My parents bought the Zachary-built, two-bedroom house where I grew up on 2418 Garfield St. new in 1951. The old black-and-white photos with the deckle edges I have of it are stark. No lawn. No vegetation. Just a little white house with a sidewalk to the front door, a carport, shutters… and dirt.
The entire neighborhood is quite different nowadays, with 65-year-old trees shading larger houses that have had new living spaces added on several times.
At some point in the mid-1950s, when I was six or seven years old, an officer from Laredo Air Force Base bought the nearly identical tract house next door.
Not that big a deal, except for the fact that he came with a beautiful, young French wife. That was a big deal. The good matrons of Garfield and Mier Streets didn’t know what to make of her, shall we say, “flamboyant” style.
Like Bathsheba in the Old Testament episode, this attractive woman had no children to occupy her, and her husband, like Bathsheba’s Uriah the Hittite, was often out of town fighting the Cold War somewhere.
During those complacent absences, Madame threw great parties for large groups of the younger Air Force officers, week nights and weekends. While it lasted, it was Mardi Gras year ‘round. The dirt of unpaved Garfield St. would be lined with the partying lieutenants’ fancy, late-model, two-doors, some even blocking driveways.
From inside the house, you could hear dance music, laughter, and the ice rattling in highball glasses.
The gaiety of the world inside next door those evenings was one I could only imagine, since I had no first-hand knowledge of adults dancing or drinking alcohol. Laughing, yes. I knew all about laughing, but not the other activities. The dissolute ones my Southern Baptist parents didn’t exactly scorn, but still, dancing and drinking were not what they did at parties.
During one of those fêtes Mom used an unrecognized tone to say to Dad, “She’s the only woman there, isn’t she?” I had no clue about what was so special about that ratio.
One afternoon after it was late enough to go outside without getting a sunstroke, I was sitting on top of the metal swing set in the backyard, trying not to let its hot metal bars burn my hands or the backs of my legs and looking to see if Jimmy Fisher was out playing yet.
He wasn’t, and I turned to look over my shoulder in the other direction. There on a chaise longue lay Bathsheba herself in a relaxed pose, basking in the sunshine, a glass of wine on a table at hand, reading a paperback.
And wearing a bikini, no less. But no more, either. Well, except for the sunglasses.
She smiled and gave me a friendly wave.
It was very educational.
That is, it was educational, until Mom came out and recognized the focus of my studies.
She ordered me down from the lookout and sent me to my room to wait for Dad’s return from work.
That generally meant corporal punishment.
But instead, when Dad got home, he let me off with a caution not to spy on the ‘naked’ lady next door, who didn’t know any better, what with being French and all.
As soon as I got to college in 1967, I enrolled in French 101.