Athens Review, Athens, Texas

July 20, 2012

Childhood taught me a house is more than a home

Jeff Riggs

Athens — There are some people that do not enjoy their childhoods.  Some are abused, and some are just bored with the whole ordeal.

That was not the case with me. I was so tremendously lucky that God offered me parents who were Grade A, Number 1.  They absolutely cared about me, and that I grew up to at least resemble a loving person.

With these unending wonderful memories, I have gone back to some of the homes we lived in while I was a child.

I hadn’t been past these houses in many years. They were always more miles than I had taken time to drive to them.

Since I left the Waco area, I have lived in San Antonio, and Wagoner, Okla.  I also lived in Houston and it’s suburbs for 35 years.  I counted myself too busy to make the drive, just to look at the places I had lived.

Then, in 2009, I moved to Athens.  This is only about 100 miles from Waco, and the suburb of Bellmead. So, I decided to take advantage of the closeness.

Bellmead, at the time I lived there, had about 5,000 population.  They even had a weekly newspaper there, which is no more.  Even then, most people read the Waco Tribune-Herald.  It was, in my belief, a fine paper.

Getting on – my parents lived with me in two different houses on LaClede Street in Bellmead.  We moved there from Marlin, after I had completed the first grade in that city about 30 miles from Waco.

I have also visited Marlin since I have been in Athens.  It was a nice visit, going to the old first-grade building I attended, which is now something other than a school. I’m just surprised it was still standing after all these years. I also visited the childhood homes that were still standing.

Then in 1956, we made the move to Bellmead. In those early years, we didn’t have central air in our homes.  We only had a cooler fan with water running through it in one room (not the bedrooms). 

I visited the house we lived in longest, and remembered sitting in the back room (near the AC), watching The Honeymooners with Jackie Gleason, when it was new.  And, of course, people with televisions were few and far between.  It had made its debut, but people were experimenting. 

TV stations were also few.  There were only a few stations that didn’t have a lot of snow going through their channels. When there was too much snow, you could always go and listen to fiction programs on the radio.

It was in that house on LaClede that my childhood memories abound.  That’s when I was making lifelong friends in LaVega Elementary, and later that district’s junior high and high school.  I was also in football and baseball in that school.

But, the house holds the mental secrets.  I remember being forced by my mother to watch the 1960 Presidential Conventions for both parties.

I also remember being in that house when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.  I remember the reactions of people to his death, and of being glued to the TV just after it happened, and the latest news of that event went on for weeks. To watch Lee Harvey Osward gunned down was just too incredible, expecially during a time when people were somewhat shielded from violence by the media.

I was 14 then, and I believe this group of events surrounding the assassination was probably what made me first interested in working with newspapers.

I tended to dream a lot when I slept in that house on LaClede.  I remember tossing and turning in my bed at night, having nightmares, which today, only God knows what they were.

I remember my toys, and the animals we had.

When I went to the old LaClede Street home, I was allowed by its current owner to look around the outside. 

I can understand why she was not going to let me go inside, though I would have loved that.

I was walking through the lawn, like it was going back in time. Things had really changed, yet they hadn’t.

It was a time back in the 1950s and early 1960s that a child said “Yes, sir,” and “Yes, ma’am,” and a time that a child could walk the streets, and have no fear of being approached by a pervert.

Everybody looked out for one another.  If I walked past a house of people that I didn’t even know, I’m sure they were watching me until I was out of sight, to make sure I made it down the street without incident.

The huge old pecan tree in the back yard of our old home was still there bearing its fruit, while the wooden fence around the back yard was no more.  A bird house, with five full rooms to roost, and its concrete foundation, which was in the back yard, had disappeared.

And, the workshop in the garage, which was pretty big, was now living quarters for renters.

I can’t go into everything that day meant to me, but I can say that it was something I wouldn’t have wanted to miss.

And, how about this for a coincidence?  It really wasn’t that long ago that I met Sharon Humphries, who lived in Athens when I got here.  She is the mother of Jon Humphries, who used to be a reporter here at the Review.  Sharon herself, wrote features for us from time-to-time.

Sharon told me, out of the blue, that she used to live in Bellmead.  She told me it was for a brief time, back in 1959. It was then that her late husband, who she had just married at the time, was a teacher at LaVega High School. This was before I was old enough to attend that level of schooling.

I asked Sharon where she lived. She said LaClede Street.  It turned out that she lived in the 1000 block of that street, and I lived in the 1200 block.

Is that just too strange?  You just never know.

And, who would have thought, especially at that time, that a house, and a situation would have meant so much to  a child in later life?

Jeff Riggs is Editor of the Athens Daily Review.