Happy Fourth of July

My family took frequent camping trips in our camping trailer to Lake Texoma on the Texas-Oklahoma border. I plan to say a lot more in subsequent posts about our camping trips, including Lake Texoma, but one of those trips to Texoma was over the Fourth of July, which I thought would be fun to write about over this Fourth of July holiday:

I was about ten years old. To get to our favorite campsite, sometimes we drove straight up State Highway 289 (Preston Rd.), but often we drove up U.S. Highway 75 to Sherman, then west to Pottsboro, then north past Loe’s Highport (now Highport Marina). It was about a two-hour drive. This Google link shows our favorite rocky point. I’ll call it Towner Point for sentimental reasons. It is the peninsula in the middle of the image next to the words “Oklahoma-Texas” on the state line. This rocky point is no longer accessible by car.  My husband Gene and I drove by here about ten years ago, and it was gated off, probably because it’s too dangerous for public use. I know we had a few exciting moments here ourselves over the years, and this was one of them.

Once we got near Lake Texoma, Daddy stopped to buy some fireworks, which I’m sure I must have begged for the whole drive up. We always went to this same spot ─ a small elevated rocky point north of Loe’s Highport on the Texas side of the lake. We spent our time canoeing, swimming, fishing, and diving and floating off of the rocks down the hill from our campsite. Other than the numerous tarantulas in the rocks and the spiders in the trees, it was a great spot, and a popular one. There were always other people picnicking or camping there, except that one time when it poured down rain for days, and we had it all to ourselves.

As soon as Daddy stopped the car and got out to set up the camper trailer, I jumped out of the car with numerous brown paper bags full of fireworks and went straight to a concrete picnic table just a few feet from the trailer door. While Daddy began unhitching and leveling the trailer, I wasted no time dumping everything out of the paper bags and spreading all of the fireworks out on the concrete picnic table. I had roman candles, bottle rockets, firecrackers, sparklers, punks, and the empty paper bags they all came in. I then placed one small bottle rocket into an upright bottle and promptly lit it with matches that Daddy had conveniently dropped into one of the bags so he wouldn’t lose them. The bottle rocket blasted off into the air, just like it was supposed to, and simultaneously ignited the array of fireworks on the table, which were aimed in all directions except up. The Roman candles went off with repeated and endless foomphs, randomly firing toward the humans below on the lake’s rocky edge. People hit the ground, dove into the water, or ducked for cover behind a tree or a rock. I started a grass fire and almost a forest fire, but thanks to some fancy footwork by everyone within firing range, “we” were able to put out the fire without the help of the Park Rangers, which I believe were called. It was a chaotic scene.

My parents were horrified, but no spanking or reprimand was necessary. I felt the horror, too. It was a close call and a valuable teaching moment. I never felt the same excitement about fireworks again after that. In fact, I loathe the personal use of fireworks now, but it took decades to make that complete transition. This story has been told many times by us Towners (mostly my mom), and probably by the visitors to Towner Point that Fourth of July.

On that note and in the patriotic spirit of the holiday,

I wish everyone a safe and happy Fourth of July and
God Bless America

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Aunt Ruth and Uncle Gordon

I have many wonderful aunts, uncles, and cousins. My mother had six brothers and sisters; but, like my three kids are now, they were scattered to the four winds, and I did not get to spend much, if any, time with them. Actually, my mother didn’t get to spend much time with them either, at least not after I was born. My father, on the other hand, had but one sibling – his brother Gordon, who lived in Dallas after I was born. He was six years older than Daddy. Uncle Gordon and Aunt Ruth had two beautiful daughters, Mary and Judy, who were closer in age to my sisters than to me.

 

Daddy referred to Gordon as a sharp dresser and the “good-looking one.” Ruth was also beautiful and stylish. I remember her as thin with very long gray hair which she usually wore in a bun when I was very young. I think she eventually cut it short.

According to my cousins Mary and Judy, their family moved to Dallas twice. The first time was in the late 1940s. The last time was around 1952, when they moved from Oklahoma.  My sister Patsy said they lived with us for about six weeks while looking for a place to live in 1952. I was two years old in 1952 and have no memory of their living with us. My sister Patsy tells the story of when Daddy’s car was stolen from our driveway while Gordon and family were living with us. Gordon answered the telephone when the police called our house in the middle of the night. They asked if he was Mr. Towner, and Gordon said, “Yes.” Half asleep, he continued speaking to the police for a minute, thinking he was still in Oklahoma. When asked if he had a 1949 Plymouth, he answered, “No, but my brother in Dallas does.” (Mother loved to tell this story.) Before 1954, our house had only two bedrooms and one very small bathroom, which made for very close living quarters for four adults and five girls. It must have been very challenging for all – or interesting, at the very least. Unfortunately, I have waited way too long to begin asking questions about this anecdote, and much has been lost in its telling.

My family visited my uncle’s house in north Dallas fairly often during the 1950s and 1960s. Their house was just on the north side of Bachman Lake from Love Field Airport, almost as far north as north Dallas got at the time. This was before DFW Airport existed, and commercial jet traffic was in its infancy. The air traffic pattern into and out of Love Field seemed to go directly overhead, and it got worse as air traffic increased during that time.

To get to their house before Stemmons Freeway (I-35) opened in 1959, we drove around the big Harry Hines traffic circle, then we drove east on Northwest Highway past Bachman Lake. Once, on a calm night as we drove toward their house after dark alongside Bachman Lake, a large wave of water splashed up from the lake onto the road and covered our car and the road. It startled my parents, who seemed to have no idea what had just happened. As far as I know they never found out. I was afraid as I listened to Mom and Dad talk excitedly about it. I was pretty sure it was the Loch Bachman Monster!

The Harry Hines traffic circle no longer exists today, but it was where Loop 12, US 77 (Harry Hines), 114, and Northwest Highway (Loop 12) converged. I can see younger Dallasites scratching their heads trying to picture this, and it is head-scratching worthy. I spent a good deal of time trying to remember or research just exactly what roads converged here. I searched online for maps and anything else that might help describe it. Then, it dawned on me that I have some very old files which belonged to my dad, and I remembered seeing maps in one of the files.  When I looked, I found Dallas maps from 1958, 1965, 1967, and 1970. Voila!

