Click below to listen to “Susie Darlin” by Robin Luke
By: Suzi Northcutt Griffith (MHS’63)
My dad was transferred by Magnolia Petroleum from Kermit to Midland in 1946.Our first home was rented on the south side of town from a couple who became close friends of my parents for life. Bea and Leonard Clark. They had come to Midland during the war from San Antonio because Leonard helped develop the Norden Bombsight which was used on planes at Midland Field during the war. He could fix or create anything, and for many years he was the only piano tuner in the Permian Basin. He’d go all the way into New Mexico to tune pianos. Eventually they moved to a house on Illinois St. I don’t know when the High School was built, but I do remember playing in the vacant land on the east of their house where years later The Midland Youth Center would be built. Don’t remember much from this time because I was so young, but I did have a tricycle and rode it on the sidewalk. Mother told me they bought Ozarka water for me because the fluoride in the wells would stain the teeth of young children. About three years later we moved into the house my dad built with the help of friends. This was on land that he bought from a local rancher, Conrad Holzgraf, who was selling lots for development. Conrad’s house fronted on a dirt road that became Golf Course Road and a dirt road that became “A” Street. The southwest corner of that intersection and beyond in both directions became the golf course for the original Midland Country Club. I can remember quite the commotion from a loudspeaker during tournaments (Wildscatter, I suppose). The Holzgrafs had a windmill and there was another windmill further west by Golf Course Road. If you traveled south toward town on “A” street, you would come to the cemetery. Looking north, there was nothing but grass and mesquite and not much of either between my house and Midland Draw.
In the fall, tumbleweeds would pile up a couple of feet high on the front porch and against the back concrete block fence. Daddy built a stone barbecue pit and I would pretend it was my kitchen. My specialties were mudpies and mesquite beans. We had a water well and eventually I drank the water. Preferring to be outside, I spent a lot of time in the vacant lot to the east of our house that we owned. The horned toads were the best finds, but there were other lizards too. The most anticipated creatures were tiny velvety red spiders—about 3/16 to 1/4 inch diameter, including the legs. They could be found beneath the mesquite bushes after a rain. I wish I knew what they were. We also had tarantulas, so I imagined they were hatchling, but in recent years an entomologist friend of ours said they were probably mites of some sort. Anyway, they could be corralled and herded and I never encountered their mother, so he was probably right. Unbelievably, I never encountered a rattler, although we all knew they were out there. I learned to ride my first bike on the unpaved road in front of the house. It was years before the neighborhood was fully developed and the streets were all paved. One year someone gave me some bantam chicks for Easter and I raised them in the back yard. Daddy made a lean-to coop that attached to the well-house. I had to run and jump up on the coop’s roof to escape the mean little rooster that would chase me. Mother made sure the chickens were cooped up before she would go out and hang up the clothes to dry. We kept an eye out for dusters, sandstorms (worse) and Northers (the worst) as none of these got reported on the radio. Early marvelous memories include the yearly rodeo, the Christmas parade and the searchlight in the night sky (it was dark back then) signifying that the new model cars were available at Elder Chevrolet. Mother would take me to swim at a public pool in town which I wish I could place. Seems like it would be approximately close to where Midland Memorial Hospital is now, or somewhere in that area. At some point they closed it— maybe because of polio. We also went out to the airport to swim at the VFW pool. I recall that it didn’t have a shallow end, and one time I had to frantically shout and wave to get my mom’s attention when my frog float started deflating. Eventually I took swimming lessons but this was before anyone was giving small children swimming lessons. I had no siblings, so Mother had to entertain me. Someone moved into a house across the street and they had two older girls. They would play with me. We played dress-up and had tea parties. Down the street to the east a family moved in with a little boy who was a couple of years younger than me. The first day I learned to ride my bike, he and his folks were out there cheering me on. He asked if he could get on and I said sure – he did, and we managed to get back and forth between parents without a mishap on that dirt road. I think I was six. That was Mike Schall. He was a fine playmate, but eventually moved, and the girls across the street were replaced with a family with two boys. So I played a lot of cowboys and Indians, cops and robbers with them. I was the only girl, so if anybody got killed, it was me, and when playing cowboys and Indians I always had to be an Indian. Also, if the boys got shot, they could just declare they were wounded and get back up, but I had to stay dead. At some point, Colleen Joyce, a year older than me, moved into the Schall house and one year she won a shetland pony at the St. Ann’s Fair, which she kept in her backyard. So I’m not sure if we even lived in the city limits yet. Starting school was the best thing in the world for me. It was my whole social life, so I failed to appreciate holidays or summer vacation because of my dearth of playmates. My mother was a nurse, and had not worked since I was born. When I started school, she went to work at the Western Clinic which was sort of downtown, close to the First Methodist and also the First Baptist which was downtown at that time. I still remember having my tonsils removed there when I was four. There was no public kindergarten at this time, and I started first grade at North Elementary. On the school days that Mother worked, my dad took her to work, then took me to a friend’s house across the school from North Elem and went to work downtown. They just had one car. I stayed there until time for school and walked across the street. On some occasions my folks took me to Bea and Leonard’s house to stay before school started. To get to North Elem. I had to walk on the sidewalk in front of the High School. Can’t remember if she walked with me or just watched me walk, but what I do remember is being totally bumfuzzled about those rolled-up packages the students carried under their arms as they disembarked their parent’s cars and the buses. Turns out they were gym clothes, but my imagination couldn’t have furnished that answer and it gave me plenty to ponder on my way to school.