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, either going home on furlough or being transferred to another base. 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’d always idolized my oldest cousin, Bobby, who was four years older and a wellspring of knowledge which he gladly shared. 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, went fishing 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 Latin teacher. She was a little gray-haired lady, and she loved our football team! Every game, there she was–not up in the bleachers, but hollering from the sidelines, right behind the benches! We loved her enthusiasm for football, but oh! how we struggled in her class! We’d slowly, laboriously translate Julius Caesar orally, 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! Light dawned for us–but a different light dawned for our teacher. She walked 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, and during the football season that meant learning a new routine every week. There were also concerts in the park, parades at the state fair and other community celebrations, plus the all-important regional band contest. We always rated a One, and were very proud to uphold that reputation. Besides the band performance, there were solo and ensemble performances in the contest. 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!

Vocal music was my forté, and we had an excellent chorus. We put on Gilbert and Sullivan operettas and sang great choral numbers – 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 at a conference in Clearwater Beach. We were comfortably at home in Bartow, but Mother was worried about Daddy and the young people.

She was right to be concerned. They had to evacuate the beach, and the causeway was underwater! There were a number of cars in the group, but the evacuation was very slow because someone had to walk in front of the caravan to be sure the road was still there, and passable!

Worse than the fallen trees and torn roofs was the collateral damage brought by floods, and the tornadoes they often spawned. After a hurricane, there’d be tree branches and debris littering the streets, and power lines down, but a tornado 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
I was a voice major in college, and German lieder was my forte, something else I had in common with Bill Whitesides. We both loved the language and the songs of Schumann, Schubert and Brahms, but during my junior year I came to realize that 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 went to summer school at the University of South Carolina  for the required education courses. For the first time in five years, I didn’t go to Transylvania Music Camp, but spent the summer at home with Mother & Dad in Columbia.

Dad shared office space with a fellow Presbyterian minister, Leslie Patterson, who was working for the Synod of South Carolina. His typist was on summer vacation, so I filled in. It was  a great job, made-to-order for me! He used a Dictaphone, recording letters in the morning for me to transcribe while he attended other matters in the afternoon. My classes were all in the morning, I typed his correspondence in the afternoon and left them for him to sign and mail. I rarely saw him at the office.

Quest for the Golden Mean

My classes were interesting, too! John Dewey and Maria Montessori were shaking up education’s rigid structure with their ideas. Learning by doing and meeting the needs of the child led to a more flexible curriculum; something that needs emphasis today, with the focus on core curriculum and end-of-grade testing. The pendulum swings back and forth–forever back and forth!

The professor in my Philosophy of Education class reviewed modern vs. classical ideas, then said, in dramatic tones, “Now, teachers, what are you going to do? Will you stick with the familiar, rote style of education or follow the modernists into learning by doing? Or will you find that golden mean, using the best of each, and achieve the magical goal of an ideal education for every student?’

I will find it, I thought. I will find that golden mean.

Stages of Life Development
I had to take Educational Psychology, and was the only undergraduate in my class. The others were teachers and principals, taking summer classes for certificate renewal credits or working towards an advanced degree. I was nineteen.

One day we were discussing the stages of human 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. We discussed each stage, citing our own experiences. I was a little bothered when adolescent altruism was described as a stage, but didn’t say much until one man expressed his agreement with the author. He said that as a teen he’d been eager to save the world, but had passed through that stage and now, as a married man, focused more on his family’s needs.

“Oh, but you shouldn’t give up your altruism! That’s important!” I protested. “That’s the main thing we’re here for, isn’t it?” The professor and the other students smiled and gently acknowledged our difference of opinion, and to their everlasting credit, none of them asked, “How old are you?” My words hung there until, in bemusement, it dawned on me that I’d just proven their point!

I got the education credits I needed, but for the first time in five years I hadn’t gone to 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 surrounding 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 liked him, and I was by now experienced at giving birth, 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 of Samuel Monroe Austin was seamless. I was sedated, but awake, through the whole process. He weighed seven pounds, and 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 while I washed dishes. They were playing at the swing set as usual, but 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. Someone was plinking out “Home Sweet Home”! It was Sammy! 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!
When I’d gotten all the kids on the bus home that afternoon, I went to my car and 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 full of sand. Some of the paint had been sandblasted off the driver’s side, and I wasn’t sure it would run. I figured sand had probably gotten under the hood, and it was with some trepidation that I turned the key. It fired right up, and I drove home, relieved. It was Friday, so I had the weekend to shovel out, then vacuum the car. 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.

High Times and Rough Spots

(from the same October letter)

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 and 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

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. We’d match the kid to the job and pay him. 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 had enjoyed my work in Adams County, I felt sheltered in the suburbs while my city was going through upheaval. I wanted to do what I could for Denver, so I applied and was hired as a sixth grade teacher at Colfax Elementary School. I’d hoped to be assigned to a school in Five Points, but Colfax was interesting too. It was a neighborhood in transition. It’d previously been a Jewish neighborhood, and about a third of our students were Jewish, but most of them were now 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!


Whatever we were doing as family members–work, classes, politics, church–we were always involved in the 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 of course, but also 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. Our son David was never in these productions with us, as Ned always said he needed to 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 learned how tough it was to put on a show with kids that age years later. My own production with seventh and eighth graders was no better!

Whether they were in 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 eventually 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. He was restrained, and continued to shout until they 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 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.

Up Go The Walls
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. I looked for the rest and found 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’. ”