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
Our house on Mt. Pleasant was very near the intersection of West Jefferson Blvd. and Westmoreland Ave. Go east on Jefferson from the Jefferson/West Moreland intersection, toward the Trinity River, and you are in the heart of Oak Cliff. In my early years, street cars ran from Oak Cliff to downtown Dallas. I remember the street cars, but according to Advocate Oak Cliff, they stopped running on January 14, 1956. I don’t think I ever rode one back then, but if we drove up beside one with our car windows down, Mother or Dad issued adamant demands for me not to stick my hands out of the window and try to touch one or I would get electrocuted. I wasn’t going to try to find out.
Our family physician Dr. James F. Graham (an intimidating figure to me) shared an office on West Jefferson Blvd. with our dentist Dr. Mulholland. My sister Patsy says she remembers going to Dr. Mulholland. I remember Dr. Graham but not Dr. Mulholland (just his name). I got very quiet and held my breath every time we drove down Jefferson past Dr. Graham’s office, fearing Mother would remember that she needed to take me to see him for a shot or something. Dr. Graham’s red brick office is vividly etched in my mind. The entire waiting room was furnished in heavy brown or burgundy leather sofas and chairs trimmed with brass nail heads. I can still smell the leather and heavy cigarette smoke as I stepped inside, and I can hear the squeaking of the leather cushions when someone moved on the furniture. Those couches and chairs were way too big and slippery for me to sit comfortably in. The waiting room was put to good use, because we nearly always had to wait an hour or two to see the doctor. The examination room (or rooms) was pure 1950s, including freestanding glass and metal medical supply cases, which I think were painted white.
A tornado blasted through Dallas on April 2, 1957, killing and injuring many people and damaging a lot of property. The tornado barreled through Oak Cliff first. Mother and I were at Dr. Graham’s office at the time; and while we were there, the doctor’s office began getting phone calls and hearing radio reports about a tornado headed our way. So, what did Mother do? Along with Dr. Graham, his staff, and others in the waiting room, she marched outside to look for it. Mother told me to stay inside (by myself, I suppose). She came back inside visibly upset by what she had seen. She said they all stood and watched as the tornado approached on the ground, lifted and skipped right over their heads, then set back down on the other side of the street. A sight Mother never forgot and one I will forever be glad I missed.
West Jefferson Blvd.’s main shopping area was a bustling place in the 1950s and early 60s: furniture stores, restaurants, movie theaters, shoe stores, clothing stores, and a myriad of other businesses. Sunset High School, where both of my sisters attended, is on Jefferson. Both the Vogue Theater and the famous Texas Theater were on West Jefferson Blvd. (I don’t like to call it “infamous.”) I often went to the movies at these theaters, as did most kids in that area at the time. In the 1960s Mother dropped me and a my girlfriend Gay off in front of the theater, and we spent the afternoon watching movies. On special occasions, Daddy drove the family into downtown Dallas to see movies at the Majestic, the Tower, or the Palace theaters. These theaters were where the big movies played, such as “How the West Was Won,” “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” “Ben Hur,” and “The Ten Commandments.” I still have the charm bracelet and the book my parents bought me at “The Ten Commandments.” After one particular billed movie presentation at one of the downtown theaters, the theater showed a sneak preview of Elvis Presley’s “Jailhouse Rock.” We stayed to see what it was about, but apparently it wasn‘t deemed good family entertainment by Daddy, because he marched us out during the first song when Elvis began shaking his hips. I don’t think we were alone. Oak Cliff also had a drive-in movie theater named Chalk Hill, which we went to occasionally.
The Wynnewood Village shopping center was located at West Illinois and South Zang Blvd. very near I-35E. It was an outdoor mall with close-in parking. The stores I best remember in Wynnewood Village were Volks clothing store and Goff’s hamburgers; and there was the Wynnewood Theater, which I went to occasionally. Volks had an entrance in front and in back, and I believe it was the back entrance that had a glass cage window which exhibited live monkeys. How bizarre.
Wynnewood Village and its nearby residential neighborhoods were a very popular place to live and shop at the time, and it has an interesting history.
Occasionally, my good friend Saranne and her mother invited me to go with them to Neiman Marcus in downtown Dallas while Saranne’s mother shopped. We ate lunch there as part of the outing. This was the only time I ever stepped foot in Neiman Marcus when I was growing up, and I did not at the time fully appreciate the opportunity to do this with them. This must have been in the mid 1960s. I don’t know what I wore for these special outings, but I am sure Saranne and her mother both dressed up. Saranne and I spent our time giggling through the store and probably touching everything. I remember the old elevator with the cage bar doors (brass?) and the elevator operators. Her mother was so sweet to invite me along on these outings, and it was truly a special occasion for me. What fun! I hope I behaved myself.
