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. 

 

West Jefferson Blvd., Wynnewood, and Neiman Marcus

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.

1957 Dallas tornado         1957 Dallas Tornado Flashback.com

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.

Ten Commandments Bracelet
My “Ten Commandments” charm bracelet, which included a Bible and The Lord’s Prayer; purchased at the theater where we saw “The Ten Commandments”; abt 1956

 

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.

Wynnewood Village 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.

Elementary School

My family moved to Mt. Pleasant in 1946 before I was born. Both of my sisters attended George Peabody Elementary School in Oak Cliff. My oldest sister Patsy began first grade there in 1946, and she remembers the basement of the school was dungeon-like with an unpleasant odor. I think she even used the word “creepy” to describe it. I started first grade in 1956. The school had been renovated by then, and my memory of it is much more pleasant than my sister Patsy’s. However, for those readers who have had bad dreams of being naked in public, this is the setting for my naked-in-public dreams.

Mother was most certainly delighted when I started school in 1956. Before that, I must have spent a lot of boring hours driving her crazy. Wearing a pair of “stilts” that looked like a couple of Spam cans with string handles tied to them, I clanked around the house whining, “When do I get to go to school?” Mother always answered, “Soon, very soon.”

Peabody was about one-half mile from our home, but it seemed a lot farther the many times that I walked to and from school. As I headed out for school, my first hurdle was the dreaded walk down Sheldon, where I had to pass by a house with a couple of fierce barking Boxers. After conquering my fear of these dogs, I passed the fire station at the bottom of the big hill on Sheldon, which Google Maps shows still stands but looks vacant. I then negotiated my second hurdle, namely the big and very busy intersection of Jefferson and Westmoreland, both divided avenues. Thank goodness for the crossing guard at that intersection, although she yelled at me once for jaywalking with some older kids across Westmoreland in front of the fire station. This intersection has changed very little since my Oak Cliff days. It still looks treacherous, and I wonder if school children are allowed to cross this busy intersection today, with or without a crossing guard. My deepest gratitude goes out to my crossing guard for traumatizing me that day with her indelible crosswalk safety lesson. Jefferson/Westmoreland intersection

On warm spring days, as I approached home on foot after school, I was met by the lilting and ever-so-inviting sound of piano music wafting down the street through our open windows. Often the music was accompanied by the inviting aroma of fresh-baked cookies. An oven-fresh chocolate chip cookie paired with a cold Pepsi in a tall frosty metal glass was the best after-school snack – or any kind of snack.

My first grade teacher was tall, young, and pretty. Sometimes she allowed us students, one at a time, to take turns standing behind her and rubbing her shoulders while she sat in a lone chair in front of the class and read us a story. My classmates (especially the boys) all clamored over who got to do this, because often it was possible to see right down the front of her blouse. It was quite the first grade education, which I actually witnessed myself once. She seemed to have no idea what was going on.

 

Mother made my lunch every day for school, and I carried it in a brown paper sack left over from the grocery store. I’m not talking about small lunch-size brown bags. I’m talking brown paper grocery sacks, some of which were full-size. My favorite sandwich (believe it or not) was liverwurst with sliced dill pickles. I also liked tuna salad, chicken salad, egg salad, and bologna sandwiches. I did not like peanut butter and jelly. Mother often included a pickle spear and a boiled egg with a small cellophane-wrapped dash of salt to dip the egg in; and she always put some kind of dessert in the bag, too: a homemade chocolate chip cookies, a brownie, or a piece of chocolate or angel food cake. I always bought a carton of milk for lunch, which I recall cost seven cents. In twelve years, the only other food I remember purchasing from the school cafeteria was hot cloverleaf rolls with butter and rice with gravy, which are still at the top of my list of favorites.

My first kiss took place in first grade at George Peabody in a class held regularly in the auditorium. My friend Mike and I sneaked on stage behind the plush red velvet curtain to kiss in the dark. He was my first boyfriend and my last, until I met my husband-to-be in college in 1968.

I attended George Peabody Elementary School from first through sixth grades. Seventh grade was still elementary school for me, but during sixth grade in 1962 we moved farther south in Oak Cliff to our new house on Ovid Ave. I finished sixth grade at Peabody and attended John W. Carpenter Elementary School on Tosca Lane in seventh grade. It was just a short block from our house and a much easier walk to school than Peabody was.

John W. Carpenter Elementary School was a fairly new school at the time in a fairly new neighborhood and was a much nicer facility than Peabody was. Having only spent one year there, I don’t have a lot of memories of it; however, I do remember my seventh grade graduation dance in the gym. Mother took me to the “beauty parlor” at Sanger Harris to have my hair cut and styled into a “bubble” and to shop for a dress for the graduation party. As the “beauty operator” was finishing up my “do,” she asked me, “Do you have a bow?” I thought she meant did I have a beau, and I was embarrassed to tell her that I did not. I must have elaborated a bit too much about not having a beau, because she stopped me and laughed and explained that she just wanted to know if I had a bow for my hair. As for the dress, I fell in love with a dreamy chiffon dress with pink flowers, and when I arrived at the party in my beautiful new dress, I discovered several other girls had fallen in love with the same dress. The dance was hosted by a DJ from the popular AM radio station KLIF 1190. His name was Irving Harrigan, a.k.a. Ron Chapman, who, as most Dallasites know, became a famous personality/celebrity in the Dallas area, if not the entire country. National Radio Hall of Fame, Ron Chapman. I had an opportunity to meet Ron Chapman at a party on Swiss Avenue in the late 1970s or early 80s. I mentioned the seventh grade graduation party to him, but I don’t think he remembered – not that I would have expected him to. I enjoy telling this story of my “beau,” the popular graduation dress, and the legendary DJ.

