1950 - MOVING TO TEXAS -
In 1951, when I was eleven, Daddy came home one day and made, what he thought was an amusing announcement. "How would you three like to be in oil?" I didn't know if he was resolving me to frying in the skillet or offering to grease my skates. Mom, Jim and I all looked at him in, what must have been, a most puzzling way. "Well, I've heard that in Texas all you have to do to be rich is to turn on the faucet and oil comes out!" I did not understand the humor in this at all. Why in the world would I want for oil to come out of the faucet? Didn't I have enough trouble doing dishes with plain old soap and water?
Everything was dramatic to Daddy. He knew that we didn't want to leave our home and friends but his new promotion was just too difficult to turn down. Besides, in those days nobody turned down a better job. The American way was to climb up, up, up that never ending latter until, by some hook or crook, one arrived at the top and suddenly found the happy ending to life and all of its difficulties.
Mamma looked as if a pie had hit her in the face. No, she did not want to move again. She had just finished moving and furthermore Texas was just a huge area on the map that was way out west somewhere. Besides, oil didn't come out of a faucet, everyone knew it came out of a well and she wasn't going to have any well in her back yard. She would like just a plain old water faucet, thank you very much.
As none of us were enthused it was hard for Daddy to pull off the excitement that was to be involved in this enormous change in geographic locations. We wanted to stay put and that was final. However, Daddy won as he always did. As much as we all loved him we viewed moving as war. It took so much energy, time and sad good-byes. Besides, no one that we knew had ever been to Texas. Wasn't that another country away?
Just as luck would have it, Jimmy and I began getting sick during the packing stage. Mayflower had already loaded the furniture and 6 million boxes (Mom likes to collect things as a hobby) and had left our house mid-afternoon in early June. Daddy was putting the last minute personal things in the light green '49 Dodge, with a visor no less, when I noticed a sick feeling in my heart. Was it that I had to leave my friends, that Jimmy had taken the window seat that I wanted, that I dreaded being in the car with two heavy smokers (Mom and Dad) or that I was really beginning to feel ill.
Knowing that nothing would delay this long awaited departure, by Daddy anyway, I said little and climbed into the back seat. The back seat was loaded with our games, various decks of cards, kaleidoscopes, sacks of apples, and just stuff in general. Fortunately, the junk was in the middle of the seat so I didn't have to sit next to Jimmy. But I did have to sit behind Mom, which I didn't like as she always knew what I was doing.
The drive was horrendous. I didn't think we were ever going to get there. Daddy drove at a steady 40 miles and hour, as this was 1949, with mother having to go to the bathroom and Jimmy needing another glass of water every twenty minutes. When dusk appeared we would start the task of looking for a suitable AA motel. It had to be clean and not too near the "white trash" as mother would label houses that were too close to the road and had junk in their yards. I remember going through rural Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. I never knew there were so many people in the world living in run down shacks. They seemed to be pretty happy though, sitting on their broken porches just a rocking back and forth -- chatting to whomever was standing next to them. The kids didn't have on shoes in most places. I thought that was really neat as I have always hated shoes as well as tight clothes.
I knew after the first vanilla ice cream cone that I was getting sick. Jimmy and I had made such a fuss about leaving our nice house and all of our friends that Daddy had promised us an ice cream if we would just shut up and keep quiet for a while. Of course, that always worked with both of us but this time it was different. The vanilla cone didn't make me feel any better at all. It made me feel worse. I ached all over and just wanted to sleep. So did Jimmy. After what seemed to be twenty hours in the hot car we devised a way to sleep on our sides in the back seat. He rested on his car door and put his feet on the rear windshield. I put my head on my side and rested my feet on the floor. We tossed and turned, groaned and grumbled, but we didn't fight at all and that's when Mom and Dad knew we were sick. We always fought in the car. The fact that all we did was moan revealed a deeper side to this Texas migration.
Upon recall, we were semi-delusional all of the way with both of us registering a temperature near 102^. Daddy had made reservations at the same hotel where Greer Garson, a famous movie star of that time, resided. Even ill, that gave some needed grandeur to our change in living quarters. Jim and I had to share a room but at 10 and 6 years old, with I being the elder, that seemed not so bad; after all, we could groan and moan in unison.
