Free Markets, Free People


Memories of home

You may have noticed that there was no podcast this week, and that there haven’t been any economic statistics reports this week. That’s because I had to travel to Houston, Texas this weekend to attend the funeral of my grandmother, Mildred Davidson. Many years ago, my grandfather bought their funeral plots at Brookside funeral home, and, though the family migrated out to California, we took them back home after their deaths. My grandfather, Paul E. Davidson, died in 2003.  Now, he and my grandmother are finally together again.

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When I returned for my grandfather’s funeral, I didn’t have a lot of time to do much beyond see some family, and go to his funeral.  This time, I spent three days in Houston, and had time to travel back to all the places I remember from my childhood.

I was born in Houston, and grew up there. My parents divorced when I was two, and my father moved back to New Mexico, where he was from.  I spent most of the year living with my mother, and summers with my father, mainly in Albuquerque, NM. So, I sort of have two homes, and two sets of people—entirely unrelated to each other—who saw me grow up. It’s kind of weird. But, Houston was the place I identify as home. So, I went back to the places I remember.

Below the fold is a picture-heavy story; part travelogue, part history. If you’re interested in all about finding out about me, or my past, this is it.

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This is pretty much the very first place I remember. It’s my grandparents’ home in Sheldon, on the NE side of Houston.  When my mother divorced my dad, we moved back in here. I lived here until I was about 7. The family that purchased the house from my grandparents still live there, and, as you can see from the bricks stacked up around the car port, they’re doing a little remodeling.  They came to my grandmother’s funeral, which was nice.

There used to be a zip line that ran from a tower next to the woods, all the way down about to where I am standing to take the picture. I remember going down that zip line at 5 years old. Probably get parents locked up for child endangerment for allowing that now.

As an interesting side note, I learned about the dangers of fire while playing with some matches and old newspapers under that car port. I can only say that it’s really fortunate that house is made of brick. I also got trapped there by snakes when I was about 4 or so. There were right in front of the utility room door that opened onto the car port. I sat on the hood of my grandfather’s maroon Impala until he came out to ask me what I was doing in the car port after dark, and rescued me from the—probably non-poisonous—snakes.

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This is the sight of my first motorcycle accident in 1969. It’s across the street from the end of my grandparents’ driveway. I was three years old. It had been raining heavily, so the ditch and the field beyond were full of water. It stopped raining—but was still very overcast—when my 16 year-old uncle decided he wanted to take a little spin on his new 125cc Montgomery Wards motorcycle. He sat me on his lap, and took off down my grandparents’ gravel driveway. He lost the rear wheel on the wet gravel, and we went across the road, and slid into the ditch. Fortunately the fence wasn’t there back then, because I hydroplaned across the top of the water and ended up in the mud past where the fence is now.

My grandmother saw the wreck, and she ran out of the house yelling, "You get out of that water, before you get polio!" The accident didn’t bother her all that much, I guess. The thought of polio terrified her, though. It’s an interesting glimpse into her mind, and the sheer horror that polio had for a couple of generations of parents, before the polio vaccine in the 1950s. Neither one of us had a scratch on us from the accident, by the way.

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Eventually, my mother married a Houston Firefighter named Jimmie Martin. So, I had a new dad and a new step-sister, Stacey.

Yes, it’s a trailer. In a trailer park. We lived there for a long while. We may have been trailer park white trash, but Jimmie had a city job, so we were white trash royalty.

I can’t believe that same trailer I lived in 37 years ago is still there. I wonder how good a shape its in on the inside. These weren’t fantastically well-built dwellings, as far as I can remember. On the other hand, it’s still being lived in, so maybe they were built better than I thought.

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The porch in this picture was something Jimmie built by hand in 1974. The steps are sagging and the redwood stain is gone, but it’s still there. Jimmie was as competent at building porches as he was at smacking my Mom around when he got upset. Once, after another physical fight with my mom, sometime when I was 10, Jimmie asked me to come out on that porch with him. He apologized for hitting my mom, but he said she just made him so angry sometimes.  I told him, "When I grow up, I’m going to kill you."

My mom stayed with him though. But Jimmie Martin never raised a hand to me, and after that day, left all disciplining me to my Mom.

I saw Jimmie once after a left Houston to live with my dad. It was after I had been in USAF Security Forces for a while. He was about 4 inches shorter than me. He seemed nervous. I didn’t try to put him at ease. And that’s all I have to say about that.

After I left Houston to live with my dad 32 years ago, I never saw my step-sister Stacey again. I wonder how she is.

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This is the second elementary school I attended. My original school has been torn down.  This was Parkway Elementary, opened in 1972. It’s already been replaced by a new school. It was the school district HQ for Sheldon ISD for a while, but now it’s just an Annex of C.E. King High School, which is next door.

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And right next to that, was C.E. King Junior High—or Middle School, as it’s styled now. This building in the foreground is the only part of the school that I attended that hasn’t been rebuilt. When I went here, this was the new bit, built in the 1960′s. Now, it’s the old bit, ready for replacement.

I’ll never forget the old gym at C.E. King Junior High, because that was where they gathered the whole school together one day in 1976, and announced to the student body that a black student would be attending school the next day. They warned us that they wouldn’t tolerate any trouble. We didn’t understand why a black student would be the cause for any trouble, but I sometimes wonder how difficult it was for that family to be the first black family in our town. Apparently, the adults had some…concerns about the situation.

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This was the 1st National Bank when I was a kid. Now it’s a hispanic meat market. The surrounding neighborhood used to be vibrant, with a Fedco, Weingartens, stores and shops, and the other accouterments of a thriving commercial area. Now, it looks like a disaster area. Most of the stores are closed, the parking lots look like they’ve been mortared, and weeds are encroaching. There are some squalid apartments nearby, so people still live there.