 

Rotary Dial Telephone

At the top of the stairs in our house on Ovid in Oak Cliff in the 1960s, Mother placed an antique wooden accent table with a small antique mirror, both of which are family heirlooms. This is where she placed the upstairs telephone, which was on a long cord that could reach into any of the three upstairs bedrooms, bathroom, and even a closet or three. The phone I remember best on that table was a Princess phone; however, the phone I have more nostalgic memories of is the heavy old black rotary phone, which is what I remember using when we lived on Mt. Pleasant.

I have the table and mirror; and when my husband Gene and I recently moved, I decided to place them together in the hallway. On top of the table I placed a replica of the old black phone I remember. I looked on-line at authentic vintage phones, but most of the ones I saw looked too worn and dirty, and the restored phones cost too much for this purpose; so I decided to buy a replica instead. It is a working phone, but I do not have it plugged in.

old telephone replica w mirror.png
Heirloom table and mirror with replica of old rotary dial phone

My son Chris, his wife Heather, and their two children Blake and Reagan were here after Christmas for a visit. Ten-year-old Reagan immediately asked about that odd-looking thing in the hallway, and when her mother and I explained to her what it was, she was even more curious. She wanted to know if it worked and how. I told her it was supposed to work but that I had not actually plugged it in to try it yet. I said we could test it while she was here, and the next thing I knew, we were doing just that. This demonstration of how to use a rotary phone was going to be a very interesting and fun exercise, and it would be so simple.

First, I found the cord that came with it and plugged it into the wall jack. One end fit perfectly into the wall jack, but the other end did not fit into the phone jack. After struggling with this for a while, Reagan said, “T-ma, maybe if we unplug the cord from here [handset], it will fit into this one [line].” At first I thought, “Well, that’s not going to work,” but I looked at the labels on the underside of the phone (which I had apparently not done when I unpacked the phone), and it turns out that I had plugged the handset cord into the line plug, and Reagan and I had been trying to plug the line cord into the empty handset plug. So, after Reagan fixed that problem, we moved on to the next step.

Reagan wanted to dial her cousin in California, my granddaughter Ashlee (age 12). They were already on their iPads FaceTiming each other at that very moment, and Reagan’s iPad was sitting right next to the rotary phone, which was only one of the missed photo ops of this demonstration. A few inches away but fifteen hundred miles away, Ashlee sat and waited for Reagan’s call. I wrote down Ashlee’s telephone number on a piece of paper for Reagan, who put the handset to her ear and started dialing. This is a general recap of how this simple exercise went:

Me:  Listen for the dial tone. Dial 1 first. Then the area code. Then the number…Ok, go…Put your finger in the finger hole for each number and slide your finger around the dial until your finger hits the stop….No, wait. Don’t take your finger out of the hole until it hits the stop…You’ll have to hang up and start over. Hang up means set the handset back on the cradle, which depresses the buttons and disconnects…Be sure to dial all the way to where the finger-stop is…Good…Oops. Let the rotary dial go back by itself. Don’t keep your finger in it…Ok, do it again…Well, you waited too long between numbers…You’ll have to start over again …Your finger slipped…Do it again…Oh, the phone moved and your finger slipped again…Keep the phone still while you dial…Oh, me. You’ll have to start over…

We were all three giggling very hard very soon, which also made it difficult for Reagan to complete the task; and poor Ashlee could hear but not see our struggles and was still patiently waiting for her phone to ring. I’m sure she was wondering what the problem was.

This whole demonstration went on for about 30 minutes. Reagan kept having to start over for various reasons. I didn’t remember there were so many things that could go wrong dialing a rotary phone. One problem was that the phone replica isn’t as heavy as the real thing, and it kept sliding and throwing her off. Reagan’s mom Heather was sitting nearby listening to our dialing frustrations. I am certain I heard her giggling more than once, usually after she heard one of my repeated exclamations, “This is my nightmare come true!” (Seriously, I have had many “frustration dreams” about trying to dial a number on a rotary phone in an emergency but misdialing and having to start over again and again.)

“OK,” I said, “Let me see if I can do it” and I started dialing it myself. I couldn’t do it either. I’m not sure why, but it turns out this simple phone would not allow us to dial a long distance number, even if we did it right – a problem that careful dialing would not solve.

So, I told Reagan and Ashlee that Ashlee would have to call us. Reagan gave Ashlee our number, she called, and Reagan answered. That worked like a charm. The cousins talked for a few seconds, then Reagan hung up and happily resumed talking with Ashlee on her iPad.

Besides not having the weight that the original phone had, the replica is not an exact replica. It looks very similar, but the center of the dial is a button that activates a speaker; there are two volume switches on the underside of the phone – one for the ringer and one for the speaker; and there are also two extra holes past Zero/Operator on the finger dial for * and #.

We had fun, but Reagan and Ashlee must be a bit mystified by the so-called simplicity of the rotary dial phone. I am pretty sure that my demonstration did not convince them how easy the original was to use, and they both think their T-ma is funny.

I  hope I never have to make an emergency call on my rotary phone – only in my dreams.