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.

Our House on Mt. Pleasant

 

I get such warm feelings when I look at the featured image on this post. The carefree life of a child, playing with friends and roaming the neighborhood – the “be home before dark” life in the 1950s.

We Towners lived in an area of Dallas on the south side of the Trinity River known as Oak Cliff. Long before we lived there, Oak Cliff was a prestigious place to live; however, the depression took its toll on the area, and eventually it was annexed into the city of Dallas.

In 1946, four years before I was born, Mother, Father, and my two sisters Patsy and Nancy moved into a new house in a new neighborhood on Mt. Pleasant Street. I am the youngest of three girls. My oldest sister Patsy was born in Odessa, Texas, and my sister Nancy was born in Orlando, Florida. I am the caboose, born in 1950 at Methodist Hospital in Dallas. The hospital was located near the Trinity River in what I recall was/is the Kessler Park area of Oak Cliff on Colorado Blvd. The only times we ever drove through Kessler Park was when we were going to the hospital for something. Our house was on Mt. Pleasant in an area of Oak Cliff which an old map shows to be part of Beverly Hills; however, the original Plat of Survey for the house dated May 28, 1946, identifies the area as Westridge Park #7. I had never heard of Westridge Park before I recently found this Plat of Survey. Growing up, I don’t recall ever hearing anyone refer to Mt. Pleasant as Mt. Pleasant Street. It was always just Mt. Pleasant.

Originally, our brick home was a small two bedroom\one bath\one car garage. When I came along, my parents must have decided they needed more space, and in 1954 Daddy enlarged it to three bedrooms, which is how I remember it. He converted the garage into the master bedroom and enlarged the kitchen to take in the front porch, which increased the total square footage to about 1,100 square feet. The remodeling also included building an 8 X 10 foot shed in the backyard.

The 1954 remodeling project also converted the kitchen from a small rectangular room into a u-shaped room with a partial wall down the middle, which was originally an exterior wall. The front door opened into the kitchen. All of the windows in the house, except the new one in the kitchen addition, opened vertically like a door by turning a crank at the bottom of each window. It was difficult for me to turn the sticky handles. The outer portion of the expanded kitchen area held a washing machine, a sewing machine, and Sunny our yellow parakeet. The old oak dining table (already getting on in years in the 1950s) sat at the end of the wall divider and extended into both sides of the expanded kitchen. When I was a baby, Mother bathed me in the extra-large kitchen sink in the corner of the original kitchen underneath a rather large window.

The front of the living room faced the street to the north. There were three doors to the rectangular living room: one from the kitchen at the front, another near the back from the new master bedroom, the third from the hallway which connected the two bedrooms with the bathroom and the kitchen. The back wall of our living room was covered in some memorable wallpaper: schooners, pilgrims, stagecoaches, churches. The telephone connection was in the hallway, and the phone had a long cord so we could drag it into one of the rooms. Our couch was a curved brown modern style Davis couch, covered with a very nubby and rough fabric. It must have been stylish, but it was uncomfortably scratchy, although no one complained about it then. In front of the couch was a bookcase/coffee table which held a set of encyclopedias and a set of storybooks. I liked looking at the Human Anatomy section of the encyclopedias that had a set of detailed transparent overlays showing the skeleton, muscles, circulatory system, and organs. We used the encyclopedias often. They were our “search engine,” and that set of storybooks introduced me to Dr. Seuss and McGilligot’s Pool.

A large painting of the ocean hung over the couch. I’m not sure what happened to that painting; nor do I know what happened to a ceramic figurine about eight to ten inches tall. The family story goes that Daddy brought home to Mother the art deco ceramic nude of exotic dancer Sally Rand (so out of character for the Daddy I knew). At one time this glossy black nude figurine of the famous fan dancer was given a prominent place in our living room, but I have found only one family photograph (see gallery) with Sally in it – sitting on top of the piano, her torso and head visible behind the sheet music. No one in the family has any idea what happened to it, but my sisters and I wonder if Mother found a “special” place for it. I never gave this art piece a second thought when I was young; but thinking back on it now, I wish I still had it. I have searched online and not found a single item resembling that figurine.

