Thursday, November 19, 2015

Preface to it all

  
How I enjoyed writing all of this down, taking a trip back through a time warp back to 1953 to 1970, the memories returning in waves, spilling and forming themselves into these stories.
 
These reflections and memories are about growing up as a 1950s and 60s baby boomer in San Antonio, Texas.   These first two decades set a standard for the rest of my life.   My generation passed through the new prosperity and hope of our conventional childhoods of the 1950s into one of the most turbulent and changing decades of that century:  the fabled 1960s with its abandonment of all the rules and mores of generations past.

I come from a large and garrulous family who loved nothing better than to sit around and talk to each other.  I was the listener, soaking up the stories and observing my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and classmates.  Many of their stories appear in what follows.

For years, the memories took up shelf space in my head.  It was not until 2011 that I had reason to start dredging them up.  This was the year that the graduating class of MacArthur High School in northeast San Antonio held its 40th reunion.  Several months before the actual event, a class website was set up where we all joined and updated each other on what had happened to us during the last 40 years.
 
This was great fun.    We all read about the awesome successes:  those classmates who had become the doctors, lawyers, psychologists, Silicon Valley gurus.  But just as prolific were other tales such as the girl who admitted 40 years later that she had been lured out of her house by so called “friends”, beaten and left in the street.  Another had posed in the nude for art classes in her poorer days, and had a husband who had passed away while she was cooking dinner.  Then there was the talented high school band musician who got disgusted with his post college job as a high school band director, chucked it all and drove to NYC with his meager belongings packed in his car, and made a huge success of himself in the music scene.

An important part of the website was a kind of “miscellaneous memories” section where classmates could post about almost anything: favorite teachers, or the ones who scared them, drill squad or bus drivers etc.   I found myself posting a few random memories about my challenging middle school years, my first car and the experience of driver’s ed.

To my surprise, my classmates loved what I wrote, claiming that it “jolted” them back into high school and earlier, and that my little stories were a “gift” to them.

Wow.

With such encouragement, I kept on rolling, covering everything from sleeping in hair curlers to produce my “Texas big hair” to that first high school football game.  If I went through a long lull without writing anything up, I got prodded by Jenice, our former varsity cheerleader.
 
Didn’t everyone have such memories?  I learned otherwise. 

I discovered I could dredge up detailed memories that most people could not, and my former classmates loved taking trips back in time with me.  Now there were several classmates who joined me in sharing their memories and I have done my best to weave their stories too into this narrative.

For the most part, I kept away from the autobiographical side, trying to concentrate on what might have the most interest to the most people.  I was painfully shy and rather invisible all during my public school years.  Who would be interested in reading about me? 

I began mulling over the fact that I was born and raised in two of the most turbulent and fast changing decades of the 20th century.  I was a baby boomer.  My memories were a lot of peoples’ memories.  I was born in 1953 and graduated high school in 1971.  I attended college in one of the most changing and permissive environments up to that time.  That pretty much covered the whole two decades.  I chunked both personal and social history into the posts that follow.  I couldn't cover everything, nor would I want to, but I covered as much as I could!

Setting the stage: the Depression and the Greatest Generation


We can never escape from where we came from:  our parents, the depression kids who were later named the greatest generation.  The 50s and 60s must be considered alongside the 30s and 40s which saw massive changes and upheavals of a very different kind for that preceding generation:  our parents.   Children of the depression had grown to young adulthood and were snatching up every opportunity which crossed their paths.  It was truly their time too and we shared it with them.  We were absolutely shaped by our parents’ experiences.

Depression kids are a cultural and psychological phenomenon which is still reverberating among us.  Many had gone hungry, and many had never enjoyed indoor plumbing and electricity in their childhoods.  In their own young years, they had seen their own parents struggle desperately to put food on the table and provide basic shelter.  There were no government safety nets such as food stamps and the search for work led to desperation.  Some of them had fled on the fabled Route 66 out of the Midwest dust bowl.

The world had woken up on a Sunday morning in 1941 to be confronted with Pearl Harbor.  The following day, most of our parents listened to a radio broadcast of President Roosevelt requesting a declaration of war against Japan and Germany.  From 1941 to 1945, they lived that devastating war, including the first thermonuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan.   Without a second thought, they had plunged themselves and their country into a war to stop tyranny.  That job done, their efforts to return to normalcy over the next 15 years and their outlook and way of thinking would absolutely shape and affect those of us who already were or soon to be.  America, love it or leave it, was a cornerstone of their outlook on life. 

1941 and its aftermath had restored, with a few hiccups here and there, the prosperity of a nation still haunted by the Great Depression and its scarring economic aftermath.  After Pearl Harbor in 1941, the need for goods catapulted American factories into life, building the aircraft, tanks and bombs needed by our European allies, and ultimately by our own soldiers.  Work was available to almost anyone who wanted it, including a new and quite different pool of ready and willing workers:  young women.  The war’s end in 1945 did not spell the end of an economy on the roll.  The prosperity continued from 1945 on, with a post-war generation of young men and women who were now ready to roll up their sleeves and make a new and different life for themselves, far removed from the deprivations they had suffered as children.  They flooded into urban areas and created a demand for housing, services and goods that fed upon itself.  The GI bill sent many young men on to college or technical training, enabling them to enter a well paying profession, a dream which had been merely remote in their own school years.  Prosperity and economic growth begat even more prosperity.   

This was the stage our parents walked across.   They were conventional, conservative, and conforming.  They had enormous faith in their country and their leaders and did not take well to any criticism of their society.  They had lived through a war and experiences most of us, their children, could not even fathom.  Many WW2 veterans flatly refused to even discuss the war.  It came.  They did what they had to do, and they were ready to put it completely behind them and get on with better things.  This was the beginning of us, their late 40s and early 50s offspring.   We would gray their hair within when we came of age in the 60s, but that was little more than sheet lightning on the horizon in their time.

San Antonio in the day

With its prosperous military infrastructure, our city was a perfect little microcosm of a nationwide trend of prosperity and hope.  Young men and women, both military and non-military, poured into the city from all regions, meeting and marrying sometimes within months.  Soon they were birthing us, the boomers, and bringing us home in their new cars, which they could now actually afford on monthly payments.  We were carried in their arms into new homes in the burgeoning suburbs, bought on time as well, thanks to the GI bill and no down payment.

 Schools sprouted every where and teachers were suddenly in short supply.  Our parents would find themselves able to provide for us, their children, as their parents had never been able to provide for them.  It was their pledge that our lives would be different and better.  Our generation had taken root, would grow throughout the 1950s and the 1960s in ways our parents could never have foreseen.

Most San Antonians know their basic history.  The San Antonio river valley was occupied by the Papaya people who named it Yanaguana.  Then arrived the Spanish who built our fabled missions.  The Texas war for independence brought us the legends (some of them true!) of the Alamo.  In the years after independence, San Antonio continued as a sleepy little Southwestern city, home to cattle drives and the quaint San Antonio River snaking through the middle of town.  Slowly, it was changing and preparing for the dramatic changes that would overtake it in the 40s and 50s and set the stage for us.  Roosevelt’s CCC of workmen had been busy at work on our fabled river walk, building the charming walkways, bridges and benches where we still stroll today.  Military bases were burgeoning, and included Brooks Field, soon to become the home of the Air Force Aerospace Medical Division, Fort Sam Houston, home of the 5th army, Randolph Air Force Base, Kelly Air Force Base, and Lackland Air Force Base.  Jobs were plentiful for both ex-military and civilians.  With jobs and an influx of workers comes the need for housing.  The city began stretching rapidly to the north and the northwest.  Old money Alamo Heights was already well established, but Terrell Hills was developing out of the Terrell Family ranch as well as the upscale Northwood. 


