Toward the end of my senior year in 1968, a friend of mine, who worked at Ling-Temco-Vought in Grand Prairie, asked me if I would like to work there for the summer. I talked it over with my parents, I interviewed for a position, I was offered a job, and I decided to take the challenge of my very first job. I carpooled each day with my friend and two other co-workers for the fifteen- or twenty-mile drive to work. This job was quite an eye-opening experience for me – a sheltered, naïve, young girl.
The Grand Prairie LTV plant was built in 1968, and this plant produced the F-8 Crusader and the A-7 Corsair II aircraft from 1950-1989. The Naval Air Station was part of this complex, and its runway over Mountain Creek Lake to the south was busy all day every day with touch-and-go test flights. I worked in the back of a vast complex of buildings. The huge building I worked in was enclosed, but the interior was completely open from one side to the other. Inside, there was an airplane hangar on opposite sides of the building, and in between the two hangars was a two- or three-level expanse of desks where aeronautical engineers wearing ear protection toiled away and rarely looked up.
My job was to proofread MEARs, which is an acronym for an ultra-technical report called Maintenance Engineering Analysis Record or slight variations of that name. In 1968 all of the aeronautical engineers I saw there were men. As far as I could tell, the only females in the entire complex worked in clerical positions, which would be normal for that period. We summer employees were often asked to run errands from where we worked at the back of this complex to the administrative area up front. More than once, I made this long walk through the cavernous noisy manufacturing facility. It was a long dimly lit path through a dark mechanical “forest,” roaring with machinery and accompanying animal calls and whistles. Often I was unable to tell where the sounds were coming from or what lurked in the dark canopy above me. I seriously doubt that I would be allowed anywhere near this machinery today.
I worked at LTV for ten to twelve weeks that summer of ’68, and I made what was pretty good pay for the time. I put most of that money into my college bank account to use at Texas Tech in the following fall, and Mom and Dad let me use part of it to buy some new clothes to take with me.
Probably less than ten years ago, I drove by the former LTV complex in Grand Prairie and found it was at least partially occupied by Triumph. I checked again recently; and it appears, per a 2014 Dallas Morning News article, the Navy turned the complex over to the City of Dallas around 2012, and in 2014 it was a vast nearly deserted complex owned and operated by Dallas Global, who appeared to be trying to revive it. In 2014 it was home to only 25-30 employees, and Dallas Global was looking for tenants – a far cry from the 29,000 workers it once housed.
I didn’t see it then, but later I began to see the humor: I was an eighteen-year-old girl, I was barely out of high school, and I was assigned the task of proofreading documents about building and repairing fighter jets. Offered up that way, it is kind of funny, regardless of the fact that I only checked grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
The F-8 Crusader (the last American fighter to use guns as its primary weapon) became known as “The Last of the Gunfighters.” The A-7 Corsair II was a slightly smaller version of the F-8. From what I have read, they were both successful aircraft, which I’m sure can be attributed to one of the proofreaders employed by LTV during the summer of 1968.
In 1962 we moved from Mt. Pleasant St. to our house on Ovid, which was in a very new neighborhood farther south in Oak Cliff. Westcliff Mall was my favorite hangout. It was an easy walk from our house, and I could get there on my own. Per the Oak Cliff Advocate article by Gayla Brooks dated October 27, 2014, mall construction began in 1963. Oak Cliff’s first indoor mall was located on the northeast corner of Ledbetter/Loop 12 and South Hampton Rd. intersection, about one-half mile south of our house.
Mother made almost daily trips to the Kroger grocery store at Westcliff Mall. If not there, she went to the A&P on Kiest Blvd., which was only slightly farther from our house. I often walked to the mall with one of my two best friends Saranne or Gay. I loved browsing through the cosmetic section of the drug store. Lipsticks, eye shadows, and powder compacts were my favorites. My parents didn’t particularly like the idea of my hanging out in the drug store, and they lectured/cautioned me at least once about shoplifting – if a product went missing in the store, I could be accused of taking it just by being there. I was very careful not to do anything that might lead anyone to think I was shoplifting.
After I graduated from high school in 1968, I used money I earned from my summer job at LTV to shop at Margo’s La Mode for a few clothing items to take with me to Texas Tech in the fall. I don’t remember what else I bought, but I vividly remember purchasing a very stylish 60s style lime green suede and black leather coat with three-quarter length sleeves, which I wore with three-quarter length black leather gloves. I loved that coat. It was “groovy.” I wish I had kept it, but I still have the gloves and wore them with other things until maybe only a decade ago. Mother seemed to approve of my purchases. I think the coat cost about $50, and I wore it a lot. I don’t have a picture of it, but I drew a rough likeness of the coat on the computer just for fun.
There was an apartment complex on the east side of the mall. A very visible alley ran between the apartments and Loop 12 to the south. One day Mother let me have the car to run to the grocery store for her. While I was out, I took the car for an unapproved spin around the block and ended up going down the alley, where I got a flat tire. When I began driving, Daddy showed me how to change a flat tire, but then he told me never to change a tire myself, unless absolutely necessary. So, like a good daughter, I called home, and he came to change the tire for me. I don’t remember how I explained to him why I was in the alley. Maybe I didn’t. Maybe he didn’t ask. He was a good father.
While I was still in elementary school, my dad said I could get my teeth straightened, but only if I decided on my own that I wanted to correct my overbite – the decision was mine to make. At first, I said no; but I thought about it for years and became more and more self-conscious of my teeth, so I finally decided in tenth grade to do it. I remember when I first thought seriously about it: the school held a “hillbilly day,” and for some reason I thought I would wear red lipstick with my costume. I quickly discovered that dark red lips made my overbite/buck teeth even more prominent. I wore braces for three years. My orthodontist Dr. Robert Stringfellow officed in the Westcliff Mall office building. He didn’t promise, but he said I might not have to wear headgear if I followed his instructions. He also said overbites like mine often needed headgear to correct. So I followed his instructions to a T, my teeth did exactly what he said they should do, and I never had to wear headgear. Dr. Stringfellow removed my braces a few months after I was married in 1969. He liked to take credit for my “finding” a husband. I only recently quit having bad dreams about my teeth hurting or falling out or losing my retainer. I recently Googled Dr. Stringfellow’s name and discovered that he passed away in 2017. May he rest in peace.
