My father, Thomas Carlton Kirkman, was born on August 23, 1900, in High Point, N. C. He was the oldest of five children born to Percy Von and Susie Kirkman. He had three sisters, Mae (b. 1902), Nancy (b. 1903,), Dot (b. 1913,) and one brother, the youngest in the family, P.V., Jr. (b. 1918). My mother, Harriette Amelia Jones, was born on January 26, 1901, in St. Augustine, FL. Her parents were Harry and Nellie Jones. She was one of four girls, having two older sisters, Charlotte (b. 1896) who they always called Shirley, Mabel (b. 1897), and one younger sister, Mildred (b. 1906).
While in school, Daddy had to work to help support the family. I don’t know what kinds of jobs he had except that he mentioned that he had worked at Thomas Car Works at some time. He did well in school and somehow managed to go to Duke University. It was actually Trinity College at that time and he attended at what is now Duke’s East campus, as the West campus hadn’t been built yet. The United States had entered World War I on April 6, 1917, and he had registered for the draft as soon as he was 18. Since he was going to college, he was put in the ROTC program. The war ended on June 23, 1919, and Daddy used to joke that when the Germans learned of his entering the army, they surrendered. Because he was officially in the army during the war, his name is on the High Point World War I memorial called The Doughboy. He was the president of the Class of 1922 and graduated Phi Beta Kappa, which he was very proud of, with a degree in Civil Engineering. The name of Trinity College was changed to Duke University in 1925. He maintained very close ties to Duke University for the rest of his life.
All of the other Kirkman siblings attended and graduated from Duke, too, except for Mae. She had a talent for playing the piano and had taken lessons while growing up. After graduating from high school, she went to the Cincinnati Conservatory of music to further her study of the piano. Unfortunately, she had to leave the Conservatory after two years and returned home. I don’t know if it was due to financial problems or some other problem, possibly having to do with our country’s entry into World War I. She did go back to the conservatory for one more year but never graduated. After that she returned to High Point, and began giving piano lessons. On November 19, 1927, Mae bought a Baldwin grand piano. It cost $1,400 and she was to pay $30 per month for it. My aunt Dot told me that this was a major family decision as it was expensive and the family was still having difficulty in making ends meet. This was during the time of the Great Depression.
My mother grew up in St. Augustine in a house that had been in the family for many years. Her father was a house painter. St. Augustine was predominately a Catholic city and there was a Cathedral and a large convent there with nuns of the Order of St. Joseph. She and her sisters, except for Shirley, all went to school at St. Joseph’s Academy. Shirley was born badly crippled and in those days, there were no special schools such as they have now so she never attended school. She also couldn’t speak very clearly and many people who didn’t know her assumed she had some mental disability too, but that was definitely not the case. She had a brilliant mind and an unbelievable memory. When I think back about all the people I have known, I think she was the most remarkable person I have ever known. Her situation, though, definitely played a major role in the future of all the people in the family.
In the early 1900’s, Florida became a major tourist state. Wealthy people in the north would spend the winters in Florida and many built winter homes there. Many very fancy hotels were also built and St. Augustine had its share of them. A man named Henry Flagler had built a grand hotel in St. Augustine in 1885 and he realized that if Florida was going to grow, it needed a railroad that ran down the east coast of Florida from Jacksonville all the way to Key West. By purchasing several small railroads that were in service, connecting them, and building an additional line between Miami and Key West, he developed the Florida East Coast (FEC) Railroad. The section to Key West was a combination of land, causeways, and bridges. He set the headquarters up in St. Augustine. It was the only major commercial facility in St. Augustine. Henry Flagler also built several hotels along the route of the FEC but the Ponce de Leon hotel in St. Augustine was the grandest of them all. While I was growing up, it was only open in the winter and at some point it closed completely. In 1967 it was converted into a college now know as Flagler College. Flagler built a hospital in St. Augustine primarily for, but not limited to, FEC employees. Mabel and Mildred went to work at the FEC after they graduated from high school. My mother did too, but she took a stenographers course right after high school and because of that, she got a better position at the FEC railroad.
My mother took up the violin at a very early age and in her teens started seriously studying it under a man whose name was Vincent Amato. He lived in Jacksonville but because he thought Mama had a lot of talent, he would come to St. Augustine to give her lessons. Mama was very fond of Vincent and he of her. After she graduated from high school, he wanted her to move to Jacksonville where he felt she would have more opportunities at pursuing a career in music. Although she wanted to do that, she felt that her place was at home helping with the support of the family and caring for Shirley. In later life she said that she often wondered what her life would have been like if she had made the move, but always added that if she had, she wouldn’t have her children and family and that she wouldn’t have traded that for anything.
After graduation, I don’t know what kind of jobs Daddy had, but I do know that he worked in New York for some period of time and was very familiar with the city. He may have worked in other cities too, that I am not aware of. Good jobs in the 1920’s were not easy to come by and he was still involved with helping to support his family in High Point. At some point though, he got a job as a land appraiser with the ICC (Interstate Commerce Commission) and probably around 1927 or 1928 ended up in St. Augustine working on an ICC project with the FEC. The project was to locate property along the railroad that would be suitable for industries in hope that Florida could develop some sort of industrial base. Mama used to say that he walked from Jacksonville to Miami along the railroad. Because he was based in St. Augustine at the FEC headquarters, he developed a relationship with the Jones girls and their family. Apparently he liked Mama the best and asked her to marry him. This was a difficult decision for Mama because she knew that they would have to move once the project he was working on ended and she still felt that her place in life was to be with helping her family. Obviously Daddy won the argument and they were married on July 4, 1931 in the family home at 56 Marine Street.
All of the information I have written so far is important, as these people, places, and situations all played a part in the course my life would take. I think this is true of most people. I think a person’s destiny is primarily determined by the various people they know and all the various situations to which are exposed when they are young.
After my parents married, Daddy’s work took them to a number of places for relatively short periods of time. They lived in Lakeland, Florida, and then went to Bluefield, West Virginia. After that they ended up in Winston Salem, North Carolina, where my sister Shirley was born on May 2, 1932. A little later, they moved back to St. Augustine and lived in an apartment house right across the street from Mama’s family home. On May 26, 1934, I was born in the FEC hospital in St. Augustine. I have the bill covering all the expenses of my birth and the cancelled check Daddy wrote to pay it. It was $55.00. Another move then followed and now the family of four went to Miami, Florida. While there, there was a hurricane, known only as the hurricane of 1935 because at that time they didn’t name hurricanes as they do now. It was a major storm and did a tremendous amount of damage, including completely washing away the portion of the FEC Railroad that ran from Miami to Key West. It was never built back. The next move was back to St. Augustine.
I don’t know why Daddy decided to leave his job at the ICC. It could have been that the ICC had completed the type of work he was doing for them and they no longer needed him, but I think his family in High Point was somehow involved with his decision to get involved with Moffitt Furniture Store which I believe his father was somehow involved with. Regardless of the reason, we moved to High Point in 1936. This move is a perfect example of something that completely changes your life. When we moved, my destiny was changed forever, and I had nothing to do with it. What if we had stayed in St. Augustine and I had grown up there? A completely different set of circumstances would have shaped my life.
We lived in the Emerywood Court Apartments at the corner of North Main Street and Parkway. These apartments are still there and in use today. In the fall of 1936, Daddy bought a house at 902 Sunset Drive. It was a fairly large brick veneer house and the main part was two stories. There were three dormer windows across the front of the roof. The front of the house faced south and the driveway ran up the west side of the house to the back where you would turn to the right to enter the garage. There was a slate front porch across about two-thirds of the front of the house starting at the east end. The house sat higher than the driveway so the garage was attached to the house but lower so that you had to go up a short flight of stairs in the garage to enter the house. The back part was single story. It had been written up in some architectural magazine because of its unusual design. The entire interior was vertical ¾ inch tongue and groove knotty pine so there was no need for the standard type of 2x4 studs. Those areas of the house that were to be similar to that of what a plastered wall would be were simply tempered Masonite applied over the pine walls and painted. Under the two-storied part were the living room on the right side and a dining room on the left. The kitchen and spare bedroom were also under the two-story part of the house. The living room had a fireplace. The living and dining rooms were the stained knotty pine while the kitchen and spare bedroom were the painted Masonite. The ceilings of the living and dining rooms were painted Masonite but there were large stained pine beams every four feet or so which not only supported the upstairs but also were quite attractive. The dining room had a door opening into the kitchen, which was directly behind it, and at the back of the living room, next to the dining room wall, there was a double door width opening that led to the hall. Standing in the opening you were in front of a door that led to the basement. You could turn left to go into the kitchen or turn right for just a few feet and enter the hall that went back to the spare bedroom on the right (behind the living room) or go up the stairs on the left to the second floor. The hall then continued to a small room that had doors to the bathroom, the master bedroom, the small bedroom and a screened-in porch. The bathroom was on the right, behind the spare bedroom, and the master bedroom was behind the bathroom. The small bedroom was to the left of the master bedroom. The screened porch was directly behind the kitchen and there was a door on the porch that gave entry to the kitchen. At the other end of the porch, there was a screen door opening to a landing that allowed you to go down to a two-car garage or up a half flight of stairs to what was basically an unfinished room, although it did have a half bath.
The hall, the room at the end of the hall, and the small bedroom were all of the stained knotty pine, but the master bedroom and bathroom were the painted Masonite. Going halfway down the hall where the door to the guest bedroom was on your right, you could turn left directly across from the guest bedroom door and go up the stairs to the second floor. There were only a couple of steps before you turned left again so that you were going up the stairs in the direction of the front of the house. The stairs led to a rather large landing that had a door on the left, one to the front of you and two doors on the right. The stairs and the entire landing area were of the stained knotty pine. Opening any of the doors would lead you to a completely open unfinished area. It had been designed so that there could be a future bedroom on the right, one in the front, and one on the left. The second door on the left was for a future bathroom. There was to be a dormer window in each of the three bedrooms. The bedroom on the right would have two windows on the west wall, while the bedroom and bathroom on the right would have one window each on their east facing walls as these two rooms were the same as the single bedroom on the west side. From this large unfinished area there was also access to the single story area at the back of the house. This area plus the area that was to be the bathroom became a very important part of my life.
The basement was small, being only the area under the kitchen. Its primary purpose was to house the furnace. The house had a central forced air heating system, but unlike present day homes, it was coal fired. There was a coal hopper that held the coal, best described as being of small size that would be about the size of a one-inch cube. A worm gear shaft connected the hopper to the furnace and would feed the coal into the furnace whenever the up-stairs thermostat called for more heat. Every night during the winter months, Daddy would have to shovel coal from the coal bin, located in a corner near the hopper, to replace the coal in the hopper that had been used during the day. There was a small metal door on the outside of the house that opened into the coal bin that the people delivering what was hopefully the winter supply of coal would use to unload it directly into the coal bin. Each night Daddy would also have to remove any clinkers that are the molten residue from burning coal. These were placed in a metal garbage can to be disposed of whenever the can got full. Also in the basement was a makeshift table with two very large buckets, plus other smaller buckets on it. There was a cold-water spigot and a hot-water spigot above the table. There was a drain in the floor that ran under the driveway to the sloping lot on the west side of the house so that you could pour out the used water without having to carry it upstairs. This whole setup was for washing clothes and that is where Mama did our laundry. The only other thing in the basement was a gas hot water heater. This was not what you think of today, but instead a heater that had to be manually lit whenever you wanted hot water. We used it only in the summer time as the hot water pipes ran through the furnace so that we had hot water all the time the furnace was on.
In most present day homes, you have two water valves, one to shut off all the water in the house and the other, located at the automatic hot water heater, to shut off only the hot water. Our house was different as it had numerous water shut-off valves. It had the valves to shut off all the water and the one to cut off all the hot water, but it also had valves that would allow you to cut off only the hot water going to the kitchen and one for cutting off only the hot water going to the bathroom. The same was true for the cold water plus there were three valves to cut off individually the water going to the three outside spigots, one on each side of the house and one in the back of the house. I think this was a great feature. In those days, houses were not insulated nearly as well as they are today and there were several occasions when we had a water pipe burst due to freezing. We weren’t without water though while waiting for the plumber to come and fix them because we could shut off only the affected line. The house cost $6,000.
We had electric lights, an electric refrigerator, a gas stove, and a radio. There were no other electrical appliances at that time. We also had a telephone. It hung on the wall and the mouthpiece and dial were part of the main body of the phone. The earpiece hung on the side of the phone so when you talked, you held the earpiece to your ear, but you spoke into the main body of the telephone. It was on a four-party line, which was very common at that time.
I was four years old and have no recollection of moving into this house or of ever being or living anywhere else.
I don’t know what people remember from when they were four years old so in trying to decide the oldest memory I have, I can think of two. We had a small cream-colored dog and I’m pretty sure his name was Buff. The only thing I remember about him was that he was on a very long chain attached to the garage door. I don’t know where or when we got him or what ever happened to him, but we must not have had him very long. I also have a distinct picture in my mind of Daddy, my grandfather Harry from St. Augustine, and me walking across the back porch to the garage for Daddy to show him our new car, a Hudson. I’m sure my grandmother Nellie and maybe others from St, Augustine made this visit, but I have only that one picture in my mind.
When you are involved with change on a day-by-day or even a year-by-year basis, nothing really seems to change much. You just know that something new has come out or there are new ways of doing things. However, when I think back over my lifetime, I realize that I am now living in an entirely different world than what I grew up in. There was no television, no electric appliances, and no air conditioners although we did have electric fans. You made ice cubes by filling ice cube trays with water and putting them in the freezer compartment of the refrigerator, and you kept a jar of water in the refrigerator for cold drinking water. Long distance phone calls were extremely expensive so to get an important message to someone out of town, you sent a telegram and a Western Union delivery boy would take the printed copy of it to the recipient’s house. There was no air conditioning in cars and no tubeless tires so flat tires, either from a puncture or a blowout, were common. Streetlights were just incandescent bulbs under a shield or in a glass fixture and they didn’t give much light along a street. There were no frozen foods or packaged meats, and no gas powered yard equipment. The list goes on and on. Every city had a main street and quite a few of them were named Main Street. On this street were all the stores except for maybe some curb markets, grocery stores, corner drug stores, or gas stations. There were no malls or even what we refer to as strip malls. There wasn’t much traffic congestion either and small children could walk or ride their bicycles to the various places they wanted to go. The main form of transportation to distant places for both freight and people were trains. Yes, it was a different world.
Mama played with Shirley and me a lot and also read various books to us. These were nursery rhyme books or just children’s books. My favorite was Babar. She also spent a lot of time in the kitchen. With no frozen or packaged foods, it took a lot longer to prepare meals than it does now. I can remember Mama sitting on the back porch in the afternoon snapping beans or shelling peas. She went to the grocery store once a week and daddy gave her $20 each week to buy the groceries. She was a good cook and we rarely had any left-over food that ended up being thrown away. If she had a roast that she cooked on Sunday for our noon meal, the left-over portion was used to make some other dish for Monday and Tuesday’s supper. Often supper on Tuesday consisted of the final remains of the roast being ground up for some sort of a hash dish. Daddy liked dessert so we always had something for dessert that could be some sort of pudding, a pie, or maybe just some cut up fruit. Sometimes during the week, we would run short of bread. There was a curb market about three quarters of a mile up our street and we would walk up there to buy a loaf of bread which at that time cost ten cents.
Mama also washed a lot of our clothes by hand and then would take them out to the back yard and hang them on our clothesline to dry. There were no clothes dryers in those days and it seemed like every house had a clothesline in the back yard. Most of them were wire and you learned, sometimes the hard way, not to cut across anyone’s back yard on your bicycle as these lines were hard to see, and it seemed that most of them were at a height that was equal to the height your head was when sitting on a bike.
Once we had moved back to High Point we often went to my grandparent’s house. In fact, at some point it sort of became a ritual for us to go there for Sunday night supper. I don’t know at what age I started remembering things but I remember every detail of their house. It was a large two-story wooden house and was on Broad Street about a half mile west of Main Street. Directly across Broad Street was the main line of the Southern railroad and on the other side of the railroad was O.A. Kirkman’s home. He was my grandfather Percy’s brother and had been a stockholder in a railroad named the Carolina & Yadkin Valley Railroad. When that railroad went bankrupt, he and a number of the other stockholders purchased it and renamed it the H.P.T.&D Railroad. This was in 1923. This was a short line freight railroad that served High Point, Thomasville, and Denton and their office building was in High Point. At the time the main manufacturing done in this area was furniture and hosiery and the H.P.T.&D would pick up finished goods or deliver materials via the sidings they had at the various plants. They would bring the freight cars to High Point and switch them over to the Southern Railroad to start them on the way to their final destinations. O. A. Kirkman, Sr. had died in 1930 prior to our moving back to High Point but his son, Arthur, who was daddy’s cousin and his same age, then occupied his home and he had become the vice president and general manager of the H.P.T.&D. Arthur kept this title for the next 35 years. My father never lived in the house on Broad Street. He grew up in a house on Hamilton Street and his family moved to the Broad Street house after he had finished college.
There were more than forty trains a day that passed directly in front of my grandparent’s house. About a third of them were passenger trains. They made a lot of noise as they passed, but it seemed like it was just normal and after a while you didn’t even notice the noise. For some reason though, everyone who was outside or near a window would always pause and watch them as they went by and often would wave to the engineer. Since passenger trains were the major form of long distance travel, all the different railroads across the nation had special names for them, such as the Southern Railroad’s Crescent. These trains were very nice with coach cars, sleeping cars, an observation car that was like a lounge, and a dining car where meals were prepared on the train. You ordered from a menu that was just like a menu you would get in a fine restaurant and you were served by a waiter. At that time all the engines were steam locomotives and of the two or three most exciting things I ever experienced was standing on a train station platform, where you were within several feet of the track, and seeing one of these huge locomotives pull into the station with the steam shooting out of its pistons. It was even better at night when you not only heard the signal whistle of the approaching train but also saw its headlight. There is no way to describe the feeling it gave me and I will never forget it. In the 1950’s all the trains started to change to diesel engines, which are large and powerful too, but although still exciting to me, never compared to the steam locomotives.
Even though I was very young when we started going to my grandparent’s house, I noticed things that weren’t like our house. We had a fireplace in our living room, but they had one in every room as they didn’t have a forced air system like we did. Beside each fireplace there was a coal bucket filled with large chunks of coal, not the small pieces we used in our furnace, and they had to manually add coal every time the fire died down. They also had a wood stove in the kitchen that my grandmother, Susie, used for cooking. Several years later, they got a gas stove but Susie kept the wood stove. She could make cakes and anything else on it just as easy as on the gas stove. They had a maid, part time I think. Her name was Roberta. She preferred the gas stove. Roberta worked on and off for them for many years. Their driveway was at the back of the house and it led to a large two-car garage that had a room over it. I don’t recall ever being in that room. At some point my aunt Mae had bought a car but she was involved in an accident and after that never drove again. Next to the garage was a chicken pen. My grandmother would buy thee or four live hens from some man who raised them, get eggs from them and then whenever she wanted a chicken for dinner, she would kill, pluck, clean and cook one of them. When she got down to just one or two chickens, she’d buy some more. There was a garden behind the driveway where she grew vegetables. Right next to the driveway there was a very large fig tree. My sister, Shirley, loved figs and whenever we went to visit when there were figs on the tree, she always gathered a few,
The house was large and had a front porch that ran across the entire width of the house. The front door was in the middle of the house and opened into a hall that ran to the back of the house. The stairs leading to the second floor were on the left side of the hall. To the left of the hall was the living room. My aunt Mae’s Baldwin piano was in this room and this is where she gave piano lessons. About a third of the way down the hall on the right was my grandparent’s bedroom. This was a large room and there was plenty of room for a stuffed chair and side table near the fireplace. My grandfather, Percy, had developed a lot of problems with his legs and had trouble walking. He walked with a cane. In the summer time, when not at work, he spent a lot of time sitting on the front porch. During the cooler months though, he stayed in the bedroom listening to the radio and reading as Mae was giving piano lessons in the living room. Behind the living room was the dining room and behind that, the kitchen. Behind the large bedroom was a smaller bedroom. The hall ended at the back of the dining room with a door on the left that led to the dining room and a door at the end that led to a screened in porch. The porch had a door that led to the kitchen, as it was adjacent to it, as well as one that opened to the outside within a short distance of the driveway.
The second floor covered all of the first floor except the kitchen and screened porch. There were two bedrooms on the right and two on the left. In the upstairs hall, there was an organ. This was a very old instrument and had pedals that you pumped in order to play it. It had ten stops, or maybe a few more that could be used to gives the notes different sounds. It wasn’t used by anyone but it worked and as far as Shirley and I were concerned, it was a great toy to play with when we were visiting.
Prior to 1936, the railroad crossed Main Street at street level and there were crossing gates to stop traffic on Main Street whenever a train went through town. With the increase in traffic and the number of trains, this became a problem, so a decision was made to lower the tracks so that they would pass under main street. This was a very big project with the beginning of the slope they had to dig for the tracks to be deep enough to allow a train to pass under Main Street starting almost directly in front of the house. The project was finished sometime during 1938. Although I have seen pictures of Main Street with the tracks at street level, I have no recollection of them ever being that way. In 1987, by some strange twist of fate, I found a copy of a 1938 Life magazine that contained a letter to the editor from my father in response to an article they had published about the Southern Railroad. The letter also included the picture he had taken of the first passenger train that ran through the completed project. I had never seen or even heard mention of this letter before. Daddy was a real train enthusiast. He knew all about them and knew what train lines ran where. He could tell anyone what kind of connections they could get of the various lines to get anywhere in the country. He loved to watch them and take pictures of the locomotives and cars, both passenger and freight, of the various train lines. This love of trains had a definite influence on my also becoming fascinated by them and over the years gave me the opportunity to do several things I probably would have never done.
