In May of 1949, an event took place that no one alive in Fort Worth would ever forget. I was about to finish kindergarten, having turned six a few months earlier. My brother Bill was just three months old, and my sisters Barb and Kay were eight and two, respectively, all of which left my mother somewhere between busy and totally frazzled.
Late on May 16 it began to rain. Sometime on the 17th, the eleven inches of rain upstream on the Trinity River raised the river level until it broke over and through its levees, spilling floodwater near downtown Fort Worth.
Montgomery Ward, shown above, sat near the river. Although normally high and dry, in this photo of the flood, you can see water halfway up the first floor of the building.
The Seventh Street Theater, approximately a mile from the river channel, is shown above in normal times and during the flood. As a six year-old kid, I could hardly fathom the amount of water it took to do this.
One of the flood victims was the municipal water works, which sit on the bank of the river just southeast of Montgomery Ward. This contaminated our water supply, causing the city to alert residents not to use tap water for drinking or cooking without first straining and boiling it.
My dad, a pediatrician, felt he needed to be available to help with medical needs, but he wanted his family out of town until the floodwaters abated and the city water became safe to drink once again. This left my mother to deal with the four of us, and even though I was always a perfect child, I’m sure that wasn’t an easy job.
We started for the West Texas town of Lamesa, where Mother’s brother and sister and their families lived, driving our un-airconditioned Studebaker. Although I don’t really remember it, I can imagine that in the Texas heat, my brother and sisters would not be the most pleasant of company.
Mother stopped in the town of Breckenridge for lunch. Try to imagine her carrying a three month-old baby with diaper bag, etc., and dealing with a two year-old while she herded us into the restaurant.
Mother and Dad were both teetotalers in those days, so my only exposure to any kind of liquor was seeing beer commercials on the television which Dad had bought on my birthday while Mother was in the hospital delivering Bill. As we entered the restaurant, I saw the beer advertisements on the walls and decided it would be a good idea to order one.
Although I remember this story primarily from hearing Mother tell it through the years, I’m sure I realized she was having a tough time and needed some entertainment. In an effort to provide that, when the waitress took our orders, I told her I’d have a beer. After falling somewhere under the table, Mother told the lady I meant a root beer.
“I do not.” I’ve always hated root beer. “I want a beer.”
At this point, I’m sure my tee totaling mother was beet-red. I’m equally sure everyone else in the restaurant was roaring with laughter. Guess Mother didn’t realize I was trying to entertain her. She probably even forgot for that moment that I was a perfect child.
I don’t know how long we stayed away from home, but I’m sure I had a better time than Mother did. I always enjoyed visiting our kinfolks in Lamesa, and I also didn’t have to care for a newborn and a two year-old.
What natural disasters or other events do you remember from your childhood?
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In 1994, the Trinity River flooded down near Hardin and I was trapped in Corpus Christi for a week before it was safe to drive home to Hardin. Gary was trapped in the house in Hardin for a few days. And I bet my mother has some interesting stories regarding Hurricane Katrina that she could share.
I remember the flood near Hardin, Lynn. If I remember right, you were trying to get back from Donna’s funeral and had to go to Corpus instead of getting home.
Well, I had to go to Corpus to pick up Austen because he had been staying with Sandy and Joe. But I got stuck there for a week.
Oh yeah, you were such a perfect child, David. Your ordering the beer shows just how perfect you were. Perfectly frustrating, that is! (Remember “Did someone in here call me?”) And I am sure that I was not grumpy with the car ride. Who, me, grumpy??? I do know that Mom had her hands full. It reminds me of the two days that my four kids and I spent on trains trying to get to St. Louis when they were all under 8. Anyway, you told the great flood story in an entertaining way. I do recall how strong the rain was and how amazing all that water in the flooded areas was.
I thought about checking with you on this one, Barb. You might have remembered things a little more clearly at eight than I did at six.
The “Did someone in here call me?” incident was part of my persona. I was famous for pushing right up to the edge and then stopping just before I got in big trouble.
Oh yes you were famous for that, David. How I wished I had the courage then to push things so far. Being a goody two shoes was a pain.
How well I remember the flood of 1949. Our family trudged across the TCU campus to pick up sanitized bottled water at Alice Carlson Elementary School. And, yes, I bet you were the perfect child!
If I hadn’t been a perfect child, I probably couldn’t be your perfect husband, Sharon.