Westcliff Mall was entirely demolished in 1997 and replaced with a new shopping center.
Daddy was an avid rockhound. In the early 1960s, he and Mother joined the Oak Cliff Gem and Mineral Society in Dallas, and he began pursuing his interest in rocks. It was in that pursuit that he and Mother attended regular club meetings and took the family on rock-hunting trips all over the southwestern United States – a pastime they both enjoyed. I enjoyed it, too, but not to the degree that they did. They called me their little pebble puppy.
They hunted (among other things) topaz, quartz crystals, sapphires, agate, fossils, palmwood, and (on at least one occasion) Arkansas diamonds. In the Arkansas Ozarks, they found many quartz crystals (some of which he faceted into settings for necklaces, rings, earrings, and brooches). Some of their most prolific and prized finds were white jade from Wyoming, opal in a variety of colors from Idaho, and Montana sapphires (best known for having a deep blue color). He also bought and traded at gem shows across the southwest United States. One of his trade show gems was a rutilated topaz which had been misplaced in a bin of quartz crystals. Daddy picked it up, studied it, told the owner where he had found it, and asked if it had been mislabeled. After studying it for a minute, the owner said it was not quartz but rather rutilated topaz which had apparently been placed in the wrong bin. He let Daddy buy it for the lower price of the quartz. Daddy faceted it into an emerald cut and gave it to me. After I got married, I had it mounted into a 14 carat gold solitaire ring, which I still have and still wear. It is one of my many prized possessions that Daddy created. Sometime in the 1970s, I had someone in the field of gemstones tell me that this stone could not possibly be a topaz, so I took it to one of Daddy’s gemologist-friends, who tested it and said it was definitely topaz.
Mother found a diamond once, but she was not digging and sifting in the dirt. We were vacationing in New Mexico in the 1960s, and Mother was in a dirty old “filling station” sitting on a toilet seat layered with toilet paper. I can still picture this dingy old restroom with its grimy floor and walls, a small window too high to see out of, rusty pipes, chipped and scratched fixtures, and one tiny stall. Mother said something caught her eye against the wall in the far corner on the floor in the stall. Something sparkled in a sliver of sunlight coming through the small window. She just happened to be looking in just the right direction, at just the right time, in just the right light; and she reached down and picked up a small faceted stone. She thought it must be a rhinestone; but after close inspection, Daddy thought it might be a diamond. After we returned home, he took it to one of his lapidary friends for testing and confirmed it was a nearly flawless seven-eighths carat diamond. Later, one Christmas, Daddy surprised Mother with a ring, and in the center was this diamond; which was especially touching, because years earlier in Santa Fe before they began trailering, Mother said she lost the center diamond of her engagement ring. She and Daddy turned that hotel room upside down looking for it but never found it. Sadly, my sisters and I think the diamond she found came out of this ring, too, and was lost. If that isn’t so, we don’t know what happened to it.
Mother always accompanied the little girls to the public restrooms along the road, and she was always the last to leave. In the 1960s, “filling stations” were not as convenient or as easy to find on highways as they are today, and most of them were closed at night, which also meant the pumps were closed. Public restrooms in these “filling stations” were rarely, if ever, clean. They were usually accessed from outside of the service station, around the side or in the back. They were mostly old, small, dirty, in disrepair, and often had no toilet paper, hand soap, or paper towels. Often the entry door didn’t close or lock properly, so one of us stood outside and guarded the door. There was also the exquisite cloth hand towel roller dispenser often found on the wall in lieu of paper towels. The cloth towel rolled out for use by pulling on the cloth. As the towel rolled out, the used towel rolled back up into the dispenser. The towel came out looking pressed but usually not clean. The photo below came from an unknown source off of the Internet and is a surprisingly clean example. I never understood where the soiled part of the towel ended up. Did it come back out the front after being pressed by the roller? It’s a mystery to me.
Daddy took his and Mother’s rock hunting excursions to another level by writing many articles about their most interesting rock-hunting adventures, which were published in Lapidary Journal . In some of his old files, I found a résumé he had written indicating that he authored 36 articles for Lapidary Journal, which were published over eleven years, from 1968 through 1978. It is a fact, however, that he wrote at least one article after 1978 in the June 1981 issue of Lapidary Journal. He must have written his résumé documenting 36 articles before 1981. The material for his first published article was inspired by a field trip he and Mother made with the Oak Cliff Gem and Mineral Society in Dallas, Texas, to Erdman’s Ranch. He wrote that it was exciting to be out with their trailer and a friendly group of nutty rock hounds. In his journal he wrote that there was no premeditated plan on his part to materialize a story, but he carried a loaded camera and a small notebook to record any important facts. Many years later he wrote that the events as they occurred during that first trip seemed small and insignificant, and it was not until he returned home and began laughing over the memories of the trip that it occurred to him to record the events with pictures and words before the details faded from memory. Even then, he said, he would not acknowledge that he was thinking about writing a story. He also wrote a couple of articles for Rockhound and Gems and Minerals magazines.
In all of my parents’ travels, I only know of one close call on the road with their trailer, which happened on Good Friday in April 1971. I was twenty-one years old and married. Our apartment in Oak Cliff did not have a washer and dryer, so I was at their house in Oak Cliff doing laundry when they returned home from a rock-hunting excursion to Big Bend National Park. They drove in the driveway without their 22-foot Monitor trailer, which they left with. Daddy made notes of this event and published an article about it in the December 1971 issue of Lapidary Journal. He wrote:
We were traveling north on a straight, good, paved road. We had just crossed over the top of the grade and were having an easy pull on a gentle downgrade that stretched straight away for miles in the distance. The sun was low and the clear blue sky was a straight line on the horizon. There was no wind. Our spirits were high as we rolled along at an even sixty miles an hour and discussed the upcoming plans for a pleasant evening.
