I am not sure when we moved from the farm to Dallas, but I believe I must have been around 5. My little brother, Johnny was born when I was almost two. He was actually born on June 14th, 1951. Johnny Lynn Mathews.
To be honest I don’t remember much about these early years in Dallas. My first really sequential memories are of living in a house with Mother; Frank, my step-father; and Johnny. There are several memories from that time.
One day, I was playing with the water hose and noticed the gas cap. I decided to fill the tank up with water and did. No one noticed at the time, but when Mother tried to go to the store, the car died a block or so away. Somehow, they figured out that it was me. That may have been a near lifelong trend for realizing that I probably did it was a pretty good assumption for many years to follow.
Other events are a little hazy, but I remember that we had squirrels and one day, a brave baby squirrel got to close to Johnny. He grabbed it but the squirrel did not care for that so he bit the daylights out of Johnny’s finger. Ah, so he had that same bug that I did, the one that later in my childhood would lead me to grab every animal that moved.
I wonder if that is true. I wonder if he had that same love of animals as I did, as I do. At that age, it is hard to say and, to be honest, I don’t remember a whole lot in the few years we had together that followed. I remember my interest, but not his. There are so many blank spots there. You would think there would be more that I could recall, but that is not the case. I know we played together, but since I was two years older, I would imagine that we did not play all that much. Two years apart is a lot when your years are still measured in single digits.
I do remember starting school at William Lipscomb Elementary in east Dallas. It seems like it was on Bernard street in a house that has long since been torn down. Something about the hardwood floors stick in my memory and the icebox. We had an oak icebox that was serviced by the Ice Man who came periodically to bring a new block of ice.
Mother’s bed was made of iron and was high off the floor. Well, it seemed high to me at six years old. We were sitting on the bed one afternoon and she showed me how to tie my shoes. Patiently, she went through the process slowly time after time. I didn’t quite get the hang of it and had to be guided through it a few times. Then she went in the other room and I sat in the floor practicing. My clumsy fingers somehow managed to tied the slip knot for the first time and I ran into the other room to show her. Funny that I remember how proud she was of me and getting a hug.
It is funny but I do remember just a couple of other things from those early years and both of them tug at my heart. Both are just little pieces of memory. I don’t remember what led up to these moments or what happened later, just these little snapshots.
One day Mother was going somewhere and was leaving us at the house. Johnny might have been two or a little more but not much. We lived in the middle of the block and as Mother drove off, Johnny took off down the middle of the street behind her, crying loudly. He chased her down the street past several houses wailing away, his little heartbreaking. Mother did finally hear him or saw him in her rearview mirror. She stopped and picked him up. By the time she got him back to the house, she was crying, too.
Those little things stick with you over the years. I can still hear him crying as he ran. Although screaming may be a better description for he sounded terrified or as if his heart was breaking. That memory stuck with Mother, too. She brought it up now and then when we would talk about him decades later. I won’t try and say there was some premonition that drilled that moment into the forefront of her memory but something made it still raw thirty years later when she talked about his little chubby legs running as fast as they could go behind the old Packard. One more of those memories that time never diluted.
Somewhere along about this same time, Mama, Mother’s mother, took Johnny and me to see Pinocchio. It is surprising how well I remember that. I don’t believe I ever saw that movie again, but I can still see some of the scenes in my mind. One of them, when Pinocchio had been stolen and looked like he would never be able to get back home to Mr. Geppetto (his father), was very emotional. Apparently, it was even more moving to Johnny who cried and in a tearful voice asked: “Why won’t that man let Pinocchio go?”
For someone who has a tendency to forget the bad things, it is strange that two of my earliest memories of my little brother are times that he was crying. I have thought about it and tried to remember the sound of his laughter. He was a little boy and I know he laughed. I know I must have tickled him, teased him, did things to make him giggle. Those sounds allude me. I would love to have a piece of them, even one good memory of that happy sound.
My fraternal grandparents, Gramma and Grampa, lived not too far away on Haskell St. It was almost catty-corner from North Dallas High School. They had a washateria that took up the first floor. On top was their living area. I thought that was so cool at the time.
Next door was Dick and Don’s Texaco which was on the corner of Haskell and Fitzhugh. Next to them on Fitzhugh was the Plaza Theater where I spent many a Saturday morning.
It cost a dime to get into the movie theater on Saturday but if you would sing a song or tell a joke, Mrs. Secrets would give you a pass for the next Saturday. Every week, I sang “Itsy Bitsy Spider” so I always go in free. I always had a few cents for popcorn, Milk Duds, and a Dr. Pepper.
I remember some of the movies like so many of the Tarzan movies with Johnny Weismiller and lots of westerns although I can’t remember a single title. There were cartoons before each movie started. They were good ones like Tom and Jerry, Woody Woodpecker, and so many others. In between the movies were serials like Flash Gordon. It was just a different world.
That was true in so many ways. I was going to the movies by myself at five or six. I was not the only one that age there alone. No one thought anything about it then. It was a much more innocent time.
After the first grade, we moved again. This time to far east Dallas in the Pleasant Grove area where we had a lot of relatives. Aunt Thelma Cooper and Uncle Jim lived there with my cousin Kenneth. They had two older daughters who lived nearby as well, Wanda and Wilma. Because they were grown and had children of their own, I called them Aunt Wanda and Aunt Wilma, as was an old southern custom.
Aunt Wanda was married to Vernon Starnes and they had at least a couple of children. There was Coco (I forget his real name now--maybe Roger) who was maybe just a little older than I, and a younger daughter whose name I forget. Aunt Wilma’s last name escapes me now but she had at least two children, a daughter just a little younger than me named Penny (after my mother) and a younger son whose name will not come to me.
Going to visit the relatives was a common event. I don’t remember how often but it seems like it was a weekly visit. Of course, we didn’t have a television and visiting the relatives was free. For Mother, it was more a way of life. She grew up with so many relatives that came and went. Some stayed with them at times and visits were many. Back then the family was close and for those who lived far away, visits were a treat.
More to follow . . .