Harry Hines traffic circle; Ashburns Dallas City Map; 1958
1958 Dallas map showing Harry Hines traffic circle

 

Gordon’s and Ruth’s house was bigger than our house on Mt. Pleasant, or at least it seemed bigger to me, and it was always immaculate…and quiet, except for the planes overhead and probably when the Jim Towners came to visit. There was a formal living room in the front, which we never spent any time in. In the back of the house was the den with a pool table that had a formica cover, so it could be used as a dining table or, as my cousin Mary recalls, a flat surface to cut out sewing patterns. Mary also reminded me of the window seats in the den which they used for storing their comic books. I learned to play pool on their pool table. I played fetch with their two beautiful Collies in their large backyard, and I was also fascinated by their cockatiel. Ruth liked to sew, grow violets, and paint ceramics. Gordon had a greenhouse in the back yard, where he grew orchids, gloxinias and other delicate beauties. The greenhouse was enchanting and smelled of misty air and wet rich soil.

Mother and Dad didn’t leave me to go anywhere very often, even when I was nearly an adult. Once, when I was very young, I stayed with Gordon and Ruth for a few days. As I fell asleep one night, I heard what I was sure was a space ship or flying saucer fly right over the house. I yelled, and Ruth floated in quickly and quietly to assure me everything was OK. She tried unsuccessfully to convince me it was only an airplane at the busy nearby airport. A highlight of my stay was when Ruth made doll clothes for my Vogue Ginny doll. She didn’t just make a dress or two. She made practically a whole wardrobe – most of the clothes in the included photo. The vivid image in my mind is Aunt Ruth sitting at her sewing machine, head down, focused intently on the tiny togs. I wonder now if perhaps she gave me this doll specifically for this visit. I am certain I did not thank her appropriately for this treasured memory. I hope my mother did. I have kept all of these clothes in the same stationery box since she made them for me, only about sixty years ago.

Ginny Vogue Doll
Vogue Ginny Doll with clothes mostly made by Aunt Ruth in the mid-1950s

 

Years later, Gordon and Ruth moved to another house in North Dallas – a house with the same street number as ours. I don’t know which came first – ours or theirs, but for a period of time, the brothers Towner had the same street number. Here Gordon had a standard Poodle name Lucky and two Bedlington Terriers, all of which were show dogs, I believe. For training purposes, he took Lucky to a small nearby indoor mall so Lucky could adjust to having a crowd of people around him.

Lucky could be a very intimidating sight. When groomed for show, he was especially big and black. Gordon owned a couple of laundromats in the Webb Chapel and Royal Lane area, and he made regular rounds to collect change from the machines. He took Lucky with him as protection. He draped Lucky’s leash on top of one of the washers near the front of the store and began collecting the money from the machines. There was one time when a man of a suspicious nature walked in without any laundry and began walking to the back where Gordon was. Dutiful Lucky wouldn’t let the man pass. He stood guard, growling and baring his big white teeth against his black jaws. The man turned and left without incident.

Sadly, I have very few photos from those days of Uncle Gordon, Aunt Ruth, and cousins Judy and Mary, which is a mystery to me, since my father was such a shutter-bug. I am sure my sisters have many more detailed memories than I have about our visits with them. I was too young to hang around with the older girls, and I was also probably a nuisance.

A Child of the 60’s

I was raised in the sixties, but I’m happy to say I never came close to being the flower-child-hippie-type. I’m not sure how I got through those years without even a close encounter with that counterculture. I was never even inclined to smoke. My friends in high school who smoked never did so in front of me, and I don’t remember ever being offered a cigarette. I believe there were a lot of people like me, especially in Texas, but it might seem otherwise, considering all of the attention over the years given to Haight-Ashbury, Summer of Love, Woodstock, free love, hippie communes, etc. I am still discovering previously unrecognized references to all of this in some of the music that I loved from that era.

I was a skinny child, which prompted occasional comments from a couple of my friends suggesting I should be a model. Twiggy was popular in the 1960s, and thin was in. I guess I heard it enough to think it was a possibility; so one summer when a downtown department store advertised teen modeling tryouts, I asked Mother if I could audition, and she drove me downtown to sign up. Swimming in a sea of nervous and pretty young girls, I completed the entry form and waited for my turn to walk the elevated runway in the middle of the cavernous hall. I was a fish out of water – completely out of my element, and I can only imagine that it showed. I knew nothing at all about modeling, and I was not just thin – I was skinny, awkward, and gawky. Compared to the hundreds of other beautiful, lithe, and graceful teen competitors, I didn’t come close to being model material; but I went through with the tryouts and wasn’t disappointed much when I didn’t get chosen. Thinking back on this experience, I am proud that I had the nerve to try out, and I am glad I didn’t make the cut.

Many of my friends called me Bird Legs starting in elementary school, but I acquired another nickname in high school. One morning I was sitting in Home Room right in front of a friend named Gary who called me names and teased me mercilessly (but affectionately, I like to believe). I liked Gary, and I guess I actually liked the attention a little, but the name-calling must have been particularly bad on that particular morning. After his usual barrage of names, I turned back to him and boldly (for me) asked him  to quit calling me ugly names and would he please call me something nice (which, in retrospect, should have defeated his purpose in name-calling). He thought for maybe as long as two seconds and abruptly dubbed me “Tweeter.” Then he laughed, and I smiled skeptically but nodded in semi-acceptance. I never learned how he chose that name, but it stuck. Maybe it was because of my bird legs or maybe there was some less benign meaning which I was too naïve to understand. All of his friends and many of mine began calling me Tweet or Tweeter, evidenced by many of my high school yearbook signings. I couldn’t help but laugh a few years ago when Twitter erupted and the word “tweet” gained a global presence.

