The Rain Dancers
The Texas Story Project.
Years ago, I needed to put my mother into a hospital while she was visiting me. I went to see her every day during her lengthy stay. Most mornings, I was there early trying to catch doctors in the elevator or in the hallway so that I could speak with them about Mother's condition. One morning, I was talking with a nurse and she mentioned that Mom was very upset that I had not arrived at a certain time. The nurse relayed to me what Mom said in regards to me not being there. "She must be out in that field!" Either Mother was confused or her medication was talking. It seemed unreasonable to me, since I was there often and for long periods of time. I am certain of what she must have been referring to. The field went back to my childhood in a rural area south of San Antonio.
My younger brother and I were country kids even though we went to parochial school in town. I went to dance school there as well. Family and most of our friends lived in San Antonio. I longed to be a city girl, and, as I got older, I frequently went to my grandmother's or aunt's house. It was at Gram's house that I could have a bathroom all to myself, and, even better, she had a big claw foot tub. I was in heaven because, in a family of five with one bathroom and only a shower, the prissy adolescent that I was becoming was seeking more time and privacy. In my teenage years, Dad built a bigger, more modern home down the highway. By that time, I only had to share the bathroom with my younger brother.
Dad owned and operated a concrete manufacturing business and built water tanks, septic tanks, and water troughs for cattle for farms and ranches. Until the early 1960s our house was next to his shop and the office. Since Dad was usually on a job site and Mom was working as the secretary in the office, my little brother and I were often left to our own forms of entertainment. Most of the time it was best if we were outside playing, as sometimes we had some crazy family dynamics. Mostly, I remember being indoors to eat, sleep, and watch TV. On rainy or cold days, my brother and I would do the usual stuff that kids did, especially in those years. We played Monopoly or other games and made tents out of blankets and sheets.
The house had no central air or heat, which today makes me wonder how we ever lived without it. But others in Texas lived without it, too. We had fans and a window unit cooler in the dining room, yet there were some nights that we slept outside for a short while if the heat got unbearable. Plenty of feather quilts, small heaters, and a fireplace provided what warmth we had for bitter cold winters. Lifestyle improved with the new modern house, but the memories of that old house and my little brother's and my antics live on.
My earliest recollections of the old house was a small TV in a room that always seemed dark. Guess we were saving on electricity! Though I remember watching programs during the day like Howdy Doody, Sky King, Mighty Mouse, and Captain Kangaroo, it was seeing Liberace play his piano on our tiny black and white TV at night that I most vividly recall. I loved Liberace!
With all of the crazy things that younger brother and I did outdoors, there were plenty of cuts and scrapes. But neither one of us broke a bone. Dad's remedy for everything was Merthiolate which burned like hell after it was applied! He had all kinds of country remedies, though our mother always took us to doctors, dentists, and allergists regularly as the years went by. I remember Daddy riding on a tractor once and he said that we could get on it with him. I put my foot right on the muffler, which, of course, burned the sole of my foot. But I never said a thing or cried…until later when I needed to explain what I had done when I climbed on the tractor. I don't know many people who had their throats swabbed with medication but I imagine there are those who recall odd looking humidifiers to which Vicks was added. Dad always rubbed Vicks on our chests every winter for colds.
I recall fond memories of a Dad who could be kind when not stressed or angry. He would lay our clothes on the fireplace screen to warm them on some mornings before Mother or one of the employees would drive us ten miles to the parochial school in San Antonio. Most days, Mom drove forty miles taking and picking us up from school as well as working in the office of the family business. Today that seems like living in the suburbs or a bedroom community of most cities where people commute to work and school every day. Back then I felt like I just lived in the country, which I began to hate as a teenager. Our parents referred to it as living outside of the city limits…big deal. It was still country living to me. Dad thought to buy a home in an upscale neighborhood of San Antonio at one time but then decided to build his own home in the country. I lived there a few years before going off to college.
