Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Tales of Chateau Forest - Houston, The Early Years

I grew in up in Houston and met my wife during college at The University of Houston and we married as soon as she graduated.  I had one year left and completed Senior courses while holding down a fifty hour a week job managing the men's departments at the old Joske's store at the Galleria.  We were two young kids in love living in a tiny apartment in Spring Branch.  In those early years we made a decent living between the two of us, but we lived like paupers.  We didn't have credit cards and rarely ate out.  At any given time we had a nice balance in our checking account that in today's dollars would be amazing.  Both sets of parents had been quite successful but we didn't expect the immediate gratification that today's generation demands.  I had worked for cash since I was twelve, mowing yards and doing other odd jobs.  Early on I went to my Dad and made a "deal" with him.  If he'd let me use his mowing equipment for my business, I'd mow his yard for free.  What a silly request, but he agreed.  I'm just guessing he was proud of me for wanting to get out and work.
My wife had a good paying job at a downtown hospital.  Once I finished school, the store promoted me to an assistant buyer.  A year later I was a full fledged buyer traveling to national trade shows.  The money wasn't great but together we were making progress. We'd now moved "up" to a two bedroom apartment, but after a year, we were both yearning for a real home.  No plans for kids at that point, but we did buy a fluffy white dog named Frosty.  He was an American Eskimo and we quickly realized he had a nasty temperament.  I came home early from work one day to find our alcoholic neighbor taunting the dog by repeatedly tapping the window.  I hated this apartment life.
I worked occasionally on Saturdays, but many Sunday afternoons we'd ride around looking at new homes for sale, dreaming for a day we could afford our own home.  On one such Sunday we found some new homes off of West Little York.  We walked through this new home and my wife was just and over the cabinetry and the fireplace.  But this home was $25,000 and we just couldn't imagine getting something this nice, nor did we think we really deserved it yet.  Just then the front door opened and a man walked in.  Turns out he was the builder (maybe a Mr. Browning) and couldn't have been nicer.  We complimented him on the home and then explained it was not quite in our price range.  He smiled and said he understood.  Then he tipped his head and said "Hey, I've taken a little home as a trade in on a purchase.  It's really in good shape".  In a simpler and more trusting time he said" It's in Chateau Forest.  It's close by.  Take these keys and you kids go look at it.  I'll wait here for you"  So on return we told him we liked the little house and right there we bought our first home on a hand shake.  I paid the guy $1000 and assumed the $13,000 mortgage with a $315 monthly payment.  We were home owners!!
Once were were in, we did our best to spruce the place up.  My parents were remodeling their home in Ella Lee Forest and donated some lightly used carpeting for our built-in garage area.  Oh did I mention the carpet was red?  Think of the MGM Grand back in this era.  We rarely used that room the whole time we lived there.  I had a brother-in-law who was great at any kind of handyman projects.  At one point he asked me what I thought about cutting a hole through the wall that divided the kitchen from the "red carpet" room.  Said he could make a serving bar coming out the cutout to serve food from the kitchen(into the room we never used).  It was Thanksgiving weekend and I had to work on Black Friday.  I walked in that afternoon to find lots of noise and sawdust.  I walked around to the kitchen to see the whole cut out but with two pipes running vertically in the middle of the opening.  At that point my brother-in-law said.."I didn't realize the gas pipes ran right through the middle of the cutout area.  I found conduit to work the gas lines around the hole and I'll have it done in an hour or so."  Whoa!  But it all worked out.
Home ownership was nice.  No stream of people coming and going.  No all-weekend beer bashes at the apartment pool.  I'd drive down our street and pull in to our little place and walk in.  Back then the wife actually could and would cook a few dishes.  Ah home sweet home in lovely Chateau Forest.
Frosty was our first dog and I wasn't quite the "over-the-top" dog lover I am now.  Frosty had nipped me more than once.  If I wanted to leash him for a walk, he'd show his teeth and growl.  Once on a camping trip he slipped out of our tent at dawn and ran over to the the next campsite.  Those people had been up late drinking and were sleeping it off outside there tents.  I was walking that way when Frosty got right over a sleeping camper and was nose to nose with this guy.  The man woke up startled and Frosty instead of running just showed his teeth and growled.  Oh boy!  What a scene!  The dog circling this guy on his back as he tried to wiggle out of his sleeping bag.  I finally caught the dog and caught hell from the camper.  Frosty would not back down.
