Growing up in northeast Dallas after my Dad relocated us from Los Angeles was a bit of a wakeup call moving to Texas. Unlike California where the neighbors talked to each other over each other’s picket fences in nice weather was now a thing of the past. The weather in summer was so oppressively hot most people stayed indoors running their air conditioning. I noted that it was like a ghost town with streets and yards barren of people in midday. Very strange. Once we moved to Lake Highlands, a bustling community of cute new homes, close to a creek, public pool, park, and shopping center it seemed things got interesting. The first championship Dallas Cowboys had bought several homes in the area long before the massive mansions and body guards that prevented autographs from being signed by future primadonnas. The Dallas Cowboys were just regular guys beloved by the people of Dallas.
What seemed a pristine neighborhood was also served by the Richardson Independent School District ranked third in the entire nation for years. Guitar hero, Steve Miller, went to my Junior High School years before me, though I wouldn’t appreciate that for years to come, later on it was nice to know. However, something stalked us from the unknown world of accidental and premeditated death. We didn’t see it creeping up on us. We seemed to be living in somewhat of a utopia as far as the imagination of being a kid would perceive it. We had our buddies, played football for hours on Saturday and even Sunday if our parents would let us, the junior high football field was right down the street. However, death was clawing at us, and we didn’t see it. In a matter of a couple years, those we knew, were acquainted with, or heard about began having unfortunate accidents.
The unexpected strikes
Bill, was a funny fat guy in my class with the personality of a comedian, but one day we learned that while his parents were away at the store they came home horrified to find a trail of blood and skin leading to his little brother’s bedroom. Apparently, his younger brother had wanted to light the barbeque and had used isopropyl alcohol as the starter, but had spilled it on himself when lighting the grill and ignited his clothing. Not knowing how to drop and roll he was severely burned. He managed to get to the shower where he washed himself off. We learned about it in class and were encouraged by the teacher to drop by the hospital and visit, but after a few days the poor child succumbed to his burns. Bill never seemed his old jolly self again.
Unreported child abuse?
I had an awkward pair of twins in my classroom. When I say awkward they simply lacked social graces, not impolite, just shy and not saying everything they really meant. It was a brother and sister, who seemed close. They hadn’t been in my class but a few weeks when one Monday the sister showed up without her sibling and we asked what happened to her brother, was he sick? No, she replied, he had died of a collapsed lung! Well, at the time little did I know that a collapsed lung usually came from violent contact or in a car accident, some kind of unusual trauma. For Instance Quarterback Y. A. Tittle getting a collapsed lung due to being piled on by several defensive players once he crossed the goal line. Had this poor boy been abused? Back then there weren’t many reports of child abuse as it had not been exposed to the extent it existed.
I lost a number of good friends when their Dads got transferred to new jobs elsewhere in the country. I missed a lot of them. Dallas had always been an international city where fashion and commerce came together. Love Field Airport was the 2nd busiest airport in the nation at that time. There was a case of a friend in my class who had been chasing a small animal in a field that had run into a metal pipe that was about teen feet long as the story went. He raised up the pipe vertically from the ground trying to get the little creature to spill out from the other side when the pipe touched a live wire from above. He was instantly electrocuted. We were informed in class that following Monday. Death always seemed mysterious and foreign in our minds, but it brought silence to child’s often sporadic thinking. It was a grim reality too much to comprehend.
Where play can become deadly
Lost more than one kid as a girl in our school found a fatal path in a construction site where there was a huge pile of sand that would be used for concrete mixing. This was apparently a common cause of death among children at that time who would climb to the top of the giant sandbox they thought would be so fun only to fall into an air pocket, a void, in the sand pile, and the child would be buried and suffocate. It was an unfortunate yet common occurrence.
Fire in the hole!