On the west side of our house was a wooded lot that sloped down to Woodlawn Avenue and across Woodlawn there was another wooded lot. There were no houses across the street, Sunset Drive, at the front of the house either. Directly across was a lot that was mostly sagebrush as though it had been cleared at some point for a large garden. Beyond that though, there was nothing but dense woods. On the east side of the lot was a short dirt road named Vera Court. On the eastern side of that road where it joined Sunset there was what you would have to call a shack and there were two small wooden houses further down the road, which ended at the second house. There were no other houses on the other side of Sunset for several blocks. On the east side of our house there were two empty lots between us and our nearest neighbor. In later years, daddy bought one of the lots plus the sloping lot on the other side of the house. The street behind us, Colonial Drive, had houses on every lot of its entire length. Most of my future playmates lived on this street.
There was a sandbox at the top of the sloping lot. It had been left there by the previous owners. Very soon after we moved in my mother hired someone who built a low stone wall along the entire length of the drive, separating it from the sloping lot. With all the vacant area around our house, there was plenty of space for Shirley and me to play outside.
Shirley was very outgoing but I was very shy. She went to kindergarten when she was five years old. This wasn’t the kind of public school kindergartens or pre-school programs they now have. All kindergartens were privately run out of people’s homes. She and I played together a lot. At some point, the guest room of our house became a playroom for us. Paper dolls were a favorite in those days and Shirley was always cutting out the dresses from the paper doll books. I had blocks and Lincoln Logs, as even then I liked to build things. Tinker Toys was one of my favorite things to make things with and I started building things with them when I was four years old. In recent years when visiting toy stores during Christmas season, I have often thought about how much I would have liked to have had all the various construction type toys that are now available. I also had a wind-up train. I think it was made by the Marx Company. It was metal and had maybe three cars and ran on just a circular track. All toys in those days were made of metal or wood as there was no plastic. I also had a wagon, a tricycle, and a car you could sit in and pedals you could push to make it move. We also had a sled which I still have.
I have always remembered in quite some detail some movies Mama took us to when I was very young. They were Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, Gulliver’s Travels, Pinocchio, Bambi, and Ferdinand the Bull. In doing a bit of research, I found that I saw Snow White in 1938 when I was four years old and a year later, Gulliver’s travel. In 1940 I saw Pinocchio. Since Bambi didn’t come out until 1942, I couldn’t have seen it until after I had started school. One of the main reasons I remember Ferdinand the Bull in so much detail is that right after I saw the movie, I got a Ferdinand the Bull paper doll book. As far as I know, this was the only paper doll book I ever had. It had the Matadors, Picadors, and all the other characters associated with bull fighting and various outfits you could put on them. Since this movie is not listed in the movie encyclopedia, I have done some additional research on it and have found that it wasn’t a movie at all. It is classified as an animated short that Walt Disney made in 1938. It won the Academy Award that year for best short subject and it is interesting that the characters were caricatures of Walt Disney and several of the artists who worked with him on the project. I guess that at four years old, the fact that it was shorter than the other movies didn’t make a lasting impression on me. It is hard to remember the various things we did during the first few years we moved to High Point, and even harder to remember just what year we did them, but from things I do remember and because I was told various things growing up plus a number of photographs we still have, I think I have a fairly good idea of when things happened.
I have a photograph of our first Christmas tree in our new house in High Point It was 1936. I got a teddy bear and a steel wagon. Shirley got some dolls and other things. Of course, I don’t remember anything about that Christmas as I was only two years old, but because I still have that bear somewhere, I know all about him. You could pull a wire on his back and his mouth would open so you could feed him. There was a metal box inside of him that was his stomach and you could unzip his back to remove whatever you fed him. I also have a photograph of our 1937 Christmas tree. Among the toys under the tree are two steel toy cars. That year Shirley got more dolls plus a doll high chair. We went to St. Augustine for Christmas in 1938, as there is a dated picture of the tree and toys. Among the toys is a container of Tinker Toys. These were probably my first set but I got several other sets not long after and even a wind-up motor so I could make things with motor-driven parts.
During those early years at the house we did a lot of things. Daddy wanted us to see everything and we took many day type trips in our car that was a Terraplane. I don’t see how we made some of these trips without an overnight stay and maybe we did, but I don’t remember any. We went often to various places in the mountains. The most memorable thing for me was that Shirley always got carsick. It became pretty routine for us to have to stop somewhere along the way each trip for her to be sick.
Shirley and I always looked forward to 6:00 PM because that was about when Daddy came home from work. Quite often he would play ‘Moo Cow’ with us. I have no idea why we called it that, but we gave it that name. This consisted of Daddy laying on the floor of the living room while we climbed all over him. He would lift us up and shake us or ride us on his foot. There was a lot of laughing. It was pretty much just rough housing and is one of my fondest memories of my father.
On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, the Lone Ranger radio program came on and we would sit next to the radio and listen to it. It had background music and it was just like watching a movie except that the pictures of what was happening were all in your mind. When it was over, we knew it was almost time for daddy to come home. Listening to the radio was a major form of entertainment in those days and there were many programs on, Fibber McGee and Molly, Jack Benny, and Amos and Andy to name just a few. The shows during a given day were much like they are now on television. There were shows like the Breakfast Club on early and during the morning, and there were soap operas that were continued stories each day. During the afternoon there were shows with a lot of music and at night were what I would call the entertainment shows. They did have daily news programs also and just as they are now, they were broadcast at breakfast time, at noon, at supper, and late at night.
Halloween was an exciting time for us as Daddy would bring home a pumpkin and then we would watch him carve a face on it after asking us if we wanted a happy face or a scary one. He would put a candle in it and we would put it on the front porch. Another special time for us was Easter, as Daddy would help us dye Easter eggs. Early on, he did most of the dying and putting the transfers on. After we had gone to bed, he and Mama would hide the eggs in the house and then on Easter morning we would look for them. They would be hidden and searched for several more times during the day. One Easter Daddy surprised us with two small white rabbits. He had them in a small wire cage in the front yard. The next day he built a larger triangular shaped cage on the sloping lot near the sand box just by nailing chicken wire around three trees. Not long after we got them I learned that if you are going to hold a carrot and let a rabbit eat it, you’d better let it go before it got too small as when the carrot is gone, the rabbit keeps right on nibbling and if your fingers are there, that’s what he nibbles. It is like slicing your finger with a razor blade. It seems like we had the rabbits for quite a while but then one morning, Daddy came in and told us that they were dead. He said he thought a weasel had killed them as each had puncture like wounds in their necks. He had already buried them before he told us about it.
In 1939 Shirley started school. She went to Ray Street School, which was the grammar school for our area. She was very smart and had leaned how to do all of the things normally taught in the first grade while she was in kindergarten. Somehow a decision was made for her to just skip the first grade, so she started school in the second grade.
At some point during this general time frame she also started taking dancing lessons. I think it was mostly tap dancing.
About this same time, Daddy bought a piano, primarily for Shirley. Aunt Mae thought everyone should take piano lessons and since Shirley was now 6 years old, it was time for her to start. Mae said she wouldn’t charge for the lessons. The piano was an old used upright, but it was in good condition. I’m sure Mae gave her approval before Daddy bought it. The piano cost $50.00.
I don’t remember when I started to have interest in the new piano but have been told that when I started playing it, in a child-like manner, I played individual notes. Mamma noticed this and thought it was strange because she had always heard very small children just bang on pianos to make noise. She also told me in later years that when Shirley got her first piano books and would practice, I would pick out the notes of the little pieces she had practiced. I’m sure Shirley tried to show me what the music meant, but I have no recollection of it meaning anything to me.
Also in 1939 the whole family took the train to New York to go to the New York World’s Fair. It was labeled the World of Tomorrow. I don’t remember any details of the train trip and very little about the fair. I do remember, however, the Trylon & Perisphere, which was the symbol at the entrance to the fair grounds. The Trylon was an orb or a large sphere, as wide as a city block and the Perisphere was a 700-foot high spire standing beside it. The site of the fair was what is now the Meadowlands. I think I remember looking at some of the exhibits but it is hard to separate what I actually remember seeing first hand and what I saw later from the various programs and souvenirs we had at home. One thing that I do remember though is a ride in the amusement park area of the fair. It was a parachute ride. I don’t think there had ever been a ride like this before. It was a very large structure, 262 feet high or about the height of a 26-story building. It had twelve arms sticking out around its top. A cable ran from each arm down to the ground and was attached to a car seat that was big enough for two people to sit in. There was a collapsed parachute fastened to the top of the car. The car would then be lifted to the top and upon reaching the top, it would be dropped, the parachute would open and guided by cables would float back down to the ground. I remember Mama saying that she wouldn’t ride on that, and none of us did. The only thing I could think about was how could I make one of those with my Tinker Toys. The parachute ride was moved to Steeplechase Park at Coney Island after the fair was over. It operated there until 1968, at which time it was shut down for good. It just sat idle for almost twenty years before the decision was made to tear it down. It was saved, however, when in 1988 it was declared a New York City Landmark. It was repaired and painted, and although it no longer operates, it is a tourist attraction.
Daddy started another tradition in 1939 that was to last for many years. He bought season tickets to the Duke University football games. All of us went to Durham but usually only Daddy and I went to the game. Mama and Shirley would just walk around the campus. We always went early to the games because Daddy always went by the alumni office to talk to several of his friends who worked in the office. The stands were always full and for special games, they sometimes even ran a special train from Charlotte following US Highway 70 and stopping at the cities along the way. Homecoming was a special day. In those days they had a big parade through the city of Durham with bands and floats. I remember sitting on the wall along East Campus watching the parade. After the parade was the Alumni luncheon, which in those days was quite a meal. They had Barbeque, Brunswick stew, Fried Chicken, Biscuits, Cole slaw, and probably some other things. All the food was prepared right at the area where the luncheon was held. There was a player for Duke named George McAfee. His number was 22 and he was my hero. One day after a game Daddy took me to the door of the locker room and when he came out, I got his autograph. As far as I remember, that is the only autograph I ever got from anyone during my entire life. I also decided that a good collection would be to have one of the pin-on type buttons for every football team I ever saw play so I started getting one for each of the opposing teams when we went to a game. I kept this up for a number of years. In addition to the Duke home games, we usually went to Chapel Hill when Duke was playing the University of North Carolina there and on a few occasions went to Wake Forest, N.C., for the Duke game there. That was before Wake Forest moved to Winston Salem, N.C.
Mama stayed in touch with her family and them with her by writing letters, which was the primary way people in different cities communicated. For Shirley and me, getting a letter from St. Augustine was something to look forward to. My mother would tell us that the postman would probably have a letter on a given day since she knew when she had last written. My grandmother, Nellie, usually wrote the letters and when the letter came, Mama would read it to us. At the end of every letter, there would be a note from our grandfather, Harry, and two dimes, one for Shirley and one for me.
Although we still have postmen bringing mail to houses now, there are some differences.
All the postmen in the city walked their routes and the mail was put in a mailbox attached to your house. You got to know the mailman well. The only mailboxes next to the street were in the rural areas. We also had a milkman who brought milk and any other dairy products you might want. The milk came in glass bottles and each person on his route had what you would call a standing order. You had to put the empty bottles back outside for him to pick up when he made his next delivery and if you wanted something special, you could just leave a note with the empty bottles. Sometimes we would be out playing when the milkman came by and I remember how we always looked in his truck and talked to him. Every now and then we would get him to give us a piece of dry ice which was quite interesting to play with. There was also the laundry man who I think came weekly. You tied up your dirty laundry in a sheet or pillowcase and he picked it up. He would bring back the laundry all cleaned, ironed, folded, and neatly wrapped in brown paper. The laundry man would also pick up and deliver anything you wanted dry-cleaned. And then there was the Fuller Brush man. He was actually a door-to-door salesman and he stopped by once or twice a year. We enjoyed him because he had a suitcase with all kinds of brushes in it and he would come in the house, open up his suitcase and show us all the various new brushes he had for sale. He would write out an order for any of them you wanted to buy.
Fairly often the doorbell would ring and it would be a stranger who would ask for a sandwich in return for any work we might have that he could do. I don’t ever remember Mama ever asking any of these men to do any work, but she always made them a sandwich and gave them something to drink.
Our milkman worked for Lindale Dairy and their dairy was located just on the other side of Greensboro. This was where all of their cows were and where the milk was processed. I didn’t care too much for milk when I was young because the homogenization process had not been developed yet. The cream was always at the top of the bottle and even after shaking it, quite often there were small lumps of cream in the milk. Once they started having homogenized milk, it became one of my favorite beverages. Daddy took us to the Lindale dairy on a number of occasions. I loved going there and seeing the barns, pastures, cows and watching them milk the cows. Cows have always been one of my favorite animals. They look so gentle and have such pretty eyes.
We went to church at St. Edward’s Catholic Church as Mama was a Catholic and Shirley and I were to be brought up as Catholics. Daddy was a Methodist and only went to church several times a year. He usually went with his mother on Easter Sunday. Mama took us to 9:00 A.M. Mass every Sunday and we went to church on all of the Catholic Holy Days. The pastor at our church was Rev. Robert MacMillan. He was the most dynamic man I have ever known. St. Edward’s was a small church in a very poor section of town. There were very few Catholics in High Point at that time, probably fewer than 30 families. Two nuns from the church in Greensboro would come to High Point every Sunday to teach the catechism to the children of the parish after the 9:00 AM mass. Father Mac, as everyone called him, was determined to build a new church and a school. He had a way of getting people to do things because he was very demanding, but at the same time very likable. He was a hard worker who also liked to have very elaborate church services. There weren’t many boys in the church so there were very few altar boys. He decided that I should be an altar boy. It was 1939 and I was five years old. An older boy named Steve Neely would come to our house a couple of afternoons each week to teach me the Latin responses that were required for the altar boys to give during the Mass which at that time was said in Latin.
Father Mac got the women of the parish to form St. Edwards Guild. They had cake sales and many other fund raising events for the church. One of the biggest was a raffle like no other raffle I have ever heard of and one I will always remember. Father Mac had an idea that turned out to be what I would guess was the biggest single fundraiser the church ever had. I don’t know what year they had it but about two months before Christmas he got some store to donate a fairly large doll, not a baby doll, but one that looked like maybe a two or three year old girl. Then he got a store on Main Street that I think was right next door to the Center Theater, the best of our movie theaters, to let him use their store window to display it. The doll was placed in the window with a sign saying that it and its wardrobe would be raffled off and gave the information about buying the tickets to win it. There was no wardrobe, just the one outfit on the doll, but there was another sign which read, “Watch the Wardrobe Grow.” In the Guild there were quite a few women who sewed and a few who were very good seamstresses. They started making clothes for the doll and every few days, new outfits were added to the display. They made all kind of outfits, many of them very fancy and like nothing you could ever buy in a store for a doll. This went on for probably six weeks and as the drawing date approached, the store window was full of clothes for the doll. During this time, it really got people’s attention and whenever they were downtown shopping, they would go by the store just to see the new things that had been added and the word really got around about it so there were new people always being added to the potential ticket buyers.
Father Mac became a very good friend of ours and he often came to the house. Sometimes he would come at night and we would all play cards. He taught us some good games. One of them was called Red Dog. Until I graduated from High School, I was very involved in the church and all the church activities.
In 1939 or it could have been in early1940, Aunt Mae decided that even though I was only four or five, I should start taking piano lessons. She felt that since I could pick out melodies using all of my fingers as opposed to using only a single finger to play something, she could show me how to read music. Thus I began taking piano lessons.
After moving to High Point, we still took several trips to St. Augustine during those early years and the folks, or some of them, came to see us in High Point. After Shirley started school though, our trips to St. Augustine could only be made in the summer. This was the beginning of Shirley, me, and Mama spending every summer in St. Augustine until 1952. Daddy would join us for a week at some time during the summer.
Although I had been on trains many times, it seems like as I got older, taking trips on a train became very exciting for me. I’m guessing that it was probably the summer of 1939 that I can first recall any of the trips to St. Augustine. In order to get to Florida from High Point, you had to go to Sanford, NC and go on the Seaboard Railroad or go to Fayetteville, NC and travel via the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad. Daddy would drive us to one or the other and my Grandmother Susie would go with us just so that Daddy would have someone to keep him company while he was driving back home.
We shipped all of our luggage, except for one suitcase containing the items we would need while on the train, to St. Augustine even though we were only going to Jacksonville. We always went in a Pullman sleeping car, as sometimes this was an overnight trip. The train was set up with the baggage car being first car followed by the coaches. Next was the dining car with the sleeping cars following it and many times there was an observation car at the rear end of the train. Standing on the station platform waiting for the train to arrive was an unforgettable experience for me. You would first hear the train whistle blow notifying the station personnel that it was about to arrive. It was just natural then to start looking down the track for the train. It first appeared to look small but kept getting bigger as it approached. Then you could feel the ground vibrate as the huge engine passed you. It always seemed to me that it was going so fast that there was some question in my mind as to whether it was going to stop. Being in a Pullman car, our space was reserved so that we had a car number and space number on our ticket. There were usually three or four Pullman cars on each train and each car had its number posted in a small window so you would have to walk along the side of the train until you came to your car where the porter would then help you board.
The sections were arranged with two seats that faced each other. Each seat was wide enough for two people. There was a double window between the seats. Each section was walled off from the sections on either side of it but was open on the aisle and another section was directly opposite it. As the train left the station, you could see the people on the platform waving good-by. There is a distinctive noise caused by a train as each wheel of the car you are in passes over the joints in the rails, but it is more of a soothing noise than anything else. You would pass through very small towns where the train didn’t routinely stop and through rural areas with farms, planted fields, or cows grazing in pastures. You would pass over bridges, often quite high, and could see the rivers or streams. No matter where you were though, if there were people within sight of the train, they would stop what they were doing and wave. I often wondered if they wished they were on the train taking a trip. All railroads published a timetable several times a year. The timetable showed all of their passenger trains and gave complete schedules the times each train got to each station along its route. It also showed the types of cars each train had and all kind of other information about each of their trains. When I was older I would take a timetable on our trip so I could keep up with where we were and if we were running on time as we passed or stopped at the various stations.
We often got the porter to bring a table that could be easily set up between the seats so Shirley and I could color in our coloring books or play a game. Going to the dining car for supper was quite an experience. The dining car may be the next car to your car or you might have to pass through several sleeping cars to get to it. When you opened the door at the end of the car, it was very noisy. The sound of the car wheels passing over the rail joints was quite loud and you could hear the wind passing by the train. You could see the sliding plates that formed the floor of the area between the cars moving over one another and it gave you the impression that it was quite a rough ride, nothing like the feeling of the smooth ride you had inside the car. When you got to the dining car, you were aware of its unique smell. It was unlike any other smell, delightful. There is no way to describe it but when I think about it, I can actually smell it. At that time the dining car was the most elegant place I had ever eaten. All the tables were covered with tablecloths and had fine china dinnerware. There was more silver wear at each place than we had ever seen and each place had a water glass. A silver sugar bowl and cream pitcher were on each table. Each table was designed for four people and was next to a window so you could watch the scenery as you ate. A waiter gave each person a menu to order from. While you were eating, there was no sensation of your moving at eighty or more miles per hour, as the ride was very smooth.
After dinner, we would go back to our section until it was time to go to bed. You could call the porter and have him make up your berths any time you wanted him to. It only took a few minutes to change the section from a sitting area into two beds, one lower berth and one upper berth. The section was covered by two heavy green curtains, one running from the ceiling of the car to the bottom of the upper berth and one from the top of the lower berth to the floor of the aisle. Each curtain could be buttoned closed so that you had complete privacy. Men could leave their shoes on the floor right outside of their berth and during the night, the porter would shine them. Sometimes, if the train we were on had an observation car, we would ask the porter to make up our berths and then we would go and spend some time in the observation car. The observation car had no sections, but was just an open car with chairs and tables so people could play cards, read the paper or magazines, or just talk. When we got back to our car, our berths were ready and we would go to bed. Mama and Shirley would sleep in the bottom berth and I would sleep in the upper.
The next morning, we would get dressed and go to the dinning car where Mama would have coffee and Shirley and I would have something to eat. Soon after getting back to our car, the porter would come by to let us know that we would be getting to Jacksonville in fifteen or twenty minutes and we should get all our belongings together. Of course he would also ask if we would need any help with our luggage.
When we took the day trip, we still went in a Pullman, but of course the sleeping wasn’t involved. We passed the time just looking out of the window at the scenery and seeing the people at the various stations we’d stop at along the way. Obviously there was more daylight time to see things and it was always interesting to see the various cities we’d pass through. We would always get the porter to bring a table so we could play games and the time went by rather fast. It was about a twelve or thirteen hour trip to Jacksonville.
When we arrived in Jacksonville, two or three of our St. Augustine relatives would be there to meet us and drive us to St. Augustine. This scenario was to be repeated many times over the years, except with just one change.
At this point, I should mention two other people. The first is my grandmother’s sister, Minnie Dowd, who was my great aunt. Her husband, Tom Dowd, had died in 1922 and she had moved back from Miami to the house in St. Augustine. The other is Fleming Bel, who had a major influence on my life. Yes, he spelled his name with only one “m” and one “l”. He was born in 1891 so was nine years older than Daddy. Sometime during the mid thirty’s Fleming had come to St. Augustine from Savannah, Georgia. Just by chance, he rented a very small apartment on Marine Street about a half block down from my grandparent’s house. Fleming was looking for a job and at that time jobs were not easy to come by. When he found out that my grandfather was a house painter, he asked him could he work with him until he found something more permanent. Harry said yes, and they became great friends. Because of this, Fleming also became good friends with the rest of the family. At some time in his life he had worked for some railroad as a Pullman conductor so he had some experience with railroads in general. In the late thirties, Fleming was able to get a very good job at the FEC railroad. This job was not as a conductor but in the offices of the passenger division of the FEC railroad. He had two dogs. They were Boston Terriers. One was named Peaches, but I don’t remember the name of the other one. He had them for a long time before they died, first one and then the other, just from old age, I guess. I don’t remember when they died but they were around for many of the summers I spent in St. Augustine.
