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

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.

1941 Texas Hurricane

The following is an excerpt from a previous post about the Texas hurricane which made landfall east of Matagorda Bay, Texas, in September 1941. It is from my post entitled “Military Service,” dated April 16, 2016. I believe naming hurricanes did not begin until 1953, and this unnamed hurricane was about the same pressure (942 mbar) as Hurricane Harvey (941 mbar) was when it made landfall at 10 pm CDT on August 26, 2017. The linked Wikipedia article offers a small clue of how far technology and meteorology have come since 1941.

When Daddy [James M. Towner] entered into active service [on September 11, 1941], he went directly into artillery, where he said the army was placing all engineers at the time. Before the U. S. entered the war in 1941, he was ordered to duty on his Asst. Lt. Reserve Officer commission for one year and one day active service and reported to Camp Wallace south of Houston, Texas. Daddy wrote that he remembered the hurricane along the coast in 1941 while he was stationed at Camp Wallace. As the hurricane became more severe, he was told to evacuate Pat and one-year-old daughter Patsy from Galveston Island. All residents were being evacuated. He drove their 1941 Ford into Jack Tar Courts, picked up Mother and Patsy and drove them into Houston, where Mother’s brother Fred lived. The highway from Galveston crossed a causeway about two miles long. He drove about five miles an hour in a solid line of cars along and guided by tall poles attached to the edge of the pavement. He wrote, “The water was over the edge of my running board, it was pouring down windy rain. For about a half an hour we could not see land – just barely the car ahead “

Rubbing Elbows with Tex Schramm

Football season is here, and my being a Dallasite and a Dallas Cowboys fan brings me to this anecdote:

From the early 1970s to the early 1980s, my former husband Rick was a banker. Sometime during the latter part of his banking career, he and I were on bank-sponsored day trip to a picnic/bar-b-cue being held at a ranch on a hilltop southeast of Dallas on the road to Kaufman. It was a beautiful place with a panoramic view. Our group included at least two busloads of people who were with or associated with the bank, along with a few honored guests. One of the special guests was Tex Schramm, original president and general manager of the Dallas Cowboys and host of a talk show at the time about the Cowboys and the NFL. He was on the same bus with Rick and me, and Rick did not miss this opportunity to rub elbows with him. At some point on the bus ride to our BBQ destination, I mentioned to Rick on the side that I thought “Aztec” was a odd name for someone. Rick looked at me quizzically and asked what prompted my remark. I answered, “Because his show is called the ‘Aztec Schramm Show.'” (Most people reading this probably know that the show was actually called the “Ask Tex Schramm Show.”) Rick howled with laughter, promptly turned to where Tex Schramm was seated and told him and everyone within earshot (the whole bus) what I had just said. Mr. Schramm, being a gentleman, accepted this in fun and didn’t seem offended. I’m pretty sure, however, that I turned every shade of red.

My Dog Charlie

One fall day when I was about fourteen years old, I was riding in the car with my parents on our way to Sunday dinner after church. I suddenly mentioned that I would like to have a puppy. Neither of my sisters lived at home any longer. It was just me, Mom, and Dad now, and I “needed” a puppy.

Mother commented to Daddy that I was the only one of the three daughters who had never had a puppy. We had a dog when I was younger, but I barely remember it. Daddy replied that he thought he and Mother had agreed – no more dogs. I must have made some convincing promises to take good care of it and to train it to do all kinds of tricks. Daddy wondered out loud if Mother and I had conspired against him. We talked more about it at lunch and decided to stop at the animal shelter on the way home, which I believe was on the edge of downtown Dallas.

We walked into the shelter. Cages lined the walls, and it was crowded with people. I walked directly to a cage on the far side of the room with eight puppies, opened it, and picked up the first puppy I saw when I walked in – a sweet-smelling half-Bassett/half-Beagle male. Daddy encouraged me to look at some of the others, so I put the puppy down and stood across the room watching him. Daddy noticed a young man who was also watching my puppy and told me to go pick him back up before someone else did. Decision made. We paid $15 for our precious fur ball and took Charlie to his new home.