The delusions that I had during this illness have lasted on and off during my life although fading as the years went by. The fascination with these weird dream, etc. may have helped to pave the way for my interest in spirits, alcohol, psyciliban and other halucinative drugs. I have always enjoyed exploring alternative universes but never to the point of losing control.
Jim and I recovered from whatever illness we had and went on to move many more times in our lives – both with our parents and then upon adulthood. Each move has been met with dread as well as hope and now, upon looking back, I understand that each offered me an opportunity that I would never have experienced had I stayed in the same place. Of course, as we all know, different changes would have occurred leading to various and a sundry roads less traveled.
"FROM WHERE I AM" - MOTHER'S MEMORIES 1940 - 2000
Whenever and wherever I am truly relaxed, I physically position myself so that there is a window in front of me. As I look out, I see my feet, usually barefooted, crossed and precariously balanced on the windowsill - then the world beyond. For this reason most of what I remember about the twenty-eight houses in which I have lived begins with a single memory of my feet and the extended view beyond, situated directly inside of a window – framed, as it were, as a picture – telling a story that is as interior as it is exterior. I always try to position either my bed or an easy chair directly across from such a view and it matters not the time of day, yearly season or the subject matter of the view.
If, in contrast, I am outside I then enjoy the opposite - of looking in. I wonder, as I grow older, about the difference between the observed and the observer in this habit of mine. Life to me is nearly always within a frame, limited by a bottom sill, two sideboards and the stark 90-degree turn, imposed upon my view with a ceiling, as the eye travels upward. Curtains, valances and shutters are inconsequential as adorning objects, with reference to the view within, in much the same way, as a frame is secondary to the painting it encloses – but each carries the viewer within, to a world totally apart from the obvious.
NAN AND EMMETT - YOUR GRANDPARENTS
DALLAS 1950 - 1955
Dark green den
garage “gang room”
Highland park presbyterian
daddy and religion
H.L. Hunt “Mt. Vernon”
Momma and houses
JET - death and prayer
Jim & I ill - hallucinate
Mr. Smith 6th grade
Mrs. Duyer- 8th gr. science
In 1935 my parents decided that “depression or not” they were going to marry. My father had obtained a much sought after position as a traveling pharmaceutical salesman for Mead Johnson & Company and was bringing home the glorious sum of thirty seven dollars a week. “Bringing home” was just another way of saying that one supported their family. Being the second child of four (and the younger of two boys) Emmett, after whom Jim & Michael are named, brought to an end his student years at William and Mary College, before his junior year, in order to help support his mother and father and his two younger sisters, Martha and Francis, your Great Aunts.
This yielding of money, to someone else’s home, upset my mother, who being the youngest child of seven, had lived through her own mother and father’s death while still in her teens. Mother, whose name Nannie Belle reflected her Southern upbringing, did indeed want for Emmett's pay to be brought home; but she wanted for it to be delivered to her – at their home. In a house, as an apartment was called in those days when few could afford a down payment much less a mortgage, that was to her, a home. And so it was decided that your grandparents, Emmett and Nan, as family and friends fondly called them, would marry, as soon as finances permitted.
It took some two years of frugal saving to afford a small church wedding. Emmett felt the responsibility of his parents keenly. His father and your great grandfather, Early Terrell, was selling more insurance now. Daddy knew that his parents could live on the small cash that their garden brought in and the chores that the numerous boarders offered in exchange for a couple of dollars here and there on rent. Besides, Nan wanted his paycheck.
Your great-grandparents, Ophelia and Early, lived in a large Victorian home located on an enormous lot (or so it seemed to me while still young) at the corner of Taylor Street - the first cross street of Ashland, Virginia - a small sleepy town that was home to the men’s division of Randolph Macon College. They “took in” young college students to supplement Early’s income and to help in the numerous chores that are involved in the running and operation of a large boarding house.
