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,” he says.
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 a student at Texas A&M. 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 in 1955 during 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 wringer 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 before graduating, 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 for the West Coast 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.”
A stab at a long-distance relationship wasn’t kind to Ellis and Patricia as young adults. He wanted to get established in his new life in California. He also wanted Patricia to go to her prom and socialize with others, as any young girl should do as she finishes high school.
The two parted ways.
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 Johns 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. Not once.
It wasn’t that he couldn’t go “home,” he just had too much going on.
Then in 2000 and nearing retirement, Ellis finally made his return to College Station for a Texas A&M football game. He was shocked at how the city and campus had changed.
“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 Northgate, the train station, and a place to fill up with gas. 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 fitting that description 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 pondering the possibilities of retiring in proximity to his alma mater, Ellis called a realtor in College Station. “Why are the homes there so cheap?” he asked. He learned living was far “easier” in Central Texas.
Given the affordability of College Station coupled with all the new amenities he found during his return to town, the prospect of “coming home” suddenly had great appeal.
After retiring from Johns Hopkins, Ellis moved back 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, and took up a new interest in motorcycles. 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.”
As for what prompted Patricia to write Ellis after all those years, “I got a new computer and decided to check and see if he was still alive.”
The year was in 2011.
“I did a Google search and I found him and an address for him.”
Ellis laughs at Patricia’s now-familiar story. “She found my insurance registration for the radio-controlled model airplane I had at the time. Lucky me!”
Patricia smiles at the recollection. “I had a newspaper clipping from Ellis’s mother’s funeral, 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 Patricia.
“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 two soon met again—for the first time in more than 50 years—in Paris, Texas, an agreed upon “halfway point” between her home in Texarkana and his in College Station. The old feelings were rekindled on both sides.
After dating for about six months, they were married on February 14, 2012, and Patricia moved to College Station.
“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.”
The pursuit of art has been key to the contentment the two share in both their retirement and married lives. Both the Moorings show extraordinary talent. Proof of their talent hang on the walls of their home.
“Some of those are mine,” Ellis is quick to point out, directing a wink toward his wife.
“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 into an art show,” Ellis says. “I thought she was kidding.”
The two entered a local show in the “adult-student” category. After judging took place, they perused the section where they believed their entries would hang. They were surprised to find their paintings had been bumped up into the “nonprofessional” class. There, Ellis earned a blue ribbon for placing first. Patricia was runner-up in the category, while another of Ellis’s works came in third.
In addition to their 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 a lifetime, you’re pretty certain to experience the “happily-ever-after” thing.