My college sweetheart Rick and I were married in a double-ring ceremony in 1969 at Irwindell Methodist Church in Oak Cliff. Honor Attendants were Saranne, my maid of honor and good friend since seventh grade, and best man Carl, Rick’s good friend from Texas Tech.
I made my wedding dress using a Vogue sewing pattern. It was made of bonded white crepe, which I modified slightly by lengthening the back and replacing the short sleeves with long slightly belled sleeves of white lace. In place of a veil, I made a hood with the same white lace as on the sleeves of the dress, tied with a satin ribbon. It was a beautiful dress, and I did a very stupid thing when I got rid of it after Rick and I divorced.
My colors were blue and yellow pastels. My maid of honor made her dress from the same original short-sleeved pattern as my dress but in baby blue, and she held a yellow bouquet of flowers. The flower girl was my precious four-year-old niece Denise (we called her Neesy). I made her dress, too, which was a yellow A-lined dress with a yellow lace overlay. It was a tad too small for her, but I don’t think anyone noticed. My dad’s brother Gordon was my “official” photographer.
Rick and I purchased our wedding rings from Everts Jewelers, a prominent jewelry store in downtown Dallas. I think Daddy knew the owner or manager. As a wedding gift, one of Rick’s uncles generously contributed toward the purchase of the rings. My white gold ring set included a small but nearly perfect one-fifth carat brilliant cut diamond solitaire engagement ring with a matching thin band. Rick’s plain polished band was also white gold.
Something old – my grandmother’s opal and garnet ring, its band worn thin from wear on the underside
Something new – my dress
Something borrowed – a mother-of-pearl Bible borrowed from a friend (a white orchid held on top by a white satin ribbon)
Something blue – a blue garter under my dress
Not following tradition:
Something metallic – braces on my teeth, which I had been wearing for almost three years.
A reception followed the wedding ceremony at the church. As it was about to begin, Daddy stood up on a chair and announced there would be a slight delay while someone ran home to retrieve the guest book which we had forgotten. We had wedding cake, punch, and coffee, but no champagne. After the reception, I changed into my home-made “going-away” clothes – a gold brocade vest worn over a plain beige dress with peasant-style sleeves and neckline.
We made haste for our honeymoon destination – Six Flags Over Texas! We spent a day at the park and a couple of nights in a very small room at the Spanish Inn motel near the park. We then returned to Oak Cliff to see my parents for a few days, then moved to San Angelo where Rick and I planned to attend college.
It was a plain and simple no-frills wedding. Expenses were minimal but probably still a lot for my family at the time. I was the last of three daughters for Daddy to give away, which must have been sad for him and Mother but a relief for them at some level.
I went on a couple of blind dates while at Texas Tech. One was with a young military man stationed in Lubbock, who took me to the Officer’s Club at the air force base. I felt totally out-of-place. I was totally out-of-place. The drinking age was 18 at that time, but I had never had an alcoholic drink, and I didn’t have one that night. He was young, but I must have looked like a child. I don’t remember what his rank was or anything about him except his unusual first name and that he was very polite and probably very bored with his date that night. My other blind date experience was when I met Rick, my future husband and future father of our children.
Before the semester break at the end of 1968, one of the sixth-floor residents of Wall Hall asked us girls on the floor who was interested in going on a blind date with a guy visiting from Sul Ross, another West Texas college in Alpine, Texas. I don’t think I volunteered for this, but somehow I got drafted. I vividly remember the dress I wore. It was a dress I made while I was in high school – a deep blue long-sleeved velvet dress. The empire waist was trimmed with a white satin ribbon, and the mock turtleneck and long sleeves were trimmed in white lace.