Shorty, Martha, Ophelia, Den-Den, Francis & Emmett; Ophelia & Den-Den
Ophelia cooked, with delight and culinary genius, each evening meal. Delicious platters of smoked Virginia ham and southern chicken fried in corn meal would be placed in the center of the large oval dining room table around which twelve to twenty would be seated for dinner. There was a certain order that presided at these meals as bowls, filled to the brim with home grown beans, potatoes, tomatoes, ochre, limas, squash and other equally tasty, fresh and colorfully oriented vegetables, were passed from left to right.
Meals were the central core that made communication possible between people with so little else in common. One was expected to participate in the dinner conversation by the sharing stories - successes and failures, trials and tribulations, and other ordinary proceedings of the day. If participation was not voluntary, your great-grandmother would then begin her too often routine of proper questioning, prompting a more unconstrained response – a trait that your mother has generously inherited.
A clean shirt or dress was expected at dinner, when the meal was presented in the evening. Supper was really lunch, which was just as large and well attended, but did not afford the change in dress, as one could dine during the day in daytime clothes, unless, of course, you were a field hand.
"Outside workers" took their meals under the old oak tree in the side yard, a fact that I generally envied. How wonderful to sit on the cool green grass under the wide oak whose spreading limbs were as comforting as my grandmother’s soft secure lap, eating from a plate that could be perched on my knees and close to my mouth. Chatter here was always much more interesting than in the big house. As there were only a few outside workers, stories were told and retold with a flavor that equally matched Ophelia’s chicken. Whenever I was “antsy” grandmother would suspect that I wanted to eat outdoors. She would fix me a plate heaping with enough food for an army knowing, full well, that I would share it with the outside workers under my most favorite tree.
Ashland was a lovely town in those days in the early 1940s. Lazy streets were lined with huge wide oaks offering shelter to homes built around the turn of the 20th century. The town itself was located about sixteen miles outside of Richmond on the largest highway going north thus connecting it with Washington, D.C., our nation's capital. I remember that Emmett would always tell newcomers in Richmond, where we lived, that you should drive north, outside of town and turn left where you would come to the sign that said Ashland, pop 550. This sign would be on the right side of the highway directly across from the left-hand turn.
You should then proceed two blocks down that street, which always remained nameless in our minds, until you came to the second crossroads – Taylor Street. You should then turn right. Ophelia's house was the first house on the right, the one behind the tall hedge that served as a fence for the many grandchildren playing there. Usually one could find us, under a tall oak, with an old rope that was chaffing in several places, suspending a black spare tire swing from its lowest branch. "You can’t miss it", he would say, "As there are only two houses on the block, and the block is large."
People lived more slowly in those times. Sources of wonder came from the ordinary. A railroad ran between the cities of Washington and Richmond thus dividing Ashland in half. On our side of the tracks were the college and all of the old smaller houses, diminutive shops and specialty stores where one could measure out seeds for planting by the scoop, watching carefully as the grain or seeds fell slowly into a brown paper sack carefully held beneath it. Nothing was to spill.
On the other side of the railroad was the better part of town for it held the train station and Barn's Drug Store, where they sold assorted flavors of ice cream. Also located across the tracks was the massive plantation of Carter’s Grove, discretely hidden behind stately oaks and tall English boxwood hedges. This had been the home of The Honorable Hill Carter, a famous judge early in the history of Virginia. In fact, Ashland was at one time referred to as Cartersville because of the influence and social prominence of the Carter family.
Early Thomas Terrell Ophelia Harris Terrell In 1967
My grandfather, Early, knowing that I loved both trains and ice cream equally, would capture my small hand, as a Saturday treat, and lead me carefully down the sidewalk, past the hardware store and his insurance office, across the train track and onto the station platform. There we would read the schedule, although we both already knew, by heart, that only four trains a day passed this way, two heading south and two heading north.
We would then walk over to the shaded bench that sat beside the railway station and wait for the train to come through. Den-Den, as I affectionately called your great- grandfather, wore a fedora, as most men did in those times, even in the country, and he would tip his hat and bid “Good Morning” to all of the ladies that happened to pass our way. They all looked like my grandmother - portly and wide with no waist at all, dressed in dark crepe housedresses with hose held up by garters and laced black shoes coming almost to the ankle.
