Hollywood Park, our neighborhood, lay about 12 miles from downtown on the extreme northern edge of the city. Hollywood Park in 1970 was the frontier between civilization and the Texas Hill Country. It bore no resemblance to the real Hollywood and was parklike only to the extent that trees were in it; the name represented aspiration more than reality. Most streets had no curbs, and the delineation between lawn and roadway usually meant only a yard or so of hard-packed gravel. Kids hit tennis balls to each other in the street and we rode our bikes fearlessly. A few among us had tetherball poles, but most families’ yards were too cluttered with oak trees to have enough room for tetherball.
A few days after our move from Houston, two ladies showed up at our front door with a welcome wagon. I had heard the expression but never knew that it involved an actual wagon, so I was surprised to see two women standing on our porch with a Radio Flyer between them. Mama’s preference would have been to conduct the obligatory chit-chat right there on the stoop and be done with it, but protocol demanded that she allow these people into the house and offer them coffee while they sized up our furniture and peppered Mama with questions designed to help them estimate our family’s relative affluence. I do not think our décor was noteworthy enough to give the welcome wagon committee any fodder for gossip, but the looming ebony presence in the corner of the living room of Burt the crow, perched warily on the Chinese screen where he spent most of his time, likely made up. The red wagon had arrived fully loaded, and it made perfect sense to me that its contents should include coffee and sugar. The brick of Velveeta made sense, and the cans of Ravioli-O’s. Any mother recovering from a move would appreciate a gift of those pantry staples. The food made more sense than the golf balls, when there was no golf course within ten miles of Hollywood Park. Or the masking tape. I would be pleased never to be required to receive ladies with a welcome wagon again. I might harbor kinder memories if they had given us the wagon, but they didn’t. “Great. More stuff to put away,” Mama muttered as the ladies pulled their wagon down our sidewalk toward the street.