These are the memoirs of my grandfather, a man who was the youngest of ten children, all born in the nineteenth century. I have lightly edited them for clarity and continuity, but not content. These are his words, and his life. If you enjoy this glimpse into his world half as much as I’ve enjoyed organizing it, my time has been well spent!
~DJ Austin


When our three children were young, my wife and I often amused them with stories of our youth. Now that they’re married and have children of their own, they’ve urged us to write our memoirs. I hope they will all enjoy these stories of our youth, and theirs.

One Line of Descendants of Secretary William Claiborne

About the year 1916, my mother, Mrs. M.B. Jones, in Miami, Florida, was informed that a man by the name of G.M.Claiborne, of Lynchburg, Virginia, had spent years compiling a family tree of the descendants of William Claiborne, a list which had been printed by the J.P. Belle Company in Lynchburg.

Claiborne quoted from the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography (page 311, Vol. 1 No. 3; January, 1894), in its “Abstracts of Virginia Land Patents”:

“The ancient family Claiborne derived its name from the manor Cleburn or Cliburn (named in the Doomsday Book of AD 1086) in Westmoreland, near the River Eden. The family was for many generations lords of this manor.” The author then lists names, dates and a few facts about each person in a direct line to William Claiborne, who came to Virginia in 1621. Claiborne later became Secretary of State for the Colony, commanded two expeditions against hostile Indians and conducted a sort of “private war” against Lord Baltimore’s settlers in Maryland over property rights.

Here is he direct lineage to Mrs. Mary B. (L.M.) Jones:

1) William Claiborne (about 1587-1676), 14th generation from Hervey Claiborne (c. 1200 AD).

2) Lt. Col. Thomas Claiborne (1647-1683), fought against Indians and was killed by an arrow.

3) Capt. Thomas Claiborne (1680-1732), known as Thomas Claiborne of Sweet Hall.

4) Col. Augustine Claiborne (1721-1787), Licensed to practice law in July 1742. In 1742 settled in Surry County, naming his new home”Windsor”. Became major in the militia in 1749 and vestryman of Albemarle Parish  in 1751. Was Burgess for Surry County from 1748-54. Colonel, Sussex County militia from 1754 and County Lieutenant in 1767. Clerk of Surry County and Sussex County from 1749-1776, succeeded by his son William. In 1779 was elected State Senator, but as County Clerk was declared ineligible.

5) Maj. Buller Claiborne, born October 27, 1755, second lieutenant of Second Virginia Regiment, October 2, 1775; captain from March 8, 1776, to July 27, 1777; brigade major and aide-de-camp to General Lincoln, 1779-1780; commanded a squadron of cavalry at the battle of the Cowpens; appointed justice of Dinwiddie in 1789; sheriff in 1802-04. Married Patsy, daughter of Edward Ruffin, of Sussex County.

6) James Claiborne, son of Buller, born about 1780, married Sarah “Sally” Brooking, moved to Sparta, Georgia and died after 1850 in Eatonton.

7) Sarah P. Claiborne, daughter of James, born 1825 in Sparta, Georgia, married John Cole Bearden, died in her daughter’s home in Putnam County, 1895.

8) Mary Brooking Bearden, daughter of Sarah, born 1861, married Lucius Marshall Jones, died 1927. Ten children:

Lucy Mary Jones Callaway 1880-1967; J. Walter Jones 1881-1967; William H. Jones 1883-1904; Lucius Albert Jones 1885-c.1961; Charles G. Jones 1887-c.1968; Sarah Estelle Jones Marshall 1889-c.1953; Wilbur Hudson Jones 1891-1942; Malcolm B. Jones 1893-1959; Lambdin L. Jones 1896-1980; W. Ted Jones  1899-1980.


“No person is an island”. Much of what we are, we owe to others–parents, grandparents, teachers, friends and even strangers. My grandparents all died before my birth, so I know of them only what I’ve been told.

My Jones grandparents lived in the town of Eatonton, Georgia. They had five sons, of whom my father was the youngest. Grandmama died in 1864, when the boys were aged 6-16, and the family needed a woman around. It was near the end of the Civil War, and there must have been a number of nice widows among whom Grandpapa might have found a good wife who would love the boys and provide them with a happy home life. Oh, that he had borne his grief with more patience and wisdom! He just may have persuaded Mama’s widowed mother to marry him!

But, alas, living close by was a selfish old maid who quickly adorned herself in mock sympathy, and succeeded in leading poor Grandpapa into a marriage contract! Very soon it became clear that she wanted only the man, for she set about making life miserable for the boys! Uncle Matt, already sixteen, got a job and left home quickly. Each of the others followed, at the first opportunity.

I asked Mama why Grandpapa allowed that woman to get away with such meanness, and she answered that he was a sick man, physically and mentally, and didn’t live but a few years after his first wife’s death. He just didn’t have the strength to run his own home.

All the other boys moved far away, Uncle Watt a hundred miles, the next three to Texas and Arizona, but Papa got a job and lived in Eatonton in a boarding house with friends.

Mama’s mother was Sarah Claiborne. She married J.C. Bearden, but he died right around the time of Mama’s birth, in the summer of 1861. The Civil War had just started, and Sarah considered her situation. She was a young widow with an infant baby, a home, a small farm and two slaves, named John and Jane. They didn’t leave; she gave them a plot of land and continued to work the farm as friendly neighbors, sharing the crop and their proceeds.

Three years later, the Yankees came. A lieutenant with a small band of soldiers stopped at John and Jane’s home and announced, “We’ve come to free you! You’re no longer slaves!” John replied, “Thank you, Mister, but we’ve been free for three years’, and showed them the legal paper that Grandmama had signed. The lieutenant said, “I want to meet this lady!” On arriving at Grandmama’s home a short distance away, he commanded the soldiers to stay with the wagons, and “not touch one thing belonging to this lady!”

After a brief, polite conversation at the front door, Grandmama invited the officer in and served sandwiches and coffee. They chatted for a few minutes, then the lieutenant led his men away.

In 1877 Grandmama and her 16-year-old daughter Mary attended a “singing school”, a series of one-day meetings of singers from all over the county with an experienced instructor. Lucius Jones, aged 19, and a buddy from Eatonton also attended. Lucius “just couldn’t keep his eyes off Mary,” and whispered to his buddy, “I’m gonna marry that girl!” At the first intermission he arranged an introduction, and within six months they were married and living with Grandmama. So began the Jones family, and henceforth these two will be called “Papa” and “Mama”.
Papa still kept his job at the hardware store in town, where he’d been living for three or four years. His salary was more important to their future than what this “town boy” could do on the farm, and besides, John and Jane were managing the farm quite well without his help. He bought a horse and buggy, and commuted to work. He later arranged to work at the store part-time during the busiest hours and full-time only in the harvest season.
At home Papa spent a lot of time with John learning about farming, which helped him at the store. The more knowledgeable he was, the more the store made, and the higher his salary. He kept the two-job arrangement for a good many years, to provide for his growing family, add a second story to the house and buy more land and equipment.
Considering the farmer’s need for domestic help, the Jones children arrived in a perfect sequence—a girl, four boys, another girl and four more boys. I was number ten. Each, according to custom, was given two names, chosen to honor relatives and then close friends, but when I arrived this procedure suddenly came to a halt. I don’t know whether they ran out of friends or, having taken a good look, decided a friend wouldn’t appreciate the honor! I don’t know how long I remained nameless, but finally Lucy, the oldest, came to my rescue. She suggested “Theodore” in honor of a new national hero. The name was accepted, and thereafter, like my namesake, they called me “Teddy”.
For two years I had only one name. My big brothers, ever alert for an excuse to tease me, pointed out what for me became, literally, a crying shame! Everyone else had two names, but I only had one! Mama soothingly assured me I had a right to choose another, myself—but every name I thought of turned out to be the middle name of a brother, information gleefully provided by my tormentors! Lucy again helped me, suggesting “Otis”, for James Otis, another national hero. I accepted, but now the teasing turned to the order of my initials. If I chose T.O. they’d call me “To”, and if O.T. I’d be “Ot”!
By now, I was furious! I wanted initials they couldn’t poke fun at. I went through the alphabet and decided on W.T., but again they teased me! “You can’t get by with just an initial! What’s ‘W’ stand for?” Once again “Sweet Lucy” saved me, coming up with a name no one else in the family could claim—Wallace, for the heroic Scotsman, William Wallace.
The family and, of course, everyone else, continued to call me “Teddy”, or occasionally, to tease me, “Teddy bear”. As I got older “Teddy” sounded too much like a little boy, so when I was 12 and we moved to Miami, I firmly demanded that no one in the family should call me anything but “Ted”. They gracefully complied, and ever since, that’s been my name.
By the way, our parents instructed all of us to call Lucy “Sister”, as a courtesy to the oldest sibling, but all through her life she earned the honor, because she was the smartest, wisest and sweetest of all of us. I wish it would’ve been possible for her to live closer to the rest of us after her marriage.

Mama could, and did, do just about everything any woman could do in those difficult days of 1875-1910, and she was an expert in all of them. She was a wonderful wife and mother, a superb housekeeper, cook and seamstress, an expert gardener with both vegetables and flowers, a charming hostess, a firm, fair, loving disciplinarian, a smart and frugal economist, and a wise and sympathetic nurse, always quick to respond to calls for help from neighbors, white or black. She was also guardian of the health of her aging mother, her husband and her ten children, successfully rearing all ten into strong adulthood.
I remember late one afternoon when someone came rushing to tell Mama that little Cuyler Clopton was critically ill with diptheria. We had no telephones in our rural community and Mama was just about set to prepare supper. The four oldest children had left home, and the others were busy milking. Papa and Will had died some years before. Mama told me to run to the barn and tell Charlie to ride Myrtle into town for a doctor, the other boys to fix their own supper and for me to hitch Helen to the buggy. I was just barely big enough to do this; it was the first time I’d done it alone.
Meanwhile, Mama had collected all the medicines she thought might be useful and grabbed a little food to eat on the way. I drove the mile or so as fast as the horse could go. Mama said she’d stay all night as long as she was needed. As she rushed in I could hear Cuyler struggling for breath, and was scared for him (Cuyler survived, and lived to be 92).
Except for shoes, stockings and “Sunday” suits for boys, Mama’s purchases for clothing were limited to cloth, thread, and yarn, which she made into dresses, pants, overalls, shirts and sweaters. She made underwear out of flour sacks, pants and overalls out of blue denim, shirts of homespun cotton and sheets and pillow slips (except those for visitors) of unbleached muslin. Of course she taught the two girls to make their own clothes. She carded cotton to pad quilts, the tops of which were made of various colored scraps. Some were beautiful and artistic; others, for us boys, were made of most anything at hand with little care for design. She saved feathers for feather beds and pillows, and made mattresses of cotton covered with striped bed-ticking.
Mama also earned money, both before and after Papa’s death. Black women for miles around, both field and domestic workers, had neither sewing machines nor the skill to make pretty “Sunday” dresses for themselves and heir daughters. They came, eager to pay the fair prices Mama charged. We churned the milk from our herd of thirty-odd cows and Mama, using one-pound wood molds, molded the butter and shipped it to Macon for sale. She also packed and shipped eggs. Consequently, our family consumed very little sweetmilk, butter or eggs, but we had plenty of buttermilk, skim milk, vegetables, fruit and meat, along with hominy grits and sugar cane syrup the year-round. We raised almost everything we ate—from our farm, our enormous vegetable garden, plenty of peach and apple trees, a few pear trees and figs, a big scuppernong grape arbor, and strawberries, wild blackberries and plums. Mama stocked cabinets and shelves from floor to ceiling with canned, preserved and dried fruit for each winter. Our deep, cool cellar held Irish and sweet potatoes and a barrel or two of sugar cane syrup. We killed hogs and “yearling” male calves and cured the meat to fill our smoke house, and of course we had quite a flock of chickens!
One rule Mama had about eating, I have heard expressions of disapproval at the telling. If we greedily or carelessly loaded our plates with more than we could eat, she put our plates in the cupboard just as we had left them. At the next meal we had to eat what was left on the plate before she’d let us have a clean plate and more food. What was so bad about that? One minute of unpleasant eating. You can be sure no one repeated THAT mistake, and when we saw another take the consequences we avoided it ourselves! What’s good about it? Just think. Of all the food ten children didn’t waste, and of ALL the food not wasted in later years, due to that training!
To Mama, waste was as bad as profanity. She’d find a way to recycle anything edible. Left-over food returned to the table as stew, hash, soup, bread pudding, “cush” goulash, and various casseroles (if you don’t know what “cush” is, ask someone’s grandmother. Not in my dictionary!)
With all the work Mama did, she didn’t have time to tell us much about the interesting experiences of her youth, or read stories to us as we did with our children, nor did we get much rocking and singing to sleep. When Mama did talk of past events it was when she was resting and we were through with our day’s work and home study. When Mama was resting, her fingers were busy with mending, knitting, crocheting or tatting. She also never neglected her Bible, the Methodist Christian Advocate, or praying. She tithed, believing that at least a tenth of everything she earned belonged to the Lord.
Mama was familiar with the Bible, and taught Sunday school for many years, kept posted on missionaries and their activities, and hoped at least one of her children would receive a call from the Lord to be a foreign missionary. She was also familiar with the history and polity of the Methodist church, and had they had women officers in those days I’m confident she would have been one. She made communion wine from our grapes, prepared the elements, and kept the cups, plates and clots ready for use. She saw that her sons cleaned the church regularly, including removing all mud-dauber nests. I’ll always treasure the memory of her singing hymns while working. She memorized the words and music of more hymns than anyone else I’ve ever known. Surely, Mama WAS wonderful!

I wonder why our community was called “Pea Ridge”. As I recall there’s a slight ridge on a north-south line through gently rolling terrain, and the road followed this ridge. I remember how we used to sow peas on infertile land, and after picking the peas plow the vines under to enrich the soil. When we lived there the ridge soil was still not very fertile, so perhaps our forbears decided to give the pea-vine treatment to the ridge, thus “Pea Ridge”?
My earliest memory is one I treasure, for it’s the only one I have of Papa alive. On a cold winter evening, our family was seated in a semi-circle before an open fire. I was in the hand-me-down high chair beside Papa, both of us leaning back against the huge wardrobe. Mama rang the supper bell and Papa picked up the chair, with me snuggled against his chest, and carried me to my place at the table. Age, 33 months.
Papa and a few others had mustaches, but I only knew two men with chin whiskers. Long chin whiskers generally indicated old age. I called these two “Cat” Clopton and “Cat” King. I was, for no other reason I can recall, afraid of them. They’d visit occasionally, walking, and our house was a favorite rest stop. When I saw them coming, I’d hide under the house!
Rural life, for children and youth, had long-term benefits. Lack of money for commercial toys forced us to improvise, so we developed imagination, ingenuity and skill by making our own. We made pop-guns, sling-shots, slings (like David’s), bows and arrows, cross-bows, javelins. We made our own baseballs and bats, swings, sleds, balloons from hog bladders. We built dams~big ones for swimming ponds, little ones for water wheels~boats, bridges, rabbit traps, butterfly nets, “jumping frogs” out of chicken bones, rubber bands, sticks and rosin. We made whistles and flutes from bamboo, and had a lot of fun rolling hoops.
Of course most of our time was devoted to work and school. For nine months of the year we were at school from 8 AM to 4 PM, walking back and forth regardless of distance or weather. Before leaving for school, we each had to milk three or four cows (by hand, of course), turn the cows out to pasture, run the milk through a cream separator, wash up, change clothes, eat breakfast, leave home before 7:15 and walk the two miles to school. When we returned home, we had to change back to overalls, round up the cows from the pasture, feed and milk them, run the milk through the separator, wash up, eat supper and do our homework by kerosene light. In the early fall, we had to pick cotton for an hour or so before doing all the above.
Saturday was NOT a holiday! In the fall the last round of cotton picking was particularly painful, because the sharp, now-hard cotton burrs cut gashes in our chapped fingers. Milking stalls, stables and the whole fenced animal yard had to be cleaned, and the manure stored in pens for future use as fertilizer. Fall was also time to harvest and store various crops, fruits and vegetables, and repair machinery, fences and tools. We’d then cut and stack the winter supply of wood, and with the first cold weather, butcher and prepare meat for the winter.
One year came The Great Freeze. No TV, radio, nor even a telephone to warn us in advance. Morning greeted us with a light snow which soon gave way, much to our regret, to sleet. Hurriedly the cows were milked, but there was no point in opening the gates to the pasture, for cows, horses and mules huddled close in the barn and stables. Chickens crowded their roost in the chicken house. Huge stores of firewood and stovewood were stacked inside. Sleet kept falling until the ground was frozen solid. Afternoon required another milking of cows and an extra heavy feeding because of lack of pasturage.
And the chickens had to be fed. Only Mama’s customary “come and get it!” Call could pry them loose. The chicken house door had been propped open to avoid us going out and risking a dangerous fall. Mama opened a window and, as Lambdin and I watched at another window, she threw out an abundance of scratch feed. What a show it was! A hundred grown and “frying size” chickens came rushing through the open door, wings spread, trying to alight on the food! When their feet hit on the ice, though, they skidded on by! The leaders, slipping, falling and bumping each other in a frantic struggle to get back, collided with and were bowled over by others just coming in for a landing. What a delightful sight for young boys to remember!
Summertime was work time, from dawn until bedtime. Dairy work, breakfast, field work with broad brim straw hats until sunset, then dairy work again. Mama rang the bell (the size of the village church bell) mounted atop a high cedar post, audible everywhere on the farm. Women and girls in bonnets or straw hats gathered peaches and, later, apples, peeled and sliced and spread them on clean, wide boards to dry in the sun for winter. They also canned fruits and vegetables. If weather permitted us to keep abreast of farm work, we boys went swimming Saturday afternoons. Rainy days and Sunday afternoon also offered opportunities for play, but swimming was forbidden on Sunday.
Sunday, even though the cows, horses, mules, pigs and chickens required the same attention as every other day, was a welcome relief! We only had preaching one Sunday per month, as our church, Concord Methodist, was one of four churches on a “circuit”, with one preacher for all four. We did, however, have Sunday school every week, and it was a pleasure to dress up in “Sunday clothes” and see the girls all dressed up pretty. There were two entrances to the church from the porch. Women and girls sat in the right half, men and boys to the left. Down the middle, atop the pews, a railing was nailed. For regular courting couples seats on either side, and next to, the railing were always available by common courtesy.
A few more briefs about life in Pea Ridge:
Riding Gabe Callaway’s tricycle; I never had one.
Sliding on pine-straw covered hills, with barrel staves for sleds.
Smoking “rabbit tobacco”, then chewing pine straw to cover the odor.
Mama called us out of bed to see Halley’s comet in 1910, and the Aurora Borealis.
RFD#1 didn’t come by our house. I had to walk a mile to Mr. Johnson King’s store to send or pick up mail.
When our kerosene ran low I’d carry a dozen eggs to Mr. King’s store and trade them for a gallon for our oil lamps.
Lambdin and I would ride mules loaded with bags of wheat and corn about three miles to Armour’s Mill. We’d watch him open the gate of his mill-race to divert water from the creek, watch the huge water-wheel gather speed, then go in to see the big round mill-stones grind our grain. Mr. Armour would take out his toll for payment, and we’d carry home a supply of water-ground flour and cornmeal.

Our old well, so close and convenient to the kitchen and the “wash up” back porch, got fouled some way and Lambdin and I had to carry water from a spring almost a half mile away for a year or so, until we could dig another well~AND the new well had to be six times further away than the old one!
On my walks for kerosene or mail I’d occasionally meet Mr. John Manley, always with a beautiful horse and buggy. He’d smile broadly, bow, hold up a hand and say enthusiastically, “Hello, little man!” He made me feel important, and I loved him for that!
Vaccination of everybody, at our homes, for smallpox.
Riding as many animals as possible~horses, mules, cows, calves, hogs.
Mocking bulls until they chased us; running and climbing fences to escape.
Mr. “Newt” Wilson’s barbecue. Neighbors invited free!
Annual Easter picnic at Bell’s Mill, Monday after Easter. Nice, big meadow, baseball game. A few braved the cold creek water for a swim.
Annual Pine Grove picnic after crops were “laid by”.

Annual County Fair. Harness horse races, Japanese acrobats, hot-air balloons.
Oconee Springs. Summer vacation site for rest, mineral water, courting. Hotel, “Lover’s Lane”, all near Oconee River Ferry (old-time current-propelled flat boat). I once saw about a dozen wagons of Gypsies cross. Horses were scared, reared, hard to manage. One, not hitched, held by bridle reins, pulled his man off the ferry, but both swam to shore. Some show!
George Stallings, manager of the Boston Braves, organized and trained a Negro ball team nearby. While a game was in progress a young Negro man arrived late, walked behind the plate umpire and a foul tip hit him in the head. All he white people present expected him to fall with a broken skull, but he just calmly asked, “How do the score lie?”
Negroes believed in ghosts. Floyd, son of Albert Cutley, fed our horses and mules after dark one night. My brother, Malcolm, wrapped in a sheet, jumped out at him as he started home, about a half-mile away. The last 100 yards he kept yelling to his sister, “Roberta, open de door!” When he got there the door wouldn’t open so he ran around the house yelling, Malcolm behind him, then through the open door, slammed it shut and locked it!
Watching the “chain gang” work the roads with huge road scrapers. They had chains locked to their ankles so they couldn’t run, and guards with shotguns kept close watch over them. We surmised that most of the Negroes were there for stealing or fighting with razors or guns, but always wondered what the white men had done.



Lambdin and I, the youngest, were more fortunate than the others in our family, in that we had friends near our age living just one mile away. We could visit and play together often. We also walked together to and from school in addition to playing and swimming together. Their father was quite interesting to us, and as we didn’t have one, quite important in our lives. Cousin Tommy (most people in Pea Ridge were kin, and we usually claimed kin with most of the others) was more lenient with children, particularly on Sundays and concerning activities that other parents were more squeamish about. He bought roller skates for his boys and let them skate in the hall of their home, even though the skates marked up the floor~but isn’t that the primary purpose of a home? A place where a family can live, grow, learn and love in an atmosphere of freedom and happiness? Besides, there was no other place to skate!
The Clopton children consisted of six boys, the two oldest being near the ages of Lambdin and me. As one who grew up without a father around, I was interested in how Cousin Tommy enjoyed seeing his boys have innocent fun and how he never seemed to worry over whether they would do anything reprehensible or overly dangerous. He sometimes went with us when we went swimming. One Sunday afternoon he let us take the chassis of an old buggy, with no seat nor hitching shafts, and play with it on a steep hill. Walter steered it standing on the rear axle with a rope tied to each end of the front axle. Others held on to the connecting rods. We sped again and again down the hill, avoiding the ditches on either side of the road. Of course Walter could have lost control and several of us been hurt, but not really seriously. Besides, we knew that Walter was a good pilot, and it was so much fun!
One Saturday afternoon Cousin Tommy went with us to Cedar Hole, our favorite swimming pond in Turkey Creek. Instead of keeping little Cuyler “on a leash”, he let him run ahead with the big boys. Although Cuyler couldn’t swim, he was the first to strip down, dash in~and go under! My big brother Malcolm pulled him out. Some of us ran to meet the rest, screaming excitedly, “Cuyler almost drowned!” Cousin Tommy, instead of scolding Cuyler, just smiled and said, “Buddy, did you get scared?” He knew Cuyler had learned his lesson from the frightening experience, and scolding wouldn’t have helped at such a time. We admired his poise and wisdom.
Another important experience with Cousin Tommy for which Mama, Lambdin and I have always been deeply grateful. Lambdin and I both entered the County Corn Club Contest for boys to raise as much corn as possible on a certain size plot. Each boy was to do every bit of the work himself, including “breaking up” the land with a two-horse plow. For my age group the plot was a quarter acre, for Lambdin’s a half-acre. We selected plots just outside the strong fence that surrounded our cow lot, barn and stable compound.
All went well until almost harvest time. One morning we went out to milk and discovered all of our cows in the corn, having a wonderful time. As quickly as possible we herded them back into the lot and boarded up the fence, but all three of us were in tears, believing all our hard work had gone for nothing! Our hopes were shattered!
Cousin Tommy was one of the judges for our district, and Mama telephoned him. He hitched up a horse and came in a hurry. He walked up and down each row, counting the ears of corn that were still on the stalks and those on the ground. With pencil and pad he wrote the numbers, row by row, for each plot. He then filled a bushel basket with average size ears, counting the number required to fill the basket. By dividing the total number of ears in each plot by the number required to fill the basket, he reported, on the date for the final judging, the number of bushels each of us raised, and we both won prizes. It must have taken him several hours to do.
One last great favor Cousin Tommy did for us, before we moved to Miami. Mama had made a list of the furniture we could use and the Critz family, to whom we rented, arrived before we were ready to go. Lambdin and I were too young to crate and pack everything, so Cousin Tommy did it! Bless him!
Here are a few more memories I’ll jot down briefly about the Clopton boys.
I first saw comic strips in the newspapers at the Cloptons~I remember ”Slim Jim” and “The Katzenjammer Kids”.
King, a third grader, spanked Cuyler, a first grader, during recess. Cuyler, more angry than hurt, went crying to the teacher, Miss Sudie Dickens, who had a sweet sense of humor. She called King in just as she was about to take a dose of medicine, probably cough syrup. I happened to be near, and saw or heard all that followed. I remember the twinkle in Miss Sudie’s eye as she said, “Well. King, you know you shouldn’t spank your little brother. I’ll have to punish you, but I’ll let you choose the punishment. I’ll either whip you or let you take a dose of this medicine.” King hesitated a few seconds and replied: “I believe I’d rather take the medicine.” She poured a spoonful and when King had swallowed it he smiled and said, “A~m! I’ll spank him again if you’ll give me some more of that! His sense of humor matched hers!
Walter, in the first grade, reading aloud, stopped at a word he didn’t remember. Professor Savage: “Walter Clopton, don’t you know THAT word?” Walter, timidly: “No sir. Do you?”
Lem was sitting happily on he cloak room floor with girls on either side of him., with Margaret Montgomery, the prettiest girl in school, VERY close. All the rest of us boys were too bashful and afraid of being teased if caught in such a situation, but Lem had a way with girls~and boys, for he thoroughly enjoyed it and, instead of trying to tease him, we boys envied him. Any one of us would have gladly given away his lunch in exchange for that privilege, provided there were no other boys around.

In my childhood, doctors weren’t called to a rural home except for serious illness, and to reach one somebody had to ride a horse to town and find one at his office, or, store, or home. So far as I know the nearest hospitals were in Macon and Athens, each some 40 miles distant. The “State Normal and Industrial School for Girls” was in Milledgeville, fifteen miles distant, so in addition to the school infirmary there may have been one there as well. The State Asylum was also in Milledgeville, but that wasn’t thought of as a hospital, only as a place of care and confinement for those mentally ill for whom cure wasn’t expected. There were always one or two doctors in Eatonton but, in order to earn a living, one had to own a drug store. Consequently, we seldom called a doctor or used prescription drugs.
Common home remedies included the following:
Iodine for small cuts, scratches and stumped toes (ouch, how it burned!). Oil of cloves for toothache, until bad cavities forced us to go to a dentist to have the tooth filled or pulled. Loose teeth were secretly manipulated with fingers until they dropped (if we didn’t perform this operation in secret, we faced having it extracted by a big brother with pliers). Warm salt water for mild sore throat, turpentine and sugar, or even kerosene and sugar, if severe. Soda for burns. Mustard plasters for chest colds. Hydrogen peroxide or arnica salve for open sores. Turpentine or Sloan’s liniment for bruises, sore muscles or “growing pains”. Miles anti-pain pills for headaches. Doan’s Kidney pills for back-ache (Mama’s favorite medicine). Cough syrup (Foley’s Honey and Tar) for coughs. Calomel, and Johnson’s Chill and Fever Tonic (oh, how bitter!) for fever. Paregoric and laudanum (both containing opium) for relieving pain, and of course the ever reliable and inevitable castor oil (ugh!).
Now for a little about school life.
Union School was a one-room, one-teacher school with an enrollment of about 30 pupils, grades one through eight. In the center was a big stove, the pipe of which went straight up through a thick masonry section in the roof. It wasn’t a “little red schoolhouse”, but a nice, big, white building with green blinds and trim. It had a porch and, between this and the school room, an adequate cloak room. On cold mornings someone had to build a roaring fire in that stove before school began at 8 o’clock so that the big room would be warm when the children arrived. I never knew who did it. The size of the desks increased from front to rear, and between windows on both walls were blackboards. The teacher’s desk was on a raised platform.
Here are a few memory “shorts”:
Our “flying jenny”, on which two persons sat on opposite ends of a mounted pole and others pushed the pole around and around. We cut down a tree about five feet above the ground, trimmed the top of the stump to leave a cylindrical pole on the center about a foot high by four inches across, then trimmed an 18 ft. length of tree trunk, split it in the middle, and put wedges in the split to keep it open enough to fit over the pole. It would’ve been better to bore a large hole, but we didn’t have an auger.
One game was “Hail Over”. Sides were chosen and we lined up on opposite sides of the building, each side trying to throw a rubber ball so the opponents couldn’t catch it.
“Fox and Hounds” was another game. One day Luther Clements was the fox, running with his coat on. As my brother, Malcolm, was about to catch him, he unbuttoned his coat, held his arms straight back and Malcolm grabbed his coat. Luther kept running, leaving Malcolm with his coat and a red face!
Teasing “Ibby” McLeroy (now what could that be a nickname for?) on the way to school, she kicked our shins. She was a scrappy little girl, and very pretty!
Joe Allan Bell, a “town boy” of about 13, came to live with his uncle and aunt, entered Union, and introduced us to the game of marbles.
One day a teacher, having entranced the younger children with a fairy story, promised to call a fairy to come to a window for us to see her. We hadn’t noticed that an older girl, Sarah Callaway, hadn’t come in after recess. The teacher, Miss Kate Snipes I believe, got everyone excited with anticipation, then called for the fairy to come. Sarah held up a hand dressed as a “fairy” to the windowsill. In response to questions from the teacher the “fairy” nodded or shook her “head”.
Hattie Callaway was the instigator of the April fool picnic. Without Miss Kate’s knowledge, she had all of us agree to come early. She left a note on the door, “April Fool!”. Miss Kate was mad until somehow she learned that her “pet” Hattie was responsible, then quickly shed her anger.
One day Miss Kate made us nail short boards, for seats, on the limbs of a tree, so we could all sing and be “birds on a limb”. She sent the boys up first. Joe Allan refused, but finally gave in, angrily, climbing past all the rest of us while the girls and Miss Kate waited on the ground, and in passing hissed, “I hope I fall and break my neck!” I was afraid that for such blasphemy, God might just let him do it!
Professor Savage sometimes played baseball with us. One day the ball lodged in the front ventilator behind a loose 2×4, and my brother Lambdin climbed into the attic to poke a stick at it. He accidentally nudged the 2×4 and it fell on Miss Kate’s head! It hurt her just enough for us to be glad it happened! Miss Kate then took half the ball diamond (the front yard of the school), had it plowed up, fenced and planted a flower garden! Now there wasn’t any room to play anything but base stealing, hide-and-seek, hail-over and marbles! To top it off, she made us all work her garden!
One day the teacher heard a rumble and shouted, “It’s an automobile, children! Run and see it!” It was the first automobile we ever saw. We learned later it was a red Maxwell.
An interesting stop on the way home was Mr. Tom Spivey’s sawmill, cotton gin and syrup mill. He wasn’t a farmer but operated the three mills and a country store, making a good living for himself and his wife (they had no children; we wondered why, but wondering was all we could do). Mrs. Spivey would mind the store when Tom was operating one of the mills. It was fascinating to watch them gin cotton, saw lumber, grind cane and boil the juice into syrup in a huge cauldron, six feet across! When no machinery was running, we had fun playing on the huge saw-dust pile. We might get punished for getting home late to our chores, but the adventure was well worth it!
I’ll always remember with admiration and gratitude Professor W.C. Wright, formerly Principal of Eatonton School and in our time County Superintendent, but this was true of everyone who ever knew him. When he visited, he always showed a sincere interest in US, the pupils. He didn’t deliver dry, platitudinous little talks on “The Importance of Education”. He made us feel certain that he loved us but what he said and how he said it. He liked to shake each student’s hand. We loved that man!
About twenty-five years later, I was a pastor in Bartow, Florida, and read that he had been brutally beaten to death by some teenagers to whom he’d given a ride. They’d robbed him of his watch and what money he had, then drove off in his car, leaving him dead or dying by the roadside. They were caught and punished, but it was a terrible shock to all in Putnam County, and all of us scattered over the country who had known him.

When Papa died of pneumonia in February 1902, Sister was age 22 and in her fifth year as a teacher at Union School. Watt was at Georgia Tech on a work-study scholarship, and immediately came home. For almost a year Mama had all ten children at home with her, which was of course a wonderful comfort as well as a great help. This not only relieved her of work and responsibility, but kept her occupied with their social activities and made it possible for her to have a restful vacation at Oconee Springs. Grandmama had died six years earlier, and her former slaves John and Jane had preceded her. By purchasing adjoining land from time to time, our family now had 421 acres, with three colored families also living on the land as sharecroppers. That fall Estelle, having finished school at Union, went to Eatonton for the ninth and tenth grades.
In addition to the social life of the older children, another quite interesting diversion came into our lives. A colored woman, Frances, whose man had left her, came with her two young sons to live in a large, one-room house our family had built just 200 yards from our home. Such separations being rather frequent, this house served for many years as a refuge for similar women, who provided domestic help for Mama. The younger son, named Sandy, was effectively deaf, and his mother was unable to control or communicate with him. Mama took over responsibility for Sandy, and the rest of us gladly assisted her.
After the 1902 harvest Matt, Will and Albert all secured jobs in Eatonton. Charlie, then fifteen and the oldest of the children at home, was the only one who liked farming. He accepted more and more responsibility for the farm, the dairy and the relations with the colored tenants. Unique among us, he not only liked farming, he loved it, studied it, worked hard at it, and within a few years became, by existing standards, an expert farmer, blacksmith, carpenter, veterinarian and all else a good farmer has to be. He also loved bird hunting, fishing and harness racing.
Charlie used to court two or three girls at the same time, by horse and buggy. He’d work hard all day, then drive the buggy several miles. He’d go to sleep as soon as he left a girl’s house, depending on the horse to find the way home. One night when he awoke, he discovered he was in front of the home of another girl he was courting! He dashed away as fast as he could. The next time he dated that girl, she told him about some man who stopped in front of her house about midnight. She looked out her window and saw him leaving as though someone had shot at him! Charlie said he told her he wondered who would do such a fool thing!
In the summer of 1903 a handsome young man, age 27, drove up to our house with a horse and buggy rented from the livery stable. No one recognized him, but he explained that he was King Callaway, who had left ten years previously and had been working in his uncle’s grocery store in Temple, Texas. He wanted Sister Lucy to go for a ride. She did. He lost no time in proposing marriage, and insisted that the marriage take place without delay since he was on a two-week vacation.
Sister, age 23, protested. “Why, King, I don’t really know you. I remember you only as ‘one of the big boys’ in Union School when I was in the fifth grade!” He told her he was desperately in love with her then, but too bashful to say or do anything to let her know. He vowed then that he was going to marry her, if possible, as soon as he was old enough and able to support her. She asked why, in all those ten years, he’d never once written to her, and didn’t even write before making the long trip. He said he’d started many letters, but just couldn’t find words for how he felt, but had written someone else to inquire whether Sister was already married.
Well, the longer he stammered out his love for her and how all those ten years he’d worked and saved to that single purpose, Sister increasingly realized she was also in love with him. Within hours she happily agreed to the marriage, but insisted it be a church wedding, which would require at least a week to make the preparations. “But I don’t want you to spend all your savings at the hotel and livery stable,” she said, “I’ll send Charlie to follow you to town. Turn in that horse and buggy, check out of the hotel and come back with Charlie. You are going to stay here. Mama and I will be busy and I can’t see you much, but Charlie will keep you busy and out of our way.” The church wedding was held just as Sister planned it, and off they went to Temple, Texas.
Early in 1904, Watt and Cousin Jim Clopton read, or heard, of a fast-growing little town named Miami, in South Florida, and in a spirit of adventure went down to find something different and exciting. They found it, in fact too much of it! Land south of Miami was available for free, the only requirement for a homestead of 160 acres being to live on the property for a year. The land was covered with a thick growth of palmettos and a scattering of pine trees, and inhabited by scores of rattlesnakes and millions of mosquitoes. The first job was to build a little rough-lumber shack to live in, and make mattresses out of pine straw.
If they were to develop the land, as many did, they had to cut away the palmettos with machetes and pile them up to dry. With grub-hoes, they’d dig up all the tough, stubborn palmetto roots. They’d have to burn all this, then plow the land and plant vegetables.They’d have to buy lumber and screens, a cook stove and water pump, tools, mosquito repellent, liniment and other medicines and, of course, food. They’d either have to buy or make beds, chairs, tables, cabinets, etc. All of the above-mentioned was for sale by an old-timer who had already established a store and supply house.
They could develop the land, but would they? There was an alternative. They could apply for the homestead and just hold it as an investment to sell years later. All they’d have to do would be to live on it for 365 days.
Not surprisingly, they chose the latter. They took with them bicycles, their homestead assignment paper, a few small carpentry tools, extra clothes and as much canned food as they could, all on baskets attached to the handlebars. They had money enough to buy lumber, screens, tools etc., and built a shack, with the advice and help of the “old-timer”. Now two overwhelming obstacles loomed before them. They needed food for a whole year, and could they really bear to stay there 365 days? Jim came up with an idea to solve both at once.
They already knew Mr. E.L. Brady, Miami’s leading grocer, and Jim had worked for him for awhile before they decided on the homestead. Jim asked Mr. Brady to give them both a job to earn money for food, and they’d work alternate weeks, to relieve the loneliness, boredom and inconvenience. Mr. Brady agreed.
Jim worked the first week. They’d already planned to both leave after breakfast on Sunday, on bicycles. When they met halfway, each would inform the other of the situation ahead of him; what projects needed to be done and how to do it. This worked very well, or perhaps I should just say it worked, for two months.
The old-timer’s store and supply house also served as a gathering place for homesteaders within a two or three mile radius. Any time they wanted fellowship they could ride or walk the sand trails to the store, usually in the evening, build a bonfire surrounded by smokescreen fires against mosquitoes, swap stories, play cards and drink drams. One evening Watt decided to walk to the store. A few hundred yards from his destination he became aware that he was being followed by a wild beast! He ran the rest of the way as fast as he could, and just as he got within range of the light from the bonfire heard a growl, and something big ran into the bushes. The old-timer said it was a panther, so all the men spent the night around the fire, sleeping on the ground and taking turns tending the fire, for panthers wouldn’t come near fire.
Watt immediately lost all interest in the homestead, an interest which had already undergone considerable deterioration. When he met Jim that Sunday, they both went to the old-timer, accepted what he paid them for their meager possessions, returned to Miami in time for supper, and a day or two later returned their paper to the land office.
On July 4th of that same year, several families including ours had a picnic together in a lovely spot near the Oconee River. The young people went swimming, or wading for those who couldn’t swim. Will, Albert and Estelle had come out from town for the picnic. A young lady, Gladys Palmer, got into trouble, and Will tried to save her. They both drowned.
In the spring of 1905, Albert moved to Miami, and that fall Estelle began her two-year teacher training at State Normal School in Athens, Georgia. Meanwhile, another colored man who worked for someone several miles away persuaded Frances to come live with him. She and the older boy went away, but Sandy refused to leave, preferring to live (or at least sleep) alone and eating all meals on our back porch or in our kitchen. We developed a fairly adequate sign language and lip-reading system for communication. Sandy was fascinated with trains; somewhere, sometime he’d seen one. One day he took a discarded wood-burning stove, stuck a joint of pipe on it, put it in a wheelbarrow, built a fire in it and, lining us boys up behind him for cars, ran up and down the road shouting “choo-choo-choo-choo” and from time-to-time “blowing his whistle” by screaming as loud as he could “woo-hoo-o-o-o!”
Sandy was also entranced as he watched Estelle playing our foot-pedal organ and singing. One day Lambdin heard Sandy singing in our buggy house across the road, though it sounded like the singing of a happy, well-fed hen rather than a person. Investigating, Lambdin discovered Sandy had cut pieces of tin with tin snips about the size and shape of the white keys on our organ and nailed one end of each, all close together, clear across a window sill. The projecting ends would bend with the slight pressure of his fingers, then spring back. Now he had his own organ, and was playing and singing, his seat an empty wooden box.
Sandy stayed with us for about five happy years, before reluctantly “accepting” an urgent “invitation” to join his mother, brother and “step-father” elsewhere.
In 1907 Estelle, having graduated Eatonton High School and State Normal School in Athens, accepted a teaching position in Cairo, Georgia, 200 miles distant. Right away she began writing Mama about a man she was dating. He was 26 years old, an expert home builder, a Presbyterian, and oh, so handsome! I remember two things I didn’t like about her description: he was too old for an 18-year-old girl, and what in the dickens was a Presbyterian?
Putnam County was almost totally Methodist, except for a few Baptists, none of which I knew, and there was little love lost between the two denominations. One day, just a few weeks later, we returned from school to find Mama holding a telegram in her hand and weeping. We anxiously asked what was the matter and she exclaimed, in a tone of great dismay: “Estelle is married!”
I at once jumped to the conclusion that Mama’s grief was caused by Estelle marrying a Presbyterian, and concluded they must be as bad as Catholics! Of course, at eight years old I knew nothing about Catholics; rabble-rousing politicians had stirred up rancor as a way to win votes. Later I was relieved to learn that Mama’s distress was rather due to Estelle’s flouting of propriety~too short a courtship, not introducing the groom to the family, secret marriage and worst of all, no church wedding!
Eleven months later, Estelle brought a sickly two-month-old baby home for Mama to help with. Very soon, he was improving rapidly. One day they entrusted his care for a short while to Lambdin and me, ages 12 and 9. We pushed him in his new carriage until he was asleep.Something caught our attention and, forgetting about the gentle slope of the porch, we left the carriage. Seconds later it was bumping down the steps, and before we could reach it, it was upside down on top of Ralph! Fortunately the walk wasn’t paved, but after we removed the carriage poor Ralph had sand in his eyes, mouth, nose and ears! In response to our screams, Mama and Estelle were already on the scene. When they cleaned away the sand, a careful examination revealed no broken bones nor bruises. Ralph continued his rapid progress to robust health and two months later Estelle, a much wiser mother, took him back to Cairo.
Hudson (we called him “Hut”) got a job in Eatonton, finally fulfilling his long-expressed determination to be not a countryman, but a citizen! Charlie, now 21 and quite mature both in wisdom and skills, had accepted almost total authority and responsibility for all matters pertaining to farm and dairy. We younger boys resented his authority, but realizing Mama had yielded it to him, had grudgingly submitted. The next year, 1909, Charlie decided the old house should be demolished and a new one-story house should replace it. He hired men, and worked with them, to cut timber from our land, have it hauled by ox-cart to a sawmill and sawed into lumber, which was laid by and seasoned for use in 1910. He arranged for Clyde Maxwell, Estelle’s husband and an experienced builder, to be in charge of the work. To provide living quarters, he first sealed tight and fumigated the house formerly occupied by Sandy and various others, then added a second room to it.
I doubt whether Sister Lucy was informed of this project, as she selected this time to come with her two children, ages 5 and 3, to visit. There were now eleven of us in two rooms. Mama, Sister, her two children and I slept in the big room, and all cooking was done there. Eating took up two-thirds of the other room, and Clyde, Estelle and 2-year-old Ralph slept in the other third. Lambdin slept in the buggy house, Charlie in the cotton-seed house and Malcolm in the hayloft.
Charlie hired two carpenters and, being an experienced carpenter himself, worked with them, with Clyde as foreman. Malcolm, Lambdin and I were pretty good at helping to tear down the old house and at toting brick and lumber, so all hands were kept busy. When all the work was finished, Malcolm left with Clyde, who had just been appointed manager of a General Merchandise Store in a small town near Cairo. Hut was still working in a store in Eatonton, and Sister, recognizing his clerical acumen, sent him to a business college in Texas. Now only Mama, Charlie, Lambdin and I were left of the family of twelve.

You may hazard a guess as to why Charlie, now 23, wanted to replace the old house with a new one. You probably guessed right! Almost immediately he and his sweetheart, beautiful, lovely and vivacious Florence Boone, were married, and of course he brought her into the new home. Lambdin and I were delighted with her, but Mama had entered a stage in life in which some women unjustly become suspicious of the people dearest to them. I’ve never known a more honest man than Charlie, and Mama had loved him for staying with her and managing the farm when all the others were leaving, but now she accused him, to his face, of “secretly maneuvering to obtain sole possession of the property.”
Charlie knew nothing about this type of illness, and was bewildered, deeply hurt and indignant. His hopes and dreams were smashed, and now he took his wife to Atlanta, where they rented a small apartment and Charlie got a job as a grocery clerk. We three were left in a most untenable situation, and now had to place the farm for sale.
Though the misunderstanding was unfortunate, I believe that all concerned would’ve eventually agreed that future events brought more happiness. Florence was city-bred, and probably wouldn’t have been happy for long on a farm. Mass farm production with heavy and costly machinery on level and fertile land soon made small farming on hilly and rocky land almost entirely unprofitable. Charlie rose rapidly in the grocery business, soon had a management position and bought a home with 12 acres of fertile soil for gardening. Their three boys entered scientific occupations. Mama finally succeeded in renting the farm, and she, Lambdin and I soon moved away. A few years later, the farm sold for half the price Mama had originally set.
In the summer of 1911, Mama went to Miami for two weeks to discuss with Albert and Watt their insistent proposal that we all move down there. During her absence, Malcolm came to stay with us. Malcolm had become an expert cook, so she knew we’d be well-fed. Her last words were, “Have fun!”
Malcolm, now 18, invited one of his friends for each of the two weekends; for the first, Oscar Spivey, for the second, Luther Clements. In our family girls fed the chickens and boys chased them, sometimes for good reason, such as to protect ripe figs or freshly planted seeds; other times just for diversion. If Mama wanted to catch a chicken or two, she just walked out, sounded her “chow” call, sprinkled some scratch feed around and picked up the ones she chose.
For us, this was a problem. If we wanted to catch a chicken for Sunday dinner we had to hit it first with a rock. The first Sunday went as planned, but on the second they scattered far and wide. We had to split up to cover more territory, and when we came back, we had three chickens! Malcolm made biscuits~not tea biscuits, these were 3” around and 1” thick~and for dinner and supper we four boys consumed, in addition to an ample supply of vegetables and fruit, three big chickens and sixty-six biscuits! Mama returned, and we assured her that Malcolm had fed us very well, we’d done our jobs and, yes, had fun!
Malcolm returned to his job with Clyde Maxwell. While the Maxwells stayed with us the previous summer, all of us, Mama included, had become mighty fond of that Presbyterian. He later became a very active, influential Elder in his church, and much later I, too, became a Presbyterian!
In the fall of 1911, Lambdin and I attended school and, of course, kept doing our chores, which were gradually diminishing as Mama had advertised for sale all our animals, farm machinery, etc. All the purchasers except two provided delivery of what they’d bought, but two Eatonton residents requested that we boys deliver to each a cow, and they’d pay us. One Saturday morning we set out on foot, leading our cows with ropes. Each cow had a young calf, included in the price, which was willing to follow its mama without trouble. I left my calf at Mr. Belvin’s farm about four miles away, but Lambdin had to take his seven miles, into town.
Fortunately for us there were small streams to ford, which provided drinking water, and all went well until we reached our turn-off road to the purchaser’s home. This was about 20 feet from, and on our side of, the railroad crossing. Just as we reached it, the screaming whistle of a freight train shattered the mid-day calm and a “giant beast” came roaring from the mouth of the “canyon” (a cut through a hill), breathing out black smoke and clanging a loud bell. Neither cow nor calf had ever encountered such a monster before, so both were terrified. The side road provided escape from the sight, but not the sound, of the train, as the tracks ran parallel to the road. The roaring and rattling of the invisible cars seemed to be right over them, increasing their panic!
We finally completed the delivery of the animals, were each paid one silver dollar, then sat down in the shade of a tree and ate our lunch. We returned by another road and took a dip in our favorite swimming hole at Turkey Creek. What a day!
I had a frightful experience about this time which Lambdin didn’t remember at all. While transporting crated furniture in a wagon for shipment to Miami, Lambdin crossed Town Creek, which like many of our bridges had no railings, just heavy timbers nailed flat across. Mama and I arrived about a half-hour later in a buggy. It had rained all the night before, and when we arrived the bridge was completely underwater. Seeing fresh wagon tracks on both sides, I said to Mama, “Lambdin made it across, so we can, too”. I took off my shoes and stockings and slowly, cautiously, gingerly led the horse across the flooded bridge.
The Critz family, parents and five sons who had rented our farm, arrived from North Carolina a few days before we were ready to leave. There wasn’t room for all of us, so the Rosses, with generous hospitality, graciously took us into their spacious home and, on our day of departure, left us at the train station with a nice box of food.

All seven years I spent in Miami were adventuresome, but I’ll try to give the highlights.
After the train had left the station, Mama asked Lambdin, “Where is your overcoat?” “Oh,” he replied, “I left it in the railroad station. I won’t have any use for it in Miami.” We arrived in Jacksonville in time to catch the 9 AM train. I’ve heard of “the slow train through Arkansas”, but I’ll bet it was faster than the Florida East Coast train from Jacksonville to Miami that January day in 1912. It took us 17 hours to travel that 360 miles. So many stops! Most of them seemed to be for nothing more than a crossroad. We arrived at 2 AM, sweaty, dirty, tired and so sleepy!
The Miami railroad station, at that time the end of the line, was close to the Terminal Dock at the end of old Sixth Street (now N.E. 6th Street). Henry M. Flagler, owner (or at least principal owner) of the railroad, a chain of luxury hotels, and the Terminal Dock, put the station there for easy transfer of passengers and freight for ships to Havana and the West Indies. From here, passengers to Miami hired hacks. The story is told of one man asking his colored driver, “Why in hell did they build the station so far from town?” The driver, after a brief hesitation, replied, “Well, sir, I s’pose they wanted to put it close to the railroad tracks!”
Among Albert’s close friends was Mr. John Frohock, who insisted that Albert take his Cadillac to meet us, so our very first automobile ride was enough to rouse us from weariness, at least for a little while. Our home wasn’t quite ready and our furniture was in storage. Albert took Mama and me to the Fort Dallas Hotel, where Matt was boarding, and Lambdin with him to Mrs. Gamble’s boarding house. When Matt saw my underwear, he broke into hilarious laughter which, with some difficulty, he muffled to avoid awakening the other guests. Across the back of my union suit, in large letters, were the words” OHIO SALT COMPANY”. Matt had probably forgotten that he was the first of eight brothers who had been so clothed. The next morning he bought me my first pair of BVDs (store-bought underwear).
My first adventure in Miami was a deep-sea fishing trip.
About 30 of the hotel guests, all Northern tourists, chartered the boat. All save one were adults; this one was a boy about my age so they invited me as a companion to him. The hotel packed baskets of good food, which most of the group didn’t enjoy much since all but two of us got seasick! For the same reason, there wasn’t much fishing. We returned to Cape Florida (now Key Biscayne) for lunch. I enjoyed that day very much!
About ten days later we moved into our new home, Watt and Albert now paying board to Mama to cover expenses. For some reason we boys weren’t to enter school until fall, either because we had missed so much or because we needed what we two could make working. Even with our meager earnings, eight months of work would help. Lambdin delivered groceries and I delivered packages for a dry goods store; he received $6 and I $4 per week, with us furnishing the bicycles.
I recall only three floats in a parade early in my Miami sojourn. All were ordinary panel trucks with no decoration, so the first was almost ignored, until the people lining the street saw into the open rear doors. A popular magazine had daringly (for those days) included a full-page picture of a beautiful young woman, apparently nude, with her hands crossing over to cover a certain part of her anatomy. The title of the picture was SEPTEMBER MORN. On the back of the truck stood a girl who appeared to be that same young woman, fitted in flesh-colored tights. Across the truck, below her feet, was the same title. Men whooped, whistled and laughed, while women blushed, some of them turning away in anger.
Bringing up the end of the parade were two more trucks, both very funny to us youngsters. Sitting in the rear of the first was Miami’s well-known, 465-pound “Fatty” Palmer, with a sign above him, I EAT ULLENDORF’S MEATS. The truck behind him bore the skinniest man I’ve ever seen, with a sign, I DON’T.
Our store had a mid-summer sale for which they employed a professional sales manager. Instead of relying on newspaper advertising and local distribution of handbills, he insisted on a handbill in every house from Miami to, and including, West Palm Beach, 70 miles north! Lawrence Gautier, an experienced driver, was hired to drive Mr. John Burdine’s car. In the back were me, another boy, and thousands of printed handbills which we were to distribute in at least 19 towns and villages. At the town border we’d have to get out and, walking, put a handbill behind every screen door or into someone’s hand. The car would wait for us under a shade tree at the far end of town. All the boss would do was sit on his fanny beside the driver and occasionally take a gulp of whiskey.
When we went to a restroom and had a chance to conference with Lawrence, he agreed that this was the craziest way possible to secure customers. Very few people had cars, and those that did wouldn’t drive 70 miles or even half that far to save a few dollars, nor would anyone ride the train. When we got to West Palm Beach, we boys were worn out. After dinner we were supposed to work all over that town of 4,000. They had stores almost as good as those in Miami, with a population of 7,000, and their merchants would probably laugh at our folly rather than resent our invasion~but the latter idea occurred to our driver. Just as we started our afternoon’s work, we heard what sounded like the firing of a shotgun. Lawrence had already suggested the possibility of local resentment to the boss, who’d had enough drinks to believe it. When Lawrence frantically exclaimed, “Oh, good lord, someone’s shooting at us!”, the boss screamed, “Let’s get the hell out of here!”. I’m pretty sure that Lawrence slipped out of the restaurant while the boss was in the restroom, and arranged for someone to fire a gun or light off a giant firecracker when we got in the car. Two hours later, we were back in Miami!
Before the Collins Bridge was completed, one of my buddies and I were, I’m confident to say, the first to ride bicycles all the way across it to the beach. The bridge itself had stopped at the point where the land-fill was to reach, this being sand pumped from the bay by dredge-boats. When we rode that far, we found that over the swamp a walkway had been constructed, about three feet wide, with flimsy handrails for the workmen. We were reasonably sure that if one of us should fall against the rails we’d wind up in the swamp five or six feet below, so we had to keep our concentration for 200 yards or so to reach the dirt road leading to the beach. Needless to say, we made it over and back, safely. After the bridge was completed and a road paved to a point near the beach, down by the two casinos, people began to build homes and move in. Among the early birds was my Sunday school teacher, Mr. T.E. James. One Sunday he invited us to dinner, and afterwards we went for a walk back towards the edge of the bay. By the edge of the swamp, we saw a raccoon with its head stuck fast inside a tin can. We knew he’d done his best to push it off, and without our help he’d starve. I quietly approached, took hold of the tin can and twisted it until it came off. He walked a few steps, turned back and gave me a look of gratitude deeper than human words could express.
The City Council, about this time, decided it was high time to replace the old coral rock pavement with something permanent, at least on the principal business street. They considered brick, but someone had learned about creosoted wood block, popular in several other cities. Apparently, they hadn’t learned enough!
The blocks were as large as the cobble-stones they replaced, but after the roadbed had been carefully graded, they fit together and formed a smooth surface. Everyone was happy with the new paving~for awhile. With the first big downpour, however, the blocks popped up and washed into hundreds of little piles. The street was practically impassable. It all had to be repaved with asphalt.
School opened, and I was in the eighth grade.We knew that after school, we weren’t to re-enter the building, but a few days later I was half-a-block on my way home and realized I’d forgotten my tablet and had math homework to do. I went back in, and just as I pulled my tablet out of my desk, a gruff feminine voice shouted: “What are you doing here?!” Timidly I replied, “I just came to get my tablet so I can do my homework.” Again she shouted: “No you didn’t! You came in here to steal something!”
I had no idea who she was, I’d never seen her and incidentally, never did again. I was still fresh from Pea Ridge. I’d have run out of there like a rabbit if she hadn’t stood in the doorway. I still wonder why she said not another word, and let me go by. I learned later she was Miss Adah Merritt, but never learned what position of authority she held. When I got home, I told Mama; she was angry, but wouldn’t let me go across the street to tell our neighbors, the school principal and the county superintendent!
For the first few years in Miami, I had girl trouble, but not the way you might think. I liked them, but was terribly bashful with any girl I had a crush on, and I always had a crush on one or another! My first real love was for Floy Wharton, immediately upon entering school. She was the youngest in our class, aged 12, and the smartest and cutest! But when she and I were alone~well, I’ll quote something she said to a girl who wanted to help me, or maybe both of us: “I like Ted Jones, but he just can’t talk!” Maybe I should’ve asked her friend to help me to become more lively and interesting, but I just got discouraged. I was afraid to ask Floy out, and instead began to hang out with other boys and fiddle with cars.
I got a paper route with the Miami Herald, the morning paper. I had to get up at 4:30 to be there by 5. Since it only required 1-1/2 to 2 hours, I’d be home in time to change clothes, eat breakfast and get to school on time. On Saturday I’d collect 10¢ per week from my customers, turn in the Herald’s part and if I didn’t have another job in the afternoon (which I usually did) I was free.
One afternoon I went to watch water polo at the Royal Palm Hotel, and saw five or six old canoes stacked against a wall, which looked like they hadn’t been used in years. I was keenly interested in a canoe, and the caretaker quickly agreed to give me my choice for a paltry sum. One of my buddies, Donald Roop, helped me tie it on a car and we moved it to where we could make repairs. A new canvas cover and a few coats of shellac and it was in fine condition. I lived only a block or two from the river, and Donald and I, or I alone, had a lot of fun on the river and in Biscayne Bay. Once we paddled across the bay, portaged across he peninsula and, just for kicks, paddled about 150 yards into the ocean. We had to make a very quick turnaround to avoid being broadsided and capsized by a wave!
In the summer of 1914 I delivered telegrams for Western Union, in addition to my paper route. Late in the summer things were slow one afternoon, and we boys got to playing outside the manager’s office. He opened the door and angrily told us all to be quiet. We stayed very quiet except for a widow’s son who had a wooden leg, who’d also had to drop out of school to help his mother. He made a big noise, the manager came to the door, pointed straight at me and said, “You’re fired! Turn in your cap and come back Saturday for your pay!” I would’ve felt terrible to point out the error, as the job meant so much to the other boy, and to me it just meant two weeks’ vacation before school opened. I quietly followed the boss’s instructions.
I liked all my teachers in the eighth grade, but when I got to high school, we had a history teacher who was perfectly wonderful, Miss Gladys Beckwith! She had traveled all over western and southern Europe, Egypt and the Holy Land. Occasionally she’d lay aside the text book and say: “This morning let’s take a trip to Rome (or Athens, Paris, etc.) and while helping us “see” what she had seen tell us about what happened there in history, thus stimulating us to study and appreciate history with greater interest and enthusiasm. Best of all, we knew that she loved each of us and tried to inspire us to be good persons. She never moralized or “preached” to us, nor scold us. She simply reflected, by her personality, goodness, kindness and love. She didn’t have discipline problems, because no one wanted to do anything that would hurt her.
She also stimulated in us a deep appreciation for our country, describing the thrill she felt looking at the Statue of Liberty on her return, and teaching us to sing, “America for Me”. Twenty years later, on a brief trip to Miami, I went to see her. She asked, “On such a short visit with your family, why did you drive twelve miles just to see me? When I told her how we loved her, she wept with gratitude. Oh, what a teacher! Oh, what a beautiful person!
There was a long-haired, long-whiskered carpenter who rode a man-size tricycle with a big wire basket for his tools. He claimed to be Jesus, and preached to small groups who gathered around him upstream, by the river. One week he told his congregation, “Next Sunday I’m going to walk on water!”
A couple boys who lived nearby noticed that the preacher was leaving planks under some bushes, and that Thursday and Friday was working after dark. The water there is black with silt and muck from the Everglades, so a person can’t see anything an inch or two under the surface. The boys went out late Saturday, discovered a platform just beneath the surface, and removed three or four wide boards. Now you know the reason for the drama of his sermon that Sunday, and why it ended with a splash!
We boys heard about an old Spanish fort in the jungle some three or four miles south of Miami, close to Biscayne Bay. Long ago it had cannons on top, and others poking through the east wall. A well-beaten path led to the doorway, framed with heavy timbers. Many of us, with lanterns, walked through that doorway leading to where Spaniards once slept and stored ammunition, but I never heard of anyone going very far, due to fear or rattlesnakes, wildcats and panthers.
One Sunday afternoon three of my friends left their bicycles by the road and walked towards the fort. Suddenly one looked up and saw by far the biggest snake he’d ever seen. They quickly decided one should ride back and get Von Moser, an authority on snakes, while the others stayed and watched. Pretty soon they heard a wagon coming, then the man and boy arrived with their arms full of ropes. Von Moser told the boys, “I’ll grab its head while you space yourselves three feet apart and hold on tight so it can’t crush me,” and gently nudged it with a pole. They captured the snake and put it on exhibition. A boa constrictor, it was 18 feet long and 6 inches around, and had apparently gotten aboard a boat in Central America, escaped or was let loose nearby, and grew to its monster dimensions. It died after several weeks in captivity. I saw it; almost everyone in Miami saw it, but I wasn’t one of the three who first saw it!
When delivering papers in the Southside residential area, I was crossing a bridge and saw some unusual activity. Captain Charlie Thompson had caught a monster of a fish, 30,000 pounds, of a type which had never been seen before, and I stopped to watch them pull a damaged boat, and the fish, from the water. I was one of the first to see the “sea monster”. They later mounted it and exhibited it in Miami for some time, then loaded it on a railroad flatcar for exhibition across the country. Its nose and tail extended slightly beyond both ends of the car.
In the summer of 1915, I was working in the office of Albert’s Garage, across the street from the county jail. John Ashley was awaiting sentencing for killing an Indian. Three strangers drove in and asked for us to install new batteries in their Model T. Albert and I, and most of the mechanics, had gone to dinner. The boy who remained said later that the three of them walked upstairs where all the general repair was done, apparently just looking around. One came down alone, crossed the street and a moment later a shot started a great commotion.
The man dashed back to the garage and commanded the boy to drive. “I can’t drive a car!”, he protested, and the man ran across the railroad tracks into a wooded area, a city policeman chasing him. The other two came running downstairs, jumped in the Ford and sped away. When we returned, we learned Mr. Hendrix, the deputy sheriff and jailer, was dead. The policeman and the fugitive had shot each other to death, and the two strangers had escaped. It later developed that John Ashley’s brothers had planned the jail break. His brother Bob drank some whiskey to build up his courage, had drunk too much, and spoiled the family plan by going in alone. I was glad Albert and I, and the mechanics, had been gone to dinner! We might have ended up as hostages in a “wild western” gun fight! We might have even been victims!
Early in the summer of 1916, a close friend, Van Kussrow, suggested what turned out to be a most outstanding adventure, a bicycle trip and ten-day camp at Wekiwa Springs, near Orlando. Due to a lack of roads, we’d have to go north to Daytona, then southwest. We arranged a schedule: Day #1, West Palm Beach. #2, Fort Pierce. #3, Cocoa. #4, Daytona, and #5, Wekiwa. We shipped to Orlando a 6’x8’ tent and a few things we wouldn’t need on the way, and took with us a pup tent, some compact cooking/eating kits, blankets and a .32 pistol (which we were glad not to have to use). We wore Boy Scout uniforms (a great help in making friends). We also took a 40 foot rope to loop over the spare tire of any Good Samaritan who’d tow us. Looping, instead of tying, so that in case of trouble we’d turn loose and the rope would stay with US!
A nice couple in a little Saxon car towed us the 35 miles from Fort Lauderdale to West Palm Beach the first day, so we arrived well ahead of schedule and made our first unfortunate mistake. Instead of finding a spot free of mosquitoes for our camp and taking a swim, we swam in he ocean and then, not being tired, rode a few miles inland, so as to not have as far to go the next day. Consequently, by the time we set up our tent in a roadside spot and ate our supper the mosquitoes were already swarming, and we couldn’t get inside the pup tent without them crowding in. Since we were outnumbered, we hurriedly gathered up our belongings and fled from the conflict, now in darkness on a shell road with plenty of potholes. Our only hope was to find a house with a screened porch and a light on, so we could avoid awakening the occupants.
After 15 miles of rough riding, we saw it! The light was upstairs, so we knocked rather vigorously. A ‘voice from above”, came down, quite unlike the kind one reads about in the Bible. “Whaddayah want?” “We’re two Boy Scouts trying to camp out, but the mosquitoes are keeping us from sleeping. Will you let us sleep on your porch?” “No! There’s another house with a screened porch up the street. Nobody’s living in it. Go there!” (when we returned to Miami, we told of this to a man familiar with the village of Hobe Sound, and he said, “No wonder you got such a cold refusal. That is the home of the Ashley Gang of bank-robbers and murderers!”). Wow!
After two or three hours of sleep, daylight awakened us~well, it half did. Our sleepy eyes saw the rippling water from which the village got its name, and we went for a quick dip in the nude before the day’s ride. Three seconds in and one out, and we were covered with practically invisible sand flies, all stinging furiously! We grabbed our clothes, jumped on our bicycles and, still nude, rode to a place free of insects and dressed. Since we’d made a practice of riding 15 or 20 miles before breakfast, we rode the 15 miles to Stuart and dined in a little restaurant. By noon we’d reached Ft. Pierce, our second day’s goal.
Oh, what a welcome! A Boy Scout hailed us, took us home with him. His mother welcomed us, fed us, gave us a bed for the night and a wonderful breakfast! Our third night, in Cocoa, we bought a bottle of “Sweet Dreams” mosquito repellent and slept on the dock by the Indian River. On the fourth day we started for Daytona and stopped for breakfast in Titusville. A crowd gathered, asked a lot of questions and announced there was a new road to Orlando which would save us a whole day’s ride!
The first ten miles were OK, but then it was all sand! New, yes. Too dog gone new! Half done! We’d ride a little, then push a loaded cycle. Ride a little, push again!
By mid-afternoon we’d reached the Oveida railroad station and one store. A traveling salesman there suggested, “Ship your bicycles and I’ll take you to Orlando. Your bikes will be in Orlando before breakfast.” We stayed at a hotel in Orlando, had supper and breakfast at a restaurant, paid the small charge for freight and were away again. In Winter Park, we were hailed again by a Boy Scout. After a few questions, he said he’d bring some boys and girls with a picnic dinner to Wewika Springs on Sunday.
Wewika is a beautiful sulphur spring, the source of a small river. There was a diving board, a canoe with paddles, a nice camping space, a big grove of oaks and a large home on a hill, with apparently nobody home. Boys and girls came on Sunday, and we had a wonderful time throughout our stay. There was plenty of food, swimming, canoeing, and a roller coaster into the water. You can be sure we returned by way of Daytona Beach, where we slept far out on the fishing pier, our tow rope tied to each of us and on both sides to the railing. When we arrived back in Miami, both of us being carrier boys for the Miami Herald, we got our pictures and a write-up in the paper!

Meanwhile, our country got involved in World War I. All men 21 to 30 had to register for the draft, but nearly all I knew rushed to enlist. At a patriotic rally in the high school auditorium, I sang my first public solo: “Over There”. I wore an army uniform and held a big flag, the staff reaching about five feet above my head. Just as I finished and was walking backward for the curtain to fall, the guy with the rope pulled too fast and the curtain caught the flag, pushing it down. I held on and pulled a dipped flag back. Was embarrassed, though.
In junior class in high school I had grumpy and boring teachers, and after an attractive job offer I became a drop-out. I liked my job and my boss just fine (wholesale mill and plumbing supplies). After one year and a good promotion for me, the company transferred the manager and sent a quick-tempered Irishman, who also liked his liquor; this might have affected his temper. The Irish manager bawled out others when a kindly word of correction would’ve been better, and I decided I wouldn’t take such unjust scolding. All went well for six months, then he made a good customer mad and tried to blame it on me. I picked up my pay and immediately got a better-paying job driving a truck for a construction company at Dinner Key Naval Air Base, just below Miami.
Into the army went my brothers Hudson, Malcolm and Lambdin, along with so many others. Those who didn’t enlist were regarded as “slackers”. Miami’s one motorcycle patrolman joined, and I bought his motorcycle. The Home Guard was organized for those under 21 and over 30, and I joined it. We drilled at night, and it was fun watching some of those “oldsters” trying to go through the Manual of Arms with our wooden guns.
We were now into 1918, and Von Moser and our German music teacher, who had taught us the German national anthem in high school, disappeared, supposedly to a concentration camp. Soon draft registrations included the ages 18-35, and I registered. I decided that, before I was called, it was as good a time as any to take my long-yearned-for motorcycle trip.
In August I started assembling equipment for my trip. The motorcycle trip, like the bicycle trip in 1916, was originally planned as a twosome. We were to start out and ride until we ran out of money, get a job for a few days and resume travel. The other guy had an accident and couldn’t go, so I set out alone with no particular destination in mind, looking for adventure. I’d registered with the Miami draft board, but intended to enlist as soon as Congress extended the age limits, which wasn’t expected for several months. I believed I could complete an interesting trip before time ran out. Dressed in Army breeches and leather puttees, with a generous supply of luggage securely fastened to a rack behind me, I made the 366 miles to Jacksonville the first day. After a night in the home of a friend, I made a brief visit to Camp Johnston nearby to see my brother, Lambdin.
My brother Albert, who had driven a new car from Detroit, warned me, “It’s almost impossible to drive a car over the sand road between Jacksonville and Waycross, Georgia. You’ll never make it on a motorcycle!

The road from Jacksonville was all Albert said it was! It was literally a trail, consisting of two sand ruts made by wagons and later widened by the few cars whose drivers dared to try it. I had to learn to stay in the center of a rut without permitting my front wheel to touch a side wall, or it would immediately plow in and throw me. After several harmless falls I learned how to do it, but had to run in first gear about half the time and hardly ever got out of second gear. This of course made the engine run very hot, and I frequently had to put my left foot on the handlebar to keep my leg from blistering. It took me eight hours to travel that 80 miles, but I made it, and immediately and proudly sent Albert a postcard. With the ordeal over, I went to a hotel for a shower, supper and a long night’s sleep. I still wonder if I may have been the first to cross that stretch of road on a motorcycle. I’m sorry I didn’t think to check with the Waycross papers.
I soon discovered that the sight of a motorcycle was about as rare in south Georgia in 1918 as an automobile in Pea Ridge had been in 1908. People ran to their porches to see me go by.
A group of young people on their way to take a swim stood around a Ford with a flat tire. They’d patched the tube but had no pump. I offered mine, but a motorcycle pump is much smaller than than an auto pump, so it took quite awhile. While one pumped the others inspected, with a keen interest in my machine.
I started out again, and just as I was nearing a small farm house, rain began falling. The farmer had heard me coming, and was waiting with a friendly welcome. I turned into his grassy driveway and, after parking my steed in his shed, I ran to his porch. We played checkers for 45 minutes through the pouring rain. He won every game, with ease.
When the rain stopped I thanked him for his hospitality and prepared to leave. He calmly told me: “You ain’t goin’ nowhere on that thing. If it don’t rain no more maybe you c’n go tomorrow, but you’re gonna stay here tonight.” He didn’t offer any explanation, nor did he insist when I said, “Oh, yes, I can travel this road.” I knew about the clay roads in middle Georgia but had heard that the sand-clay in south Georgia roads was good in all weather~clay for firmness, mixed with sand to prevent skidding or bogging down. I noticed a sly expression on his face as I left, a look that seemed to say, I know something you don’t, and I’m going to enjoy watching you find out!
As I turned from his driveway into the road, my bike and I immediately ceased to coordinate. We skidded and twisted and almost sprawled into a muddy roadside ditch. With considerable difficulty, I got back into the farmer’s driveway, and when I looked up he was laughing. The joke was on me, so I joined in the laughter. When I asked about those south Georgia all-weather sand-clay roads he said, “Well, if you’ve got four wheels under you and drive carefully you can usually manage all right, but around here we ain’ got enough sand to match our clay, and nobody can make those two-wheelers go on a wet road. Now you jus’ put that thing back in the shed and consider yourself welcome here.”
By lamp-light, we had for supper a big platter of fried chicken, plenty of hot biscuits and preserves. I slept in a small room by myself on a mattress made of corn shucks, and slept well. Before I left I took some money from my pocket and tried to pay him, but he drew back almost as if he’d been insulted and said: “Friend, when I get so hard up I have to charge a neighbor for spendin’ a night in our home, I sho’ will be in a awful worse shape than I ever been yet!” He, his wife, his family (five young children) all impressed me, a poor tenant farmer family, “poor in this world’s goods”, but rich in character, hospitality, friendship, sense of humor and happiness!
As I neared Pea Ridge, the rural community of my childhood, my feeling of nostalgia was suddenly interrupted by a terrible scream as I passed the Arthur Clements home. I braked, turned around and parked by the front steps. No answer to the knock, nor to a loud call. The door was locked, and as I started around to the back, a peacock strutted out! “So you’re the one who brought me rushing to the rescue of Miss May, you rascal!”, I said with great relief, for I don’t mind admitting I was scared. I went on to pop in on cousins and friends and made brief visits to Concord Church, Union School, the old home place and dropped in on Sandy. Concord was where I “joined the church”, at about age 9 in a revival, with the Reverend Thomas Luke, who at our home peeled off his coat and rolled up his sleeves to play catch with the boys. What a nice way for a preacher to act!
I hadn’t decided where I’d go after a brief visit with Charlie and family in Atlanta, but as it turned out I didn’t have to. Congress made that decision~France. Papers announced the extension of the draft, and I tried to enlist, but enlistments were temporarily suspended and the draft postponed due to a shortage of leaders and equipment for training. I got a job, enlisted and later sold my motorcycle, but didn’t get a notice to report for duty until November 11th~Armistice Day! I reported, but a wire had already arrived ordering that no more men be enrolled in military service, so an hour later I was back on the job!
During the next 18 months, there were four significant developments in my home, my social life, my work and my religion.
My employers had an arrangement that saved them a lot of money on insurance and provided convenient living quarters for one of their regular employees, always a single man. The man who had this nicely furnished room, in a rear corner of the second floor, got married, and I was the fortunate one who succeeded him.
I’d been boarding with Charlie and his family three miles west of downtown Atlanta. To get to work at 8 AM I had to get up at 6:30, walk three blocks, catch a trolley and walk 3 more blocks to the store. The girls I dated lived in the eastern part of town, so when I got off work at 5, I had to go home, clean up, eat supper, change clothes, catch a trolley, transfer to another and, after taking my date home, repeat the trolley rides, often arriving home about 2 AM. Now I could be at my new home by 11:30 or 12, sleep until 7:30 and be at work at 8.
There was one requirement connected with my residence. Each night, as soon as I was in to stay, I had to tour the building and, to assure the insurance company, pull a signal lever at the far end of each of the four floors. In my tour I used the elevator and carried a flashlight and a pistol, which I was glad that I never had to use.
As for my social life, a co-worker was a member of a social club made up of male office workers. He introduced me at a meeting, and I was selected for membership. They specialized in dancing, but occasionally took dates to Warm Springs or other interesting places. Every activity was as clean and wholesome as a church picnic, but one Sunday I was at church with Charlie and the preacher said with particular emphasis, “Any man who tells me he can get on a dance floor, put his arms around a half-naked woman and not have evil thoughts is just not telling the truth!” That very day, I became a church drop-out!
Three weeks later, my superintendent invited me to go to church and home to dinner. Of course I accepted. The church was Presbyterian, and the people particularly friendly. The minister preached about God’s love. I soon joined that church and became a regular participant in its activities.
One holiday Charlie invited me to go with him and his family to see Uncle Watt and his family near Marietta. I’d sold my motorcycle by now, but knew Charlie liked to walk around the farm, so I wore my riding breeches and leather puttees. I was to have supper at Charlie’s, which meant I’d be leaving around 9 or 10 PM, with two walks alone in darkness, one from his house to the trolley and one from the trolley to the store. For protection I took my pistol, because gangs of youth occasionally beat up young men from other areas of the city to discourage them from crossing their “domain”.
It was a cold night, and I’d worn my overcoat. When I reached the end of the line, I stepped into a little neighborhood drug store to wait, and became the center of interest of about eight young men. They began with questions. Was I courting one of their neighborhood girls? I told them I’d been visiting my brother and his family. More questions, and threats, as they began drawing closer in a semi-circle. I backed against a wall to prevent being surrounded.
With my right hand holding my loaded pistol in my overcoat pocket, I tried to look unafraid. One said, “I believe he has a gun.” I prayed that I wouldn’t have to draw it, and that the street car would come quickly. The car soon arrived and I backed out the door, opening it with my left hand. One fellow reached as though to grab me. I said, “Don’t put your hand on me”. I walked to the car, looking back over my shoulder the whole way, and kept my hand on my pistol until I reached the trolley. My fears weren’t without cause; a young fellow had been killed by a gang in that area. It wasn’t murder; they’d been throwing rocks and one hit his head.
During the summer of 1919 our church had an assistant minister who with his wife left to become missionaries in the African Congo. We also had two missionaries as visiting speakers. After the war, a spirit of religious dedication was growing among young people such as I had never seen. I began to feel that God was working on me, but recoiled from serious involvement.
That fall two of my friends left for Davidson College, with the intent of becoming missionaries. I struggled against what increasingly seemed a divine call. For six months I refused to tell anyone about this, lest others should try to exert influence one way or the other.

There were two considerations on the negative side; I liked my job and the people I worked with, and had already been promoted twice. I also had the idea that missionaries just had to be too doggone pious to be interesting. I intended to get married in due time, and was determined to marry an interesting person.

Finally, I put two challenges, or tests, to God. First, to make me dissatisfied with my work, and second, to show me a girl with a wonderful personality, wisdom, common sense and a sense of humor, who would also be thrilled to be a missionary.
In just a short time, I was dating a girl who had all the qualifications, and she seemed as much in love with me as I was with her. I told her what I was considering, and she said, “Oh, I think that would be wonderful!” At the same time, I’d been contrasting my work in merchandising with what it must be like to be a minster, teaching people who never heard of Him. I decided God had met my demands, but as I put pressure on Nell she began to retreat from what I felt was very nearly a commitment. She finally told me she had decided to marry another man, a ministerial student in his senior year.
I went home to my room in the store and cried, in disappointment and anger. I accused God of tricking me, but the next morning when I awoke the truth dawned on me, most beautifully. I saw what a fool I’d been in not seeing it earlier. I said to myself: You have seven years of preparation before you can afford to get married. Nell is 21 now, loves her man and is ready to marry him when he graduates in two months. Why should you expect her to wait seven years for you? God has done what you asked; you didn’t ask him to provide now the one who, seven years hence, would go with you, he showed you one with all the qualifications who would be thrilled to be a missionary. Can’t you believe that there are others just as wonderful, or even more so?
Seven years later, when I was ready, I married a woman who far surpassed Nell, and every other woman I’ve known. We didn’t become foreign missionaries, but spent more than forty years together in the ministry.
When I first indicated to my minister, Dr. Hemphill, the certainty of my calling, he started planning with me those seven years of education. I told him of my two big problems: only three years of high school, and lack of money. He assured me that I’d already received most of the help I’d need: loans from the Presbyterian Board of Christian Education and from Davidson College, which would be cancelled if I followed my plan. There’d be no charge for tuition, which left only room and board, books, clothing, laundry and travel. He’d done part-time work for these in his seminary years at Davidson, waiting on tables and washing dishes, and some supplemental preaching.
I was accepted at Davidson, contingent on some prescribed summer study in high school English and a medical exam. The doctor recommended a tonsillectomy, which he assured wouldn’t affect my singing voice. I received it at Grady Hospital, for free. One of my friends also suggested that if I played in the band I’d get free trips to football games, so I spent almost all my free time that summer reading English books and learning the clarinet.
Before summer ended, I had one of the most embarrassing experiences of my life! I’d been asked by a friend to be an usher at his wedding. I’d never been to a formal wedding except for my sister Lucy’s, when I was five. I didn’t remember much about it, and didn’t remember my friend mentioning a rehearsal. That evening I had a date for a picnic at the base of Stone Mountain, 15 miles away. As we were eating supper, the groom arrived to whisk me away. I took my date along, but decided it was better for them to think I forgot about the rehearsal than to reveal I knew nothing about weddings!
Our church gave those of us going to college a gift party, and quite a send-off. We were met at Davidson by a reception party of upperclassmen, registered and assigned to our rooms. These were in one of two hastily-built barracks used by the Students Army Training Corps three years before. They were the cheapest and poorest housing units on campus, but quite comfortable. We freshmen were given a booklet covering general rules and Davidson songs and yells, and were introduced to the members of the student council, the YMCA cabinet, cheerleaders etc. and were given a certain amount of time to learn it all. Then, the hazing rules were explained. I’ll never forget one warning from the student body president, Buck Currie (later Rev. Armand L. Currie). “You may have been a cannon in your hometown, but you’re nothing but a pop-gun here!”
Two weeks later I came up against my only real obstruction at Davidson. The head of mathematics had checked my records and saw that I hadn’t had plane geometry, and said I’d have to drop out, because nobody could pass solid geometry without it. I stated my case, but I might as well have been talking to the Sphinx, and dropped the class. It wasn’t until two years later an additional math teacher was added to the faculty, and was helping me arrange my schedule for junior year. I mentioned that I hadn’t taken freshman math, and told him my story. He said, “I’m not supposed to know that,” a clear invitation to enroll in his class. I did, and passed with a good grade, then borrowed a plane geometry book from a local high school student, and studied it a short while. I then told the head of the department that I was ready to take an exam on plane geometry, and passed!
In 1920, there were some disadvantages, but many advantages, to being a 21-year-old college freshman. It was difficult at first to stop work, run errands, take orders and face paddling and various indignities from younger kids just one year out of high school, but I realized I’d have to be a freshman, anyway. I accepted all this with good humor, and my maturity and life purpose helped me stick with my studies. They also helped me to become a leader in the glee club, drama, and the YMCA. There was even a financial advantage! Many younger boys were still growing, and as they outgrew their clothing they sold me what I could well use for far less than it would’ve cost new.
I also secured better summer jobs. After freshman year, I sold rubberized aprons (then new on the market) door-to-door to housewives. Almost every contact was a sale! After sophomore year I was hired as Assistant Youth Minister at First Presbyterian Church in Decatur, Georgia. During my junior year, I managed a boarding house, so had no board to pay, and spent that summer singing in evangelistic meetings around Atlanta. In the middle of my senior year I directed the choir of the Presbyterian church in Lexington. North Carolina, commuting in a rented Ford, and that summer I preached on Sunday evenings at a mill chapel in Lexington and conducted Vacation Bible School at both locations.
Now for a few interesting incidents:
I was in the Glee Club, a soloist in the college quartet and a member of the Davidson College band all four years. Our first trip with the Glee Club was to Flora McDonald College. The train made a long stop at Hamlet, so we all ran to get a sandwich nearby. The service wasn’t equal to the rush of so many customers, and just as our orders were placed on the counter, the whistle blew, the train started and we all grabbed our food and ran without paying, leaving the waiter staring in helpless anguish. The next day he was equally but much more pleasantly surprised when, on our way back, we all rushed in and paid him!
When on stage at Flora McDonald, a freshman forgot his words in the middle of his solo. After an instant’s pause he called his pianist: “Frank, come here a minute.” Frank came, he pointed towards the audience and said, “Right over there is the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen in my life!”, then whispered quickly, “Okay, I’m ready now!” Frank returned to the piano, the solo was completed and the audience apparently thought the whole thing had been planned to add a comedic touch to the performance. That freshman, was me!
For Christmas I stayed with Charlie’s family. They’d just had a gas heater installed in the bathroom. I had a date with Caroline, the girl I’d picnicked at Stone Mountain with. Charlie had offered me his car, and Florence had some new sheet music she wanted me to sing while she waited for Charlie to come home from work. She called when she knew I should’ve been out of the bathroom and dressed. No answer. She sent six-year-old Charles to the bathroom and he ran back calling out, “Uncle Ted’s dead!” Florence called the neighbors, who pulled me out of the tub and started administering artificial respiration while Florence called for an ambulance. I didn’t regain consciousness until 9:30, when I saw Charlie smiling at me. To my questions he answered: “In Grady Hospital. Gassed by that new heater which was improperly installed. No, you can’t leave until tomorrow. Yes, we called Caroline.”
The clarinet I bought to play in the band was a different pitch from the other instruments, so I had to slip the joints to make it longer, and thus lower the pitch. I couldn’t read music, so I played tenor by ear instead of the melody. I got by, both at football games and in concert.
As youth minister after my sophomore year, I discovered many young men had dropped out of Sunday school and Christian Endeavor (now known as Presbyterian Youth Fellowship). The core of this group boarded at the Perry Jackson home, and others gathered there for the tennis court, pool table and piano, plus Mrs. Jackson’s hospitality.
The head pastor, Dr. McGeachy, wanted me to board there so as to try to get them back to the church, which I gladly did. Somehow they got the impression my title was Assistant Pastor, and I saw at the long dining table many glances of apprehension. It could naturally be judged that I might frown on playing tennis and pool on Sunday afternoons. They invited me, which seemed to me a test, but I was glad I’d already promised to visit and sing at an old folks’ home that afternoon. I wanted to get Dr. McGeachy’s instructions.
When I asked the minister, he snorted about those who’d criticize playing tennis on Sunday while they’d ride in cars and fuss about what other drivers were doing, so I told the fellows I’d be happy to play with them. Soon I had them gladly stopping in time to wash up, eat supper and go to Christian Endeavor with me. They confided why they’d stopped going to Sunday school (they didn’t like the teacher), and told me if I’d teach the class they’d return.
This put me in an uncomfortable spot. I went to the Sunday school superintendent and told him what was happening. He immediately made the change, and the tennis players returned.
Other exciting things happened. On my arrival, Dr. McGeachy told me of his plan to have the first Daily Vacation Bible School in our denomination. Mrs. S.H. Askew, one of the best known teachers in the South, would be the leader. I went from house to house inviting mothers of all denominations to send their children. I led music and recreation, and told Bible stories. For two weeks we had a wonderful school; it was an inspiration to everyone.
Dr. McGeachy, however, had a month’s vacation, and his secretary two weeks, so some of their duties were assigned to me. Two of the Wednesday meetings were to be conducted by the elders of the church, but the other two were mine, and I was also to preach one Sunday afternoon in a little chapel. I did fairly well with the prayer meetings, but found I couldn’t possibly talk for more than five minutes on any of the texts I’d used for sermons. In desperation I called a visiting Presbyterian minister, and to my relief he agreed to preach, if I’d sing a solo.
He wanted the solo before the sermon. I looked through the ancient Sunday school song book and the only song suitable was: “Beautiful Isle of Somewhere”. When I began singing, people began walking out! I didn’t know whether to keep singing or stop! There weren’t but about a dozen people in the chapel to begin with, and by the time I’d finished at least half were gone. The others were sniffling and wiping their eyes.
When I finished, they all came back in. I suffered all through the sermon, whatever it was, and on to the end of the service. Had there been a back door I’d have escaped through it. Finally several ladies apologized to me, explaining, “That was Papa’s favorite hymn!”
While substituting for the secretary on her vacation, I had to sit at her desk on two Monday mornings, count all the loose cash in the Sunday offerings, open each envelope and credit its contributor in a big book and finally put all the money in a big bag to take to the bank.
The first Monday, I was finishing up and had money spread all over the desk when a tramp walked in who looked like Lon Chaney in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”. I greeted him with my most engaging smile as I quickly scraped the money into the desk drawer, and asked, “Won’t you have a seat?” As it turned out, he only wanted a job, so I telephoned a man who put him to work cleaning up a vacant lot. The money got to the bank in minutes!
Toward the end of my junior year, when elections were held, I was chosen as President of the YMCA, the Glee Club and the Dramatic Club, all of which meant a lot of travel and many wonderful experiences. All the offices included expenses for travel, or I couldn’t have afforded them. Travel included the college YMCA conference in the Blue Ridge and the International Student Volunteer Convention in Indianapolis, for volunteers in the Foreign Mission Service. The latter met during Christmas vacation, and there were at least 1,000 students from colleges and universities all over the USA, plus several from other countries. Both meetings were deeply inspirational. I often ponder which college experiences were most helpful in my life, curricular or extra-curricular.

It’s only fair to mention that shortly before my graduation, I felt it important that if I was to be preaching against the evils of alcohol, I should have at least one experience with it. My brother Malcolm acquired a bottle of medicinal whiskey, and under his watchful eye I drank a considerable portion, until he told me when I’d had enough! I definitely got drunk, but had no desire to do it again!

My senior year was easy. I didn’t leave college Phi Beta Kappa, but with only three years of high school I was delighted to get a diploma, an ODK (Omicron Delta Kappa) key and high enough grades to be exempt from all senior mid-term and final exams~and Mama came all the way from Miami for my graduation!