Suddenly, without the slightest warning, a terrible push from behind like a shove in a crowd, surged us forward. The trailer was forcing us up ahead and with a twisting motion. I fought the steering wheel and the brakes for control. It was no use. A vehicle bore down on my left, much too close and too fast. I pulled hard to the right to avoid a collision. The car responded immediately by turning crossways on the road. The passing vehicle, a late model pickup truck with a camper cover and pulling an eighteen foot Nomad trailer, swerved to the left and blasted on ahead. Our trailer skidded completely sideways, lurched and dove sidelong into the gravel shoulder of the road, exploding in a giant cloud of dust which hung sickenly over the wreckage for minutes.
We spun helplessly completely around, once, perhaps twice, but free of the trailer. We ended up facing the trailer wreckage from the opposite shoulder of the road. We sat there stunned and in shock. “We are all right!! We did not turn over! We are okay!” Pat babbled and patted me. A man (the driver of the other vehicle) stepped up to my window and peered down at me. “I’m sorry,” he said. “Man! You sure wrecked me! You really did wreck me!” I answered.
The pain was complete….Our trip was suddenly over.
Mother and Daddy were returning from their first trip to Big Bend National Park and were about thirteen miles south of Fort Stockton. Daddy wrote in his personal journal that the driver of the pickup truck was pulling a trailer and was from Irving, Texas. He was going around 80 mph when he passed Daddy. With the help of their traveling companions, the Bowmers, Daddy and Mother spent hours hunting for and retrieving their collection of precious and semi-precious stones that they had carried with them and which were now scattered all over the rocky desert landscape. He cut, faceted, and/or polished most of these stones. Two miracles occurred that day: one, that Mother and Dad survived without injury, and another that they actually found most (maybe all) of their rock specimens. Daddy filed a lawsuit in Odessa, Texas, but the man was uninsured. Daddy expected the lawsuit would be unsuccessful. It was a $3,000 loss.
I greeted them in the driveway when they returned home after this terrible mishap. They got out of the car and Mother gave me a big hug and started to cry. It was a frightening experience for them. About a year later, they bought a new Hi-Lo travel trailer and resumed their happy camping. Daddy nicknamed their new trailer Scooty. It collapsed to half its height using hydraulics, which made it lighter and less resistant to wind.
Daddy built a rock garden in the back yard of our house on Ovid in Oak Cliff using rocks that he and Mother (and we kids) found on rock hunting trips. Every time they moved after that, they moved the rocks, too. I still have some of them, and I think some might be scattered around with different family members who wanted them. Some we regrettably left behind or gave away to non-family over the years.
After my sisters and I grew up and left home, Mom and Dad merrily continued camping and rock-hunting into the mid- to late-1980s, until sadly they couldn’t drive any more. It was sad for my sisters and me to see them give up the hobby they loved so much which was such a big part of their lives. One day, I hope to blog Daddy’s personal rock-hunting journal.
My sweet sister Nancy is six years older than I. Nancy plays the piano beautifully, just like our Mother did; and when I think of her in my younger years, I picture her either at the piano playing Malagueña or in her Bisonette uniform on her way to a football game. We experienced some wonderful Towner camping trips together, and at home she played jaxx with me on the smooth solid concrete of our front porch. She taught me how to play Canasta, but she always won; and she taught me there was no Santa Clause. I shared a room with her when I was very small, and when our sister Patsy moved out, Nancy moved into Patsy’s room and left me alone in mine.
Before I was born, my mother and dad took Nancy (no older than six years old) and Patsy to see the Grand Canyon; and, of course, Daddy took family photos of the trip. As the story goes, while posing the family for a photo on the edge of the canyon, he looked into the camera’s viewfinder and was shocked to see Nancy swinging over the canyon on the guard rail like a gymnast. Unfortunately, I have no photographs of this.
Nancy went to L.V. Stockard Junior High School and was a member of the Sunset High School drill team, the Bisonettes. She had many friends and was voted Wittiest Senior Girl in high school. I was twelve years old when she was a senior, and I envied her keen sense of humor and her popularity. I was also jealous of her collection of shoes. During her senior year of high school (or perhaps the summer before) we moved from our house on Mt. Pleasant to a new house on Ovid. Although we moved out of the Sunset school district, she was allowed to finish her senior year there. Her upstairs room in our house on Ovid had a spacious walk-in closet. Inside the closet door on the left was a built-in wooden boxed platform shelf about three feet high. On this shelf is where she kept her many shoes stacked in their original boxes. I loved looking through all of her beautiful shoes. I don’t remember if I did this with or without her permission. When I whined to Mother about Nancy’s collection of shoes, Mother said I could have a lot of shoes, too, when my feet stopped growing. That made me feel a little better, but I still don’t have a collection of shoes to match hers from 1962.
In the summer of 1962, my sister Nancy had major back surgery to straighten her spine which was severely curved from scoliosis. She recently wrote in a letter to me,
I remember Mama telling me to sit up straight one day. I guess I was about eleven. I was on the floor sitting cross-legged. I replied that I was sitting as straight as I could. She argued and told me to stand up. Then she started really looking at my back. After that episode, she showed Daddy, and then we started making doctors’ appointments…. I don’t recall how many doctors we saw, but they all said the same thing:
1) I could stay in a room where I was unable to stand erect until I was about 20,
2) I could have spinal fusion, but if I were the doctor’s child, he would not do that since the correction would not be worth it,
3) [I could] do nothing.
Doing nothing meant that gravity would continue to tug on her spine, and her back would become progressively more crooked. She would become more and more incapacitated, and her life-span would be short.
Then one day in junior high school, Nancy said she was looking at the newspaper or a magazine and saw a full- or double-page advertisement or article about an innovative surgery for the treatment of scoliosis. She said she was surprised and excited to see many pictures in this article of backs that looked just like hers. She showed it to Daddy, and she and Daddy wrote a letter to the doctor in Houston who was performing this surgery. The doctor responded with a few questions and asked that we set up an appointment to see him in Houston. The surgeon’s name was Dr. Paul Randall Harrington, and his ground-breaking surgery consisted of straightening the curved spine and attaching a metal rod to it. This metal rod came to be known as the Harrington rod.
Nancy, Mother, and Dad drove to Methodist Hospital in Houston for a consultation in the fall of 1961 (her senior year), and Nancy said she was surprised to find an entire wing of the hospital dedicated to Dr. Harrington’s scoliosis patients. He encouraged Nancy to talk to some of the patients who were almost well enough to go home after surgery. Suddenly, Nancy said she didn’t feel so alone.
