My parents met during World War II in Ft. Worth. My mother was from the panhandle of Texas and moved to the big city seeking equal parts employment and relief from terminal boredom. I can remember my mother telling me that everything in Plainview, Texas either “Sticks, Stinks, or Stings.” While the town may not have been a great place to live, it was a wonderful place to be from. (The from-er the better.) There were defense plants in Fort Worth that fueled a roaring wartime economy, and if you could walk and chew gum at the same time, you could land a job.
My father was from Winters, Texas—a town so remote that, even today, the town proudly boasts the recent arrival of cable-radio. My Dad had come to Ft. Worth while serving in the CCC—the depression make-work program for teenaged boys and young men, named the Civilian Conservation Corps. The motto of the CCC was “Have Shovel—Will Travel.” After Pearl Harbor, these khaki-clad young men were marched into the nearest recruitment centers where they exchanged their shovels for rifles. Well, to be accurate, in my father’s case, he got a set of wrenches since he was a flight engineer.
Once my parents met in Ft. Worth, the problem was how to date on a limited budget. Neither had any money, so they depended on free public amusements and their favorite was the Botanical Gardens. The largest and oldest such garden in Texas, the original name was The Rock Springs Arboretum, but the name had to be changed when too many people thought it was a fancy name for a swimming hole. Renamed, the gardens quadrupled in size over the years.
Evidently, the gardens have always been spectacular. I know this because my parents took a lot of photos, usually from the same place--leaning against a railing and smiling directly into the camera. Looking at that photo, staring into those smiles, you can almost see them planning their future, wondering about their lives after the war.
Fifteen years later, I have memories of the gardens as a child. My parents would take my brother and me to the gardens because the gardens were still lovely. And because the gardens brought back special memories for them. (And, no doubt, because the gardens were still very inexpensive.)
Today, seventy years after the war, my parents are no longer with us and my wife and I live in a desert hundreds of miles from those gardens. My son (not What’s-His-Name, but The-Other-One) lives in Fort Worth with his wife, the Leprechaun, and their child, the Munchkin. He took the family to the Botanical Gardens last weekend. Evidently, finding a cheap family outing is still a problem in my family.
In due course, my son sent my cell phone a photo of the Munchkin standing in front of a garden that I immediately recognized. A few minutes later, I sent back one of those photos of my parents smiling at the railing sometime during 1943. Seventy years later, you would think that the garden would have changed dramatically. I know some changes did occur—the people of Ft. Worth have added a Japanese Garden—a highly unlikely to have been there in 1943. (Two hundred miles south, San Antonio renamed its Japanese Tea Gardens—for the duration—to the more patriotic-sounding Chinese Tea Gardens.)
About half an hour later, my son sent me a second photo. This one was of him and his wife standing at the same railing, smiling into the camera, with the same thoughts and the dreams of the future evident in their smiles. The two photos are not separated at all by 70 years and three generations. In all the most important ways, they are identical.
The Doc and I are planning to visit Ft. Worth soon. We will go to the Botanical Gardens and have our photos taken. We’ll stand at the same railing and smile at the camera and think the same thoughts.