I had very few dates in high school, and I did not have any boyfriends. I mostly went out with a group of friends or had them over to the house. It was probably when I was a senior in high school when a girlfriend and I went on a double blind date. I don’t remember who set us up, but the story we were given was that a couple of guys on break from MIT were visiting a friend. I came away from the evening thinking MIT students should have seemed smarter. I don’t remember anything else about them or where we went that night, but I fell for the likely charade and didn’t actually figure it out until (I am sorry to say) it dawned on me while writing this post.

I didn’t get lectured much by my parents. They were too subtle for that. I do, however, remember a stern lecture Daddy gave me in high school as I was about to venture out on a double-date with my friend Ann to a Sadie Hawkins dance. Daddy let me drive his shiny white pickup that he used for his construction business with “Towner Construction emblazoned on both doors. I was thrilled to drive the truck, which I didn’t get to do very often, and I didn’t mind the Towner name on the side. Ann and I were very excited about the dance, and together we must have been over-the-top giddy. Daddy took note, and before we left, he called me into his upstairs “rock” room, where he was busy faceting a stone. He privately lectured me about staying calm and made me take a few deep calming breaths. He said I could not get behind the wheel until I had settled down. I can feel a calm come over me just remembering his voice and reliving that moment. The dance was unimpressive; the prelude was memorable.

I learned a lot about proper etiquette by listening to Mother and Dad interact with my big sister Nancy about things going on in her life, but they never had “the talk” with me about the birds and bees. What I learned about the facts of life came from a reference book which my parents just happened to keep on the top bookshelf in our den on Ovid. This book on anatomy included a rather vague explanation of the facts of life, accompanied by drawings. I thought I was being sneaky by reading it, but I eventually realized the method in their madness. The loosely defined “facts” in that book collided head on with reality when I got married in 1969. 

 

Junior High and High School

I attended eighth and ninth grades at T. W. Browne Junior High and tenth through twelfth grades at Justin F. Kimball High School, both in Oak Cliff. The schools were next to each other on the same campus located a few miles west of our house. I began carpooling to school with neighborhood schoolmates – our mothers at the wheel. I vividly recall sitting in the back seat of a car loaded with girls and listening to “Oh, Pretty Woman” by Roy Orbison on the radio. I also remember sitting in the car in front of Kimball H.S. waiting for all of the riders to come out for a ride home. Mother was driving. I referred to some guy walking by as a “stud.” Mother was very unhappy with my language and said, “That’s a terrible thing to say. You shouldn’t talk like that about someone.” I felt terrible. Wouldn’t it be nice if that’s as bad as it got today?

In junior high, I began taking Spanish, which I continued into high school. I tried out for the Troyanns drill team in eighth grade and made the team for my ninth grade year.

 

I was in the eighth grade in November 1963 when my parents and I were eyewitness photographers at the assassination of John F. Kennedy. In November 2012, I self-published a short book about my experience, Tina Towner, My Story as the youngest photographer at the Kennedy assassination, available on Amazon.com. I also posted a four-part blog entry about it on this site in November 2016. ‘Teen magazine contacted me to write a first person article about my Kennedy experience, which was published in June 1968. The magazine sent a photographer to the house to take pictures of me for the article, which they originally wanted to do at school, but the school would not allow it.

 

1968 Teen photo
Photo taken by ‘Teen magazine in 1968 for article published in June 1968

I entered high school in the fall of 1965. My favorite school subjects were biology, physics, and math. I took honors math, English literature, Texas history, world history, social studies, civics, and (beginning in junior high) three years of Spanish. Some of my senior year classes were college level courses. I wish I had taken more government related classes in high school and college. It might have been useful today.

Much wasn’t offered to girls in the way of sports at that time. Girls played tennis but were not included in any other sports that I can think of  – at least not at Kimball. We had a natatorium, but I never saw the inside of that building, and I’m fairly certain there was not a girls swim team. Things began to change in that regard soon after I graduated.

I was a member of the Kimball High School concert choir, the National Honor Society, the Spanish Club, and the Troubadears drill team. I did not make the cut for the high school drill team when I first tried out but made alternate instead and was terribly upset about it. However, Ms. Mac (as we called Ms. McClintock, sponsor of the T. W. Browne Troyanns), put in a good word for me, and I was soon moved up to become an active member. The associated expenses of being in the drill team were an issue for me, but I fit into the captain’s original red uniform that she wore before she became captain, and I was able to purchase it at a discount. Drill teams today don’t seem to be the same as they were in the 1960s. Team members must now be good dancers, not just good marchers. It’s a safe bet that I would never have made the team by today’s standards.

 

Concert choir was a good thing for me. I can’t sing well but well enough to sing in the chorus. We performed at some school events (including senior prom) and at high school musical productions, such as “Bye Bye, Birdie.” It was a lot of work but also a lot of fun. I spent many hours of rehearsal for this after school and sometimes late into the evening. One of the props issued to each person in “The Telephone Hour” song was an old black telephone. I had a lot of things to load into the car to take to rehearsal one night, and I placed the telephone on top of the car. I forgot to put the phone in the car and drove away with it on roof of the car. Someone waved at me along the way to school yelling, “You have a telephone on top of your car!”

I made a lot of my own clothes in high school, but I was excited to find out that I was going to buy some new clothes for graduation! Mother’s good friend Marie, a former neighbor from our Mt. Pleasant neighborhood, worked at the Apparel Mart. The Apparel Mart was not a public place, but Marie invited Mother and me to shop there one day as a graduation gift. It was (and still is, I guess) an enormous facility near downtown Dallas on Stemmons Freeway at Oak Lawn. Mother bought me a couple of dresses. One was a coral, empire waist, sleeveless dress which I wore with new a new navy blue hat and gloves. The other dress was a yellow flower print skirt and jacket with a yellow ruffled blouse. I also bought a two-piece bathing suit (one piece bathing suits didn’t fit me), and a beautiful white rabbit car coat that I loved and wore for many years. That day of shopping was so much fun! I had never had a shopping day like that before, and I haven’t had one since. 