In St. Augustine, lunch was the big meal of the day and Mabel and Mildred always came home at noon for lunch and then went back to work at 1:00 PM. When Fleming started working at the FEC railroad he suggested that he drive Mabel and Mildred to and from work each day since he lived so close by. In return, they suggested that he have lunch with them and after that, Fleming was always there for the noon meal.
This would also be a good time to mention that during one of our early visits to St. Augustine, Shirley and I caused some names to be changed. Mabel became Auntie and Mildred became Bunnie. Our aunt Shirley became Old Lady. Now this may not sound very nice, but she thought it was funny and later in our life we were told that the reason we started calling her that was because we always wanted her to play with us. Although she did play with us a lot, she obviously couldn’t do a lot of things that we asked her to do. I was told later that one day we asked her to dance with us and Minnie told us she couldn’t do that because she was an old lady. Aunt Shirley thought this was quite funny and told everyone about it and after that if we asked her to do something she didn’t feel like doing, she would tell us she was an old lady. For Shirley and me, that became her name. After I finished high school I started using Mabel and Mildred instead of Auntie and Bunnie, but Old Lady’s name stuck and I called her Old Lady until the day she died.
My grandparent’s house in St. Augustine was very old, dating back in some form or another to the 1700’s. Four generations of the same family had lived in this house. It was located at 56 Marine Street, which is one block behind Bay Street (now named Avenda Menendez) that runs along the Matanzas River, which is called the Matanzas Bay as it passes through St. Augustine. It was a large, square, two-story house, which sat with only the sidewalk between it and the street. There was a porch that ran completely across the front of the second story. This covered porch, or balcony, protruded out over the sidewalk below. The porch had a swing and three rocking chairs on it and there was a clear side yard, belonging to the house on the other side of the street, directly across from the porch. You had a clear view of the Bay Street, the sea wall, Matanzas River, and Davis Shores on the other side of the river. The house was basically square with four rooms on each of the two floors. The original portion of the house was made of coquina, a sedimentary rock consisting of seashell fragments that forms near shore where wave action is vigorous. The walls of this portion of the house are sixteen inches thick. The large wooden front door opened onto a large room that I think is best called a foyer. On the left side of the foyer was a flight of steps leading to the second floor. There was a door, about half way down the right wall that opened into the parlor. Directly behind the foyer was the dining room and a door on the right dining room wall led into the kitchen, which was then directly behind the parlor. The dinning room and kitchen, although as wide as the foyer and parlor, were not as deep. On the second floor there was a railing around the stair opening so that about a four foot wide hallway ran down the right side of the stairway between the railing and a wall all the way to the front of the house. There was a similar space at the top of the stairs. Along the side wall, a door opened into what I would call a sitting room. This room was at the front of the house and there was a door that opened onto the overhanging porch. There was an entry door to the front bedroom and an entry door to one of the back bedrooms. The entry to the other bedroom was through a door at the top of the stairs. Also, at the top of the stairs on the left was the door to the bathroom. The bathroom had been added at some point and so it protruded out from the basic square layout of the house. Beneath it was a side porch. On the right side of the house was a fairly large yard and there was a small yard on the left side. In the side yard, next to the side porch, was a double width swing. The side yard was quite shady because of a very large tree. A driveway was next to the property line on the left and led to a garage. The back yard was quite large, but unlike the side yards, did not have any grass. This is how it was during the earliest visits that I can remember. At the very back corner of the back yard was a large shed where my grandfather kept his ladders and various other painting supplies. There was another shed, much wider than it was deep, on the left side of the back yard that was actually four sheds built together, each with its separate door. There was a single seat swing in the back yard as well as an outhouse. The outhouse was quite clean and at some time or another a regular flush toilet had been put in it. I don’t know when the bathroom that I have already mentioned was added to the house, but it was after my grandparents were married in 1895. My mother was born in 1901 so I’m not sure whether she experienced never having indoor plumbing or not, but she did say many times that she thought indoor plumbing was the greatest invention there ever was. There was an area fenced off in the back yard with what I remember was like chicken wire. This was always referred to as Minnie’s garden. I never knew really why, but I assumed it was at one time a flower garden that Minnie took care of. It was sort of in bad shape as she was probably then too old to take care of it.
The house had hot water heat with old stand-up radiators in the various rooms. As the original structure was modified and added on to, there was no way to conceal the pipes running between the radiators because of the solid coquina walls, so they were exposed in parts of the house but painted to match the walls. The boiler was in a corner of the kitchen and was gas fired. The stove was gas as was the refrigerator. There was a gas meter in one corner of the kitchen that you had to put quarters in whenever the gage on the front indicated that it was time to pay for some more gas. The water throughout the house was from a neighborhood artesian well. Unlike a surface well where it is necessary to pump the water out of the ground, an artesian well is so deep that the water is under pressure and comes out of the ground without any pumping necessary. Most people think that artesian water, commonly known as sulfur water, is very nasty. I loved it.
The bathroom had a bathtub that had four legs. There was no shower. There was a very large wooden tank, probably four feet in diameter mounted on the outside corner where the bathroom joined the house. This was to catch and hold rainwater. Artesian well water is very hard and does not dissolve soap very well so you could get soft rainwater from one of the spigots in the sink for washing your hands and face. The was also a gas water heater, just like the one we had in our house in High Point, so you could heat water for a bath. I would see many changes to the house as the years went by.
They had two telephones. One hung on the dinning room wall and was like ours at home except that it didn’t have a dial because at that time, St. Augustine didn’t have a dial system. To place a call, you picked up the earpiece and when the operator answered, you just told her the number you wanted. Their second phone was upstairs and was a table model. The mouthpiece was at the top of a pedestal and the earpiece hung on the side. Their phone number was 154J.
They had a maid named Lily. She would walk to the house in the morning and stay until around three o’clock when she would then walk home. The main meal of the day was at noon. Auntie and Bunnie would come home for lunch and then go back to work at one o’clock. I don’t remember Fleming being there for lunch during those few early visits, but later on, he always came with them. Neither do I remember Minnie ever eating lunch with the rest of us in the dining room. I think maybe Lily took her lunch up to her room on a tray. Minnie was sick but we didn’t know that. Sometimes before Lily went home, she would fix something from leftovers or just some simple dish that Auntie and Bunnie could heat or add something to for supper.
A woman also came once a week to wash the clothes. In the area behind the swing, there was a table that was really just some boards across two sawhorses with big galvanized tubs and a washboard. That was where the regular laundry was done. Then there was a big tub on a grill that the woman would build a fire under. This would give her hot water for the regular wash and she would have a large tub of hot water to which she would add soap and bleach to do the bed linens and towels. She would use a big stick to stir the items in the big tub around, sort of like the agitator in a modern washing machine. After all the washing was done, she hung everything on the clothesline to dry.
All of these things about St. Augustine are the earliest things I can remember about train trips and the house there. It may be that some of the things are really memories that came from when I was a little older but after 1940, my memories are very clear.
In December of 1939, my aunt Dot married Henry Marshall who had also attended Duke University. Henry played on Duke’s football team while there. We all went to the wedding at the Methodist Church, which was on Main Street at that time. The only thing I remember about the wedding was seeing Dot in her wedding dress. I had never seen anyone in a long gown like that before. Soon after they were married, they moved to New York where Henry had a job. I didn’t know it at the time, but her move to New York would later give me an opportunity to go to New York too.
A big change happened in our family in 1940. On February 10, my sister Ann was born in High Point, N. C. Of course, that was going to cause some changes in our routine.
Some time during the year, Daddy bought a new car, a Hudson. This was the first car he had that wasn’t a Terraplane, but they had quit making them. My grandfather Harry came to see us sometime during the year, and that is when that early picture in my mind of my walking with Daddy to our garage for Daddy to show him the car took place.
Both Shirley and I had birthdays in May. She became eight and I became six.
Mae had a piano recital every year at the end of the school year so my first recital was in 1940. I’m sure I wasn’t thrilled about having to do this and I have no idea what I played. Mae had many pupils and so the recitals had to be somewhere that was big enough to seat all the pupils and their parents. At one time she had over one hundred pupils. On the east end of Broad Street, just a block off Main Street, there were three or fours very large and elegant homes. One of these was the Wrenn house and it even had a formal ballroom. I remember playing in several recitals there and also in some at the large ballroom at the Sheraton Hotel. The main thing I remember about the recitals is that they were very long. In some cases she had more than one, because of the number of students. After the recital, school was out for Shirley and it was time for us to go to St. Augustine.
When we went to St. Augustine in June that year, our train trip was slightly different. Ann was now with us so Mama and Ann used the lower birth and Shirley used the upper berth above them. I slept in the upper birth on the other side of the aisle.
Right after we got to St. Augustine in 1940, there had been a change in the back yard. There was quite a bit of grass there. Bunnie and Fleming had planted St. Augustine grass runners all over the yard and since it spreads and grows rapidly, there was really difference in the way the back yard looked. I remember Mama being very surprised by it. I have much clearer memories of our 1940 summer and all that were to follow than I do of the earlier ones.
Old Lady was badly crippled but she was not a complete invalid. She could walk, and even go up and down the stairs by herself. She could feed herself but just used a spoon, and she could not cut any of her food so someone, usually Nellie, cut up everything for her. She could dress herself, although she sometimes had trouble with buttons, particularly if they were small. She was determined to do things herself and if anyone saw that she was having trouble with a button and ask if they could button it for her, she wouldn’t let them and would work for maybe ten minutes before having to give up and ask for help. This was the case with many things and whenever she did have to ask for help you could tell how disappointed she was. She never wanted to be a burden for anyone. She could talk but was hard to understand. All of us that were used to her talking didn’t have much trouble understanding her though. One thing that I always found amazing was that every now and then she would be telling us about something, and there would be something in the story that we couldn’t understand and she would find a way to make us understand. She would ask us what you called something she would describe and when we got the right answer to that, it would be a word that rhymed with or meant something similar to the word she was using in her story. It was like playing charades, but with words instead of actions. I never could understand how she could think of a clue as fast as she did. I don’t know if she felt it was easier for her to say and for people to understand, but she always called Fleming, Andy, and me, Bubba.
The two swings in the yard and the one on the upstairs porch were primarily for her. During the warm weather she spent a lot of time in her swings. From the upstairs swing she had a view of the Matanzas River and since it was a part of the inland waterway, she could watch the yachts pass by. She could even see the Bridge of Lions, a drawbridge, as it opened to let the larger boats through. Many people walked along Marine Street. She knew all of the ones that lived on the street and they all knew her. She would always yell a hello to them and they would stop and speak to her. She would be in the swing in the side yard on the day the garbage man would come by as well as when the swill man would come. There wasn’t much garbage in those days but what there was, was collected by the city. The swill was something different. This was anything pigs would eat and a local pig farmer collected it. Washday was a big day for Old Lady. She would be in the swing in the back yard by the time the washwoman got there and would watch her do all the laundry. The woman would have all the clothes on the clothesline by lunchtime and after lunch, Old Lady would go back to the swing. Every now and then she would go to the clothesline to check on whether the clothes were dry. Once they were, she would take them down from the line and put everything in a basket. Lillie was usually still there when they were all down and would bring them in the house. Then Old Lady would go through the clothes, sorting and folding each item. When finished, she put each person’s clothes in a separate stack. This was the one family type chore that she took care of all by herself.
The Cathedral had a clock tower that tolled out the time on the hour and then rang a single toll every half-hour. You could hear it all over town. Old Lady knew how to read the time on a clock, but she used the Cathedral clock to keep track of the time when she was outside. When it struck twelve, she headed for the dining room, as she knew Fleming, Auntie, and Bunnie would be home for lunch in about 10 minutes. Quite often she would have something to tell us that one of the neighbors had told her or that she had just noticed. These were things like she thought a particular neighbor had someone visiting them because of something she had noticed. Many times you would see Old Lady swinging very high and laughing or singing and you could tell she was thinking about something very funny or something she was looking forward to. There was also a clock in the foyer of the house at the foot of the stairs. It also chimed the hour and half-hour. It was a tall clock that you “wound” by resetting two heavy weights on chains inside the glass portion at the bottom of the clock. It was much like a grandfather clock, but not at all fancy, and I was told over the years that my grandmother Nellie got it by saving Octagon soap wrappers. I still have the clock.
When the weather was cold, Old Lady did things in the house. Her prized possession was her dollhouse. Now this wasn’t the kind of dollhouse you would imagine. There was no house, just a box of pictures cut from magazines. She would look through magazines and find pictures of houses or rooms that she liked and then have someone cut them out for her. Sometimes she would find a particular item that she liked, like flowers, or maybe a person, a child, a piece of furniture, or any item that she thought would look good on or around one of her houses or rooms. She would have the item cut out and then paste it on the picture. Now when anyone looked at one of her houses, they would see a house that had shutters that were much too small for the windows she had them pasted on or maybe flowers in the yard that were way too big. She might have a picture of a bedroom with furniture much too big for the room. I’m sure that when she looked at them though, she saw in her mind what was like an artist drawing of a house or room with everything the right size. When looking through the magazines she could remember what pictures she had that a particular item would look good on. Sometimes she would just sit in a rocking chair and look at one of her pictures for a long time. I’m sure she was thinking about how it would be to live in that house and what the rooms on the inside were like. Minnie helped her do many of these types of things. She also helped her with doing what you would call crafts. One she liked to do was sewing cards, which were designed for small children. Mama used to buy her some of these kits to do. They were pieces of stiff paper with what was like a connect-the-dots picture, except the lines were already there and the dots were holes. There was colored yarn in the kit and a large needle that you used to thread the yarn though the holes so that when you were finished, you had a picture with all the parts of it outlined in various colors of yarn.
Of course, Old Lady couldn’t go anywhere unless someone took her, but when they did, she loved it. She liked to ride in the car and see the sites and also watch people. She really looked forward to our coming to St. Augustine in the summer as this meant that in addition to just seeing us, there was going to be a lot for her to do.
With Ann only being four months old, I don’t think we could have done many things that involved Mama driving us places to see things as she did a few summers later. Shirley and I did play outside in the back yard a lot though, and Old Lady was always in her swing watching us. She showed us how to tie a string around a June bug’s leg and then let him fly around. This never worked very well, but it was fun trying. The things I remember most in those very early years involved Minnie.
Her room was at the top of the stairs. I remember it as being sort of dark and almost foreboding. She had a large bed in one corner and there was a table in the middle of the room. She sat at this table most of the time. She often wore one of those green eyeshades that looks like just the bill of a cap. A light bulb with a simple reflector on an electric cord extended down from the ceiling over the table. Minnie would play simple children’s card games, like Old Maids, with us. Checkers, Chinese checkers, and Dominoes were also games I remember her playing with us. She showed us how to play Solitaire and she also would tell our fortunes with cards. Sometimes, after she had a cup of hot tea, she would tell us a fortune that was done by “reading” the tea leaves left in the bottom of the cup. The biggest attraction in Minnie’s room, though, was her phonograph. She had a Victrola, made by the Victor Talking Machine Company in Camden, NJ. She also had a lot of 78-rpm records, which is all they had at that time. The records were music from the twenties and thirties plus some classical music of famous people, one of whom was Caruso, a very famous opera singer. This was a table model machine and sat on a table in a corner of her room. It had a hinged lift-up top that exposed the turntable and needle holder. In the front, there were two small doors that you opened to let the sound come out. There was a crank on the side to wind it up so that the turntable would go around. We loved to crank it up and play records. I still have that Victrola and a lot, if not all, of the records.
My grandmother Nellie used to walk to town to pay the electric bill and maybe some others and sometimes to go to the bank. I remember my walking with her because of one particular store we would pass. It was Hamblen’s Hardware store. I had never seen a store like this before and I was fascinated by it. It had several large windows facing the sidewalk that had displays of tools. On several occasions we went inside. I don’t remember why, but it may have been for Nellie to buy something or to pay a bill as Harry bought all of his painting supplies from them. Inside there were large bins with all sizes of nails and hardware. In those days there were no power tools. Instead of electric drills you used a brace and bit or a hand drill. There were dozens of types of saws but all were manually operated. Hamblen’s Hardware had every type of tool available and I thought about what most of them would be used for. I’m sure there were one or more similar stores in High Point but I guess there just had never been any reason for me to go in one before. My interest in tools and what you might be able to do with them started at this store.
The house at 56 Marine Street was old and the lighting in it was poor, although probably not much worse than the lighting in other old houses at that time though. Everybody stayed mostly upstairs after it got dark and I can remember being afraid to go downstairs by myself at night. I think Shirley was too. Even walking on Marine Street at night was scary for us because there were so few streetlights and the ones there were didn’t put out much light.
I don’t know why, but I don’t remember much about my grandfather Harry as far as him being with us much. I do remember that he had a bicycle and whenever he went somewhere, he always rode it.
I had my sixth birthday in May of 1940 so when we came home from St. Augustine in August that year, I started school. I don’t remember much about it, but I am sure I didn’t want to go. I’m also sure that Shirley was anxious to go to her third year of school, now being in the fourth grade. Daddy probably started it, but my family and all my relatives, both in High Point and in St. Augustine, always called me Sonny. Fortunately that name didn’t follow me to school and everyone else always called me Tom, Thomas, or Tommy. Even when I grew older, all of the relatives continued to call me Sonny for as long as each of them lived.
I do remember my teacher, Miss Bell. She was very nice and I thought she was very pretty. Of course, I considered her an old person. She was probably twenty-three or twenty-four. I was very shy and never cut up or talked. I just did whatever the teacher said to do. The one thing I do remember is art. I dreaded even the thought of Miss Bell telling us to get out our paper and crayons to draw and color a picture. I couldn’t draw anything that to me looked anything like something real. My art may have been as good as many in my class, but to me it was the worst, and I was always embarrassed. I always liked the lunches at the Ray Street School cafeteria. Every morning Daddy would give Shirley and me fifteen cents each for us to buy our lunch. Everything was a nickel and I would get meat, a vegetable, and milk.
In those days, school children didn’t dress like they do now. All the girls wore skirts and in the wintertime, they wore knee high socks. Boys wore short pants in the summer and corduroy knickers in the fall and winter. They also wore knee socks on cold days. In those days all adult men wore suits with a tie and a hat, unless they were doing some sort of manual labor. Even those men, after work, put on a suit, tie and hat to go anywhere. If you look at photographs taken at this time of baseball stadiums, football stadiums, or any other place where there is a crowd of men, you will notice that all of the men have on suits and ties. Women wore dresses, never slacks or jeans, or a skirt with a blouse or sweater. They also had suits, but with skirts, not pants, and when going out many wore hats. Women also wore stockings. There was no such thing as panty hose so they had to wear garters or a garter belt to hold up their stockings. The stockings also had seams so woman always had to check and make sure their seams were straight running up the back of their legs.
Shoes were quite different from what they are now, too. There were none of the “athletic” type shoes that are so popular now. They did have special shoes for various sports like tennis, basketball, football and baseball, but these were not worn except when participating on a team. The normal footwear was leather shoes with shoelaces for men and boys. Young girls also wore leather shoes with shoelaces, as did women, although most of the women’s shoes had slightly higher heels. One popular shoe for girls was black and white saddle oxfords. When young girls dressed up, many wore patent-leather shoes that had a strap across the top that buckled on the side. For some reason they were called ‘Mary Jane’s’. Teenage girls wore brown leather loafers and some of these loafers had a leather configuration on the tongue that allowed you to put the top and bottom of a penny under a part of the leather. These became know as penny loafers. At some point black suede loafers also became popular among high schools girls, as did ballerina slippers.
At school, I met several boys who were my age and lived on the street behind us. These boys were to be my regular playmates during the coming years. Popular things for girls to do outdoors in those days were to play hopscotch or jump rope. Boys played marbles a lot. Kids just found things to do on their own, as there were no organized sports or after school programs. There was a YMCA and a YWCA, but very few of the younger children were involved with them. Ever so often, a man named Mr. Hartley would come to our school. He worked at the YMCA and made the rounds of all the grammar schools in High Point. I think there were only five at that time. On the days he would come, all the students would go out on the playground and he would lead us in doing exercises. It seems to me that everyone got excited when the teacher told us Mr. Hartley was coming that day. I think it must have been because we would be doing something different.
I know that Mama must have driven me and Shirley to school when I was in the first grade but I don’t see how she did it with a new baby, taking us to Mae’s for music lessons, often getting Percy from work in the afternoons, and Daddy getting to and from work. She must have really been busy. We only had one car. Now Daddy may have ridden the bus, as at some point there was bus service, run by Duke Power Company, in High Point. The bus ran by our house on the street at the bottom of the sloping lot beside our house.
At one time, we had a maid. Her name was Charity and she lived in the room over the garage. I remember her but am not sure when or how long she worked for us. It may have been around the time that Ann was born.
Another thing that was very different at that time had to do with doctors. If a child got sick so that they had a fever and was in bed, the parents didn’t take them to the doctor. They called the doctor and he came to the house. Our family doctor was named Dr. Groom and he and another doctor, Dr. Leath, who was an eye, ears, and nose doctor, had an office in an old house on Main Street. We would go there for routine things, but if we were sick enough to be in bed, Dr. Groom would come with his black bag to the house. Soon after Shirley started school, it was somehow discovered that she didn’t see very well. Mamma took her to see Dr. Leath and I went with her. I remember his giving her various eye tests, with nothing like the equipment they now have, and determining that she needed to wear glasses. She didn’t like to wear them and always took them off if anyone was taking pictures. Actually, I don’t think she ever wore them unless she had to read something.
I don’t remember a lot about music lessons except that I never practiced. I had too many other things I liked to do. Like all piano teachers, Mae wanted me to practice scales and learn about the related scales and chords. I was just interested in playing the little pieces that were in the books. Mae did know some duets that she could play with young children and I liked them because they had more notes and sounded like a real song. She would play the base part while the student would just play one note at a time in the treble part. There was one about a sailor and she would say the words to it while we played it. It was my favorite. After a student had learned a piece she had assigned, she would paste a star on the music. Sometimes I would get a star on a piece that I had never practiced or ever played since she had assigned it during the last lesson. I didn’t tell her though. Many years later I would realize that I should have been more involved with practicing scales and exercises.