Black and white Kodak snapshots, especially with black, lacy borders around them show the essence of our childhoods.  Our mothers took pictures of us with box cameras, dressed in our best out in the front yard of our new and modest homes, or better yet, in front of the new car they were able to buy on time in the post war prosperity.  It was a time of hope, and relief that a war which killed 8 million young American soldiers was done with.  Vietnam was on the horizon and Korea and the cold war were realities, but we were still blissfully unaware of that.  Young men and women were getting ahead.   Suburbs were expanding at an alarming rate as young families snapped up new housing.  The wave that was the baby boomer generation was rolling, and was not to crest for many years.

From where I came








I was born in 1953 in the Nix Hospital, which is well known in the city for being a triangular building that from a certain vantage point looks alarmingly like a single flat plane with no other sides, and ready to come crashing down.   Childbirth in 1953 was no pleasant experience for any mother.  When a woman went into labor, the obstetrical staff clapped a gas mask over her face which made her feel like she was suffocating and they did not hear from her again until she woke up.  It made the birth process a lot easier for nurses and doctor:  no need to deal with a woman in pain.   When she swam back up to consciousness, she had her baby: clean, wrapped and diapered.  Fathers were banned from the delivery room, with no opportunity for them to get in everyone’s way with a video camera, or pass out on the floor and become an irritating distraction to the already overworked obstetrical staff.

I owe my existence to that post war economic prosperity, both military and civilian, which made San Antonio boom from 1945 on.   The city was a mecca for the active and retired military, and whoever else in need of a job.   On weekends, the streets of San Antonio teemed with eager, friendly and gawking military escapees out on weekend passes to see the city and have a little fun.  After the war when young men were released from the service, it was easy to stay there.  There were opportunities to continue working as a civilian for the military at a more competitive salary than regular jobs.  For the active military, there were the Post Exchange and base amenities such as cheap living quarters, swimming pools, libraries and low cost military medical care.  There was a comfortable infrastructure that would grow dramatically during the next decades as the city pushed out its boundaries to the North.  With a population of around 200,000, the city’s size was perfect.  Downtown San Antonio offered shopping, office buildings, and restaurants while affordable, safe and comfortable neighborhoods were stretching out in all directions.  The city was casual and a really pleasant place to live, including a temperate climate that was comfortable for most of the year except in the high summer.  Water and energy were plentiful and cheap.

This was how my father came to be in San Antonio.  Nelson J. Burleson was a rural West Texas transplant, just released through Fort Sam Houston from Patton’s third army.  A depression kid, he had grown up poor and often hungry around Uvalde, Texas, the only son in a family of girls.  His doting mother, Ella Taylor, was a rancher’s daughter whose childhood experiences included hiding from the Comanche.  Dan Taylor, her rancher father, had to ride fence or tend livestock on a daily basis and was gone from the homestead from dawn until dark.  Ella’s mother, to keep safe, led her brood to a gully wash about a mile from the house and there they spent their days hidden there with simple toys and busy work until Dan returned home late in the afternoon.  In the late 1890s when Ella was a girl, no rural Texan woman wanted to be caught indoors without her man by a troop of marauding Comanche, who were just plain vicious.  They would burn the house down with the inhabitants inside.  As long as her father was at home, the family was safe, for the Comanche feared Dan Taylor and would not come near him.  But they were not above an occasional night raid to steal his horses.  In the following days, Dan Taylor returned the favor and raided their camps, stealing his horses back.  Cat and mouse games continued for years with horse swiping, and shadowing each other during his night hunts.  Dan had to do a lot of his hunting at night.  The Comanche always joined in and shadowed him, keeping at least 100 yards back.  Dan would stop his horse and listen.  The Comanche would do the same and wait for him to continue.  This would continue throughout the night until he returned to the house, the dogs barking their welcome and his wife and family much relieved.   Gradually as the Comanche were subdued, life became a little easier for the Taylor clan.

As a young woman, Ella met James Hopson Burleson (much older than her and scandalously divorced) at a revival in Camp Wood, Texas.   Because he had already cycled through two wives, her parents were not impressed.  Hop and Ella had to elope, but theirs was a happy marriage, producing three girls and my father.  Hop was always extremely proud of his young wife and their brood of children.
 
The Burlesons are a huge and old Texas family with many distinguished individuals, including a vice-president of the Republic of Texas.  The family patriarch was Aaron Clark Burleson who migrated from England in the 1700s.  His forebears had originated in Durham, England, prime Viking raiding territory.  Indeed, some Burlesons have had their chromosomes tested and Swedish ancestry shows up.  Aaron Clark produced seven sons and six daughters whose descendants fanned out over the southeastern United States. 

Our branch of the family moved steadily westward through the Carolinas, Georgia, and finally Alabama, when Benjamin Franklin Burleson arrived in Texas.  Dad’s branch was definitely of the undistinguished side, except for one great grandfather who was the local judge.  His own father, James Hopson Burleson, was a day laborer who loved to play his fiddle at the honky tonks on weekends.  When the children were old enough, they learned to play piano, guitar and fiddle by ear.  Hop would haul them along with him from location to location on a Saturday night as a "family" band.  

When he was around 12 years old, the great depression hit and Dad quit school to help support his family.  It was not a hard decision as he detested the classroom and Ella had tired of beating him on a daily basis to force him into the schoolhouse where he would get into fights with his classmates.  She relented and allowed her son to work as a day laborer alongside his father, building fences, digging ditches, picking cotton or whatever else a rancher needed them to do.  Truant officers did not exist and most families honestly needed the earning power of a young son coming into adulthood.  It was a decision he regretted as an adult.  

The clan moved from rent house to rent house in the Uvalde and Camp Wood area, ranging as far north as Oklahoma in search of a livelihood, eventually winding up in El Paso, Texas, where Dad matured into a young man.  He was now fully supporting his mother, father and sisters.  Every Friday he would collect his pay, count out the bills his mother needed to pay the rent and buy the week’s groceries, and take the rest and make for the Juarez bars where he would drink and fight.  He was the center of his mother’s universe until the day she died, especially since he was now the sole support of his family.

His father, Hop, was now involved in staying home and taking care of his diabetes stricken brother,  Uncle Pat.  The clan now depended on Dad to bring in the wages with Ella’s help, who did practical nursing on the side, and took care of elderly patients. 

Pearl Harbor arrived and Dad’s life quickly changed when he was drafted to Fort Bliss and endured the Normandy Invasion, and the Battle of the Bulge.  While waiting for June 6, he was bivouacked with an English family who idolized the Yank.  They called him Tex and made him drink a lot of tea, which he detested.  He tried to sneak up the stairway and avoid it, but always got caught and was served up a hot cup of the English national beverage.  The family daughter had never seen or eaten an orange, so he made it a point to bring her fruit from the base after his meals there. 

Once deployed, he drove a tank in Patton’s third army across Europe to Germany.  He was completely indifferent to all the wonders and sights he saw in England, France, Germany and Belgium (that were not bombed out).  He had only two goals:  to survive, and get home to Texas.  In Ardennes, he had his doubts about survival as he huddled behind a tree to avoid German fire, and watched grown men cry behind the neighboring trees.  When VE day arrived, he rejoiced, but expected to be deployed to the Pacific Ocean to fight the Japanese.  On August 6, 1945 when a large part of Hiroshima was vaporized, those fears ended.  At the war’s end, he was discharged from Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio and decided to stay. 

As his formal education was very minimal, he enrolled in the San Antonio Barber College on the GI bill.  Hop Burleson had worked as an untrained barber for years, when he was not building fence for someone, or sawing on his fiddle on a Saturday night.   Dad located a rooming house to live in and took a room.  It was the first time he had ever been on his own.   He was also on a mission.  His mother, the center of HIS universe as well, had told him it was time he found a wife to take care of him.  He was 32 years old and never married.  He was an extraordinarily handsome man.