That evening, my date (who was not Rick) and four other people picked me up at the dorm. Our party of six drove to a nightclub on the outskirts of town. The area was dry, so it was BYOB; and, of course, we did. By the time we arrived, the place was already hopping. As we walked in, my date told me that a friend of his named Rick was already there and was saving us a table. The tables were all very small in this fairly small establishment, and they were all taken; so, the guys in our group wasted no time setting up a bunch of old rusty folding metal chairs in a circle around a large well-used 32-gallon galvanized garbage can at the back of the room. It was a less-than-romantic solution to our seating problem. It was, however, an appropriate and very handy arrangement for the drinkers, who could now get wasted and conveniently toss their waste into the waste-can without getting up. This all seemed a bit unsavory to me, but then I met Rick, who actually did have a table (for two). I don’t remember why, but he was apparently there alone and must have sensed my discomfort since he invited me to sit with him at his table for a while.
By the time my group delivered me back to my dorm, all that my blind date barely had time to do was open his car door, hang his head out, throw up, then fall out of the car onto the curb into a puddle of his own vomit. I crawled over him and practically ran to my room. Rick called me the next day and, I believe, offered a thin apology for my blind date. We began dating before the semester break.
When the semester ended, I packed my bags, and Rick drove me to the airport to fly home for the holidays. He picked me up at the airport when I returned to school in January and politely took from me the hard cosmetic train case I was carrying off of the plane. When he did, the case opened accidentally in the middle of the airport terminal, and the entire contents spilled all over the vast hard granite floor: shampoo, hairspray, deodorant, bobby pins, rollers, soap, lotion, perfume, makeup, and other more personal items. Everything went everywhere, and the mirror inside the case broke. I was very embarrassed, but it wasn’t really Rick’s fault. I should have locked it. He helped me pick everything up while people watched; then we went on our way.
During the spring semester, Rick invited me to attend a Boston Globetrotters game. Since the venue was on campus, I assumed it was a school-sponsored event. This meant students would be allowed to stay out after curfew, which amounted to about an hour after the end of the event. The game probably ended around 10:30 p.m., and Rick immediately brought me back to my dorm. I nonchalantly strolled up to the front doors of the dark and quiet building and discovered I was locked out! Confused and petrified, I had to ring a bell to get someone out of bed to let me in. Consequentially, I had to appear before a student/adult board at a predetermined time to plead my case, which was basically “It wasn’t my fault.” Apparently, the game was not a school-sponsored event like I thought it was, but I heard that other students made the same mistake. My hearing was held in a small room in the basement of the dorm. I felt like I was being led to the dungeon. The members of the board must have sensed that I was genuinely a nervous wreck, and they weren’t too hard on me. My punishment was a week or two of being grounded in the dorm’s cafeteria to study in the evenings. It wasn’t too bad – boring is all.
Rick also took me to a big dance featuring a fairly new band on the scene called The Box Tops, and I was careful to confirm ahead of time that it was a school-sponsored event. It was fun, and I returned to my dorm on time.
At the end of the school year in the spring of 1969, Rick invited me to accompany him to his sister Ann’s high school graduation in a small West Texas town about an hour’s drive from Lubbock. The graduating class sat in chairs on the stage. I found out at Ann’s graduation how Rick knew the guy I had a blind date with the night I met Rick. There he was, my blind date, sitting on the stage with Ann and the other high school graduates. I recognized his name and his face when he was introduced and walked across the stage to receive his diploma. I violently elbowed Rick, who looked at me and smiled sheepishly. I don’t think he was the only one smiling that day, because apparently the whole class knew Rick and knew about this little practical joke. They were all waiting to see my reaction.
After the end of our school year at Texas Tech, Rick went back home, and I returned to Dallas. My first year in college at Texas Tech was his second year, and he didn’t do well that year. He would not be returning to Texas Tech the following year. That summer, he went to work for Humble Oil where his dad worked. He drove trucks and worked in the field. Later that summer he called to give me the news that he had joined the Army and would report for active duty at the end of the summer. He also told me that he thought it would be a good idea if we started seeing other people. I was devastated.