Like all children, Shirley and I liked snow. During the first few years after we moved to High Point, Daddy bought us a sled and whenever it snowed, he and Mama would pull us around the yard on the sled. We always made, or tried to make, a snowman too. The first thing Daddy did when we had snow was put chains on the car. At that time, the city didn’t scrape the streets, put out salt, or anything else. Most people just put chains on their cars and got along the best they could. The steep hill in the front of our house presented a particular problem. We used to watch cars trying to get up that hill only to have to give up and go to the next block along Woodlawn Street that ran along the bottom of our sloping lot. I still have our original sled from 1937 or 1938. I don’t know the years that we had snow, but it seems as though we had a lot more snow then than we do now. There was one snow that I will always remember though and I will explain later.
I don’t know if the folks from St. Augustine came to visit us on Thanksgiving in 1940 or not. In later years, they often came up for the Thanksgiving holidays. When Thanksgiving came though, we knew Christmas would come soon and the stores would soon be filled with toys. It was easier in those days because all the stores were on Main Street. The city would decorate the lampposts on Main Street and there was the usual Christmas parade. Several of the stores had large display windows and they would be filled with toys. And yes, they did have Red Ryder BB guns. Shirley and I would make our Christmas list from just looking at the store windows. Some stores had a Santa Claus for the children to talk to, and one of the department stores had a very unusual Santa Claus. I can’t remember exactly how it was set up, but they had a glass window inside the store that you could see Santa sitting in a chair in a room. What made it strange though was that the room was very small and Santa was only five or six inches tall. He was definitely real and could move and talk to you through a speaker. I never was quite sure how they did that.
Several of the stores had two floors so they had an elevator. There were no escalators at that time, and the elevators were not like those we have now and have had for many years. Each elevator had an operator. There was a simple control handle that when moved one way, the elevator went up and when moved the opposite way, it went down. When the handle was put in the middle, the elevator stopped. The operator would have to manually open the sliding door. It took a lot of operator experience to make the elevator stop exactly level with the floor, so most of the time you had to step up or down a little when getting on or off. I’m not sure when, but at some time during the 1940’s, Roberta, who I have mentioned working for Susie, became an elevator operator at Harlee’s, one of our department stores. It was always fun riding the elevator at Harlee’s because we knew the operator.
As Christmas approached, another annual event happened. This was Mae’s Christmas party for all of her piano students. Actually, it was several parties. She had so many pupils she couldn’t have them all at her house at once, so she would have a separate party for each age group. Each pupil brought her a present just like all grammar school students did on the last day of the school year for their teacher. She, in turn, gave everyone a simple present, which was always associated in some way with the piano. Over the many years she taught piano, she received a lot of presents. I was never very excited about going to these parties and my guess is that most of her other pupils weren’t either. It was one of these things that your parents make you do.
There is no way I can remember when I got various toys, but most of them were at Christmas. I’m pretty sure that on Christmas in 1940, I got an Erector Set. This was another construction type toy, but better than blocks, Lincoln Logs, or even my Tinker Toys. This set was all metal. There were various sizes of girders and curved girders plus some platform type pieces. You put everything together with real nuts, bolts, and washers. A few years later I got another set that included an electric motor so then I could make bigger things with moving parts. It was great. I think it was this Christmas that I got a Lionel train, too. Lionel had a color catalog that you could get at the stores that sold their train sets. I used to get one every year. It showed their various train sets plus all the train accessories that they made. This first train was just a steam engine, tender, two freight cars, and a caboose. All of the cars were made out of metal. It came with just enough track to make an oval and there was a transformer to power it.
On this Christmas, as on the ones before and on all those that followed, we got two large boxes of presents from the folks in St. Augustine. In those days a boxes were sent in the mail by parcel post. There wasn’t any type of adhesive tape so you had to wrap the box with heavy paper, which was usually brown, and then tie it up with string. For some reason you were not allowed to even paste down any of the edges of the paper so on a large box, you would have to use several rows of string around both the length and width of the box to hold the paper in place. Mama always got presents for the folks in Florida, so that meant we mailed boxes like this, too. A large box full of presents was nice to get, but they really were a lot of trouble to mail.
After Christmas, News Years came and it was 1941. Ann had her first birthday in February. Both Shirley and I had birthdays in May. Shirley became nine and I became seven. Over the years Shirley had several birthday parties. I’m not sure what years they were and some may have been before this year. The one thing I am sure about though is that I never had a birthday party. I was too shy to have people come to our house and watch me open presents and blow out candles. Mama always made a cake for me though and I always got a present or two. By this time I had a football, a football helmet, and shoulder pads just like many small boys. I don’t know if they were birthday or Christmas presents and I don’t think I ever wore them except in the house.
Daddy got us a swing set sometime during the year. We put it in the front yard. The one thing I remember the most about it was that the frame was made of very strong metal piping. It was a lot different than the one I bought many years later for my children. It had a ladder in the middle of it and I still have that ladder section. I guess I kept it thinking that someday I might be able to use it for something, but I never did.
Toward the end of the school year, Mae had her annual piano recitals and then in June, school ended and we got ready to go to St. Augustine. I was excited as usual because of the train trip and just the ideas of doing things in St. Augustine. I’m sure I had all the things I wanted to take ready to go several weeks before it was time to go. I don’t think anyone in June had any idea what was going to happen later that year that would affect so many people and the routine things they normally did.
The trip to Florida in 1941 was like the others and we were met in Jacksonville and driven to St. Augustine. I expected that we would be doing the same sort of things we had always done, but there was going to be a big surprise for me, and I think Shirley also. Mama knew about it, but I don’t remember it ever being mentioned until we got there.
St. Augustine is a historic city and there are always many tourists there. In fact, it is the oldest city in the United States being founded in 1565 by Spaniard Pedro Menendez de Menendez and his expedition of 500 soldiers, 200 sailors and 100 farmers and craftsmen. Some brought their wives and children. They, not the Pilgrims who founded Jamestown, Virginia in 1607, celebrated the first Thanksgiving in the New World. The first schools, hospitals and banks in what is now the United States were built in St. Augustine. Not that many Americas know this. In 1941, it was still a very small city and you could walk to most of the historic places of interest, but now there is an old and a new St. Augustine. It’s impossible for me to remember what year we first went places and did things that were to become just routine over the first few years of the forties. The new part is to the west of the original city and has all kinds of modern stores, malls and whatever you would expect to find in a modern city. The old part is what I remember and grew up in. All of the historic places are there and it is still the area that all the tourists explore.
The Oldest House is located just around the corner at the end of Marine Street, about three quarters of a block from our house. Many people walked down Marine Street on their way to the Oldest House because Marine Street has many old houses on it that are interesting to see. Many of the horse drawn carriages that took people on tours also went down Marine Street on their way to the Oldest House. At the Oldest House, there is a very early map of historic St. Augustine and it shows our house as being one of the oldest houses. There have been additions and many changes to it since then though. In the center of the downtown area there is a large plaza with benches, palm trees, and live oak trees where you can just sit and rest or enjoy the sights. The historic old Slave Market is located at the East end of the Plaza. It is just an open sided structure with a roof where, at least while I growing up, it served mainly as a place where many of the older citizens went to talk, read, play checkers, or cards. At the other end of the Plaza is St. George Street with the building that served as the Post Office on the other side. Across a street on the North side of the Plaza are the Cathedral and Rectory. In that same block was the newest and best of the two movie theaters, which we attended many times during each summer. Going north from the Post Office up St. George Street were most of the stores, including two five and ten cent stores that I visited often and near the end of St. George Street was the Oldest School. St. George Street ended at the original City Gates that at one time had been an entrance to what was a walled city. From the City Gates you could see Fort Marion (now called Castillo de San Marco) overlooking Matanzas Bay. Nellie told me stories about the how the Fort was used while she was a child and how at one time the Indian Geronimo was imprisoned there.
Within just a couple of blocks from the main downtown area was the Ponce de Leon Hotel, which was still operating at that time, but was only open during the winter. Over the years we had the opportunity of somewhat touring the Ponce de Leon. One of the most interesting things was that even in the 1940’s the toilets in the rooms were flush types but the tank was mounted above them and had a chain that you pulled to flush them. Several others of the once famous hotels were still there but no longer open. Their bottom floors were being used as stores or in some cases, museums. Another of my favorite places was the City Pier. It was a rather small pier and was there primarily for those people that were traveling on their yachts to have a place to dock for refueling or to stay in St. Augustine for a day or two. There were always a number of cabin cruisers, owned by local people, tied up at the pier and I would walk out on the pier looking at the boats and thinking how I would like to have one, not necessarily to go anywhere on, but just to live on.
Between the City Pier and Fort Marion is the Bridge of Lions, a drawbridge that crosses Matanzas Bay and is Highway A1A, the coastal highway that runs along the ocean down the East Coast of Florida. Crossing this bridge gave access to Davies Shores, where many people lived, and to St. Augustine beach. Also, on that side of the bridge was Lighthouse Park where the operating lighthouse was and a fishing pier on a small body of water called Salt Run. About twelve miles further south was Marine Land, probably the first seawater aquarium in the country.
St. Augustine is practically surrounded by water. Off of the southern part of the Bay was a tributary called the San Sebastian. It curves around the southern part of the city and runs along the western part. Along this part of the San Sebastian there were some boat yards and a large building where the shrimp boats would unload their catches. It was very near the FEC Railroad Office and the FEC hospital. There were many shrimp boats in St. Augustine as commercial fishing was one of their few industries. The boats would pass along the front of our house and then through the Bridge of Lions on their way to the Vilano Inlet to go out to the ocean. Sometimes Mama would go to the fish unloading building to buy fresh fish. She would pick out the fish she wanted and one of the men would filet them for her. I always enjoyed going there and seeing the shrimp boats up close.
There was a large steamer trunk in the upstairs sitting room. It was out of the way and because it had a flat top, it was almost like a table and had various things sitting on top of it. Inside of the trunk was what seemed to us to be like treasures. It contained old jewelry, coins, pocket watches, pictures, and all sorts of memorabilia from past years. It seems like once during every summer we spent in Florida we would ask Nellie to open the trunk for us and she would let us look at all the things and tell us who they had belonged to. That trunk is now in my basement with many of the things I remember still in it.
Another thing we did at least once, some times more than once, each summer was to take Nellie to see one of her very old friends that she had known most of her life. I did not enjoy this, but Old Lady really did. This is one of those things that was easier to do when we were there since Auntie and Bunnie were working and didn’t have the time to take Nellie and Old Lady out much. It was interesting though, as Nellie would get all dressed up complete with a hat, gloves, and sometimes a parasol. She looked like the women you see in movies that take place in the twenties. Old Lady would sit and listen to their conversation and Mama would take part in it as these were people that she had also known when she was young. I think Shirley often joined in the conversation but I just sat. We would also go and visit two of Nellie’s cousins. Both of them lived in Mandarin, Florida, about 25 miles from St. Augustine and located right next to the St. Johns River. Since this involved a drive, Old Lady thought it was wonderful as she not only got to see people she knew but also got to see things along the way. I must admit that one of them had a beautiful home. It was right on the river with a large yard that had many live oak trees with Spanish Moss hanging from them.
There was another place we would go at least once each summer. Nellie loved to go there. It was the La Leche shrine. This is the place where Pedro Menendez de Aviles landed in 1565 and founded St. Augustine. It happened on the feast of St. Augustine and so he used that as the name. It is located on a back street that has many trees with Spanish moss all over them. There was a path so you could walk through the whole area and the oldest cemetery in St. Augustine is located there. There was also a small building where they sold religious items. It is still a major tourist attraction but looks a bit different as they built a large church at the entrance.
Over the years, we went to Marine Land a number of times. Old Lady enjoyed these short trips too, and she and Nellie were satisfied just to sit in the car and watch all the people. We could always find a good parking spot so they would have a good view of the people entering the gates. Of course we also really liked Marine Land where we could watch the porpoises perform, look at all the different kinds of fish through the glass windows of the large tanks, and see the men in diving gear feed them. I should mention that the diving gear used then was not oxygen tanks strapped to the diver’s back, but a suit with a large steel helmet that had hoses going up to an air pump above the water. The only place you see this type of diving gear these days is in old movies.
I was familiar with all of these things, but this summer we were going to add something new and that was the surprise. Sometime in 1940 Auntie had bought a beach house. Bunnie bought the lot on one side of it and Fleming bought the lot on the other side. I don’t think the house was in very good condition, but Fleming and another man who worked at the FEC Railroad had completely redone the interior and done quite a bit of work on the outside too. It was located on US Highway AIA, north of Vilano Beach.
The Matanzas River runs north up through Florida and when it gets to St. Augustine, it is called Mantanzas Bay. Going north out of St. Augustine it becomes the North River just after it passes the Vilano inlet. There is a drawbridge, much longer than the Bridge of Lions, at the northern end of St. Augustine that crosses the North River. It is called the Vilano Bridge. At that time about the first three-fourths of the bridge, up to the draw gates was wooden, but at some time the remaining part had been redone in concrete. This bridge always had a number of people fishing from it. When you come off the end of this bridge you are just north of the Matanzas Inlet and are headed straight for the ocean. About a quarter mile down the road though, it turns north so that Highway A1A is then paralleling the ocean all the way to Jacksonville. Where the highway turns north is Vilano beach. At that time, Vilano beach was just a very small community of beach houses. There were quite a few on the ocean side of the highway but just a few on the river side. There was one convenience type store on the corner. This entire community went no more than three quarters of a mile up the highway. After that, there was nothing on either side of the road. There weren’t even any telephone poles as electric power ended at Vilano beach.
About another two miles up the highway there was a road on the left, about a quarter of a mile long, made of crushed oyster shells leading down to the North River. At the end of the road was the home of Captain Usina. He ran a sightseeing boat that he kept tied up at a small pier on Bay Street in St. Augustine. Our family had known the Usinas for many years. They had a small pier at their location on the North River. Continuing up highway A1A for just a short distance was a gas station and next to it a fairly large bathhouse on the ocean side of the road. The bathhouse had not been used for many years but in the early 1900’s, the Usinas had developed the area into a recreational area. At that time, there was no road leading up to North Beach. They would bring people in a boat to their river place where they would have a big cookout. There was a railroad track from their location to the beach. They used a horse-drawn train to then take the people to the bathhouse where they could change into their swimming attire. The tracks had been removed many years ago but the bathhouse was still there. The little gas station was built many years later. It was still operating, and was quite interesting. Since there was no electricity, there was a long handle on the side of the gas pump so that you could pump the gasoline by hand into a glass cylinder at the top of the pump. It was marked so that you could pump up the amount of gas you wanted to buy and then it would just gravity feed through the hose into your car. This was the only place I have ever seen a gas pump like that except in museums.
About a quarter mile further up the highway was our beach house.
Because of the lay of the land, the highway and area our house was on was a good bit higher than the beach. The house was built on stilts with an enclosed two-car garage under the house. Although the ground was level from the highway into the garage, the house above appeared to be almost sitting on the ground in the front because the land sloped upward on both sides of the house. The exterior of the house had sidings of asphalt shingles. Looking at the back of the house, there were stairs on the right side going up to the very small foyer. Inside the house a room that served as the dining area and the living room went from the back to the front of the house. Next to the dining area was the room that was the kitchen and a small hall that led past the bathroom that jutted out on the left side of the house, to the bedroom that was adjacent to the front part of the living room. The bedroom actually ran from the living room to the end of the part that jutted out and contained the bathroom. Across the front of the house was a porch. The door to the porch was off the living room and you had to go down two steps to get to it. The porch had wooden sides about three feet high and then screen wire to the ceiling. Several years later the screened portion was changed to windows. On the porch was the largest swing I have ever seen. It was at least seven feet and probably more like eight feet wide and it was about four feet deep. It had a cushion on it that was a good eight inches thick. It was on the left end of the porch so that it faced the right side of the house. At the other end of the porch was a door that opened onto a small landing with three steps to get down to the front yard, which was just white sand. The front yard was probably twenty-five feet wide and was I’d guess fifteen feet above the actual beach level. There was a set of stairs to go down to a wooden walkway about twelve feet long that was still above the beach level and at the end of it, three more stirs to get you onto the beach. In the garage area, Fleming used the area under that part of the house that jutted out from the main part, the bathroom and part of the bedroom, for his tools, paint, ladder and other things he might need. On the other side of the garage area was a shower stall and dressing room.
The utilities for the house were very interesting. There was no electricity, telephone, or water, as you would expect in a city. On the right side of the garage area there was a surface well, a manual pump, a gasoline engine with a generator, and two twelve-volt car batteries. The pump had a large pulley on it, as did the gasoline engine, so with a belt between the two, the engine would run the pump. The two car batteries supplied the power to start the engine but were actually charged when the engine was running, just like in a car. In the ceiling of the house were four fifty-gallon barrels. Water was pumped into these barrels and they connected together with pipe. The last one had a pipe near its top that ran to the outside through the eave of the house. You could tell when all the barrels were full because water would shoot out of that pipe when they were. Fresh water was now available for the kitchen, the bathroom, a spigot on the stoop by the porch, and to a shower in the garage just by gravity flow of the water from the barrels.
There were two wall mounted light fixtures along the wall in the dining area, one ceiling fixture in the kitchen, and one in the bedroom. There was also a light over the entrance to the house on the highway side. These were all twelve volt lights and we had to be careful in using them so as not to run the batteries down. We had a wall mounted kerosene lantern in the bathroom that we let burn all night. Fleming had a two-mantle gasoline lantern that we used at times also. It put out a lot of light. There was an icebox and kerosene stove in the kitchen. The icebox had a top compartment that would hold a fifty-pound block of ice. The kerosene stove had four burners and an oven. You would fill the kerosene container and then place it in the back of the stove so that the kerosene would flow by gravity to the burners. The burners were wicks of the same material that is made for lanterns but they lay on their edge in a circle. The amount of flame was adjusted by turning knobs on the front of the stove that either raised or lowered the amount of wick exposed. Both the icebox and the stove worked quite well.
During the summer of 1941, we only went to the beach house on the weekends. Fleming had a Plymouth and Auntie and Bunnie had a Pontiac. Both of the cars were probably 1939 models. It is important to note that cars of that vintage, although not necessarily larger on the outside, had a lot more room on the inside. No console in the front or fancy doors. They were also more square shaped and that led to a lot more room. You could seat three people on the front seat and even four in the back. Fleming would use his car for Auntie, Bunnie and him to go to work in and that left the Pontiac for Mama to use.
On Friday afternoons, when they came home from work at 5:00 PM, we would load up the Pontiac with the boxes of food and supplies we would need for the weekend. Who ever was in that car would go straight to the beach house and start unloading. There wasn’t that much since all the staples were left at the house during the summer. Fleming, with whoever was in his car, made a stop at the ice house and got a block of ice before proceeding to the house. During this first summer at the beach house, Harry, Nellie, and Minnie did not go there with us.
There were two recreational activities that Fleming really enjoyed, fishing and bowling. Auntie was not the type of person who had interest in such things, but Bunnie was, so she and Fleming went bowling every now and then during the winter months and during the summer went fishing. I think this was the first summer that I learned anything about fishing. On several of the Saturday or Sunday afternoons, they took me with them to go fishing off the Vilano Bridge. Sometimes Fleming would go surf fishing in front of the house and I would stay on the beach with him. In fact, I spent most of my time with Fleming as he was always building, painting, or repairing something
Shirley and I spent a lot of time on the beach doing what children do on the beach. Mama was always there with us. Ann was only sixteen months old but Mama took her down on the beach too. This was like no other beach I’ve ever been to because it was absolutely private and only on rare occasions would you see anyone else. One thing I remember so well, not only from this trip but from those to follow, were the pelicans. They would fly by the house, headed either north or south, flying in single file with as many as twenty in the line. This was just something that you saw very often, like every thirty minutes or so. They flew fairly low and right over the shoreline so you could see them in detail. When the lead bird flapped his wings, the others would flap theirs, one at a time, all the way down the line. As soon as the leader stopped and glided, the others did the same. It is sad, but as the years have gone by, the pelicans have all but disappeared.
Sometimes on a Saturday afternoon during our summer trips to Florida, not necessarily just on the first one, we would all go crabbing. Since the family knew the Usinas, we would go to their small river pier just down the road. Crabbing was easy and fun. You just tied some meat on the end of a cord and lowered it to the bottom of the water. After five or ten minutes, you would pull it up just to the surface of the water. Several crabs would be hanging onto the meat and you would then just scoop them up with a basket-like net on the end of a long pole. We’d take the catch to the house and boil them. After that, Mama, Auntie, and Bunnie would sit at the table, crack them open and dig out the crabmeat, which was mainly in the claws. These were large ocean crabs but even so it took a lot of work to end up with much crabmeat. Then they would make crab salad, which they all loved. I didn’t like it.
On Sunday morning, Fleming, Bunnie, and I went to the early mass at the Cathedral in St. Augustine. When we got back, Mama, Auntie, Shirley, and Ann, when she was older, went to a later morning mass. Then on Monday morning, Fleming, Auntie, and Bunnie would leave for St. Augustine early enough for them to get to the house and get ready to go to work. Mama would bring the rest of us later during the morning since we only needed to be there in time for lunch. The rest of each week was just spent doing the things we normally did in the city.
We returned to High Point in August. Sometime during the previous year, Mae had taken Shirley to New York to visit our aunt Dot. I think Mae wanted to see where Dot and Henry lived and just thought it would be a good chance for Shirley to get to go to New York. When we got back to High Point right before school started or it may have been before we went to St. Augustine, Daddy decided he would go and visit Dot and take me with him. I remember a lot about this trip. It seems that I was older when we went but after doing some research on a Broadway show we went to, it had to have been in 1941 because the show closed at the end of that year. For this trip we left from High Point on the Southern Railroad and in Washington, DC our Pullman car was switched to the Pennsylvania Railroad. The Pennsylvania was an electric railroad and the engine had devices on its top that would make contact with wires that ran high above and along the center of the track. This was the first time I had ever been on a train with an engine powered by electricity.