In the fall of 1924 I entered Union Theological Seminary. I was disappointed to learn the seminary and church was unaware of the Student Volunteer Movement, so the Board of World Missions wasn’t receiving funds to send us. The seminary curriculum was also geared only towards training ministers for churches. I did have two excellent professors for Christian Education and Church History, and an excellent part-time teacher of Public Speaking, but also an extremely dogmatic, old-time theological professor, who permitted no discussion. I didn’t like my three years with him studying Hebrew and Greek, but I had to do it, to get a B.D. degree.
In the summer of 1925 I served as chaplain (preacher and counselor) at the Virginia Masonic Home for Children. There were 225 kids, ages 5 and up, including some college-aged for those who wanted to go and could succeed. Prior to my arrival they’d had only seminary students, eight months of the year, leading Sunday school in the mornings and preaching on Sunday evenings. I recruited teachers from the Richmond Presbyterian churches to fill in during the summers.
On July 4th the assistant superintendent, a former army captain, was fired, and I was asked to take on his duties~work assignments and the discipline of boys~until “a successor could be secured”. I hesitated over combining the two jobs, but the superintendent, Mr. Turner, insisted. I said my form of discipline would be a far cry from the stern military type practiced by the captain, and he said that was just what he wanted; that I could count on his full support. The boys had enthusiastically indicated their delight when he’d gotten rid of the captain, so I was confident they’d cooperate with me.
Mr. Turner made no effort to get another Assistant Superintendent. I told him I liked the work, but wasn’t ready to make a complete break with the seminary, for I might be led into the ministry. We agreed that if I took only half the course load and spread the work over two years, I’d only be absent from the Home for about four hours a day, and that when the children were in school.
He was also hoping to establish a Boy Scout troop. Would I be interested in being Scoutmaster? I agreed, but thought it also important for the high school boys to have a football team. Mr. Turner was keen about football, but very doubtful that the Board would approve the expense of equipment and coaching before they’d finished paying for their new building. I told him there were plenty of former college players at the seminary who’d do the coaching without pay, and suggested that if the Board members could see their boys playing football they’d gladly pay for the equipment.
With my salary of $150 per month plus room and board, I was willing to gamble on this proposition. I told Mr. Turner I’d be responsible for the equipment if the Board didn’t pay for it. The sporting goods store agreed to charge the equipment to me, and I secured a good quarterback and a lineman to coach three afternoons per week. A man from the store measured 25 boys for uniforms, sewed names on them and threw in a few footballs. They didn’t win any games the first season, but most of the Board members came to see them play, and quickly paid for the equipment.
I also organized a Boy Scout troop, paid for their uniforms by the same method, and had them ready for the summer Jamboree, a camp-out and competition among all 30 troops in the district on a ten-acre campsite.
I made a terrible “bobble” the first night. The camp bugler was doing a lousy job, and I had a 14-year-old trumpet player, Emory, in our Home band who was a whiz. The Scout Executive rather grudgingly agreed to have him play “Taps” after the camp bugler, and the contrast was that as between a beginner and a professional. The next call was to be “Reveille” at 6 AM, followed by inspection at 6:30 and breakfast, served from an army field kitchen. Quietness settled over the camp.
Later, I was awakened by a noisy group nearby, looked at my watch and read it as 6:10. Half awake, I exclaimed, “Great guns, that bugler didn’t rouse half the camp! Wake up, Emory, and sound “Reveille!” I marveled that he did so beautifully, after his rude awakening. Now wide awake, I took another look at my watch. Instead of 6:10, it was 2:30! I ran to all my boys in heir pup tents and told them to maintain absolute silence, lest our troop be penalized for my blunder!
The Scout Executive and his assistant dressed hurriedly, and toured the camp. As they passed I heard the former say, “It sounded as if it was from over this way, but but all these seem to be asleep.” The next morning, they gave our troop an excellent rating on neatness, but at assembly the first announcement was a mild scolding to the culprit, whoever he was: “Scouting,” he said, “includes fun along with training. I can take a joke as well as you can, I believe, but waking up 600 people at 2:30 in the morning is not a very good joke!”
In the end, our troop was third in the over-all combined activities score for what turned out to be a very successful Camporee!
Meanwhile, I’d become involved in other activities. In the spring of 1925, I started three years of vocal lessons with an excellent teacher in Richmond. Since I’d joined a Masonic lodge in Atlanta, Mr. Turner urged me to go on through the Scottish Rite to the 32nd degree. This required a lot of educational instruction, some of which was deeply spiritual in nature. Early in the course each of the 45 or so of us in the class was asked to write a definition of God. Naturally, I wrote the one in the Presbyterian “Westminster Shorter Catechism.” This was unfamiliar to everyone else, including those conducting the training. It was so far superior to all the others written that I was asked to stand and read it to all present. I’m confident this is what later led to my election as Class President, and I had a feeling of guilt for not revealing its origin, but we didn’t know the class was to be asked to elect a president.
As a 32nd degree Mason I was eligible for admission to the Mystic Order of the Shrine. Some members of the Shrine Chanters, knowing I wasn’t financially able to pay the membership fee, offered to pay it for me if I’d join the Chanters. If I did, my expenses would also be paid to attend the next two Shrine Conventions, already scheduled for Los Angeles and Miami. Oh, what a temptation!
Along with the above, Mr. Turner kept talking about changing to some other work before very long, and wanted to recommend me to the Board for his successor as Superintendent. I was taking the other classes at the seminary to complete my second year of study and, although I was determined to finish that year’s studies, I really wrestled with the decision between the ministry and the Home, which offered the opportunity to have a far-reaching influence over its continuing enrollment of over 200 youngsters.
Two months after the 1926 fall terms began, I decided I was ready and anxious to find the right girl and get married. I asked a friend who’d become well acquainted with all the young ladies in the new class, “Who’s the sweetest, smartest, best all-around personality in that class?” Without a moment’s hesitation the answer came, with intense enthusiasm, “Eloise Knight!” I quickly made arrangements for an introduction.
My first impression was quite encouraging. She looked and talked like the dream girl I’d never met, but had longed for. I made a date for the theatre, and afterwards we dated regularly until the Christmas holidays took her home to Clearwater, Florida.
Our correspondence was encouraging. I met her at the train, and tested her by stopping at the theatre without asking for a date. She asked me what I was doing and I said, “Getting tickets.” I knew she was the kind of girl who wouldn’t be taken for granted unless I was the right man, and when I got by with that, I was pretty sure we were “on our way”! Soon we were engaged, and planned an August wedding! Ah-hah, just seven years after Nell chose the older man, and when I was ready to be married, I was provided with the most wonderful bride!
Meanwhile, everything had been going well at the Masonic Home. Our football team had won half their games, which we considered excellent for their second year of play. I had one more project I wanted to start before our wedding~a swimming pond.
The Home owned quite a bit of acreage, mostly devoted to farm and pasture, but in a wooded area 200 yards behind the cluster of buildings, there was a small stream fed by two or three springs. I believed that twenty husky high school boys and I, by removing a few trees and a lot of dirt, and building a good dam, could build an acceptable swimming pond.
Their work on the pond would have to go a little at a time, because these boys all had other work to do, on the farm and dairy. There was also school, football, baseball, band practice. Even if it required a year or more, though, and another year to fill and settle, it’d be worth it.
After determining the proposed boundaries, and two months’ work, the next job was mine alone~blasting the hard soil loose with dynamite. I borrowed an electric detonator, bought dynamite, caps and plenty of insulated wire. I only had two days before the departure date for our wedding. Exploding one charge at a time worked well, but time was running out, so I decided to explode the last three charges together.
It was a mistake. There were only two upheavals of soil. One charge either didn’t explode, or was set in wet, soft soil which absorbed the force, and I had to find out which. I couldn’t leave it in the ground, unexploded, to be dug up by the boys.
Naturally, I also preferred not to be a victim, which I might be if I used heavy tools. I carefully scraped with a shovel until I was about two feet above the dynamite. From there I considered it wise to use a big kitchen fork and spoon, and to be very cautious even with these. I finally found proof the charge had exploded in soft dirt, and it was safe for me to leave.
The wedding was set for late afternoon on the beautiful lawn of the lovely George Williams home at Nacoochee, Georgia, where Eloise’s family was spending the summer, and where Eloise had taught in a mountain school for three years after graduating from Agnes Scott College. Except for the wedding party, I was among strangers, so when a devoted former pupil of hers, Albert McClure, suggested I give him my car key so he could hide it from pranksters, I was wary. Eloise assured me it would be fine, so I agreed.
The wedding was perfectly beautiful. At the reception afterward, I was delighted to see Joby Rossee and his wife, who had driven up from my home town of Eatonton, Georgia, and two of my brothers, Charlie and Malcolm, with their wives from Atlanta.
After the reception Eloise’s brother, Robert, spirited us away in his car, skillfully eluding the pranksters with Albert McClure’s help. When we arrived the key was not in the spare tire cover, nor anywhere to be found! A friend had told Eloise to remember the first words of her husband when the two were alone, for they might be both surprising and interesting. Those words were, “We’re in an awful fix now!”
Bob had rushed back to block any pranksters who might have gotten by Albert, so there was nothing we could do but sit on our suitcases while daylight faded. Eloise still assured me that Albert wouldn’t fail us, though, and about twenty minutes later he came running through the woods with the key, saying the pranksters had almost caught him and he was afraid they’d find the car and the key!
With a big hug of gratitude to Albert, we hurried away to our first overnight stop at Clayton, Georgia. Afterwards, Dr. and Mrs. Sloop had invited us to spend our honeymoon in their guest cottage at Crossnore, North Carolina, in he heart of the Blue Ridge mountains. It was a perfect arrangement; comfortable, completely private and close enough to the village for convenient shopping. After a week there, we drove up through the Shenandoah Valley, visiting Natural Bridge, Luray Caverns and other interesting places, then down to Richmond and the Masonic Home. Eloise had been there with me on a number of Sunday evenings, and was joyfully welcomed.
We each had another year in school, and together we decided on the ministry rather than the Masonic Home. Our first year together we lived at the Home while I continued my work and Eloise commuted to school.
A memoir implying everything was always happy is neither complete, nor honest. There are those who, either thoughtlessly or intentionally, hurt others, including me and Eloise. It also seems wise to note that, however much one may love their church, it is and always has been composed of people. We who enter the ministry must, as people, expect personal difficulties and even injustice, and try not to harbor bitterness in our hearts. We, more than most, should promote peace and justice where they don’t exist. It’d be folly to always expect success, but in our encounters with shoddiness and evil actions it’s possible, and profitable, to learn how to promote both peace and good policy.
We’d planned to stay at the Masonic Home through the summer of 1928, then move to the seminary for my senior year. With my salary of $150 per month plus room and board, the two of us could save enough for our expenses, but the chairman of the presbytery’s Home Mission Committee made a request.
I was asked to serve as supply minister in a little Home Mission Church about 25 miles from Richmond, full time during the summer at $125 per month and then $50 during the school term.
I knew he was a good man and an experienced, hard working minister, but I shouldn’t have assumed he’d also be a good committee chairman. It didn’t occur to me that he would ask a young man with a wife to take a church with no manse and no provision for rent at such a small salary, and I assumed that if there were a difficult situation such as a division in the congregation he’d know about it and tell me. On both of these important matters, he turned out to be incompetent and shoddy as a chairman.
When we arrived, we found the church had no manse, and his committee had not secured an apartment nor provided payment of rent. Eloise and I spent hours searching and finally took a tiny, run-down, upstairs apartment at $40 per month. The Clerk of the Session (the number one man) invited us for dinner the first Sunday (we noticed he wasn’t at church) and told us he and his wife would not be attending because the other members were angry at him; however, they’d continue to contribute.
As we made our first round of calls, we got a cool reception. I began to feel like the Israelites in the wilderness, longing for the “fleshpot” of the Masonic Home! One very frank woman told us as we were leaving, “We hope we’ll learn to love you as much as we love Dr. Porter.” This was our first clue, but we didn’t want to ask questions, only to gain their trust. In their own time, they’d confide in us.
In the next couple weeks various churchgoers began to tell us the whole story. Dr. Porter, a Presbyterian minister now in charge of the American Bible Society office in Richmond, had ministered to them for six years and they all loved him dearly, except for Mr. Williams. This man owned a profitable business, had more money and education than everyone else, and insisted on “running things”. Dr. Porter insisted on Presbyterian polity, with Session meetings, Deacon meetings and, when the occasion demanded, Congregational meetings. As for the Superintendent of Home Missions, a fellow named Curtis, he was supposedly under the authority of the presbytery’s Committee on Home Missions, but was really just a “lackey” of Mr. Williams. Both resented Dr. Porter, and these two men were the ones who requested of the presbytery a young man to take Porter’s place.
Here is where the shoddiness of the Home Mission Committee became apparent. When these men bypassed the Session, the Congregation and the presbytery’s own Home Mission Committees with their request, the Chairman of the Committee should’ve ruled the request “Out of Order”. He should’ve promised that his committee would make a thorough study of the situation and report back to the presbytery. Instead, he let the irregularity pass, came to me and asked me to take over the church.
We went on with the pastoral calling, including the Williamses. At the end of the first month, though we economized in every way possible, our expenses totaled $108, and our first check was for $100, not $125. I immediately notified the Chairman and he promised correction. I also told the Scotts and they said we could board with them. We moved into an upstairs room, under a tin roof, paid regular board and Eloise helped Mrs. Scott with the housework.
Toward the end of July, Mr. Scott told us Mrs. Scott’s health was not good and suggested we find another place. The Mauneys took us in. For the other two months our checks were for $125, but we never got the $25 owed to us, nor any apology or explanation. All through the summer we never saw nor heard from Mr. Curtis, and wondered why. We later decided he must’ve resented the Chairman bypassing him and employing me.
Back at the seminary we, with two other couples, had rooms on the third floor of the President’s home and took meals in the seminary dining room. Eloise and one of the other wives got jobs as clerks at a department store. Eloise was an unusually personable and talented young lady, and was most gracious in selling what a customer wanted if it was in stock. She realized her talents didn’t extend to persuading someone to buy a substitute they didn’t want, however, and decided to resign. Fortunately Mr. Turner at the Masonic Home needed a teacher for special students and slow learners. He knew she would be good at that, telephoned her and she happily commuted, which certainly helped us get by later on when my $50 stipend ceased.
Among those who enrolled in seminary that fall was a converted Jew who for a number of years had been an active Presbyterian minister. He came for further study, toward the degree of Doctor of Theology. We all liked him and I invited him to go with Eloise and me to preach at Colonial Heights Church. Our people liked him so much they suggested that I invite him to preach for the evangelistic meeting early in November. I did, and he agreed. The next Sunday I announced his acceptance and the Session chose the week most convenient for the meeting.
At long last I was to have the “privilege”(?) of meeting my “boss”, Mr. Curtis. What a brief meeting! He hailed me on the seminary campus, having had someone point me out, I assume. No introduction, no handshake, no questions about how my work was going, no reference to my friend. He just stated, “I’m going to do the preaching at the evangelistic meeting at Colonial Heights”, then turned and walked away. The following Sunday I called a meeting of the Session after the morning service and reported what he had said. They exploded, each declaring: “If Curtis does the preaching I’ll not set foot in the church!”
Meanwhile, one of the seminary professors had become Chairman of the Home Mission Committee, and I reported the whole story of the developments in the church. He told me, “Go ahead with your plans. I’ll take care of Curtis.” The next Sunday I announced this. Since I was in school and could do little to spread the word, the congregation must have spread it enthusiastically among themselves, for the church was filled to the brim every evening, with ten or twelve standing in the rear.
The next time I heard from Mr. Curtis, two months later, was similar to the first. He hailed me on the campus in January and said: “I’m going to preach at Colonial Heights next Sunday. You can take the day off.”
“Don’t you want me to go with you?” I asked. I didn’t have any desire to go with him, nor the slightest belief that he would consent. I was being mischievous, trying to force him into betraying at least a hint of malice or a desire for vengeance. “No, I said for you to take the day off!” I wished I could be there in concealment, however!
Incidentally, other students who had served under him had dubbed him “Pope Curtis”. I was quickly learning why!
Monday he telephoned me to meet him, at a place insulated from any activity on campus. Characteristically, he was abrupt. “The people at Colonial Heights want your resignation, and I suggest you give it next Sunday, effective immediately.”
“But,” I protested. “I know those people love me. I have a right to be given a reason.” “I’d rather not discuss that,” he said. After more insistence on my part, he finally said, “Well, for one thing, they say you didn’t devote full time to the work; that you were employed part-time at a sporting-goods store.” I asked, “Did you contact the manager or anyone connected with the only sporting-goods store in Petersburg?” “No, I just took their word, and I don’t care to prolong this discussion.”
“Well, I do!”, I said, “If you had contacted anyone connected with the store, he would’ve told you he’d never heard of Ted Jones!’ “I will not discuss this any further!”, he said, “You resign next Sunday!” He then wheeled around and walked to his car.
I talked to the President of the Seminary. He actually wiped tears from his eyes and said, “It hurts me for anyone to mistreat one of my boys,” but he advised me to resign. “Soon you’ll be requested to visit churches seeking a minister, and you’ll want to accept a call from one of them.” But I saw evil, and shoddiness that should be exposed and overcome. According to Presbyterian polity, I shouldn’t resign to the congregation because they didn’t employ me. Curtis couldn’t fire me, for he also didn’t employ me. The only way my relationship to that church could ethically be severed was by my resignation to be offered, or my dismissal to be made, to the Home Mission Committee. All of us had erred in not following Church polity, clearly stated in the Book of Church Order. However, I was the winner, for after the service the following Sunday, I was greeted with this petition;
“We, the undersigned members of the Colonial Heights Presbyterian Church, do respectfully urge the Reverend W. Ted Jones to reconsider his resignation snd to continue as our minister.”
This was signed by every member present. The paper was passed around and signed during my sermon. I never noticed the activity, and my sermon no doubt received very little attention. Had it been presented to me before I left the pulpit, I’d have told them what Curtis told me, and would’ve continued three more months in order to, hopefully, get all concerned to look at the Book of Church Order and straighten it all out. Perhaps the Committee would’ve brought back Dr. Porter. I went to see Mr. Williams, but he said, “I feel so ill today I just don’t feel like talking to anyone.” Somebody must have later straightened things out for the young man who followed me there, though, for he later told me they had no trouble in the church while he was there.
Lessons to be learned from this:
Encourage only outstanding youth to enter church service, never “misfits”, viz. Curtis.
Know and follow the Book of Church Order. The Presbyterian Church lists four steps in a divine call to the ministry:
The call of the Holy Spirit
The recommendation of the Church Session
Examination and approval by the Presbytery
A call of one or more churches to be a minister
Further, a youth minister must answer some questions regarding his or her key responsibilities:
Has there been undue pressure by a parent or other person?
A check with the school on his or her diligence or deportment
Must have the ability to explain in detail the responsibilities involved
Does one honestly believe he or she is already in the process of becoming, and has the ability and will to become, such a minister as a layman would choose?
Don’t “pass the buck”. To do so makes it very difficult for the Session, the Presbytery Committee and the Presbytery to turn a minister down. To a Presbytery I would also urge: If a person by some default squeezes through but is not wanted by a church as a minister, please do NOT make him or her Superintendent of Home Missions or Executive Secretary!
Before graduating from the seminary, I visited and accepted a call to two small Home Mission churches near Huntington, West Virginia. Since the seminary school term ended three weeks before the end of public school, I had to leave Eloise at the Masonic Home. In Milton there was a manse, and we’d shipped our living room furniture, which was already there. I bought bedroom furniture, slept in the manse and boarded with some church members. I had a “back-log” of sermons, so I spent most of my time calling and getting acquainted with members in Milton and Barboursville, nine miles apart. I was so lonely I wrote to Eloise and told her I’d meet her halfway, and bought a train ticket only to Lewisburg, West Virginia. Was I glad to see her!
The people were very nice to us, but there were few in our churches and very few young people and children. The towns were not growing, and we soon realized there was no challenge. In the fall we received a letter from Mrs. McLeod in Bartow, Florida, saying their minister had left, and asking us to consider coming to their church. She was a long-time friend of Eloise’s mother, and her daughter Mary Stewart had been Eloise’s roommate for four years in college. I wrote her that I couldn’t consider leaving these churches after only six months, but wished her letter had come before I’d accepted the call.
Eloise’s sister Evelyn visited us in the fall and, when our people learned she was to be married December 29th, knew we’d want to be present. They asked if we wouldn’t rather take our vacation in Florida in the winter, saying, “We might be snowed in then anyway.” Of course, we gladly accepted. The McLeods were invited to the wedding and, believing we’d be there, got the church elders to agree for her to invite me to conduct the Communion service at the Bartow church on the first Sunday in January, the Sunday after the wedding. We knew her real purpose was to have the congregation meet us and join her in attempting to persuade us to move to Bartow.
The groom in the approaching wedding was “Mac” Richards (Rev. Dr. J. McDowell Richards). His father, pastor of the Davidson Presbyterian Church and a bible teacher in college when I was there, was to conduct the marriage service. All the groomsmen were Columbia Seminary classmates of Mac’s who had been preaching for several years. The wedding was to be in the family church in Safety Harbor on Tuesday evening. All these preachers were present for morning worship the Sunday prior to the wedding, and the family had assumed that, according to custom, their pastor had invited one of them, perhaps Dr. Richards, Sr., to preach.
Eloise, her mother and I arrived at exactly eleven o’clock, already slightly late. As we walked from our car we expected to hear the congregation singing the doxology. Instead, all was quiet and the pastor was standing at the door. He greeted Mrs. Knight and Eloise and then said, “Hello, Ted,” and grasping my arm announced, “You’re preaching for us today.” I remonstrated as firmly as possible, but he tightened his grip and continued pushing me down the aisle. By this time practically every set of eyes in the crowded church were on us. Either I must preach or a most embarrassing and confusing situation would follow. My voice was mute, but my heart screamed frantically, “Oh, Lord! PLEASE give me that sermon I preached in West Virginia last Sunday!” I kept my mouth shut during the doxology, the Lord’s Prayer, the hymns and responsive reading, trying to keep my mind open to this.
As the minister announced the second hymn, to be followed by the a scripture reading, I stepped to the pulpit and tossed a quick glance at that long line of preachers in hopes they might pray for me! While they sang, I thumbed the pages of that huge Bible and, just as they reached the last chorus, found what I was searching for. I read Romans 5:1-8, and was amazed at the way the last week’s sermon kept coming to my mind and voice. It felt like a miracle!
The next Sunday in Bartow, I was prepared with notes for a Communion meditation and the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. We were impressed with the attendance at both Sunday school and morning worship, more than we’d had at both our little churches in West Virginia put together, with many more young people and children. Bartow had a population of 5,000 and was rapidly growing, while Milton and Barboursville had about 1,500 each and few prospects for growth.
Eloise and I both felt an intangible something that seemed to say, “these are the sort of people you will feel more relaxed and comfortable with.” The elders met with me informally that afternoon, and I let them know we’d like to come to Bartow, but that we couldn’t in good conscience leave our churches for at least another six months. I advised them to call for someone else, but they didn’t follow my advice. Six months later, we moved.
The move, itself, was quite a story. First came a bit of questioning, which I expected. “If God had called you to West Virginia, isn’t it strange for you to be leaving so soon?” My answer was that God had called me to be a minister, and out of five invitations I’d chosen theirs. Had Bartow called me first, I’d have gone there because it presented a greater challenge and opportunity, and incidentally, the salary was the same. They agreed, reluctantly, to let me go.
We traded in our old car for a new one, had our furniture crated and hauled to the railroad station, and were ready at 4 PM on the day we were to leave. We stopped at the station and I signed the bills of lading, then a bomb fell on us! The agent said, “I’m sorry, Ted, but the railroads have a new ruling since you came out here. We can’t ship used furniture collect.” “How much?” “Seventy dollars.”
In the car, I explained our situation to my wife, now 8 months pregnant. “We have two alternatives. It’d be terribly embarrassing to ask Mr. Hall to loan us money under these circumstances, but I know he’d do it. We can also drive on and make a brief visit with my brother Malcolm. He’s in Greenville, which is about 300 miles from here; we have $5.63, for supper, breakfast and a night’s lodging, and our tank is full of gas.” As quick as a flash, she said, “Let’s go!”
This was 1930, when our lodging would cost about $1 each. We could get a good supper for 75¢ and breakfast for 50¢. In Bluefield, after breakfast, I inquired as to the best route to Greenville. When we reached our car, a highway patrolman was waiting for us! “Oh, oh!,” I said, “what have we done now?” He asked, “Where are you people going?” “To Florida.” “Well, don’t go through Virginia. We have a dealer’s war going on, and if they catch you with that West Virginia dealer’s tag, they’ll make you buy a Virginia plate.” I explained our situation, and he gave me one of his cards, then told me the name of the Virginia patrolman then on duty. “Tell him, if he stops you, that I said to let you by and I’ll do as much for him sometime.” I was really hoping to be stopped, because I wanted to see the officer’s face when he saw Eloise!~but we saw no officer.
We made it, had a pleasant overnight visit and left with enough money for the rest of the trip. I took Eloise to Safety Harbor to stay with her family and close to the doctor in Clearwater until after the birth of her baby, then went to Bartow and plunged into my work, sleeping at the manse and boarding at Mrs. McLeod’s with several other regular boarders.
I was disappointed at the lack of enthusiasm, but Mrs. McLeod explained that the Depression had hit Florida hard a year before, and the reason the former minister left was that they got behind with his salary. Some of the other members had opposed calling another minister, but Mrs. McLeod said brightly, “But you and Eloise are just the ones to revive the interest and courage of our people! Let’s pray together!”
I was glad she didn’t ask me to pray first! My, how that woman could pray! She’d been praying for that church a long time, and now she was sure God had sent Eloise and me to answer her prayer, and her words rang with praise and thanks, plus words of assurance and faith that God would lead us into the hearts of all the people. My prayer began with gratitude to God for Mrs. McLeod, whose faith had never faltered, and her faith in us. I promised to remember that God had led us to Bartow and that we’d follow his guidance. I prayed we’d find in every difficulty a challenge and opportunity.
I knew my first duty was to get acquainted, in a spirit of joyful anticipation. I remembered some advice from seminary school: first feed your sheep, then you can lead them. As their pastor I felt I should feed them with a sincere love for them as persons. I wouldn’t presume to pray for anyone unless they clearly wanted me to, as I’d need be accepted first as a friend, before expecting acceptance as a pastor.
A person must be in dire straits to want a stranger to pray for him, but of course the seriously ill, elderly or shut-ins would be prayed for from the start. From the pulpit, I needed to “feed the sheep” the word of God. The “food” had to be nutritious and palatable, especially in the first year. I didn’t have to make it nutritious, only to find the recipe. My job was to be selective, to feed them what they needed most. This began with love. God’s love.
So began my ministry in Bartow.
Our first baby was due around the end of July. Every Sunday evening after church I drove to Safety Harbor to be with Eloise, returning Monday evening. The last Sunday in July was the 27th. I told Eloise I’d stay at home all day except church and meal hours, and made sure she had the phone numbers for the manse and Mrs. McLeod’s boarding house. No call came. After evening service I hurried over and, when I arrived, I seemed to see a radiance in her face more beautiful than I’d ever seen before.
At 4 AM on Monday, she wakened me and calmly said, “It’s time to dress and go.” I was amazed at her poise; however, I’d never seen her afraid, and as long as she lived I don’t remember ever seeing her afraid. At about 8 PM a nurse brought out a little baby girl and said to me, “She’s your baby, take her.” She let me hold my baby for a minute. What a thrill! Then she said, “Come see your wife. She and baby are both fine.”
After the kisses and hugs, I told mother and baby I surely did appreciate their timing. Just perfect, and weren’t we glad our baby was a Floridian! Oh, what a happy day! I telephoned the McLeods, and they put a notice in the paper and spread the word by telephone. When I returned to Bartow, our baby had brought about some encouraging changes in our members. Congratulations poured in, conversation picked up, and presents for the baby started coming. One thing that bothered us was that while there were four doctors in Bartow, there was no pediatrician. That was soon taken care of. I missed a meeting of the Rotary Club and visited the Lakeland club to keep up my record of attendance, where I met a former Davidson College friend who was a pediatrician. He asked if I had any children and as quickly as I answered he said, “You bring that baby to me as soon as convenient. I’ll give her a complete examination and the necessary immunizations.” We did. He refused payment and added emphatically, “And that applies to any more in the future, plus regular check-ups, and you be sure about those regular check-ups!”
Now Eloise could attend meetings free from worry about our baby, and we could begin planning strategy together for our church. Its needs were numerous and easy to list, but we wanted to rank them in the most favorable sequence. We were distressed that the women were divided into two groups, which we called the Marys and the Marthas. The Marys were loyal to the Women’s Auxiliary, which emphasized Bible study, prayer and missions. The Marthas chose the name “Earnest Workers”, and focused on the local church. They promoted church suppers, cake sales, rummage sales etc. It seemed obvious that as long as the women were sharply divided we couldn’t make much progress.
Eloise, being a woman of wisdom, came up with an answer. Those whose main interests were in what would be generally termed “spiritual life” should make the first move toward unity. She suggested to Mrs. McLeod that, in view of the circumstances, all members of the Auxiliary should join the Earnest Workers. After the first shock, Mrs. McLeod saw the wisdom of the suggestion and together she and Eloise talked with Mrs. Wallace, who was president of the Auxiliary and admired by all the women. It was a great but pleasant surprise to the Earnest Workers to receive the request, and this union turned out to be just what Eloise predicted, both an essential first move and the one which led to unity on other matters in a natural sequence. The other needs Eloise and I listed (privately) in the following order:
Social activities to strengthen unity: picnics, parties etc.
An evangelistic meeting with an interesting, well-loved preacher
A supper for men, with a dynamic speaker, music and fun
Elections of more elders, deacons and teachers
A complete remodeling of the church building
A church school building more suitable to our needs
Remodeling of the manse
The unity of the Marys and Marthas prepared the way for a Presbyterian Church picnic at a nearby lake, owned by a phosphate company and used by their employees, some of whom were church members. The company gave us exclusive use for the day. Kissenger Springs, similar to Silver Springs but smaller, was a favorite local swimming spot, but we’d be just part of the crowd there, which would defeat our purpose. At this lake, we could plan and conduct activities, have a swimming and diving competition, some playground activities and a picnic dinner, just for Presbyterians to have some fun together.
Next we had a party at the manse for adults. I’m sure all were surprised that we should attempt such a huge party at the little old manse, but we pulled it off. Someone years before had built a porch across the front and down both sides of the house, which made the house awfully dark in the daytime. We intended to remove the side porches someday, but for this evening they were a treasure. I installed wiring and overhead lights all around, then borrowed 15 card tables and 60 chairs from Whidden’s Funeral Home.
Our entertainment was limited to one game, but it was one which continued for a long time without any lapse in interest~a progressive alphabet game. On each table was a stack of 26 plain white cards, each bearing a letter of the alphabet, all shuffled and letter side down. Eloise and I made up a story of love, marriage and adventure, with blanks for insertion by players at each table of a word beginning with the letter of the next card turned over, each of the four players rotating the turning of the cards. The person who first called a word kept the card. When the alphabet had run through, the two with the most cards progressed, and the cards reshuffled. For a week afterward, people were asking, “What in the world was going on at your home the other night? I haven’t heard so much hilarity in years!”
Soon after this, Mrs. Albinson had a party for young people at her home. She had gala decorations and a variety of lively games, proving that a church youth party, with a little planning, could be a whale of a lot of fun. This was the first time I’d seen a hostess invest a little money and a lot of imagination for a church party.
Our next project was for a week of preaching in September with a well-known and much-loved minister, Dr. U.S. Gordon of Gainesville. We knew that for six evenings, Sunday through Friday, he could stir our people with interesting, reasonable and moving sermons, and he accepted. Meanwhile, I’d read in a church paper of the Belmont Covenant Tithing Plan that had worked wonders in a small and discouraged church in Roanoke, Virginia. I spoke to Eloise and we decided to try it, but not yet; we’d keep this as our secret until 1932.
We needed more men in the church, and the ones we had we needed to become more active. We decided to ask our women to take on two projects; the first to prepare a good supper, free, for at least 50 men, including our inactives and others not members of any church but, hopefully, prospects for ours. The ladies would arrange for the use of the Woman’s Club building, and I’d assume responsibility for attendance, a dynamic speaker and musical entertainment. This would be in November. The other project was to serve dinner to the presbytery at their spring 1932 meeting, but not for free, for it was customary for presbyteries to hold one-day meetings at their own expense~and if we must pay for the Masonic Hall or had any other expenses, that should be included in the charge for the dinner. They agreed to both requests.
I sent some letters to arrange speakers for our events and one to the Belmont Presbyterian Church. All responded favorably. With our September and November programs planned, we left on August 1st for our first vacation since arriving in Bartow, to Montreat, North Carolina.
Our 1930 Chevrolet wasn’t equipped with a trunk, so I had one made of wood and securely fastened it on the back, but I foolishly didn’t put a padlock on it! Eloise’s mother, Mrs. Knight, had already gone to Montreat by train, but left some of her clothing for us to bring. At our last overnight stop, her clothjing and most of our baby Roberta’s clothing was stolen. We were at a tourist home near Brevard, and when we arrived some men were working on a car; I was sure they were the thieves. I drove to the sheriff’s office and urged them to go at once and recover the clothing, but they said it’d be better to wait until the men were sure we were gone, for until then they’d probably have the clothing hidden somewhere. They assured me they’d take care of it and have the men arrested in a couple days. Three days later I drove the 50 miles back to Brevard, with only a shred of hope, and was put off again. They had my name and address in Montreat, but I never heard from them again. We did have a wonderful stay in Montreat, but one of my rules since then has been, if you’re ever in trouble away from home, go to the nearest Presbyterian minister.
Back in Bartow, the week of preaching by Dr. Gordon proved to be all we had hoped for, and Bob McLeod, the Presbyterian minister in Winter Haven, came over each night and led the singing. He’d been a close friend to both of us in college, and our teamwork added to the interest and effectiveness. At the fall meeting of the presbytery, many of the ministers were interested in learning that the Belmont Church minister was to speak at our spring meeting, for they’d also heard of the Belmont tithing plan.
Much of my time was now devoted to inviting men to the men’s supper. Most of them had heard the speaker or heard of him from others, and I invited 95 men, but told them I needed a definite “yes” or “no” so that the ladies could prepare. Besides our regular active men, 47 promised to come, and did. We had a mini-orchestra and a men’s quartet for entertainment before the address. Our speaker delivered a dynamic talk on “Churchmanship”, and what it meant to a man, his home, his family and the community as well as the church, liberally sprinkled with humor.

After the address I thanked the speaker, the ladies and the musicians, then said, “I’m sure you men realize there’s a Presbyterian motive here. The Bartow Presbyterian Church is throbbing with enthusiasm, and growing in numbers, too. I’d like every one of you to become an active member, and I’ll be calling on each of you personally as soon as possible. I want you all to say “yes!’”. We didn’t get all 47, but we got about half pretty soon, and a few more later.
At the 1932 spring meeting of the presbytery in Bartow, the Roanoke minister told of the Belmont Covenant Tithing Plan. Though he’d told of it many times before, he hadn’t lost any of his enthusiasm, nor did he bore us with too many details. His happiness over what the experiment had meant to individuals and families, as well as his church, was impressive. He spoke for about twenty minutes. A number of men asked questions, and many of the ministers and elders were eager to try the plan in their churches. He had written me that he would expect only his expenses for the service, but after dinner, when he’d gone to his hotel room to rest, the presbytery voted to pay them plus a reasonable honorarium, and I received congratulations and thanks for persuading him to come.
That night almost all our members were at the church, ready to try the plan. Only a few questions were asked before someone made the motion and asked if I had a copy of the agreement to sign. Since Eloise and I had been looking forward to this moment for eight months, I of course had a paper ready, in contract form. The order of signing was: the minister, the elders, the deacons, the members, then any other persons not members but wanting to participate. Tithing began the Sunday after all, or practically all, had signed, and lasted thirteen weeks. All receipts were to be deposited in a special building fund account. After thirteen weeks, all who wished to cease tithing were free to do so. From then on I carried the paper wherever I went, so I’d have it ready if I met anyone who hadn’t yet signed.
Everything went as planned. Eloise and I made a secret, private list of members who hadn’t signed on the night of the meeting. We started with the names of those we were sure would sign and continued through those who seemed most doubtful. Of course, the further we went on the secret list, the more names the doubtful ones saw on the paper. One of the most doubtful eventually called me back and asked to sign. I don’t recall but one member who declined. After a few weeks one of the men at the bank exclaimed, “Where in the world are you Presbyterians getting all this money?!”
Mr. Albinson, the most experienced builder in Bartow, drew up plans, and the committee set the evening of October 17, 1932 to sign the contract. Eloise was expecting our second child, and at about 5 PM called the doctor. He examined her and, in effect, said, “not today”. After supper I went to the meeting, and Dr. Hargrove joined his three buddies for their weekly bridge session. About 8 PM our next-door neighbor and close friend Virginia Gallemore called. “I’m taking Eloise to the hospital! I’ve called Dr. Hargrove, and stuffed a few things in a suitcase! Pick it up on the side porch, and hurry!”
The doctor finished his hand, then arrived just in time to catch the baby, another girl. Nobody blamed him; babies aren’t supposed to come barging into the world like that. However, the next time we called, also on his bridge night, he threw down his cards and sped to the hospital!
I only missed about half-an-hour of the committee meeting. Not much demolition was necessary, just the lean-to Sunday school rooms, the old bell tower and the old, ramshackle windows.
During construction, we held our meetings in the Masonic Hall. When actual construction began, we had a ceremonial corner-stone laying and when it was completed, a dedication service. Someone mentioned that this was really a remodeling, and questioned the propriety of the observance, but this was such a milestone in the life, growth and spirit of the congregation that we believed the celebration was appropriate. The Reverend Doctor Henry Louis Smith, one of the four famed Presbyterian Brothers and an outstanding leader, was our speaker, and the church was packed for this triumphant occasion. Needless to say, Eloise and I were mighty happy after 2-1/2 years of wonderful cooperation by the Bartow Presbyterians.
The church building was redesigned to face the busier street and set in the middle of the lot, about 16 feet from the sidewalk. A beautiful white travertine stone front , 20 feet wide, reached above the pinnacle of the roof, and huge, heavy double doors, extra high, swung wide. The rest of the building was surrounded with a brick veneer, the inside walls covered with knotty wood paneling and modern windows and pews installed. At the rear, adjoining the sanctuary, an even larger building was erected, forming a “T”, with variously sized rooms for children’s departments, adult and youth classes, a minister’s study and office. To avoid going into debt, this building was left unfinished inside, but usable. Later, brick veneer, inside walls, and doors were added to complete the structure, which served for some thirty years before the continued growth of the congregation brought more changes.
The thirteen-week period of the Belmont Tithing Plan had long since ended. On the thirteenth Sunday, I’d done what the Belmont minister had done. Whether to continue tithing now was not a corporate decision (if the others will, I will). It was now an individual decision (whether others do or not, I will). Having thus stated the situation, I suggested that anyone who had discovered that tithing had enhanced their spiritual life and wished to continue, to say so. Quite a few did, and in so doing they encouraged others, so the money kept coming in. The manse was remodeled, and the Sunday school building completed.

Since these memoirs are being written at the behest of our children, it’s high time to recall some interesting memories about them.
On the same vacation were our clothing was stolen from the trunk were a couple other incidents. We were nearing a small town in southern Georgia, where we’d planned our first overnight stop, when darkness overtook us. Our headlights had shorted out. One-year-old Roberta was in the back seat, asleep, so I reduced my speed. It was a very dark night and we couldn’t see to the front at all, so each of us leaned out the window to see the edge of the pavement. After a few minutes I stopped, and Eloise asked why. I said I had a strange feeling there was something in the road, though neither of us could see a thing. She pulled the flashlight from the glove box, and we saw a cow standing broadside in the road, calmly chewing her cud. Holding the flashlight out the window, I slowly drove up to the cow, and actually had to nudge her with the bumper before she moved.
At the little hotel that night Eloise asked for milk for the baby. The proprietor brought her a pint bottle, and Eloise asked him if it was pasteurized. He hesitated, then said, “Well, I reckon you’d call it half-and-half.” “What do you mean?”, she asked. “The man feeds his cows, but all day long he turns them out to pasture,” he said. Eloise, with his permission, went to his kitchen and pasteurized the milk herself, before his wondering eyes.
In those days, psychologists said, “Don’t rock babies and sing them to sleep. Don’t cuddle them much, either. Put them on the bed and leave them.” We ignored the psychologists, and have never regretted it. Now they’re saying,”Babies are in constant motion before birth, so it’s wise to rock them, and they need lots of cuddling, because physical contact is the best evidence to them that they are cared for and loved.”
Sometimes it’s difficult to get a little child to eat. Georgia, our elderly colored nurse, found a way to make ‘em eat, and enjoy it! She’d hold up a spoonful of oatmeal and say, “This is a frog (or turtle, or alligator)”. They’d laugh, and soon the food was all gone!
Among our close neighbors were an elderly couple, Mr. and Mrs. Orr, whom our children called Orr and Aunt Mamie. Orr enjoyed telling how Roberta once insisted he should sing to her. Sitting in his lap, she looked up and said, “Sing, Orr!” He’d never been a good singer, and many years had passed since he’d tried, but she insisted. “SING, Orr!” After a few grunting sounds, she yelled, “HUSH, Orr!”
Roberta started singing early. From ages 5 to 9 she stood on a box in the choir loft at every infant baptism and closed the service with “I Think When I Read That Sweet Story of Old”. She began piano lessons at age five, and later we often had to stop her from practicing and get her outside for some physical exercise. In her teens she attended Transylvania Music Camp in Brevard, North Carolina, and for one summer the Trapp Family Music Camp in Vermont, all paid for by a friend until she was old enough to be a camp counselor. In college she majored in voice, and then landed a job as music director for “Horn in the West”, an outdoor drama in Boone, North Carolina. In the fall of that year she married Ned Austin, the star of the show, who portrayed Daniel Boone.
Carol was “the quickie” of our family. Born quickly, she continued to be quick about everything. Quick to cry, quick to stop, quick to get angry and quick to get over it. Quick to go to bed and to get up, quick to respond or react. She was quick in school and to learn how to do things with her hands. She walked before she was nine months old, and played a little song on a piano in a recital before a large crowd when she was five. She learned quickly how to make doll clothes, and then her own. Whenever we planned a trip, she was the first to get her belongings packed. On the second occasion our car lights shorted out, she was out of the car the instant it stopped, before anyone else.
Once she reacted instantly, but for lack of knowledge the wrong way. A neighbor boy named Marvin playfully waved a firebrand in our backyard and a spark ignited Carol’s long blonde hair. Fortunately, both parents were in the house and Carol ran. Screaming to the door. Roberta was also screaming: “Don’t run! Lie down and I’ll put it out!” Carol didn’t heed her. I met her at the door, threw my coat over her and smothered the fire. The only damage was an almost imperceptible loss of a few hairs and a very small skin burn. She ran so fast the fire couldn’t catch her!
Carol has a knack for knowing what to do and how do it quickly, without any lost motion be it physical, social, moral or spiritual. She inherited much of this from Eloise, but added her own ingenuity.
In childhood and youth, Carol was right much of a home-body. She wasn’t interested in going to camp unless one of her parents was among the leaders. She wasn’t timid, just cautious, but Roberta and her younger brother Ted were more adventurous.
The first time we took her to Sunday school, she taught us a valuable lesson. We were a few minutes late and the room was full of strange, active, noisy kindergartners. An elderly lady stooped to remove her coat and she started screaming. She knew we were planning to leave her, and was mighty quick to let us know she didn’t like it! She much preferred the security of home and her beloved Georgia. From this experience, we learned to tell teachers and parents two important things before enrolling a child in Sunday school. On a weekday a mother, teacher and child should meet and the child get acquainted with the teacher, and the play-things. It’s also good to have the child arrive early (but after the teacher, of course) and get started on a favorite activity.
It isn’t proper for a minister to baptize his own child, for he and the mother must assume the parental vows. Since Dr. J.L. Oates, the ARP (Associate Reformed Presbyterian) minister, was a close friend, we asked him to baptize Carol (Mac Richards had baptized Roberta). This was a Sunday when both our churches were holding communion. I requested a hymn while Dr. Oates walked the block from his church. When Mrs. Liles started the introductory measures, I realized it wasn’t the hymn requested, and I said, “Mrs. Lyles, I believe you have the wrong book.” Someone had placed an old-time songbook on the piano, and she was playing “Hold the Fort, for I am Coming!” After the service, Dr. Oates and I laughed as we imagined how it would’ve been if he’d entered just as we were singing, “See the mighty host advancing, Satan leading on!”
A year and a half after Carol, Teddy was born. He, also, was born on Dr. Hargrove’s bridge night, but this time he’d only played two or three hands when the phone rang. He threw down his cards, grabbed his coat and dashed out the door, but unlike Carol, Teddy kept us all waiting until almost midnight! I felt sorry for Dr. Hargrove, as he loved to play bridge. Finally a nurse stepped out into the hall and, to avoid waking the other patients, whispered, “it’s a boy!” I responded, but not quite in a whisper, “Hot dog!” We’d planned for only three children, and since we’d had two girls, both of us were hoping and praying for a boy. I wanted to share the news, but it was too late to telephone. I drove all over downtown hoping to find a policeman or pedestrian, but had to go to bed without telling anyone!
When Teddy was three months old, Carol 21 months and Roberta 4 years, all three of them came down with whooping cough. Fortunately my annual vacation, in August, was just a few days later, and Dr. Hargrove said the best place for them was at the beach. We spent most of our vacations at Clearwater Beach during our time in Bartow, not only because we liked it but because it cost practically nothing. We rented a house on the bay side of the island, and were glad to be away from the crowd and noise on the gulf side, but could get there in five minutes. The rent was $50 for the whole month, and I received more than that for supply preaching the four Sundays in Tampa. While I was there, Bartow had laymen from Lakeland, Winter Haven and Tampa supply for me.
One summer we vacationed at Fernandina Beach, lived in the manse and I preached in their minister’s absence. While there I spent one day on a shrimping boat, as a guest of the captain.
The beach at Fernandina compares quite favorably with that at Daytona, but in the 1930s was much less crowded, so it was an ideal vacation place for families with small children. One day in the manse a spider stung Carol. We rushed her and the quickly-killed spider to the doctor, but he assured us it wasn’t the dangerous kind.
Babies, we are told, have only two instinctive fears, fear of falling and fear of a loud noise. Teddy adopted Roberta as his protector; when he heard a siren or other loud noise, he’d run to her. She soon adopted a policy of running to Teddy if she heard a loud noise, including a siren, an approaching thunderstorm, a low-flying airplane or the roar of a hurricane. One day Teddy succeeded in unfastening the window screen, and fell through the living room window. Eloise heard him scream, ran out and picked him up, unhurt but scared. Relaxing in the security of her arms, he said, ”It felt good ’til I hit!”
One night Eloise was trying to rock Teddy to sleep. Unfortunately she was more tired and sleepy than he, and as she was singing the spiritual, “I got shoes, you got shoes”, Teddy sat up straight and challenged her theology by asking “Where do they get shoes?” Eloise, half asleep and a bit annoyed, responded, “Oh, people don’t have to wear clothes there.” Teddy, now fully aroused, shouted, “If they don’t wear clothes in heaven, I don’t want to go there!” One day Teddy did something that made Carol very angry and she shouted, “That’s why nobody likes you!”. Teddy calmly said, “I like me.”
We lived on a street where a good many colored people walked by on their way to work or shopping, and Teddy would often talk with them. One day Eloise took him with her to Lakeland to do some shopping and lost him in a department store. She found him on the sidewalk, looking in the display windows. It was time for a serious talk about wandering away and getting lost. “Honey, after you’d walked away from Mother, I looked for you but you weren’t in the store. Suppose you’d suddenly realized you didn’t know where I was, you didn’t know where you were and you didn’t know how to get home. What would you do?” Calmly, as always, he replied, “I’d go up to the first colored man I saw, tell him my name and ask him to take me home.”
Someone gave our children a few bantam chickens, including a rooster. I built a pen in our backyard, adjacent to Dr. Hargrove’s sleeping porch. Soon, in a tactful, roundabout way, he let us know that the rooster was awakening him at day-break. It was fortunate that Carol was sick in bed, as Eloise then fed her chicken soup. Carol, not knowing its origin, happily gobbled up!

Another pet our children received was a beautiful fox terrier, which they dearly loved. One day I saw “Kim” writhing in pain in our front yard and rushed her to the veterinarian. It was no use. She’d been poisoned. Our next-door neighbor was the publisher of the daily paper, and that afternoon a conspicuous block on the front page announced that someone had poisoned our dog. Other dogs had also been poisoned, and Bartow was already aroused. One druggist said a certain woman had bought poison from him “to kill rats”. A neighbor then told us she’d seen this woman slowly drive past our house and throw a package into our yard. Of course, the children were grief-stricken, but before supper a man we didn’t know telephoned us and offered us a Pekingese. I took all three kids in the car to pick up the dog, and they quickly transferred to it their affection.

Our treasured memories of Bartow include much more than ministry and family life. When a group of people struggle together against daunting obstacles and succeed, they develop a love for each other which lives on. When I think of Bartow, I remember a town with wonderful community spirit. Many of the 5,000 occupants in 1930 were born there, and many others had lived there long enough to share the “hometown spirit”. I think this community spirit enabled them to weather the Depression confidently and cheerfully. Bartow was large enough to have a lot of activities and small enough for each person to know almost everyone.
One of the first community activities I took part in was the Red Cross. I also took part in a local talent and comedy show sponsored by the Jaycees, to benefit the Milk Fund for underprivileged children. I became a Rotarian and served as a scoutmaster for the local Boy Scout troop. With the encouragement of the McLeods, we raised money for the employment of a Bible teacher in the public schools of Bartow, a position which continued for more than forty years.
I’d heard of an excellent high school band in Sebring, fifty miles away. I wrote the bandmaster asking him to put on a concert in Bartow’s city auditorium, so as to encourage our youngsters to do the same. He played to a packed house, and soon we had a fine band as well. I invited Gypsy Smith, Jr. for an evangelistic meeting, and with all the churches united in support once again packed the city auditorium. I also served as Director of the Bartow High School Band and, unofficially, as the high school chaplain.
I’d like to acknowledge my gratitude to the many friends who cared enough to tell me of persons in the community they believed I might be able to help. An elderly couple in town operated a small neighborhood store.They were Presbyterians, but had never affiliated with a church because they felt some of their customers might go elsewhere, and they were barely scraping by. They dearly wished they could take a day off each week, but didn’t dare.
There were perhaps twelve or fifteen such neighborhood stores in the area, in the white and colored residential areas. I typed up a proposed “covenant” based on the yearnings of this couple. If all the store operators would agree to sign a pledge and close on Sunday, then all would have a free day. With this covenant on a clip-board, I visited all the merchants in the area and all except one signed in a spirit of jubilation. That one finally gave in when I told him of the publicity which would follow. A date to begin was posted on every store front and in the paper. Their joy was my reward.
The county judge asked me to serve with two physicians on the County Sanity Examining Committee. My responsibilities didn’t involve the medical or psychological condition of the persons examined; I was there for compassion, persuasion, counseling and consolation. We had to send some to the state mental hospital, but in many situations the individual or family just needed counseling. In one case a wife was trying to get her husband committed so that she could get control of his property. He’d done a few stupid things, but certainly didn’t belong in a mental hospital.
The chief of police asked me to help him with persons in dire need, or in arguments between family members or neighbors. In these, counseling often brought reconciliation. Early one very cold morning, he took me into a black residential area. On the front porch was an elderly colored woman lying on a cot, with one ragged blanket over her. The chief said she’d been living with a family in another house, taking care of the children of a working mother. She had tuberculosis, but it wasn’t the contagion or infection the family feared, it was a superstition. If anyone not a family member should die in the home, they felt some terrible evil would come on the family. They knew she was to die soon, so in the middle of the night when the neighbors were asleep, they put her on this porch. Chief Mizelle asked me what I thought we could do.
I told him to take me to County Hospital as fast as possible, with his siren sounding full blast. There, the Nursing Supervisor said they had no isolation room for infectious diseases. I asked if they’d provide essential care if we’d set up a tent, and she said yes. We found a tent, the sheriff sent convicts and a guard to set it up and the woman was cared for until her death, a few days later.
One of our members, Mr. John Tharp, was the dairyman of Bartow. He’d bring his wife and children to church, but sleep in the car. The first time I visited, I met Mrs. Tharp and the children and then went out to the barn where he was working. He apologized for not attending, but said that he had to start work at three every morning. I told him I’d rather he sleep in his car than in church, and with that bit of levity a friendship began. He asked if there was anything he could do for the church, and I said it’d be nice to have a grass lawn; that if he’d send me some of that manure I’d get some men to dig up that hard-packed yard, spread the manure and sprig the yard with centipede grass. He sent men along with picks and shovels, and orders to dig up the yard and smooth it over. Then he sent manure enough to spread and several wagon-loads of top soil. He’d have had them sprig the lawn as well, but I wouldn’t let him. I did that.
One day when Mrs. Tharp and the children were visiting family in Virginia, Mr. Tharp’s sister telephoned me that he was sick. I went out and learned that, whatever else might be wrong, he was terribly constipated. There was an enema bag in the bathroom so, over his protests, I gave him an enema. He was extremely embarrassed that his minister had done that, but when it was over he felt so good that we had some jolly laughter about it.
Mrs. Orr told me once about a local doctor who was very smart and would call on anyone, white or black, rich or poor. If they were very poor he wouldn’t charge them, and if they were destitute he’d pay for their drugs and have a box of food sent to them. He was, however, an alcoholic, and a lot of people who’d like to go to him and were able to pay wouldn’t, lest he be drunk.
His office was near my study, and I talked with him one day. I introduced myself, told him mutual friends had told me that he was smart and did a lot of good for the poor, but how sorry they were about his drinking. Then I told him if he wanted for me to go away and mind my own business, I would.
He said, “Mr. Jones, I’ve been drinking like a damn fool for a long time, and everyone knows it. You’re the first person ever to talk to me about it, and I want you to know I appreciate it. I’m not going to promise you I’ll never take another drink, but I’m glad to know you’re my friend.”
I don’t claim any credit for the change in that doctor, but he started keeping regular hours and a year or so later had a new office built. Meanwhile, many times he came to my study and handed me a five-dollar bill, saying, “You know who needs it, so put it where it’s needed.”
The 1935 annual Presbytery Pioneer conference (ages 12-14) was scheduled for the first week in September at the Clearwater Beach Hotel. As we were traveling from various churches on Labor Day, without car radios, we were unaware that a hurricane was already pounding the men constructing the Oversea Highway to Key West, eventually killing over 200 of them. Early Tuesday morning I saw a group of men huddled around a radio, ran over and learned the storm had turned north, heading up the west coast. I rushed to the director of the conference, told him the news and urgently insisted that “we get these kids away from here as fast as possible!”
I was dismayed at his disagreement, but he’d recently come to the Tampa church from Rock Hill, South Carolina, and knew nothing about hurricanes. He wouldn’t consider leaving just as the conference was starting.
I’ve never understood why the other adults didn’t join together and over-rule him. By noon the Clearwater radio station was broadcasting police directives every five minutes, ordering everyone off the island immediately. Now, it was too late to pack, and even too late to get buses or trucks from the mainland to help with transportation. We were told by telephone to bring the ladies and girls to Peace Memorial Presbyterian Church and men and boys to the gymnasium next door. Clearwater people were bringing food there for us. Each of us who had a car was loading it with youngsters and making trip after trip across the causeway through rain and gusts of wind so strong as to be very dangerous.
The telephone exchange was busy with calls from anxious parents, who were told the children were safe in the buildings mentioned above. After the kids were all safe, police led us with cars to a safe storage place. All through the night the roar of the wind and crashing of debris against the walls made sleep nearly impossible.
The next morning, very early, during the calm of the storm center, we men rushed over with the help of the police and dashed from room to room stuffing everything into satchels and pillowcases. Two trips of 8 or 10 cars took care of all personal property, and the young people had to search through the scrambled mess for their belongings. We feared the other side of the storm might force us to stay in Clearwater another night, but it must have turned into the gulf. Parents and ministers came for the children and all of us got home on Wednesday. Everyone was alive and nobody hurt, though I doubt everybody got all their belongings.
We spent four more years in Bartow, and our social life was particularly delightful. Most important was the book club Eloise joined soon after our arrival. Composed of young matrons of a similar educational and cultural background, they were wonderfully congenial. They had frequent parties, and these included husbands. Eloise’s sparkling sense of humor was often the stimulus for hilarity, and we the husbands were also friends in civic and community activities. Our social life in Bartow far surpassed what we’d experienced anywhere else, and as our church grew many interesting people became deacons, choir members, teaching staff, etc. I also had a delightful fellowship in the Rotary Club, a genial Monday afternoon golf partner and occasionally played tennis.
We were on vacation at Clearwater Beach in August, 1939, when a pulpit committee from Highland Presbyterian Church in Fayetteville, N.C. appeared, having been directed by our Bartow friends how to find us. I’d have been more interested if everything hadn’t been going well in Bartow, but frankly I’d been hoping for an increase in salary. Our church membership had increased both in number and in financial well-being, but I found it difficult to take the initiative. Still, I delayed my response to the Fayetteville overture.
I finally agreed to visit in mid-October. This visit was marked by an interesting, but alarming, coincidence. Two of us got off the train with identical suitcases. Two church officers met me, one picked up a suitcase and they rushed me to the home of my host. Only then did I see it was the wrong luggage! We telephoned the station-master. My luggage was now in the possession of a lady who had immediately boarded a train bound for Wilmington, NC, some 85 miles distant! The station-master contacted his counterpart and arranged for the exchange of luggage the next day, in time for me to be properly attired for the Wednesday night service. On Sunday I received a phone call stating that the congregation had voted unanimously, and an official Congregational Call was being prepared, requesting me to become their pastor at a salary of $3,000 per year, with manse, all moving expenses and membership in the Minister’s Annuity Plan should I accept, which I did.
If we were so happy in Bartow, why did we agree to leave?
When we went to Bartow in 1930, that church was so disorganized and discouraged that they were unable to get together a Congregational Meeting to issue a call to anyone. Mrs. McLeod, in desperation, asked the Plant City pastor for advice, and he suggested she write describing their situation in full and ask if I’d agree to come on as Stated Supply Minister.
Stated Supply is a very loose relationship, requiring no Pastoral Call and no stated obligations on the part of either church or minister, except if the minister is asked to supply for a limited time, and they weren’t even willing to go that far. Eloise and I came with no assurance for the future except Mrs. McLeods’s faith in God and in us, and our firm belief that God would surely enable us to do what was needed. They only agreed to pay me the accepted minimum salary of $150 per month.
As for the Ministers’ Annuity Program, that was approved by the General Assembly, Synods and Presbyteries after we arrived. It provided that the church pay 7-1/2% of a pastor’s salary plus the rental value of the manse, and the pastor pay 2-1/2%, into a retirement fund. In the 9-1/2 years we were there I never called attention to the fact that I wasn’t officially their pastor, and never mentioned the annuity program.
Several times, they got behind with the salary. I’d have to go on Monday morning to the Treasurer, an inactive member, and he’d give me what the deacons received in the Sunday offerings, which was in itself a demeaning procedure. Usually, the deacons learned when they were in arrears and went out to get what was necessary to catch up. Even so, were it not for occasional unsolicited checks from Eloise’s Aunt Adah in Coral Gables, we’d have been in more serious trouble. I also had to borrow on my life insurance policy, several times.
Once they got so far behind that, since it was quite clear they had by then accepted us and their responsibility to us, I announced to the deacons: “I resolved from the time I entered the ministry that I’d never complain from the pulpit about my salary. It hurts for me to say this, but it hurts me to meet people on the street to whom I am indebted. I assume, of course, that they believe I’m guilty of neglecting my just debts, and I won’t tell them that you’re behind in payment to me. I believe you can and will correct this situation.” At the close of the meeting “Tommy” Thompson, then chairman of the Board of Deacons, met me and said, “Ted, you spanked us, but we certainly deserved it. I assure you we’ll catch up and stay up from now on!” And they did!
I probably hold the record, though not an enviable one, for length of service as Stated Supply Minister in any one church. All the people came to believe that I was their pastor, and they certainly treated me as such, which is far better than officially being pastor of a church torn by friction.
I was officially received into the presbytery, but no one asked why I wasn’t installed by the presbytery commission, nor why the church and I didn’t ask the presbytery to dissolve our relationship. Had I been asked, I’d have replied that you can’t dissolve a relationship that never existed. I was, in a sense, an “ecclesiastical outlaw”.
We loved our church, our people and our town more than we’d have believed possible, but with three children, our family really needed more income. The Bartow church had added $300 per year for car expenses after two or three years but, counting Minister’s Annuity, Fayetteville’s increase amounted to $1,200 per year, and now the Bartow church was in a position to call another minister with complete confidence in their future.
The last Sunday evening before our departure was one of the most wonderful experiences we’d ever had. All the Bartow churches held a Union service in the Methodist Church as a token of appreciation and love. Several brief speeches were made about our success in the church and our service to the community. Eloise and I were seated on the platform, struggling to hold back tears of joy.

Before we left for Fayetteville, nine-year-old Roberta had been studying the songs of Stephen Foster in school, since it was the 100th anniversary of his birth. Roberta dearly loved to sing and, believing that the Southern influence in Foster’s songs meant that he was a Southerner, that these songs were sung only in the South, and that North Carolina was “up North”. When Eloise asked her what she was going to miss the most about Florida, she wistfully said, “The old Southern songs,” and named off several Foster tunes. A few weeks after our arrival, Eloise asked her what she liked the most about our new home. She replied, “The Northern accent!”
We arrived at the beautiful and spacious nine-room manse about fifteen minutes ahead of the van containing our belongings. Mr. John Wilson, Clerk of the Session, was waiting and gave us a cordial reception. After a most pleasant greeting, he drew me aside and said something I’ll always remember: “My church and my home come first in my life, and I don’t want either to lack for loyal support. Perhaps you could use some money at a time like this.” He handed me a roll of bills, clearly intended as a gift, not a loan. Since we really didn’t need it, I thanked him and declined to accept it, but he exacted from me a firm promise that at any time I should need money that I’d let him know.
Fayetteville had long planned a festival for the bicentennial of the arrival of the Highland Scots in the area. On the first day of the celebration, a parade of the descendants of the various Scottish clans marched down Hay Street in kilts and Scottish regalia. Each group carried a banner bearing the name of the clan; “McLeod, McLean, McDougald” and so on, and a number of the men played bagpipes.
The next day our five-year-old son, Teddy, said he didn’t want to go. We asked why. He said he didn’t have the right clothes to wear, and in a tone of considerable disappointment wailed, “All the men and boys here wear dresses!” After we assured him that only those in the parade wore kilts, and only for the celebration, he agreed to go with us. The festival continued for several days, with contests in highland fling dancing, bagpiping, jousting and so on.
One morning shortly after the celebration Eloise looked in to see if Teddy was up and dressing. He was lying in bed with his arms, legs and neck twisted and distorted. Eloise was terrified lest he had polio, but as she cried out he straightened up, and explained he was only practicing some stunts!
Carol, age seven, was a first grader in Bartow when Lincoln’s birthday was observed. After the move she came in angrily one day and announced to Eloise: “I hate Abraham Lincoln! He was a Yankee!” One of her new playmates was, of course, responsible for her sudden change of attitude. After Eloise explained that Lincoln was actually a friend of the South and was often cursed at by many Yankees for his compassion, Carol went out with some new ammunition to use on her friend.
One of the deacons at Highland one day asked if I’d be offended if he bought me a suit. I felt my stock of clothing was then quite adequate, but lest I offend him, I agreed. He had the salesman open a catalogue to a “pulpit suit”, with what I called a “claw-hammer” coat and striped trousers. I protested: “Oh, no, I wouldn’t think of wearing one of those monkey suits!” He said that was standard pulpit apparel in Fayetteville; the First Presbyterian, St. Luke’s Episcopal, First Methodist and even the First Baptist ministers all wore them. I finally, grudgingly, agreed, believing that he represented the desires of my new congregation, but I never felt happy in it. I thought it pompous, and wished I’d held out until I could consult my Session. I had a suspicion it was pride on his part and a desire to get “in step” with the big “First Churches”.
I saw the cutest little bicycle one day, a trade-in on sale, just the right size for Teddy on his sixth birthday. I taught him to ride, carefully instructing him to confine himself to the little-used streets around our block and never to cross or ride on Hay Street, the main thoroughfare from downtown to Fort Bragg and all points west. This street was one block from, and paralleled, Clarendon Street, where we lived. Our church faced it, on the far side.
Almost two months later Teddy appeared at my study door. I should’ve welcomed him on his first visit to my study, but I was so upset over the danger that I was intent on just one thing, getting him home safely. I walked beside him to the corner, a five-point intersection. The odd street was on about a 30º angle from the west-bound one, and until recently a red light had stopped all traffic, but now a green arrow had been added to allow the increasing Fort Bragg-bound vehicles to continue after the straight-ahead traffic had stopped.
Teddy sat on his bicycle, ready to go at my word. I should’ve walked across with him, but when the light turned red, I simply said, “Go,” and he started. I then saw about a half-dozen army trucks thundering along in the far lane, following the green arrow. I hollered “STOP!” And dashed after him as he slammed on the brakes. The trucks zoomed on by about three feet from us, and when the light changed we walked across to the sidewalk. I hugged him for a minute or so, saying “I’m so glad you stopped!”. He said, calmly, “I heard you holler stop.” I sent him home, and when I got back to my study put away the half-finished sermon I’d been working on and started another.
Teddy’s near-accident inspired a sermon for me, and my congregation, not only on behalf of our own children but for all the children and youth of the city and for the young draftees just beginning to come from homes far away. We must do all we can to let them know we care for them.
On a family drive across the Cape Fear River into a rural area, we saw some goats, including some very small ones.l Teddy begged us to buy one of these and the owner said as soon as they were weaned he’d sell us one for $5. We gave him our name and phone number. Our neighbor had the biggest dog house we’d ever seen, but his dog had died, so he gave us the dog house for the goat. About this time Mrs. McLeod and her daughter Mary Stewart, from Bartow, came by to visit on their way to Maxton, NC. Teddy told them about the goat and Mrs. McLeod gave him $5 to pay for it. She asked where he was going to keep it, and he showed her the dog house.
When we brought the goat home, the farmer told us what to feed him and gave us enough food for the first day. We bought more on the way home and put an old blanket in the dog house for him to sleep on.
Teddy and the goat quickly became close friends. A few days later we saw a group of soldiers in an army truck stopped in front of our house, laughing hilariously. Teddy had pulled out his old football helmet, and on his hands and knees was engaged in a head-butting contest with the goat!
In due time, the goat grew bigger and began to resent confinement. Instead of bleating and waiting for Teddy to jump out of bed and let him out of the dog house, he’d butt the door open, run to the porch and bleat for his friend to come out. Now we had to tie him to a tree to prevent him from tearing up the screen door, or running away, which he did two or three times. We’d then all have to run after and try to catch him before he got into trouble. Finally one Sunday I announced as we sat down to dinner, “That goat had better be securely tied, because if he gets loose again I’m not going to chase him!”, and just then Eloise looked out and exclaimed, “There he goes!” We all ran, jumped into the car and gave chase. We found him on the other side of the busy Fort Bragg Road, where a man had tied him to a tree. We took him home, and after dinner took him to the farm of a member of our church and gave him away.
Highland Presbyterian Church was the most perfect church I’ve ever known. Its organization, activities and spirit of love and spirit were wonderful. All the elders, deacons, teachers and leaders in the Women-of-the-Church were dedicated, punctual, knew what to do and how to do it, and absolutely dependable. Their one great need was for a completely new building, but the approaching war, followed by the war itself, precluded its replacement for almost a decade.
Soon after our arrival Mr. Wilson suggested that I go to Richmond and employ the best available senior in our School of Christian Education to serve our church, which I did. In our first year there we received fifty persons into our membership, The young lady employed arrived in June, 1940. The Minister’s Association, with the enthusiastic support of the churches and the leaders of the public schools, also employed a wonderful young woman to teach the Bible in the schools, and later added another.
Congress had passed a draft law, for Hitler had conquered most of western Europe and Japan had almost completed the conquest of China. Our involvement in the war was increasingly becoming inevitable. Fort Bragg was in the process of a massive expansion, and draftees were arriving by the thousands, in trains and buses. Civilian employees were also coming, to work at the newly-built Veterans’ Hospital and at Fort Bragg. All Fayetteville residents were being encouraged to rent their spare rooms.
The world kept spinning. Since Eloise and I had been married we’d been associated with Colonial Heights, the Seminary, West Virginia, Bartow, and now Fayetteville. Teddy had a tonsillectomy, Roberta an appendectomy. A wire arrived from Bartow saying Mrs. Lizzie Dial was critically ill and calling for Ted Jones, so I caught he first train, but arrived too late. I conducted the funeral service.
We rented two rooms, and later three, to ladies. One was rather plump, and when she had shown affection for Teddy, he told Eloise he wanted to give her a present. “One of those things ladies wrap around themselves,” indicating a brassiere. Eloise persuaded him to give her something else!
Our dentist lived across the river and kept horses. He had me take the children over to ride them, which they enjoyed very much. Dr. Robertson’s boys had a pony, and let our kids take him home with them one day. I concluded the pony didn’t like girls, because when 8-year-old Carol got on, he decided to trot home in a hurry, three blocks away and across busy Hay Street. Afraid Carol would fall off, or worse, I ran as fast as I could but couldn’t keep up! They did, however, make it safely.
Roberta went to visit a friend, and they built a little fire in back of the house. It got away from them and spread across an expanse of dry grass, threatening the neighbors’ homes. The fire department raced down the street and put it out. They suspected three boys, but soon left, and I didn’t learn until much later that Roberta and her friend were responsible!
The police chief invited me down to headquarters one evening, and I was greeted by a group of off-duty police and firemen. He’d received a letter from the Bartow police chief telling him of my friendly help and suggesting he get acquainted with me. They gave me an honorary membership in the Police and Firemen’s Association and asked me to serve as Chaplain, which I accepted. Soon we held a memorial service in my church for all the police and firemen who had died in service. I had my first and only ride on a fire truck, sitting beside the driver with people gaping at me, probably looking to see if the church was on fire and wondering why I hadn’t telephoned instead of personally escorting the firemen!
A conflict developed over whether to permit movie theatres to operate on Sundays. On one side were the army officers and chaplains, on the other a lot of church people, and the City Council was soon to rule on the matter, after hearing from both sides. A motorcycle patrolman took me for a ride in his sidecar to show me the young draftees walking the streets, trying to find something interesting to do. A highway patrolman took me out another night on Lumberton Road to show me the road houses, famed as “sin centers”. “If the church people knew their own teen-age sons and daughters were coming out here on Sunday nights, they’d be glad to open the movies,” he said, “and most of those nice young draftees would surely go to the movies rather than these bawdy houses!” Fortunately, the City Council voted overwhelmingly to approve Sunday movies.
Our church people were careful to see that anyone who came to our worship service in uniform was invited to someone’s home for dinner. We arranged for 85 to come in convoys with a chaplain every Sunday evening, and then had 20 minutes for worship, 20 for refreshments, then time for fellowship and a game (with mothers and young ladies both present), then 20 more minutes for singing, always ending with “Steal Away to Jesus” and a prayer. The Women-of-the-Church set up a program assisting officers’ wives by buying, preparing and serving suppers at church every Wednesday night, the officers only paying the cost of the food. This brought together officers and wives who lived in rented rooms or apartments in our neighborhood, and allowed them to get acquainted in a church atmosphere.
At the suggestion of one of the chaplains, I went to Fort Bragg and organized a men’s chorus to sing in churches and USOs. In this group were a professional school music teacher and an excellent pianist. Once organized they could be, and were, set loose on their own. I requested that their first performance be in our church.
Everything went wonderfully, except for one brief hitch. The music teacher, who was leader of the chorus, was a Roman Catholic, and in those days their church was strictly against their members attending a Protestant church. The Catholic chaplain of that regiment forbade the leader, and any other Catholics, from singing in my church. The colonel of the regiment, though, was a Presbyterian elder. When word came to him of this situation, he summoned the chaplain and reprimanded him severely. “When you were a civilian priest,” he said, “you exercised considerable authority over your members. You are now in the United States Army, however, and I am your Regimental Commander. Mr. Jones organized that chorus, and they are going to sing in his church!” They did, and sang beautifully!
Then came Pearl Harbor.
The Army restricted all outside activities, concentrating on training to fight as quickly as possible. Tight secrecy and censorship shrouded all military activity. Eloise’s only brother was a reserve officer, and was called to active duty. Just before leaving California, he telephoned and told his wife they’d all been issued Arctic clothing, but that this was to deceive any spies who might reveal secrets. A week or two later our children picked up the Fayetteville afternoon paper from our porch and yelled, “Hey! It’s Uncle Bob’s picture!” On the front page was a large picture with the headline, “First U.S. Troops Land in Australia”. There was Bob standing in front of his men, the first off the ship, with others descending behind him. Bob advanced rapidly in rank to Colonel, and he and his unit of Army Air Corps men were awarded the coveted Legion of Merit, for defeating the Japanese fleet in the Battle of the Coral Sea and preventing the invasion of Australia.
All this time, Eloise was both the teacher of the Women’s Bible Class and a Girl Scout leader, while trying to run a home half filled with lady roomers. She failed to charge enough to make but a very little profit, and the cost of living was rising.
Eloise was developing arthritis, and Teddy had asthma. I therefore wanted to get them out of Fayetteville, and preferably back to Florida. In the summer of 1943, we vacationed in Montreat, NC, and met a former Davidson College friend. I told him of our concerns, and he said, “I have a sister who’s a member of the Ocala church. Their minister recently moved away. I’ll write her about you!”

Soon a letter came, inviting me to visit the Ocala church. They received me cordially, and soon after I accepted the Pastorate at a salary of $3,600. We were willing to leave even the wonderful Highland Church to free our little boy of his terrible malady, and believed he’d recover there. Only one thing gave me concern. One deacon told me privately, “They’re planning to refurbish that old manse. If I were you I wouldn’t have my family live in it. Make them provide you a nice home in a good neighborhood.”
His assessment was blunt, but correct. After receiving the call I accepted, but said that I knew they were repairing the manse and asked when I should come. They said they’d rented a home nearby, and to come as soon as possible. We lived in the rental house for about six weeks.
In a remarkably short time, Teddy’s asthma was only a memory, but a far more wonderful health benefit resulted from that move. As soon as the Ocala paper announced our arrival, mentioning that my wife was the former Eloise Knight of Clearwater, a former pupil of Eloise’s, now a young doctor, came to greet us. He hadn’t seen her for eighteen years, and instantly noticed some alarming changes in her appearance, which had developed so slowly that doctors in Bartow and Fayetteville had missed them. He tactfully refrained from telling us, but telephoned Eloise’s sister Adah. From Atlanta, Adah called and told Eloise to see a doctor without delay.
Of course, Eloise immediately made an appointment with the young doctor, Hartley Davis. She waited while he attended to patients. On his desk she saw a book opened, to her ailment, and took liberty to read about pituitary tumors. There are two kinds, one of which can be treated with radiation, but another requires brain surgery. Both lead to enlargement of bones in the face, hands and feet, gradual loss of vision, loss of sanity, and finally death. The only way to determine which type Eloise had was to try the radiation treatments.
I must tell of Eloise’s amazing courage. After the visit, when our children were 13, 11, and 9, she told me what she’d read in the book, and about the treatments to follow, then calmly said, “I want you to promise me. If these treatments aren’t successful, I want to postpone the operation as long as possible. If either my facial features or my mental condition becomes embarrassing to the children, I want you to tell me, and then I’ll go for the operation.” If she ever experienced fear, self-pity or shed a tear, neither I nor anyone else ever knew it. She was marvelous!
Dr. Davis sent her to an ophthalmologist to measure and record the breadth of her vision. After each series of X-ray treatments, to both temples, another measurement. Fortunately, the treatments worked. After her death in 1969, I wrote the doctors, thanking them for giving Eloise twenty-five more years of life. They both replied, praising Eloise for her sweet disposition and extraordinary bravery.
Our move to Ocala provided Roberta and Teddy a most welcome opportunity to change their “call” names to Bobbie and Ted. All of our children were musical, and wanted to be in the high school band. As soon as they entered high school Bobbie and Carol were in; Bobbie playing clarinet and Carol French horn. Ted wanted a trumpet but wasn’t quite ten years old. We bought him one anyway, believing it would help his asthma, which it probably did. He played so well by the time he was in 8th grade that he was the first eighth-grader ever promoted to the high school band! We were delighted that all three of them were in the band at the same time!
The manse rested on brick pillars high enough for dogs and cats to go under, sleep, breed, fight and shed fleas. The Building Committee should’ve taken care of this, but I collected used laths from a lumberyard and, working in the front yard so as to be seen by all, latticed it myself.
When warm weather came, the fleas hatched out from their winter quarters under the sand. Millions of them! At first they were in the garage behind which my predecessor, an enthusiastic hunter, had kept a pen for his bird dogs. Next, more came out from under the house! I managed to buy scads of DDT just before it became unavailable and, after several copious applications in the garage and all around the house, conquered the pestilence.
During our first year we found all our people to be very relaxed and friendly, but too relaxed towards the church! With fifteen elders, we could only count on four for all session meetings. The eldest elder, Mr. Gerig, I called Mr. Opposition, for he was quick to speak out in opposition to any change. Two more would quietly vote with him, and one consistently with me. I believed the ones who weren’t attending would have voted with me. I chided them mildly, and one said, “I lose what religion I have when I’m in one of those meetings!” I told them they were leaving me out on a limb, but they did favor changes and were easy to work with. They favored rotation of officers, which Mr. Opposition vetoed in one of those truncated meetings, but they insisted on rotation of deacons. Since Mr. Opposition was primarily concerned with his own position, he just said, “It won’t work, but you can try it.” It worked fine, of course.
A group of mothers with young children, from various churches, petitioned the Minister’s Association for a week-day kindergarten. Our church, just across the street from the block containing all three schools, was the logical place. Mr. Opposition fought hard, but found himself confronted by an army of mothers. Soon, kindergarten was in session.
In the meantime we got involved in other projects. I suggested to the Minister’s Association that we have Bible teaching in the public schools, and secured support from a Jewish rabbi and a Catholic priest. Two questions were raised: Isn’t it illegal? I read a letter from the state attorney general, stating there was no law against it. The Baptist minister also stated the Baptist position on separation of church and state, but I reminded him of the prevailing custom all over Florida of inviting ministers to speak in public school chapel programs, to invite students to revivals and children’s services and preach sermons for commencement or graduation. That persuaded him, and the positions were financed without difficulty.
The Ocala church had a beautiful building, erected 16 years before our arrival, but they still owed over $5,000 on it. One deacon said he hoped I wouldn’t talk about benevolences like my predecessor did, but I told him they should’ve had that building paid for, and if they didn’t pay it off in a year I’d have to talk benevolences, which were also in arrears.
They quickly and easily raised $10,000, but instead of benevolences they spent the remaining money on paint and a new oil furnace to replace their old wood-burner. One Sunday soon afterward I heard a terrific explosion about 8 AM. The janitor had lit the furnace, and narrowly escaped death. The explosion blew soot through every vent in the building, covering the floors, pews, walls, everything. I spent the next two hours telling all arrivals they couldn’t enter the building until cleaning and repair had been done. I suspected an act of God, because they raised that money in a hurry!
At the next meeting of the Presbytery, the chairman of the Stewardship Committee recommended increases in benevolences for every church except Ocala, and said, “For several years we’ve been asking Ocala for $3,000, but they haven’t paid it. I recommend reducing this to $2,000.” With the support of the elder who was our Commissioner, I moved that this be raised to $4,000 instead. The next Sunday I reported this to the congregation, adding that I thought they’d be ashamed if smaller, poorer churches were contributing more than Ocala. No one complained, and the money was raised.
There were two tragedies among the Bartow Presbyterians which needed my response. The McLeods were returning from their summer home in Montreat when a collision in Rutherfordton, NC caused terrible injury to both of them. Among other injuries Mrs. McLeod suffered a broken hip and had to be hospitalized, but several days after I arrived by train Mr. McLeod expired. I told Mrs. McLeod, and was deeply impressed by her response. She quickly wiped away her tears, and with a smile said, “Ted, my prince is with the King! I want you to escort his body to Bartow and see to it the Presbyterian Quartet at the service sings, ‘I Walk With the King, Hallelujah!’”.
Shortly after D-Day, when the troops landed in France, Mary Stewart telephoned me from Bartow. The Tharps had been notified their only son, Thomas, had been killed, and on the same day their home was totally destroyed by fire, including practically all its contents. She didn’t tell anyone she’d called me, lest I might not be able to go. I went by bus, borrowed Mary Stewart’s car and went to the home of the neighbor who’d given the Tharps the use of an apartment.
Mr. Tharp arrived in a pick-up truck. As we put our arms around each other he said, “I was working, and hadn’t planned to come back for at least another hour, but I kept feeling as though a voice was telling me, ‘Go home, go home!’ Now I know why!”. We then went to the room where Mrs. Tharp was prostrate with grief, a lady friend attending her. What a privilege it is to be able to console persons in times of great sorrow!
In Ocala, our Sunday school superintendent had conflicts with his work schedule, and resigned. I telephoned a church member for an evening appointment, and after the normal courtesies he said, “Well, I know you want me to do something or you wouldn’t have phoned. Go ahead and spill it!” I told him I wanted him to be the new superintendent, and he blurted out, “What the hell did you come to me for? I don’t even go to Sunday school!” I was glad he asked, for it was a real pleasure for me to answer, “Because you are one of the best men in this town!” He was almost speechless with surprise, then began protesting. He said people would laugh to hear, “Jub Selph is a Sunday school superintendent!”
I told him one big mistake many churches make is in confining their leadership selections to those who attend all church meetings but have no real talent or the personality for leadership. I said I preferred to look for these qualities, and then persuade these people to dedicate themselves to the church. I also said his friends might laugh at first, but that then I thought they’d say, “Jub wouldn’t accept that responsibility lightly. If he’s going to get active in the church, so am I.” I promised to help him as needed, and he said he’d think about it. A couple of weeks later he accepted, and several of his friends did, indeed, become active in the church.
Meanwhile, Eloise and I decided to concentrate on youth activities. I organized the Senior High Vespers and the Youth Choir, while Eloise organized the Junior Vespers and became a Cub Scout den mother. We also found leaders for the Junior High and Beyond High School Youth Group. None of these had existed beforehand. The Women-of-the-Church had been sponsoring two underprivileged youngsters for Presbytery camp, but before long we had thirty. The Men-of-the-Church sponsored the Boy Scout troop, which was already active. We also treasured the assistance of Kenneth H. MacKay and his sister, Annie Drake. We were delighted to learn later that Jub’s daughter Ann and Kenneth’s son “Buddy” had married.
I can’t over-emphasize the importance of the Pioneer Camps, which in the Suwanee Presbytery were held at the Florida State Forestry Camp, Camp O’Leno, on the Santa Fe River. These were directed, year after year, by the Reverend Dr. Edwin F. Montgomery, pastor of the Lake City church. Boys and girls alike adored him for his wisdom, patience and understanding. Eloise and I were delighted that our three children all attended and came under “Dr. Mont’s” influence for at least three years each. Each camp and conference lasted a week, and parents assisted me with transportation. The Jacksonville churches chartered a bus.
With all this activity, it was inevitable that the elders would ask for a Director of Christian Education, which would need the approval of the Session. The usual four were present, and Mr. Opposition. was “agin’ it”, of course. Instead of calling for a vote and recording a negative, I ruled that since so many parents, deacons and elders had called for a director it wouldn’t be fair not to include them. I called for a short meeting of all the deacons and elders after the next Sunday service. I stated that Eloise and I were going to Montreat for a vacation, that I was hoping to get a young lady as Director, wanted to be sure she’d not be embarrassed by any lack of welcome and stated, “If there is opposition, please make it known now”. All kept silent.
I knew there was a young lady in Montreat who might be available, and Eloise and I went for a little ‘get acquainted” visit with Nell Proctor. She proved to be pretty, healthy, vivacious, mature, dedicated and smart, with a mind of her own and not at all timid. We didn’t mention why we called, but were pretty sure she knew. After a short ride of about five minutes, we all agreed, completely and enthusiastically. She began in the position after our vacation, on September first.
The first thing on the program after Nell’s arrival was the annual dinner the women gave for the choir. This had always been a good meal, followed by a regular choir rehearsal. Would Nell try to do something to put a little fun into it? “Sure!’, she said. She made cute place cards, with music notes drawn on them, and asked me if I had songbooks for a male quartet. I did, and brought them to her. With place cards and flowers, the table was beautiful.
Mr. Opposition had been a member of the choir for many years. I hadn’t told Nell that anyone had opposed her hiring, but she figured it out and knew what to do. She selected a proper time and without announcement walked to a piano which had been placed near his table. She looked at the three men sitting there and, beginning with the the eldest, held out her hand and beckoned with her forefinger, saying “Come here, Mr. Grieg,” then repeated the signal and called each of the others. To complete the foursome, she called me. Each obeyed, wondering what she was up to.
Deftly, she picked up four books from the top of the piano, each opened to an old familiar song. Handing these out, she said, “Sing!” She couldn’t have done anything that pleased the old gentlemen more. Mr. Grieg was absolutely charmed.
A few years later I saw Nell in Laurinburg, NC, where she was Director of Christian Education at the First Presbyterian Church. She had moved to Maxton, NC, married Dr. Lloyd McCaskill, and had three children.
I was invited to a Visitation Evangelism program in Atlanta, and after training conducted one in Ocala. I selected participants based on personality and friendliness, beginning with Jub Selph. The result was seventy new members, about half by transfer and half by profession of faith. The Sunday for the reception of the seventy was a great day in the history of the Ocala church.
After Pearl Harbor, Floridians feared lest their long coastline with numerous bays, inlets and islands would invite attacks, and the Florida State Guard was organized. Composed of men not eligible for the draft, by late December 1943 the fears had subsided but the Guard still continued in case any disorder should arise. One of our members, Trusten Drake, was the Major, and in charge. I joined as an outside activity, to promote fellowship and maybe occasionally serve as a chaplain. Not long after this we were called into action when two young black men were accused of raping a white lieutenant’s wife out in western Florida. For fear of a lynching the trial was held in Gainesville, forty miles from Ocala.
We were alerted on the day before the trial to prepare for a phone call at 3 AM. The phones rang and we gathered at the armory, where we were given instruction and issued rifles, bayonets and live ammunition. While we were checking our equipment, I heard a number of the men grumbling over being ordered “to shoot or bayonet any white citizen to protect those black SOBs”. In the Guard, I was just “a buck private in the rear rank”, but I was also a minister, and pastor of one of the leading local churches. As the latter I felt it my duty to speak, and my request was granted.
Standing beside the Major, I expressed sympathy for the feelings I’d heard expressed, and declared that no one would regret it more than I, if I returned home having killed or wounded a fellow citizen. I reminded them that some ten million of our men were fighting and dying to keep this country a land where every person has certain inalienable rights, including a fair trial by a jury if accused of a crime. I said, “I don’t intend to have any part in betraying our soldiers in their absence. I believe that if there is sufficient evidence to convict these two colored men, they will receive the penalty prescribed by the law. It is my duty, and yours, to see that they have a fair trial.”
My little speech received enthusiastic applause. We and two other Guard companies, from several counties, stood at strategic places for over two hours. The evidence was presented, the men pled guilty, were convicted and returned to prison to await death sentences. There were no threatening incidents, and all of us returned home glad for having done our duty.
As our bus rolled past the Ocala courthouse, I stood up and yelled, “Hey, fellows! That’s the most beautiful courthouse I’ve seen all day!” Got quite a laugh. I’d slept in a separate room that morn, awaiting the early call, and when I returned home I found my bed covered with plaster that had fallen from the ceiling. It must have happened shortly after I’d left at 3 AM, while the others were asleep, or they’d have heard it. I sure was glad I’d gotten an early call!
Since Bobbie, our eldest, spent all her high school years in one town, she received honors and recognition not given to her siblings, even though they too were outstanding in ability and personality. She spent four years in the Ocala High School Band, six years at Camp O’Leno. She passed the Senior Red Cross lifesaving tests at sixteen, and her singing made her well-known throughout Suwanee Presbytery.
When she was a high school junior, she got a case of the mumps and had to miss the fall rally, in Gainesville, of the Presbyterian Youth, a real disappointment for her. This was the meeting where the Presbyterian Youth officers were selected for the year. The custom was to select a high school senior for President, and the nominating committee followed custom, selecting Bobbie for Vice-President. From the floor, though, someone nominated her for President, and she was elected by a big majority! I telephoned her the news. She was certain I was wrong, that she’d been elected VICE President, and it took a fair bit of persuasion to convince her!
Mr. Stephen McCready was so impressed with Bobbie’s singing that he wanted to send her to the Trapp Family Music Camp in Vermont. Because of her youth, we persuaded him to change this to the Transylvania Music Camp in Brevard, NC. He sent her there for two summers, then to the Trapp Family camp.
As a senior, Bobbie entered the Presbyterian Scholarship Contest. On the last day for mailing she had all the papers finished, except that one hadn’t been typed. We had a surprise; a very important out-of-town visitor came for supper. Bobbie finished her paper at 11 PM, and its posting was required before midnight. The post office was closed, but its lights were on. I knocked and yelled, but got no response. I drove her to the railroad station, where a man had taken the outgoing mail for the 12:30 northbound train. I begged him to sign a note on the outside saying he’d received it before 12:00, bur he, in fear of prosecution, refused. I finally wrote a note on it, and signed it myself.
Bobbie won first prize! A scholarship for $2,000! At Bobbie’s birth, dear Mrs. MacLeod had set aside a gift of $2,000 toward her education, and church-related colleges allowed a tuition discount for ministers’ children, so that in 1948, when she enrolled at Agnes Scott College, $4,000 nearly covered all four years!
With Bobbie off to college, one evening in March 1949 I received a phone call from the office of the Presbyterian Board of Education in Richmond, Virginia. Would I consider accepting the position of Regional Director of Christian Education for the Synod of South Carolina?
Without enthusiasm, I said to send a letter and I’d consider it. The letter described in glowing terms the nature of the work and the opportunities for constructive service. It urged me to attend a two-day meeting the following week in Charleston.
I had some concerns. I’d be traveling a lot; Carol and Ted would have to leave their friends and become strangers at a new school in a big city. Eloise would have to give up her job as a visitor for the Welfare Department, and there’d be an $800 reduction in salary.
But there were positives, as well. The Board’s payment of all my travel expenses should offset the difference in salary, and I was confident that Eloise, with all her education, experience and personality would easily find a job as a public school teacher. The challenge of a new job also appealed to me. I went to the meeting.
When I arrived, I was amazed at what I found already being done there, and what was planned for the future. I recalled how bored I’d been with the church as a youth, and began to feel a calling to do something to improve this, their weakest area of church life. I rode with some Committee members to Columbia, but was told by two realtors that there wasn’t a house to rent fit for my family, only houses for sale. I didn’t have $2,500 for a down payment, so I declined the job and went home, expecting to stay.
The chairman then telephoned. Two laymen had offered to loan the down payment without interest, and to accept as repayment only the difference between the mortgage payments and the monthly rental allowance from the Board of Christian Education. This meant that I’d gradually become the owner of the house, without paying a dime. That sealed it for me!
I accepted the job, but told the chairman that I wanted him and the board to withhold the announcement until the Sunday after Easter, when I’d present my resignation. I made a quick return trip to Columbia and was met by a layman qualified to evaluate the condition of the house. He pronounced it a good buy, and I signed papers to take possession on April 30th, at which time the realtor would have the utilities turned on and the house ready.
Soon after returning, Jub Selph told me he’d been soliciting funds to buy us a new car. I confided in him my pending resignation and told him Eloise and I would be embarrassed to accept a new car and immediately leave the church. I told him that, after my announcement, he should go around and return what he had collected. He agreed to do this, but was very reluctant.
The Communion service on Thursday evening and the Easter services, with all the choirs participating, were all that we’d hoped for. The following Friday I announced my resignation to the Session and Sunday morning to the congregation, effective April 29th. There was no objection to my family continuing to live in the manse until the schools closed.
A few days before I left, Jub Selph made a little speech at the monthly meeting of the Men-of-the-Church. Addressing me, he said: “We wanted to give you a new car, not for what we expected of you in the future but for what you and your lovely family have already done for us. If you hadn’t stopped us you’d have the car. Those who’d already given wouldn’t take back their gifts. My pleasure isn’t nearly what I’d wanted it to be, but I’m pleased to present you this $800 towards the intended gift”.
I bought a new Ford and instructed a mechanic to put our 8-year-old Oldsmobile in the best possible condition for my family. I arranged for a reputable mover to pack up our belongings on a date my wife would set. I’d have preferred to stay with my family, but I’d been asked to observe some experienced workers in Sumter to prepare for my future job, which would be of tremendous help. This was scheduled at the First Presbyterian Church there, for May the first through the third.
Since I was moving into an empty house, I tossed a single mattress into my trunk, along with a few linens, a pillow and a blanket. I didn’t plan to sleep there more than a few nights in the month of May, for I’d be traveling the whole month. I planned to get acquainted with as many ministers, pastors, synod and presbytery members as I could, since I’d be working with them. My brother Malcolm and his wife lived in Savannah, so I dropped in for an overnight visit. I was surprised and delighted that they were also moving to Columbia, they in about two weeks. We phoned my family and shared the news.
I went to my office first, and phoned the realtor. My keys were with the neighbors, who were also Presbyterians. I met with some of my new colleagues for lunch and moved my few things into the house after supper. We went to Sumter for the three-day “clinic”, and it was well-named, for it reminded me of a medical team. I was impressed by the tact, courtesy and thoroughness of the Sumter church leaders.
I’d already decided to spend the rest of May traveling throughout the synod, and then my Synod Assistant added another. She was resigning September first to go back to seminary, so I’d have to find her successor. Eloise would’ve been the best choice, but with two children in high school she couldn’t afford to be away from home as much as the job required. Eloise had my travel schedule, and set up a time to meet in Columbia.
Bobbie and Carol were disappointed in the small room they had to share, but this was only for a few days. I took Bobbie to Transylvania for her fourth summer, this time as a counselor. I stopped at Queens College in Charlotte for a week-long Youth Conference, and learned of a plan to establish vocational guidance centers all over the South. I got the first one assigned to the South Carolina Synod, a major achievement.
We received a serious disappointment on my return to Columbia. The public school board had a rule against employing any new teacher over the age of 35, due to the pension program. Eloise insisted she only wanted to help get two children through college, and would gladly sign any papers declaring her ineligible for a pension, but the superintendent was adamant. We had a rough year, financially, but we’d been through them before, and I was sure we could weather the storm. I received a number of invitations to supply preach when pastors were on vacation or ill, and in churches temporarily without pastors. The honoraria varied from $25 to $50, depending on the amount of travel and the size of the church.
Then came letters from Virginia Gallemore and her daughter Virginia Fran. Virginia Fran was to be married on September 10th, and wanted me to conduct the service and Bobbie to sing. The wedding was to be in New York City where her father Roy, a captain in the Navy, was stationed.
The Gallemore family had been among our dearest friends, and the most wonderful next-door neighbors we’ve ever had. Roy served as Captain of a submarine until the death of his father, the publisher of the Bartow, Florida daily paper. Roy then retired from the Navy and took over its publication. When World War II engulfed our nation, Roy was requested to return to the Navy, and meanwhile their two sons, Roy Holland and Gilbert, had both graduated from the Naval Academy and entered the submarine service. We were delighted to accept their invitation, which came about two months before the wedding date.
A little later, I was in Montreat for a meeting and drove by the Transylvania Music Camp for a brief visit with Bobbie. Immediately, the director of the camp, Dr. Pfohl, drew me aside and urged me to transfer Bobbie from Agnes Scott to Queens College, where there was a better music department. This was really a decision for Eloise to make, so I telephoned her to catch the first bus to Brevard. Eloise and all four of her sisters had gone to Agnes Scott, so I knew this decision would be difficult for her, but under pressure from both Bobbie and Dr. Pfohl, she yielded.
New York law required a permit for non-resident ministers to conduct a marriage, and the permit office closed at 4 PM. It was after three when we emerged from the Holland Tunnel, and I held up traffic long enough to get directions to the courthouse from a policeman. There were “No Parking” signs everywhere, but I parked anyway, grabbed my papers and told the nearest policeman of my mission. He pointed and said, “Okay, just around the corner.” The permit only took a few minutes, but when I returned Eloise was nervous, and the children were chattering about how some local folks had seen their license and commented about “these crazy South Carolina people”.
I left Eloise and the girls at the Sherry-Netherland Hotel, where Virginia had made reservations, and Ted and I drove out and stayed with Eloise’s sister Genevieve and her husband, who had an apartment in town. The evening before the wedding, the groom’s father gave a dinner for the wedding party at the Waldorf-Astoria and the next morning the Gallemores entertained with a breakfast at the Sherry-Netherland. The wedding was in a small chapel in the Marble Collegiate Church. Bobbie sang “I Love Thee”, by Grieg, and “Because”, by d’Hardelot. Along with the immediate families of the bride and groom was Virginia’s brother Spessard Holland, who was formerly Governor of Florida and was now a United States Senator.
We were a few days late getting the children into school. Bobbie was now a sophomore at Queens College and Carol and Ted senior and sophomore at Dreyer High School in Columbia. All had to start over making friends and gaining acceptance in their new schools. They managed, but it wasn’t always easy.
Our first Christmas in Columbia was seriously marred by an auto accident. Ted and another boy were in the old Oldsmobile. Ted said, “I don’t feel good. Will you drive?” Ted knew the brakes were not very good, but didn’t think to mention it. The other boy had no driver’s license, but didn’t tell Ted. The collision resulted in $200 damage to the other car and about as much to ours. The driver’s father agreed to pay half the cost of repairing the other car, and I had to sell our car to pay the other half. Thank God there were no personal injuries!
For twenty-four years, I’d owned cars with no insurance! Our family was without a car, thereafter, when I was away, but the high school was within walking distance and the bus line passed by our house, so the situation was bearable. Whenever possible, I left the Ford~now insured!~with the family.
Early in January 1950, I boarded a plane for a week-long meeting of the Board staff with the Regional Directors, where we reviewed the activities of the past year and planned for the future. Next came the annual retreat of the Directors of Christian Education. Mel Hobson was now Synod Assistant after her predecessor, Jane Chamblee, had left. She suggested Oconee State Park for the three-day retreat.
This park, in the mountains, was built for summer vacations, and soon after we arrived snow began falling. Our cabin consisted of one large room and two small private rooms. Our only source of heat was a huge open fireplace. Because of the frigid weather, all the ladies had moved their cots into the big room, but I had to take one of the little rooms and close the door. I gave one command: “The last one ready for bed, OPEN THIS DOOR!”
I’d already piled all the wood I could onto the fire, but of course it didn’t last. I awoke, shivering, several times to build up the fire, and to get to it I had to step over several cots, each with a young lady inside. Once, a plank of the cabin wall fell to the outside, and I had to dress, go out and prop it back up with sticks. I didn’t sleep much.
The next morning I had to wait until all the ladies were dressed before leaving my cold room. At breakfast the conversation ranged from where the next retreat would be to skillfully embroidered teasing about me “climbing” over them at night, and my insistence that I didn’t “climb“ but merely “stepped” over them just kindled mock jeers. Incidentally, they decided on Ocean Drive Beach for their next retreat, but at that retreat, for the first time in years, the temperature dropped to sixteen degrees! Thereafter, the dates for the retreat were set in the spring!
As Easter approached, Carol skillfully and beautifully fashioned her own Easter dress and bonnet, but when the day dawned she had an acute pain in her side. We called our friend Dr. John Timmons, who rushed out and told her, “Honey, I’m sorry, but you’re not going to wear those pretty things today. I’m taking you to the hospital and tomorrow your appendix is coming out!
Eloise, at this time, had been selected as Bible Teacher for the South Carolina Synod, and was often away visiting churches throughout the state. She couldn’t “touch home base” sometimes for several days in a row, but in her absence I visited Carol frequently.
One day in conversation with the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Orangeburg, Dr. Frank Estes, I mentioned our disappointment that Eloise had been unable to get a teaching position in Columbia. He said, “I’ll bet Dr. Ruston would accept her.” He did, with enthusiasm, so late that summer we rented our house and moved to an apartment in Orangeburg, just as Carol was beginning school at Agnes Scott. I sometimes had to commute the 42 miles to Columbia, but often stayed with Malcolm and his wife.
It’s interesting that often when one has to make a change in life to secure an advantage, others advantages come with it. Ted had enjoyed an interesting life until we moved to Columbia; he’d had close friends in Ocala, had been in the high school band, had gotten work scholarships to Transylvania Music Camp two years in a row. In the much larger high school in Columbia, he’d been a loner, an odd duck among strangers. Now in Orangeburg, he was immediately accepted as an interesting person, a musician most welcomed in the band, in the chorus, as a soloist and a member of the male quartet. He loved and admired his teachers, his fellow students and his minister, all of whom enjoyed his company.
He plunged into his studies with intense enthusiasm, and with three other boys organized a “mini-orchestra”, which played every Saturday night for a public square dance on a street in Hampton, a small town fifty miles distant. Their pay started at $15 per night, but as the crowd of dancers increased so did their pay.
He was so happy, and doing so well with school, that Eloise and I decided to let him stay, boarding with friends, when events moved us back to Columbia. Dr. Fred Poag became minister at Shandon Presbyterian Church, and called on Eloise to accept the position of Director of Leadership Education as well as Church Visitor, combining duties of which she was well qualified, and which she enjoyed much more than teaching school. We moved to a nearby apartment, sold the house we’d bought two years before and bought Eloise a car. Ted spent the summer of 1951 working for his architect uncle in Atlanta and living in their home.
Non-residents were ordinarily required to pay tuition for a son or daughter in school, but the Orangeburg school refused to accept it for Ted’s last year of high school, which was “icing on the cake” for us. In the spring of 1952, Ted graduated from high school, and Bobbie from college. That summer both sang in “Horn in the West”, an outdoor theatrical production in Boone, NC, depicting local experiences during the American Revolution.
Bobbie fell in love with Ned Austin, the star of the show, who portrayed Daniel Boone. Their wedding, in October, was in the chapel of the First Presbyterian Church, in Charlotte, where Bobbie had been a member of the choir when she was at Queens College. They then went to New York and joined the Actor’s Guild, hoping for theatrical careers. They both got jobs, but not in theatre. Bobbie was a guide at Radio City, where many spoke of her “happy southern accent”. Ned was a shipping clerk in the afternoons and evenings, which left his mornings free to visit theatrical employment offices.
Carol returned to Agnes Scott College as a junior, and Ted enrolled at Duke University. In the spring of 1953, Carol and Lewis S. (“Pete”) Hay, a student at Columbia Theological Seminary, met and fell in love. Both had one more year in school. During the summer Pete served as a student preacher in Sumter, close enough to Columbia to continue a regular courtship. Ted stayed at Duke for summer school.
We knew Bobbie and Ned were scrimping to get by, but every letter was cheerful. When Bobbie called from the hospital to announce the birth of our first grandchild, David, Eloise phoned Virginia Gallemore to please go see what help they needed. Her report back, in essence, was, “Relax, they’re doing fine!”. They returned to Boone just in time to participate again in “Horn in the West”. A slight change in the script, and Bobbie appeared onstage with three-week-old David. After the battle of Kings Mountain Bobbie searched the field for her husband, reported wounded. A soldier called out to her, “He’s dead”, and she sat on a stump to sing a song of grief. She’d joggle Davy just enough so that he’d move or whimper, and the audience would discover that he was a real baby, not a doll.
That fall Carol and Pete decided that courting was interfering with their studies, or more probably the other way around, and on December 23rd they were married, in Shandon Presbyterian Church. After a Christmas honeymoon they lived in an apartment until they both graduated, then moved to Princeton so that Pete could get his master’s degree. Pete began teaching at Presbyterian College in Clinton, SC in 1955, and soon they had two daughters, Kathy and Carol.
Ted, by attending summer school, graduated from Duke after three years. He did his Army basic training at Fort Jackson and, since his major was in math and physics, was eligible for Army study and service in guided missiles. After a year in El Paso, he was stationed at a missile site near Boston, married his Duke sweetheart and at the end of his army stint was employed by the Sylvania corporation in Waltham, Massachusetts. He continued his education with night school at Northeastern University in Boston, and earned a Master of Science degree.
Ted and Elaine had two daughters, Karen and Audrey. In the late 1960s, they moved to the Pacific atoll Kwajalein, in the Marshall Islands about halfway between Hawaii and Australia. Ted’s five-year project was the building and testing of an anti-missile site, with an associated radar complex. The giant radar’s purpose is to keep a round-the-clock watch for missiles which may be fired from Asia, and to distinguish between real missiles and harmless decoys. The anti-missile missiles, guided by radar, are targeted to intercept and explode enemy missiles.
Engineers and technicians live on Kwajalein with their families and fly to and from work on a 30-minute flight to the other island. Kwajalein is roughly L-shaped, with one leg used as a runway and the other for residences, mainly mobile homes. They have a school, church, theatre and various recreational facilities, including for swimming, boating, sailing, water-skiing, and scuba-diving. They put on plays and musical performances in the theatre, and vacation in Hawaii, Japan, the USA and other places. They loved living there, but as the girls reached their teens it was time to come home.
After New York and North Carolina, Bobbie and Ned moved to Denver, where they spent about sixteen years in teaching, television, barbering, theatrical participation and a a bit of real estate investment. Three boys and three girls, in that order, completed a large and musical family. Sam, the third and youngest boy, starred at the age of twelve in a Walt Disney made-for-television movie, “Mountain Born”, to which he also wrote the theme song. The family moved to Hollywood for two years, and then back to Boone, NC, Ned’s native home.
We’ve visited our children regularly, both at their homes in Denver, Boston and Clinton, and with family reunions in Cherry Grove Beach, SC. Eloise and I have been mighty happy and proud of our children, their spouses and all ten of our grandchildren. I’m sorry Eloise didn’t live to see Sam’s movie, but glad she lived long enough to know all of them well.
Eloise worked at the Shandon Presbyterian Church for five years and led the development of Christian education until, in that area of activity, it was by far the number one church in the Synod. The Synod then chose her as my assistant and we, together with the help of many others, led it to number one in Leadership education, through clinics, leadership training and laboratory schools, and department training centers. After five years as my assistant, Eloise developed cataracts and had to retire. By then our work had grown so that we needed two assistants and secretaries!
In 1954 a friend handed me a check for the $3,000 down payment on a home so that we could get out of the small second floor apartment we were in, and refused to accept interest, or any note to indicate indebtedness. The first item on our monthly budget thereafter was a $50 payment to him. Five years later, when I made our last payment, I discovered he’d kept no records in connection with the loan at all! What a liberal and trusting friend! I’d tell you who it was if I weren’t sure he wouldn’t want me to!
It was wonderful to have a nice home for fifteen years, particularly when so much illness was ahead for both Eloise and me. In 1956 I had a heart attack, and had to take a month off for recuperation. In 1961 Eloise began a series of eye operations for cataracts and detached retinas. In 1965 I had another serious heart attack, and retired in 1966 when Eloise had the first of a series of strokes, crippling her left leg and arm. My age was 67.
I took Eloise to a leading neurologist, but he frankly told me nothing could be done, and that she would continue to have more strokes. A second one occurred in 1968, further affecting the same leg and arm. In 1969 an apartment became available at the Presbyterian Home in Summerville, and we moved in October 1st, after listing our home for sale and selling almost all our furniture.
On December 21st, Eloise had a third stroke, and spent Christmas at the local hospital. In our apartment after she’d been released, she fell and broke a femur just below her hip, which was repaired in the Charleston hospital. She begged to go back to the apartment, but the doctor said I couldn’t take care of her. I insisted on a two-week trial, and cared for her for ten months, taking her to meals and for rides in a wheelchair, until her fourth stroke in June 1971, when she went permanently to the infirmary. I’m glad I had the privilege of caring for her for those ten months.
Ted and family were planning to return from Kwajalein, and on August 14th, a Saturday, were to show slides of the island and the activities there. A “Ted Jones Sunday” was planned at the home, with Ted Sr. to preach and Ted Jr. to sing. I wrote Ted that his mother was failing fast, that my sermon would be for her, and for him to sing something appropriate. He did, singing “In Heavenly Love Abiding”.
Eloise was a wonderful wife, mother, grandmother, teacher, neighbor, friend and patient. Through all of her years of work and all her infirmities, she never complained about forced frugality, never wavered in love and compassion for others, never turned away from an opportunity for service, was always cheerful and creative and never lost her wonderful sense of humor. She was, in every respect, a most beautiful Christian lady. One of her favorite verses was Matthew 25:40, “Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of my brethren you have done it unto me.”
I had the privilege of planning the memorial service. I selected the scripture readings and hymns and engaged one of Columbia’s finest baritones to sing “The Holy City”, all planned before Eloise expired on October 22, 1971. Members of her family came from as far as New York, California, Georgia, Florida and all over the Carolinas.The service, in Shandon Presbyterian Church in Columbia, was conducted by two of our long-time minister friends, Dr. Julian Lake and Rev. E.G. Beckman. At the suggestion of the pastor, the congregation came forward to be close to the family.

