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.

Our House on Ovid

I was twelve years old in 1962 when we moved from our house on Mt. Pleasant in Oak Cliff to a brand new two-story house on Ovid Ave. We were still in Oak Cliff, but farther south near Westcliff Mall and the intersection of Hampton Road and Loop 12. The new house had four bedrooms, two baths, two living areas, a dishwasher, several big closets, and a two-car garage.

My sister Nancy told me years ago that the reason for the move was actually to pay for her major back surgery planned for the summer of 1962 after she graduated from high school. I plan to discuss her surgery in more detail in a subsequent post; but for the purposes of this post, Daddy and Mother needed the money from the sale of the house on Mt. Pleasant to pay for the surgery that insurance declined to cover. He used part of the money to purchase the house on Ovid. The doctor would not allow Nancy to sit, stand, or walk for several months after her surgery, so a bigger house with room for a king size bed offered a more comfortable place for her long recovery. Mom and Dad let Nancy use the downstairs master bedroom during her recovery.

Except for the old oak kitchen table, the oak bunk beds, and Daddy’s favorite vinyl easy chair, most of the furniture in our new house was purchased for the move. Most, if not all of it was from Rick’s Furniture on Jefferson Blvd. I loved that store, with what I remember as its expansive crowded showroom floors on two levels, very tall stairs, and many nooks and crannies. It was a fun place to explore. Mom and Dad bought new furniture for the master bedroom, including a king size bed for Nancy to roll around on until she recovered. I also got new bedroom furniture, which included a full size bed, dresser, and small student desk. I am sure Mother and Dad hoped I would do all of my studying at my desk, but I spent more time sitting cross-legged on my bed or on the floor than I did sitting at my desk. I think my back is repaying me for that today. 

Our new house was one and a half stories with two large picture windows on the front – one in the living room and one in the master bedroom. Two dormer upstairs windows faced the street. The double front door opened into a small entryway where a staircase ascended straight up just a couple of footsteps from the door. Upon entering, a hallway between the living room on the left and the stairs on the right led to the kitchen and the den at the back of the house. The long narrow kitchen/breakfast combination was between the front living room and the back den. The master bedroom and its very small bathroom were on the right of the stairs as you walk in the front door. An alley accessed the two-car garage in the back of the house where Daddy put his rock saw and rock grinding equipment. He built a rock garden next to the uncovered concrete pad of a back porch, where he and Mother frequently sat and enjoyed the fairly decent view from our small unfenced backyard.

 

 

The three upstairs bedrooms had big closets and shared one huge bathroom, which had a floor-to-ceiling wall of cabinets on one wall. It also had at least 30 square feet of unused floor space. I never understood the purpose for all of that wasted space. The bathtub/shower in this bathroom was right next to one of the front-facing upstairs windows, so a 90 degree curved shower curtain was necessary in the tub for privacy. Our house was on top of a hill and had no houses next door when we moved in, so from my north-facing bedroom window, I could see forever. Later a house was built on that side of the house, and the family who bought it had a son a year or two older than I. His and my windows were directly opposite each other, which prompted my parents to relocate me to the front middle bedroom vacated by my sister Nancy when she went to college.

We had a pool table for a while, and at one point it was upstairs. I had a group of guy friends in high school that came by fairly regularly. Daddy always welcomed them in, and they went straight to the pool table. It didn’t matter if I were home or not. I was standing in front of the bathroom mirror once when the pool table was upstairs, and Mother walked by while one of the guys was standing in the bathroom door holding his pool cue and talking to me. A mini-lecture on proper etiquette followed soon after. My parents moved the pool table downstairs into the den after that, and it just occurred to me why.

I had some other guy friends who occasionally came by in the middle of the night just to throw rocks at my upstairs window, which at the time was directly over my Mother’s and Dad’s room. Our basset beagle Charlie heard them one night and tore through the house barking. Mom and Dad were asleep in bed, of course; but Daddy woke up, went to the back, opened the sliding glass door into our unfenced back yard, and told Charlie to “sic ‘em.” The guys took off, with Charlie had their heels. I could hear the friendly perps laughing all the way as they disappeared into the dark around the corner of the house. Charlie knew who they were and would not have hurt them. The guys probably weren’t even scared; but they quit coming over in the middle of the night.

We always flew the Stars and Stripes on patriotic holidays, and Mother usually helped Daddy “raise the flag.” One memorable morning he asked her to hold the flag a minute while he went to the garage to get something. There she stood…“in the dawn’s early light”…on the front porch…in rollers and a nightgown…practically at attention…holding the flag…. Daddy thought she was so cute that he took his time coming back. I smile when I think of this scene. It was such a “Towner moment.”

1962 Mother Flag Ovid2
There is no photo of Mother holding the American flag, so I created one.

The house on Ovid was a very nice house – a huge improvement over the small house on Mt. Pleasant, but I loved Mt. Pleasant, too, and it was the only world I knew until we moved. I turned 13 after we moved into the house on Ovid, at which time my world became a lot bigger and busier. I have many fond memories of both homes.

Halloween

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.

1961-abt-tina-in-favorite-halloween-cancan-dance-b
In my can-can costume, on Mt. Pleasant, abt 1960-1

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.

 

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.

 

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.