Sunday, October 7, 2012

In Sunset Acres, friends for a lifetime

     The best thing that came out of my family's decade in Sunset Acres were the friends we made -- for my folks, the Gwins next door; for me, two sets of three brothers -- the Bakers and the Tuckers.
      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)
       The Tuckers lived a block away in the other direction. Once Casey found his future wife, Marion, and we spent a little less time together, I became a regular at the Tucker house. It was Johnny, a year younger than me; Terry, a year younger than Johnny; and little Steve, about eight years younger.
       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.
Lou Gwin
       We lost "Spanky" four years ago; it's still painful to think about. We've lost all our parents. But we never lost touch with each other. The bonds we formed in Sunset Acres are forever strong.
        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.



  1. Nico, you can brag a little, that although you were not the "best" ball player, you did win the city, checker championship one year.

  2. I remember those days of meeting you Nico, and your sister Elsa. As well as your mom and dad.... The Collins, older couple at 2910 Amhurst, is where I grew up... My name is Patty... My sister, is Kathy... were raised up there and of course my parents and step brothers lived on Sunset Circle.... The Gwins, Sherry and Debbie were great friends to us as well.... Those were all memorable times growing up in SA.... They will be always treasured in the back of our minds.... God Bless you Nico, Elsa and your family...As i said before, my name is now Patty Curtis...

  3. Nico, your memory is either almost infallible or you kept a diary your entire life. These are really nostalgic and fun reads. To add my two cents, I remember Pat Baker, Casey's mother, quite well since I worked at McKeller's Sunset Drug all they way through pharmacy school. The three pharmacists there: Malcolm McKellar, Bill Day, and Ray Alspaugh were great teachers of the art of retail and community pharmacy, something that has been lost in today's environ of chain drug stores. And, through them I also became close to our two local GP's in SA, Dr. John Hall and his partner, Dr. Smith.

    Sunset Drug was one of the last bastions of the independent drug store. And, it had a soda fountain/lunch counter until it was remodeled in the 70's! That SA shopping center and the drug store were truly a center of activity in SA, and a crossroads of the entire neighborhood.

    Lawrence Robinson

  4. From Jack Thigpen, Ruston:
    As I read this blog I could not help but remember the days of my childhood playing baseball, basketball and, as you, even holding track meets in my neighborhood. There was a vacant lot behind the house across the street from my house and we spent no telling how many hours playing baseball there. Even had kids coming from all over town to play at “Folks Field” - named after the family that owned the lot. Basketball, in my driveway, was an every day thing during the winter. Those were really special days with special friends. Would love to play on that field or driveway just one more game.
    I do not see kids doing much of that now – too busy playing on their wii, computers etc. They really do not know what they are missing.
    You always bring back floods of memories for me. Thanks so much.