Mom and Dad saw this surgery as Nancy’s only hope for a longer and more normal life, and they scheduled surgery for her right after her high school graduation in the summer of 1962. This is when I spent a couple of weeks in Austin with my sister Patsy and her husband Bob. I believe Patsy, Bob and I drove to see Nancy once, while she was in the hospital in Houston. I vaguely remember seeing her lying in her hospital bed in a room she shared with at least one other patient. Dr. Harrington corrected Nancy’s back from a 72 degree curve to an amazing 27 degree curve. He performed many surgeries of this type in the 1960s and 1970s and is renowned as a pioneer in the field of treating scoliosis.
Nancy’s surgery was the reason Daddy sold our house on Mt. Pleasant in 1962 and bought the bigger and nicer house on Ovid. Unfortunately, the family’s insurance policy would not cover her surgery. Every doctor Daddy and Mother spoke to up until the time they took out medical insurance told them there was no treatment for her back problem, so the insurance agent changed the form to indicate no preexisting condition for Nancy. When Daddy asked the insurance company about covering her surgery, they said they would not cover it because her back problem was not listed on his insurance application. Of course, if her back problem had been listed, they would not have covered it because it was preexisting. So, in early 1962, Mother and Dad sold the house they bought in 1946 on Mt. Pleasant in order to use the equity to pay for the surgery.
After Nancy’s back surgery, she rode home from Houston to Dallas on the train. She was required to wear a cast from below her hips to her armpits for six months, and she had to stay in a prone position for three or four months, at the end of which time she learned to walk again. Mother and Dad gave up the only downstairs bedroom so Nancy could use it during her recovery. Her only mobility until she began walking again was log-rolling around the king-size bed that Mother and Dad purchased to help make her more comfortable during her recuperation.
Nancy had a television in her room, and she liked to watch The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson late at night. He must have been brand new to The Tonight Show at that time. I was not allowed to stay up and watch him. He came on too late, and Mother said I was too young. One night after Mother shooed me away to bed, I lingered on the stairs outside Nancy’s bedroom to listen to The Tonight Show. I wanted to find out why I wasn’t allowed to watch it. I guess I learned a little, but I still didn’t understand why it was such an issue.
After Nancy began to walk again, occasionally she stepped outside to visit with friends and family. One evening, as she stood on the front porch, a bug flew down the back of her cast, and she became nearly hysterical. I was the only one with hands small enough to reach down her back underneath the cast, so I was somehow able to rescue her from the bug and scratch her back until she said I could stop. I also occasionally swabbed her back with alcohol underneath the cast. She said it felt good. I felt useful.
After six months of recovery, Nancy had her cast removed but not by a doctor. Daddy cut Nancy’s cast off with a carpenter’s saw. Mother begged him to let the doctor remove it, but he did it himself in order to save money, under Mother’s heavy protest but without incident.
In 1965 Nancy married her best friend and high school classmate Larry. Nancy and Larry dated in high school but not each other. They were best friends, and Larry often came over to visit Nancy after his date with someone else. He came over or called frequently; and if I answered the phone, he always addressed me as Ta-Ta-Ta-Tina and chatted a few minutes with me before asking for Na-Na-Na-Nancy, which always made me giggle. While we still lived on Mt. Pleasant, he and Nancy liked to go out to our camper trailer parked in the front driveway…to study. I believe Nancy told me that she and Larry had an agreement that if they had not gotten married to anyone else by a certain date, they would get married to each other.
Larry was an active member of the United States Navy when they married, so they spent the first year or so apart. She flew to see him once when he was in port in Norfolk, Virginia; and he was proud to take her on a tour of his ship, the USS Georgetown. To prepare her for her onboard tour, Larry told Nancy that she would have to follow proper protocol when she boarded, and he taught her what to say and do. As she boarded, she obediently snapped her best salute while yelling, “Request to come aboard, SIR!” exactly as Larry had instructed and as she had rehearsed. The uniformed recipient of her snappy salute discreetly exchanged grins with Larry, who was standing directly behind Nancy. She was then granted permission to “come aboard.”
In 2009 Nancy saw a doctor about some back pain and found out that later in life many of the first scoliosis surgery patients like Nancy had problems resulting from their early surgeries. The articles linked to this post use the term “flatback syndrome,” referring to the problem caused by straightening the spine too straight and not leaving its natural curve. In the letter Nancy sent me about the surgery she said she had no regrets about these residual problems, because Dr. Harrington gave her the opportunity to marry, have three beautiful children, and live a fairly normal life. She said, “God is very good.”
I don’t remember much about Patsy while she was still living at home. She is ten years older than I, and she married and left home when I was almost ten. Swimming with her is one of her and my favorite memories. She earned her Red Cross lifeguard certification and taught swimming for the YWCA to small groups and individuals. She taught me to swim, although I don’t actually recall learning, because I was so young and (excuse the double negative) I don’t remember not knowing how to swim.
Patsy said one of her fondest memories of her baby sister is treading water under the low diving board and waiting for me to jump into her arms and swim to the side. I was probably younger than five. We swam often at Weiss Park in Oak Cliff. One time the lifeguard blew the whistle at me and told me I couldn’t be in the deep end of the pool unless I could swim across the deep end unaided, so I showed him how to do it. Patsy swam with me, without making any contact, in case I got into trouble. I was so proud of myself, and my family was proud, too – not to mention the look of surprise on the lifeguard’s face. I remember having quite an audience, and it really was quite a feat. I had not an ounce of fat on my body; so when I quit swimming, I sank like a rock – not like now.
Patsy told me that Mother and Daddy let her drive the car by herself for a couple of years before she legally obtained her driver’s license. They probably did that so she could help chauffeur me and my sister Nancy around and run other errands for Mama. Patsy remembers driving to Weiss Park to swim and to Mereck’s grocery store on Gilpin near Ft. Worth Highway (U. S. Hwy. 80). She reminded me of a time when she was driving, and I was in the back seat right behind her having trouble with my whirligig, which I was holding out the window. It was just the two of us, and we were only a block from home going down Frances St. I remember this fairly well and vaguely remember that a telephone pole was involved somehow. Patsy writes,
The wind was too much, and the whirligig wouldn’t turn, so I just turned around to help you. Your little voice still rings in my ears. “Watch out Patsy. You’re gonna hit the house.” I turned around and discovered we had gone up the drive into the alley and crossed over into someone’s yard and was headed right for the back of the house. I quickly turned the steering wheel, slammed on the brakes, and jumped the curb back down into the street….I remember it so clearly. It was summer time and hot, and we were in the little white Ford (model?). You were sitting on the little box in the back seat with only your underpants on. I don’t know where we were going.
