My childhood memories of my dad’s cousin Buster Brown and his family mostly consist of laughter and a lot of lively boogie-woogie piano music. The Browns were a family of pianists. James H. (Buster) Brown, Sr., was my father’s cousin on his mother Petrea’s side. For simplicity’s sake, I will refer to everyone as cousins, but in reality many were “seconds” and/or “once removeds.” Standing next to my father in the featured family image are Buster and his wife Ethel (Honey).
Unfortunately, decades passed without my seeing much of the Browns; however, after I grew up, married, and had children, the Browns invited my parents, my sisters, me, and our families to attend family reunions, which they thoughtfully held near Bonham so my parents could attend. The ones we attended were held at Tanglewood Resort at Lake Texoma in north Texas in the 1990s and early 2000s. It was fun to reunite with family I hadn’t seen in a long time and to meet some family members for the first time; and I got to hear some more of that good ol’ boogie-woogie music again. I loved seeing Daddy in his advanced years as he reminisced with family, and the sights and sounds of my nearly blind mother Pat at the piano gave me chills. I regret that I can’t put my hands on most of the photos from these events.
Mother at the piano, Brown Reunion, Tanglewood Texoma, early 1990s
Daddy with his cousin Anna Marie, Brown Reunion, Tanglewood Texas, early 1990s
One reunion stands out in particular: my kids spent a lot of time in the swimming pool that year, and after dark my son Chris, who was about twelve years old, jumped into the pool and slammed heads with another resort guest. Chris’ head was bleeding and needed stitches. Cousin Fran and her son Jory and daughter Peggy accompanied me and Chris to the closest emergency room in Denison. Chris and his entourage were escorted to the treatment room — a large open area with different treatment stations spaced around the room. Chris’ doctor was friendly and funny, so our family of comedians got along quite well with him. In fact, the doctor reminded us all of Robin Williams. We all (even Chris) spent the next hour or two cracking wise and laughing it up in the ER. The room of doctors and nurses were either really enjoying the display or were about to call security on us. Chris withstood the constant harassment from all sides and braced himself for stitches in his head (or what “Dr. Robin Williams” abruptly announced would be staples). When the doctor picked up the staple gun to begin, he paused, then yelled across the room that he was going to need a bigger stapler. Chris cringed…then laughed, nervously.
It was very late when we got back to the resort, but a few cousins were politely waiting up for us. Oddly, this reunion and the trip to the ER was a great way for us cousins to get to know each other. It was a remarkable evening and night.
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
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’tactually 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.
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.
Me in Troyann uniform, taken in backyard on Ovid by Daddy, 1964
Official Troyann photo, T. W. Browne, 1964
Spanish Club banquet at (I think) Tupinamba, abt 1964
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.
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.
Posing in Troubadear uniform in front of our fireplace; photographed by Daddy at home on Ovid, 1967-68
Posing in Troubadear uniform; photographed by Daddy at home, 1967-68
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.
Mom, Dad, and I in front of house, 1968 High School graduation day, 1968
In front of my house on high school graduation day, 1968
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.]
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.
Mother and Daddy enjoying a cup of coffee on the back porch. Rock garden behind Daddy. I wonder if he took this photo himself.
Daddy and my sister Nancy riding bikes in alley behind our house; after Nancy’s back surgery, late 1962
Daddy cleaning my upstairs bedroom window. A pretty good picture of him, and a not-so-good idea of what the view was like from my window 1962-3
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.”
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.
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.
George Peabody Elementary School as seen from the top of Sheldon near our house, 1946
Celebrating my birthday with my class at George Peabody Elementary School; Mother made the cupcakes; my first grade teacher is in the background; Mike is on the right, with glasses; 1946
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.
Leading the pack, I am off to John W. Carpenter Elementary School with neighbors and friends: Mary Kay (behind me) and Saranne (far left)
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.