So in Chateau Forest I'd sometime put him on a run in the backyard under a shade tree.  On rare occasion he'd get loose and just go wandering through the neighborhood.  Usually I'd find him quickly and bring him home.  One Saturday, I'd gone to the grocery store and was headed back down our street.  Making my way towards the house I noticed some commotion to my left. A man was vacuuming his car in the driveway and had all four doors open.  Looking closer I see our Frosty in the front seat hanging over and growling at the man who was in the back seat wildly swinging the vacuum cleaner hose at the dog.  I panicked.  Nothing to see here.  I just kept driving thinking I'll get down to my home and quickly unload the groceries.  Maybe this situation will just resolve itself.  I walked out in the backyard and didn't see the dog but then heard a few whistling noises.  Geez I hope those weren't bullets.  About that time Frosty came running around the corner. Crisis over.
The only other time Frosty got out I walked out my front door and heard him barking but didn't immediately see him.  We had a mysterious neighbor three doors down who always seemed to be clad in camo.  I had nicknamed him Rambo.  He had two high profile trucks and appeared to be somewhere on the spectrum between your average redneck hunter and a militia member that met out in the woods wearing warfare face paint.  He was a man of few words.  Best I could surmise, Rambo had just pulled in the driveway and my dog started barking at the guy.  So Rambo jumps out of his truck and yells "Go on! Git!"  Frosty in his usual aggressive manner just growled and stepped a little closer.  As I was making my way over to grab my dog, Rambo goes into some martial arts pose and starts growling back.  The dog is circling him and Rambo keeps pivoting so as to always face his canine opponent.  Oh boy!  I moved in apologizing profusely and collared the 32 lb "fight" dog.  Rambo recoiled from his defensive stance and walked into his house, mumbling something as he shut the door.  I looked at Frosty and said "You're lucky to be alive!"
The neighborhood was made up mostly of blue collar workers and I felt comfortable around them, having been raised in Oak Forest.  All the neighborhoods that fed into Waltrip High School were of that ilk.  Mostly native born Texans that would do anything for you.  I was beginning to change as the fashion business exposed me to a whole new range of folks and lifestyles.  Trips to New York and California trade shows were forcing me to adapt some to fit in, but I liked my Houston folks.  I loved  going to Weingarten's and cruising the aisles shopping with people from all walks of life.
There was something a little different about our little Chateau Forest.  Maybe it was just the street we were on that elbowed into a new street right at our house.  We could look out the kitchen window and see down the next street.
 Our neighbors to the right were nice enough.  They had one boy about four years old.  Every Saturday his Dad would work out in the garage and let little Timmy run around playing.  His Dad always had  a country station blaring while he worked.  I could easily hear it if I was outside.  I have a clear memory one day of hearing "Kiss an Angel Good Morning" playing and little Timmy running around singing along.  He came around the corner belting out "Kiss an angel good morning and love her like a devil when you get back home!"  Wow and just four years old.
 Our neighbors to our left had no kids and, like Rambo, kept to themselves.  Mack worked at a lumber yard and was truly a hulk of a man.  He was at least 6'3" and was pushing 300 lbs.  He'd wave as he pulled his truck in, but we rarely heard from them.
One Saturday summer night I was awakened by knocking on the front door.  It was after one o'clock in the morning.  Looking out the peep hole I could see a bare chest and looking up I saw Mack's head.  What the hell?  Upon opening the door I saw that Mack had was holding some form of a six shooter.  He could have killed me as I stood there with my mouth hanging open.  I think I mustered a "What's going on Mack?"  "Oh I thought I'd let you know somebody was messing with your VW ( My Super Beetle that I parked in the street) Me: "Oh wow!" as I walked around the car.  "Yea it was two guys.  I fired a couple of shots and they ran off".  I was now fully awake.  I glanced down the street checking for bodies.  Seeing none, I thanked Mack for his heroics and I walked back into the house.  I relayed the story to my wife and then laid down hoping to fall asleep.  My mind wandered.  Suddenly I'm thinking what if these guys come back to do serious damage to my car.  So I get up and call the Harris County Sheriff's Department.  I'm relaying all the information to the dispatcher who seemed totally disinterested.  "Maybe we'll send a car by".  I wasn't a "gun" guy and I'd never called the police to report anything.  I thanked the dispatcher and then just in passing said..."Yea they probably won't be back.  My neighbor fired a couple of shots in the air"  Dispatcher: "Sir did you say shots were fired?"  Me: "Uh..yep"  What I didn't realize was that an APB must have gone out immediately with the phrase "shots fired" because in about two minutes popo had the cul-de-sac filled with squad cars.  Then Mack walks out.  Almost immediately an officer asks -  "Which one of you guys fired the shots?"  Mack quickly raised his hand like a a college basketball player who'd just committed a foul.  He got the lecture about how all bullets returned to the ground somewhere and then they all sped off in the night.  Probably going for Jack In the Box.  I confessed to Mack that I'd used the wrong language with the popo.  He lumbered towards his front door to go to bed...  I wonder where he sleeps... Perhaps, too big for a bed, he had his own spot on the floor.  Ah Chateau Forest!
