I was four, maybe five. Me and Daddy were in an old drug store. It was dirty. There were men sitting around in dingy booths with torn, plastic covers. Cigars and cigarettes had been stamped out on the floor. He had my hand and for that, I was grateful.
It was the mid-fifties and we were in downtown Dallas, across the street from the old Greyhound Bus Station. This was Dallas years before anyone ever heard of JFK or the assassination that made Dallas famous. Dallas wasn’t much of a city then. Oh, it was big enough, but not proud and mighty the way it is today.
All the drug stores in those days had a counter with those stainless steel barstools and yellow plastic covers. They served malts and shakes in real glasses; heavy containers. Daddy lifted me up and sat me on one of the bar stools. It felt like I was twenty feet in the air. He was asking me something.
“Honey, can daddy buy you an ice cream cone?” Daddy smiled at me and then nodded to the guy behind the counter, a weathered old man in sagging trousers. “Fred, bring this girl an ice cream cone.”
Fred nodded back. “What kind, Johnny?”
“Bring her vanilla.”
The deal was done. The ice cream came promptly on a large cone. At first lick I fell in love. There was certainly no greater pleasure on earth than ice cream. The ball of ice cream, the cumbersome cone, they were difficult for a tiny four-year old hand to manage but I had become completely absorbed in those licks . . . one, and then another and then another.
Daddy and Fred discussed things too difficult for a little girl to grasp, something about football games and who would win. Money exchanged hands.
From behind me, Daddy’s big hands formed around my waist. “Time to go, honey,” he was saying as he lifted me high and swung me around.
Just then a tragedy of mammoth proportions occurred: the ball of ice cream fell off the cone. Kersplat! Right into the middle of the dirty floor full of crushed out cigars.
I let out a blood curdling wail and was suddenly enveloped in tears.
Just then, my startled father exchanged panicky glances with Fred, but I couldn’t see how this calamity could ever be set right.
“Oh no!” Fred called out. “We dropped our ice cream.” This was the type of guy who had likely never uttered those five words in his life. “Here, let me get you another,” he offered in a softer voice.
Daddy took the new ice cream cone from Fred and gently knelt down to hand it to me. Then he turned and thanked the man and we left the drug store. Walking out onto the sidewalk in the bright noon day sun, daddy carefully helped me into the old ’47 Chevy and we headed back home to momma and Sonny.
It was years later before I knew where I had been that day. Fred was daddy’s bookie. It took years of yelling matches between my mom and dad, yelling matches that, over the years, began to clarify some things about my life, our lives.
For one thing, daddy had a gambling problem. For another, momma had a drinking problem. She had a temper too. She was far beyond most females in the women’s movement. She worked outside the home when most wives and mothers shunned such behavior. She drank. She had a girlfriend that she always went carousing with. They’d dance the night away with guys whose names didn’t even matter.
During the yelling matches I found out other things too. Things that innocent children really shouldn’t know about. Momma was always mad at daddy because he was chasing skirts.
You see, daddy was a very good-looking, charismatic man. Women just naturally gravitated toward him. He couldn’t be faithful. I remember one floosy that daddy got involved with when I was around 10 years old. She was a semi-famous stripper in Dallas known as Trixie. I don’t recall what exactly happened, but old Trixie got herself mixed up in some kind of racy scandal with a well-known politician. It was all over the newspapers for a year or so.
I’ve never seen such genuine glee as the day momma picked up the Dallas Morning News and read one of the first of many articles about the scandal. You could almost hear her thinking, At least there will be one less ‘other woman’ to worry about now.
Daddy seemed at a loss for a while. Looking back, I realize that he might have had some true feelings for Trixie. Who knows? Love never makes any sense, does it?