On this, the 53rd anniversary of the John F. Kennedy assassination, I post my last (for now) excerpt from my book, Tina Towner, My story as the youngest photographer at the Kennedy assassination.
My film has been closely scrutinized over the years, mostly by researchers. Authorities had the original film for a good while on two different occasions. The first time was in 1963 immediately after the assassination when Daddy turned the original undeveloped film over to The Dallas Morning News. Another time was in 1977-78 when I turned over the original film and slides to investigators for the temporary use by the Select Committee on Assassinations. LIFE magazine also had the Towner images in 1967 for an article they published in November that year.
There are a few frames missing from my motorcade footage as the presidential limousine passes in front of the Texas School Book Depository. No one knows for sure who removed those frames or why, but I do know it happened before March 1977 when I took the film to Ft. Worth to be studied by Jack White and he brought the splice to my attention. I suspect it happened while in the hands of the Dallas Morning News and/or authorities in 1963, because the film was developed by them, and the noticeable jump in the film at that point has been there since the beginning as far as I can remember. A few theories about who made this mysterious splice and why wiggle around in cyberspace, but they are only theories. I read somewhere that at least one researcher believes I did it myself when I stopped filming and started again, but I know for certain that is not true. I did not pause filming.
Excerpt from Chapter 2:
The drive home [from Dealey Plaza] was long and silent, except for the news broadcasting on the car radio. All the way, we listened to unconfirmed reports that the president was dead. As soon as we walked in the house, we turned on the radio and listened while Mother made sandwiches for lunch. We soon heard the official report that President Kennedy was dead. All I could do was nibble on the sandwich set before me. Then my parents asked me if I wanted to return to school, which was the original plan. I had not considered not going back to school, so without giving it much thought, I decided to go back, and my parents let me. I probably shouldn’t have.
Back at school, I became confused. I checked in with the attendance office and went to class. Of course, no classes were actually in session. Dumbfounded students and teachers sat at their desks listening to the horrible news over the loud speakers in the classrooms. My friends knew I had gone to see the presidential motorcade, but no one knew I had been at the actual assassination site. The questions began. When I told them where I had been standing, looks of disbelief showed on their faces. It was hard for it to register with anyone that I…was a witness. More importantly, it had not registered with me either – until I began talking about it with the other students and noticed their reactions. My classmates didn’t dwell on it with me, and the teacher just looked at me helplessly. Someone asked why I had returned to school. I had no idea. Neither the kids nor the teachers knew what to say to me. I was totally lost and numb, but I made it through the rest of the day somehow….
On the day of the assassination, the local television and radio news broadcasts immediately began directing anyone who had taken any pictures at the assassination site to turn the negatives over to (I believe) The Dallas Morning News. Maybe The Dallas Morning News was not the only one asking this, but that is where Daddy dutifully hand delivered his undeveloped film. He submitted the undeveloped roll of film from his Yashica and the undeveloped reel of film from the movie camera, as requested…by the authorities. I did not go with him. He said he received a receipt for them, but I never saw it. Hindsight told Daddy and me that readily turning our pictures over to anyone was not a wise decision….A short time [after submitting the images to the authorities], Daddy began to worry that he might never see our film and negatives again, but we did. He said the authorities had possession of our film for several weeks. I cannot verify that, but I suspect he waited much longer than he should have waited for the materials to be returned to him….
There is no record of when the film and photos were finally returned to us by authorities. We loaded the film into the projector and anxiously watched the whole reel of home movies from the beginning, as we waited for the presidential motorcade segment to begin at the end of the reel. We were shocked when the film ran out and began slapping the projector at the end of the family home movies. We thought the JFK portion was gone forever, but it wasn’t. It was still there but detached at the end of the reel. Daddy spliced it back onto the rest of the film, and we watched it in agony. This was the very first time we saw what we had captured on film. Imagine today having to wait weeks (probably months in this case) to view your video for the first time.
