Sunday, November 13, 2016

Hats Off to the Museum

Last Friday, I was privileged to speak at the Texas Tech Museum Association luncheon as they celebrated a current exhibit at the museum appropriately named "Hats and Purses and Shoes...Oh My!" Approximately ninety women gathered, many dressed in hats and attire from eras long past, to view the exhibit and hear my memories of shopping in Lubbock, Texas in the 1950s.

In an attempt to describe the event, the first phrase that ran through my mind this morning was this old description, once seen in newspaper accounts of ladies' gatherings in the 40s and 50s: "a good time was had by all." Poor grammatical structure to be sure, but I think it adequately describes the level of excitement in the Helen DeVitt Jones Sculpture Court at the Tech Museum that day.

While I recalled incidents from my own shopping excursions as a youngster, and shared pictures of former stores and merchandise from that era, the ladies themselves reminisced and shared tales. Some told of working at Hemphill-Wells department store during its golden days, others recalled owning Mouton coats, riding the bus to downtown Lubbock to shop, eating at the tea room in Hemphill's, and of the city's power brokers who dined there. The excitement of shared memories warmed the room, and most left with smiles on their faces. Jouana Stravlo (Tech Association Executive Administrator) and Gretchen Scott (Volunteer Chair of the Association Resource Committee) joined forces with the museum’s curator of Clothing and Textiles, Dr. Marian Ann Montgomery, and the museum’s Executive Director, Dr. Gary Morgan, to create a memorable luncheon.

The excellent meal catered by Top Tier, lovely table decorations designed by Jouana Stravio and her assistant Natalie, along with the special display of old hat boxes from the museum’s collection, set the tone for the day.

The exhibit itself is enlightening: there was an elegance attached to many of the ladies' accessories that hinted of a West Texas mindset I have observed my entire life.

We women who grew up on the Texas South Plains came from hardy pioneer stock, to be sure. My own ancestors homesteaded here in the late 1800s when life was very tough, and it took hard work and perseverance to survive. Yet there was a lively spirit, a sense of joy, and a love of things beautiful that was evident even then. Those pioneer women designed colorful quilts, crafted lovely household furnishings, and stitched dress-up attire for themselves and their families. My own experience testifies to the fact that in the 1950s, we were not just the daughters of farmers, or cotton gin managers, or school teachers. We had a sense of style and wanted beautiful things despite the rugged landscape and plain views surrounding us everyday.

The museum exhibit displayed some of the most elaborate shoes, handbags, and hats you can imagine--items that would seem to be most out of place here. Imagine holding onto a wide-brimmed hat in our gusty West Texas wind, or walking across muddy dirt farm roads in high heels to get to the car on a rainy Sunday morning. A common memory of school days in the 50s for me includes wearing dresses to school no matter how cold or windy it might be. We recently laughed during my high school reunion at the days of marching band practice as we tried to remember our half-time routine while playing our instrument, trying to read our music that flapped in the wind from the flimsy music holder, while at the same time attempting to keep our full skirts from blowing up to reveal unmentionables. That experience in itself typifies the West Texas can-do spirit!

The Tech museum exhibit typifies all of those elements of society from a by-gone era: the eternal need of women to look lovely and fashionable, paired with a practicality borne out of the necessity of living in a place hundreds of miles from the nearest well-known fashion and culture centers.

We were too remote from the Dallas/Fort Worth, Austin, or Oklahoma City standard bearers of culture, so we had to create our own. Stores like Hemphill-Wells gave us our own little slice of culture and dignity, and how we ladies grasped at anything of beauty and grace to which we might cling!

If you live in the Lubbock area, take a few minutes to visit the museum to view the exhibit. The museum is located at 3301 4th Street and this particular exhibit will be on view until January 15 in Gallery 7 just off the Helen DeVitt Jones Auditorium. The Tech Museum is doing an outstanding job keeping our local culture alive, and preserving the memories of what it has always meant to be a West Texan.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

50th Class Reunion

“Remember the time on the band trip to Oklahoma and we girls ended up hiding some of the freshmen boys in our room so the band director didn’t catch them wandering on the girls’ side of the hotel?”

“I recall one of the times I got in trouble was a summer night when a couple of us were walking the streets of Petersburg and lost track of time; our parents were on the verge of calling the sheriff when we finally arrived home.”

“Can you remember how silly we were, buying a pack of Winstons  ‘for my uncle’ and driving out to a country road where we could smoke and not be found out?”

“Remember the time I took the car without asking while my parents were out of town for the day ~ I took a corner too fast and slid into a muddy ditch at the edge of town. Had to walk to somebody’s house and call my dad—things were kinda frosty at home that night!”

“There was that time we all drove up and down Main Street the last day of school, having water balloon fights to celebrate the beginning of summer.”