 Things were back to normal a few months until one weeknight, when I heard the sound of a helicopter about ten.  It got louder and louder and seemed to be circling the neighborhood.  The noise was now deafening.  I walked out in our backyard and immediately was hit with a power beam of white light from the chopper.  I tried to act nonchalant by giving a quick wave and walked back in. It was obvious that the helicopter was hovering right over our home. So my mind is racing with thoughts of fugitives hiding in my shrubs about to break in and hold us hostage.  I called the sheriff's department and in just a few minutes I was told there was no reason for alarm and everything was under control.  Riiight...  The chopper pulled out in about 20 minutes and we went to bed,  It wasn't until the next afternoon we discovered the woman who lived there was murdered in that home (right over our back fence) by her mentally deranged son, who was later captured with the body somewhere out in the piney woods.  I look back and wonder why neither of us suggested a house hunting trip that weekend.  But we carried on in Chateau Forest.
 Later that year I came driving down our street after a busy Friday.  It was the first day that felt a little like Fall..At least for Houston.  Getting closer a scene captured my attention that I'll never forget.  Rambo had two wild hogs hung on a two by six he'd nailed across two pine trees.  I guess he was field dressing them, but in his front yard.  He had on gloves that were bloody from his work.  He looked over at me.  It was like the scene from Christmas Vacation where Eddie is pumping sewage from his RV into the street  while waving to the upscale neighbor saying (pardon the language) "Shitter's Full".  Only Rambo yells out "Good huntin' today".  Me forcing a smile: "I can see that! Have a good night!" Holy crap!
 The very next weekend there was a flock of blackbirds making all this racket in Rambo's pine trees early one Sunday morning.  Looking a little hungover he comes stumbling out in his version of sleeping attire holding a twelve gauge and pumps a few rounds into the pine trees.  Birds scattered everywhere as did a few neighbors.
Never a dull moment in Chateau Forest...
 I may not have all these events in chronological order, but I'm fairly certain that this next episode was the last major happening during our stay in our little neighborhood.
Another Friday night in Chateau Forest.  The wife had actually learned how to make a decent chicken fried steak and she had whipped up some mashed potatoes and cream gravy.  Ah to be young again  when you could eat like that and not gain weight.  As dear wife was cooking I noticed a man walk across our front yard.  Then a couple walked slowly by in the same direction.  As I moved closer to the window I could see eight or nine people milling around.  About that time Mack walked by holding a long gun of some sort.  Jesus! Here we go again!  Heading out the door I walked up to a man I didn't recognize and asked what was going on.  This guy had a heavy country accent and this odd looking leathery face resembling one of the bit actors in Gunsmoke.  "Mack shot his dawg" Me: "What? why?" "because he wouldn't come back when he called him" Me again: "What?" "He said he kept calling him and the dog wouldn't mind.  So he shot him.  Said the dog was worthless".  So these people were standing around in small groups talking about I don't know what, but no one seemed upset.  No one was calling Animal Services or anyone else.  The dog was still lying in the street.   I went back inside and didn't tell the wife the complete story until the next morning.

So a little under two years after we moved in to Chateau Forest, I was offered a job at a Phoenix department store.  Our little house sold without listing and we walked away with a tidy sum for a down payment on our new home in Phoenix.  Our new place was small but cute.  It had a diving pool and a mountain view out the back windows.  We thought we'd hit the big time and we went nowhere but up after that.  The experiences of lovely Chateau Forest always made us so much more appreciative of life as we worked our way up through the decades.  Now our current neighbors preach about living "in one" with the rabbits and bobcats that frequent the Plano suburbs.  Those critters wouldn't have lasted long in Chateau Forest.

                                                  Our Phoenix home bought in '76                    

No comments: