Friday, January 24, 2014

The EHHS Social Order – 8.2 – Our Houses

By the fall of 1958 and the start of 8th grade, with puberty more or less behind us, a kind bewilderment began to set in.  At that stage, the boy/girl stuff was what it was, competitive athletics was starting its culling process, and different academic challenges were thrown at us.  Some of us thrived and some of us didn’t.

In addition to all that, we were beginning to observe that certain among us appeared to have even more advantages than ourselves and others.  Prior to those nascent observations, play was entirely focused on the games we played and whether we could win them or not.  Notions of cool and not so cool kids took a firmer hold during these early junior high years.

Only a couple of years beyond playing Little League baseball, jumping rope, and riding bicycles as our principal life focuses, almost imperceptibly we became aware of Bill Short and Gay Burton’s big, white Cadillacs.  Gay’s Mom picked her up every afternoon after school out on Somerset St.  Cadillac….that was a big show on the 1950s East Side.  Everyone else drove Chevies and Fords and maybe an occasional panel truck or Studebaker.

About the time we started noticing some differences in our family transportation, we also began to notice some differences in our living quarters.  In truth, there wasn’t much difference in the houses throughout the East Side.  However, there were a number of subtle changes underway during the years we attended school in those neighborhoods.

For the purposes of this piece, I’m assuming that Handley-ites lived in a fairly static situation; that is, there was not much new construction in those neighborhoods—the HHS graduating classes were about the same size each year throughout the 1950s.  The most useful information available for these housing thoughts has been my memory, a 1952 Meadowbrook Elementary student directory, and the maps in this post.  There have also been a number of very valuable individual recollections from both those in our class and others, both a few years older and younger.  Some of them were Poly grads who were our classmates at Meadowbrook Junior High, but did not attend EHHS after it opened in 1959.  This split focus among my friends was always something I found puzzling since I didn’t live it.

The 1943 map of the area shows the area about the time we were born and was printed only 6-7 years after the Meadowbrook Elementary School was built.  During periods of rapid growth, elementary schools were always the first built in recognition of the incoming families being mostly young adults with young children.  Junior Highs and High schools followed by 3-4 years….MJH opened in 1954; EHHS opened in 1959.  WWII delayed early development of the area as pre-WWII maps show evidence of a number of the streets with which we would become familiar having been established.

Throughout the country and on the East Side, returning WWII soldiers placed a heavy demand on local markets for housing.  For most of us, it wasn’t until the early 1950s that our folks were able to settle down and afford a house.  Although much of the East Side housing was not the more standard GI configurations found in large housing tracts like Levittown, a lot of it was. 

The earliest of us show in the 1952 Meadowbrook Elementary directory as 2nd graders.  The streets most frequently associated with our Class of 1963 Highlanders at that stage of life were Martel, Maryel, Grandview, Martha, Norma, Lambeth, Tierney, Queen, Jenson, Meadowbrook Drive (as far as the future EHHS), Junius.  The center of our early fifties population would have been approximately the Meadowbrook Elementary school building.

As our parents' fortunes improved during the 1950s and as they were able, many of them moved into larger homes to provide space for their growing families.  There were a number of instances of families that first lived in the small post-WWII "cracker boxes" many of which were built in the mid to late 1940s to the south of Meadowbrook Jr. Hi. toward the Poly area.  As the Central Meadowbrook area built out, the new residents there consisted of both new arrivals to the area and local families moving up from their smaller homes in the older areas near Meadowbrook Elementary.

Throughout our area, the house sizes and arrangements followed a repetitive pattern.  They were built in a somewhat random fashion rather than in large, organized tracts shown in the Levittown example above.  The smallest of them were about 750 sq.ft. and the largest were about 2600 sq.ft.

Our GI Bill houses were most frequently 2-bedroom, 1-bath crackerboxes of about 700-950 sq.ft. usually without a garage, or at most they had a carport.  These houses were built immediately after WWII, about 1947 for a few years.  One Highlander told of their family of 6 in one of these homes, first flooring the attic to provide additional sleeping space for the brothers but, quickly finding that the next limiting factor was trying to live with 6 people and 1 bathroom.

