I get such warm feelings when I look at the featured image on this post. The carefree life of a child, playing with friends and roaming the neighborhood – the “be home before dark” life in the 1950s.
We Towners lived in an area of Dallas on the south side of the Trinity River known as Oak Cliff. Long before we lived there, Oak Cliff was a prestigious place to live; however, the depression took its toll on the area, and eventually it was annexed into the city of Dallas.
In 1946, four years before I was born, Mother, Father, and my two sisters Patsy and Nancy moved into a new house in a new neighborhood on Mt. Pleasant Street. I am the youngest of three girls. My oldest sister Patsy was born in Odessa, Texas, and my sister Nancy was born in Orlando, Florida. I am the caboose, born in 1950 at Methodist Hospital in Dallas. The hospital was located near the Trinity River in what I recall was/is the Kessler Park area of Oak Cliff on Colorado Blvd. The only times we ever drove through Kessler Park was when we were going to the hospital for something. Our house was on Mt. Pleasant in an area of Oak Cliff which an old map shows to be part of Beverly Hills; however, the original Plat of Survey for the house dated May 28, 1946, identifies the area as Westridge Park #7. I had never heard of Westridge Park before I recently found this Plat of Survey. Growing up, I don’t recall ever hearing anyone refer to Mt. Pleasant as Mt. Pleasant Street. It was always just Mt. Pleasant.
Originally, our brick home was a small two bedroom\one bath\one car garage. When I came along, my parents must have decided they needed more space, and in 1954 Daddy enlarged it to three bedrooms, which is how I remember it. He converted the garage into the master bedroom and enlarged the kitchen to take in the front porch, which increased the total square footage to about 1,100 square feet. The remodeling also included building an 8 X 10 foot shed in the backyard.
The 1954 remodeling project also converted the kitchen from a small rectangular room into a u-shaped room with a partial wall down the middle, which was originally an exterior wall. The front door opened into the kitchen. All of the windows in the house, except the new one in the kitchen addition, opened vertically like a door by turning a crank at the bottom of each window. It was difficult for me to turn the sticky handles. The outer portion of the expanded kitchen area held a washing machine, a sewing machine, and Sunny our yellow parakeet. The old oak dining table (already getting on in years in the 1950s) sat at the end of the wall divider and extended into both sides of the expanded kitchen. When I was a baby, Mother bathed me in the extra-large kitchen sink in the corner of the original kitchen underneath a rather large window.
The front of the living room faced the street to the north. There were three doors to the rectangular living room: one from the kitchen at the front, another near the back from the new master bedroom, the third from the hallway which connected the two bedrooms with the bathroom and the kitchen. The back wall of our living room was covered in some memorable wallpaper: schooners, pilgrims, stagecoaches, churches. The telephone connection was in the hallway, and the phone had a long cord so we could drag it into one of the rooms. Our couch was a curved brown modern style Davis couch, covered with a very nubby and rough fabric. It must have been stylish, but it was uncomfortably scratchy, although no one complained about it then. In front of the couch was a bookcase/coffee table which held a set of encyclopedias and a set of storybooks. I liked looking at the Human Anatomy section of the encyclopedias that had a set of detailed transparent overlays showing the skeleton, muscles, circulatory system, and organs. We used the encyclopedias often. They were our “search engine,” and that set of storybooks introduced me to Dr. Seuss and McGilligot’s Pool.
A large painting of the ocean hung over the couch. I’m not sure what happened to that painting; nor do I know what happened to a ceramic figurine about eight to ten inches tall. The family story goes that Daddy brought home to Mother the art deco ceramic nude of exotic dancer Sally Rand (so out of character for the Daddy I knew). At one time this glossy black nude figurine of the famous fan dancer was given a prominent place in our living room, but I have found only one family photograph (see gallery) with Sally in it – sitting on top of the piano, her torso and head visible behind the sheet music. No one in the family has any idea what happened to it, but my sisters and I wonder if Mother found a “special” place for it. I never gave this art piece a second thought when I was young; but thinking back on it now, I wish I still had it. I have searched online and not found a single item resembling that figurine.
