My Sweet Sister Patsy

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.

1977 Patsy RedCross news

 

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.”

1958 Patsy arriving Hawaii; (front row L to R) Aunt Thelma, Patsy, cousin Phyllis, Uncle Fred, 1958
Front L to R: Aunt Thelma, Patsy, cousin Phyllis, Uncle Fred; Hawaii airport, 1958

 

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.

Me, and my nephew Mike riding Mr. Walker, Austin TX, 1962
Me with my nephew Mike astride the infamous Mr. Walker, 1962

 

1962 Mike taking bath in sink Austin (2)
My nephew Michael bathing in the kitchen sink; Deep Eddy Apartments, Austin; 1962

 

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

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.

Nancy Larry Tina Lake Texoma abt 1960

 

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.

L to R: Me (front), my sister Patsy (back), my sister Nancy, Mother, Nancy's friend Patsy (seated), Daddy; Padre Island beach, abt 1958

 

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.

 

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.