Chapter 3 The First Big City Step Š Houston, Texas
The occasion for my family to move from Ballinger, Texas down to the largest city in Texas at the time, Houston, in Harris County, was that my father, the Rev. Dwight Alfred Sharpe, received a call to become the Pastor of the Central Park Presbyterian Church, located at 6914 Sherman Avenue. That is in the southeast portion of Houston, down near the Houston Ship Channel, a center for major industrial activity. The Sharpe's moved to Houston in June 1941, living first in Central Park at 6916 Sherman, in the church-owned home (or the Manse, itÕs called). We lived in Houston from 1941 until 1951.
The constituency of the churchÕs membership had a few professional occupations among them, but primarily the congregation members were a blue collar industrial worker base, including labor union workers, etc. The churchÕs address was 6914 Sherman, next door to us.
The driveway you see, facing the church, on the left, is the driveway to the automobile garage for our church-owned home, called a Manse. We certainly were walking distance from our Church!
This is a view of the inside of the sanctuary of the Central Park Presbyterian Church. This photo has my father preaching in his summer whites, while the younger of my two older sisters, Elizabeth (or Betty Ann, as we called her Š born in 1929) was the church organist during her high school and early college years. The date of this photo may have been about 1946 or so. My older sister, Martha, would have been in the choir, but these faces are too small to identify specifically.
Vaguely, I recall our early months living in Houston, partly because our pet dog, Nick the Fox Terroir, moved with us. However, Nick did not adjust well in our home. Additionally, Nick seemed to have trouble relating to the Postal Mail Man and to the Milk Delivery Man, both of whom came to our home most days of the week. The family made the difficult decision to send Nick back to Ballinger to the home of Ruby, the faithful lady who had been our maid during the years there. To our knowledge, Nick lived out a nice and restful life with Ruby!
For Christmas 1942, My grandfather, Henry (Harry) Seth Sharpe, a resident of Georgetown, TX since about 1895, came to visit us in Houston! Being three years old, my memory does not do justice to recalling. I presume that he, whom we canned ŅPapa Sharpe,Ó visited by himself. His wife, Mattie de Noailles Simons (Mama Sharpe), died in February 1944. Possibly she had health limitations by that time which could be why she is absent in the photograph. Seated in the photo, from left to right were my father, mother, my sister (Martha) and me on the floor, Papa Sharpe seated, with my sister, Betty Anne.
Though my Mother was trained at the University of Texas for the teaching profession, she maintained the task of being a pastorÕs wife, mother and wife until the World War II years. With such school teacher shortages, she took up public school teaching a while. My kindergarten year in school would have been 1944 - 1945. They placed me in a Mrs. FinkÕs Private School, which was a large room in her home. It was unique, in the sense that the one room educated about 30 students ranging from kindergarten through the sixth grade! That certainly was a memorable experience. I remember the large number of swing sets in her back yard.
In 1949, the church grew substantially enough to warrant purchasing land at 7000 Lawndale Avenue in east Houston, and erected a new church building. It was a significant move in the life of the people in the congregation. The name was changed to Trinity Presbyterian Church.
As a young grammar school age boy in those years, it can be said that the Christian influences and expectations in my family were of such reality that never in my life has the idea of God not existing entered my thinking. I have always believed in GodÕs creation of our world and about His Son being Jesus Christ, the one in whom it was necessary for us to believe was God manifested on earth as His Son, and that the Holy Spirit functioned in our lives to guide us in GodÕs will for our lives. At the age of 11, I took a class, taught by my Father, about being a Christian and joining the Church. On Palm Sunday, March 18, 1951, at about 10:00 AM, I answered my fatherÕs questions about believing in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. It was a convincing decision, and never did I waver from believing such, even under the influences of the atmospheres encountered later in days of being a college student.
Mention was made in the Ballinger Chapter about my fatherÕs developing hobby of photography. One of the overt legacies we have today of that hobby is the collection of Christmas cards he did to mail to our friends annually. Many of the copies I now possess were given to me by Jann Alford Harper (her married surname). She was a child, born in 1943 into a family who were members of the Central Park Presbyterian Church in Houston, Texas where my father was their pastor. Her parents, the Alfords, and my parents apparently had a close friendship, and the Alfords admired DadÕs Christmas Cards, collecting them over the years. The first ones they should have begun receiving would be Christmas 1941, our first Christmas in Houston.