My mother’s brother Fred, his wife Thelma, and their daughter Phyllis lived in Hawaii in 1958. Fred worked for the FBI. That year, a year before Hawaii received statehood, they invited Patsy to visit them in Hawaii for the summer. It was a high school graduation gift for Patsy from Mom and Dad and from Fred, Thelma, and Phyllis. Patsy so loved the ocean and the islands and has dreamy memories of that summer. Thanks to our cousin Phyllis and her parents, my sister was able to see Hawaii under the very best of circumstances – as a local and before it became a state and so commercialized. Patsy had a high fidelity long-playing record album of tropical island style music called “Taboo” by Arthur Lyman. I still have the 33 1/3 album. She brought me a grass skirt when she returned from Hawaii that summer, and I played that album and danced tirelessly around my room for years to come. I listened to that music on YouTube while writing this chapter…minus the grass skirt and the hula dancing, which was tempting. Have a listen to “Taboo.”
In January 1960 Patsy married Bob, her handsome Air Force veteran boyfriend. I was almost ten. Bob was a student at The University of Texas in Austin, where he obtained his degree in electrical engineering. Before they were married, Bob drove his Triumph motorcycle from Austin to Dallas to see Patsy. At least once he took me for a ride around the block on his bike. The family drove to Austin to visit the newlyweds during the summer of 1960. Bob was nice enough to invite his ten-year-old sister-in-law to play tennis at a nearby tennis court, where he taught me the basic rules of the game. They lived in a garage apartment on Enfield Road, and before we left to walk down the hill with our tennis gear, I went into the bathroom to take care of some business. There, on the wall right in front of me, was a magazine rack; and as I began browsing through the eclectic assortment of magazines, I found a Playboy. I had never seen anything like that before. I was mesmerized and completely lost track of time. I’m not sure how long I stayed in the “reading room,” but apparently long enough to be missed. Bob and the whole family began looking for me, and I could hear Mother calling my name. I felt very guilty when I walked out of the bathroom, but I tried desperately to act normal. I thought things were going OK until, instead of asking who had the tennis balls, I blurted out, “Where’s the Playboy?” Everyone laughed, except me. I erupted in a bright red-hot blush of embarrassment like no other time before or probably since – another memorable moment that Mother loved to repeat.
While Patsy and Bob still lived in Austin, my other sister Nancy had major back surgery in Houston. This was the summer of 1962 after Nancy’s high school graduation. I was twelve. I will say more about Nancy and her back surgery in a subsequent post, but she was in the hospital in Houston for two weeks. During that time, I stayed in Austin with Pat, Bob, and their toddler Michael. They lived in the Deep Eddy Apartments, which was campus housing for The University of Texas but was originally built as military housing for the nearby army base. The two-story apartments were made of wood and built on stilts. I believe they were painted white with dark green trim. Steps led up to the front door which opened onto the interior stairs and into the living room. The living room opened to the kitchen, where there was another door that opened outside to the back. The kitchen had a double sink, one of which was deep enough in which to bathe Michael. Their apartment had two small bedrooms and a bath upstairs. Bob built a desk in the very narrow hallway between the two bedrooms upstairs, and he stayed up late at night studying in his dark makeshift but adequate study. He must have been thrilled to have his chatty 12-year-old sister-in-law around for two weeks to help him study.
Aside from all of the beautiful Highland Lakes in and near Austin, there are some other interesting and scenic places to swim. While Pat and Bob were living in Austin, they introduced me to the frigid waters of Barton Springs, a picturesque natural spring pool which is open all year. We also frequented Deep Eddy Pool, which is another natural spring pool surrounded by huge old oak trees and was walking distance from the Deep Eddy apartments. About 25 miles from Austin is Hamilton Pool, which was and still is also natural and is now designated a nature preserve. During the summer, reservations are now required at Hamilton Pool Preserve due to the high volume of visitors. In the 1960s, reservations were not required, but I think there was still a small entrance fee. It was and still is a spectacular place to visit. A 50 foot waterfall flows into a collapsed grotto pool below that is so deep the old rumor was that it was bottomless. It isn’t, of course, but it is very deep, about 30 feet. One time Daddy and Mother let me swim above the falls, which is not permitted now. The beautiful clear stream flowed through a series of small pools formed in limestone riddled with holes. I had the best time exploring the limestone nooks and crannies. When I emerged from the water hours later, I discovered my fingertips were all bleeding, rubbed raw from holding onto the rocks. Aside from swimming, Hamilton Pool Preserve is a great place for nature hikes, but I recommend not going in the heat of the summer, as there is not much of a breeze down toward the pool. My sisters and I made that mistake a few years ago, and it was a struggle for us to get back up the hill in the heat.
Two things I have never forgotten about my stay in Austin were the grackles (noisy, black, crow-like birds with yellow eyes) and the GIANT beetles in the trees around Deep Eddy Apartments. I had never before seen anything like the cottonwood borer beetle. I remember these beetles as being nearly as big as my hand, but they are actually closer to two inches long. Occasionally, one of those monsters made its way into the apartment. It was too big to swat, so I always called for reinforcements, if I saw it first. I’m not sure how Patsy took care of the problem, I was just glad I didn’t have to. There must have been an infestation at the time, because I have lived in the Austin area since 2003, and I have yet to see one.