Step-up houses started appearing in the early 1950s and were built in several configurations:  3-1-1 and 3-2-1.  By the mid-1950s, living space started gradually increasing to 1100-1400 sq.ft.; then, 1500-1800 sq.ft. as newer housing was built east along Meadowbrook Drive and pushing north into the Central Meadowbrook area between the golf course and Oakland Park.

Starting in 1953, the first homes in the soon to be seen as the wealthy neighborhood of Eastern Hills, located just east of the golf course and north of the high school were built along Blueridge Dr. adjoining the golf course.  Other early homes in that neighborhood were first built along Danciger and Monterrey then, construction substantially stopped about 1954 due to a recession.  The homes in the Eastern Hills neighborhood came to be distinguished by hilly, wooded terrain, wide curving streets, and significantly larger, custom-built brick homes of 2200 - 3000 sq.ft.  Most were configured as 3-2-2 with the additions of formal dining rooms and large dens with fireplaces.  

About 1950, just 3-years before the Eastern Hills neighborhood started building, the areas just east of Meadowbrook Junior High went in.  Most of these were configured as 3-1-1 containing about 1450 sq.ft.

About the same time the 3-1-1s near the Junior High went in, in 1950 another area just south of the golf course developed adjacent to that end of the course.  The catalyst for developing there appears to have been the straightening and extension of Meadowbrook Drive further to the east.  This newer area further east, near the future EHHS were generally configured as 3-2-2s containing about 1700 - 2000 sq.ft.  In the early 1950s when these streets were developed, for a few years before the Eastern Hills neighborhood started building, they were the newest, largest homes in the area.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Tri-Sagas at Sagamore Hill - The McCoys & McCooks

(Gus note:  Another amusing recollection written by Danny recalling his early memories of befriending Kendall; this one covering their first meetings and baseball.  Other words about these two friends of mine have been published in the blog…..Kendall’s A Song for Leo….and one I wrote recalling both of them.  Good kids, good men.)

 Tri-Sagas at Sagamore Hill 
by Danny McCoy

After the fall semester of my 7th grade at William James High School we moved from Avenue A in Poly to Hampshire Blvd. The new house provided more room for our family of five. Ronnie and I still shared a room, but our younger sister, Jana, now had a room for herself. The lot was deep enough so that my dad fenced in an old chicken yard so that his horse, Sliver, also had a new corral. Silver served dad well as he was a member of the Mounties in the Moslah Shriners.

Across the street on Hampshire was the Sagamore Hill Baptist Church parsonage for Pastor Fred & Elizabeth Swank.  They had a double lot which provided spill over parking when committee members or others from the congregation came to visit.

I soon discovered the McCook family who lived a block away. We immediately had a kinship. Kendall was my age and he too had an older brother named Danny who had enrolled in the new Eastern Hills. My brother Ronnie chose to remain at Poly High School. Kendall and I would often walk to my new Junior High, Meadowbrook. We went through the football spring training and spent several summer mornings at Sagamore Hills Elementary.  If I recall, Kendall, soon to be the new quarterback would stand in the shade on the playground and throw passes as I learned the right end post routes - slant, stop & go while trying to catch passes in the sun. We went on to play together at Meadowbrook and our team won the City Championship in 1959.

Kendall also introduced me to Sagamore Hill Baptist Church. Although my family was active members at Ash Crescent Methodist Church, Sagamore had more extensive and active youth programs. They were constantly recruiting young Christian soldiers. You did not have to be a member to participate in the program, but you had to be in attendance at a church function at least once a week. So for the summer of 1959, I was to become a Royal Ambassador.

The Reverse Steal

Sagamore was part of the church softball league in Fort Worth.  On our team I was assigned to Right Field. In the major leagues Right Field is reserved for the big sluggers such as Josh Hamilton. In the church league, Right Field was for the weakest of the nine players. In practice I could only manage to catch 80% of the pop flies that came my way. And since it was embarrassing to drop a ball now and then, I would move close to the edge of the infield.  The thought process was that if the ball was hit over my head, my teammates would be more tolerant and tolerant of my occasional drops.