Later that summer Rick severely injured his hand in an oil field accident and lost two fingers. This changed everything. His parents called me to give me the terrible news and to tell me that Rick wanted to see me. I got to his bedside as quickly as possible. My first time to fly was on Southwest Airlines to Midland-Odessa From Dallas Love Field to see him in the hospital. I think his parents paid for my airfare. I had not been there very long when he began describing his accident in detail to a few friends or family standing around his hospital bed. I nearly fainted and had to lie down in the other hospital bed in his room.
I am totally ignorant of oil industry terminology, but this is how I remember his description of the incident: He was working on a drilling rig platform about 40 feet above the ground. Many times over the years he pointed to drilling rigs along the roads in west Texas like the one he said he was working on. They looked much like the new one pictured below, which I found on the Internet.
The drilling rig was pulling pipe from the ground by clamping onto the pipe and lifting it. He was on the elevated platform guiding the pipe. When the clamp closed around the pipe, his gloved left hand got caught between it and the pipe. As the clamp lifted the pipe above the platform, Rick was dragged up off of the platform with it. His index and middle fingers on his left hand were crushed, and his ring finger was also damaged. When the clamp finally released him, he fell back to the 40-foot high platform and the glove on his left hand fell off. He said he could see his glove dangling by tissue connected to his two fingers which were still inside the glove. He grabbed the glove and stuffed it back onto his hand. I don’t know how he managed to climb down the 40-foot ladder to the bottom in his condition, but somehow he did. Someone drove him to the hospital in Midland, which was at least an hour’s drive from the scene of the accident. The surgeon was unable to save his index finger or his middle finger above the first knuckle. He did save his ring finger but modified the tip by angling it from that knuckle toward the thumb slightly, which allowed Rick to use it with his thumb like an index finger.
Later, Rick called me at home to tell me he had received a 4-F classification from the military. Then he proposed to me. My first “real” boyfriend and I were married at my family’s church in Oak Cliff at the end of the summer of 1969, and we used the accident insurance payment he received to help us get started with our new life. I have no recollection of how much the insurance payment was – probably not a lot, but it seemed like a lot to us at the time.
Rick and I had three children together but divorced after over twenty years of marriage. He continued school after we were married and received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Texas at Arlington. He passed away in 2016.
I am blessed and eternally grateful for the warm, loving, beautiful, smart, and successful children and grandchildren we had together.
[Read this interesting bit of information about the history of the term 4-F.]
Door to our room, decorated by my roommate Paula; I am Tweeter; She is Sheepdog; Wall Hall, Texas Tech; 1968-69; Paula sent me the photo
Ready for a date with Rick, wearing an outfit I made, 1969
Turtle talking to Rick on the phone, 1969
L to R: Cindy, me, Diane (seated), Jill; I gave free haircuts; 1967-68
L to R from bottom: Cindy, Jean, Paula, Kathy, Diane, me (on top)
Somebody’s birthday; L to R standing: me, Mary Jo, Nancy, Cindy; L to R seated: ?, Paula, Jean; March 1969
L to R: me, holding box of Valentine’s candy from Rick, Diane, Cindy, Nancy; Valentines 1969
My college of choice in 1968 was Texas Technological College in Lubbock, Texas. Right after I left in September 1969, it became Texas Tech University. I chose Texas Tech because my older sister Nancy attended there for a couple of years. It was a convenient choice. I never seriously considered going anywhere else.
I enrolled in Texas Tech in the fall of 1968. I lived on campus, and my roommate Paula was a good friend from high school. We lived on the sixth floor in Wall Hall, one of the newest high-rise residence halls on campus at that time. It was a very nice facility. The rooms had built-in furniture: two twin beds that converted to couches, two desks, two chests of drawers, two small closets, and one small sink right next to the room’s entry door. The bathroom with toilets, showers, and one tub was down the hall. Wall Hall is co-ed now with separate floors for boys and girls. I’m so glad co-ed dorms didn’t yet exist when I was there. I still don’t understand why anyone thinks co-ed dorms are a good idea.
