Certainly I can look back and immediately name some milestones and even some times when I knew God was with me. Moments of my life. So in a stream of consciousness kind of way, here I go......
I was born in 1965 in Norfolk, VA. After years of trying my mother Bill and Sylvia were thrilled. My early memories are happy. My parents were very close with Porter and Mary Lewis and they had Amy who was just enough older than I that I thought she hung the moon (and was my big sister). September 1969 my world changed.
In late August I went to stay at Mema and Grandaddy's (Janie and John). I remember my Aunt going to school--it was her senior year of high school.
Sidebar: My mother had two brothers, Richard and Jimmy. When they were 10 & 12 they drowned in a farm pond accident and my grandfather very nearly drowned trying to save them. My Auntie Beth was about 18 months old when this happened and my mom was 14. My mom says my Aunt saved them all because they had no choice but to take care of this little baby. My grandparents rarely spoke of them.
So my aunt was 14 when I was born. She is right in the middle of my mom and me and I am much much more like her. I remember one Thanksgiving Beth and I came downstairs to help get dinner on the table. My mom looked at me and said, "are you going to leave your shirt untucked like that?" and my Mema looked at Beth and said, "are you going to wear that washer woman dress to dinner?"
Back to my stay at Mema and Grandaddy's...Each morning I would see Beth off to catch the bus to high school and then who knows what all they did to keep me entertained. I was 4 1/2 at the time. They may have sent me to nursery school at their church. Then the big day came. Now I have had enough therapy to know that some of these are memories and some of these are fantasies, but we are going to accept them as my reality and thus my memory even though I can hear my psychotherapy teacher saying, "do you hear the fantasy in that? Hester there is no way that happened that way." Love and miss her. Oh and before you accuse me of ADD or something inability to carry on one train of thought--this is for me, I'm happy for you to ready it, but I'm sorry you will just have to abide my tangential thinking.
The BIG DAY, I remember I must have gotten back from NC a little early because I was at my Grandmother Old's house. Grandmother (yes that's what I called her) lived next door to us. Bille and I were the fifth generation to live on that land--our house was built on a bit of the property and thus next door to her house.
I have a clear picture in my head of when I met Billie. We were sitting in Grandmother’s living room and he was wearing a gown and wrapped in a beautiful white blanket. I literally felt as though my parents had brought me a living doll.
I have another clear memory of sneaking into his room because I wanted to give him a bottle. I had mixed up some Tang and fed that to him (not as bad as it would be today since he was probably eating minced veal by that point). I know that it happened. Though I can’t really think about it without “hear the fantasy in that, your mother would never have let that happen.” Billie didn’t sleep a lot so I’m guessing when he did she was immersed in something that would have kept her from noticing.
My mom didn’t work, but she was gone a lot. Beatrice took care of us and cleaned our house. Beatrice raised me and when Beatrice went to take care of some other babies, her daughter Joyce came to take care of us. Beatrice’s husband Columbus took care of my Grandmother. Columbus ran the Great Bridge bridge—he was the person who would run the controls that put down the arms and made the bells ring and then open the bridge. I loved to ride my bike down and see Columbus when he was on duty. Depending on what shift he was working he would stop by my grandmothers and check on “Miss Anne.”
My grandmother was a widow at a very young age. She was born in 1899. My grandfather Livius must have died when she was in her 50’s. She had two best friends from growing up—actually three. All sisters—Evelyn, Auntie Maude and Cabbie. Evelyn was widowed at and even younger age and her son Bob also died. Cabbie died when is was little. Auntie Maude moved in with Evie. They were like my extra grandmothers. I would go to Evie’s house all the time. She would give me Wink and we’d have saltines dipped in French Onion Dip or Bugles. Evie lived two houses down from me and I could cut through the Gammon’s back yard so I could go visit Evie and Grandmother pretty much anytime I wanted to. On Sundays Evie, Auntie Maude and Grandmother would get together to have dinner. I guess when you live alone, Sundays are the longest day. So they would cut through our yard (we lived in between them) to walk to each others’ houses for their Sunday supper. At some point they discovered that they were getting too drunk so they decided that each would bring their own liquor. I think someone was drinking more than their fair share so they decided this rule, but that’s just speculation. So on Sunday afternoons they would cut through with now a jar (peanut butter, jelly, mason) full of bourbon. My mom called them “the girls.”