My parents were both 37 years old when I was born. They were older than any of my friends’ parents, but I didn’t think much about it. I was about 50 years old when I asked my parents if having me was an accident. Answering in unison, Mother said “yes,” and Daddy said “no.” After giggling quietly to each other, they quickly went on to explain that after my sister Nancy was born, they tried unsuccessfully to conceive again for five years. They finally gave up, which is when Mother became pregnant with me. That’s their story.
Daddy was tall, thin, and, of course, handsome. He had very straight fine hair, and I fondly recall sitting on the living room floor with him while he let me comb his thin oiled black hair with a fine toothed comb. When I was little, we often played a game where we rubbed noses and repeated, “Buddy, Buddy, Buddy, Buddy, Buddy…” I believed Daddy when he told me and my sisters that his real name was “Timothy Titus Obadiah William Henry Walter Simm Ruben Rufus Solomon Jim Simon Timon Wallace Pat Christopher Dick Jehoshaphat!” He always repeated it at a quick rhythmic pace, and it always sounded like it ended with an exclamation mark. I only recently discovered the background of this rhyme when I searched the Internet and found an early more accurate version of the entire ditty. The Longest Name Song
At about the age of five, I went with the family to a public swimming pool somewhere near Ft. Worth, I jumped into the very crowded wading pool, slipped and fell on the sloped sides, and split my head open. My big sister Patsy was watching after me, and she ran to get our parents. They rushed me to an emergency room where a doctor stitched up the back of my head. All I remember about the hospital treatment room is staring up at the bright ceiling lights from a narrow table that looked like an ironing board.
My playground was the great outdoors, where I played unsupervised with neighborhood kids for hours at a time. We played catch, hide-n-seek, chase, jacks on the front porch, and the now politically incorrect cowboys and Indians, where I galloped around on my stick horse, wore a holster, and waved my cap gun. I also liked to kick or throw a football around with Daddy in the front yard.
It was always fun drawing hopscotch squares on the sidewalk with chalk rocks that I found in the dirt. Sometimes I got creative, and once (around five years old) I embarrassed my sister Nancy when I chalked “TT + BM” in big letters on the sidewalk in front of our house. (The boy next door was “BM.”) I had no idea why Nancy was so completely appalled about this, especially since I was so proud of knowing my alphabet. Speaking of BM, I once walked into his house without knocking. Their screen door was shut but not locked, which said, “Come on in!” to me. I walked in the front door, around the corner through the hallway, and into the bedroom near the front. There I stood, dumbfounded and face-to-face with Mr. and Mrs. M. Mr. M also stood dumbfounded – in his underwear. Mrs. M was still in bed with the sheet only half covering her naked body. I had never even seen my own parents in this state of undress!
When Dallas received a good snow, which did happen more frequently in the 1950s and 60s, I bundled up in my overcoat, mittens, and toboggan, and I dragged my toboggan down the street. (I wore a toboggan, and I rode a toboggan.) Mother often made me wear layers of socks over my mittens and shoes to help keep warm. Around the corner on Frances Street there was a big steep hill perfect for sledding. No one (not kids, not parents) ever worried about getting hurt flying down that steep hill in the snow. It was thrilling. I came home frozen to the bone with a bright red nose; and my face, hands, and feet hurt from the cold. Mother peeled off the layers of icy clothing and set me down by the ceramic heater to thaw.
I was in first grade when Mother signed me up for ballet and tap dance lessons. She picked me up from school in the car and drove me to my lesson somewhere on Jefferson Ave. It was a typical dance studio for the time with tile floors, mirrors, and ballet barres. I watched myself in the mirror, thinking I wasn‘t very good. I must not have taken dance lessons very long, or I would remember more about it. I also took ballroom dance a few years later; and when the twist dance craze erupted around 1960, I went to a party where everyone learned to twist non-stop for a couple of hours to Chubby Checker’s “The Twist.”