 

I did not attend senior prom, but the concert choir performed briefly at that event, so I went for that purpose and then left. Especially for that event, I made a long straight yellow dress with a turtle neck, cutout shoulders, and a yellow daisy chain belt. I guess it bothered me a little during the evening that I didn’t attend prom, but after that night, I really didn’t care.

I attended the all-night party with a group of friends, which was held in a hall on the Southern Methodist University campus in north Dallas. I enjoyed the event – friends, music, billiards, food, and drink (non-alcoholic, of course). I’m not sure if I was up “all night,” but I was at least up late.

Our actual high school graduation commencement ceremony was held at Memorial Auditorium in downtown Dallas. My class had over 600 graduates, and it was a long ceremony. For some reason, my avid photographer Daddy, did not get any photos of me in my cap and gown. 

[Another meaningful and important part of my late teen years was my three years in the Westminster Youth Choir of Oak Cliff Presbyterian Church, which deserves a post dedicated to the subject.]

West Jefferson Blvd., Wynnewood, and Neiman Marcus

Our house on Mt. Pleasant was very near the intersection of West Jefferson Blvd. and Westmoreland Ave. Go east on Jefferson from the Jefferson/West Moreland intersection, toward the Trinity River, and you are in the heart of Oak Cliff. In my early years, street cars ran from Oak Cliff to downtown Dallas. I remember the street cars, but according to Advocate Oak Cliff, they stopped running on January 14, 1956. I don’t think I ever rode one back then, but if we drove up beside one with our car windows down, Mother or Dad issued adamant demands for me not to stick my hands out of the window and try to touch one or I would get electrocuted. I wasn’t going to try to find out.

Our family physician Dr. James F. Graham (an intimidating figure to me) shared an office on West Jefferson Blvd. with our dentist Dr. Mulholland. My sister Patsy says she remembers going to Dr. Mulholland. I remember Dr. Graham but not Dr. Mulholland (just his name). I got very quiet and held my breath every time we drove down Jefferson past Dr. Graham’s office, fearing Mother would remember that she needed to take me to see him for a shot or something. Dr. Graham’s red brick office is vividly etched in my mind. The entire waiting room was furnished in heavy brown or burgundy leather sofas and chairs trimmed with brass nail heads. I can still smell the leather and heavy cigarette smoke as I stepped inside, and I can hear the squeaking of the leather cushions when someone moved on the furniture. Those couches and chairs were way too big and slippery for me to sit comfortably in. The waiting room was put to good use, because we nearly always had to wait an hour or two to see the doctor. The examination room (or rooms) was pure 1950s, including freestanding glass and metal medical supply cases, which I think were painted white.

A tornado blasted through Dallas on April 2, 1957, killing and injuring many people and damaging a lot of property. The tornado barreled through Oak Cliff first. Mother and I were at Dr. Graham’s office at the time; and while we were there, the doctor’s office began getting phone calls and hearing radio reports about a tornado headed our way. So, what did Mother do? Along with Dr. Graham, his staff, and others in the waiting room, she marched outside to look for it. Mother told me to stay inside (by myself, I suppose). She came back inside visibly upset by what she had seen. She said they all stood and watched as the tornado approached on the ground, lifted and skipped right over their heads, then set back down on the other side of the street. A sight Mother never forgot and one I will forever be glad I missed.

1957 Dallas tornado         1957 Dallas Tornado Flashback.com

West Jefferson Blvd.’s main shopping area was a bustling place in the 1950s and early 60s:  furniture stores, restaurants, movie theaters, shoe stores, clothing stores, and a myriad of other businesses. Sunset High School, where both of my sisters attended, is on Jefferson. Both the Vogue Theater and the famous Texas Theater were on West Jefferson Blvd. (I don’t like to call it “infamous.”) I often went to the movies at these theaters, as did most kids in that area at the time. In the 1960s Mother dropped me and a my girlfriend Gay off in front of the theater, and we spent the afternoon watching movies. On special occasions, Daddy drove the family into downtown Dallas to see movies at the Majestic, the Tower, or the Palace theaters. These theaters were where the big movies played, such as “How the West Was Won,” “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” “Ben Hur,” and “The Ten Commandments.” I still have the charm bracelet and the book my parents bought me at “The Ten Commandments.” After one particular billed movie presentation at one of the downtown theaters, the theater showed a sneak preview of Elvis Presley’s “Jailhouse Rock.” We stayed to see what it was about, but apparently it wasn‘t deemed good family entertainment by Daddy, because he marched us out during the first song when Elvis began shaking his hips. I don’t think we were alone. Oak Cliff also had a drive-in movie theater named Chalk Hill, which we went to occasionally.

Ten Commandments Bracelet
My “Ten Commandments” charm bracelet, which included a Bible and The Lord’s Prayer; purchased at the theater where we saw “The Ten Commandments”; abt 1956

 

The Wynnewood Village shopping center was located at West Illinois and South Zang Blvd. very near I-35E. It was an outdoor mall with close-in parking. The stores I best remember in Wynnewood Village were Volks clothing store and Goff’s hamburgers; and there was the Wynnewood Theater, which I went to occasionally. Volks had an entrance in front and in back, and I believe it was the back entrance that had a glass cage window which exhibited live monkeys. How bizarre.

Wynnewood Village and its nearby residential neighborhoods were a very popular place to live and shop at the time, and it has an interesting history.

Wynnewood Village History 

Occasionally, my good friend Saranne and her mother invited me to go with them to Neiman Marcus in downtown Dallas while Saranne’s mother shopped. We ate lunch there as part of the outing. This was the only time I ever stepped foot in Neiman Marcus when I was growing up, and I did not at the time fully appreciate the opportunity to do this with them. This must have been in the mid 1960s. I don’t know what I wore for these special outings, but I am sure Saranne and her mother both dressed up. Saranne and I spent our time giggling through the store and probably touching everything. I remember the old elevator with the cage bar doors (brass?) and the elevator operators. Her mother was so sweet to invite me along on these outings, and it was truly a special occasion for me. What fun! I hope I behaved myself.

