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James R. Stout

Whirleybirds, Training Wheels, and Being Stuck Like a Pig

            From the time that I was born until I was 11 years old, we lived in 8 houses. It wasn’t because my father was moved around in the military or jobs. There were several reasons for the moves, but mostly they had to do with a growing family or other issues. For instance, my parents bought the house that we were living in when I was born 4 years before I was born. It was a two-bedroom frame house. We lived in that house until I was almost 3 years old. So, the family did live in that house for about 7 years. But I was the third child born into our family and a larger house was needed. We moved to a 3-bedroom frame house a few streets over from the first house in 1958. Chances are we would have stayed there longer, but my mother and father became concerned when the paint on the house started to collect darkened material from a nearby tire plant and paper mill. The smell wasn’t too nice either. Mom figured that if the pollution that was turning the house black could do that, then it couldn’t be good for us. So, after less than a year we moved again. It was this next house that I have many of my earliest memories. I do remember the previous houses, but not as vividly as the house on Bonner Drive in Houston, Texas. The odd thing is we only lived in that house for about 9 months. We liked the house, but it was discovered that the foundation was badly cracked and would require massive repairs. Mom and Dad just didn’t want to go through that nor the expense.

            Some of the things that I remember about that house include its style. It was a 3 bedroom and 1 bath house built in a bungalow style. It did not have A/C, but it did have a few things that helped keep the heat at bay. First, the windows all had large aluminum awnings on the outside. This kept the sun from heating up the interior of the house. The windows also had 2” metal Venetian Blinds. There’s a sound in my head now thinking of those blinds. It’s the sound of the blinds being drawn up or down and the metal slats clanking against one another. This was years before mini-blinds made of plastic. The house also had a front breezeway with louvered glass panels that could be opened and allow a breeze into the house. Finally, there was an attic fan in the hall that cooled the house down when turned on. Essentially, it sucked the hot air out of the house into the attic and created a cooler interior. Perhaps these kinds of things are why I don’t recall the hot summers in Houston being oppressively hot the way that they have seemed in recent decades. Houses today are also more airtight than those houses in the 50’s and 60’s.

            Now for a few things about living in that house that I recall. I recall watching my favorite television show called “The Whirlybirds”. I recall playing on the hardwood floors with toy cars and cowboy and Indian playsets. This was the house where we had Tippy the parakeet of which I have written an earlier blog about. I recall the wooden framed detached garage that was a workshop for my Dad. I would often sit and watch him as he worked on piano actions. He was still having to wear a bulky leather and metal brace on his right leg from his car accident in 1956, but standing in the corner of that garage were a pair of wooden crutches and one of those metal crutches that also attached to his arm allowing him to walk and maintain his balance. When I was about 5 years old, I had gotten a second-hand small bicycle with training wheels. It didn’t take me long to figure out that I couldn’t keep up with the other kids who rode bikes without training wheels. One day I was outside trying to figure out how to remove those training wheels when the lady next door to us, a widow of about 60, saw me and asked if I needed help. I explained my plight and she quickly removed the training wheels with a screwdriver. Mom and Dad were not really happy about it at first, but when they saw me riding that bike by myself, they figured I was indeed ready to ride without the training wheels.

            The house wasn’t too far away from Sims Bayou. I remember all of us kids would go down to the bayou and see how far we could toss a rock across it. A family friend’s son was the same age as my oldest sister and one day he tried to swing across the bayou a ’la’ Tarzan style. Well, he didn’t make it and fell and broke both of his arms. That had to be rough. 10 years old and back to having his mother help him go to the bathroom! We had a rather inexpensive coffee table and matching end tables that flanked the couch. I think perhaps the one thing that I remember the most about living in that house was a game of chase that me and my oldest sister were playing. We were constantly told not to run in the house, but we didn’t always listen. I ran between the couch and coffee table and Barbara reached out to tag me and when she did it caused me to fall into the coffee table. Did I mention that table had sharp edges? Well, it did, and my right earlobe was nearly cut off by the fall. I was bleeding like a stuck pig. Mom rushed me down to the emergency room and while I was sniffling and crying a little, the doctor started to stich up my ear. The nurse who was helping him looked at me and said, “Well, honey, did they stick you like a pig?” This just made me start crying again. But there’s a silver lining behind every dark cloud and the silver lining for this one was I had a great story to tell at church to all the kids, all the concerned adults, and anyone else who would listen.

            Before long the problems with the foundation became apparent and we once again prepared to move. One other thing that I remember about living in that house was the rare snowfall that Houston received in late 1959. Dad made us ice cream out of the snow. Well, that’s what he called it anyway. I’ve driven by that house a few times over the years, but it’s been about 20 years now. When I last drove by it the awnings had been removed, but the house looked mostly the same as I remembered it. It’s funny how much living you can pack into a matter of a few months. Thinking back on that time I realize how very blessed I was to have my family. We were a family in the true sense of the word. There was a lot of love amongst us. Now it’s just me and one of my sisters that are left. She’s the only person alive that I can talk to about that house and who knows what I’m talking about. I know that the current coronavirus situation may seem interminable to most of us. But its not. It will pass and be a memory before long. If you’re spending time at home with your family, then make sure you show them your love. Let them know that things will be OK. One day there may only be two of you left to recall these days and I pray that your recollections are highlighted by spending quality time together and drawing together as a family. God bless.

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