As a child my mother, Ruth Weston, had grown up listening to San Antonio’s powerful 40,000 watt WOAI radio station that could broadcast as far north as Chicago.  She was a country girl too, growing up in the extraordinarily beautiful Ozarks region of southwestern Missouri.  She was of French and Irish descent, with a Trail of Tears full blood Cherokee grandmother thrown into the mix.  The gentle Ozarks hills were beautiful to all the senses, but devoid of real economic opportunities.  Like my father, she grew up poor. 

Her father, Roy Weston, was one of the hardest working men she ever knew, never ceasing in his search for a way to turn a dollar, and feed his family.  Roy had run away from home at the age of twelve, shortly after his mother died and he was left in the questionable care of an alcoholic father.  Leona Scroggins, his late mother, was a half blood Cherokee, a direct descendant of the Trail of Tears Cherokee who had passed through Washburn Prairie on their way to the Oklahoma reservations.  Many of the Cherokee stayed in the southwestern Missouri area, along with their wagon masters, the Weston family.  They quickly shed their Cherokee identity, in fear of being uprooted and shipped on to the reservation. 

In Roy’s and Leona’s times, though, there were few honorable and hard working Westons.  Roy came from a family of drinkers, moonshiners  and rum runners, and his cousin owned one of the fastest cars in the county, perfect for outrunning the "revenuers" or the police.  Roy was determined to live his life differently.  At the age of 12 and after the death of his mother,  he ran away from home in Seligman to nearby Cassville, Missouri, where he was briefly homeless.  He was noticed and picked up in the town square by the local sheriff: William Holman.  Children's Protective Services were non existent, so Roy was taken into the Holman home and grew to manhood there, where he was treated no differently than the couple’s other twelve children.  It was a decent, prosperous and hard working household where he could thrive.  A blue-eyed attractive niece of the Holmans, Gertrude Chappell, visited regularly.  As my grandfather was equally attractive, a courtship soon began. They married while still in their teens.  In those times, if you had reached the age of 20 without snagging a spouse, you were hopeless.
 
Gertrude Chappell, my grandmother, was the oldest of six children, raised deep in the Ozark Hills of southwestern Missouri.  Her grandfather had been a defrocked Baptist preacher, put out of the church by his own congregation.  Gertie’s mother, Georgia McGill (known simply as Gran), was bitter to the end of her days about that incident and would not set foot in an organized church.  Gran was a good and Christian lady, but had no use for organized religion.  She was as efficient as any pioneer woman and could go into her kitchen and produce a tasty meal from anything she would scavenge out of the pantry, even if it was only flour for biscuits, some beans, some bacon grease and a few home grown tomatoes.  Her husband was Ben Chappell, from Ohio.  The Chappell family was convinced they were descended from French Canadian immigrants (remember "Evangeline"), put out of their homes by British occupation of Canada.   As a young couple, Gran and Ben had tried to make their home in Seligman, Missouri, which was notorious for Saturday night murders, moonshining, and rum running.  Their future son-in-law, Roy Weston, had already fled his hard drinking Seligman family for nearby Cassville.  After one particularly violent, murderous and gun fire ridden Saturday night, Ben had had enough.  He packed up his family and moved three miles down the road to a much tamer and quieter Washburn.  No member of the immediate Weston or Chappell family would ever again reside in Seligman.  We maintained many cousins there however, and one of them stood for years on Highway 37 waving at anyone who drove by.  He was always drunk four sheets to the wind.  He was also a cross dresser, loving to appear in the local shops on the square in a dress and wig and leaving everyone speechless.  The Seligman Westons never changed.

Gran and Ben had a fruitful marriage:  three daughters and three sons, the youngest born when her oldest daughter Gertie was a mother herself.  When Gran wasn’t caring for her brood, or her farm, she had a fierce temper.  When Ben was the object of her wrath she called him limber neck or bottle ass or spewed out Ozarks expletives:  "Great gobs of hen shit!"  When something impressed her, it was "Well, don't that beat a cow pissing on a flat rock!"  Not having access to dental services, her teeth were completely loosened in the gums by middle age.  She would amuse her grandchildren by wiggling a loose tooth for them.

Gertie was only able to finish school through the eighth grade.  High school was an impossibility for her because of her rural location.  The closest high school was in far away Cassville and there was no bus.  Her father was unable to make the commute, so she repeated 8th grade three times out of nothing better to do.  It occupied her time until she met and married Roy Weston at the age of 18.

With two daughters born (my mother the youngest), Roy raised and milked cattle, chickens and pigs.  In the earliest days of their marriage, they were so poor that they had to rent their milk cow.  To make extra money, my grandmother worked every summer season in a local tomato canning factory where the workers would sometimes slit their hands open with their peeling knife and just keep on working, not daring to report the injury and lose time and salary.  All of the local housewives reported for about a month's work there every summer.  She used the extra money to buy winter coats for her daughters, and take them on an annual trip to the dentist to have their teeth filled.  She bought six little girls' dress patterns every summer, and the cheapest fabric she could find, and sewed a total of twelve dresses for the upcoming school year:  five for school, and one for Sunday.  These were all the clothes her daughters had, and by the summer they were almost transparent with wear.

My mother’s older sister Lois was a true cross that my mother had to bear.  She was an unmanageable child and abusive to my mother.  Mom spent much of her earliest childhood with her head in a vice grip under her older sister's arm.  Lois also pulled most of her younger sister's hair out when she was a toddler.  As both grew, there were vicious fist fights, my aunt winning most of them because of her age.  My grandmother always attempted to separate the girls when they were smaller, but Lois was a clever sneak and made it a point to abuse her younger sister out of sight.  As they grew older and stronger, it became dangerous for my grandmother to intervene, and Mom was on her own.  But nature has a way of compensating for such things.  By the age of 13, my mother had grown at least a head taller than her sister and had 20 pounds of weight on her.  By her teens, Mom had transformed into a formidable fighter and could now easily deck her tormentor.  She would have much preferred not to fight, but Aunt Lois just kept on asking for it, and my mother regularly obliged her.  It was not a happy sibling relationship. 

Lois’s other antics included borrowing her father’s truck without permission (and without a driver’s license) and roaring through town in it.  Behind my mother's back, she borrowed her never worn and cherished upcoming 8th grade graduation dress.  She hemmed it short enough for herself, and wore it on a date.  My mother was devastated.  She had saved and ordered her dress from the Sears and Roebuck catalog and it had cost $2.98, a prodigious sum.  It was the first “ready made” dress she had ever owned.  A store bought or catalog ordered dress was a rare gem.  Lois was duly thrashed for her sin (it did no good), but the damage was done.  My grandmother let the hem back out and the used graduation dress had to make do.

At the age of 16, Lois married her high school classmate Paul Brooks, dropped out of high school and left home, leaving Mom ecstatic. But the marriage soon foundered and one afternoon, Lois was seen coming up through the gate with her suitcase.  My mother would have preferred to see the devil himself stepping towards the door rather than her older sister.  Lois was also pregnant and NOT by her recently deserted young husband.  After reconciling with Paul Brooks, the two were off on Route 66 to California to find their fortune, giving my mother another blessed reprieve.  Life in California did not go well for them.  Down to his last coins in Long Beach, Paul went out to buy milk for the infant who did not even belong to him, and slipped on the steps to their apartment, breaking the bottle into shards.  They packed it up after that and returned home, living on their own.  Lois quickly cleaned up her act, straightened out and became a normal mother.  A true child of the depression, she and her husband became experts at saving money and piling up cash and property.