We stayed at Dot’s apartment that was in Queens so we used the subway to go everywhere. I had never been on a subway before so that was quite exciting for me. Daddy knew New York well, having lived there for a while, and he really took me on a whirlwind tour during the few days we were there. We went to the top of the Empire State Building, to Madison Square Garden, to Central Park and the zoo. We saw a show at Radio Center Music Hall and went to a Broadway show. I also had my first experience at a penny arcade where there were all kinds of games. One of my favorite things was the automat. This was like a cafeteria but each item of food was in a compartment with a glass door so you could see it. When you put the correct number of coins in a slot to equal the cost of the item, you could open the door and take it out. Of course we went to Grand Central Station because we had come in at Pennsylvania station and Daddy wouldn’t miss any opportunity to visit all the train stations in any city.
We also took a long subway ride to Coney Island where we rode on a number of rides. One of them was a roller coaster called the Cyclone which I think at that time was the largest roller coaster in the country. I distinctly remember one other ride because I have never seen it at any other amusement park. It was called the Toboggan and it was my favorite. It was like a roller coaster but each car was just for up to four people and each sat on the floor of the car with their legs spread around the seat in front of them. Just like you see the people sitting on a regular toboggan. The car didn’t ride on rails but instead it rolled inside a solid wooden tube that had about the top third sliced off so that it was open to the outside. The car was pulled to the top of the first hill and at the top you entered the tube. From there on, it just rolled. Going down the first slope it was in the middle of the tube but when it entered the first curve, and all the remaining curves, centrifugal force made it bank up on the side of the tube, just as you see a toboggan do during the Olympics. The ride was fast like a roller coaster but much smoother.
We rode the bumper cars and many of the other more common rides. We also played some of the games in the booths along the boardwalk. I had never been to an amusement park like this and it was really exciting. Daddy really showed me New York. The only thing we didn’t do was visit the Statue of Liberty. I don’t know why, but my guess is that he thought it would take too long for the amount of time we had and it would be better to use the time doing and seeing other things.
Assuming that we did take that trip after we got back from St. Augustine, it would now be late August of 1941 and I was ready to start the second grade. Shirley would be in the fifth grade. When Shirley first entered school she had already decided she wanted to be a doctor when she grew up. Through all the years she never thought about being anything else and twenty or so years later, she did indeed become a doctor. When I first started school I never thought about being a policeman or a fireman like I think a lot of young boys do. The only things I thought about being when I grew up was a train engineer or being a fisherman who had his own shrimp boat.
My second grade teacher was Miss Turbefield. Several things occurred at school during the year as I will mention while discussing the year, but the one thing that didn’t change was that we still had art and I always dreaded that. Things went as usual including our going to the Duke football games
Sometime after we had gotten back from St. Augustine, Bunnie wrote a letter to daddy telling him that my grandfather Harry was sick. I don’t know the details, but she told him that she wanted him to be aware of it but asked that he not tell Mama about it, as there was no need to have her worrying about it until they knew how serious it was.
November rolled around and with it Thanksgiving and the thoughts of Christmas not being far off. Daddy always raked leaves on Thanksgiving and I helped. There was no citywide leaf pickup in those days although some people did hire someone to rake their leaves and carry them away. We raked ours and burned them on the sloping lot beside the house, as there were no bans on burning inside the city at that time either. Burning big piles of leaves was great fun.
I had already decided what I wanted for Christmas, picking out things from the store windows and the Lionel Train Catalog, when December 7, 1941 came. On that day, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and declared war on the United States. On the next day, our country officially declared war on Japan and later that day England, who was already at war with Germany and Italy, also declared war on Japan. Three days later, Germany and Italy, who were allies of Japan, declared war on the United States. We were now a part of World War II.
I don’t remember anything about how I heard about it or that I really understood just what was going on but little by little, things started changing. There was one thing that happened almost immediately and that had to do with the Rose Bowl football game that was always played on New Year’s Day in Pasadena, California. Duke University had been selected to play Oregon State in the game that year. The people who were in charge of it decided right away that the game should be cancelled since they were afraid the Japanese might target the game, with all those people in one place, for some sort of attack. Oregon State had never played in the Rose Bowl and they desperately wanted to play in this one. Several large cities offered to host the game but Duke was working behind the scenes to bring the game to Durham. Duke contacted Oregon State on December 14 and formally offered to host the game and Oregon State quickly agreed. The Rose Bowl Committee and the United States Army also agreed with the plan. Duke had already made a plan when they officially offered to host the game so as soon as they got the okay, they really went to work. They got temporary bleachers from the University of North Carolina, North Carolina State, and Wake Forest so that they increased the seating capacity of their stadium from 35,000 to 56,000. They had also worked out many other things. Tickets had to be printed, sold and distributed. They had to set up facilities for droves of the national news media. Five newsreel companies filmed the game for commercial distribution. Many students changed their holiday plans. Duke was so convinced that it would all work out that tickets went on sale on December 16 for $4.40. This was the same price as tickets were to be in Pasadena. Working through box office, mail and telegraphic money order, the entire run of 56,000 tickets were sold in two days. Daddy got tickets for us.
As soon as war was declared, our country immediately started to mobilize. Many young men volunteered to enter the service and a military draft was started. The automobile manufacturing companies began switching their production lines over to make military vehicles instead of automobiles and the aircraft manufacturers did the same. Ship building companies began hiring great numbers of people to build ships for the navy. It became obvious right away that many commercial items were going to become very scarce. Rubber was one of them. Most of the tires being made were going to the military and so getting a new tire was next to impossible. Tire recapping, that involved just putting a new layer of rubber with treads in it around the outside of a tire that the treads were worn off of, became very popular. There were no tubeless tires in those days so punctures were fixed with a simple patch on the inner tube. That was pretty routine though, even before the war.
As on all Christmas Eves, we went to Midnight Mass because Father Mac always had a very fancy Midnight Mass and all the altar boys were involved in the ceremony. The war did not affect Christmas much as far as toys and gifts were concerned because all of those things had already been manufactured and already purchased or on the store shelves. I’m pretty sure that I got two switches for my train and a Lionel train station. I also got three streetlights that I didn’t ask for. Lionel did not make them and I have no idea where Daddy found them, but I was really surprised and liked them. There were other things too, but I don’t remember what, and I have no idea what Shirley or Ann got that Christmas or any other Christmas. We had our usual Christmas afternoon and dinner at my grandparents’ house.
So Christmas was over and on January 1, 1942, we went to the Rose Bowl football game in Durham. Never before or since that day has the Rose Bowl game ever been played anywhere other than Pasadena, California. I’m not sure if Ann went to Durham with us or not but the rest of us did. I’m also not sure if Mama and Shirley went to the game but Daddy and I did. I really don’t remember much about it but there is one clear picture in my mind. The day was sort of cold and rainy. It wasn’t a hard rain but mostly just drizzle. Just a short distance after we turned off of the main highway to Durham and started down Highway 751, the entrance to Duke University, all traffic stopped. There was a line of cars as far as you could see. I have a mental picture of Daddy getting out of the car to get a better view down the road to see what the hold-up was. He could not determine what the problem was. At that time Duke had two huge dirt parking lots adjacent to the football stadium. Nobody ever had a problem parking for a game but this game had many more people and the whole problem was that they just couldn’t get the cars parked fast enough and that caused the back-up. Duke lost the game 20-16 and although I have very little memory of it, I was at that one time only event.
Ann had her second birthday in February and at some point in that general time frame, I think I had begun to have some idea of how the war really could and probably would have some real effect on us. One day when Daddy came home from work he went in the kitchen and showed Mama a letter from the Army. Daddy was forty-one years old and had three children so he didn’t qualify for the draft nor would they let him enlist. He had written to the Army in Washington to see if he could somehow get into the Army Corp of Engineers, but the letter he had gotten back said that they would not take him.
About this same time the City of High Point approached Daddy, knowing he was a civil engineer, about taking over the job of Director of Public Works because the present director had either enlisted or had been drafted. Daddy took the job. Along with the job, the City gave him a car to use. This was the first time we had ever had access to two cars.
Other things were happening because of the war. They started gas rationing. I’m not really sure how it worked, but I do remember that all cars had to have a sticker on their windshield. They were either a B or a C sticker. They may have had an A sticker too but I don’t remember ever seeing one. Most cars had a red C sticker. A few had a green B and this meant that they needed to have more gas, like maybe a doctor, than the ordinary citizen. Along with the sticker, you had a coupon book that maybe you got once a month. When you bought gas, the attendant would tear out some number of coupons depending on how much gas you got. When the coupons were all used, you couldn’t get any more gas until the next month when you got your new book. That may not have been exactly how it worked, but it was something along those lines.
There were also rationing coupons for groceries as certain items became somewhat scarce. I don’t know much about that either, but I do know that sugar was one of the things that was scarce and that being the case, candy bars were hard to come by. Women’s hose got very scarce and remained so throughout the war. Since there were no seamless hose in those days, some women would mark the back of their bare legs to look like a seam so it would look like they were wearing hose.
The government needed money and they started selling War Bonds. Many Hollywood celebrities started traveling around the country raising money for the war effort. You could buy War Stamps as well as War Bonds. You could either buy a 10¢ stamp or 25¢ stamp, and you could get a book designed for either value to paste them in. When you had your book full, it was worth $18.75, which was the cost of a $25 bond. You could buy the stamps at school or at the movie theater or many other places. I can remember trying to get my stamp book full so I could get a bond.
After all of the movies, there would be a picture on the screen asking people to buy war bonds. There were war posters everywhere dealing with the war effort. They usually had a picture of Uncle Sam or of servicemen on them and dealt with everything from asking men to enlist to not talking to anyone about any government type work you might be involved with.
There was a tremendous push to get scrap metal, aluminum foil and many other things. A number of us in the neighborhood joined in the effort and we went door to door with wagons asking people if they had anything we could get. One family on the street behind us let us pile the stuff in their yard and then they would call a truck to come and get it. It was amazing how much stuff we got. I definitely remember that we also collected newspapers. At this point in time, I can’t imagine why, as they didn’t have any paper recycling operations as far as I know. The main reason I remember getting the newspapers is because some people would tell us they had a lot of papers in their garage and we could take them all. I can remember being amazed at garages full of newspapers and I wondered then. as I do now, why they must have been saving their papers for years.
My sister Ann has a number of letters that were saved over the years either by my mother or by the folks in Florida. Various people wrote these letters. She has one that Daddy wrote to Bunnie on April 13, 1942, that is obviously a reply to one she had just written him. This letter has to do with Harry being sick but it is also interesting to read the concern Daddy, and I imagine many others, had about the war.
Quoting from the letter…. “I was glad to hear that Mr. Jones is getting along so well. You did not say definitely whether he started on the treatments or not but I suppose he has. At the time you wrote me first I didn’t quite understand what the proposition was but thought it would require an operation. I have never said anything to Harriette about hearing from you all, and won’t. I believe it would be a good idea for you to write her sometime along the lines you suggest.”
“I had in mind that probably I wouldn’t let them come to Florida this summer for a number of reasons, but your father’s condition has changed all that. My reason for not wanting them to come down was largely because of the war situation. I didn’t think it was fair to have you wear your tires on such frequent trips to the beach house as would be necessary if Harriette was there. Furthermore with the enforced blackout of all lights up and down the coast it would be very difficult to live in a beach house and conceal your lights at night. Furthermore I have believed for some months that one of these days there will be a token attack by the Germans on the Atlantic Coast, either by fire from a submarine or by bombing from a plane, and I can think of no better place for such an attack to be made than the Florida Coast, although the area in the vicinity of Palm Beach would be the most vulnerable due to the fact that the main channel of the Gulf Stream is only a half mile off the coast there. Of course the chances of being involved in any such attack would be remote, it could happen. I don’t know how transportation is going to be this summer, with the talk of possible rationing of rail travel in some sections, but I hardly anticipate any such radical restrictions in the summer time in this particular area from here to Florida. As far as I know then, I believe the logical time for her to come down for a visit is at the end of the second week of June. I am glad to hear that Mr. Jones is better and hope he will continue in that condition, although I hardly expect to hear that he has improved any as that is probably out of the picture.”
Probably before the letter even got to St. Augustine, there was a long distance call from Bunnie saying that Harry was dying and Mama should come as soon as possible. Daddy made some fast arrangements and we all went to St. Augustine, arriving there on Saturday, April 18. I was able to figure out the dates because of Daddy’s dated letter and a short article from the St. Augustine paper that I have saying that Mama, Daddy, and their three children had arrived on Saturday evening because of Harry being seriously ill. I guess this was news worthy in a small town at that time. There is only one thing I remember about this trip and that is a mental picture of Shirley, Daddy, and me standing by Harry’s bed in the hospital. I had never been in a hospital room before and I clearly remember seeing him lying in bed. Harry had kidney failure and at that time this was certain death because there was no dialysis, kidney transplants or anything else to cure or prolong life. Harry died the following Wednesday, April 22. He was only sixty-nine years old. My best guess is that his funeral was on Friday and that we returned home on Saturday.
Some years later, Fleming told me that when Harry went to the hospital, he asked him to take care of the family and Fleming promised him that he would. He fulfilled that promise and became almost like one of the family.
My uncle P.V. had graduated from Duke University in June of 1941 and some time after we got back from Harry’s funeral, he was either drafted or enlisted into the Army. He served in the Pacific until the war ended.
Although we had only been in the war for a short time, more and more reminders of our involvement occurred. As a symbol of High Point being the Furniture Capital of the World, there had been a structure on Main Street for years that was built to look like a large bureau. A large panel was added to the front of it and the name of everyone who was serving in the military was put on it. The list of names grew as the war years went on. There were also small rectangular banners that started appearing in the windows of houses. These banners were white with a red border and a blue star or stars in the center. These were hung in the window of any home where someone was serving in the military. There was a star for each member of that household in the service. If anyone from the household was killed, the blue star was changed to a gold one.
Around 1937, a new magazine had begun to be published. It was called LIFE and was a weekly magazine. Unlike most magazines, it had as many or maybe even more pages of photographs as it did text. Daddy had started subscribing to it when the first issue came out and he saved every issue until it was no longer published as a weekly magazine in 1972. The war had become a major issue with the bombing of Pearl Harbor and LIFE had photographs every week of various aspects of the war, both in Europe and in the Pacific. Needless to say, news about the war filled the daily newspapers and the radio news broadcast.
High Point started a Civil Defense unit and Daddy became involved some way with it. I think, but am not sure, that they set up their headquarters in the basement of either the Post Office or the Guilford County Court House. I never visited the facility but it is my understanding that they had large panels with maps of the various parts of the city and other things that involved communication with police, fire department, etc. The city also installed a number of sirens that were to be used to let the people know that an air attack was eminent. Over the next few years, we had several blackout practices. When the sirens sounded, the city was supposed to become completely dark and civil defense volunteers had specific areas to cover to check that no lights were visible from houses.
We would go to the room in the back of the house and close the doors to the bathroom and the two bedrooms. Then with a shade on the door to the back porch, we could leave the light on in the room we were in and no light was visible from the outside. When the all-clear siren sounded, the blackout drill was over. They lasted about an hour. It is strange, but the Civil Defense Headquarters was, in later years, going to play a very important role in something I wanted to do.
Another reminder of the war were the trains that came by my grandparent’s house. It wasn’t long after the war started that the freight trains started having flat cars with army trucks, tanks, and other various types of military equipment on them.
With all the equipment now being built for the war effort, quite a few people were moving to cities that had industrial plants that had been converted into building the various things that would be required for the war. People were flocking to the cities that had ship building operations, aircraft plants, and any type of land vehicles. Plenty of jobs were available because so many of the young men that had been working at these plants had now either enlisted or been drafted. For the first time, women became involved in industrial type work. Many became welders, riveters, or learned many other skills that had always been done by men before. They also took up the slack in the civilian area too, becoming bus drivers or doing any kind of work that had normally been done by men. I can remember posters and pictures of women in magazines that were labeled, Rosie the Riveter.
In May, both Shirley and I had birthdays. She became ten and I became eight. It was close to the end of the school year and to Mae’s piano recital. There was an auditorium at Ray Street School and on various occasions, all of the students would go to the auditorium for some sort of program for the entire school. On a few occasions, a teacher would take only her class to the auditorium for some reason or another. This was the case one day in May when Miss Turbefield took our class to the auditorium. I don’t recall why we went to the auditorium but after we had done whatever it was we did, she looked at us and said that she wanted me to go on the stage and play the piano for the class. I was stunned and terribly embarrassed. It was bad enough having Mae or Mama asking me to play for some stranger at various times, but at least on those occasions, I could say no or at least argue with them about it. This was different. She was the teacher and so I had no choice. I know it was toward the end of school because I had learned a piece that I was going to play in the recital and I knew it by heart. It was a piece by Mozart, the Fantasia in D Minor, and it was the only thing I could think of to play. It was rather long and in my mind I knew that my classmates had never heard any pieces like this. I was sure that they expected to hear some song they had heard on the radio and even more sure that I would be labeled a sissy, as I didn’t know any boys that even took music lessons. I played it, but have no memory of any comments made or anything else that happened that day. I guess I was too upset about the whole thing. I remember Miss Bell, my first grade teacher and Mrs. Whitley, my fourth grade teacher because her husband was the High Point School Superintendent and they lived close to us. I remember Mrs. Fussell, my sixth grade teacher because she was actually a relative, a cousin I think, and I remember Miss Turbefield because of five or ten minutes of one day when she caused me to have one of the most embarrassing times of my life.
We went to St. Augustine the later part of June as had been planned even before Harry died. This time the folks from St. Augustine didn’t meet us and we rode the train from Jacksonville to St. Augustine. The mandatory blackout up and down the east coast that Daddy had mentioned in his letter in April never went into effect because the government felt it would be a show of fear of the Nazis.
Auntie had bought a dog. It was a Pomeranian and her name was Mitzi. Mama told me that Auntie had taken Harry’s death very hard and she missed him so she thought maybe the dog would be company for her. Mitzi was a small dog but she wasn’t a puppy so Auntie must have just bought her from someone who for some reason had her for sale. She was a nice little dog but didn’t pay much attention to anyone except Auntie. I don’t know what happened to her. It’s like she was there for a while and then she wasn’t. I don’t remember how many summers we spent in Florida while she was there, nor do I remember anything about anyone saying what happened to her. Auntie used to give her coffee and toast for breakfast and they had their breakfast together. Mitzi loved it.
The San Lorenzo Cemetery is the large Catholic cemetery in St. Augustine. At some point in time, Harry had bought a plot there for the entire family. It was a large rectangular shaped area marked of with a granite curb around it. It was designed for eight caskets. During this summer of 1942, another routine was started that was to be repeated many times. Since Harry had died, Mama wanted to take some flowers to his grave. There was a woman that lived on a back street, near the river, that grew and sold Zinnias. Mama, Nellie, me, Shirley, Ann and Old Lady would go to her house, buy the flowers and then go to the cemetery. While Mama went up to the house to get the flowers, we would talk about the woman who grew them and we decided she was a witch because of the spooky place she lived in. It was sort of a joke with us and Old Lady played a big part in our talking about it. At the cemetery there were two graves with headstones in the plot. One was for Tom Dowd, my great aunt Minnie’s husband, and the other for my grandfather Harry. Nellie’s father and mother were also buried in this cemetery but over in a different section. Mama never remembered exactly where their graves were but Old Lady always said she knew and would give directions. We would then end up driving all over the cemetery until we found the graves. I always had the suspicion that Old Lady knew exactly where they were but just wanted Mama to drive all around so she could see what was going on new at the cemetery. We went to the cemetery several times during all of the summers we spent in St. Augustine.
There really wasn’t much in St. Augustine that I can remember to indicate that we were at war except that they had the gas rationing and the same scarce items that we had at home. I’m sure they had some sort of Civil Defense unit set up to but it was nothing I was aware of. At the beach house though, there was one very obvious thing. At night, two Coast Guard sailors would walk on the beach from their Coast Guard facility, about two or three miles to the north of our house, to the Vilano inlet. Then they would turn around and walk back. This went on all night but I feel sure that they had others to take their place after about four hours or so of walking. Fleming got in the habit of making a thermos or two of coffee for them and he would put it with some cups at the bottom on our stairs that went down to the beach. It seems to me that on several occasions they came up to the house to thank us for the coffee. Other than that, we did the same sort of things that we had done in the previous summers and then in August, went back home.
When we got home, there were big changes. Daddy had had the upstairs area of the house made into the three rooms that were planned for the future when the house was built. He did not have the bathroom done in the area planned probably because of the cost and the bedrooms were not done like the downstairs rooms. Instead, some sort of composition board was used and then painted. I’m sure that the cost was the reason for it being done like that. The bedroom on the west side of the house was the biggest, having two side windows and a dormer window in the front. This was Daddy and Mama’s room. My room was in the middle and it was very small. It only had only the one dormer window. The room on the east side was for Shirley and Ann. It had one window on the side and one dormer window. It was smaller than Daddy and Mama’s room because the area that would have been the bathroom was behind it. That room was left unfinished but they had put a wood floor in the area under the back one story part of the house and covered the exposed roof beams and insulation. That was probably done so it could be used as a storage place. In no time at all though, I had thought of other uses for the unfinished bathroom and that large storage area.
School started with Shirley entering the sixth grade and my entering the third. I think it was about this time that daddy got both Shirley and me a bicycle. They were what were called then twenty-four inch bikes as opposed to the full size twenty-six inch, and they were nothing like the ones available today. Neither had gears and although Shirley’s did have small sized tires, mine had the large size tires. At some point during the year, I think I started riding my bike to school, but that might not have started until the following year. I don’t think Shirley ever rode her bike to school. She had several friends in the neighborhood and they walked to school together. It was a distance of about one mile.