Dr. Woodley was our family doctor and his wife was his nurse. I can remember his house because I thought it was so cool. They had like a rock garden with a fountain in it and his office was connected to his house. Whenever something happened—24/7 we would run to Dr. Woodley’s house (unless he came to ours as he often did). One day our dog Princess (oh how I loved her) bit me. I don’t think she meant to. Off to Dr. Woodley’s house we went and I got my first stitches. Billie had a febrile seizure one night and I remember being woken up and packed into the car to run to Dr. Woodley’s house.
I used to get strep throat all the time. I remember Billie had some health issues—a hernia he was born with and he had his tonsils out. He was in the hospital twice. One of the times I was quite sick with strep throat. I think it was Grandmother (but might have been Evie) gave me a get well card. I was so tickled because I was lying sick on Grandmother’s green sofa while Billie was in the hospital and both my parents were with him.
I grew up a sort of combination of Episcopalian and Methodist. I still haven’t figured out the difference except for the prayer book. We attended St. Thomas which was just down the street from our house (it is one of the things that drew me to St. Thomas here in TP—my kids could grow up going to church at St. Thomas.) We went to church every Sunday. My dad was an usher and my mom was on the altar guild. I helped with the altar guild from a very young age. My Mema needle pointed all of the cushions used in the church.
Mema and Granddaddy when to Lea’s Chapel Methodist church, just down from their house in rural Roxboro, NC. I loved going to church with them because the church was filled with all sorts of aunts, uncles and cousins. From little little I loved going to Sunday School there too. Miss Edna was my Sunday School teacher. I remember being a tad confused because the service was different, there was no prayer book and no organ. They played a piano to go with the choir. Oh and the choir had robes like you see on TV, not the black and white ones like we had at St. Thomas.
I loved going to Mema and Granddaddy’s farm. There was always something new to discover. There would invariably be a new puppy or kitten (it took a while until I recognized the pattern of why there were constantly new puppies and kittens). There would be piglets and cows and calfs. There was a pond. Granddaddy would show me cool things like how to make hopper grass houses or crush up ink berries and then write with them. They had a gas tank there on the farm where you could fill up well mostly the tractor, but after a while our go cart too.
I went to nursery school and kindergarten at St. Thomas. I can remember Beatrice walking me up there with Billie riding in his big pram. I can remember many of the kids clearly. David—who would crawl around under the table and say things like “great underwear show.” Jimmy—whom I was going to marry because I liked his last name (it was farmyard). My best friends were Susan, Linda, Shawn, Dara and Amy. I remember I had a really good friend named Jill whose dad was a POW in the Viet Nam war. I had no idea what that meant at the time, just that her dad was gone and couldn’t come home and he might be dead.
First – third grade I went to Great Bridge Elementary. It was much like TPE though we couldn’t come home for lunch. My first grade teacher Mrs. Seaborn was a really tall lady with white white hair who had been taught piano by my grandmother. Then there was Mrs. Sewell who taught my dad also! Her son was somehow Australian (or had just taken on that affectation). He called on my grandmother every time he came to town.
I was chosen to be in a PSA about stopping for the school bus. There were 3-4 of us chosen. One was little Willie. Rumor had it Little Willie was 10 and had failed the first grade four times. Anyway, they had us go to the lost and found to get lunch boxes. I was devastated because I had to choose last and got the Flying Nun lunch box!!!!
By third grade I finally got to ride my bike to school. I think I also got to be a crossing guard. I’m pretty sure our school only went up to 4th grade. I remember a boy died in one of the other grades and for a long time we had to wash our hands religiously so we too wouldn’t die. Yes they told us he died from not washing his hands. Made no more sense to me then as it does now. In third grade I was informed that in fourth grade I’d be going to a another school. Devastated does not begin to describe how I felt.
While I lived in a neighborhood, it was considered the boonies by folks “in town.” So fourth grade I started going to a private school in town. There were 40 kids in my second grade reading class and in the third grade I had tested out of all the English so while the other kids were doing English, I had to read the SRA and do comprehension stuff. I did not understand why I had to move to this new school in town where we would have to commute 30 minutes every day. I was even more confused when my parents informed me that most of the kids there were going to be richer than I, so get used to not being able to have whatever they have.
My Mema made a lot of my clothes. For my first day of school I chose a pink dress with pink ribbon trim. I still remember that dress and how much I loved it. Strike three against this new school, I walked in the first day in my cute pink homemade dress and everyone else was wearing the same exact thing—uniforms! New kid, from the country, homemade dress, and most of them not only knew each other but lived near one another and had gone to school together since nursery school at Ghent Presbyterian.