These were the Roosevelt years, and Roy had secured a job with the CCC and was able to bring in a regular and decent paycheck for the first time in his life.  He attempted many times to purchase his own farm, but always had to let it go back to the bank.  In 1941, the year my mother graduated high school, he had managed to buy a new truck with his CCC wages.  An opportunity arose to trade that truck for a 40-acre place with a house and barn.  He traded, and his family had a paid up home at last. His family also got to enjoy a radio (operated by a car battery) and an ice box.  He earned the princely sum of $100 a month, more than most of the CCC "boys."  He was classed as an "experienced local man."

My mother at least graduated high school, unlike my father who only made it through the 5th grade.  She had started out at the OK School, a simple, one room country school with an impressive  six-seater outhouse.   The playground offered a wooden slide which left many a student with splinters in their backside.  She and Lois were soon moved on to the Washburn public school system after she had trouble with her OK School teacher, who simply did not care for her.  It certainly did not help matters that she could belch on cue, which she did most of the day just to irritate her teacher.  Lois was not the only sibling who knew how to rattle people's cages.  Mom continued on in the town school system until graduating high school.  She was a model student, as were most of her classmates.  Curiously, Lois was fiercely protective of her kid sister at school and when they were away from home.  No one was going to beat up my mother except her.

The depression high schoolers did act out a bit, but it was rare.  One young man had managed to borrow his father’s truck and was taking everyone joy riding.  With ten young people standing up in the back of the truck, he careened up and down a dirt road.  One unfortunate young lady almost went flying out of the bed of the truck, but was saved by her future husband.  The senior class also got to enjoy an overnight field trip to the state capital, Jefferson City, where they were all checked into a hotel under the chaperone of their teachers of course.  Each room had a phone, which was quite a marvel to these kids from the hills.  They spent the rest of the afternoon calling from room to room, probably driving the hotel operator to the brink of madness.   In that era any form of entertainment was game. 

At the end of her high school career, my mother had achieved the distinction of salutatorian (there were 24 students in her graduating class) and won a fifteen-month business skills course in Springfield, Missouri, where she trained to be a clerk typist, a stenographer and learned some basic accounting skills.   How she would have loved to attend college, but it was a dream she could not even consider.  Most of her classmates had paired up with a local and gotten married and settled down in Washburn to become replicas of their parents, raising cattle and eking out a living from the land.  There was no one suitable for Mom, so after finishing business school, she had to set out around the country in search of a job. She was one of very few who actually left home to seek her fortune.  Pickings were slim in the tiny town where she had spent her girlhood.  She was taller than all of the boys in her class except for one, and he was already taken.  In those days, young women boarded Greyhound buses and set out to places where they heard there might be a job.  Usually a friend was already there and had written them about the opportunities they would have if they would only head West  to California, or South to Texas.  The new arrivals found a clean and decent boarding house and usually had secured themselves employment within a couple of days.  They lived a good life as single gals, working and making friends, enjoying their salaries and independence together on evenings and weekends.
 
Mom traveled first to Tulsa, Oklahoma, and found a job working at Douglas Aircraft while living with her youngest aunt, who was only six years older and far more dear to her than her own sister.  She later traveled to Leadville, Colorado and worked at Camp Hale where army troops were taught mountain climbing skills, Nordic skiing, and cold weather survival skills.  Troops were being deployed to snowy Germany and skiing would be a good skill for them to acquire.  Like many flatlanders, the altitude produced too many nosebleeds for her so she was soon on the hunt for another job.  Her next stop was Long Beach, California, where she worked payroll for Douglas Aircraft.  Jobs were plentiful in aircraft and munitions factories as they churned out supplies and equipment for the raging war. She soon heard of San Antonio and the job rich military bases, and she soon rolled in on a train.  Roy had to wave the train down near the Washburn depot.  Standing in the middle of the tracks, he swung a train lantern wide when he saw the engine coming.  The engineer gave three blasts of his whistle to let Roy know he had seen him.  The train stopped, Mom boarded and was on her way.  To ice the cake, she already had friends in San Antonio for early networking.

Just north of San Antonio College the streets were lined with rambling older homes which had been converted into boarding houses to serve young working people arriving in the city.  It was on West Craig where my parents met.  My father was already established in the West Craig Boarding House, and had enrolled in San Antonio Barber College.  She was the new girl who had just arrived the night before.  All the young men, most of who were on the hunt for a good clean wife, were interested in getting a look at her, which they did at breakfast the next morning.  My mother was an attractive woman, tall and dark haired.  She was sweet, enthusiastic, and highly intelligent.   She was always a country girl, but with a great attitude and willingness to wade in and try new things.  She stirred a lot of interest at the Boarding House Breakfast Table, and my father decided he must rescue her from all the other young men.  It was not a difficult task as some of the other young men boarders licked the communal sugar spoon clean with their tongues.  As he was undoubtedly the most handsome young man at the table (and did not lick sugar spoons), he had no trouble attracting and retaining her attention.

Their courtship was simple:  trips to the zoo and Brackenridge Park and a lot of Mexican food, a new and exotic delight for a girl from the Midwest.  On one of their first trips to a Mexican Restaurant, my mother had never seen or eaten hot salsa.  My father invited her to try a huge spoonful of it and she did.  Despite that prank, she married him anyway in December of 1947, after about four months of courtship.  Young couples did not believe in waiting.  They had their lives to get on with.   It was a court house Justice of the Peace wedding, no frills, and no family in attendance on either side.  My mother went to the downtown Frosts (later Frost Brothers), the premier San Antonio department store, and bought an expensive suit and hat with an eight inch  feather that curled rakishly over her head.  The suit and hat served for the ceremony, and their wedding picture.  They were a good looking couple in the formal portrait they had made.  Neither had even met their new in-laws.  This would come months later, and did not go particularly well for Mom.

The only way that my parents could afford a home would be on the GI Bill.  Down payments were waived but the GI bill didn’t cover the furniture needed, so they spent several years working and saving.  Leaving the boarding house behind, they moved to a small trailer home in the Top Hand Trailer Ranch on the Austin Highway in north San Antonio.  There was no bathroom in the trailer and they made do with a community bathhouse and toilet.  Every morning, residents ambled down to the bathhouse in their bathrobes to take care of business before returning to their trailers.  There was a child on the way (my brother Wes) when they managed to buy their first and only modest home in late 1950.  Dad had bewailed the fact that they would probably never be able to afford a real house, but Mom knew better.  She made it happen.




With many other young families, they had chosen to live in the Northeast Independent School District, the premier district of the city which would serve their family well for the next twenty years.  Under the leadership of Dr. Virgil T. Blossom, this extraordinary school district ground out first class high school graduates, and had a nationwide reputation for excellence.  Even into 1965, the graduating class of Douglas MacArthur High School posted some of the highest SAT scores in the nation. 

Neighborhoods and homes were sprouting like mushrooms out of the brush covered little hills all through the district boundary lines.  The Terrell family ranch had been developed into Terrell Hills.  Alamo Heights had been developing as a high end enclave since the 1920s, and Northwood was soon to come.  These more upscale neighborhoods were far out of the price range of a barber and a clerk typist, so they cast their eyes across Rittiman Road and the Sumner Development Corporation’s Wilshire Terrace.  This modest little neighborhood was being built in a pie shape, bordered by Harry Wurzbach Highway, Rittiman Road and the Austin Highway.  These were quick build tract homes, about every fifth to sixth house with the same floor plan and a slightly different exterior.  The intent was to get basic houses built and up for the growing needs of the young families flocking into the area.  Even though the houses were simple and inexpensive, there was tremendous pride of ownership.  For many young couples, it was their first home, and they were proud of them.  For the next 30 years, the neighborhood would remain simple but well kept.  Yards were maintained and houses were painted regularly.  Roofs were replaced when needed.  It was a clean little neighborhood.