Due to the marvels of social media, Jann discovered my Facebook account, because of the similarity of my name and my fatherÕs, whom she recalled. She contacted me in 2009, and we became Facebook friends. She told me of the Christmas Card collection of my fatherÕs that had come down to her after her parents graduated to Heaven. She gladly gave them to me, and that the major source of those cards that I have. When Suzanne and I had occasion to be in Galveston a year or two later, we contacted Jann and her husband, Kermit, who reside in near-by Friendwood, Texas. We arranged to meet at a restaurant for a meal. What fun it was to make connection, and to visit after some 60 years. Jann was age 9 and I was age 12 when our family moved away from Houston in 1951!
My father pursued a nice gesture which added to the validity of the existence of Santa Claus. His plan for my major Christmas present in 1946 was an 8Õ X 4Õ raised plywood table for a Lionel Lines electric train set, complete with a set of remote control track switches for a siding. It was questionable whether the ordered set would arrive in time for Christmas morning, so Daddy had a letter sent to me, advising that the gift was on the way!
As it turned out, the train did arrive in time for a joyous Christmas morning acceptance on my part. My regret is not being able to locate photographs of the event. However, the letter and envelope has been prepared and is shown you in this Chapter.
D. A. (as I was called to differentiate from my father, who was called Dwight) entered Ben Franklin Elementary School in the fall of 1945, and attended there for the first through fourth grades. The principal was Mr. John Hood. Apparently, it no longer exists today (2017), as I could not identify it on the Internet.
Here is a photo of my father and me beside the automobile that had been the gift of the First Presbyterian Church of Ballinger, TX, as our family departing gift in moving to Houston. This photo was taken about 1945 or 46. In 1947, we acquired a 1947 Chevy.
My third and fourth grade music teacher at Franklin Elementary School was Mrs. Pauline Keeley. That school no longer exists. She was a member of our church, Central Park Presbyterian Church, and active in its music ministry. She was a single Mom, having had a divorce years earlier. She and her daughter, Clarice Keeley Barnes Amann, born in 1934, was a teenage friend of my two older sisters, born in 1927 and 1929, Martha and Elizabeth. IÕm still friends (on Facebook) with Clarice. In 2017, she reviewed some of this autobiography and greatly aided with some recollections, which I quote here.
ŅMy mother taught 5th & 6th grades there before she became the music teacher and move later to Hartman Junior High.
ŅYour father enlisted my mother as the choir director shortly after you all became a part of the church, apparently. She was willing to do it for free, but Dwight & the elder who came with him to discuss it, insisted on paying her the grand sum of $25 a month. This was wonderful for us as it paid for our $18 a month apartment plus some! I remember how awed and blessed Mother felt after they left. She could hardly sleep that night.
ŅMy mother considered your mother to be a dear friend. She would often visit her at the manse*. You mother encouraged my mother not to reveal her divorce since that was such a negative during those days. Mother never lied, but did not correct people who thought my father had been killed in the war.
ŅAs for being a friend of your sisters, I was more an admirer! They were so OLD, SMART & WISE! Martha even "babysat" me a couple of times, with your mother nearby. That may have been the time you & I climbed the near-by tree.
ŅThe car we owned was a 1936 Ford Coupe. We (or I) named her "Betsy". We traveled many miles in her with my dog Lassie, a white Spitz. I think we finally sold her in 1949 or '50. I know I was heart broken because I was in West Texas visiting my cousin at the time and didn't get to say goodbye!
*The church owned house in which a pastor and family resided was known in Presbyterian Church circles as a Ņmanse.Ó
My mother wanted me to learn piano, so she engaged Mrs. Keeley to give me private piano lessons in her home on Keller Avenue the summer of 1950. Alas, it was not one of my excelling talents, so the training didnÕt continue. I did enjoy and appreciate Mrs. KeeleyÕs efforts on my behalf.
I remember the automobile Mrs. Keeley had, which was such a neat one. It was an old 1936 Ford two-door coupe, only a 2-seater, with a four-on-the-floor shift stick. I thought she had the neatest car among all our friends! HereÕs a photo I found recently of a 1936 Ford!
Clarice was on the staff of Presbytery Offices, etc. Years later, she recognized my name on Facebook. So, we connected around 2014 or so as Facebook friends, and have been keeping up with each other that way. She is retired and residing in Kerrville, Texas. Her full name is Clarice Keeley Barnes Amann.
The pastor at ClariceÕs current First Presbyterian Church of Kerrville is the Rev. Mr. Robert (Rob) Lohmeyer, a friend of our family from when he was a young man, college student, etc., where his family were members of the Highland Park Presbyterian Church, and where I was on staff for 22 years as the Executive Administrator to the Senior Pastor. His college and seminary days was when I was there.