My brother and I were not always playing alone but it seemed that way. There was a little girl who lived across the road where her parents owned the country grocery store. Her Mom always had a million chores for her to do but sometimes she would come over and we would play "school"…as in being teachers. Rather boring compared to my adventures with my younger brother, Andy. However, she and I did something creative. We would leave each other letters in the mailbox by the country road when we could not play together. Many summers as we got older, my female cousin, who was close to my age, would come visit us for a few days and sometimes would go to Rockport with us. I learned how to play jacks with her. We didn’t even bother with a rubber ball…we used a golf ball! Little brother didn't fare too well with two girls, as sometimes we played dress up and we dressed him up in lady's clothes too. That never seemed to effect him negatively in life and eventually he was into building model airplanes and always loved to play with toy soldiers and his Alamo set. When he finally had his own room, after older brother left home, I hung all of his model airplanes from the ceiling and thought it really looked good for a boy's room….and I finally had a room to myself. Life was a little slower and less complicated in some ways in the 1950s and 1960s. I don’t remember those years with particular fondness or nostalgia but rather for what it was realistically and a time when kids relied on their imaginations.
We were fearless Texas kids. Considering how dreadfully afraid I am of snakes and high places, it amazes me as to what Andy and I would do on our adventures. We loved to jump off the top of tanks out in the lot (one of the fields Mom may have been thinking of during her hospital stay). Once I made a parachute out of old head scarves which never worked exactly right. We also liked to jump from the roof of the building where the cement mixer was into the sand pit. None of the workers ever got mad at us that I recall. One of the more unusual adventures had to do with an old two seat airplane that Dad had out in the back field of the property. To this day I do not know where he acquired it though he was always interested in planes and flew small ones himself. It was OLD…from the 1930s or 1940s or, it's safe to say, World War II era. My brother and I would crawl into that airplane that was infested with weeds with not a care in the world that snakes could be lurking inside. Fly, fly away we did! We also literally flew into the air on a very tall swing set that my father also obtained from who knows where. No other kids had one like it, that's for sure! It had to have been at least 15 feet high and I remember that I could practically touch the top of a tall tree with my toes when I swung very high.
One day we decided that we would create a museum on our covered front porch. We set out (with the REAL jungle hats we were given) to find artifacts. I guess we mainly found rocks and arrow heads but the best artifact we found was a cow's skull. It was so stinky that I doused it with perfume. We had a great museum on our screened front porch and the only problem was that there were no kids to come visit it! My younger brother liked to play practical jokes. Much older brother did magic tricks and, after he left home, my younger brother found wooden eggs in the magic set. He loved putting it in with the other eggs in the refrigerator just to watch Mom try to crack one. He also had an unbelievable vegetable garden for a little kid. The garden was near where the chicken coop had been and I guess the soil was very fertile because I have never seen squash get so big! I didn't like gardening. I loved my dolls and making mud pies instead and we were always outside in the summer.
We had a phone on the front porch in the early years of my childhood. Mom and Dad's oldest son had joined the Navy at a young age. The phone rang in the middle of the night once and my father, who could be quite funny without even knowing it at times and was known as a "character," got to the porch in time to answer. When the operator told him that he had a long distance call from Hong Kong and if he would accept, he asked her: "Where in the hell is Hong Kong, Texas?!" If both of them were living, they would be more than 100 years old.
It is so hot in South Texas that we mainly wore flip flops or went barefoot. We had a game we liked to play that was more like a dare. The small country grocery store was across the road from the company's office. We would go there to get sodas or popsicles and laugh our heads off as we ran barefoot across the hot pavement...a race to see who would get across first. We had a concrete tank in the backyard (when we were not running through sprinklers) where we swam. I can remember seeing it be drained to be cleaned once and the next morning water moccasins were in it. I was developing a fear of snakes and it is a wonder that I ever got back into the water. Today, I look at my big beautiful pool in the backyard of my big beautiful suburban home and remember those days so long ago.
On the other side of our old home, far removed from the manufacturing plant, was an empty field. Every spring it was filled with beautiful Texas wildflowers. It was here that I picked flowers for my mother. I still don't know which field Mother was thinking of to which I had "disappeared" in her imagination that day. One of my fondest memories of brother and me centered around summers in the 1950s when Texas was in a severe drought. I recall seeing large cracks in the soil in those fields and people praying for rain. Day after day with no rain. Little brother and I did our job like any good kids did back then. We did our rain dances in the front yard right in view of the kitchen window so Mom would be sure to see us. We were very good Rain Dancers and it finally rained on those parched fields in Texas.
Sherrill Pool Elizondo graduated from Southwest Texas State University (now Texas State) with a degree in English and Education. She is a sixth generation Texan and an avid genealogist. She has been an aspiring writer for over 35 years. Some of her stories can be seen on Grand Magazine and Texas Escapes.
Posted July 27, 2018
TAGGED WITH: Tales of Bygone Days