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November 26 marks the date of my father(Jerry)’s birth. He died in June 2020 at the age of 92. November 26 is also the birthday of my oldest daughter. Thanksgiving and their birthdays are always linked in my mind.
I recently received a couple of photos of my father as a young boy that I had not seen before. Fortunately his name, Gerald, is noted on the back. Unfortunately, no year or place or occasion is noted.
At first glance, I thought he was holding a box, but he is holding whatever it is with his fingertips, so it can’t be very heavy. Maybe a large sheet of paper? A school project his mother wanted to document? His mother, I assume, positioned Gerald by the side of a building and in front of a pretty bush and is the shadowy photographer. Gerald looks about five or six years old. What do you think?
Another photo pictures older brother Myron (left) and Gerald. It appears to have been taken from the same roll of film, but probably not on the same day since Gerald is wearing a collared shirt in this photo.
Gerald is holding a man-sized lunch pail and Myron has something behind his back. Maybe the boys share the lunch box and Myron is holding a book satchel they share. Gerald’s clothes fit him well, but Myron’s jeans are those purchased by a frugal mother – rolled up and held up – while he grows into them. The boys are neat and clean – maybe waiting for the bus on their first day of school. A reasonable guess, I think.
And who knows, maybe these are before and after shots with that collared shirt now unbuttoned and fallen down behind the overalls and neatly combed hair now pushed to the opposite side after running around on the school yard.
Enough maybes and guesses for today.
The Sepia Saturday prompt photo features a closeup of a boy in a deck chair. Sit back, get comfortable, and visit Sepia Saturday to see what others have shared.
My attempt to share stories for each letter of the alphabet featuring our life in Austin B.C. (Before Children) 1975-1985. The 70s were a long time ago. 26 stories were a stretch for my brain, so I cheated and left out X and Y, meaning I have FINALLY made it to the letter Z!
The prompt photo features a young couple.
Perhaps they are recently married and have just rented an apartment in a new city where they are looking forward to an exciting new life together.
My husband and I were not really looking for a place to live where there was “never a dull moment,” but it seems we had our share of moments while living at River Hills. There was The Clown Next Door, Breaking and Entering, and the final “moment” for us – the Bats.
But well before the bat incident, there was the guy with the cougar and the chimp and whatever else he had in his apartment.
We already knew about the cougar. My husband had seen it chained up on the ground level patio of an apartment in another part of the complex. There was no fence or any kind of barrier – just a cougar that anyone could walk right up to. Besides the story in the newspaper, the owner of the cougar, Ted Wenk, was interviewed for the local news stations. I distinctly remember an emphasis by the reporters that the thieves should be very careful with the poison darts and consider turning them in.
A similar article with a different family portrait…
Just a few days later, Ted was in the news again.
It is hard to believe that the apartment manager didn’t know there were wild animals about. I mean, my husband saw the cougar when he was just walking around. And imagine the noise made by 40 parrots, a chimpanzee, and a cougar!
We didn’t live close to his apartment, so other than talking about the novelty and idiocy of the situation, we didn’t keep up with the guy – didn’t remember his name, didn’t know anything else about him.
I didn’t find a followup story about lawsuit over the biting chimp, but I found some other information about our former “neighbor.” Turns out, Ted Wenk had quite a story.
We don’t remember anything about a renters’ strike or going without water. I guess the water issue didn’t affect our building. Ted won this case.
About a year later, someone was accused of trying to steal two black leopards from Mr. Wenk.
River Hills Apartments were on streets that intersected Riverside Dr. Sometime before 1980, Mr. Wenk was keeping his animals farther out Riverside Dr. in a less populated area. It seems law enforcement may have been familiar with him, or at least with his animals. Ted denied that the big black cat was one of his.
By 1982, Ted Wenk had moved east of Austin to the town of Bastrop and opened Wild World Animal Park.
A few months later Ted Wenk was featured in a lengthy article about people keeping large cats as pets.
“Oh, they’re as tame as a house cat,” said Ted Wenk, owner of the Wild World of Cats near Bastrop. He owns 28 exotic cats. “But consider they are a 600-pound house cat. You step on its tail and it might disembowel you. They are big and they are mean.”
I seriously don’t understand people.
In early December of 1983, Ted was showing off two extremely rare white tiger cubs born at his zoo.
At the end of December, Ted posed with his children and was the subject of columnist John Kelso. One might conclude that Mr. Wenk didn’t shy away from media attention.
The article included another photo, this time with a python and a baboon.
Remember those rare white tigers cubs? They went missing. Were they sold? Or eaten?
Wow! Another litter of rare white tigers.
Things took a turn for the worse in Ted Wenk’s life. He was arrested on a drug charge … and those expensive white tiger cubs he sold to a zoo in OK turned a darker hue.