A Revision of Parts of Proverbs 31,
for a Twentieth Century Wife and Mother
The Rev. W. Ted Jones

(read by a minister at the memorial service)
A good wife and mother is of vastly more worth than a fabulous store of jewels. She looks well to the ways of the household, and does not eat of the bread of idleness. She disciplines herself, and inspires others to emulate her in self-discipline.
Strength and honor are her clothing. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and from her lips flow words of grace. She fosters restraint in anger and frowns upon selfishness and snobbishness.
She encourages her children with love and kindness, but insists upon their doing well what studies and chores are assigned.
When her children are small, she holds them in her lap and rocks them to sleep, singing lullabies, hymns and spirituals.
She takes them to the house of public worship and dedicates herself in the Holy Sacraments. She teaches them the basic truths about Jesus.
She sits by beds of illness and comforts her children through the long watches of the night. Her children and husband seek and follow her wise counsel through the years in many difficult decisions.
Her love reaches out beyond her own home, and the children of the neighborhood gather around her for stories, songs, games, to draw pictures and partake of the inevitable refreshments. She teaches in the church school, serves as Cub Scout den mother, leads Girl Scouts in lively meetings and adventurous camping experiences. She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her arms to the needy and lonely.
Her children grow up to call her wonderful, and her husband also, and he praises her and comforts her in her illnesses. Her friends are myriad, and shower her with praise.
Give her the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her far and wide among the many upon whom she has bestowed her love, and to whom she has given of her life.
I’m glad we came to South Carolina, where she was privileged in having more and greater opportunities than ever before of putting Matthew 25:40 into practice. I’m grateful that so many people in South Carolina came to know her, to admire and love her. I’m grateful that she lived to know and love all the fine persons our children married, and all of her wonderful grandchildren. Finally, I’m grateful that she had the privilege of spending her last two years in the Presbyterian Home, amidst so much tender loving care.
With contributions from her family and friends, the room from which her Savior led her, free from physical afflictions, to His home prepared for her, a bronze plaque designates the furnishings as a memorial to her. That room, and not her grave, is sacred to me. I look upon it with reverence, and hope to have the privilege of being there when He comes for me. Another Presbyterian Home is to be built in Clinton, and a good proportion of my contributions will go to it so that many other elderly persons may have such tender care as we’ve had here.

My grandfather’s memoir ends here, though he lived another nine years. He spent most of his next few years arranging his affairs and planning his funeral. Active and sociable before, he became listless and depressed. After six years, his family persuaded him to move to the Presbyterian Home in Summerville, South Carolina.
Good idea. He perked up, wrote more letters, joined the social scene. After a few months, he wrote a letter, full of indignation, to his kids. The residents were teasing him; they couldn’t believe he’d merely been enjoying the company of a certain woman who sang and played the piano with him nearly every day. How dare the others assume there was a romance! Their relationship was strictly platonic, and entirely respectable!
Two weeks later, another letter. He and Lucile were to be married! At the age of seventy-eight, he married Lucile Boswell Neely, a retired teacher from Hartsville, SC, widowed for thirty-nine years. My uncle, laughing, wondered if he’d proposed to her in the front seat of the car, or the back!
Lucile had written a textbook, “Hartsville, Our Community”, which was used in the Hartsville Public Schools for many years. I have the first copy which she autographed as “Lucile Jones”, which was also the first time she’d signed her name as “Jones”!
Shortly afterwards, I told my good friend and business partner Marcus Brown about the event. His father was from Hartsville, too, and had an Aunt Lucy. Mark’s great-aunt had married my grandfather! Halfway through our twenties, we became cousins!
Ted and Lucile had two wonderful years before he passed on, at the age of eighty. At his memorial, it was hard for the family not to joke or laugh, because all through our lives, when he’d been there, we’d ALWAYS had fun!


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My mother named me Dorothy Roberta Jones after her sister, Dorothy Roberta Knight, who passed away at the age of thirteen. I’ve at times gone by Roberta, Dottie Bob, Bobbie, Miss Jones, Miss Roberta, Mrs. Austin, Roberta J. Austin and Bobbie Austin. I also answer to Mom, Aunt Bobbie, Grandma and Great Grandma. This memoir, then, was written by Roberta J. Austin, a.k.a. all of the above.

“Are we there yet?” was a question I heard often from my children whenever we were traveling, and it’s taken me a lifetime to realize that the answer should always be, “Yes”, because the trip is always as important as the destination.

In this memoir, names have not been changed, and events have been described as I remember them. If some of the particulars are muddled or off-track, I apologize.

I’ve had conversations with many of my family and friends which have helped me to clarify details, and I’d like to thank them all. Special thanks to my oldest son, David, who encouraged, prodded, consulted, edited and typed this whole thing! Without that (especially the occasional prodding!) I’m sure this project wouldn’t have gotten done.

New York City, October 1952
New York City was incredible! I loved the cacophony of horns, sirens and jackhammers accompanying the currents of pedestrians and vehicles that rushed down the skyscraper-lined streets like waters roaring through a great canyon. My stride quickened to match the tempo of the city as I hustled from subway to new job. The aromas of ethnic foods assailed my nostrils and foreign tongues sifted through the hubbub, heightening my enthusiasm, coloring my new life. I was a college graduate now, a newlywed, a working woman and pregnant! So grown up! What a contrast this was to my childhood!

Bartow, Florida, April 1935
The organ faded to stillness and my daddy’s voice filled the small church as I wriggled on the hard wood pew. Carol and Teddy, my younger siblings, had been taken home after Sunday school to stay with Georgia, our colored cook. I was old enough, at nearly five, to attend church. My feet didn’t reach the floor, so one of the deacons had built me a foot stool. I tried to live up to the trust that had been placed in me, but the sermon, never more than twenty minutes, seemed very long, and it was hard to sit still. Celeste Barnett, the teen-age girl I sat with, started drawing pictures on her church bulletin to entertain me. My mother was in the choir, and so was Celeste’s daddy. Amy Hall, the grocer’s wife, sang soprano. Mother sang alto, Daddy sang tenor, and Mr. Barnett sang bass. Mrs. Lyle played the organ. I always enjoyed the music. I couldn’t yet read, but the hymns sung at every service–the Doxology, the Gloria–I knew by heart, and I joined in lustily. I added many other hymns to my repertoire as they became familiar. When Mrs. Lyle played something I particularly liked, “Kamenei Ostrow”, for instance, I determined to someday learn the piano.

Mrs. McLeod was a main support for the First Presbyterian Church. She ran a boarding house in Bartow, and her daughter, Mary Stewart McLeod, was my mother’s roommate at Agnes Scott College. When Mother was pregnant with me, she and Daddy lived in West Virginia, but Mother had Florida sand in her shoes. When Mrs. McLeod’s church needed a minister, they called Daddy. Mother admired Mrs. McLeod, a strong, stalwart old lady. She always wanted to write her biography, but due to one facet of her life, never did.

Orr and Aunt Mamie
Mr. and Mrs. Orr lived across the street and were like grandparents to us. We called him “Orr” and her “Aunt Mamie”. Aunt Mamie had an upright piano and played spirited gospel hymns. They weren’t Presbyterians, but once in awhile if Mrs. Lyle couldn’t be at church, Aunt Mamie filled in. One time she asked me, “Which music do you like best–the slow music Mrs. Lyle plays, or the peppy music I play?”
With the innocence of a child too young to recognize a loaded question, I answered without guile, “I like the music Mrs. Lyle plays.”
“You do?!” Aunt Mamie laughed heartily and gave me a playful spank. I didn’t understand why that was so funny.

Aunt Mamie raised chickens in her back yard and I sometimes helped her collect eggs, but didn’t really enjoy it. I was squeamish about reaching under the hens. Sometimes the eggs were soiled and I didn’t want to touch them, but when a hen was setting and her eggs started hatching, the baby chicks fascinated me, as they did Carol and Teddy.

Teddy was just two years old when Mother took the three of us to a photographer to have a group portrait made. To put a smile on Teddy’s face, Aunt Mamie lent one of her baby chicks for him to hold. Our sitting went well, and later, when Mother received the finished portraits, she proudly showed them to us.
“Teddy, who is this?” she asked, holding his portrait. “Dass Aunt Mamie…” he began.
“No, Teddy, that’s not Aunt Mamie.”
Showing some exasperation, he repeated, “Dass Aunt Mamie…”
“Teddy, you know that’s not Aunt Mamie! Who is this?”
Very fast, he responded, “Dassauntmamie’s chickabiddy!”

The first time I was in church on Communion Sunday I was sitting next to Celeste as usual. I was intently interested in the tiny glasses of grape juice on the communion trays, and deeply disappointed when they passed over my head. When I later I told Aunt Mamie about this, she went immediately to her kitchen, prepared some grape juice and bread, and we had communion at her kitchen table. I thanked her and feigned satisfaction, but it wasn’t the same without those tiny little glasses.

The circus was coming to town, and Aunt Mamie and Orr asked Mother if they could take me. The day we were to go, I wasn’t feeling so well, but didn’t tell Mother because I didn’t want to miss the circus. We went, but my chief memory of that day is of throwing up my first cotton candy! I haven’t cared for cotton candy since!

One night Daddy didn’t come home for supper. Mother said Orr was sick and Daddy was with him. Mother put us to bed before Daddy came home, and they told us the next morning that Orr had gone to heaven. I cried, but they said Orr was with Jesus now and had no more sickness or pain, so I guessed I should feel happy.

A Miserable Vacation

In 1934, when we went to Miami Beach, all three children came down with whooping cough. Mother’s sister, Adah, came to help her nurse us through. The disease is aptly named. We were whooping and coughing and vomiting, and one of the neighbors heard all that carrying on and called the police to break up our “wild party”! We were quarantined and spent our entire vacation confined to the house, but we were too sick to care. Teddy, only 3-1/2 months old, almost died. We recovered, and returned to Bartow. When I hear modern mothers objecting to immunizing their babies, I think they can’t have any idea what those childhood diseases are like or they’d be grateful for the shots!

New Car
In the summer of 1935 it was decided we needed a new car. Daddy found that it’d save money to travel to Detroit and buy the car direct from the factory. Mother’s sister, Nancy Lou Narmore, lived with her family in Ann Arbor while Uncle Phil was studying for his PhD, so we made plans to stay with them in Michigan while arrangements were made for the car. Teddy stayed home with Grandmother. Mrs. Rusk, a member of our church, wanted to ride with us back to her home in Michigan, and we shared expenses. She rode in the front with Daddy while Mother rode in the back with Carol and me. She read our horoscopes every day, and warned Mother and Daddy when to take heed.

Mrs. Rusk made it an eventful trip! When we stopped for gas in Georgia, Mrs. Rusk gave the attendant a credit card, and we left. A few miles up the road Mrs. Rusk exclaimed, “Oh! I forgot to take back my card!” She’d also forgotten to sign the slip, and the gas station attendant, thinking he’d been ripped off, had called the law, who arrived just about then. Daddy persuaded them that it was a big mistake, not a scam, and they escorted us back to the service station so Mrs. Rusk could sign for the gas and retrieve her card. Mother delighted in telling this story, because the attendant had told the officers there was “a man and his wife in the front seat and a seventeen-year-old girl with two small children in the back!”

On July 28th (my fifth birthday), Mrs. Rusk read her horoscope and it told her to avoid travel. Mother and Daddy had to be pretty firm with her to get back on the road, but travel we did, into Ohio hill country. Both Carol and I got carsick, and Daddy repeatedly had to stop the car so we could get out and throw up. Mother wanted to give us some cracked ice, but there were no service stations for miles. Finally, Daddy stopped at a house on a hill and Mother climbed to the front door to ask the lady of the house for some ice. While Mother was talking, Mrs. Rusk noticed a clover patch on the hillside and asked if we might look for four-leaf clovers. I celebrated my birthday eating cracked ice and searching for four-leaf clovers. Some birthday! Maybe we shouldn’t have traveled! Anyway, we finally got to Michigan and had a fun time with our cousins, Phyllis and Bennett. The ride home in the new car, without Mrs. Rusk, was uneventful but slow, because a new car had to be broken in. We traveled the long trip home going 35 to 40 miles an hour.

Big Wedding
“Yes, maam?”
“Run upstairs and get my sewing basket.”
“Yes, maam!”

When I was five, my relationship with Grandmother was not comfortable. I was a little scared of her. She was never mean, but there was a sharpness in her voice when she called. In later years I learned to appreciate Grandmother and enjoy her company, but not at five years old!

Mother’s cousin Jo Montanus, whom we called Aunt Jo, was having a big church wedding in Coral Gables and wanted me to be her flower girl. I needed to go down several days beforehand to have the seamstress fit me and make my dress so I could be there for the photographer and the rehearsal. It was decided that Grandmother and I would go down on the train, while Mother, Daddy, Carol and Teddy would come along in the car in time for the wedding. This was BIG!

I’d never ridden on a train nor been to a wedding, so I didn’t know what to expect. Neither did I know that branch of the family very well. I’d met Aunt Jo once or twice and her mother, Great Aunt Adah, but Uncle Philip not at all. In short, I was taking a plunge into an unknown adventure with a bunch of near-strangers, and I had strong, mixed emotions: excitement and trepidation!
Our train was leaving Bartow early in the morning, so Mother had packed my little suitcase the night before. Daddy took Grandmother and me to the train depot, gave us our tickets and a big hug, and we hustled out to the platform where the train was hissing and puffing.

“All aboard!” called the conductor and the bell clanged. Another quick hug from Daddy and I mounted the steps with Grandmother. We turned at the door, waved goodbye and found seats. With a jerk and a clang, we chugged away and I left everything familiar behind.

The porter treated me like royalty, lifting my small bag to the rack above our seat alongside Grandmother’s larger one, then directing us to the diner, where we ate breakfast. I had half a grapefruit sprinkled with sugar, two slices of buttered toast, a poached egg and a glass of milk. Our table was covered with a snow-white tablecloth and at each place there was a large white napkin in a tent-like fold. The service was elegant. It included a large plate, a smaller plate, a cereal bowl, two forks, two spoons, a knife, a coffee cup and saucer, a miniature dish of salt with its own tiny spoon, a glass of ice water and a shallow bowl of water which Grandmother said was a finger bowl, to dip your fingers into if they got sticky.

I don’t remember how long the train trip took, but I know we had lunch in the diner as well. I think we may have arrived in Miami in time to have supper at the Montanus home in Coral Gables.

My memories of the house are patchy and peculiar. Why do I remember a tiled roof, but don’t remember any other details of its exterior? I remember nothing of the colors or interior décor, but I remember brocade draperies and thick carpets, giving me an impression of wealth. The one detail I remember vividly was the cuckoo clock on the wall. I’d watch it and wait for the cuckoo to come out, which it did every fifteen minutes. Most of the time, there wasn’t much else for me to do. I went to the seamstress three times–once to be measured, again to be fitted and finally to try on the finished dress. I then sat twice for the hairdresser; once for pictures, once for the wedding. She used a curling iron that was heated on a bed of coals. We then went to the photographer for portraits–many portraits. Individual portraits of the bride, the maid of honor (Aunt Genevieve), each of the bridesmaids and each of the flower girls (Nancy Bennett and me). Group portraits as well. Most of the time I was sitting still, watching the bustle, trying not to get dirty, staying out of the way. I was surely glad when my family arrived, the day before the wedding!

For the wedding, Nancy and I had baskets of rose petals, which we scattered in the aisle as we walked ahead of the bride. That’s all I remember about that; I just wanted to finish and get back to my family!

When the hoopla was over, we drove back to Bartow, traveling the Tamiami Trail, which is now Highway 41. Just as it started to get dark, we had a flat tire, and Daddy said, “Oh, phooey!” That was his swear word. He got out to change the tire, and Mother made us stay in the car because she heard bobcats screaming in the swamp. I worried about Daddy, but he said they wouldn’t come near when the car had its lights on, and he also had a flashlight to keep them away while he changed the tire. I don’t know if that was true, but I felt less afraid. Daddy changed the tire and we drove home.

Ghosts, Recitals and Parties
Halloween was always a big event in Bartow. The downtown merchants decorated their stores and set up booths. There were fortune tellers, haunted houses, “go fishing” tanks with prizes to catch, windows that said “Soap Me”, a cake walk and a costume parade, with prizes for the best costumes. When Teddy was two, Mother made a ghost costume out of an old sheet, but when he looked in the mirror he scared himself and started crying. She discarded that idea and went shopping. He ended up in a monkey costume, and rode on Daddy’s shoulders in the parade. He won first prize, a coconut cream pie!

Miss Culpepper was our piano teacher. Carol and I took lessons, and a highlight of the year was our piano recital, when we wore long dresses and played solos for an audience! One year we played a duet, “March of the Wee Folk”, and Carol played a song she’d made up herself. We announced our own numbers, so Carol walked onstage and stated, “I shall play ‘Fairy Queen’ by….me!” She was four years old, and so cute! She played and sang, “Fairy Queen is sitting down. Little fairies bring the crown.”

The following year we went to Winter Haven for a joint recital with the students of a teacher who was Miss Culpepper’s friend. Miss Culpepper was riding alongside Mother, who was driving, and the three of us were in back. Suddenly, our sedan’s back door flew open, with Teddy holding on to it. Carol and I both screamed, and quick as a flash, Miss Culpepper reached back, grabbed him by the arm and pulled him to safety. Shortly afterwards they began designing cars with doors that opened towards the rear instead of the front.

Our next-door neighbors were the Gallemores. Mr. Gallemore was the editor of the local newspaper, The Polk County Record, and Mrs. Gallemore was a high school English teacher. They had three children, older than us; two sons, Roy Holland and Gilbert, and one daughter, Virginia Fran. Mrs. Gallemore–Virginia–was my mother’s closest friend and like an older sister to my mother, who had five younger sisters. I often heard, “Virginia Gallemore says…” and “Virginia Gallemore does…”, and we’d usually do likewise.

Virginia Fran was like an older sister to me. She was four years older, and I’m sure there were times when it was a drag to her to have me coming over to her house to play with her and her friends, but she never made me feel anything but welcome.

Virginia Fran took piano lessons from Miss Culpepper, and so did her friend Dale Taylor. Dale had her lesson just before me, and one day as she was leaving I heard her tell Miss Culpepper she was going to Virginia Fran’s birthday party that afternoon. I was unhappy to hear this–Virginia Fran was having a birthday party, and I wasn’t invited! I guessed it was going to be a big girls’ party, and I wasn’t big yet. Later that day, I was moping disconsolately in the yard, still feeling hurt, when Melana, our colored cook, called out to me, “Roberta, come in and take your bath now.”

Bath? In the middle of the day? That could mean only one thing! “Am I going to Virginia Fran’s birthday party?!” I squealed gleefully.
“Shh-shh-h! It’s supposed to be a surprise!”
Now I felt a little insulted. My mother and Melana hadn’t told me about the party because they thought I couldn’t keep a secret! Well, their strategy had backfired!

First Voice Lesson
When I was seven years old, Daddy thought it’d be nice to have me sing a solo for infant baptism. He taught me the song:
I think when I read that sweet story of old
When Jesus was here among men
How he called little children as lambs to his fold
I should like to have been with them then
I wish that his hand had been placed on my head
That his arm had been thrown around me
And that I might have seen his kind look when he said
“Let the little ones come unto me.”

Mother felt I should have a lesson first, so she sent me to Mrs. Reid, a voice teacher. Mrs. Reid said my vowels were too flat, especially my short “a” sound. She wanted me to sing, “…when I read thaht sweet story” and “…he called little children ahs lahmbs to his fold”, etc. I tried.
At home, Mother asked me about my lesson. “I get all mixed up,” I said. “I’m trying to sing ‘thaht sweet story’ and ‘ahs lahmbs’ but then I keep singing ‘Jesahs’ and ‘amahng men’”.
“Oh,” she said, “then don’t change anything. Just sing the song.” That’s what I did.

Yo-yos, Jacks and Jump Ropes
Our back-door neighbors, the Hargroves, had three girls: Mimi (Mary Claire), who was one year older than me, Dolly (Dorothy Waldo), who was between me and Carol by age, and Judy (Judith Lee), who was Teddy’s age. Mrs. Hargrove’s name was Dorothy, and she was called Dot. Her mother, Mrs. Waldo, who lived with them, made sugar cookies for all the neighborhood kids at Christmas. We liked the Hargroves, played with them every day, and Mother and Dot would often chat.

All the neighborhood kids usually got together in ours or the Hargrove’s yard. Kids today sometimes ask me, “What did you do for fun if you didn’t have television or video games?” Well, it depended on the weather and the time of day. If it was hot we played in the lawn sprinkler, running in and out, screaming and laughing. If it rained and there was no lightning, we ran in the rain. We played hopscotch, jacks, marbles, jumped rope. We roller skated on the sidewalk, pulled each other in wagons, rode tricycles and bicycles, played Freeze Tag, Crack the Whip or Hide and Seek. We had lots of games, but one of our favorites, especially at dusk, was “Ain’t No Bears Out Tonight”. This was a kind of reverse Hide-and-Seek. There was a home base, but the person who was “it” (the “Bear”) would hide while the others stayed “home” and counted. Then we’d all run around the yard, singing “Ain’t no bears out tonight. Daddy shot ‘em all last night.” We’d sing it over and over until the “bear” came running out to grab someone, then we’d scream and run for home base. If someone got caught, they were “it” for the next round.

Tonsil Trouble
We didn’t like Dr. Hargrove very much. He was proud and aloof, but was the only surgeon in town and he also delivered babies. He delivered Carol and Teddy, and took out my tonsils. I was almost eight when they decided my tonsils and adenoids had to go. I was looking forward to the operation because they told me that afterwards I could have all the ice cream I wanted. When I awoke, however, I had such a sore throat that I couldn’t even swallow ice cream! I felt so betrayed! All I could take was cracked ice, which I let dribble down my throat. I don’t remember how long I spent in the hospital–two or three days– but a week after surgery I was sitting quietly in my back yard playing jacks (I’d been warned not to run or play hard) when suddenly I began spitting up blood- a lot! Back in the hospital they tied a gauze bandage in my throat, through my nose, to stop the bleeding. They said I’d hemorrhaged because I’d been playing in the sun. It wasn’t until years later that I learned Dr. Hargrove had made a mess of my tonsillectomy, also cutting off the uvula in the back of my throat! I was still in the hospital on my eighth birthday, so Daddy brought in my present–a new bicycle! It was shiny blue and had “balloon tires”. My old bike had been a hand-me-down with skinny tires. I was thrilled! I couldn’t ride it, but I’d look and know it was mine!

Lost in the City
Mother had grown up on my grandfather’s grove located on a bay near Clearwater, Florida. It’d been a family custom to pile into a large motorboat and cross the bay to Tampa to go Christmas shopping, so one year Mother decided we should all drive to Tampa. The night before our adventure in the big city, Mother gathered us in the kitchen for some special instructions.

“Now, it’s important to stay together and not wander off. But just in case you do get lost, don’t go looking for us. We’ll be looking for you. Stay in one place until we can find you.”
After some additional instructions, Mother asked a few questions to be sure we understood and would remember.
“Teddy, what will you do if you get lost?” Drawing on his own life experience more than on Mother’s instructions, he replied, “Well, I’d go up to a colored man, and if he wasn’t a ghost I’d…”

Carol and I interrupted him with hearty laughter, because we knew that ghosts were whiter than white and would never be mistaken for a colored man! Pondering this in later years, I’m struck by the memory of the special bond we children felt for “colored folks”. We trusted them, believed in them.

Mother went back to her instructions, and it’s a good thing she repeated them, this time focusing on what to do, rather than what not to do.
“If you’re outside, stand still and look for a policeman to help you. But remember, we’ll be looking for you and will retrace our steps, so stay where we’ve been so we can find you. If you’re in a store, go to the nearest clerk and tell him or her that you’re lost. The clerk will know what to do.”

Maas Brothers was a huge store. I looked up at a gigantic web of 4-inch tubes radiating from an office on the second floor all across the ceiling and down to each cash register. The clerks would put money or messages into small containers and the tubes would suck them right up into the office. It was amazing!

It had a speaker system too. After a little while Mother looked down at us and said, “Where’s Teddy?!” The words had just left her mouth when the speaker announced, “We have a lost boy at the women’s jewelry counter.”

We looked back to see a white-faced Teddy standing on the counter where he could be seen. “You did exactly the right thing!”, Mother said joyfully as Daddy reached Teddy and lifted him onto his shoulders. Her advice had paid off–and made us all mindful to stay together when we were in a strange place!

Home Delivery
There were lots of home-delivery items in those days. Mail was delivered, of course, but also milk and dairy products, laundry, dry cleaning, groceries and newspapers. The most exciting delivery was the iceman! He drove a horse-drawn wagon loaded with big blocks of ice. He was so strong! Housewives had a card to put in the window. It was printed on both sides, with two numbers on each side, one right side up and the other upside down. There was 25 over 50 on one side, and 75 over 100 on the other. The card placed in a window with one number facing out and right side up told the iceman how large a block of ice to deliver. He’d chip off a block of the proper size with his icepick, grab it with tongs, carry it into the house and hoist it up into the icebox. When he chipped off a piece of ice, small pieces fell on the wagon floor, and we kids would scoop them up to eat–or sometimes to drop down each other’s backs!

Funeral With an Unexpected Twist
Daddy was with the McLeods when Mr. McLeod passed away, and I heard him tell Mother, “When Mr. McLeod died, Mrs. McLeod got this radiant expression on her face and said, “My prince is walking with the King!”

A couple days later, Daddy was conducting Mr. McLeod’s funeral when a hooded, white-robed figure appeared at the back of the church carrying a spray of white flowers. A soft gasp and a stunned silence moved through the congregation and my dad paused in mid-sentence as the figure slowly walked up the aisle, placed the flowers on the coffin and walked back out. After recovering his composure, my dad called for a hymn.
Abide with me; fast falls the eventide.
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail, and comforts flee.
Help of the helpless, O, abide with me.
Nothing more was ever said about this episode, but Mother stopped talking about writing Mrs. McLeod’s biography. She had many things in her history to be proud of, but the Ku Klux Klan wasn’t one of them.

Bartow 1938—What Is It?
These were the years of the Great Depression, but we didn’t know much about it. Sometimes a man would come to our back door, Mother would feed him, he’d do a little yard work and move on. My allowance was 25¢ a week, and it went a long way. Five cents went to Sunday school, and I’d spend the rest any way I wanted. A penny would buy candy or chewing gum. On Saturdays I’d usually spend 10¢ on the movies, which included an exciting cowboy serial with a cliff-hanger ending, a cartoon and a feature film.

One Saturday when Barbara Taylor, Vella Jean Hall and I went together, a man sat next to Vella Jean with his hat in his lap. In a few minutes, she said, “Let’s go get some popcorn.”

I was a bit puzzled, because we didn’t have any more money, but we all went to the lobby. Vella Jean said, “That man gave me some candy, and put my hand on something in his lap. I don’t know what it is.”

Barbara said, “Let me sit next to him. Maybe I can figure it out.”

We returned. After a few minutes, Barbara whispered, “I’m thirsty. Let’s get some water.”

Back to the lobby we trooped for another consultation. “It feels like a finger,” said Barbara, “but I don’t know what it is.”

My curiosity was piqued. “Let me sit next to him,” I said. Back to our seats we strolled, with me in the lead. Soon the man reached over, gently took my hand and surreptitiously put it under his hat. He wrapped my fingers around his penis and began to move it up and down.

Mystery solved! I knew what it was, though I had no clue what the man was doing. Unlike Barbara and Vella Jean, I had a little brother, and the masculine anatomy wasn’t unknown to me. I withdrew my hand and said, “Let’s get some candy.” Once more we walked up the aisle, but this time we didn’t return.

“That’s not his finger,” I announced to Barbara and Vella Jean. “That’s something men have that they pee with.”

We decided we should tell someone. My house was closest, so we went there and told my mother. She called Mrs. Taylor, and they took us back to the theatre. We waited outside while they spoke to the usher, and then a policeman arrived. Soon we were being asked, “Is this the man?”
“I think so, but I’m not sure,” I said.
“Yes!” said Barbara emphatically.
“Yes!” announced Vella Jean, “I’m positive!”

With that, the policeman hauled the man away. Mother and Mrs. Taylor walked with us back to my house. We played and talked in the yard while Mother and Mrs. Taylor went inside “for a cup of coffee”.

I wondered what happened after that. I worried that we might have identified the wrong man. No adult ever mentioned this incident to us again, and I didn’t understand why the police had been called. I soon forgot about it, until one day I noticed a paper on Mother’s desk.

“I stood in the lobby,” she’d written, “and saw him come out of the theatre. His trousers were unzipped.” I read the rest of the page and realized my mother had written out what she was going to say in court. I felt better knowing that Mother had other evidence than my uncertain identification.

Four Strangers
That summer we vacationed at Clearwater Beach with our cousins. One day a group of four strangers came to visit my dad and they were not dressed in beach attire. After they left the adults were discussing their awkwardness at the unexpected arrival of men in suits and ties, and Aunt Adah said, “I was trying to make my long face hide my short shorts.”
The strangers were from Highland Presbyterian Church in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Shortly after we got home from vacation my dad received a call to that church.

We’d lived in Bartow for nine years, and Dad had done a lot for the community. The church had more than doubled in size. They’d added an education building for Sunday school classes and mid-week activities, including a men’s club, women’s auxiliary, youth group and others. He’d been active in the Boy Scouts, helping to chaperone a group going to the New York World’s Fair. He’d encouraged the high school to organize a band, and helped gain support for it in the community. He’d also talked down angry mobs, and helped prevent two lynchings. He was very much esteemed in Bartow, but felt it was time to move on.

When my teacher heard about our impending move, she suggested to the class that we think about who should move into my vacant seat. That set me to thinking what special qualities I had. I never got a blue ribbon on field day. I played hard, but there were always contenders who were faster, stronger and more athletic. I wasn’t very good in arithmetic. I had to practice multiplication to the rhythm of my yo-yo or jump rope–especially the sevens! I was in the top reading group, but I’d known I wasn’t the best since the first grade when I’d come upon the word C-U-P-B-O-A-R-D, and had pronounced it “cup board”. Buddy Campbell and Viva Kathleen Tillis had both known that it was pronounced “cubbard”, and politely corrected me. But I was the most musical! We sang solfege, using the syllables do, re, mi etc. to read a melody before singing the words of a song. Classroom teachers followed up on music lessons and some of them didn’t feel competent to lead us, so they’d ask me. I did this, gladly! The best singers, next to me, were Alice Ruby Whitten and Nell Singleton. I suggested it should be one of them, and left it to the class to decide.

The church in Fayetteville was close to Fort Bragg, which was the training center for the soldiers of the 82nd and 101st Divisions–the last stop before they were shipped overseas. Dad saw this as an opportunity to serve his country. We saw an opportunity to see snow!

North Carolina
When we moved to North Carolina, I was in the fourth grade, and my teacher, Mrs. Poole, was the aunt of my best friend, Sybil Corbett. Sybil’s mother wished to become a teacher as well, and was working on her certification at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. When her mother relocated for the summer, she told Sybil that she could bring along a friend, so Sybil invited me, and we moved to Chapel Hill together while the rest of my family stayed in Fayetteville.

Sybil and I hung out together while her mom was in class. UNC had a swimming pool, and her mom, wisely, signed us up for swimming classes.

My dad and his seven brothers had grown up close to a swimming hole, and one brother, Will, had drowned while trying to rescue a young neighbor. My dad felt strongly that everybody should learn to swim, and frequently took us to Eagle Lake and Kissimmee Springs. It sounds odd, but all my dad taught us to do was dog paddle. I really learned to swim in Chapel Hill that summer; different strokes and kicks, how to swim on my side, belly and back.

A Gathering Storm Across the Sea
The radio was an important center of information in the 1930s. Radios were large pieces of furniture which usually sat against a wall in the living room, and we’d listen to comedy shows like “Amos and Andy”, “Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy”, and Bob Hope. Sports events–boxing and baseball–were broadcast, and President Roosevelt addressed the country with his “Fireside Chats” to spread hope during the depression years. In the latter part of the decade, regular shows were interrupted with increasing frequency by an urgent voice announcing, “We interrupt this program to bring you a special news bulletin.”

Adolf Hitler, the dictator of Germany, had marched his armies into Austria and taken over, then marched them into Czechoslovakia, and the rest of the world watched with mounting concern. This was reflected in our parents’ faces, and in the fact that our radio was always on, to catch breaking news. We didn’t pay much attention to the radio and would play noisily with our toys, but once we heard that urgent voice we stopped everything and got quiet so our parents could hear.

Kilts and Khakis

The discordant drone of bagpipes and the slow, deliberate rhythm of drums wafted through the colorfully clad celebrants. They were marching down Hay Street towards the town square. Highland Scot settlers had founded Fayetteville, so Scottish kilts and bagpipes filled the air. It was the town’s Sesqui-Centennial. I learned that Sesqui-Centennial meant one hundred fifty years, but never found out what happened in 1789. This didn’t trouble me until 35 years later, when in a North Carolina history class I mentioned this celebration. The professor asked me what they were celebrating. To my chagrin, I didn’t know–and still don’t!

It didn’t matter then, though. The parade was strange and exciting–and our enjoyment was enhanced by the fact that it was the only thing we’d been allowed to go to since we’d arrived! We’d moved from Bartow only to find that Fayetteville was in the throes of a polio scare and the schools were closed. Children weren’t allowed to attend indoor events. No school. No Sunday school. No movies. Nothing indoors. It wasn’t a good way to start life in a new community! We could go to the parade, since it was outdoors. After Thanksgiving the quarantine was lifted, and we prepared to go to school. Teddy protested that he didn’t have the right clothes to wear. “Here, all the men wear dresses,” he said.

We were eager to go to school and meet new friends. Teddy was in Kindergarten, Carol in second grade and I was in fourth. I liked my teacher and new friends, but I had so much homework! Much more than I’d ever had in Florida! After working on it until ten o’clock a couple times, I learned to start earlier!

We’d been ecstatic about the idea of moving to North Carolina, because we knew they had snow. December came. The brown, bare trees and lawns were bleak and cold, but the only snow we’d seen was fake–cotton batting or mica chips in Christmas scenes. Swirling “snow storms” inside celluloid-domed paperweights. We were disappointed and longed for our old friends and the green trees and grass of Florida. Maybe North Carolina wasn’t so great after all!

Bedtime, New Year’s Eve. Mother read a story from The Wizard of Oz, then listened as we said our prayers. We asked God’s blessing on all our relatives before asking, for the umpteenth time, for snow. As we crawled under the covers, Teddy expressed a lack of faith. “It’s never gonna snow!” he grumbled.
“Oh yes, it will,” said Mother gently.
“When?” I demanded.
“I don’t know. One day you’ll look out the window and you’ll see white flakes floating down like ever-so-light soap flakes. They land silently on everything, and blanket the whole world. You’ll see! Now, go to sleep!”

Soon I was dreaming of the Emerald City of Oz. It was all green, like my old neighborhood in Florida. Carol and Teddy and I were in the hall of the Great Wizard, telling him he was a fake. He hadn’t made it snow. The Good Witch of the North appeared and said, “Look out the window. It’s snowing!”

It slowly dawned on me that the voice of the Good Witch in my dream was my mother’s voice. “Look out the window! It’s snowing!”

It was snowing, all right! White flakes, like Mother had said, only far more beautiful than I’d imagined! The ground already had a light cover of glistening white, and the air was full of dancing snowflakes!

“Carol! Teddy! Hurry! It’s snowing! We’ve gotta get out there!”
“Huh? Snow?”
“Look! It’s snowing!”
“Snow! It’s really snow!”

We’d never dressed so fast! Mother made us eat breakfast, then we got on our jackets, caps, mittens and galoshes and ran into the front yard! A number of soldiers, who knew this was our first snow, drove by to watch us while we played.

The once-bare trees and bushes were now sparkling white fountains in an enchanted land. Fairyland! I turned my face up and let the snowflakes fall on my outstretched tongue. I caught some on my mittens and studied the intricate, lacy patterns. Teddy picked up a handful and threw it in my face. I threw some back at him, then at Carol. We threw it in the air just to watch it flutter and float down. We rolled in it. We took off our mittens to see how it felt. Cold!

We began to organize our play. We made a snowman. We built a snow fort. Our neighbors came over, we built another fort and had a snowball fight. We lay on our backs and waved our arms to make snow angels. We got out our never-been-used sled and took turns sliding down the hill. Finally we gathered some clean snow in a big mixing bowl and added milk, vanilla and sugar to make snow cream.

I’m sure we had lunch that day, because Mother wouldn’t allow meal-skipping, but I don’t remember it. I just remember the enchantment of that long-awaited snowy day. To this day, every time it snows, I still feel the awe and wonder of that magical first snow.

In Fayetteville, a snowy day was a special occasion, because it was beautiful, light—mostly 2 or 3 inches—and rare. Many winters were never graced with a snowfall. Sleet may not have been more common, but it was more memorable—and not at all welcome! Our first experience with sleet came when we were scheduled to drive back to Florida, where Daddy was to perform a wedding. Canceling wasn’t an option, so Daddy drove to a service station, and they were happy to fit him with chains—on all four wheels! We then piled in—Mother and Daddy in the front seat, we three kids and our dog Toughey in the back. We headed out, slowly and cautiously. By the time we got into Georgia, the sleet was gone and the roads clear, but we still crunched down the pavement. Eventually one, another, another link broke, slapping the fenders, CLANG! CLANG-CLANG! CLANG! We were in a rural area, but we didn’t pass unnoticed, and we kids were so embarrassed that we all hid on the floorboards, Toughey panting and drooling all over us! Daddy had no idea how to remove chains, and thwacked down the highway for several more miles before finding a service station to take our brand-new, ruined chains off again.

1940—Allergies and Cousins

Our energetic activities were rudely interrupted when we got measles–the hard, red measles. Once again we were quarantined! Measles affected the eyes and had left some children blind. Some others (including one of my cousins) had become deaf as a result of the high fever. We had to stay in bed in a darkened room, with ice packs to bring down the fever.

We’d been plagued with allergies before the measles hit, and after our quarantine was lifted Mother, exhausted from nursing us, took us by train to Florida, to see an allergist. Most of our fellow passengers were in uniform. Teddy struck up a conversation with a couple soldiers, but Carol and I were too shy; we just watched him and stayed close to Mother. Our train, a very modern Streamliner, went through Jacksonville and Tampa, and got us to our destination with only three stops on the way.

We spent almost a month with our Knight cousins, who lived between Clearwater and Largo in a house close to where Mother’s home place had been. Mother’s brother, Uncle Bob, had been called back into the military. Aunt Marguerite, who’d been Mother’s best friend since childhood, cared for three boys and a girl. For a month we were a family of two women, seven kids, a cow and some chickens.

Our time with our cousins was so much fun! I idolized my oldest cousin, Bobby, who was four years older, and a wellspring of knowledge. Botany was one of his interests, and he identified plants as we walked around the grounds, using scientific names which I quickly forgot. He was a fine pianist, and had a book of Bach two-part inventions. He could easily play them solo, but he let me play the right hand while he played the left. He was the one who milked the cow, and once when I was watching he said, “Roberta, open your mouth!”. I did, and he squirted milk directly into it! With the younger cousins we played with fiddler crabs down by the bay, fished from the bridge and had rotten-orange fights in the grove!

Twice a week we drove to Tampa to see the allergist. He made vaseline lattices on our arms, one on each upper arm and one on the inside of each lower arm, with six or eight squares on each surface. He made a paper diagram delineating the allergens. Those on the upper arm were injected just under the skin and those on the lower arm were rubbed into a scratch. After the doctor had decorated our arms, we went home for two days, returning to “have our arms read”. From this procedure he made a long list of pollens and foods to avoid, and concocted serums to desensitize us. After we went back to Fayetteville shots were mailed to us and administered by a doctor neighbor three times a week. Eventually, our allergies diminished.

Vacations at Montreat
Montreat is a Presbyterian church retreat in the mountains of North Carolina. Ministers and missionaries came with their families to reconnect with old friends from college and seminary. There were conferences – for ministers, for Directors of Religious Education (DREs), for church musicians and for youth. We discovered, however, that there was not much for children to do. It rained a lot, which put a damper on hiking, rock-hopping, and swimming. We learned first-hand what “cabin fever” meant!

Grandmother always had a jigsaw puzzle on a card table and we could stop by and place a few pieces. Sometimes we played checkers, and Grandmother taught me to crochet. I’d brought along the latest Nancy Drew book, but had it read before the end of the third rainy day. There were no stores or movie houses, and our cabin was rather primitive. We had plumbing and electric lights, but no telephone, and no radio!

Though my dominant memories of Montreat are of rainy days with nothing to do, there were happy times as well.

Getting acquainted with other Presbyterian PKs (Preacher’s kids) was great! It was fun to do things together in the summertime, and we’d reconnect in unexpected places–at college, at church in strange towns. Many friendships formed at Montreat have lasted through two or three generations.

Our main activities, when it wasn’t raining, were rock-hopping in the creeks and mountain-climbing. Sometimes as teen-agers we’d get bold enough to swim in the cold, cold waters of Lake Susan.

One evening a trio of us girls decided to thumb to Black Mountain and go bowling. At the bowling alley we met a couple of Black Mountain boys, who invited us to ride with them for a hamburger and a Coke. It seemed a good way to top off the evening, so we piled in and drove the quarter-mile downhill to the roadside café. When we’d finished talking and eating we jumped back in the car–which wouldn’t start.
“If we push it off and go downhill, it’ll start.”
We did, and it didn’t. We tried again, and again, getting farther and farther down the mountain. It was getting later. And later. And did I mention that even if we could call home, there were no phones in Montreat?

We girls decided our only option was to say thank you to the guys and try to hitch a ride back up the mountain. The boys decided to stay with the car.

We didn’t have to wait long. A trucker stopped and offered us a ride. We climbed into his cab, thanking him effusively, as there was almost no other traffic and we were beginning to get scared. We hadn’t ridden very far when we saw a set of headlights approaching, very slowly. As the headlights got closer, I recognized my dad’s car! What a joyful reunion!

Clique Claque
“To join or not to join–that is the question.” My apologies to Mr. Shakespeare, but it seems an appropriate introduction to the topic of social cliques, something I knew nothing about until 1940. I was ten, and the students from Westlawn School joined us at Haymount School, bringing with them a cohesive group they called “Our Crowd”. Ironically, the students who had always been at Haymount were now the outsiders, the ones who might, or might not, be accepted by “Our Crowd”.

This was confusing, and presented to me a new dilemma. Did I want to be in “our crowd?” I didn’t know. What did that mean? I had friends, and some of us were in groups in my neighborhood, Sunday school class, etc. – but this was different. A group that was – what? It seemed to be defined only by who was in it, and some people were more solidly “in” than others. Yes, I wanted to be in “Our Crowd”, but also to keep my friends who were not “in”. Well, okay, I could be on the fringes, but not really “in”, which pretty much thereafter became my place in the social structure. In high school I joined one sorority, left it, joined another and left it as well. In Queens College I joined a sorority, then dropped out. I was a slow learner, but it finally dawned on me. The prime, if unacknowledged, characteristic of every clique is its exclusivity.

Scouts & Sports
My mother knew what to do. She organized a Girl Scout troop and kept us far too busy to mope about whether we were “in” or “out”. We knitted squares for afghans, folded bandages, collected scrap metal, planted gardens. We picked cotton, learned first aid and junior life saving, baby sat so that soldiers and their wives could have an evening out. We learned bird watching, forestry, crafts etc. and earned points towards merit badges. I went to Girl Scout camp at Lake Lure, learned canoeing and participated in a nine-mile hike to Chimney Rock.

Hiking, swimming, bike riding, roller skating and tree climbing were favorite activities, and we had a lot of friends to play with. Sometimes we’d organize a game of hide-and-seek or roll-a-bat (loosely based on baseball), and Gilly’s big brother taught us football. In the eighth grade, I played football with a bunch of boys in a vacant lot in another neighborhood. Mother wasn’t sure it was a good idea, but I loved it! We played tackle, not touch, and she was afraid I’d get hurt, but I was just as tough as the boys, and loved the rough and tumble of it.

My dad taught me tennis, too, and several of my friends took up the game. At the tennis courts, we played and managed a soft drink stand for pocket money in the summer. The Coca-Cola company set up a large red cooler and stocked it with ice and sodas. We watched it, sold drinks, collected the bottles and paid the company share. It was fun, and easier than a lemonade stand.

My bicycle was my transportation. We’d walked to Haymount Elementary School, but Alexander Graham Bell Junior High was farther away. I rode my bike to school, to the grocery, the movies and around the neighborhood. I had a basket on the handlebars and a rack on the back. Sometimes my Pekingese dog Tootsie would ride in the basket.

Preparing for War
Fayetteville was a small town whose main point of reference was the Square, a historic open structure which before the Civil War had served as a slave market. The main street, Hay Street, went from the Square through the downtown and up the Hill. Hay Street ended one block past the church in a fork of two highways, one going the six or seven miles to Fort Bragg and the other leading out of town towards Raeford. As the country mobilized in response to events in Europe, more than 50,000 soldiers went to Fort Bragg for training, while their families and support personnel came to Fayetteville, creating an acute housing shortage. The people of the town rallied to the need by taking in roomers, and Mother did her best to accommodate as many as she could. The manse was large, and we sometimes had five to seven people living with the five of us. Roomers came and went as soldiers got shipped out and new recruits were brought to the fort.

It was a broadening experience for me. Our roomers came from many diverse backgrounds. There was Mrs. Delgado from Cuba, who taught me some Spanish and introduced me to her favorite drugstore treat, chocolate sundaes. Mrs. Spiesmacher from Germany taught me some German. She was visited and interviewed by an FBI agent to make sure she wasn’t spying. Mrs. Zanker was from Switzerland. She and her husband had a baby, Ardis, and I learned a lot about child care from her. Mrs. Boyer, from Louisiana, taught me how to make peanut brittle, salt water taffy and divinity fudge. One of my favorite roomers was Caroline Whitaker, a secretary, who loved to play our Steinway grand piano and sing popular songs. She had lots of sheet music and I sang with her almost every evening, developing an extensive repertoire. Also, many of my school friends who called themselves “army brats” had lived in lots of different places and had fascinating experiences to share.

The character of this small, southern, Scotch town changed radically. The soldiers, from varied backgrounds, were united by their sense of mission and had an energy that was contagious. Everyone developed a strong commitment to strengthening our country’s defense and supporting our troops. We bought defense stamps and invited soldiers to dinner. The church turned its Sunday evening services into special times of hospitality. Soldiers came in army trucks with their chaplains for supper and a church service, followed by entertainment. My dad organized a glee club at Fort Bragg with about fifty voices and met with them once a week. They sang at public meetings in Fayetteville and at our church on Mothers’ Day. Dad also took his guitar and sang funny songs at the USO.

Our Heroes
It was hot and humid in the summer, and soldiers would pass out from heat stroke. Mother got a water cooler for our back porch and encouraged all the neighborhood kids to get drinks as often as they wanted. She kept it well supplied with ice water and paper cups.

The movies showed soldiers in training at Fort Bragg, and we copied much of what we saw. We marched and practiced crawling close to the ground, pretending to be under enemy fire. When we saw paratroopers learning to land, bending their knees to absorb the impact of the fall, we’d practice that as well. We tried it from a tree, but it was hard to find a branch of the right height. Then we noticed the garage! Its roof was gently sloped, almost flat, and we could climb onto it from a tree. It was perfect! We climbed and jumped and practiced, and none of us got hurt!

The soldiers were our real-life heroes, but we copied comic book heroes as well. There was Superman, naturally, and Batman & Robin, the Green Lantern and Captain America. We collected and traded comic books and imagined ourselves to be impervious to danger–but not to werwolves, or Frankenstein’s monster! I was walking from Louise Tibeau’s house one night and was positive I’d heard something skulking in the bushes, following me. I took off running and didn’t slow down until I’d slammed my front door!

The Goat
Mrs. McLeod and her daughter, Mary Stewart, were visiting in Fayetteville when Mrs. McLeod heard Teddy was about to turn six. “Ooh, Teddy,” she said, “what do you want for your birthday?”
Teddy surprised everyone with his prompt reply. “A goat.”
A ripple of amusement passed through the adults.
“A goat?” she said, “Then you shall have one!” She pulled out her checkbook and wrote a check for $5.
To her everlasting credit, our mother took this turn of events in stride. She filled in the check to a farmer, Mr. McPherson, and brought home an adorable kid in time for his birthday, which he named Mac in honor of Mrs. McLeod.
Dad provided a large doghouse in the backyard for Mac, and a rope to keep him from wandering. Teddy received a child-size football helmet so he could butt heads. It became a favorite activity for Teddy, as Mac did “what comes nacherly”. They had a lot of fun together in the front yard.

Our street, Clarendon Street, was parallel to Hay Street, and was used as an alternate route for army convoys so they could avoid heavy traffic. They moved slowly, but the soldiers never seemed to mind when they passed by our house, being entertained by the small boy and his baby goat butting each other playfully.

The baby goat, however, grew up. He’d come to love the company of children, bleating constantly for us to play. Twice, when he felt we weren’t paying him enough attention, he broke the rope and ran away. We ran after, fearful that he’d run into Hay Street and get hit. We couldn’t catch him, but the attendant at the service station on the corner did–both times! It was time for school to start, and we realized we couldn’t keep Mac in town, so Mother took him back to Mr. McPherson. I don’t know if she paid him to take Mac back, but another interesting saga had come to its end. We never forgot Mac!

The Pony
Dr. and Mrs. Robertson and their three boys were going on vacation, and they needed someone to take care of their pony. They wanted to be sure the pony was ridden, brushed, fed and given water. Would our family be interested?

Would we?! We’d always wanted a pony, and now we’d have one for a whole month! Our garage became a stable; straw was hauled in and spread over the dirt floor for the pony, whose name was Alice. A sawhorse served as a rack for her saddle, and we procured two buckets–one for water and one for oats.

At first, Mother or Dad would saddle Alice, but I learned very quickly and took pride in shouldering the responsibility. I was almost eleven, and felt very competent. Carol and Teddy were too young to saddle her, but they helped feed, curry and of course ride her.

The second day, I was riding Alice when she decided to go back to the Robertson’s. “Whoa, Alice!” I cried, pulling on the reins. Mother ran behind us, but couldn’t keep up. I hung on while Alice carried me down Clarendon Street, up Hinsdale and toward Hay Street, with its heavy traffic! Alice had the sense to stop when she saw all the cars, and Mother, huffing and puffing, caught up. Together we walked Alice back, talking to her in soothing tones.

We had no more trouble. Alice understood she was to stay with us. All the kids in the neighborhood rode her, and we put our kittens on her back for a family pet photograph. Occasionally, when she was tired of riding us, she’d buck. We’d dismount and lead her home.

When the war started, grocery shopping got complicated. When Mother planned meals, she had to consider not only our budget and our allergies, but the various food shortages. Did we have enough red stamps for roast beef, or would we have to settle for a meatless Sunday? Just about all foods were rationed. Red stamps were for meat, blue for canned fruit and vegetables. Each adult could have one cup of coffee per day, and sugar was severely rationed. We loved canned pineapple, but it was a rare treat because it cost so many ration stamps. Forget butter! We had margarine, but it came white, with a pack of coloring which we had to mash and mix well to turn it yellow. That was often my job; mash and stir, mash and stir until the color was evenly distributed. Every car had a gas ration stamp on the windshield–A, B or C–and the owner had a ration book to go with it. Cars with C stamps received the most gas; they were for doctors and emergency personnel. In those days doctors made house calls, and their transportation was considered essential to the well-being of the country. My dad had a B stamp, because he was a minister and also called on people in their homes. Most people got A books for enough gas to get them to and from work. Very few auto trips were made by anyone, and when you did get on the highway, the speed limit was 35, so it took a long time to get anywhere!

Danger! Fire!
The wails of sirens drowned out the humdrum sounds of our neighborhood. My friend Louise and I watched anxiously as a vacant lot was being rapidly consumed by a blaze–one we’d started! We’d heard “rabbit tobacco” was growing behind Louise’s house, and didn’t know what it was, but packed a couple corncob pipes with a likely looking weed and lit up. The embers overflowed, and the fire got away from us! We ran to Louises’s and grabbed the phone!

“There’s a fire in a vacant lot, and it’s getting near some houses! 820 Brantley Street! Please hurry!”

We watched, along with several neighbors, as the firemen arrived. After they put out the fire, they questioned three boys, and we worried at what they suspected. I like to think we’d have confessed if there’d been trouble, but I’ll never know, because the firemen left and everyone went home.

I was eleven, and should’ve known better.

It wasn’t my first experience with fire. At five, my three-year-old sister and some neighbor kids were playing in our room while our parents visited in the parlor. I’d sneaked some matches from the kitchen, and was showing everyone how to strike them on the box, lighting one after another. A match burned down too far, and was dropped–right into our doll’s bed!

“Our dolls!” we screamed, and our parents came running. They picked up the flaming dolls and beat out the fire. It dampened my curiosity–for awhile.

When I was seven, we had a project which involved melting wax. We were in the playhouse in the backyard, and the fire we were using got away from us. We tried to beat it out, but a spark flew into my sister’s long, beautiful hair and set it ablaze! She ran out of the playhouse, fire streaming behind!

“Carol! Don’t run! Lie down and roll over!” I yelled. She kept running, of course. My dad came rushing out of the house, threw his coat over her and smothered the fire.

There are many legitimate uses for fire–we cook with it, burn brush, keep warm on a cold night and enjoy its warm glow as we dream next to a campfire–but I was just plain foolish sometimes in my fascination. My confidence in my ability to control it was misplaced, and I was lucky none of my misadventures ended in tragedies. Treat fire with great respect! It’s not to be played with! It can get away from you VERY fast!

A Tale of Two Towns

Ocala, Florida, November 1943. Except for the terrain, it’s hard to imagine two towns more dissimilar than Fayetteville and Ocala were in 1943. Both towns were situated in gentle rolling hills, but Fayetteville was a small town bursting at the seams with soldiers and young families. In Ocala there were no young men between 18 and 50 except an occasional man classified 4F who wore a lapel pin explaining to the world why he wasn’t in the service. We’d moved for health reasons. Dad had a heart condition and allergies had continued to plague Ted and me, so we welcomed an opportunity to move back to Florida, with its slower pace and kinder climate.

Victorian Manse

In Ocala the preacher’s house was next to the Presbyterian church. Across the street to the front was the primary school and on the other side was the Baptist church, so it was surrounded.

It was old-fashioned, with gaslight fixtures on the newel posts at both ends of the spiral staircase. There was an enormous dining room; Mother said they must have planned to use it for church dinners. My bedroom was on the second floor, directly above the music room. The house had high ceilings and a screened porch. In one corner was a two-story bay window topped with a cupola.

It wasn’t easy living between two churches. I played bass clarinet, Carol the French horn and Ted the trumpet. One summer evening, all windows open, we were playing some popular songs when a stranger knocked on the door. The Baptists were having a prayer meeting and they couldn’t hear anything but us! Could we please stop? After that we checked before practicing.

Ocala High School 1944-1948

High school was wonderful, for me. The opportunities were limitless! I could sign up for DCT–Diversified Cooperative Training–and have a half-day school, half-day work schedule, and have a paying job! I could sign up for auto mechanics and learn to fix a car! I could even learn to fly a plane!

No, I couldn’t! My parents insisted that I take the academic track and prepare for college. Including Latin! I did–but I also took Spanish, band, typing, glee club, and home economics. These I added to my required courses by eliminating study hall and physical education. Marching band provided exercise, and I went swimming and hiking on my own. I was used to lots of homework and didn’t need study hall.
Amo, Amas, Amat

Latin class was a drag, but we liked our teacher. A little gray-haired lady, she loved our football team! Every game, there she was—hollering from the sidelines, right behind the benches! We loved her enthusiasm for football, but oh! how we struggled in her class! We’d labor through Julius Caesar, referring frequently to the glossary in the back of the book. Sometimes the definition wasn’t helpful, as with the phrase “sub juga”–”under the yoke”. Totally bewildering to a bunch of Florida teenagers, who’d never heard of a yoke! But then one of the boys, coming to the phrase, said “they were subjugated by the Romans”.

Subjugated! Sub juga! Of course! A light dawned for me–but a different one for our teacher! She marched over to him and put out her hand. “All right! Give me the pony!”

We learned something else. A “pony” was a translation, which we weren’t supposed to have!


I jumped enthusiastically into all the extra-curricular activities I could crowd into my day. One year I launched a weekly radio show, featuring local performers and spreading the news about high school activities to the community. Opportunities for me to perform as a singer abounded. I sang in assembly programs at school. I sang for local men’s civic clubs (the Rotary, the Lions Club, the Kiwanis etc.) and women’s clubs (auxiliaries and garden clubs), at school dances, at church and at the Florida State Fair. I was often invited to sing on the school bus, at a party, or on a picnic, and would jump into an a capella rendition of “Indian Love Call”.

We had marching practice after school three times a week. During the football season that meant a new routine every week. There were concerts in the park, parades at the state fair and other celebrations, plus the all-important regional band contest. We always rated a One, and were very proud to uphold that reputation. Besides band, I played solo and ensemble performances. One year I played bass clarinet in a clarinet quartet and also a piano accompaniment for Mary Brent’s oboe solo–but forgot the piano music! It was in my box in the band house, which was locked! I called my mother–who else? She or Dad could always be counted on to rescue me, if rescue was possible. Mother called Mrs. Wigham, the band mother. Together they went to the band house, broke in through a window, got the music and took it to the bus station, where they sent it by the next bus from Ocala to Tampa. The bus driver handed me the music in the bus station and I rode back in time to play with Mary Brent. We rated a One!

Student Strike
One of our coaches got fired, and we didn’t know why. He was well-liked by the students, and a bunch of them, mostly upper-class football players, got together to decide what to do. They decided to go on strike, and they spread the word to the rest of the student body not to attend classes the next Friday, which became Strike Day.
This put me in a quandary. As a member of Student Council and the Honor Society, I felt an obligation to do the right thing, but what was the right thing? I tried to talk some of the students out of it, but I didn’t have any influence on the football team. I went to the teacher who was Student Council advisor for her advice. She talked to the faculty, and they decided to allow the strike as an opportunity for the students to exercise a democratic right. They were to be charged with an unexcused absence, but no further penalty.

Senior Strike Day became a tradition at our high school. One day each year the seniors would cut classes and go to the lake.

I still don’t know what happened to the coach, or why he got fired!

A Dream Job
Central Florida has several incredibly clear springs–Rainbow, Juniper and the best-known, Silver Springs. One could take a bus nine miles to “the springs” for a dime, ride bikes, hike or pile into someone’s family car to go for a swim and a picnic. I thought Rainbow and Juniper Springs nicer; they were in a natural setting and Silver Springs was commercialized, but it was closer. There were glass-bottom boats for viewing the 80-foot-deep caverns at the bottom with amazing clarity. There were catfish swimming and sometimes human divers putting on a show on an underwater stage. On two sides a boardwalk offered an opportunity to shop, watch a potter work with orange-blossom scented clay or visit the Ross Allen Reptile Institute. Ross stood on a platform in a pit of rattlesnakes, picked one up with a hook and milked it, holding it just behind its head and placing its fangs over the rim of a glass jar. Its venom would spew into the jar, he’d drop it and hook another.

In high school I earned most of my spending money baby-sitting, and one summer one of Ross Allen’s lab technicians hired me. It was a dream job! I’d ride the bus to her house, pick up her kids, ride the bus to Silver Springs and spend the day hanging out. We’d take a picnic lunch and do all the touristy things–ride the boats, handle the (non-poisonous) snakes, stroll the grounds and play on the grassy lawns, all for free!

The Wildcat Den
My dad noticed that teenagers in Ocala didn’t have much to do in their spare time and that the women’s club had a very nice clubhouse that they only used occasionally. He talked them into sharing their space for “a good cause” and organized a teen club. The football team at the high school was named the Wildcats, so the teens named their hangout The Wildcat Den, which opened for sock hops on Friday nights. A juke box and a couple ping-pong tables were brought in, a pool table was put on the screen porch, a few board games were donated and The Wildcat Den was open Saturdays as well. It became THE place to go after football games, and different high school clubs would sponsor dances. The clubs would form committees for decoration, publicity, music, refreshments and cleanup.

June 1945—Presbyterian Youth Fellowship
“Hallelujah! Hallelujah!” The sound of forty young voices rang out, filling the auditorium with an enthusiastic rendition of the chorus from Handel’s “Messiah”. We were at a youth conference in Montreat, and most of us were singing this iconic piece for the first time.

Every seasoned singer knows there’s a trap for the unwary in this chorus. Near the end, as the music reaches the height of excitement, with voices weaving double forte in a frenzied exchange, there’s a sudden rest—a silence—before charging into the finish. In a first rehearsal, someone almost always jumps in, singing loudly into the silence. It rarely happens in performance—except when it does! My good friend Pat McGeachy boomed into the silence with his resonant bass. It’s the kind of mistake it’s hard to forget!

Besides the large, church-wide youth conferences, there were synod and presbytery conferences. A synod is a state organization, which is divided into smaller, geographic presbyteries. We were in the Florida synod, and our presbytery included Jacksonville, Gainsesville, Lake City, Ocala, Palatka and all towns in between. Our Presbyterian Youth Fellowship, the PYF, held its conference each summer at Camp O’Leno near Gainesville. I couldn’t go because I had the mumps, but my dad was there as one of the sponsors. He came home with some surprising news.
“You’re the new Presbytery President of the PYF”, he announced.
“You mean vice president, Dad.” I was quite sure about that.
“No, he said, “President!”
“But that was supposed to be Rosemary! I was on the nominating committee, and we nominated her. She’s been our vice president all this past year. I was just chair of the Spiritual Life Committee.”
“Well, they made you the president.”
“How did that happen? I’m not ready to be president.”
“After the report from the nominating committee, they asked if there were any nominations from the floor.”
“They always do that, but nobody nominates from the floor.”
“Well, this time they did. A blonde-haired girl from Jacksonville – I think her name is Margie – stood up and nominated you, and you got elected by a pretty good majority.”

June 1946—Band Election
Time to elect band officers for the next school year! The Ocala High School Band had an excellent rating, and the officers were responsible for student discipline while marching and in concert. The band had always had a boy captain, a girl first lieutenant and four second lieutenants. I’d been the only junior elected the previous year (second lieutenant) so I felt I had a shot at captain. I was encouraged by the guys seated near me and thus in my sphere of influence – mostly drummers and tuba players. They enthusiastically helped me carry on a spirited campaign against two opponents, both boys. My best friend Sonya was running for first lieutenant, unopposed.

We voted by secret ballot, and our band director, “Pop” Armstrong, plus the five outgoing officers, counted the ballots in the band office while the rest of us waited quietly in the classroom.

Pop gave us the results with an incredulous look. “We have a three-way tie for captain!” he announced. “I never thought that could happen, but it did. However, there was one person who voted for Sonya, who wasn’t running for captain. If that person will change their vote, we’ll have a winner.”

Nobody moved, nobody said anything. “It’s a simple, fair way to break the tie. Whoever voted for Sonya, just vote again.”

The silence was heavy. There was a quiet, suppressed gasp as Sonya arose and went to the office. Bobby Jordan became our captain, Sonya the first lieutenant.

The following week, Pop called me in to his office and closed the door. “I need to tell you,” he said, “there was a miscount. I went through the ballots again and you had one vote more than Bobby or Murray. You should’ve had it.”
“Just leave it alone,” I said. “Bobby Jordan will be a good captain, Sonya a good first lieutenant. I promise to be a good second lieutenant, and we won’t tell anyone.”

And we never did, until now!

Transylvania Music Camp—1946

The sonorous tones of a French horn playing “Till Eulenspiegel” wafted on the breeze and mingled with the polyphony of a string quartet rehearsing chamber music and a rich baritone voice singing a Schubert lieder. From where I stood, barefoot, on the gravel drive, the sounds seemed to come from the trees in the forest. Music permeated the atmosphere. Paths through the forest led to small cabins where musicians and campers practiced.

I loved everything about this camp! The informality, the friendships, the music everywhere! I played bass clarinet in the band, hiked in the woods, swam in the lake, waited tables to pay my tuition, and fell in love—over and over again!

Dad had discovered this camp in the summer of 1945 when the Transylvania band gave a concert in Montreat. Dad had always loved band music, and after their first number he came back to our vacation home to get us. “You’ve got to hear this band,” he said. “They’re from a music camp, and they’re really good!” We jumped into the car and went to the concert. We were impressed! I decided to go to band camp the next summer.

Mr. and Mrs. Steven McCready were members of our church in Ocala. They had no children of their own, but took a great interest in us. I’d worked for Mr. McCready in 1945 as a file clerk and girl Friday, running errands and such. When he heard of my interest in Transylvania Music Camp, and my plan to wait tables to help pay the tuition, he paid the rest and did so for the next four summers. The fifth summer I was old enough to be a junior counselor and, with waitressing, went to camp tuition-free.

We had six weeks of music camp, with terrific musicians as counselors, and they played along with us in the band and orchestra. I played bass clarinet and one summer took cello lessons, but wasn’t very good on the cello and gave it up.

The atmosphere of the camp was permeated with music. There were paths through the grounds that led to small practice cabins. There was music everywhere, all the time. I loved it!

We had an excellent chorus. We put on Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, and sang Brahms’s “Alto Rhapsody,” Fauré’s “Requiem,” Bach cantatas and a lot of Madrigals. After the six weeks of camp came two weeks of the Brevard Music Festival. The campers went home but I stayed to wait tables along with about eight others. That was especially exciting! Professional musicians came from New York, Chicago, Washington, Philadelphia, and all around. They joined our counselors and teachers and formed the Brevard Music Festival Orchestra.

A Trip to New York City
Virginia Fran Gallemore, who’d been our neighbor in Bartow, was getting married. She wanted Dad to perform the ceremony and me to sing. The wedding was to be in New York City, and our family was invited to be guests of the Gallemores at the Sherry-Netherland Hotel.

Of course we’d go! This was a very special occasion!

Dad had to go to the courthouse before the wedding and register his credentials with the city to make everything legal, and the Gallemores arranged everything else—the church, the organist and our reservations.

Traffic was heavy, and to a newcomer New York streets were confusing. Dad, trying to get to the courthouse, turned onto a side street only to have a truck driver coming from the other direction roll down his window and shout, “This street’s one-way, Buddy!”. He took the first opportunity to do a U-turn, and then had to find a parking space. He pulled into one, then saw a sign that said it was a 20-minute zone. Fearing his business would take longer, he went to the nearest store and explained his purpose, finishing with a request. If a cop came by, would the store owner explain things? The owner said he’d try, but that Dad still might get a ticket. He didn’t.

The wedding went well. I sang “Oh Promise Me” and Dad led Virginia Fran and Carl in their wedding vows. There was a fancy reception afterwards, where I had my first taste of alcohol—a creme de menthe!

Thunderstorms, Hurricanes and a Tornado

Thunderstorms in Florida are often exceptionally dramatic, with brilliant flashes of lightning and pounding, ear-shattering thunder. I found them exciting, and fun. It felt comfortable to be cozy at home with my mother and siblings while the storm raged outside. Sometimes the power went out and Mother lit the kerosene lanterns, which made it a special occasion for us children.

Hurricanes added a sense of danger. We knew they caused terrible damage to trees and houses, and hurt people who didn’t have adequate shelter. Mother and Daddy once opened the church basement as a public refuge. We sheltered between twelve and twenty people (some coming and going), and Mother made a big pot of soup and lots of coffee to share. Since the manse was next door, we scurried back and forth during the lull, when the eye of the storm passed over.

A hurricane once blew through when Daddy was away with a group of young people in Clearwater Beach. We were in Bartow, but Mother was concerned about Daddy and the young people.They had to evacuate the beach, and the causeway was underwater! Someone had to walk in front of the caravan to be sure the road was still there!

Worse than the hurricanes were the floods and tornadoes they often spawned. Hurricanes would knock down trees, but tornadoes flattened everything! I was once visiting my friend, Sonya Goldman, who lived on the southern outskirts of Ocala. We were playing in her carport when we heard a massive rumbling coming toward us, and fast! We scrambled into the house and hunkered down as the sound seemed to pass directly overhead, then moved on.

“What was THAT?!”We turned on the radio, and learned that a tornado had just passed over our town, deflected upwards by a hill close to Sonya’s house. The only damage it had done was to lift the top off the town’s water tower, and deposit it in our algebra teacher’s back yard! We had super-chlorinated water on tap for about six weeks before the town was able to get it fixed!


High school graduation was very emotional for me. Seniors in the band played “Pomp and Circumstance” for the procession before taking their seats with the class. I watched all my friends pass down the aisle while we played. I realized we were all going our separate ways–some to jobs, some to college–and that I would likely never see many of them again. To this day, I still remember, and feel, the same strong emotion every time I hear “Pomp and Circumstance”. Oh, the power of music!

Agnes Scott College 1948-49
My mother and her sisters had gone to Agnes Scott, a Presbyterian women’s college in Decatur, Georgia. I’d heard so much about Agnes Scott that I never considered going anywhere else, and when I won the $4,000 Presbyterian scholarship, it was settled.

Three of Mother’s sisters lived in the Atlanta area, and I had a standing invitation to visit whenever I could. I loved visiting, but campus life was busy so I didn’t see them often.

The first real challenge for freshmen at Scott was Black Cat, a big fall show put on by freshmen and sophomores. It was a class competition with faculty judges determining  whose show was best. Obviously, the sophomores had a huge advantage; they already knew each other, knew what the show was like, had more experience, etc.

I was elected Black Cat chair for the freshmen. I had no idea what I was getting into, but Dean Scandrett helped me figure it out – what I needed to do, the committees that were necessary, what kind of talent, etc. I posted a sign-up sheet on the bulletin board for writing, costumes, music, lights, scenery, etc.

Soon we were working on a script, holding auditions and rehearsals, scrounging for costumes and props, painting scenery. It was a great way to get acquainted and we had a wonderful time. We didn’t win; the freshmen almost never did – but what a way to start the year!

Student elections rolled around, and I was elected one of two freshman representatives to the board. All our (many) social rules were on the honor system. We were obligated to report ourselves for violations, and the punishment was to be “campused” for whatever amount of time was appropriate.  If we walked to Decatur for a cup of coffee and a piece of cherry pie, we were supposed to sign the book in Main Hall and also in our house, which was Inman Hall.  I’d sign in Main, but forget to sign at Inman – then report myself and be campused for two weekends!

The Metropolitan Opera was coming to Atlanta, and my roommate Barbara Brown and I bought tickets to see “Otello,” “La Traviata,” and two other operas.  For that I had to get special permission to go because, as usual, I was campused.

It was the first time I’d ever seen an opera. I’d listened on the radio, which gave me a headache, and  I probably wouldn’t have gone if Barbara hadn’t been so enthusiastic.  Being there was quite different from listening on the radio, though.  I really enjoyed it.  Later that year when a Broadway company came and did “Carousel” I was even more taken!

I loved dormitory living.  It was like having a hundred and twenty sisters. We often got together after “lights out” in somebody’s room and snacked on food from their packages from home. We talked about everything–trials, tribulations, hopes, dreams, fun and romance–

Columbia, South Carolina 1949

When Dad accepted an appointment as regional director of religious education for the Synod of South Carolina, the family moved to Columbia. I had just transferred, as a sophomore, to Queens College in Charlotte, North Carolina. Carol was a senior in high school, and Ted a sophomore.

Ted, however, didn’t move with the family. He moved in with the family of his friend, Manning Hiers, and finished high school in Orangeburg. It was a stellar experience for Ted. He’d never shown any interest in school, and had been satisfied with passing grades until high school in Orangeburg, when his Cs and C+s became As and A+s. My parents made arrangements for him to stay.
Carol had made straight As wherever she went to school, and I was happy with As, Bs and the occasional C. To each his own.

I first saw Columbia at night, on a trip home from Queens. It was beautiful; the lights of this city on a hill, as I saw it through my windshield, kindled my interest and appreciation.

Columbia was a small-to-medium sized city with a southern ambiance. It had a farmer’s market downtown and street vendors selling boiled peanuts. Fort Jackson was there, and the army was mobilizing for war in Korea.

The summer climate was much like it had been in Fayetteville–hot and humid. Mother said, “The Joneses and the Army sure know how to find the hottest spots in the USA to put down roots!”

I was at Transylvania Music Camp for the summer of 1950, but in 1951 I stayed in Columbia and went to summer school for six weeks at the University of South Carolina. I’ve never known that kind of heat before or since! It was difficult to take notes in class because my arms and hands were soaked with sweat and the note paper got wet. Sweat dripped off the end of my nose and off my elbows, forming puddles on the floor. I looked down the aisle and saw pools of sweat on the floor next to every desk!

It didn’t cool off at night, either. I’d shower and dry off, but before I could get my pajamas on, I was wet with sweat again. I put a towel on the bed underneath me to sleep on, and a damp towel over me to cool off.

Queens College
In the summer of 1949, Mr. McCready visited Transylvania Music Camp. After he had a conference with the camp director, James Pfohl, I was called in and told they’d been discussing my future. Mr. McCready would finance my vocal future if Mr. Pfohl would be my guardian. I was incredibly impressed and honored by this, and ready to do whatever they suggested. Delighted at the prospect of becoming someone’s protégé, I transferred to Queens College to sing in Mr. Pfohl’s choir. Mr. Pfohl was head of the music department at Davidson College nearby, and directed the choir at Myers Park Presbyterian Church in Charlotte.

When I transferred to Queens, I had to use my one social engagement a week for choir practice.  As a sophomore, I’d have had two per week if I’d maintained a better-than-C average, but transfer students couldn’t use their grade average from another school. They had to accept freshman rules until they’d established an average at Queens, so I couldn’t leave campus Friday or Saturday nights. I went to the dean (who was also my English teacher) to try for special permission to (a) not count choir practice as a social engagement, or (b) have sophomore privileges. I pointed out that my grades in my previous school had been well above average.

I pleaded my case with Dean Albright. I thought I had some compelling points:
1) Choir practice shouldn’t have counted as a social engagement. It was a condition of my transfer to Queens, and the choir director was my  “vocal guardian”.
2) As my previous school had a higher academic rating than Queens, those grades should have been acceptable.
For some reason, these arguments didn’t endear me to the dean, and I remained on campus every weekend for the first six weeks.

Although I’d established a poor relationship with the dean, I loved Queens. The music department was great! John Holliday, its chairman, encouraged me to concentrate on singing, saying I had the potential to become a Kirsten Flagstad.  I didn’t know who Kirsten Flagstad was, but I was impressed, and worked harder. Music had been one of many things I’d done to be “well-rounded,” but it was time to think about my future.

When I transferred to Queens I lived in a house/dorm. There were seven others–Mary Ann Worth, Bonnie Blue, Dot McLeod, Beth Dobbins, Reid Regan, Cornelia Dick and a girl named Ruth. We bonded strongly and quickly. Bonnie and I were also on the student government board and in the college choir together. When we went on choir tours we’d smoke in the back of the bus, and we both had a crush on Mr. Holliday, whom we thought resembled Roberto Rosselini, Ingrid Bergman’s lover.

One time Bonnie had severe abdominal pain and was hospitalized. I went to visit her, and she had a sudden pain while I was in the room. I rang for the nurse, but she didn’t come fast enough to suit me, so I ran to the nurses’ station to get someone STAT! I decided then that Bonnie needed someone in the room with her, so I took the bus back to the dorm, got my comb and toothbrush and sneaked back out. I spent the night in a chair next to her. That was my first deliberate infraction of school rules. I expected to have trouble the next day when the dean found out, but I didn’t care. The dean agreed, however, that someone should stay with Bonnie, and assigned one of the school nurses. X-rays revealed a twisted intestine. She had surgery the next day and was soon able to return to school.

When I married, Bonnie Blue and my roommate Fran McPherson, whose father had sold us the goat, were my bridesmaids. We exchanged Christmas cards for several years, but eventually lost each other’s addresses. That was the last time I saw either Fran or Bonnie.

Bonnie Blue
It’s many years later. My alumnae journal from Queens College came, and I turned to the class notes. Not much from the class of 1952. Dot Folger’s son died.

It’s very sad. We expect to go through grief over a parent’s death, but not a son’s or daughter’s. My son Robin lost his son Jordan just six weeks after the death of his wife, Anne, and it devastated him. My daughter Fran lost her daughter Sarah, and it hit her very hard. My heart went out to Dot.

I then turned to the Births, Marriages and Deaths section. Births and marriages aren’t happening in my class anymore, and I was looking to see who died. Bonnie Blue Covell! No! She was my best friend in college. I cried; I always thought we’d get to see each other again, someday.

The Dump
This isn’t about the place you take a load of stuff you want to get rid of and bring home more than you took. I’m referring to the process by which a relationship is ended.
I never had the kind of dramatic confrontations I see on television, with the dumpee expressing heartbreak or rage. I simply let relationships “fade away”, like what General MacArthur said about old soldiers. I was sometimes the dumper, sometimes the dumpee and sometimes the good friend who acted as a go-between.
“Corky, are you upset with Rose?”
“Armand, are you mad at Jacquie?”
“If you’re not going to wear Glenn’s bracelet anymore, he wants it back.”

Sometimes things would get awkward and confusing for the dumpee. Two cases:

George Stelogeannis was my boyfriend in Ocala High School, and everyone knew we were “going steady”. He hadn’t shown any interest in girls before me, and we were together most of the time. We were in the band, he playing trumpet and I bass clarinet, and we were both officers, he captain and I second lieutenant. Neither of us fretted about who to take to the sock hop; we always went together, frequently double-dating with Bob Fort and Barbara Wiggins. We always hung out together with friends before school, in the same spot in front of the bandhouse.

One Friday night we’d been to the sock hop with Bob and Barbara, and had just stopped in front of my house. Barbara commented, “Bob, I’ve always felt I could really trust you.”

I chimed in, “Me too–and I trust George too.”
Barbara shot back, “Oh, I’ve never ridden with you, George. I didn’t know you drive.”
“I don’t.” he replied.
“Oh,” I said, “I didn’t mean that!”
Things were getting awkward.
Bob said, “I think she means she trusts him in another way.”
“Yes,” I said. “Well, I’d better go in.”
“I’ll walk you to the door.” said George.

He did, and for the first time, he kissed me. “I feel so gay!” he exclaimed–by which of course he meant “happy”.
“Me too.” And I went in, feeling that the awkwardness had passed. BUT…

Monday morning I went to our usual hang-out spot, and several of my girlfriends were there, but no boys.
“Where’s George?” asked Sonya.
“I don’t know. I haven’t seen him this morning.”
“There he is!” exclaimed Mary Brent, pointing at a group of boys on the other side of the bandhouse.
“Oh well, I guess he doesn’t want to talk to me this morning.”

Or any other morning, as it turned out. That first kiss was a goodbye kiss, and nothing was ever said. It was over. We were still in the band and both at officers’ meetings, but now we were just casual acquaintances. No explanation asked or given. Not then, not thirty years later when we talked, like old friends, at our class reunion.

With Steve it was even more confusing. I was older, in college. We met at Transylvania Music Camp. J.T. Fesperman got eight of us together to sing madrigals. One of the women sang tenor and one of the men alto, which was weird. I suggested they trade parts, but they refused. They said they always sang those parts, and J.T. agreed, so that was how we sang–not only madrigals, but also Bach chorales and cantatas. The male alto was Steve.

I thought he was a little strange in other ways, too. His tastes were intellectual and esoteric, and he carried a copy of “The Inferno” from Dante’s Divine Comedy in his pocket, reading it in his spare time. He knew all the musical modes–Dorian, Phrygian, Mixolydian, etc. He appreciated early folk songs and Gregorian chants, as well as Mozart and Bach. My friend Elynor said, “When you’re with Steve it feels like you’re worshiping at the fount of learning.”

It was true. I was in awe of his intellect, and came to appreciate other aspects of his personality. He’d worked as a forest ranger and knew all the trees and forest plants. We were walking in the forest one day and came across a patch of Indian pipes, which I’d never seen before. He stopped and called my attention to them, giving me their name and explaining they were so white because they were saprophytes, living on dead leaves. They are beautiful, and I’ve seen them occasionally on my property, but they don’t return every year. It feels like a special gift when they pop up.

Our friendship turned romantic, and one evening as we were walking he stopped and kissed me. I kissed him back and he declared, “I should profess my love for you, but I honestly don’t know how to.”
I was stunned! And thrilled! I loved him, but never thought there was a chance that he might love me! I would always remember those words.
Strange words.
We weren’t in a Jane Austen novel. Who talks like that?
It didn’t matter. Steve loved me.

