Born August 23, 1918 in Spokane, Washington, Rex Ashlock grew up in the provincial northwest United States His father had an anxious and competitive nature towards life, and though he found his childrens’ aspirations interesting to some extent, he was jealous and resentful of them for having the initiative to move forward boldly from provincial realities of their world.
Rex’s father, Jesse, had a shop in down Spokane where he sold and repaired small electric appliances. His Uncle Louie, was a “big shot” reporter for the Associated Press in San Francisco. Compared to Jesse, Uncle Louie seemed urbane and sophisticated in the ways of the world. His mother mostly was a housewife, but also taught piano to neighborhood children.
As a high school senior, right before Christmas vacation, Rex went to downtown Spokane to see his best friend play in the local jazz band at the Hotel Davenport. In the holiday mood while there, Rex bought his dad a carton of cigarettes as a Christmas present, and hid it inside his overcoat. When he reached the hotel, Rex’s friends gave him drinks stronger than he was accustomed to, and after the show they gave him a ride, but only part of the way home.
It was the middle of the night and there was snow on the ground. In a hurry to get out of the cold, Rex took a shortcut through vacant lots, but on his way, passed out from intoxication. Sometime later, he was found by a stranger and helped to get home.
Rex arrived at the family house, hungover, freezing, and embarrassed, his dad awaited, fuming with anger. He took his son by the arm forcefully and threw him, still clothed in his coat, into a bathtub full of cold water, thinking it would sober him up. Disgusted and disappointed at his father’s lack of compassion, Rex threw the carton of cigarettes from his inside coat pocket at his dad. This was to be the beginning of many battles between the man and the boy.
After high school, Rex entered the University of Washington in Seattle. His vague plan was to pursue journalism. No doubt, these notions were encouraged by both his father and uncle as being a lucrative and respectable profession. However, his father’s attitude that viewed the world as a place to attack, rather then gently survive; seemed to Rex to be a crass pragmatism--the goal being material success and status. For the older generation of Ashlock men, there was something to prove to others. Jesse Ashlock was not a man who gave much value to the emotional life of his sensitive son, much less his own.
Rex’s mother, who lost a sibling to a drowning and her mother when she was six, was a daughter of a southeastern Washington farmer. Late in life she said she wished she’d been an opera singer in New York.
Jesse Ashlock had such rigid attitudes that he did not seem to want his family to go beyond the limited world of Spokane. He refused to help his children with funding for college, and after the year in Seattle, Rex headed for San Francisco to get a job on the newspaper with his Uncle Louie. Rex's sister, Jane, left at her first opportunity to study music in Chicago.