Daddy’s favorite chair was a white vinyl easy chair and ottoman which he was still using in the early 2000s after having it recovered at least once. Mother played the piano and the organ, and she had both for a while – a tight fit in our little house. She sometimes played them at church, if asked. We also had a black and white television in our living room, and every week I sat on the floor in front of it and giggled uncontrollably at Red Skelton’s Clem Kadiddlehopper.
Then there was our beautiful old oak rocking chair. Mother rocked and sang me to sleep in that rocker, accompanied by the squeak of the heavy old rocking chair. I often dreamed that I was hiding from the Sandman behind a wingback chair at my Uncle Gordon’s (Daddy’s brother) and Aunt Ruth’s house. I knew the Sandman was getting closer, as the sound of his heartbeat grew louder. I always fell asleep before ever laying eyes on the Sandman. The Sandman’s heartbeat was the sound of my mother’s heart beating in my ear as my head rested on her soft warm breast.
The only bathroom was very small. It had a small gas ceramic heater for warmth in the winter. We kept the bathroom very busy. I followed Daddy to the bathroom once when I was about four or five years old and stood in the open door so we could have a nice little chat while he stood at the sink. I grabbed the door sill with both hands and began monologue; but Daddy, seeking a little rare privacy, wasn’t enjoying the chat as much as I was. He closed the door in my face – and on my left thumb, which was caught on the hinged side of the door frame. I screamed, but he kept pushing harder. It bled profusely, and I lost my thumbnail. He just thought the sticky door was being its normal hard-to-close self, and he most certainly felt horrible about what happened. Mother must have been pretty upset, too, but she didn’t say anything to him in front of me about it.
Our house was cooled in the summer with window unit air conditioners. I can still smell and feel the cool refrigerated air in my face when I walked in the house on hot summer days. There was one air conditioner in the front living room window, and other units in the bedrooms. There must have been a constant hum from the units in the summer, because I still like a little white noise when I’m sleeping. The house was heated in the winter by one portable ceramic gas heater on the living room floor. We turned it off at night, but first thing in the morning Mother turned it on, then warmed our clothes by the heater before we got dressed.
Both of the second and third bedrooms were corner rooms. The larger one, which was originally the master bedroom, had a long wall of windows looking into the back yard. This is the room I remember as mine, but my sister Nancy and I shared it for a while before our sister Patsy got married and moved out. Then Nancy took Patsy’s room. I can even remember sleeping in a crib, but I was old enough to climb out, so when Mother put me to bed, she lowered the rail and put a chair beside it so I could climb out safely – a practice I used with my babies. Later I slept in a solid oak twin bed which was part of a bunk bed set.
The backyard was enclosed by a chain link fence, and we had a big doghouse for our blue terrier Dusty. Prior to Dusty, I have photos of a Scottish terrier puppy, but I was too young to remember him. I barely remember Dusty. The fence that ran along the west side of the house was extra tall to protect us from our next-door-neighbor’s two not-so-friendly Great Danes. The black one was Jet, and the larger blonde one was Trovadore. Trovadore had a reputation for escaping his yard and roaming the neighborhood, and he was known to bite. When he got loose, a verbal alarm went out up and down the street and everyone ran for safety. We also had a swing set and a redwood picnic table with two benches in the backyard. A gate opened to a dirt alley that ran behind the backyard for the city trucks to collect trash from the big metal trash cans kept next to the alley. Daddy and Mother planted a row of tall evergreen Cyprus trees inside the back alley fence and a mimosa tree against the back of the house. The mimosa grew quite large, and we loved to climb in it – especially my sister Nancy, who often climbed the tree onto the roof and sat in solitude until someone came looking for her. A regularly-used clothesline finishes off my description of our backyard and our little house on Mt. Pleasant.
A block or two away was a small neighborhood park with a very small swimming pool. The pool was open in the summer, and I remember the water as very cloudy. We frequented the pool though, and never got sick from it. Our favorite public pool was Weiss Park, where the family went often. It was bigger and better – and clean. My sister Patsy taught me to swim when I was very young. I don’t remember not knowing how to swim.
We lived on Mt. Pleasant until 1962, when we moved to another part of Oak Cliff a few miles south.