Camp was ending. We were to sing a Bach cantata at Al’s church in Brevard, and Elynor invited us to her uncle’s house afterwards for a beer party as a farewell. Five of us went, and we got noisy; we moved our party to a remote cornfield, finished our beer, then went back to our cabins.

The next morn, Mr. Pfohl sent for me. He asked what I’d been doing the night before.
“We sang a Bach cantata at the Presbyterian church in Brevard.” I said.
“I mean after that. I heard you were drinking.”
“Oh–well, I was. I thought I was free. Camp is over, and the music festival hasn’t started yet.”
“What were you drinking?”
“Where? Who was with you?”
“I’d rather not say.”
“I know you were at the Camerons’ house, and there were several of you.”

That gave me an idea where his information had come from, but I had no intention of adding to it. I was twenty years old, and this had been my first beer party. I’d wondered what one would be like, but now I felt remorseful. I also had to write a letter to my dad confessing what I had done, and give it to Mr. Pfohl to mail.

Without my help, Mr. Pfohl discovered the identities of three others and had a conference with each, prescribing appropriate punishments. The last of the five wanted to turn himself in, but we told him that he was the youngest, at eighteen, and it’d be the worse for us if they thought we were a bad influence on a juvenile!

But I digress. I was telling about The Dump.

Steve and I corresponded. I wrote more letters than he did, but I treasured every one of his. When Thanksgiving break came, I went to New Haven to visit him. Our mutual friend, J.T., was also at Yale, and I really enjoyed our weekend. At the Yale library Steve played for me a recording by “a well-known male alto” and one of Benjamin Britten’s “Concerto for Tenor and French Horn”. We went to a rehearsal where his friends were working on a Bach chorale, and I sang soprano. We sneaked into a rehearsal led by Paul Hindemith–and got thrown out! We went to dinner at Morey’s, where I had my first slice of pizza. I thought we were both enjoying the weekend, but when he took me to the train station he gently let me know we were not destined to share a future. We went our separate ways.
But wait! Fast forward through a blue Christmas to spring. Back at Queens I received a telegram: WILL ARRIVE IN CHARLOTTE TUESDAY. LOVE, STEVE.

What a wonderful surprise! I signed up to use one of the dating parlors and a friend volunteered to take us from downtown to the college. Suddenly, I’m not dumped anymore–or am I? I invited a few friends to have coffee and cake with us, we spent a pleasant afternoon at Queens College and said our goodbyes. That was the last time I saw him. I don’t know why. Another relationship just–faded away!

Breaking Away
Myers Park in Charlotte was an affluent neighborhood, but I was appalled when the budget for our church was approved by the congregation. Current expenses (salaries, utilities, suppers, etc.) far outweighed benevolences (missions, orphanages, colleges, hospitals), and I believed it should’ve been the other way around.

It was the spring of 1950. I’d become disenchanted with Mr. Pfohl as my “vocal guardian” and, with this additional incentive, decided to break off our arrangement. My friend Bill Whitesides was a student at Davidson College and encouraged me to change my membership to the First Presbyterian Church downtown, where he sang in the choir. It served the inner city, and Earl Berg was the choir director. He was a friend of Mr. Holliday’s, and played violin while Mr. Holliday played piano. They didn’t know that on the evenings when they played together in the music building at Queens, I’d sit outside the window and listen. I thought I’d like to join Mr. Berg’s choir.

One thing worried me, though. Mr. Pfohl was chairman of the music department at Davidson, where Mr. Berg taught. I wrote Mr. Berg a letter, explained who I was and told him I’d like to switch churches and sing in his choir, but not if it’d make trouble for him.

One evening the following week when I was practicing in the music building, I heard a knock on the door. It was Mr. Holliday.
“Miss Jones, Mr. Berg would like to talk to you. He’s in my office now.”
I went to Mr. Holliday’s office and sat down with Mr. Berg. He’d be happy to have me in his choir, and assured me it wouldn’t cause any problems.

What I didn’t know was that Mr. Berg was also contemplating a switch. He left Davidson and joined the faculty at Queens. His wife Eunice was the organist at First Presbyterian, and we became close friends. I often babysat their two daughters.

I enjoyed being a part of the congregation there. I liked the minister, Charles Schaefer, and one year organized a youth choir. Wednesday night practice was a treat. The Bergs and several members of the choir would go across the street afterwards and chat away the evenings over coffee and cherry pie.

Summer School

Columbia, South Carolina, 1951

I thought Fayetteville was hot in the summertime. Columbia is worse!

I’m sitting in class in class with fifteen or twenty other students, most of them teachers, trying to take notes. My hands are so sweaty, and the paper so wet, that I have to be careful not to tear the soggy page! Sweat is dripping off my elbows onto the floor, and as I look down the aisle I see that all of us have the same problem! Next to each desk, is a small puddle of sweat, and the air is so humid, it doesn’t evaporate!

Why am I here? Because, in spite of Mr. Hollidays’s pep talk, telling me I could be another Kirsten Flagsted, I have cold feet. I’m afraid I won’t be able to make a living as a singer, and need a fall-back plan.

I was a voice major in college and German lieder was my forte, but during my junior year I realized there wasn’t a strong demand for singers of German lieder; not even Lotte Lehman was well-known outside of music circles. I changed my major to Public School Music and needed about eighteen hours of education courses, so I enrolled in summer school at the University of South Carolina. For the first time in five years, I didn’t go to Transylvania Music Camp but spent the summer at home with Mother & Dad, and took an afternoon job as a typist.

Dad shared office space with a fellow Presbyterian minister, Leslie Patterson, who used a Dictaphone to record letters every morning for me to transcribe. My classes were all in the mornings, so I typed his correspondence in the afternoons and left it for him to sign and mail. I rarely saw him at the office.

Quest for the Golden Mean

“So what are you going to be, Teachers?” Our professor was challenging us.
He reviewed modern and classical ideas ideas in education, then asked, in stentorian tones, “Will you be an authoritarian who sticks with the familiar, rote style of education, or follow the messy modernists who teach learning by doing? Or—(dramatic pause)—will you find that GOLDEN MEAN, using the best of each approach, and reach that magical goal, an ideal education for every student?”

I will find it, I thought, and like to think I did find that golden mean.

In another class, we were discussing the stages of personality development. Our text described the infant’s focus on personal needs, the social awareness of toddlers, the altruism of teens, the practicality of those in their thirties and the philosophical acceptance found in the elderly.

I was twenty, and most of the students were several years older. I was a little bothered when we discussed adolescent altruism, describing it as a stage, but didn’t say much until one man spoke up. “Yeah,” he said, “I can see that. You get a family and lose that altruism when you have more practical things to think about.”

“Oh, but you shouldn’t lose your altruism! That’s important!” I protested. “We need to keep that, no matter what!”

I suddenly remembered that I was the youngest in the class! The others smiled and gently acknowledged our difference of opinion, and to their everlasting credit, none asked, “How old are you?” I had just proven their point!

I got the education credits I needed, but missed Transylvania Music Camp. I did, however, spend two weeks at the Trapp Family Music Camp in Stowe, Vermont.

Trapp Family Music Camp
After sweating through six weeks of summer school in the hot, humid bowl of Columbia, South Carolina at USC, it was a huge relief to head for the cool mountains of Vermont for two weeks at the Trapp Family Music Camp in Stowe. Not only was I refreshed, I was widening my cultural horizons and being introduced to a different genre of music. I plunged into a different religion and had musical experiences I’d previously only read about. I’d had many good friends who were Roman Catholic thanks to the great mixing bowl of our public school system, but had never met a priest or a nun and thought of them, if at all, as aliens from another planet. Yet here they were, lots of them, interacting with us in very normal ways, making music, laughing, having fun! Our music was quite different from anything we’d done at Transylvania Music Camp. We sang very old folk songs and chants, reading from old-style music notations. We played recorders, which were the forerunners of flutes, and had mass every day.

I’d learned classical Latin in high school. We’d listened to Bing Crosby’s Christmas album and laughed at his pronunciation in “Adeste Fidelis”, but I now learned that he was correct! The Latin used in Roman Catholic liturgy was not classical Latin at all, but more like modern Italian.

I’d attended a Trapp Family Singers concert when they were on tour, so it was interesting to meet the family. Captain von Trapp had passed away by this time, but Madame von Trapp (Maria) was as energetic as ever, though quite mature. She and the captain had had two more children, a girl named Maria and a boy named Johannes. Maria was 18 and Johannes 12, while the other family members were all adults. Some taught classes at the camp.

Perfect Pitch
When I was seven or eight, my piano teacher got the idea that I might have perfect pitch. I’d stand with my back to her while she played a note. “That’s A” (or E or G), I’d say. She told Mother I had perfect pitch–but this was after my piano lesson, when I could remember middle C. I’ve since talked to people with perfect pitch, and can say without a doubt that I don’t have it. I have a good pitch memory, but can’t immediately recognize a key or start on a given note. I carried a pitch pipe for awhile and tried to develop perfect pitch, but to no avail!

Eidetic Imagery and The Zone
Nora Dean Parker, a friend of mine, had eidetic imagery. I’d never heard the phrase, but she told me that it was like a photographic memory. When she was taking a test, she could sort of “look up” a page in her mind and “read” the answer. It was a gift.

It sounded kind of like perfect pitch to me. I’d struggled to develop perfect pitch without success, but maybe I could develop eidetic imagery in time to get me through my senior recital! Pergolesi’s “Salve Regina,” with its long, repetitive phrases and slow tempo, was giving me trouble. I tried visualizing and “reading” the piece and got through it, but it was a struggle. I didn’t have eidetic imagery.

The Queens College choir went on tour in my senior year. The big number for our concert was Debussy’s “The Blessed Damozel,” and I had the soprano solo. I knew I sang it well, but one evening I felt my voice soar effortlessly, automatically. It was wonderful!  Afterwards, Mr. Holliday exclaimed, “What happened? That was amazing!”  Bonnie Blue added, “I know! I’ve never heard you sing like that!” I’ve since heard athletes and performers speak of being “in the Zone,” and that’s where I was! It felt a lot better than eidetic imagery!

In life, every closing is an opening. I had mixed emotions at graduation from Queens–sadness at leaving people and places I’d come to love, but excitement thinking about the great unknown of my future. I’d been taught by others for sixteen years, and saw my graduation as an end to that phase. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next, and was still exploring options. I’d lacked faith in becoming a singer like Lotte Lehman, specializing in German leider, and had shown it by changing my major from voice to public school music–but teaching, while it offered security, didn’t seem exciting. I felt secure about the future, knowing I had a teaching certificate, but it didn’t seem very adventurous. Far away places with strange sounding names were calling. I’d studied several languages–Latin, Spanish, German, French–and though I wasn’t fluent in any of them, I thought I could become so with practice and looked for opportunities to travel.

Three of my friends at Queens–Reid Regan, Beth Dobbins, and Bonnie Blue–also wanted to see the world, so when we saw an ad in the Charlotte Observer for airline stewardesses, we checked it out. A representative from United Airlines was to be interviewing prospects in downtown Charlotte, and the four of us talked with him. He was actually recruiting for a school that offered training, said we were all good prospects, gave us some papers to send in and wished us well. Reid did become an airline stewardess, but Bonnie, Beth, and I went in other directions.

A representative from the U.S. Foreign Service came to interview seniors who had a background in foreign languages, and I talked with him. I applied for a position, they did a very thorough background check, and offered me a job to start July 16th, 1952 in Washington, D.C. I was excited, and ready to go, but then Bill Whitesides told me his friend, Tom Nichols, would be the music director for a new outdoor drama, “Horn in the West”, opening that summer in Boone, N.C. He was looking for singers.  Would I like to be in it?

I would, if I could delay my Washington job. I obtained a postponement until September and left for Boone. That decision had far more impact on my future than I’d foreseen.

“Horn in the West”—1952
Boone was a small town nestled in the Appalachian Mountains of western North Carolina. Few people had heard of it in June of 1952. It wasn’t on the way to any major cities, but was approached by two-lane winding mountain highways, U.S. 221, 321, and 421. Appalachian Teacher’s College was there, and two small tourist attractions nearby, the Blowing Rock and Grandfather Mountain, but its main industry was farming. Community leaders wanted to increase tourism, and boost the economy of the region. Oh, boy! Little did they know!

Outdoor dramas were becoming increasingly popular. North Carolina had two, both successful: “The Lost Colony” in Manteo, and “Unto These Hills” in Cherokee. The dramas, performed in large outdoor amphitheatres, told stories from the history of a region and had large casts, incorporating acting, music, and dance. To stage one seemed an awesome undertaking for a town the size of Boone.

When I arrived, I was impressed with the preparation that was taking place. The theatre was nearing completion; sets were being built, scenery painted. We actors and singers pitched in. The costumers had a huge number of costumes to make. While all this was going on, during rehearsals, we had promotional appearances to make on Charlotte’s TV station, parades and press encounters for photographs and interviews. It was a very busy time!

I didn’t know anyone when I arrived, but it didn’t take long to get acquainted.  Most of the female members of the cast lived in a dorm-like house on Grand Boulevard, two blocks from the main drag, King Street. The director of the show, Kai Jurgenson, lived with his wife Jo (the lead female dancer) and their baby in a semi-basement apartment in the same house.

Those of us who could do musical notation were pressed into service to copy the music. Because I’d taken music directing 101, I was also asked by Tom Nichols to be the assistant music director, leading the choir so he could move about in the audience area to hear what it sounded like.

My role was small, but I had a solo. After the fierce Battle of King’s Mountain, I sat alone on a large rock as the smoke cleared. A single spotlight shone through the darkness and I sang, unaccompanied, “Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair.”

In an early chorus rehearsal, I found we needed more male singers and immediately thought of my younger brother. Ted had been to Transylvania Music Camp with me, and had also sung in my youth choir in Charlotte. Tom Nichols immediately offered him the job, and once again I had the pleasure of sharing an adventure with Ted.

One night, after a scene in the blacksmith’s shop, the villagers (singers) were ready to come on and I noticed the stage hands had forgotten to remove the blacksmith’s anvil. I knew the lights would be coming on, so I picked it up and carried it off. As I exited the two stage hands assigned to carry it almost bumped into me, then noticed I had the anvil. I sat it down and rushed back just as the lights came up.

I had no idea that I was soon to become a legend. “Two of our strongest male stagehands were assigned to that anvil, and she just picked it up and carried it off!” “That thing is heavy! I’ll bet it weighs more than she does!” “Can you believe that? How strong is she?” Ned Austin, who portrayed Daniel Boone, wanted to see who had caused such a stir. Ned had been dating Louisa, the leading lady of the show, and it hadn’t occurred to me to think of him as a potential boyfriend. I didn’t know until years later that the anvil episode was instrumental in bringing us together, but simply noticed that he seemed interested in me. He seemed to have just the right balance between the artistic and the earthy. A farm boy, who’d lived in New York City. A Baptist who had learned Eastern meditation. I was fascinated.

I Said Yes!
Never mind that job with the foreign service I was supposed to report to in September.  I’d been eagerly anticipating that adventure, but love changes everything!  I may have sung to thousands that my true love had black hair, but I was asked on a date by a man whose hair could only pass for black in a dark basement on a moonless night! The actor who played Daniel Boone asked me to marry him before our first date was over, and a few days later, when I was sure he was sober, I said yes!

Ned was the youngest–by far–of six siblings, nine years behind the youngest of his sisters. His dad was a farmer and shepherd who also served the community in many other ways–tanning hides, clearing land, preparing bodies for burial. Helpful and generous, he was also tough, and a hard taskmaster with a hot temper, showing little or no patience when there was a job to be done–and there was always a job to be done! Two incidents come to mind.

Ned said his brother Lewis, at 22, was just as hard-headed as his dad, and when they clashed, get out of the way! One rainy season, debris had collected in the creek and the water was flooding the back field. Lewis went with the mule to clear away the debris, but  Sam, his dad, thought the wet mule might get sick. Ned was only five, and was in the house with Minnie, his mother, who was watching the window and heard the commotion.

“He’s a-comin’ to the house!” she shouted, as Ned’s dad stormed up the path. “Here, Neddy! Take the shotgun and climb into the attic!” Little Ned hid with the shotgun while his dad stomped around, bellowed and finally steamed off. He threw sticks at Lewis and mule while they finished up, but the creek flowed again! Tragedy averted!

Ned’s cousin Max related another tale. “One time Uncle Sam was a-beatin’ on Ned with a hickory switch and Aunt Minnie came out to stop him. He turned on her and started a-beatin’ on her! He had a terrible temper!”

There were many times that temper turned on Ned–for simple things. Going to a movie. Not working fast enough. He had many chores, and in short didn’t have the happy childhood I’d enjoyed.

He did, though, have an independence his town friends lacked, because he usually had some money. He’d sell apples at the college. He had a garden plot of his own, and sold the cabbages. He had a little money most of the time, and he could do most anything around a farm–milk a cow, plow a garden or fix a machine. If he couldn’t repair it, he’d rig it. And–it’d work!

By the time I met Ned, he’d had a colorful and varied past, and I was impressed! I found that his talent as an actor had shown itself early. As a youngster he was so good at storytelling that the teacher sent him around to tell stories to the other classes. After high school he’d signed up for the Army Air Corps to become a paratrooper, but they had too many volunteers and he was assigned to the infantry. In the last weeks of the war he was captured by the Germans, but once liberated used the GI Bill to pursue his passion for drama. He studied at the Plonk School of Creative Arts in Asheville, then at Mars Hill College, then the University of Denver in Colorado. While there he took an interest in Hinduism, Buddhism and Eastern religions, and practiced meditation.

After leaving Denver, Ned entered the Berghof School of Acting in New York City, where he studied with Uta Hagen. He spent two summers doing summer stock theatre in Maine. “Horn in the West” was not his first professional gig, he was a seasoned performer. After finishing the season in Boone, we had high hopes. We were going to make our splash–on Broadway!

Truth or Dare
The game was Truth or Dare. “Do you believe in free love?”
“Are you a virgin?”
“Wait a minute. You’re supposed to tell the truth!”
“I did.”
“Non sequitur! Harry, we need to do something about this. It doesn’t add up!” (Much laughter).
“Yes it does! You said free love. Not free sex. I believe in free love, but I think sex should wait until there is love. I’ve never been in love, so I’ve never had sex.”

That conversation had taken place early in the summer of 1952 when Jean Hillman, Harry Coble and I were hanging out with Kai & Jo Jurgenson in their apartment. Now I was in love. Ned had asked me to marry him and I’d said yes.

But I had a concern. What if we got married and I couldn’t have sex? Don’t laugh. I really was worried. I’d read about a rare affliction called “infantilism”, which meant some women’s plumbing just hadn’t developed. If I had such an affliction, it wouldn’t be fair to Ned, and we should find out before marriage! So…

The summer was over. We were parting ways until the wedding, which would be in the middle of October. By the end of September I’d missed my period. Nobody knew but me, and I wasn’t about to tell anyone. Except Ned.

What’s the Rush?
I’d thought a small home wedding would be nice, but Mother had other ideas. “You’re the first grandchild to get married. Your wedding has to be at least big enough to invite your cousins, aunts and uncles.”

“Well, if it has to be a church wedding, I want it in Charlotte. I hardly know anyone in Columbia, and Charlotte would be convenient for Ned’s family too.”
As soon as agreement was reached, the pressure to delay it was on. There was so much to do! Aunt Adah invited me to Atlanta “to shop for my trousseau”, and we got my wedding dress and my “going away suit”. They were beautiful, but her real motive was to “talk some sense” into me. She sent me to her doctor to be fitted for a diaphragm, but still tried to talk me into waiting.

We were at lunch in Rich’s coffee shop when she pulled out all the stops. I shouldn’t get married yet. Ned and I were going to New York and we didn’t even have jobs! I’d get there, get pregnant and end up being a financial drag on my parents. Because of me, Carol and Ted wouldn’t be able to finish college.

I burst into tears. She called out, “Waiter, look what I’ve done! I’ve made my niece cry! We need a treat! What can you bring us?” He brought a dessert list, and we ordered chocolate tortes and coffee. The wedding plans went on, as I returned home.

Our Wedding
Earl Berg had been my voice teacher, and his baritone filled the chapel, with Mrs. Berg at the organ.
“Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow,
They toil not, neither do they spin,
Yet Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
If God so clothe the grass of the field,
Shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?
Be not therefore anxious, saying “What shall we eat?”
or “What shall we drink?” or “wherewithal shall we be clothed?”
Your Heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
But seek ye first his kingdom and his righteousness,
And all these things shall be added unto you.
Be not therefore anxious for the morrow,
For the morrow will be anxious for itself.
Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof”
Matthew 6:28-34

Mother commented laughingly that he’d chosen a most appropriate text for our wedding, as we were leaving for New York City with no jobs and no place to live!
We were married in the chapel of First Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, and had the reception there as well. Somehow, Mother had managed to make all the festive arrangements–invitations, flowers, cake, etc.–from Columbia. I’d selected the dresses for my maid of honor, Carol, and my two bridesmaids, Bonnie Blue and Fran McPherson. Rev. Schaefer performed the ceremony, assisted by Rev. Fred Poag, the minister at Mother’s church in Columbia. Everything went well, with one glitch–the photographer failed to show. For me that was “Oh, well…”, but Mother wanted photos. She sent my outfit to New York. I was supposed to find a photographer there, but didn’t, so our only wedding day photo was a snapshot taken by Ned’s brother-in-law, Alfred Adams, at the reception.

The trip along the Blue Ridge Parkway was our honeymoon, and it was gorgeous in October! The mountains were aflame with color. Maples, oaks and sassafras flush with reds and oranges blended with  the yellows of aspen and birch against a background of evergreen. A breathtakingly beautiful setting for a couple deeply in love, on the edge of an adventure!

We’d actually driven the wrong way from Charlotte, and spent our first night at a small hotel in Kannapolis. Our elevator operator, a plump, pleasant black woman, exclaimed, “I believe this is a new couple!” and we grinned and admitted she was right. The next morning was a Sunday, so we visited a little church, then traveled on to New York City. Ned’s friends Harry Lowery and Marcie Bannon were waiting to greet us and take us to an apartment they’d found for us on West 72nd Street.

First Apartment
How exciting to have a place of our own! I was in Wonderland! Everything was amazing! Our apartment was a fifth-floor walk-up about the size of a postage stamp, but I loved it! There was one room with a sofa, two chairs and a double bed, and a kitchen the size of a closet with a three-foot-tall fridge and a two-burner hot plate. The bathroom had a larger-than-average basin, which doubled as the kitchen sink.

Harry’d been a guide at NBC, and had arranged a job interview for me. My first day as a guidette, a man on my tour tried to give me some money. I politely thanked him and told him no. Later, Ned and Harry laughed, and said, “That was a tip! That’s the custom in New York!”

I took groups on guided tours around the studio. I was explaining and demonstrating things I didn’t understand myself, but had a memorized spiel. Once a fellow who worked at a TV station asked me about coaxial cable, and I could only say, “That’s all I know about that. You know more than I do, I’m sure.” He grinned, and we moved on.

One part of the tour called for me to “interview” a member of the group on closed circuit TV. When I asked my interviewee, “Where are you from?” She said “Jamaica”, and I said, “Oh my goodness. You’re a long way from home, aren’t you?” It wasn’t until later I found out Jamaica is a New York City suburb, on Long Island!

We took the subway to work and everywhere else in Manhattan. Our car was an unnecessary possession that presented parking problems, and was only appreciated when we went out of town. I had no place to more than hand-wash a few clothes, so I took them to a Chinese laundry in the neighborhood. The man at the counter wrote something in Chinese, took my pillowcase of clothes and said something I didn’t understand. I walked out wondering if I’d ever see them again, but when I returned he took one look at me and immediately pulled out the right package. I don’t know what he wrote, but afterwards he never failed to match me with the right set of clothes.

Christmas Blues
I’d never been through a Christmas season when I wasn’t singing in a choir, and had always been home to attend Christmas Eve candlelight services with my family. I wasn’t in the choir in Manhattan and wasn’t going home for Christmas, but I wanted to go to a candlelight service for Christmas Eve.

About ten days before Christmas, Ric Satriano came to town. Ned had told me about Ric, his very best friend, and had hoped I’d like him. Of course I would! I was going to like all of his friends!

I greeted Ric warmly, served him chili and beer and we all sat down to eat. I looked forward to a pleasant conversation, as we’d had with Harry, Marcie and other friends, but Ric never made eye contact with me. He and Ned talked about the Hindu Truth Center and made plans to go there together, but it was clear that I wasn’t included! A couple times Ric looked at me, back at Ned, and said, “Damn! What’ve you done? You’ve changed everything! It’ll never be the same again!”

“What do you mean?” I exclaimed, “I’m not a ball and chain. You and Ned and whoever can go wherever, whenever you want to! Excuse me. I’m going for a walk!”

I went to the park alongside the Hudson River. It was beautiful there, and quiet. I walked for awhile, then returned to find Ned in a panic.

“Where have you been? I’ve been all over the neighborhood looking for you.”

He was even more upset when he found I’d been walking in the park. By the river. At night.

“Well, it was clear I was ‘persona non grata’ at the apartment with you and Ric. so I left. I’d have gone to bed instead, but our bed is in the living room, so I couldn’t.”

I went to the candlelight service alone, and on Christmas morning Ned & Ric went to the Hindu Truth Center without me. I had a sixteen-inch Christmas tree I’d decorated with my earrings, and I ate fruit cake and listened to Christmas music on the radio, wishing I was home!

Better Days
We may have been ready for Broadway, but Broadway wasn’t interested in us. Nevertheless, it was wonderful to be in New York City!

Ric’s girlfriend Liz Dalton came to join him in Manhattan. Ric stopped resenting me and found the four of us could have a lot of fun hanging out together. We had lots of friends, all theatre folks. We all worked clerical jobs during the week, partied on weekends and “made the rounds”, going to auditions for acting gigs. I was pregnant, and so was transferred to the ticket office, where I worked into the spring. Ned’s New York friends made me feel at home. Harry and his girlfriend Marcie Bannon invited us to a Christmas party at Marcie’s apartment. They decided to marry shortly afterwards.

Harry and Marcie Get Married
Harry and Marcie were planning to wed in Webster Groves, Missouri–Marcie’s hometown. Harry asked Ned to be his best man, thus committing us to a round trip of about 1600 miles. I had no qualms about the drive, I was just happy for Harry and Marcie. They were married in a Catholic church, then we went to Marcie’s parents’ home for the reception, a catered affair with alcoholic refreshments freely dispensed by a staff of colored servants. While I was socializing in the living room, two things were occurring. It was sleeting outside, and Ned was in the kitchen declaring to the catering crew that they should all have the equality he’d been fighting for in the war, getting more vocal and more sloshed as they refilled his champagne. Finally someone noticed that it was getting icy outside and suggested we should leave while we could.

Marcie’s parents saw Ned was in no condition to drive, and Mrs. Bannon invited us to stay the night, expressing concern for our safety, but I assured them I could manage.

“Have you driven on ice much before?”

“No, but it’s a lot like driving through sand and mud. Not too fast, not too slow, no sudden turns or stops. Steady does it.”

All of which is true, but in Indiana I realized I was the only driver fool enough to be on this solid sheet of ice in the pitch black night. It was a couple tense hours before I saw any other lights but my own headlights, and the night clerk at the first open motel was astonished that anyone was out traveling in this weather!

We had a good night’s rest, and made it to Manhattan the next day, safe and sound.

The Subway Commute
The New York City subway system is an engineering marvel! It moves millions of people from home to work and back each day, fanning out under the five boroughs of the city, mobilizing people twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. I descended the steps to the subterranean caverns which house this amazing array with some trepidation. It was rush hour, and everyone seemed to know exactly what to do and where to go—except me! The hubbub of voices, in many tongues, was frequently drowned by the reverberating rumble of arrivals and departures.

I stood to one side for a minute, then played “monkey see, monkey do”. Some were taking their money to a window in the graffiti-covered wall, so I did too. I handed over a five-dollar bill and received a handful of tokens. In response to my query, I was told to take the A train, so I followed the crowd, put a token in the turnstile and went through to stand with the crowd on the platform until my train arrived.

After that first intimidating experience, I found subway travel to be easy and fast. There were maps on the walls of the stations and in the trains, showing where each train went, and where one could transfer from one train to another. It was easy—that is, until I became “great with child”. In about my seventh month of pregnancy, I began to feel scared to be in the bustle and push of the crowd, both on the stairs leading down to the station and standing on the platform with its three-or-four-foot drop to the tracks below. What if I fell?

Fortunately, I didn’t.

Brighton Beach
The climb to our fifth floor apartment was fine when I was slim and energetic, but the more pregnant I became the harder it was to climb stairs, so we found a semi-basement apartment in Brighton Beach, in Brooklyn. Brighton Beach was an old Jewish neighborhood, and I’ll never forget the look on the proprietor’s face when I went to the meat market and asked for pork chops. “Pork chops?!?! Lady, this is a kosher market! We don’t sell pork!”

I had a lot to learn! Our landlord was a rabbi, but we hardly ever saw him. His wife did all the business dealings. I learned not to go upstairs to pay the rent on a Saturday. She couldn’t do business on the sabbath–or any Jewish holiday.

Ric and a couple friends had found a job with a puppet theatre group which was going on tour, so Liz came to live with us. She was pregnant too. Ned found a night job at a factory in Brooklyn while Liz and I commuted to clerical jobs in Manhattan.

Ric and Liz called each other frequently, running up a huge phone bill, and when they were on the phone Ned and I would go for a walk on the beach.

One day Liz reported that she hadn’t felt life in her baby in a day or two, and stopped in a clinic to find out what was going on. They told her she’d had what was called a “missed abortion”, meaning the baby had died but her body hadn’t yet gotten the message and gone into labor.

Late the next afternoon, Ric and Liz were on the phone, so Ned and I went for a beach walk. We returned to find Liz in bed in an advanced stage of labor, unable to get up.

Ned had been present when his dad had delivered baby lambs, but I’d never even been allowed to watch puppies being born. I felt like Prissy in “Gone with the Wind” when she exclaimed, “Miz Scarlett, I don’t know nothin’ about birthin’ babies!”.

Liz had noticed a doctor’s shingle in a window up the street and asked Ned to fetch him. Ned ran out and returned shortly with a stocky, gray-haired man carrying a bag and wearing a stethoscope. At first he thought I was the patient; I was obviously very pregnant. We indicated Liz, in the bed, and he examined her briefly while Liz told him about the “missed abortion”. He called for an ambulance and she was whisked away to the hospital in Coney Island, where she delivered a stillborn little boy.

Pickwick Players Summer Stock Theatre
Blauvelt, NY, June 1953
All of Great Britain was abuzz with preparations for the coronation of Princess Elizabeth. Ric and Liz were abuzz with preparations to open their summer theatre, and Ned and I were abuzz with preparations for a new baby and a trip to Boone. We’d paid our rent in Brighton Beach through the end of May, so we moved on the first of June to the Rockland County Playhouse to await the arrival of our baby, sharing space with Ric and Liz and the “Pickwick Players”, helping with chores while the cast and crew made plans for the summer season. The theatre was a converted barn, and the guys had tied a long rope to the rafters. They’d swing from a loft above the stage and land on the floor. They were having great fun, and daring others to try it. Ned said I couldn’t, because I was too pregnant. That was enough for me! I climbed the ladder to the loft, got a grip on the rope and jumped. It was fun! I swung widely back and forth, gradually came to a stop, and went into labor!

David Jones Austin
Women’s Hospital, Manhattan. “She’s not gonna have no baby tonight. She don’t have enough pain. You go on home and call in the mornin’”.

That’s what the black nurse’s aide told Ned, so he left to spend the night with Harry & Marcie in Manhattan. It was true that my labor contractions weren’t intensely painful, but I’d read Dr. Grantly Dick-Read’s book Natural Childbirth, and was practicing everything I’d learned, breathing and relaxing and letting my body do its work. I felt resentful at not being taken seriously, but was vindicated when a doctor came in and exclaimed, “Let’s get her out of here! Fast!”

My wonderful baby, David Jones Austin, arrived at 3:27 am on June 3rd, weighing in at a hefty nine pounds! He was supposedly premature, since we’d been married in mid-October. We told our families he weighed six pounds. I think they knew it wasn’t true, but nobody questioned it except Ned’s cousin and best man, Earl Payne, whose wife was a nurse, and to them we admitted he wasn’t premature. Our theatre friends in New York knew, but they didn’t care.

A Surprise Visitor

Other than Ned, I didn’t expect any visitors while baby David and I were in the hospital. Our friends were all busily preparing for their summer season in Blauvelt, and they knew we’d be coming by the theatre to say our goodbyes before leaving for North Carolina. I was surprised and mystified when a nurse told me I had a visitor. Who might it be?

It turned out that my mother had made a phone call to her dear friend Virginia Gallemore, our former next-door neighbor in Bartow. I didn’t know, but she was in New York! We had a delightful visit. She was glad to see me in good health and good spirits. She said I had a beautiful baby, and would give my mother a “good report”!

As soon as baby David and I left the hospital we went back to the Playhouse to prepare for the trip to North Carolina, where Ned would again portray Daniel Boone in Horn in the West. He’d bought three diapers before we left the hospital, and I wanted to stop and buy a dozen more, but Ned refused. “These will be enough to get us back to Boone, and my sisters will have plenty of diapers when we get there”, he said.


Every stop along the way, I had to take two diapers to the rest room and wash them, then hang them out the car window to flap in the breeze as we trekked down the road!

We FINALLY arrived at Ned’s family home, and were warmly received by his mother, dad and sister Daisy. We took our things to the upstairs bedroom which would become our home for the summer, and as I took the two soiled diapers to wash, Ned told Daisy we’d surely be happy to get some hand-me-down diapers from her and his other sister Ella.

“I don’t have any diapers now, Ned!”, she said, “Tommy is five years old!”.

Of course Ella, whose youngest was six, had none either. Ned finally went out and bought a dozen diapers!

Life with Sam & Minnie
I’d wanted an apartment in Boone, but Ned’s parents insisted that we should live with them, and we did.

Ned’s dad Sam had mellowed with the years and was a most agreeable person. He enjoyed sitting on the front porch holding his grandson and talking with him while Ned’s mother Minnie and I were in the kitchen fixing supper. I called them Daddy Austin and Mother Austin when talking with friends, but in the house I called them Dad & Mother–the same thing I called my own parents.

Minnie made baby David’s first toy. She took about six Mason jar rings, strung them onto a clothes hanger wire and hung them across Davy’s crib. He quickly discovered how to whack the rings with his hands, and he’d kick up his heels and coo with delight as they jingled!

My respect for Minnie grew to awe when I lived with them and realized what her life had been. Neighbors helped each other, and shared the fruits of their labor. When men came to work the fields, it was the custom for Minnie to feed them. She didn’t slap together a few sandwiches and hand them out–she fixed cornbread, biscuits, green beans, potatoes, corn and tomatoes, all from her garden, and stewed chicken and country ham. And cooked it all on a woodstove. She had an electric stove, but preferred the wood stove, which she was used to!

Besides the electric stove, her children (Ned’s siblings) had provided a number of home improvements, including indoor plumbing and a washing machine. Previously, to wash clothes she had to carry water from the spring, build a fire under a big tub, scrub the clothes on a washboard with soap she’d made from ashes and fat, run them through a hand wringer into rinse water, wring them again and hang them on a line to dry. Every job she did was so much more complicated and difficult than anything I’d ever had to do that I could never complain again without thinking of her and feeling ashamed of myself. She was amazing!

Breast Feeding
Of course I wanted to breast feed my baby, and did so right from the start. My milk was plentiful and he had a good appetite, so when I took Davy in for his six week checkup, he weighed thirteen pounds! Oh well–we continued to give evasive answers to “How much does he weigh?” and finally people stopped asking.

Breast feeding a baby is easy, natural, healthy and, among our circle of friends, was socially acceptable, so–whenever he got hungry–anytime, anywhere. Why should it not be so?

Summer’s End–Harvest Time
By the middle of August, we were harvesting more than we could eat. Minnie had lots of Mason jars. We washed them, bought a few dozen more and a number of lids and rings and pulled out her big pressure canner. For the next two weeks we prepared corn, green beans and tomatoes enough for Minnie and Sam, plus several boxes for Ned and me to cart with us to New York.

When Horn in the West was over, we packed up our clothes, vegetables, baby supplies, our beagle Homer and baby Davy and headed north, first to the Rockland County Playhouse, while we searched for a place to live.

The Loft—Lower East Side, Manhattan
Nance and Ray, actors at Pickwick Players, were friends of an artist couple who’d found an old warehouse available to rent at 80 Jefferson Street. They were converting the top floor into a studio and living area for themselves, and were looking for couples to move in to the other two floors and share the rent, which would be $30 each. We jumped on it.

The building had been taken over by pigeons, so the first job was a massive cleanup. Then came a search for furniture–not just beds and tables but heaters, refrigerators, cookstoves, etc. It was hard work, but fun too–at first!

The police stopped by one night to see why there were lights on in what had been an empty building. We learned it wasn’t zoned for residences, but the policeman announced, “Now, this can’t be your apartment, but you can have a studio. If this is your studio, you’re allowed to live in it.”

“Okay,” we said, taking our cue from him, “this IS our studio. We’re actors, and the other couples are also actors and artists.”

“We’re actually glad to have someone here,” he said, “Keeps it from attracting vagrants and drug dealers.”

Unfortunately, Homer soon selected a corner of the loft as his bathroom. I walked him as I carried Davy, but apparently not enough. More to clean up.

Our gas line had a low spot which would fill with condensation. The heater and stove would work for awhile, shut off unexpectedly, then the gas would come back on, unlit. We had to turn off the gas, which meant I had to keep Davy in his snowsuit full-time, considerably complicating diaper changes. Aunt Genevieve came to see us, took one look around and said, “Bobbie, how are you going to make a home out of this joint?”. With the baby, the cold and the dog we had more problems than we’d anticipated, and began to talk other options.

More Weddings
My sister Carol and my cousin Phyllis were both planning December weddings. Phyllis asked me to sing for her wedding in Atlanta, and Carol wanted me for matron-of-honor at her wedding in Columbia. All things considered, we decided to pack up and say goodbye to New York City.

My parents welcomed us to Columbia, where we prepared for Carol’s wedding. Carol was a student at Agnes Scott College, and her intended, Lewis “Pete” Hay, was a student at Columbia Seminary in Decatur, Georgia. After the wedding they went back to their respective colleges, where they graduated the following June.

After Carol’s wedding we went to Atlanta, where we stayed with Aunt Adah for Phyllis’s wedding to Dean Matthews. Aunt Adah enjoyed playing with little Davy, rolling on the floor with him and laughing. Both weddings went well. We stayed with my folks through Christmas, then returned to Boone.

Back on the Farm
One of Daddy Austin’s sheep gave birth on a cold winter night, and he brought the lamb into the house to dry and warm it. He found it had a hernia; a fold of its gut was protruding through an opening in its belly. He recruited me to help him operate on the lamb. We gently pushed the section of gut back in and stitched up the gap.

There was always plenty to do on the farm. Once the ground had thawed, Ned plowed his parents’ garden and those of a couple of the neighbors. Mother Austin milked the cow, and Davy liked to feed the chickens, rolling around in his walker with her. I learned to wield an axe and split wood.

Another Opening
When summer came, we hired Ned’s niece, Minnie, to babysit Davy while we both worked in “The Horn”. I landed a speaking part this summer. The role of Mary had been combined with that of Betsy, which tightened up the story line and gave me a bigger part. Betsy was to be married, and had a shivaree before the wedding. In the shivaree, a noisy, boisterous celebration, the guys all picked up the couple and lofted them overhead, running them across the stage and setting them down at the door to the cabin. “Be careful, I’m pregnant!”, I told them, and they were, letting me down easy every night as we looked forward to having a sibling for Davy.

Ned bought a calf, and fed him through the summer. In the fall his sister Lula came to help process the meat. Some was frozen, some ground into hamburger and some cut up and canned.

We did Horn in the West for three summers, but decided not to go back to New York with a toddler and a second child on the way. I wanted our children to have a yard to play in. Ned had loved Denver when he was in school, so we decided to move there. We bought a metal trailer chassis and built a wooden trailer body on it.

Westward Ho!
US Highway 70W, September, 1954.
In the fall of 1954, we loaded up our homemade trailer with all our belongings, including several cases of home-canned foods, and headed west in Ned’s 1949 Chevy, with high hopes! In Denver, we found a basement apartment in the home of Granny Eldridge, who did baby-sitting in her home and was happy to look after our toddler while we looked for work. That proved to be easier said than done! Pregnant, and showing, I wasn’t able to find work at all, and Ned did door-to-door sales–but he noticed there were always ads in the HELP WANTED section for barbers.

In January, our second child was stillborn. As I lay in bed in the ward at Denver General Hospital, staring vacantly at the ceiling, someone in the nurse’s quarters above played Ravel’s “Pavane for a Dead Baby” and my loneliness and grief became intense. The pain subsided, however, the minute I hugged little Davy. We went home, and discussed what was next.

Upward Bound
With my trimmed-down figure, I quickly landed a job as a receptionist in the X-ray department at St. Luke’s Hospital. Ned enrolled in barber school and took a part-time job unloading freight. Davy was safe with Granny Eldridge, but not stimulated. We moved closer to work and I enrolled him in Humpty Dumpty Preschool, where there were toys, room to play and lots of other children.

Our schedule was quite demanding. Ned had to be at work at 4am and we only had one car, so I’d bundle up a sleeping Davy and drive Ned to work, come home, grab a few more ZZs until 7am, cart Davy to preschool and go on to work at the hospital. Ned would walk from work to barber school for his classes, where Davy and I would pick him up at 6pm and head home to supper. After a few months, Ned found a 1938 Studebaker on sale for $50. We bought it, and loved it! Everything was easier with two cars, and the Studebaker, though old, was reliable–and cute!

Medical personnel are great to work with. I liked everything about my job. Pretty soon I was pregnant again, and Ned finished barber school and went to work at the TV station. Davy said he had two daddies–one at home, and one in “that TV box”!

New Baby–Robin
One night in January, quite suddenly and without warning, my water broke. Ned took Davy upstairs to stay with Nettie & Joe, an elderly couple who’d become good friends, and I grabbed several towels and called the hospital. Shortly afterwards, Robin Alister Austin arrived, at an even 6 pounds!

Ned was now working part-time at the TV station and part-time as a barber, and with the improved finances I stayed home with the boys. We moved to a larger apartment and my mother came to visit.

First House—Spring 1957
The Denver area was in a housing boom, and we saw ads for houses all the time. We began looking at houses on Sunday afternoons, then talked with a realtor and were soon signed up to move into the all-new Martin Acres project in Boulder.
Boulder was a small but fast-growing college town west of Denver, and our first view of it was dramatic. The approach from Denver was by a toll road. It crossed 30 miles of the flat plateau that gave Denver its title of The Mile-High City, but Boulder was nestled up against the Flatirons. These are an aptly named, towering rock formation which introduces the Rocky Mountains. The effect is breath-taking. Dry, westerly winds known as “Chinooks” blow across the town, and when they came, I’d take out my wash and by the time I’d finished hanging, I could take it down again–all dry!

The Neighborhood
There’s a great “esprit de corps” among young families moving into a new neighborhood. Everyone is making their house a home. We all planted grass, shopped for furniture, put up swing sets and fences, had get-acquainted barbecues and block parties. Our kids were all preschoolers, and they played happily together while we moms did housework and got together for coffee. We also began to take an interest in politics. The Irwins and the Goldsteins were strong Democrats, and Bobby Jo Irwin organized us to do block work.

Becky Irwin and Seth Goldstein were the same age as David, and the three of them became fast friends. They played together most of the time, while Becky’s little brother Bo tagged along. Robin wasn’t yet old enough to be out with “the big kids”. He’d play in the house or the fenced-in back yard while I cleaned up or washed clothes. One morning he was looking out the front door one minute, and gone the next. I rushed out to look for him and noticed David’s tricycle was also missing. I’d seen him watching closely while David was riding it, and deduced what likely happened. Suspecting he’d go downhill, I went that way. He wasn’t allowed to cross the street, so he’d gone around the corner, where I found him. I didn’t know he could ride a trike!

Beach Trip
After we moved “out West”, we made the long trip “back East” every few summers to visit Ned’s family, and mine. We’d stay in Boone at the old home place or with one of his sisters, all of whom lived within “a holler” of each other. We first returned in 1957; David was four years old, Robin 1-1/2 and another “on the way”. We spent a wonderful week in Boone with Ned’s family. It was the last time we were to see his father, who passed away within the year.

My family was more spread out than Ned’s, and my parents had a smaller house, so we had our reunions at the beach. That year, my father rented spaces in a building styled like a military barracks at Springmaid Beach. The rooms had built-in concrete beds with foam mattresses. Guests were responsible for their own laundry, and made their own beds. We ate our meals at a large on-site cafeteria.

My sister Carol joined us there, with her husband Pete and their little girl 
Kathy, who was about two. Carol and I relaxed, playing in the sand and surf with Mother and the kids, while Ned and Pete explored the area in our green Chevy.

New Baby—Samuel

I was pregnant again, and after our return went to Dr. Cowgill in Boulder for pre-natal care. I’d hoped to try natural childbirth, and he told me he believed in it too, but that he felt it best to use very little medication and for the mother to be awake. I was by now experienced, so when my labor started on December 9th I busied myself at home, getting things ready, “nesting”. I washed clothes, cleaned house and cooked most of the day before having Ned drive me to the hospital. The delivery was seamless. I was sedated, but awake, through the whole process. He weighed seven pounds, and Samuel Monroe Austin nursed as soon as he was placed in my arms.

One day when he was eight months old, Sammy got tired of crawling. He stood up and walked. A day or two later the children were in the backyard, playing at the swing set. I noticed Sammy on the slide. Using his hands and feet, he’d climb up the slide instead of the ladder, then turn around and slide down!

Sammy had an interest in music from a very young age. When he was four, I took the kids to see “The King and I”. In the movie, Anna keeps reminding the king of Siam that when she came to teach, he’d promised her a home of her own. He’d failed to keep that promise, so she taught his children to sing “Home Sweet Home”. After the movie, I was cooking supper and heard the piano. Sammy was plinking out “Home Sweet Home”! He could barely reach the keyboard!

Music Teacher
By now I’d secured my Colorado teaching certificate. Colorado required only that I produce my North Carolina certificate plus a letter from a North Carolina principal verifying that I was qualified to teach. I hadn’t taught school in North Carolina, but one of the actors in Horn in the West, Charlie Elledge, was a principal in Marion, North Carolina. He was happy to vouch for me. I started teaching music that September at Arvada Junior High, in Adams County outside Denver. There were three other teachers from Boulder who worked there. We had a congenial carpool, and life was good. By February, however, I was pregnant again, and didn’t finish the school year.

Trading Houses
Our neighbors across the street had friends who lived in Denver, but worked in Boulder. We lived in Boulder, but worked in Denver. Their friends were searching for a house in Boulder, and we thought it’d uncomplicate everyone’s lives if we simply traded houses.

As far as the paperwork was concerned, it was the easiest house buy ever. We assumed each other’s GI Bill loans, made an appropriate payment for the larger equity they’d built up in their house and together hired a lawyer to manage the documents. The hard part came on moving day.

The logistics were tricky. We had to time our moves so that we crossed paths on the road, to be sure each house was empty and ready for the switch. It was an exhausing day for me, especially, because by now I was eight months pregnant.

Baby Frances–A Girl!
My mother, Eloise, and dad, Ted, came out to visit us in August. They were prepared to go home on the 21st, Mother’s birthday, but that morning she made the comment, “The only present I want is a new grandbaby. We’ll stay another day if that’s about to happen.”

“I’m sorry, Mother, I’m not feeling anything yet.” I responded. They got in the car and drove away.

They hadn’t been gone long when my labor started. We didn’t have cell phones, so there was no way to call them back. By the time they reached a motel and called us, Ned was able to announce that they had a granddaughter, Frances Eloise Austin.

Our first baby girl was petite, weighing in at five pounds, six ounces. I felt like I was playing with a doll when I bathed and dressed her. Even as a baby, she was different from the boys, and the boys treated her differently, too. They looked after and protected her.

Rosemary Street
Moving into an established neighborhood is different, because lasting friendships have already been formed between the children and adults. We were welcomed and accepted, but as friendly acquaintances, not bosom buddies. Our children were a little younger than the rest, and it felt like it would always be “us and them”, until our next-door neighbors moved out and the Reiners moved in.

Bela and Mary Reiner had lived in Hungary when Eastern Europe was under the control of the Communists. Bela had been a freedom fighter in the failed Hungarian revolution of 1956, and he, his mother and wife Mary had to flee the country when the Soviet tanks rolled in. David was very excited to learn that Bela was a scientist, and their kids Peter and Susie, the same ages as Robin and Sam, played well together with ours.

Contrasts in Cultures
Our new Hungarian neighbors invited us over to see their Christmas tree and celebrate a traditional Hungarian Christmas. Their tree was decorated with candles–real candles, which had been lit before we’d arrived. They turned off the house lights and put on some Christmas music. It was beautiful–but I couldn’t resist asking, “Aren’t you afraid the tree will catch fire?” I’d never seen actual candles on a Christmas tree–only in pictures on Christmas cards. They also had a small nativity scene laid out on their mantel, with intricate carvings of Mary, Joseph, the baby, some shepherds and several animals. We sang “O Tannenbaum”, in German.

“O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum Wie treu sind deine Blätte Du grünst nicht nur sur Sommer zeit Nein auch im Winter, wenn es schneit O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum Wie treu sind deine Blätte”

They turned on the house lights and put out the candles, and Bela asked, “Can you polka?”

I’d learned to polka in a P.E. class when we’d studied folk dances, but had never since had occasion to.

“Yes,” I said hesitantly, glancing at Mary and Ned, who both seemed interested in watching but not participating.

“Mary doesn’t like to dance,” said Bela as he started the music. The polka is a very active dance, and I lasted through the whole of the 78 rpm record, but was pretty winded at the end. We sat and talked awhile longer, munching on delicious Hungarian scones Mary had made and drinking wine, then thanked them and said our goodnight.

To the other side of Bela and Mary’s was an older house, one of the few in the neighborhood built before the 1940s. A family named Martinez had moved into it shortly after we’d moved into ours. Their forefathers were from Colorado, so they were of Mexican ancestry–insofar as Colorado was for centuries a part of Mexico, and they and their ancestors spoke a fair amount of Spanish. Lonnie Martinez was David’s age, and Lonnie’s younger brother David was Robin’s age. They invited our boys to a birthday party, and hung a piñata from a tree in which they had a clubhouse. The boys became good friends, and my son David received a very special gift from them when we later left the neighborhood. Their house was built beside a small stream in an area which had apparently been inhabited for centuries, as Lonnie and David found chips of pottery, arrowheads and such in their yard or in the vacant lot beside it on a regular basis. When it was time for us to move across town, they presented David with a very old fire-starter stone. It was roughly egg-shaped and weighed about ten pounds, about 6”x8”x4”, with an inch-deep depression in the center where one could put kindling and on the side strike a rock against it, producing a spark. The stone was smooth on the bottom but had a great number of pits around the depression on top, attesting to its frequent use in a time when matches were an impossible dream.

Back to the Beach
It’d been four years since we’d seen our families in the Carolinas, and we had two more kids by now, so in the summer of 1961 we again rolled eastwards, this time in an olive-green, two-toned Volkswagen Microbus. Ned pounded together a platform and covered it with a large mattress so that we could all sleep in the back as we traveled. Bad idea. We drove straight through, but it was extremely uncomfortable in the blistering summer heat. In Saint Louis it reached 104ºF, and was unbelievably humid. The tiny Microbus windows were our only ventilation and the roof, three feet above the mattress, baked us like an oven. All the kids had heat rash, and Frannie diaper rash, by the time we reached Boone.

After a week in the blessedly cool mountains, we drove on to Cherry Grove, which at the time was a small beach town well removed from Myrtle Beach. Dad had rented a two-story beachfront house, with a smaller houser in back. Carol and Pete, who now had two little girls, took the upstairs apartment in the big house while Ned and I, with our three boys and one little girl, stayed in the small house. We each fixed our own breakfast and lunch, then got the whole crowd together for supper, which Mother, Carol and I took turns preparing.

We had a lovely vacation by the beach, then after we left we drove back to Boone to pick up a gift which the Austins had bought for us—six rustic kitchen chairs and a large rocking chair, handmade by a local character known as Uncle Pink. We drove back to Colorado with the lot of them strapped to the top of the bus!

Mesa Verde
Later that summer we went to southern Colorado to visit the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde, which David had studied in his third grade classes. It was tremendously interesting, but safety wasn’t yet a priority; the dangers weren’t clearly marked, the trails narrow and rattlesnakes numerous. Our kids were between two and eight years old, and I was pregnant. On one trail we discovered, at the end, that the long, continuous line of tourists had to climb about forty feet on a tall, rickety-looking ladder! We struggled, Franny on my back. At the top a tiny, half-inch plastic baby doll slipped from the papoose of a two-inch souvenir doll of Franny’s, tumbling to the bottom! Franny was hysterical, but there was no way to return; the long line of people passed the tiny baby doll up to my screaming, crying daughter!

Natural Childbirth
I was pregnant again, and found Drs. Bradley and Bartlett at Porter Hospital, run by the Seventh Day Adventists. It was the only one in Denver which allowed Grantly Dick-Read’s method, and held classes for mothers-to-be to prepare them for delivery without anesthesia. Fathers-to-be attended some of the classes as well, learning about the process so that they could be supportive. Ned would be with me in the delivery room and participate in the birthing. They called this the “Bradley Method”, and I was thrilled to be a part of it.

Deep Freeze
About the middle of January, Denver went into a deep freeze, the kind my Minnesota-born professors talked about, when gas lines would freeze and cars wouldn’t start. We bought an electric engine heater and pulled the car into the front yard so we could plug it into an outlet in the house. The Stantzes across the street had a similar idea; they put a 100-watt light bulb under the hood of their car and covered it with a blanket to keep out the wind. At about 10 pm, we heard the prolonged honking of a horn and looked out the window to see fire coming from their engine compartment! Before we could bundle up we heard a siren and a fire truck pulled up. The fire was quickly extinguished, but their 1957 Plymouth station wagon was ruined.

Since I was pregnant again, the neighbors shared our concern about getting me to the hospital, and several of them had said, “If your car won’t start, call us and we’ll TRY OURS. No guarantees!” But we were lucky. When I started labor, we didn’t wait around. Ned went out immediately, and the car started right up.

New Baby—Genevieve
January 23, 1962
Natural childbirth, at last! What can I say, now that I’ve experienced it? For starters, I felt sorry for the mothers-to-be who weren’t Bradley and Bartlett patients. While they were moaning in pain, I was practicing my breathing, working with my body, trying to relax and alleviate the pain. How exciting it was to be aware, as the time came to push, that my baby was on its way into the world! And how wonderful to have my husband share the experience! To welcome together our beautiful baby girl, Genevieve Marie Austin!

My hospital stay was only two days, and my wonderful neighbor, Mary Reiner, had cleaned my house while I was gone!

We set Genevieve’s crib by the picture window so she and I could look out to the front yard, because it’d be Lord knows how many days before we could go outside! The deep freeze persisted, but our house was warm and comfortable, and the snow-covered world outside was beautiful!

Normally, the other kids would’ve played outside, but the bitter cold prevented it. We played games, sang songs and used our reel-to-reel tape recorder to send taped messages to our families back east.

Frannie’s Big Adventure
I was pregnant again, and staying home. I taught piano to neighbor children while Gennie was in her playpen and the rest of the kids played outside. One day Frannie, age 3, came in during a lesson and said, “I’m going to the store to get some candy, okay?” We played pretend a lot, so this announcement didn’t surprise me. I said all right, and continued the lesson.

About ten minutes later Kristen and I went to the front door to check on the kids.
“Where’s Frannie?” The boys gave me a blank look. Right then a car drove up and a lady brought out Frannie. She’d really gone to the store, but of course had no money, and she was so young the lady knew she wasn’t supposed to be there  and gave her a ride home, following Frannie’s directions! I thanked the lady, and she gave me a look that asked, how can you be such an irresponsible parent?

Music, Music, Music!
Northglenn 1962
Just north of Denver was the fastest growing school district in the United States, Adams County District #12. They were building a new elementary school every year, and sometimes moved into a new school before it was finished. I needed to work, and Denver wouldn’t hire a teacher who had a baby less than a year old, so I applied to Adams County and was hired immediately as a music teacher. Many of the music classes were held in houses we called “the cottages”, and I was assigned thirty-five classes in one school and two cottages. Four days a week I had to drive to the cottages. It wasn’t my dream job, though I was enormously popular with the kids. It was gratifying to see them light up when I walked into the cafeteria, but I wanted to know them better. I couldn’t remember eleven hundred names, and all the first- and second-grade songs got tiresome, although I worked hard to make them interesting. I wanted to be a classroom teacher, to get to know thirty children well and teach more challenging subjects. I enrolled in graduate school.

Mechanical Intelligence
Once a week I’d come home, fix supper, and leave Ned and the kids while I rushed to classes. Since I hadn’t eaten, I’d grab a candy bar from the vending machine before class. One night I put in my quarter and got nothing. The next week it happened again! The third week I stood in front of the machine debating whether to give it one more try. I put in my quarter, and it gave me–three candy bars!

I’d talked with my principal Mr. Schmidt and the assistant superintendent Mr. Reuter about switching from music to classroom teaching. They were agreeable. They were hiring new teachers all the time as the district added classes. I was pregnant again, so I took leave in June, and in September Mr. Reuter called with an opening for fourth grade. As my baby was soon due, we decided he should hire someone else and I’d let him know when I was ready.

On Again, Off Again–Baby Laura!
One night in October my labor started. Everything was going well, except that I had a persistent cough and couldn’t control my breathing very well. My doctor gave me some cough syrup when I arrived at the hospital, but my labor stopped! He said to walk around to give it a boost. That worked, but when I lay back down it stopped again. I had to walk this baby into the world! A hospital corridor isn’t an interesting place for a long walk, but a mom does what a mom’s gotta do! Finally Laura Ann Austin decided to make her appearance, and it was well worth the wait. She was a beautiful baby with a surprise for all. She had red hair!

The Pill and Stability
With three boys and three girls, we had a wonderful, balanced family. A half dozen. Six was enough. By now there was a birth control pill, and I took it.
We were buying the Mayfair Barber shop, where Ned was barbering. It was nearby, and doing well. In nice weather he rode a bicycle to work.

We needed a bigger house, though, and a bigger car. We traded our Volkswagen bug for a VW Microbus and began looking at houses. I spotted a “For Sale” sign about six blocks away, on Spruce Street. It was larger, older and had been converted into a duplex. There was one apartment downstairs and one upstairs, with a long outside staircase leading to the second floor. Included was a little house next to the garage, with an entry from the alley. It’d been rented for over ten years by a mother and daughter, who wanted to stay. We found a tenant who wanted a rent-to-own contract on our Rosemary Street house, and the two rentals nearly made the payments on our house. It was perfect!

Meanwhile, I’d returned to Adams County as a sixth grade teacher. I loved the sixth grade, and felt I’d found my niche. After so many moves, changes in employment and additions to the family, we thought we were where we wanted to be and could settle down. So we thought!

The Kennedy Effect
Friday, November 22, 1963. The girls were in the living room, watching cartoons on TV. From the kitchen I heard words I’d learned to dread: “We interrupt this program to bring you an important news bulletin.” I stepped into the living room in time to hear the announcement, “President Kennedy has been shot.”

I called Ned at the barber shop to tell him, but he already knew because they had a TV in the shop. We waited and watched to see how seriously the president had been hurt. It seemed a very long time before we heard any more about his condition. We watched as he was rushed to the hospital and taken inside.

Mary Reiner came to the front door. She saw the tears in my eyes, and wanted to know, “What will happen now? Are you afraid?”
“Not afraid. Just sad. We love our President and he is seriously hurt. We’re worried about him, but not afraid for the country.”
“Will there be a war? Who will take over if he doesn’t recover?”
“The Vice-President will become President. It’s in the Constitution. It will be a peaceful transition if the President doesn’t survive.”

Finally word came from the doctor in Dallas. President Kennedy was dead.

Kennedy had brought something special to the presidency–youth, grace, vision and hope. His era was dubbed “Camelot”, and as the country moved on, his leadership and energy was sorely missed.

The Texan
It’s hard to imagine a stronger contrast in style than the one between Kennedy and his successor Lyndon Johnson. Johnson was a guy’s guy–a Texan through and through, a rough-hewn rancher who didn’t mince words. He proved far more successful working with a cantankerous Congress than Kennedy had been. He was far more able to advance civil rights and start the war on poverty.

But if civil rights and the war on poverty were stars in Johnson’s crown, Vietnam was the albatross around his neck. It’s hard to remember how we got sucked into that war, but in it we were, and the bigger question became, how do we get out?!

It seems to me that about every President has had his good times and bad. I didn’t like “Tricky Dick” Nixon at all, but I credit him with getting us out of Vietnam. Our involvement in that war had been such a divisive issue in the country that even after the war ended, the bitter feelings lingered. Our Vietnam veterans didn’t receive the joyful welcome home that had been offered to the veterans of World War II. The same had been true of the veterans of Korea; the country didn’t support those conflicts as fully as they had for World War II.

Westlake School

In an effort to ease overcrowding while a new school was being built, Adams County reopened Westlake, an old rural school that had been closed for some years, for sixth grade only. Next to a small lake of about an acre, its playground consisted of a backdrop fence for softball and two basketball hoops. We had softballs, bats, kickballs and jump ropes. That was about it. There were four sixth-grade classrooms, and we taught the usual subjects–language arts, science, social studies and math, plus physical education, music and art. Our principal checked in once or twice a week from another school, but otherwise we were on our own. We set up our own schedule, and agreed to be mostly self-contained rather than departmentalized, which allowed us more flexibility. We shared some areas of expertise; Greg Wolfe sometimes taught art in my class while I taught music in his. Lois Mattes taught remedial reading while we covered her class for physical education a couple days a week. Ramón Sanchez taught Spanish to all our kids.

Physical education usually began with calisthenics, then went to a game of kickball or softball. When winter set in and the lake froze over all the kids brought their ice skates (we chipped in for some skates from Goodwill for those who didn’t have any). The kids taught me to ice skate!

Our lunches were delivered by van, and we had library carts in our rooms. Every time Junior Scholastic sent a book order form we added to our classroom carts.

It was a dry spring, and March brought windy days. We were playing softball one day and the wind started kicking up sand, so we retreated to the classrooms. It turned out to be a terrible sandstorm, the air outside so thick we couldn’t see out the windows. Fine dust was blowing into the building, making it hard to breathe, and I had the kids put their heads down to keep them calm. After about forty minutes, the wind stopped as suddenly as it had started.

The kids raised their heads and looked out the windows. “Ms. Austin, our lake is gone!” they exclaimed. It was, indeed! the wind had dried it up!
That afternoon I saw, to my consternation, that the lake was not the only casualty of the sandstorm. My poor car! The rear window of my pretty pink DeSoto was shattered, and the entire back seat filled with sand. Some of the paint had been sandblasted off, and I wasn’t sure it would run if the sand had gotten under the hood. It was with some trepidation that I turned the key, but it fired right up, and I drove home, relieved. It was Friday, so I had the weekend to clean it up. My insurance paid for a new rear window and a repaint.

Westlake was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life!

The Beach, Again
We made the same arrangements to vacation in Cherry Grove in 1965 as we had in 1961, and drove the same Microbus~but we’d learned a couple lessons. The platform/bed in the back of the bus, never a good idea, was long gone, and we decided to camp for one night rather than drive straight through. Still, what I most remember most that year was~car trouble! After the previous trip, in which we putted along rarely reaching 60 miles per hour, Ned’s mechanic recommended replacing the Volkswagen engine with a Porsche engine, which we did. The larger engine immediately increased our power, but as it was also air-cooled, also increased the temperature in the engine compartment. Ned made sheet-metal scoops for the side air vents, which became a popular accessory after every Microbus driver from the Rockies to the coast watched us pass them by!

The highways were improving by 1965; the Interstate system had begun and many of the slowest sections had been bypassed. This time we all had seats—including our German shepherd, Fritz! The weather was cooler, and we rolled along comfortably until the early morning of the second day, when a sudden high-pitched whine in the engine compartment let us know it was time to take a break. Ned dug into the engine with a vise-grips, a pair of pliers and a screwdriver—all the tools he had—and extracted the generator.

Improvising, I took the kids on a blackberry-picking expedition in the Tennessee hills while Ned hitch-hiked to the nearest town. By nightfall he’d installed a new generator and we drove on to Boone. We spent a wonderful week there, then trekked towards the beach.

The bus rolled easily “down the mountain” and into the South Carolina flatlands, but about 50 miles outside of Columbia we heard a BANG!, and coasted to a stop. We called my brother-in-law Pete, who arranged for a tow truck and piled the rest of us into his Chevy Impala for the hour-long ride to my parents’ house. The next morning Ned spread an old blanket on the front lawn and for the next few days spread car parts all over it while he dug into the innards of the engine. When my brother Ted arrived the next day with his wife and two kids, the fifteen of us squeezed into Pete and Ted’s cars for the trip to Cherry Grove. Dad, Mother and Ned drove down a couple days later.

Ted was joining us for the first time. College, the army, work and travel had interfered until 1965; now he arrived with his wife Elaine and their two daughters, Karen and Audrey, in tow. By this time our families were complete. Ned and I had three boys and three girls, Carol and Pete had two girls and Ted and Elaine had two girls. Their ages ranged from David, the oldest at twelve, down to Laura, not quite two.

We especially appreciated Ted’s presence when we played with the kids in the surf. Our other men weren’t particularly enthusiastic about this aspect of beach life, approaching it as a duty, not a delight. Ted jumped in with gusto! When he splashed around with us, everyone had a great time!

The Strife of the Sixties
The sixties roared in, and disrupted our complacent, mellow lives. We became marchers. Peace marches, Black Pride, Gay Pride, Chicano Pride, Women’s Lib, Earth Day–we were there! I sometimes marched with my red-haired youngest daughter riding piggy-back. We marched, fasted, protested our way through a decade of turmoil. Our society transitioned from one controlled by white men over forty towards one that accommodated all the diverse peoples of the United States of America.

The superintendent of my school district, Mr. Stukey, wrote a letter to the paper about “that rag-tag bunch of hippies” who were disrupting society with their marches and demonstrations, and I wrote a letter to him–not the paper–telling him that I was one of his teachers and also one of that “rag-tag bunch”. I said it wasn’t our goal to disrupt society, but to ensure that the freedoms guaranteed in our Constitution were extended to everyone, not just a favored few. I remarked that I hoped to continue working in the Adams County schools but that I’d continue to march and demonstrate for the changes I believed were needed.

At our next district meeting, Mr. Reuter came over and said, “Mr. Stukey is looking for you. He wants to talk to you.”

I could see Mr. Stukey’s tall frame from across the room, and moved in his direction, wondering if I’d have a job in the morning. To my great relief, Mr. Stukey held out his hand, shook mine and thanked me for my honesty. He said he didn’t agree with me, but appreciated the way in which I’d addressed our differences and hoped we could continue to work together for the education of our children.

I stayed with Adams County for eight years. For five of those years I was chair of the curriculum committee, which selected the language arts and social studies textbooks.

Teacher Appreciation Day
The clatter of the roller coaster, the wheezy organ of the carousel and the smell of cotton candy fill the air. It’s Teacher Appreciation Day at Elitch Gardens!

The amusement park was closed to the public, and teachers from all the schools in the Denver area were invited to come with their families. We spent the day having fun together before school started and the park closed for the winter. I took all six of my children, now aged four to fourteen. I used a “buddy system” to make sure I didn’t lose anyone. We’d stopped at a concession stand and were walking, with our snacks, through the crowd. Dave suddenly announced, “I’ve lost Laura!”

We retraced our steps, and hadn’t gone far before we heard. “You guys! You guys!” Laura was standing in one place, calling for us just as I had coached her to do. All safely back together, we rode the ferris wheel, pigged out on popcorn and had a glorious day.

I noticed one thing in particular about that day: there was not a shred of litter anywhere. The cleanup crew had nothing to do except empty the garbage cans. Teachers practice what they preach, and I felt proud to be one!


When I was growing up, Mother talked about Yellowstone National Park in the same loving tones she used speaking of Florida, or “The Beach”. We had a demitasse spoon souvenir from Yellowstone, and it had a blue swastika on the handle. I didn’t think we should have a Nazi spoon in our house, but Mother explained that the swastika had been an American Indian symbol before being appropriated by the German Nazis; in fact, the spoon had been crafted before there even was a Nazi party. We kept the spoon, but stopped displaying it. In my head there was a mysterious quality about Yellowstone and its geysers, especially the one called “Old Faithful”. I always wanted to see it for myself.

In 1966, when Laura was a toddler, we took our tent and went on a camping trip to Yellowstone. It was amazing! So beautiful! But if I thought Mesa Verde was dangerous, this park was even more so! There were geysers and boiling springs everywhere. The park service had constructed wooden walkways for tourists, but there was no railing between my two-year-old and a deep pool of boiling water!

And then there were the bears! I was squatting next to our campfire cooking breakfast, when a bear came strolling out of the woods towards me!

“Ned!” I called, “There’s a bear coming towards me! I think he smells the bacon! What’ll I do?”

“Let him have it! Just move away!”

“But it’ll burn him, and then he’ll be mad!”

I decided there wasn’t any more time for analysis, and ran to the Microbus, where the rest of my family had already had sense enough to gather. We watched as the bear ambled over toward the food, then passed it up and went on his way. I guess he wasn’t hungry—or maybe just had sense enough not to get burned!

Yellowstone was truly memorable. A wondrous adventure!

First Grade–Oh My!

When the Adams County school administrators decided to move the sixth grade classes to the junior high schools and call them middle schools, I requested a change. I’d twice taught in junior high schools and felt they weren’t the venue for me. I preferred self-contained classrooms.

I was offered a first-grade class and gladly accepted. I hadn’t realized what an adjustment it would be! In October, I wrote a letter to my parents:

Denver, Colo.

Oct. 12, 1967

Mother and Dad,

First grade is absolutely the most exhausting thing I’ve ever done! I’m better adjusted now, and so is my class, but the first two weeks were marked by constant lower backache (from bending down) and sore feet (from never sitting). This school district has no Kindergarten, so my children (30 of them) are having their first school experience. The first two days were so chaotic I thought I’d made a terrible mistake. I found it impossible to get their attention and hold it for even five minutes, except when we were moving. We did a tiptoe tour of the school building, had a practice fire drill, toured the playground to define our play area, and had an extra recess. As far as my children were concerned, I might as well not even have been present in the classroom. They were interested in the two child-sized toilets, the sink, the water fountain, the pencil sharpener, and the paper towel dispenser. Someone got a slight injury and they found out I had Bactine and band-aids. That gave me center stage for awhile, but not in the way I’d intended! They’d used up a whole roll of paper towels, two bars of soap, a box of band-aids, a full bottle of Bactine, and most of their pencils had been sharpened down to half-size.

The second day, I set up new rules. I’d sharpen all pencils. Drinks, only after recess. Hands to be washed only after using the toilet, pasting or painting. Only one towel used to dry hands. No washing of desks during school time, unless we’d been pasting or painting.

I still had problems. If I told one child to sit in his desk and not on it, four others would promptly sit on theirs so that I could tell them too. I was mulling this over on the second night when I remembered a young second grade teacher who had a beautifully behaved class and never said a negative word. When I came to her class to teach music she’d say, “I like the way Tim is sitting”. Everyone would look at Tim and sit like him.

I tried it on the third day. I looked around my class of wiggling, squirming, climbing, chattering monkeys, none sitting quietly and attentively–but I watched, and soon saw one facing front. “I like the way Daniel is sitting”, I called out.

The result was instantaneous, and magical. Daniel looked surprised and stopped the turn he’d already begun, instead straightening himself proudly in his desk. The chatter stopped. The children looked at Daniel, straightened up one by one and waited expectantly. “Do you like the way I’m sitting?” piped a small voice–then another, and another. I realized I’d have to do a roll call if this gambit were to be successful. All right.

“I like the way Danny is sitting, too. And Veronica, and Susan. I like the way Arnold and Steven and Robert are sitting. Sherri and DeAnn look so nice and quiet–and Diane, and Scott, and Terry. Greg, Allen, Karen, Kathleen, Chris, Mike–you all look so nice sitting up straight in your desks that way. And…” et cetera, ad infinitum it seemed, but if I missed anyone I got the question again. Having complimented thirty children by name, I was able to get on with the first really decent class instruction we’d had. During the day I repeated the routine several times, but each time it worked like magic, and they gave me a full ten or fifteen minutes of attention. Of course, much of our activities don’t require silent attention, but now I know how to get it when I need it, and no longer have to call the roll. They’re satisfied if I say, “This group looks like they’re ready to listen.” How exciting it is, now, to see them progress, from letter sounds to words and reading!

Everyday Family Activities

I wrote about my family, beginning with Gennie and Laura’s activities:

Gennie and Laura both go to Kiddie Kampus, a child care center open from 7am to 6pm. I drop them off between 7:15 and 7:30, and pick them up on my way home, usually around 4:30. The first time I had a meeting after school I worried that it might be too long a day for them, but they asked me to come later every day because they had so much fun that last hour! The center has a very creative program, with dancing, music, gymnastics, story-telling, art and play. Gennie has Kindergarten class there, with a certified teacher.

Rob, Sam and Frannie go to Ashley School just up the street from the house, so they’re the last ones to leave the house in the morning. They walk with a group of neighbor children, all together. David has to leave early, because he has a before-school lab. Ned leaves for the barber shop after Dave, then I leave with Gennie and Laura.

David shows the same half-hearted interest in high school that he did in junior high. He’s found something to catch his enthusiasm, though, in a program for high school boys and girls called Junior Achievement, sponsored by local businesses. Every Wednesday night he goes to the Junior Achievement building for his company meeting. The boys and girls in his company come from high schools all over Denver, and their sponsor is the Gates Rubber Company. A group of men from Gates are their adult advisors. The group chose their own name for the company, and David’s suggestion was unanimously chosen over seventeen others. They manufacture and market carpet pads to go under the accelerator pedal in a car. Name: the PED-PAD Company. They learn about business hands-on. They sell stock, find distribution outlets, manufacture the product, sell and share the profits with their stockholders. It’s the kind of educational experience David enjoys, and he’s pitched in with great enthusiasm. Meanwhile, he inextricably stood in danger of failing Spanish, up until now one of his best subjects. After a talk with his Spanish teacher, I decided to let him drop Spanish now, when there won’t be any grade on his record, and he can focus on other subjects.

Robin got off to a bad start this school year when he was assigned to the same teacher, Mrs. Hough, that he had last year. She was the first teacher, ever, to consider Robin a discipline problem. She had (1) nullified a class “good citizen” election when the class chose him. (2) Deprived him of the privilege of going with the class to the Denver Symphony Orchestra concerts. (3) Taken his name off their list of nominees for student council, each with the vague explanation that he was “not a good citizen”. I called the school principal and requested that Robin be transferred to another class.

“She personally requested that he be in her class again this year,” Mr. McCormick said.

“That’s interesting!” I said, and told him my reasons. The principal complied, telling Robin and the teachers only that the transfer was made to balance enrollment, and Robin is much happier. He’s on the school safety patrol and they assigned him to the corner that’s considered the most hazardous, because he’s considered to be the most responsible. He’s also been chosen student council representative . I’m confident he’ll do better in this atmosphere than in the one of disapproval he was in before.

Sam and Frannie are both doing well in school, bringing home straight As and liking it.

Go, Go, Go!

Journal entry, Jan. 7, 1968

Our family went to City Park to ice skate this morning and enjoy the cold weather (low 5ºF, high 28ºF). We took along the snow disc and the toboggan, and did some sledding before coming home for hot chocolate and lunch. Laura and Gennie went ice-skating for the first time and spent about as much time on their bottoms as on their feet, causing much hilarity.

Saturday, January 13, 1968

This was my day to chauffeur; everybody had somewhere to go. I took David to a Junior Achievement meeting in southeast Denver at 8am. Robin and Sam went to Rishel Junior High School in southeast Denver for Citywide Orchestra rehearsal from 12 noon until 1pm. Violin lessons in northeast Denver at 2:30pm followed. I had Robin back home for his birthday party at 3:30, when I took him and five other boys to Bowl Aurora to play pool, then back to the house for cake & ice cream. At 9:30 I went to pick up David. It was a long day, but the girls were fine staying at home and playing with the neighborhood kids. I love this neighborhood!

Our Last Beach Reunion

We sold the Microbus and drove a yellow Ford station wagon to the Carolinas in 1968. Our week in Boone marked our last visit with Ned’s mother, who was now in her late eighties.

By this time my mother had weakened, in body if not in spirit, due to multiple health problems. Her pituitary tumor had required radiation treatment, diabetes had affected her vision and a stroke had left her with mobility problems. Dad had hired a colored woman (as she preferred to be called) to assist Mother, but Anna was a caretaker, not a maid.

At the beach, Carol, Elaine and I shared the cooking and cleanup, as we had in the past, and Anna ate with us. The young folks enjoyed swimming in the surf. Mother, despite her physical limitations, enjoyed the beach. With Anna’s help, she walked along in the wet sand, listening to the surf and, in her words, “recharged her spirit”.

After supper, we all gathered, as before, swapping stories, laughing and singing together, accompanied by Kathy and Pete on their ukuleles. When our week was up, we said goodbye to Carol and Ted’s families. We returned to Columbia, to spend a few days visiting before the trek to Colorado. While we were there, we went to a restaurant for lunch.

It was a bit of a production. Dad went in first, to talk to the proprietor. We were determined that Anna should sit with us, but South Carolina was in the midst of its integration woes. There had been unpleasantness and sometimes violence, but we didn’t wish to cause problems. All we wanted was a peaceful lunch. When Dad returned, he announced, “Okay, it’s all arranged. We’ll have a table in the private dining room, and all of us will be served there—together!”

And that’s what happened.

A Hot Summer—East Side Action Center

A Hot Summer—East Side Action Center

The summer of 1969 saw an increase in turmoil in Denver and I wanted to help my community, so I volunteered to work at the East Side Action Center in Five Points, a black neighborhood in the inner city. I was working with Augusta Wright, a black woman running a program to secure summer jobs for black teen-agers. I was to take care of the office while Gussie did the real work, going into the neighborhood to talk to black businessmen about hiring youngsters for the summer. It was a good program. The businessman didn’t have to pay, just to train and mentor the kid and keep him occupied.

Five Points was a neighborhood where a white policeman was greeted with catcalls and a raised fist–the “Black Power salute”–and Gussie once asked me, “Aren’t you afraid to come down into this neighborhood?” I said, “Gussie, I think some of us just have to not be afraid, or we’re never going to get through this.”

As much as I’d enjoyed my work in Adams County, I felt sheltered in the suburbs while Denver was going through upheaval. I wanted to do what I could, so I applied and was hired as a sixth grade teacher. I’d hoped to be assigned to a school in Five Points, but Colfax Elementary was interesting too. It was a neighborhood in transition. It’d previously been a Jewish neighborhood, but now most of our students were of Latino descent.


Society went through enormous changes in the Sixties, but our family life remained relatively stable.
Our family, which had expanded every two years until Laura’s birth in 1963, stabilized at eight. We’d moved, but remained in the same neighborhood. I changed jobs, but remained a teacher. Ned was working in the same barber shop he’d joined in 1959, which he’d owned since 1964.

There were changes, though, both inner and outer. Our family life became centered around two big interests: Dramatic Arts and Political Activism. We participated in plays, musicals and concerts, music lessons and summer music camps. Sam and the girls produced and acted in silent 8mm home movies, with plot lines, action and special effects.

We also campaigned for political candidates. We went door-to-door, wrote letters, attended peace marches, demonstrations, rallies and conventions. In these efforts to bring peace, integration, abolition of capital punishment and civil rights for all, we seemed always to be losing the battle—but we were winning the war. Situations didn’t seem to change, but attitudes did.

What Do I Call You?

There were many terms I knew not to use because they were racial slurs, but during these times it got complicated. I’d always referred to Negroes or colored people. Now, some preferred to be called either Afro-Americans or African-Americans. Others said, “Bobbie, I’m not African. I’ve never been to Africa. I’m Black.” Some Mexican-Americans didn’t like the term Mexican, and settled on Chicano. Others preferred Hispanic, or Latino. It was a confusing time. It still is, in some places, for people who want to be “politically correct”–and, oh yeah!—some of the Hispanics anglicized their names, so when I called the roll confidently using the Spanish pronunciation, they giggled and corrected me!

My Sister, Carol

While I was living in the West demonstrating and marching my way through the sixties, my sister and her husband Pete were among the real heroes of that tumultuous decade. They were liberal integrationists living and working in the South. It was easy for me to speak out against racial bias and injustice in Colorado. It was much more difficult in the South, where segregationists were struggling to maintain their way of life and sometimes resorting to violence.

Pete was a professor at Presbyterian College in Clinton, South Carolina, and Carol was an elementary school teacher. They worked openly in their community, church and political party to advance the cause of racial equality. They and their friends endured many risky and unpleasant situations: obscene phone calls, garbage dumped on their lawns. Even open threats and insults in public meetings.

Once at a party in Denver there was a young man who’d just returned from a motorcycle trip through the South. His long hair had caused him problems, and he stated “The world would be better off if the ocean would open up and swallow everyone in the South. They are so prejudiced!” (this from a person who had previously said, “Don’t trust anybody over thirty!”).

“I grew up in the South,” I replied, “and what you said just now is actually the most prejudiced remark I’ve ever heard.”

There were, and are, a lot of ill-mannered and prejudiced people in the South, as there are everywhere else. But there were, and are, a lot of fair-minded and courageous people too, and they’ve brought about big changes in our society. I’ve always admired Carol and Pete for who they are and how they’ve lived their lives.

My Brother, Ted

Although four years younger, my brother Ted was often a trailblazer for me. We always had similar interests–we both went to Camp O’Leno and Transylvania Music Camp. We both played in bands and sang in choruses, and performed in “Horn in the West”. He’d acquired the Charles Atlas body-building course from an older friend who’d joined the Navy, so I exercised with him too. At one point in our foolish youth we both took up smoking. I thought I was keeping it secret until he told me that our mother and grandmother both knew he smoked, so I stopped trying to hide it. I now realize that non-smokers can almost always tell if you smoke, whether they mention it or not.

After Ted graduated from Duke University and completed his army service, he and his wife Elaine bought a house in Sudbury, Massachusetts. He went to work as a research scientist for Sylvania, and was assigned to develop anti-missile missiles for the government. He and his wife and two daughters were sent to Kwajalein Atoll, in the Pacific Ocean just north of the equator, where they lived for ten years. Ted and his family joined the Unitarian Universalist Church while I was still exploring various religions. It wasn’t until some thirty years later that I once again followed my brother’s lead.

On a visit to Denver, Ted introduced us to shish kebabs over our backyard grill, which we have enjoyed countless times since. He took me and the kids to the playground, and watching him gave me ideas for using the playground as a teaching tool. On the merry-go-round he showed them how moving toward the center would cause it to spin faster, demonstrating centrifugal force. On the swings he talked about inertia, weightlessness and gravity.

Show Time—Frannie the Biker

Ned and some of the kids signed up with a talent agency in Denver, where they got audition experience and occasionally a job. Once Sammy was hired for a “stop smoking” promotion on the radio. His boyish voice was broadcast on the national airwaves singing, “Daddy, Daddy, why do you do it? Daddy, Daddy, why do you smoke? You know it’s not healthy, you’ll have to admit, So Daddy, Daddy, why don’t you quit?”. Meanwhile, the piano player had been chain-smoking the entire time!

When Ned took Frannie to an audition for a florists’ association commercial, they liked her and asked, “Can she ride a bicycle?” “Of course!” said Ned, and she got the part, with one weekend to learn how to ride!

Big brother Dave saved the day. He put Frannie on the bike and ran beside her, holding her up while she teetered on two wheels. He was patient and energetic, and it paid off. She was able to ride a bicycle to the florist’s for Mother’s Day. There was just one glitch. She hadn’t learned how to stop, and the cameraman had to jump out of her way! Her commercial played during the Miss Wool pageant that year, and won a Clio, a national award!


As a family, we were always involved in theatre and music. Ned and the kids did TV and radio commercials and Ned was almost always in a play with the Denver Community Theatre. I sang in two of the summer musicals given by the Denver Post Opera Company, ”South Pacific” and “Sound of Music”. One or more of our kids were in community theatre shows, and for three years at Christmas all of us, except for David, played the Cratchit family in “A Christmas Carol”, presented by the Third Eye Theatre.

Genny was Tiny Tim. At first they let it seem as though a young boy, G. Austin, played the role, but then the newspaper ran a big story. “Tiny Tim is Genevieve”, it announced, with a picture of her in costume and a story about her first grade class in school. She was a natural, very believable as a young crippled boy, and the audience was truly moved when she said, “God bless us, every one!”

There were other shows as well; school productions, community theatre and the Denver Post Operas. We were in “Gypsy”, “Sail Away”, “Oliver”, “Life with Father”, “South Pacific” and “The Sound of Music” to name a few. Some were good, some were not. David was never in these productions as Ned insisted that he concentrate on his homework, but in junior high he was Officer Krupke in a truly awful production of “West Side Story”. I was critical at the time, but later learned how tough it was to put on a show with kids that age. My own production with seventh and eighth graders was no better! Whether they were good shows or not, the kids were getting on-stage experience acting, singing, dancing, playing music. They had other activities as well, such as 4-H Club and Junior Achievement. I was the principal chauffeur to lessons, rehearsals, meetings etc., and spent lots of time on the road.

Mountain Born

Sammy auditioned and got a part in a movie to be filmed on location on the Western slope, in what was at the time a largely abandoned silver mining town named Telluride, Colorado. He was twelve years old, and would stay in Telluride for six weeks for the filming. The company provided a tutor, and he lived with the cameraman and his wife.

Hank Schloss, the director, came to the house to make arrangements and asked Sammy and me to go costume shopping with him. Sammy was given a script, which had a small rectangular piece cut out of the cover. Ned wondered what had been cut, and weeks later we found out–”Walt Disney Studios”! This was a Disney film, intended for the Sunday night show “The Wonderful World of Disney”. Sammy not only starred in it, but even composed the theme song!

Bad Trip

One night we came home from a show and were readying for bed–the kids were already upstairs–when David came to the back door raving, “I’ve killed myself with acid! I’ve killed myself! Take me to the hospital! Take me take me!!….” He went out, tried to climb the door post, came back in but wouldn’t sit down. He’d lost his shoes somewhere and was pacing wildly in the snow in his sock feet. We got the car keys, but couldn’t get him in the car, so we called the police. Two officers put him in the police car, red lights flashing, and we followed them to Denver General Hospital. They restrained and sedated him.

Now I understood the meaning of the expression “bad trip”, which I’d heard about from some hippie friends. I knew David was experimenting with drugs, but didn’t know what to do about it. Neither did anyone else, as far as I could tell. There was plenty of advice from many sources, much of it conflicting and none of it seeming to me successful. I didn’t know our second son, Robin, was also involved. We talked about it and I signed both boys up with a counselor, but they skirted the real issues and came home with a canary to replace the bird they’d lost. We muddled on.

I realized by now that Ned’s drinking was becoming a real problem. When he wasn’t in a play, he’d begin as soon as he closed the barber shop. A couple of his friends would drop in for a long-lasting game of poker and he and the barbers would drink beer with them until about ten. I tried to have the kids fed, all homework done and everyone in bed before he got home, so he wouldn’t have anyone to pick on. He picked on the older boys anyway, but he was much worse when he’d been drinking. I’d gone with him as his “support buddy” to several quit-smoking groups and tried to talk him into Alcoholics Anonymous. I said I’d go with him if he wanted me to, but he insisted that he did not have a drinking problem!

In my marriage, I tried too hard to avoid conflict. Ned was a harsh disciplinarian. He’d whip our boys with his belt, and call the girls “ugly” or “fat”, but when we fought over this he’d accuse me of “handling them with kid gloves”. By today’s standards, he abused them. At the time many would say “spare the rod and spoil the child”, but in retrospect, I should’ve taken the kids and left. I felt helpless, frustrated, and ineffectual, but since I didn’t know what to do, I did nothing.


A customer of Ned’s at the barber shop, a realtor, invited him to come look at a large old house on Downing Street. The woman who owned it was starting to show signs of dementia, and when her son visited he called and said, “Put this house on the market for a quick sale! I’m taking my mother to California with me!” We went to look at the house, and bought it. Thus began a new saga in our lives!

There were two older women renting rooms upstairs. They wanted to stay. Good. We advertised the apartment downstairs and rented it to a nice young couple–we thought!

Fast forward to the next month. Ned went to collect the rent.

“We’ve got wall-to-wall people in that house, and nobody had any rent money. One of the guys said, ‘I knew it! I knew somebody would be expecting some rent!’”

“That nice young couple?”

“Not there any more!”

They’d posted a note on the bulletin board of the community college: CRASH AT OUR PAD #10 DOWNING ST.

It took us a month to get them all out, and another month to clean up and repair the place!

First Steps—Getting Ready

Sam spent five months in Telluride, Colorado, filming the Disney movie “Mountain Born”, but Sam didn’t like the song they were using. Ned took him to Los Angeles, and while they were there Sam played and sang his version of the title song to the executives of Disney Studios. They liked his version better, and bought it! Sam became the youngest member of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP)!

Ned attended a meeting of the Screen Actors Guild with his old friend Ric Jury. Ric’s friend Geoff Deuel took Sam to see the agent Meyer Mishkin. Sam signed with the Mishkin Agency. The reasons for moving to California were piling up.

We did nothing irrevocable, but took several tentative steps. We sold the Rosemary Street house, put the Downing Street house on the market, began investigating businesses for sale in Southern California. I secured a teaching credential for California and started sending applications.

Mountain View Friends Meeting

Meanwhile, we’d become regular attenders at Mountain View Friends Meeting House. This association was influential in several ways. For Ned and me, it was the first meaningful religious experience we’d found in a group in many years. We’d participated in a prayer and study cell in the Boulder Presbyterian Church, but that was in the fifties. The Quaker meetings strengthened our commitment to peace, love and inner light as a way of life. We established warm and lasting friendships. Our family was asked to give a musical program, and for the first time all eight of us performed together. The Friends loved it!

On the “Inherit the Wind” Set

“I’ve been miscast in this show! I can’t believe in the William Jennings Bryan part. I want to play Clarence Darrow!”

“Well, good! I wanted to be William Jennings Bryan. Let’s trade parts!”

With that brief exchange, Ned and Jack Dorn went to the play’s director and arranged the switch.

The result was an impressive production of “Inherit the Wind”. The lead characters both physically and philosophically represented the Scopes “monkey trial” of 1925. Their onstage debates were frequently continued afterwards when Ned and Jack would have a beer. The two became fast friends, and Jack, who also had family in California, would often stop by the barber shop at closing time, when Ned played host to a poker club.

The Go-Ahead

Harlan Knudsen, a friend of Ned’s, told him about a friend who owned an equipment rental yard in Hollywood and wanted to retire. Harlan was visiting that spring, so Ned went along to look over the business and came back with an  agreement to purchase. The barber in the second seat, Joe, who had been there even longer than Ned, bought the shop and we bought the rental yard. Ned took Robin and Dave to Los Angeles. He installed them in a house in Orange County rented from an actor friend of his, Burt Douglas, while they learned the business from the former owner’s son Hans. Ned returned to Denver to fix up and clean up our house on Spruce St. before putting it up for sale.

A Sleepless Night

I was getting ready to go to bed when the phone rang. It was Dave.

“I don’t know where Rob is.”

“What? Why? What do you mean?”

“He stayed at the house today to do laundry and clean the pool, but when I came home from the rental yard he wasn’t here.”

“And he’s not there now? Maybe he just went to grab a bite or go see someone. Do you know anyone in the neighborhood he might be hanging out with? Have you checked around?”

Dave had already checked around the neighborhood; Robin didn’t have any transportation and hadn’t been there long enough to know anyone.

Ned came in. “What’s going on?”

“Robin’s missing!”

We told Dave we’d call the police and the highway patrol. He should stay by the phone.

Our first call told us nothing, but the second gave us a number to call at Juvenile Hall.

“Yes, he’s here. He was picked up this morning for public drunkenness. He’s asleep. You can pick him up in the morning.”

“Drunkenness!?! He doesn’t drink! And especially not in the morning! And we’re in North Carolina! His brother will have to pick him up!”

“Is he 21? He has to be released to an adult.”

We called Dave back. He was 18 and not legally an adult, but Jack Dorn was in California now. We called him the first thing in the morning, he drove the 100 miles or so to Orange County from his home north of LA, pretended to be his uncle and signed him out.

After Robin was released to Jack, we got the whole story. Robin had walked to the pool supply store to get acid and chlorine for the swimming pool. Both Robin and Dave had long bushy hair and dressed in hippie style. Robin was a pack rat, too, who always carried an assortment of stuff crammed into his pockets. I’d made him an additional vest with four big pockets to avoid wear and tear on his pants. To add to this, he was barefoot! On his way home from the next town over, carrying a jug in each hand, he sat down in the shade of a tree by the side of the road and waved his feet in the air to cool them off. The police, driving by, saw a hippie and made the dubious claim that someone had called them to report a  drunk.