Our House on Ovid

I was twelve years old in 1962 when we moved from our house on Mt. Pleasant in Oak Cliff to a brand new two-story house on Ovid Ave. We were still in Oak Cliff, but farther south near Westcliff Mall and the intersection of Hampton Road and Loop 12. The new house had four bedrooms, two baths, two living areas, a dishwasher, several big closets, and a two-car garage.

My sister Nancy told me years ago that the reason for the move was actually to pay for her major back surgery planned for the summer of 1962 after she graduated from high school. I plan to discuss her surgery in more detail in a subsequent post; but for the purposes of this post, Daddy and Mother needed the money from the sale of the house on Mt. Pleasant to pay for the surgery that insurance declined to cover. He used part of the money to purchase the house on Ovid. The doctor would not allow Nancy to sit, stand, or walk for several months after her surgery, so a bigger house with room for a king size bed offered a more comfortable place for her long recovery. Mom and Dad let Nancy use the downstairs master bedroom during her recovery.

Except for the old oak kitchen table, the oak bunk beds, and Daddy’s favorite vinyl easy chair, most of the furniture in our new house was purchased for the move. Most, if not all of it was from Rick’s Furniture on Jefferson Blvd. I loved that store, with what I remember as its expansive crowded showroom floors on two levels, very tall stairs, and many nooks and crannies. It was a fun place to explore. Mom and Dad bought new furniture for the master bedroom, including a king size bed for Nancy to roll around on until she recovered. I also got new bedroom furniture, which included a full size bed, dresser, and small student desk. I am sure Mother and Dad hoped I would do all of my studying at my desk, but I spent more time sitting cross-legged on my bed or on the floor than I did sitting at my desk. I think my back is repaying me for that today. 

Our new house was one and a half stories with two large picture windows on the front – one in the living room and one in the master bedroom. Two dormer upstairs windows faced the street. The double front door opened into a small entryway where a staircase ascended straight up just a couple of footsteps from the door. Upon entering, a hallway between the living room on the left and the stairs on the right led to the kitchen and the den at the back of the house. The long narrow kitchen/breakfast combination was between the front living room and the back den. The master bedroom and its very small bathroom were on the right of the stairs as you walk in the front door. An alley accessed the two-car garage in the back of the house where Daddy put his rock saw and rock grinding equipment. He built a rock garden next to the uncovered concrete pad of a back porch, where he and Mother frequently sat and enjoyed the fairly decent view from our small unfenced backyard.

 

 

The three upstairs bedrooms had big closets and shared one huge bathroom, which had a floor-to-ceiling wall of cabinets on one wall. It also had at least 30 square feet of unused floor space. I never understood the purpose for all of that wasted space. The bathtub/shower in this bathroom was right next to one of the front-facing upstairs windows, so a 90 degree curved shower curtain was necessary in the tub for privacy. Our house was on top of a hill and had no houses next door when we moved in, so from my north-facing bedroom window, I could see forever. Later a house was built on that side of the house, and the family who bought it had a son a year or two older than I. His and my windows were directly opposite each other, which prompted my parents to relocate me to the front middle bedroom vacated by my sister Nancy when she went to college.

We had a pool table for a while, and at one point it was upstairs. I had a group of guy friends in high school that came by fairly regularly. Daddy always welcomed them in, and they went straight to the pool table. It didn’t matter if I were home or not. I was standing in front of the bathroom mirror once when the pool table was upstairs, and Mother walked by while one of the guys was standing in the bathroom door holding his pool cue and talking to me. A mini-lecture on proper etiquette followed soon after. My parents moved the pool table downstairs into the den after that, and it just occurred to me why.

I had some other guy friends who occasionally came by in the middle of the night just to throw rocks at my upstairs window, which at the time was directly over my Mother’s and Dad’s room. Our basset beagle Charlie heard them one night and tore through the house barking. Mom and Dad were asleep in bed, of course; but Daddy woke up, went to the back, opened the sliding glass door into our unfenced back yard, and told Charlie to “sic ‘em.” The guys took off, with Charlie had their heels. I could hear the friendly perps laughing all the way as they disappeared into the dark around the corner of the house. Charlie knew who they were and would not have hurt them. The guys probably weren’t even scared; but they quit coming over in the middle of the night.

We always flew the Stars and Stripes on patriotic holidays, and Mother usually helped Daddy “raise the flag.” One memorable morning he asked her to hold the flag a minute while he went to the garage to get something. There she stood…“in the dawn’s early light”…on the front porch…in rollers and a nightgown…practically at attention…holding the flag…. Daddy thought she was so cute that he took his time coming back. I smile when I think of this scene. It was such a “Towner moment.”

1962 Mother Flag Ovid2
There is no photo of Mother holding the American flag, so I created one.

The house on Ovid was a very nice house – a huge improvement over the small house on Mt. Pleasant, but I loved Mt. Pleasant, too, and it was the only world I knew until we moved. I turned 13 after we moved into the house on Ovid, at which time my world became a lot bigger and busier. I have many fond memories of both homes.

Elementary School

My family moved to Mt. Pleasant in 1946 before I was born. Both of my sisters attended George Peabody Elementary School in Oak Cliff. My oldest sister Patsy began first grade there in 1946, and she remembers the basement of the school was dungeon-like with an unpleasant odor. I think she even used the word “creepy” to describe it. I started first grade in 1956. The school had been renovated by then, and my memory of it is much more pleasant than my sister Patsy’s. However, for those readers who have had bad dreams of being naked in public, this is the setting for my naked-in-public dreams.

Mother was most certainly delighted when I started school in 1956. Before that, I must have spent a lot of boring hours driving her crazy. Wearing a pair of “stilts” that looked like a couple of Spam cans with string handles tied to them, I clanked around the house whining, “When do I get to go to school?” Mother always answered, “Soon, very soon.”