With a government backed GI loan, my parents secured a tiny two bedroom, one bath non-air-conditioned house on Olney Drive.  It had less than 1100 square feet, asbestos siding, steel windows, a dirt yard and a carport with a handy storeroom to fill with family junk.  There was a HUGE attic fan in the hallway which did a respectable job of cooling the house down at night.  The attic fan was supplemented by an evaporative cooler, better known as a swamp cooler, imported from the trailer.  This monster, about the size of a washing machine, sat outside the house by a window and by means of a huge rotary fan over an evaporating pan of water, blew water cooled air into the home.  It was a Southern marvel that could quickly cool down the hottest room in the worst part of the mid-summer Texas heat.  It made you shiver at night.  And all on only pennies of energy, though in the 1950s, no one was overly concerned about energy or their electricity bills.  My mother had about eight square feet of counter space covered with lemon yellow tiles in the tiny kitchen with a huge retro stove.  A laundry room was a luxury not included, so the Kenmore washing machine, bought on time, sat in the corner of the kitchen.  There was no dryer, only a clothes line in the backyard.  For many years, it hung with freshly laundered diapers.  Nor was there central heat, and no builders insulated in those days.  There were solid oak hardwood floors, not the best choice for growing families.  Polyurethane had not arrived on the scene and those wood floors had to be waxed constantly to look good. 


The home cost $8300.  My parents had indigestion about how they would possibly make the $72 payments every month.  It also had a yard full of ticks that refused to move on for a long time.  The builders had cleared the brush but left the mesquite trees growing everywhere, dropping deadly thorns that could pierce the sturdiest of shoes and cripple the unfortunate victim for days.  There was no other vegetation.  At each corner of the house, a ligustrum was planted, and a juniper by the front door.  That juniper was destined to grow above the rooftop, and drop bag worms everywhere.  The backyard got a chinaberry tree which produced the most lovely and fragrant violet blossoms in the spring.  Unfortunately the lovely blossoms were followed by thousands of noxious yellow berries about the size of a marble that dropped throughout the fall and winter.  

It was home.

Those carefree early years





With their 1947 plymouth, parked in the carport, my parents  were at home just in time for the arrival of their firstborn son, my older brother.

Wes made his way into the world the month of February 1951 and there was a rare ice storm.  It was my mother’s time.  But unfortunately, the Plymouth would not move anywhere on the ice sheet once it slid down the driveway.  Dad had to deflate the tires to get off the ice before he could drive off to the hospital.  Mom was gassed under by Dr. Passmore and gave birth to my brother.  Dr. Passmore was the attendant physician at both of our births.  I arrived two and half years later with much less drama.  My brother was NOT happy to see me and spent a lot of time breaking things in my room.  My mother had her hands full taking care of a precocious toddler and a new baby.  Wes had walked at the age of ten months and could even remember it faintly as an adult.  Both of my parents had sat on the opposite end of the living room and he tottered gleefully from one to the other as they held out their arms to him.  Ominously, Lois had walked early too ...

Once the boy took to his feet, there was no rest for anyone.  Pictures of him from the era uniformly show a look of  “What can I get into next?”   I was much more low maintenance.  If  I was fed and had a dry diaper, I was happy.  I showed no need to be held or fussed over.  My mother was released to spend her days chasing Wes, and trying to keep him from doing away with me, the new interloper, and washing endless diapers.  These were birdseye soft cloth diapers, washed in the hottest water she could produce, and hung on the clothesline every day to be bleached by the sun.  She took pride in the fact that neither of her children ever suffered diaper rash.  

Mom gave up early in the game on trying to keep a house immaculate where two small and active children lived.  We had dust bunnies the size of kittens under the furniture.   She did produce a hot cooked meal every evening, usually fried meat which my father loved, accompanied by potatoes and canned vegetables.  We slathered ketchup on everything.  There was a lot of laundry and the Sears brand washing machine hummed a lot during the day.  There was no clothes dryer, or even the connections for one.  All of our backyards came equipped with clotheslines which were used heavily.  Mom prided herself on having the "whitest whites" on the block.  Everyone's laundry flapped in full view after all as she gazed through the chain link fences making her regular comparisons.  Sometimes she added "blueing" to the final rinse to make the white sheets and towels even more dazzling.  The bath towels dried stiff as surfboards, but after a couple of uses they softened down.  To avoid having to iron my father's and brother's pants, she used "pants stretchers" which were metal contraptions that could be pushed down the pants legs while wet.  As they dried, they came out smooth and even creased.   Mom detested ironing too  and only brought the machine out about once a year when she had to.  Somehow she found a jovial black lady named Jimmie, who not only did a spectacular job on the ironing, but even came to the house in the early morning to pick up and deliver.  Once a week, she would come roaring up in the predawn hours in a turquoise oldsmobile to collect and deliver.  When Jimmie came to call, I had my freshly pressed little school dresses for the week.  Jimmie was probably someone's housemaid who did her ironing on the side, for she always wore the uniform of a domestic.  She charged around a quarter per garment for her excellent work, a bargain even in those days. 

My mother made sure we got some religion.  Her parents were Assembly of God, but her eyes roved elsewhere for us.   She didn't care for her children speaking in tongues.  The first church we attended was the Eisenhower Road Baptist Church.  Mom decided on the Baptists because of their conservative outlook and remembering her hard drinking Weston cousins, their anti-alcohol beliefs.  It was a big church, full of Baptist enthusiasm.  It was difficult for me to not squirm during the service and I hated the nursery and pitched a rare fit when they tried to drop me off.  I was a good baby everywhere but church.  More than once, the good Baptist minister had to stop his sermon and wait for me to settle down.  Everyone turned around and glared balefully at us.  After a year or so of that, we stopped attending.  God would have to wait a while for us.  After church, we often escaped to the nearby El Rancho Mexican restaurant at Broadway and the Austin Highway where we indulged in our weekly fix of dinner number three:  beans, rice, tamales and enchiladas, washed down by iced tea.  Enjoying a beer was not part of the day.  We were Baptists after all.  That El Rancho had an enormous wall sized painting of the rear of a matador with full cape, and the bull gliding by him.  His suit of lights was so tight, I always thought he was naked on the back.  I gazed a lot at that picture while I spooned down my refried beans and rice, wondering why anyone would paint a picture of a matador with a naked butt.

Despite my early limited contact with an organized church, I somehow got a pretty good notion of God and Jesus.   God for us was a friendly and jovial character.  God loved us and lived in heaven, I had learned, and I spent many afternoons scanning the billowy summer cumulus clouds looking for him.  He just had to be sitting up there somewhere.  He might even wave at me!  Church going was put on the back burner until years later when we began attending Terrell Hills Baptist Church.  Brother Harvey Hoffman was a great minister and we stayed on this time.  After a particularly scary hellfire and brimstone sermon, Wes rushed to the front of the church to be saved and I rushed after him.  We were duly baptized a couple of weeks later.  Baptists know how to baptize in a full immersion tank about the size of a hot tub.  Wearing white robes, we descended the baptismal steps to Brother Hoffman who ducked us good.  At least we weren't baptized in a river or creek like a lot of Southern Baptists.

Gran made a rare visit to San Antonio and stayed with us for a week when Wes was only a toddler.  As the daughter of a Baptist minister, she quizzed him on his church attendance (though she never attended herself).

“Now Wessie, what do you do in church?” she asked him.

“We say ‘Oh God damn it’,” was his reply after a moment’s consideration.

The conversation was dropped, but never forgotten.