They had him empty his pockets. Among all his papers and cards and rocks and marbles was a small tear gas canister. That little canister had a history; Ned had bought it for me, and insisted I carry it, when I was going to graduate school at the Denver extension center of the University of Colorado. It was located on Larimer Street, known at the time as Denver’s skid row. I’d carried it, but never used it. Later, when Denver was bussing kids to promote integration, Robin was bussed to the predominantly black Smiley Junior High School. One day he missed the bus,  and was walking home when a gang of black kids jumped him. He got away, but I gave him the tear gas to carry with him. That little tear gas canister, it turned out, was legal in every state but one–California. It had gotten him arrested.

Why hadn’t Robin called Dave? Well, our phone service in Garden Grove was with General Telephone, but the next town over was Pacific Bell territory, so a call from Juvenile Hall, a couple miles away, was long distance! Robin’s one call had to be local, and he didn’t know anyone in town to call!

A Car and a Van and a Model A

Ned rented a U-Haul van and was loading our furniture into it, struggling with a lift of about four inches at the top of the ramp. After he’d loaded about two-thirds of the furniture, I saw him talking to our five-year-old neighbor, Geri Ortiz. He came in grinning. “I should’ve talked to Geri sooner! She pointed to a small sign on the van and asked, ‘Isn’t that supposed to be like this?’ and pointed to an illustration showing how to hook the ramp to the van! I’d have saved myself a lot of work if I’d noticed that and hooked it up correctly!” A little child shall lead us!

Sam wrote a song about our westward journey. Besides the U-Haul van, we’d rented a tow bar to bring along Dave’s Model A Ford. Ned drove the van, I drove the car, with our kids and pets distributed in both. We were, in Sam’s lyrics, “A car and a van and a Model A, Going our westward way”. In contrast to the gradual change of the sixties, our lives in the 1970s were changing suddenly and drastically.


My first impression: Stop the roller coaster! I want to get off! So many cars, so fast, so close together! I didn’t like freeway driving. Eighty miles an hour, six lanes of traffic, bumper-to-bumper, trying to get over to the exit?

“Well kids, this is Los Angeles!” Silence.

“I don’t think I like Los Angeles.”

“Me neither. I want to go back to Denver.”

“We just got here. You haven’t seen it yet! You’ll like it when we’ve had time to explore and get settled.”

Would they? I wasn’t so sure. My nerves were on edge and my eyes were burning from–fatigue and eyestrain? Or–SMOG! Oh, lord, how did they stand it?

Stop that! Several million people have learned to live at this dizzy pace, and they’re not collapsing! They cope. It’d be a challenge, but we could do this–and I’d learn to like it!

It was a fast-moving city, but as intimidating as the freeways were, there was a lot to like. The weather was gentle, the people creative and individualistic. Opportunities abounded. I did, actually, like Los Angeles!


Poverty Pete’s

Being proprietor of an equipment rental yard is not at all like barbering or teaching. Because we served a wide swath of the population, including construction workers, we were open from 7:30am to 5:30pm six days a week and 9 to 5 on Sundays. We had one employee outside the family, but running the business was up to Ned, Dave and me. Robin helped on weekends, but he was in school during the week.

The rental yard was a shabby-looking place. The office was a wooden shack with a leaky roof and a fenced-in yard where a guard dog was kept. The grounds around the office were a parking lot for an assortment of trucks, trailers, cement mixers, compressors and whatever, chained up or locked up at night. Inside the building was an office, a counter and a storage area. It was littered with drills, grinders, rollers, sanders, pumps, ladders, jack hammers, etcetera.

My first big job was to learn the names of all the tools and equipment, so I could pick up the right thing to hand to a customer! It was a busy place. Often the first customers of the day were waiting when we arrived. We were doing well financially. Poverty Pete’s was a well-established business in an excellent location. At 8770 Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood, with a clear view of the HOLLYWOOD sign. Pete’s had been there for twenty-five years, originally as a used-car lot. All along, the railroad owned the property, maintaining a thirty-day lease on it–so there was no sense in building an expensive structure. Pete named his business “Poverty Pete’s”, printed humorous business cards and dressed like a tramp.

The Family Tree

Someone at Disney studios suggested that our children form a family music group. They recommended a choreographer, Alex Plasschaert, to help polish the act. Plasschaert had worked with the Osmond Brothers, the Jackson Five and several other groups, and we got in touch. The children had real potential.

Laura was a captivating, red-haired, freckle-faced eight-year-old with an independent spirit. Genevieve had beautiful brown eyes and blonde hair, and a flair for instant friendship with the whole world. Fran, the older sister, had an easy grace, natural and steady, and performed with pizazz. Sam, the youngest brother, had already organized his younger sisters to make home movies and sing songs together. He played the piano and taught them songs or manned the camera and directed their action. Robin and David had gone their separate ways. Robin played guitar and had written a couple songs himself, but had his own rock group with friends. Dave had wanted to learn string bass in school, but I stupidly talked him into taking cello instead. Robin and Sam were taking violin at the time, and I had visions of a string quartet. That wasn’t going to happen!

Alex heard the kids sing some of the songs we’d done for the Mountain View Friends Meeting in Denver, and was favorably impressed. He agreed to work with them and choreographed some numbers. He suggested that Dave play drums, and he would teach him! We came to an agreement; Alex was expensive, but our rental business was doing well so we could afford him. He helped us find a drum set and hired a music arranger to work on some songs with them. Dave became an excellent drummer!

The music arranger didn’t work out. I was totally disappointed in him; he didn’t write anything down, so we had nothing to guide our practice sessions after he left. Alex came back to work on choreography, and the kids didn’t know the songs he’d asked them to learn. When I explained why we had no music to work from, he fired the music arranger and the kids worked out their own arrangements. They knew how to harmonize, and did it well.

The Family Tree played several gigs in LA. Several night spots invited them to perform, two of the most popular being the Ice House, in Pasadena, and the Troubadour, in West Hollywood. They really looked to be on their way to stardom!


“The best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry” (Robert Burns). The Family Tree was enthusiastically received by many in the entertainment industry. Our business at Pete’s Rental was thriving, the kids were doing well in school and we’d bought a great house in the San Fernando Valley–from Bo Diddley! It had its own studio and swimming pool. Life was good–no, life was great!

For a year and a half. Our lease with the railroad company was up for renewal. We knew that, but the business had been at the same place with the same lease for twenty-six years and we were confident it’d be renewed. Not so! The lease was cancelled and we received notice that we must vacate the property.

We found an empty lot on Venice Boulevard that we thought we could fix up and move into. It was cluttered with junk and a small office building on one side had lots of termite damage. We signed a lease and went to work. We called a local character called Tobacco John to come haul away the junk and installed a large chain link fence. We called in an exterminator and repaired the termite damage, then began moving equipment. We put up signs and printed flyers advertising the new location. Then we waited–and waited. Almost nobody came to our new location. Nobody!

Whadda We Do Now?

We were struggling at the new location; it was a nicer building and the lot was paved, but there wasn’t as much traffic and our flyers weren’t bringing in the customers. Word came from Boone that we had inherited the home place – a house on 20 acres of land, plus a separate tract of 13 acres a mile up the road, and we called a family meeting. Without a substantial income (substantial? How about NONE?) it was clear our savings wouldn’t support us for very long–so, what were our options?

(1) Stay put, and keep trying to build our business in the new location? We had a great house, with plenty of rooms for everybody and a large swimming pool, but a long commute to our business in heavy traffic.

(2) We could return to Denver. We had lots of friends there who would help us find a place to live, I could quickly find a teaching job and Ned could barber.


(3) go to Boone, where we had a house to move into and many beloved relatives.

Whatever choice we made, we’d have some money to help us get established from the sale of the tools and equipment we had in our business. We needed to decide quickly, however, because with no income we were currently living off our savings and what sales we had already made.

All the kids except Dave wanted to move to Boone, where they had uncles and aunts and cousins they knew and enjoyed from past family get-togethers. Dave wanted to return to Denver, where he had close friends. We opted for Boone, but Dave was 19, had many job skills and was pretty independent, so he went to Denver on his own—driving his Model A Ford truck! The rest of us piled into two pickup trucks, one with a camper on the back and the other hauling a trailer, and said goodbye to Los Angeles.

The Salton Sea

“We’re rolling! We’re rolling!” My fitful sleep was interrupted by my panicked daughter Genny. We were parked on gently sloping land overlooking the Salton Sea, and if we were rolling, I had to act quickly. A quick look out the window assured me that we weren’t rolling. The truck was in gear and the brake locked. Funny how the jostling of a long day of travel can trick a body into a sensation of motion, even long afterwards!

The Salton Sea was an accident. In 1900 canals for irrigation were cut into the Salton Sink to allow farmers to grow crops. In 1905, though, the Colorado River flooded and breached the headgates of the Alamo Canal. For two years the Colorado River flowed into the Salton Sink before it was contained. The water has remained, 350 square miles of it, 225 feet below sea level and saltier by the day.

Assured that we weren’t headed for a watery grave, we went back to sleep. We were heading back east, to Boone, in two pickup trucks, one carrying a camper and the other towing a trailer filled with all our worldly goods.

License? What’s that?

We’d left L.A. on January 25th, and our license plates had expired ten days earlier. We knew it, but hadn’t renewed. We were going to get North Carolina plates, and figured that once we were out of California nobody would notice.

I’d felt queasy when we left, but thought it’d pass. It didn’t. By the time we reached the Salton Sea I was very sick–so sick I’d have been an unsafe driver.

Robin didn’t yet have his license, but had driven the pickup trucks around the rental yard. He became the driver of one of the pickup trucks while Ned drove the other. Now we had two trucks and a trailer with expired plates, and one unlicensed driver! We were out of California before we had to stop for gas, and breathed easier after crossing the state line.

It’s a long way from California to North Carolina, and I recovered and took the wheel on the third day. The trip was uneventful until the last day, when we reached Watauga County.


In the time since we’d left, everything had changed. Boone greeted us with a blizzard, and the street signs were covered with icy snow. We had trouble finding our road, so Ned and I pulled over. I watched him get out of his pickup, walk to the road sign, reach up and wipe off the snow. He signaled and nodded to me. This was Winkler’s Creek Road.

Welcoming Arms—1973

It’d been twenty years since Davy had celebrated his first birthday in Boone. I’d baked a pound cake, decorated it with white frosting and red candy hearts and invited his cousins, ages 5 to 9, to come to the party. They were wonderful playmates, and he had a memorable time. All the cousins were grown now and away at college, or had jobs, but Ned’s brother Collis lived just up the road from the old home place, and was waiting for us. He told us the home place wasn’t ready yet, and that Ned’s sisters were expecting us for dinner. Ned parked the trailer and we piled into the camper. We had dinner with Ella and Ralph, Daisy and Alf, Roxie and Collis. It was a homecoming. Boone was certainly home to Ned, and quickly became home to me and the kids as well.

Ned’s sisters Ella and Daisy had both moved, but their houses were just across the road from each other. After dinner, Ned and the boys went to Daisy’s to spend the night while the girls and I stayed at Ella’s. They made us feel so welcome, and helped us so much to get settled, that I knew I had the best in-laws in the world!

The Old Homeplace

The next day we went to the homeplace to begin moving in.

Begin where?

After unloading the trailer, we sat down to our overwhelming TO DO list. Some of our furniture was on the front porch. There wasn’t room for it in the house. Choosing what to keep and what to give or throw away was high on our list, but there was something far more urgent to consider. We needed to shut out the cold wind that blew across the meadow from the west. Through the years the clapboard siding on the house, built in 1904, had dried up and shrunk, leaving cracks between the boards. The floorboards had gaps too, so when the wind blew the curtains flapped and the linoleum on the floor rose in rhythm with the wind. Ned crawled under and stapled black plastic to the floorboards and we stapled it to the west side of the house as well. It looked terrible, but kept the wind out. We would later buy proper materials and supplies, but knew from our experience moving Pete’s Rental that money slips away very quickly with no steady income.

Ella & Ralph, Daisy & Alf, Roxie & Collis all helped. Ella and Daisy invited us frequently to watch TV. Collis was our nearest neighbor, and he dropped by nearly every evening. He’d visit a bit and ask us if there was anything we needed. He gave us a cow, and some advice. He’d always start with, “Y’all do whatever you want, but if it was me, I’d—“. I thought his advice very wise, but Ned usually remembered only the first part, and did whatever he wanted to!

We were looking forward to a pastoral life. We got a cow, a horse, two ponies, some goats, chickens, ducks. We planted a vegetable garden, got a wood-burning stove. Our home would be a self-supporting family farm like it had been before!

Delighted as we were to have the old home, it was a mixed blessing. We had a place to land, but it demanded an enormous amount of time, money and energy to make it livable. In spite of the loving welcome we received in Boone, the next few years were the hardest of all, for me and for some of our kids. Living in poverty presented many challenges I hadn’t thought about before. Our house was shabby, with torn screens, cracks in the walls, and rotting floors. I felt ashamed to invite anybody in, and even cringed when the school bus came by. Our car was noisy, and badly in need of paint. We tried to bolster our self-concepts by working hard and laughing at our difficulties, but the experience drove home to me what a devastating effect poverty can have on people. “Poor but proud” may be true for some people, but for me it was an empty phrase.

Embarrassment was a small part of the problem, though. A larger part was the never-ending hard labor. Without a substantial income to pay others, we had to do everything for ourselves. Our kids helped with so many chores: feeding the chickens, milking the goats, painting the house, washing clothes, mowing, grooming the ponies, hoeing the garden, installing insulation in the walls and the attic, paneling the walls, splitting wood for the stove and carrying out the ashes, trying to do it all and still look presentable for school and church. Ned was the only one who could milk the cow or work on the truck, and he jacked up one corner of the house and shored up the foundation. It was all so hard! We felt embarrassed and exhausted most of the time. It ain’t fun to be poor!

We couldn’t just leave black plastic stapled to the windy side to keep out the cold, and the floors in the bathroom and kitchen were rotting away. We also needed income. Once all the kids were registered in school I applied for a job as a substitute teacher, and Ned was hired as a barber. Our daily schedule was rigorous—rise early, fix breakfast, everyone dressed and out of the house by 7:30am. Go to work or school, come home, work on the house. There were jobs for everybody. Everyone painted; we put insulation and paneling on the interior walls and spread insulation in the attic. Most of our money went into the house. Summer came, which gave us a boost in time and energy, but less money since I wasn’t working.

Teaching and Barbering, Again

Daisy and Ella were both teachers, and introduced me to principals and administrators. Ella took me to the board of education and introduced me to the personnel director. They’d just opened a new school, Hardin Park Elementary. Ella was about to retire, and the thought of moving to a new school for just a year or two didn’t appeal to her so she retired early.

Ned and I got our North Carolina licenses and again began plying our trades: teaching and barbering. I was hired as a substitute teacher, and given a teaching contract the next fall. I’d had ten years of varied experience in Colorado, and would teach for twenty-three more years at Hardin Park School.

We were on a roll! With both of us working and the kids in school, we could afford improvements. We jacked up and braced the front third of the house, put on vinyl siding, had insulation blown into the walls and attic, put in paneling. We replaced the windows and doors, and put new floors in the kitchen and bathroom.

A Tragicomedy of Errors

Still, we bungled along. We flunked fence-building; we couldn’t keep the animals where they belonged. The chickens roosted on the back porch instead of in the henhouse, and the goats hung out on the front porch. The cow ran into the woods.

Every day when Ned came home from the barber shop he’d gather the family, and we’d go hunt for the cow. It was unclear what we were to do when we found her, so the couple of times anyone spotted her and called out “Here she is!”, she just ran deeper into the woods. Eventually Ned’s brother Collis lured her out with a bucket of feed.

One day I came in from the garden with collard greens for supper and found the chickens gathered on the kitchen table pecking at cornbread. I cleverly yelled, “Ooh, my lord! The chickens!”, whereupon they scattered all over the kitchen! It took quite awhile to get them all out!

On the last day of school, Fran had just hopped on the bus when she looked back and saw one of the goats pushing its way through the front door! She called Ned from school, and he left the barber shop to get the goat out of the house! He’d been meaning to fix that latch for some time…

For some reason Ned felt no urgency about fencing. I was outside one day with the post-hole digger trying to fix a broken-down fence while Ned was in the kitchen happily making jelly. I’d raise the post-hole digger high and bring it down into the rocky soil as hard as I could, yelling “DAMN women’s lib!” with every stroke. I finally got the fence fixed, but refused to eat his jelly!

Raining Cats & Dogs

It was one of those things we never meant to happen. We had a little beagle, Homer, a chihuahua mix, Linus, and two cats, a feral cat named Rebecca who lived in the barn and a tabby we called Mama Cat, but it’d never been a problem finding homes for the kittens. “Spay or neuter” wasn’t on our radar.

We then took in a stray female dog. She shortly presented us with a litter of pups, and we found homes for all but two. It wasn’t long before all three were in heat at the same time, attracting every male dog in the county. Soon we had about twenty adorable puppies!

In a less dramatic fashion, at the same time, our cats presented us with two litters of kittens. We struggled to place all the kittens and puppies, but there were too many. Finally, in desperation, we did what farmers have done for generations and drowned most of them in the creek. That very night, a beagle from down the road, whom Mama Cat had attacked and driven off several times, broke into the henhouse and killed all the chickens!

It’s one of the most painful episodes I’ve had to write about, and even forty years later I cry thinking about it. I lose no time, now, getting my new pets fixed!

Sam Goes Back to Hollywood

Danny Crystal, of United Artists, had shown great interest in Sam when we were in Hollywood, and after we returned to Boone he expressed a desire to help launch his career, if he’d come back to Hollywood. He could live at Danny’s to get started.

We were excited for Sam, and Ned did some promotion with a clever ad in “Variety”, but I had a tiny anxiety in the back of my mind. On the way to the airport, I said, “Sam, I think Danny Crystal is gay, and he may come on to you. If he does, you just say ‘No, I’m straight’, and I don’t think he’ll bother you.”

That may have been naive of me, but our good friend Jack Dorn again came to the rescue. Danny wasn’t a predator, but he had come on to Sam. When Sam said no, Danny didn’t want him to live at his house. Jack picked him up and took him to the Dorn house. Sam made rounds and reconnected with some contacts. He enjoyed his time back in Hollywood, but returned to Boone to finish high school and get ready to go to Yale.

Arthur Visits

Shortly after our move to North Carolina, Robin’s high school buddy Arthur came to live with us for several months, while his parents were going through a divorce. He enrolled at Watauga High School for the semester. In late summer he and Robin returned to Granada Hills for a visit, and in September Robin boarded the bus to Denver, with David’s girlfriend Liz in tow. They planned for Robin to continue to North Carolina and Liz to return to California the following week.

A Bizarre Homecoming

The clang of bells cut through the traffic sounds on the Blowing Rock Highway. Carol’s family was staying at the Cabana Motel, and we were outside readying to go to lunch. We looked in the direction of the bells and beheld a Model A truck, decked out with a string of bells, pulling into the gas station across the road.

“Hey, it’s Dave! And Robin’s with him!”

We ran across the road. After warm hugs, we learned that they were about to spend their last quarter on just enough gas to get them up Winkler’s Creek Road. We gassed up the truck and invited them to join us for lunch. What a joyful and hilarious family gathering! Carol, Pete and their daughters Kathy and Carol, Ned and I and our six sons and daughters. Dave and Robin told us of their adventures driving the Model A all the way from Denver to Boone, by a roundabout route that took them through both Nebraska and Oklahoma!

Thanksgiving in South Carolina

The boys returned from the West, and settled into life on the farm. In November, Ned and Robin drove to New York to do some schmoozing and take part in a reading of a work in progress by Ned’s friend Jude Benton. Jude was writing a play, later titled “Windmills”, which he presented at the New York Public Library.

While they were out of town, my sister invited us to spend the long Thanksgiving weekend at her house in Clinton, South Carolina. We all jumped at the chance to see Carol and Pete, their teenaged daughters, my cousin Kemie and her family, and my father, now in his seventies.

It was a wonderful season to visit the small town of Clinton, which the locals pronounced “Clennon”. Carol and Pete had a lovely house. Its sunken living room’s large picture window framed a woodsy backyard with a slate patio and goldfish pond. Nothing was in bloom in November, but several variegated evergreens provided color.

Carol and Pete were both talented artists. Carol’s vibrant, colorful paintings adorned the walls, and Pete’s lovely sculpture of a nude woman’s torso (my sister) was prominently placed. It was tasteful and well crafted, but I didn’t inspect it closely!

In one corner of the living room sat a grand piano, a quality stereo system and an egg-shaped chair for cocooning with headphones. We’d recently returned from Hollywood, and often gathered around the piano for sing-alongs. When we weren’t exploring the attractions of Clinton or visiting friends, one or another of the kids would curl up in the chair or sprawl under the piano listening to headphones. One afternoon Dave lay under the piano and Sam decided to play! At the first chord Dave jumped, cut his head on a corner and narrowly avoided leaving blood stains on their pretty beige carpet!

When our visit was over we piled into our spacious green Buick and headed up the mountain. The weather was mild for November, cloudy and drizzly most of the way, but as we made a sharp right turn at the Watauga County line the weather turned fierce. Around the corner the wind howled, the snow blew sideways and the road was icy and treacherous. I pulled over; Dave took the tire chains from the trunk. They were old, and didn’t fit very well. Dave had a rough time putting them on, but after several minutes we were on our way.

For a few miles.

Watauga Winters

We drove through Blowing Rock, and at the final intersection before going down the hill towards Boone, the Buick stopped, but its brake pedal went straight to the floor! Dave discovered that one of the chain clamps had come loose, and the chain had cut the brake line!

We were, fortunately, not far from a phone, and called Ned’s brother Collis to pick us up. He drove over in his four-wheel-drive Jeep, and the six of us crammed in on top of each other for the final eight miles!

The following winter, Ned was in New York acting in “Dark of the Moon”, and Dave had accompanied him. Sam was at Yale, Robin was out of town visiting, and the girls and I were getting ready for bed. Outside the wind was whipping up one of the worst blizzards I’d ever seen, and I was so glad we’d done all that work on the house! We were warm and toasty!

The telephone rang. A neighbor had seen our horse and ponies out on the road! The girls and I bundled up, climbed into the car and fought our way through the storm. We found them down by the shoe plant, a mile away.

We knew Charlie, the horse, would follow Laura if she reached up and grabbed his forelock; he always did. Gennie and Fran kept the ponies in line behind him, and I drove back, lighting the way. We finally got them back to the barn and secure for the night.

Fran had an after-school job at Carolina Pharmacy. One of the regular customers there, a farmer, had already asked her if we’d sell our horse. I said, “Fran, tell him you’ll sell him the horse if he’ll take the ponies, too”. He agreed. The next day I sold them all, without consulting Ned!

I’ve developed a great respect for farmers, but I don’t want to be one, ever again!

I also learned that those old, big, picturesque frame houses I’d always loved, were bottomless pits. Maintenance expenses were enormous, and there was ALWAYS something more to be done!

Hardin Park School

Although I was at the same school, my time at Hardin Park was as diversified as my time in Colorado. I eventually taught every grade level from one through eight, and also summer school. I supervised the after-school program for children six through twelve, and the community school program for adults one night a week.

North Carolina wanted to improve its students’ writing scores, and Appalachian State University offered instruction courses for teachers. I took classes on methods of writing, then led workshops for other teachers.

We had international visitors. A low murmur of voices floated through the air above the carpeted hallway as I escorted three Chinese past the media center (library) and the all-purpose room (cafeteria) to the open area that was designated as my classroom. These visitors were very special—the first wave of a student exchange program with Appalachian State University.

After President Nixon recognized the People’s Republic of China in 1972, the Chinese government lifted some of its restrictions on travel, and the university was quick to take advantage of them. Professor Williamson (whose daughter Pilar was in my class) took a group of students to China on a study trip, and a group of Chinese students came to study for a semester at Appalachian.

Ned met three of them, young men, at the barber shop, and invited them to our house for a meal, then to garden with us and share our vegetables. They were interested in everything! When they found out I was a teacher, they jumped at the chance to visit my class. My class was fascinated by our Chinese visitors, and they were fascinated by the children. There were lots of questions and answers, exchanged freely. Yes, China was a very big country. Almost one billion people! About four times as many as the United States!

After about an hour, it was time for the children to line up for gym class, and our visitors to go back to the university. They walked with us down the hall.

“This school is very quiet!” one commented. I agreed. It was indeed very quiet; we’d learned to work quietly because of the building itself.

Hardin Park School was on the cutting edge of modern education. New building. Open-area classes. Team teaching. Individualized education. Forward-looking principal, and gung-ho teachers—some of them! The team teachers—two or three together—occupied large open areas with groups of sixty to ninety students, or more. Interspersed were smaller areas, cordoned off by moveable bookshelves and coat closets. These were self-contained classes, with one of the more traditionally-minded teachers, of about thirty students each. We’d all learned to work quietly, so as not to disturb our neighbors.

I’d begun there as a substitute, teaching wherever I was needed, but soon signed a contract to team with another teacher at the fifth-grade level. After I’d taught there for some time, Dr. Anderson asked me what I thought of the new school. Not one to mince words, I replied that it was beautiful, but I found it very restrictive to be teaching in open areas.

“Restrictive!” he exclaimed, “It’s supposed to be just the opposite! How is it restrictive?”

“Well, I’m used to doing a lot of noisy activities with my kids—skits, songs, dancing, games—but even spirited class discussions get too loud and disturb my neighbors. I don’t think kids need to be sitting at their seats listening, reading and writing all the time.”

I wasn’t the only teacher who felt that way. It took some years, but eventually walls went up at Hardin Park School. Whirr-rr-r! Buzz-zz-z! BANG! BANG! Much of the construction went on while we were having classes, and I drew on knowledge I’d gained from working at our rental yard to explain the function and purpose of the construction tools that were attracting the attention of my kids. They couldn’t ignore the racket, so I used the setting as a teaching opportunity.

“That’s a nail gun. It uses high-pressure air from an air compressor to shoot nails into the 2×4” wood planks, which are called studs. The vibrating sander is used to smooth the walls. The little bag on the end is like a miniature vacuum cleaner which vacuums up the dust so it won’t get in our hair. The names of the tools are nouns. What they’re doing with them, verbs.”

Nobody would’ve said this was a quiet school while the construction was going on! We teachers weren’t complaining, though, we were getting WALLS!

Administrative Internship 1978-9

Financial need is a powerful motivator. I couldn’t make any more money as a teacher, and I was already moonlighting with a weekend job at a convenience store. I decided to take school administration and become a principal.

In 1978, with my coursework completed, I approached my administrative internship at the age of 48. I had 15 years of teaching experience and the naive eagerness of a student teacher of 21. I felt my background and preparation excellent, my motivation strong, my success assured.

My first conference with my principal reinforced my confidence. He had a positive attitude, respected me and was determined to provide for me a valuable experience. I knew, and liked, all the people I’d be working with—Jim Daye, the principal at Hardin Park, Carolyn Austin, the secretary, and J.D. Greene, the head custodian, in particular. I’d also met Mr. Propst, the new superintendent, the previous spring when I was chairwoman of the Liaison Committee and we’d helped write the new Grievance Procedure guidelines.

In spite of these indications, I floundered. I couldn’t launch myself. My principal was willing to help, but was very busy. I’d been told to come into the office during P.E. time and observe, and did, several times. I got a pretty good feel for the work, but couldn’t figure where I fit in. I was eager to help and didn’t want to be a hindrance, but could see nothing I might do to be helpful except stay out of the way. I waited for someone to ask me to do something. Nobody did. By the end of my year, though, I felt accepted.

The major reason for my initial floundering was that I’d failed to review carefully the materials given to me by my supervising professor. I checked items off my list, but didn’t send in weekly reports. I’m not usually that haphazard and am at a loss to explain why, but I didn’t remember that I was supposed to be sending a report every week until my professor asked! A second reason was my lack of assertiveness. I can take charge of a situation and be a strong leader if asked, but I’ve always preferred to wait and watch until then. This wasn’t a situation for waiting and watching. I needed to assert myself, to keep bugging people so that they couldn’t forget I was there and wanted to work. After such a poor start, I made another mistake by failing to promptly notify my professor that I was having problems. After I told him I was having difficulty getting involved, it improved. Self-reliance is a good thing, but sometimes it’s necessary to seek help. Once I got past the initial difficulties, though, fortuitous circumstances made my internship rich and rewarding.

I’d met with the new superintendent the previous spring, but worked much more closely with him now. Throughout the year I also met with members of the school board, principals and other leading educators in the county. Additionally, our school was starting a self study for Southern Association accreditation, and I was appointed to the Steering Committee, the Philosophy and Objectives Committee, and the Science Committee. Now I found out what was involved in a Southern Association self study!

Snow days were also helpful. I’d work with the principal or his assistant on whatever needed doing, without interruption.

Once they realized what I needed and wanted, everyone at Hardin Park was helpful. I interviewed the head custodian, the lunchroom manager, the librarian and the assistant principal about their work. The school secretary explained the records and let me work on “dummy” records. Finally, the principal was an excellent mentor, willing to discuss his job and trusting me with the charge of the building. At the end of the year we worked on preparations for the next year, including teacher assignments and schedules. It was a very special experience!

In November, Gary Childers was named assistant principal of Parkway School. I assumed his position as coordinator of the After School Program, and also became Community School Coordinator on Tuesday nights.

The After School Program was much more than child care. It offered sports & recreation, crafts, music, drama and other activities, taught mostly by college students. As coordinator, I supervised, evaluated, assisted and instructed the teachers, recruited new ones and asked one for his resignation. I worked with the custodian to keep the building clean and secure, sometimes locking up at night.

I wasn’t satisfied with the safety in the gym, conferred several times with P.E. teachers on the proper usage and procedures for gym equipment, and made suggestions to improve safety after school. I dealt with discipline problems, sick and injured children and contacted parents as necessary. I kept the attendance records and handled the money, received messages and deliveries and compiled a monthly report on building use. In short, I was in charge of the school from 3 to 6 every afternoon and from 3 to 10 on Tuesdays.

The additional job enhanced my internship, and helped our finances. When the night custodian got injured, however, I had to do the nightly walk-around to assure all the doors were locked. It was a big building, taking up about an acre of land, and I suggested to the head custodian that I check all the doors and windows from the inside of the building. He replied, mildly but firmly, “I think you need to walk around the outside.” I did—with my heart in my throat! It was dark and lonely!

Keeping Them Safe
Learning is the stated purpose of the public school system, but all those children must also be kept safe. Fire was the most recognized threat when I was a child. so we had fire drills. When the bell sounded in short, staccato peals we immediately lined up and walked quietly outside. The teacher called the roll and we listened for the “all clear” signal before walking back in and resuming class. It was still a part of the school routine when I began teaching, and I’d grab my roll book on the way out.

In the fifties, we feared our country might be attacked, and began evacuation drills. The signal was different, and though the procedure began the same way, the children were loaded onto buses and driven around the block. This drill was complicated and wasteful, and was soon abandoned in favor of Duck and Cover.

In this drill, the signal was given and everyone, including the teacher, ducked under their desk and put their hands over their heads to protect themselves from shrapnel or falling debris. Duck and Cover was designed to be used in case of nuclear attack, but also could be used in case of earthquakes or tornadoes.

But what if someone planted a bomb in the school? We received a telephone call with such a threat, which turned out to be bogus, but couldn’t dismiss the possibility that the next could be real. At the next faculty meeting we had a plan. The office would call 9-1-1 and report the emergency, then one teacher would evacuate two classes, freeing the other teacher to help search the building. I was assigned to search the library. If I found anything that might be a bomb, the instructions were emphatic: “DON’T TOUCH IT! GET THE HELL OUT OF THERE AND REPORT ITS LOCATION!”

The library!?! With its hundreds of books on shelves?! How could I possibly check behind all those books? I was pondering this question as I drove home, and then noticed the rear-view mirror! I stopped at the auto parts store, and prepared for my role.

It worked perfectly! At the next bomb scare, my class left with Mr. Surber’s and I pulled the mirror out of my desk drawer. By the time the bomb squad arrived, I’d checked behind the books on every bookshelf and under every chair and table. In five minutes I was done. The library was clear!

Tornadoes were the next worry. At the signal, we used the duck and cover position, but huddled next to the strongest available interior wall, away from the windows.

We had the plan, but hadn’t yet devised the signal. In the meantime, it was business as usual.

I had a film to show to my social studies class, and we were under a storm warning. I didn’t know that Miss Darnall, who was hard-of-hearing, had been last to use the projector. The film started with a siren, which blasted forth at high volume! Before I could turn it down, Mrs. Knight’s class, next door, had all tumbled to the wall in the duck and cover position!

Sorry! My bad!

By the turn of the century, terrorists with guns became the next threat. Schools were locked down. I was retired, but when I went to pick up my grandson I had to press a buzzer and identify myself to the office. It felt strange, and I was sad. Yet another threat challenged our schools!

Robin was attending classes at Appalachian State University when the drama department decided to present the musical Godspell. Robin auditioned, and landed the lead—the role of Jesus!

During the weeks the show was in rehearsal, a rock group came to do a concert in Johnson City, Tennessee. Robin went to the concert and picked up a metal cigar tube outside the arena, which someone had dropped. The cops searched him, and found LSD in the tube. He was busted!

The judge didn’t believe his story, but didn’t want to spoil the show. He sentenced Robin to prison, but suspended it until the weekend after “Godspell” was over.

Robin did a beautiful job portraying Jesus. He sang, danced, acted the role and then reported to Johnson City to serve six months in prison!

The Christmas Tree Farm
One of my professors at ASU was retiring and moving back to Georgia. He had a Christmas tree farm that he needed to sell, and Ned and I decided to buy it. The sale of Christmas trees each year would make the payments on the land. The property was lovely. Gently rolling hills, around a good-sized lake. We’d work in the trees, then enjoy a swim and a picnic afterwards.

There was  lot of work; much more than we’d imagined. We went to a workshop and learned how to manage the tree farm. The trees had to be trimmed and shaped every year. They had to be cleared of weeds and grass, and when some trees were harvested, more had to be planted. We had lots of help. We taught our sons, and hired their friends to help.

Dave went to Austin, Texas and found a good location, then negotiated with the woman who lived there to rent her lot. Ned and Dave then went down to set up each year. We’d wanted to make the payments on the land come due each January, but the sellers insisted on October payments, so every year we had to take out a 90-day loan to pay the professor.

The day after Thanksgiving we’d cut trees, tie them in bundles and load them into a U-Haul van. Dave and Ned then drove to Austin, set up the lot, arranged radio and newspaper publicity and sold trees. We re-used the name of our music group, The Family Tree, for our business. It was fun and profitable, and when visitors came in the summertime, we’d take them to the lake for a picnic and swim.

One hot summer day Ned and I trimmed pines all morning. Trimming pines is far more vigorous than trimming Fraser firs. It’s done by swinging a large knife through the tips of new growth while walking around the tree. We worked up quite a sweat, then Ned bought some broccoli plants on the way home and asked me to help set them in the garden.

“I’m tired. Let’s have lunch and rest, and we can do that later.”

“No. We need to do it now. The plants will die if we don’t set them out.” I reluctantly went with him to the garden.

My muscles soon started twitching and I said, “Honey, I think I’m about to have a fit.” I had a seizure, and passed out.

I woke up in the emergency room. With all that hard work in the blazing sun, sweating profusely, I’d depleted my potassium. I learned to pace myself, and Ned learned that I meant it when I said “I’m tired!”

We had lots of adventures with our tree farm. Some were fun, some worrisome. Finally, one year we cut a Christmas tree for the house. When Ned was unloading it, he had a severe asthma attack. I took him inside, gave him medicine, then went to get the tree myself. I also started choking up! We’d both developed an allergy to Christmas trees! We realized we’d have to get out of the Christmas tree business and, for the first time ever, bought an artificial tree!

Curses! Foiled Again!
It was clear we couldn’t continue in the Christmas tree business, but we could still get a nice supplement to our retirement income by selling the tree farm and carrying the loan ourselves.

It didn’t take long to find a buyer. We had several congenial meetings with a young man and his minister, who wanted this beautiful land for church picnics and perhaps someday a building lot. The trees would pay for the land, and we set up the loan with the payments due in January for their convenience.

Dave warned us.

We could sit back and enjoy Thanksgiving and Christmas now, without all that extra work, so we breathed a sigh of relief, though we did have nostalgia for all the fun we’d had swimming and picnicking at our very own lake.

Pangs of nostalgia became pangs of anxiety when January came. No payment! What?!

We drove to the tree farm, and found it was no longer a tree farm. ALL the trees had been cut down! ALL!

When we tried to contact the buyers, both telephones had been disconnected.

It cost us $4,000 in legal fees to take back the now-barren land.

Family Diaspora
In the 1970s and 1980s our family scattered all over the United States and its territories, and sometimes beyond. When David arrived in North Carolina at the end of 1973, he had trouble finding work and soon joined the Navy. He went first to boot camp and training school at the Great Lakes center, outside of Chicago, then was assigned to the flagship oiler of the fleet, the Ponchatoula, which took him first to Guam and later to Hawaii. After meeting his future wife, the two of them lived first at “Snag End”, our property at the bottom of Snaggy Mountain outside Boone, and later moved to Alamance County, North Carolina.

After some time in Boone and South Carolina, Robin married Anne Sutherland and they moved to Colorado; eventually they ended up in Sugar Grove, NC, where they raised their family.

Sam went to Yale University in Connecticut, then after graduation moved to New York City and played piano for a living for the next twenty years.

Frances went to Michigan State, then spent a summer at Yale, twice went to Spain and then moved back to Snag End, where she married and lived next to David and Perri. She had four children, then moved to Arizona, divorced, moved to Alamance County and married an old childhood friend, Rob Crutchfield. They moved to Panama, where Frances found work, and later moved into George Wallace’s former home in Montgomery, Alabama.

Genevieve married a Japanese man, Suzuki. The two of them lived in Boone and later Florida, but after a vacation in Japan and a visit to San Francisco, Suzuki stayed in San Francisco. They divorced. Genny moved to Connecticut, then New York City. She lived there for several years before attending Warren Wilson College in Asheville. Afterwards, she married, moved back to Boone and had a son.

Laura went to Warren Wilson College before Genevieve, and after graduation took a job as a recruiter for Tusculum College in Tennessee. While there she met a football coach, Tom Bryant, whom she later married. They had two sons, and for the next several years followed Tom’s fortunes through Tennessee, Kentucky, South Carolina and Georgia.

In 1978, I attended the 30th anniversary of my high school graduation, in Ocala, Florida. It was great fun to reconnect with old friends and compare notes. The program leaders asked several questions—who’d been married the longest? Who had the most children? Who’d traveled the farthest? One of my friends had an impressive seventeen kids, but since they were foster children she declined the award and insisted that I should receive it for my six.

It was asked, How many of your kids are still at home? I found it hard to say, because they’d go away, but kept returning! Many of my classmates also expressed confusion. I was taking a graduate course in sociology that summer, and asked my professor if this was a common phenomenon. He responded that it’d make an interesting study.

Would I like to do it?

I was curious, but not that curious! I could barely keep up with the comings and goings of my own kids! In the seventies and eighties we often had one or two unrelated people living with us as well; the number of occupants in our house varied from two to ten!

Weddings, Weddings, Weddings
My son Robin was preparing to marry Anne Sutherland. She had a complicated family history, presenting several potential wedding glitches which I’d hoped to smooth over. Anne’s father had died in a street racing accident when Anne was a baby, before her sister had been born. Susie, her mother, was quite young, and when her father died his parents obtained custody of Anne. She was raised by her grandparents, who for a long time wouldn’t let Susie even see Anne, but by the time Anne met Robin, Anne was on good terms with her mother, her younger sister, her mother’s husband and a younger half-brother.

I talked with Susie about the wedding. As the mother of the groom, I wanted to be sure to get corsages for everyone who should have them. There was one for Susie, the mother of the bride, but also one for Erle, the grandmother who had raised Anne. I didn’t want to leave anyone out, so there was also a corsage for Susie’s mother—but when Erle saw all the corsages she declined to put hers on. I picked up Erle’s corsage, and with a big welcoming smile, said, “Allow me the honor of pinning your corsage on you.”

It was a lovely wedding. There was a bluegrass band and dancing at the reception, with no unpleasantness.

My niece Kathy was about to be married in Clinton, South Carolina. My dad was living at the Presbyterian Home in Summerville, and had expressed reservations about traveling.

“I might die,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to spoil the wedding.”

“Well, Ted,” replied his companion,  “Clinton is just as nice a place to die as Summerville. She’s your granddaughter. You should go.”

He told us about this conversation, and Ted Jr. joked, “It wouldn’t have to spoil the wedding. We could have a double ceremony.”

Pete, a Presbyterian minister and father of the bride, chimed in, “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here together to marry this young couple and bury this old man!”

They were married, and all went well.

Despite his apprehensions about dying at Kathy’s wedding, my father moved to  the Presbyterian Home in Clinton three years later, and soon afterward married a fellow resident, Lucile Neely. At first he was indignant that the other residents were teasing them, not believing they were “just friends”, but a few weeks later announced they’d taken a drive in the country and decided to marry. Pete remarked that he’d like to know whether my dad had proposed in the front seat, or the back!

The wedding was scheduled on a Sunday at noon, just after church services. Dad wanted all his children and grandchildren to attend the services, so we did. It’s difficult for a minister to write something inspiring every week, and this service wasn’t the best. After we’d sat through it all and were heading to the front for the wedding, my sister Carol whispered in my year, “Dad has just made sure all of his family came to church for one last time!” I agreed!

Genny had an interesting idea for her wedding reception. I wasn’t sure how it’d be received, but we rented a large hall and had a contra dance! I’d never heard of a contra dance, but it seemed to be a local term for a square dance, like the ones we had at Transylvania Music Camp. Almost everyone joined in, but even the guests who weren’t dancing enjoyed the festivities. It was a great way to wind things up.

During the next twenty-five years my father, my four nieces, my three daughters and all my sons married, some more than once and one not for many years afterward. There were twelve formal weddings and three elopements. I won’t describe them all, except to say the brides were beautiful, the grooms were handsome, the music was lovely, and everyone was nervous and excited!

Births, Births, More Births!
During the 80s, grandchildren started making the scene, and they were wonderful! Our first grandchild was Robin and Anne’s baby Grant born July 11th, 1982. He was followed less than two years later by a little brother, Jordan (March 3rd, 1984). They often visited us at the homeplace, and spent a lot of time by the pond catching frogs and crawdads. They would ride with Ned on the garden tractor, and both loved to sing. Once when Sam and his partner Rob LaRocco were visiting with their friend Georgia Louis, we set up the sound system and sang for each other—especially Georgia, who was a fantastic singer of black gospel songs. Shortly after the “concert”, I noticed Grant by himself in the next room, using a hairbrush for a mike and singing away!

About two months after Jordan was born, Frances gave birth to James, who on April 29th, 1984 made his appearance on Ned’s 59th birthday—of course! Since Fran, my first daughter, had been born on her grandmother’s birthday, it was only fitting that her first-born son should arrive on his grandfather’s! A year and a half later, on November 23rd, 1985, along came James’s little brother Corey. Fran and Kevin moved to Arizona shortly afterward, and on February 25th, 1988 Fran gave birth to twins, Adah and Sarah. They were premature, and had to be delivered by Caesarian section. All were hospitalized, so I flew down to Arizona to see the babies and help Kevin with the boys. Sarah seemed pretty healthy, but Adah’s lungs weren’t fully developed and she was on oxygen for a long time, even after they were allowed home from the hospital.

Back in Boone, a year later, grandchild number seven was born. Anne presented to Grant and Jordan a beautiful little sister, Noelle, on November 22nd, 1989; one day before her cousin Corey’s fourth birthday.

After Noelle, it would be five years before the next grandbaby. In the spring of 1993, Laura married Tom, and I attended their wedding in a wheelchair because I’d broken my ankle, which also caused me to postpone a trip to Russia. I left in June of 1994, and when I returned a month later had a new grandson, Austin, born on the Fourth of July, 1994.

Laura’s second baby was threatening to come too soon and she had been put to bed by her doctor. It was a very busy time for Tom, too, with football season starting, so I was glad I could go there in June of 1996, take over the household chores and look after two-year-old Austin. Champ made the scene on the 15th of September, and I stayed over for awhile to help with the baby before returning to Boone.
The next grandchildren began to arrive two and a half years later when Dave’s wife Perri gave birth to Edward on May 7th, 1999. Perri’s mother Jan was able to be there for them, and I enjoyed getting to know her when I went to visit.

Two years later Genny had Tristan, on March 29th, 2001. Her husband Seth and I were both present, and the midwife had Seth catch the baby while I cut the cord. It was very special for me, but also distressing because she had a long, hard labor and I didn’t like to see her in so much pain. I wanted to give her something, but they used other means to relieve pain—getting into a tub of warm water, lying tummy down on a big beach ball and so forth. I once had to leave the room and take a walk in the hall; it had been easier for me to go through natural childbirth myself than to watch my daughter! It was also not until I had my fourth child that I delivered without any anesthesia, and this was her first! The moment of crowning was very exciting, though, and I felt privileged to be present. I now had eleven grandchildren, eight boys and three girls.

A little more than two years passed until the closing act for the births of the grandchildren, with the arrival of Edward’s little sister, Clara Kate, on June 11th, 2003. All my grandchildren were adorable, but I once made the comment to Dave that I thought Clara Kate invented cute!

Our Hippie Commune
During the years of the tree farm and the family diaspora, Snag End gradually became well-populated.

Dave had been hitch-hiking around the country, meeting other hippies. There were Christmas trees planted at the homeplace, and at Snag End, that had to be worked and harvested to be sold in Austin, Texas. There was a spring, and a dirt road that crossed the creek and headed up the far mountain.

Dave had met Jake and Jody in Arizona, on one of his hitchhiking adventures. The following December Dave and Ned met Kevin while they were selling trees in Austin, and who should pull through but Kevin’s friends—the same Jake and Jody! The following spring Jake and Jody visited Boone, with their little girl Magic, parking in our driveway in a camper. The following year they arrived with a second little girl, and parked their school bus at Snag End.

After Christmas tree season the next year Dave decided to move to Snag End, and pitched a tent. Shortly afterward, he met Perri. Dave and Perri then lived in the tent while they dug and built an earth lodge across the road from Jake, Jody, Magic, Mystic and a third baby, Enoch, who was born in the school bus with Perri’s assistance.

Shortly before Enoch’s birth Kevin arrived, running from the law in Texas. He met Frances, and within a couple of months they were married, and with our help bought a trailer, which they parked at the entrance to Snag End. Soon afterward, a couple who were students at the college pitched a teepee there, and another student pitched a tent.

By now you may be wondering how large that spring was, and what about heating the water? Good thinking! Everybody came to the home place to shower, wash clothes, and socialize. It all worked well. Except when it didn’t.

Once their bus was parked, Jake and Jody needed transportation, so Ned gave them the use of our four-wheel drive Suburban. In a moment of beer-inspired effusiveness, he said to Jake, “You are my son.”

Dave, Ned’s actual son, was working on the driveway, which had become muddy and impassable. Jake wouldn’t help, saying, “The beast can make it through the mud.”

“But that tears up the drive even more!” countered Dave.

Jake didn’t care. He’d misunderstood the pecking order of the community, imagining himself to be in control. It was time for Ned to step into the fray and explain how things worked.

“Jake, I may have misled you. Dave is my son, and what’s mine is his. He owns that land, and he’s in charge of it. The Suburban too. You have the use of the land and the car, as long as you cooperate with Dave.”

That settled that.

Another time, Ned got a telephone call.

“He WHAT?!! – No!

Kevin had gotten angry at the power company, and had taken a chain saw to the pole nearest the trailer. Good lord! What madness!

Ned negotiated with the power company, and got the pole replaced.

Eventually, Jake and Jody moved on, Fran and Kevin moved to Arizona and Dave and Perri moved to Alamance County. We rented the trailer, and Dave and Perri rented out the earth lodge. We became landlords again.

We had our “hippie commune” for several years. When Fran and Kevin moved to Arizona, Genny and Seth moved into the trailer. Eventually, they moved on as well. The trailer then held no permanent residents, but still provided overnight accommodations for family visits.

It was, however, one more thing to take care of. If the heater wasn’t working, the plumbing would freeze. Besides general maintenance, there were the on-going bills for the electricity, telephone and lawn care. Rats got in, and made a big mess. The plumbing froze, and broke, flooding the bathroom and living room. One very wet season, the well filled up and “went artesian”, bubbling up and flooding the driveway. I started looking at it as more of an obligation and less of a convenience.

Then, one day out of the blue, two men came to the house wanting to talk about some property I owned up the road. It didn’t take very long for us to come to satisfactory terms. We visited Dusty Stacy, whom I had taught in the sixth grade and was now an attorney at law, to finalize the sale.

NC Star
I always enjoyed having visitors come to my classroom. The kids and I considered  it a special treat to have a parent come and tell us about his or her trip to “faraway places with strange-sounding names”. They often brought souvenirs to show, or slides to illustrate the scenes they were describing. It was interesting to hear a different perspective.

When the school counselor asked me if I’d allow three university students to come to my classroom to lead some self-concept activities, I agreed. They’d been trained by an organization called NC Star, were eager to practice what they’d learned, and were to come for four sessions. I’d worked with many student teachers before, and had enjoyed helping them learn the ropes.

This didn’t turn out the way I’d anticipated. I introduced the three students to the class, then sat at the back of the room while they took over. They laid out their ground rules, and I knew they were headed for trouble.

Their first rule was confidentiality. Anything anyone said was to stay in the room.

Excuse me? Here are thirty-two eleven-year-old boys and girls and you think they’re not going to tell anyone what was said in this class?
Their second rule was freedom of expression. Say whatever you want and express your feelings.

Uh-0h! You can’t be serious!

Their third rule was privacy. The teacher was to leave the room. This was just between the students, and them.

Not gonna happen! It was intervention time. The class had been getting rowdier with each new rule, but the student leaders were either oblivious or simply accepted their behavior. I stepped in and called an end to the session.

After school, I called on one of the students to request that they come in and let me give them some help with group management before another session.  They declined, assuring me they’d been adequately trained, I assured them they had not, and couldn’t come back to my class if they wouldn’t accept my help and abide by my rules.

I thought that was the end of that. It wasn’t!

I got a phone call at home from Bob Bingham, chair of the school board. “Roberta, what is this business about NC Star? We have a parent complaint, and I thought I’d get your input before the next board meeting. It’s going to be on the agenda. The parents want us to change our policy concerning volunteers in the classroom. What happened? I understand you had some NC Star students come to your room.”

I told him what had happened in my room, and that they weren’t coming back. There were a couple other teachers who’d accepted NC Star students, and I didn’t know how it had gone for them. Would he like me to come to the board meeting?
He would, and I did.

There were a hundred or more parents at the meeting. They wanted a policy that volunteers would present a written lesson plan to the school board for approval, a month before a presentation. The board allowed two or three parents to speak, and then called on me.

I agreed the experience wasn’t a good one for my class, but said we didn’t need a new policy. The policy worked. I’d offered them more of the training in group management which I’d given my student teachers, but they’d declined and weren’t coming back. I said we didn’t want a policy that would make it hard to recruit volunteers, because most of them were wonderful assets to education.

And that was the end of that!

“Sam, how’s your love life? Are you and Patience going to get married?”

Sam was home on a visit from New York City and we were having a late night chat before turning in.

“No. Dad embarrassed me last summer by asking her that question. She wanted to, but I never asked. I’m in love with this guy—the one who’s been calling every night. I broke up with Patience.”
Omigod! I thought. Danny Crystal was right! Sam’s gay!
To him I simply said, “Really? So you’re gay?”

“You never guessed I was gay?”
“No. If you recall, I said for you to ‘Just tell him you’re straight’ if Danny Crystal came on to you.”

“And that’s what I did. But that was then. I was just a kid.”

“Well, anyway, tell me about this guy. What’s his name? When did you two meet? Does he live in New York?”

That’s how I first heard of Rob LaRocco, and it was the beginning of a very warm and rewarding friendship.

A Visit to New York
On my spring break, I went to New York City and stayed at a hotel in Seacaucus, New Jersey. It was a short bus ride to my favorite spots in Manhattan, and a great chance to visit Sam and get acquainted with Rob.

I felt very much at home in the city, walking the streets and riding the subways, so I assured Sam and Rob they wouldn’t have to entertain me, but Sam took several days off work. His friend Georgia Lewis, a black woman, terrific gospel singer, came from Connecticut to meet me. The three of us spent the day in Central Park and the Museum of Natural History. Rob later arranged for us to  join his friends, Saletta and Clyde and their families, for a very large home-cooked dinner, and on another evening Sam, Rob and I took in a play. I had a great time! Spring break in Manhattan became an experience I repeated several times!

That October Sam, Rob, Georgia and Genny (who was also living in New York City) came to Boone. We went to Linville Caverns one afternoon, then came home to a big dinner with Robin, Anne and their son Grant, who was just a toddler. We set up microphones afterwards and gave an impromptu concert for each other. Georgia had just finished “His Eye is on the Sparrow” when we looked around and realized—where’s Grant? We heard him. He’d gone into the next room, picked up a hairbrush and was holding it like a microphone, singing at the top of his voice! That may have been his first solo, but it wasn’t the last! The visit from Sam and Rob in October became a family tradition for many years.

My Eyes—1986
I began to have trouble grading papers because I couldn’t see the writing. I wrote notes on a few papers, “Is this a number two pencil?” and “Please write darker.” It didn’t occur to me that the problem was with my eyes, until I went to renew my driver’s license! I had trouble with the eye test, and made an appointment with an ophthalmologist, Dr. Miller.


I shouldn’t have been surprised. My mother, my aunt Adah, and my great-aunt Pink had all had cataracts. That, however, was only the beginning of a long and complex relationship with my ophthalmologist. Once again I was grateful for the great strides made in modern medical technology, diagnosis and treatment.

My great-aunt Pink was blind when I met her. I was six years old.

“Come here, child, and let me see what you look like.” I stepped forward and she gently ran her fingers over my face.

“She has Robert’s forehead,” she said.

My mother wore big thick glasses after her cataract surgery, but she could see. I got to choose—glasses to read, or glasses for distance? I now have reading glasses, but got them only after my eyes had presented many challenges to Dr. Miller, and he used many high-tech instruments to meet them.

On one office visit, I was to have a cryo treatment for a torn retina. The retina is frozen at several points around the tear, to make it stick to the back of the eye and not detach. Dr. Miller’s nurse Kay and a cute little nursing student were in the room, and Kay started explaining to the student what they were to do. “Do you know what the retina is? Have you studied the eye yet?”

I was astonished. My fifth-graders could label the pupil, iris, lens, retina and optic nerve on a diagram. I thought that much was basic education.

I was appalled to hear the student expressing uncertainty, and Kay explaining, “Well, it’s like the film in a camera.” She then attached a teaching lens to the microscope “so you can see” and encouraged the student to ask questions, because “Dr. Miller likes to teach.”

Dr. Miller arrived and the procedure began. As he worked he let the student watch and carefully explained what he was doing, but in five-syllable words that had to have gone way over the head of someone who, five minutes before, hadn’t known what a retina was!

The First Divorce
After the birth of the twins, I had to leave Kevin and Fran in Arizona and return to my job in Boone, but I worried about them. Kevin was drinking a lot, was short-tempered with the boys and seemed to have no affection for the girls, smoking around them even when Adah was on oxygen and referring to her as “an obnoxious baby” when she cried. I stopped sending money to help them because Kevin would spend it on alcohol and drugs. I sent it instead to a minister whose church was actively helping the “desert people”. I wanted Fran to leave Kevin and bring the kids to live with Ned and me, but she refused because, I found out later, the minister to whom I was sending money was telling her it was her “wifely duty” to stand by her man and help him overcome his addictions. Finally one day Kevin took a chef’s knife which had been a gift from Suzuki, threatened Fran and the babies, and cut off Fran’s hair.

Fran and the children left, stopping only when they reached Dave and Perri’s house. They put her, the four babes and their kitten in a rather large but low-ceilinged room in their attic, where she lived for a few months while getting her life back in order. When the divorce came through, she married an old childhood friend, Rob Crutchfield.

Glasnost and Perestroika—1989
What an exciting time to be teaching social studies! My curriculum was on Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. There was a sharp division between East and West. At the end of World War II, Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin had met and decided how to rebuild and govern a devastated Europe. Two world wars had been started by Germany, so it was decided Germany should be split and occupied by the Allies. Americans and British occupied West Germany and the countries to the west while the Soviets occupied the territories to the east. Berlin, which was in East Germany, received special consideration and was divided separately, with West Berlin occupied by the Americans and British, and East Berlin by the Soviets.

It soon became clear that Stalin had his own ideas, establishing what Churchill referred to as an “iron curtain”. Stalin established extremely repressive regimes in the east. People were fleeing in droves, so he put up barbed wire and stationed armed guards at the borders. He attempted to force West Berlin into his sphere by blocking all the highways and railroads, but the West responded with the Berlin Airlift, flying in supplies to keep the city alive and safe. The Soviets built a wall through the city to separate East from West, and Kennedy visited and said in a famous speech, “Ich bin ein Berliner” (I am a Berliner). America would not abandon Berlin.

With the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev as head of the Soviet Union, things began to change. Gorbachev wanted to end the repression of the Stalin era and presented a  radically different, tripartite program. Its principles were glasnost (openness), perestroika (restructuring), and demokratizatsiya (democratization).
This program brought new hope to the repressed people of Russia and Eastern Europe, and the floodgates to freedom opened. The people rose up against tyranny, deposed despots, split up old nations, formed new ones. The social studies textbook became obsolete.

I put up bulletin boards with clippings from newsmagazines, made copies of maps of the new countries, taught from the news media. My kids embraced the plan, bringing in columns and reports to add to our bulletin boards, sparking discussions.

Coöperation and Competition
A fellow teacher in Adams County had her expertise questioned when a parent asked, “Is this your first year teaching?”. She  replied, “I think first-year teachers are the best, because they’ve just had all those education courses and it’s still fresh in their minds! Don’t you agree?”

We discussed this. “Don’t feel bad because someone criticized you, that comes with the territory. With rocket science, only a few people feel they are qualified to judge. Everyone went to school, so nearly everyone feels they know how to teach. You’ll get criticism, and you’ll get praise. Listen, and learn things or discard them, but don’t get hurt feelings. Education courses give a good foundation, but you build on it for the rest of your career. The best thing about teaching is that you keep on learning!”

I’ve learned much from other teachers and from parents, and have always felt coöperation to be vital. Sometimes that coöperation is stifled when a spirit of competition gets in the way.

I’d been teaching in Boone for only a couple years when I was nominated for Teacher of the Year. I was honored, but declined. I was still the new kid on the block.

It wasn’t a selfless act. I feared that others might be less willing to share ideas with me if we were in competition. I didn’t want to interfere with our spirit of coöperation.

Years later, I was one of three sixth-grade teachers who shared certain classes. Each of us taught language arts, but our students changed for math, science and social studies. Our preparation time, and needs for varieties of teaching materials, was thus more manageable. It occurred to me, though, that both of the other teachers had won awards–Marilyn in mathematics and Gail in science–and I didn’t want to seem inferior.

In Raleigh, NC, the Children’s Museum offered a “Teacher of the World” award. Each year one primary, one middle grade and one high-school teacher received it for teaching about the world. This was right up my alley!

I had to write an essay, a scope and sequence for the year, a sample lesson plan and submit a video of myself and my classes. The video was a problem.
Coincidentally, the daughter of a professor at Appalachian State University, Joe Murphy, was in my class. I’d let a couple of his students work on a project in my class, and I called him to ask for his video tips.

“That sounds like a good project for some of my graduate students,” he said.
It was amazing! Four grad students came and videotaped me teaching, leading a computer lab, playing “Simon Says” in four languages, and discussing “pen pals” with a group. I knew I had the best video! And I won!

My Trip—1994
I was chosen as the 1992 Teacher of the World by the Children’s Museum About the World in Raleigh, and won a three-week trip to any country I chose to visit. I taught sixth grade social studies, which focused on Europe and Eurasia, and so many changes were going on there that I wanted to see them for myself.

I’d been studying Russian and corresponding with a Russian teacher of English who had invited me to visit, so I chose Russia. I’d also studied Spanish, German and French and was eager to use those languages as well, so I added Spain, Germany and France to the itinerary at my expense. I took along my two grandsons, aged ten and twelve, to get a child’s view of things, and to make it easier to meet children of other countries as we traveled. Bringing along the boys, Grant and Jordan, made it easier to meet adults, too!

The educational benefits began during our flight from New York to Amsterdam. Our plane had a large computer display which charted our ever-changing location, along with the speed, altitude and outside air temperature. We left New York at bedtime but were much too excited to sleep, so we watched the screen with fascination, looking out the window now and again for possible lights and landmarks. Before we knew it, sunlight was streaming through the windows! It was the shortest night of our lives. Since we were going through six time zones, the short summer night was even shorter, by six hours!

Amsterdam was a big hit, and we quickly decided it was a good “home away from home” to center our travels around. We set an itinerary from Amsterdam to Berlin, on to Moscow and Tver and back to Amsterdam, then to Paris, Madrid and Cuenca, Amsterdam, New York and home.

Since Amsterdam is north of the fiftieth parallel, the summer nights are very short. We could read the time on the clock tower two blocks away at 10:30 pm.
Amsterdam was a wonderful city to brush up on languages. All the signs are in more than one language. TV shows are mostly in English or German with Dutch subtitles. Tours were given in Dutch, German, English and French–all by the same tour guide!

We saw first-hand how the Dutch have reclaimed land from the sea. It’s a constant struggle. They control the water with canals, dikes, windmills and pumps, and have a saying about it–“God created the world, but the Dutch created Holland!”

We visited a fishing village, where we were told that, due to the dikes, the industry is dying out as the water loses salinity. They now do a thriving business hosting tourists! We visited a cheese factory and a wooden shoe factory, and watched a diamond cutter at work. Too bad the tulips weren’t in bloom!

Before leaving Amsterdam we paid a visit to the house where Anne Frank and her family hid from the Nazis. People were talking and laughing in the line to go in, but that changed when we began viewing the museum displays. Coming out, everyone was silent, thoughtful and choked up. We had memories we would never lose.

Europe by Train
We traveled from Amsterdam by train, usually overnight to save on hotel bills. The compartments were for four people, so we always had a compartment mate and made at least one new friend every time we rode the train. First there was a German man, then a sweet old Russian lady, who helped me with the paperwork crossing the Russian border. Neither spoke English, so I gave my limited German and Russian a workout. On the return trip we met a vivacious woman from Berlin who spoke German and Russian. When we weren’t able to communicate in one language we switched to the other! Going into Spain from France we rode with a young man from Costa Rica, and returning from Madrid to Paris a modern businesswoman from Spain. Both spoke excellent English. We also talked with many students and other travelers and learned about some of the places we hadn’t seen.
Looking out the windows of the train we saw almost the whole of the North European Plain, went over the Pyrenees and crossed the Spanish plateau. We saw farms, villages, towns and many large cities.

Our first stop after Amsterdam was Berlin. The contrast was striking between East Berlin, a depressed area with boxy concrete buildings, and West Berlin, a bustling, modern, colorful city. We went to the zoo (in a bow to Grant’s interest in zoology) and took in many historic sites, traveling along the Unter den Linden and seeing the Brandenburg Gate. It was very exciting!

I had to use German more than I’d expected. It seemed nobody spoke English! I had to find a hotel, arrange for a room, buy tickets to the zoo, ride the elevated train, order meals, settle our hotel bill, get a taxi and buy our train tickets to Moscow. All in German. Our taxi driver said he didn’t speak English, but his English was at least as good as my German, so we conversed in both languages as we toured the city.

The train from Berlin to Moscow took thirty-six hours, so we met many interesting people along the way. As I’d anticipated, it was easy to get acquainted with children when I had children with me, and for them language is no barrier to friendship. The boys were a little shy at first, but they quickly learned that if they played with a toy or game together, then offered it to a watching child, they’d have a new friend. They played with a Russian girl, then with a young boy who was half Russian and half Iranian. I played with them, too, and got some good pictures and a chance to talk a bit with their mothers.

One of the most interesting people we met was Michael, a young man from Boston. A writer, he was an experienced traveler who was riding the Trans-Siberian Railway to Mongolia. Michael was a wellspring of information. It was he who told us why our train stopped at the Russian border for three hours. They were changing the wheels. The railroad tracks in Russia are a different gauge from those in the rest of Europe!

We arrived in Moscow on June 21st, the longest day of the year. We were even farther north than Amsterdam, so it was still light out at 11pm!

Here began the most difficult part of our journey, by far. With my limited proficiency in Russian, I could ask all the questions, but often couldn’t understand the answers! Not only that. The money exchange office was closed. I had only a few thousand rubles, which I’d received in change when I’d paid for meals on the train, and I needed about 80,000 (around $40) for our tickets to Tver. Besides that, we needed to go by Metro to another station to get the tickets! I was about to decide we’d have to wait until morning, when the beautiful sound of an American voice said, “Maybe I can help you. I speak Russian.” Our guardian angel was a young man who worked at the American Embassy in Moscow, and he swapped me 80,000 rubles for my forty dollars. He got us on the right Metro train and left us with full instructions in wonderful, comprehensible English where to get off and buy our tickets to Tver!

The Metro is gorgeous! It contrasted sharply with New York City’s dirty, cluttered subways decorated with advertising and ugly graffiti. I’d read that Stalin’s government had built the Metro to be something beautiful which could inspire pride in the people. It does! With all the economic problems Russia has, a lot of the places we visited weren’t well maintained, but the Metro looked great!

We arrived in Tver at 2am, and couldn’t barge in on our hostess at that ungodly hour, so we did as many other tired travelers and gathered our bags under us. We slept on them for the next four hours. At 6am I talked a taxi driver into taking us, with the rubles I had left, to Marina’s address. The elevator was broken, so we had to carry our bags up six flights of stairs to her apartment. We surprised Marina and her husband Volodya with our knock on their door. They had NO telephone, AND hadn’t received the fax giving the date of our arrival. Neither of us were too surprised at this breakdown in communications, as we’d had many such problems securing official invitations, visas and so forth.

We lived in their small flat with Marina, Volodya and their four-year-old son Vova for three days, and really got a sense of their everyday life. I’d asked Marina not to do anything special for us; we ate what they ate and did what they did.

June 22nd is a special day in Russia. It’s the anniversary of the date the Russians entered what they call the Great Patriotic War. In Tver they commemorate it by lighting a flame at the top of a huge obelisk and laying flowers at its foot, where there is a tomb for an unknown soldier and an eternal flame. We walked with Marina to the monument, laid some flowers and took pictures. A small group of old men had gathered around a red  flag with the Communist hammer and sickle on it. Marina thought they might be readying for a parade, so we hung around awhile, but no parade materialized. We then went to the banks of the Volga River and rested while the boys played at the river’s edge. Marina said that one good result of the factory shutdowns upstream was that the Volga was much cleaner than it used to be. It did look clean. There was a young woman washing clothes in it and some people were swimming, but we thought it much too cold to swim. We were wearing sweaters!

On Friday, Marina reluctantly agreed to go with us to Moscow. We did some sightseeing and bought train tickets, but she wouldn’t let me buy tickets for the diesel to Moscow–they were “too expensive”. Instead, we must take the “electric’–much cheaper. It’s also much more crowded, as we learned to our distress.

Once in Moscow, we bought train tickets back to Berlin, ate at McDonald’s and spent a most inspiring afternoon walking all through the Kremlin and Red Square. As the evening approached, we were happy and excited, but very tired. Our feet were screaming for relief, and we looked forward to sitting for three hours on the train back to Tver. Little did we know! We stood on the platform. It rapidly filled with people, and a most terrifying thing occurred. As our train came in, the crowd surged forward, clawing, elbowing and kicking to get on, while those in the train were struggling to get off! I couldn’t see Grant nor Jordan as  the current of people swept me along. I prayed that they wouldn’t fall and get trampled!

We embarked unhurt, but our feet had to wait for relief. We stood the entire three hours to Tver, then stood on the trolley, then walked the three more blocks to the Ivanova flat.

I told Marina I was afraid to take the “electric” to Moscow with all our bags. I knew we couldn’t manage them if the crowds were that bad. She reassured me, explaining that on Fridays all the workers of Moscow go to their “dachas” (small summer homes in the country) to tend their vegetable gardens. The “electric” wouldn’t be so crowded on Saturday. We mustn’t consider the diesel–too expensive! Volodya would ride with us on the trolley the next morning to the “electric”, and we’d be fine.

She couldn’t have been more mistaken! We got seats in Tver, but the car filled up more at every stop. People were two and three deep in the aisles. I began to feel panicky, but tried to maintain a calm demeanor so as not to alarm the boys.

Amidst this chaos, another angel appeared! A lovely Russian lady, an economics teacher, heard us speaking English. She worked her way through the crowd and introduced herself. Her name was Jane. Her son was about the same age as Grant and Jordan, and was studying English. Would we mind if he came over to talk with the American boys and practice the language? Of course not! We’d be delighted! Jane’s sister was also on the train, with her children. They were going to Moscow for the day, and invited us to join them. We declined, reluctantly, explaining that we had reservations on the train to Berlin. “We’ll help you get to your train”, they said. The boy’s English teacher was on the train, too. The rest of the three-hour trip passed very quickly and pleasantly. When we arrived in Moscow, our new friends grabbed our bags and led us through the milling crowd to the Metro. We bid them a warm farewell, but the English teacher was going the same direction and continued with us. She guided us to the station from which we were to depart.

We caught the train to Berlin without further difficulty, and once in Berlin activated our Eurailpasses for the rest of our travels. They’re great! Unless you’re traveling at night and need beds, you simply go to the station, see when the next train leaves and get on!

France and Spain
We rode back to Amsterdam, then went on to Paris, where we got a grand view of the city from the Eiffel Tower. We rode down the Champs Elysses, saw the Arc d’Triomphe, toured the Cathedrale d’Notre Dame. In the Paris train station we met Sergei, the only Russian who was willing to talk politics with me. He spoke fluent English. He’d been a student in the USA during our 1991-92 presidential campaign. He said Russia had been that way when Yeltsin was first elected, with everyone talking politics, but that now people were disheartened and disillusioned. They didn’t want to talk about it anymore. I asked him about Zhirinovsky, the newly-elected parliamentarian who was espousing many Stalinist policies. Sergei said he didn’t really have much support as a potential opponent to Yeltsin. I asked him who might succeed Yeltsin, and he said there wasn’t anyone well-known enough to oppose him, that only time would tell.

Our train pulled in, so we said goodbye to Sergei and headed for Spain. My brother Ted was touring with a choral group from Boston, and we were to meet him and his wife Elaine in Cuenca, a historic little town southeast of Madrid.

The Spanish trains were the cleanest and best-maintained we’d seen anywhere. Looking out the window, we could see the dry Spanish plateau. It’s similar to our Southwest, but there are many irrigated areas, green and well-cultivated.

Our positive impression of Spain was reinforced when we saw the Atocha Station in Madrid–perhaps the most beautiful train station in the world. It looks like a botanical garden! We wondered if they had “spruced it up” for the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. Whatever the reason, we were very impressed with Spain.

The station in Cuenca was in stark contrast to Atocha. It looked like the small town train stations I remembered as a child–rustic, a single platform, a waiting room with wooden benches. A blast from the past!

My Spanish got quite a workout in Cuenca. I had to talk with the taxi driver, get to Ted’s hotel, find out from the desk clerk that he and Elaine were at another hotel. I got directions to walk there, arranged for our rooms, etc., all in Spanish. Ted was in rehearsal and we were hungry, so we went looking for a place to eat. It was about 6pm, but everything seemed to be closed. We asked our desk clerk about places to eat. He said none would open until 8pm! We found a little grocery, bought sandwich fixings and had a picnic in the park.

The town of Cuenca is fascinating! The next morning we toured it together. Our hotel, and the train station, was built in the early 1900s, and it reminded me of the little town I grew up in sixty years before. They called this the New Town! High on a bluff overlooking New Town is Old Town, an area proudly maintained. There’s a monastery, a church, several other buildings and homes which are hundreds of years old, and an ancient Roman ruin that dates back about 2000 years. Add to this diversity a beautiful, modern auditorium and you have a real study in contrasts. The sleepy little town of Cuenca (New Town) turned out to have a busy tourist industry on the bluff above (Old Town). The people appeared poor, but their “church jewels” were a fabulous collection of bejeweled gold fonts, crosses, chalices and religious icons.

We toured Old Town on an extremely hot day–44ºC, which converts to about 111ºF! There were no public water fountains, so the bottled water merchants were doing a booming business. I thought Spain was even hotter than I’d heard, but was told they were having a heat wave.

The next day we returned to Amsterdam and boarded our flight back to New York City. There are Five Themes of geography, and we had learned about them all.

•Location. We observed the effects of latitude on climate and on hours of darkness and light, and traced our travels on the map.

•Place. We learned a great deal about people, their languages, customs and ideas. We observed the physical characteristics of the land along the North European Plain and the Spanish Plateau.

•Human Environmental Interaction. We saw what the Dutch have done with their environment, pushing back the sea, and how the Spanish have irrigated a dry region. We saw the Volga River recovering from pollution and many other examples of human-environmental interaction.

•Movement. Even before starting, we noted the importance of transportation and communication when we had trouble connecting with our Russian hosts. We used many types of transportation, and saw interesting things on Dutch and Russian television.

•Regions. We noted the contrast in living conditions in the countries of the West and those which were behind the “Iron Curtain”.
I now had first-hand stories to share with my social studies classes. I had a videotape, about 170 slides, post cards, books, money and numerous souvenirs. This trip was unforgettable, and invaluable!

English as a Second Language
In the late 80s we received several children at Hardin Park for whom English was a second language, and there was a wide variation in their mastery. They were picking it up, but we felt they needed special help. Since I’d studied several other languages and had taken a workshop on teaching ESL, I volunteered to take the kids into my room during Physical Education. I began to pester the superintendent for a full-time ESL teacher in the county, as I knew there were many ESL students in the other schools as well.

Seven kids, aged seven to twelve, came to my room two or three times a week. We had fun together, playing and singing. We played “Simon Says”, “Mother May I”, and sang “Head. Shoulders, Baby, One Two, Three”. I helped them with the sounds in English that didn’t exist in their native languages. One child said to another, “I say ‘vagon” when I mean ‘wagon’, and you say ‘lice’ when you mean ‘rice’!” They were charming, and I loved working with them, but I was glad when the district hired an ESL teacher.

Aquasize and ESL 1998
Splish! Splash! The sound of seniors exercising in the water reverberated off the walls. Ned and I came once a week to the parks and recreation pool to enjoy the camaraderie and sense of well-being the class gave us. One day, Mary Owen said something about one of the workers in her ESL class, and I perked right up.

“You teach and ESL class?”

“Yes, at our church. We have a class each Sunday at four for any Mexican workers who care to come.”

“Mary, I’d love to do that! I used to teach ESL! Do you need more teachers?”

“We can always use more teachers! The more we have, the smaller our groups and the more help we can give them. We’d teach one-on-one if we could! Come over on Sunday and I’ll introduce you!”

I started going to St. Elizabeth’s Catholic Church every Sunday afternoon, working with Katy, Faith, Mary and the others to teach a group of twenty to thirty workers. Most of them did seasonal work—agriculture or, especially in our region, Christmas trees. After Christmas they’d return to Mexico until it was time to start working the trees again in the spring.

We met several times, and planned the classes around our strengths. Emile was the best linguist; he had a strong voice and was fluent in Spanish and Japanese. Emile’s wife Yvette was Hispanic and totally bilingual. Bev was fluent in German and proficient in Spanish. Faith spoke Spanish fluently, but had a soft voice. We decided that Emile and I would begin each session. We’d explain things, make announcements, then I’d warm them up with some songs before we broke up into smaller groups.

Singing is not only a fun way to relax and warm up the group, it’s a powerful aid to memory. Songs such as “Head, Shoulders” and “Sipping Cider Through a Straw” also use activities to further aid memory.

1) ”Head, shoulders, baby, one, two, three…
(touch head, then shoulders, snap fingers once, twice and thrice)
Head, shoulders, baby one, two, three
Head shoulders, head shoulders, head shoulders

(gradually speeding up the tempo)

2) “Shoulders, chest, baby, one, two, three… (etc.)

3) “Chest, stomach, baby, one, two, three…

4) “Stomach, knees…

5) “Knees, feet…

(by this time the moves are very fast and challenging, and everyone is laughing.)

We’d then reverse order—feet, knees, baby, 1, 2, 3, etc., followed by knees, stomach, then stomach, chest, on up to shoulders, head, and finally…

“THAT’S ALL, baby! One, two, three!” (and STOP)

“Sipping Cider Through a Straw” is a call-and-response, a silly song that made everyone laugh when Emile translated it for them. I’d sing a line, then they’d sing it back.

“The prettiest girl (the prettiest girl) I ever saw (I ever saw) Was sipping cider (response) Through a straw (response, etc.)
And now and then…The straw would slip…And I’d sip cider…Through her lips…And now I’ve got…A mother-in-law…From sipping cider…Through a straw…
Now fifteen kids…All call me “Paw”…From sipping cider…Through a straw!!!
The moral is…My story, dear…Is don’t sip cider…Through a straw…
The moral of…My story, dear…Is don’t sip cider…YOU SIP BEER!!!”

Emile and Yvette were both teachers. They lived in New York City, and spent their summers in Boone. Yvette taught fourth grade and Emile taught at Stuyvesant High School in lower Manhattan. From his classroom windows he could see the Twin Towers, and was an eye witness on September 11, 2001.

What appeared to be a lone plane crashed into one of the towers—a terrible accident!—but wait!! Another plane—also crashed!! This was no accident, this was an attack! Horrendous explosions! Fire! People were jumping out the windows, falling to their death on the street below!

The buildings collapsed into a pile of rubble. Almost 3000 people were killed, more than died at Pearl Harbor. The students at Stuyvesant High School put together a beautiful commemorative booklet. Emile brought a copy with him to Boone the following summer, and gave it to me.

Ned had met Emile and Yvette when he’d gone with me to a picnic for the students and their families. We’d gone to dinner together as well, and had become close friends. Now Emile had cancer, stage four, and wouldn’t be coming back to Boone. “Pray for me to whoever you pray to, and look after my girl”, he wrote. I wrote them back, expressing our concern and hoping for his recovery, but I soon received a telephone call from Yvette.

Emile had died. Yvette and I talked for a long time about the good times, funny times, bad times, but I never saw her again. Yvette stopped coming to Boone, Ned got sick and I stopped teaching ESL.

Life goes on. Friends are gone; they’re not forgotten.

One day Pedro came to me in ESL class with “un problema”. The men he’d been sharing a house with had all gone back to Mexico, now that the trees had been harvested. They’d return in the spring, but Pedro couldn’t afford the rent without the other guys pitching in.

After a quick check with Ned, I offered Pedro a room in our house.

“¿Cuanto dinero?”


And Pedro moved into one of our extra rooms.

Dos Amigos
Pedro and I frequently tried to engage in friendly conversation. This often led to confusion, but we improved our language skills. One evening we had the following exchange:
Pedro: Mrs. Austin, dos amigos vienen aquí (two friends are coming here).
Me: ¿Aquí?
Pedro: Sí, aquí a Boone. (yes, here to Boone).
Me: ¿Cuándo vienen? (when are they coming?)
Pedro: Yo no sé exactamente. Creo que dos o tres semanas (I don’t know exactly. I think two or three weeks).
Me: ¿Dos amigos de usted vienen aquí a mi casa en dos o tres semanas? ¿Vivir con nosotros? (two friends of yours are coming here to my house in two or three weeks? To live with us?)
Pedro: ¡No, no! ¡Dos Amigos es el nombre de un restaurante! ¡Cuando viene aquí, yo quiero invitar ustedes a comer conmigo! (No, no! Dos Amigos is the name of a restaurant! When it comes here, I want to invite you all to dinner with me!
Me (with some relief): Oh! That’s very nice! ¡Muchas gracias!

And when the Mexican restaurant came to town, Pedro took Ned and me to dinner!

Nobody said anyone at any local school had AIDS, but we teachers needed new guidelines for dealing with playground injuries, as AIDS could spread by blood contact. We teachers had a workshop, and then he school had an assembly. A nurse, Terry Taylor, talked to us and answered questions. We didn’t meet at that time, but Terry and I became close friends in the ensuing years.

Some months later, my son Sam was home from New York City, and I learned about Sam’s lover, Rob. Soon afterwards on the local TV Bulletin Board, Ned and I saw a telephone number for PFLAG (Parents, Family & Friends of Lesbians and Gays). We discussed it, and I called the number. “We have a gay son,” I said, “We’re interested in talking to other parents of gays, and maybe joining PFLAG.”

The voice on the other end of the line was Terry Taylor, and she invited us to join her for dinner at the Red Onion. She brought two teens with her. They were in her Sunday school class at the Boone Unitarian Universalist Fellowship (BUUF). Their class had been discussing sexuality and sexual orientation. We had an interesting discussion and were invited to visit their class.

We liked BUUF. We already knew many of the members, and we joined Shortly afterwards they asked me to serve on the board and organize a choir. Recently retired from teaching, I was happy to contribute.

One Sunday Terry Taylor had the program for church service. She explained that sexuality contains a broad spectrum of differences. People can be born gay, bisexual, transgendered or transvestite. Young people, especially, can be questioning. She said she felt like a voice in the wilderness, speaking up for those who couldn’t. As a nurse, she’d attended young men who were dying of AIDS. She felt there was little support for them and their cause, or for the healthy who had to hide who they were, to hold jobs or otherwise get along.

I sent an e-mail to all UUs inviting them to support Terry by having a potluck to discuss PFLAG.  I talked to retired teachers and recruited help. About twenty people signed up, and many others expressed support.  We organized and I nominated Terry for president. She declined, and nominated me. In the end I presided at meetings, she maintained our telephone contacts and we served as co-presidents of the High County chapter of PFLAG, for several years. We met once a month at UU, and sometimes visitors came. We started a petty cash fund to help those in need.

Some things we did brought criticism. One young man asked us to help him come out to his parents. At his request, we invited his parents, whom we hadn’t met, him and two of his friends to our house for dessert and coffee. After we’d talked awhile, we introduced the purpose for the gathering (his mother had been wondering).

“Wade has something he wants to tell you, but it’s difficult for him, so he wanted his friends to be here.”

“Mom – Dad – I’m gay.”

Mom said, “I don’t understand! What did I do wrong?”

Dad said, “That doesn’t make a bit of difference to me. You’re my son, and I love you!”

We explained to Mom that she hadn’t done anything wrong, that people are born with a sexual orientation. By the end of the evening, everyone seemed okay.

Wade made a point of thanking me when he saw me several weeks later. But a friend of mine said, “That was an ambush!” I don’t know. Was it?

We dealt with individual problems, but also advocated for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, & Transgender (LGBT) students. We wanted to know if there was support among the clergy, so we each made an appointment with a minister to find out where he stood–with interesting results. Some ministers were friendly. Some deferred to their elders or deacons, and some were absolutely against homosexuality. We knew who we could count on if anyone came to us looking for a church!

Some students wanted to organize a Gay-Straight Alliance in the high school, and observe the nation-wide Day of Silence. Nanci Nance, a retired high school English teacher, and I talked with Gary Childers, the high school principal. The students had found a teacher who was willing to sponsor it, and needed the principal’s go-ahead.

“You know you’re asking me to open Pandora’s box here,” he said.

“I know,” I replied. “I remember the brouhaha over NC Star at Hardin Park. But we just can’t let those people block us from doing what’s right, and I think this is right!”

They had a day of silence, and formed their alliance!

Family Reunions
Ned’s family had been having a reunion on the first Sunday in August each year. All his grandfather’s descendants, the Sam Austin, Sr. family, would gather in the morning, have a huge potluck dinner and linger into the afternoon. Because it was Sunday, they’d begin with a worship service. This was followed by testimonials and lamentations from senior members of the family, which would suck out all the fun before we got to the food! Ned and I had gone, dutifully, every year, but when our children began showing up late or not at all, we didn’t force the issue. We’d go, then grin and bear it, but one year we’d had enough! We both snapped!

Our preacher cousin had droned on. “Our country is going to the dogs! They’ve taken God out of the schools!” Et cetera, etc. He finally wound down, and asked if anyone had anything they wanted to say. This was the usual call for lamentations and the gnashing of teeth, but Ned surprised everyone, including me, when he stood up and said, “I’ve got something to say! Every year we come here together and we grunt and complain! What fun is that? Our young people won’t come anymore. We get together and talk about how the country’s going downhill, and how sad it is that this one died, and how many have died. Well, EVERYONE dies! We’re ALL going to die! That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t enjoy life while we have it!”

Emboldened by his outburst, I rose.

“I have something to say, too! I’m tired of hearing how they’ve taken God out of the schools! You claim to believe that God is love. This family is full of teachers, and every one of us teachers loves the children we teach. It insults us to say they’ve taken God out of the schools! As long as there are teachers who love, nobody can do that!”

I guess we hurt some feelings, because there have been separate reunions ever since. The Sam Austin, Jr. family reunion broke apart from the George Austin branch, and doesn’t try to meet on a Sunday morning for a “worship” service. We have a lot more fun, swapping stories and cracking jokes. The descendants of each of the six sons and daughters of Sam and Minnie Austin take turns hosting the gathering, and each family determines the time and place.

I wanted my family to have a reunion. We fourteen cousins were more scattered than the Sam Austin family, so a week-long get-together every five years seemed more practical.

Once a year, Ted and his wife Elaine had been coming to Boone to spend a week at Smoketree, their time-share condominium. This is often occasion for a reunion. Our families have a great time in the mountains. Hiking, rock climbing, canoeing, zip-lining, rock mining, caving, sight-seeing–their week in June is a highlight of my year!

I began planning. My brother Ted helped me put together a family directory and I sent a query to find out which activities would interest the most people. After receiving the replies, I mailed a schedule to all the aunts and uncles, cousins and their sons and daughters:
Planning activities for this group was fun, because you all like everything! In the outdoors column, picnicking was tops, with swimming, canoeing and hiking close behind. The sport most enjoyed was volleyball, with softball second and tennis tied with soccer in third. Campfire was a popular choice. You all expressed interest in the ‘special attractions’ column. It included sight-seeing, art exhibits, plays, concerts, crafts fairs and shopping, and with these in mind we’ve planned the following:
Sunday night: Dinner at Makoto’s Japanese restaurant
Monday: Take a picnic lunch and go to Spruce Pine for the N.C. Mineral Museum, followed by gemstone mining (amethyst, quartz, citrines, etc.) at one of the local mines. Dinner at the Nu-Wray Inn, then to Burnsville Playhouse for a show.
Tuesday: Fresco tour in Jefferson. The fresco artist studied in Italy, then returned to paint frescoes in the U.S. Two small churches have frescoes of unforgettable beauty. This followed by dinner in Shatley Springs.
Wednesday: Canoeing on the New River, which is paradoxically the oldest river in either of the Americas, and is shallow, wild, and slow-moving. Picnic supper at New River State Park.
Thursday: On your own for shopping, sight-seeing. There’s plenty to do! Grandfather Mountain, Tweetsie Railroad, ‘Horn in the West’ are possibilities, or perhaps a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway. We’ll give you maps, brochures and directions. We’ll be arranging to meet the weekend crowd.
Friday: Hang out and talk at Smoketree Lodge. Share family tales, memorabilia, crafts, etc. Board games after dinner (Monopoly, Clue, etc.)
Saturday: Trip to the Blowing Rock, the most famous scenic attraction in this area and still a bargain ($2 the last time I went!) Picnic lunch at Price Park, followed by volleyball. Airwalk for the little folks. Dinner at Western Steer. Campfire.
Sunday: Outdoor family worship service, followed by dinner at the Austin home.
I’ll need to settle some of these plans with firm numbers and make reservations with deposits of money, so let me hear from you soon if you haven’t yet confirmed your plans.
Please bring a photo (preferably a 3×5 head shot in color) of each member of the family. If you’re not coming, please send one. We’ll have a camera handy in case you forget–One Hour Photo to the rescue! Karen Jones Bodenhamer is making a family photo tree for display. We’d like photos of Uncle Bob, Aunt Evelyn & Uncle Mac, and Uncle Beau too, if possible.
Don’t forget to get those “bios” back to me–just a pithy pearl of a paragraph, please, to present the essence of you (ouch!).
Love, Bobbie

Pets are Funny

1. Leo and Bear
Leo is our somewhat dignified cat. Bear was an undignified Chihuahua puppy who pestered Leo to play. Most of the time Leo was tolerant, but not playful, and simply moved away. Once, however, Leo became annoyed. He hissed and snarled at Bear. Alarmed, Bear tried to high-tail it away, scooting along the floor just as Leo jumped to get away from him. Unfortunately, they both moved in the same direction. To the consternation of both, Leo landed on top of Bear and ended up riding him piggy-back across the room!

2. Smoke, Sunny and Sheba
Smoke was my dog–an Australian shepherd abandoned by some tenants who stole away from the trailer one night. He was a wonderful old dog, eager to please and easy to train.

Sunny was Genevieve’s dog–a fast-growing Lab. She saw when he was a puppy that he was going to be a big dog, so training him was a high priority.
Sheba was Fran’s dog, staying with me while Fran and family were settling into a new home. She was strong, young and active, maternal towards Sunny when he was a puppy, but not easy to train.

Genny enrolled Sunny in dog school and took him regularly. When she practiced the fundamentals with Sunny at home, she included Smoke and Sheba. Smoke learned quickly, but Sheba didn’t.

The three dogs got along well, until one day when I’d taken them with me on a walk up the mountain behind the house.
There’d been no question who was the alpha dog in the group, but Sunny was maturing, and decided to challenge Smoke. Smoke wasn’t about to relinquish his position, and there ensued a noisy altercation between the two. They were growling, snarling, barking, rearing up at each other.

“Sit!” I yelled, my hand raised in the sit command. “Sit!” Both dogs settled down and sat still, looking at me as they’d been trained. Sheba, however, had become excited, jumping and running around.

“Sheba, sit!” I commanded.She didn’t sit, but continued her hyperactivity.

“Sit!” I said again, to no avail.

Smoke looked at me, raised his paw and placed it on Sheba’s butt. He pushed her down into a sitting position. No question who was the Alpha!

Do the Math

When Ned’s health worsened, I moved his bed downstairs into what had been the dining room. We then had too much furniture in that room, so I donated a table and some chairs to Goodwill.

Several months later Laura and her two sons came to visit. They slept at the trailer, but I invited them to join us for lunch and hang out with us in the afternoon. After I finished fixing lunch, I began setting up the table and chairs. There would be seven of us. Four chairs were in the dining room, and I looked for the rest. Two in the laundry room. I needed one more.

“What’s the matter?” asked Genny, seeing the puzzled look on my face.

“I can’t find another dining room chair. I used to have so many. I need seven and I can only find six.”

“Well, you donated some to Goodwill.”

“I know. But I had ten, and I only gave them four!’


Credo? Why?
Unitarian Universalists teach respect for all religions (Universalist) while insisting the Trinity is myth (Unitarian). It’s hard for me to put that together. In our congregation we have people from many backgrounds: Baptists, Catholics, Hindus, Buddhists, Wiccans, Jews, Pagans and Presbyterians to name a few. Our Sunday services make an effort to accommodate all, and at first it seemed to me, a Presbyterian turned Lutheran turned Quaker turned Hindu turned Baptist turned Unitarian, to be an enriching cultural experience. The more rituals I practiced, though, the more hypocritical I felt. Without belief, ritual is meaningless and I’m only pretending.

Yet I look around at the daffodils, the hyacinths, the mighty maple tree. I see the tiny wren and the soaring eagle, the gurgling brook and the majestic mountain. I hear the newborn babe and the laughing ten-year-old, feel the cool green grass under the intense blue sky, and I’m filled with wonder and awe. I make no attempt to explain it or explain away beliefs about the origins of it all. I just enjoy! Why is belief so important?

Aging and Dying
After about seventy years, all of us age and face the prospect of dying. Life is a cycle, and this is its natural ending. For some reason, our society has trouble accepting this and we go to great lengths to avoid life’s grand finale. This is puzzling to me, considering the widely-held belief in a wonderful afterlife.

Although I don’t share that belief, I accept that the end of my life is approaching and hope my family will be agreeable in accepting my often professed, sincere desire to die a natural death. I’ve no special wish to have them all present when this occurs, because I don’t wish to be burdened with the need to think of something wise to say for my last words! Rather, let them all gather after I die and share fond memories of the ups and downs of our time together. Let them forgive my lapses, forgive each other and accept that we are all flawed, but lovable. Let them sing and talk together. Let my final gift be music, hope and laughter!

Daisy Adams
Daisy Austin Adams died Sunday, June 8th, 2014. She was 97 years old. Called Mama Daisy by her family, Aunt Daisy by mine, she was Miss Daisy or Mrs. Adams to the community. To me, she was Daisy–just Daisy–my sister-in-law. I loved her.