Peabody was about one-half mile from our home, but it seemed a lot farther the many times that I walked to and from school. As I headed out for school, my first hurdle was the dreaded walk down Sheldon, where I had to pass by a house with a couple of fierce barking Boxers. After conquering my fear of these dogs, I passed the fire station at the bottom of the big hill on Sheldon, which Google Maps shows still stands but looks vacant. I then negotiated my second hurdle, namely the big and very busy intersection of Jefferson and Westmoreland, both divided avenues. Thank goodness for the crossing guard at that intersection, although she yelled at me once for jaywalking with some older kids across Westmoreland in front of the fire station. This intersection has changed very little since my Oak Cliff days. It still looks treacherous, and I wonder if school children are allowed to cross this busy intersection today, with or without a crossing guard. My deepest gratitude goes out to my crossing guard for traumatizing me that day with her indelible crosswalk safety lesson. Jefferson/Westmoreland intersection

On warm spring days, as I approached home on foot after school, I was met by the lilting and ever-so-inviting sound of piano music wafting down the street through our open windows. Often the music was accompanied by the inviting aroma of fresh-baked cookies. An oven-fresh chocolate chip cookie paired with a cold Pepsi in a tall frosty metal glass was the best after-school snack – or any kind of snack.

My first grade teacher was tall, young, and pretty. Sometimes she allowed us students, one at a time, to take turns standing behind her and rubbing her shoulders while she sat in a lone chair in front of the class and read us a story. My classmates (especially the boys) all clamored over who got to do this, because often it was possible to see right down the front of her blouse. It was quite the first grade education, which I actually witnessed myself once. She seemed to have no idea what was going on.

 

Mother made my lunch every day for school, and I carried it in a brown paper sack left over from the grocery store. I’m not talking about small lunch-size brown bags. I’m talking brown paper grocery sacks, some of which were full-size. My favorite sandwich (believe it or not) was liverwurst with sliced dill pickles. I also liked tuna salad, chicken salad, egg salad, and bologna sandwiches. I did not like peanut butter and jelly. Mother often included a pickle spear and a boiled egg with a small cellophane-wrapped dash of salt to dip the egg in; and she always put some kind of dessert in the bag, too: a homemade chocolate chip cookies, a brownie, or a piece of chocolate or angel food cake. I always bought a carton of milk for lunch, which I recall cost seven cents. In twelve years, the only other food I remember purchasing from the school cafeteria was hot cloverleaf rolls with butter and rice with gravy, which are still at the top of my list of favorites.

My first kiss took place in first grade at George Peabody in a class held regularly in the auditorium. My friend Mike and I sneaked on stage behind the plush red velvet curtain to kiss in the dark. He was my first boyfriend and my last, until I met my husband-to-be in college in 1968.

I attended George Peabody Elementary School from first through sixth grades. Seventh grade was still elementary school for me, but during sixth grade in 1962 we moved farther south in Oak Cliff to our new house on Ovid Ave. I finished sixth grade at Peabody and attended John W. Carpenter Elementary School on Tosca Lane in seventh grade. It was just a short block from our house and a much easier walk to school than Peabody was.

John W. Carpenter Elementary School was a fairly new school at the time in a fairly new neighborhood and was a much nicer facility than Peabody was. Having only spent one year there, I don’t have a lot of memories of it; however, I do remember my seventh grade graduation dance in the gym. Mother took me to the “beauty parlor” at Sanger Harris to have my hair cut and styled into a “bubble” and to shop for a dress for the graduation party. As the “beauty operator” was finishing up my “do,” she asked me, “Do you have a bow?” I thought she meant did I have a beau, and I was embarrassed to tell her that I did not. I must have elaborated a bit too much about not having a beau, because she stopped me and laughed and explained that she just wanted to know if I had a bow for my hair. As for the dress, I fell in love with a dreamy chiffon dress with pink flowers, and when I arrived at the party in my beautiful new dress, I discovered several other girls had fallen in love with the same dress. The dance was hosted by a DJ from the popular AM radio station KLIF 1190. His name was Irving Harrigan, a.k.a. Ron Chapman, who, as most Dallasites know, became a famous personality/celebrity in the Dallas area, if not the entire country. National Radio Hall of Fame, Ron Chapman. I had an opportunity to meet Ron Chapman at a party on Swiss Avenue in the late 1970s or early 80s. I mentioned the seventh grade graduation party to him, but I don’t think he remembered – not that I would have expected him to. I enjoy telling this story of my “beau,” the popular graduation dress, and the legendary DJ.

 

1950-62 Early Childhood on Mt. Pleasant

My parents were both 37 years old when I was born. They were older than any of my friends’ parents, but I didn’t think much about it. I was about 50 years old when I asked my parents if having me was an accident. Answering in unison, Mother said “yes,” and Daddy said “no.” After giggling quietly to each other, they quickly went on to explain that after my sister Nancy was born, they tried unsuccessfully to conceive again for five years. They finally gave up, which is when Mother became pregnant with me. That’s their story.

Daddy was tall, thin, and, of course, handsome. He had very straight fine hair, and I fondly recall sitting on the living room floor with him while he let me comb his thin oiled black hair with a fine toothed comb. When I was little, we often played a game where we rubbed noses and repeated, “Buddy, Buddy, Buddy, Buddy, Buddy…”  I believed Daddy when he told me and my sisters that his real name was “Timothy Titus Obadiah William Henry Walter Simm Ruben Rufus Solomon Jim Simon Timon Wallace Pat Christopher Dick Jehoshaphat!” He always repeated it at a quick rhythmic pace, and it always sounded like it ended with an exclamation mark. I only recently discovered the background of this rhyme when I searched the Internet and found an early more accurate version of the entire ditty. The Longest Name Song

At about the age of five, I went with the family to a public swimming pool somewhere near Ft. Worth, I jumped into the very crowded wading pool, slipped and fell on the sloped sides, and split my head open. My big sister Patsy was watching after me, and she ran to get our parents. They rushed me to an emergency room where a doctor stitched up the back of my head. All I remember about the hospital treatment room is staring up at the bright ceiling lights from a narrow table that looked like an ironing board.

My playground was the great outdoors, where I played unsupervised with neighborhood kids for hours at a time. We played catch, hide-n-seek, chase, jacks on the front porch, and the now politically incorrect cowboys and Indians, where I galloped around on my stick horse, wore a holster, and waved my cap gun. I also liked to kick or throw a football around with Daddy in the front yard.

