When the Gwins left Sunset Acres for South Broadmoor in 1966, it was about a year before my parents, too, moved to South Broadmoor, only a couple of blocks away from Lou and Howard.
When Howard was in his final days, it was my dad who spent hours sitting with him, looking after him. When my mother's health declined, Lou Gwin was about the only person she really trusted (other than my wife Bea) to do anything she needed.
I've detailed my friendship with Casey Baker in any earlier blog. I spent many days at the Bakers' house, a block-and-a-half away, where Casey and I often befuddled his younger brother by one year, James Royce (we all called him "Spanky"). Chuck was still very young; he was born in '58, shortly after Casey and I first met.
|My friends, the Tuckers: Johnny, Steve and Terry |
(they didn't play golf in their Sunset Acres days)
Lots and lots of invented games, card games, and football, basketball, baseball and even track and field competition. Lots of watching games together. Lots of messing around, nothing ever out of bounds, though. These were good families -- some dysfunction, just like my family -- but these were good kids.
And Miss Lou remains in South Broadmoor; we saw her a week ago. She's the wonderful, simple country girl who understood how much of a friend my mother -- an often-fragile Holocaust survivor from a faraway place but also a dynamic, forceful Holocaust educator -- needed her to be.
In 1957, the Sunset Acres Shopping Center was a busy place, including a Palais Royal as an anchor store and Sunset Drug Store on the corner at Mansfield Road. (That's where Mrs. Baker worked for years.)
Sunset Acres Baptist Church, just across Hearne Ave. from the shopping center, was the dominant church in the neighborhood, and would be for a long time. But other churches were thriving, too. Southgate Bowling Lanes, between Hearne and Mansfield Road, would soon be built and bowling was extremely popular as the '60s began. That bowling alley would be a familiar hangout for kids, like me; we made many trips on our bikes there.
Another hangout was the Dairy Queen on West Canal at 70th Street. In high school, that's where everyone went -- even the kids from other neighborhoods. There was a big Weingarten's at 70th and Mansfield Road, right across street from the famed Sunset Drive-In Theater (who didn't sneak in there every now and then?)
Everyone knew the much-used scout hut on the Sunset Acres school ground.
Seems as if it was at that hut where in the summer a SPAR (Shreveport Parks and Recreation) worker would be on duty to let kids play chess or checkers or table tennis -- sometimes competitively, with the Sunset champions going on to city championship to face winners from other rec centers.
As younger kids, we played tag in the streets, and Red Rover, and hopscotch on the sidewalk. I turned the sidewalk into a track to stage and direct Sunset Acres "track meets," measuring the distances -- 25 yards, 50, 100) with my mother's yardstick (she used for sewing) and marking them in colored chalk. Mr. Gwin didn't much like his sidewalk being marked. I had a stop clock -- bought at the sporting goods store -- to use for timing.
We knew all the kids on our block, and tried to get them involved. Tried, didn't succeed all that much. But there were always kids from nearby willing to participate.
Two of those kids who lived nearby, Ross Oglesby and Edwin Tubbs, could really run fast. Didn't take long to realize that. What we didn't know in the late '50s, but found out in 1966 was they would be All-State football players for Woodlawn -- Ross (first team) at running back, Edwin (second team) at linebacker. Obviously, two of my favorite Woodlawn players ever.
They were among the kids almost always on the school ground playing. It was a gathering place. There were hundreds of baseball games there, and we were always concerned that the guys who could hit the ball a long way would knock out a window on an "E" wing classroom.
There were touch football games, sometimes even tackle football, basketball games on the dirt "court" with the square wooden backboards and no nets on the rims.
When the junior high (Oak Terrace) opened in the fall of 1959 and a year or two later, SPAR built a swimming pool, softball/baseball field and a basketball court -- without walls, but covered by a domed canopy, rounded plastic backboards, chain nets. Many of our games shifted to the football field at OT, and on that court under that dome.
How many one-on-one basketball games -- fierce games -- did I play against the much-stronger, taller Johnny Tucker and brother Terry, who at that point was smaller than me but never easy to beat?
On the Sunset Acres school ground -- just as I had done at Line Avenue the two previous springs and summers -- I watched a lot of teams practice baseball. Wanted to play on an organized team, but I hadn't been in the U.S. long enough to grasp it all. And (surprise to those who know me), I was so small.
I can remember in 1959 and '60 often watching the Southside Barbers -- a Junior A (ages 15-16) team -- practice. That team included three players (pitcher Ronnie Olague, catcher Jerry Downing and shortstop Terry Jones) who soon would be starting for Woodlawn High in its first couple of seasons.
A year after we moved to the neighborhood, the Sunset Acres Athletic Club was formed. It sponsored teams in football, baseball and basketball, and they all wore bright gold uniforms with black trim. Everyone in town knew the gold uniform was a Sunset Acres team. I never played for any of those teams, but I watched a lot of baseball and football practices -- coach Robert Simmons drilling those football kids -- and I sure rooted for those teams.
I don't recall many of the kids in my age group playing for the Sunset Acres teams. But some of the younger neighborhood kids did, and went on to start -- and star -- for Woodlawn. Wayne Barrett and Gary Green were players on the 1969 Class AAA state championship team. For me, that made it even more special than it was.
Some of us not good enough to play for the Sunset Acres Indians, or not willing to join the Athletic Club, were fortunate that in 1959, St. James Episcopal Church -- fairly new in our neighborhood on Marquette Street -- decided to sponsor a midget-league baseball team. I had a place to play.
Didn't play well, of course, and our teams were mostly terrible, but for four years, one Jewish kid played for St. James -- two years in midgets (ages 11-12), two years in Junior B (13-14). Loved wearing the green-and-white uniform the first two years; then we got slick grey-and-red ones. Every year I wore my beloved No 4, in honor of Lou Gehrig and my favorite Shreveport Sports player, Lou Klimchock.
One year, I had a sprained left elbow and couldn't throw the ball 5 feet, as opposed to the normal 20 feet. But the coach (Robert Dubose) knew I already could keep score, and so I did. It was foreshadowing.
An interesting sidelight on the St. James connection: The church's priest, who had moved in from Monteagle, Tenn., in 1957, was Alfred Chambliss. His son (four years older than me) was an outfielder, I think, for Byrd High School and in American Legion ball for the Broadmoor-based B&N Barbers. He came to help us in our practices a couple of times. His name: Saxby Chambliss.
It's a familiar name now, the longtime senior Republican Senator from Georgia. I'm sure Saxby remembers our practices.
I learned so much in Sunset Acres, gained these memories and friends for a lifetime. A lot of those came from school, and that's where we're going in the next blog.