The first vision I ever had about what might become my adult occupation came in the 1940Õs. It was to be a garbage man! Our modern terminology calls it a waste collector! I used to sit in our front yard on the couple times a week the neighborhood City of Houston garbage truck was scheduled to collect from our block. My admiration was great for the skill and strength of the men who wrestled with our filled garbage cans, tossing them from the ground up to the man catching the cans up in the truck. That guy, wearing fishermanÕs type rubber pants, up to his waist, stood in the deep garbage, catching the tossed cans and dumping them around himself. Then he tossed the empty can to the man on the ground who always would perform a magnificent catch of the emptied can, replacing it in its rightful place at our front curb!
The next profession that became a goal was that of being a fire fighter. This developed for a couple of reasons. First, during World War II years, there was some reason, which I forget now, that citizens were urged to collect newspapers that somehow helped in the war effort for the nation. We were to take them to your local fire station. I took on that beckoning for service of my community by going from house-to-house in our neighborhood, asking people for their old newspapers. I pulled a wagon around with me to haul the donations. Then, my father would take me and an accumulated load of newspapers to the fire station. The firemen receiving the newspapers show the publicÕs appreciation for my efforts by treating me to guided tours around the fire station and allowing me to climb all over the fire trucks! An enforcement of my fireman profession goal was nurtured when there were two or three occasions not far from our home where home fires required the firemen to come. Watching them deal with the flame challengers was just so engrossing to me. I could hardly wait to become one of them!
Jumping forward a few decades, that fireman dream became a sort of reality! Having now a family, living in University City, Missouri (a suburb of Saint Louis), we were there 1972 Š 1982 when our children were in grammar school, etc. At one point, a public recruitment went out through the schools for fathers to volunteer to be firemen for the University City Fire Department. Of course, I came forth to volunteer. More can be read about that adventure.
The first serious occupation of which I did dream was that of a professional dancer! It was the famous musical movies in the 1940Õs that I first saw, such as Gene Kelly in ŅSinging in the Rain.Ó That was one of our familyÕs favorite movies.
A life of crime in my life was averted, fortunately, early in my grammar school years. Along about the 3rd or 4th grade in school, a fascination developed about the thrill experienced from sneaking items from retail stores, concealed in my clothing (called shop-lifting)! These primarily were toys. It grew out of unwise response to being dared by peers that I wouldnÕt have the courage to do it.
The Henke & Pillot grocery store, the Sears, Roebuck & Company and the WalgreenÕs Drug Store were the near-by three businesses where my criminal activity took place. Obviously, I couldnÕt reveal these stolen items at home, as my family would know there were insufficient funds available for me to acquire them. So, the stolen goods were hidden in a place along the alleyway, behind our home.
I came upon cross purposes with a neighborhood school chum who had discovered the location of the purloined items. He retrieved some of them, and brought them into our home at dinner time, placing them in front of my father, indicating they were things IÕd stolen! Well the immediate period following that was most unpleasant for me, and I became acquainted with what was being truly repentant! My father took me to visit the managers of each store, confessing to stealing the items, and returning them, during an expression of sincere and deep regret and apology! It was a great relief to me when each store manager failed to call in the Police to jail me!
The last visit was with the WalgreenÕs Store manager, down on Harrisburgh Boulevard, near Wayside Boulevard, who spent a good deal of time talking with me and encouraging me Ņto straighten up and to fly right!Ó He manifested his acceptance of my repentance by escorting me and my father to the lunch counter in that store, and treating us to ice cream sundaes! IÕll always remember the experience of that degree of forgiveness shown by a man who had been a stranger just minutes earlier. This experience is just another in the path of life to which I was being privileged to live in the Christian family of the SharpeÕs. God was showing me, early in life, that He loved me, and would use me, if I would yield to him. A lesson well learned!
The fifth grade was at Park Place Elementary School in southeast Houston. ItÕs been replaced by new construction. We lived at 8010 Grafton, just west of Broadway Boulevard. The wing on the left side of the house has been added since we lived there. My bedroom was the upper right room!
The sixth grade was at Brisco Elementary School near the newly constructed (in 1949) Trinity Presbyterian Church at 7000 Lawndale where my father was the pastor. The church had changed names from Central when it relocated. We lived on Erath Street, near Mason Park, a city park which had one of the most wonderful Olympic-size public pools.
An interesting thing is that these were the days before much in the way of school buses being available. Generally, most of the students in my schools not far away. Students walked to school or rode bicycles. Very few students arrived in automobiles. For one thing, in this last half of the 1940Õs, some parents didnÕt own cars, and they rode public transportation to their jobs. Another condition was that the market for cars was slim. Passenger car production had been suspended in favor of production for World War II needs, and the first ones werenÕt begun till after the war, in general. Most families owning automobile transportation had only one vehicle. It usually went to work with Dad!
