Ellis says. “I moved down here, alone, in 2002.
“The university was a big part of the attraction to return to College Station,” Ellis says. “I took courses on campus every year. When you reach retirement age, you can audit courses at A&M for free.”
Ellis calls Organic Horticulture the “most fun course in the world.” He also took courses in political science, marketing and electrical engineering.
Ellis had majored in electrical engineering as an undergrad at A&M. Of the graduate course in EE he audited as a retiree he says, “I found out I didn’t have the analysis techniques they use today, so I had to sign up for a senior level analysis course just to keep up.”
He also flew, trying his hand at gliding and radio-controlled aircraft. He became president of the Brazos Valley Harley-Davidson club.
And then one day, a letter came in the mail.
“I was married to someone else for 52 years,” Patricia says, “but I don’t think I ever fell completely out of love with Ellis.”
Patricia explains how Ellis came back into her life.
“I got a new computer and after about a month I decided to check and see if Ellis was still alive.”
This was in 2011.
“I did a Google search and I found him and an address for him.”
“She found my insurance registration for the radio-controlled model airplane I had at the time,” Ellis interjects.
“I had a newspaper clipping from Ellis’s mother’s funeral,” Patricia continues, “so, I decided I would send that to him.
“Then I thought, ‘What if his wife gets the mail and opens my card?’ I kept the tone very cordial.”
She had no idea that Ellis was again a single man.
When the card arrived, Ellis saw the Texarkana postmark. His thoughts immediately went to one person.
“She put her email on the card and I immediately contacted her,” Ellis says. “I told her it was awfully nice to hear from her and that I would put a card back in the mail to her the next day.”
The old feelings were rekindled.
The two soon met again–for the first time in more than 50 years–in Paris, Texas, sort of a halfway point between Texarkana and College Station. After dating for about six months, they were married on February 14, 2012, and Patricia moved in with Ellis.
“I was a pretty big motorcycle enthusiast when we got married,” Ellis says, “but the first time I took her out for a ride, I was scared to death. I was afraid I’d drop the bike and she’d get caught under it.
“So, I sold the bike and we took up painting.”
Both the Moorings show extraordinary talent. Proof of their capabilities hang on the walls of their home.
“Some of those are mine,” Ellis is quick to point out.
“I’m an engineer by training,” he continues. “I’m a ‘left-brain’ kind of guy: practical and analytical. But, Patricia’s daughter,” an artist herself, “found a book called, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, and gave it to me.
“And that’s how I became an artist.”
The Moorings progression as artists has been impressive.
“After our very first art class, the instructor told us we needed to get our work in an art show,” Ellis says. “I thought she was kidding.”
The two entered a local show in the adult-student category. After judging, they perused the section where they imagined their entries would hang, but were surprised to find their paintings displayed elsewhere.
Their works had been bumped up into the nonprofessional categories where Ellis earned a first-place blue ribbon, Patricia finished second, and another of Ellis’s works came in third.
In addition to their newfound and shared love of art, Ellis continues to fly. He’s flown a wide variety of aircraft through the years.
The Moorings together are also very active in their church, A&M United Methodist.
“I was ‘unchurched’ for 40 years,” Ellis says, “I was a believer, but I felt like I had a direct link to God, so I didn’t need to go to a church. Patricia straightened me out on that Now we’re both ‘shepherds,’ helping new people get plugged into the church after they join.”
“I love College Station,” Patricia says. “The shopping here is wonderful, but mostly what I like about the city is the people. The people here are exceptionally nice and welcoming.”
Fifty-two years might seem like a long time to wait for a “happy ending,” but Ellis and Patricia Mooring are proof that not only can you “go home again,” but also once you get there, once you’re reunited with the love of your life, you’re pretty certain to live happily ever after.