It was always fun drawing hopscotch squares on the sidewalk with chalk rocks that I found in the dirt. Sometimes I got creative, and once (around five years old) I embarrassed my sister Nancy when I chalked “TT + BM” in big letters on the sidewalk in front of our house. (The boy next door was “BM.”) I had no idea why Nancy was so completely appalled about this, especially since I was so proud of knowing my alphabet. Speaking of BM, I once walked into his house without knocking. Their screen door was shut but not locked, which said, “Come on in!” to me. I walked in the front door, around the corner through the hallway, and into the bedroom near the front. There I stood, dumbfounded and face-to-face with Mr. and Mrs. M.  Mr. M also stood dumbfounded – in his underwear. Mrs. M was still in bed with the sheet only half covering her naked body. I had never even seen my own parents in this state of undress!

When Dallas received a good snow, which did happen more frequently in the 1950s and 60s, I bundled up in my overcoat, mittens, and toboggan, and I dragged my toboggan down the street. (I wore a toboggan, and I rode a toboggan.) Mother often made me wear layers of socks over my mittens and shoes to help keep warm. Around the corner on Frances Street there was a big steep hill perfect for sledding. No one (not kids, not parents) ever worried about getting hurt flying down that steep hill in the snow. It was thrilling. I came home frozen to the bone with a bright red nose; and my face, hands, and feet hurt from the cold. Mother peeled off the layers of icy clothing and set me down by the ceramic heater to thaw.

I was in first grade when Mother signed me up for ballet and tap dance lessons. She picked me up from school in the car and drove me to my lesson somewhere on Jefferson Ave. It was a typical dance studio for the time with tile floors, mirrors, and ballet barres. I watched myself in the mirror, thinking I wasn‘t very good. I must not have taken dance lessons very long, or I would remember more about it. I also took ballroom dance a few years later; and when the twist dance craze erupted around 1960, I went to a party where everyone learned to twist non-stop for a couple of hours to Chubby Checker’s “The Twist.”

Daddy and Mother were very close to their three girls, but they were not involved in school. Mother did belong to my PTA, although she was not a very active member. She once apologized to me, saying if she had been more involved in my school activities, I would have had an easier time in school. She said this when I didn’t make the first list of girls who made the high school drill team, but I was brought into the drill team before the first season began. I was surprised and puzzled by her remark, because I never felt slighted in any way. My parents did not attend football games when I was performing with the drill team in junior high school or high school. They did, however, come to the high school musical productions I was involved in.

I was happy not to be a Brownie or a Girl Scout. I think I went to one Brownie meeting. I was not interested in joining any group or activity that would require me to go away to camp or spend any time away from home. I was spoiled. I often watched a black and white TV in my room late in the afternoon and fell asleep in a chair watching cartoons while Mother fixed supper. She woke me up when dinner was ready.

No wonder I didn’t want to be away from home – nothing but fond memories of growing up on Mt. Pleasant.

 

Rotary Dial Telephone

At the top of the stairs in our house on Ovid in Oak Cliff in the 1960s, Mother placed an antique wooden accent table with a small antique mirror, both of which are family heirlooms. This is where she placed the upstairs telephone, which was on a long cord that could reach into any of the three upstairs bedrooms, bathroom, and even a closet or three. The phone I remember best on that table was a Princess phone; however, the phone I have more nostalgic memories of is the heavy old black rotary phone, which is what I remember using when we lived on Mt. Pleasant.

I have the table and mirror; and when my husband Gene and I recently moved, I decided to place them together in the hallway. On top of the table I placed a replica of the old black phone I remember. I looked on-line at authentic vintage phones, but most of the ones I saw looked too worn and dirty, and the restored phones cost too much for this purpose; so I decided to buy a replica instead. It is a working phone, but I do not have it plugged in.

old telephone replica w mirror.png
Heirloom table and mirror with replica of old rotary dial phone

My son Chris, his wife Heather, and their two children Blake and Reagan were here after Christmas for a visit. Ten-year-old Reagan immediately asked about that odd-looking thing in the hallway, and when her mother and I explained to her what it was, she was even more curious. She wanted to know if it worked and how. I told her it was supposed to work but that I had not actually plugged it in to try it yet. I said we could test it while she was here, and the next thing I knew, we were doing just that. This demonstration of how to use a rotary phone was going to be a very interesting and fun exercise, and it would be so simple.

First, I found the cord that came with it and plugged it into the wall jack. One end fit perfectly into the wall jack, but the other end did not fit into the phone jack. After struggling with this for a while, Reagan said, “T-ma, maybe if we unplug the cord from here [handset], it will fit into this one [line].” At first I thought, “Well, that’s not going to work,” but I looked at the labels on the underside of the phone (which I had apparently not done when I unpacked the phone), and it turns out that I had plugged the handset cord into the line plug, and Reagan and I had been trying to plug the line cord into the empty handset plug. So, after Reagan fixed that problem, we moved on to the next step.

Reagan wanted to dial her cousin in California, my granddaughter Ashlee (age 12). They were already on their iPads FaceTiming each other at that very moment, and Reagan’s iPad was sitting right next to the rotary phone, which was only one of the missed photo ops of this demonstration. A few inches away but fifteen hundred miles away, Ashlee sat and waited for Reagan’s call. I wrote down Ashlee’s telephone number on a piece of paper for Reagan, who put the handset to her ear and started dialing. This is a general recap of how this simple exercise went:

Me:  Listen for the dial tone. Dial 1 first. Then the area code. Then the number…Ok, go…Put your finger in the finger hole for each number and slide your finger around the dial until your finger hits the stop….No, wait. Don’t take your finger out of the hole until it hits the stop…You’ll have to hang up and start over. Hang up means set the handset back on the cradle, which depresses the buttons and disconnects…Be sure to dial all the way to where the finger-stop is…Good…Oops. Let the rotary dial go back by itself. Don’t keep your finger in it…Ok, do it again…Well, you waited too long between numbers…You’ll have to start over again …Your finger slipped…Do it again…Oh, the phone moved and your finger slipped again…Keep the phone still while you dial…Oh, me. You’ll have to start over…

We were all three giggling very hard very soon, which also made it difficult for Reagan to complete the task; and poor Ashlee could hear but not see our struggles and was still patiently waiting for her phone to ring. I’m sure she was wondering what the problem was.