Over the years I have seen many TV programs and movies that showed young boys playing cowboys and Indians. I never did that. My playmates and I played soldiers, and if you’re going to play soldiers, you have to have equipment. We discovered that there was an Army/Navy Surplus store in town. I’m sure it had been there for a while but none of us had a reason to have ever gone there. It was definitely the place to get what we needed. The first thing I got was a belt with a canteen and case attached to it. Over the year and into the next, I also got a pack, a canteen, a pup tent, a helmet, and an ammunition belt. We spent a lot of time playing soldiers.
It was in this general time frame that we started playing baseball, in the spring of course. Our earliest attempts at baseball were done in the lot next to our house. We had only five or six people playing and trees were the bases. This wasn’t a very good setting for baseball, but we had fun. Shirley even used to play. During football season, Daddy would often go outside with me on Sunday mornings after church and we would pass a football. One of my friends, Jerry Jacobs, lived on the corner of Colonial Drive, the street behind our house and Woodlawn Avenue, the street at the bottom of sloping lot next to our house. They had a large, grass covered side yard along Woodlawn and it was a great place for the neighborhood kids to play football. Across from our football field was a wooded lot and on that lot was a large muscadine vine growing through several trees. It was a yearly thing for us to pick the grapes, usually having to climb trees to reach many of them. Of course we would eat them as we picked them and they were delicious. The Jacobs were Jewish and either Jerry’s mother or father’s parents, who were either Russian or German, lived with them. I learned a lot about the Jewish faith and it was interesting to see how they celebrated the Sabbath every week. Every Friday night they would set their dining room table in an elaborate fashion to have their dinner and prayers. They also did this for each of the holy days they celebrated during the year.
Another activity got started around this time that would continue for many years. Probably because of the gas rationing, our day trips in the car had been curtailed and so Daddy started taking Shirley and me to the movies on Sunday afternoon. Movies were a little different at that time. During the week, the theaters opened at one or one-thirty in the afternoon and the movies ran continuously until the last one of the day, usually around nine o’clock at night. You could come in during the middle of the main feature or any time and just watch everything until you got back to the point that you had come in at. The movies consisted of the main feature, a newsreel, a cartoon, previews of the next few movies that were coming, and often a short film about any number of subjects. There were no advertisements except during the war when there was usually one urging people to buy war stamp and bonds. All the theaters had a concession stand that sold popcorn and candy but none sold drinks. I would always get a small box of Jordan Almonds and I have eaten them ever since. There were usually two movies a week at each theater. One ran on Sunday through Wednesday and another on Thursday through Saturday. The movies on Sunday were a little different in that they only had two showings in the afternoon at two and four o’clock and then one at night at eight o’clock. We always went to the two o’clock movie on Sundays. When Ann got a little older, she started going with us but Mama rarely went. I think she enjoyed some quiet time at home by herself and also because there were several radio programs that played classical music on Sunday afternoons which she loved to listen to. At that time, movies were a dime for children under twelve and fifty cents for adults. The movie theaters were not air-conditioned as there wasn’t any air-conditioning at that time but they did advertise as being air-cooled. I don’t know what that meant but they were considerable cooler than the outside temperature in the summer. It seems like they were as cool as theaters are now, but that may be because everyone was much more acclimated to the heat than they are now.
So the year went on. There was school, music lessons, the Duke football games, movies, Thanksgiving, Christmas and then it was 1943. Mae had decided that with all the students she had, she would start teaching at some other locations in addition to her home as a convenience to the parents that lived so far from her house. She found several people that let her use their home to teach at. One of the locations was on Sunset drive, no more that a quarter mile from our house. This really simplified things for Mama, as she no longer had to take us to our lessons. I rode my bike and Shirley may have too, but if she didn’t, she just walked.
Very soon after New Years, Daddy bought four very inexpensive card tables that we put in a corner of the playroom to put my train layout on. The tops of the tables were little more than heavy cardboard so I was able to punch holes in the tops to run the wires to the switches and accessories under the table.
In February Ann had a birthday and was then 3 years old. This was probably the time that I started roughhousing with Ann in the living room sort of like Daddy did with me in earlier years. I remember this so well. It usually occurred in the afternoon while Mama was fixing supper and we were probably waiting for the Lone Ranger to come on the radio. After a few minutes she would get sort of hurt and go crying to the kitchen to tell Mama. Mama would yell something to me and within a minute Ann would be back to do it again. However, one day she came back and hit me on the head with a hammer or a croquet mallet. I can’t remember which.
Another activity that had started around the nation as a direct result of the war was Victory Gardens. Many people had started having vegetable gardens in any area they could find close to their homes. Mr. and Mrs. McCall lived directly behind the lot on the East side of our house and they decided to have a garden in the vacant lot across the street in front of our house. They plowed it all up and had a fairly large garden. They had a son who was one of my regular playmates. He and I asked them if we they would plow up a small area for us to plant a garden and they did. We planted corn, carrots, radishes, and a number of other things. We just followed their lead in how and what to plant. I remember hoeing and weeding and watching for the various items start to grow. This was my first experience with gardening.
Shirley and I had birthdays in May, school ended, and we both played in Mae’s recital. Strangely enough, I remember the piece I played in that recital. It was called The Little White Donkey. It was a cute little piece and I played it often over the years. Some years later I heard a concert pianist play this piece on the radio and I remember wondering why someone like that would play such a simple little piece. Then it was time again for our annual trip to St. Augustine.
I remember the trip to St. Augustine in 1943 because it wasn’t as routine as usual. It was a day trip and when we got to Jacksonville we the got the train to St. Augustine. We rode in one of the coach cars as we had the year before but this time the cars were packed with people. A great many of them were servicemen. I guess that after having been in the war for over a year, there were just a lot of soldiers and sailors now going to various locations. There was standing room only and the aisles were packed. Even Ann, who was only three and a half years old, remembers that trip because she had to sit on a suitcase in the aisle.
St. Augustine was showing more signs of our involvement in the war that year. Right after we had left St. Augustine the year before, something changed the leisurely look of the city. The following article written quite a while after the war in the local newspaper, The St. Augustine Record, describes it well.
WWII came to St. Augustine
In 1942, when the world was in the throes of one of history's most devastating wars, it was announced that St. Augustine would be making a direct contribution to the war effort.
It is true that St. Augustine's youth had been shipped off to the dangerous corners of the world for some months and that the effects of war were doing serious damage to local business. But until the announcement in August of 1942 that several local hotels, including the illustrious Hotel Ponce de Leon -- now home to Flagler College -- were to be used by the U.S. Coast Guard, the direct impact of war on St. Augustine had been limited.
Now the war was here.
William Kenan Jr., president of the Florida East Coast Hotel Company, the company that was guardian of Henry Flagler's business empire, and L.C. Haines, the company's vice president and treasurer, offered the Coast Guard use of the Hotel Ponce de Leon.
On August 31 of that year, The St. Augustine Evening Record, while acknowledging that there were some business reasons that helped justify such a patriotic gesture, applauded the news.
The two men, The Record said, "have made a tremendous sacrifice" by offering the Ponce to the government.
The Ponce, The Record reminded its readers, "is not just another hotel...It is a treasure of inestimable worth, architecturally and artistically."
The Ponce provided room for a Coast Guard boot camp. At any given time, as many 2,500 men of the Coast Guard were stationed here in what was undoubtedly the most opulent of all training camps, wrote Jackie Feagin, former regional editor of The Record in a 1988 story.
For three years, until the war's end in 1945, the young cadets learned to be sailors and gunners for the Merchant Navy.
Matanzas Bay was filled with zigzagging boats on maneuver. The cadets patrolled the beaches in search of enemy saboteurs or spies who might make landfall. German submarines, it was pointed out in "Operation Drumbeat," a recent book by Michael Gannon, were cruising dangerously close to Florida shores at that time and the threat of enemy infiltration was probably more real than anyone at the time knew.
The late W.W. "Buddy" Wilson, a former Record employee, was one Coast Guard member who received his training at the Ponce. In the Record of Feb. 6, 1966, he wrote about his experiences and how important the Coast Guard presence was to St. Augustine.
"Housed here amidst surrounding previously enjoyed by the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, etc., were young men fresh from the farms and cities alike," he said. "... Training also included close order drill, semaphore, signaling. Morse code, first aid, launching lifeboats as well as handling them in rough seas, and jujitsu experts were there to teach them to kill with their bare hands if necessary."
But it was not just the hotels -- the Monson, Bennett and Ocean View hotels were drummed into service also -- that felt the presence of the Coast Guard.
"The famous protector of early St. Augustine, the Old Fort or Castillo de San Marcos, also played an important part in the Coast Guard's war-time role in St. Augustine ..." The vast grounds of the Fort area were in daily use by boot training companies and here thousands learned close order drill with as many as eight companies deployed there on most days."
When the news that the Coast Guard was moving to St. Augustine was announced, for many locals the war may still have seemed a far-off affair. But there were real fears that the Coast Guard presence could draw St. Augustine into actual fighting. The Record echoed those fears but realized the importance of the training.
"... Of course, a well-placed bomb could do irreparable damage to such a structure (the Ponce), and it is to keep such bombs from being dropped on U.S. soil that the intensive training effort is being put forth all over the country, and St. Augustine is being made a part of the picture in the preparation of young men for defense of this nation," it wrote in an editorial.
Finally, The Record pointed out that the presence of the Coast Guard would undoubtedly have a beneficial impact on the local business community, which was suffering from the natural drop-off in tourism that the war caused and also from the loss of its youth and resources.
Kenan and Haines wrote in an editorial in he Record, "Know that the bringing of hundreds of men here for training will have a stimulating effect on the business people and the residents generally.” And so, their generous action had a local motive also. St. Augustine people generally should be grateful to the officials of the Florida East Coast Hotel Company, who have put all personal feeling aside, and come out 100 percent in cooperation with the war effort, and for what they feel will be helpful to St. Augustine in time of great emergency."
When we would drive up the side street next to the Ponce, we could see the clothes lines they had strung from balcony to balcony with shirts, blue jeans, and underwear hanging on them to dry. It was funny sight to see that magnificent hotel like that. Where normally there were tourists milling around the grounds of the Fort, now there were cadets marching and in the bay were the small boats used for the training of the cadets.
Nothing was different up at the beach house. The sailors still patrolled the beach except that this year, they didn’t walk. They rode horses. They still stopped for the coffee that Fleming would put out for them.
Back in St. Augustine, there was something else that made this summer different. It involved Minnie. We didn’t spend as much time with her as she was very sick now and bedridden. She had breast cancer that she had probably had for several years, but now it was very bad. She had good days and bad days so sometimes we were able to go in her room and talk to her while she was in bed, but for the most part, we just had to try and not disturb her. Quite often she would scream out in pain. The doctor came fairly often but there was nothing he could do except give her morphine. At that time I think any type of cancer meant certain death.
About this time I started writing letters to Daddy while we were in Florida. I would always wait anxiously for his reply. They didn’t have a mailman in St. Augustine, but instead, a box at the post office. I still remember the number, box 447. Fleming had one too and it was box 581. I always though it was interesting that several years later when Daddy got a box at the High Point post office, he ended up with box 581, too. I would walk up to the post office twice a day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon when it seemed time for me to get a reply to a letter I had written. I wish more of those letters had been saved as they would have given me a better time line on when things happened, but very few were. I do have one that I wrote in 1943 in reply to a letter he wrote me. Although I said in this letter that it was the first time I had written him, that isn’t right as I have a letter I wrote just when I had just learned to print. That one was probably sent with a letter Mama had written him.
Mama started taking me, and sometimes Shirley and Ann, to Usina’s pier to go fishing. We usually went on a Monday after the others had left the beach house to go to work. Of course this was primarily for me. We just fished with hand lines but for me it was great. The pier wasn’t very long but since it was on the river, it really didn’t have to be. It had steps that led down to a lower smaller pier, very close to the water, that was so rowboats could tie up to it. Usually though, any rowboats around were pulled up on the shore. Since we just used hand lines, we always fished from the lower pier. There was never anyone else there. In the letter I wrote, I told Daddy that Mama and I had gone fishing today but that Shirley and Ann didn’t want to go. I had caught two toadfish and Mama had caught a typewriter, but it was old and no good. I also must have had some conversations with Daddy before we came down to Florida about my wanting to get some chickens because I told him in the letter that we could keep the chickens in the corner of the back yard but that maybe we could work out something better when I got home.
I had also discovered a magazine named Model Builders. It had many pictures of various train layouts with pictures and information about making buildings and landscapes. It was about what was then called toy trains like my Lionel train as opposed to the scale model trains that became popular later. I had added a P.S. to the letter I wrote that said I hoped Daddy would let me get Model Builders and that I wished that after the war we could buy about $150 worth of train equipment. I obviously didn’t know how much that was in those days nor that it was probably about one third or more of Daddy’s monthly income. I did get the magazine subscription though and I still have copies of it somewhere.
We started going to the movies in St. Augustine and that continued during the following summers. Mama would take me, Shirley, Old Lady, Nellie, and Ann, when she was a little older, to the movies right after lunch. She would come back after about two hours, come in the theater and pick up Old Lady and Nellie and take them home. The rest of us usually stayed until almost five o’clock. Auntie, Bunnie, and Fleming always stopped at a drug store on their way home from work and had a cup of coffee. All drug stores had a soda fountain or often called a lunch counter in those days. They had seats along the counter and many had tables and chairs also. They sold coffee, sodas, ice cream, and sandwiches. A drug store was the place everyone went to get a cup of coffee, a light lunch, or any of the other things they offered when you were out shopping or in the business area for some reason or another. It’s interesting that a cup of coffee or an ice cream cone only cost a nickel at that time. The drug store that Auntie and the others went to was only a block from the theater so we would walk over there and meet them, sometimes having a drink or some ice cream. I never could understand why they would want to drink hot coffee during the summer.
We returned to High Point in August and got ready for the new school year.
I entered the fourth grade and Shirley entered the seventh which meant she was no longer at Ray Street School but at High Point Junior High School. At that time, the schools were segregated. The colored people had their schools and the white people had theirs. High Point only had one junior high school and one high school for the white students. The two schools faced each other but were separated by a very large athletic field with both schools using it. Grade school covered grades one through six, junior high was grades seven and eight, and high school was grades nine through twelve. There was an exception to this however. There were too many students in the ninth grade for them all to be able to go to the high school building so they split the students into two groups using birth date as the criteria. The older group went to the high school building and the younger group went to the junior high building. Shirley started taking viola lessons in the seventh grade at Junior High School. I don’t know why she took up the viola instead of the violin, but it could have been that they had many people playing violin and not enough playing viola in the orchestra and they just asked for volunteers to switch to the viola since the two instruments are so similar.
Not only were the schools segregated but everything else was too. Colored people sat in the back of buses while white people sat in the front. All stores had two drinking fountains, one for colored and one for whites. Colored people were not allowed to eat in any white establishment nor were they allowed in the movie theaters. They did have their own theater and one of the white theaters, the Paramount, had a second balcony in it and colored people were allowed to sit in that balcony. Even the train station had two separate waiting rooms, one for colored and one for whites. That’s just the way things were and all the way through high school, I never ever had a thought about there being something basically wrong about this.
During the year I did get my chickens. I built a pen in a corner of the garage about three feet above the floor for them. There was a store in High Point named Houser’s Feed and Seed or something like that. They sold all kinds of farming supplies and they always had chicken biddies for sale. I bought three, plus a feeding tray and water dish with an inverted bottle to keep the dish full of water. They were all hens, Rhode Island Reds, and they all lived. They grew to full size. I would have to go to Houser’s to buy feed for them and every time I did, I would think about having a farm that would require having to use all the things they sold.
Sometime during 1943, a house was built across the street from ours. It was not directly across, but across from the sloping lot next to ours. A family named Metcalf moved in. They had a daughter named Judy and she was Ann’s age so Ann now had a close playmate in the neighborhood. They also had younger child who they called Bumper. I don’t think I ever knew his real name, just Bumper. Ann and Judy Metcalf have remained friends over the years although they have not lived near each other for all these many years.
During the winter, Daddy always had to order coal for our furnace twice because the coal bin in the basement wasn’t big enough to hold enough for the whole season. Since coal was somewhat scarce because of the war, he built a large bin on one side of the garage and at the beginning of the winter season, he ordered enough to fill both the bin in the basement and the one in the garage. When the bin in the basement got to the point of being about half full, it became my job to move coal from the garage bin to the basement bin. Every afternoon when I got home from school, I would load my wagon with coal from the garage, move it to the coal shoot and shovel it into the basement bin. I usually made five trips, but sometimes more if I knew there was something I had to do the next day that would keep me from doing this daily chore or if it had been raining the day before so that I couldn’t do it. I kept the basement bin about a quarter full through the winter.
Because of playing in the various wooded lots around our house, we discovered that if you went far enough into the woods directly across from our house, and behind what was then a Victory Garden, you came to a creek. This wasn’t just a ditch with water in it but a fairly wide flowing creek with large flat rocks in it. You could get across it by stepping or jumping to the next nearest rock until you were on the other side. Some of the rocks stuck out from the bank so they were sort of like a peninsular where several people could sit on them with the water on three sides of them. Some places the water would pool up against a rock and you could catch the crayfish in it. It’s hard to imagine now that there was a creek with water where crayfish could survive. It was a great place to play. Sometimes on Saturdays, several of us would pack a lunch and go to the creek to play and have a picnic there.
In those days the grocery stores did not have packaged meat. They had a refrigerated cabinet with a glass front where you could see the various meats. None of it was cut into portions. The shoppers would tell the butcher what they wanted and he would then cut the proper portion for them. They had several meats that you no longer see in stores such as kidneys, cow’s tongue, and pig’s feet. Mama used to buy all of these. I hated pig’s feet but kidneys and cow’s tongue were great. My favorite picnic lunch at the creek was a tongue sandwich with mustard on it and if we happened to have a tongue in the refrigerator on the day of our picnics, that’s what I would take. If fact, I may have suggested on having a picnic at the creek on a day when I knew we had a tongue in the refrigerator.
If you crossed the creek and walked a little further through the woods, you came to the rock quarry. I don’t know when it was really a quarry but it had been abandoned for quite a while. It was then just a very large hole, probably over a hundred feet wide and about thirty or forty feet deep with fairly steep sides around most of it. Climbing down the sides and playing in the bottom was a lot of fun. By today’s standards, I’m sure it would have been considered a very dangerous place to play.
One day in October Mama got a letter from St. Augustine telling her that Minnie had died and had been buried in the family plot. I guess with traveling being hard during the war and them not wanting to worry her with thinking she should be there, they just waited to tell her about it until it was all over.
I got interested in building model airplanes and since I had sort of claimed the upstairs room that should have been the bathroom, I used that as a place to build my models. The room was still unfinished with the studs exposed but I built a table, using the studs as the back support for it, and built my models and any thing else that I needed a work area for. There were no plastic model kits at that time. They were all wood and building them mostly just involved a lot of sanding to make the various parts fit together. They did have what is still know as stick models but at this point, I wasn’t very good at building them.
Although it may have started before 1943, or maybe a few years later, Daddy started taking us to the circus each year for three or four years. The circus was a lot different than it is today. There were no coliseums and the performance was in a huge tent. There was a large area on the northwest side of High Point that was know as the fair grounds and that is where the circus would set up. It seems to me that some of the circuses we went to were three-ring circuses but in later years there were some five-ring shows that were in even larger tents. One of the main things I liked about the circus was going early and seeing the animals outside of the tent. Most were in cages but the horses and elephants were in the open. Daddy would always buy a bag of peanuts for each of us so we could feed the elephants. I became very fond of elephants. I think I was attracted to them because they were so very big but seemed to be so gentle. The other thing that I was always interested in at the circus was the tent itself. The huge poles and the metal stakes in the ground with the ropes from the tent tied to them were like a gigantic version of my army tent. I couldn’t imagine how they could put up such a thing and always wanted to see them do it. I never did. I did, however, see sketches of them doing it in several movies that were produced showing how they used the elephants to do much of the heavy work. I would have loved to see that actual procedure.
We also went to carnivals at the fair grounds. They had rides and all kind of games where you could win prizes and lose money. Mostly you would lose your money. They also had a number of sideshows, some of which were quite sleazy. There would often be an article in the newspaper about the local sheriff closing down one or more of them. They may have called these events fairs, but I don’t recall ever seeing any animals, food, or anything else being judged as they do at real fairs. I have never been to the state fair where they do have these events in addition to the rides and games.
The remainder of 1943 passed by with just the regular holidays, and of course, Mae’s Christmas party for her students and then it was 1944. In February, Ann had her fourth birthday, and in May, Shirley had her twelfth. I became ten in May. Shirley and I both played in the piano recital and school ended for the summer. On June 6, 1944, two historic things happened. Our country and its allies landed at Normandy, France, to begin the final phases of the war in Europe and I had my tonsils taken out.
When very newsworthy things happened in those days, the large newspapers printed extra editions of their papers rather than waiting to put it in their daily edition of their paper. Paperboys standing on street corners yelling, “Extra”, sold these. I had seen this in movies, but it seems to me that only on two occasions did I ever hear anyone local selling an extra edition of the local paper. On these two occasions, I have this recollection of a boy walking down the street at the bottom of the sloping lot next to our house yelling “Extra, read all about it”. I don’t know what the two occasions were, but the Normandy invasion may well have been one of them.