Daddy’s favorite chair was a white vinyl easy chair and ottoman which he was still using in the early 2000s after having it recovered at least once. Mother played the piano and the organ, and she had both for a while – a tight fit in our little house. She sometimes played them at church, if asked. We also had a black and white television in our living room, and every week I sat on the floor in front of it and giggled uncontrollably at Red Skelton’s Clem Kadiddlehopper.

Then there was our beautiful old oak rocking chair. Mother rocked and sang me to sleep in that rocker, accompanied by the squeak of the heavy old rocking chair. I often dreamed that I was hiding from the Sandman behind a wingback chair at my Uncle Gordon’s (Daddy’s brother) and Aunt Ruth’s house. I knew the Sandman was getting closer, as the sound of his heartbeat grew louder. I always fell asleep before ever laying eyes on the Sandman. The Sandman’s heartbeat was the sound of my mother’s heart beating in my ear as my head rested on her soft warm breast.

The only bathroom was very small. It had a small gas ceramic heater for warmth in the winter. We kept the bathroom very busy. I followed Daddy to the bathroom once when I was about four or five years old and stood in the open door so we could have a nice little chat while he stood at the sink. I grabbed the door sill with both hands and began monologue; but Daddy, seeking a little rare privacy, wasn’t enjoying the chat as much as I was. He closed the door in my face – and on my left thumb, which was caught on the hinged side of the door frame. I screamed, but he kept pushing harder. It bled profusely, and I lost my thumbnail. He just thought the sticky door was being its normal hard-to-close self, and he most certainly felt horrible about what happened. Mother must have been pretty upset, too, but she didn’t say anything to him in front of me about it.

Our house was cooled in the summer with window unit air conditioners. I can still smell and feel the cool refrigerated air in my face when I walked in the house on hot summer days. There was one air conditioner in the front living room window, and other units in the bedrooms. There must have been a constant hum from the units in the summer, because I still like a little white noise when I’m sleeping. The house was heated in the winter by one portable ceramic gas heater on the living room floor. We turned it off at night, but first thing in the morning Mother turned it on, then warmed our clothes by the heater before we got dressed.

Both of the second and third bedrooms were corner rooms. The larger one, which was originally the master bedroom, had a long wall of windows looking into the back yard. This is the room I remember as mine, but my sister Nancy and I shared it for a while before our sister Patsy got married and moved out. Then Nancy took Patsy’s room. I can even remember sleeping in a crib, but I was old enough to climb out, so when Mother put me to bed, she lowered the rail and put a chair beside it so I could climb out safely – a practice I used with my babies. Later I slept in a solid oak twin bed which was part of a bunk bed set.

The backyard was enclosed by a chain link fence, and we had a big doghouse for our blue terrier Dusty. Prior to Dusty, I have photos of a Scottish terrier puppy, but I was too young to remember him. I barely remember Dusty. The fence that ran along the west side of the house was extra tall to protect us from our next-door-neighbor’s two not-so-friendly Great Danes. The black one was Jet, and the larger blonde one was Trovadore. Trovadore had a reputation for escaping his yard and roaming the neighborhood, and he was known to bite. When he got loose, a verbal alarm went out up and down the street and everyone ran for safety. We also had a swing set and a redwood picnic table with two benches in the backyard. A gate opened to a dirt alley that ran behind the backyard for the city trucks to collect trash from the big metal trash cans kept next to the alley. Daddy and Mother planted a row of tall evergreen Cyprus trees inside the back alley fence and a mimosa tree against the back of the house. The mimosa grew quite large, and we loved to climb in it – especially my sister Nancy, who often climbed the tree onto the roof and sat in solitude until someone came looking for her. A regularly-used clothesline finishes off my description of our backyard and our little house on Mt. Pleasant.

A block or two away was a small neighborhood park with a very small swimming pool. The pool was open in the summer, and I remember the water as very cloudy. We frequented the pool though, and never got sick from it. Our favorite public pool was Weiss Park, where the family went often. It was bigger and better – and clean. My sister Patsy taught me to swim when I was very young. I don’t remember not knowing how to swim.

We lived on Mt. Pleasant until 1962, when we moved to another part of Oak Cliff a few miles south.