So one summer night while swatting mosquitoes, the batter hit a sharp single that took one bounce into my glove.  I turned to throw to Second base as coached. But since I was already so close to the infield, I redirected my throw to First.  The runner was out and my fellow teammates who had poor depth perception let loose with enthusiastic shouts for the perceived power of my newly found strong arm. As the inning ended and as in most memorable defensive efforts, the player that performs well seems to come up to immediately bat. So as I brushed off the congratulatory comments in the dugout, I picked up a discarded bat and headed for home plate.

On the very first pitch I hit a strong chopper down the Third base line. It was just high enough that I was able to beat out the throw for an infield hit.  There were no First or Third base coach for base runners. We were on our own. So in a lull I easily stole Second base. My teammates were now supporting my renewed presence on the field.

Within this unique moment a fifteen year old teenager standing on a field-of-dreams can be somewhat confused and teeter between self-confidence and over-confidence. Teenagers can be cocky and arrogant at the same time. And they can be both naturally annoying and so was I.

So in was in this self-centered moment with the Second Baseman keeping me close to the base, I decided to steal another base. This time I opted for First base instead of Third base since it was going to be somewhat easier. So with a sudden burst of speed and a cloud of white dust I slid back into First base. At first I suspect that everyone thought I was heading to the dugout, but when I remained, dusting myself off and standing on the base the two umpires came over to discuss this unique situation. The play eventually stood and it was my first reverse steal!

After the forced confusion, play continued and I was just determined to steal Second again as they were not to let me. With the encouragement of my excited and now befuddled teammates,

I put on a bit of an obnoxious agitating show at First base. The pitcher was intent on preventing me from stealing again. He tried to pick me off several times. It was during this distraction that he ended up walking the second batter.  I was now back on Second base and it was a magical moment.  There was no end to my taunts.  I quizzed the Short Stop and the Second Baseman.  Have I been here before? And for the first time in my young life I was able to use a foreign word in the correct context:   Does this seem like deja vu to you too?

The bizarre inning came to a close when one of our better players hit a double and the score was now 2 to 0.  As I made my triumphal return to the dugout, the coach pulled me from the game and sent me to the bench (something about lack of Baptist sportsmanship).  His lack of understanding of the purpose of the game most likely limited any future coaching opportunities for him. I of course will always remember my reverse steal. It also reminds me to always review where you have been and the consequences that got you where you are today.

Bible Sword Drill

This educational religious exercise is not as wide spread as I first thought. When I retell the story to other Sword Drill participants there seems to be different rule variations in the many conferences.  Early on I had read the entire Bible as part of the challenge of the Methodist Youth Fellowship. There was probably a free pizza incentive included. At that point it was the only biblical competition that I was aware of.  But the Southern Baptist had a nifty way to get their youth to know the Good Word.  In the competitive Bible Sword Drill youngsters would line up on the stage or next to the altar steps waiting for the instructions:  Soldiers of Christ draw your swords.  We would then pull up our Bibles that were at our side and prepare for the challenge.  When any event was offered at Sagamore, Pastor Swank would always do it right.  When he announced from the Sunday night pulpit that the winner of the Sword Drill would get to go free to summer camp at Latham Springs, he had my complete attention - even without the Ritalin.  Latham Springs Baptist Camp & Retreat just southeast of Hillsborough was a sought after destination. 

Since I was not a member, I had to get permission from the Youth Committee to compete. With limited funds at home, this would be my only opportunity to join my friends for a week of fun interrupted by brief gospel moments.  I was focus on my goal.  After several qualifying rounds, I somehow managed to be included in the final twelve contestants. My Bible was old, but I was familiar with the index and there was an identifiable indention between the Old and New Testaments.

As we stood before the congregation, I noted that there were more girls than boys. I just knew that one of those non-dating, studious females was going to interfere with my fun in the sun.