Having my tonsils out was something I will always vividly remember. At that time, having your tonsils out was just done in the doctor’s office. Our Dr’s Groom and Leath had a small room in the back of their office for these minor surgeries. Daddy took me and went in the small room where I laid on a table. They didn’t put you to sleep with injections as they do now, but instead, used ether. They put some sort of gauze contraption over my nose and poured either on it. In just a few seconds, I started seeing wild things flying around and the sound in the room seemed very loud. I reached up and tried to knock that thing off my face but Daddy held my arms down. That’s all I remember until I woke up and vomited. Dr. Leath said my throat would be sore for a few days and that I should just have liquids or ice cream. After that, we just went home. Well, I couldn’t even drink liquid or eat ice cream for the first couple of days and my throat was sore for several weeks. In more recent years, I’ve had several operations much more serious than that, but they were nothing compared to that one. Medicine has come a long way since then.
We went to St. Augustine soon after my tonsils were removed. It was a typical summer. We did usual things, fishing, crabbing, movies, weekends at the beach house and maybe a trip to Marine Land. Although I can’t remember anything unusual about the summer of 1944 in St. Augustine, there is one thing that I remember quite clearly. I had gone down on the beach by myself and there was a skeleton of the head and dorsal fin of a catfish buried in the soft sand such that it was completely covered with sand except for the dorsal fin that was sticking straight up. I didn’t see it and I stepped on it. The fin went into the bottom of my foot close to my toes and stuck all the way through my foot. It wasn’t a serious injury but it really hurt as I had to pull it out to get back up to the house, and those catfish fins have tiny barbs on them that allow it to penetrate something easily but are very hard to pull out. In those days, drug stores were nothing like they are today. They did not have hundreds of over-the-counter medications for any ailment you can think of. They only had some very basic things. The popular item for anything like a cut or scrape was either Iodine or Mercurochrome. I’m sure most all households had one or the other. We had both in High Point. In St. Augustine though, they didn’t have either. They used a medication called Freezes. I’m not at all sure that’s how you spell it but that spelling is how they pronounced it. Unlike Iodine or Mercurochrome that were red and watery, it was a clear mixture and a little thicker. I have never seen or heard of this medication anywhere except at my grandparent’s house in St. Augustine. I have a hunch that they used it when they were children. When I got to the house and explained what had happened, Nellie decided right away that this wasn’t a job for Freezes. Instead, she had a different remedy. She got a pan, put kerosene in it and had me soak my foot in it. It sort of burned. I don’t know if this really did any good, but I do know that it didn’t even hurt the next day and healed in just a few days.
When we made our visits to the cemetery that year, there were now three graves in the family plot, Tom Dowd, Minnie Dowd, and Harry Jones.
We made the trip back home and got ready for another school year. I started the fifth grade and Shirley was then in the eighth. I don’t remember anything special about the fifth grade, not even my teacher’s name. I rode my bicycle to school. Ray Street School had a great bicycle shed, and I imagine that the other grade schools did too, as many of the kids rode their bikes to school. The shed at Ray Street was a long open sided structure with a roof. Down the length of it, on each side, were vertical wood strips about three feet high and spaced so that the front wheel of a bicycle would slip into it and then the bike was held upright. I don’t think there has been anything like that at schools in a long time. Since each school was for a particular area of the city, in the afternoon groups of kids would leave in different directions. All of the ones living in the general direction of our house passed a drug store fairly close to school. This was sort of a gathering place were we would stop and maybe buy a candy bar or a drink. My friends in my immediate neighborhood would often decide on some activity we wanted to get together and do after we got home. Other neighborhood groups did the same thing.
Another thing that has pretty much disappeared are fire alarm boxes. These boxes were mounted on telephone poles throughout the city. At some time I had gone to a fire station with Daddy and he showed me how they worked. When a fire alarm box was pulled, the fire station received a signal that caused a paper tape, about an inch wide, to be generated by a machine. The tape would come out with a series of groups of triangular shaped holes with the groups separated by a space. If the tape showed two holes, a space, three holes, a space, and then nine holes, it meant that box number 239 had been pulled. The series was repeated five times. There was a large board with all the box numbers on it and the location of each box with a code as to which fire station or stations would respond to that location. They knew that the fire would be close to that point.
Over the years I went to many fires usually at night because it seemed that the worst ones were always at night. High Point had so many large furniture factories that big fires were not that unusual. Sometimes Daddy was awakened by the sound of sirens and he would look outside and see a large glow in the sky. That seemed to be the trigger for him to come and wake me up so we could go to the fire. Some times we would go by the fire station to see what alarm had been pulled and then go to that address. Other times though, the fire was big enough for us to head towards it and go by a fire station we knew was in the area close to it and then just track the fire engines. This was easy to do because water always splashes out from pumper trucks onto the street whenever they turn a corner.
The remainder of the year passed with Thanksgiving and Christmas. Of course I attended Mae’s Christmas party. And then it was 1945. Every year since 1940, the first real event of the year had been Ann’s birthday in February, but this year it was a little different. On January 1, Duke’s football team played Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Daddy and I listened to the game on the radio. I remember this in great detail as Daddy had brought home some of his drawing supplies so that he could make a diagram of the entire game. I had no idea of how he was going to do it and had never heard of anyone doing this. He had set up a card table next to the radio so he would have a large surface to draw on and had laid out sort of a grid of the playing field on a large sheet of paper.
Then for each play of the game, using a solid, dashed, wavy, and several other types of lines to indicate if the each play was a run, pass, punt or whatever, he drew each play, working down the sheet. When the game was over, he had a complete drawn record of the entire game. It was a very exciting game. Duke won with a score of 29 to 26. We still have that drawing. Ann had her birthday in February and became five years old.
I think this was this year that I got a pigeon. One of the boys in the neighborhood gave it to me. I don’t know why, but have a hunch that his mother probably told him to get rid of it. I kept him on the back screened porch. It was my understanding that he was a homing pigeon but he obviously didn’t know that. After about six months I decided I would let him out, thinking that he would come back. He didn’t.
It was also about this time that I started going to the Saturday afternoon movie with several of my friends. We would catch the bus on Woodlawn Avenue at the bottom of the sloping lot next to our house and it would take us past the High School and Junior High to Main Street, less than a block from the Broadhurst Theater. It cost a dime to ride the bus or you could buy three bus tokens for a quarter. The Center Theatre showed all of the first run movies and the Paramount Theatre showed some of them, but mostly older ones. On the other hand, the Broadhurst showed what I guess you would call grade B movies. Most of them were westerns and featured people like Hop-Along Cassidy, Red Ryder, Roy Rodgers, Gene Autry, Johnny Mack Brown, and many others. On Saturday afternoon, in addition to the movie, they would show an episode of a serial that was continued each week to the following week. They usually went on for six or eight episodes. At the end of each one, the hero was always left in some precarious situation that obviously was going to mean his death. After the movie, we would always discuss how he was going to get out of the predicament he was in. He always did.
A lot of things happened in 1945. On April 12 the president of the United States, Franklin Roosevelt, died. His death came while he was vacationing in Warm Springs, Georgia, and on the eve of the total military collapse of the German army. This could have been one of the times I remember the paperboys selling “Extra’s” in our neighborhood. Since his body had to be taken to Washington, DC, they ran a special train that passed through High Point. Daddy took us to see the train go by. We stood along Broad Street not far from my grandparent’s house. It was at night and they had his flag draped casket in either a dining car or an observation car because either of them had much larger windows than the regular coach or Pullman cars. The lights were on in the car and it was easy to get a glimpse of the casket as the train ran much slower than the trains going through town usually did. It probably slowed to 20 or 30 miles per hour at each city it passed through. Hundreds of people lined Broad Street and any other street parallel to the train tracks so they could get a glimpse of his casket and pay their respects.
On May 2, Shirley became thirteen years old and on May 8, 1945, Germany officially signed the surrender documents ending the war in Europe. On May 26, I had my eleventh birthday. The war with Japan continued.
The school year continued too, and Shirley and I were again in the piano recital. After that it was time for our trip to St. Augustine. I have a letter that I wrote to Daddy on July 19, and in it I wrote about going to the movies and also Mama taking us fishing at Usina’s pier. I mentioned that we had just been a few days earlier and Shirley had caught one pigfish, one yellow tail, and four black fish. I caught one sheepshead and six black fish and Mama and Ann didn’t catch anything. Obviously the summer was pretty routine except for two other things I mentioned in the letter.
One was that I told Daddy that the well was finished. I was referring to the artesian well they had dug at the beach house that summer. I remember watching them do it but wasn’t sure what year it was done. Since the letter says that it was now finished, this was the summer it was done. It was an interesting thing to see. The company doing it had a large tower and drove four-inch pipe into the ground adding a new one when the previous one was down to ground level. I imagine that is how they do all wells except for one thing. After they had the pipes in the ground to some depth, they just started drilling down through the pipes. Then one day water started spilling out over the top of the pipe and as they kept drilling, the amount of water kept getting larger until there was a column of water about two feet high shooting up out of the pipe. It was like a miniature oil well digging operation. They capped it off and Fleming and I dug a trench to the garage, laid pipe we had connected to the well, and connected it to the pipe in the garage that had been used to pump water up to the barrels in the attic of the house. The barrels were then taken out of the system and we then had water throughout the house that didn’t have to be pumped. Of course, it was sulfur water and I think I’m the only one who liked it.
That summer Fleming built a second shower in the garage of the beach house. It was much smaller that the older one. Of course I was with him and helped, or maybe I should say, assisted. There was more plumbing work and for the first time I learned about mixing and using concrete. Both showers now got their water directly from the artesian well and this was really cold water. When the water came from the barrels in the attic, it was pretty cold too, but there had been some small heating just from being in the hot attic. This was no longer the case and there were a lot of yells when you jumped under either of the showers.
The other thing in my letter was that I told him I hoped he would be able to get the panels. Ever since the second story of our house had been finished, I had talked to him about building a train layout in the storage room area over the back part of the house. He was definitely interested but it was going to take a lot of plywood to make the table and not only was plywood scarce, but very expensive, so my dream just remained as maybe something for the future. I now remember that the letter I wrote was a reply to his writing me and telling me that the Civil Defense Headquarters room was going to be dismantled after the war and he thought he could get all of the quarter inch plywood panels they had used to mount maps and other things on at no cost as they would probably just be discarded. This brought my dream back to life.
We made our routine visits to the cemetery this summer too, but this time there were three headstones in the family plot, as one had been added for my Great Aunt Minnie.
On July 28, 1945, something happened that probably most people don’t know about and those that do have forgotten. On that day, a Saturday, at 9:49 A.M., a B-25 Mitchell bomber, piloted by Lieutenant Colonel William F. Smith who was flying in a thick fog, accidentally crashed into the north side of the Empire State Building in New York between the 79th and 80th floors. One engine shot through the side opposite the impact and another plummeted down an elevator shaft. The fire was extinguished in 40 minutes. Fourteen people were killed in the incident. Elevator operator Betty Lou Oliver survived a plunge of 75 stories inside an elevator, which still stands as the Guinness World Record for the longest survived elevator fall recorded. Despite the damage and loss of life, the building was open for business on many floors on the following Monday. There were pictures in the newspapers, Life magazine, and in the movie newsreels. It was a strange looking site as the nose and one wing of the plane were inside of the building and the rest of it was just sticking out, high above the street.
One day during this summer while we were walking on the beach, we noticed a place that looked like it had been recently dug up and then covered over. It was in the soft sand above the high tide watermark and Fleming said it looked like a sea turtle’s nest. We dug with our hands just a little and found what must have been a hundred eggs. They were sort of soft shelled and about the size of a ping-pong ball. I had never seen a turtle’s egg and really had never even thought about there being such a thing. Fleming and Bunnie said a lot of people liked to eat them and that many of the local people walked the beach looking for nests. No one seemed to worry about any animal ever becoming extinct in those days and taking the eggs just seemed to be the normal thing to do. We gathered them all up and took them to the house. I don’t remember trying to eat any although I do remember that Old Lady did, as she had had them before and liked them. I think most of them were given to someone they knew at the railroad office.
After President Roosevelt died, Harry Truman, who had been the vice president, became president. When he was inaugurated, he was told for the first time about a secret weapon that the United States had been developing for several years. Only the president, the Secretary of War that Roosevelt had set up as a cabinet member, a number of scientists, and some high ranking military people knew about this project. It was without a doubt the best-kept secret our nation has ever had. Not even the news media knew about it and I imagine that would be impossible at the present time. The United States had taken a number of the Japanese held islands on their march to the Japan mainland but in doing so our casualties had been extreme. Japanese soldiers would not surrender as they considered that to be a dishonorable act. The Secretary of War advised President Truman that an invasion of Japan would cause over a million United States casualties plus millions of Japanese soldiers and civilians, who were being trained as militia. Truman opted for our new weapon as a means of ending the war with no American casualties and saving over a million Japanese lives. On August 6, using a B-29 bomber named the Enola Gay, we dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. No one had ever imagined there could be a weapon like this. On August 9, a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan. Several days later, Emperor Hirohito made a radio address to his nation and told all of the Japanese people to cease-fire and lay down their weapons. The Japanese surrendered on August 15, 1945, and the official signing of the surrender was on September 15, aboard the USS Battleship Missouri. The Admiral of the Japanese fleet during the attack on Pearl Harbor was Isoroku Yamamoto. He was aboard the flag ship of the attack force on that day, and after hearing the report that the entire United States Pacific fleet had been demolished, but that none of our aircraft carriers had been in port so were not destroyed, he said, “I fear that all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.” He was right about that.
Some time between the Japanese surrender and the official signing of the surrender we returned to High Point as school always started in early September, usually the day after Labor Day. It always ended in early June. There were no teacher workdays and very few days that schools were closed because of snow. We never had a holiday because it was too hot. We had two holidays for Thanksgiving and two or three before Christmas, returning to school the day after New Years. I think we had a holiday on Armistice Day, now called Memorial Day, and on Easter Monday. There was no spring break. Until I graduated from high school, I never went to a school that was air-conditioned. At that time, the city schools and county schools were separate. School buses were not used for the city schools, but were used throughout the county where there was a separate school system. There were a few buses that brought county students who lived closer to High Point High School than to the county high schools because it was closer.
For some reason, Mae was no longer able to give music lessons for two days at the home on Sunset Drive that she had been teaching at for the past couple of years. It was decided that she would start using our house on one of the days. She would ride the bus to our house in the early afternoon, give lessons through our supper time, and then Daddy would take her home. This meant that we had to be quiet during supper as there was just a heavy cloth drape across the wide opening between the living room and our dining room. None of us were too thrilled about this. Ann was just five years old but since Mae was at the house, she decided to start giving her piano lessons.
I was now in the sixth grade and Shirley was in ninth, but she was in the Junior High Building because of the date of her birthday. My teacher was Mrs. Fussell. Margaret Fussell was my cousin so I knew her. There is only one thing I will always remember about the sixth grade. There was a girl in our class whose name I think was Joyce, but I don’t remember her last name. She was a big girl. I don’t mean that she was fat but just big, taller than anyone else in the class and she was very pretty. I don’t know how it got started but every Monday after the lunch recess, Mrs. Fussell would let Joyce tell us a story. She would stand at the front of the class to tell it and it was always about the latest movie she had seen which was always a cowboy movie, Gene Autry, Roy Rodgers, or some other western hero. She would tell every detail of the movie. I don’t know how she remembered it all, but she told it with such enthusiasm that it was very interesting and with her emotions, quite exciting. She was a great storyteller.
In the fall, we went to the Duke football games as usual. Duke had a good team that year and was ranked nineteenth in the country. Army had a better team and was ranked first. They had two exceptional players, “Doc” Blanchard and Glen Davis. Duke had played Army in the two previous years and was playing them again this year. They always played at the Polo Grounds in New York and now with the war over so that it was easier to travel, Daddy decided he would go to the game and take me with him. Going on the train with Daddy had an added feature. At some point during the trip, he would always go to the last car on the train and go out on the platform at the back of the car, which you would normally use to get off of the train or to go to the next car. Since it was the last car, they just had a waist high metal folding gate across the rear opening and you could watch the scenery on both sides of the train as it moved away.
We stayed at my Aunt Dot’s apartment in Queens and had time to do some sightseeing in addition to going to the game. I don’t remember much about the details of the game but do remember that their was a lot of excitement among the crowd just because Army had such an outstanding team and Blanchard and Davis had gotten so much publicity because of their play during the preceding two seasons. Army won the game, as expected, 48-13. We went to see the Broadway show, Carousel, during that trip and I’m sure we did some other things, but I don’t remember what.
Our Thanksgiving parade was a little different that year. For the first and only time ever in High Point, our parade had five or six large helium filled balloons that were similar but not as large and fancy as the ones in the Macy’s parade in New York. The people in charge of the parade went to the various grammar schools and had them select sixth grade boys to walk in the parade holding the ropes from the balloons. I was one of the ones chosen from our school. I remember that I had to wear a very flimsy orange suit over my regular clothes and that the balloon I was handling was green. I don’t remember what the balloon was supposed to be. A dragon, maybe, but whatever it was, it was green for sure. That is the only parade I was ever in.
There was one other very memorable event for me that happened before Christmas that year. Whenever we had a good snow, we would go sledding at the Emerywood Country Club, as their golf course had a number of very large, steep hills. There was one hill that had a creek at the bottom of it with a footbridge about three feet wide across it. You could sled down the big hill, go over the bridge, and come to a stop going up the smaller hill on the other side. There were other places that you could sled for long distances across several hills that were not as steep, but if you wanted a really fast ride, the hill with the footbridge was the place to go. One day we had a big snow and school was closed for the day. Several of us headed to the Country Club with our sleds. We hadn’t been there very long until on one of my trips down the steep hill, I missed the footbridge and plowed face first into the frozen creek bank on the other side. I didn’t feel like I was hurt but I had several cuts on my face and my nose was bleeding. I don’t remember it hurting at all, probably because it was so cold. I decided I should walk home so I pulled my sled home and noticed that my left hand hurt. Well, my cuts were minor and my nose stopped bleeding and didn’t appear to the broken, but my hand continued to hurt. The next day daddy took me to Dr. Groom’s office and he put my hand behind the fluoroscope and found that I had broken the bone on the top of my hand that lead to my left forefinger. It wasn’t out of place so he just took a wooden tongue depressor and taped it to the bottom of my finger and the palm of my hand.
Thinking about fluoroscopes is interesting. No one seemed to know that there was some danger using them in those days. From the time we were very young we liked to going to the Quality Shoe Store on Main Street to buy shoes because they had this interesting machine. I even remember that the man at the store was named Mr. Chernault. You would try on a pair of shoes and then stand on the platform of this machine with your feet in two openings at the bottom. The clerk, your parents, or you could then look down through the eyepiece at the top of the machine and you could see the outline of the shoe and of your feet and even the bones in your feet. The clerk would then explain that the shoe fit or didn’t fit properly.
Because Daddy always wanted us to be aware of and experience many different things, he started getting the High Point Community Concert tickets. Over the next several years we saw a number of famous artists or artists who were to become famous. Although the technology had been available to make color movies, only a few had been, because it was very expensive. So most movies were black and white and would be for the next several years. However, about this time, MGM decided to make a number of movie extravaganzas in Technicolor. Most of them were musicals and a number of them featured an opera singer or a pianist. Jose Iturbi and Oscar Levant were two pianists that were in several of them and either at a Community Concert or in one of these movies, I heard someone play Manual de Falla’s Ritual Fire Dance. I decided I would learn this piece, for the next time I was asked to play for someone, as I thought it was the type of thing that someone who knew nothing about classical music would like. Mae got me the music and I had learned it before I broke my finger in December. When I went to Mae’s Christmas party that year, Joyce, the storyteller, was there. I had no idea that she took piano lessons from Mae. As usual Mae wanted me to play the piano but said she didn’t think I could. I told her I could and played the Fire Dance with the splint on my finger.
Although Daddy had not gotten the plywood panels from the Civil Defense Office yet, he was now sure he could, so my main interest in Christmas was to get two more switches and some additional track. Christmas came and then New Years.
So now it was 1946. Automobiles were being made again and Daddy bought a new car. It was a Hudson and was very similar to the 1940 model we had during the war. Daddy also lost his job as Director of Public Works for the city as the man who had held that position before the war returned from the service. Since Daddy had been doing some work for the HPT&D railroad all along, he now started working full time for them. There were many new industries starting up in High Point as there were in many places. Thousands of men were returning from the service and the country was adjusting to peacetime using many new technologies that had been developed for the war effort. Daddy now had an office in the HPT&D building and it was a large office. It was on the second floor at the back of the building and ran across the entire width of the building. One half of the room was used for railroad records, but he had the other half and plenty of room for his desk, a large drawing table, a large storage cabinet, file cabinets, and cabinets designed to store all of his maps. He also decided that he would go into the private surveying business. He worked out a plan with O. A. Kirkman that would allow him to do his outdoor surveying work, both private and railroad, during afternoon hours and then do his office work at night. There was a man who was available to work as his rod man for his surveying during the afternoons and on Saturdays and from that time on, Daddy would come home for supper and then go back to his office to work almost every night.
My uncle P.V. came home from the war. He brought me a hand carved model of an outrigger canoe and Shirley a grass skirt. Mama got a necklace made of seashells. I don’t remember what he brought for Ann and Daddy but I know he had something for them. I kept the canoe model on the desk in my bedroom until I left home and went to college. A short while after he got home he bought the Bell Record Shop that was uptown on Washington Street, off Main Street. At that time all records were the large 78-rpm type. There were record players though that did have record changers on them so you could stack up a number of records on the spindle and when one ended the next would automatically be dropped into place and played.
In February, Ann became 6 years old and sometime around this general time frame, I had another adventure that I will always remember. Daddy got permission to let me ride in the cab of one of the H.P.T.&D. Railroad engines. I had been out to the H.P.T.&D. shop a number of times and seen the maintenance work being done and that’s where we went for me to start my ride. I got to sit in the fireman’s seat and from there, looking down the side of the boiler, it looked like the engine was a hundred feet long. It wasn’t. Their engines weren’t as big as the ones that pulled the main line trains but they were still huge and able to pull a pretty long string of cars. They had only two engines. They also owned only two boxcars, and of course they had a caboose. That was one exciting day.
