Posted by: abbiewatters | July 18, 2011

Childhood House(s)/Neighborhood(s)

What was the apartment or house like that you grew up in? How many bedrooms did it have? Bathrooms? What was your bedroom like? Can you describe the neighborhood you grew up in?

You’ll understand when I say I’m at a bit of a loss how to answer these questions when I tell you that by the time I went to first grade, I had lived in 7 different houses.

Mama brought me home from the hospital to her parents’ house – 2017 Laurel St. in Texarkana, Ark. It was a big, two-story red brick house that Mama had grown up in from the time she was 9 years old. This is the house I considered my home. I used to tell people that I really lived in Texarkana with my grandparents, but Mama and Papa made me stay with them wherever they were.

Here I am with Mama in the front yard of 2017 Laurel, at about age 1 month.

With my maternal grandmother – Nannie – in the back yard at 2017.

With my maternal (and only) grandfather – Gankie – in the back yard at 2017. Mama and Nannie captioned this picture the two most unhappy people in the whole world. He was terrified he would drop me, and I was terrified he would too.

With my paternal grandmother – Gaga – inside at 2017 Laurel. She had travelled from her home in California to see the new granddaughter.

When Papa came home from the war, he went back to his job working for Shell Chemical Co., in California. We lived in two places out there, both in the east Bay Area of San Francisco – Rodeo and Los Madanas. Both of these places were, according to Mama, just awful! They were hastily put together Wherry housing or leftover barracks from the war. While we lived there, Mama’s cousin Margaret and her daughter Genie came to visit. Margaret’s husband had died during the war, so she was a grieving widow, travelling around to visit relatives and recover.

You can just make out the housing in the background.

I think we were about 18 months old in this picture (judging from the time of year). Genie is two months older than I am. We both had Snoopys, wooden dogs that you pulled around by a string. They made a wonderful skrownking noise. Both of my children also had Snoopys.

In late 1946 or early 1947, Papa was transferred to Houston, and we moved into a real slum on Dunlevy Street. We didn’t live there long, but I definitely remember that it was two-story because there was a little boy about my age who lived upstairs and he had a Chutes and Ladders game that we were allowed to play occasionally.

In early 1948 we moved to Myrtle Street in Houston. That was the house right across the street from the railroad tracks where Harriet was terrified by the train and I was terrified by electricity.

It snowed that winter – a real blue Norther – in Houston. That was a VERY rare occurance!

Harriet was born in June, 1948, (in Texarkana because one of Mama’s cousins was married to a doctor, and Uncle Perry delivered all of us).

All this time we were spending summers, Christmases, and any other time Mama could figure out a reason in Texarkana. We also spent several weeks every summer at Little River Country Club. Although Nannie and Gankie didn’t own a cabin there, one of Nannie’s best friends did, so we were able to go for weeks at a time.

My cousins, Anne and Mimi, were often there with us during the summers.

Here’s Harriet and me in the back yard at 2017 Laurel, arriving for Christmas in 1948, I think.

Before school started in 1949 we moved from Myrtle Street to our first house in Pasadena, Texas. I can’t for the life of me remember the name of the street we lived on, but we didn’t live there very long. That’s the house we were living in when Harriet got the tips of two of her fingers cut off. She learned to walk when she was 8 months old and she thought she was my age. She was about 22-months-old and following me out the back door, and put her hand in the hinge. The wind caught the door and blew it shut and cut the tips off the middle two fingers of her left hand. Blood everywhere. Mama wrapped up her hand and the bloody tips in a clean diaper and called Papa. She was crying so hard all she could say was “The baby – the baby!” Papa broke all speed limits and records racing home, and got us to the hospital where the doctors sewed her fingertips back on. Today you would never know it to look at her hands unless you were looking for it. I realize now that Mama was newly pregnant with Betty, who was born in December of 1950, and Papa probably thought she was having another miscarriage when she called.

I’m searching my brain to remember the name of the second street we lived on in Pasadena. I remember it was on the corner, and sideways across the street was where Priscilla Puffer lived. She was about three years older than I and I thought she was wonderful. That’s where we lived when I went to first, second and third grade. I went to Garden Elementary School in Pasadena. I’ve often thought I’d try to find it again some time, but I’ve never been back to the area even though I have been in Houston several times since I’ve been grown.

While we lived there, Betty was born, although we returned to Texarkana to stay again. I went to school at Fairview Elementary for a couple of months while we waited for the baby to be born, and for Mama to be ready to go back to Houston.

In the spring of 1953, Papa was transferred to the Shell plant in Martinez, California. Mama, Harriet, Betty, and I spent the last two months of the school year in Texarkana while I finished up third grade. We lived in Concord, California from fourth grade through sixth grade, in a nice little tract house with three bedrooms.

Here I am in the back yard on North 6th Street. I tried to find the house once in 1994 when Al and I were out there for a seminar, but I never was able to. I went to Wren Ave. Elementary School. That’s where we were living when we had the earthquake in 1955 on the Concord Fault. The family on one side of us was the Vnucks, and on the other side were the Padrazzis. My best friend was Frances Fisher who lived on the other side of the Vnucks.

We lived in Concord for three years, but we only spent one summer there – the summer my brother Bill was born. The other two years we went back to Texarkana.  While we were there in 1956 (one of the hottest on record until that time), Papa was transferred to New Jersey.

When we moved up there Mama and Papa bought a house – it was the first one they had ever owned. It was a big old two-story Victorian with a full attic and a full basement. It was a four-bedroom house and I had my own room for the first time.

The family lived there until after I had left for college, and gotten married. You can see it had a wonderful wrap-around front porch, and was a great place for a family.

You can understand now, I think, why I don’t have any trouble moving. I was born to it.

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Responses

  1. I am absolutely loving reading this. The pic of you being held by Gankie is priceless. I can remember driving to CA to see your family the year Bill was born — Gankie rode with us and I’m thinking it was before air conditioning in cars. What a trip! Anne

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    • That was the trip your Papa insisted on staying in a couple of really cheap motels in Arizona or New Mexico that you claimed were “one step above a hogan.”

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      • Could it have been the Wigwam Hotel in Holbrook, AZ? We stayed there on the way home from California last September… Loved it… 🙂

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