Anecdotes like these will abound when we have our 50th Class Reunion one month from now. While we were a small class from a small high school in a small town (small wonder we have managed to stay in touch with each other!), we made up for our smallness with a lot of heart. Many of us grew up together and sat through twelve years of public education side by side. We went to Sunday school together, suited up to play high school sports in the same locker room, marched in band together through snow and West Texas sandstorms, and dragged Main in our second-hand cars throughout high school, racking up countless miles but going nowhere. We joined forces through 4-H projects, FFA livestock judging competitions, FHA meetings, three act plays, band practice, and countless athletic events.
Go, Buffs!

Most of our parents were able to spare the time to be room mothers, PTA volunteers, and band boosters. They supported us with hours of their time, waiting in the car for us to finish band practice or following the football bus to yet another out-of-town game. They bought Girl Scout cookies, FHA bake sale items, and Christmas trees to fund our Senior Trip.

Our teachers were a hardy lot, working long hours for low pay to put up with our cocky attitudes and rebellious streaks as we made our way through adolescence. By and large, they were willing to see past the childish pranks and hormone-driven drama to the potential buried in each of us. Determined to save us from ourselves, they persevered until we had safely walked across that stage and grasped the diploma that certified we were ready for adulthood (whether we really were or not).

Few of our parents are still around to see us pass this milestone, but a handful of our teachers are, and some of them will be at the reunion to reminisce with us. We have all gone our separate ways these last fifty years. Marriages, divorces, children, grandchildren, careers, successes, failures, joys and grief have all been parts of our collective journey. We may be very amazed to reconnect next month and hear what diverse paths we have traveled after having had such a commonality in our childhood.

As teenagers, we judged our value by the following:

·      we were popular in high school (whatever that meant)
·      we made the honor roll
·      we got more detentions than anyone in the class
·      we put the most points on the scoreboard, or warmed the benches instead
·      we made a career as an attorney standing in the courtroom or we spent our years working for the Sanitation department . . .

None of those benchmarks define who we are today. They may indicate how we responded to the pressures we faced, or what decisions we made based on what was expected of us. We may have made life decisions because of our own faulty view of our capabilities or who we thought we were. Who we are where it counts ~ the way we treat others, how much kindness and generosity we extend to our family and friends, and whether we are fulfilling what God created us to do ~ that is what defines us.

Put aside any uncertainty, timidity, or insecurity to which you might cling, and make your plans to attend the PHS Class of ’66 Reunion.  Come remember the youngsters we were fifty years ago. Plan to laugh a lot. Celebrate the remarkable upbringing and education that our families, our school, and our community provided for us to make our start in life.

We want to see your face on the weekend of August 19-20! 

This replica of the little car I drove in high school sure brings back memories!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Spontaneous Hospitality

Since I promised my cousins I would write more stories about the family history, I recently recalled a tale that most of my cousins don’t know. (For non-family readers, you might still find it entertaining.)

My dad was the youngest of eight children. In the 30s and 40s, most of dad’s siblings settled in a fairly small geographical area that covered perhaps a hundred square miles of Texas. But my Uncle Marvin was always the exception to the rule . . . whatever the rule might be.

Marvin might be considered a middle child in the sense that he arrived about midway of the eight children. I confess I didn’t know him and my aunt Grace very well because they did not live nearby as most of the other uncles did, but he was consistently full of fun and laughter when they came to visit. They seemed to move around a lot, so it was a little difficult for me to keep up with where they lived at any given time. They didn’t visit our part of Texas very often, and we generally did not know when they were coming ~ they just seemed to show up, and the whole family would gather ‘round for a good visit while they were here. You could always see the delight in my grandmother’s face when “her Marvin” was around; her face beamed with that warm twinkling smile that radiated pleasure at even the smallest things in life. She found great delight in the arrival of this one son who seemed to be more prone to wanderlust than the others. And his brothers delighted in him as well, because he came with compelling stories of adventures and experiences from other places that captured their imaginations. He was so warm and full of fun that I found him mesmerizing as well.

One particular memory stands out, and I now find it absolutely stunning that we made this particular trip, but you can’t make this stuff up!

Uncle Marvin and Aunt Grace were living in a rather barren part of New Mexico near Farmington in the late 50s. They ran a trading post near Blanco that catered to the nearby Native American Indian population. As I recall, there was either a Navajo reservation nearby or at least a large population of Navajo Indians who had settled in the area. Most of them, amazingly, still lived in teepees. The trading post was probably the only store within many miles where they could buy basic supplies.

We knew my uncle Marvin was running the trading post but none of us had been there to visit. My grandmother had not seen him in a long while, so my dad volunteered to take her for a visit. To be fair, it’s entirely possible Marvin and Grace did not have a telephone at that point, so it might have been difficult for us to contact them first. But we would certainly have been able to drop them a note to ask about coming to visit. Strangely enough, we did NOT do that, but chose to drop in on them unexpectedly instead!

