by Nora Peterson Klier
WHERE ARE THE TREES? A sheltered look at growing up in Midland as a PK (Pastor’s Kid)
I was entering 3rd grade when my family of 6 moved from Dallas to Midland, Texas. Where were the trees? In Dallas the family lived in a beautiful old mansion at 401 North Rosemont. That structure still stands as an event center. Trees lined the entire corner of the block ….tall trees. They turned colors in the fall before shedding their leaves. When my family lived there the mansion was purchased by the Lutheran Church to serve as both a mission church and a “parsonage”. The first floor was used as the church and the second was where our family lived. To my young eyes the 19 century house was beautiful with it’s stained glass windows on the landing of the wide staircase that led up to “our home.” But now we were in west Texas—Midland, Texas. Midland was home to the tumbleweeds and dust storms the likes of which our family had never seen. Once in HS my dad sent me down to Furr’s grocery store for milk or something we needed for Sunday lunch. I hopped on my bicycle pedaling against the wind of a sand storm, head down and determined. I rode right into the back of a car parked on the curb near our church. The entire time I was in Midland I yearned for a beautiful green yard with lots of trees. I remember, at Christmas, helping mother decorate a little tumbleweed tree , made of graduated sizes of tumbleweeds. We stacked 3 one on top of another, shaped much like a snowman. The “tree” was first sprayed with canned snow. We also had a real tree, a Douglas fir, often brittle before we took it down after Epiphany. By then, brown needles blanketed the floor around it. Our house wasn’t quite ready when we arrived to Midland in 1952. A very kind and talented carpenter and member of the Dallas church built both the Midland church and was still living in our house as he was still putting on the finishing touches to both church and house..
Nevertheless, we moved into our house the summer before I started 3rd grade elementary school at Lamar. My teacher was Miss Whitson. Miss Whitson took a liking to me, even invited me to her home once or twice. In the beginning of 3rd grade I changed my name from Sandra to Nora. My dad went about going door to door to build a congregation for Midland Lutheran Church. Meanwhile it became the pastor’s kids’ responsibility to help Dad with the church duties. Those duties included setting up the tables and chairs for various meetings, cleaning the building and raking the large church yard. Dad rode on a modest lawn mower cutting the grass which left piles of clipped Bermuda grass wilting on the fresh cut lawn. We also helped assemble the parish paper once a month. Our reward was cold watermelon, eskimo pies and a variety six pack of sodas. Saturday nights we were home folding all the church bulletins for the following morning service. A starter church didn’t come with lawn care or church member help with many of the duties required to make it work. When in Junior High I became the organist for the church. Our home/parsonage was connected to the church by a sidewalk. Of course, dad’s salary was modest. Summers my sister Stella and I looked forward to the boxes of hand-me-downs from Virginia cousins. It was like Christmas getting all those nice clothes from cousins whose father owned a pharmacy. I wasn’t aware at that young age that we were going to school with the children of oil field executives and such. That realization hit me in junior high. I guess all the “it” girls wore Old Main Trotter loafers with white crew socks. Penney’s made a poor facsimile of that shoe. That was what my dad purchased for me. That was what he could afford. At the reunion, held in Midland some 45 years later, when multiple classes attended, it was evident that few knew or recognized my sister Stella and me. Apparently someone had gone back to their hotel room and looked up the Peterson sisters in an old yearbook. Day 2 of the reunion that person asked my sister and me “did your parents make you dress like that?” We had a good laugh. My friends were members of our church. There were few my age at such a young church. It seemed most of Midland went to the much larger 1st Baptist Church. I was glad for my sister, only 14 months older than me. She was my playmate growing up. Even my older brother Charles joined in occasionally, although he was almost 5 years older. I don’t remember anyone from any school coming to our house to spend time. Our family owned 1 car and that was for my dad, so we really couldn’t visit anyone else. As we got older,we had strict curfews anyway—in by 9 school days and 10 on the weekends. (At reunions classmates told me of their cruising their vehicles until midnight, or going to parties at the country club, or even flying on private jets to Dallas to shop.) I’m glad I was unaware of that when in school. I was happy. However, I was aware that my curfews and lack of a car, kept me from going out on Saturday nights. Most could stay out til midnight I guess. So, I guess you could say I had a very sheltered life as a PK in Midland, especially in HS. That said, I never felt like I was missing out. In summers while some were hanging out at the Midland Country Club swimming in the pool, we paid 50 cents to swim as long as we wanted at the triple D motel…having the pool mostly to ourselves. We did have wonderful family vacations most summers, visiting every contiguous state except Utah and the states in the NE. We read every historical marker along the way, often staying with friends or relatives. A motel stay was special….we could happily enjoy a late evening swim. We had “continued education” visiting state capitols, national parks, president’s homes, the giant sequoias, Mt. Rushmore, and saw mountains and both oceans. I gained a real appreciation for the great outdoors. We were lucky kids. Since reuniting with many from HS I have come to appreciate that I grew up in treeless Midland. I attended school with some very outstanding students and learned from some of the best teachers—Midland could afford to pay more than most teachers could get in towns with trees! I am humbled and in awe of many who graduated with me. It has been my pleasure to get to know these folks better throughout the years. All said, I guess I made the most of living in Midland for 10 years. Mostly I was glad to leave the treeless town for college in a place that had trees! (Texas Lutheran, of course). My parents left Midland as soon as I graduated but there were no trees for them in their new home, Tucson, Az.
Bekki Maier Welch
Nora, I really enjoyed your story. Makes me remember more of my childhood. For sure not all of us had money but it was still a great childhood. Maybe I will think of more to write.
Suzi Northcutt Griffith
Nora, that was so poignant. I wish I had met you in H.S. but I understand you went to Lee. Those tumbleweed Christmas trees really were a mess to clean up as I recall. And it’s true about finding fresh trees. I think we sometimes had to venture to Odessa. It’s true we were out there in the middle of nowhere, and I always wished to live somewhere where the only radio station didn’t play country western music and there was someplace to at least water ski! I hope you discovered that you could go to the sandhills at Monahans and slide down the slopes on unfolded cardboard boxes!
Dennis “Wemus” Grubb
Great story, and being that I was your down the street neighbor, I fully relate to every thing you described! So happy you are doing better too!
Nora I loved your story about early Midland and the lack of trees! I got to Midland, at the age of 3 months, when my dad left the Military as a B 25 bomber pilot and returned to Texas. I had know idea that there was a lack of trees until we visited San Angelo! There were forest and clear running rivers and I just new this is where Tarzan lived! I now live deep in a tropical rain forest in Austin Texas!
Thanks for sharing your history!
Gary & Gana Durossette
Not only could Nora play the organ but also the piano and flute and she was an accomplished singer, quite a talented young lady besides being cute which is why I spent some time at the parsonage. As I remember there was an attractive hedge lining the curved driveway which only goes to prove that there was a way to grow something green without trees.