It was a different world, in the sense that not much fear existed about children walking to and from school alone. Much of the time, they would walk in small groups. I never rode a school bus in my life until I was a high school student in 1955 in Dallas.
Another situation encountered these post WWII years was the growing existence of immigrants. Many of them came as refugees, escape from war-torn Europe and the Pacific war zones. They were people seeking the democracy and freedom practiced in the United States, and were becoming good citizens in our midst. However, we did not always understand some of their mores about acting among each other.
One day, while walking from school with a fellow student, we fell into an argument that became a fist fight in the vacant lot near our homes. This student, from a newly-arrived German refugee immigrant family, was getting the best of me in the fight. I began wishing the whole matter had been avoided, but that was too late!
It was with smug relief that I saw his father and older sister approaching the vacant lot. At last, I reasoned, they were coming to stop the fighting! Wrong! When they arrived, they simply stood there, and watched while their son finished beating me in the fight! WOW! What a lesson for me to learn that not always were things necessarily fair and equal, even with parents or family present.
When my family lived in Houston (1941-1951), there were many occasions for us to visit my mother's relatives, who lived some 125 miles to the north in Lufkin, Angelina County, Texas. My favorite was relative was great Uncle Jim. James A. Abney owned a hardware store (a merchant pursuit seen for several generations of Abney's there). Uncle Jim would take me to his store to see the many marvelous things displayed.
The highlight experience was when Uncle Jim reached up to the gun racks in the store, and gave me my first Daisy Red Rider BB gun! I was about nine years old at the time. I thought IÕd come to Hog Heaven! (I think thatÕs an old East Texas expression)!
While we lived in Houston, one of the vacations we took several of the years was to the Double Lake Recreation area. It was in the National Forests & Grasslands of Texas (Sam Houston National Park) in a triangle formed by Huntsville, Livingston and Conroe, Texas. We would take our tents and sleeping cots, as well as our cooking-out equipment, to camp for a week or so. There are many fond memories in my thoughts about camping near that lake in which we swam, fished, and around which we hiked in the woods. I recall in the somewhat primitive times there in the 1940s, we would relieve ourselves by marching to a narrow open pit in the woods among the cover of foliage, straddling the pit, as we accomplished the task at hand! ThatÕs about as delicately as I can describe it!
Our connections to visiting Lufkin and the cousins there, etc., had to do with the fact that Lufkin was where my mother, Martha Dixon Chapman, was born April 5, 1904, to Margaret Levina Abney and Dr. James Herschell Chapman. Martha lived in Lufkin till going off to the University of Texas. Mom lost her Mother to Yellow Fever in 1909, and her father died in 1925. Having lost her parents at her age of 5 and 21, there never was occasion for me to know those grandparents.
My two sisters were Martha de Noailles Sharpe and Elizabeth Anne Sharpe, 12 and 10 years older than me. Both my sisters were active in the high school student fellowship at our Central Park Presbyterian Church, and our mother was an adult sponsor of the high school and college age group. What I remember most about those groups were the summer trips we took to Galveston as a church youth group. We'd spend the day on the beach and the evening at the nightlife and carnival rides after the day at the beach. They were fond memories. I especially remember the thrills riding the roller coasters! Again, I was in the early grammar school years when these things took place.
Martha de Noailles Sharpe was born September 7, 1927. She is the elder of my two sisters, the only siblings of mine. The 1927 year of Martha's birth was a whirlwind year for the nation. Frank Billings Kellogg, U.S. Secretary of State, proposed a pact for reunification of the world powers to conclude the loose strings remaining from World War I. It was finally agreed to the following year and became known as the Kellogg-Briand Pact. His accomplishments with that pact earned him the 1929 Nobel Peace Prize. Frank is Martha's sixth cousin, twice removed.
Martha was born in Laredo, Texas where her father was in his first pastorate as a Presbyterian Minister. It was the First Presbyterian Church.
Martha's middle name, de Noailles, is an interestingly beautiful French middle name found in this very non-French family. From where it came into our family is a mystery. However, oral tradition has it that the name was taken from a friend of the family. The name appears as the middle name for Martha's grandmother, Mattie de Noailles Simons Sharpe, as well as in her second great grandmother, Anastasia (Fannie) de Noailles Lafayette Hewlett. If the friend of the family story is correct, the friend was probably that of the parents of Fannie, who were Lemuel Green Hewlett and Rebecca J. Harvey, the parents living in Hopkins County, Kentucky at the time of the birth of Anastasia de Noailles Lafayette Hewlett (Fannie) and all her six siblings.