You have to understand the family dynamics to appreciate this decision; my mother was not one to drop in on folks, and was extremely conscious of not imposing on other people. She taught us girls to be considerate of others and unobtrusive. My dad’s side of the family, however, believed “the more the merrier” when it came to guests, and the doors were always open. It was a running joke in our family about the Martin relatives who popped in unexpectedly, sometimes at the most inconvenient times. It wouldn’t have mattered much except they often arrived at mealtimes and my mother would be scrambling to find enough food for the extended family. So you can see that dropping in unexpectedly on someone was definitely not her style, but dad and Grandmother did not seem to think it odd at all.

This particular summer morning, my parents packed the car and Grandmother and I settled into the back seat for the drive to New Mexico. We arrived late afternoon around 4:00 and parked in front of the trading post. It was then that the brilliant idea came to my dad to send me in like the Trojan Horse. Uncle Marvin had not seen me in quite some time, and as a growing eight or nine year old I had changed a lot, so Dad thought Marvin would probably not recognize me. I was sent inside to “ask for directions” and was to act as if I didn’t know my uncle and see if he recognized me. Then the others were to follow after a bit and surprise him.

As a very shy little girl this did not sound like a good plan to me, but I didn’t have much time to make my objections. So I obediently walked toward the screen door of the store, my ponytail swinging in the New Mexico wind. I made my presentation and as suspected, Marvin did not know me, but valiantly attempted to give me directions. I tried to play the part of the lost traveler, wondering when my folks were coming in to rescue me from my embarrassment.

Mom and Dad finally opened the door and walked in behind my Grandmother; what a surprise for Uncle Marvin! He was absolutely shocked, but enjoyed the joke as much as anyone. He took us through the store to their living quarters in the back where we “surprised” Aunt Grace as well.!

Looking back to that event with adult eyes, I have to wonder at our audacity. Not only did we just show up and surprise them, but there was no hotel or restaurant within many, many miles, so Grace was left to find a place to bed us all down and cobble together food for everyone; I think we stayed a day or two, so they not only showed us hospitality, but we potentially interrupted whatever plans they might have had. I cannot remember any details of where we slept in their tiny apartment in the back or what we might have eaten. But I do recall that it was a time of stories and laughter, as it always was when we got together with any of the Martins.

Ever afterward, when I was around Uncle Marvin, he would laughingly recall the time I came into the store and he didn’t recognize me. It became a good family joke, and I laughed over the memory of it as much as anyone.

Some of you readers may also have people who continually pop into your lives without warning and disrupt your plans. I sympathize. I am enough like my mother that this has been a hard thing for me to learn to endure. When I lived in the Dallas Metroplex, it was seldom an issue because folks there are not too prone to just spontaneously show up. I could be fairly certain that my friends would not be likely to drop in without calling first. Moving back to the small town of my childhood has changed that, and it is not uncommon to find visitors on my front porch, knocking and sometimes just opening the door and walking in! For the most part, it no longer bothers me, although if someone showed up as we did at Uncle Marvin’s place, suddenly needing a place to stay and meals for a few days, I would probably come unglued. Still, as I look in the rearview mirror of my mind and recall that trip, I don’t remember feeling like a burden. My aunt Grace may have lived up to her name and just did the best she could with the situation without letting on it was truly a burden for her. Somehow, though, I think she and Uncle Marvin were probably more unflinching and unaffected by the sudden visit than I would have been.

Marvin, like his seven siblings, grew up when the Texas Panhandle region was still a frontier. There were not many settlements around, and they were generally far apart. My dad told stories of his childhood, describing how common it was for strangers passing through the area to stop at his family’s farm and stay for supper and spend the night. His mother typically prepared extra food, knowing it likely that someone else might be joining them for a meal. I suspect there was an unspoken rule that if a visitor or family came by, the children knew the drill about where they were to sleep so someone else could have their beds. It wasn’t a question of if, but a matter of when. These stories bring to mind a verse in the New Testament book of Hebrews: “Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!” (Heb. 13:2, NLT version)

The pioneer mindset of my grandparents prepared my dad and his brothers to practice hospitality ~ to be ready to share what they had, to be flexible enough to change plans to accommodate someone in need. How I need to learn and re-learn that lesson! I am a planner, an organizer of my time. And once I get my plans made, I am sometimes a pretty formidable wall, reluctant to alter my course to adjust to a change in circumstances. But as I remember the laughter and warm conversations at the Blanco Trading Post that summer, I am convinced that I need to remember this one thing: people always trump plans. People are more important than things, or schedules, or to-do lists ~ although I may still find it difficult to give up my brand new pillow if you show up tonight needing a place to lay your head!