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Family - 1950s

1950, Main St., Kewanee, Illinois

On their way to San Antonio by train, the family first visited Kewanee during summer vacation. They'd said a fond farewell to the Mississippi Gulf Coast and were looking forward to a stay with Bernardine Rice who'd welcomed them into her San Antonio home until Carl found a job. He applied to Lackland AFB and found work in decoding classified Cold War documents.

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In 1951, Carl eventually found he could no longer cope with the conflicts in his life and suffered a mental breakdown. He sought help from Catholic counselors. With their advice, Carl finally came out to Terry about his own issues with sexuality. He admitted to her that he was a homosexual and that he had known since high school. He had hoped to shelter himself in family life with his marriage to her. He further confided some of the conflicts he had over the years, for example: He left GCMA because he had a crush on the coach; he left Weslaco HS because he had been attracted to the vice-principal; and at the air force base in San Antonio, he was having similar problems. Fear of exposure was the reason he'd turned down the prestigious, Univ. of Chicago, Assistant to the Chancellor position in 1945.

 

Terry and Carl now had to face the biggest crisis of their marriage. Both were counseled to save the marriage and to save Carl from an awful facility. They joined the Christian Family Movement and became active members. Carl was also told to develop hobbies, while he pursued a new career in guidance counseling. The harsh fact they both had to confront was the way homosexuals were “treated” at that time in San Antonio: Their behavior was considered so deviant that they were committed or incarcerated. Terry renewed her marriage commitment to Carl and vowed to keep his scandalous secret. Though greatly saddened, she kept her word, and for good reasons:

Decriminalization of homosexuals in the United States (1962-2003)

Carl introduced family activities in the evening: Ma Jong, Chinese checkers, and lessons in German grammar and vocabulary. Carl's fascination with funny language, including “Anguish Languish,” caused us all to memorize with him the story of Ladle Rat Rotten Hut. It made all of us laugh and giggle—over and over again. We also learned and practiced Pig Latin, some Esperanto.

Michael and the pigeon coop; landing shelf to the  upper right; Katie inside pigeons' door to garage.

During the year or two we lived on Yellowstone Avenue in San Antonio’s near South Side, Carl was a “traveling tester,” administrating standard intelligence and aptitude tests to students in rural Catholic schools through south-central Texas. He would load cartons of blank tests in his car and be gone for weeks. Then he would return with the same cartons filled with completed tests, waiting for grading—an endeavor in with he enlisted his kids, much to our dismay.

 

In the backyard garage, Carl and Mike built a large pigeon coop, and among the half-dozen varieties of pigeons we raised—and trained—were racing-homing pigeons, called “homers.” When he drove away, among the crates of papers were cages filled with pigeons. On small strips of thin, tissue paper, he would write notes to the family in tiny script, and put the notes in little aluminum capsules. The capsules were strapped to the leg of one of the pigeons and released from each of the towns he was visiting. Days later, the pigeon would flutter down out of the sky, landing on the shelf leading into the coop. 10-year-old Mike would catch the pigeon, relieve it of its capsule, and come dashing into the house with the latest message for Mother to read to the family.

Throughout the '50s, Carl engaged the family in his work and activities. He installed the testing service in the home with an IBM machine to scan test results, and observed religious holidays with new family traditions. His frequent road trips gave him some relief from the pressure of '50s social conformity. All three children were in Catholic schools; the family was well known and respected in the San Antonio Catholic community. Bernardine Rice was a frequent visitor and support.

We were always moving, moving—to rental houses that needed a lot of fixing-up. The gallons of Sears “Super Kem-Tone” paint that we slathered on walls after moving in: oh, my. Six houses in the nine years we lived in San Antonio alone. Six different grade schools in six different towns in three different states was Michael’s growing-up experience. Still, those nine years in San Antonio were the first semblance of (relative) stability our family had experienced until then.