After being fired from his first barber job, my father decided to open his own establishment.  It was a pity that he never really learned to cut hair well while in barber college.  He had to learn on the job, which he did.  Near their new neighborhood was a handy location:  Fort Sam Houston Village Shopping Center at the corner of Rittiman Road and Harry Wurzbach Highway.  It served Fort Sam Houston, Terrell Hills, Terrell Terrace, and even Northwood.  Even then, Harry Wurzbach was a four lane thoroughfare.  Directly across from the shopping center was a huge sand lot of several acres.  Apparently when the neighborhood was being built, sand had been trucked in for leveling the lots and the excess was just left there like a giant sandbox.   The mound covered sand lot was a great play place for years until it was covered over by the Tyrolean Village apartments in the mid 60s. 

 The shopping center across the road was the perfect family oriented place.  There was our own Burleson barber shop (which reeked of cigarette smoke, Butch Wax and Wild Root Hair Oil), Slater White’s dry cleaners, a Piggly Wiggly Grocery store, Perkin’s Beauty Salon (which reeked of hairspray and permanent waving lotion), a Rexall Summer’s drugstore with a GREAT lunch counter specializing in hamburgers and cokes and where we could blow the paper covers off our straws high into the air, a Souder’s hardware store, a bakery, and Threadgills, a five and dime type store which carried everything under the sun.  

There was also a bar, Tavern on the Green, and a liquor store, Dons and Bens.  It was a well-rounded little establishment, with something for everyone.   On rare occasions, the drunks would come weaving out of the Tavern and ask to use my father’s pay phone.  One day a very drunk couple entered his shop and asked to use the phone.  The unfortunate man could not remember which number to dial, so his partner grabbed the phone out of his hand and started hitting him with it.  Now my father could not have this going on in front of his waiting customers, so he picked the woman up and hauled her to the front door.  She pounded on him the entire time.

For $150 a month, my father rented space for four barber chairs.  With a bank loan, he bought equipment and opened for business.  He stayed there until 1976, coming to work every morning before 7:00 and closing at 6:00.  My mother handled the books and did all the taxes.  She also spent quite a bit of time refinancing their business loan at the Broadway National Bank.  Dad was in competition with the Fort Sam Houston base barber shop which was cheaper, but the barbers there had a tendency to botch the haircuts.  Little by little, the scraggly haired military transferred their business to the Burleson Barber Shop, but it was slow going.  It took a while for business to pick up, and many years passed before they were able to pay off the equipment loan.

Money was always short, but my mother settled into the routine of cleaning up the worst messes in the house and raising her offspring.  Wes was beyond precocious.  Nature had seen fit to endow him with a brain that would produce an IQ score of close to 150.  These are not cooperative, easy to handle children.  He was a child who never napped, and was on the go and into things from the moment he woke up until he was forced to go to bed, most unwillingly. 

Wes was a roving handful, and one of his favorite playthings was the telephone.  At this time, the neighborhood made do with two-party lines.  Infrastructure was far from what it is today and there were not enough telephone lines strung around for everyone to have their own private line.  You had to share with an anonymous neighbor, usually several streets away.  Our other “party” quickly got tired of his antics and made formal complaint to the phone company. 

My mother received a letter from Bell Telephone outlining the problem and asking her to please do something about it.  So, she locked the telephone up in an empty suitcase and hoped she could get the key fast enough and unlock it if she heard the wretched instrument ringing.  This went on until Wes focused his roving attention elsewhere.  It probably did not take long.  She even found and tried to use a child harness on him for outings because he had a tendency to run away in stores.  The intercom would announce:  "we have a little lost boy in the front of the store ..."  She knew it was him.  She got a lot of dirty looks when she had Wes in the harness, but those people had never spent a couple of days with him ...

As we grew, our childhood offered freedoms that would be unheard of today.  Kidnappings, molestations, and murders did occur in those years, but they were still relatively rare, and not dramatized and beaten to death in the news media.  Nielson ratings had not made it onto the scene yet.

Our typical day when we were too young for school went like this (Pre-school did not exist).  Wes woke at the crack of dawn, ready for action.  Since he woke up, so did I.  We never napped.  By this time, he had given up on trying to eliminate me and I became a grudging sidekick.  I followed him blindly around and thought everything he did was wonderful.  He basked in it, sometimes, but was never above ditching me when he grew tired of my attentions.

Breakfast was simple, usually a bowl of cheerios.  When we wanted a cooked breakfast, Mom prepared biscuits (homemade) with cream gravy, also homemade.  The taste was incredible.  Biscuit and gravy mix were unheard of.  Sometimes pancakes were on the menu, also homemade, with “simple syrup” made on top of the stove.   As we had only the one Plymouth, if my mother needed the car at all during the day she had to run my father to work.  As his shop was only about five blocks from the house, this was not at all time-consuming.  We children always rode along, always.  This was often followed by a quick trip to the Piggly Wiggly to pick up something my mother needed.  We made fun happen wherever we went, using the grocery cart like the San Antonio garbage truck we admired.  We would shriek out "here comes the garbage truck!" and then hurl ourselves like garbage men back onto the side of the cart while my mother awkwardly maneuvered it down the aisles.  Fortunately it was early and few were around to witness this spectacle.  

After we got home, it was play time.  Every day was a smorgasboard of thinking of new ways to amuse ourselves, and we were good at it. 
During warm weather, we listened for the tinkling little bell of the ice cream truck which made its way through all the neighborhoods.  The truck was white, and the driver wore a white uniform and white hat.  We had an ice cream lady.  We all lined up together on the street and she would stop the truck and take our orders.  Decisions, decisions.  We could have ice cream sandwiches, cones, popsicles or orange dreamsicles.  Sometimes our mothers gave us enough money to buy a pint of vanilla ice cream.  It was a long time before I really understood what I was asking for.  I repeated the order phonetically: pintofvaniallicecream please.  Fortunately I was always fast on the uptake and got most things down easily even if I didn't totally understand.  The ice cream lady had it all.  We then stood in the Texas heat, eating our treats before it melted down our hands.  Afterwards, sticky fingers and all, we continued our jolly games.

Enterprising Mexican farmers visited our neighborhoods regularly.  They drove up in their pick-up trucks full of tomatoes and cantaloupes.  Their children would spill out of the truck and work the streets, knocking on doors and offering nice, fresh tomatoes for about fifty cents a quart in little straw and wire baskets.  They were good tasting and reasonable.  My mother almost always bought their produce.  In high season, their cantaloupes were the best to be found and we looked forward to their arrival. 




Around 1955, my father managed to acquire part ownership of a slick, stainless steel air coupe airplane.  He had also managed to get his pilot’s license, but it was a beginner’s license only and he could take on no passengers.  Flying had been a dream come true for him.  While in the army, he had toyed with the idea of applying for the newly formed army air corps, but did not have the confidence to take the test.  How he managed to come up with the money for his airplane venture is a mystery.  My mother was not happy at all with his decisions, especially when he spent most of his Sundays at Hedrick’s Airport out on Rittiman Road, east of IH35, instead of giving her some much needed relief from us.  It was a heady time for Wes and me, to occasionally go to Hedrick’s and see our family "half" airplane.  We posed for a lot of pictures and his partner, who had full pilot’s license, was able to take us up over San Antonio, which was thrilling, especially flying over the Portland Cement Factory.  Wes decided he would try to get us closer to the smokestacks and grabbed the joystick and actually turned the plane  before the pilot regained control.  We tried and tried to spot our house, or even our neighborhood, but we quickly got disoriented.  Our flights never lasted more than 15 or 20 minutes.  My father and his partner were paying for the gas.  After a couple of months, my father’s days of owning his own plane ended.  My mother, disgusted with his absenteeism and costs, gave him an ultimatum:  the airplane or your family.  He sold the airplane.