In my oral history at The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza in 2008 Tina Towner 2008 oral history, Stephen Fagin, who is now the curator of the museum, asked me if I ever get tired of talking about the JFK assassination. The answer is no, because I don’t actually talk about it very much. Sometimes years have gone by without anyone asking me about it. It is interesting that many people I have talked to over the years seem to believe I am not as affected by or as deeply involved in the event as they think I should be. However, I suspect that most of the eyewitnesses and eyewitness photographers that day feel the same way about it as I do.
Continuing the JFK assassination theme, this is the third excerpt from my book, Tina Towner, My story as the youngest photographer at the Kennedy Assassination, which I self-published in November 2012:
Excerpt from Chapter 2, 1963 The President Comes to Dallas:
My first thought [after hearing the gunshots] was that someone was throwing firecrackers out of a building window. I wasn’t the only one who thought that. When I heard the first gunshot, there had been enough time for me to move back toward or onto the curb. I stopped and looked up at the buildings to see where the sounds were coming from. I didn’t see anything, but I didn’t know what I was looking for. I heard three gunshots, and sometime between the first and last, an unknown man grabbed my arm and pulled me to the ground. He held onto my arm until he though it was safe to get up. I wish I knew his identity….
Everything happened very fast. The aftermath was very confusing, but I was not afraid. I got up off the ground and connected with my parents. The three of us stood quietly together for a few seconds amid the sirens and chaos, as we looked down from the plaza toward the triple underpass. Daddy calmly stated that he knew exactly what had just happened – someone just tried to shoot the president with a high-powered rifle, which he recognized from his Army training. He remained extremely calm throughout the entire ordeal. We all three did….
Many people ran toward the grassy knoll and behind it where there were railroad tracks. Daddy took his camera and followed the crowd….When he finally returned, he brought with him a grim report.
Daddy took three more photographs while he was away from Mother and me, making a total of four color photos….He probably regretted not taking as many photos as possible, although I never heard him say so.
I do not remember whether Daddy asked me before he went down the hill or after he returned, but he calmly asked me if I had used up all of the film in the movie camera. I told him I had not yet heard the film clicking inside the camera, so he told me to keep filming and to pan slowly up and down Elm until I heard the film run out inside the camera. After I finished using up the rest of my film, I took my place beside Mother, and we patiently waited together as we watched the nightmare unfold around us.
As I continue to recognize the upcoming anniversary of the JFK assassination, the following is the second excerpt (of several) from my book, Tina Towner, My story as the youngest photographer at the Kennedy assassination.
Excerpt from Chapter 2, 1963 President Kennedy Comes to Dallas:
In October, 1963, Daddy read an article in the local newspaper reporting President Kennedy’s scheduled trip to Dallas in November. I don’t know if Daddy voted for Kennedy, but he seemed to like him OK, and I think he would have wanted to see the presidential motorcade, regardless of who the president was. I knew nothing about politics and only read the newspaper when required to by a teacher as a school assignment, but I did know who President Kennedy was….
I probably wasn’t as enthused about the president’s visit as my parents would have liked me to be, but a week or two before the president’s scheduled trip to Dallas, Daddy asked me if I wanted to get out of school to go with him and Mother to see the presidential motorcade. I jumped at the chance….
Prior to the scheduled motorcade, a public announcement indicated that going to see the presidential motorcade would be an excused absence from public school….I was in the eighth grade. My mother wrote an excuse for me to give to the school’s attendance office, and my parents picked me up from school around 9:30 or 10:00 a.m. I heard there were a few other students doing the same thing, but I didn’t know any of them by name….