After Ned died in 2007, I thought about moving in with her. She’d dismissed her caregiver, saying their personalities clashed, and her sons said she must have a live-in companion if she were to stay in her home. She was happy when I made the suggestion–“but let me think about it”, I said. “I have a lot to consider”.

Being caregiver to Ned was tough, and it’d been a long haul. It isn’t easy to see someone you love gradually fail in strength, requiring more and more help just to get through the day–and she was 91. I was 77 at the time. What if something happened on my watch? I might not be able to deal with it! I chickened out.
I felt guilty about it, but believe it was the right decision.

Who Started It?
When my children got into squabbles, I thought it was my job to intervene. I’d question them, find out how the fuss got started and have the ones who seemed to be at fault apologize. The apology would be accepted, hugs or handshakes exchanged and play resumed. My next-door neighbor, on the other hand, would simply let them take a break, offer ice cream or a cold drink to all and let it blow over.

When she didn’t question what happened, establish who was to blame, etc., I thought she was rewarding bad behavior. Sixty years later, I realize that she was right, and I was wrong, wrong, wrong! Who started an argument is not nearly so important as who keeps it going!

My sons and daughters are lovely people, kind and generous, helpful to others, free of prejudice and bigotry, BUT—they get entangled in pathetic feuds that start years before, and won’t let go for want of an apology! To apologize, it seems, is to say, “I started it. It’s my fault.” An apology, therefore, is usually followed by “but you (…whatever!)”, which is simply an invitation to resume the argument!

FORGET IT! No apology is needed, just move on! It’s over! Past! Doesn’t matter anymore! I’m 87 now, and don’t have the energy I used to. Sometime in the next decade or so I’ll be leaving, and my greatest wish for my future is to see my family enjoying healthy relationships with each other.

Bucket List
People in their 70’s and 80’s talk about their Bucket List—things they want to do before they “kick the bucket.” I don’t have a Bucket List. I’ve noticed that a lot of the items on the lists of eighty-somethings require assistance from some young person willing to help the oldster hang-glide or parachute in tandem. We all say hurrah for the oldster, and ignore the folks who helped. I think that’s just stupid! The woman who recently swam from Cuba to Florida in spite of many stings from jellyfish had plenty of people helping, accompanying her in boats which she could have climbed into, but she kept doggedly on (although that may be the wrong choice of an adverb; a dog would probably have had sense enough to climb into the boat) and at the end of her swim she said triumphantly through swollen lips, “Never, never, never give up!”

Why?! What do these adventurers accomplish by putting themselves and their potential rescuers at risk? Why do we admire them? I think they’re not only stupid but selfish.

I have no outlandish wishes for my final years. I always wanted to ride a roller coaster, but never did and don’t want to any more. The last time I rode a ferris wheel, with two of my grandchildren, I was nauseous for two hours after we came down—so riding a roller coaster became one of several things that I used to want to do. No more!

I’m very happy with the things I’ve done and the places I’ve seen—oh, my! The places I’ve seen!

I’ve never been to the Great Wall of China, but I spent two awesome days at the Grand Canyon. I didn’t visit Machu-Picchu, but I camped with my family at Mesa Verde. I’ve never been to the moon, but I felt like I was on another planet in the Painted Desert and the Great Salt Flats. I’ve never been to Iceland, but the geysers at Yellowstone are amazing. All of these wonders are in the United States, and what fantastic memories they are!

As for the “faraway places with strange sounding names,” my one trip out of the country took me to so many notable places: the Kremlin, Red Square, the Brandenburg Gate, the Cathedral of Notre Dame, the Ann Frank House, the old town of Cuenca in Spain.

I don’t have a Bucket List. I wanted to leave the world a little better than it was when I arrived, and joined many causes, attended conferences, marched in demonstrations. I rang doorbells, made phone calls, presided at meetings—for peace in Vietnam, civil rights, women’s rights, ecology; you name it and I was there. I can see a lot of progress. I love to see women and blacks doing interviews, reporting the news on TV. That’s a big step forward, but I’m happy to pass the torch.

“Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift”
~Eleanor Roosevelt

I’ve had a rich and rewarding life, and I’ve been a part of many exciting changes which I helped in my small way to accomplish. I think I leave the world a better place for my having been here, not only for what I’ve done but for the wonderful children, grandchildren, and great grands I leave behind.

Are we there yet? Wherever “there” is, the answer’s Yes! It’s always Yes! We’re there! The destination doesn’t matter!

Life’s a fascinating journey. Enjoy the ride!




Lessons I Learned as a Child—That I’ve Since Unlearned! (feel free to disagree!)

To eat all the food on my plate
To say “yes ma’am”, “no ma’am”, “yes sir” and “no sir”
3)  To refer to blacks first as colored people, then as Negroes
4)  To think of religion as good
5)  To think of homosexuality as bad, a “sin”
6)  Not ever, ever to masturbate
7)  To view interracial marriage as bad
8)  That I have to be saved from my sins, and only Jesus can save me
9)  To sacrifice everything for the ones I love
10) To “spare the rod and spoil the child”
11) That if you “raise a child in the way he should go, when he is old he will not         depart from it”

My revisions of the foregoing:
1)  Eat only what it takes to feel satisfied (not “full”), then stop. Let leftovers go to waste instead of to waist!
2)  People will ask you if you are from the South or were in the service if you address them as “ma’am” or “sir”. Use a simple yes” or “no”
3)  Keep abreast of changes in terms which are “correct” for the setting
4)  The Beatles said it best for me: “Imagine [a world with] no religion”. I think         nothing is as divisive as religion. All the major wars in history have had religion as one of the causative factors. Why?
5)  Homosexuality isn’t sinful, unhealthy nor unnatural, and it’s not a chosen         alternative lifestyle. A person is homosexual, bisexual or heterosexual by genetic disposition, and everyone is beautiful!
6)  What an odd taboo! Masturbation doesn’t hurt anyone (as Woody Allen says, it’s sex with someone you love). If it’s pleasurable—and it is—what’s so wrong about it?
7)  In God’s name, why?! The only thing that sometimes makes life difficult for an interracial couple (or a homosexual couple) is non-acceptance and persecution by society (which goes back to religion!)
8)  I can’t believe that a loving Creator put humans into a sinful world in which our only hope lies in our discovery and acceptance of a story that is known only to a small fraction of the world’s population.
9)  Contrary to the religious teachings, romantic songs and literary classics I grew up believing, I now believe in assertiveness, and will never be a doormat again.
10) There are better ways to teach children than to spank them.
11) Maybe he will, maybe not. Each chooses the road they’ll follow. Besides, who’s to say what’s “the way he should go”?
Mea Culpa
Finish each day and be done with it.
You have done what you could.
Some blunders and absurdities have crept in;
forget them as soon as you can.
Tomorrow is a new day
You shall begin it serenely
And with too high a spirit
To be encumbered with your old nonsense.
–Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’ve tried to embrace those words and live by them, but my chickens keep coming home to roost, messing up my serenity! I’m in my 80s now, and as I revisit my past, writing my memoirs, my blunders and absurdities stand out in my mind. It’s easy to address the episodes that caused problems for me alone, like my stupid encounter with the dean at Queens College.  Some of my blunders hurt others, though, and cause me to question my judgment.

Boys sometimes played rough–but was it playing, or fighting? Two eighth grade boys were shoving each other and one suddenly grabbed his crotch, howling. The other teacher on duty said, “Ooh! Big boys play rough!”, and I said, “Oh, he’s just putting on a show.” We ignored the altercation and the boys walked off together.

Should I have intervened? Many years later, two fifth-grade boys seemed to be “horsing around”, and one’s glasses got broken. They stopped playing. Things seemed okay, but the parents pressed charges. In the end, the father of the accused paid for new glasses and the charges were dropped. I’m glad it worked out, but cases like those still bother me.

I found cultural contrasts best symbolized by the types of food vendor carts found in various cities. In Columbia, South Carolina, a man sold boiled peanuts off his pushcart. In Manhattan the corners were graced by vendors of hot roasted chestnuts. On Capitol Hill in Denver street vendors sold tamales. Boone in 1952 was strictly a one-culture Appalachian mountain town, with the most available foods being liver mush and cornbread. Looking at Boone today, I’m impressed with its diversity. Within the town limits, one can dine on Italian, Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Thai and “good ol’ American style home cookin’. ”


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Born Days
I was onstage before I was born. My parents met in an outdoor drama, “Horn in the West”, and my father, as Daniel Boone, was the star of the show. When my mother, a singer, carried off a prop anvil carelessly left onstage after a scene change, my father knew she was the girl for him! They were married in October.
My first eighteen years are covered in the big hit movie, “Bozo’s Boy”, which hasn’t been produced. In the meantime, you’ll have to read the book.
My parents moved from North Carolina to New York that fall, to star in several hit Broadway shows, including “The Mikado”, “Kiss Me Kate”, “The Seven Year Itch”, and “Oklahoma!”. They didn’t star in any of them, though, and in June returned to “the Horn”, where the part of Three Week Old Baby was written in to take advantage of my talent. After the success of my inaugural season, we all moved to Colorado, where my father starred in several kiddie shows on TV until, as part of a negotiating strategy, he told the management to shove a plaster giraffe up their ass. They elected not to, and my father instead took a lucrative offer as Third Chair in Harold’s Barber Shop. He moved up quickly, nine years and five more kids later buying the shop and renaming it The Mayfair.
My youngest brother Sam, age eleven, made a movie for Disney, and when my father visited Disneyland, he found a Magic Kingdom. He decided the family should move, and we bought an equipment rental yard at 8770 Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood. My father, my brother Rob and I drove out in June, then my father drove back to Denver. The rest of the family followed at summer’s end.
Everyone Comes to Hollywood
It was late August. They’d towed my 1930 Ford behind a U-Haul van, and my blue 1964 Falcon Futura behind the family’s yellow 1965 Ford station wagon. As my youngest brother sang, “A car and a van and a Model A, Going their westward way.” The caravan pulled into a little house at 8601 Barr Lane in Garden Grove, and I drove my own car to work instead of the company truck.
After a few months my parents bought a much bigger house in Granada Hills, at 17541 Minnehaha Street, from the performer Bo Diddley. It had a huge swimming pool, five bedrooms, a recording studio, wrap-around driveway, a fountain, a guest house which became mine and a couple utility buildings which brother Robin claimed, but we couldn’t move in for two months because of escrow complications. We crammed into the little house which my father had rented from his actor friend Burt Douglas, who had a regular gig on the soap opera All My Children.
My parents hadn’t wanted my brothers and sisters to start school in Orange County and then leave a few weeks later for Granada Hills, but it happened. Then as now, Orange County was right-wing politically, and we weren’t. I also didn’t like being surrounded by the city sprawl. Rob soon had a run-in with the cops, and my youngest brother and especially my three younger sisters didn’t comprehend or appreciate the minutiae of suburban Garden Grove teenybopper society. It was a relief when we left for the San Fernando Valley.
The Valley
I liked the Valley. Frank Zappa made fun of it, but it wasn’t enveloped by LA. I drove through the Hollywood Hills to get to work, over Benedict Canyon, Coldwater Canyon, Beverly Glen or Mulholland Drive, and on weekends could head for Topanga Canyon and its uncrowded beach.
I’d been tense and high-strung as a teen, an overachiever shoveled onto the genius track in school, but was starting to relax. I let my hair grow, made macramé headbands and then a floppy, colorful hat out of scraps. I wore bell-bottom jeans. I read a book called “Better Eyesight Without Glasses”, and quit wearing glasses. I started studying astrology in earnest. For the first time, I considered that maybe I didn’t want to immediately plunge into college. Maybe I should smell the flowers.
California life wasn’t without bumps. I had only one acquaintance. Jan was a year older, but so were all my classmates, as I’d been promoted in the first grade. She was at the University of Redlands, a hundred miles from LA, but a thousand from Denver. She knew a guy there who’d gone to George Washington High School for the same three years as I had, but when we met, we only vaguely recalled a few mutual acquaintances. It was the first time I realized just how big and anonymous the school had been.
Jan surprised us a month after we’d moved to Granada Hills. She brought her guitar, stayed overnight and went to the beach with me the next day. I had her phone number, and on Sundays when I was alone at the rental yard I’d call her after work. I had a list of topics on a crib sheet. When I ran out of stuff to say we’d sit silently for some minutes. I felt like a complete weirdo, but she was very patient. I visited her once in Redlands; we drove around, went a few places, held hands and cuddled a little, but kissing didn’t work. My parents thought we had a romance, but it wasn’t even close. She was way more experienced. I was 18, but might as well have been 12; I was the youngest and smallest in all my classes in school and had never had a girlfriend. She’d had many boyfriends, one for three or four years.
The First Helms Bakery Truck
That fall I saw a 1931 Model A truck pull into a gas station. I stopped and talked to the driver. He was a Model A mechanic, getting it ready to sell. I got his number, thinking he could work on my car.
Two days later, my mother was driving my Ford Falcon. She stopped for a light and was creamed in the rear by a fellow who didn’t switch lanes in time. The rusty water from the air conditioning unit beneath the dashboard sprayed everyone in the front seat with what appeared to be blood, but wasn’t. The rear end was crunched badly; the rear wheel well dented tight against the tire. The bumper was dragging the ground, the frame bent, the trunk lid permanently popped open. It was totaled, and suddenly I needed transportation. I called the fellow with the truck. He wanted $650 for the truck and a few extra parts; I bought it and had my second Model A.
It had an interesting history. Its chassis was one of four, custom-built by Ford in 1931, and its wheelbase extended to the length of a Double A truck. One had been wrecked many years before, so now I owned one of the three original Helms Bakery trucks left in the world.
The body was rough. The chassis sagged and the wheels had been slapped on from much later vehicles. I chained it between our family Lincoln and my now-wrecked Falcon, jacked up the saggy part and left it for a week.
When the chassis was straight, the body didn’t fit! Off came the cab, the fenders, the homemade pickup bed. For awhile I drove it with nothing more than a cowl, a windshield and two doors—not even a proper seat, just a cushion to sit on while I held tightly to the steering wheel. Dangerous, of course, but by summer’s end it was back together. I exchanged some parts from my other Model A and bought three 19-inch wheels for the front tires and spare. The steering gear, engineered for the skinny 19” tires, immediately appreciated the change. In the rear, I kept the fat tires, which looked good and improved traction.
I had to replace the horn/light switch, which on a Model A is located in the center of the steering wheel. A long sleeve goes to the base of the steering column; if it’s bent the lights can shut off in the middle of a turn. Now they’d recall it. In the ‘30s, you’d buy a new one, or live with it.
There are plenty of things you need to know before driving any old car–a friend of mine once made a list before loaning out his Volkswagen. It filled the front and half the back side of a sheet of paper–but driving a Model A was always an adventure.
To start it, you’d climb in the driver’s seat, reach behind the steering wheel, set the throttle on the left and the spark advance lever on the right, reach under the dashboard to the gas tank, flip the gas valve, reach to the far side of the passenger compartment, pull and twist the choke button to set the gas/air mixture, put the key in the ignition switch, flip it on, step on the clutch, slide the transmission into neutral, step on the starter button, fiddle with the choke, gas pedal and throttle until the engine caught, pull the spark advance lever down and fiddle with the choke a bit more, until it ran smoothly.
That was on a good day. On a bad day the engine wouldn’t start, and you’d have to troubleshoot. It wasn’t uncommon for the battery to be dead. Outside of the obvious reasons–the lights left on, the starter cranked until the juice ran out–there were several other possibilities, one of them particularly frustrating. There was a cut-out switch on of the generator to prevent overcharging the battery, but it could stick, and quickly drain the battery while the car was parked. The only way to know it was stuck would be to take a quick look at the ammeter on the dashboard as soon as the engine stopped; if the ammeter said “discharge”, you’d open the hood, give the cut-out switch a sharp whack and check it again.
There could be several other reasons for a dead battery, but with any of them it was time to pull out the hand crank.
It takes less power to run a Model A engine than to start it. If you can start it, it’ll run, unless the battery’s stone-dead and the generator fried. The brake light is dim, the horn won’t blow, and if you turn on the headlights everything shuts down, but if it’ll crank, it’ll run. Experienced Model A drivers kept the crank in a handy spot and tied a wire to the choke so as to be able to manipulate it from the front. You’d set the hand brake, put the transmission in neutral, set all your valves and levers, grab the crank and go out front.
The crank slipped into a special hole below the radiator. With the left hand you’d pull the wire attached to the choke, and with four fingers of the right hand wrapped around the crank–but NOT your thumb–pull up sharply. With luck it’d start on the second or third crank~rarely the first~but sometimes it’d take a lot more fiddling with the choke, spark advance, gas/air mixture and–particularly if you’d forgotten to push up the spark advance lever–it’d fire too soon in the stroke, and kick back forcefully (the reason not to wrap your thumb around the crank, as your forearm would jerk down and get a mean smack!). If none of this worked, you could jump start it by pulling up the floorboards and hooking up jumper cables, while remembering two things~that the Model A had a POSITIVE ground, and a 12-volt battery needed to be disconnected IMMEDIATELY when the engine caught, so as not to fry the Model A’s feeble 6-volt system. Another option was to push it, hop in, stuff the transmission into 2nd gear and pop the clutch. It was surprising how easily the truck started with one of these methods. I often went months at a time with a broken starter or weak generator.
In the fading summer of our second year in Hollywood I took the truck to the beach. There’s a beautiful 8mm film of my siblings and Jan with hair blowing in the breeze as they cruised down the freeway sprawled on the truck’s flat bed, unencumbered by seatbelts, seats, sideboards or any restraints at all, lounging on pillows and towels, hanging onto the cab or riding on the running boards through a beautiful California afternoon. We drove to the hippie town of Topanga and continued on to an uncrowded beach. The beaches in California tend to slope steeply into the ocean and the surf is more powerful than is found on the east coast, which makes it fun to crash through and body surf. It was a lovely day. I shook the sand out of my sneakers and into the cab of the truck, purposely planning to drive one day from coast to coast and mix the sand of the Pacific with that of the Atlantic. Forty years later, it’s got a couple hundred miles to go.
Becoming a Man
In October of 1971 I lost my virginity, sort of. As I was driving home from work after a long hot day I saw a hitchhiker. A girl! I picked her up. I asked where she was going. She said, “some private place”, as she grabbed and massaged my crotch. We drove to the nearest alley as she pulled off her panties and unzipped my jeans. She explained that she did this for money–but I told her that though I was eager enough, I only had two dollars and needed gas to get home. She smiled, gave me a goofy look and in a fake Brooklyn accent asked, “Yah gottah quaddah?”
Oh yes, I had a quarter. I fished it out, we started fumbling and HONKKK!!! Someone behind us. We moved to another alley. More fumbling. HONKKK!!! Someone in front. Moved the truck again, to a quieter spot. She climbed on top of me and we got started. HONKKK!!! Behind us again. I pulled up my pants, pulled down my shirt and drove on. I told her I couldn’t do this anymore. I was freaked out, a nervous wreck by habit, and the circumstances didn’t help. I dropped her off and drove home. When I took a shower that afternoon I tingled all over. For the first time, I’d touched a woman’s privates, felt her nipples rub my chest, slid my stiff part into her warm wet place. It was the first time any woman had, physically, grabbed me. My life, my attitudes, my confidence changed. I felt wonderful.
I was suddenly someone I hadn’t been before. I’d never been athletic in school; as the smallest and youngest, what was the point? I wore glasses and studied science because I was supposed to, because countless teachers, counselors and other adults had told me I was the smartest kid in the state. I wasn’t happy as the nerdy kid genius, though. I was depressed as hell.
I’d planned to take a year off before college, since I’d graduated at sixteen, but after a year all I knew was I didn’t want to wear a lab coat. I didn’t have a plan. I was floating–not drifting, as down a lazy river, but floating, as in face down in a pond. I couldn’t imagine college as anything but more pressure, distress, tension, heartache, despair, and avoided the decision. Avoided everything. I knew I wasn’t gonna be a rocket scientist, but not what or who I was.
I’d acquired a night job in the hippie part of town before we’d left Denver, and oodles of contacts. This had given me a cachet in my suburban neighborhood, but we’d left too soon for me to take advantage of it. Girls had started noticing me; cute girls would hear my name and exclaim, “YOU’RE Dave Austin? Oh, I’ve heard SO much about you but you’ve always been asleep or working or…”, and went on discussing my reputation, the celebrity status I didn’t know I’d achieved as a mysterious, unseen philosopher-astrologer-wizard.
I don’t know where, or if, I’d have gone to college after that summer, but it didn’t happen. We packed up and left for Hollywood.
Poverty Pete’s
After the second World War, Poverty Pete (whose real name was Norbert) started selling used cars on land next to the old trolley lines in an unincorporated part of Los Angeles County called “the Strip”. Like Sunset Strip, which was up the hill from Santa Monica Boulevard, the West Hollywood area was patrolled by the sheriff, not the police, and was known for being a bit wilder and looser than the rest of L.A.
Pete sold a lot of cars in postwar Los Angeles, but one day a contractor came by and asked if he could rent out his spare cement mixer from a corner of Pete’s lot. It rented out so often that Pete bought a couple for himself. He soon decided renting equipment was more profitable, and less hassle, than cars. Buy a used car, tune it up, change the oil, shampoo the upholstery, replace the tires, touch up the paint, check the brakes, and you’ll make money when it sells–days, weeks, or months later. Sharpen up a chainsaw, you’ll make twenty dollars two or three times a week. A hatchet and pick to go with it, a trailer to haul wood and a trailer hitch; you’ll make fifty, or a hundred.
It was shabby-looking. The railroad maintained a thirty-day lease option on the property, so there was no sense in building an expensive structure, but Poverty Pete’s had been there for twenty-five years. He printed humorous business cards, and dressed like a tramp. Our family bought it in 1971.
The office, a wooden shack with a leaky roof, was next to a fenced-in yard where our guard dog roamed. The grounds were full of trucks, trailers, cement mixers, compressors and whatnot, chained up or locked at night. Inside the building was a back room, a front counter and a storage area littered with drills, grinders, rollers, sanders, pumps, ladders, jack hammers and so forth, in various stages of repair. It had an excellent location, with a clear view of the HOLLYWOOD sign, and was doing well financially. Customers were often waiting when we arrived.
When we first moved, it was my father, my brother Rob and me. My father drank more than when mother was around, but we usually got along. Many of our disputes involved the best route to work. My father thought the straightest route the best. It involved a forty-mile stretch on the Santa Ana Freeway (Interstate 5), which was, and is, a parking lot. I preferred a more roundabout route of about 45 miles. My father, who never doubted that he was correct in all things, insisted my route would take at least fifteen minutes longer, and wouldn’t bother to try it. He bet me $10 one morning that I couldn’t make it to work in less than an hour, and lost when I answered the phone at precisely 7:30 am.
After a month, our father went back to Colorado to tie up loose ends, and for the summer it was just me, at 18, and my brother, 16, alone in California.
I now worked 69 hours a week at the rental yard, with about 14 hours travel time. Ten hours Monday through Saturday, nine on Sunday. My brother stayed home occasionally and met some of the neighbors, but I arrived home late, got up early and had to do all the driving. I left at 6:30 am and returned around 7 pm, unless I stopped for groceries, or any other reason.
For the first month or so, Pete’s son Hans showed us the ropes, and after that we hired a fellow who’d previously worked there, Les, who showed up from 9 to 5 on most weekdays. I put in ten hours every day, and couldn’t take off because my brother had no driver’s license. It mystified me why he never got a license, but it didn’t bother him.
This caused some real trouble later. Because he didn’t have a driver’s license, if anything needed doing, I left him home. Once or twice a week he’d wash the clothes, chlorinate the pool, take out the trash, mow the lawn. One day I came home and HE WASN’T THERE!
He wasn’t at any of the neighbors’ homes. I drove the nearby streets and alleys, finally calling my parents in Colorado. They hadn’t heard from him. He was MISSING!
As it turned out, it was one of those idiotic and deplorable stunts which gave California cops a bad name.
My brother had walked less than a mile to the pool supply store that July day but, foolishly, without shoes. He got the chemicals and started home, but stopped in the shade of a tree. A couple cops saw the long-haired hippie kid and decided to hassle him, making the ridiculous, false, lying, totally illegitimate and illegal assertion that “someone had reported him drunk”, at eleven in the morning.
My brother was fond of cramming his pockets full. He was wearing a cargo jacket and a special pocket vest, both crammed full. They had him pull out all his stuff, and one thing he pulled out was a small canister of tear gas. Totally legal in Colorado and every other state of the union. In California it was a felony.
Our father had originally bought it for him after he’d been robbed by a couple of delinquents in junior high school. The cops were sympathetic, but by this time they’d drawn a crowd, and felt they had to do something. After an hour piddling around, they took him in.
This was just the start. He was at the juvenile facility, and allowed to use the phone, but I was in West Hollywood, which was a long-distance call. As was a call home, half-a-mile away. Juvenile hall was served by AT&T, but our neighborhood by a little company called General Telephone, which operated in small pockets here and there–and a call from one system to the other was long-distance.
Because whatever call he would have made from a half-a-mile away, to anyone he knew, would’ve been long-distance, it was not allowed. Seven hours later, when I came home at 6 pm, nobody knew where he was.
Not even the cops. They didn’t have any record of an arrest. My parents called, from Colorado. They were told the same. At three or four in the morning, a cop knocked on my door, waking me up, and told me what had happened–but since I was 18 and not 21, I couldn’t pick him up. My parents had to call a friend they knew from Colorado, Jack Dorn, who now lived about fifty miles from us. He pretended he was an uncle, and signed Rob out.
That was that. None of us heard back from anyone. Perhaps the case was mis-filed, perhaps thrown away. Perhaps the cops decided to forget all about it. My parents were ready to sue, but didn’t.
The Business
After the family arrived that summer, we established a sensible schedule. Les worked 9-5, I worked Saturday through Tuesday and my father Wednesday through Saturday. Everyone but Les worked Saturdays, sometimes including my mother. My brother and I worked Sundays by ourselves.
Rentals are different from sales. With cars, the customer drives away and likely won’t be back. Rentals must be returned. We copied the driver’s license number, the make, model, color, and tag number of their car, compared their signature and picture to their license. For important information about using equipment we’d circle relevant parts of the contract or hand-write a short statement, then take a substantial deposit, to be returned when the equipment came back. Pete brought in the sheriff several times a year to file charges for “conversion”; the legal term is different from outright theft. Every month or two Pete spent a couple days in court futzing around with lawyers, which was required by the insurance company. Insurance, lawyer’s fees, and time spent in court were large draws on the finances.
My father had a different idea. Surveillance cameras weren’t available in 1971, but he got a gadget which took a simultaneous picture of each person, their signed contract and their ID. This one simple step changed everything. Losses through conversion went down to nearly nothing when everyone had to smile for the camera; the psychological impact was immense.
Pete carried a lot of professional, expensive tools, but we also added cheap ones. A high-quality jigsaw cost about $75 in 1972, and could be rented at $2 per day. We had about half-a-dozen, jigsaws being a popular item. It took a lot of rentals, an occasional trip to court and lots of insurance to break even on six jigsaws. There’d also be one or two torn apart at any given time, waiting on bearings or brushes. More expense, more time.
Black & Decker brought out a cheap jigsaw in 1971. It was the first in a long line of cheap tools and small appliances which transmogrified Black and Decker; from premium professional toolmakers they became vendors of can openers. We bought a couple $7 jigsaws out of curiosity, and found we could rent them out forty, fifty, eighty times before they died. There was no repairing bushings or brushes in these burned-out lumps, but they’d made us $80 to $160 on a $7 investment. We bought six or eight. We kept the quality jigsaws for contractors, but stocked up on cheap tools for the general public.
Movie Stars
Lots of movie stars rent tools. The unemployment rate for Screen Actors Guild members at any given time is 95%, so many big-name stars drive old cars and do their own household work. Some want to save money, some simply enjoy it. Richard Chamberlain rented equipment occasionally, and once kissed my mother’s hand (she didn’t wash the spot for a week!). Darren McGavin rented sanders, saws, drills or paint guns regularly. Dick Clark, Alejandro Rey, Jack Cassidy rented tools. Davy Jones rented a wallpaper steamer. I noticed he was driving an Austin car! I started to pull out my driver’s license to show him my name, David Jones Austin, but before I’d even pulled it out he exclaimed, “Oh, YOU’RE one TOO! There’s THOUSANDS of us!!”
Jayne Mansfield had an account when she and her husband were building their “Pink Palace”, and Mickey Hargitay and his brother Eddy still came in regularly. It was always an adventure with Eddy; he’d only recently come from Hungary and his command of English was questionable. The nearest rental yard to us was a couple miles down the boulevard, and one day they had some tool that we didn’t. I told Eddy the address, “4969”, and he wrote down “3868”. I stopped him and wrote the address myself–then thought about it, and wrote down the name of the tool as well!
My father was in his element. He loved talking shop with actors, hobnobbing, making connections. He got a part in a movie; he and a tall black fellow were hired as extras in a crowd scene and he immediately told the black guy he’d get them into the movie. Through numerous takes, he did outrageous things; knocking over barriers, walking into people, waving his hands excitedly as he talked with his new buddy, and in each take the director would call forward this person, that one and that one. My father snagged a speaking part, which unfortunately ended up on the cutting room floor, but he’s still, now and for all time, the fellow directly behind Woody Allen as Woody walks with the tall, loopy Shelley Duvall in his classic, “Annie Hall”. Later, Woody and Diane Keaton lunch in a restaurant, three blocks from Pete’s Rental. At the exact moment when Woody asks Diane if they should get married, a truck drives by, towing a red jackhammer compressor. I hitched that compressor to that truck! My claim to cinematic immortality!
When we were growing up, my youngest brother Sam skated through the fights Rob and I got into with our father. He’d get drunk and yell at me when I was around, at Rob when I wasn’t. Sam acted in plays, made 8mm movies with our three younger sisters, practiced the piano. I liked the piano, but when I’d plunk out a few notes, Sam would run in and take over. My parents let him, “reminding” me, as “the smart one”, that I had “homework.” Now, we were all putting together a family band, including me!
The Troubadour
I took up drums, and did very well. My brother Rob played guitar, Sam piano, and our sisters danced and sang. We hired a choreographer who’d worked with several Hollywood stars, from Gene Kelly to the Jackson Five, and a music arranger. We rehearsed every night. We did well in Hollywood, our greatest triumph being the Troubadour, a music hall in West Hollywood.
The Troubadour had a talent night each Monday, featuring a dozen bands. The best three from each week came back at the end of the month. We were one of them. The best band for the month was then invited to perform at the end of the year. It was us! We were one of the best dozen bands of the year!
There was a problem, though. After the first show, a fellow came up to me and told me I was FANTASTIC! My brother had suddenly slowed the beat in the middle of a song, but somehow I’d picked it up. My fan enthusiastically told me how GREAT I was to INSTANTLY pick up the new beat, that he’d NEVER HEARD a drummer do THAT!—but I didn’t get the chance to respond. My father, standing beside me, jumped between us, grabbed him around the shoulder and physically shoved him along, saying yes, he’s a good drummer, but—, and shooting me dirty looks while my fan tried several times to tell me how great I was, talking over his shoulder, praising me. My father stole my fan. My one and only fan.
I felt like I had ashes in my mouth. I was empty. Spent. I played the end-of-month show, but then left the band. It was many years before I realized that my feelings had nothing to do with performing. My father stood in my way; I don’t know why. He didn’t come to my school plays, and made sure I didn’t act in any productions with anyone else in the family, though they’d done dozens together, including “A Christmas Carol”, with all seven of them, for five years running. It was a very strange kind of jealousy.
I always tried to be the most dedicated and capable artist in any job. At school, when bagging groceries or running a cash register, playing drums, I tried to be the best–but within the politics of the family band, I was nothing. Nothing. By my father’s lights, Sam and the girls were the stars. Rob wrote a few songs, but I was just the drummer. Replaceable. Disposable.
For the year end performance, Rob brought in a couple friends. I was too depressed to play drums any more; I spent my off-time riding a unicycle and juggling, vaguely planning to join a circus.
Granada Hills
For whatever reason, the girls who found me attractive were either older or younger. The older sisters of my friends liked me, and the friends of my younger siblings.
The first young, pretty woman who took more than an academic interest in me was my high school sociology teacher, named Judy. I’d been writing with my left hand in a bid to improve my dexterity, and she had a hard time reading it. I was delighted to come in after school and read to her. We’d discuss life, school, dating and such in a relaxed, candid, humorous way. Nothing remotely improper took place, but to an undersized, geeky kid of fourteen, these flirty conversations with a beautiful gal of 23 were an epiphany.
In California, I went to a party and met the cousin of my brother’s classmate Mindy. Her name was also Judy, and she was also nine years older. She’d been a nun, but had recently married and was about five months pregnant. We talked philosophy and astrology, and she found me fascinating.
It was a small Halloween party; Mindy, Joni, Judy, my brother, a couple other folks and I, and we had some beer and wine coolers. Joni was wearing a Wonder Woman costume and announced to all that it’d be pretty well impossible to grope her in it. I bet her that I could, and she sat on the arm of the couch, inviting me to try. I spiraled a finger inside her shiny leotard, up and over the flesh-tone panty hose, inside her frilly pink panties and fumbled around until I found her warm wet spot. Joni scooted off, but Judy, who’d been watching, quickly took her place. We had a short conversation, and she was much more forward with me than any girl I’d known. After a chat, she pulled me into her bedroom.
Her breasts were full and round, her nipples dark and large. Mindy opened the door to use the spare bathroom, but Judy shooed her off. I wasted no time. 
I was on top of her, and in her, which for me was still unfamiliar territory. She had a little bit of a belly, which I didn’t mind, but she turned pensive and said we shouldn’t be doing it. I wasn’t thinking anything at all, but tried to reassure her, and didn’t phrase it well. She thought I was okay with her because she couldn’t get pregnant again, which wasn’t at all what I wanted to say. The mood was gone; we pulled on our clothes and rejoined the party. We were fine, but after the party broke up I never saw Judy again.
I talked with Mindy a couple days later. I told her I was drunk, and she said Judy was too. We had a nice conversation and she came over. I told her I liked the blouse she had on, which had a little peep-hole in the cleavage. Things heated up. We stripped down and did it, two or three times. She was a little nervous, and I was too, but we were both exuberant and happy nonetheless to be naked together, doing it. I really appreciated my separate little guest house. Mindy and I talked and pranced around naked. Nobody bothered us.
Finally and joyously, I was indisputably not a virgin. It was late 1972, autumn in the San Fernando Valley. It was soon winter, when a few sparkles in the air was a snowstorm, talked about for weeks. In December I met my first real girlfriend. Tumbling around with Joni, Judy and Mindy was nice, but outside of a desire to party we didn’t have much to talk about. I liked them, but we didn’t have that indefinable spark.
My brother knew another girl, named Liz. I was 19, she 16. She was something different! Both our fathers had been in Germany in the second World War–mine American, hers German. She wore glasses. I told her I did too, until a few months before. We talked about eye exercises, astrology, a number of things. I told her I didn’t wear leather and was a vegetarian, and she surprised me by telling me she had been, too. Late in the afternoon I kissed her, a luscious, wonderful, amazing , electric kiss! I had a girlfriend, an actual girlfriend! The next time I saw her, three or four days later, she was vegetarian and had quit wearing glasses and leather. I saw her often after that; we’d kiss, make out, grope each other, but that was as far as we got. I had to leave California.
It was unfortunate, but the rental yard was built on land leased from the railroad company, and the lease had been cancelled.
A Fortune Teller
A couple months earlier. A slow Sunday in the early autumn. In the parking lot behind us, there was a flea market going on, and a dark eyed, gorgeous gypsy girl had a card table and was telling fortunes. She told me a few generalized things–that a situation I was in with a blonde-haired older girl would be resolved, that my life would be unsettled for a few years and that I’d do a lot of traveling. I pressed her for details about the blonde and she, wisely, declined to say much–but then started in a direction I hadn’t expected. She saw me across the sea in a year and a half or two years, possibly Hawaii, on a ship named after an Indian princess, something almost, but not quite, Pocahontas. It seemed a fantasy to me, but a pleasant one. I was intrigued. I asked her if she’d be back. She wasn’t sure, but said I’d definitely see her again. I gave her all my pocket change plus a dollar, and went on with my life.
I didn’t think much about it that balmy day in 1972. I was a California hippie, a drummer in a pretty good band, with a job in which I was learning how to use about every tool on the planet. I was strong for the first time in my life, stronger than most. I was healthy, and didn’t wear glasses. I was a sun-bleached blonde with a great tan, attracting female attention. Why would I want to change?
But life does change. Shortly afterwards, the railroad called in our lease and we had 30 days to leave. It wasn’t exactly a surprise; still, Pete’s had been there for over twenty-five years on that 30-day lease.
My parents looked around town and found a lot on Venice Boulevard in West Covina which seemed promising. It was cluttered with junk, and a small office building on one side had termite damage. They signed a lease and went to work. They hauled off the junk, put in a fence, called an exterminator and began moving equipment. Signs and flyers advertised the new location. They waited–and waited. Almost nobody came.

At about this time word came from North Carolina that our family had inherited the Austin home place, an old house plus 33 acres. The way forward was clear. My parents and family decided to move to Watauga County, just outside Boone. We sold the tools and equipment, and the rental yard was gone.

Hit The Road, Hippie!
With no means of support, few acquaintances in California and no desire to move to Boone, I decided to return to Colorado while Liz finished high school. We had a yard sale; I sold my four-door Model A and my wrecked 1964 Futura. I packed my TV, a Lambretta scooter and the rest of my stuff on my 42-year-old truck, said a tearful goodbye to Liz, promised to write and left California on the last Friday in January. A couple hundred miles down the road, I discovered my father had stolen my toolbox.

I don’t know why. He had his own tools. He knew those were mine, but stole them, from the cab of my truck, before I left. Spitefulness? Petty jealousy? Pure ugliness? Beats me. He was a piece of work.
So, I drove north to Lancaster and started east. The highway patrol stopped me; my plates were wrong for me to haul stuff. He contended that it was a commercial activity, I’d need commercial registration, etc. etc., but as it was my stuff and I was leaving the state he let me go. I drove through the night into Arizona, pulled over by the roadside and got a few hours’ sleep, but discovered I couldn’t start the truck in the morning. I knew the problem–the engine was out of adjustment for the change in altitude–but I had no tools to work on it, save a vise grips, a pair of pliers and a single large screwdriver. My father had stolen the rest. An Arizona cop came by, we talked a bit about the truck and he gave me a push. It started, and I resolved to park it on a hill afterwards. I stopped for breakfast at a Denny’s restaurant in Flagstaff, just at sunrise. I spent a long time in the parking lot, watching the colors change from indigo through magenta and pink and red and yellow, with shades of blue and orange and green filling the mountains and valleys, and thought seriously about staying right there. With $300 in my pocket, I could’ve rented a place, found a job, fixed my truck and stayed there. I thought for a long time, but I’d planned to go to Denver and get an apartment with my best friend, so that’s what I did. What would’ve happened if I’d stayed in Flagstaff, that 29th of January in 1973, is one of my personal great unknowns.
I spent the rest of the day as an Arizona tourist, seeing the places my father’d always breezed past at seventy miles an hour–the Grand Canyon, Painted Desert, Petrified Forest. I chatted in the tourist shops, gabbed with the few folks poking around in January. The truck wasn’t hard to start when it was warm, though I had to use the hand crank. I made New Mexico late that night, and pulled off at the top of an entrance ramp. It was a very cold night indeed. I woke up, freezing, and tried to start the truck so as to produce a little heat–there wasn’t a heater in the cab, but a little residual heat would seep through the floorboards. I couldn’t get it started, so I stamped around and shivered and napped fitfully. At dawn I rolled down the ramp and the truck started, but a few miles down the road the right front fender, which had been flapping in the breeze, tore off. While I picked it up the engine died, and wouldn’t start. A cop called in a tow truck from about twelve miles down the road. I borrowed a couple tools and got it running. The guys in the gas station all wanted to talk about my 1931 A-model truck and while chatting one remarked that they’d like to have a TV in the place. I gave them my TV in exchange for the tow bill, as another fellow pulled up. Dan turned out to be a Bizarro-world reflection of me, a curly-haired blonde hippie, also 19, whose name started with “D”, in a 1949 Dodge truck with starter trouble. It occurred to me that “1949” and “1931” added up the same, numerologically; in fact 4+9=13, the reflection of 31, and “DODGE” added up the same as “FORD A”. We were going in opposite directions, driving the same route (the only sane route to take in January) to destinations an hour or so north of the other’s starting point. Both of us were leaving a city we’d lived in for a couple years for a smaller one where we’d grown up–he was moving from Colorado Springs to Lancaster and I was leaving Los Angeles for Denver. We were both leaving our families and planning to stay with friends. Both our trucks had starter trouble, and both of us had small motorcycles on the back. We were the oldest in our families, had younger brothers named Rob, and had left on the same day. He had a friend a few miles away in Santa Fe, so I gave him a ride. We drove around Santa Fe until his friend showed up, then had a cup of coffee and I left. Santa Fe had a confused set of signs for Route 66, and in trying to follow the highway I went in a circle, just as he and his friend came out of the coffee shop. I said hi and asked directions, and as I started off again, my fender fell off the back. I circled around, and we loaded it on the bed.
As we loaded my fender on the truck, Dan gave me a gram of hash. I took a toke towards sunset and on the open road in the twilight I flew along, at 55 miles per hour, reading notes in the patterns of the trees on the mountainsides. The trees asked me what I was going to do when I got to Denver, and such.
I continued into southern Colorado that night and again parked on an entrance ramp. At sunrise the engine, again, wouldn’t crank. Another cop drove up. I told him what was happening, but he did nothing. There was a little bump where I’d parked, and with the extra weight in the back, I couldn’t budge it.
Fortunately, a fellow in a truck came by, showed me pictures of his own Model A and gave me a shove. The engine fired and I drove the rest of the way to Denver, reaching my friend Monk’s house late that afternoon. It was the last day of January, and very cold. I slept on his couch that night.
About noon the next day, I got the truck started and drove to the local Model A shop, where they helped me set the timing and adjust the carburetor to the Denver altitude. Monk got me a job cleaning up at the Air Force base, starting the next Monday. We drove to work together and during our time off mostly discussed religion.
Monk Becomes a Monk
Monk had been chanting Hare Krishna, while I went to the temple on Sundays, ate the food and argued with devotees. They could never understand why I didn’t want to join them. I was a vegetarian, knew as much about Eastern philosophies and religions as any of them, but was stuck on one small point of doctrine—that we were all FINITE grains of sand in an infinite ocean. Every week one of the devotees would argue with me, but I’d simply say the sand grains have to be infinite for the ocean to be infinite. A larger and larger pile of sand is still a finite pile of sand. To find infinity, you start with infinity. If you cut infinity into sand grains, each grain is infinite–but the devotees never saw.
Monk and I saved up our pay that February and looked for an apartment. We checked a couple of places–one was in the wrong neighborhood, another was offered by a fellow who wanted repairs in exchange for a low rent, but when we fixed it up, he said our rent would go up–not much of a deal. We found an apartment in a building called the Cavendish a few blocks from downtown, on Pearl Street. It was around the corner from the Molly Brown house; the “unsinkable” Molly Brown, who’d survived the Titanic. We rented an efficiency apartment, rolled in an extra bed and planned to get a larger place the next month. I moved in on Sunday.
Monk planned a Monday move, but at the temple that night he chose to become a devotee.
Well, I was in the apartment, but without Monk’s half of the rent I had $1.36 to last until payday. I bought some dried lentils, split peas, rice and had enough left over for a 5¢ pack of unsweetened Kool-Aid. For the next week I ate lentils, lentils with split peas, rice, lentils with rice and split peas, rice with lentils or split peas with rice, all washed down with water or vaguely tart, pinkish Kool-Aid. I was happy beyond words when on Friday I had money to buy a few groceries. I bought bread, apple juice, mayonnaise, mustard, tomato, lettuce, cheese, avocado, etc. and ate real sandwiches. I came to love cold lentils, tomato, lettuce, mayo and brown mustard on wheat bread.
One Friday night after work I visited a co-worker at his apartment, we had a couple beers and smoked some grass, as we called it. An hour or two later I left for home. It was about midnight, but I stopped by a grocery store I thought might be open. It wasn’t, so I drove through the parking lot and made a left turn onto Colfax Avenue.
Unfortunately, Colfax Avenue was divided–two lanes one way, then a cement divider and two lanes on the other side. I discovered, too late, that I was driving in the left lane on the wrong side. A car blasted its horn. Next chance, half a block later, I made a left turn–the quickest way home. I was rattled, and ran the stop sign at the next intersection.
There was a cop waiting on the other side, lights off. He flipped on his flashing red-and-whites. I spun the steering wheel, hard right, into the nearest driveway, an apartment complex parking lot, and parked in the first open space. I shut off my lights and sprinted into the shadows as the cop cruised slowly by. I kept walking; my intent was to come back in twenty minutes. I strolled over to Colfax Avenue. A fellow in a Dodge stopped, asked for directions and offered me a ride. I hopped in and told him my story. He was new in town, and thought I might know some after-hours club where we could grab some drinks and talk to women. I didn’t know any such places; I was under 21 and only knew 3.2 beer joints. He handed me a beer. We drove a few miles out of town, then back again. He had some grass mixed with hash in a briar pipe, and by the time he dropped me off I was flying high. He let me off and I walked around looking for my truck, but I didn’t know exactly where it was. I couldn’t call my friend; I didn’t know his phone number, nor his exact address. I walked the several miles home, and couldn’t get in touch until Monday. I took the bus the next day, walked around an hour or two but couldn’t find my truck, so went back to the apartment and watched TV the rest of the weekend. On Monday night we looked for the truck, but it was dark and we arranged to look again in the daylight. On Tuesday we drove around for a half-hour and finally pulled into a little side-street which turned out to be a dead end. My friend, exasperated, turned around, and in the parking lot, several spaces down, out peeked the cab of my truck! It’d been lost for 3-1/2 days!
After a couple months I was tired of cleaning up at the Air Force base. I was off work too late to have a social life, my best friend was a monk and spring was in the air. One day when I was shopping I met a fellow in the hardware store. He seemed like a nice guy and offered me a job landscaping. I gave my notice at the base.
Lambert Landscaping was based in north Denver, where lots of new houses were going up. He paid better than I’d made on the cleanup crew, but I soon found that landscaping was weather dependent, and sometimes any-other-thing dependent. Some mornings I’d go to work, some mornings not. At first I worked every day, and even regularly picked up a certain hitch-hiker who’d give me whatever cigarettes he had left in his pack. I’d quit smoking a couple years before, but started again on my arrival in Colorado—only if someone offered me a cigarette. I quit, yet again, a month or so later.
My Neighbor
On my days off I’d tune into the Watergate hearings then going on. Late in the afternoon I’d go out, and one day the gal from the next apartment was sitting on the porch. She said hello, and I visited her that afternoon. Shirley was five years older, divorced and far more experienced than I. She worked, she told me, as a party girl in a nearby bar, talking to men and getting them to buy her drinks, which the bar served to her alcohol-free. This satisfied my nonexistent curiosity about what a “party girl” was, then she and I and Donna from across the hall watched TV for awhile. Shirley made everyone sandwiches, then Donna left.
It was a small apartment, and Shirley and I had lounged on the bed while her friend sat on the couch. After Donna left, Shirley hiked her skirt above her panties and suggested I come closer. She planted a big open-mouthed kiss on me, unsnapped my cut-off jeans and pulled them down. I was instantly excited as they dropped to the floor. I hadn’t worn underwear–a hippie thing–and pulled off her panties as she wiggled her dress over her head. She had small breasts and didn’t need a bra, though nobody wore one at that time anyway. She was wet, I was stiff. We didn’t take long. We lounged around awhile, then she rose and got a damp towel. She did a few housekeeping chores as I watched her move, naked, then she brought me a cold drink. We watched TV, and did it again. She had to go to work, so we shared another wet kiss and I left for my apartment.
When I kissed her I knew she smoked, but she denied it and said the cigarettes on her windowsill were left by a friend. I saw her every day that week, and next I kissed her, I knew she’d quit. I really liked Shirley. I sewed her clothes, drew up astrology charts, walked around the neighborhood and went to lunch with her, but when she started talking about love I told her, gently, sweetly, honestly as I could that no, I didn’t love her, that I wasn’t sure what I felt. She was kind and caring, and I really liked her, but I wasn’t sure. That was good enough for her. She kissed me and with great enthusiasm replied that she really liked me, too. Through the fall, I’d see her a few times a week; sometimes we’d go to lunch. Sometimes, when she had a male visitor, she’d turn me away. I didn’t mind; I’d visit later.
Donna would often be at Shirley’s. I wasn’t particularly attracted to Donna, but liked her well enough. We’d tell stories, including our sexual adventures. Donna told me about a boyfriend who liked to jerk off on her boobies, and Shirley in a roundabout way suggested a three-way, but I was way too dense and naive to understand. It simply sounded strange. Never happened. I wasn’t ready.
At least for a few years.
The summer continued. I worked when I could, and followed the Watergate hearings. I’d been writing to Liz in California; she sent a few letters, but not nearly as many as I’d hoped. Despite my domestic arrangement, my heart still belonged to Liz, or would’ve, had I not left. We were both inexperienced. Love was a great unknown.
I was finding things about my employer in the meantime. He seemed a nice guy, but had a temper. We worked sometimes with two of his young sons, and he’d rage at them, mercilessly. His name was Bob, his older son Bobby. Bobby was twelve, and when he’d rake dirt or roll sod Bob would hound him, screaming at him to work faster, faster, faster–though Bobby was going as fast as he could. Eventually Bob would punch Bobby in the shoulder, hard. The younger son was named Billy, and Billy got his share of screaming too, though not as many punches. Bob’s wife stayed at home with their other four kids, harried, not happy. Bob had been to prison years before, but I never found out why. He was 37, but looked middle-aged. He smoked too much, had a pot belly, was graying and balding and the way he raged I was sure he was headed for a heart attack.
In modern terms, he abused those boys. It wasn’t unusual. He was going to beat up on his boys until they were big enough to fight back, which I’m sure they did. I took Bobby aside one day and told him that quite soon he was going to be bigger and stronger than his dad. One day Bobby was going to get smacked around once too often, and beat the crap out of his dad. Bobby looked at me with the gratitude that only a beaten-down 12-year-old can have towards a 19-year-old who tells him he’ll turn out all right. I knew I was his hero. I’d changed his life.
Lambert Landscaping was a poorly organized company. There was a fellow from Casper, Wyoming I’d pick up in the morning, but sometimes we’d wait on Bob til noon. One day we went to Bob’s house and Bob wasn’t there at all. After waiting a half-hour I hot-wired his ’49 Chevy truck and we finished a job. Bob was happy with our initiative, and asked me how to hot-wire a truck!
Towards summer’s end I wasn’t working enough to pay the rent, nor was I being paid consistently. I had to do something.
My brother had visited California that summer. He went to the old neighborhood for a few weeks, then rode the bus back through Denver. Liz came with him. It was lovely to see her again; she stayed a week, and we explored the town together. We slept together, while my brother stayed with a friend.
I was out of money, so Rob and I decided to drive to North Carolina together. He cashed in his bus ticket, Liz went back to California, and my brother and I started East.
Neither of us wanted to drive straight through. Our father always had, and we were heartily sick of that habit. We set a course which took us through several states we’d never seen–from Colorado to Nebraska, south through Kansas to Oklahoma, through Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee. We wanted adventure. We attracted attention; everyone had a story or a question about a Model A. In Nebraska a cop told us about the road and towns ahead; in Oklahoma we stopped to read the map in the headlights (there wasn’t a light in the cab) and a couple cops pulled up to chat and help us out. I was accustomed to this; I’d been driving a Model A for three years. It was new for Rob, who’d previously had nothing but bad experiences with cops.
We had a little trouble in Arkansas. The generator gave out in the middle of the night. The lights dimmed, and I started moving slower. I passed an exit where there appeared to be nothing and went to the next, where I was pulled over by the flashing red-and-yellow lights of an Arkansas state trooper. I shut off the headlights but left the engine running, as I explained to the trooper that I wasn’t going the minimum 55 mph then required on the freeway (MINIMUM, not MAXIMUM), due to electrical problems, that I couldn’t shut off the engine because it probably wouldn’t start again; that I pulled off at this exit instead of the last one because I saw a building there. He wasn’t happy, but let me go, and my brother and I pulled into the parking lot of a factory, where we dozed off. In the morning I pulled the generator. One of the workers said he had a Model A generator at home, so after lunch he sold it to us for $10. I put my “new” generator in the truck, and while Rob drove I fiddled with the old one. The new generator was charging erratically, and after an hour or two it quit. I put the old generator back in. It worked fine as I cleaned up the “new” generator, adjusted the brushes, put it back together—then my “old” one quit. I swapped them out again, and a couple hours later, I’d finally did some major surgery on the old generator, pulling a wire a full turn off the fields, scraping the end bare and wrapping it around an exterior screw. When I switched the generators for the fourth time, the original worked! It was fine for the rest of the trip, and for a long time afterwards.
The $10 generator, and a trip to the parts store, had put a kink in our piggy bank. We bought a large bag of peanuts and a gallon of apple juice, then reserved the rest for gas. From that point on we drove straight through. I drove while he slept; he drove while I slept.
The tailpipe/muffler to a Model A is one piece, which attaches to the manifold on the passenger side. If you have to turn around at some point and find yourself bouncing through a ditch that’s a little deeper than it looks, as we did a couple hundred miles from our goal, the tailpipe can get caught on an obstruction and bend the connection to the manifold. Since the floorboards are just that, boards, it’s drafty, and the exhaust gases can drift through. I took some metal tape I’d bought to use on the generator and (serendipity!) wrapped it over the connection, but the air in the cab was still polluted, even with both windows rolled down. I periodically woke my brother to make sure he was OK, and he did the same for me. We arrived in Boone, NC in the early morning and went to a friend’s for showers. Jerry’s apartment was in a long, low building near downtown Boone, and supplied by a well. It had the charming habit of running out, not of HOT water, but of COLD. Rob took his shower, but while I showering the water suddenly turned scalding hot. I slammed it off and jumped out, covered in shampoo. I had to wait half an hour, covered in suds and goo, then barely finished before the water went hot again. A year later the landlord discovered the entire complex was made of wormy chestnut, and was worth ten times as much if he tore the apartments down, so he did.
Rob and I climbed back into the truck and started the 3 miles home, but before we’d gotten halfway, the truck quit and coasted down the hill, out of gas. With our last bit of momentum we pulled into a gas station. I had a penny and he had a quarter. We started to pump the last of our pocket change into the tank when our aunt, uncle and cousins pulled out of the motel across the street. They’d been visiting for the weekend and were leaving for South Carolina, but saw us at the last second. My uncle filled the tank and we all went back to visit for another day. It was supposed to be a surprise that I was coming back, but my father had let the cat out of the bag and all my aunts and cousins were at the house to greet us. He never knew how to keep a secret.
On the Farm
I unloaded the truck and packed my stuff into the little bedroom upstairs where my brother had stayed with his friend Arthur. Arthur’s parents had split and he’d come to North Carolina to live with my family for six months. For summer vacation he and Rob visited the old neighborhood in California. Arthur stayed.
The old farmhouse had seen better days. It’d been unoccupied for a long time after my grandmother had left to live with my aunt in town, and patched up for some summer renters, but when my parents arrived in January of 1973 it was barely habitable. Snow blew through cracks in the walls and the old oil heater in the living room barely kept one person warm—if that person were sitting on top of it, wrapped in a blanket. The floor had rotted through in several places, including the bathroom, and had been patched with pieces of plywood. Our winter routine was to sleep in long johns, run to the kitchen, make coffee and breakfast and take turns sitting on the heater. My father put a television aerial way up on the mountain, but the signals for the two or three stations available were so weak and snowy it wasn’t worth the trouble. Everyone listened to the local radio station, and little else. The radio station had only recently become legal–for decades, WATA had operated from the middle of downtown Boone with no license at all.
It was a huge change for me to arrive that September to a town of three or four thousand inhabitants. Most of them had never been more than a few hundred miles from home. I’d lived in cities of a million plus, but here the “night life” was a single restaurant which closed at 9:30, and didn’t serve beer. Blowing Rock, eight miles away, had a half-dozen beer-and-wine bars and a single ABC store, which sold liquor. They’d held a referendum on alcohol sales a few years before, which had been scheduled for February in hopes that the summer residents, who mostly supported alcohol sales, would be out of town. Enough of them, though, came back to vote. Beer in the package stores was sold warm, though, on the apparent theory that nobody would down a warm beer while driving.
I didn’t know many folks in town. I had lots of family, and my siblings’ friends knew me as the older brother, but I knew none of them. I’d be introduced to to a complete stranger and they’d tell me they were my third cousin from this or that branch of the family, whose uncle had married my grandmother’s brother’s daughter, none of whose names I recognized. I’d drive to the bars and meet girls, but hadn’t been to anywhere they knew, nor what many of their favorite activities were, and often could hardly understand what they said. I asked a cute girl one night where she was from. She said “Washington”, and I asked her, “D.C. or the state?” It seemed a normal question, but she practically curled into a ball and replied, “Washington, North Carolina”, in a way which made me want to pull my foot out of my mouth with pliers. I’d never heard of Washington, North Carolina–or “the first Washington”, as they proudly call it. I had no idea where it was, nor any of the towns she knew around the state. She felt like a total hick talking to me, and there was little I could do to change it.
I wasn’t up on local lore, had little in common with anyone, didn’t look, dress, talk or act like a local, and couldn’t find a job. I spent most of my time fixing up the old farmhouse and reading books. I moved out of the claustrophobic bedroom I shared with my brother–the first time since I was a toddler that I’d shared a room–and into an even tinier camper, propped up on blocks in the driveway–cramped, but mine.

I did make a few friends. Marcus lived on Deck Hill, a mile or so from Winkler’s Creek, and his friend Bobby and I helped him celebrate his eighteenth birthday that December. He bought his first bottle of champagne.

There were dozens of animals. My little dog Linus had been with us for years, and we’d acquired three ponies, a cow, two goats, some chickens and several more dogs and cats.
It was chaos. The chickens perched on chairs on the rotted-out back porch and crapped on everything, the goats climbed on the front porch and crapped on everything. The cats crawled under the beds and crapped in the corners. The ponies broke out and ran everyone ragged. The cow ran off and hid in the woods. The dogs barked and chased everything and everyone, at all hours.
I found myself going stir-crazy, in a decrepit house, in a tiny town, with nothing to do. No job, no prospects. I read books when there wasn’t enough money to buy materials to fix the house (my father was once again a barber, but barbering was slow in 1973), and so December found me living in a camper in the driveway and reading “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” by William Shirer, a massive book. It was the first time I’d read, in depth, about the second World War, and it so blew my mind that when I finished its 1600 pages I immediately flipped it over and read it through, again. I did very little else for a week, then was buttonholed by a fellow in an Army uniform coming out of the post office. He started talking about the weather and such, but soon tried to recruit me into the Army. I thought about it for a week, and talked it over with my father, who was as surprised as I was by the thought. I decided to join the Navy.
On December 28th, 1973 I signed up. The Navy recruiter got a bonus for signing me before the new year, but the Army recruiter should’ve got the credit.
I rode the plane to the Great Lakes Naval Training Center, known as “Glakes” in Navy slang, with four other North Carolinians. The five of us became members of the last company formed that year, number 440.
We arrived outside Chicago just after Christmas. We brought nothing but the clothes on our backs. Uncle Sam was gonna take care of the rest.
Nineteen seventy-three wasn’t a good year for fashion, and none of my woven purple or striped lime green civilian duds obstructed the fierce, bone-chilling winds blowing from Lake Michigan. I was wearing dress-up half-boots made of a new synthetic miracle plastic which froze like iron around my ankles and slipped all over on the ice. My shirt and pants, in common with the other Southern recruits, were 100% polyester—the chunky, scratchy kind whose great selling point was that it didn’t need ironing. After a couple years it proved so horridly uncomfortable that polyester was universally abandoned, and wrinkles became a fashion statement. I’d bought a new winter coat before I’d left, which was adequate for North Carolina, but it failed to cover my polyester-clad butt, which in the cold was soon as purple as my pants. We arrived on a Friday and shivered all weekend in the civvies we’d worn flying in, but took cheer waiting in the interminable lines seeing the pea coats and knit wool caps we’d be issued on Monday. On Monday afternoon, New Year’s Eve, we went to get them–and both were out! We got baseball caps, flimsy little windbreaker jackets and raincoats instead, which even all worn together were still totally inadequate. At least we were all suffering equally now–the guys from New York, Ohio, Minnesota were now wearing the same two layers of cloth as those of us from North Carolina, Alabama, Georgia. It was about ten days before we got pea coats and something to cover our ears.
On Jan 1, 1974 I made a new year’s resolution to quit smoking–yet again. It was easy to do; there was a lounge which was the only place smoking was allowed, where we could only go a couple times per day. The smell was overwhelming, nasty even by 1973 standards. I stayed in the compartment with the six or eight guys who didn’t smoke, and in a week or so had no desire to.
Based on certain tests, one of our “gang of five” was chosen as Recruit Chief Petty Officer and wore a chief’s stripes, three chevrons with an arc over the top, on his right sleeve. Four other fellows wore three chevrons with no arc–First Class stripes–and were in charge of various aspects of life in boot camp, including Educational Petty Officer or EPO, another North Carolina guy. A few more were chosen for Second and Third Class stripes—squad leaders and such. I started with two stripes.
The company commander of 440 was a nasty little man, five feet tall and a hundred pounds, with a voice that could cut gravel and a personality to match. He was a gunnery chief with an armful of gold hash marks, representing over 20 years’ service without getting into trouble. Before we left boot camp he’d have neither his chief’s stripes nor his gold.
I managed to stay out of his way and keep my squad in line–not that it was difficult–for the next couple weeks. A few guys dropped out or were held back for various reasons–one was too young, another flunked the physical–and some decided they wanted the hell out and did whatever it took to get a general discharge and go home. Our EPO, another North Carolina guy, climbed into the bunk of a recruit who also wanted out, where they pretended to be gay. He was replaced by another of the five North Carolinians, a two-striper like me. By that time I’d been held back myself; I supposedly needed glasses, as did another of our gang of five, and with a couple other guys we were placed in Company 004, one of the first formed in 1974.
I loved Company 004, which I found ironic, this being the sort-of-reverse-of 440. Our company commander was also the reverse of the nasty little gunny; a big, genial fellow with a spring in his step. We soon had another round of tests, and the stripes were shuffled around. I gained a stripe and became EPO for Company Four. Our recruit chief switched with his assistant, for the loss of a stripe and an easier job, and the remaining fellow from our group of five, still in company 440, became Company Clerk. Five of us had flown together from North Carolina, and at the end, all five of us wore 3 chevrons out the gate!
Boot camp wasn’t exactly fun, though after joining Company Four it was okay. I was older than most, at 20, which was nice. In school I’d always been the youngest. There were only two recruits older than me. One fellow was 31 and had been a chief in the Turkish navy. He’d married an American girl, and received special permission to join the American navy, whose normal cutoff age was 29. Ozkan, or Oscar as we called him, seemed all business, but knew how to game the system. He’d line up in the back of his squad when we went to chow, and slip undetected onto the rear of whatever squad led the way that day, saving himself ten or fifteen minutes of waiting in the cold. Those of us with stripes on our shoulders would be noticed; we could do no such thing. If our squad was sixth in line, we’d lose twenty minutes of lunchtime. Some guys skipped the meal and hung out in the compartment on the days their squad was at the back. Not me.
There were a few companies in training who’d come from other countries; they spoke different languages and marched in a different manner, some clicking their heels, some saluting with palm outwards, etc. We’d seen them around the base, but had little interaction with them; they’d come from Saudi Arabia and several other smaller countries and wore uniforms which varied in details. Oscar knew which countries most of these guys were from, and the rules they had to follow. There’d been an incident in an American port. A couple sailors were hung, for murder, on the deck of a Turkish ship–in full view of some American sailors. This had caused a diplomatic incident, and was one of the reasons Oscar was happy to leave the Turks and join the Americans.
There were lots of classes to attend. Some were interesting, others dull as dirt. I loved the classes on hardware–which ship did what, how they were constructed, their propulsion systems, types of instruments, maintenance. We learned the rudiments of what each rating did and suffered through pep talks about joining the sub service or the flight crew or serving in Alaska, none of which appealed to me. I wanted to be a quartermaster and learn navigation, but was told I’d have to wait six months for quartermaster school. Several other ratings were available right now, if I didn’t want to spend that much time in boot.
This was deceptive. I might not have been in boot camp all that time, but that was the impression I got, and I didn’t want a discharge, which was the other option—it wasn’t exactly disgraceful, but it would’ve been a letdown–so I signed up as a Machinist Mate. It sounded interesting, but I didn’t realize Machinist Mates spent almost all their time in “the hole”, or engine compartment. It’s incredibly hot and muggy on a steam-driven ship, and you’re not on deck when your ship leaves or pulls into port. When on deck, relaxing, you’re in the open ocean, but as soon as you see land, way off on the horizon, it’s down in the hole until you dock, an hour later.
I didn’t know, though. Boot camp was extended two weeks for the holidays, and for me another week when I “needed” glasses. We went swimming a few times a week, and were divided into categories based on ability. I was in the “low” category, because I was slow, but I could swim reasonably well–we’d had a full-size pool in Granada Hills.
There was another category, non-swimmers, of which there were a surprising number who’d joined the Navy. Lots of them were black guys, one or two Hispanics, but no white guys. The non-swimmers had to learn to take off their pants, tie knots in the legs, FWOP them full of air and flail across the pool. Only one or two guys couldn’t manage it.
Watch duty rotated among the guys. There was always a recruit by the compartment door, on a four-hour shift. There were Eleven General Orders of a Sentry, but the main one was to challenge everyone who came to the door and shout “Attention on Deck!” when anyone who wasn’t a recruit walked in. The recruit chief and a few others had taken to the habit of filing into the laundry room late at night for an unauthorized smoke break, in an unauthorized room, at an unauthorized time, and this presented me with conflicting duties. Some of the the smokers outranked me. I wasn’t supposed to leave my post, but I was also supposed to notice what was going on, and I didn’t like my skivvies smelling like smoke. I walked the five steps to the laundry room, opened the door and told them they were all on report. They piled out and threatened me six ways to Sunday, but I said I was the sentry, I was on duty, and I was supposed to report what was going on. They angrily filed off to their bunks, and the atmosphere was tense the next morning, but I didn’t mention it in my report. I told them later that I still had no intention of getting in trouble, and that the late-night smoke breaks were over.
Only once did I handle a gun. This was the Navy, after all, not the Army or the Marines. We filed off to the shooting range, took ten shots with a .22 in standing position, ten in kneeling position and ten lying down. I did well; I’d picked off hundreds of flies with my BB gun as a kid.
Service Week
Towards the end of boot we had Service Week, a week spent helping run the base. When we’d arrived we’d spent three weeks with our Service Week recruit, as he’d gotten shafted over the holidays for the two extra weeks. He seemed utterly poised to the rest of us, though he continually told us he was just a little further along in training. Now it was our turn to be self-assured, as we saw how far we’d come.
We were assigned to various places. I started in the “gedunk”, cleaning up and hanging out in the bowling alley at night, where I’d manage to sneak a strictly contraband beer or two after hours and talk with the regular sailors from the base or the fleet. After three blissful days, however, I was suddenly reassigned to the galley, to wash thousands of clanging, banging steel trays coming through the conveyor covered with grease and chunks of rice. I got through breakfast and partway through lunch before I sat down, covered my ears and refused to budge.
They came and got me. I talked with the shrink for a little while, and told him it wasn’t so much the banging and crashing. It was the never quite getting done. Almost finish one batch of trays, and two or three or ten more would suddenly clang through. I didn’t mention the biggest reason, that I was vegetarian and hated smelling like gravy. Boot camp was stressful enough, getting up early, doing hundreds of pushups, etc., but the smell was too much. He said it’d be OK if I wanted to go into the bathroom and cry. I did, for a little while. The next day I went to work in the “deep sink”, where I and another guy wore rubber aprons, boots and gloves and used high pressure hot water to wash the huge vats used to cook 50 gallons of beans at a time. It was warm and relatively quiet; not as much fun as the gedunk, but in midwinter the fog and steam were pleasant.
By the end of boot camp we’d become a unit. It’s subconscious. We trusted our buddies. If something needed to be done we’d say so, and leave it, secure they wouldn’t screw it up. Unconsciously, we’d walk along chatting and slip into a marching step. General Robert E. Lee, after his war, marched consciously and purposely out of step, deliberately enjoying his civilian status.
After Service Week, one side of the compartment had a liberty weekend. They came back the next morning thoroughly trashed, barely able to roll out of their bunks. The next weekend it was our turn, and about a dozen of us took a train ride to Kenosha, Wisconsin. We all wore the “bus-driver” dress blues–the uniform chosen by Elmo Zumwalt which everyone hated, but all recruits had to wear. We all got drunk, and were propositioned by “party girls”; recruits are a good source of income. It always has been and always will be. A fellow from Kentucky and I were walking along when a couple black girls drove by and asked us if we wanted a date. We said yes, piled into their car and went back to their apartment. I settled with the two of them for $20 apiece, and the plumper one asked me who was dating who. I was tongue-tied, inexperienced, and hadn’t socialized with a woman in months. I reached over and pinched her on the butt. She laughed and said to her friend, “he just pinches”. Our date lasted about ten minutes, after which we shared a towel and one of her beers and talked about Navy life; I was too shy to talk very much. My friend and his date emerged from the other room and we all washed up–the Navy had shown us plenty of films about what happened if you didn’t. It was a lovely afternoon. My friend asked me how much he owed me. I told him $20. He told me I should have “jewed them down” to $10. Personally, I didn’t care. I was well satisfied.
After our liberty weekend, we were slow to roll out as well. The recruit in charge of the compartment, always a loudmouth, started telling us all to get out, and I, equal in rank, told him to lay off, that none of us had bothered his side the weekend before. He came over, screamed at me and pushed me down. I got back up and nearly punched the fat red stupid turd, but maintained my composure and told him that not a damned one of us was going to leave until we were damned well good and ready. He blustered and shouted and waved his hands, but I went back to my puttering around and told him in a low, menacing voice that I was not leaving and HE couldn’t make me. I stayed in the compartment while his team cleaned up around me. None of the rest left until they were damned well good and ready, and I didn’t leave at all. I gained a lot of respect from the guys that day.
One of the few perks of wearing three chevrons was to not stand watch. I filled out papers and coached the clueless, but after I got the third stripe I didn’t stand watch, except for one final time. It was our last week, and the top brass came to inspect the company. I’d been chosen on this most-important-of-all occasion because I’d been teaching everyone else how to do it for 2 months. My watch started just at sunrise. Our compartment was on the second floor of the compound, a blocky, E-shaped building three stories high. I was standing in the middle wing of the “E”, facing southeast, while the other wing blocked the sunrise across a narrow courtyard. On this morning, the sun started to stream in through both sets of the low, squat, rectangular windows of the opposite third-floor compartment just as the Star-Spangled Banner started to play. Its rays illuminated me full in the face from the first note of the anthem until the last, and as the song ended, the sun passed on. I took it as an omen–of what, I didn’t know, but we aced that inspection and all the others. For the final week of boot, our company carried around all the colorful achievement flags. For me, as Educational Petty Officer, the best was the academic flag, which we’d never before carried. Two guys from a group of seven who’d joined together, all from an inner-city Philadelphia neighborhood, had flunked out and been reassigned, so the rest decided to flunk as well, to stay with their pals. Without them, my company was the best, academically, in the competition. As EPO, I got to carry the flag; a final, parting glory. We also carried a special “Color Company” flag, for earning all the others; five in all—red, blue, yellow, green and the multicolor “Color Company” banners. A grand slam.
So in the end, we did well. When graduation came I told all the guys that as soon as I got out the gate I was starting a little bonfire and burning my stripes, but I didn’t. We got our regular stripes–mine was red, as a fireman or “snipe”. The deck apes got white. Blue, green etc. stood for “airman”, “submariner”, and whatnot. Most of us got a single hash mark; a few who’d already had some military training had two or three; those with some college had a single chevron and Oscar, now a chief, had three chevrons with an arc over the top! The only person who’d lost rank was the nasty little gunny, company commander of 440. Nasty had gotten pissed when he’d asked a couple of recruits, against regulations, to do some personal errand and they’d refused. He made them run around the building in the dark, carrying two huge, heavy ordnance shells. One slipped on the ice and broke his arm, and nasty little gunny lost a rank. He appeared at graduation with 3 chevrons and an armful of red, not gold, hashmarks, outranked by our fellow recruit Ozkan Ozkosar!
After graduation, we once again had liberty. A few of us went to Waukegan, Illinois and caught a movie, but this time we didn’t get so trashed. We’d learned that the bus driver uniforms had a bad habit of ejecting the wallets of anyone who sat down, and that leaving them in jacket pockets when going off to dance was a bad idea, too. One of the last things most of us did before leaving boot was to buy the OLD uniforms to wear home!
“A” School
Boot camp was over now. I returned to North Carolina, but didn’t go out much; I felt like a skinned rabbit in my boot-camp haircut, even when I covered up with one of my home-made hats. Pretty soon it was time to go back to Glakes for “A” school, where I’d learn to be a Machinist Mate.
“A” school was more relaxed than boot camp, and it was springtime, so the weather was better. We’d go to class early, but had our evenings free; there were two of us to a room instead of 100, and we’d occasionally see women on base, walking by or sitting on a bench. Outside of the few who gave us shots and the like (the cholera shot was the worst) there were no women in boot camp. Here, they’d walk around, their hair shining in the sun. We’d take buses into town, and occasionally a train to Chicago or Waukegan.
Chicago on St. Patrick’s Day is not to be missed! Green everywhere. Even the river is green! I spent the entire day. I bought a green beer, which was refilled for free, several times, as I hung out on the street. In civilian life, I was a master at Fooz-ball; that afternoon I went to a bar and put a quarter on the table. I’d often do that, put a quarter down and play for beers; usually I could stay for a couple hours and get drunk on one quarter. I was excellent on offense, and preferred the German tables to the French, especially when playing defense. I’d shoot a little pool too, usually for a dollar a game, but would rarely do better than break even.
Soon enough, “A” school wrapped up. I’d been issued a blanket when I’d arrived, which had been stolen early on, but I hadn’t needed it. Towards the end of school, when I knew I was going to be charged for it, saw one sitting next to an open door and scooted off with it. I suppose I wasn’t the first, or the last, in that chain.
The Ponchatoula
A week or so before “A” school was over, I got my orders. We’d filled out some forms which asked in a general way where we’d like to go and what type of ship we’d prefer, but had no guarantee. I’d marked mine for the Pacific, and checked off all the ships that weren’t carriers or subs. When my orders came through, my destination was marked “QPH”. I had no idea what it meant. I asked and was told that it meant Pearl Harbor, Hawaii–and then I looked over and saw the name of my ship. The Ponchatoula. An Indian princess! The past came back, slapped me in the face and took my breath away! The gypsy girl had been correct! I’d gone from California hippie to a Navy sailor, in a year and a half. The situation I’d been mooning over with my blonde not-a-girlfriend had been resolved shortly afterwards with a kind but definitely discouraging note; I was heading for Hawaii, and my ship was named after an Indian princess–with a name similar to, but not quite, “Pocahontas”! In fact, exchange the “s” in Pocahontas for the “ul” in Ponchatoula, and it’s an anagram.
I guess it’s no surprise a fellow christened Davy Jones would find himself living on a ship, though didn’t occur to me at the time. After another short vacation I flew to San Francisco, then Honolulu. I had a window seat, and watched the sun set over the Pacific. Since we were flying southwest at a speed approaching the movement of the sun, the sunset lasted for hours. Nowhere else can the sunset be as spectacular as on the western coast of the Americas. The sun sets into a vast expanse of water, the biggest on the planet, and the water breaks the light into the subtle but distinct colors of the rainbow in wide bands, bathing the horizon in reds and oranges and yellows, continuing through a narrow strip of green to blues and indigoes and violet as the sky recedes to the far side of the meridian; stars and planets blinking through.
We were greeted with leis, or as we put it, we all got lei’d, and had an hour or two to grab a bite before continuing to our ultimate destination, which we’d learned only a day or two before was not Hawaii, but Guam. It was quite late when we left for Guam, and we all slept through the very long plane ride. Tuesday became Wednesday at the date line, which is why Guam license plates have the tag line, “Where America’s Day Begins”. Even though it’s much closer to Asia and Australia than it is to Hawaii, Guam is still the land of the dollar bill.
An important strategic island during World War II, Guam is largely jungle. Agana is the capital, which has a quirky feel due to its being bombed nearly out of existence in the war, bulldozed into the sea and rebuilt according to a grid plan laid out by the Navy with no account for the vagaries of established property lines. As a result, oddly-angled buildings sprang up on the rectilinear city blocks, with property owners rebuilding on the trapezoids and triangles left to them when their lots were bisected by the new street plan, with parking lots angled in strange ways to match.
My ship was in overhaul when I arrived in Guam. The facilities were inadequate to refurbish a tanker, but the new base commander had previously been the Ponchatoula’s captain, so the Guam drydock was chosen for the renovation of his former ship.
The Ponch had already been docked for over six months, and the crew wasn’t happy about it. Navy rules said that if a renovation was gong to take more than five months, their wives and families would be flown over. The Ponch was nearly 20 years old and had just been through a war. It should’ve been clear to Navy brass that the overhaul would last longer than five months, but now the sailors wouldn’t be able to see their families for what in the end was nearly a year. I was greeted at the quarterdeck that first day by a fellow snipe, standing watch in his greasy utility uniform, with a heartfelt “Welcome to the most Fucked Up ship in the Navy!” Sandy was his nickname; he’d been aboard for three years and had the attitude typical of short-timers; do what you have to do and nothing else, because pretty soon you’ll be gone.
Because the renovation of the engine room was nearly finished, There wasn’t much left for machinist mates to do. The bilges had been mucked and painted, the cracks in the hull welded and the huge turbines renovated. We did a little painting the Navy way, pouring gobs of red lead paint on the bulkheads (“walls”, to landlubbers), pushing it around a bit with a brush and letting it flow down and fill in all the cracks. Paint on a ship is for protection, not looks. In the closed compartments below decks the lead fumes from the paint made us loopy and drunk. I spent much of the time singing stupid songs from the 50’s at high volume. When working at the rental yard I noticed that a particularly high percentage of painters were drunks, and thought it likely lead in paint was the reason–alcohol would wash the lead out of the bloodstream.
We didn’t work every day; we were on “port” and “starboard” duty. Those of us in the bunks on the port (left) side of our compartment worked one day and had the next day off, while those on the starboard side took the other shift. As a result there were a dozen guys or so from the engine and boiler rooms whom we only saw occasionally, and another dozen who’d regularly hang out together. I’d have said we partied together, but there were about forty guys to every girl on Guam, and without both sexes, it’s hard to call it a party.
One of my first days on Guam I went swimming in the pool on base; I was only in the water for 20 minutes or so but got fried. The sun is intense at 8 degrees from the equator and I’d been bundled up all winter. I haven’t made that mistake again.
I never wore the “bus driver” uniform after boot camp. I’d bought a complete set of the old uniforms–Dixie cup hat, dress white jersey with bell-bottom pants, wool dress blues with 13-button pants, blue jean dungaree pants, button-up blue shirt. I didn’t like any of the new uniforms, dress nor utility. Nobody did, in fact the Navy itself featured the old uniforms in their recruiting posters and advertising. Admiral Elmo Zumwalt was the new head of the Navy, and most of his ideas were great. He sent out what became known as Z-grams, which changed many aspects of Navy life. It was the reason I’d chosen the Navy. We could sport beards, and our haircuts weren’t extreme, but the new uniforms were horrible. They were based on the officer’s uniforms, but cheaper looking. Undistinguished. Nobody knew if you were a sailor or a doorman. When on liberty the shirttails would untuck themselves, and the jacket and “bus driver” hat got in the way. The old style pants pockets were nigh impossible to pick, a great advantage to a drunken sailor. The new style pants practically picked themselves. Sit down, and when you arose your wallet or keys or change would be lying on the chair. To put your stuff in your jacket was no better. It was stiff and uncomfortable. Sooner or later you’d leave it on the back of a chair, and there was always someone who noticed. The hat couldn’t be folded up and stuffed in a pocket, either. I didn’t wear my new style dress blues even once after I’d bought the old style uniforms, and never wore the dress whites at all. I had lots of free time, and when I didn’t feel like spending money I’d find a quiet spot and sew. I took the uniforms apart at the seams, and sewed the pieces into a jacket and hat.
I got to be quite good. I needed a hat big enough to fit my head; the largest I could buy was still tight. I’d made a few with an old sewing machine, but this was the first time I’d designed a hat rather than sewing one together from random scraps. I pulled the bell-bottom from a pair of dungarees over my head far enough to seam around the bottom, and put in a hidden inner band I could pull over my ears and neck if needed, put six darts around the top, took a long strip of cloth from my white uniform pants, sewed it into a much larger cylinder and gathered it to fit, sewed it on, gathered the remaining edge and sewed it an an inch and a half above the first. I covered the raw top edge with an inch of denim and sewed white piping over that. It was blue and white, not too floppy, and the extra inch-and-a-half in the brim would scrunch up and hold my head firmly but not tightly. The brim could be compressed upwards for summer or pulled down for fall and looked sharp either way. The brim was also accessible from the inside and made a very large secret pocket. I was so pleased with it that I made a matching jacket as well. I took a pair of dungaree bell-bottoms and used the legs for sleeves, incorporating a hidden drawstring just in back of the wrists to tighten up the loose fit when needed. I took the remains of my white pants and covered my back, then my torso with material from the legs. I left it collarless, with a deep cut in the back of the neck so that when it was unbuttoned the sides naturally fell by my side instead of flopping around in front. I put in a couple of secret pockets, took the contrasting blue denim pockets from the dungarees and sewed them sideways on the lower torso, with the darts pointing back instead of down. It looked sharp, and distinctly original. The only part I was dissatisfied with was the odd little curve under the arms, a difficult and counterintuitive cut, but I noodled with that and fixed it too.
While home on my short leave after boot camp, not wishing to display my boot camp haircut, I’d spent a little time with my sewing machine and whipped up a comical, conical hat with a brim formed of twelve triangles. One of my Guam shipmates, also from North Carolina, liked it so much that I sold it to him for a couple bucks—my first crafts sale. He called it his “go to hell hat”, as in “if you don’t like it you can go to hell”, and wore it often.
In the first couple weeks on Guam I hung out with shipmates, drinking beer, exploring and occasionally pestering coconut crabs, large hermit crabs found all over the island. Pour a little beer on them and they leave their shell and scurry off to find another, a reasonably harmless bit of fun.
A few of us knew some hippie types who lived on the outskirts of Agana. Those of us with port-side duty would hang with them one day and our starboard-side shipmates the next, so that several of us knew the same guys but had completely different stories to tell. Guam was a place where those who wanted to get away from everyone who was getting away from it all would go to get away; the furthest reaches of the outer fringe of the very edge of America. We didn’t meet many Guamanians, who largely kept to themselves, but there were several Americans who lived in shacks on the edge of town or in the country. Many lived in houses with no windows. There was no need; a couple of screens sufficed, with shutters or curtains which could be closed for privacy or during bad weather. The top two feet of the living room wall would be open to the air, the roof overhanging by 3 or 4 feet. In the evenings they’d burn incense coils to keep away bugs.
One guy lived a mile or two outside of town in a house he’d built himself, out of scrounged leftovers. One room was made of old beer cans cemented together, another was made of embalming fluid bottles he’d gotten from the local undertaker. In his backyard he’d accumulated a quantity of junk, shoved into old cars and low sheds or sheltered from the weather in old washing machines laid on their sides or refrigerators with the locking handles removed. When I was little there’d be stories in the paper a couple times a year. Some kid playing hide and seek would crawl into an old refrigerator, it’d lock behind him. Other kids would open the fridge. He’d tumble out, blue. There was a popular campaign to remove the doors from old refrigerators before discarding them; it seemed to me far easier to disable the latches. Removing the doors required tools and some technical knowledge; disabling the latch took a screwdriver or a hammer, and the fridge could still be safely used for critter-proof storage. Eventually, everyone agreed with me.
None of these guys had locks on their doors. There wasn’t much to protect, nor reason to protect it. If anyone wanted to break in, they’d get little of value and would still be on a tiny island surrounded by a thousand miles of ocean. Policing such a place isn’t hard.
It was interesting to explore. You couldn’t run through the jungle, but it was easy to “bungle”, to hop and swing from roots and branches, and move along nearly as swiftly. There were signs of the war everywhere–chunks of rusty, indeterminately shaped metal next to overgrown and forgotten holes in the ground, pieces of rope and rubber and rotted fabric in places you didn’t expect. When you’d bungle a little way in, all of a sudden there’d be a clearing and a cement airstrip as wide as a Texas highway under the forest canopy, with a hole through the trees over that way and another one over there, where the planes came through. There’d be a burned-out cement-block shack at each end and parking spaces for the planes angled between the trees. The fight for Guam was a tough one, and the signs of it still quite visible 27 years later.
We’d walk to a little island called Rat Island, full of trees and rocks and, presumably, rats–which was separated from Guam by a mile of coral reef, flat and smooth as a board. You could walk all the way, in water that barely wet your ankles. No need to bring snacks; there were tropical fruits and stacks of coconuts which could be broken open and eaten at any stage of ripeness. Young coconuts contain oodles of tart coconut milk, which sprays out under pressure, and the coconut meat attached to the thin white shell is a snot-like jelly which you can scoop out with your fingers. The older, sprouted coconuts have an “apple” inside which has the texture of a watermelon, but is white and not as sweet. Coconut milk is used by all the bakers on the island; it’s much more available than cow’s milk and turns all the bread and pastries a bright lemon yellow.
I spent my 21st birthday on Guam. It wasn’t a big deal; the drinking age was 18 but I went out and got drunk anyway. When I’d turned 18 it wasn’t a big deal either; I couldn’t vote, and aside from a month or so in Colorado before I moved to California, couldn’t legally drink. Registering for the draft could’ve been a big deal, but mine was the first year that practically nobody was drafted; months before, when my lottery number came up 315 (out of 366), I knew I wasn’t going. I was classified 2-H, or “not currently eligible for military service”, and when my draft card came I went outside and symbolically burned it, a totally meaningless gesture by then. By the time I’d turned 21 all the laws had changed. Eighteen was now a big deal; you could vote at 18, drink at 18, and the draft was a non-issue. At my 21st birthday celebration I hadn’t even tried to pick up a girl; there were very, very few around.
One evening a sailor named George got all duded up, and as we waited for the bus we asked him why. It turned out the youngest, geekiest kid on ship, a bespectacled, squeaky 17-year-old named Martin, had met the captain’s daughter, and they were going steady. We were happy for Martin, who needed a girl more than anyone, but it was also a huge challenge to George, who was a little older than the rest of us, and simply SPIT out, “hey, if MARTIN can do it!!!—”.
The only other guy in our compartment who had any luck with girls on Guam was also seventeen. He grew a scraggly goatee and, a few days before we steamed out, sneaked into a bar and picked up a girl who was 25, claiming he was 26 and had just gotten out of the Navy, when actually he was 17 and had just joined.
I’d arrived on Guam on May 3rd, which was a four-hour day for me, as I’d crossed the date line in the early morning. At the end of July we headed back to our home port of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The plan had been to go to Australia next, but the extra four months of overhaul had scuttled that schedule. I’d flown in at about 600 knots, around 650 miles per hour, but we steamed out at 18 knots, about 20 mph.
We steamed through the Pacific the entire last week of July, and because of the dateline twice went through July 29th, the 18th birthday of my first girlfriend Liz. I hadn’t seen her since Denver, nearly a year before, but I’d written her a few times. Now, in the middle of the Pacific, I was a thousand miles away and had no way to contact her. She’d been confused at heart since my brother’s visit to California the previous summer and had been writing him as well, which contributed to my decision to join the Navy. She wasn’t the only girl he ended up spiriting away from me!
Guam to Hawaii took nine days, which was a lot of time to lounge on the afterdeck and look at the clouds. I always seemed to see more than the other guys. My friend would see a duck and a horse. I’d see a donkey with a palm tree on its back, being chased by a frog wearing a propeller. There’s a lot of time to look at clouds in the middle of the ocean; it’s either clouds or water. The clouds are always changing, and the ocean changes too, though much more subtly. The sea colors are different, more green or blue, clear or cloudy, and the waves get bigger or smaller or sometimes vanish completely and the sea really is as smooth as glass. Little bits of stuff float past and a few fish jump and fly away. The whitecaps change character, too, as the water becomes saltier. A dumbass sailor once called me a dumbass for remarking how salty the water was away from the land. He was wrong. It is saltier.
We had a few diversions when we were at sea. A destroyer pulled up beside us for “underway replenishment” or UNREPS; we shot a line at it, connected to a cord, connected to a cable, connected to a superstructure which suspended the giant hoses we used to replenish its fuel. The water was choppy and angry between the two ships for the hour it took, and when finished the destroyer kicked its engines and completely circled our tub in about 5 minutes, going 45 knots to our 12.
We had drills, too. The man overboard drill didn’t go well; our crash-test dummy was sucked into the propellers, and chopped to pieces. We secured hatches, ran up ladders, assembled on the afterdeck. Dale was a fireman who was billeted to the repair crew; his chief was a little guy. Dale had a fire drill, and held onto the hose behind the chief. When Dale twisted the hose to the right, his chief stumbled right. A leftward twist and the chief staggered left. Didn’t have a clue what was happening, but on that drill he couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn!
We also kept a mail buoy watch.
Everyone had their share of watches; we’d go around on the hour, check temperatures and oil levels, fill out papers. It was usually like checking the temperature on the fridge; not much changed. Some watches were exclusive to the engine room and others were shared by everyone on board. The most coveted was the mail buoy watch. You’d sit on the fantail in a life jacket and watch the world go by for four hours, looking for mail buoys.
There’s no such thing as a mail buoy, of course. It’s one of those jokes played on newbies in any profession, like a left-handed monkey wrench. You put a monkey wrench in the new guy’s right hand, tell him it’s the wrong kind and send him to the boss for a left-handed wrench. The boss takes the wrench from his right hand, places it in his left, and that’s a left-handed monkey wrench. Grocery caddies are sent for bag stretchers and buggy pumps. Sailors search for deck levelers and watch for mail buoys.
I don’t know how it was on other ships, but we had mail buoy watch scheduled in just like any other, and was shared among all the departments. Nobody got it often. Nobody complained. It was the most pleasant duty on board.
After nine days at sea we pulled into Pearl Harbor. We put on our dress whites and flew all our flags. The Ponchatoula was the largest tanker of the fleet, the flagship for the AO class. We were AO-148. Guns boomed, the band played, we all lined up on the port side and saluted smartly as we pulled in. It was the one and only time I was on deck when we pulled into port.
Most people know Pearl Harbor. The Japanese attacked on the morning of December 7th, 1941, but many don’t know that the first casualties of that day were actually Japanese. The Japanese had sent midget subs into the harbor before the attack planes arrived, but the new, green skipper of the USS Ward, on his first day of command, spotted one and sank it an hour and a half before the planes arrived. Six aircraft carriers had been steaming towards the harbor, undetected, for almost two weeks. The transmit keys had been removed from all their radios, to insure the carriers didn’t radio their positions, even by chance. The Zeroes launched, and the radar men on Oahu saw the planes coming–but they were dismissed as an approaching group of American B-17s. The Japanese achieved total surprise.
Hawaii was never invaded and fought over as was Guam, where reminders were everywhere. There aren’t many marks left from the attack, except those which have been carefully preserved. There are bullet holes in the old barracks, and a memorial spanning the USS Arizona, where over 1000 sailors sleep forever a few feet underwater. Drops of oil seep out all day every day, and have been doing so for longer than I’ve been alive.
For the next month, as for the two months previously on Guam, we were on port and starboard duty days. We explored Oahu. A couple of the snipes had grown up in the area, and several lived on the island. A Hawaiian machinist mate named Glessner had a sports car, and a couple of us completely circumnavigated the island one Saturday. We left about 10 am, set a leisurely pace, stopped in several places and were finished about 4 pm. We drove through Honolulu and over to Kaneohe on the other side, body-surfed on the North Shore, ate in a little café, hiked to a waterfall, went by Glessner’s house and were back to the base for supper, which was always great on the Navy base. After nine days at sea, chow gets monotonous, especially for a vegetarian. The last couple of days at sea I had rice, chocolate pudding, tea and little else, but when we got to port there were fresh fruits and veggies, juice to drink and real butter. There’s an inter-service rivalry about butter. The Army and Air Force use margarine. The Navy and Marines, butter.
Outside of a bit of maintenance in the engine room, cleaning out the gunk from our sea voyage, there wasn’t much we needed to do, and on our duty days we’d sit doodling in the log book and reading paperbacks. The paperbacks were unauthorized, and we were careful not to be caught reading on duty, but it was child’s play to figure out if someone was sneaking up. In the engine compartment—which was the size of a 3-story house–all the hatches are water and air tight, which meant that if anyone opened a hatch when the air pressure was uneven, a whoosh would alert us ten or fifteen seconds before anyone could descend the ladders (stairs) to the second level, where we were on watch. We’d set the intake fan on low, the exhaust fan on high. Problem solved. A couple of the short-timers even put empty soda cans on the the latches, which clanged loudly down the ladders when someone tried to sneak in. By the time a chief made it down the ladder the book was stowed; checklist in hand, the watchman was going about his business. The checklist was a particularly useless bit of busy work when the ship was setting in port; the temperatures and pressures on the 25 or 30 gauges never varied by more than a click and even the most conscientious would only make two rounds, checking everything when starting watch, copying or “radioing” the next two and checking once more before leaving. The less conscientious would radio everything; there was no way to tell, and it didn’t really matter.
When we were on Guam, the only dope most of us could find were sticks of pot wrapped and tied around a sliver of bamboo called Thai stick, or Buddha dope. A couple guys chased down opium or heroin, and there was also betel nut; not much stronger than coffee but legal at the time in Guam, though not in the states. Most of us smoked dope. Not much of it–Buddha was way stronger than anything available in the states; it was enhanced with opium and a couple tokes did one in more than a full joint of average weed. It was so strong that after awhile I was really happy to run into a little dirt-weed Mexican, which was like enjoying a beer instead of a fifth of tequila.
Pot had always been part of my Navy experience, even in boot camp. In boot, there’d been a landing in the staircase between the first and second floor with an anti-drug poster set into grooved boards top and bottom. One day I got sick of looking at it and flipped the poster around to the blank side. Behind the poster, sitting on the grooved board, was a nice fat joint, which I scooped up and shared with another recruit later that evening.
We had plenty of Buddha dope on the ship, which we’d hide in various places. I had an animal crackers box which wedged perfectly into the I-beam next to my bunk, which I covered with a towel. Nobody ever figured out where I kept my stash, though I could access it in seconds. Everyone else was worried about their stash, either of losing it to someone who found their secret spot or getting busted in a surprise inspection when it was in with their things. I had special pockets sewn into the inseams of all my pants as well, and when in my civvies I’d also hide it inside the hollow brim of my hat, accessible only from behind the sweat band. When on the boat there were several places it was safe to smoke. A favorite was the escape tunnel which led from the bilges up to the deck. There were only two points of access–a hatch on the bottom deck and one four decks above. We could take our checklist, sit in the bottom of the engine room and get high in peace. If anyone opened the engine room hatch we’d feel the air pressure change, and if anyone opened the deck hatch we’d scoot out and secure the bottom. In general, nobody even tried to bust anyone. It wasn’t worth the effort, and would have meant little but a free pass out of the Navy for most of the guys , which they wanted anyway.
On Hawaii the dope situation was the same, except that there was a lot more stuff available than buddha sticks, opium or betel. Hawaii had a truly vibrant and cosmopolitan civilian population, unaffiliated with the military, and a couple of public parks where one could pick up about anything if one looked hard enough. I hadn’t used any psychedelics for three or four years, but a lot of the other sailors had. I was out one night with a buddy when a hit of windowpane acid fell from his hand. We were looking for it on the sidewalk, at night, when a cop walked up and asked what we were doing. We told him we were looking for my buddy’s contact lens. He shone his big flashlight and my friend found his windowpane, which he popped in his mouth (to “clean his contact”). We thanked the cop and went on our way.
I bought a bicycle for $25 when we were on Oahu. It was all the transportation I needed. A couple times I rented a Mazda to try out their new rotary engines. Four of us went for a ride, and I let all the guys drive. Late in the afternoon a fellow named Norris, at a confusing intersection, made an illegal turn. The cops pulled him, and in a panic he asked me if he could borrow my license. Without thinking, I let him, and he pretended to be me. We looked enough alike that he pulled it off, but not without a tense couple of seconds when he gave the wrong date of birth. He got a ticket, and made sure that he paid it without going to court; neither of us wanted to touch it with a ten-foot pole. The crazy thing was, he was legal anyway. When he’d joined the Navy he’d had a provisional permit, good for two weeks, from his home state of Louisiana. It had expired three years before, but according to Navy regulations was still valid while he was in the Navy. He hadn’t wanted to pull out his long-expired, two-week paper permit, so he borrowed mine. According to the laws of Hawaii, it was legal for me to drive on my license from North Carolina, Navy or not, as long as it hadn’t expired; there was no residency requirement one way or the other. For him to drive on mine, though, was obviously illegal, anywhere at any time. In any case he paid the ticket, and that was the end of it.
After that I rode the bus, which was cheap and efficient in Hawaii, or rode my bike. I often biked across the island on my days off. There was a mountain range on the Waikiki side, then a long, wide valley dotted with portable roadside stands which chased the ripening pineapples, then another ridge of steep, round-topped mountains, followed by the lush greenery of the North Shore. I’d start in the morning on the dry Waikiki side with a water bottle and by the time I reached the North Shore I’d be loaded up with mangoes, dates, coconuts, passionfruit and whatever, all of which grew by the roadside. I’d put them in a carry-all I’d made from a pair of cut-off jeans, which hung perfectly on the bar between my legs. By the time I got back to the base, usually in time for dinner, it’d be loaded full.
Eventually our port & starboard duty days ran out, and it was back to normal workdays. When in port we had regular hours, but at sea we’d have eight hours’ work with four-hour watches, which depending on what we were doing could amount to twenty-hour days. If a watch started at midnight, we’d get off at four, get four hours of sleep, work 8-4 and stand another watch from 4-8. If the ship were then pulling into port, refueling another or doing pretty much anything except steaming along in open seas we might again be up ’til midnight. The sleep deprivation sometimes lasted weeks.
I began to see why so many guys had a foul opinion of the Navy. I noticed a pattern. The guys who’d been in the Navy for six months or so were gung-ho, patriotic, proud to be serving their country and stoked about being a sailor. After a year they were less enthusiastic, and by a year-and-a-half most of them really wanted out, sometimes kicking up a fuss. They might end up at Captain’s Mast (also known as Article 15) and receive a $150 dock in pay, 2 weeks’ restriction to ship, lose one stripe, spend “3 days” in the brig on bread and water (which really amounted to two nights and one full day, give or take a few hours) or some combination of these. After that, they’d keep their nose clean for awhile. By the time two years had rolled around, most guys took the view that they might not like it, but they’d already put in half of their four-year tour and the rest was downhill. Four years, in other words, was just about the perfect amount of time for an enlistment to run. Guys who’d been in for 2 years or more were resigned to their fate and rarely caused trouble. They’d cope in other ways; some stayed stoned, some found other creative ways to slack off. Some went AWOL for carefully calculated amounts of time, which would get them transferred to other ships but not court-martialed, and a few would try to get discharges by various accepted means, filling out reams of paperwork which rarely accomplished anything.
I probably would’ve been one of these guys had it not been for a couple of incidents. About eight months in, I was still gung-ho, dedicated to the Navy and the idea of service to my country, but I’d been getting pressed pretty hard. One of our chiefs, a little guy we called Oly, went too far.
Our laundry was down for about a week, and I was out of clothes to wear. I’d have changed, if I had anything to change into. I didn’t. I had an old pair of dungarees that I’d cut off and made into shorts, so I sewed the legs back on. Oly said some snotty thing about them. I got mad and chased him out of the compartment. He may have outranked me, but I had about forty pounds more muscle and six inches of height. He split, fast. We got along after that—he knew he’d been out of line–but one of the other chiefs, a guy we called Grody, didn’t like it. Grody was in a different department, but he’d shoot me dirty looks.
Captain’s Mast
Well, a couple weeks later, I was with a group. We were all going surfing, a first for me, and they’d all passed the quarterdeck inspection without incident, but Grody was on watch. He decided a barely visible, quarter-inch frayed spot low on the leg of my jeans was reason enough to stop me. Because my friends had already piled into the car, I went back, put a stitch in the leg and started off again. He told me to go back, sew it up completely–and also cut my hair. I’d have sewed my jeans, but the haircut was something else entirely. First, my hair wasn’t that long. Second, he hadn’t mentioned it originally. Third, I’d entirely miss my ride. It was pretty clear, anyway, that Chief Grody wasn’t going to let me off the ship whatever I did, so instead of trying to please the penny-ante princess, I went down one deck and, in an obscure spot, stepped off. From way across the parking lot, an officer yelled out. I was busted. I went to Captain’s Mast and was restricted to ship for two weeks.
That could’ve been the end of it, but a couple days later I was told to check what was wrong with a pressure gage which wasn’t reading correctly. I pulled the data sheet for the part and found it was a simple device. There was a pool of mercury in a well, with a leather bag full of mercury sitting in it attached to the bottom of a glass tube. Take it apart, replace the leather bag, adjust the mercury level and it’d be fine.
I reported to Oly. I’ll fix it, I said. “No, Austin, shitcan it,” he replied. I protested. I’d fixed these kinds of things hundreds of times; it was my job. A piece of leather and a few minutes, I’d fix it. “Shitcan it,” he insisted. “Don’t mess with it, shitcan it.”
I looked at the data sheet. The pressure gage had cost $65o and change in 1956. We were going to throw it out and get another, at probably twice the price or more, over a half-dollar’s worth of materials and twenty minutes of my time.
What am I doing here?, I thought.
Suddenly, I wasn’t a dedicated sailor anymore, doing something worthwhile for myself and my country. I was a cog in a wheel. I was capable, well-trained and willing to do such a simple repair, but my skills, knowledge, expertise weren’t needed, valued or even acknowledged. The Navy was going to blow a thousand-plus dollars, for nothing.
My loyalty, patriotism, desire to do the good and worthwhile thing for my country, my team, my ship, my Navy drained right out of me. I suddenly had no desire, whatsoever, to be there. I started thinking not of how I could serve my country, but of how I could get out, as soon as possible. I didn’t know it yet, but I was already a short-timer.
When in Colorado, our family had attended the local Quaker meeting house for about 3 years. We were never considered members, but I identified myself as a Quaker, and still do. Although we agreed with Quaker belief, a group which wouldn’t embrace the faithful after three years wasn’t for us, so I started to say I was a Quaker more from convenience than from conviction. I listed my religion as Society of Friends when I joined the Navy because I didn’t have another, and it seemed to me better, in some vague way, to list something rather than nothing.
After the rejection of my offer to repair the pressure gage, however, I realized that I had an actual history, corrupted as it may have been, as a pacifist. I’d been disappointed by the Quakers, but completely disillusioned by the Navy. I decided I’d push the point.
It was clear the Navy didn’t need me. The war was over, and there were clearly too many guys still in the Navy. In combat, 250 guys would’ve been useful, but now 100 was sufficient. All of us were doing busy work and little else, counting our days. The Navy had lowered its recruitment quota. There weren’t any new guys coming onto the ship; we were leaving through attrition. I’d considered applying for conscientious objector status when I’d registered for the draft some years earlier, but my high lottery number (#315) had made it unnecessary. Now, I filed the paperwork.
Towards the end of my two-week restriction we were at sea on an atomic attack drill, waiting for annihilation with our collars pulled up and our pants tucked into our socks. We’d been pulling 20-hour days, and I was bone-tired. I sat down in an obscure corner of the lower deck, plugged my ears with pieces of napkin and briefly rested my elbows on my knees, my palms covering my eyes. At that moment a couple officers came by doing inspection. I heard them, saw their shiny shoes walking by and looked up, but was reported for sleeping anyway. I went to my second Captain’s Mast.

