Just when I had become accustomed to my routine of sharing with two brothers and attending school my mother and father announced that we would be moving to a new house in a new suburban subdivision. Daddy was working for Petro-Tex Chemical and one of his co-workers had told him about an upcoming new neighborhood called Overbrook where he had recently moved. Overbrook was a burgeoning suburb just southeast of downtown Houston. On a clear day you could sometimes see the Houston skyline from the area, but it still seemed like it was far from the hustle and bustle of the city. There were still fields and groves of trees surrounding the new development and there was something wild and exciting about its location near a nature filled bayou.
Daddy’s workmate, Mr. Lacombe, invited us to his home for dinner one weekend and my mother and father were both sold on the idea of building a home nearby. Perhaps it was because my father seemed to really enjoy Mr. Lacombe’s company or that mama learned that Mrs. Lacombe’s mother was from Czechoslovakia like my grandmother. Whatever the reason, unbeknownst to me, they had visited a local architect and purchased a tract of land within days of seeing how vibrant the area was. They assured me with unbounded enthusiasm that I was going to delight in the school there and in having children my age everywhere.
I wasn’t totally convinced that it was going to be as wonderful as my parents had boasted, but I enjoyed accompanying my dad on inspections of the house as construction progressed. He showed me the blueprints and explained how they showed the layout of each room. He promised that I would have my own bedroom and my brothers would share one. He noted that we would have a whole room devoted to our evenings together that he called a den. Nobody else that I knew had such a thing as den, so I was ever more intrigued. Daddy drove me around and pointed out the church and school that I would attend. After seeing all of the kids riding bicycles and playing in their yards I became somewhat convinced that it might not be a bad place to be, and besides Merrily had already moved from my street, so I was in the market for a new best friend and confidante.
Just before the beginning of my second grade school year a moving van came to our house and took all of our belongings to the new place. We followed the van down South Park Boulevard, turned right on Long Drive, took another right on Mykawa Road, hug a left on Bellfort Boulevard, went over a set of railroad tracks, and then turned right on the Northdale Street until we had gone almost all the way I had to the end. There stood our new home in all its red brick glory.
I admit that it was quite fantastic, much bigger than our house on Kingsbury. We would be living just a block or so from the tree lined Simms Bayou. The place was beautiful with its gleaming wooden floors and a huge living and dining room area. By this time my parents had purchased a lovely mahogany dining set that coordinated with the pieces in they already had for the living room. They also bought comfy furniture for the den and my father surprised me with a beautiful bedroom suite. Mama chose a pink bedspread for my white wooden bed and hung pictures of ballerinas on the wall. Daddy even gave me my very first jewelry box which was like the one that my mother had, but just a bit smaller. Best of all the backyard was massive. I felt like a princess standing in front of a castle.
As soon as we arrived neighbors came rushing over to welcome us. From the moment I met the family across the street, the Barrys, I knew that everything was going to be wonderful. They had a daughter my age named Lynda and we connected with each other immediately. Little did either of us know that we would become lifelong friends. For the time being we fit together like a set of bookends.
I began second grade at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic School shortly thereafter. It was a vibrant place filled with kind and friendly people. The school was fairly new so everything was gleaming and it seemed to have two or three times more students than St. Peters. My teacher was not nearly as nice as Sister Camilla had been and I often wondered how Virginia was doing but I quickly built new relationships and no longer wished I was back at my old digs. I lived close enough to the school that I was able to either walk there or ride my bicycle. I was seven years old and would soon be preparing for my First Communion with all of the other late bloomers in my class. I even joined a Brownie Scout troop with Lynda and met all of the kids who lived around me. We were a free range group unencumbered by fear or overly restrictive rules. It was heavenly.
I spent hours on my bicycle roaming the neighborhood. When I wasn’t enjoying the open road I was usually in the woods near our home creating adventures with Lynda and other kids from the area like Susan and Barbara. The times were idyllic. We were children with not a care in the world, inventing games and using our imaginations and ingenuity to stay perennially entertained. School felt like a repeat of first grade so I did well with my classes and even learned how babies are made from a girl named Diane who gave a fairly accurate description of the whole process on the playground one day. When I told my mom what I had heard she laughed, told me it was true, and then mumbled that she would not have to give me the talk one day now that I knew how it worked.
My biggest disappointment came when my grandparents moved away from Houston to a farm in Caddo Gap, Arkansas not long after I had made my First Communion. Working the land had always been a dream of theirs and even though they seemed happy to begin a new phase of their lives I missed our Sunday visits terribly. We somewhat made up for the loss by visiting with my aunts and uncles instead. I loved those times because I got to play with my cousins who were many. Sometimes the tables were turned and they came to visit us for Sunday dinner, marveling at my mother’s cooking and at how beautiful our new home was. It felt as if we had found a bit of Nirvana.
I was so busy playing with my bestie, Lynda, that I hardly noticed my brothers most of the time. We spent Saturday mornings watching cartoons in our den while our parents slept late. The boys were a bit too young for me to think of them as being fun, but I loved them nonetheless. Then one day Michael got really sick again and suddenly he was going to the hospital. I never exactly knew what had happened, but it must have been serious because Mama looked very worried and she spent whole days and nights with him rather than coming home. During the days I spent time with Lynda and her big family of six kids until Daddy came home from work. They often wanted me to spend the night but I somehow felt the need to keep Daddy company so I went home with him each time they begged me to stay. I never actually thought about where Patrick was which mystifies me now because I thought of myself as his protector. Looking back I suspect that he must have stayed with one of my aunts but I still feel a bit guilty that I did not even think to ask where he was..
I was definitely worried about Mama and Michael. There was so much mystery about what was happening and for once I had not surreptitiously figured it out. Realizing that I was anxious and confused Daddy sat me down at the kitchen table one evening and joined me in drinking a bottle of Welch’s grape juice. We talked for a very long time with him reassuring me that Michael and Mama would soon be returning home and everything would be fine. He even told me jokes and stories that made me laugh. Then he read to me from one of his books of poetry. There was something indescribably special about that time. I still remember how calm and safe he made me feel.
Another school year ended and my parents were planning a big trip to see Grandma and Grandpa in Arkansas. Daddy also decided that we would travel to Chicago and Wisconsin. He liked vacations more than anyone I have ever known. He boasted that he wanted to see all forty eight states (Alaska and Hawaii were not yet part of the nation) and he had already checked off about twenty. My mother had a collection of souvenir salt and pepper shakers to prove where the two of them had been. Among them was a set of miniature replicas of the Statue of Liberty that I dusted once a week when Mama was cleaning the house. I looked forward to our journey and felt that life was about as perfect as it might me.