Daddy and Mother were very close to their three girls, but they were not involved in school. Mother did belong to my PTA, although she was not a very active member. She once apologized to me, saying if she had been more involved in my school activities, I would have had an easier time in school. She said this when I didn’t make the first list of girls who made the high school drill team, but I was brought into the drill team before the first season began. I was surprised and puzzled by her remark, because I never felt slighted in any way. My parents did not attend football games when I was performing with the drill team in junior high school or high school. They did, however, come to the high school musical productions I was involved in.
I was happy not to be a Brownie or a Girl Scout. I think I went to one Brownie meeting. I was not interested in joining any group or activity that would require me to go away to camp or spend any time away from home. I was spoiled. I often watched a black and white TV in my room late in the afternoon and fell asleep in a chair watching cartoons while Mother fixed supper. She woke me up when dinner was ready.
No wonder I didn’t want to be away from home – nothing but fond memories of growing up on Mt. Pleasant.
I think now is an appropriate time to write about my Halloweens.
Halloween on Mt. Pleasant was the typical house-to-house trick-or-treat experience. In elementary school the trick-or-treat bag I carried was usually a paper sack (lunch sack style) that I decorated at school. More than once I dressed up in a can-can costume borrowed from our neighbors across the street. I loosely use the term “borrowed,” because I don’t believe we returned it. I was about ten years old the first time I wore it. I wore it again a year or two later. I liked (not loved) trick-or-treating, but I didn’t like much of the candy. I came home from trick-or-treating and dumped my candy all over the living room floor, so I could go through it. My sister Nancy liked to help.
Parents were not concerned about allowing their small children to go house-to-house unchaperoned in those days. Occasionally I heard about real life Halloween horror stories, but it was unusual. I continued to trick-or-treat until probably the seventh grade after we moved to our new house on Ovid Ave. In our new neighborhood, my friend Saranne, who lived a short block away, and I dressed up and took off to trick-or-treat a block or two from our homes but still in our neighborhood. It was dark. We walked up a hill into a cul-de-sac and knocked on a door. A lone man opened the door at one house and invited us in. We entered, sat at a breakfast bar in his kitchen, and he gave us something to eat and a soft drink. We were there only a few minutes, and nothing untoward happened, but it was a dumb thing to do. I don’t remember if I told my parents. Saranne and I did not feel too creeped out about it at the time, but later we did. That might have been the last time I went trick-or-treating. After that I stayed at home, answered the door, and gave out candy to the little ones. I’m sure my mother was thrilled that she didn’t have to do that any more.
When I was about twelve or thirteen years old, after we moved into our house on Ovid, Mother let me host a Halloween party for some new girlfriends. I converted part of the garage into a darkened fun house, where I set a simple table of well-oiled cooked spaghetti guts with eye balls and brains made of other foods. The girls blindly walked along the table in the dark, feeling the bowls of slimy innards along the way. (This doesn’t sound like me at all.)
Life was simple and care-free for us kids in the 1950s and 60s.
My Halloween party on Ovid, abt 1962-63
Me in white rabbit fur stole and can-can dress (again) at my Halloween party on Ovid,abt 1962-63
One memorable adult Halloween happened around 1984. My husband Rick was a banker, and we were invited to a big Halloween party held in a vacant mansion somewhere in north Dallas. I believe it was hosted by one of Rick’s banking clients, and the entertainment was Vince Vance & the Valiants. Apparently there was some kind of unwritten bankers’s wife Halloween dress code I was unaware of, because I shocked a few people with my costume. I didn’t particularly like dressing in costume, but something got into me that year. I borrowed some costume items from a neighbor, and dressed up in fake leather pants, leopard leotard onesie, rubber police baton, rubber bullet belt, spiked collar, spike heels, and spiked short multicolored hair. When I was at the hair salon getting my hair done for that party, a woman stopped and asked my stylist why I would do that to myself. When Rick and I arrived at the party, people who knew us were shocked at this mild-mannered conservative banker’s wife dressed as a pretty convincing punk-rocker. Rick’s over-the-top costume of a normal business suit and Groucho Marx glasses, nose, and cigar was a nice contrast. Sometime before the show started, I excused myself to find a restroom. I asked for directions and was pointed down the hall to a door on the right. I opened the door, walked in, and found myself standing in the Valiants’ dressing room. They were each in different stages of dress preparing to go on stage, and they all looked up at me when I walked in. I was embarrassed and apologized profusely by explaining I was in the wrong room. One of them replied, “Not necessarily.” I looked like a member of the band, and I am fairly certain that they were not dressed in Halloween costumes. I made a quick exit. Later that night, I won some kind of impromptu award for my costume and was called up onto the stage for a photo-op with Vince Vance.