He would also stop and talk with all of the men, colored ones included, and introduce me. Likewise, his cronies would tip their hats to me should we meet. I felt so grown-up when they did this. They were always interested in what I was doing and I remember feeling important to be included. There weren’t many young men in town, for this was during the early forties and World War II was being fought in Europe. I didn’t know about the fighting in the Pacific because I didn’t even know where that was, as I was only four years old; however I felt honored that men would tip their hats in acknowledgement of my presence. It is a trait that I still dearly miss in our modern times.
The train eventually came roaring through Ashland, sounding its seemingly endless whistle, as it whizzed past the town. I would stuff my fingers in my ears to block out the inferno of noise. People could set their watches by the 12:25; the conductor would always wave at me, making me feel very special. Den-Den would then smile, giving me a loving wink, and we would proceed to count the cars--- so many passenger cars and then those that were hauling freight. People staring out of the windows would wave and smile and I remember wondering where in the world they were going in such a hurry and what their world was like. Did they live in a house like mine? Did they have a grandfather that took them to town on Saturdays? Even at that early age I realized the differences that separated children from adults and people that rode trains from those who stayed home.
However, after a few minutes I would pull on Den-Den's hand for our true purpose was a visit to the ice cream shop and I didn't want to tally more than was absolutely necessary. If it was near 1:00, and it usually was, we would continue on our way to Barn's Drugs Store where we would each purchase a double dipped cone. I was allowed two scoops, costing a nickel each. Choosing between cherry vanilla and fresh banana became the mental dilemma of the week. One day Den-Den suggested that I get a scoop of each which I eagerly did; however, they melted into one another, resulting in terrible flavors that didn’t match. I never ordered different tasting scoops again.
Learning the hard way, I would then change my choice to another flavor weekly, always regretting that I didn’t select the one not chosen. This caused me great frustration, as after this experience I could never decide exactly which flavor I wanted, enjoying them all. I finally decided that the most expedient solution, obviously providing me with the greatest number of flavors, would be to alternate the choice of ice creams - having one flavor on one Saturday and a different flavor the next week. The third Saturday I usually had a dip of each and on the 4th Saturday I would dare to try something totally new. I always hated my choices and was disappointed that I hadn't stuck with my favorites of banana and cherry vanilla so the next weekend I would start all over. Unfortunately, the way in which I make choices, sometimes continues in my life some sixty years later.
After the cones were consumed we would wash our hands in the only outdoor water fountain and begin our travels back towards grandmother’s house, but not before stopping at the gate of Carter’s Grove. Much later in life I was to meet the heir to this estate. Named Carter, she was younger than I by a decade and lived a similar lifestyle on an old Alden sloop in Soper’s Hole, British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean. We became great friends and often traded stories concerning the illusions of the past and the wonder of being able to be young in a place like Ashland.
Grandpa and I would then re-trace out steps back to our point of origin, only on the other side of the street. As I lived with my parents and younger brother, Jimmy, in Richmond I would look forward to this routine all week. Den- Den never disappointed me. This Saturday pastime continued for several years. Saturdays with my grandfather and our special trips to the railroad and cone shop and Sundays with my grandmother and church were the most favorite times of my childhood. I remember well when I took you to see this home after we returned from Europe in 1976. We looked and looked for it. I ended up in tears when I learned that it had been torn down and a Seven Eleven Convenience Store had been built where the old Terrell Place had stood. I have never been back to Ashland since.
When my parent’s marriage was finally set, in October of 1937, Nan wore, not the white of a young bride of today, although she often told me that of course she was a virgin, but a finely stitched blue/gray suit she had purchased at Miller & Rhodes in Richmond. This story was retold to me throughout my childhood. The fact that this beautifully tailored wedding suit was on sale was always mentioned, probably the reason that I have always, even in later years, thought that sale items were the highest form of purchasing.