I was sent to the brig, for three days on bread and water. The brig was on base and I reported there about 5 pm. I was given a stack of white bread, which I didn’t want, and decided a 3-day fast wouldn’t hurt me a bit. The first day was no big deal; I caught up on my sleep. The second day I sat in my cell. I had an ankh that I’d claimed was a religious symbol; I didn’t feel religious but it was cool to look at it, to think about its 3000 year history; the history of the world–how many ankhs were sitting untouched for all that time in the darkness of a pyramid,? I took an occasional sip of water and didn’t touch the bread. The Marine guard came towards the end of the day and said a few things which were meant to be intimidating, but I just smiled. I’m not easily intimidated; I suppose I had too much of it as a kid. If one takes up a challenge and won’t back down, one rarely has to prove oneself. Stand your ground and smile a little until the other guy feels foolish, and that’s that. It’s not so much turn the other cheek as don’t turn.
After the brig, I saw a Navy which was winding down, but not acknowledging it. A ship full of guys who were resigned to their fate, or trying to get out. Sandy had been straightforward and honest, trying to get discharged for over a year. He’d been deceived, undercut and skewered, and now was secretly smashing things and throwing parts overboard. We didn’t have proof, but knew it was him. McMillan was AWOL, and would be gone for almost a month. A first-class named Donnell had been in for 17 years, but couldn’t be persuaded to re-up, even for chief’s stripes, retirement in three years and a bonus worth a year’s pay. Chambers had also applied for conscientious objector status, but it was unlikely either of us would hear anything for six months to a year.
It occurred to me, though, that I’d just had two Captain’s Masts, and they could kick you out for three. Most guys would get a Captain’s Mast, keep their nose clean for awhile, then some months later get another. They might get half-a-dozen in a couple years, but remain in the Navy. I didn’t intend to do anything damaging or criminal, but started thinking of ways I might again find myself in front of the captain.
I didn’t like wearing leather, and hadn’t worn any for at least three years before I joined. The Navy uniform, however, included leather shoes. I looked around, but even in shoe shops there was nothing resembling standard black Navy shoes in a non-leather product of any kind in 1974. I bought a pair of rubber boots, cut them off to the standard size and wore them with my uniform. They looked all right, and I wore them for a few days. My own chiefs Oly and Shearn didn’t care, but Grody thought otherwise, and told me to change. I told him I wouldn’t. I went before the captain, was fined $150 and restricted to the ship for another two weeks.
Greer, the fellow who’d bought my hat, had earlier transferred to Grody’s department. He listened in on the chiefs at lunch, and told me that all they talked about, nearly every day, was me. I found it amusing. I was doing my job, not causing trouble. I was even getting along with Oly. I just wasn’t changing my shoes.
Chambers had refused to load ammunition. I didn’t mind; everyone’s different. Loading ammo onto a ship involves the whole crew. Everyone picks up a shell, which is in a canister about 8 inches diameter by 2 feet long and weighs 20 or 30 pounds, carries it from the deck to the hold below the guns and gives it to the gunnies to stack. An oiler has only a few guns; for the most part it relies on other ships for protection and generally stays as far away from the action as possible. Still, the loading takes most of a day for a crew of 250; a small crew for a large Navy ship, but since it’s a floating gas tank and basically nothing else, that’s all the crew it needs. I didn’t mind loading the shells; I wasn’t shooting the guns. Everyone follows their beliefs according to their own heart, and everyone’s beliefs contain contradictions. I was a conscientious objector who didn’t wear leather but didn’t mind carrying ammo. Chambers was a conscientious objector who didn’t mind wearing leather but didn’t carry ammo. A Marine chaplain who gave us a pep talk in boot camp talked about God with one breath and the thrill and blood lust of stalking and killing a buck with the next. Everyone draws their own lines.
Well, I didn’t change my shoes, again. Went Went before the captain, again. To the brig, again. I didn’t care, again. I went in around suppertime, didn’t eat the bread, stayed the next day. At ten the next morning, they let me out.
I didn’t go back to the ship. While I was locked up, the ship had gone on maneuvers. For the next four or five days, I stayed in the dorms on base, trimmed the captain’s lawn or did something similar in the morning, and had the rest of the day off. While my shipmates were sweating through twenty-hour days with collars turned up and heads hung down, I was on vacation, for a week. I’d drop by the sandwich shop in the afternoon to talk to the girl behind the counter. One day she was perched on her stool, screaming. The place smelled strongly of bug spray, and I ran around the counter to help her out. A cockroach the size of my thumb was buzzing around behind the counter, banging into things. It was absolutely coated with bug spray, which looked like icing on a cake. It couldn’t fly very well due to the weight of the spray; I caught it with a napkin, took it outside to die in peace, then came inside and hugged the cute little black girl as she cried and shook like a leaf.
A couple days later, my ship came in. My vacation was over, but they didn’t welcome me on board. I was handed a packet of papers over the side, and went to a couple of offices on base. They were processing my discharge. When I came back to the ship I was restricted for the rest of the week, but I didn’t care. The Navy had taken another $150 out of my paycheck, but I didn’t care. They gossiped that maybe I’d get an undesirable discharge, which seemed a stretch. I didn’t care.
A fellow named Gavin had written a poem in the logbook while I was out, celebrating how in six months he’d be home in New York, and I wrote one of my own:
I don’t know quite why this all happened to me
Was it ‘cuz of my shoes, which came out of a tree?
They cost me a bundle, but that doesn’t matter,
Of four years or discharge, well, I’ll take the latter.
Whenever you’re out, please come by Carolina,
We’ll talk and we’ll toke and enjoy a life finer,
Than ever an admiral dreams in his sleep.
The Navy made promises, but which did it keep?
The rest of the week went by. Life went on. McMillan came back, for a day, and went AWOL again. A new guy was assigned to our compartment and I met him once. He went AWOL the next day, on his own personal quest to get out of the Navy, and I never saw him again. A third-class named Barton, who’d taken a few too many acid trips, broke up with his wife. She’d left him while the Ponch was at sea. He came back and all his stuff was gone, including his uniforms. I gave him all mine, except for the old-style ones.
A lot of guys were short. A young red-haired guy named Allard went home to help his mother, and got a hardship discharge. A black guy named Smitty, nice guy, spent all day every day walking around in a heroin haze. Rod Austin was getting short; we were both in the engine room but his uniform was stenciled Austin, R. while I stenciled DJ Austin on mine. Rod and Sandy were both from Ann Arbor; they’d passed each other on the street once but hadn’t realized it until both had been on the ship for three years. Taylor and Groleau were leaving soon, both as E-2s. Taylor had never tried for the E-3 rating, and Groleau had been busted all the way down to E-1 the year before, after spending the night in a Filipino jail for fighting. A tall thin fellow named Curry would be in Tennessee in a few months, a few miles from me. Taylor, Glessner, Martin and Curry were all part of a Jesus-freak group in Honolulu which I visited it a time or two; it was pleasant, but there was too much smiling and bright, saccharine laughter. They sat in a circle, drank wine, and one of the guys proposed to his girl. It was beautiful and sweet, but fantastical, unreal, like living in Disneyland.
The night before I was to leave, a fellow named Whitey came over from the boiler room side and was screwing around with some of the machinist mates; this was a bit unusual, but it was fun getting to know him. A little later that evening, I was heading up to chow and something compelled me to turn around. Whitey was closing the hatch to the boiler room behind him, like all of us had done thousands of times before, but I felt something strange going on. I couldn’t put my finger on it. I had a weird feeling, and didn’t know why. I stood there for a couple seconds, then went up the ladder.
It was the last time I ever saw him. The next morning I got up, packed my seabag and went up to the deck for the last time. Beside my seabag was Whitey’s seabag. He’d been staying off-base with a sailor named Grayden. Grayden had been driving to work, with Whitey as a passenger. Somebody’d run a stop sign. They’d been T-boned. Grayden was a little bruised up. Whitey was dead.
Our seabags both left the ship that day. I was happy to be carrying mine down the gangplank.
Back to the Real World
I flew out of Honolulu that afternoon, this time in the opposite direction. Sunset lasted for what seemed a few seconds, and it was late when we landed in San Francisco. I had the same assortment of teas and herbs that I’d carried to Guam, where customs had searched all my stuff, but in San Francisco nobody even looked. I checked into Treasure Island–what a name, huh?–to await my discharge, and stayed for several days playing spades in the barracks, going to chow, watching TV, reading the paper and, when it wasn’t raining, hanging out on the patio. I wasn’t on restriction, but had no money, not even a quarter to ride the bus. I met with a couple women who sat behind desks and asked me questions. Later that week I had my discharge; a general discharge under honorable conditions, which was all I wanted.
There are 5 classes of discharge–1) Honorable, given to those who’ve served their time without getting into trouble, 2) General under honorable conditions, the military equivalent of being let go from a job, 3) General discharge under less-than-honorable conditions, for those who got in too many fights, 4) Undesirable discharge, for real troublemakers, and finally 5) Dishonorable discharge, for those who committed serious crimes. There used to be a little box on the papers reserved for nasty comments from the brass, with codes detailing, specifically, the reasons for the discharge. This tradition had been eliminated some months before by a new law, but my papers still had the box. All it said was “refer to DD214”.
Often, I’d even say most often, the biggest changes in life come about for the smallest reasons. I did something a tiny bit different, someone else didn’t like it, and everything blew up. I quit wearing leather because I didn’t feel comfortable in it, and wore the closest thing I could find – black rubber boots, cut to size. One chief still wasn’t happy, so I wore them straight out of the Navy. It’s all in the details.
A week on Treasure Island. I got paid. I left.
I had about $400. I went into San Francisco, bought a few civilian duds and a bus ticket home. As a souvenir of my first day OUT of the Navy, I got a small tattoo of a gemini sign on my left hand, below the pinky. I went to Walnut Creek to find Liz, whom I’d occasionally heard from, but hadn’t seen for over a year. I arrived at her house in the afternoon. Her granny was there and I tried to have a conversation, but she knew only German. I wanted to help around the house, but didn’t know how to. She had dozens of clocks, none with the correct time. One was 20 minutes early, one three hours and 45 minutes late. She told me something in German about the clocks, which I didn’t understand; I set a few to the correct time and she became quite cross.
After awhile Liz’s father arrived; I’d never met him. He said a few gruff words in German to granny, as she chattered excitedly about this total stranger who had re-set her clocks. Her father said to make myself comfortable, and Liz would be home shortly. She arrived, we had dinner, talked on the porch. She didn’t know why her grandmother set all the clocks to different times, either. We chatted awhile, but it was clear we’d moved on, and parted amicably. She gave me a ride to the bus station; we said our goodbyes.
That evening in the bus station I got into a conversation. I mentioned my Model A and he said he knew a guy who had a 1940 Lincoln that he was thinking about buying. He offered me a ride if I’d tell him what I thought of it, mechanically. We rode for a couple hours into the California countryside, but when we arrived the car had been sold. He suggested we go on to Lake Tahoe, and do a little gambling. I drove awhile, he drove awhile and we got there in the early morning. We got a room and a few hours’ sleep, then went to the casinos. I had about $175 left. We ate a cheap breakfast, then went to play blackjack. I did well, as did my new friend. We grabbed lunch and returned to the tables. When my friend lost his focus and took a hit on 21, he left to watch a show. I was still doing well, and after awhile was up by about $500. At the time you could buy a decent used car for around $600, so my goal became to buy a car, cash in my bus ticket and drive home. I was within about $40 when the whiskey sours kicked in. The cards turned. A couple hours and six or eight drinks later I’d lost what I’d accumulated plus the $175. I was flat broke, but didn’t care; I still had my bus ticket, and I was a civilian! We returned to the room. The next morning my friend gave me a few pieces of scrip to gamble with and went back to California. I won about $20, called it a day, bought a few groceries and caught the bus out of town. I couldn’t cash the ticket for the portion of the trip I hadn’t used without a hassle, because a bus drivers’ strike had started against Greyhound. I shined it on, accepted a ticket on Trailways, rode to Denver and went by my old neighborhood.
Monk was in the Krishnas now; I left my seabag at his family’s house and went with his sister to the temple, to eat prasadam and review the year. I didn’t get much response talking about the old days; he was totally intoxicated by Krishna, sleep deprived by the schedule they kept and rather jealously guarded by the other devotees, who knew me well. I’d been coming to the temple for five years, but wasn’t any closer to joining than I’d been at 17. I liked the vegetarian food, and loved that I didn’t have to ask what was in each dish. I enjoyed our philosophical discussions, though I frequently disagreed; I didn’t think that everyone was caught up in illusion or maya, or that maya equaled suffering. I didn’t believe one had to separate oneself from the world and deny the desire to find happiness, or that desire for the pleasures of the world, including love and sex, was also illusion and suffering. I didn’t believe there was a great divide between the finite and the infinite, or that the world could be finite while God or Krishna was infinite. I saw nothing wrong with participating in the world, and I knew that some sages had been monks, but others, householders. The devotees stated that every soul found Krishna in its own way according to karma, but in practice they always thought it best to be monks in the temple. Occasionally swamis would visit, and I loved talking to them. They understood, really understood, that what works for one won’t always work for another.
The following day I went by the Mayfair barber shop, where I’d been the shoeshine boy for five years. It now belonged to Joe the barber, and he was in the first chair. He’d grown a scant mustache, which was all the facial hair his Indian blood let him grow. We went to his house that night and played poker with his friends, speaking as much Spanish as English. He surprised me by pulling out a joint. It was very good. It was the only time I ever smoked any with the barbers. The next morning we returned to the barber shop. My funds were depleted, so he gave me a few dollars for the road.
I rode Trailways to Kansas City. I had a couple hours layover but not much money, so I walked the streets. It seemed a fun town, which was a different impression than I’d had when my father had driven through at warp speed. We then went on to St. Louis, where I arrived in the middle of a beautiful fall afternoon. It was crisp, cool, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. I again had a couple hours free, and intended to ride to the top of the recently-finished archway, but it was closed. I strolled over anyway, to lie in the grass and enjoy the afternoon.
I surprised a fellow there who was smoking a joint. We initiated a little drilled onyx disc I’d bought in San Francisco, smoking the remainder of the roach down to nothing. When we’d rolled through as kids in our little oven of a microbus, the temperature 104º and muggy, with everyone enjoying a heaping helping of heat rash, I couldn’t imagine why anyone would live there, but this was entirely different.
I got on the bus that afternoon and saw a cute girl across the aisle. I started a conversation and sat next to her. She was married, but we had a long talk. She’d been away from her soldier husband for awhile, and wasn’t sure if they were going to stay together. We cuddled through the night. It was the first time in about a year that I’d held a woman close. We traded addresses when we parted in the morning, but I never heard from her again.
There was one more long leg of the trip. That evening I was dozing, and awoke to the smell of smoke. The guy across the aisle from me was smoking, in the non-smoking, front section of the bus. I told him he needed to go to the back of the bus to smoke; it was the law, though the law was widely ignored in 1974. He simply finished his cigarette, without a care in the world. Thank god, I say, that the customs have changed.
I arrived in North Carolina late that night. My brother drove me home and I was once again in a little bitty mountain town of about 3000 souls, with nowhere to go after 9:30 at night. I didn’t have a job, but thanks to the terms of my discharge I received unemployment benefits. If I’d received an honorable rather than a general discharge under honorable conditions, I wouldn’t have been eligible.
It was a good thing, too, because it was no easier to find work in Boone than it had been before. I was a dedicated vegetarian, and avoided working for restaurants, meat markets, the local leather processing facility, etc., but there were few other jobs available in the economic downturn of 1974-75. I’d get a few days’ work planting trees, cutting tobacco or putting in fences, but there wasn’t much available. I had a lot of free time, and with no television to distract me learned to sew clothes, make toys, repair mechanical things.
We hadn’t had a working television in the house since the family had moved back from California, and didn’t for the next eleven years. It was certainly best for me. In the next few years I learned hundreds of skills, read thousands of books and stayed active and strong.
In January my father and I went to New York City for a couple weeks. He had a part in a play, and I wanted to see the city. I’d spent a week visiting older relatives when I was seventeen, but they didn’t get out much. I wanted to see the city of my birth with my father, and explore places I’d been as a baby. Both the hospital and the old factory building my parents had lived in had been torn down, so there was really only one place still standing, a brownstone building in Brooklyn. We went to the street where they lived, but he was unsure of which building; they all looked alike. For me, there just wasn’t much there, though the visit was interesting.
The play was an artsy transmogrification of a gothic Appalachian tale, self-consciously cute and melodramatic, with a fine performance by the lead actress, Kate Kelly, drowned in a generalized and turgid pathos. My father had the same opinion, but the woman director was an old friend, and we held our tongues.
Actors from outside the south often drawl far too enthusiastically. Their attempts at the dry Appalachian dialect were soaked in the swamp waters of Savannah. The plot involved spells and haints and pregnancy and voodoo and what-not, and was a complete mess. Kate Kelly was cute, but the play was a wreck.
We spent two weeks in New York. One morning our truck was towed–we hadn’t moved it across the street in time–and we went to pick it up, but its registration card was in North Carolina. My father made the reasonable case that if we wanted to steal a vehicle we’d do better than an old farm truck from North Carolina, and they released it.
I explored while my father was making his actor rounds. The first time, I walked a few blocks and realized I didn’t know where I was. I didn’t know the address of our building, and had only seen it a couple times. After a 20 minute walkabout, I found it, then memorized the address. I never told anyone how close I’d come to starring in “Lost in New York”.
My father wanted to pitch a show while he was there, and needed to find the ABC building. We went to the area, but he wasn’t sure which building it was. I pointed it out, and he asked me how I knew. I was coy. I told him I just knew. He said he’d ask someone. I told him he didn’t have to. He asked me again, how did I know? I pointed to the big ABC logo above his head. He’d never thought to look up!
A House In Town
When we returned from New York, Rob and I decided to rent a little house on the edge of Boone. It belonged to an old woman called Mom Angel, who was in her 80s. She didn’t have a lot of family or friends, and visited us nearly every day. It was interesting getting to know someone from such a different world; she used to play the guitar, but was now too shaky to manage it. There was an extra room upstairs, for drums and music. Rob had graduated, but it became a place for all his high school buddies to hang out and play hooky. I suppose we could have gotten into trouble, but we felt we were keeping them off the street and out of trouble.
Our band was pretty good. I played the drums, my brother played guitar and wrote songs, a friend named Kevin also played guitar and a couple other guys joined from time to time, with varying levels of commitment. I decided, on April Fools’ Day, that I wanted to play something more portable than drums. I picked up a harmonica. “Dixie” seemed a good song to start with, so I sucked and blew and moved the harp side-to-side for several hours until I could play it passably well. I then tried a second song, “Amazing Grace”, and quickly learned I should’ve tried it first, because inside of ten minutes I had it pegged. I then tackled a third song, “Me and Bobbie McGee”. It took longer to learn than “Amazing Grace”, but less time than “Dixie”.
We had a little party that evening–we often had after school parties–and I announced to group that I’d learned harmonica. They asked for a tune, and I played “Dixie.” That was pretty good, a couple folks said, and asked for another. I played “Amazing Grace”.
And then a girl asked if I could play “Me and Bobbie McGee”.
Well, yes, I could! Of all the songs in the wide world, I had ONE more in my repertoire, and THAT was it! I played for the crowd, told them that was enough for now and put the harp away!
A life tip. If you don’t know a lot, stick to what you know. I’ve learned a lot of songs on the harmonica, and just a few on many other instruments. I’m not a virtuoso, and don’t have to be. Most people can’t play at all.
We had an idyllic summer in our little house out back, and spent very little. I had a bicycle and my brother had friends with cars; we’d catch a ride if needed, or hitchhike.
Our kitchen was bright and cheery. On the windowsill sat the coffeepot, a double sink underneath. One day my brother and I were kicking a tennis ball across the kitchen floor in a caroming, fast-paced, 2 man variation on soccer. My brother made a wicked shot, I blocked with my knee, the ball bounced off two cabinets and PING – disappeared! The coffee pot was wobbling. We looked in the sink, it wasn’t there, or anywhere else in the kitchen. Finally we looked in the coffeepot. Bingo! From across the room, I’d double-banked a steeply angled shot off the cabinets, and dunked it!
Our friend Kevin, now living in the music room, got us a gig. Saturday, at his mother’s flea market; me, my brother, Kevin and a bass player. Kevin printed posters, put an ad in the paper. I thought he’d called our band “Connivin’ Ivan”, which was fine by me–but what it was supposed to be, he explained later, was “Knivan Ivan”, like, you know, Evel Knievel, but with the “Kn” in front? (so obvious! How could I have missed?). What was printed in the paper, however, was “Knivin’ Ivan,” transforming a mediocre and confusing name (shades of “That Thing You Do!” and the “One-ders”) into Evil Ivan, Knife-wielder.
Well, we set up, and waited for the bass player. He didn’t show. We had the bass, so we asked another friend, who’d come to see the show, to be in the band. He didn’t know bass and didn’t want to try, so he played drums while I plugged in the bass, turned it off and faked it! It was my first paid gig (any money we’d made in Hollywood had been plowed back into dance lessons and such). I made $20 for pretending to play!
Kevin was a successful rock and roller for the next ten or fifteen years, with the Spontanes and others. After years of touring, he went back to school, got his GED and graduated college in his late 40’s, with a perfect 4.0.
A Disagreement
Along with our hooky-playing high school visitors, we met a fellow who lived catty–corner across the back field. Though he was a few years older, John saw me as more experienced–he’d visited California, but I’d lived there; he’d had a couple jobs, I’d had a dozen. I’d been more places, done more things. He’d ask me for advice like a puppy, so it was hard to stay mad at him. We got to know him well, I thought–but one day I saw his record albums marked with his initials, “JA”, and joked that since my initials were “DJA”, all I had to do was put a “D” in front, and they’d be mine. The next day his full name was scrawled across all his albums. He had a paranoid streak.
John lived in his parents’ basement. He claimed they needed him, and not without justification. His parents were older, and his father had macular degeneration, which is linked to smoking. His father lit a pipe occasionally but his mother chain-smoked cigarettes, and their house was shut up tight as a tick and had wall-to-wall carpeting. The smell was strong by 1974 standards: now I’d call it an overwhelming stench. None of his family were in good shape. John had several extra pounds and complained of numerous ailments. He had a few real complaints, but mainly John simply liked to try new drugs, and finagled a variety of prescriptions. He’d listen to music and sample various combinations of pills and liquor, evaluating which went better together, and how much of each produced the best effects. He had certain obsessions–the Kennedy assassination, the Nazis–but far and away his biggest topic of conversation was the Charles Manson murders. I liked John, but his habit of cross-referencing every conversation back to Charlie was massively annoying.
He admired Charlie in a twisted way; a little bitty guy who had massive behind-the-scenes power over his group. John wanted that power, but when he thought he was being sneaky, hiding his motivations, asking leading questions, I’d know every time. It was as clear to me as if he’d tattooed them on his forehead.
We had a friendly dispute over who had a horoscope chart more like Charlie’s. Charlie had sun in scorpio, moon in aquarius and taurus rising. John had sun in aquarius, moon and rising both scorpio. I had sun in gemini but, like Charlie, moon in aquarius and taurus rising. I didn’t mind talking about the Manson family time and again, but every time John discovered someone was an aquarius, or taurus, or scorpio, he’d bring up Charlie. If someone was from California, he’d bring up Charlie. If had the same name—Susan, Lynette—as members of the “family”, he’d bring up Charlie. I told him time and time and time again that most people at parties didn’t want to talk about Charlie, that Charlie was a downer. He’d still bring it up.
One night at a party and he asked a pretty girl how tall she was. Five-foot-two. I knew what was coming. Charlie was five-foot-two. I told John nobody needed or wanted to know that Charlie was five-foot-two. It started a big argument, and the gal giving the party kicked us out. For the next couple weeks we got hang-up phone calls, dozens per day, and one night someone threw a fist-sized rock through the window of my parents’ Chevy Suburban. I knew it was him.
He eventually owned up to the phone calls, but insisted he didn’t throw the rock. I didn’t believe him. We were both taking classes at night school, and one night had an argument in the hallway. One of the instructors tried to mediate, but I told him I didn’t care what John said.
John maintained for years that he didn’t break the window, but I still didn’t believe. It didn’t really matter, a broken window in a car which was junked years before, but I didn’t accept a lack of objective proof as sufficient. His actions had made it reasonable for me to believe that he’d thrown the rock, and his tendency to be smart ass and challenging about what I could or couldn’t “prove” made him unconvincing. He could maintain his innocence, but I didn’t believe him and wouldn’t pretend to. It would’ve been easier, socially, to let it drop, but he’d still bring it up. I’d say it was no big deal, but I wouldn’t say I believed him. He stopped with the Charlie talk, though.
Winter came. We were all low on money. I was still on unemployment; the benefits had been extended twice, which I figured was payback for how the Navy had taken advantage of me. My brother, still vegetarian, now had a part-time job in a burger joint, serving meat to people all day long. I resolved never to do that. Kevin worked for his mother at the flea market, but wan’t bringing in much, and by the time rent and food were covered not much was left. The power was turned off, but our garage was connected to Mom Angel’s house and we ran an extension into the living room; enough for a heater and a couple lights.
Kevin and my brother also brought in a little money dealing drugs. A pound of weed occasionally, an ounce of blue “mescaline” powder, a few grams of hash, a new product, in a vial, called “hash oil”. Kevin’s older brother had connections in Florida and my brother knew some folks who ran a head shop. We didn’t make much, though. Not enough to pay the power bill, or to buy furniture.
The Cops
One night we were having a party, and Kevin told us he’d seen some stackable chairs at the motel. He suggested we borrow them. I told him I wouldn’t, and went on to bed.
The next morning we were awakened by the police. They found the chairs.
While the cops were searching, I played with some chess pieces. There was a small vial of hash oil sitting on the chessboard, which I knocked into my shoe and pushed under the coffee table. They probably wouldn’t have recognized it; there was also a blown-glass pipe sitting on a tray in the living room, which we told them was an oil lamp. They set it back down.
The three of us were carted off to jail. My brother told them he needed to pee, and emptied a baggie of pot in the jailhouse urinal. We spent 20 minutes in jail and were bailed out.
Kevin moved, and my brother and I waited until the rent ran out. Rob had proposed to his girlfriend, but they were young–he was 19, she 16–and her parents sent her out of town until her ardor cooled. They split up after the arrest.
It went the other way for me. A friend of my sister’s became interested in me, now that I was a bad boy. She was warm, soft, willing and wet. We played around in the afternoons, but she had a boyfriend in the army. He returned six months later, and they married.
Court came. As I’d been asleep, the charges against me were dismissed. My brother and Kevin threw themselves on the mercy of the court, which was a stupid idea. The owner of the motel claimed an inflated value of $25 apiece for the four chairs (new ones were $12), so as to make the “crime” a theft of over $100, and a felony. Her gratuitous nastiness didn’t go uncompensated. The motel went downhill, and a few years later she was tied up and robbed by a couple guys with shotguns. Karma.
My brother got into trouble more often than I, though we didn’t live that much differently. I’d often slip away; he’d often get caught. I even broke out of “jail” once. At my high school graduation party a corner in the gym was set aside, and a friend of mine named Craig paid a dollar, for charity, to have me locked up for twenty minutes. Two minutes later the jailer was distracted. I nudged past him and slipped away to freedom. Towards the end of the twenty minutes Craig saw me in the gym and gave chase. For the last 30 seconds of my “sentence” I was a fugitive from charity jail, running and laughing like a monkey.
On The Porch
Rob moved to Myrtle Beach afterwards. I enclosed my parents’ back porch, and moved in. The house plumbing was horribly antiquated, though we didn’t worry about leaks because the the town’s water pipe crossed our land. We received free water, “in perpetuity”. The water pressure was exceptionally high, though; our old faucets broke down, and were hard to replace. We installed an in-line valve on the hot water line to the ancient tub, but it too failed, so for a time we set a bucket in the sink and siphoned hot water into the tub with a tube. My father wasn’t inclined to fix it, but my uncle across the road had some supplies he’d bought at auctions. He and I replaced the floor in the bathroom and installed a shorty tub from the Daniel Boone Hotel. We rearranged the layout, put in a shower, tiled the wall, added a skylight, new wiring and paint. That summer I started painting our roof, which was quite rusty. I painted the porch roof a bright yellow, then climbed to the top of the steeply pitched main roof and painted across the ridge as far down as I could reach. I tied two ladders over the ridge and painted a wide stripe down the middle, front and back, then ran out of paint.
There it stayed. We had a big yellow “T” on the roof, and two rusty squares to the sides, but my father wouldn’t buy more paint. It wasn’t up to me to buy paint; I was doing the work.
There was another reason. I felt that if I’d finished the job on my own, my father would wreck it, somehow. He had a weirdly mean streak. If I’d worked hard on a project, spent time and money and almost finished, at the last moment he’d wreck it. I never knew whether he didn’t like things finished, or simply didn’t want me to finish them, but the result was the same. House projects, mine especially, would never, ever be finished unless we hired someone, usually at my mother’s insistence.
I really hated him for this. It was so very unnecessary, and so ugly. He’d also credit my work to others, damage what I’d completed, steal my tools and break his promises or agreements with me on a whim.
He wasn’t this way to everyone. He was genial, generous, funny to his friends, but sometimes, unexpectedly, he’d turn exceedingly, exceptionally, gratuitously cruel. My brother was with him once when, out of the blue, he asked a soft-spoken, hard-working, pleasant waitress what it was like for her to live life as such an ugly woman. He kept it up. He said he didn’t know if he’d want to live, if he were as ugly as she. My brother wanted to crawl through the floor.
He’d ask similar “questions” of other blameless people, usually me or my brother. He’d give us “insights” and call it “honesty” or “psychological research” for his acting. It wasn’t. It was ambush. Nasty, mean, ugly, evil, despicable.
I never understood that petty crap, that vileness. I wanted to love my father, but couldn’t. I had nothing. The most positive emotion I could muster was indifference. Not love, not pride. Just emptiness.
In a long-established pattern, I stayed away as much as possible. I avoided my father’s nightly drunken pontifications; stayed at friends’ houses, dorm rooms, camped out, slept on the bed of my Model A. I worked construction, cut tobacco, sold jewelry or drew astrology charts for money.
The old house needed plenty of improvements, which my uncle and I worked on when my father wasn’t around. We enclosed the front porch, and when my brother returned from his summer at Myrtle Beach I moved into one of the new rooms; the other was his. My brother had hitchhiked to the beach with our friend Marcus after the court case, and lived there for six months. He got arrested for peeing in the ocean and returned to Boone.
The house was slowly becoming comfortable. We’d given up on television; the set sat unplugged in the corner, covered with magazines and dust. My father’d had insulation blown into the walls, then put in paneling and a brand-new Fisher wood stove. One night the temperature was below zero (0ºF) and my father bet my mother a quarter that he could heat up the living room to 90ºF. He won, easily. We opened the windows and let the howling, sub-zero storm blow through.
They sold animals, a few at a time. The cow was sold, the bull calf, two goats. My mother had to chase the ponies one too many times and sold them all when Ned was off in New York. They still had chickens. One spring day my mother was baking, left the back door open and went to tidy up the living room. She came back to the kitchen, saw a dozen chickens pecking at crumbs, screamed OH! the CHICKENS! and they simultaneously burst into higgledy-piggledy flight, knocking over jars, flying into walls, spreading feathers everywhere.
Up went a chicken coop.
We had dogs and cats. And rats. There was a rodent problem, which a growing number of cats were supposed to take care of, but didn’t. When the cat population reached 21, my father’d had enough. He took bagfuls of cats down to the creek and drowned them, including one old tabby named Mama Cat.
Well, the rest of the cats may have been no-count, but it was a mistake to drown Mama Cat. Mama Cat had no fear of dogs, she’d jump onto their backs, bite them in the neck and ride, clawing with all four paws. That very night, a beagle broke into the chicken coop. Killed them all.
That was the end of the critters, except for a couple strays. My father spread rat poison, and the house stunk for a few weeks but they were gone too.
Summer of ’75
I had plenty of free time that summer, and often played tennis with my younger brother Sam, who’d won a scholarship to Yale for the following fall. We played a few sets nearly every day. Early in the summer he skunked me 6-0 in a set, and I didn’t manage to return the favor until the week before he left.
As summer faded, I found a job washing dishes at the college. I’d hang around the college talking astrology, and people would buy me beers in Blowing Rock or I’d win them at Fooz-Ball. I was finding my “sweet spot” with females. Girls my age were rarely attracted to me, but I was popular among those a few years younger or older. I’d sneak into campus dorms or bring them to my house, where we’d sleep in the hayloft, camp out or stay at a friend’s house. I still couldn’t keep a girlfriend for long. My journal was filled with fantasies and dreams of girls with whom I’d never had much more than an awkward kiss. I liked to exchange clothes; I’d trade a T-shirt for a cap, patch a pair of their jeans for a piece of jewelry. I’d go on for pages about a girl I found interesting, A few weeks later, it’d be another.
That fall I went to night school on the GI Bill. I took shop classes – welding, machining, electrical wiring – and spent my weekends doing dangerous things.
I was jumping off waterfalls, walking on bridge handrails, spelunking in caves. I rode motorcycles, crashing a couple times, pushing my limits, trying to master my skills. I was careful, though. I’d research a waterfall. I’d make sure a bridge railing was clean and dry, and favor my balance towards the roadbed, not the drop off. Dangerous is different from foolhardy. Only once did I slip towards the drop off, and my arms were already prepared to catch the railing. It’s a trick I learned riding the unicycle. If you’re going to fall, control it. Plan where and how you’ll land. It works well when driving also. Be aware of your “out”. Don’t get boxed in.
It was all part of being a wizard. I knew astrology, and wrote a column for the local paper. I drew up charts and wrote interpretations, largely influenced by Llewellyn George’s “A to Z Horoscope Maker and Delineator”. I signed up to teach an astrology course at the community college, but only 8 people showed up when 10 were needed. I’ve kept in touch with one of those girls, though, for over 40 years.
I enrolled in a writing-class-by-mail and sent articles to magazines, which were rejected. I wasn’t Hemingway.

Christmas Trees

We’d decided we’d grow Christmas trees, planting them on the mountain behind the farmhouse and on eighteen acres we owned down the road which we called Snag End, since it was at the bottom of Snaggy Mountain. We had one more tree farm, in the shade of one of NASA’s least successful projects, a giant windmill on Howard’s Knob. Initially, everyone in the family tended them, though soon enough planting, trimming and mowing between the thousands of trees became my job alone.
I designed a greenhouse for the business, and worked on it for weeks. A friend helped me for half a day, which was generous of him. My father talked often about the work Jeff had done on the greenhouse, not mentioning that I’d designed and built 95% of it.
He also didn’t let me finish the job. He bought glass, but wouldn’t let me install it, instead covering my beautifully styled, geometrically unique greenhouse in ugly, old, moldy used plastic.

My father never valued my work. He was angry, rather than pleased, when I made beautiful things. He ignored them, or destroyed them. I never figured out why. I think he’d decided, when I was a toddler, that I was a rocket scientist, and anything else I tried, he’d wreck. I may have done well as a scientist, but as a young genius I’d been shoveled into so many classes against my will that I thoroughly detested it. It seemed heartless, soulless, evil. Four additional years at university sounded to me like pure distilled essence of hell. Instead, I used my GI Bill to go to night school, and took shop.


Shortly after leaving the Navy a friend introduced me to George, who lived above the pizza parlor. It was a strange place to live, but the pizza place closed at 9:30, so was quiet at night. My Navy regulation haircut hadn’t yet grown out, and I felt like a skinned rabbit. My friend and I drove with his friend from there to another house in the country, where I met a woman whom immediately intrigued me. She’d lived out West, as had I, had been vegetarian for nine years, as had I, and she knew astrology, as did I. She knew all three, the only person–not the only woman, the only person–I’d ever met with whom I could converse freely on all three topics. She was so fascinating I actually tingled! It was scary!

I didn’t know where we were. I was along for the ride, in a friend of a friend’s van, visiting his friend. The woman I met was a friend of his friend’s friend, a friend five times removed.  When we left that night, before I’d wanted to (but I had to, or I’d have lost my ride), I didn’t know anything but her first name. She was staying with her friend, and didn’t have a current address or phone number. My friend knew the fellow who knew her friend’s address, but by the time I tracked her friend down, she’d left town. Vanished! Nobody was sure where Beth was. Maybe Arizona. Maybe South Carolina. Maybe South America.

I knew where the pizza parlor was, though, and soon became part of that circle of friends. George lived above the pizza place with his wife Wanda. Chris was a big, black, Army buddy of George’s from Chicago and his girlfriend was a student at Appalachian named Sam. George, Wanda, Chris and Sam had a jewelry and supply shop called The Beadworks in downtown Boone. It had three rooms; Sam and Chris lived in the room to the left, the Beadworks was to the right. The back room belonged to a team of three. Allen, Bill and Allen’s girlfriend Lisa sold production jewelry at festivals and concerts. Chris and George had a couple of craftsman friends, Kyle and Del.

The United States bicentennial was coming up, and everyone had plans for parties. For the New Year, Kyle and Del knew three self-styled Original Avery County Women in a crossroads called Crossnore, and we drove over to visit. Nora, June, and Karina lived in a cabin just over the county line and the conversation between Kyle and Del as we headed there was all about how June and Karina were lots of fun but Nora wasn’t interested in men; she’d just divorced, probably wouldn’t want to talk with any of us, etc. etc.–but when I showed up Nora and I talked for hours and had a great time. She had a set of chimes attached to the headboard of her bed. We rang her chimes all night, and “screwed in the bicentennial”. We were an item until springtime, when she left on a long-planned trip. She rode her bicycle to New Orleans, nearly a thousand miles. I stayed behind to trim Christmas trees.
In the spring I bought a Honda XL350 motorcycle. It was really too big for a trail bike, and its center of gravity too high for a road bike, but it was fun. I laid it down a couple times; I was, as usual, testing my limits.
Two weeks after buying it, the first time I carried a passenger, there was gravel on the road as we approached a stop sign, and the girl and I went down. We got some road rash, but laughed about it later. The second time could have been worse.
I was riding up Winkler’s Creek Road, as I’d done thousands of times. The hatchback ahead of me hit the ditch. For a split-second, I thought–he’s not getting out of that ditch. I’ll pull up beside him to offer help–and lightly hit the brakes. He was an inexperienced driver, though, and wrenched the car back into the road. Suddenly, his car was standing on its side; I was looking at the drive train and it was falling. I leaned the bike over, and had just made the middle of the left lane when his car slammed down. My front wheel clipped the bumper, sending me sprawling. I hit the pavement, got a fair cut on my chin and all the bones in my back and neck went F-W-W-W-WHIT! I stood up, woozy and disoriented, took off my helmet and laid in the hatchback as folks gathered, making a fuss, asking if an ambulance had been called. I didn’t feel it necessary, but with all the chatter around me, finally consented. At the hospital, I waited an hour or more before they checked me out and let me go.
My Neck
The wreck actually helped my neck. I’d first injured it slamming into coral in Hawaii, then later hit a tree on my bicycle. That autumn I’d been lollygagging around the house on a cold, damp afternoon with a kink in my neck. Towards evening I tried to work it out, and gave my neck a slight jerk, as I’d done hundreds of times before.
Lightning hit! Down my spine! Down my arms! Up to my brain! I saw a bright white flash, and pain took over my body. I was bent over for days.
A month earlier, I’d jumped off Elk River Falls in Tennessee, a 50-foot waterfall. I met a red-haired fellow who played in a band two weeks later and we’d jammed a bit on harmonica and mandolin. Two weeks later he slipped, fell off the falls, broke his neck and died–that same afternoon.
I’d developed a bone spur, but the cycle wreck had pulverized it. When it’s cold and damp, it occasionally bothers me, so I wear a hoodie.
A state trooper interviewed me after the wreck. He was a New Jersey smart ass and gave me a ticket for something–speeding, unsafe movement, I don’t recall. I appeared in court on my 24th birthday but, to his credit, he dismissed the case. I found out later he’d just come from a wreck over the hill, where a woman had been killed. The ambulance had been occupied, by me, and as I’d been waiting in the hospital, annoyed, they were trying to save her. I felt guilty.
Some months after my court case, the trooper was involved in a dust-up with local authorities. He was transferred and fought the transfer, claiming it improper. Some comments were made to the effect that “if he didn’t lose his Yankee attitude, someone was going to shoot him”. These remarks were denied by the parties involved, but to me they rang true, and I wrote a letter to the editor. The trooper dropped his case, saying he felt badly that so many people had felt that way. He quit the patrol, settled down the road from our farm, bought some rental properties and became a very good neighbor.
There were more projects. The front yard had a rock wall with steps in the center, pillars to either side and a walkway leading to a rock landing. After seventy years the mountain had washed several inches of mud into the front yard, completely obscuring the walkway and a set of stepping stones later laid on top of it. The pillars and much of the wall had fallen, and one of the steps had migrated to an odd angle. I spent the summer digging out the rock wall, wheelbarrowing a couple feet of soil to the side yard, replacing the wall, steps, discovering and rebuilding the hidden walkway. I’d built twenty feet of rock wall, raised the old walkway and rebuilt the steps. It was obvious on which end of the wall I’d started, but I got better. I later worked as a rock mason and built many of the chimneys, walls, patios and terraces in the area.
Organic Chemistry
A year and a half later, Beth was back, a waitress in Blowing Rock. I’d go by the restaurant, she’d give me free salads. We’d trade books. On the sixth of April, I kissed her.

We’d talk about Eastern thought. She felt we’d been together, in a temple, in a past life. I’d been the grand wizard, and she’d been the temple prostitute.

Prostitute? I should’ve taken her at her word. I didn’t.

Reincarnation appeals to me, but not as a specific soul, returning in a specific form. As one lives, one’s matter is constantly dispersed throughout creation~as breath, as hair, as fingernail clippings. After death one becomes compost, fish food, smoke and ash~no longer a single body. A part of the creatures and plants, the planet, the universe. Another person arrives, formed from these and other atoms, overlaid on a twisted genetic ladder.
We’re all formed from what came before. Six parts wizard, one part prostitute, three percent donut salesman, five-seventeenths airplane mechanic. We’re focused when we’re here, dispersed when not, but we’re not gone. Physically, we’re part of the cars we’ve steered, the chairs we’ve sat in and the trees we’ve peed on. Mentally and spiritually we’re the memories, advice, the examples others take with them through their lives. It’s an unfocused, dispersed reincarnation. We first enter, a soul distilled from the primordial soup. From random tessellations of structure and crystals of experience, we form a life.
Beth was way more experienced than I. She was youngest in a large family, and had lived with her much older siblings, away from her parents, for years. She’d been married, had a toddler named Ben, and had traveled to numerous states and foreign countries hiding from her ex-husband. She was only six and a half months older than I, but it might as well have been ten years. I drew her chart and her son’s, whose chart closely resembled mine. Her son and I both had a Gemini sun and planets in a grand sextile, an unusual configuration resembling the star of David. I saw her every day for the next few weeks.
I was crazy about her, crazy being the operative word. She always had business out of town. She’d leave, show up a few days later. I didn’t ask what she was doing, didn’t know, didn’t care. She’d be back, we’d be together, she’d leave again.
There was a reason. I didn’t know until years later, but she was smuggling dope. She’d fly to Colombia dressed as a society girl and sew a few ounces of coke into her four-year-old’s teddy bear. Ben would pitch a fit if anyone tried to take away his old bear. It worked well. When she’d come back, there was coke all over town. I could take or leave it. I’d snort if it was passed around, but if the door to the den closed, I stayed in the living room. I never shot up.

Charts & Ching
I got on with my life. A temporary job at Blowing Rock Elementary, washing dishes. At night, classes at community college. I saw Beth when she was in town.
In June I rented a room in a rural house, and a friend and I, a former sailor who went by the nickname Tea, rented the left side of the Beadworks. We decorated it Oriental style, named it Charts & Ching. I drew astrology charts and did other forms of divination. Tea, who knew Chinese, read the I Ching. I was there every day; Tea showed up once or twice a week. George and Wanda broke up and left the business that summer, Chris and Sam that winter. Allen, Lisa and Bill were usually at concerts or craft fairs, so often I was alone. Beth left her four-year-old at the shop when she was working.
The routine continued. Go to the shop, to school, then home, start again in the morning. I’d do astrology, read a palm, throw tarot cards. For the I Ching, I preferred the traditional method. Counting bundles of yarrow stalks is more contemplative than tossing coins, which leaves more time for evaluation and conversation.
Outside of the technical aspects, reading a fortune involves psychology, and a lot of talk. Everyone has their technique, and whether the I Ching, palmistry, tarot or astrology, mine was to start slowly and follow a defined ritual. I’d sit directly across from a client, ask questions, find their concerns and put them at ease, all the while shuffling cards, counting yarrow stalks, observing their palm, etc.
Calculating astrological charts by hand is tricky and requires concentration, but we could chat when the preliminaries were in place. A person’s manner and bearing reveals a lot, even before the chart is finished. A quick glance in an ephemeris reveals the placements of the planets and important aspects, and the rest is fiddling around the edges, finding the degrees of the moon, planets, house cusps, placing the planets in the houses. Charts fit into patterns. Planets may be clumped together, spread all over or contained loosely in one half of the chart. Sometimes one planet is particularly prominent or isolated, which is itself a quick clue. I also knew the planetary placements on the date and time a client entered, which told me more, and what to expect in my own chart that day, which told me still more. From there, I’d move to specifics.
If clients wanted palm readings I’d have them place their hands flat on the table, palms down. There are correspondences between the hands and an astrological chart, and I’d note the positions of each finger in relation to the others, the length of each finger and the spread of the space the client maintained between them. After seeing what I could, I’d take their hands, together, in mine, feel their texture and look at the differences between the palms. I’d then take one or the other and explain the palm, from the outside in. The center finger, being the longest and its tip the furthest from the body, represents the furthest traditional planet, Saturn. The thumb is closest, representing the moon. The other planets are in-between, in order of distance from the earth. The pads or “mounts” on the palm, and their relative prominence, reveal themes in life, which I’d explain, always working inwards towards the wrist. After these preliminaries came the lines, and their significance.
I’d introduce the tarot to a client wanting a card reading, but wouldn’t explain much. I’d ask them to think about their questions while they put the cards in order; whatever order suited their fancy. This was quite revealing. Some were uncomfortable putting them in order, and asked dozens of questions. Others simply separated them into suits and piled them up. I’d observe and ask questions, deliberately and delicately. They were my cards; I treated them with reverence. Slowly and carefully, I’d shuffle them as we discussed the client’s concerns, and they’d tell me when they thought we were ready. I’d then explain the spread, which was my own variation of a Celtic cross, and the meaning of the card positions. Only then would I lay out the first card. We’d discuss it and go to the next. At the end I’d ask for more questions. If there were none, I’d pick up the cards in the same order I’d laid them down.
I rarely used other types of divination, but I’d follow the same thoughtful, thorough path. On principle, I’d be diplomatic, but never lie. Difficult things need to be said. One should never be afraid of the truth. If a client has a short lifeline it’s important to tell them so. It doesn’t necessarily foretell a short life. Sometimes people take care of themselves, change their lifestyle and their life span, sometimes they don’t. A girl of fourteen that I knew had a very short life line. I told her so. It didn’t surprise her; she was relieved that I was honest about it. She had a genetic heart defect. Her brother had died at seventeen. She lived to be twenty-eight. Not old, but older than her brother.
I told what I saw, in the palm, in the chart, in the cards. People deserve to know. Some pay attention, but most people shop around for comfortable answers. There will always be an expert, a survey, a Bible verse, a scientist, a grandma who says differently. Some know what they’re talking about, most parrot what they’ve seen on TV or heard on the internet. Often the most knowledgeable people in one field are the most ignorant in another. I wouldn’t hire a brain surgeon to wire my house, why would I want a physicist to read my palm?
I was alone in the shop for the month of December. There wasn’t much business; Chris and Sam were vacationing in Mexico and Alan, Bill and Lisa were all ski instructors for the season. It wasn’t fun to ride my motorcycle in wind and snow, so I’d sleep there, in a sleeping bag. With little else to do, I picked up Chris’ tools and tried my hand at ring making.

Puzzle Rings

I was alone in the shop for the month of December. There wasn’t much business; Chris and Sam were vacationing in Mexico; Beth was off somewhere and Alan, Bill and Lisa were all ski instructors for the season. It wasn’t fun to ride home on my motorcycle in the snow, so I brought my sleeping bag to town. With little else to do all day, I picked up Chris’ tools and tried my hand at ring making.

Some older cousins had given me a puzzle ring when I was 15. They had puzzle rings for wedding bands, and I’d been so fascinated that they’d sent me one as a birthday gift. I’d worn it in high school, but one day in science lab I took it off to wash up, and forgot it. An hour or so later I went back. It was gone. It could’ve been stolen, but was more probably knocked to the floor, came apart, and was swept up as trash.

Anyway, with everyone gone and time on my hands, I played with paper clips and figured out the special weave. At 5 pm, I started making a ring. I’d welded steel, but knew nothing about soldering silver except what I’d seen in the shop. I soldered, banged and twisted wires all night, cut and re-soldered them, banged some more, twisted, filed and polished. By 6 am I had a god-awful looking ring–but it was mine! I’d made it!

I tried again the next day. This ring took 3 or 4 hours to make instead of 13, and looked much better. I ordered some tools and silver, and by the time Chris and Sam came back I’d made a dozen rings. I gave them as Christmas gifts that year.

Not only did I start making Turkish wedding bands, I started marrying couples, as a minister! I’d sent a postcard to the Universal Life Church that summer, and was ordained, “for free, for life, without question of faith”. This fit me precisely, as I’ve always felt none can judge the faith of another.

There wasn’t any ritual. I asked a few questions, then pronounced Wiley and Debbie man and wife, as we all rode down the road in the back of Jay Johnson’s pickup. All of us were high as a kite, on a combination of chemicals Wiley had purchased for the occasion

Marriage? Probably Not.

My romance with Beth sputtered along. She’d show up occasionally, appearing unannounced at night school or calling me from out of town. I wanted to wait her out, and didn’t have anything else going on.

According to her, she crazy needed to marry. She wanted another child right away; her son was four, and she wanted any brothers or sisters to be close in age.  It seemed silly to me–what difference would a year make? I’d have married her, but not in a rush. She got involved with one guy after another, bouncing around, a couple weeks with one, then another. I wasn’t happy about it, but couldn’t change it.

One day in late summer, I hadn’t seen her for three weeks or a month. I was in the sun working on my truck when a beautiful German girl drove by and asked me directions to a party. I ended up riding with her and her roommate, and spending the weekend.  It was the first time in over a year I’d gone out with another girl, and I really needed to.

Irmalee didn’t want to stay with me, after our weekend. I didn’t understand why. Depressed, I went back to my house in the country, but the same night, Beth climbed through my bedroom window. I was happy to see her, but thoroughly confused. The last time we’d talked, we’d sort of broken up. She’d said our relationship was too serious, that I was too serious. She needed someone shallow, meaningless. We had a long, disjointed talk about spiritual needs and such, which ended inconclusively. 

This didn’t seem spiritual to me. I didn’t understand how she could talk spirituality, karma, responsibility, marriage~and then run around looking for shallow, meaningless relationships, but that was her plan. She said she loved me, respected me deeply, that I was her wizard, but that she wasn’t worthy of the wizard. I said yes, she was, and that I loved her too. She still left.

In the end she found a guitar player in a shiny suit.  She came to me one day with their two charts, asking if they’d be good as business partners. Any astrologer knows a partnership is delineated similarly to a marriage, and I knew what was up.

They had certain things in common. Both had been married before. He was an Aquarian named Michael, like her first husband, though he went by Luke. This disappointed George, who’d been interested in Beth after Wanda had left–with a guy named Luke!

They left town to marry, and I wrote a letter of congratulations, though my heart wasn’t in it.  She sent back a very strange letter, saying it was something she had to do, that she was trying hard to fly but her wings were clipped, reiterating familiar themes. She was the temple prostitute. I was the grand wizard. Oh, what karma befalls the Wise One, etcetera. She signed it, Love & Light, Eliza-Beth. 

It was a very weird letter to receive from a newlywed, but so it was. I got on with my life, but I was empty. I met a very nice girl, an art student named Sylvia, and were an item into the fall, but she had problems too. Her brother had committed suicide the year before. I was heartsick, she was hurting. We couldn’t help each other.


I wanted a radical change in my life, but didn’t know what to do about it. I continued with school and my shop. I’d have loved to have been in a band, had it not churned up in me so much indigestion. I certainly wanted to see more places. I’d been to about twenty states, but many we’d passed through only stopping for gas. I wanted to explore. One of the Avery County Women, June, gave me some addresses of her friends in Cortland and Ithaca, NY.

It took awhile, but in the spring of 1978 I was ready. In March I’d left the shop, and was finished with school. I was ready to leave, pack on my back. I’d bring along silver, and had figured how to pack exactly twelve items–a hammer, ring mandrel, file, pliers, polish in a sock, flux, three sizes of silver wire and three types of silver solder. I’d pack a basic, but complete, astrology book, a knife, clothes, a sleeping bag, a pad to sleep on and two sturdy leaf bags duct-taped end-to-end for a weather barrier to sleep in. I had cologne, soap, a comb, toothbrush, harmonica and several other items. I was ready to go to Denver. I made plans once or twice which fell through, but in May the girl who’d rented my room on the porch when I’d moved to the country, Kathy, decided to check out a communal farm in Summertown, Tennessee. My friend Bobby and I went along. We stayed a couple days. It’d been started by a caravan of California hippies a few years earlier, and was very interesting indeed. Everyone was vegetarian, and everyone worked. You’d work wherever you wanted to, but you worked. We transplanted tomatoes and took part in discussions, but they had lots of rules that we weren’t interested in following. Kathy went north to see her family. Bobby and I hitchhiked west. We were in Denver by the next afternoon.

Denver, Again

It was great fun showing Bobby the neighborhood where I grew up. Monk had left the temple and moved to San Diego, but was now back visiting for a couple weeks. We stayed at his house for 3 days while Bobby learned about the West. At first Bobby was annoyed. He was used to small-town life. He’d walk around town, nod at people, wave, say hi. They’d turn away. I told him people were friendly, but their customs were different. I explained that if he nodded at people, it implied that he recognized them. Strangers, disoriented, would look away. He still grumbled. On the third day we sat down at a bus stop on Colfax Avenue. There was a black fellow there, drinking something from a paper bag. We said howdy, and he shared his bottle with us–peach brandy.

We explored with him for an hour or so, met his friends and scored half an ounce of really good pot. Bobby finally understood what I’d been saying, and quit complaining.

Later that Saturday we went to a wedding party given by some of Monk’s friends. I surprised myself with some social faux pas on my own. I’d been five years away from the city, and was now more of a hillbilly than I’d realized. On Sunday afternoon we were on the porch at Monk’s house and, without a plan, everyone from the old days showed up. My first date, Monk’s sister Carole, was down from Wyoming for the weekend. Brother Dick and his wife Wendy (whom I’d known since high school) showed up from out of town, Luanne and her family drove over from Aurora, and Margaret, Ruth and Jim appeared, completing the family. Our old friend Wayne came by from a few blocks away, where he lived in his parents’ basement, and while we were sitting on the porch the last member of our old gang, Tom, drove in unannounced from Fort Collins. It was all of us. Even Paddy the dog was there, the puppy who was now 13 years old. We talked over old times, and Tom remarked that it’d probably be 15 or 20 years before all of us could even plan to pull off such a gathering again. He was right. It never happened.

After Colorado, I hitchhiked home while Bobby left for the West Coast. He was gone for 3 months in the Pacific Northwest, including British Columbia. I’d have explored more, but had to get back, as an acquaintance had planned to buy my motorcycle but never paid me. I had a date with the magistrate. The motorcycle was back when I returned, but he had to pay my filing fee. In all, I was gone nine days.

It turned out that Beth and Luke had visited North Carolina for a week. I was rather pleased that I wasn’t there. I didn’t want to see either one of them.

When back in town I did craft fairs, sold rings and tended to Christmas trees for a short while, then headed for Canada. I’d learned to pack about 30 pounds less. I went first to my brother Sam’s apartment in New Haven, Connecticut, where I stayed a few days and had a marvelous time. I continued to my uncle’s home in Sudbury, Massachusetts, where I painted his house, made some rings and stayed for two or three weeks. From there I went to Maine to find a friend of a friend in Bar Harbor, but Jan was out of town and I continued on to Cadillac Mountain to watch the sunrise as it first appeared on United States soil. It was windy, cold and very dry that year, and was posted No Fires Allowed. I decided it wouldn’t be any fun to sleep in the open without a fire, so I turned around and found a sheltered spot.

I rolled out my sleeping bag and pad, stuffed them into the double leaf bag barrier, loosened up my pants, took off my shoes, stuffed them into my pack, put my shoulder bag inside the sleeping bag and used my backpack as a pillow, hooking my arm through the straps.  It would’ve been difficult for anyone to steal anything from me, but I slept in secluded places and certainly didn’t look like I had a lot of cash to flash anyway. 


The next morning I hitched to Calais, Maine, which I’d seen featured in the Reader’s Digest. It was a little town where community services were shared with the town of St. Stephen, New Brunswick, just over the Canadian border. The article was illustrated with a picture of two fire trucks, one from each side of the border, putting out a house fire together.

I crossed the border and spent a very pleasant afternoon in St. Stephen. I’d brought along $100 to prove I wasn’t a vagrant, and had several silver puzzle rings I’d made during my stay in Massachusetts. I sold one to a Canadian fellow for Canadian money, with which I bought lunch and went to a movie. The movie was horrible–a low-budget “snuff film” called “Jeannie’s Teenage Fantasies”–and I walked out, for the first time ever. I hung around in the park awhile, then towards dusk I put out my thumb. I walked a little ways out of town, then looked down a long driveway and saw a small house, a cheery fire burning in its fireplace. Very picturesque–but there was something odd about it. The fireplace looked to be three feet off the floor–and the fire was getting brighter. I realized–the house was on fire! The living room was full of flames! Soon I heard sirens, the St. Stephen fire truck pulled up–and then the Calais, Maine fire truck! They’d driven straight out of the pages of Reader’s Digest!

The house was hopeless. They sprayed a little water around to keep the fire from spreading, then pulled it down.

As I watched the show, a Canadian kid walked up. We talked a bit, and he told me to wait right there. He returned about fifteen minutes later with a nice full bag of fresh green homegrown Canadian pot, which I enjoyed for the rest of my Canadian adventure.

I slept under a bridge that night. Bridges are wonderful places to crash. There’s a flat place up under the roadbed just wide enough for a sleeping bag, well sheltered from the weather.

In the morning I started across New Brunswick. It was disorienting seeing speed limits of 100 or 110 when in the USA the limit was 55. The Canadian speed limit was higher, but also was measured in kilometers. My first ride explained a quick way to tell miles per hour–multiply the first digit of the speed limit by six. One hundred kilometers per hour is thus about 60 miles per hour. 

My next ride came from a uniformed Canadian soldier in a beret. We traded military stories and discussed our national differences. At the time gas in the states was about 65¢ a gallon, and it sounded crazy when he said that in Canada it was a dollar a gallon! That was a Canadian dollar, of course, worth about 85¢ US, and a Canadian or Imperial gallon, which was five quarts. The actual price was nearly equal, but a buck a gallon still sounded fantastically, incredibly expensive.

I arrived in Fredericton in the afternoon and went in a beverage house, which was a class of drinking establishments in New Brunswick. A beverage house would serve women, a bar would not. You could sit at a table and drink all day, but couldn’t stand up with a beer in hand. To move to another table you’d either call for the waitress or ask other customers to pass it along. There was a white line around the top of every glass–a foam line. The beer had to touch it.

The Frenchies

I met a bilingual fellow in the beverage house, and we had a conversation with a couple of girls in French–he translating for me, they practicing their English. I knew Spanish, which helped me figure out a few words but was otherwise useless.

After a couple beers my new friend drove me to Moncton, a good stretch down the road. We went to a party; he’d thought I might stay there, but they spoke only French and I was a fifth wheel, so he took me to an “auberge de jeunuesse” or youth hostel. For a few bucks I had a place to clean up, do laundry, sleep and breakfast in the morning. I strolled around Moncton the next day, and bought a train ticket to Campbellton in the evening. At about 5 am, on the last day of August, I arrived, looked outside and there was frost ringing a puddle in the gutter! The days were long, that far north, but the nights were cold.

As I caught rides down the St. Lawrence Seaway through French Canada, I learned a lot of history and politics. The English won the French & Indian War in the 1760s and split up the French families, sending some members to France and others to Louisiana, which in the 1700s was like sending them to the moon. Many French hid out in the backwoods, which were wide-open and thinly-populated, or came back after the war, resettling Quebec.

New Brunswick is one-third French, but Quebec is three-quarters, and the French are in charge. French Canadians are different in a lot of ways. They live in little bitty houses and have great big barns. They don’t bother much about drinking beer in public, and even then beer bottles carried a hefty deposit of 10¢, with the interesting result that while people still discarded their bottles, there wasn’t a litter problem. A bottle by the side of the road was simply a dime for the next guy. There was a free and easy attitude about peeing, too. I saw several drivers pulled to the side of the road, letting it fly. I met a girl later who swore it wasn’t so, but I was there. They had a seatbelt law, years before the United States. One driver kept a ten-dollar bill on the dashboard. It was for the passenger, he explained to me in gestures and broken English. If we got stopped, $10 paid the fine.

Quebec is a huge area, almost as big as Alaska and many times more populous. It’s been officially bilingual for centuries, but there’s a strong undercurrent of French pride which frequently churns up. They do things their way. In Quebec City, all the stop signs had STOP spray-painted over, leaving only ARRÉT, and the English on most other official signs was defaced as well. I went into a bar in Quebec City and everyone pretended they didn’t understand English at all.

Not so a few hours down the road, in Montreal. A street festival was going on when I arrived, and there was music and dancing and carrying-on until the sky was dark, which at that latitude in the late summer was around 10 pm. I rolled out my sleeping bag behind some bushes and was awakened by the sunrise about 4 am. It was time to head back.

The States

The next morning I caught a ride through a little piece of Ontario and down into New York State. I had a couple friends of friends to find upstate, and about six weeks to enjoy the area.

One of the Original Avery County Women, June, was from upstate New York, and left me some addresses. The first was a couple who lived in the woods outside Cincinnatus. Neal drove a train. He and Joellen had a farm, a sawmill, two kids and a third on the way. I helped them out for a week, then went to Cortland to find another gal. June’s friend worked in a local bar, but wasn’t set up to take in a visitor, so I hung out and met a local named Maggie, who put me up for the night.  The next day I met Maggie’s friends. A gal named Barb, a year younger than me, had a son who was 7. Her boyfriend Al was in Hollywood pitching a cartoon series–the Corelians–that he’d dreamed up, and she was happy to have a man around the house. I cleaned up, fixed up, told stories, slept on her couch. I met lots of folks and very much enjoyed the area. 

After three weeks I called another friend of June’s.  Eileen lived in Ithaca, she was four and an half years older and had a toddler, Jubal, barely learning to walk. She’d also lived in Colorado, but had left two years before, when her fiancé had been killed in an accident. Eileen had a boyfriend, but no long-term plans. I slept in Jubal’s room, cooked, cleaned, minded the baby. We had had friends over and strolled around town together. One day she was making lasagna and left me while she went out. I made a sauce using everything in the kitchen–tomatoes, onions, garlic and olive oil, of course, but also walnuts, apricots, raisins, coconut, yogurt and a blue billion other things. Her friends talked about the sauce for weeks. For years. Every time I came to town I’d hear about the sauce. I couldn’t make it again, of course.

About October first, I headed back towards New Haven to again visit my brother. On the road, for the first time in years, I dropped a hit of acid a driver had given me. It was cold, damp, rainy, dark. A fellow picked me up, we started talking and then and there decided to drive to Florida. He packed a few things in his MG and we were off to Ormond Beach, where we arrived about twelve hours later. I wanted to see Key West, and continued towards Miami the next morning, but my next ride took me towards Orlando, the area where my mother’d grown up. I thought I’d explore a bit, but about noon was sitting by the side of the road in blistering heat, and changed my mind. I crossed the street to thumb back out, but an exceptionally cute girl had seen me, and had already turned around to pick me up. She liked my jewelry, and we drove around town looking for places to sell it for the next hour. Her name was Amy. She had two small kids and lived with a roomie in a suburban ranch house, where we ate lunch. We then went to the topless bar where her roomie worked, had some drinks and she dropped me off at the same spot where she’d picked me up. Planning way ahead, and being rather obvious about it, I asked her what town we were in. She said Kissimmee, so I did. We corresponded for awhile but lost touch, which was a shame.

I thumbed around the back roads of Florida for a few days, stopping here and there to make jewelry, sleeping in the bushes, eating the occasional grapefruit off the tree. A cop once picked me up, told me I couldn’t hitchhike there and gave me a ride to the city limit. In Miami several folks told me Key West was a pain that time of year, so I turned back up the coast.

I passed through Savannah, and on to Atlanta. I’d been dropped off in downtown Atlanta, and as I put down my pack a girl on the corner asked me where I was coming from. Her name was Virginia. She was visiting from Virginia. She took me to her hotel room to clean up, and while I was showering she joined me. She had freckles, all over her body. We had a lovely afternoon.

I had one more friend of June’s to meet. She worked in DC, and her name was Flo. From the beltway a fellow named Bert, in a beige Oldsmobile, gave me a ride to Flo’s place in Silver Spring. I stayed with Flo for several days, and helped Bert in the daytime.

Bert had narcolepsy. He transported blood for a couple hospitals, but would start to babble and fall asleep, so he needed a co-pilot. For the next week or so I rode with him and visited Flo and her friends at night. When I left, Bert was taking me to the freeway, but started to nod off. I took the wheel, with no idea where I was. When I saw the Washington Monument, it seemed  a good place to visit for a few minutes, but when I returned the police had awakened him and he’d driven off–with my pack! I called Flo, she came for me, and in the morning I called the numbers of blood services and hospitals until I found the one he worked for. The next day, he came by. Bert had college buddies in North Carolina to visit, so we ambled through Virginia, stopping every hour or so to eat or explore. We arrived in Winston-Salem at suppertime. I expected him to drop me off, but he insisted that I drive his car to Texas! I’d thumbed out of Boone in July, and returned in October, driving a car!


I wasn’t in Boone for long. A couple days later I headed for Texas, to look for a place to sell trees. My father had a friend in Laredo, so I drove there, picking up a hitchhiker on the way. Jude was a playwright, and my father had been in one of his plays. We went to Jude’s house, and Jude took us over the border to eat tacos and drink Mexican beer. Bill and I stayed at Jude’s while investigating the area, and one night we met a fellow named Pancho who lived on a ranch some miles outside town. With his friend Rick, we all went to Nuevo Laredo.  There was a red light district outside town. We drank Coronitas and danced with Mexican whores, but weren’t there for sex. I was really taken with a cutie named Maritza, she was smart, educated, friendly, beautiful and funny. In my journal that night I said I wanted to marry a Mexican whore!

After returning, we discovered we’d gone both ways across the border with a box of shotgun shells in the rear window, in plain view. We could have been busted, in either direction.

We had a wonderful time, and stayed in the barracks for the field hands at Pancho’s ranch that night.  There were two coolers next to the counter, one full of beer, the other liquor, and two cafeteria trays on the bar, one holding pot and the other dried peyote. We all partook, then crashed in the bunks. In the morning Pancho’s mother came through, saw the scene, picked up an empty bottle, shook her head and smiled.

The ranches are long and skinny in that part of Texas. Because water is at a premium, ranches start at the river’s edge and go for miles across the desert. We drove into town that afternoon, many miles on a dirt road and a short stretch on the freeway, and back to Jude’s house. He’d been a wonderful host, but three or four days into our stay told me we’d totally surprised him. My father hadn’t mentioned I was coming.

It was becoming clear that Laredo wasn’t the best place to sell trees.  It was small, dusty and didn’t have a strong Christmas tree tradition.  The first weekend in November, I left for Austin, to meet a dog.

Willy was John T’s dog. John was a Charleston native, like Beth.  His last name started with T, so he went by Johntee. He’d lived in the North Carolina mountains for awhile, and had left Willy with Beth while getting established in Texas. I met Willy in Austin, but not Johntee, though I had his Texas address. Jude, in Laredo, lived on a street of the same name. Several streets in Laredo and Austin share names; it had a deja-vu feel.

Since Johntee wasn’t in town when Bill and I arrived, Bill went off to explore. While I was parked across the street, a girl asked me where I was from. Jean had to move out of her apartment across the street, and had no place to stay for a couple days, so I offered her the back seat of my car. She slept there for a couple of nights, while we found a place. It was the

Johntee showed up the next evening. We played blues and jammed with friends, then visited afterwards over beers and burritos. I found temporary work cleaning out storage sheds at Texas Instruments the next morning; it was exceptionally interesting. There were electro-mechanical adding machines for room-sized computers, their number keys hooked to servo units with wiring harnesses. There were digital-display vacuum tubes, reel-to-reel storage tapes, punch cards, high-quality 4-track tape players, all headed for the trash. All obsolete. The job was supposed to last 2 days but lasted 4, and I filled my trunk with interesting junk.

I checked for tree lots, and found a good spot just north of the freeway on Airport Boulevard. Nobody answered at the house next door, but a fellow from the neighborhood told me a crazy old lady lived there, and that I should wait awhile and try again. I sat on the curb, played my harmonica and knocked again. No response. I needed to pee, and it was secluded, so I watered her tree. When I turned around, she’d answered the door. Mary indeed proved to be an old crazy lady. Her house was filled from socks to eyebrows with old newspapers and piled-up junk. She had a dozen or two cats, but she was sweet, and rented me her lot for a very good price. I drove back to North Carolina with Bill in tow, and we spent the week before Thanksgiving readying 600 white pines. After Thanksgiving we rented a U-Haul truck and towed my brother’s 1968 Dodge Coronet to Texas.  Austin was a popular destination that year and carried a $250 surcharge, so we returned it to Waco. The next year U-Haul red-lined the whole state of Texas, so we contracted it to somewhere in Louisiana, paid the mileage charge, lost our $75 deposit and still came out over $100 to the better. It became our modus operandi.

Selling trees was truly fun. We were Austins, in Austin. Everyone remembered our names. My father ran a radio commercial on the local country station, adopting the persona of a friendly hick. He said he was a small tree farmer–just over four feet tall, though he usually wore boots! He had two boys and a dog named Booger, who was part Great Dane and part wolf. Everyone came to see Booger, but Booger was always out for a walk.

We had a good location and the best trees in town. The business in Austin had been dominated by trees from the North, cut in October before it snowed and trucked down on huge open trailers. After two months and a thousand miles of highway wind, the trees were tinder-dry, brittle, and sharp to the touch. Tree handlers wore thick leather gloves, and long sleeves. Our trees had been cut just before Thanksgiving, and packed in a closed van, covered with snow. They were fresh, fluffy, soft. We’d push them into people’s hands, and they’d instinctively pull back, then were amazed when the fresh white pine needles didn’t sting at all.  We’d take a small branch, tie it in a knot and tell them to take it to the other tree lots.  Nobody could match it, and it caused a sensation.

I took off one day the whole month, and had to fight with my father for that. Jean had come by, and by the 18th, sales were slowing down, so I visited Johntee and a few friends. By the 22nd we’d sold over 500 trees, and those left were small and scraggly. On our last day a fellow came by needing a dozen trees, to hide materials on a building job. My father gave them to him, told Mary he’d sold them at a “special rate”, and Mary tucked away the last 50 in a corner of her lot. We arrived in North Carolina two days before Christmas. Bert had picked up his car while we were gone; I’d planned to visit him again, but not long afterwards I got a letter from his mother. He’d passed away.

Back to the West

I hung around Boone until February, then left for Denver with my brother. I didn’t stay long, but visited a few “real” bars I hadn’t been able to enter when I was under 21. One close to the barber shop was a dive called the Satire Lounge. I stopped in for a beer, and a girl sat next to me. Kay was very drunk, and soon passed out. I looked after her until closing time, and offered to walk her home, but she refused. She immediately stumbled into the path of a passing pickup truck.  I ran over. She had a deep gash in her scalp. I could see her skull, but calmly told her what had happened. The ambulance and the cops arrived, at the same time. I talked to a cop and told him no, it wasn’t the driver’s fault, then went along to the hospital and held her hand for some hours while they stitched her up. Her brother arrived, thanked me and took me back to my brother’s apartment, where I slept for a long time. 

The next day. I left for Boulder to see Paul, the friend who’d nearly been electrocuted in my kitchen a few years earlier.  He’d rented a metal detector that morning, had found a few pennies and lots of bottle caps. I tried it. About 2 steps away, next to his sidewalk, I found a 1910-S dime!  He’d been looking all day, but inside of 3 seconds, not 3 feet away, I found a rare, valuable, silver dime! I tried to give it to him, but he insisted I keep it.

Paul had been in a military school when I left for California, but he’d now grown his hair out.  We spent the day wandering Boulder, catching up, visiting friends. A couple days later my brother dropped me off at the freeway entrance. Before I’d reached the bottom of the ramp, I had a ride. We drove to southern Colorado, stayed the night in a motel, and  my driver dropped me off in the morning. As I was pulling my pack from his trunk, I stuck out my thumb. I had a ride, to Los Angeles!  I’d spent less than a minute hitchhiking, and gone from Denver to LA! 

About the time we’d left California, my brother’s buddy Arthur’s parents had split up, and he’d moved to Boone to live with our family. After high school graduation, he’d moved back. Arthur picked me up in town and we spent the next week looking up old friends. It had only been a few years, but almost everyone in the old neighborhood had left. I only knew Kenny, from across the street, and our next door neighbor Jennifer, who was now a teenager. She recognized me, but I didn’t recognize her!

My mother’s first name is Dorothy, and her aunt from Georgia always called her Dottie. In one of those frequent, travel-related coincidences, the woman who now lived in our Minnehaha Street house was named Dottie, came from Georgia, resembled my mother and was also a teacher.

The neighborhood around Pete’s Rental had changed, too. The shack, which had remained for a year or more, had now been replaced by a large building containing offices and a bus garage. Neither did any of the nearby businesses remain, though three blocks away the Troubadour still stood.

Arthur was a sound man for various bands, and eventually became an electrician.  He lived with several roommates in a ramshackle ranch house in Encino. One was a delectable red-haired girl who dried off by the fireplace after showering. Julia, wet, inspired many of my wet dreams.

After a week at Arthur’s I hitchhiked towards San Diego to see Monk, intending to see Tijuana as well. At my drop-off I met a fellow who was covered in tattoos, which was something of a rarity in the ’70s. He was friendly enough, but as we talked I realized he was crazy. His tattoos were all skulls, guns, knives, manacled hands, WHITE PRIDE on his back arms. All he talked about was crime and criminals.  He’d just gotten out of prison, and he was really proud that he’d met Sonny Barger, who ran the Hell’s Angels, and had given him extra pudding. He’d written reams of bad poetry, which he quoted, dealing with revenge, armed robbery, Nazis, etc. I was glad I had a film canister full of cayenne in my jacket, and a knife I could open with one hand. When hitchhiking, I’m friends with everyone, but I’m not naive.

He’d been beaten up the night before. Some Army guys had given him a ride, but had taken his fighting chain, gun, buck knife, extra clothes and $300. I didn’t mention that I thought that was a good thing.

I pulled out my map book and showed him how to get to Mattoon, Illinois. He memorized the highways. I offered to write them down, but he didn’t want to bother.

As we waited in a wide spot off the freeway, a cop stopped and ticketed us. I wasn’t exactly “on” the freeway exit, and might not have gotten my one and only ticket for hitchhiking had I not been with Mr. WHITE PRIDE, but that’s life. We split up. He went one way, I the other. I got a notice in the mail months later, but didn’t thumb back the 2300 miles in time to appear in court, so I suppose I’m wanted in California. They haven’t extradited me yet.

I didn’t see Monk, nor Tijuana. I thumbed along instead to Boulevard, where I stayed on a ranch with a couple of Bahais outside town. It was the month of Ramadan (the month I was born), so we didn’t eat anything until sundown, then had a big bowl of grains for dinner. Very good. On St. Patrick’s Day they dropped me off at a bridge next to the freeway. By law I should’ve been at the top of an entrance, but there wasn’t much traffic and the driver recommended that I stand to the far side of a concrete divider, off the roadbed and so at least borderline legal. I caught a ride from there to Highway 98, where I hiked along the side of the road for several hours before catching another. Late in the afternoon a uniformed Marine picked me up. He was a Mexican national who’d joined the military to gain US citizenship. We rode to the Arizona border, and just before sunset he stopped at the Yuma exit to drop me off. I didn’t know it then, but in the next half-hour more threads would form linking to other parts of my life than any several years put together.


Three drunk Mexicans, in a van, butted him in the rear.

He wasn’t happy, and started a fight with all three. They were screaming in Spanish, spitting, punching, kicking. I was in the fight, whether I wanted to be or not.

The Marine was handling the two biggest guys, and a smaller fellow and I were more or less observing. With a sigh, as if he really didn’t want to, he raised his fist to hit me. I grabbed him by the arm, leaned into him, swung him and threw him about 15 or 20 feet down the road, where he lay, spread-eagled, not wanting to get up. The others saw it was now two-on-two and paused. I made some remark about cops. The magic word! They jumped into their van and drove away, over my pack, which tore it up a bit. I picked up my stuff, tied it together and started across the road.  As I stood on the median between the two states, an Arizona cop car drove up. Out popped a pretty girl, in a sheriff car, with a single bubble-gum machine on top! She asked me about the fight, and while I started to tell her the details, the California cops arrived. Two big guys, with a cage in the back, a rack decorated with shotguns and a light bar with twenty or more blinking lights across the roof. I thought, I’m sure glad I’m in Arizona, flirting with this chick, instead of ten feet away in California, being grilled by the World Wrestling tag team!

After telling her my story, all the cops drove off. A few seconds later, my driver showed up, looking for his glasses.  Twenty seconds earlier, he could have told his own story to the cops, but I’m not sure he wanted to.  We looked around and didn’t find them, but I found a utility razor blade pounded into a flattened piece of copper pipe, which I kept as a souvenir.

I was glad to see the end of California.  Coastal states are a pain to hitchhike in, because most drivers are local, driving only to the next town. Inland, many folks are journeying hundreds or thousands of miles.

It was dusk now, and I was in Arizona, so I went to the bottom of the entrance ramp. Three guys were there~one a local, one from Scotland, one from Wales.  They’d seen the lights, and I told them my story.  They pulled out a pipe filled with hash, which we passed around.  We exchanged adventure stories, the three of them left to hop a freight train, and I was alone. The sun was setting and traffic had slacked off, so I pulled out my penny whistle. I heard a shout, “Hey hitchhiker!”. By the river were several folks next to a campfire.  “Ya want some grub?!” I scampered down the hill.

A motley crew. Some folks lived in buses or step vans, some in tents. On the fire was a huge pot of beans and a variety of dishes. They were seasonal workers, picking oranges and grapefruits. We sat around the fire, talking and playing music into the night.  I pulled out my sleeping bag, slept under the stars, and in the morning they gave me a huge bag of fruit.  I went back to the freeway and in twenty minutes caught a ride with a Vietnam vet.  We ate oranges and drank beer all the way to Tucson. I got another ride late in the afternoon, and crashed on his sofa.  The next night was back in Austin. Jean had moved once more, but I found her at work. We spent the week  together.

It was late March, tree-trimming time, and I had to head out, dropping in on one of my South Carolina cousins on the way. It was the first time I’d talked with her, away from the family. We smoked some pot and I stayed there for the night. She took me to visit her work, which was an eye-opener. She and her husband worked in a state facility for the profoundly retarded. Fully grown men and women, behaving like infants. Some could say a few words, but many couldn’t talk at all. Occasionally one would take a notion to run around naked, grinning and giggling.  She was even-tempered and matter-of-fact, but I wouldn’t have wanted the job even for good money.  She and her husband later broke up. I wondered if work had affected their marriage, but they had other issues which my cousin hadn’t mentioned.

April Fool

I returned to Boone on the evening of April Fool’s Day and was immediately invited to a party, where I met a “kissin’ cousin”. I’d grown up thousands of miles away, and had never kissed a girl who was just a little bit kin.  Margo was related through my grandfather’s brother’s family, which made her a third or fourth cousin, and was niece to another cousin. I saw her for awhile, and we kissed a few more times, but nothing more developed.

I was in Boone for the spring. I received a weird letter from Beth in Arizona, again full of talk about the karma which befalls the wizard (me), how she was smothering in domesticity, and so forth, enclosing a picture of the cutest, sweetest, happiest baby I’d ever seen.  I wrote her back – I’ve no idea what I said – and made plans to leave town again, to go away, far away.

There was another kink in my plans.  I’d been visiting a friend called Sam. I’d leaned my bike on the fence in front of his apartment while he made martinis and I rolled a couple joints.  A knock came on the screen door. There were 2 cops standing there, one a regular Boone cop and the other a high school kid dressed up in a blue uniform for Career Day.  Sam, in the kitchen, yelled “Come on in!”, and they did.

I was caught, green-handed. We went to jail. My mother bailed me out 20 minutes later, but Sam spent the night.

That same weekend, I went to a party near my house, and the kid who had been in uniform was there, underage drinking. He filled me in on the details.  The neighbors on the far side of the fence had called the cops, and he was along for the ride.  When the court date came late that spring, the cop didn’t show and all was dismissed.  Sam called the cops on his neighbors half-a-dozen times in the next few months, for every bogus reason he could dream up.