The three judges explained the rules, but they were somewhat confusing. A scripture would be called out and the participants would have to locate as quickly as possible the chapter and verse.  The proctor would say:  2nd Corinthians, 7th Chapter, 11th Verse. At that point the student soldier would step forward prepared to read on request:  It is difficult to be confronted with our sin and -

If you were the last one to step forward or if you somehow read the incorrect verse, it could be a cause for elimination. And although if you were the first one to step forward that did not necessarily mean that you would be the first required to cite what you had located. The judges would also randomly select as a touchstone, different contenders to read to make sure all were participating honestly.

After a rather long anxious session we were down to the Final Three.  I started to feel the cold water at Latham Springs caressing my body; taste the early morning hot pancakes with maple syrup; singing Kum Ba Yah while consuming campfire baked endless s’mores; visualize my canoe gliding across the lake; eating the gospel bird on Sunday signifying the end of the camp or capturing a glimpse of a mystery wispy Dallas girl with her long hair and freckles on her  . . .   And suddenly my private serene moment was interrupted by  Proverbs, 23rd Chapter, 23rd Verse  . . .

I was just on the final precipice to reach of my summer goal.  Only two girls stood in my way. Chapter and verses were now being called out in rapid fire. In this final stage of the competition the congregation could sense that the Drill was coming to a close. I had step forward for three times. I was first on one and second on the other two. Yet, all three times, I was the one singled out to cite the required verse.  On the fourth verse request, I just knew they would not call on me for four times in a row. So as soon as the chapter and verse was called out, I fumbled a bit and step forward. The two group daters shyly followed behind me. So I was startled when the judge called out my name for the fourth straight time!

Those that were there that summer night including myself were not quite sure what happened next.  Did I actually find the 23rd  Verse before the Bible somehow fell from my grip or was it just an adolescent ruse?  Did God intervene to cause the Good Book to tumble in slow motion to the floor so that a Methodist boy could best the Baptist at their own game?  The judges gathered to discuss. Nothing like this had ever happened before. 

There was a restless mummer in the pews.  A dark shadow approached and hovered over the judges table. Then an announcement was made: The judges have decided that all three of you have won a free trip to summer camp!

As I had expected the camp was just as great, thanks to my neighbor. Yes, it was Pastor Fred Swank that had risen from his seat to convince the judges to allow the McCoy Boy free passage. Even then we knew Pastor Swank was legendary.  During his 42 year tenure, he was a catalyst for over 100 young people who entered the ministry.  When asked what was behind the success and rapid growth of his ministry. He replied that it was very simple and it could be summed up in 4 letters:  C A M P.  Amen Brother Swank

The Whisper

Our Baseball coach at Sagamore Hill Baptist Church was the Assistant Youth Director. He was also the Basketball coach; taught a Sunday School class; work with the youth choir; served as Camp facilitator; hosted fund raising activities; offered counseling services; sponsored a Boy Scout troop and was in charge of the Royal Ambassador program. He was not that multi-talented, he just seemed to want to be around young people. The Church provided his housing near the east parking lot. So he would always available for those of us who did not have transportation to all the events.

When we were returning from the baseball & basketball games, we would occasionally go Billboarding (this is where each one of us would select a billboard and become a part of it as the others would turn around and drive by for the full effect). You could climb up and pretend to be stuck on a buttered slice of Mrs. Baird’s Bread or have your behind burned by the cancer stick the Marlboro Man was holding. There were always plenty of laughs and we were always treated to late night fast food snacks. It was our only chance to cruise like the California kids.

There was an informal, unorganized game that we played on the way home, called the Whisper. It goes something like this:  At the next stop sign get Mike which was code for jumping on Mike; taking all of his clothes off except for his BVDs or Fruit-of-the Looms; pushing him out of the car and leaving him on the side of the road or the median. Of course we would eventually turn around and pick him up or if we decided to extend this hilarious adventure, we would do repeat drive-bys and throw out clothing articles and sometime it would be his own clothes! Note that  if you did not receive the Whisper, it meant that you were the target.