But, most of the places I remember are run-down ghettos now. It’s depressing.

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This is the last house I lived in, before I left Houston to go live with my dad in Albuquerque when I was 14. Actually, I moved back to Houston before I joined the USAF, when I was 20, but I was there less than a year.

Jimmie Martin and my mom bought this house when it was brand new. There were no trees or fences back then. In fact, the subdivision wasn’t even completed. Two blocks up the road, there were just brand new streets running through empty fields. Now it’s a mature neighborhood. I didn’t even recognize it when I went back. Although the rest of Pasadena has turned into an economically blasted wasteland since I lived there, this house is still over on the shrinking "good" side of town.

I have to say, most of what I saw of my childhood neighborhoods was pretty depressing. when I was a kid, these places were all way outside the city. The people may have been blue-collar rednecks, but everybody knew everybody, most of us had grown up there, and our parents had grown up there. It was a small, tight community.  Now, the City of Houston has encroached on it all, and it’s no longer a closed, out-of-the-way, insular community. Now, there’s a lot more people, a lot more poverty, and a lot more crime.

The thing is, I think we were pretty poor back then, too. It didn’t seem like it somehow. We always had clothes on our backs and food on our tables. I can only remember one family of all the kids I went to school with that I thought, "Wow, they’re poor." I thought we were doing OK.

But, rich kids don’t live in trailer parks.

I guess that we were really country people, though, not city people, so it’s a different kind of poverty than urban poverty. Still,  Jimmie was a HFD firefighter, and my mom was an LVN. They both worked. They provided for Stacey and me. But I bet that between them, they probably never made more than $20k per year.

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This is the Washburn Tunnel, which runs under the Houston Ship Channel. It was about the only convenient way from Sheldon to Pasadena. I’ve probably been through this tunnel 1,000 times.

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When my grandfather retired, he bought this property at 410 Pampa, in Pasadena TX. He built that garage and the utility shed in back, by hand. Just to the right of them, he and Nanny lived in a double-wide mobile home he bought. The mobile home is gone, but the garage and shed are still there.

Pawpaw was really into the construction trades. He financed his life as the pastor of small Texas churches by working Monday through Friday as an IBEW union electrician. That garage, by the way, is electrified to within an inch of your life, with commercial grade, solid Romex cable running through galvanized steel conduit. Speaking of stuff Pawpaw built…

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This used to be First Assembly of God Church in Humble, TX. My grandfather pastored this church in the early 1950s.  He built that two-story addition at the rear. I mean, HE built it. By hand. Pawpaw could build the crap out of stuff.

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This is the parsonage they lived in when Pawpaw pastored 1st Assembly. My mom lived here starting in 2nd grade in 1952.

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And this is the elementary school where my mom went to school. It’s a Charter School now. But the original building in the foreground, was her school.

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The San Jacinto Monument. Taller than the Washington Monument, it commemorates the battle of San Jacinto, where Sam Houston’s army won Texas’ independence from Mexico by slaughtering the Mexican Army in their sleep. (Note to military commanders: When engaged in active campaigning in the field, taking 3-hour naps during the day while in enemy territory is probably a bad idea.)

There’s a fantastic museum in the base of the monument, chock full of period artifacts and documents. There’s also a bronze tablet naming all of the Texan soldiers who fought there. On that tablet is the name of my ancestor, John Davidson. He was the surgeon for Burnett’s regiment. After Texas won its independence, he was sent to New Orleans to recruit new settlers and oversee immigration from Louisiana to the Republic of Texas. He returned to Texas a few years later.

So, my family has lived in Texas before it WAS Texas.

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The Battleship Texas, BB-35. Commissioned in 1912, she saw active service in WWI, WWII, and Korea. I used to love going to the battleship and touring her.

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The Ross S. Sterling is one of the ferries that takes cars over the Houston Ship Channel at Lynchburg. We used to take the Lynchburg Ferry whenever we went to Galveston. It seemed like a long crossing when I was a kid. But it’s actually about 5 minutes. I believe this is the very same Ross S. Sterling that was in service 40 years ago.

Ross Sterling, by the way, was governor of Texas for 2 years back in the early 30s.

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One part of my childhood is still intact: The underground train between the terminals at IAH Airport. I used to love riding this as a kid—I used to fly out of IAH a few times a year to see my Dad in Albuquerque—and I could never figure out how it worked without a driver, or engineer. It was magic!

I now believe it is not magic, of course, and has something to do with the luminiferous aether.

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I topped off my trip home by picking up baseball swag.  The only stuff they have in San Diego is lame Padres crap. Only in Texas can you get gear from the best team in the American League, and the worst team in the National League. Or anywhere else in baseball.  Being a Houston Astros fan has mainly been a life-long disappointment.

Which, when you think about it, is excellent preparation for life itself.

So, now I’ve been back to Houston with some time to travel down memory lane and compare it with contemporary reality. Well, reality sucks.

Usually, when I go to a place, I think, it might be interesting to come back again. As I sit here, writing this on my flight home, looking back on how everything I remember has changed—usually for the worse—all I can think is, "Why would I ever go back there again?"

~
Posted from the Salt Lake City Airport
Dale Franks
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3 Responses to Memories of home

  • The past is a country one can never visit again.  I never go back to see old houses I’ve lived in, or places where I had good memories.  I want my last memory of that place to be the good one, not the memory of it old and decrepit or inhabited by strangers.

  • I made the mistake of driving by the place I grew up in in Massachusetts 8 years ago – wanted to show the boys and all, the way my dad used do, and say “there’s the old homestead” like he did when we drove by the place he grew up in across town.

    I won’t do that again – his ‘old homestead’ looked way better than mine last time I saw it, and he’s probably sitting somewhere shaking his head at what someone did to his/our house.