Charlie was very smart, and I was able to house-train him very quickly. He didn’t cry much. Puppy Charlie slept in my room at night in a box beside my bed. Daddy said he and Mother couldn’t figure out why they never heard him cry at night, so one night Daddy came into my room to check on us. I was asleep on the edge of my bed with my arm hanging over the edge into Charlie’s box. Charlie was also fast asleep with his head in my hand. When he got older, he slept with Mom and Dad in their bed. I taught him to speak, whisper, shake hands with both paws, sit up, and roll over. We never quite mastered the “shhhh” command, especially at meal time, when he parked himself under the table and whispered non-stop for morsels to be handed down to him. I blame Daddy for that.

Daddy taught Charlie to fetch the newspaper every morning. Charlie was very pleased with himself, and one morning Daddy looked down onto the back patio and saw that Charlie had fetched five newspapers from nearby neighbors. Then, as we all stood and laughed about it, he came trotting around the corner with another one! We didn’t have much luck “untraining” him to fetch newspapers, so Daddy told our neighbors to let us know if they were ever missing one, and we would return it to them. There was one neighbor Charlie didn’t like, and on one occasion my brother-in-law Larry spoke to the man and figured out why. Allegedly, Charlie had gone onto their back porch and pooped in the man’s special flower box. Daddy said he was probably getting even with the man for throwing rocks at him.

There was a time when Charlie nearly killed our parakeet Mimi. We often allowed the bird out of her cage to fly freely around the house. One of these times, she had been flying for a while, and she got tired and didn’t make it to the curtain rod, a safe distance above Charlie’s head. She landed on the floor, and before anyone could blink an eye, Charlie was on her. He grabbed her into his mouth, and all I could see were green tail feathers sticking out. I screamed, chased him down, pried open his jaws, and pulled her out of his mouth. She was pencil thin and wet, but she was OK. I placed her gently back in her cage where she ruffled her feathers to dry off and soon recovered from the shock. She then perched perfectly still in her cage for a long time. Mimi liked to fly, and Charlie liked to chase things. He was just doing what came naturally.

The Towner family took frequent walks in the woods of Lower Kiest Park, which was just a block or two from our home. Charlie loved to run full speed down the woodsy path with his ears flapping in the wind. He was nearly always off-leash, even at home and on the many Towner vacations and rock hunts he went on. Our backyard was unfenced, but the only time he ventured out of the yard was to steal newspapers and once to chase away a few of my “guy-friends” when they threw pebbles at my window in the middle of the night. When Charlie got hot playing outside or after a long walk in the summertime, he often cooled off by climbing onto the concrete bird bath that Daddy made.

Charlie was my dog to begin with, and I loved him so much; but he stayed with Mom and Dad and continued his travels with them after I left home. Daddy loved to tell of Charlie’s rock hunting abilities and how Charlie once found some “Balmorhea Blue” agate on a rock hunt in west Texas. Daddy loved Charlie even more than I did, and Charlie was my parents’ constant companion until he died of old age. He was the best dog a family could have.

The Buster Browns

My childhood memories of my dad’s cousin Buster Brown and his family mostly consist  of laughter and a lot of lively boogie-woogie piano music. The Browns were a family of pianists. James H. (Buster) Brown, Sr., was my father’s cousin on his mother Petrea’s side. For simplicity’s sake, I will refer to everyone as cousins, but in reality many were  “seconds” and/or “once removeds.” Standing next to my father in the featured family image are Buster and his wife Ethel (Honey).

