It’s been said that we don’t remember days, we remember moments. What’s often amazing are the moments we remember on the days we forget everything else.
Recalling our earliest childhood years dominated conversation with a good friend recently. By chance, or by destiny, my friend and I both arrived in Mount Pleasant, Texas in 1959 coming from opposite directions. We talked about what we remembered as new students at South Ward Elementary that year, but marveled more so at what we were able to remember prior to that time.
The Aldridge family hit town in late March coming from small-town Seymour in West Texas, some 50 miles the other side of Wichita Falls. This pilgrimage east followed one from Crockett in East Texas in early 1955 where had lived since 1951. Basically, we zigzagged between East and West Texas about ten years before arriving in Mount Pleasant to stay for a while.
I can remember our Crockett home, a small frame structure paired with one next to it in the middle of an empty field. The two houses were not far from downtown just off Highway 21 east, but isolated with a long unpaved driveway to a shared double garage. Wooded areas surrounded both houses on three sides. That solitude was shared only with neighbor, Lacy Hooks, and his wife. Mr. Hooks worked at Knox Furniture in downtown Crockett
We didn’t have a television, nor did have a telephone. What we did have was the sound of rain falling on a tin roof, the smell of mom’s morning glories covering the trellis on the front porch and a splendid view of an open field through a large picture window. That field also provided memories of excellent kite flying with my dad in the spring, and an occasional covering of winter snow.
The woods next door provided a rescued baby rabbit for a pet on one occasion, and the kitchen provided warm memories of sharing late night crackers and milk with dad. It was his favorite bedtime snack.
A green 1950 Studebaker provided transportation for our one-car family until the fateful Sunday afternoon dad and the neighbor went fishing. Timbers failed while navigating an old wooden country bridge sending them off the side and into a dry creek bed some distance below. I remember the sight of the crumpled car at the Studebaker dealership, and of my father in bandages coming home from the hospital. They were banged up and bruised, but otherwise all right.
The Studebaker dealership is of course long gone, as is the iconic American auto brand. But, Knox Furniture store was still there the last time I went through Crockett a couple of years ago.
My youngest sister, Sylvia, was born in Crockett. I remember dad leaving middle sister Leslie and me in the car near a hospital side door while bringing our newborn family addition to the door for her older siblings to see. My mental picture of that event also includes mom in a bathrobe, standing behind dad, both them beaming with smiles.
Dad worked for the old five-and-ten-cent store chain, Perry Brothers in those years. He often brought home small empty wooden crates in which china dishes had arrived at Perry’s. They served a variety of uses, but it was great fun when we got to incorporate them in playtime.
One pinnacle of playtime was the day I launched a crate in the creek behind our house to see if it would float. And, it did. Beaming in that delightful discovery, I then talked Leslie, who was no more than three at the time, into getting in “the boat” to see if it would still float. It didn’t. Fortunately for Leslie, the creek was shallow.
Leslie also aided my experimentation once by jumping off the roof of the house solely to test my theory that a bed sheet with the corners tied together would function similarly to a parachute. It didn’t. Fortunately for Leslie once again, she landed in a rather large clump of shrubs near the house, so she wasn’t hurt—too badly.
Mom seldom spanked us deferring that chore to dad. I can still hear her saying, “You just wait until your father gets home!” But, on the rare occasion she was really mad, there was no waiting around for dad. She administered her own swift punishment via a hairbrush applied to the posterior of the convicted perpetrator who was made to stand on the toilet lid in order to accept what was coming to them. One such hairbrush spanking in Crockett sticks in my mind, and I’m reasonably certain that it was somehow related to my employing younger sister Leslie as a guinea pig in playtime scientific experiments.
When I wasn’t in trouble, dad would take me to town following his lunch break on summertime Saturdays. He would give me a quarter that was ample funding for admittance to the double-feature afternoon matinee western or sci-fi flick, plus a bag of popcorn and a Coke.
The last of summer movies in 1954 was the beginning of first grade classes for me in the basement of an old brick school building. The room was supplemented by small windows along the ceiling that allowed just enough sunlight in to somewhat dispel the feeling of actually being in a basement. The teacher was your quintessential older schoolmarm with gray hair up in a bun wearing lace-up, high-heeled shoes. I recall the black chalkboards above which resided examples of cursive writing, an American flag, and the obligatory portrait of George Washington—the unfinished one rendering the appearance of clouds at the bottom.
The first grade also saw my first (and last) playground fight near the front steps of that huge brick schoolhouse. Don’t remember what it was about, or who won it. What I do remember thinking was that I didn’t particularly enjoy it and I made a note to never get in another one, if I could help it.
First grade classes moved into new classrooms after the Christmas break. We moved from the basement dungeon “into the light” as the new structure employed lots of glass and open spaces. Prominent memories from that spring included standing in line at the gym to take doses of the Salk polio vaccine from little paper cups, and a spring tornado coming through town one day around noon. The sky was completely black, dark as night, and we huddled with the teacher in a walk-through space behind the chalkboard used for coat and book storage.
We left Crockett with our memories early in 1955 arriving in Seymour about the same time Elvis did for an appearance at the high school gymnasium. But that’s a different memory on a different day.
Now, where did I leave my keys five minutes ago?