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.

Rubbing Elbows with Tex Schramm

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

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

My Dog Charlie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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. 

 

Junior High and High School

I attended eighth and ninth grades at T. W. Browne Junior High and tenth through twelfth grades at Justin F. Kimball High School, both in Oak Cliff. The schools were next to each other on the same campus located a few miles west of our house. I began carpooling to school with neighborhood schoolmates – our mothers at the wheel. I vividly recall sitting in the back seat of a car loaded with girls and listening to “Oh, Pretty Woman” by Roy Orbison on the radio. I also remember sitting in the car in front of Kimball H.S. waiting for all of the riders to come out for a ride home. Mother was driving. I referred to some guy walking by as a “stud.” Mother was very unhappy with my language and said, “That’s a terrible thing to say. You shouldn’t talk like that about someone.” I felt terrible. Wouldn’t it be nice if that’s as bad as it got today?

In junior high, I began taking Spanish, which I continued into high school. I tried out for the Troyanns drill team in eighth grade and made the team for my ninth grade year.

 

I was in the eighth grade in November 1963 when my parents and I were eyewitness photographers at the assassination of John F. Kennedy. In November 2012, I self-published a short book about my experience, Tina Towner, My Story as the youngest photographer at the Kennedy assassination, available on Amazon.com. I also posted a four-part blog entry about it on this site in November 2016. ‘Teen magazine contacted me to write a first person article about my Kennedy experience, which was published in June 1968. The magazine sent a photographer to the house to take pictures of me for the article, which they originally wanted to do at school, but the school would not allow it.

 

1968 Teen photo
Photo taken by ‘Teen magazine in 1968 for article published in June 1968

I entered high school in the fall of 1965. My favorite school subjects were biology, physics, and math. I took honors math, English literature, Texas history, world history, social studies, civics, and (beginning in junior high) three years of Spanish. Some of my senior year classes were college level courses. I wish I had taken more government related classes in high school and college. It might have been useful today.

Much wasn’t offered to girls in the way of sports at that time. Girls played tennis but were not included in any other sports that I can think of  – at least not at Kimball. We had a natatorium, but I never saw the inside of that building, and I’m fairly certain there was not a girls swim team. Things began to change in that regard soon after I graduated.

I was a member of the Kimball High School concert choir, the National Honor Society, the Spanish Club, and the Troubadears drill team. I did not make the cut for the high school drill team when I first tried out but made alternate instead and was terribly upset about it. However, Ms. Mac (as we called Ms. McClintock, sponsor of the T. W. Browne Troyanns), put in a good word for me, and I was soon moved up to become an active member. The associated expenses of being in the drill team were an issue for me, but I fit into the captain’s original red uniform that she wore before she became captain, and I was able to purchase it at a discount. Drill teams today don’t seem to be the same as they were in the 1960s. Team members must now be good dancers, not just good marchers. It’s a safe bet that I would never have made the team by today’s standards.

 

Concert choir was a good thing for me. I can’t sing well but well enough to sing in the chorus. We performed at some school events (including senior prom) and at high school musical productions, such as “Bye Bye, Birdie.” It was a lot of work but also a lot of fun. I spent many hours of rehearsal for this after school and sometimes late into the evening. One of the props issued to each person in “The Telephone Hour” song was an old black telephone. I had a lot of things to load into the car to take to rehearsal one night, and I placed the telephone on top of the car. I forgot to put the phone in the car and drove away with it on roof of the car. Someone waved at me along the way to school yelling, “You have a telephone on top of your car!”

I made a lot of my own clothes in high school, but I was excited to find out that I was going to buy some new clothes for graduation! Mother’s good friend Marie, a former neighbor from our Mt. Pleasant neighborhood, worked at the Apparel Mart. The Apparel Mart was not a public place, but Marie invited Mother and me to shop there one day as a graduation gift. It was (and still is, I guess) an enormous facility near downtown Dallas on Stemmons Freeway at Oak Lawn. Mother bought me a couple of dresses. One was a coral, empire waist, sleeveless dress which I wore with new a new navy blue hat and gloves. The other dress was a yellow flower print skirt and jacket with a yellow ruffled blouse. I also bought a two-piece bathing suit (one piece bathing suits didn’t fit me), and a beautiful white rabbit car coat that I loved and wore for many years. That day of shopping was so much fun! I had never had a shopping day like that before, and I haven’t had one since. 

 

I did not attend senior prom, but the concert choir performed briefly at that event, so I went for that purpose and then left. Especially for that event, I made a long straight yellow dress with a turtle neck, cutout shoulders, and a yellow daisy chain belt. I guess it bothered me a little during the evening that I didn’t attend prom, but after that night, I really didn’t care.

I attended the all-night party with a group of friends, which was held in a hall on the Southern Methodist University campus in north Dallas. I enjoyed the event – friends, music, billiards, food, and drink (non-alcoholic, of course). I’m not sure if I was up “all night,” but I was at least up late.

Our actual high school graduation commencement ceremony was held at Memorial Auditorium in downtown Dallas. My class had over 600 graduates, and it was a long ceremony. For some reason, my avid photographer Daddy, did not get any photos of me in my cap and gown. 

[Another meaningful and important part of my late teen years was my three years in the Westminster Youth Choir of Oak Cliff Presbyterian Church, which deserves a post dedicated to the subject.]

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.

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.

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.

 

1950-62 Early Childhood on Mt. Pleasant

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.

 

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.