The crime committed by Mr. Wenk seems not to have been as serious as first thought, but he believed he must move because he had lost community support for his zoo and he was losing money.
I guess Ted changed his mind about moving. A newspaper article published in 1986 about a veterinarian mentions Ted and his zoo, located between Austin and Bastrop.
And then things really took a turn for the worse. Ted Wenk was reported missing by his 17-year-old son.
Ted Wenk was never found. His zoo closed in disarray.
This isn’t the first time that I started writing a post for this series and chased the story well beyond my little memory. I don’t remember hearing about Ted Wenk’s death, or if I did, making the connection to our shared time at River Hills.
I have to say I am glad to be finished with this series. I tired of writing so many stories in a row based on my own life and not writing about the ancestors – or at least others in the family. But now a few of our stories are documented bits of family lore along side older stories.
I began with the young couple in the prompt photo and I’ll end with a photo of the young couple who were the characters in this series – my husband and me.
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My attempt to share stories for each letter of the alphabet featuring our life in Austin B.C. (Before Children) 1975-1985. The 70s were a long time ago. 26 stories might be a stretch for my brain. I am behind, but intend to make it to Z! Today I have made it to W.
After we had both completed grad school and were gainfully employed, we started itching to own a home. On weekends we would drive around neighborhoods under construction, go to open houses, and peek in windows. We looked at a lot of houses that were beyond our means, but they were fun to dream about and gather ideas.
At one open house, we approached a builder whose houses we liked in a neighborhood we liked, but they were all way too big for us. We told him we were thinking of something more along the size of the houses another builder was constructing in that neighborhood. He told us that if we liked the other guy’s houses we should get him to build one for us. No! We like your houses! Just smaller. Please?
He told us to find a plan with a square foundation and no hallways and he would see. It would need to be a plan that he could use more than once. We found a plan in a magazine that was the right size that we thought would work. He made a few changes and we agreed. We still have a sketch of how the house sat on the lot. The foundation is pretty square. And there were no hallways.
I’m not going to use the builder’s name because he is still building locally. Let’s call him Big House. The name of his company was Big House & Son. Son was about two years old at the time and the youngest of five. Yup. Four daughters, then Son. Now that “& Son” was on the company logo, they could stop having kids, we assumed. “& Son” is no longer part of the company name and it looks like one of the daughters is listed in some management role. While Big House was building a house for us, he was also building a new house for himself. He laughed and told us that our house would fit in his attic. He was a piece of work.
Although we liked his construction and many of the touches in his homes, we were not fans of the decorative selections in his spec houses. His wife was the decorator, so we made sure not to insult her and were thankful we could choose the wallpaper and flooring ourselves. I grew to understand why people say building a house can strain a marriage. Fortunately, the process took a toll on my sleep rather than our marriage as I looked through wallpaper book after wallpaper book after wallpaper book both while awake and in my dreams. We ended up with these selections. Not too tacky for the 80s, right?
We handed over a down payment in October of 1981. I don’t remember if anything happened before the end of the year, but we moved in during the spring, maybe by the end of March. Neither of us had ever watched a house go up before. I checked the progress nearly every day. It seemed like it took forever, especially toward the end.
This photo was obviously taken a few years later. Mini van in the garage. Stroller in the driveway. We still aren’t great landscapers.
Our house seemed so big when we moved in with our apartment furniture that didn’t fill the space. The older photos show some of that apartment furniture. And the first curtains I made.
Some photos are lopsided and barefoot and pregnant.
A random photo shows a kitchen much smaller than we are used to now – just the right size for a young Cinderella in furry teddy bear slippers to clean between nebulizer treatments for asthma. The little details in a picture like this … the lunchboxes stacked on the fridge, the tiny television that kept me company while cooking, the chair from the kid’s table and chairs inherited from my husband’s family, the dining room through the doorway that was never used as a dining room…
Some photos show sweet love and random shoes.
We eventually added a big room in the back as a playroom/sewing room as well as a nice deck to accommodate our family of five plus dog.
In 1996 we built another house in the same neighborhood. Not having a hallway or a bedroom for each kid started getting a little cramped. Now we don’t need this bigger house. Sometimes I think about moving back into our first home if it ever goes on the market again. I haven’t convinced my husband that it would be a good idea – the bathrooms are small, the kitchen is small, and so on. We don’t know what updates and changes the subsequent owners have made. Maybe they made improvements we would like. Or maybe not.
Big House used this plan two more times in our neighborhood with different roof lines. I don’t know if he built it any where else. That little three bedroom, two bath house with no hallways we paid $88,000 for would likely sell for a number in the upper six figures today.
I will end with another memory from this house. I didn’t think I would be able to match the prompt photo, but I did!
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