This whole demonstration went on for about 30 minutes. Reagan kept having to start over for various reasons. I didn’t remember there were so many things that could go wrong dialing a rotary phone. One problem was that the phone replica isn’t as heavy as the real thing, and it kept sliding and throwing her off. Reagan’s mom Heather was sitting nearby listening to our dialing frustrations. I am certain I heard her giggling more than once, usually after she heard one of my repeated exclamations, “This is my nightmare come true!” (Seriously, I have had many “frustration dreams” about trying to dial a number on a rotary phone in an emergency but misdialing and having to start over again and again.)

“OK,” I said, “Let me see if I can do it” and I started dialing it myself. I couldn’t do it either. I’m not sure why, but it turns out this simple phone would not allow us to dial a long distance number, even if we did it right – a problem that careful dialing would not solve.

So, I told Reagan and Ashlee that Ashlee would have to call us. Reagan gave Ashlee our number, she called, and Reagan answered. That worked like a charm. The cousins talked for a few seconds, then Reagan hung up and happily resumed talking with Ashlee on her iPad.

Besides not having the weight that the original phone had, the replica is not an exact replica. It looks very similar, but the center of the dial is a button that activates a speaker; there are two volume switches on the underside of the phone – one for the ringer and one for the speaker; and there are also two extra holes past Zero/Operator on the finger dial for * and #.

We had fun, but Reagan and Ashlee must be a bit mystified by the so-called simplicity of the rotary dial phone. I am pretty sure that my demonstration did not convince them how easy the original was to use, and they both think their T-ma is funny.

I  hope I never have to make an emergency call on my rotary phone – only in my dreams.

 

The Towner Family Christmases

The Towner Christmases were always special. One of my favorite stories is from about 1955. It was Christmas Eve, we were living on Mt. Pleasant, and Mother asked my sister Nancy (six years older than I) to take me into another room and entertain me for a while. (Mother had some last-minute gifts to wrap which she did not want me to know about.) Nancy and I disappeared into the bedroom and closed the door. She took out a deck of cards, and we sat on the floor where she dealt herself a hand of solitaire. I’m on the floor in front of her, looking her in the eyes and probably jabbering away. She looks down at her cards and nonchalantly says something along the line of “You know there’s no Santa Clause, don’t you? Mother’s out there right now wrapping your gifts from Santa Clause. Look under the door.” I did look under the door, and I could see Mother’s hands wrapping a box with Christmas paper…and that’s how I learned about Santa Clause. Please don’t misunderstand how I feel about this or how I feel about my sweet sister Nancy. I remember this vividly, but I wasn’t shocked, sad, or surprised. I just remember it today as a funny anecdote, which I love to tell.

Towner tradition was: every year the family would go pick out a tree. Each year we went to a different place. Sometimes it was a local grocery store which brought in trees for the season. In the ’60s, I believe there was a nursery in the area that had trees, too. It seems like we usually bought green trees, but every now and then we took home a flocked tree, which I loved. At least once after we moved to our house on Ovid Avenue in 1962, Mom and Dad put one of those fake silver tinsel trees in the front window with a rainbow strobe spotlight on it – trendy. We opened presents Christmas morning and enjoyed a big traditional Christmas meal on Christmas Day.

Our house on Ovid had two huge picture windows with window seats on the front. The living room window was a perfect place for a Christmas tree! I liked to see how long I could stand without moving next to the tree in the front window, so people driving by would think I was a big doll. It’s odd that with all of the photos Daddy took, especially in the 1960s and ‘70s, I don’t seem to have any photographs of Christmases at our home on Ovid.

Meanwhile, back on Mt. Pleasant…

Unlike the house on Ovid, our small house on Mt. Pleasant actually did not have a perfect place for a Christmas tree, but Mother made one. My favorite thing to do was set up my Lionel train set under the tree. I can still smell the odor of that transformer mingling with the scent of the tree. I don’t remember when we got the trainset. I don’t even know if it was really mine or not, but it always felt like mine. During the year, Daddy stored the trainset in an antique wooden box which Daddy’s Uncle Jim handmade for him when he was living in Dwight, Kansas. (I am happy to say that I still have the box.) Decorating our Christmas tree was always a family affair, with glass Christmas balls, the ever-stubborn strings of lights, and usually silver tinsel icicles.

Christmas morning was a thrill for me, and we always had a lot of gifts under the tree. I specifically remember only a few of the gifts from my youngest years: a Patti Playpal doll, a white rabbit stole with hat, and a wooden highway set. In my pre-teens or teens Mom and Dad gave me at least one Beatles album; a green portable stereo for the Beatles album; a set of Lincoln Logs, and a spotted rabbit parka with hood, which I loved and wore way into my adulthood, even though the sleeves were slightly too short.

My most meaningful Christmases of the 1950s and 1960s involved my three years with the Westminster Youth Choir of Oak Cliff Presbyterian Church. In 1966, at the invitation of a childhood neighbor friend Andy, I reluctantly joined the choir. It was difficult for me to step out of my comfort zone of sticking close to Mom and Dad, but I never regretted it. Besides all of the other choir activities and fellowship, every year the large youth choir presented Handel’s Messiah on Christmas Eve. We rehearsed for months before the concert and performed for congregation, friends, and family. Our concert began at just the right time so that it ended at midnight with our singing the Hallelujah Chorus. Being a member of the choir in general was a very moving experience for me, and performing Handel’s Messiah with the choir, even more so. My parents were always there, and I think my sisters were probably able to come at least once. This made for a very late Christmas Eve for us but was something I looked forward to every year. I miss it.

This brings my childhood Christmas musings to an abrupt close, and I want to take this opportunity to wish everyone a very Blessed Christmas.

Peace on Earth.