Kendall and I had little to worry about. We took care of each other and if the Whisper happened to be one of our names, we deflected and change it back to some other unsuspecting pimple face peer.  And because we lived close to each other, we were always dropped off together. We had already learned and out instinct was  never be the last one to be taken home. 

Then one night when we were in the middle of the back seat rugby scum in search for the victim’s clothes, Kendall and I caught a frightening sight. Our Assistant Youth Minister had an excited leering look that we had never seen before. It was very creepy. The Whisper had turned into something else. As the whispers grew and questions were being asked, the Assistant was soon assisted off the church campus.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Blue Water Sailors - The Original Gus

In foreign ports sailors somewhat frequently use the terms “blue water/brown water” to distinguish the nature of their sea service from other sailors they see on the streets and in the joints.  Brown water sailors were those who sailed in shallow waters…rivers and just off-shore, such as Riverenes and the Coast Guard.  Blue Water sailors went out where the water was very deep, very blue, and rose up into massive waves so they, with reasonable justification, thought of themselves as the real sailors swaggering on the streets.  It was a good-humored joshing where even the Brown Water sailors tended to acknowledge the differences; the acknowledgement usually forced by a question: "have you guys ever gone out far enough to be in water above your knees?"

The original Gus, shown skylarking above, only recently popped up on my screen.  He had apparently attended a ship's reunion 2-3 years ago and in his own inimitable fashion, chose to wear a c.1968 set of whites.  However, if those whites are his originals, then he's done a fine job of keeping himself fit after all these years.  Maybe, maybe not.  In other pictures he looks a little larger as most of us are.

Gus was a bona-fide Blue Water Sailor and this picture is part of the was taken as the ship was riding out a heavy sea similar to the one shown in the video clip a couple of articles back.  He's standing just outside of the sheltered bridge area so he could feel the full force of Typhoon Wendy that was moving slowly across the Tonkin Gulf in early September.  The waves were massive and the spray stung out there where he was standing.  At some point in its life, Wendy was a Cat 5.

An interesting character, Gus was a recent UCLA graduate who raised his right hand and swore his oath of allegiance at the same time and in the same room as did I...we were the only two lads present that morning so, I suppose we were destined to be service pals, and we were.  Unfortunately for Gus, he was a political science major, a course of study that most techie types would suggest, involves no science.  His problem was that the Navy testing and classification routines strongly favored those with some math and science capabilities.  Original Gus apparently had few of those skills.  However, in most other respects he was a lively and intelligent shipmate, if a bit idiosyncratic.

The Reserves.  Reserves were not particularly well-received by the USN regulars we found aboard ship.  And after reading Manchester, Jones, and Mauldin, among others, I'm of the opinion that enlisted service people are pretty universally seen by the Regular (read: career) service management structures as no more than canon fodder and, in a sense that's exactly what they are.  Jones wrote most eloquently about that situation following his WWII service.

But, the Guses and other Reserves like them presented a new kind of challenge to Regular Navy management.  The nature of the Vietnam War and the constant threat of the Draft forced all young men age 18-26 during those years to deal with military service in some fashion.  Almost overnight the more selective services, Navy and the Air Force, had a significant rise in the quality of their recruits as tons of college-trained lads came into the Draft pool.  Not all of them wanted to be officers, which required almost twice the time on active duty.  Further, neither the Navy nor the Air Force ever had to rely on the Draft to fill their manpower needs during the Vietnam War…there was a ready supply of high quality volunteers from which to choose.  Those volunteers were recognized by the Navy management as being a pretty smart group...esp. the Reserves since they had figured out how to get done in 2-years what others were taking 4-years to do.

So, there was Gus, BA-UCLA, reporting aboard to start his 2-years of ACDU (active duty) as a Seaman.  However, since the Reserve unit had not declared him a "striker" for anything, what to do with him?  Other Reservists that had scored well on the classification tests had been designated as “strikers” for the various technical ratings aboard ships….radio, machinists, electronics, sonar, radar, fire control, etc.  Sometime during the preceding year a rather dour Reserve Commander asked me if I wanted to be a "striker" for one of the technical jobs...and me not knowing what he was talking about said, "sure, why not."  And with that brief exchange my cruise was destined to be a fairly decent experience.

