“You haint one of them evolutionist, is you? And with all them nice children, too.’ Anonymous Texas woman
My childhood and youth were spent at the family home on Adams Street with my parents and my siblings until they each left for college. Adams was off South Alamo Street and our house was two long blocks to the south — a mile from downtown. (This reiteration of south for two streets at right angles is the kind of geography that leads San Antonians to appreciate that town planning originated in the paths laid out by cattle trails.)
The street was lined with homes built in the 80s or later of stone or brick for well-off families, mostly German, not far from the center of the German-American community, as a sort of extension of Sauerkraut Bend. Some houses might rate as mansions, but most were just nice family homes on 50 foot lots. By 1918 the once grand gardens were a bit neglected, but a middle-class aura remained and none had yet become funeral homes, to which the larger could aspire, and later some achieved. Adams Street was lined with hackberry trees that gave a rich shade and dropped seeds that cracked satisfactorily underfoot and chinaberry trees that dropped pea-shooter ammunition. The trees also housed English sparrows who fed on the horse apples that accumulated between the visits of the Mexican horse drawn street-sweepers but disappeared with the introduction of mechanized sweepers and the departure of the horse drawn ice-wagon and vegetable vendor. That vegetable wagon was a favorite, not only because we hopped rides on the back, to the dismay of the nag that pulled it, but because when mother settled the bill, we’d get a hand-out.
Most of the families were old and there were few children of my age nearby except in the big Irish family across the street with the ill-kept, old-car strewn yard and the Mexican Gonzales family, two doors from us in an elegant two-story brick house, whose youngest son was my best friend in the early years. The unpaved parallel streets to the east and west were lined with poorer wooden houses built more recently and thus provided more children for the games that tended to be on our street, the only paved one in the area, or in our own spacious yard.
We are looking at the 12 years, from 1918 to 1930 (the last three without my siblings). They were my childhood years and thus stretched out for an eternity. I have reminded myself that this is exactly the length of time my college years, from my arrival in Austin in 1930 to my doctorate in 1942. They are ten times as long in memory. They began as I emerged from infancy and led to the threshold of my manhood — the years of being shaped.
As this chapter rests on my early memory, I need to discuss this poor tool. I don’t know how other people’s memory works, but I find mine to be very episodic and lacking in detail. I already said that I have few memories of my first five (Fredericksburg) years and even afterward most are highly particular and embedded in explicit events, often without context. If you imagine my experiences over time as a vast seascape, you can picture my memories as archipelagos of little islands jutting above the waters of this lost nepenthe. These islands of remembered episodes will be the evidence with which to understand the dynamics of my life, trying to connect the dots in order to see the contours of the submerged mountain land below.
Three Fifteen, as it was called by our friends, fit this picture of run-down elegance. Its yard had the remnants of old Baldeson’s work that remained after suffering five years of tenant neglect. Large flower beds flanked the walk from curb to porch, edged with bricks set at 45 degree angles to show triangular red teeth, of which many were missing or askew. A male and female pair of then quite rare and fascinating cycads that had been a wedding gift was a decorative element on either side of these beds. (They were later traded to a landscape gardener for redesigning the front yard.)
The house was fronted with a deep porch with an elaborate banister and fretwork dropping from the peaked roof. An elegant front door led to a copious hallway flanked by two rooms of the same size. To the left was the parlor, which we called the library in honor of the books housed in the glass-fronted golden oak bookshelves; to the right was an all-purpose room with papa’s roll-top desk, at which he would type hunt-and-peck, very fast and fairly accurately. It also served as a general family room and even at times as Thea’s bedroom.
Beyond this front tier was the dining room I have described earlier and from it were doors at the north leading to what was once a butler’s pantry, but was now dark and dingy with a large closet we called das dunkele Schrank, on top of which were dusty scrapbooks of the war-atrocity propaganda that papa had kept, out of some kind of masochistic impulse, along with his now un-used top hats in their leather cases. The ice box was here with its pan of drip water that successive generations of cur-bred dogs would drink with a loud lapping, so it became known as klap-klap, and that would overflow when we forgot to empty it.
Behind this pantry was the kitchen, with its worn linoleum floor, a sink in a dark corner and the screened cabinet for dishes. Across the back was a large screened porch that extended to the opposite side to a door into the lone bathroom, which also opened to our parents’ bedroom. The front part of the house was brick but everything beyond the dining room was of wood construction. Much of our daily life was spent on the back porch in the long hot summers. It also was where I slept until Tex left, when I inherited the lean-to that had started as a maid’s room behind the kitchen.
This house was a home in the real sense of the word, and evoked our affection and pride, despite its manifest flaws and inadequacies. It was where family life took place; it was where we regularly ate and slept, where friends visited and family parties took place. I hadn’t been in San Antonio since mother died in 1971 and when Tex and I visited in the mid-nineties, we paid a sentimental visit to 315. As our picture was being taken in front of it, a pleasant young woman bounced out. After we explained ourselves she invited us in, glad to learn about its history and get advice on which walls were bearing walls, as she and her husband were planning to remove those that had been put in to divide the house into two apartments by an earlier owner. We kept up a correspondence until they moved out. The old house had been a warm and social hive that offered a safe haven though, as in most households, not all was sweetness and light. As we each grew to college age, we became eager to leave, but we always brought our sweethearts and later our spouses to visit. It was an emblem of who we were.
In Bridge, I say that each life is the protagonist in a common drama, for which others in his life are supporting cast; each in turn becoming protagonist in a drama for which the others are supporting cast. The common plot is always, in my view: Will our hero get the ego gratification he or she desires? This chapter therefore is the first and defining act of that iteration in which I am protagonist. To understand the trials and tribulations of our hero, we must appreciate the characters that have shaped his experience and the dynamic relationship between him and them. The central drama in this act is the dynamic interaction between me and Buntz, played out in relationship to our mother. I sometimes think of this as “the other eternal triangle,” because it is as old and universal as the competition for mates – and, I think, more significant in the history of human affairs. You can read in Bridge that I do not see this love triangle in Freudian terms of sexual desire, but as being a contest for the mother’s nurturant love, and thus not truly Oedipal. It is the search for maternal approval that lies at the core of human aspirations. I will, try to describe the culture at 315 as an ethnographer would, using episodes of remembered events as examples, leaving my analysis of it to the end.
Though mother had lived all her life in San Antonio and had a lot of friends, we had no relatives there except for her brother Paul and his family and I never knew any other kin until much later. I have always felt this to be a great loss, for I think the special relationship that characteristically grows up among kindred is a corrective to many of the tensions of family life; that it is no accident that kindred are important in every society I know of. I do not idealize the worth of kinsmen, but see the potentials inherent in their being there. They can be parental without having the responsibility of parents. For instance, once when we were in grammar school the circus came to town and Uncle Paul – “Unkie” — came and sprung us out of school to see the parade and go to it, under the sensible but unorthodox theory that it was more important than anything that we might learn that day. This is the kind of things that it is hard for parents to do. We were not close – I think he and mother weren’t close as children, and our life-style and values were very different, and yet it was a broadening tie with reality. I used to go to their house on weekends and play with Paul, Jr. –Sonny to us – and we remained good friends.
Sonny and his wife stayed with Karl and Mark when Gale and I went to Europe in 1958 and came to Mark’s wedding. His widow, Lucille is the only other remaining member of the family of my generation and we have visited one another on several occasions. She is a remarkable woman.