Someone told me ahead of time that if I had not already memorized my social security number, I would certainly have it memorized before I completed signing up for classes. True. I was always good at math in high school, so I didn’t hesitate to declare math as my college major. I quickly discovered, however, that Analytical Geometry and Calculus were nothing like high school math. Hours of nightly homework and a class of 40+ students caused my immediate change of heart for math. At the end of the year, I was ready to change my major.
Other subjects I took at Tech were Zoology, Botany, Advanced Composition, Freshman Literature, and Beginning German. My Advanced Comp/Freshman Lit class was held in an auditorium, where the professor stood on the stage and the students sat in the audience in assigned seats. My big takeaway from this class was that someone near me reeked of a terrible odor. I never identified the odor, but I suspect it was a combination of food odors (from a job, perhaps) and cigarette smoke. I dreaded going to this class.
Texas Tech’s campus was very large. I had no car, so I got a lot of exercise walking to and from class. There must have been some kind of shuttle around campus, but I never used it. My long walks to classes on opposite sides of the campus caused me some concerns, especially in inclement weather. I stressed every day about being late to a class and had nightmares for years to come about running to class and never getting there.
For entertainment Paula and I, along with our Wall Hall girlfriends, explored around campus and around town, visited local parks, and sat in one of the sixth-floor dorm windows (especially at night) to watch storms approach. I attended a few of the frequent mixers held in the lobby between Wall Hall and the adjacent Gates Hall; and a group of us once drove to Clovis, New Mexico, for no special reason.
Since I had paid for room and board and there were very few choices for eating out, I usually ate in the dorm’s cafeteria. Pizza was not a common meal item in 1968, but there was a pizza place walking distance from the campus. I doubt grocery stores even had frozen pizza then. If they did, it wouldn’t have been very good. I had never eaten pizza before, and I was sure I wouldn’t like it, but my friends told me not to worry and promised to make sure one of our pizzas was cheese. They assured me that I would like it, and I did. It’s funny to me that one of my top memories from Tech is pizza.
In 2010 I visited Lubbock, and I was most shocked by the commercial development adjacent to the campus. It was unrecognizable but truly improved. Counting the college credit courses I took periodically after Texas Tech, I probably accumulated the equivalent of almost three years.
Now, recognizing the introvert I am, I am surprised I ever chose to go to school so far from home. I guess I thought if my sister Nancy could do it, so could I. Now that I think about it, I am surprised she ever chose to go that far from home either.
[Most, if not all, of these Texas Tech photographs were taken by my friend Paula. Thank you!]
My mother’s best friend Mary Beth lived across the street from us on Mt. Pleasant St. in Oak Cliff, Dallas, Texas. Our families were good friends, and I played often with their son Andy when I was a little girl. Andy and his family eventually moved away from Mt. Pleasant; and later in 1962 we did, also. Both families still lived in Oak Cliff; but, except for occasionally bumping into Andy at school ball games, I had very little contact with him for several years. Our moms, on the other hand, spoke to each other and saw each other regularly.
Andy was a member of the Westminster Youth Choir at Oak Cliff Presbyterian Church. One day he called me to talk about the choir. He invited me to visit one of their rehearsals and asked me to consider joining. I accepted his invitation to visit and quickly became a member of this warm and inviting group of teens.
The choir’s beloved director was William C. Everitt, a.k.a. “Mr. E.” We sang regularly for the congregation at the church and occasionally on the radio, and we recorded long-playing albums. Each summer the group also made an annual two-week tour around the U.S. and Canada. It took three Greyhound buses to accommodate our group of approximately 70 teens and its sponsors/chaperones. The choir raised money for tour expenses by holding paper drives. Then each traveling member contributed toward the amount that was still needed to cover remaining expenses. Normally, while I was a member in 1966-68, each tour participant paid about $70 a trip, some of which was returned to us a few dollars at a time for miscellaneous expenses.