Back at the Lake Highlands Junior High field there was a manhole and sewer drain pipe that ran the length of the field. Two kids from another neighborhood that I did not know decided to explore the concrete conduit. They brought with them a Coleman lantern to illuminate the darkness as they crawled along several feet below the playing field to get to the other end. Apparently, sewer gasses were ignited inside the pipe which incinerated the two young boys doing what young boys did, but sadly paying the price they didn’t even owe. As I said, it seemed death was stalking us all we just didn’t quite see it that way until reflecting upon this stuff later.
We all, my brothers and I, used to make trips to a nearby 7-11 store for ICEE’s on hot days, or to get my mom something she needed to make dinner with like a box of macaroni noodles or something. One day, there was a huge horse laying in the middle of the street on the way to the store. It was Kingsley Road. a 4 lane thoroughfare that was not that busy at the time. Apparently, a very irresponsible girl had taken a pregnant horse from the nearby stables, saddled it and road that poor horse hard on the pavement. The animal collapsed from a seizure, died, and the colt inside perished as well. We all just stood there silent in contempt for the girl who didn’t seem to care or realize what she had done.
An unforgettable furry family member
Shortly after that, we lost “Flippy” our beloved dog. Flippy was everything a mixed breed dog would be, faithful, loyal, fun to play with, intelligent, and he’d even give his life for us. He was a stray Dad had picked up in LA while making a sales appointment. Flippy came to Texas with the family. Chocolate brown with a golden fur on his chest, he was a terrier. One fatal flaw Flippy had was chasing cars. One time a neighbors white police dog, a breed of German shepherd, got out of the yard and began chasing us. That dog was vicious and would have mauled my brother Greg and I as we raced down the alley with the canine hot on our heels. Suddenly, a blur of motion and Flippy, about a third the size of that police dog, was on him like a duck on a June bug! There was a brief fight when all the sudden the German shepherd came to a halt with Flippy clinging to his underside, teeth clinched and swinging side to side in a death grip. Luckily the owner came along and uncoupled the two dogs. He was concerned when he saw the blood thinking Flippy had been hurt, but the blood was coming from the German shepherd! Flippy had saved my brother and me.
Losing your best friend
One afternoon, a neighbor we didn’t know well came to tell us they thought our dog was lying in the middle of the street. We all rushed out the door to see in the distance as we ran out of the alleyway there on Lynbrook Lane lay our beloved dog. My Dad told us to wait and went and fetched Flippy. My Dad loved dogs. As a former Marine who’d served two tours in Korea, he had a real soft spot for dogs and cats and loved doctoring them. I was horrified to see Dad carrying Flippy, blood staining around his mouth, gasping for his last breaths. It appeared his neck had been broken. There were some high school punks in the area who used to drive way too fast down these normally quiet streets. I ran away unable to stomach my pet dog’s death.
My Mom, my brothers, and I cried our eyes out for hours. Dad did the dirty work of taking Flippy’s still warm body in the car with him and a shovel. He took Flippy to McCree Park just down Plano Road from the house and buried our beloved dog there. It wasn’t the first time Dad had seen death and been forced to deal with it. His strength of character and integrity were something we don’t see much of today among our fellow cupcakes and drama queens.
My final entry in this sad tale of the unexpected was a visit we got at our Wallace Elementary School auditorium that served as not only a lunch cafeteria but a stage for presentations and plays performed by one of the classes. Our guest was a Vietnam War veteran. He was apparently decorated and I can’t remember if he was in full uniform or not. We didn’t know much about the war, but we found out real quick as he talked about some watered down accounts of atrocities committed there. He spoke of a little Vietnamese boy handing a buddy of his a can of coke as the two soldiers patrolled a village. What he didn’t know was the can of coke was a bomb that exploded and killed his friend. The veteran was trying to tell we kids how confusing the war was. His eyes teared up after telling us that, and a very awkward silence seemed to suck the air out of that auditorium. The unexpected had risen its ugly head again. So, it seems even Camelot had its dark side when the outside world intruded. I guess my point in all this is that no matter how safe the environment you're fortunate enough to enjoy, tragedy is only a step away.