Alexis Puente is the Conservancy’s Community Engagement Associate. Since the coronavirus pandemic began, she has been working with our community partners to address more urgent needs that have arisen. “I’ve enjoyed seeing how different community organizations are working together for the common good and how they’re adapting.”
One of those organizations is Wesley Rankin Community Center (WRCC). In June, WRCC put us in touch with local seniors who were looking for opportunities for social conversation. Sylvia D., a long-term resident of the West Dallas area, spoke with us about her personal history and connection to the West Dallas area next to the Trinity River.
Alexis P: How long have you lived in Dallas?
Sylvia D: I was born and raised in West Dallas. Moved in my house when I was 5 [years old], moved out at 15 to get married then came back at 26. I’ve been in this house for 40 years.
Where did you move from when you were 5?
I have no idea. My mom married my step dad. It’s the house at the end of the street. People that bought it, renovated it so now it looks nothing like it used to. When I moved in it was a 4 room house. We had an actual outhouse and the rain barrel. We lived there ‘til I got married at 15 then I moved away. Then when I moved back at 26 my step dad divorced my mom. She was by herself so I moved in with her. By that time I moved in with her I had gotten divorced and had my two youngest. And we moved in and took care of the household and kids.
Over the past years since y’all have been here has Dallas changed and if so, how?
I live close to Canada Drive. It was gravel. Then after that they put black tar until they finally paved it. I live pretty much on a dead end street with only three houses here. When I first lived here (probably about 1957-1958) it was like living in the country on the farm. There was nothing. We had to gather rainwater to wash dishes for stuff like that until they started putting in the pipes for water and everything.
I heard that West Dallas didn’t get any of the sidewalks paved until later on.
I was gone for a couple years. I’m pretty sure all of that happened when I was gone. When I first lived here it was like living in the country on the farm. There was nothing. We had to gather rainwater to wash dishes for stuff like that until they started putting in the pipes for water and everything.
When did you have to use rainwater, do you remember the time frame? The years?
Let’s see. Probably about 1957-1958 but it had to be before we moved in. I moved in here around [the age of] 5. And my stepdad already did that, he lived with his grandmother and that’s how he was raised.
Growing up in West Dallas, what did you used to do? What kind of activities or games did you play?
My parents were pretty strict and me being a girl, my mother was really overprotective. I grew up reading magazines and books or riding my bike up and down the street. I’m not a very good person at going to the park or picnics or camping because I didn’t grow up like that.
What were your favorite types of books to read?
It was mostly magazines. My mom would only buy me magazines. I didn’t start reading books until I grew up and started buying them. I went through all of the Anne Rice series. She was my favorite.
What were your favorite childhood memories?
I pretty much grew up by myself. There were only two of us. My brother left home when he was 16 or 17. Both my parents worked. When my little brother was born I watched him.
Who is the most memorable person from your childhood and why?
My mother-in-law. I got married when I was 15. I told my daughter even though I didn’t get along with your dad because he wasn’t the best husband, I thank god I married into a good family. My mother-in-law taught me a lot, actually, she finished raising me. My father-in-law was a good man. They taught me what a good marriage is supposed to be. Even though I’ve been divorced for 30-something years, I still keep in touch with my in-laws. They still consider me their first sister-in-law.
What were some of the valuable lessons your mother-in-law taught you?
Patience. I was young when I had my daughter. She would tell me to have patience because she’s a baby; he doesn’t know when she’s upsetting you. [My mother-in-law] taught me how to cook. I got married so young. She taught me how to be a good wife. That’s how we were brought up. We catered to our husbands. Although nowadays girls don’t do that. My daughter thinks I was crazy.
Once Harold Simmons Park is built, are there any programming activities you would be interested in?
I would like to go to the movies more. Or movie days. Kinda alternate not just all Mexican movies. Even if they’re subtitled or dubbed over.
We’ve heard people talk about kayaking. Would you ever do that?
I can’t swim so that’s a no-no for me. I’ll sink to the bottom. I’ll go and watch y’all.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Do you have a connection to the Trinity River area or to neighborhoods near the Trinity River? We would like to hear your story! Contact Alexis Puente at email@example.com.Contact Us