Unfortunately, decades passed without my seeing much of the Browns; however, after I grew up, married, and had children, the Browns invited my parents, my sisters, me, and our families to attend family reunions, which they thoughtfully held near Bonham so my parents could attend. The ones we attended were held at Tanglewood Resort at Lake Texoma in north Texas in the 1990s and early 2000s. It was fun to reunite with family I hadn’t seen in a long time and to meet some family members for the first time; and I got to hear some more of that good ol’ boogie-woogie music again. I loved seeing Daddy in his advanced years as he reminisced with family, and the sights and sounds of my nearly blind mother Pat at the piano gave me chills. I regret that I can’t put my hands on most of the photos from these events.

 

One reunion stands out in particular:  my kids spent a lot of time in the swimming pool that year, and after dark my son Chris, who was about twelve years old, jumped into the pool and slammed heads with another resort guest. Chris’ head was bleeding and needed stitches. Cousin Fran and her son Jory and daughter Peggy accompanied me and Chris to the closest emergency room in Denison. Chris and his entourage were escorted to the treatment room — a large open area with different treatment stations spaced around the room. Chris’ doctor was friendly and funny, so our family of comedians got along quite well with him. In fact, the doctor reminded us all of Robin Williams. We all (even Chris) spent the next hour or two cracking wise and laughing it up in the ER. The room of doctors and nurses were either really enjoying the display or were about to call security on us. Chris withstood the constant harassment from all sides and braced himself for stitches in his head (or what “Dr. Robin Williams” abruptly announced would be staples). When the doctor picked up the staple gun to begin, he paused, then yelled across the room that he was going to need a bigger stapler. Chris cringed…then laughed, nervously.

It was very late when we got back to the resort, but a few cousins were politely waiting up for us. Oddly, this reunion and the trip to the ER was a great way for us cousins to get to know each other. It was a remarkable evening and night.

Happy Fourth of July

My family took frequent camping trips in our camping trailer to Lake Texoma on the Texas-Oklahoma border. I plan to say a lot more in subsequent posts about our camping trips, including Lake Texoma, but one of those trips to Texoma was over the Fourth of July, which I thought would be fun to write about over this Fourth of July holiday:

I was about ten years old. To get to our favorite campsite, sometimes we drove straight up State Highway 289 (Preston Rd.), but often we drove up U.S. Highway 75 to Sherman, then west to Pottsboro, then north past Loe’s Highport (now Highport Marina). It was about a two-hour drive. This Google link shows our favorite rocky point. I’ll call it Towner Point for sentimental reasons. It is the peninsula in the middle of the image next to the words “Oklahoma-Texas” on the state line. This rocky point is no longer accessible by car.  My husband Gene and I drove by here about ten years ago, and it was gated off, probably because it’s too dangerous for public use. I know we had a few exciting moments here ourselves over the years, and this was one of them.

Once we got near Lake Texoma, Daddy stopped to buy some fireworks, which I’m sure I must have begged for the whole drive up. We always went to this same spot ─ a small elevated rocky point north of Loe’s Highport on the Texas side of the lake. We spent our time canoeing, swimming, fishing, and diving and floating off of the rocks down the hill from our campsite. Other than the numerous tarantulas in the rocks and the spiders in the trees, it was a great spot, and a popular one. There were always other people picnicking or camping there, except that one time when it poured down rain for days, and we had it all to ourselves.

As soon as Daddy stopped the car and got out to set up the camper trailer, I jumped out of the car with numerous brown paper bags full of fireworks and went straight to a concrete picnic table just a few feet from the trailer door. While Daddy began unhitching and leveling the trailer, I wasted no time dumping everything out of the paper bags and spreading all of the fireworks out on the concrete picnic table. I had roman candles, bottle rockets, firecrackers, sparklers, punks, and the empty paper bags they all came in. I then placed one small bottle rocket into an upright bottle and promptly lit it with matches that Daddy had conveniently dropped into one of the bags so he wouldn’t lose them. The bottle rocket blasted off into the air, just like it was supposed to, and simultaneously ignited the array of fireworks on the table, which were aimed in all directions except up. The Roman candles went off with repeated and endless foomphs, randomly firing toward the humans below on the lake’s rocky edge. People hit the ground, dove into the water, or ducked for cover behind a tree or a rock. I started a grass fire and almost a forest fire, but thanks to some fancy footwork by everyone within firing range, “we” were able to put out the fire without the help of the Park Rangers, which I believe were called. It was a chaotic scene.

