Sunday, September 20, 2015

A Child in the 1930's Wild West

I grew up in Fort Worth, where my father worked for the First National Bank.  My father, Byron Preston Pattie, grew up in Sidney, Texas, where his parents still lived when I was little.  Daddy went to see them once a month, and sometimes he took me with him.

Mother would take me downtown to pick up Daddy on Saturday afternoon.  (In those days all office workers were required to work from eight to five from Monday through Friday and from eight until noon on Saturday.)  Daddy would be waiting on the sidewalk in front of the bank.  Then we would take Mother and my little brother Lyle home before heading for the highway.

Our “Model T” Ford chugged along on the two-lane road, full of pot holes, through the little towns of Cressen, Stephenville, and other tiny communities.  Somewhere we always seemed to have a flat tire, and Daddy would get out of the car, and hand me his suit coat.  Daddy always wore a suit with white shirt and carefully tied tie.  He hated to get dirty.  But when a tire went flat, he would roll up his sleeves, knell down, and put on the spare. 

When we came to the town of Comanche with its domed court house, county seat of Comanche County, Daddy turned right, and we went west on a sandy, unpaved road, deep in the heart of Texas.  We came to two big hills, one on either side of the road, which Daddy called “Long Mountain” and “Round Mountain.”  The car rattled on wooden runners on the iron bridge across Jimmy’s Creek, and we were in Sydney.

Entering Sydney was like stepping back into a nineteen-century pioneer community.  My Pattie grandparents were pioneers, among the first “white” people to live there when they moved to Sydney in the early nineteen-hundreds.  The Comanches Indians, for whom the town and county were named, were hunters and raiders and never made permanent settlements. 

Sydney was literally “a wide place in the road.”  The road divided in two, with a middle of the division taken by a wooden building occupied by a general store.  Years later on a return visit, I stepped inside and was amazed to see a group of old men sitting around an iron, pot-bellied wood stove, just like I’d seen in Western movies.

As we drove into town – although it seems presumptuous to call these few buildings a “town” -- across the road on the left were the low, one-story school and three churches: Baptist, Methodist, and “Campbellite”(what Daddy called the church known properly as Disciples of Christ). 

In Comanche County, Catholics were as rare as black people.  Any Negro entering the county was told to be gone before sundown.  As far as I know any black person  coming that way heeded the warning.  I heard of no Comanche County.  That was how these white Southerners avoided racial problems.  Of course, that does not make it right, but that was how they felt at the time.

Back to describing Sydney:  Opposite the churches, on the road to the right, were two small buildings, similar to the storage sheds advertized on today’s television.  One was the post office, the other a one-chair barber shop.  Then came the entire residential area of the town: three widely separated houses.  In the first house, behind a rough wood picket fence, was the home of my grandparents, Joe and Ada Pattie.  And this was the community where my father grew up, God-fearing, Bible-quoting, yet fiercely independent pioneers who had come to Texas in the wake of the Civil War and in the 1930's still talked about the Lost Cause of the Glorious South.  

Wednesday, September 16, 2015


Dickens began his novel “David Copperfield” with the phrase “I was born.”  It is considered a prime example of how only a genius like Dickens could begin a novel that way.  Maybe I am not a genius, but this is also how I will begin the story of my life.

I was born on Sunday, March 17, 1929, in St. Joseph’s Hospital in Fort Worth.  I have no memories of the first couple of years of my life.  All I can tell is what I’ve been told – although through the years I now look from a different perspective than when I was young.
“Sunday’s child is fair of face.”  Well, not me.  My brother Lyle was always telling me how ugly I was.  Lyle was only 13 months younger.  I have no memories of when I did not have a brother.

St. Joseph’s was a Catholic Hospital.  When I was a little girl, nuns wrapped up in black habits still walked quietly guiding us to visit Mother in the two weeks she spent hospitalized after Don’s birth.  I was seven years old.  I was 15 when our youngest brother, George Preston, was born in Methodist Hospital. But that is a story that will told much later.     

My family were all Baptists.  And Baptists believe that children should not be baptized until they were old enough to say they "accepted Christ as their personal Savior."  Catholics were wicked people who baptized babies.  So why was I born in a Catholic hospital?  This takes some explaining, especially about my grandmother, whom we called “Nonna.”

My grandfather, Lyle McDonald, died in the 1918 fly epidemic, leaving my grandmother as a penniless widow with two small children.  Sue Wade McDonald moved to Fort Worth to be near her sister Lena, who was married to a prosperous lawyer, George Wharton.  When Lena had to go to a tuberculosis sanitarium, Sue and her children moved in with the Wharton family to  take care of the three small girls

Lena Wade Wharton and George Wharton both died.  “Uncle George” left his estate in trust for his three daughters, Vivian, Patsy, and Georgie Sue.  As guardians he appointed his two best friends, Judge Barwise and Dr. Coffee.  (I never knew their first names.)  My grandmother stayed on as unofficial housekeeper and caregiver.   Nonna – or “Aunt Sue” as the girls called her – devoted her life to taking care of “the girls” She determined to make everyone aware of how important a role she was playing.  She dominated Mother and my life, but I will postpone telling any more about that.   

Dr. Coffee was the girls’ official guardian, so we all went to the Coffee Clinic for our health care.  Dr. Coffee was a Catholic.  And I was born in St. Joseph’s Catholic Hospital.

Since I was born on St. Patrick’s Day, the nuns at the hospital insisted I be named “Patricia”.
My Mother said, “No!  She is Pattie enough already.”

I will tell you about that Patties.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Why I Am Writing My Autobiography

My brother, Don Pattie, is 7 ½ years younger than I am.  He is writing his autobiography.  He urges me to write my own.  I know things about our family that happened before he was born.  For one thing, I have vivid memories of our Pattie grandparents, who died when Don was a baby.

Don says, “I know your story will be very different from mine.”

Does he suspect how different?  Our lives have taken very different courses.  Don has remained a typical Texan, a follower of Fox television.  He does not believe in climate change.  He collects guns and is an enthusiastic supporter of the NRA.  I am a liberal, a member of the ACLU, a supporter of Planned Parenthood, and an advocate of gun control.

How I diverged from the path taken by Don and other members of our family will take many pages, many chapters, thousands of words. 

But please keep one thing in mind: This is an exploration of how two people with the same parents came to think so differently about many things.  It is not an attack on Don. 

When I go to visit Don and Mary in their lovely home in Garland, Texas, we sit in matching velvet-covered chairs in their living room.  Both of us are now on oxygen 24 hours a day, so we sit there with tubes in our noses, trying to breathe and talk at the same time. We keep to “safe” topics, like the number of days since Dallas has had a drop of rain and the temperature still in the high 90's in mid-September.  The house is air-conditioned, so we are quite comfortable, avoiding the heat outside and also any heated conversation.

Our parents never argued, never raised their voices.  One evening when Daddy stood up from the dinner table and threw his napkin down on the table in an angry gesture that was so astonishing that I still remember it 75 years later.

On the other hand, Don and I enjoy a good debate.  We could go on for hours.  Why did we get that way?  Are we like teenagers reacting to the repression of all emotion that we felt as children?  Or is it an inherited characteristic, an enate enjoyment in arguing?  Mother told me that our Pattie grandparents were always arguing with each other, often about obscure passages in the Bible. 

So why don’t Don and I indulge in this family pastime?  It upsets Mary.  She is like Mother; she wants to avoid any conflict, even in conversation.  And we both love Mary, just as, despite our differences, we love each other.. 

So we talk about the weather.  

But writing my autobiography gives me an opportunity to explore my own development and way of thinking.  Indulge me and read on.