To the North

I trimmed trees, then left in the early summer. My brother had written a musical, and it was performed by the Yale Dramat for their graduation, one of a very few times the play had been written by a student.  Sam had done well at Yale, and had joined Skull and Bones. My family drove to Connecticut, where Fran stayed for a summer class at Yale before continuing at Michigan State. I met Sam’s friends and his girlfriend Patience, then went through Vermont and New Hampshire just to add them to my list. I stayed the night in Brattleboro with college students in a big house, then caught a ride with two girls vacationing from Panama City, Florida through Vermont and into New York State.

I’d met a fellow in Arizona who lived in Cohoes, NY, so I went there next. I saw him pitch and win a baseball game, then stayed for dinner and slept on his porch. His mother made sandwiches for me to take along, and I spent the day in Cohoes and Troy, across the river. Both towns were a little shabby, but had their charms. Troy claimed to be the home of Uncle Sam, and had painted all the fire hydrants with patriotic themes and personalities for the recent bicentennial. Cohoes had spruced up  to match.

That evening arrived in Cortland. Barb was laid up with the flu, and I immediately opened all her windows, made her tea, swept up, did her laundry and generally took care of her for the next week. Her son Noel was Uncle Rat in a play at school, and excelled. 

Barb filled me in on what had happened in Cortland. Maggie, the first girl I’d met, was living with Barb’s old boyfriend Al in Rochester. She and Maggie traded off men, Barb said, and they’d been romantically involved with a number of each other’s boyfriends through the years. I spent a few more days in Cortland. A botanist friend of Barb’s named Phil picked and cooked for us the red spotted mushrooms which decorate pictures in fairy tales, amanita muscaria. Raw, they’re mildly toxic, but after cooking they’re fine. We all had a good trip. 

From Cortland, I went to Ithaca to find Eileen, but she wasn’t at her previous address, so I hung out on the Ithaca Commons. A tall black girl named Mia started a conversation with me, and we went to a sandwich place for lunch. While we were on the terrace, a guy I knew from Cortland walked by. Eric worked in the art museum at Cornell, was an ex-boyfriend of Eileen’s new roommate, and though he hadn’t met her yet, he was later to marry Maggie! I stayed the night at Eileen’s, and in the morning caught a ride to Binghampton, then to Rocky Mount, NC.

Home Again

I was in Boone until August. Turning scraggly trees into Christmas trees is work, and we had thousands. Pines grow like crazy in every direction, but can only be trimmed in a two-week window in the early summer. Firs and spruces, left to themselves, will grow fat around the bottom and send up sprouts in the center, which compete with each other. The tree grower manages the sprouts and trims the sprawl at the bottom. All trees need mowing, between rows and under their boughs, so I was busy.

I joined a grocery co-op which had acquired an old building downtown.  For reduced prices on groceries, I worked a couple days a month. I sat on a bench, added up items, calculated tax and gave a total~all in my head; there was no cash register, and I didn’t use a calculator. Like any skill, adding up numbers mentally gets easier with practice, and I did it well. One day a customer came in with several items. I called out each price and kept a running total – “59¢ plus 43¢ is $1.02, 77¢ more is $1.79, $1.19 on that is $2.98, 35¢ more is $3.33, three percent tax is 10¢, total $3.43” He didn’t believe me. He aggressively and repeatedly insisted I couldn’t do it, took the calculator and added up his total–exactly $3.43. It’s fun to be right.

Not long afterwards I was sitting in a bar, minding my own business, when a fellow I vaguely recognized sat across from me. He started a conversation, and after a few preliminaries turned it to astrology. I hear you know how to draw charts, he said. Well, yes, I said. Can you tell me what my sign is?, he asked.  Well, I don’t know, I replied. He became hostile.  “I’ll bet you can’t,” he declared, and I thought, he’s getting hot, over a matter of no consequence. I said he was likely a fire sign–Aries, Leo or Sagittarius, and started explaining why. He cut me off. “You don’t know what my sign is!” he screamed. “You can’t do it!  Astrology is bullshit!  You can’t tell my sign!  You can’t tell me! You can’t do it!”

Well, jeez, I thought, this guy flares up quick. I was quite sure now that he was indeed a fire sign. Leo, the fixed sign, wouldn’t flare up that quickly, which left Aries and Sagittarius. Aries, the cardinal sign, probably would have come on strong initially, and started the conversation with a challenge. Sagittarius, the mutable sign, seemed the best fit, as he started cool, then suddenly flared up.

“Sagittarius,” I said.

Whoosh! All his fire rushed out, as if through his ears. He physically deflated. He made one more, feeble, attempt– “Well, what’s my birthday, then?”

I had nothing to lose– “December 3rd”, I said, as it was directly opposite my own birthday.

I missed by a week–his was December 10th–and had I actually tried I may have divined the proper date, as he was sitting a bit left of directly opposite. But you work with what you have. Every time I saw him afterwards, I called him Sagittarius.

Sunny Days

It was a summer for weddings, and I officiated at my first ceremony. I’d ministered once before, but without much of a ceremony; the couple and I were in the bed of a pickup truck, rolling down the road. They said their “I do’s”, I pronounced them man and wife and signed the paper.

This was a hippie wedding. I wore my homemade blue and white denim suit, blue and white denim hat, a white shirt with a homemade blue denim bowtie, blue jeans and white sneakers. The vows were based on one suggested by the Universal Life Church, with amendments by the wedding couple.  The only thing missing was a license, which they both derided as “just another piece of paper.”

Both had been divorced. Del had left a wife and kids in California. Cathy had been married the year before, to a guy we all knew as Tony Lombardo.

Tony, Cathy, George, Del, Beth and a few others had all lived in a big house in Blowing Rock. Tony said his family was from the north of Italy, and claimed vague Mafia connections. He was hard to pin down; when Cathy had me draw their charts, Tony said he didn’t know his precise time and place of birth, as he’d been born at sea in the North Atlantic. When they had me draw the chart for their newborn baby Liza, I saw immediately the connections between mother and daughter, but few to the father. George remarked, with Tony there, that Cathy and Tony wouldn’t be married long, a prophecy I’d avoided stating, but which quickly came to pass.

Tony had always been honest in his dealings with me–he probably thought it’d be bad luck to tick off a wizard–but had ripped off others, and was increasingly paranoid. One day when his wife unexpectedly entered the room he swung around and pointed a shotgun at her.

The marriage was over. Tony, Cathy and Liza all left the house that night. When the divorce came through we all found out his real name. John Smith. He was from California.

Two weeks after Del and Cathy’s wedding, my brother Robin was married and I was best man. Anne’s family was bitterly divided; her father Grant had married a girl from “the other side of the tracks.” when he was nineteen. Grant was an only child whose parents were wealthy. Susie’s owned nothing. Susie was sixteen when Anne came along, and two years later was pregnant when Grant was killed in a road racing accident. Grant’s parents took Anne to live with them before Danna was born, and never gave Anne back. They battled in court, but Anne remained with the grandparents and Danna stayed with Susie. They grew up separately, and the wedding was the first time since then that many of the members of the two families had spoken. Anne passed out a sea of corsages and tried to get everyone to socialize, which was somewhat successful.

Like any wedding, it had its moments. The flower girl saw the full church, lost her nerve and made a beeline for the nearest pew. My brother Sam played “Annie’s Song”,  but it was the wrong “Annie’s song”. The preacher called both bride and groom “Robin”, but the wedding came off well, and the newlyweds left for Denver the next day.


I had an invitation to the Rockville Regatta in August, from my Texas friend Johntee, who was back in Charleston, SC. I’d planned to hitch out on the first weekend, but heard of a class at a large farm in Valle Crucis, NC, which was billed as an Earth College. Several students lived and worked there, more or less under the tutelage of a free-spirited professor named Bob. There was a one-day class I wanted to attend on sharpening tools, so I visited overnight.

The class was a waste of my time, given by a pontificating fool. He insisted on a perfectly flat whetstone, a certain stroking motion, a special type of oil, etc., none of which I could imagine Daniel Boone caring about while trekking through the wilderness. I already knew how to use a wet or oiled rock to sharpen an axe or knife, then to strop it on my blue jeans. One of my cowboy customers in Texas had already remarked that the hatchet I used to trim trees was sharper than his pocket knife. Marcus was at the class also, and he enticed me back to Blowing Rock, where I stayed the night, heading for Charleston, S.C. two mornings later than I’d intended.

Almost all my rides–at least six–were in the back of pickup trucks, and I arrived in Charleston that evening. I found Johntee, and we explored the Charleston night life. It was one of the wilder towns I’d seen. One bar was open to the weather; it was in the corner of an old building, and there was no glass in several of its windows. I was particularly impressed with its “decor”, featuring “artworks” made by customers. A male skeleton made of dowels and rope with his hand wrapped around a huge “extra” bone looked down from the rafters over the women’s bathroom, which was walled off from the bar, but open on top. Other  creations, in varying levels of depravity, hung from the rafters, on the walls, or sat by the bar. At closing time there was no way to lock the place; the liquor was placed in a safe, and everyone went home.

We attended the Rockville Regatta that weekend. I accidentally left my pack in Charleston, which meant that I had only a shirt and shorts.  The shirt was OK, but the shorts were too tight, and frayed. In the typical hippie style, I hadn’t worn underwear. I started to get overexposed. I borrowed a needle and thread and sat in the living room, bare bottomed, but mostly covered by a small towel, and sewed them up.

One of Johntee’s guests liked what she saw. Genie talked with me the rest of the afternoon, and later that night we crawled into the back of Johntee’s step-van and curled up together.

Johntee had an old post office van, with right-side drive. There was only one seat, but the dashboard was deep and one could sit on it, with one’s back facing traffic, to the driver’s left. It appeared that the driver was facing backwards, but Johntee, on the “passenger” side, was the actual driver.

Charleston’s history goes back centuries. Johntee’s ancestors had been there since the 1600’s, and it was so with many other folks I met there, both black and white. In Charleston parlance they were “been-heres” (pronounced, in the local dialect, “Benyas”)  while others, whose grandparents may have grown up in the area, were still “come-heres” (“Cumyas”), who “came here” after the Civil War. If one questions why a third-generation Charlestonian is still a “cumya” the answer is “nunya” or “none of your business,” stated in a genial, friendly, but firm manner.

My reason for visiting Charleston was pretty simple. It was where Beth grew up. I wanted “closure,” though I now think the concept is crap.  It’s nice to know the backgrounds of people in one’s life, but rarely comforts. It doesn’t satisfy. The gal I thought I knew and loved had left, and lived with a happy, beautiful baby, half a continent away. I surmised that she’d found some measure of domestic bliss, even though I still received letters from her every few months invariably signed “Love”, “Love and Light”, “Much Love” or “Love Always”, which told tales of uncertainty and drudgery and desperation. It made no sense to me. I didn’t know how to respond. She referred to me as her Wizard, and warned me of the Karma which befalls the Wise One–the Capitalization was Hers. I didn’t feel like a Wizard, and certainly wasn’t Wise in Romance. I couldn’t conceive of what she’d told me, that she’d made a Business Deal, under an Apple Tree, whereby Mr. Shiny Suit would Raise her Son, and she would Bear his Children. A Deal like that wasn’t even on my Radar.

I thought people married for love. To call it a “deal” must have been an inside joke, certainly a “business deal” involving the manufacture of children. I believed, contrary to what she repeatedly told me, that she had some measure of love for the guitar player to whom she’d leased her ovaries. Seeing Charleston did little to heal the devastation I felt, though watching sailboats race in the sea breeze, summer sun, drinking beer and curling up with Genie was an excellent distraction.

Heading south again, I passed through Savannah and continued down the coast to Miami, a flatter, east coast version of LA, with Cubans instead of Mexicans. I’d again intended to hitch to Key West, but had a hard time catching rides. It was just as well. There was a severe water shortage that summer, and tourists had  been advised to leave. I caught a ride to Daytona, with a Hell’s Angel. His van had a bad valve, and we popped along at 40 mph to Ormond Beach, where I called the fellow who’d given me a ride from Binghampton to Rocky Mount the year before. I stayed partied with Rick’s friends for 3 days, then headed across to Panama City, where the girls who’d given me a ride through Vermont lived. Rosie’s husband’s birthday was June 3rd, like mine, and Pam’s boyfriend’s was June 2nd. They’d tried to start a para-sailing business the previous year, with boats, waterskis and hang gliders, but had been beaten down by bureaucrats. Someone else had now started one, and tourists in the Gulf flew by their patio all day long. The guys were out of town on business, but I stayed for a couple days and met their friends.

One fellow knew where to pick psilocybin, and said we’d go out the following morning. He left about 3 pm, came back about 5 pm and asked if I was ready. I was surprised, but said okay, and we drove to a nearby pasture. He parked a couple blocks away, explaining that cops in the area watched for cars parked by the road, and we headed out.

Psilocybin grows in cow pies, but you can’t just shake out the spores. The cow eats mushrooms, and a few days later new ones sprout in the field.  I’d harvested and enjoyed amanita muscaria, the red mushrooms with white dots that elves dance around, and was eager to try these little white ones that bruised blue.

By the time we reached the pasture the sun was going down. It was rush hour, and the traffic was heavy. My new friend remarked at the traffic and the gradually darkening sky, saying he’d never seen it so dark at this hour, or seen so much traffic. Maybe there was an eclipse. Maybe all these people leaving the city were fleeing. After some other frankly weird comments I figured out that he’d left the house, taken a nap, awakened at 5 pm and thought it was 5 am. Everything followed from there. It was too dark now to look for mushrooms, so we left.

The next morning Rosie’s father came by to visit and, seeing evidence of the previous night’s party, offered to ride me out to the freeway. I surmised this was as much to protect his daughter as to help me out, but didn’t mind. I caught rides to Baton Rouge, where I stayed with a fellow who worked in dinner theatre, then in the morning back to Austin. When I found Jean she had a boyfriend named Fidel, but let me stay the week. I helped her friend Rex deliver papers and checked in on my other acquaintances, then headed to Arlington, Texas, where I met a crew from St. Louis who were selling water conditioners. They’d rented a big suburban house for the summer.

When I awoke, one of the roommates was telling his previous night’s story over breakfast. He’d been driving and got a flat. His spare was flat, too. There were no phones or traffic around at 3 am on Sunday, so he decided to hell with it. He drove on the flat ‘til the flat gave out, drove on the rim ‘til the rim gave out, drove on the hub ‘til the hub gave out and scraped on the spindle all the way home. He said he’d sprayed a “rooster tail” of sparks 40 feet long.  Looking at the destruction–the nut holding the front driver’s side wheel bearing was scraping the ground–I was sure he had. I helped with the laundry and such, and we went to a club or two. One, in Dallas, wouldn’t let in anyone wearing a T-shirt. It was the first time I’d encountered a club with a dress code.  I borrowed a shirt from one of the guys.

From Texas it was north to Oklahoma. Liquor by the drink was unavailable there, anywhere, at any time, a law unique to Oklahoma. The law also stated that girls could drink at 18, but guys had to be 21. This, of course, simply meant girls bought beer for boys. Since beer was limited to 3.2% alcohol, almost everyone drank 16-ounce “tall boys”. On one of the first rides I caught in Oklahoma, I jumped in the bed of an El Camino, riding with another hitch hiker. The driver passed me a tall boy out the window, the hitcher told me “this fellow is wild”–and we flew down the freeway. I could see the speedometer through the back window, and we were well over 100 mph when he hit the shoulder of the road, and fishtailed.

The bed weaved, the tires squealed, we scribbled skid marks across the center line. Oddly, I wasn’t scared. There wasn’t much I could do, so I simply looked for the best place to land if I had to jump. I needed to jump up, back, and a little to the side to land sitting on my butt. I didn’t want to be under the vehicle, or tumble. It wouldn’t have been pleasant to butt-surf the pavement at 120 mph, but I was ready. Fortunately he recovered, and we kept whizzing down the highway. I drained my tall-boy and started another. By the time I’d finished my second, we were in Norman. A fellow there put me up for the night, and gave me a nice flannel shirt in the morning.

I caught a ride back into the panhandle of Texas, then walked most of the day beside the wheat fields. A truck took me to Spearman, then I walked again. My next ride drove an AMX Javelin, the last gasp of American Motors before they were taken over by Chrysler, but what a car! He drove through the plains of Texas and the Oklahoma panhandle even faster than the El Camino; 120 or 130 mph all the way to Colorado Springs, and the AMX ran quiet and smooth as a baby’s butt all the way. I was happy to be in a car, not the bed of a truck, and despite that we were moving twice as fast as traffic, and passing on the shoulders, I felt secure. I took off my shoes and curled up in the front seat with my legs resting on my pack, crossed up against the dashboard. I wasn’t just more comfortable that way, I was safer.  I didn’t wear a seatbelt if my driver didn’t, and most didn’t, but I figured if we wrecked I’d prefer to hit my feet instead of the dashboard or windshield. 

I got to Boulder that night, but Robin and Anne had moved. I slept by the creek, and found them the next day. I’d sold all my rings and had spent all my money, but my brother gave me $20 and half-a-dozen rings I’d earlier sold him at wholesale. He had an undeserved ticket on his ’68 Dodge—the one we’d taken to Texas—for not having it licensed in Colorado, though his grace period hadn’t run out. Prior to his court date, the Dodge was stolen. The judge dismissed the ticket.

Monk Quits Being a Monk

I went on to Denver. It was Sunday, and I dropped by the Krishna temple. Monk was there, but not as a devotee. He’d quit, spent some time in San Diego, moved back to Denver and married Tara. She had a huge, Krishna-themed tattoo, which started under her left breast and continued to mid-thigh. They were living the life of householders, away from drugs, alcohol and the loony bin. They had a tiny apartment, so I stayed with his mother.

Monk was still buying and selling cars under the table, a fine art he’d honed in San Diego. He’d buy them at the police auction, clean them, make minor repairs and re-sell them in a matter of days. He’d get the morning paper at 5 am, find a good deal, drive up at 5:30 am and buy it. He’d then put the same car in the paper for five times as much and sell it, under the signature of the original owner, claiming it belonged to a brother-in-law in the army or a sister who left her husband. This netted him $200, or $2000, without paperwork. Except for, sometimes, selling dope, it was all he ever did. He’d change apartments and phone numbers every few months to stay ahead of the game, and park his cars outside of town. His parents had been separated for years, but never divorced, and his father had property in Altura, a few miles away. Eventually there were over 100 cars there, many of them Studebakers, Henry J’s, Model A’s, Kaisers, or unusual models such as fuel-injected 1958 Buicks or tiny 1961 Fiats.

Monk would occasionally check into the looney bin, where he’d collect medications, but was currently clean and sober and had several pills he didn’t want to waste. They were expensive, and many who needed the medication didn’t have the money, time or inclination to jump through the thousand and one hoops it took to get them, nor the desire to carry around the label “mentally incompetent”. I wasn’t crazy, but I wasn’t happy either, and I knew the mental hospital wasn’t for me. When I’d visited, I’d seen that some clearly belonged there and others had simply taken too many psychedelics. Monk gave me his leftover pills.

I enjoyed thumbing around the country, loved meeting new people, seeing new things, but still, was deeply, profoundly unhappy. I loved a woman who’d married another, for incomprehensible reasons. I couldn’t trust my father, didn’t belong in the navy or fit into school. I tried the pills. There were five types, some nice and others awful. Stelazine was best, Cogentin by far the worst. One little Cogentin and I lost the ability to measure and weigh my thoughts. I couldn’t decide whether to eat an orange or jump in front of a truck; the two seemed equal in importance, and consequence.

After a few days in Colorado I continued north to Lander, Wyoming, where Monk’s sister Carole had moved with her friend Kathy. She’d married a cowboy and joined the Seventh Day Adventist church. Lander was a smaller version of what Denver had been twenty years earlier. From there I ate lunch in Yellowstone, but we couldn’t wait on Old Faithful. Our waitress was a vegetarian (and a cutie), the first Western vegetarian girl I’d met.

I continued to Montana, and west through Idaho and Washington. I liked Montana. There were wide open valleys between the mountains–there’s a reason it’s called Big Sky Country–and it was far greener than Wyoming. The cities, Bozeman and Butte, were fun too. In Idaho, the wide valleys disappeared and it was mountains, mountains, mountains. I slept among the trees in a parking lot which had been tucked into the woods at an ecology-oriented college, and the next morning made Aberdeen, in the beautiful state of Washington. In Oregon I lazed on the beach in Seaside, then to Portland.

The Krishna temple was nearby, and I spent the night. In the morning one of the devotees showed me around, and when we were in private he had me read his tarot. He pulled the five of swords. I told him he had a fight on his hands, and felt defeated. He opened up, and told me many things I’d never suspected. He was a newlywed, but his wife had left for Cincinnati with the leader of his group, a man who’d had affairs with dozens of Krishna girls before a swami put a gun to his head and told him to knock it off. The devotee wanted to leave, but didn’t have any resources. I encouraged him, and gave him a well-worn road atlas which my cousin had given me in Boston, many miles before.

As with any religion, I’m ambivalent about the Krishnas. They have a wide-open acceptance that whatever path one is on can be the path to enlightenment, but also a strong authoritarian streak. There’s a lot of talk about who is and isn’t “bona fide”, and why initiation is necessary. I never saw a need for initiation. I have my answers, and don’t need others. I go to the temple to discuss philosophy over plates of food, not to be converted. I was young, vegetarian, knew eastern philosophy, but wasn’t a devotee and didn’t care to be. Sometimes a swami would visit, and the devotees would send him to me. I loved to talk to many of the swamis, though some were more doctrinaire than the devotees. Most swamis admired independence, and encouraged me.

I left Portland that afternoon, catching a ride with a fellow who told me his name was Steve. While we were driving he got a speeding ticket, with another infraction, for a total fine of $200 or so. He let me off a few miles later, and I said “Well, Steve, I’ll see you around”. He told me, with a big smile, that his name was Mike, not Steve, and that the tickets weren’t gonna get paid. I  then showed him a PTA card I’d picked up by the side of the road in the name of Robert Parker. I carried it, but never used it. My greatest asset when thumbing was my North Carolina driver’s license. I had proof that I was a hick, I whenever I needed it. As I hopped out of the car Mike gave me $5. I left him a flannel shirt.

Sometimes when you’re thumbing people give you stuff, sometimes you give stuff away. Some things you find, some you lose. I lost things in the next couple days. I’d made a few deals at a fiddler’s convention a couple years before, and had two rings, one from a local girl and one from a fellow who’d made his ring in high school, seven years before. Both were in the pocket of a shirt I lost. A day or two later I caught a ride with a fellow whose Saab was overheating. He had the heater on full-blast, to keep the radiator from boiling over. We left the windows open, but it was hellish, through Oregon, Idaho and on to Salt Lake City. When I got out and collected my things I was exhausted. I left behind some food, a pan, a little money, a pocket knife and my only pair of shoes. I slept under the bridge, and the next morning caught a ride with an older Navy veteran. We got a motel room that evening, traded stories and drank rum. I continued towards Denver with a couple from Pennsylvania, and then Monk called the Salvation Army and told the shop girl my story. I walked down the street, newspapers stuffed in my socks, and gave the girl at the counter the 17¢ I had left. The shoes didn’t fit very well, but they were better than socks.

Now that I had shoes, I exchanged a few trinkets and rings for food stamps, and left Denver. A few miles out Colfax Avenue, Monk’s sister Luanne saw me walking. I spent the night at her house, then thumbed to Limon, where I caught a ride from same Pennsylvania couple who’d given me a ride a few days before! They’d camped in the mountains while I visited Denver. They gave me a ride again, this time to Kansas City!

A few miles later, in mid-Missouri, four Coast Guard sailors in a car with  government plates picked me up. The speed limit was 55, but we drove down the road at 85–all the car would do–telling Navy stories, drinking beer, tearing up paperwork and throwing it out the window.

I quickly caught a ride to St. Louis, another to Indianapolis. In Indianapolis a fellow turned me on to a healthy snort of cocaine as we smoked some Hawaiian pot, then a trucker took me to Dayton, Ohio and gave me a couple “black beauties”. In Dayton, about 4 am, a fellow picked me up and said he didn’t have a license, would I please drive? I drove a strange car, in the fog, through a strange town with a stranger, while he told me wild stories and we visited his friends. Some of them told me he was flaky, but he had a $700 check, and when the bank opened he gave me $20. We drove around all day. He bought me dinner, left me in the same spot I’d been in that morning and gave me another $20. Whatever his friends’ opinions, he did me right.

In Pennsylvania I passed by Three Mile Island. The most noticeable feature of the landscape was a large number of dead trees, whether due to drought or radiation I didn’t know. In New York state I was chased off the thruway, where hitchhiking was prohibited, but was in Ithaca by the afternoon. Eileen was out of town, but one of her roommates had a movie date, and I double-dated with the other.

The Big Chill?

The next morning I went to Cortland, and stayed the week with Barb and Noel. She brought me up on the news. Al Rice, whose pictures and sketches were all over her walls, who’d been her boyfriend, and Maggie’s, but now wasn’t either, had been riding with a friend who had a new Porsche. Where the street went from four lanes to two, Brian hit the curb at over 100 miles per hour, and launched the Porsche into a tree, 14 feet up, in the front yard of an ambulance service. The ambulance quickly got both to the hospital, but Al died a couple days later. When I showed up, Barb was still dressed from Al’s memorial. We drove over to Al’s childhood home and met his grieving parents. They were in their 50s or 60s, and had lost their only son.

If you want to know about the next long weekend, watch the movie “The Big Chill”. Barb’s uncle owned a house on Saranac Lake, where I found myself living the plot line of a movie which hadn’t yet been made. A bunch of friends in their 20’s and 30’s got together for the weekend, at a big house in the country, to remember their friend Al, who died in a Porsche. We discussed our lives, got drunk, did a few drugs, cried a little.

I discovered a friend of Barb’s knew Eileen, and also June, the gal who first steered me towards Cortland. Lee and I went for a boat ride. It was a beautiful, clear night and the moon was out. I’d never piloted a boat, so he let me take the tiller and we puttered along for a couple hours, talking about mutual friends, philosophy, astrology, life, death, a million other things in the crisp, clear, cool October night, After an hour or two the moon hid behind a cloud. It was bright enough, but I didn’t know the lake, so I gave the wheel back. It got dark, started raining, storming. Lightning was flashing, and soon Lee had no idea where we were either. We tied up by the nearest light. There were four fellows from New York City up for the weekend, who informed us that we were eleven and a half miles from where we’d started, and on the opposite shore. The lake was twelve miles long; we couldn’t have gotten more lost if we’d tried! We attempted to call Barb’s house, but the phone had been disconnected for the season, so we shared beer and stories, then crashed out on a couple of couches.

The four sheltered us for the night and the next morning we headed back, stopping at a marina for gas and coffee. We finally putted home around 11 am, wondering what our reception would be. How many frantic phone calls had been made? Had the sheriff been contacted? A search party sent?

We walked into the dining room, sat down, had breakfast. The others trickled in, scooped up eggs and hash browns off big platters, smeared butter on toast, poured coffee and orange juice. Nobody knew we’d been gone! After half an hour, Lee yelled out, “I can’t stand it!” and told the story. The secret was out.

The weather turned cold that day, after a long October heat wave. I went out in the afternoon to chop wood, wanting to help but not knowing what else to do. The axe broke, and I was given some good-natured ribbing, but the weekend had such a tragic undertone I couldn’t take it. I broke out sobbing, uncontrollably, in front of the fire, in front of everyone. 

Objectively, I’d lost less than anyone. I only knew Maggie, Barb and Barb’s son Noel, not Al. They were all old friends, mourning someone I’d never met. They all missed Al. I felt like an interloper, but I missed him, too.

I wasn’t just mourning Al. It’d been a long, hard summer, a long, hard several years; hell, I couldn’t remember being truly happy about anything. Thumbing around the country was an adventure, but also an escape. I’d met new friends and friends of friends, saw new places and had new experiences, but was also leaving a life I wasn’t happy in, didn’t feel successful in, doubted if I’d ever master. I’d been trying to find a place I felt at home–was it Hollywood? Was it Austin? Boston? San Francisco? Montreal? Hawaii? Mexico? On the beach? In the mountains? In the desert?

I didn’t feel at home in Denver anymore; I wasn’t sure I’d ever felt at home there. Most of my friends had left; I remembered too much pain. Nightly fights with my father. Relentless, suffocating pressure as the smallest, smartest kid in school. Girls I’d never connected with. California was a mixed bag, and North Carolina hadn’t worked either, nor the Navy. I hadn’t found anything more than seasonal work since I’d left the service. My attempts at helping on the farm were unappreciated, resented, actively undermined by my father, who was becoming steadily more surly and cynical. He was drinking a twelve-pack or more of cheap beer every night, and smoking at least two packs of Newports, having given up unfiltered Camels. My attempts at business were a joke; I’d barely made enough to pay one-sixth of the rent. I still had no girlfriend, which was my fault, of course. My inability to expunge from my heart a woman who had proven utterly unworthy of my naive and childish love, left no space for another. It all overwhelmed me, that mid-October weekend, while two dozen melancholy friends, of someone else, stared into the fire.

After the weekend and wake at Saranac Lake we dispersed, and I returned to Cortland. A friend’s family owned the Clarke Store in Homer, NY. Phil and I went to a house in the country where a fellow called Rosie kept several instruments in a studio out back. We played music all night. The next day I dropped in on Neal and Joellen. Neal knew Rosie, too! People are often unexpectedly interconnected. Neal had been busy on the farm. He’d built a bridge and a barn, and had started on a newer, bigger, nicer house. Joellen was pregnant again.

I left upstate NY the next day, for Flo’s apartment in DC. She was planning to see an old friend in Mannassas, Virginia, so I went along. Her friend had acquired Roy Rogers’ old couch, where I slept for the night. We went from there to a “palace” filled with the artworks of Walter and Lao Russell, and I met Lao, who had married Walter when he was old and she was young. Now she was old, and he was gone.

It was an impressive collection, situated where the Blue Ridge Parkway meets Skyline Drive. We ate dinner, and Flo dropped me off on the Parkway, which wasn’t well traveled that time of the year. I caught only one ride, walked about ten miles and froze my butt that night, but in the morning I caught a ride.

I caught another ride, and found out I’d been headed in the wrong direction.The driver set me straight. She was picking up her boyfriend to go driving for the day, so we all explored together, and she dropped me at my front door.

It was late October, 1979. For the next few weeks I mowed grass, repaired the old house, visited friends, cut and tied trees. Then came a surprise announcement. The family gathered in South Carolina, for my grandfather’s wedding!

My Grandfather Gets Married

My grandmother had died ten years earlier, and my grandfather had moped around ever since. A retired minister, he’d always made interminable lists, planning everything, and now wouldn’t stop planning his funeral. My aunt finally persuaded him, in October, to live at the local Presbyterian Home. Within a week he was writing letters full of outrage. The residents were teasing him for chatting up an “older woman”–he was 80, she 83.

A couple more weeks went by. His outrage had morphed into an announcement. He and Lucile, who’d been widowed nearly forty years, had taken a drive in the country, and had decided to marry! My uncle Pete, also a Presbyterian minister, wondered whether he’d proposed in the front seat, or the back!

Lucile had been a teacher in Hartsville, SC, and had written the textbook used in the local schools, “Hartsville, Our Community”. I didn’t know it, but Marcus’ father was also from Hartsville. Lucile was Marcus’ great-aunt Lucy! In our twenties, we’d suddenly become second cousins!

We took half as many pines to Texas that year, but bought several tall, beautiful fir trees for $11 apiece. We loaded the U-Haul truck, and on November 29th were in Texas. We didn’t bring a car. I’d decided it’d likely be profitable to find a car in Texas with high miles, but no rust, and sell it in North Carolina. Bill had been sent packing the previous spring when my mother saw a letter he’d written to a Michigan friend, telling him to come down and our family would put him up. That may have been true, but had NOT been discussed.

When we arrived in Austin, a kid named Alex from across the street loaned us a tent, and we paid him a few dollars for helping around the lot. I’d packed a bicycle to ride around town. My father slept in the motel, ate from the taco stand, took his laundry to the combination laundromat/quickie mart on the corner and sent me for anything else.

I painted signs, set up ropes and long, extended sawhorses to lean our trees against. The year before it’d been “Ned Austin & Son’s North Carolina Christmas Trees” in a big flowing script. This year, “Ned & David Austin”. Everyone loved the signs. I added sign painter to my list of skills.

Behind Mary’s lot was a yard sale going on, and I bought several items. A coffee pot, chairs, a table, camp stove, plates & spoons. I struck up a conversation with the folks having the sale, and gave them $40 to use their washer and dryer and have a place to shower and crash for the next couple weeks. My father still preferred the motel. He went to bed early, got up early. I stayed up late, took the night shift. It worked better that way; he’d get nervous late in the evening, and sell the trees too cheap.

We did well that year. My father talked to a reporter from the Austin American-Statesman, who wrote a story, and we bought some airtime on a country radio station. We’d brought 500 trees, sold out everything by the 22nd and went home.

Christmas trees are an odd business. We opened on the first Friday in December that year, because it was clear that’s when the real sales started. There’d be plenty of browsers in late November, but they’d look at every tree, go to another lot and possibly come back three days later to browse again. When December arrived, they’d buy. The second weekend was busier, but the biggest, best, most expensive trees would be gone. On the third Friday we’d put up a “REDUCED” sign and sell the less-than-perfect leftovers for half-price. In the end we averaged $20 profit per tree, and the $11 firs brought us $32 apiece.

I bought a 1963 Ford Galaxie for $200. Mechanically sound, no rust, high mileage. The fellow who’d had the yard sale, Kevin, and his girlfriend Donna, were temporarily without lodgings. They parked a camper on our lot, and Kevin replaced a part in the front end of the Galaxie but wouldn’t take any money for his labor, just beer. Kevin said he had friends coming from Yuma, and when they arrived I told them about the fight I’d been in the previous spring. Jake was the fellow who’d yelled to me to come get some grub! Jake, Jody and their daughter Magic had sold the bus, and were living in a camper Jake had built on the back of a 1958 Chevy pickup. They parked next to Kevin and Donna until the end of the season.

I found Jean again. Fidel was long gone. While we were driving in my car we saw some bamboo beside the road, and I cut a few pieces to try making flutes. At night I heated up a metal rod to burn holes. My flutes were erratically tuned, until I figured out where to put the holes. At Christmas that year, everyone got flutes.

The Ford did fine traveling back to North Carolina. It leaked a little oil, the rear end was clunky, it only made 12 miles per gallon and the muffler fell off, but it ran beautifully.

We were home for Christmas.

The Eighties

I drove the Galaxie for a couple months, but never could get a clear title. There was a lien on it in Texas. My father gave me his old Bronco, in lieu of pay.

Shortly after returning from Texas, I went to my favorite local bar, Holley’s. I’d never seen it so crowded. A pretty girl was sitting at the bar, and I struck up a conversation. Her name was Monique, which she said with a little giggle which suggested I might know her. I didn’t. I made conversation, showed her my rings, told her I was from a couple miles down the road. A half-dozen guys were pointing, snickering, poking each other in the ribs. I asked her what was going on. She gave a wave of her hand, said, “oh, them”, indicating they were of no interest whatsoever, and we continued talking for a half-hour. She never revealed that the supremely crowded situation in the bar that evening was due to the presence of Playboy’s reigning Playmate of the Year, Monique St. Pierre. Her.

In February I found a cabin with cheap rent a few miles away, and moved in. I made and sold rings to support myself, but the Hunt brothers tried to corner the market on silver that year, running the price up, and I could neither sell my rings at the suddenly-inflated price nor buy more silver wire. In the cabin, though, were some craft supplies left over by a previous occupant, so I started making wooden toys, sewing hats and jackets, making bamboo flutes. The cabin had no plumbing, but I made friends with the girl next door and the couple in the next bungalow, and used their facilities. For the first time in years, I had space for my drums, and often had musical friends over.

I started a relationship with Reneé, next door, and went to the church on the corner, not so much to worship as to meet others in the community. I didn’t make enough to pay my rent, though. I sold a few toys, hats and flutes but not many rings. After two months it was over. I packed up the toy parts, buttons, thread, fabric, my things and moved back to the family farm. Reneé returned to her family in West Virginia, and Marsha and David moved to northern Minnesota.

A lot of other folks left that spring, too. Del and Cathy, who’d married the previous summer, left for Arizona to work as ranch hands with Beth and her guitar player. Sister Fran moved back to Connecticut to take a few courses at Yale and live near my brother Sam. Genny moved to Florida with a friend, and Laura visited Colorado.

Others arrived. Jake, Jody, their little girl Magic and a fellow named Tom, whom they’d picked up along the way, parked in our driveway. We planted pine seedlings while Jody watched the baby, then the four of them went to a gathering in Love Valley. I’d have gone too, but was sick with the flu.

I’d been out of my old loop for awhile, which actually worked to my advantage. Before I’d left for Texas I’d dropped in at what we called the Hot El, a cul-de-sac in Blowing Rock where several hippies lived. George and his friends were splitting a pound of pot. I left after a short visit, and a few minutes later the cops appeared, busting everyone. The guy with the pot, Jim, claimed I’d narked, but while I was out of town the truth came out. He’d been stopped by the cops, threw his wallet under the seat and was arrested for having no license. As he was being led away, he told his passenger where his wallet was, and was busted for the hundred-lot of windowpane acid in it.

I was happy to miss another development, too. Another Jim, whom I’d caught a ride with two years before, had had me forge a check on his girlfriend’s account while we’d been driving, then ditched me, stealing my pack and shoes. I hadn’t wanted to forge anything to begin with, but at the time wasn’t in a position to say no. I went straight to the sheriff. They caught him the next day, and found a warrant on him from another county. I’d left town the next day, but he put it together, and now it was two years later. I saw Jim in a local bar, went up to a couple strangers, told them the story and they gave me a ride home. He disappeared shortly thereafter, in trouble again, but my friends told me both Jims had been telling stories behind my back. They weren’t sure about me for awhile, but I was honest with them. Character prevails.

I’d been hanging out with a different circle, anyway, Samson and his crowd. On day we’d been rock climbing, and were all tuckered out, when I started a conversation with one of the girls, Monti. We were discussing my cycle wreck, and the woman who died. I still felt guilty. She told me, forcefully, NO, that it was NOT my fault, and that I had to stop thinking it was. I wasn’t superhuman,  and couldn’t look through the mountain and see what was happening. It was NORMAL to submit to the judgement of half-a-dozen people wanting to call an ambulance, when I was disoriented and in pain. Even so, it may not have made a difference. She’d only lived an hour or so, and likely would have died anyway.

I realized, in a flash–she was right!

I felt glorious, cleansed, refreshed. I looked at her, and she was, suddenly, lovely. I said, “I ought to marry you!”

It was spontaneous, and heartfelt.  She, by insisting, had shown me that I’d done nothing wrong. It was sweet and generous of her, and she made a difference. Ever since, when someone feels badly about something that they shouldn’t, I call them out.  It’s the right thing to do.

We both got a lot of kidding for it, but we never got romantic. We crashed out in the same bed that afternoon, but only because it’d been a strenuous day, and both of us needed a nap.

We were awakened later that evening. Sam was angry with another fellow, Stan. Sam had scored, on credit, a quarter-pound of white MDA powder, worth thousands. He’d shown all of us the bag, then made a joke and threw it in the trash, saying that was probably the best place to hide it. When we awoke we all knew where he’d thrown it, but the bag wasn’t there. Sam trusted Monti and me, but didn’t know Stan at all. He was furious. He drove a knife into the wall next to Stan’s head, and Stan nearly filled his pants. Monti and I believed Stan, but didn’t know him well enough to offer much of a defense. Monti finally got Sam calmed down, and asked if he was SURE he’d left it in the trash can. He looked in another spot, and found it.

Later that month I walked into Holley’s. It was a slow night. I hadn’t been there five minutes when a guy named Phil poured a pitcher of beer on a fellow at the next table. His friends jumped up, ready to fight. Phil hooked his hand through the handle of the pitcher, crooked a finger and told all five of them,“come ON!”. Totally fearless. The bartenders rushed out with baseball bats. I didn’t see any need to hang around, and left.

As usual, I was interested in several girls. For some reason, a great many that year were lesbians, or so inclined. Hard-line feminism was in fashion, and I could never figure out why, but many lesbians I knew, not generally interested in men, were nevertheless attracted to me. I was invited to a get-together with a group of girls in the Women’s Studies program at the college. There were eight gals there, plus one guy–me–and my date. A couple of the girls said right away that every other girl there was a lesbian; the rest concurred. Of these eight, I’d already slept with or played around with four, kissed six, and would add one more shortly. Terry was blonde, curly-haired, not classically pretty but a lot of fun. Truly hilarious. After the meeting, we went out together several times. She was always confused as to whether she preferred girls or boys, and as far as I knew never had any other boyfriends, but she definitely, physically, liked me.

That spring our family went to see my brother’s musical–Makin’ Light, produced by the Yale Dramat for their graduation show; the first time in decades a student play had been chosen. I hung around a few extra days to cheerlead from the audience, smoke some pot and snort a little coke with my brother and his Skull and Bones friends. Nobody did a lot of drugs, but most everyone did a little.

There’s a common belief that anyone who uses drugs is a maniac who does nothing else in life. They use drugs, look for drugs, sell drugs, rob people to pay for drugs. The truth is, most people who use drugs have a measure of discipline. They’ll spend $25 on a Friday night, and enjoy their weekend. There are indeed people whose use has a madness about it, but the majority are capable of keeping their desires in check. Most of my time was spent visiting, not partying.

I was beginning to feel confident, and popular. I’d been on the student council once, but had felt like the odd man out. Now that I’d been places and done things, I found girls were, rather suddenly, interested. I’d meet a girl, we’d get a sandwich in town and before we were finished there’d be three or four more girls sitting at our table, discussing astrology or jewelry or travels, with the waitress obviously wondering–who IS this guy? My brother had often stolen them away, but now he was married. People develop on their own time. Life changes.

Me vs. the Volcano

I wanted a serious, long-term relationship, but still didn’t have it in me. I went with a very nice girl named Robin for some months. She was an Appalachian State student from Tennessee. After hearing my stories about the West, she decided to take a summer trip with several classmates. We wrote letters, but while she was on the West Coast heading north, Mount Saint Helens erupted, her itinerary changed and she stopped writing.

After some weeks of not knowing what she was doing, I got out of the house. I had a long conversation with a girl a few years older. I told Susan of my situation, and she was a voice of wisdom. She understood that I was in no position to promise my heart, but was friendly and agreeable. Talented, too. She was making and selling “photo quilts”, reproducing photos in quilt form. I thought it brilliant, artistic and original. She appreciated my jewelry and crafts as well. We started seeing each other, though neither of us made plans. I’d told her up front it wouldn’t do for her to rely on my heart, because I wasn’t at all sure of it. I liked her, and admired her work, but wasn’t prepared to be anyone’s boyfriend for the foreseeable future. She surprised me, however, and wanted an arrangement anyway, with a warmth and calm acceptance that caught me off guard, much like Shirley had some years before.

About this time I also ran into Irmalee, with whom I’d shared a weekend two years before. She’d been to Germany, and had returned. I’d hoped for more than a weekend of fun, but she’d dropped me, simply saying she didn’t want to continue. I was breaking up with another and was on the rebound when we’d met, but had dearly desired more than three days and a brush-off. Now she was apologetic, interested, wanted to go out again. I was confused. Confused about her, about Susan, about my theoretical girlfriend Robin whom I hadn’t heard from all summer. Without intending to be, I was involved with all three. Irmalee was delectable and blonde and foreign and had a wonderful, funky sense of style. She made lovely and original kinetic art sculptures and was luscious and exciting, but had radical political views. Germany was still divided, and Germans took their politics seriously. I wasn’t passionate about politics. Despite our chemistry, we’d fight, I’d call Susan and we’d see each other. Some days later I’d see Irmalee, and accompany her home. It went that way all summer. Then Robin came home. She still wanted me.

I was hopelessly confused. Robin and I re-ignited, briefly. I broke up with Irmalee after an argument, but also Robin, later that month, while Susan and I slowly drifted apart.

Marcus came to Texas that year. Now it was “Ned and David Austin’s Fresh-Cut North Carolina Christmas Trees,” and a blurb “with Cousin Marcus”, as he was now kin. We bought a quantity of $3 fir trees from a fellow named Hoot, and cut pines from the tree farm, which we’d given a bit of a rest the year before. We towed my sister’s Fiat behind the U-Haul, and towards the end of the trip several cars honked and flashed their lights. The Fiat had a flat, but it was so narrow and small we hadn’t seen it in the rear-view mirror. By the time we stopped, the tire had given out and the rim was scraping. We put on the spare and arrived in Austin. The Fiat was fine for the rest of the journey, which was fortunate, because we now had no spare.

I’d been out doing laundry when a woman came by, talked with Marcus and said she’d come by later. Valerie did show up, but Marcus was asleep in the tent and my father had left for the motel. It was late enough to call it a day, and Valerie invited me for a spin in her Volvo. I almost immediately kissed her. Quickly, we drove to a quiet neighborhood and for the next hour fogged up the windows of her car. I hadn’t expected it, nor had she; she was married, and the thought of fooling around hadn’t crossed her mind. She and her husband both had children, and had been together for three years. She came by the lot several times in the next two weeks and we stole some torrid moments, but for everyone’s best interest decided not to continue.

It was fun being in Austin with Marcus. One night he pulled out an old tree from two years before, that Mary had piled in a corner. We set it out, as a joke. Someone bought it! We pulled out another. It also sold! We sold several more, at $1 each, and made over $50!

Because our firs were scraggly that year, several had sparse bottoms, but pretty tops. When we cut off two or three feet, we had shorter but nicer trees, and several two and three foot lengths of trunks. Marcus made a wooden reindeer from these. One day we were idly singing Christmas carols. One of us started, “Rudolph the red-assed reindeer, Had a very shiny hole…” Our Rudolph not only had a bright red painted nose, but soon a tail-light too, which to us made more sense. How could the other reindeer follow Rudolph if they couldn’t see his butt? It was a tradition I continued for twenty years. I never explained why, unless I was asked.

The firs sold well, at nearly the price we’d gotten the year before. The $11 trees had averaged $32, the $3 trees, $28. We’d brought 600, and sold out early. By December 19th we had half-a-dozen scraggly trees left. I stayed with Jean overnight; she was living in a commune with about fifty people. It looked like fun, but it was time to go home. We left Texas earlier than we had before. Though I’d explained that I had friends I wanted see in Manor, several miles outside town, my father as usual didn’t want to do anything but drive home as fast as possible. Marcus didn’t want to stay either, but since I was driving, I decided we were visiting Manor come hell or high water. When we arrived there was a party going on, and everyone had a wonderful time including my father, who took a hit off a joint. It was the first time I’d seen him do it, though he and my mother had once smoked one with his friend Ric. We stayed the night, ate breakfast and left on the 20th, refreshed and happy.

Before Christmas I’d been interested in a woman named Kay K. Kay. Her name was Kay, her maiden name began with K, and she’d married a Kay, though she was now divorced. Like many of my relationships at the time, we didn’t last; by Valentine’s Day we’d broken up. I did get a valentine that year, though, from a gal named Wendy. She’d sent it to Loveland, Colorado for the special postmark. Wendy was cute and fun, but she had three kids, and I wasn’t ready for that.


One night in spring I was riding home from Blowing Rock with a couple fellows. We were stopped, drinking beer on the back road and talking, when the driver pulled out a table leg, waved it and shouted, “Give me all your silver!”. I was in the back, and pushed the seat forward with my foot. He couldn’t get a clear swing, and tried to poke me with it. I yanked the leg from his hand, and poked him while I climbed out. I ran into the woods. He yelled “Give me back my weapon!” I shouted “Come and get it!” He didn’t, they drove off, and I walked home. I saw his passenger a week later. He’d been as surprised as me. He told me the name of the driver, which I filed away for later. Both were in prison shortly, the driver for three or four years, I don’t know why. The passenger got involved, after the fact, with the murder of a game room owner. The murderer was named David Presnell, and the sheriff at first arrested my friend of the same name, who had nothing to do with it.

I worked with my new second cousin Marcus that spring, doing odd jobs on Seven Devils, the resort where he lived. He had a beat-up 1964 Ford Galaxie, a year younger and shaggier-looking than the car I’d driven from Texas. He’d cut off the top and half the back of the body and made a kind of truck. I helped him rewire it. Instead of replacing the ignition switch, we hot-wired in several buttons, toggle switches etc. To start it, one had to flip one switch up, another down, pull a chain, mash a button under the dash, etc. The two of us were the only ones who knew the combination. Instead of a gas tank, he put a gas can in the back and stuck the fuel line into it. Seven Devils was a private resort, so he needed no registration. We planted flowers for residents, mowed lawns, drank beer at the resort bar and had a great time all that summer and fall.

Marcus introduced me to a nurse named Cynthia, who lived just over the Tennessee line. She lived in a huge, partially-refurbished barn, and hired us for a weekend. We cleared out thousands of burdock burs and cleaned the place up. Her husband Art appeared on the second day. They lived apart, but got along, and the four of us drank steel cans of Iron City beer, which wasn’t  available in North Carolina. The beer was stronger in Tennessee. It was 6% alcohol, by law, while North Carolina specified beer be no stronger than 6%, so it wasn’t. Later that month Marcus moved into a little house across from Cynthia, and for a short while I did, too.

The afternoon after we’d finished the cleanup, a girl I knew, Dolores, invited me to her place in Boone to meet her new boyfriend. I went over, and her boyfriend was Art! He was dressed as a giant penis, getting ready for Halloween. A professor in the psychology department at Appalachian, he was going to a party where everyone’s costume represented a psychological problem. He had a can of whipped cream hooked up to a tube, which came out the top of his head. He was a premature ejaculation. Every time he’d say hello to a woman, he’d squirt. He was the winner of the costume contest, and went home with a case of beer.

The next morning I told Marcus I’d seen Art with Dolores. He wasn’t sure we should mention it to Cynthia, but she and Art had been separated for some time and she knew all about Dolores.

Cynthia was Art’s second wife. Art had been living in Atlanta, and came home one night to find his wife lying in a pool of blood, murdered. They never found the culprit.

Art moved to Tennessee and started a new life, but his marriage to Cynthia didn’t last. He took up with Dolores, who’d been one of his students. They were together for three or four years, but broke up. He then married another student, Michelle. They started a shop selling futons and artsy things, and lasted half-a-dozen years.

Art had brewed a five-gallon jug of beer, but had never drunk it. One day Michelle saw the brown liquid still sitting in the bathroom of the shop, and realized nothing would ever change. They’d lived for six years in the back room, cooking on a hot plate, and would never have a real kitchen. She broke up with him. I think Art never got over his first wife. It affected everything.

A little ways from the family farm was a small house where three guys lived, all students, who always had a party going. Walter was the son of the local state representative, and his roommates were Chris and Richard. Walter serviced video games, which were something new at the time, and always had a couple in the living room, with the coin boxes cracked open so we could all play for free. Richard had quit smoking for New Year’s, but kept an unlit cigarette in his mouth. None of them smoked tobacco, and neither did I, though everyone smoked pot. All the visiting smokers went outside with their cigarettes, which felt unusual and new. Walter had a car but had lost his license. I had a license, but my car needed repair, so I drove him around.

I never saw Richard after that spring. While on vacation, he was in a car wreck in Atlanta, and was killed.

By March the price of silver had crashed, the Hunt brothers had lost their butts, and I’d stocked up again. I made some rings and planned to thumb out of town, but it took me awhile. I was invited to a covered-dish dinner, then to a barn dance with a lovely girl named Maggie. She was engaged, but her fiancé was out of town. She was in a play, “Death of a Salesman”, and I’d seen her kiss my father! We danced most of the night, then crashed out in the barn. I was then invited to another house for a sweat lodge! I stayed the night, and caught a ride with a fellow named Tim, who knew Marcus, who was now Cynthia’s neighbor. I knew Tim was a talented artist who blew through town occasionally, but didn’t know that he’d turned very strange indeed, and neither Cynthia nor Marcus was happy to see him. They told Tim to leave. I helped Cynthia and Marcus on the farm for a few days, and left about a week later than I’d intended.

A biker type gave me a ride to Princeton, West Virginia, where my brother Rob was now living, but it wasn’t a pleasant stay. Anne had lost her baby. They’d been involved with Elizabeth Clare Prophet’s “Church Universal and Triumphant”, and Anne, while pregnant, would “meditate” loudly, shouting “SHIVA-shiva-shiva-shiva-shiva-shiva-SHIVA-shiva-shiva”, concentrating her energy on Shiva the Destroyer, to destroy all the “bad” energy around her. I think concentrating on the Destroyer, so long and forcefully every day, destroyed the baby.

I headed out, and slept under a bridge that night. The next day I caught a ride all the way to Burlington, Vermont, where I spent an afternoon and grabbed a beer in a local bar. All they seemed to talk about, with great exuberance, was their new mayor, Bernie Sanders! I’d planned to go from there to New Haven, but my next ride took me to Binghampton, and since Cortland was nearby, I went there instead. Eileen was there, living with a fellow named Dana. They’d had a traveling vegetarian food bus the summer before, and had done well at concerts and such, but had lost their butts at the state fair, and now had lots of great food, but no money. I visited for a few days and left for New Haven, now about two weeks behind my planned schedule.

New Haven, again

I arrived in New Haven, finally, in the last half of March. Patience kept me busy on various projects–car maintenance, kitchen repairs. A two-foot snow kept me in town. My brother Sam had decided he was gay, and Patience and my sister Fran now lived in the apartment, but Sam spent most of his time in New York. Patience had a fine, full bosom, and didn’t mind me watching her undress. She was a good looking woman, but the time and circumstances weren’t right for me to do more than look. I had a wonderful time partying with their friends. My brother had been making a living as a piano player, and I’d now played blues harmonica for five or six years, as well as penny whistle, kalimba and drums. I won a button as a runner-up in a local talent contest. I had long talks with my sister Fran, who like me fell in love quickly and often.

I was back in Boone by April. A fellow who owned a stained glass shop owed me money, and I agreed to classes with him as payment. I made a few little projects and then my first stained glass window, a scene with a fellow in a yellow night robe going to the outhouse, candle in hand, moon in the sky (with a bit of artistic license, the moon was in front of the mountain, and was duplicated on the outhouse door). It was destined for the skylight in the bathroom, but before it was installed my father had kicked and carelessly cracked one of its panels.

I had a very strange romantic interlude at this time, which I’ve since found is quite common. I met a girl whom I vaguely knew at the bar. She’d been living down the road, and I’d once helped her find her dog. We had several drinks and discussed our lives. At closing time she offered me a ride home, and we went to her house, not mine. I took a shower, and she joined me. We toweled off. I climbed into her bed. We were a little nervous, but she cuddled up next to me, and we kissed and caressed. I made advances, and she made no attempt to stop me. I’d kiss her, she’d kiss back, I’d roll her nipple in my fingers, her hand would wander over my butt. She’d pull me closer.

I really liked her. We’d been talking all night, and I’d found her charming. She’d invited me. We were a little tense, but it felt normal and natural and wonderful to be in her bed, next to her nude and willing body, as we explored each other in what to me was a wonderful encounter. I kissed her again, telling her tenderly that I understood that we were new to each other, but that it was all right. She kissed me back, and we made love. I felt we’d had a magical and memorable evening, told her how special it had been for me to meet her, and that she had no reason to be tense.

She suddenly stiffened, and said, “Well, you’d be tense too, if you’d just been RAPED!”

Whoa, that’s not what I was thinking at all. We talked a little more, and she conceded that she’d been sending mixed signals (I didn’t think they were at all mixed!). We talked awhile longer, and she fell asleep in my arms. In the morning she said she loved me, and I was happy, I really was. I thought her charming.

The next night I went by her house. She was in a completely different mood—not hostile, but not at all romantic. She’d forgotten, or claimed not to remember, professing her love.

I’ve since talked to others about that night. There are certain women who will always claim I raped her, even though she gave me no resistance and encouraged my advances. Most women understand the situation as ambiguous. Further, I’ve found that about half of all men been unjustly accused in some manner, at some time. Their advances haven’t been well and truly rebuffed, or a woman is simply mad for some reason and sees an advantage in accusing a man. It’s an easy accusation to make, and difficult to defend.

The Peyote Way Church

Tom, who’d arrived with Jake and Jody the previous year, showed up fresh from Texas that summer carrying a seabag stuffed with the biggest, prettiest peyote buttons I’d ever seen, some the size and thickness of a man’s palm. He’d been fighting the government for years, and was now the first “White Guy” allowed to pick peyote! He planted trees with us, and was a notable presence in Boone, with little bells in his stringy hair and colorful Guatemalan clothes. Since I’d started thumbing, there’d been several more locals who’d taken up the idea, bringing in dozens of interesting friends to enliven the local scene. From a small, isolated mountain town in the 1970s, Boone in the ‘80s had developed into an oasis of culture and arts. Happy Appy was now a popular university, and the community reflected it. I felt my travels, and my encouragement of others to do the same, had played a part. There was now a large and vibrant hippie community, up from the “sixteen original hippies” of 1970. One of the hippie chicks who’d recently arrived was Julie, and as we talked I realized we’d lived about two blocks from each other in Denver in 1973, and at that time had talked with each other in a nearby health food store.

I was involved with a couple gals that summer. Carol was far more interested in me than I was in her. Georgia, the other way around. I was doing some freelance astrology, and had one very good customer. JoAnne was some years older, and had money, being recently divorced from a Cadillac dealer. She owned a flower shop, and kept me busy. I found it a two-edged sword. I’d draw her charts and read her cards. She’d pay me well, and recommend me to others, but every few days she’d want to know more. I’d try to say something new, because she was paying me, but the stars, the cards, the I Ching and people’s palms don’t change every day. I was saying the same things. The more money I made, the less I felt I was doing something worthwhile.

I’d been drawing charts for years, always keeping my eye out for the “perfect” gal–someone whose sun-sign matched my moon sign, and moon-sign matched my sun sign. In the summer of 1981 I found a gal whose chart was pretty close. Kate’s moon-sign was my sun-sign, and her sun was close to my moon. Theoretically, this was one of the best of matches, but nothing developed. I kept in touch and visited her a few times, but the great romance I expected never came.

Oddly enough, I found years later that one of my cousins had the “perfect” chart I’d been seeking. When we compared notes, our lives, our spouses, our travels , our lives had been more alike than we’d ever have imagined.

In September my old neighbors from the bungalow in Sugar Grove decided to marry. I was invited to their wedding, outside Wadena, Minnesota, the land of ten thousand lakes. I hadn’t been to that area of the country. I’d visited almost all the other states, but not Minnesota, the Dakotas or Michigan. It seemed a good opportunity, so I left.

I caught a few rides through Tennessee and into Missouri, where I spent a lovely afternoon in Excelsior Springs sitting in the park making rings. A plain-looking girl pushing an adult-sized tricycle came up and started a conversation. I told her where I was from and where I was going. She said she’d been to Oklahoma, South Dakota, Colorado and some other states in the area but had been raised “right here in Missouri”. She had a speech impediment, but was simply charming. I had some grapes, and we talked and ate grapes for a long time. I liked her, and the town, but when she left a local cop asked me a few questions. He was friendly, but hinted that I should move along, which I’d planned to do anyway; I wanted to get to the wedding. For the next couple days I caught rides in that general direction, but did a lot of walking. Brisk walking—to stay ahead of the mosquitoes. I had to maintain a swift pace, because when I slowed, the clouds of mosquitoes in my wake caught me, and pounced. Ten thousand lakes, means ten billion mosquitoes.

The wedding was on the 14th of September, in a little town called Two Inlets. I almost made it. I was in Wadena at noon, Park Rapids a couple hours later. I tried to call the church. The information operator didn’t know where Two Inlets was, even though it was on the map, and the operator I’d reached in Wadena had lived there. I walked to the Catholic church. They knew the name of the church I needed, and the number. The phones in the area required that you to put in a dime after the call was connected, and I was unfamiliar with the procedure. I fumbled for my dime when the father said “hello” a couple times, and hung up. I called back. No answer. I went on Osage. Everyone knew my friends, but no one knew where to find them. The postman told me where they’d lived the month before, knew their neighbors. I started in that direction, but by the time I caught a ride it was late afternoon, I’d missed the wedding, and I was so tuckered out from outrunning mosquitoes that when the next driver said he was going to Fargo, I told him I was too.

I spent the night under another bridge, and in the morning caught a ride with a fellow named Denver. We drank beer all the way to Watertown, SD, but on the way stopped to pee. He shut down the truck and couldn’t get it started. The Chevy engine of those years had a toothed ring on the flywheel which had a bad habit of stripping a tooth here and there, so that in certain spots the starter couldn’t engage. It’d simply scrape, make a horrible noise and do nothing. You’d have to get out and physically turn the engine to where the flywheel would engage before it’d turn over. I got underneath the truck and pulled on the V-belts, but while we were yelling Denver misunderstood me and hit the starter prematurely. The first 2 fingers of my left hand got caught in the pulley, and for the first time in my life I yelled “HELP!” as loud as I could, fishing out my pocketknife. Denver leaped out of the cab and popped the hood while I handed him my knife and yelled “CUT IT CUT IT CUT IT!!!”. He cut the V-belts and I got my hand back.

Fortunately, the V-belts only ran the power steering and air conditioning, so the truck was still drivable. It started, and we drove on. My index finger was cut through the knuckle, and I could see the bone. It didn’t bleed much, so I pulled a band-aid and some adhesive tape from my pack, and patched it up. It hurt like hell, but I regained most of my motion and flexibility, though the nerve to that section of my finger was damaged. I can’t feel anything on the back side of the top two-thirds of that finger anymore. There was a chunk of cartilage stuck in the knuckle, getting in the way, so a week later I cut it away with my pocketknife, a little field surgery which worked fine. The middle finger wasn’t cut near so deeply, but both knuckles now share a scar line.

I caught a ride with a fellow in a Dodge Charger the next day. We drove to Sioux Falls at 100 miles per hour. From there I went to Clear Lake, Minnesota with a couple of tourists from Finland. I slept behind some bushes. and in the morning caught a ride to LaCrosse, Wisconsin, and smoked dope the whole way. From there, I rode to Highland Park, Illinois. Outside the mini-mart, I met the young fellow who worked there, and he took me home for the night. In the morning he gave me a couple half-pint bottles he’d pinched from the stock, peach brandy and Southern Comfort. He also bought one of my puzzle rings, and gave me three joints for the road.


In the morning I went to the train station, intending to ride the train for a few miles as a change of pace. I arrived there early, and started a conversation with a fellow who was starting his shift. He told me to buy a ticket to Mannheim, where his locker was. In Mannheim, he brought me to the back room, and told me which freight train to hop. I was off to Indiana.

Hopping a train is interesting, and different. The train clanks along, hour after hour, not very fast. I sat in the empty boxcar, watching the prairie roll by, then turned around and watched the shadows on the wall. It was very much like Plato’s cave. The train gently shook, clanked, squealed. The shadows flashed and danced on the wall. It was easy to imagine life as nothing but shadows, eternally shifting, the swaying train rocking me to sleep–

But I didn’t sleep. It’s relaxing when you don’t need to pee, but I felt the need. After miles of green grass and rolling hills, I got up and started to pee out the door–and immediately passed a crowded crossing with a police car at the head of the line. There wasn’t much point in stopping, so I let it fly–

Towards evening the train pulled into a freight yard. I hopped off, found a bar and had a couple beers. I crashed out in a secluded spot next to the toll road and in the morning caught a ride into Michigan, where I ate a big breakfast in Lawrence. Across the road was an unattended produce stand next to an old woman’s garden, with a note sitting next to a can. I got a couple boxes of raspberries, and stuffed the money in the can.

The next fellow who picked me up was Will, from Toledo, Ohio. One of the first things he told me was how much he hated Michiganders, because they never smiled. He was right. In my little jaunt into and back out of Michigan, everyone appeared morose.

Will made good money working at a nuclear plant, but figured he was getting a large dose of radiation and probably wouldn’t live long, so he was damned well going to enjoy life. We went to a couple bars. He bought drinks for everyone, and several for me. I tried to give him a ring, but he didn’t think he could figure out the puzzle. The local radio station had shirts for sale—”105 WXEZ Rocks Toledo”, it said—for $2–but I couldn’t talk even one person into buying a ring, and I had less than $2 left. At the end of the night, however, I caught a ride to Dayton with one of the fellows I’d met in the bar.

The next day I thumbed to a great little college town, Berea, Kentucky. I spent the day among the shops or chilling in the park. Afterwards I caught a ride to Knoxville, where I spent a couple days with my cousin Pat and her two daughters.

October found me back in Boone. I started to get involved with a roommate of Nora’s, the Avery County Woman I’d been involved with five years earlier. Nora was in good spirits, but Cara had lost her boyfriend 3 weeks earlier to cancer. She was simply incapable of anything but grief, and I couldn’t make her feel better. There was a deep sadness in her which I couldn’t touch, and I’d set her to crying with any little thing.

My father stayed home that Christmas. An old friend of Marcus wanted to come along, so Bobby and I planned to leave at the end of November. A friend of my sister then asked to come along as well, so it was me, Bobby and Michelle. I’d bought an old Plymouth Valiant, named “Flo”, from Art’s girlfriend Dolores, and she was thrilled to know Flo was going to Texas. I painted “with Bob and Michelle” on the sign, and we set up six hundred fresh trees, Rudolph the Red-Assed Reindeer and a skeletal Charlie Brown tree, of which there were still a few left. I got in touch with several friends I’d neglected when my father had been there. Stevie Ray Vaughn was one, a fellow I’d met in the neighborhood the previous year. He and his band were now popular in Austin.

Jean and her roommates gave a party just before Christmas, and I spent the evening jamming on the front porch with several musicians, including Stevie. We talked about maybe playing together, but Stevie was interested when needles appeared, and would disappear into another room. I liked playing with him, but wasn’t that hard-core. I stayed on the porch.

Later we had a poker game, and both Bobby and I won good money with a variation called Cincinnati Red Dog, which isn’t really poker at all. Everyone antes, four cards are dealt and each person places a bet against the pot. You have to beat the next card up, in the same suit. If you bet a nickel, a club comes up and you have the ace of clubs, you win. Any other suit, you lose. It’s rather difficult to win, and the pot quickly gets big. If you’re sure, you can “tap the pot”, pay off any bets already on the table and go for the whole thing. If you lose, you match the pot, and a $5 pot is suddenly $10. The pot gets bigger, and most folks get conservative, not tapping it even when they have a good hand. The trick is to have a high card in every suit, which doesn’t happen often. That night I won about $50, and Bobby $100.

Bobby had packed his motorcycle in the back of the truck, and Michelle alternated riding with Bobby and riding in Flo. We wanted to go sight-seeing and not bee-line back home on the freeway, so we went to the Gulf Coast to check out the coastal highway. The highway was still torn up from Hurricane Allen the year before, and large signs advised us that the road was closed. We were ready to turn back, but a local told us the road was bad on one side but the other lane was passable. This proved to be true. We drove almost exclusively in the left lane for a couple hundred miles, but since there was hardly any traffic this was a moot point. We stopped on the beach in several places, and picked up an incredible variety of shells. The hurricane had churned up the prettiest assortment I’d ever seen. Fancy shells covered the beach for miles.

We stopped in a motel that evening and cleaned up. Bobby and I wanted to hang awhile longer but Michelle wanted to leave, and headed to the freeway to thumb home. I drove out in Flo and told her to cut the comedy, then we drove the rest of the way home. Michelle was cute, but also a pain.

On the Bench

I was the same age as my father’d been when he’d married, and I was contemplating it but had no prospects. There was a game I’d play, idly, in my mind. I’d sit on a bench downtown, watch people pass by–young, old, fat, thin–and think what it’d be like to be married to each in turn. If I were that-guy-there, could I live with that-gal-over-there? How could I pick up the gal with the blue purse? Would she prefer me, or that guy who looks like a chicken? That older woman with the big nose, what would it be like to have been married to her for the past thirty years? In half-an-hour I’d consider a hundred different possibilities. An enjoyable pastime, but pointless.

The planet Uranus was transiting my seventh house, which astrologers immediately recognize as a seven-year period of turmoil and change in partnerships. Uranus is a very strangely oriented planet; its poles are oriented east-to-west. Since it takes 84 years to orbit the sun, one pole faces the earth for 21 years, then we see its equator for another 21, then the opposite pole, then the equator again. When the poles are facing the earth we’re seeing the same area of the planet for 21 years, but when the equator shows it really rolls. The day on Uranus is only seventeen hours long, so the view, unchanged for 21 years, now changes every 8-1/2 hours. In astrology this indicates those things which are built up over long periods of time and seem stable, but lose equilibrium and collapse into chaos. The turbulence continues for years before structures are rebuilt, in very different ways–which can be good, bad, or both. In the seventh house this affects one’s partnerships, including marriage, and my ideas of marriage were definitely in flux. I was on and off with Georgia, off and on with Jean, on and off with Robin and Susan, and briefly with Libby, Liz, Tory, Kathy, Carol, Debbie, Amie, Sherri, Sally, Lisa, Karen, Ann, Kate, Janie, Rhonda, Mary, Terry. Sometimes for a few days, sometimes months, sometimes years. I never figured out why I couldn’t keep a girlfriend, but of course it was my due to my own nervousness and uncertainty. I could attract women by the score, but they wouldn’t stay.

In February I went to Nashville to see Robin. We were together for two weeks, then broke up for good. I got back with Georgia, who eventually married her old boyfriend Darrell.

Later that spring I saw a gal who’d been out of town for a couple years, Jana, who asked me for a tarot reading. Her card for the recent past came up Death, reversed. I told her the reversed status represented tangled emotions and uncertainty about death, in the recent past. I didn’t know it, but she’d been away from town taking care of her father, who had just died. We talked for a long time that night, but never went further than a kiss.

I went out several times with Sally, who was a lot of fun. She took me to a bar in Boone, before bars were legal. Speedy the pizza guy had “parties” after hours. The beer would flow, and he’d keep a tally of who had what and settle up later—which was the illegal part.

I really liked Sally. I knew her family well; she had several brothers and sisters. A younger brother Greg married Terry’s sister Janice, an older sister Annalee smoked too much, and died young. We truly enjoyed each other’s company, but she wasn’t as “eager” as I, so to speak. Later she wished she had been, but by then it was too late.

In May I was back in New York State. I met a gal through the Boone co-op who was headed up for her brother’s wedding, and I offered to help with the driving. She dropped me off at Barb’s. Barb was stripping—her wallpaper! We stripped for a couple days, then saw Eileen’s brother Jim walk by. I invited him for wine and cheese. He helped with the ceiling, then we visited Eileen and Dana. It was the first time Eileen and Barb had met. We talked metaphysics and health well into the night. Eileen had some friends over and we had dinner, then did some yoga with wine.

Though the positions are the best-known aspect to yoga, the real trick is in the breathing. Deep and forceful breathing is messy, uncomfortable and obnoxious, and most people are too concerned about coughing and spraying boogers to breathe to the full limit of their capacity.

I had many surprises. Eileen had heard from June, the Avery County Woman who’d first sent me to Cortland. June had had a baby she’d named David—after me!–and had moved to Hawaii, where she was a massage therapist and writer. I asked Barb about her close friend Maggie, the first girl I’d met in Cortland. Barb said she’d married a fellow named Eric, an artist who worked at Cornell. Eric who? Eileen knew Eric! He’d lived with her roommate Geraldine. I knew Eric also, through a totally different friend, in a different city.

JoEllen and Neal had moved into the house they’d started 2-1/2 years earlier. It was a hell of a lot nicer than the itty-bitty trailer they’d all been living in for years. Neal still worked for the railroad and now owned an old sawmill, which he ran part-time. Joellen and the kids raised champion, award-winning goats.

I went to Connecticut from New York. I was out of town on my 29th birthday in June, and for the first time in my life let my driver’s license expire. Fran was living with Patience, who was my brother Sam’s squeeze for years, until he decided to jump the fence and take off with Rob, an older fellow who left his wife and moved in together with Sam. I liked Patience, she was good-looking, funny, and very smart; she later specialized in show-biz law.

Sam and Rob lived in The Ansonia in Manhattan, where I showed up next. A blues singer friend of theirs, Georgia Louis, threw a party in Westport, Connecticut, where I sold over a dozen rings. I spent the following day in Central Park, rode the carousel and visited several shops that Sam, Fran and Patience knew. I found an herb I’d wanted for months, Red Root or New Jersey Tea, drew everyone’s astrological charts, and discovered Rob had Taurus rising and Gemini sun, like me.

From New York City I went to southern New Jersey and visited Annie, who’d been Robin’s roommate at Appalachian, and stayed a couple days. It was the first time I’d been to that part of New Jersey, and I had a blast. There’s a good reason New Jersey is called the Garden State, though the vast majority of people, who only pass through on I-95, have no clue why. I drew charts for Annie, her two sisters and their friends, lounged on the beach a few days and then headed south, where I found an abandoned motel outside of Southern Pines, NC. I squatted there for a couple days and replenished my supply of rings before visiting the gal whose chart I’d decided was closest to my ideal, Kate. She was living with a nice fellow, so I stayed with them for three days and headed back to Boone. It was June, 1982.

Summer of ’82

I broke up with Georgia, insofar as I was ever with her. With her, it was always a week or two on, a month off, a week or two on again. I found it annoying. My father worked at the Dixie Barber Shop in downtown Boone and took off a few weekends a year for movies or commercials. He made several “redneck comedies”, few which had national distribution. He’d use a pseudonym, usually Jack Payne, so that the Screen Actors’ Guild wouldn’t know he was doing non-SAG work, though he kept his SAG dues paid. In the mid-80s he won the  bridgemaster role in a true clinker, the only movie ever directed by Steven King, “Maximum Overdrive”; his was the first voice heard after the opening credits. He appeared just before the drawbridge opened unexpectedly and creamed a girl with a watermelon. Marla Maples’ enticing, strangled scream was so effective that she stole away The Donald from his blonde wife. Since 2017, he’s been known as Mr. President. 

I’d met a gal seven years earlier, and we’d fooled around, but she’d moved away. Jeannie was an international model, and had been quite successful. She now owned a nice place in the mountains, could travel without worries and often followed the Grateful Dead.

Jeannie had been married at eleven, quite legally, in California many years before. She’d been a “wild child” and her parents couldn’t control her, so they let her marry. She now had a grown, married son, and since I was five years younger than Jeannie, I was just seven years older than her son. I was bar-hopping one night and met a girl who’d heard my name from her, which is how I found out she was back in town.

I called, and visited her house. We got a group together and went to the VFW post, where Jeannie knew several members. Jeannie had a long-term boyfriend, Indian, with whom she’d break up fairly regularly. Indian came along, but passed out in the car, so Jeannie and the rest of us went inside. Jeannie introduced me as her husband and we stayed late, crashing out on the benches together. Indian awoke early, saw the two of us and took Jeannie home. He, furious, loaded up a duffel bag and left her, that morning. Jeannie called me, in tears, and after seven years of tiptoeing around it, we spent the night together. She asked me if I wanted her to be my wife, and I thought about it long and hard, but after a month or so she was back with Indian. It was just as well.

Short-lived romances. A week, a month~Carolann, Karen, Debby, Cindy~I had one after another. Once Gloria, who nominally lived at the Hot El but essentially lived with her boyfriend, came home unexpectedly to find me in her bed with George’s cousin Karen. I moved into with Karen’s trailer for not quite a week, but we didn’t work. The night after I broke up with Karen I met Cindy. We talked for hours and then stayed at the Hot El. Gloria, once again, came home and found me in her bed—this time with Cindy. My intentions were always honorable; I was trying to fall in love, searching desperately for my other half, but my heart was scrambled and confused.

I left town again a few days later. I visited with my brother Sam and his new boyfriend, and went into the Statue of Liberty. I was amazed how many languages I heard on the ferry. From among about 200 people I heard Japanese, Greek, Portuguese, Arabic, Slavic, Italian, Vietnamese, Norwegian and others. There was a tour bus with Chinese characters on the side and the announcements were given in English, Spanish, French and German.

I sold lots more rings and jewelry to Sam and Rob’s friends, then went back to Patience and Fran’s apartment in Connecticut. They were moving at the end of the month. I helped them prepare for their tag sale, as New Englanders call a yard sale. Patience was moving to New York City–she’d landed a job in showbiz contract law–and Fran had made a weekend visit to Boone a month earlier, met a guy and suddenly made plans to move in with him, as was her way. This was the third or fourth time she’d fallen in love instantly, dropped everything and moved to a different state or country. She was a lot like me.

I thumbed from Connecticut back to Cortland, then down to Southern Pines, where I stayed again in the abandoned motel and replenished my rings. I continued to Myrtle Beach, where Michelle was now living. My sister Genny came down to visit Michelle and her roommate Pam, whom I hadn’t seen for years. Pam had gone from awkward teenybopper to total knockout. I rode home with my sister in time for a local craft fair called Septemberfest, and for the rest of the season minded a second-hand shop on weekends, for $10 a day and a place to sell my crafts, plus first shot at whatever stuff came through the door.

I pitched a tent at Snag End that summer, a mile from my parents’ house. I left  it there when I went thumbing, but when I returned it was collapsed in a heap. My father had hired loggers, and they’d taken the tree it was tied to, and many others, and cut a road up the hill. I set the tent back up, but mostly slept in my car.

Jake and Jody pulled into town that fall, with their kids Magic and Mystic. Jody was pregnant again, and they had a 1949 White school bus, painted purple. When I wasn’t minding the shop I cut tobacco or found other farm work with Marcus, Bobby, Jake and others.

My father had lost his wedding band while we were loading trees in 1981. He thought it gone for good and asked me to make another, but when I went to mow the lot I found it glistening in the weeds. I lost my own ring changing a tire the following winter, and again found it in the springtime. According to my astrological chart I’m good at finding things. It’s true!

I’d been in two wrecks while Marcus was driving. He’d gone off the edge of Winkler’s Creek road in his Volkswagen–the same Volkswagen he’d been driving when he changed a tire atop Howard’s Knob, tossed the flat to the side and watched it roll down the mountain picking up speed until it plowed into a blackberry bramble and was lost for good. Marcus slid the VW over the side of a sharp curve. The rear broke loose and spun completely around, left the roadbed and plopped down hard but upright against a couple of trees, which held it level, roof-to-road height  and appearing as if we’d been coming down the hill and not going up. I’d been sitting in the passenger seat, but sat down hard in the back seat behind the driver, not hurt at all, and we crawled out. The second time we were on Payne Branch Road in his cut-up 1964 Galaxie with a series of flip switches instead of an ignition key. I’d had a Bronco I’d connected that way, and my Model A too. One advantage to it was that with no key in the ignition one couldn’t charged with drunken driving, only public drunkenness. Unless you knew the switch combination you’d try to start it all day, then a few feet down the road it’d stall. For a long time he drove the Galaxie on the Seven Devils resort without tags, license, lights or anything else, but Marcus had finally hooked up lights, installed a proper gas tank and had it registered. We were making a run down the dirt road to Blowing Rock to buy beer, bundled up against the cold in this roofless, backless car in the middle of winter, when coming around a curve Marcus hit a patch of ice and plowed into a couple guys from Tennessee. Neither our car nor theirs was much damaged, and I had the presence of mind to put my arm up and lay my head on the dashboard before we hit, so I was only shaken up. The Tennessee guys got out of their Jeep and we looked at the damage, which wasn’t much. We gave them a couple beers we had in the back seat and they pulled out a bottle of whiskey, we all took a tug and went on our way.

I, finally, loved my life. I felt really popular. Everyone in town and in lots of other places people knew me. I had circles in North Carolina, California, Texas, Colorado, South Carolina, Florida, New York (city and state), Washington (city and state), and scattered friends and acquaintances all over. I’d been to all the states now, save Alaska, a couple territories and two foreign countries. Wherever anyone was from, or had visited, I’d been there, knew where it was, knew someone there. I’d also learned how to talk to women.

A woman likes a thoughtful, considerate man who listens and brings her flowers, but he bores her to tears. He’ll be a friend, not a lover. A woman wants challenge. A guy should be a bit of a smartass. If a guy finds poetry a turn-off, he should say so, and argue about it. Quote poetry and make a face. Tell her how awful Browning is, or Dylan, or Katy Perry. Make a fuss, state an opinion. Fight about it. Disagree. Talk a little dirty. She may be annoyed, but she won’t be bored.

Before leaving for Texas, I traded the Bronco, the Galaxy and the Valiant, Flo, for a 1972 Dodge Coronet, and after Thanksgiving Bobby and I took the Coronet to Texas. We pulled into the lot, but all the big old trees, Mary’s house, the barn, all had been bulldozed. Mary wasn’t there. The company who’d bought the property wanted double the rent, for a lot which was a mud hole.

We were feeling glum when I went for breakfast that morn, but while I was out Bobby talked with a woman who’d bought a tree the year before. She knew, off the top of her head, the phone number to check on real estate. By that afternoon, we had a lot three blocks down the road. The folks next door had also agreed to let us run a power cord, take showers and do our laundry for the next 3 weeks–for $20. Kevin, Jake & Jody’s friend, set up another lot some blocks away. Both lots did well.

Across the street from our new lot, a gas station had a neon sign, flashing the price of gas. For a couple weeks the price flashed $1.11, all day and night. It became a joke between Bobby and I to start a conversation and then sneak in the price of gas. “So Bobby, I was watching the news this morning, Reagan was talking and I was thinking~what’s the price of gas?” or “Hey, Dave, I saw someone we sold a tree to last year, and they asked me if I knew~the price of gas.” One day the price went to $1.12. It was like an earthquake had hit.

After the second weekend we had some free time, so I spent Monday and Tuesday with Jean. We discussed whether we should live together. It would mean one of us moving, and getting established somewhere else. We cuddled, considered, talked about it, but it hung in the air like a balloon, and that was that.

Bobby and I stayed through Christmas. At a friend’s house on Lake Travis, on Christmas Eve, we went wind-surfing. Our friend knew of a party the next day. A pretty girl named Liz invited me to sleep over, and I did.

Bobby rode his bike back, and I drove the Coronet. It was a good, solid car, a former undercover police car, and ran well. The inside of the tailpipe stayed chalk white, the sign of a perfectly tuned machine. I’d been pushing it a little bit in Mississippi, about 3 am. The speed limit was still 55, but I was doing about seventy when when a Camaro passed me as if I were standing still. I decided to see how fast the Camaro was going, and caught it. I was doing 120 miles per hour. The Dodge was as smooth as a baby’s butt. I could’ve easily passed the Camaro, but didn’t want to. I followed along for a mile or two, then eased off.

My parents had been a bit concerned, but I arrived in Boone the next evening. A  friend of Kate, my not-so-perfect-match, needed someone to house-sit while she went out of town with her ex-husband, so I did. I met another gal, Tory, at the Hot El that month, but it didn’t work out either, and when Rhonda returned, minus the ex, we lived together for two months. Finally, I left a bookmark in a book she was reading, saying I really liked her, thought highly of her, respected her, but I knew she didn’t love me. I wished her the best, but I knew in my heart it wasn’t gonna work. I packed my things and went back to my tent. Later we saw each other. She cried, I cried, we hugged, we kissed, we said goodbye.

The Barn

My cousin had a barn down the road, which she rented for parties. Boone was a “dry” town; the barn was popular. I lived close by, and if I stayed the night and cleaned up in the morning, she let me in free. It was a good deal for both of us. I drank for free, didn’t have to drive, she didn’t have to pay for cleanup. I even made a few dollars crushing cans.

On St. Patrick’s Day, 1983 Kevin appeared, running from the Texas cops. He’d been caught with a knapsack full of peyote, dressed like an Indian–but he wasn’t an Indian! He started camping on the property where Jake, Jody and I were living. I’d had a job selling coupon books, and had several left over for free sandwiches. I gave Kevin a couple to help him while he looked for work. Kevin met a girl named Dawn, broke up with her after a couple weeks and I took her out a time or two, but beyond a bit of fumbling, nothing developed between us.

Jake, Kevin and I got jobs planting pines for a local preacher named Grover, who had a forestry contract. He took a half-dozen of us to the job sites each day. I’d often be the driver, sometimes fifty or a hundred miles a day. We’d go down the mountain and plant fields in white or yellow pines for 5¢ a tree. A nickel a tree doesn’t sound like much, but when I was hustling, on a good day I could plant fifteen hundred trees in five or six hours, which was good pay in 1983. I was always fast (it’s what I do!) until one weekend I was playing tag football and broke the middle finger of my left hand. I could still work, but was only able to plant 2/3 as many, and was permanently “giving the finger” to everyone. After it’d healed, I broke my right middle finger, and was “giving the finger” with my right hand until well into the fall.

Before working with Grover I’d used a “dibbler” to plant trees, a sort of heavy, straight-bladed small spade. I’d walk along, use both hands to drive in the blade, step on it, wiggle it, pull it out, plant the tree and repeat the action a couple inches further along to “set” the roots. On Grover’s jobs we used a “ho-dad”, a mattock with a short, straight horizontal blade. Swing the blade, push it forward to make the hole, put in the tree, swing it again, pull the blade back. Two or three times as fast.

Occasionally I’d help plant trees behind a tractor. It was a lot faster on relatively flat land, but the tractor wouldn’t handle a slope, and you’d breathe a lot of diesel smoke. I can ride the North Carolina highways through several counties now–Watauga, Ashe, Avery, Wilkes, Caldwell, Guilford, Surry–and tell my kids I planted those trees, over there. The ones that are now forty feet tall. In my life, I’ve planted over a million trees.

Like most guys from North Carolina, I’ve also helped plant, tend, cut and put up tobacco. Cutting in the fall, your hands, arms, clothes and face get coated with tobacco gum, sticky sap that picks up dirt and turns black.

Over and Out

A local group, the Numuziklub (new music club) was giving parties at my cousin’s barn. They featured local bands who’d occasionally need a harmonica player or drummer, and I’d perform. The first Saturday in April, a girl in red-and-white leggings was sitting in the balcony, looking a little lonely. I nodded to her, and she nodded back.

A week later I went to the barn. The Numuziklub was featuring another band. I walked in the door, got a beer, looked around. The girl I’d seen the previous Saturday made a smart-ass remark about my raincoat (which I was wearing because it was raining), and then said my shirt looked like it was from 1963 (which it was). I immediately liked her. She was brash, but friendly, and pulled me into to the little booth where she was sitting, across from a couple rough-looking guys who between the two of them had six or eight good teeth. We talked for a long time that night, danced, rolled around, tickled each other. I went home with her. We’ve been together ever since. It was April 9th, 1983.

For the first week, Perri was house-sitting for some friends on Beech Mountain. Afterwards, we moved into my tent at Snag End.

There was a lot of activity that week. The morning after Perri had moved in, Jody had her baby. Perri assisted, in the back-of-the-bus birth, on April 17th.

We made a better, more pleasant spot for the tent, ditching around it, putting sawdust under the floor. Kevin had set up a wooden deck for his tent, a clear plastic greenhouse which woke him up at ridiculous hours of the morning. We dug out a spring, put a cover on it and had cold water and a cool place for food. We put in a sink, a counter, a firepit, built an outhouse.

Shortly after Perri moved in, we drove to the barn, and left Kevin while we dropped off our laundry. We drove up, and Kevin and was out front arguing with the cops. We took him home. A fellow from Tennessee had been giving the party, a little bitty guy with a great big gun. Some big guy started making trouble. The little guy pulled his gun and shot him, sort-of-or-possibly-by-accident. The big guy died. That ended the parties.

It changed Kevin’s life, for awhile anyway. Kevin started talking with my sister Fran, and they joined a small, obnoxious fundamentalist cult run by a red-haired jerk who  insisted on injecting himself and his moronic worldview into their daily lives. He and the sheep of his congregation had decided my sister should marry one of the goats in the choir. She had other ideas. A couple weeks later, she and Kevin were married.

I was the best man, at the most exasperating wedding ceremony I’ve ever witnessed. Carrot-top preached for at least an hour, bringing up perdition, the coming apocalypse, everything wrong with the world today. He decried how many children grew up in broken homes in the world today, how many divorces there were in the world today. How many wives did not SUBMIT to their husbands in the world today. When I thought he was ready to get on with the ceremony he’d crank it up again and talk of hellfire, the end of time, the evil in the world today, because people in the world today didn’t have JESUS in their HEARTS in the world today, and on and on in the world today, and on and on, and on and on and on some more, in the world today, and when it looked in the world today like he was ready to continue in the world today with the ceremony in the world today he wound it up AGAIN in the world today and dressed down all the SINNERS in the world today. Eventually I started throwing the ring pillow in the air, higher and higher, bouncing it off the ceiling of the church. After an hour of this ridiculous harangue, in the world today, they were pronounced man and wife. The cassette of their “ceremony” in the world today was never, ever, ever played in the world today, and they never, ever went back to the red haired clown’s church. In the world today.

My parents helped Kevin and Fran finance a trailer, and they moved in together at Snag End.

I wanted to start a shop in town, and paid the first month’s rent. My father had sold the tree farm. My father had promise, and I’d expected, “my half of the profits”. Big mistake. My “half” was zero, and the shop folded before it began.

Kevin had a dog named Dusty, but Dusty died that spring and afterwards our family dog Daphne trotted up the road. Though she’d been living at the Winkler’s Creek house for over ten years, she’d always wanted to be an only dog, which didn’t happen. She came to Snag End and became our dog, for six more years.

When in the tent I once knocked one of our candles onto the back wall. Fire climbed very quickly, but Perri picked up the beer I was drinking and put it out.

Perri bit into a Dorito that spring. The triangular tip of the chip slid under her gum, and the next day her face and upper lip swelled up like she was Quasimodo. She went to the dentist and the dentist told her the Dorito had nothing to do with it, which was obviously a crock.

Perri was going to college in Banner Elk, and working as a summer camp counselor on Beech Mountain. Her fellow counselor Cindy became a long-time friend, and sixteen years later both of they had babies, the first for both, within a month of each other!


In May we started building an earth lodge. I’d read a book about building a $50 house and decided to try it. We cut down several locust trees and dragged them to Snag End. We imagined a split-level, teepee-type structure dug into the hillside. We dug back about 20 feet with picks and shovels, left a 4-foot rise and dug back another 20 feet. A flattish, half-round, teepee-like roof went up on the bottom half, and the architectural plan was to install a row of clerestory windows above the roofline, then build a second half-round flattish teepee above.

By July we’d finished digging, sometimes helped by neighborhood teenagers  fueled with beer. There were now about a dozen of us living at Snag End; Adam and Karen had a very nice double-walled teepee, Peter had a tent, Kevin and Fran a trailer and Jake and Jody, with their three kids, a bus. The road to the earth lodge was rough, but passable for Perri’s four-wheel-drive Subaru, and after a first month or so of tossing wheelbarrow loads of rock into the slick grey mud my Dodge made it through as well, though the deputy got stuck when he came to check out our housewarming party.

By fall we had a frame covered in chicken wire, with old carpeting on top covered in plastic sheeting and tarpaper. A wood stove set in a large stone hearth was in the center, and to the left a raised area, with wooden pallets supporting a mattress, was the bedroom. A low table held our candles, kerosene and Coleman lamps. A tall set of shelves separated the “bedroom” from the “kitchen”. A sink was set into a countertop made of 2x4s, and a 5-gallon bucket underneath caught the grey water. We’d haul water from the spring outside the door, which had a hinged top and a platform to kneel on. Inside the spring was a basket to store fruit, beer, etc., and another bucket and shelf for items which needed to be kept cool, but dry. We also set up an outside kitchen opposite our front door, with another counter and sink, a cheapo wood stove and a fire pit, all tucked into a clearing among hemlock trees.

Kevin ran a power line from his trailer. For a few dollars a month we had power tools and a radio. I soon put in a washing machine, downhill from the spring and fed by syphon. To the other side of the drop-off from our outdoor kitchen was the outhouse, put together from spare plywood.

At the end of the summer, the first iteration of the earth lodge was up. I got a night job cleaning at the school, where we’d use the showers and laundry. Perri, when she wasn’t going to classes, had a job at a convenience store near the ski slopes of Beech Mountain.

The best thing about cleaning up at the school was the opportunity, once my job was done, to hang out in the library and read kids’ books. A kid’s book tells you the essentials, without distracting details. At lunch I’d raid the fridge in the cafeteria for leftover salad or ice cream, then read about the moons of Jupiter or baseball players of the 1920s. I didn’t have to finish at a particular time, and often hung around until 2 am. It wasn’t far from home; sometimes I’d ride a bicycle, or walk. One very dark night I saw a wadded paper bag in the road, and kicked it to the side. It shook its little head and flew off! It was an owl, minding its own owly business and not bothering anyone, but out of the gloom I came along, and kicked it!

The road on which I lived followed a steep east-west valley. There were no streetlights, and on a clear, moonless night it was very dark. When there was a bright planet in the sky, it’d cast a subtle shadow. The shadow of Venus was a deep, intense purple. Jupiter’s was blue, and Saturn’s a slate grey. I couldn’t detect a shadow for Mars, which a science-minded friend of mine told me was because it was several magnitudes dimmer than the others. There are lights on the road now, and a glow from the lights of Boone, which in the 80s was asleep by 10 pm. One can’t see the shadows cast by planetary lights. I doubt there are many such places left–only where there’s a deep east-to-west valley, with a clear view above and no street lights for miles, on a moonless night.

It’s a shame. Magical, but no one sees it.