Each traveling member chose or was assigned a tour partner. Carolyn, who was a current member when I joined, asked me to be hers. She and I went to different high schools and did not know each other before I joined. I said yes, and we were tour buddies until we graduated from high school.
Through at least 1968, the same three bus drivers drove us around the country: Charlie, Smitty, and Shorty. They were virtually one and were very kind and patient with all of us loud and rambunctious teens. We were good kids, though, as far as I know.
During my three summers with the choir, we traveled across the United States and into Canada. Some of the places we were privileged to see were: Niagara Falls, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Washington’s Mt. Vernon plantation home, the Washington Monument, Pikes Peak, Yellowstone National Park, Disneyland, the San Diego Zoo, the Expo ’67 World’s Fair, and more.
At Expo ’67 World’s Fair in Montreal, I remember a 360° cinema exhibit called “Canada 67.” Spectators walked into a large round room and stood in the middle surrounded by projection or TV screens. I watched as horses galloped toward me and around me, then disappeared behind me. It was much like an Omni Theater experience today but a marvel in 1967.
The choir only stayed in hotels when necessary. In cities where we performed, we stayed with church members in their homes. I believe it was in Montreal where Carolyn and I stayed with a family in an old three-story brick row house. The home and neighborhood fascinated me, and the huge ranch style breakfast they served was memorable – cereal, fruit, biscuits, toast, bacon, sausage, eggs, potatoes, waffles, pancakes, freshly squeezed orange juice…you name it! This is where I discovered how scrumptious real cream on cereal was! I had never tasted anything so divine. Also, I never forgot the old bathtub on the top floor. As I eased back in the bathtub that night, I saw the starry night sky through a large clear skylight high above the tub. A skylight directly over the bathtub was something new to me, and I was a little uncomfortable.
Our trip through Virginia and Washington D.C. in 1966 took us to Arlington National Cemetery and John F. Kennedy’s gravesite. This was my first visit there, and I was a bit overwhelmed. I was in Dealey Plaza in Dallas in 1963 when President Kennedy was assassinated just a few years earlier, but it felt like decades ago at the time.
We passed through Las Vegas in 1968 and spent one night at the Sands, I believe. Mr. E allowed choir members to break up into small groups that evening and walk around unchaperoned until our 10 p.m. curfew. My group started our night of excitement by going to the hotel café where each of us dared to order a soft drink garnished with an umbrella! Next, we tried to get a peek into a small showroom in one of the hotels, but the doorman closed the dark curtains and shooed us away every time we giggling troublemakers walked by. We had an early curfew that night and an early departure the next morning. To get to our rooms from the front of the hotel, we walked through an area right next to and open to poker tables in the smoke-filled casino. When we left the next morning around 7:00 a.m., the same guys were still dealing and smoking at the same table. I didn’t know people did that!
At the time, I was not able to appreciate how much work went into planning and executing a trip like these choir tours for 70 teenagers. We kids just showed up with our suitcases, ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on the bus (or in my case, jelly sandwiches), went where we were told to go when we were told to, and sang and prayed our merry way across the continent. What fun it was for us and what a huge undertaking and responsibility for all of the adults who planned and/or participated in these trips.
I am guessing that Andy was an innocent accomplice to a plan hatched by our mothers to coax me out of my comfort zone, and I am grateful he made that phone call to me that day. As a member of the Westminster Youth Choir I got to see breathtaking sights, meet many wonderful people across the U.S., and sing in beautiful and historic churches. Again, I find myself wishing I had taken more photographs and kept travel logs.
Being part of the Westminster Youth Choir changed my life forever. I made many good friends and had many rich, rewarding, and spiritual experiences. Our performances were conversations with God.
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 was issued a Zero Defects Pledge card, which I had to sign. 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