While staying with Patsy and family during the summer of 1962, my parents enrolled me in a horseback riding day camp to keep me entertained. Patsy shuttled me back and forth and made me a sack lunch every day. I was in horse heaven. I already knew how to ride pretty well, but I also learned to care for the animal – from cleaning hooves, grooming, putting on the reins and saddle, etc. I learned from experience that it wasn’t easy for this skinny twelve-year-old girl to saddle a big horse and cinch it tightly. My enormous horse Mr. Walker mastered the trick of bloating up his stomach while I tightened the cinch; and as soon as I was sitting proudly in the saddle, he relaxed, and the saddle and I slipped over. I was paired with Mr. Walker for the entire two weeks, and we got along fine after we got acquainted. That was the summer when I learned how much horses love to roll in the mud after a rain, even if someone is in the saddle. Maybe I should say, especially if someone is in the saddle. The following winter, I took my parents to meet Mr. Walker for the first time. I certainly must have known better, but I walked right up to him to give him a warm greeting. As I approached, he stretched out his long neck and bit me on my chest – hard. It hurt, and I was badly bruised, but it didn‘t break the skin because it was cold and I was wearing a heavy corduroy coat. It certainly would have been much worse had I not been wearing that overcoat. Mother was afraid this wound, which covered the entire left side of my chest, would cause a problem for me when I began to develop. She took me to see Dr. Graham, our family physician, when we got back home to Dallas; but he said there was nothing he could do to help it heal. The area was swollen, sore, and very black and blue for a quite a while, but I had no serious long-term problems.
I have many happy memories of my early childhood with my sister Patsy. After she left home, our lives diverged for a while, and we didn’t have a lot in common to talk about. However, after I married and began having children, we became close again. Mother said that would happen. Mother was right.
Towner road trips were memorable. We towed our trailer behind us and carried our canoe above us. My sister Nancy invited her girlfriend Patsy to go with us on a few trips; and when Nancy grew up and left home, I invited my girlfriend Gay to go with us.
Frequently we ventured to beautiful Lake Texoma on the Texas and Oklahoma border. In Happy Fourth of July I wrote about a Fourth of July trip to Lake Texoma, but we made frequent warm weather trips to Lake Texoma; and we always camped at our favorite rocky point, which I have recently dubbed Towner Point.
On one of those trips to Towner Point, my then future brother-in-law Larry disappeared while scuba diving in the deep water off of our rocky point. He was diving alone and was supposed to stay close to shore so that Nancy would watch his bubbles. This didn’t go as planned. He swam off quickly one direction, while Nancy watched in the other, and she lost track of him. She was frantic. Daddy dove repeatedly into the 15+ foot depths looking for him but finally gave out. I wanted to dive in to help Daddy with the search and rescue; but it was too dangerous, and I was too young and too small to be anything but a liability. In the meanwhile, someone called the Coast Guard, and a crowd began to gather. I don’t know how long this went on, but it seemed like forever. Then our dog Charlie began barking urgently and acting like he wanted us to follow him up the rocky shoreline. He stopped, stood still on point, and stared up the shore. Here came Larry, safe and sound. I can still picture him as he walked toward us in the distance, dripping wet in his scuba gear, carrying his fins, and wondering what all the excitement was about. Nancy ran to him in tears. It was a happy ending to a frightening scene.
A few of our trips took us to the Texas gulf coast – Galveston, Corpus Christi, or Padre Island. I vaguely remember one pre-camping-trailer trip to go deep-sea fishing off of the coast. I believe Uncle Gordon and Aunt Ruth were with us, along with Nancy’s friend Patsy and Patsy’s younger sister. We chartered a smelly fishing boat that was big enough to have a cabin with bunks. I didn’t fish, and I got sea-sick, so I lay on one of the beds much of the time. If I felt well enough, I gazed through the porthole out to sea. The return to shore at dusk was a long slow foggy trip. Everyone seemed really tense. I stood on deck, watched the buoys materialize through the fog, and listened for the deep wail of the foghorns as we approached land.
I am pretty sure Mother hated just about everything to do with beach camping. She hated the sand inside the trailer and in our beds and clothes, and she hated the heat. There might have been a gulf breeze, but it was still “H–O–T, HOT-HOT-HOT,” as she often exclaimed. On one trip to the coast, we were all climbing around on a jetty constructed of huge rocks or pieces of concrete, and Mother slipped off and fell chest deep into the water between the boulders. She was unable to pull herself out and hollered for help. I think I was the closest to her at the time, but we all came running. It was a challenge to get her out of the water, and she suffered scrapes and bruises but nothing which needed medical attention. Daddy ushered her into a nearby shop for her to dry off and compose herself. The person working there told us that the same thing happened to another woman only a few weeks earlier, and the woman died. The water current sucked the woman under the jetty, and she drowned. Mother’s guardian angel was watching over her that day.
Many times we drove westward to the Rocky Mountains, and a few of our trips took us through Fort Collins, Colorado, where my mother’s brother Hal and his wife Martha lived on the edge of town. On a visit there in 1961, the whole family, including my uncle Hal and aunt Martha, drove to Red Feather Lake in the Red Feather Lakes area of the Rocky Mountains northwest of Fort Collins. It surely is not possible that anyone has ever caught as many rainbow trout as we did that day. Daddy took a couple of us at a time out onto the lake in the canoe. We caught as many fish as we could and then brought them back to Mother, who was standing over the fire ready to clean and fry them up in the hot iron skillet. I think this was when I discovered how tasty fish could be. We ate as many as we could, then Daddy took the next group out on the lake to catch some more. Once, after a round or two of very good luck, we threw our lines in the water, and Daddy counted down saying, “OK, we should have a strike in five…four…three…two…one…STRIKE!,” and we caught one ─ just like that! I’ve heard that story so many times that I can’t even remember whether I was in the boat when that happened or not. What fun! We caught ‘em, cooked ‘em, ate ‘em, then caught some more until we couldn’t fish or eat any more. We also caught a bunch of crawdads off of a big rock just a short paddle from the lake’s bank. Nancy, her friend Patsy, and I tied bits of wieners to a string and dropped them into the water around the rock. The crawdads latched on, and we pulled them up and put them in a bucket until we had a bucketful. Then we took them back to shore, dumped them onto the ground out of view of the lake, and watched in amazement as they immediately turned and headed toward the water – a real learning experience for me.
