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.

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.

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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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.