We also acquired a small weekend lot at nearby Medina Lake, where we often went on weekends.  A little two toned second hand camping trailer had been found, extremely tiny, and we all fit into it somehow for overnight stays.  We had no boat, so we made do playing in the dirt and rocks and admiring all of the signs my father had bought and nailed on the trees:  Posted No Trespassing.  Bologna sandwiches were on the menu for most of the stay.  We built camp fire sites, and ringed them with rocks we fetched.  There would be no out of control fires on our lot.

Several times a year we would make the drive to Padre Island and Corpus Christi.  It was three to four hours of pure anticipation.  Padre Island has tall dunes and we would catch quick glimpses of the rolling surf as we drove through them before emerging on the beach.  Then came hours of pure bliss splashing through the surf, playing in the sand and feeding belligerent sea gulls before it was time to make the long drive home.  There was sand everywhere:  on us, the seats, and the floor.

We rarely sat in front of the TV, though we did have a few favorite programs such as Howdy Doody, Captain Kangaroo, Mighty Mouse  and Sky King.  We always sat down at 4:00 every afternoon for Captain Gus and Popeye.  Joe Alston, aka the captain, was a San Antonio icon who made his debut on local television in 1953 and stayed on until 1979.  Wearing his captain’s hat over an outlandish Prince Valiant style red wig, he spent the whole hour making faces, greeting his “mateys”, and running violent cartoons of Popeye and Bluto pounding each other senseless over Olive Oyl.  We could never understand the attraction.   The huge fight always ensued after Popeye ripped open his famous can of spinach and allowed it to flow like lava into his gaping mouth before going on a steroid worthy binge of violence.   The best part about Captain Gus was the fact that he used a studio audience of children.  Hay bales were piled on his boat set and everyday children got to sit on them and be part of the show.  Around 4:30 he would go down the rows and get each child’s name and age on live camera.  It was their moment in the sun.  Many children froze in the bright studio lights, and many could not remember their names.  It never failed to be entertaining.  When it was my turn to be on the Captain Gus show, I froze, refusing to even step onto the set.  Brother Wes ventured right on and had his moment of immortality.  After Popeye it was time for the muscular caped rodent, Mighty Mouse.  Here I come to save the DAAAAYYYYY!!!!!

TV aside, if the weather was fair, we were outside playing Tarzan or Superman or cars and trucks in the dirt in the driveway.  On the days we played Superman, my mother obligingly pinned bath towels to our shoulders so we could run around the front yard with flapping capes, pretending to fly.  Another cheap thrill was crowns cut out of brown grocery bags.  She was good at that too.  We would decorate them before she stapled them to size and we wore them proudly the rest of the afternoon.  We rode tricycles up and down the driveway and down the street.  When Mom wasn’t looking, we would sneak the tricycles into the house and ram the walls of the living room to see how big a gouge we could produce in the sheetrock.  We had to be fast at that because we were quickly evicted.

I do not recall my mother ever having to amuse us or play with us, other than pinning our bath towels or cutting our crowns.  We were quickly away, adept at amusing ourselves. 





Soon we were ready to leave the yard and set out in the neighborhood.  It was a blessing that my mother never had to worry about us, because we would literally be gone for hours, haunting the neighborhood.  A favorite activity was walking up and down alleys and checking the water meters for wildlife.  The alleyways were a cool and safe paradise.  They were grassed over, quiet and green.  We were safe from traffic.   There was usually a squirmy toad or two to be captured, handed around and then released, or taken home and released very quickly at the order of our mothers.  By this time, our neighbor children had usually noticed and had joined us.  The entire area was full of children.  Most of the little tract homes had been snapped up by young families.  Older couples with more money had chosen elsewhere to live, except for right next door to us with grouchy old Colonel Bartlett.  We gave him a wide berth.

We stayed off the hot asphalt streets for the most part.  I was personally terrified to walk by the manholes.  My brother, who still delighted in occasional torments, had told me the manholes were direct pathways down to Hell, and the devil himself was waiting under that manhole and ready to push it up, grab me by the ankles, and drag me under, never to be seen again.   To add to my terror, he also told me that a gigantic octopus went down the streets every night, sticking its long tentacles into childrens’  bedrooms and grabbing anyone who was not covered up by blankets.  This absolutely horrified me, and of course I believed every word that he told me.  Even on the hottest summer nights, in that un air conditioned house, I heaped as many blankets on myself as possible.  I had no plans to be carried off by an octopus in the middle of the night.  My mother would discover me the next morning, sweating like a pig. 

The first stop on our neighborhood alley treks was usually the honeysuckle vines in the next block.  We pulled the stems and harvested as many little tastes of the nectar as we could before heading down to the rabbit hutches.  One older and efficient neighbor boy kept his hutches right in the alley and not in his yard.  We never tired of gazing at the rabbits and their twitchy little noses.  They usually ignored us, basking on their sides in the gathering heat of the day.  One day, a baby cottontail rabbit was added to his collection.  It was tiny as a kitten.  A couple of rare houses had swimming pools and we would spend more time than usual there, gaping through the holes in the privacy fence and sure wishing that we lived there and could swim in that pool, especially if it was a hot summer day.

Every neighborhood has its mean kid, and ours was named Tim.  Fortunately he lived a couple of streets down and we only had to deal with him when he invaded our section on his bicycle.  Tim cruised the entire neighborhood, sharing his evil ways with everyone.  He did not discriminate.  He had an older brother who was equally mean, if not more so.  They beat up Wes on more than one occasion.  When Tim got the better of Wes and had him down, I would leap on his back like an enraged leech.  He easily shrugged me off, but I just had to do something.  Usually by that time, my mother had come storming out the front door to run Tim off.  We were never allowed to fight each other or anyone else.  Our mother had determined we would not grow up fighting as she had.

No one liked those kids, and they consequently returned the wrath.  They not only picked on the kids, but mothers were fair game too.  Tim’s favorite trick was to see some hapless housewife out in her front yard, watering the grass or messing in flowerbeds.  He would bicycle by as quickly as he could, shrieking at the top of his lungs:

“HO! HO! HO!   Miz Burleson has B.O!!!”

He nailed my mother at least once.

After a quick escape down the street, chortling with laughter, he was cruising and looking for his next victim. 

Those boys were always up to something, and it was never pleasant.  It is unfortunate that Ritalin was not yet on the scene.  They would have been prime candidates.  There is no doubt that our parents did complain to the parents, but it did little good.  They kept to their rather ratty house, letting their sons run amuck in the neighborhood.  Their behavior at least to Wes and me did improve somewhat after my father threatened to cut off Tim’s ears.   Dad was joking of course, but Tim didn’t know that.  Neither did  we. 

It happened like this.  Tim had either slapped me or knocked me down (I was most likely sassing him) and I went home and complained to my father.  I am certain Tim had abused Wes on many occasions, but his complaints fell on deaf ears.  After all, he was a boy and should just take it if he couldn’t fight back.  But for me, dear old dad took out his six-inch hunting knife and headed down the street in search of Tim.  He was going to cut his ears off.  A huge group of us kids were trailing him like the Pied Piper, whooping him on.   At last, Tim was going to get his!  Dad of course was joking and only meant to teach the boy a lesson, but we didn’t know that.  We were going to see those ears come off, and we couldn’t wait.  Tim quickly assessed the situation and took off like a bat out of hell.  My father was right behind him, brandishing his knife.  After chasing him several blocks around the neighborhood and up and down several alleyways, he gave up the chase and let Tim go, which was what he intended in the first place.  The point had been made.  Tim stayed away from our street indefinitely.

I would not even want to think about what would have happened to my father if it had been a later time.  He probably would have been arrested and made the national news.  And why didn’t Tim’s parents come flying in my father’s face about what he had threatened their son with?  Either Tim didn’t even bother to tell them, or they didn’t care.  It was most likely the latter.