My parents were horrified, but no spanking or reprimand was necessary. I felt the horror, too. It was a close call and a valuable teaching moment. I never felt the same excitement about fireworks again after that. In fact, I loathe the personal use of fireworks now, but it took decades to make that complete transition. This story has been told many times by us Towners (mostly my mom), and probably by the visitors to Towner Point that Fourth of July.

On that note and in the patriotic spirit of the holiday,

I wish everyone a safe and happy Fourth of July and
God Bless America

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Aunt Ruth and Uncle Gordon

I have many wonderful aunts, uncles, and cousins. My mother had six brothers and sisters; but, like my three kids are now, they were scattered to the four winds, and I did not get to spend much, if any, time with them. Actually, my mother didn’t get to spend much time with them either, at least not after I was born. My father, on the other hand, had but one sibling – his brother Gordon, who lived in Dallas after I was born. He was six years older than Daddy. Uncle Gordon and Aunt Ruth had two beautiful daughters, Mary and Judy, who were closer in age to my sisters than to me.

 

Daddy referred to Gordon as a sharp dresser and the “good-looking one.” Ruth was also beautiful and stylish. I remember her as thin with very long gray hair which she usually wore in a bun when I was very young. I think she eventually cut it short.

According to my cousins Mary and Judy, their family moved to Dallas twice. The first time was in the late 1940s. The last time was around 1952, when they moved from Oklahoma.  My sister Patsy said they lived with us for about six weeks while looking for a place to live in 1952. I was two years old in 1952 and have no memory of their living with us. My sister Patsy tells the story of when Daddy’s car was stolen from our driveway while Gordon and family were living with us. Gordon answered the telephone when the police called our house in the middle of the night. They asked if he was Mr. Towner, and Gordon said, “Yes.” Half asleep, he continued speaking to the police for a minute, thinking he was still in Oklahoma. When asked if he had a 1949 Plymouth, he answered, “No, but my brother in Dallas does.” (Mother loved to tell this story.) Before 1954, our house had only two bedrooms and one very small bathroom, which made for very close living quarters for four adults and five girls. It must have been very challenging for all – or interesting, at the very least. Unfortunately, I have waited way too long to begin asking questions about this anecdote, and much has been lost in its telling.

My family visited my uncle’s house in north Dallas fairly often during the 1950s and 1960s. Their house was just on the north side of Bachman Lake from Love Field Airport, almost as far north as north Dallas got at the time. This was before DFW Airport existed, and commercial jet traffic was in its infancy. The air traffic pattern into and out of Love Field seemed to go directly overhead, and it got worse as air traffic increased during that time.

To get to their house before Stemmons Freeway (I-35) opened in 1959, we drove around the big Harry Hines traffic circle, then we drove east on Northwest Highway past Bachman Lake. Once, on a calm night as we drove toward their house after dark alongside Bachman Lake, a large wave of water splashed up from the lake onto the road and covered our car and the road. It startled my parents, who seemed to have no idea what had just happened. As far as I know they never found out. I was afraid as I listened to Mom and Dad talk excitedly about it. I was pretty sure it was the Loch Bachman Monster!

The Harry Hines traffic circle no longer exists today, but it was where Loop 12, US 77 (Harry Hines), 114, and Northwest Highway (Loop 12) converged. I can see younger Dallasites scratching their heads trying to picture this, and it is head-scratching worthy. I spent a good deal of time trying to remember or research just exactly what roads converged here. I searched online for maps and anything else that might help describe it. Then, it dawned on me that I have some very old files which belonged to my dad, and I remembered seeing maps in one of the files.  When I looked, I found Dallas maps from 1958, 1965, 1967, and 1970. Voila!