Watching TV, Mother and her brother Hal on the couch, me on the floor; Hal and Martha’s home in Fort Collins; 1961
Hal’s and Martha’s cocker spaniel Penny and me in their backyard; Fort Collins CO; 1961
When I was twelve or thirteen, my friend Gay traveled with us to the Rocky Mountains on a summer vacation. We again spent a few days in Fort Collins, Colorado, visiting my mother’s brother Hal. Daddy had a tire that needed repair, so Gay and I accompanied him to a garage on the edge of town. Behind the garage was an idyllic scene of mountain slopes, rolling green fields, and grazing horses. Daddy told me and Gay that we could go explore while he was busy in the garage. She and I wasted no time walking to the back pasture, eager to get close to the horses. As we followed a narrow path through the thick green grass, I looked down and saw a very colorful snake (black with multicolored rings) crossing the path in front of me. I impulsively reached down, picked it up behind its head (as Daddy taught me to do) and let it curl around my arm past my elbow. I was excited about my new slinky friend and couldn’t wait to show Daddy. Gay and hurried back to the garage, where we found him and the mechanic bent over the trunk of our car with their heads deep inside. I poked my serpent-wrapped arm down into the trunk right between their faces and chirped, “Look what I found, Daddy!” Daddy hollered, “Good night!” as he and the mechanic rose up and violently hit their heads on the inside of the trunk. Daddy quickly ordered me to take that snake back where I found it and let it go, which I did. No one ever looked at it long enough to identify it, so I don’t what kind of snake it was, but it was pretty. Of course, I didn’t think about its being poisonous when I picked it up; and, except for my friend Gay, no one else seemed as happy about my snake as I was.
Certainly, our camping trips were a lot of work for Mother and for Daddy, too, of course; although I didn’t give that any thought when I was young. We spent many fun times vacationing around Texas and in various locations in the west, and I am so lucky to have so many beautiful memories of these family trips.
Red Feather Lake, Rocky Mountains, 1961
Daddy, friend Patsy, me; our catch of the hour, Red Feather Lake, Rocky Mts, 1961
Nancy, Daddy; their catch of the hour, 1961
Nancy fishing for crawdads, Red Feather Lake, 1961
Uncle Hal, me, Mother (front), Daddy (back), Nancy, Aunt Martha, friend Patsy holding our very heavy string of Rainbow Trout, Red Feather Lake, 1961; taken with delayed timer
The following is an excerpt from a previous post about the Texas hurricane which made landfall east of Matagorda Bay, Texas, in September 1941. It is from my post entitled “Military Service,” dated April 16, 2016. I believe naming hurricanes did not begin until 1953, and this unnamed hurricane was about the same pressure (942 mbar) as Hurricane Harvey (941 mbar) was when it made landfall at 10 pm CDT on August 26, 2017. The linked Wikipedia article offers a small clue of how far technology and meteorology have come since 1941.
When Daddy [James M. Towner] entered into active service [on September 11, 1941], he went directly into artillery, where he said the army was placing all engineers at the time. Before the U. S. entered the war in 1941, he was ordered to duty on his Asst. Lt. Reserve Officer commission for one year and one day active service and reported to Camp Wallace south of Houston, Texas. Daddy wrote that he remembered the hurricane along the coast in 1941 while he was stationed at Camp Wallace. As the hurricane became more severe, he was told to evacuate Pat and one-year-old daughter Patsy from Galveston Island. All residents were being evacuated. He drove their 1941 Ford into Jack Tar Courts, picked up Mother and Patsy and drove them into Houston, where Mother’s brother Fred lived. The highway from Galveston crossed a causeway about two miles long. He drove about five miles an hour in a solid line of cars along and guided by tall poles attached to the edge of the pavement. He wrote, “The water was over the edge of my running board, it was pouring down windy rain. For about a half an hour we could not see land – just barely the car ahead “
Football season is here, and my being a Dallasite and a Dallas Cowboys fan brings me to this anecdote:
From the early 1970s to the early 1980s, my former husband Rick was a banker. Sometime during the latter part of his banking career, he and I were on bank-sponsored day trip to a picnic/bar-b-cue being held at a ranch on a hilltop southeast of Dallas on the road to Kaufman. It was a beautiful place with a panoramic view. Our group included at least two busloads of people who were with or associated with the bank, along with a few honored guests. One of the special guests was Tex Schramm, original president and general manager of the Dallas Cowboys and host of a talk show at the time about the Cowboys and the NFL. He was on the same bus with Rick and me, and Rick did not miss this opportunity to rub elbows with him. At some point on the bus ride to our BBQ destination, I mentioned to Rick on the side that I thought “Aztec” was a odd name for someone. Rick looked at me quizzically and asked what prompted my remark. I answered, “Because his show is called the ‘Aztec Schramm Show.'” (Most people reading this probably know that the show was actually called the “Ask Tex Schramm Show.”) Rick howled with laughter, promptly turned to where Tex Schramm was seated and told him and everyone within earshot (the whole bus) what I had just said. Mr. Schramm, being a gentleman, accepted this in fun and didn’t seem offended. I’m pretty sure, however, that I turned every shade of red.
One fall day when I was about fourteen years old, I was riding in the car with my parents on our way to Sunday dinner after church. I suddenly mentioned that I would like to have a puppy. Neither of my sisters lived at home any longer. It was just me, Mom, and Dad now, and I “needed” a puppy.
Mother commented to Daddy that I was the only one of the three daughters who had never had a puppy. We had a dog when I was younger, but I barely remember it. Daddy replied that he thought he and Mother had agreed – no more dogs. I must have made some convincing promises to take good care of it and to train it to do all kinds of tricks. Daddy wondered out loud if Mother and I had conspired against him. We talked more about it at lunch and decided to stop at the animal shelter on the way home, which I believe was on the edge of downtown Dallas.
We walked into the shelter. Cages lined the walls, and it was crowded with people. I walked directly to a cage on the far side of the room with eight puppies, opened it, and picked up the first puppy I saw when I walked in – a sweet-smelling half-Bassett/half-Beagle male. Daddy encouraged me to look at some of the others, so I put the puppy down and stood across the room watching him. Daddy noticed a young man who was also watching my puppy and told me to go pick him back up before someone else did. Decision made. We paid $15 for our precious fur ball and took Charlie to his new home.
