Rockhounding

1998 abt Daddy working on rocks in Bonham2
Daddy at his faceting machine; at home in Bonham; abt 1998

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.

 

1965 Rock Club Christmas Party2
Fun times with the Oak Cliff Gem and Mineral Society; Daddy labeled this a Christmas party, but this is some strange-looking Christmas party; Daddy is standing far right wearing Mother’s mink stole; Mother is seated behind his left elbow; 1965

 

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.

towel dispenser

 

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.

1971 April BigBendTrailerWreckage

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

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.”

 

1961 abt Nancy in Bisonette uniform
Nancy in Bisonette uniform; off to a football game, 1961

 

1961 Nancy Piano
Nancy at the piano, 1961
1961 abt Larry and Nancy on Mt. Pleasant
Friends, Larry and Nancy, 1961
1962 Larry Nancy PatDay DonnaMorgan sr all night party
Larry and Nancy with friends at Senior All-Night Party, 1962
1962 Nancy n friends back surg recup
Nancy with friends, recuperating from back surgery at home, 1962

 

1962 Nancy walking aft back surg
Nancy feeling proud during her first walk after surgery, at home, former neighbor Tom Kirk in background, Daddy is holding her arm, 1962

 

1963 Nancy and Daddy on bikes back alley
Daddy and Nancy (in her cast), riding bikes in alley behind our house on Ovid, 1962