Harry Hines traffic circle; Ashburns Dallas City Map; 1958
1958 Dallas map showing Harry Hines traffic circle

 

Gordon’s and Ruth’s house was bigger than our house on Mt. Pleasant, or at least it seemed bigger to me, and it was always immaculate…and quiet, except for the planes overhead and probably when the Jim Towners came to visit. There was a formal living room in the front, which we never spent any time in. In the back of the house was the den with a pool table that had a formica cover, so it could be used as a dining table or, as my cousin Mary recalls, a flat surface to cut out sewing patterns. Mary also reminded me of the window seats in the den which they used for storing their comic books. I learned to play pool on their pool table. I played fetch with their two beautiful Collies in their large backyard, and I was also fascinated by their cockatiel. Ruth liked to sew, grow violets, and paint ceramics. Gordon had a greenhouse in the back yard, where he grew orchids, gloxinias and other delicate beauties. The greenhouse was enchanting and smelled of misty air and wet rich soil.

Mother and Dad didn’t leave me to go anywhere very often, even when I was nearly an adult. Once, when I was very young, I stayed with Gordon and Ruth for a few days. As I fell asleep one night, I heard what I was sure was a space ship or flying saucer fly right over the house. I yelled, and Ruth floated in quickly and quietly to assure me everything was OK. She tried unsuccessfully to convince me it was only an airplane at the busy nearby airport. A highlight of my stay was when Ruth made doll clothes for my Vogue Ginny doll. She didn’t just make a dress or two. She made practically a whole wardrobe – most of the clothes in the included photo. The vivid image in my mind is Aunt Ruth sitting at her sewing machine, head down, focused intently on the tiny togs. I wonder now if perhaps she gave me this doll specifically for this visit. I am certain I did not thank her appropriately for this treasured memory. I hope my mother did. I have kept all of these clothes in the same stationery box since she made them for me, only about sixty years ago.

Ginny Vogue Doll
Vogue Ginny Doll with clothes mostly made by Aunt Ruth in the mid-1950s

 

Years later, Gordon and Ruth moved to another house in North Dallas – a house with the same street number as ours. I don’t know which came first – ours or theirs, but for a period of time, the brothers Towner had the same street number. Here Gordon had a standard Poodle name Lucky and two Bedlington Terriers, all of which were show dogs, I believe. For training purposes, he took Lucky to a small nearby indoor mall so Lucky could adjust to having a crowd of people around him.

Lucky could be a very intimidating sight. When groomed for show, he was especially big and black. Gordon owned a couple of laundromats in the Webb Chapel and Royal Lane area, and he made regular rounds to collect change from the machines. He took Lucky with him as protection. He draped Lucky’s leash on top of one of the washers near the front of the store and began collecting the money from the machines. There was one time when a man of a suspicious nature walked in without any laundry and began walking to the back where Gordon was. Dutiful Lucky wouldn’t let the man pass. He stood guard, growling and baring his big white teeth against his black jaws. The man turned and left without incident.

Sadly, I have very few photos from those days of Uncle Gordon, Aunt Ruth, and cousins Judy and Mary, which is a mystery to me, since my father was such a shutter-bug. I am sure my sisters have many more detailed memories than I have about our visits with them. I was too young to hang around with the older girls, and I was also probably a nuisance.

A Child of the 60’s

I was raised in the sixties, but I’m happy to say I never came close to being the flower-child-hippie-type. I’m not sure how I got through those years without even a close encounter with that counterculture. I was never even inclined to smoke. My friends in high school who smoked never did so in front of me, and I don’t remember ever being offered a cigarette. I believe there were a lot of people like me, especially in Texas, but it might seem otherwise, considering all of the attention over the years given to Haight-Ashbury, Summer of Love, Woodstock, free love, hippie communes, etc. I am still discovering previously unrecognized references to all of this in some of the music that I loved from that era.