Friday, November 22, 1963, was a pretty day. It was partly cloudy and cool. Some reports said it was a warm and sunny fall day, but it was cool enough for me to wear my blue sweater, which is visible in some photographs taken by other amateur photographers at the site. We drove from Oak Cliff across the Houston Street viaduct toward downtown Dallas, only six or seven miles from our house. Daddy had already decided where he wanted to go to watch the motorcade. He thought the best place would be at the end of the motorcade route, at or near the Elm and Houston intersection. He believed it would be less crowded there, parking would be free at the nearby Union Terminal, and we could walk to the site from our car. After turning the corner onto Elm from Houston and passing by the grassy knoll area, the motorcade would disappear under the triple underpass, enter Stemmons Freeway, and head toward its next stop at the Dallas Trade Mart for a luncheon where President Kennedy was scheduled to speak.
In 1963, Union Terminal was a very busy train terminal located where Union Station is today. We parked in a large parking lot on the west side of the terminal and walked through Union Terminal, which smelled heavily of exhaust fumes. We continued walking north on Houston to the corner of Houston and Elm. From our car, the walk through the parking lot and train terminal was at least a couple of blocks. It was then approximately another four blocks to Elm Street.
We arrived at our chosen spot early, around 11:00 a.m. The motorcade was scheduled to arrive around 12:30 p.m. Daddy said his first choice for a good vantage point was on Elm Street about halfway down the hill from Houston toward the triple underpass. He thought that location would allow us a clear view of Kennedy’s motorcade as it came down the hill from Houston, and he would have more time to focus the camera. However, I began to feel queasy standing in the sun, so we stayed up on the plaza where there was a little shade that Mother and I could sit in while we waited. We picked our spot on the corner; but Daddy still wanted to check out the area farther down the hill to make sure there wasn’t a better location for us. He decided we could stay where we were, and we planted ourselves on the southwest corner of Elm and Houston, directly across Elm from the Texas School Book Depository building. While we waited, Mother and I took turns sitting on a small, green, folding camping stool we brought with us for that purpose. Like most the men that day, Daddy was dressed in a suit and tie; Mother and I were each in a sweater and skirt, and I was wearing bobby sox and flats.
As we waited for the motorcade, I recall that Daddy looked up at the buildings on “our” corner and observed a number of people looking out of the windows. He commented that they really had birds’ eye views and specifically mentioned watching one woman lean out of the window in a building catercorner to the Texas School Book Depository building. In our oral history recorded by the Museum in March 1996, Daddy stated that most of the windows in the TSBD had the shades pulled down. He also stated, as he had stated several times over the years to family and friends, that he told a uniformed police officer standing next to him that he saw a man in a white coat standing in a sixth floor window. Several times over the decades, Daddy repeated that the police officer saw this person, too….
As the motorcade finally approached, Daddy, Mother, and I took positions next to each other on the corner around which the motorcade would turn. Daddy asked a uniformed police officer for permission to step off the curb (which has since been removed to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act), and we stepped into the street….Standing to my left, almost elbow to elbow with me but a step behind, Daddy opened the viewfinder on the top of his Yashica camera, pushed the magnifier out of the way, held the camera up to his face, looked through the hole in the viewfinder, and captured one magnificent color photograph of the presidential limousine. At the same time, I took 8 mm movies with the Sears Tower Varizoom movie camera….I looked through the viewfinder, as Daddy taught me to do, and smoothly panned the camera in motion with the limousine, as it turned left onto Elm directly in front of and around me….
Because of the obtuse angle of the Houston and Elm corner, the presidential limo began to disappear down the hill into the crowd to my left. I continued filming until I could see only the back of the limousine. The meter on the movie camera was broken, which we were already aware of, and Daddy told me earlier that I would know when the film ran out when I heard the clicking sound of the film inside the camera. He knew before we left home that the reel of film in the movie camera was nearing the end; however, he was confident I would have plenty of film for what I needed. Under expected circumstances, this would have been true.
After the limo passed us by, bystanders on our corner began to move back up onto the curb, and many of them turned and started following the president’s limo down the hill. Both of my parents began to walk away from where I continued filming a few seconds longer….
I believe Daddy was about to head down the hill to get another photo, but there was not enough time before the first gunshot sounded – only a second or two, if that, after I stopped filming….