All over the country, service men and women were coming home and looking for jobs. Through several government programs, the returning veterans were able to get loans to buy houses so there was a lot of vacant property now being used to build housing developments on. This was happening all over the country.
Since gas rationing was now over and we had a new car, daddy decided that we should drive to the outer banks of North Carolina to see an outdoor play that had been playing there since July 1937. The play was called the Lost Colony and after 70 years is still giving daily performances, except on Sundays, from June 1 through August 20. This was a memorable trip, not only because the play was very interesting, but also because we stayed in a terribly run down hotel in Manteo. When we saw the room, Mama wanted to leave, but there wasn’t anywhere else to go so we stayed the one night there. It was the worst hotel room any of us would ever be in again.
Spring came and in May, there was the annual piano recital. I played the Ritual Fire Dance. Of course Shirley, who could play very well, played also but I just don’t remember the names of any of the pieces she played in the recitals over the years. This was also Ann’s first piano recital.
Then we were off again for the summer in St. Augustine. Things were different there. All the military people were gone and the Ponce de Leon hotel was closed. It looked like it had really taken a beating during the previous few years. The coast guard sailors were no longer patrolling the beach and the tourists were once again all over town.
I don’t remember anything unusual happening during the summer, although since gas rationing was over this may have been the first summer that Fleming and Bunnie took Shirley and me to Jacksonville Beach on a Saturday night. In the coming years we would go there once during each summer and Ann would also go. Jacksonville beach was like you think of a beach city being. It had a boardwalk, a pier, rides, and booths with various games. It had a fairly large boardwalk area. We would definitely ride the Ferris wheel and the Merry-go-round plus some of the other rides. As we got older, we rode even more of the rides.
We also started taking a shopping trip to Jacksonville at least once each summer. There was a large department store there named Cohen’s. It was very near the hotel that I think was named the Roosevelt Hotel. We would park in the hotel’s parking lot and Old Lady and Nellie would sit in the hotel lobby and just watch the people, which was one of Old Lady’s favorite things. One of us would go and check on them every so often. No one seemed to object to them just sitting there. We would spend a lot of time at Cohen’s and visit other nearby stores, too.
The July 4th fireworks from the Fort that had been curtailed during the war started again. We would go up to the plaza to watch them, but they were quite visible from the front porch of the house too, so Old Lady and Nellie watched them from there.
It may have been this summer or certainly by the next that Fleming had gotten a new apartment directly across the street from our house. It was on the second floor at the back of the house as the house faced on Bay Street. It had its own set of steps up to a porch with an entrance to his apartment. Actually it wasn’t a full apartment as it had only a small sitting area, a fairly large bedroom with two beds and a bathroom. I started sleeping there just to make more room at the house. It worked out very well.
I think it was also this summer that I built a kite and flew it at the beach. Over the preceding years Daddy had flown kites for and with me. In those days there were none of the fancy kites that they now have, only triangular shaped and box kites. The vacant lot across the street from our house had been an ideal place to fly them. I made the kite at the beach house. I used the heavy brown paper that people used to wrap boxes in. It was a little larger than the kites I was used to and heavier because of the paper I used. It came out great and I would fly it in the front yard of the beach house. Fleming made a reel so I could crank the string in rather than have to just wind it up. It flew so well that I bought an additional ball of string so I could let it go up and out even further. One day Fleming asked me if I wanted to send a message to the man in the kite. I had no idea what he was talking about so he said he would show me. He took a piece of paper about three inches square, wrote “Hello” on it and punched a small hole in its center. Then he untied the string from the kite and put the string through the hole in the paper. After attaching the string back to the kite, we let the kite go up holding the piece of paper as the string went through it. Once the kite was up very high, he told me to let go of the little piece of paper. When I did, the paper started moving up the string. It looked like it was just walking up to the kite and it continued until it got all the way up to it. I was amazed.
The rest of the summer was doing the usual things, movies, fishing, days at the beach house, visiting the cemetery, and visiting some of Nellie’s friends.
When we got back home that year, Daddy had gotten the plywood from the Civil Defense Headquarters and it was stacked upstairs in my shop room. About this time a new magazine started named ‘Model Railroader’ and I got a subscription to it. It had articles and pictures about model train layouts but they were all scale model trains. These were much smaller than the trains made by Lionel and had much more detail. The pictures of the layouts looked real and I was amazed that people could build such things. It was pretty obvious to me that I didn’t have the artistic ability to build a layout like that but that someday I would build a very large layout like the one in the magazine. For now though, it was exciting to think that the time had come to start building the layout I had been thinking about for so long. There was another problem now that I hadn’t counted on. Daddy was working so much that he didn’t have much time to work on it with me. He did show me what we needed to do and helped as much as he could. I can’t remember where we got the lumber to build the frame and legs that the plywood top would be fastened to, but Daddy measured everything and I started cutting the frame material with a hand saw, as that was all we had. I continued my subscription to ‘Model Railroader’ magazine and in the back of my mind I was convinced that someday I would build a train layout like the ones in that magazine.
In the meantime, school had started. Shirley had gone to the High School building as she was now in the tenth grade. I was in the seventh grade and so moved to the Junior High building and Ann started in the first grade at Ray Street School.
I also got a new bike. A full size bike that daddy had gotten from Arthur Kirkman. I don’t think Arthur had ever ridden it, as it looked brand new. For some reason I never rode my bike to Junior High but just walked instead. I rode that bike everywhere else though.
I remember very little about Junior High school. I just wasn’t very interested in school as I had too many other things that I wanted to do. I did meet a number of people from other grammar schools and became friends with a many of them. There was a curb market about three blocks from the school and on many days a group of us would walk there for lunch instead of eating in the school cafeteria. In addition to what all curb markets sold, they had cold sandwiches. I also discovered fried pies for the first time in my life and I loved them. For some reason I remember that they were a lot better than the ones you can now get at a grocery store.
My friends and I had outgrown the side lot next to our house to do much in the way of sports, but there was a nice grass lot next to a house on the street behind us that was ideal for our playing football, so we started playing there.
Not just this year, but for several years, Daddy would take me to one or two of the High Point College football games. They had a football team during those years and were called the Purple Panthers. We also went to a few of their basketball games. They didn’t have a very large stadium or a very large gym so it was a lot different than going to the Duke games. High Point Central High School also played their home football games at the High Point College stadium. On a few occasions we went to their games too. The high school did have their own gym and played their basketball games there. It’s interesting to think about how poor the lighting at athletic fields was at that time. Nothing like they have now. They just had banks of high wattage incandescent bulbs in reflectors mounted on poles around the field. Night games were cancelled whenever it rained because the cold rain falling on the hot light bulbs caused them to break.
I spent a lot of time working on the model railroad layout. Every now and then Daddy would not go to work after supper and work on it with me. By Christmas, we had accomplished a lot. The table was finished. The two long sides were each four feet wide and the section at the end of the room linking the two sides together was eight feet wide.
Thanksgiving had come and I’m sure we raked and burned leaves. Then there was Christmas and New Years. So now it was 1947 and in February, Ann became seven years old.
Sometime after Christmas, the Dickens family bought the lot directly across the street from our house. They built a house at the very back of the lot so the front cleared part of the lot was not changed. Their house was a garage and a utility type room with stairs to the second floor where they had their living quarters. They planned on building a complete house on the front area of the lot within the next few years, which they did.
At the back of the lot where we were now playing football there was a level area without grass with two trees fairly close to each other. My friends and I decided that we could put a basketball hoop and backboard between the two trees so we built one. Everything was great until we tried to lift it up and hold it in position to nail to the trees so I got Daddy to walk over and help us. I don’t recall how we did it, but we got it up and it worked out very well.
About this time, model car kits that could be propelled with compressed air cartridges became available. The cartridges were about three quarter inches in diameter and three inches long. I bought and built one of the cars. It was made of solid balsa wood and the body resembled the fuselage of an airplane. It also had triangular shaped wings on the sides. There was a wheel in the nose of the main body and one near the end of each wing. The wheels were recessed so the car sat very close to the ground. At the rear of the car was a hole that the cartridge would fit in. There were two very small eyelets on the car bottom that a wire could run through. The car was only about eight or ten inches long. You laid out a long piece of wire running through the eyelets and fastened down at each end to keep it straight. There was a small spring loaded tool sold that you placed against the end of the cartridge and when you depressed the button on it, a spring loaded rod punched a small hole in the back of the cartridge, making it act like a jet engine. The longest place I had to run it on a smooth surface was between our front door and the first steps in our hall, a distance of maybe twenty-five feet. It covered that distance in about 2 seconds.
My main concern was the train layout. Daddy was very familiar with a train that ran between Old Fort, NC and Asheville, NC. Because of the steep grade, they had to use a second engine at the back of the train, a pusher engine, to get it up to Asheville. He knew that I wanted the layout to have mountains so he decided that he could make a track plan that would be sort of representative of that rail line; however, it wasn’t going to have a grade that a single Lionel train engine couldn’t pull four or five cars over. I didn’t really understand what he had pictured in his mind, but he drew a track plan and it worked out well. My work now consisted of cutting the plywood strips, many of them curved and wide enough for the track to lie on them for that portion of the track that would be elevated going through the mountains. That took a long time as I only had a manual jig saw to do it with. After all of the plywood strips were cut and laid out on the table where they were to go, I started to cut the risers that would support and lift them up to the level needed to be at when the mountains were built around them. Daddy helped me lay out the varying heights of the risers to the proper incline we wanted. I did most of the work at night because there were outdoor activities to do after school.
As usual, the last major event before our going to Florida for the summer was Mae’s recital. I never wanted to be in any recital but it seemed like it was just something I had to do. During the year I would try to find some piece of music that I had heard on the radio, a movie, or somewhere that didn’t sound too classical and would be something people might have some familiarity with. This year I had heard a piece called Malaguena by Lecouna so that is what I played.
The summer of 1947 was going to be quite different from the previous ones. They had run power lines up Highway A1A and now the beach house had electricity so the generator in the garage was no longer needed. The icebox had been replaced with a refrigerator and the kerosene stove with an electric stove. They never did get a hot water heater though so the showers were still cold as ice. Fleming had a new car. It was a Buick and he had ordered it in October of 1945. He didn’t get it though until November of 1946 so this was the first time we had seen it. Auntie and Bunnie still had their old Pontiac.
Fleming had a cousin named Daisy. She lived in Denver, Colorado. Although he had stayed in touch with her over the years, he had not seen her in a long time so with his new car, he decided he wanted to drive to Denver and see her. I don’t know how it was all planned but he wanted Auntie and Bunnie to go with him. I’m sure Mama was involved and encouraged them to take the trip while she would be in St. Augustine and could take care of Nellie and Old Lady. Then it was decided that I should go with them. I don’t know how or why I was picked to go, but the only answer I ever heard was that Shirley got car sick and Ann was too young. I remember that I wasn’t too excited about going. I was interested in going to Denver but I remembered the short trips we used to go on with Daddy and the idea of riding in a car for days just didn’t excite me.
I have always remembered about being in Denver but never remembered much about the trip. However, I knew I had a taped-up box marked “souvenirs from Denver trip” somewhere and after quite a search I located it. I’m sure it had not been opened in at least fifty years. Inside were many photographs and picture postcards. Most of the postcards were ones I wrote to Mama, Daddy, Shirley, Ann, Nellie and Old Lady describing what we had done at the place pictured on the card. Looking through the pictures and postcards brought back many memories of the trip. It is interesting to see that the postage to send a post card was one cent and now I recall that we used to call them penny post cards. To mail a first class letter, the postage was three cents.
We left St. Augustine on a Saturday, June 21, and drove to Albany, GA where we spent the night at the Albany Hotel. In those days, there were very few motels and they were always out along the highway and not the best looking places. Nothing like we have now. All cities of any size at all had a hotel, though, and all our nights were spent at hotels. There also were no Interstate highways so you passed through many small towns when you traveled by car. Burma Shave advertised along the highways a lot. They would have a series of signs about one hundred feet apart along the side of the road that you read as you passed them. They were always a short poem about safe driving and then the last one would say Burma Shave. People always made a point to read them. Coca Cola advertised probably more than anyone. They had various sizes of round red signs, some quite large, that they put on sides of country stores, barns, and anywhere else that had a flat surface to mount them on. I never knew what kind of arrangements they made with the store or building owners to let them put them there. On the second day we drove from Albany, Georgia, to Tupelo, Mississippi, and on the next day to Fort Smith, Arkansas, stopping for lunch in Little Rock, Arkansas. The next night was spent at Salina, Kansas, and then on the evening of Wednesday, July 25, we arrived at Denver. We didn’t do much sightseeing on the trip but since the hotels were always in the center of town, we did see the downtown area. We also got to see a little of each city we had lunch in each day. On all the postcards I wrote, I often commented on the pretty scenery we had seen along the way and apparently I was really impressed with the number of oil wells we saw crossing Oklahoma and Kansas. I had never seen an oil well before except in the movies.
Daisy had made arrangements for us to stay at Eddie Bohn’s Tourist Court while in Denver. It was a nice place with pretty grounds. Unlike a motel, it had individual cottages and we had two that were next to each other. I remember many of the things we did in Denver and the first thing was going to Daisy’s house and seeing her dog. It was a large dark tan Afghan. I had never seen a dog like that. It was beautiful and very friendly. She must have combed and brushed it every day because every time I saw it, it looked like it was ready to enter a dog show. I have many photographs and most of the ones taken in and around Denver, I remember very well. We went to the Denver City Park Zoo and took a bus tour of the city. We also walked around the city a lot and just by chance, they were having a big parade for Babe Zaharias one day while we were up town and we watched it. We went to the top of the dome on their State Capitol building where you get a great view of the city. One day we took a tour of some places away from the city, but we didn’t go on a tour bus. Instead, we went in a limousine. There was just the driver and the four of us. We went to the top of Mount Evans and it was really strange being in deep snow in July. We went several other places on the tour that day. Among them were Buffalo Bill’s grave and museum at the top of Lookout Mountain and a lodge at Echo Lake. On one of the postcards I wrote to Daddy, I said that I had bought a farm kit at a train store that I would make for our train when I got home. With all the things we were doing in Denver, my mind was still on the train layout that I would again be working on in just a few months.
We stayed in Denver for eleven days and then on July 6, we started back to St. Augustine. We took an entirely different route going back. The first day we drove to Amarillo, Texas, but made a stop at Colorado Springs and went to see Seven Falls. I have a postcard that Mabel from there saying that she was sitting in the gift shop while the rest of us walked up a 290-step stairway to the top of the falls in the rain. While I had always remembered this, I thought it was near Denver and we had done it while we were there. After spending the night in Amarillo, we drove to Dallas, Texas, spent the night and then went to Alexandria, Louisiana. The next day we drove to New Orleans, Louisiana, and stayed there for two nights. We got there early in the afternoon so had the rest of the day and the following day to do some sightseeing. We even went to the New Orleans zoo. From New Orleans, we drove to Mobile, Alabama. This was a fairly short drive and we got there before noon so spent the rest of the day sightseeing, which included going to the Bellingrath gardens. On Saturday, July 12, we drove to St. Augustine, arriving there late in the day. Our trip was over but it had been great, much better than I thought it was going to be when we left.
The rest of the summer consisted of our usual activities except because of the electricity now at the beach house, we were able to do more things at night. Playing cards became a routine. We all knew how to play a game called Cribbage. It is a very old game and Mama had told me that she and Daddy had played it before they were married. It is strictly a game for only two people. Hearts was another favorite since three or four people could play that. I think it was this summer, although it could have been the following summer, that a new card game was introduced called Canasta. It sort of became a national craze. It was played with two decks of cards and all the stores started selling Canasta cards, which were just two decks of standard playing cards, but the backs of the cards were identical. This was a game for two or three people. Four people could play by being partners. Fleming, Bunnie, and I played cards more than the others but Shirley often played, too. As Ann got a little older she became a major member of the card-playing group.
We returned to High Point and school started. Ann was now in the second grade, I was in the eighth, and Shirley was in the eleventh. Over the years, Father Mac had raised enough money through all of the fundraiser events to build a new church. Not only was the church larger but it also had the beginnings of a school in the building. The name was changed from St. Edwards Catholic Church to Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church. The church opened a few months before the school but at the beginning of the school year, the school opened offering only kindergarten and first grade. Since Ann was starting the second grade, she remained at Ray Street School. Mama had always taken us to church, not only on Sundays but also on all of the Holy Days, on the Wednesday and Friday evening services during Lent, and Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday during Easter week. I was always an altar boy for all of these services and continued to be until I went to college. Over the next few years the school grew so that it covered Kindergarten through the eighth grade.
We still went to the Duke football games and I’m sure we raked leaves on Thanksgiving but some time during the fall, a decision was also made that we would go to St. Augustine for Christmas.
The train layout was really shaping up and by the time school closed for the Christmas holidays, the portion of the track bed in the mountains had been raised. To simulate the track bed, I had cut strips of asphalt shingles to lie, not only on the mountain portion, but also over the entire layout where track would be. I laid all of the track and then Daddy helped me to get started in adding a framework around the raised portion of the track bed that screen wire would be attached to and then covered with plaster to make the mountains.
As soon as the schools closed for the holidays, we left for St. Augustine. Daddy didn’t go with us but he came on Christmas Eve and then went back home before we did. This could have been the first year, although it may not have happened until the following year, that our train was not pulled by a steam engine. Diesel train engines were starting to be phased in on all of the railroad lines. Diesel engines had been around for a long time and work had been started for designing diesel locomotives, but the war had disrupted the work because of the shortage of diesel fuel. These train engines were very colorful, being painted with the colors adopted by the various railroad lines, and there was one thing about them that everybody noticed. They had a second headlight mounted above the regular headlight. Its reflector rotated on an off-center shaft so that the light beam formed a figure eight in the sky. At night, while waiting for a train to come into the station, the first thing you would see was this light beam flashing the figure eight pattern in the sky. Diesel locomotives were big, colorful, and impressive, but for me, they didn’t compare to the old steam locomotives.
I don’t know who came up with the idea, but soon after we got to St. Augustine, Mama took Old Lady, Nellie and me to go and get a Christmas tree. I mean by this that we were going to cut down a tree for us to use. Nellie said she knew where we could get one. Although you could buy a cedar or spruce tree that was shipped in at Christmas time, there were none growing around St. Augustine and pine trees were often used as Christmas trees. Nellie showed us where to go and we found an area with a lot of pine trees. After looking them over, I cut one down. It was bigger than it should have been and we had a terrible time tying it to the car. We got it home though, and I had to do a lot of trimming to get it down to a useable size. After it was put up and decorated, I don’t think there was any doubt that this was the ugliest Christmas tree there has ever been.
Even with the ugly tree, we had a great Christmas. Fleming and Bunnie got me a fishing rod and reel. Now I would be able to go fishing with them instead of just being there and sometimes using Bunnie’s rod and reel. It was a fairly short steel rod with an inexpensive level winding reel. As far as I was concerned, it was great. I didn’t bring it home because I didn’t do any fishing in High Point, but at least I knew it would be there when we returned in the summer. Over the next four years, that rod and reel got a lot of use and then after being put away for a number of years, my sons used it when they were young.
I had wanted two other Lionel accessories for my train layout. One of them was a water tower that had a water discharge spout that would lower by pushing a button to simulate putting water into a steam locomotive. I got it for Christmas and decided I would ask for the other item I wanted, a coal loader, next Christmas.
When we got back home, it was 1948. Since Shirley didn’t use her bicycle any more, Daddy had it all fixed up and gave it to Ann when she had her eighth birthday in February.
It just happened that a piece of classical music became very popular this year and it was often played on the radio. It was from the Gayne Ballet by Aram Khachaturian and this piece was called Sabre Dance. Someone had transcribed it for piano and it was so loud and noisy that I decided it would be ideal to play in the recital. Mae got the music and I learned it.
Although I stayed busy working on the train layout, for some reason I got interested in photography. I think I wasn’t as interested in taking pictures as I was in developing the film and printing the pictures. There was a closet in what had been the small back bedroom. Since it wasn’t being used for anything, I converted it into a dark room. I bought a very inexpensive developing set and started developing film. Ingram’s Pharmacy was a drug store on North Main Street and they sold all kinds of photography supplies. I bought all my developing, and fixing chemicals from them as well as the paper to print the negatives on. It was a short trip on my bicycle to Ingram’s Pharmacy. Daddy took a lot of photographs and I started developing them for him. I also got an Argus C-3, 35 mm camera. I wanted one that had a flash attachment and a fast lens speed so I could take pictures of things moving. Over the years I took a lot of pictures with that camera but I always had to take them to someone to get the prints made as the negatives were very small and you needed to have an enlarger to get regular size prints. I had grandiose ideas of getting better equipment and even an enlarging machine, but that never happened. I still have that camera.
Sometime during the year, my grandfather Percy bought a house on what is now Ferndale Avenue and he, Mae, and Susie moved from their old house on Broad Street. It was almost directly across the street from High Point Central High School so her high school students could just walk across the street and have lessons during their study hall period or whatever could be arranged. This house had a small room with an outside entrance that Mae could use for teaching piano. It worked out very well, particularly for us, because Mae no longer gave lessons at our house.
Of course I stayed busy with the train layout and soon had all the screen wire that shaped the mountains over the forms. I did most of this, as Daddy was just too big to get up on the table in the places that weren’t flat that you had to work from. The next step was to apply plaster over the screen wire and this turned out to be more difficult than we thought it would be. Daddy was going to help but when we mixed up a large batch of plaster, we found out that after applying only a small part of it, the remaining part had dried to the point that we couldn’t use it. It was apparent that this was going to have to be done by mixing very small portions at a time. Daddy was somewhat frustrated by this but I figured I could do it all by myself since he was only going to be able to do the parts that he could reach without getting on the table anyway. Little by little I got it done.
Shirley and I both had birthdays in May. Shirley became 16 and I turned 14. I played the Sabre Dance in the recital and it went over just as I had thought it would. Shirley and Ann were also in the recital and then it was time to head for St. Augustine again.