The first time I went to Texas was when I was a baby and my father, who was in the Air Force at the time, was transferred there from Pennsylvania. We lived there for about a year before he was transferred to Norton Air Force Base in California.
The second time we went to Texas was for Christmas in the early 1960s to visit Grandma Brinlee on her farm (Visiting with Grandma Brinlee); I was about 7 or 8 years old.
The third time we – that is, my mother and I – moved there. I was 15 years old and had just completed the 9th grade at a junior high school in Wilmington, California, where I had been living for the second time with my Uncle Howard and Aunt Joy Moore. The first time I had lived with them was the summer after 7th grade, when my mother’s brothers and sisters in Southern California decided that it would be best for me to stay with one of their families while my parents sorted out their problems.
I agreed. My three junior high school hears were no picnic. Financial problems compelled us to move several times, so that I ended up attending five different junior high schools. The only one that I attended for a full year, and the only one I remember the name of, was Curtis Junior High School in San Bernardino. I had friends there and have fond memories of most of my teachers: Mr. (Morgan) O’Dell (social studies), Mr. Christofferson (science), Mr. (Christopher) Maple (math), and Miss Booth (art).
The next junior high school was somewhere near my relatives (mom and I were living in an apartment), so it could have been in Compton, Torrance, or Wilmington. Classes were divided up into ability-based “lanes” and I like that; I also liked French class, my first real language class. Midway through the year, however, Mom and I moved up to Palo Alto, where Dad was working. We lived in a small house with a yard filled with rosebushes near the Stanford University campus. The school I attended there for the second half of 8th grade, which included many students whose parents worked for the University, was also divided into lanes and the gifted lane was fabulous, providing the equivalent of a private school or magnet school education. French class was much farther along, so I had to catch up, but it was worth it. The physical facility was also outstanding and included a pool for the swimming section of P.E. That pool was where I arrived at the humbling realization that I would never be able to master the crawl, but at least there was the folk dancing section of P.E. to take comfort in.
Unfortunately, by the next fall, my family and I had moved again, up to Renton, Washington, where our rented house was far less picturesque than the previous one. There was a lot of rain and the skies were overcast more often than not. My new junior high school focused on quantity of homework rather than stimulating content of classes. There were no language classes. We had to take Home Ec., where I baked a passable cherry pie and French bread and sewed a somewhat less successful gym bag and A-line skirt. My favorite hangout was the local library, which was partially perched over a fast-moving stream that could be seen through a transparent portion of either the floor in the library or the area right around the library, I can’t remember which.
Two or three months into the school year, I was on a plane headed back to Southern California to live with my aunt and uncle again. It was a relief to return to the stability and comfort of Uncle Howard and Aunt Joy’s house, although the school I attended there was not so outstanding. Even so, I had a couple of friends, was learning some homemaking skills from Aunt Joy, and taking violin lessons. Meanwhile, my father had gone back to Texas to find construction work near his family home, and he was soon joined by my mother. After what turned out to be their final split, my mother moved back to her home town in Texas and into the upstairs apartment of my Aunt Rene’s house. In June I learned that I was to join her there shortly.
I didn’t want to go. Stability was better than constant movement and I was tired of moving and having to catch up every time we moved. However, I felt it would be “mooching” to ask to stay, so I went.
I took the plane to Dallas and may have caught the connector to Wichita Falls. The farther out from the city we drove, the more desolate the scenery became. I was accustomed to the desert landscape of Southern California, but the scrubbiness of the vegetation in North Texas and the hardscrabble life written on the faces of both abandoned and still lived-in buildings along our route had an unsettling effect, a feeling that we had moved backwards in time and jumped across some invisible boundary that divided two different cultures.
The biggest bugs I had ever seen scuttled across the hot highway and flipped up onto our windshield, and at one point I remember passing by an abandoned café and seeing a gigantic tarantula clinging to the outside of one of its dark and broken windows. My heart sank.
I assumed that this move would be like the others, of short duration, not even long enough for me to make it beyond the fish-out-of-water phase, and I accepted the move the way an obedient, dispirited child accepts a dose of bitter medicine.
Those three years in Texas were some of the best medicine I ever took.