Mother's father, your great-grandfather on the Clendenin side of the family, had died of a stroke soon after the stock market crash of 1929. She was to have made her debut that year in Raleigh but his death prevented that event from happening. Her mother's death soon followed. I was always told that it was from heartbreak, a trait that seems to be dominant among the women of the Clendenin family.
My parent's wedding was held in Greensboro, North Carolina, the home city of mother's six brothers and sisters and their spouses. Mother was twenty-seven when she married but she was still considered a sibling responsibility by her brothers and sisters. The brothers would take turns employing her as a "fill-in secretary" and she would reside at their homes until another niece or nephew was added to the family. My aunts and uncles apparently liked my father as a person - besides, he took over the responsibility for my mother, their sister, and your grandmother. Your great uncles and aunts could then continue on with their own lives.
1937 saw American coming out of the worst depression in its history. It was not the time for large church marriages so your grandparents decided on a small chapel wedding with only close friends and family attending. Mother's oldest living brother, Kemp Clendenin Sr., walked her down the isle thus “giving her away” as was the custom in the south. After a reception at her sister Sue's home the newly weds left for a weekend trip to the beach at Nags Head. It is interesting to note here that Sue's oldest son is Dr. C.C. Fordham who was Chancellor (President) of the University of North Carolina for years. The C.C. incidentally stands for Christopher Columbus but we all called him Chris when I was small.
Nan and Emmett's wedding was in October. Winter was settling in on the sand dunes and the sky was gray and overcast in Nags Head where they took their honeymoon. Mother loved that type of weather and she passed that love on to me. I am sure that you remember how much I loved being at our home at Navarre Beach during the winter. In my opinion it was the best time of the year. Nothing pleases me more than an overcast gray day where white sea foam from cresting waves is carried through the air to a misty shore. Besides most of the time I got to watch you surf!!
Your grandparents continued to live on thirty-seven dollars a week. In 1939 Daddy received a three-dollar a week raise. They both decided that it was time to begin a family. I was born early in 1940 on January 12th a day that would become important in my later life.
Noble Avenue – where I was born; Augusta 1941 - 1946
Nan, Jimmy and Nancy – 1945 Emmett, Nan, Nancy & Jimmy
Ashland - 1945
My parents moved from their apartment on Nobel Avenue to a two storied home on Augusta Avenue in Richmond, Virginia. This home was where I spent the first seven years of my life. I remember this home well, as it was a pleasing structure - a red brick house with a large unscreened front porch painted white. I took you there in 1976 during the same time as our visit to Ashland. Our house was located across the street from Thomas Jefferson (T.J.) High School, an important memory in my mental card file. Interestingly enough President Jefferson, our 3rd U.S. President, is your 10th Great Uncle. I later I jotted down some verse on the back of a paid bill recalling my sentiments for this school.
T J'S WALL
it always seemed, when I was but a child
that between my house
and wherever I wanted to go
There was a wall.
Large, impenetrable and dirty--
a yellow cement wall
separated my world
from that of others.
Our country was at war,
an invisible wall dividing us
from both the lands in the east
as well as those in the west.
Locked in isolation
with only a few European allies
we fought -- we didn't know
how bad it really was.
At home, all I was trying to do
was to get from one place to another
Alone--without holding onto my mother's hand
or being told when to cross the street.
Upon turning four
I finally received permission
to venture alone to the other side of the world
the path that took my by TJ's wall.
It seemed then the jaundiced wall was extremely high
and in retrospect it was.
ugly bushes were planted beside it,
between the sidewalk and the wall.
Too far away to touch
I chose a long stick and used it instead,
skipping, running, walking,
it followed me like a pet snake
Left handed or right,
coming or going,
my stick scraping like fingernails
along the wall in my world of discovery
I remember listening to the shouts
of laughter, anger and playing
coming from within that wall.
A world I didn't know.
A world inhabited by others.
I know now that they were only students
trying their "tough" on their outside world.
But then it was just them and me.
Not seeing, only hearing their lives
and remaining separated
by a block long wall of solid saffron cement
I could only pass--in wonder and in awe.
Thomas Jefferson (TJ) High School - below