Rick and I dressed for Halloween party, abt 1984
Me, dressed in Halloween costume standing next to Vince Vance, who was not dressed in Halloween costume; Halloween party, abt 1984
One more thing…one day in the 90s, I stopped at the grocery store on the way home from work. Halloween was approaching. I pushed my basket around the end of a grocery aisle and passed a mother pushing a small boy in her basket. The child looked up at me with wide eyes and immediately exclaimed, “Are you a witch?!” I didn’t even have my broom with me. It must have been the end of a long hard day for me.
I get such warm feelings when I look at the featured image on this post. The carefree life of a child, playing with friends and roaming the neighborhood – the “be home before dark” life in the 1950s.
We Towners lived in an area of Dallas on the south side of the Trinity River known as Oak Cliff. Long before we lived there, Oak Cliff was a prestigious place to live; however, the depression took its toll on the area, and eventually it was annexed into the city of Dallas.
In 1946, four years before I was born, Mother, Father, and my two sisters Patsy and Nancy moved into a new house in a new neighborhood on Mt. Pleasant Street. I am the youngest of three girls. My oldest sister Patsy was born in Odessa, Texas, and my sister Nancy was born in Orlando, Florida. I am the caboose, born in 1950 at Methodist Hospital in Dallas. The hospital was located near the Trinity River in what I recall was/is the Kessler Park area of Oak Cliff on Colorado Blvd. The only times we ever drove through Kessler Park was when we were going to the hospital for something. Our house was on Mt. Pleasant in an area of Oak Cliff which an old map shows to be part of Beverly Hills; however, the original Plat of Survey for the house dated May 28, 1946, identifies the area as Westridge Park #7. I had never heard of Westridge Park before I recently found this Plat of Survey. Growing up, I don’t recall ever hearing anyone refer to Mt. Pleasant as Mt. Pleasant Street. It was always just Mt. Pleasant.
Originally, our brick home was a small two bedroom\one bath\one car garage. When I came along, my parents must have decided they needed more space, and in 1954 Daddy enlarged it to three bedrooms, which is how I remember it. He converted the garage into the master bedroom and enlarged the kitchen to take in the front porch, which increased the total square footage to about 1,100 square feet. The remodeling also included building an 8 X 10 foot shed in the backyard.
The 1954 remodeling project also converted the kitchen from a small rectangular room into a u-shaped room with a partial wall down the middle, which was originally an exterior wall. The front door opened into the kitchen. All of the windows in the house, except the new one in the kitchen addition, opened vertically like a door by turning a crank at the bottom of each window. It was difficult for me to turn the sticky handles. The outer portion of the expanded kitchen area held a washing machine, a sewing machine, and Sunny our yellow parakeet. The old oak dining table (already getting on in years in the 1950s) sat at the end of the wall divider and extended into both sides of the expanded kitchen. When I was a baby, Mother bathed me in the extra-large kitchen sink in the corner of the original kitchen underneath a rather large window.
The front of the living room faced the street to the north. There were three doors to the rectangular living room: one from the kitchen at the front, another near the back from the new master bedroom, the third from the hallway which connected the two bedrooms with the bathroom and the kitchen. The back wall of our living room was covered in some memorable wallpaper: schooners, pilgrims, stagecoaches, churches. The telephone connection was in the hallway, and the phone had a long cord so we could drag it into one of the rooms. Our couch was a curved brown modern style Davis couch, covered with a very nubby and rough fabric. It must have been stylish, but it was uncomfortably scratchy, although no one complained about it then. In front of the couch was a bookcase/coffee table which held a set of encyclopedias and a set of storybooks. I liked looking at the Human Anatomy section of the encyclopedias that had a set of detailed transparent overlays showing the skeleton, muscles, circulatory system, and organs. We used the encyclopedias often. They were our “search engine,” and that set of storybooks introduced me to Dr. Seuss and McGilligot’s Pool.
A large painting of the ocean hung over the couch. I’m not sure what happened to that painting; nor do I know what happened to a ceramic figurine about eight to ten inches tall. The family story goes that Daddy brought home to Mother the art deco ceramic nude of exotic dancer Sally Rand (so out of character for the Daddy I knew). At one time this glossy black nude figurine of the famous fan dancer was given a prominent place in our living room, but I have found only one family photograph (see gallery) with Sally in it – sitting on top of the piano, her torso and head visible behind the sheet music. No one in the family has any idea what happened to it, but my sisters and I wonder if Mother found a “special” place for it. I never gave this art piece a second thought when I was young; but thinking back on it now, I wish I still had it. I have searched online and not found a single item resembling that figurine.