Charlie was very smart, and I was able to house-train him very quickly. He didn’t cry much. Puppy Charlie slept in my room at night in a box beside my bed. Daddy said he and Mother couldn’t figure out why they never heard him cry at night, so one night Daddy came into my room to check on us. I was asleep on the edge of my bed with my arm hanging over the edge into Charlie’s box. Charlie was also fast asleep with his head in my hand. When he got older, he slept with Mom and Dad in their bed. I taught him to speak, whisper, shake hands with both paws, sit up, and roll over. We never quite mastered the “shhhh” command, especially at meal time, when he parked himself under the table and whispered non-stop for morsels to be handed down to him. I blame Daddy for that.
Daddy taught Charlie to fetch the newspaper every morning. Charlie was very pleased with himself, and one morning Daddy looked down onto the back patio and saw that Charlie had fetched five newspapers from nearby neighbors. Then, as we all stood and laughed about it, he came trotting around the corner with another one! We didn’t have much luck “untraining” him to fetch newspapers, so Daddy told our neighbors to let us know if they were ever missing one, and we would return it to them. There was one neighbor Charlie didn’t like, and on one occasion my brother-in-law Larry spoke to the man and figured out why. Allegedly, Charlie had gone onto their back porch and pooped in the man’s special flower box. Daddy said he was probably getting even with the man for throwing rocks at him.
There was a time when Charlie nearly killed our parakeet Mimi. We often allowed the bird out of her cage to fly freely around the house. One of these times, she had been flying for a while, and she got tired and didn’t make it to the curtain rod, a safe distance above Charlie’s head. She landed on the floor, and before anyone could blink an eye, Charlie was on her. He grabbed her into his mouth, and all I could see were green tail feathers sticking out. I screamed, chased him down, pried open his jaws, and pulled her out of his mouth. She was pencil thin and wet, but she was OK. I placed her gently back in her cage where she ruffled her feathers to dry off and soon recovered from the shock. She then perched perfectly still in her cage for a long time. Mimi liked to fly, and Charlie liked to chase things. He was just doing what came naturally.
The Towner family took frequent walks in the woods of Lower Kiest Park, which was just a block or two from our home. Charlie loved to run full speed down the woodsy path with his ears flapping in the wind. He was nearly always off-leash, even at home and on the many Towner vacations and rock hunts he went on. Our backyard was unfenced, but the only time he ventured out of the yard was to steal newspapers and once to chase away a few of my “guy-friends” when they threw pebbles at my window in the middle of the night. When Charlie got hot playing outside or after a long walk in the summertime, he often cooled off by climbing onto the concrete bird bath that Daddy made.
Charlie was my dog to begin with, and I loved him so much; but he stayed with Mom and Dad and continued his travels with them after I left home. Daddy loved to tell of Charlie’s rock hunting abilities and how Charlie once found some “Balmorhea Blue” agate on a rock hunt in west Texas. Daddy loved Charlie even more than I did, and Charlie was my parents’ constant companion until he died of old age. He was the best dog a family could have.
Daddy and Charlie, Enchanted Rock, Texas, 1965 (Sadly, I could find only one photograph in my files of Daddy and Charlie. I guess that is because Daddy was always behind the camera. I must have taken this one.)
Me holding Charlie, at home on Ovid, mid 1960s
A walk in Kiest Park; F to B: Charlie with friend Gay, my nephew Mike, me, my sister Nancy, my sister Patsy, and Patsy’s husband Bob; mid 1960s
Charlie “cooling it” in birdbath (backyard of house on Ovid), mid 1960s
Charlie begging for my breakfast, at home on Ovid, abt 1967 (Yes, I did often sit that way at the table.)
Mama with Charlie about 1975
My nephew Chuck with Charlie, 1970
Charlie asleep on my parents’ bed. I sneaked into their room in the dark to take this photo! mid 1960s
My childhood memories of my dad’s cousin Buster Brown and his family mostly consist of laughter and a lot of lively boogie-woogie piano music. The Browns were a family of pianists. James H. (Buster) Brown, Sr., was my father’s cousin on his mother Petrea’s side. For simplicity’s sake, I will refer to everyone as cousins, but in reality many were “seconds” and/or “once removeds.” Standing next to my father in the featured family image are Buster and his wife Ethel (Honey).
Unfortunately, decades passed without my seeing much of the Browns; however, after I grew up, married, and had children, the Browns invited my parents, my sisters, me, and our families to attend family reunions, which they thoughtfully held near Bonham so my parents could attend. The ones we attended were held at Tanglewood Resort at Lake Texoma in north Texas in the 1990s and early 2000s. It was fun to reunite with family I hadn’t seen in a long time and to meet some family members for the first time; and I got to hear some more of that good ol’ boogie-woogie music again. I loved seeing Daddy in his advanced years as he reminisced with family, and the sights and sounds of my nearly blind mother Pat at the piano gave me chills. I regret that I can’t put my hands on most of the photos from these events.
Mother at the piano, Brown Reunion, Tanglewood Texoma, early 1990s
Daddy with his cousin Anna Marie, Brown Reunion, Tanglewood Texas, early 1990s
One reunion stands out in particular: my kids spent a lot of time in the swimming pool that year, and after dark my son Chris, who was about twelve years old, jumped into the pool and slammed heads with another resort guest. Chris’ head was bleeding and needed stitches. Cousin Fran and her son Jory and daughter Peggy accompanied me and Chris to the closest emergency room in Denison. Chris and his entourage were escorted to the treatment room — a large open area with different treatment stations spaced around the room. Chris’ doctor was friendly and funny, so our family of comedians got along quite well with him. In fact, the doctor reminded us all of Robin Williams. We all (even Chris) spent the next hour or two cracking wise and laughing it up in the ER. The room of doctors and nurses were either really enjoying the display or were about to call security on us. Chris withstood the constant harassment from all sides and braced himself for stitches in his head (or what “Dr. Robin Williams” abruptly announced would be staples). When the doctor picked up the staple gun to begin, he paused, then yelled across the room that he was going to need a bigger stapler. Chris cringed…then laughed, nervously.
It was very late when we got back to the resort, but a few cousins were politely waiting up for us. Oddly, this reunion and the trip to the ER was a great way for us cousins to get to know each other. It was a remarkable evening and night.