Two houses down were the neighborhood eccentrics.  Their entire yard was grown up like a jungle.  They had planted shrubbery along every foot of perimeter of the lot, and completely around the house itself.  Were they trying to block the world out?  We never knew.  It was the father who did all the shrub planting before the couple divorced, and he split the scene, leaving his botanical masterpiece behind to grow taller, wilder and more unkempt by the year.  Left was their mother, a well educated and spoken high school English teacher (who never spoke to her neighbors) and her three children.  All the children had normal legal names, but went by nicknames that belonged in the cast of a Star Wars movie.  The boy was called Bokey, and the two girls LaiLai and Chuffin.   We were never invited into their house and only played outside, usually in their absent father’s brush piles until they moved away a couple of years later.  Lo and behold, ten years later I walked into my sophomore English class in high school, and my former neighbor, mother of Bokey, LaiLai, and Chuffin,  was my teacher.  She had no memory of my brother or myself.  It was not surprising since she spent most of her time there totally detached from her neighbors.  She was still a dry personality, although an excellent teacher.  She referred to her students as heathens and it was her thankless task to at least bring us up to the level of barbarians.  I often find myself wondering how her own children turned out.

Up the street was Marilyn, and a lot like Lucy in the Peanuts comic strip.  She was very self-assured and held herself above us.  She was a little bit older than us and despite her bossy and controlling ways, she was fun to play with, that is when she was willing to play with us.  We went knocking on her door on a daily basis, groveling on her front porch and begging her to come out and play.  I think she enjoyed turning us down on occasion.  Sometimes she sent her mother to the door to send us packing.  We were always back that afternoon, or the next day, whining for her company.

Marilyn’s father was a bit of a mystery.  My mother opened the newspaper one day and read a story about a local man who had been put in jail for writing hot checks.  My mother loved newspapers.  It was so much more fun than picking up the house. The subject of that day's story was was Marilyn’s father!  Not really caring that much for Marilyn and her treatment of us, she made the mistake of sharing that little tale with us, and telling us to be sure not to tell Marilyn what we knew.  We did not even understand what a hot check was, but we knew it was juicy.

Did we make a straight line to Marilyn at the first opportunity and spill everything?  Of course.    She probably did not know what a hot check was either, but she made a straight line to her mother to ask her all about it.  As to be expected, the relationship after that deteriorated to the point that the next time we really talked to Marilyn or her parents was at her high school graduation, which she shared with my brother Wes.  It was a cold conversation.   In the meantime, we were still beating around the neighborhood finding new friends and new things to do.

We had our village idiot:  Joey.  The rumor was he had had a brain operation.  By all appearances, it had not gone well.  I still feel shame for how we treated him, but it was Darwinian.  When birds realize that there is a chromosomal aberration in their midst, they will peck it to death.  Children can be just as primitive, if not more so.   We pecked a lot at poor Joey.  To make things even worse, his head was too big for his body.  We didn’t even know what the work “retarded” meant, but Joey fit the bill and we sensed it.  One of the few times I saw my mother get angry with us was the day we were taunting poor Joey and he was just standing and watching us, crying.  Memories of Lois' abuse of her must have come crashing in.  My mother stormed out the front door, chewed us all up, and made us play with Joey from that day forward.  We didn’t like it, but we did it.  I am sure we found other more subtle ways to taunt him.  Joey on his part was just happy to get to play with the neighborhood kids.
 
Our little neighborhood gang was soon joined by Bruce and Brian up the street, who became some of our best playmates.  They were sweet and good natured little blonde boys from a military family.  Many military families were moving into our neighborhood and renting the homes.  Base housing was much cheaper, but it was in short supply and many families had to wait and find alternative housing off base.  Bruce and Brian were younger than us and more than willing to follow our lead and play and do anything that we wanted.  They idolized us.  After Marilyn (who now stayed in her house most of the time), that was plenty refreshing.  In exchange for us playing cars and trucks with them in the dirt, they would play most anything we wanted first. Wes and I mixed dirt with water one day in a glass and presented it to them as chocolate milk.  They almost drank it, almost, but their wariness kicked in just in time.  They didn't trust us that much.  Wes also tried to lure them onto the school bus with him in the morning.  They didn't fall for that either.   Bruce and Brian became especially important to me when Wes moved on to Kindergarten and I was on my own.  The timing of their arrival was fortunate, for Wes had started Kindergarten at Terrell Hills Baptist Chuch on Harry Wurzbach Highway and I was on my own, except for Bruce and Brian.  We enjoyed many afternoons together until Wes returned.

The Marek family were well organized and efficient Catholics who moved into the Bartlett's rent house next door to us around 1960.  The Bartletts had fled the neighborhood, probably because of us.  The Mareks were an impressive and well managed family, and there were four children which we welcomed as playmates.  One of our first views of them was lined up and on their way to Mass, marching out the door in age order and their Sunday best on their way to the nearby Saint Peter’s Cathedral.

Mr. Marek was a geologist, on the cusp of a succcesful career.  Mrs. Marek was a tall, classy looking former nurse who had given up her career to raise her growing Catholic brood.  To save money, she made her children wear hand me downs and gave them their inoculations.  We would hear them shrieking with pain through the windows.  The children were unfailingly polite, clean and well behaved.  They had a great dog, a collie mix named Sheba, who would go straight home when they told her to, no matter where we had wandered in the neighborhood. 

"Go home, Sheba!"  She would tuck her tail and run for it, waiting patiently when we finally arrived later.

The Mareks did not attend public school.  They attended parochial Catholic school.  How their father paid for that on a single income was beyond us.  They exited their home every morning in that classic 1960s Catholic wear:  saddle shoes, plaid skirt and a cardigan.  They loaded into a huge Oldsmobile station wagon, which barely held them, and roared away.  Anne, the oldest and my playmate (the only playmate I ever had who was even taller than me), confided that all of the Mareks had once driven around in a VW beetle in their less affluent days.  How could this be possible?  Anne and Julie, the oldest rode in the back seat, while the babies, Rose and John, were stuck in the tiny storage compartment by the rear window.  Seat belts were not yet in existence, or course.

When they were not on their way to church or parochial school, they willingly played with us, but always held themselves a little apart.  They were the only Catholics on the block and probably felt a bit isolated.  We were nonetheless always welcome at their house and spent a lot of time there.  One day, we dug up a sizeable flat rock in the alleyway and proudly brought it back to their backyard.  When Mrs. Marek saw it, she had to have more and sent us out with a red wagon and instructions to dig up any we could find.  We found plenty, hauling them back in the family radio flyer to Mrs. Marek who formed a nice stone walkway with them.
  
We often visited the "cliffs", an area just north of Sumner Drive and behind the Alamo Drive In's steel fence.  It was a small running creek, about three feet wide, shady, quiet and perfect for wading and messing around.  It was usually full of tadpoles and we came with our nets to capture them.  The cliffs were challenging to reach.  The creek ran at the base of a sandy hill about 20 feet high.  You had to slip and slide and climb down like a monkey.  While exploring there one day we found and collected some cattails.  Once, we even found the head of a water moccasin, which did not deter our visits at all.  On the day we returned with our cattails, Mrs. Marek’s eyes lit up.  She collected them, spray painted them gold, and stuck them into a piece of Styrofoam as a decoration on top of her TV.  I was so impressed.  Unfortunately, a couple of weeks later, the cattails exploded white fuzz all over her den.

The Marek family lasted until they had scraped up enough money to buy their own house.  Off they went in their enormous station wagon and moved away.  We missed them.


These years stretched contentedly on, preparing us for the next phase of our young lives.