Daddy’s favorite chair was a white vinyl easy chair and ottoman which he was still using in the early 2000s after having it recovered at least once. Mother played the piano and the organ, and she had both for a while – a tight fit in our little house. She sometimes played them at church, if asked. We also had a black and white television in our living room, and every week I sat on the floor in front of it and giggled uncontrollably at Red Skelton’s Clem Kadiddlehopper.
Then there was our beautiful old oak rocking chair. Mother rocked and sang me to sleep in that rocker, accompanied by the squeak of the heavy old rocking chair. I often dreamed that I was hiding from the Sandman behind a wingback chair at my Uncle Gordon’s (Daddy’s brother) and Aunt Ruth’s house. I knew the Sandman was getting closer, as the sound of his heartbeat grew louder. I always fell asleep before ever laying eyes on the Sandman. The Sandman’s heartbeat was the sound of my mother’s heart beating in my ear as my head rested on her soft warm breast.
The only bathroom was very small. It had a small gas ceramic heater for warmth in the winter. We kept the bathroom very busy. I followed Daddy to the bathroom once when I was about four or five years old and stood in the open door so we could have a nice little chat while he stood at the sink. I grabbed the door sill with both hands and began monologue; but Daddy, seeking a little rare privacy, wasn’t enjoying the chat as much as I was. He closed the door in my face – and on my left thumb, which was caught on the hinged side of the door frame. I screamed, but he kept pushing harder. It bled profusely, and I lost my thumbnail. He just thought the sticky door was being its normal hard-to-close self, and he most certainly felt horrible about what happened. Mother must have been pretty upset, too, but she didn’t say anything to him in front of me about it.
Our house was cooled in the summer with window unit air conditioners. I can still smell and feel the cool refrigerated air in my face when I walked in the house on hot summer days. There was one air conditioner in the front living room window, and other units in the bedrooms. There must have been a constant hum from the units in the summer, because I still like a little white noise when I’m sleeping. The house was heated in the winter by one portable ceramic gas heater on the living room floor. We turned it off at night, but first thing in the morning Mother turned it on, then warmed our clothes by the heater before we got dressed.
Both of the second and third bedrooms were corner rooms. The larger one, which was originally the master bedroom, had a long wall of windows looking into the back yard. This is the room I remember as mine, but my sister Nancy and I shared it for a while before our sister Patsy got married and moved out. Then Nancy took Patsy’s room. I can even remember sleeping in a crib, but I was old enough to climb out, so when Mother put me to bed, she lowered the rail and put a chair beside it so I could climb out safely – a practice I used with my babies. Later I slept in a solid oak twin bed which was part of a bunk bed set.
The backyard was enclosed by a chain link fence, and we had a big doghouse for our blue terrier Dusty. Prior to Dusty, I have photos of a Scottish terrier puppy, but I was too young to remember him. I barely remember Dusty. The fence that ran along the west side of the house was extra tall to protect us from our next-door-neighbor’s two not-so-friendly Great Danes. The black one was Jet, and the larger blonde one was Trovadore. Trovadore had a reputation for escaping his yard and roaming the neighborhood, and he was known to bite. When he got loose, a verbal alarm went out up and down the street and everyone ran for safety. We also had a swing set and a redwood picnic table with two benches in the backyard. A gate opened to a dirt alley that ran behind the backyard for the city trucks to collect trash from the big metal trash cans kept next to the alley. Daddy and Mother planted a row of tall evergreen Cyprus trees inside the back alley fence and a mimosa tree against the back of the house. The mimosa grew quite large, and we loved to climb in it – especially my sister Nancy, who often climbed the tree onto the roof and sat in solitude until someone came looking for her. A regularly-used clothesline finishes off my description of our backyard and our little house on Mt. Pleasant.
A block or two away was a small neighborhood park with a very small swimming pool. The pool was open in the summer, and I remember the water as very cloudy. We frequented the pool though, and never got sick from it. Our favorite public pool was Weiss Park, where the family went often. It was bigger and better – and clean. My sister Patsy taught me to swim when I was very young. I don’t remember not knowing how to swim.
We lived on Mt. Pleasant until 1962, when we moved to another part of Oak Cliff a few miles south.