by Susan J. Decuir
Party lines, clothes lines, walking to school—rain or shine, riding the city bus to the State Fair of Texas on school Fair Day, walking the back alleys to my best friend’s house, no air conditioning in school. This was my childhood, back in the good old days of the 1950s in Dallas, Texas.
Having a telephone party line meant you couldn’t make an outside call when the party that shared your phone number was using the phone. Sometimes my brothers and I would listen. When we got caught, we quickly learned that it wasn’t good manners to listen to a private conversation. It was boring anyway.
But, since we didn’t have caller I.D. back then, you could make prank calls and not get caught. For example: “Hello, mam. Is your refrigerator running?” Answer, “Yes, it is.” “Then you better go catch it.” It was funny back then.
Have you ever tried to study in a portable frame building with no air-conditioning? That’s what we did when Thomas Jefferson High School ran out of rooms due to the growing enrollment each year. For some reason it was hotter in those Little House on The Prairie one-room type portable school buildings than in the brick building—also without air-conditioning. My brothers and I were already dripping with sweat when school let out and then we had to walk a mile home in the sizzling Texas sun. Winters were a whole new problem. But at least the school had heat.
Before Mom got an electric clothes dryer, she hung her laundry on a clothesline in the backyard. When it rained or it was too cold outside for the laundry to dry, she set up a collapsible wood clothesline rack inside the house. Petie, my playful black and white Dutch Rabbit pet ran circles around Mom’s feet when she was hanging out the laundry in the backyard. I think Petie thought Mom was playing a game with him.
I was never afraid when I walked down the back alley, the shortest route, to my best-friend, Bonnie’s house. It just felt safer back then. Bonnie was always surprising me with treats when I went to her house. She gave me my first chocolate covered cherry, and I was hooked. To this day I buy a box every Christmas. One time she handed me the biggest dill pickle I had ever seen. She wrapped the bottom half with a napkin so it wouldn’t drip all over me. Yummy! Whenever I spent the night at her house, her mom treated us to homemade pancakes for breakfast. We sat on tall stools in front of the kitchen counter. Melted butter and hot Maple syrup in separate little pots with a lit candle beneath them to keep them warm sat on the countertop. Those were the best pancakes ever.
When my girlfriends and I took the bus to the State Fair of Texas on school State Fair Day in the eighth grade, decked out in full skirts, matching blouses, petticoats, bobby socks, and penny loafers (with pennies in the slots, of course)—prayer was the sole safety net our mom’s had back then. In the event one of us girls got separated, our plan was to meet at Big Tex. With Big Tex standing 52 feet tall, wearing a 75-gallon Stetson, a red and white Western shirt donning a single white star, crisp 284W/285L XXXXXL jeans, and size 70 cowboy boots, he couldn’t be missed. You just felt safe with Big Tex towering over the fairgrounds and hearing his friendly Texas-style, “Howdy, folks!” resonate hourly throughout the azure Texas sky.
To quote an old song, “Those were the days, my friend. We thought they’d never end.”