I was a skinny child, which prompted occasional comments from a couple of my friends suggesting I should be a model. Twiggy was popular in the 1960s, and thin was in. I guess I heard it enough to think it was a possibility; so one summer when a downtown department store advertised teen modeling tryouts, I asked Mother if I could audition, and she drove me downtown to sign up. Swimming in a sea of nervous and pretty young girls, I completed the entry form and waited for my turn to walk the elevated runway in the middle of the cavernous hall. I was a fish out of water – completely out of my element, and I can only imagine that it showed. I knew nothing at all about modeling, and I was not just thin – I was skinny, awkward, and gawky. Compared to the hundreds of other beautiful, lithe, and graceful teen competitors, I didn’t come close to being model material; but I went through with the tryouts and wasn’t disappointed much when I didn’t get chosen. Thinking back on this experience, I am proud that I had the nerve to try out, and I am glad I didn’t make the cut.

Many of my friends called me Bird Legs starting in elementary school, but I acquired another nickname in high school. One morning I was sitting in Home Room right in front of a friend named Gary who called me names and teased me mercilessly (but affectionately, I like to believe). I liked Gary, and I guess I actually liked the attention a little, but the name-calling must have been particularly bad on that particular morning. After his usual barrage of names, I turned back to him and boldly (for me) asked him  to quit calling me ugly names and would he please call me something nice (which, in retrospect, should have defeated his purpose in name-calling). He thought for maybe as long as two seconds and abruptly dubbed me “Tweeter.” Then he laughed, and I smiled skeptically but nodded in semi-acceptance. I never learned how he chose that name, but it stuck. Maybe it was because of my bird legs or maybe there was some less benign meaning which I was too naïve to understand. All of his friends and many of mine began calling me Tweet or Tweeter, evidenced by many of my high school yearbook signings. I couldn’t help but laugh a few years ago when Twitter erupted and the word “tweet” gained a global presence.

I had very few dates in high school, and I did not have any boyfriends. I mostly went out with a group of friends or had them over to the house. It was probably when I was a senior in high school when a girlfriend and I went on a double blind date. I don’t remember who set us up, but the story we were given was that a couple of guys on break from MIT were visiting a friend. I came away from the evening thinking MIT students should have seemed smarter. I don’t remember anything else about them or where we went that night, but I fell for the likely charade and didn’t actually figure it out until (I am sorry to say) it dawned on me while writing this post.

I didn’t get lectured much by my parents. They were too subtle for that. I do, however, remember a stern lecture Daddy gave me in high school as I was about to venture out on a double-date with my friend Ann to a Sadie Hawkins dance. Daddy let me drive his shiny white pickup that he used for his construction business with “Towner Construction emblazoned on both doors. I was thrilled to drive the truck, which I didn’t get to do very often, and I didn’t mind the Towner name on the side. Ann and I were very excited about the dance, and together we must have been over-the-top giddy. Daddy took note, and before we left, he called me into his upstairs “rock” room, where he was busy faceting a stone. He privately lectured me about staying calm and made me take a few deep calming breaths. He said I could not get behind the wheel until I had settled down. I can feel a calm come over me just remembering his voice and reliving that moment. The dance was unimpressive; the prelude was memorable.

I learned a lot about proper etiquette by listening to Mother and Dad interact with my big sister Nancy about things going on in her life, but they never had “the talk” with me about the birds and bees. What I learned about the facts of life came from a reference book which my parents just happened to keep on the top bookshelf in our den on Ovid. This book on anatomy included a rather vague explanation of the facts of life, accompanied by drawings. I thought I was being sneaky by reading it, but I eventually realized the method in their madness. The loosely defined “facts” in that book collided head on with reality when I got married in 1969.