Gus apparently didn't get the same deal.  When about 4 of us reported aboard late one afternoon, we were directed to the front compartment of the ship...up in the bow.  That was the standard response to all new reports for, up there was 1st Division...the deck apes...the Bosuns...later to be observed as the crappiest jobs on the ship.  Fortunately, just before settling in, a black Petty Officer, one of the first blacks I had ever seen in a working situation, rushed into the compartment and called my name along with one other guy, told us to grab our kit, and follow him.  Unfortunately for Gus, his wasn't one of the names called...and there he stayed with the deck apes for the entire 7-month cruise!

Sailor Gus.  So, before an hour had passed, Gus and I had been separated to pursue different tasks aboard ship.  We would remain in those separate assignments for the duration of our 7-month cruise of the Western Pacific.  My new digs were near the back of the ship where the ride was smoothest and the berthing space was quite a bit larger.  Technical rates were well cared-for aboard ship.

Meanwhile, Gus had to learn how to deal with living in the much smaller, much rougher riding space in the bow.  But, worse than that, he had to deal with the ship’s Bosun…a really foul tempered jerk who rarely spoke loud enough to be heard.  Gus, an ebullient, outgoing soul had problems with that jerk from the very beginning.  He told me that he had reminded his new boss that “we” are all on the same side here, what’s the problem?  Gus never elaborated beyond that but, I can imagine that the dour prick he was stuck with was just one of those consistently ugly types.

Deck Apes were responsible for the heavy lifting aboard ship…handling mooring lines, anchors, gangways, life-lines, railings, and every square-inch of the main deck from fore to aft…down to the waterline.  In addition, they manned the helm steering the ship, and handled all PA announcements from the bridge.

Gus never did any of that…for reasons I never knew.  I suspect that Gus simply presented such a foreign attitude with a cheerful countenance such as the jerk had never before seen, it simply overwhelmed the jackass.  Next thing we knew, Gus was in charge of cleaning the interior passageways…every night, all night long!  That suited Gus just fine because he never had any further reason to deal with the jerk for the rest of the cruise…no supervisor and he was free every day after catching what sleep he could.  During those days, on his own initiative, he spent time with the QMs…the ship’s navigators and let them know he was interested in working with them.

To my knowledge, Gus was never formally accepted in the QM section aboard ship, nor promoted to the Petty Officer rank he’s wearing in the picture.  We left active duty about the same time, when we returned home.  Our contract required 2 additional years of weekly drills so, he may have gotten his crow then.  I wouldn’t know, as I never attended any of those post active duty drills.  Life’s trolley pulled out of the station with me aboard shortly after discharge.  The first picture shows Gus wearing a Signalman’s crow; how that came to be, I wouldn’t know…he never worked with the Sigs while we were underway.

Gus, the Trust Fund Yuppie.  Few, but me, aboard ship knew that Gus was a member of a wealthy Southern California family.  He grew up on a Palos Verdes Peninsula estate located a few miles south of LAX and had traveled extensively with his family during his childhood.  His family home was surrounded by several acres of Eucalyptus groves with pathways carved throughout the woods, interspersed with randomly placed fire pits.  Coupled with the mild climate, the social gatherings around those fires were something special.

Gus and his siblings lived in a separate residential structure apart from the main house.  So, in retrospect, it seems that much of Gus’s odd personality was probably self determined from an environment of significant freedom all his young life.  He was one of those one-of-a-kind characters.

First order of business after a month at sea was to find a roof-top beer garden overlooking the harbor, then a good restaurant for a big steak, and a friendly flow of smooth hooch.

Three California lads doing what they already knew how to do…briefly friends of a common experience, destined to become a lawyer, an engineer, and a preacher.  Guess which was which.