Before Martha was three, the family moved to Little Rock, Arkansas in1929. Her father's call to his third pastorate was to Ballinger, Texas, 1935. These were the depths of the depression days of the economy in the United States, yet God's providence continued to give adequate sustenance for the family, including having a maid to help with the children and domestic chores of the home and for what was expected of a pastor's home.
By 1941, when there were three children in our family, we moved to Houston, Texas. From then on, the family did not have domestic help in the home. Martha fared well in school, graduating from San Jacinto High School as Magna Cum Laude in 1944. Her academic acumen and academic record brought her entrance to Rice Institute, a school of great renown in academics. Now, its name is Rice University. After a year at Rice, her desire to branch out in life led her to the University of Texas at Austin, the school from which both of her parents had graduated in 1925 and 1925.
It was at Austin that Martha met Victor Marcus Ehlers, Jr. in the context of activities at the Westminster Student Fellowship at the University Presbyterian Church. Vic had completed military service in World War II. The young couple wanted to marry and get on with life, even before graduation, which they did. What brought me, Martha's little brother, to accepting Vic onto the scene dating her was his bright shiny Ford Coupe convertible! Boy, was it classy. Once he offered a free ride to me around the neighborhood, I thought he was a fine friend for my sister! Martha was a member of the Phi Mu Sorority Alumnae and participated in its alumni activities much of her life.
They married September 6, 1947. What is interesting is that later, one of their daughters, Nancy Lea Ehlers Reeves, became an ordained Presbyterian minister whose first call was as an associate pastor at that University Presbyterian Church where her parents had met! Small world, isnÕt it?
Martha was a life-long Presbyterian, serving in later years as an ordained Elder. She participated in her church's life wherever she lived, such as in Sunday School, Presbyterian Women's organizations, etc. She was a member of the Mothers' Club of Alpha Delta Pi and Alpha Gamma Delta Sororities, and served on the Panhellenic Council. Her love for history was fulfilled somewhat in her activities as a Docent at the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin (named for U.S. President Lyndon Baines Johnson, a Texan native).
Martha enjoyed domestic engineering, raising her two daughters, both of whom were very talented girls. Her husband died in 1985 and she lived with Nancy, her daughter, at NancyÕs home in Round Rock, TX till her death January 17, 2002. A more complete narrative of MarthaÕs life is in Chapter 36 of this autobiography.
Elizabeth, whom we called Betty Anne around the home, graduated from San Jacinto High School in Houston as Valedictorian of her class in 1945. This was a very large student body high school near downtown Houston. Elizabeth entered Rice Institute in Houston, following her sister. Having two children in the Sharpe family to gain entrance at Rice was an accomplishment and an honor for the Sharpe family, as the entrance requirements were and have always been very high. ElizabethÕs musical talent included being an organist for the church where our father was Pastor.
One Sunday night when she was a freshman at Rice Institute, a Coast Guard sailor visited the service with his roommate. That Coast Guardsman spotted Elizabeth playing the organ and the other sailor spotted a young lady in the choir. They both boasted to each other that they would marry these girls! What is fun being that they both did marry them later. The story is that Andy asked to walk Elizabeth home that night after the service [lots of folks did not have cars in those days]. She laughed at the question, but willingly went with him. Unbeknownst to him, the manse (our home) was just right next door to the church, just a few feet away from where he asked her!
Andy was a Mississippi boy, so after their marriage, each finished their college education at the University of Mississippi in Oxford. She graduated in 1950 and he in 1951. Elizabeth worked much of the time in various administrative and secretarial positions there. She was an excellent typist! They were assisted in getting their college degrees by the G.I. Bill. It was for military experienced people.
Like her mother, Elizabeth did well serving the role of a Presbyterian Pastor's wife. Her educated experience allowed her to be a counselor and advisor to her husband in the things of ministry and of life. Elizabeth at age 44 on December 28, 1983, and Andy died May 28, 1992. A more complete narrative of ElizabethÕs life is Chapter 35 in this autobiography.
During our residence in Houston, 1941 Š 1951, the population of the city grew from about 385,000 to about 600,000. In 2016, its population is about 2.3 million. As mentioned earlier, we lived in the east end of Houston, near the Houston Ship Yards. It was a major industrial area. Here is an aerial photo of it.
The last grammar school grade I entered in Houston was the 6th grade at Brisco Elementary School. It was in March of 1951 that our family departed from Houston for my fatherÕs new calling as Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Sweetwater, Nolan County, TX. My girlfriend there was Sandra Golden, but we never saw or knew of each other after my family moved to west Texas.