BETTS, A MOTHER’S MEMOIR, 1923-1964, Part VII: After Words–Betts on Family, History, and Family History

[NOTE: When I posted Part VI of this series, I thought it was the concluding installment.  And then I returned to a notion advanced in Part I:  Betts had been a “late-blooming historian.” I still wondered about her decision to undertake what would turn out to be a two decade detour into the past.  So, I returned to a cache of letters from Betts written at various points along that twenty-year odyssey.  Who better to shed additional light on her motivation in deciding to unearth her family’s history–and her own–as well as her view of the past, than the author herself?]

* * * * *

1942

June 1987 (at the end of “Dobson-Knighton Family” essay)

This, I am sure, is not a complete history of our family, but I have attempted to put a few things down on paper for future reference since our children and grandchildren are bound to want to know something about the history of our family.  I hope this proves to be interesting to family members—as it was interesting [to me] to try to finally write it—quite a challenge.  Had planned to do this after I retired, but figured this was a good time to do it since I could give copies of it to the family members who attend the picnic [in Alexandria, Va.] this year.

October 13, 1994

I am enclosing information on our family.  Honestly, it seems like I will never finish it.  Luckily, Uncle George [Knighton] is doing a lot of research on the family at the Mormon Church Genealogy Center at Alexandria, Va., where he lives.  Also, . . . Rick [Lamplugh] and his wife did some searching on the Knighton-Lamplugh families when they were travelling through Utah this summer.  Like I told my brother George, even though no one else in the family is really interested, I get a great satisfaction out of knowing that I did this.  Still ha[ve] more info to search [for]. . . [which is proving] hard to do because most of the relatives are now deceased and the younger members of the family (in my age group) do not have much info.  Well, we are doing all we can. . . . [Included in the packet containing this letter was a 1987 version of the “Dobson and Knighton Family” as well as printouts on the Dobson-Knighton families from the Mormon Center.  For more on George and the other Knightons, see Part II.]

Rus and Betts (December 1944)

November 14, 1994

The enclosed baby shoe was yours, Rus, and I thought you might enjoy seeing it.  I had to clean out the bedroom closet and found it in a bag of “memories.”  I had sent you and Rick (and Judy) the family pictures that I was lucky enough to keep all these years but forgot to send the shoe—guess you could say it was an antique? . . . Seems like I can’t throw away very many things—sentimental, huh?

March 28, 1995

I am sending a far from perfect bit of [my] life. . . . Kind of started in the middle—but maybe if I can think back a lot further I may be able to do something about my (our) early years.  We will see.  Am I on the right track—or is there some other way to do this[?]  Kind of feel like a lot of things are best forgotten.  [Included with Part 2 of Betts’ memoir, “Slub of Slife,” which carried her story from 1945 to 1964.]

Betts (holding Judy) and Rus, in 1947

April 5, 1995

. . . After you called last week I checked to see if I had Ginny England Bachman’s address—and I did.  I called her on Sunday and really did surprise her.  Haven’t talked to her since 1989 when her brother died. . . . [S]he gave me [her sister] Betty’s address and I wrote to Betty—maybe we will find out that she really did teach you to tie your shoes.  It amazed me that you remembered that.  Memory like an elephant, like me, huh? [See Part IV for Ginny and Betty England’s role in Betts’s life during World War II.]

July 8, 1995

. . . Wanted to try and mail this “work of art” today.  Will no doubt bore you to tears, but guess this is the way my childhood was.  Good thing my Mom and Dad and doctor took such good care of me, look how long I have lived.  Surely never expected to make 65, let alone 72.  [Sent with Part 1 of  Betts’ memoir,“Slub of Slife,” which told her story from 1923 through World War II.]

March 25, 1996

[My brother] George [Knighton] and I have pretty much completed the family project.  I have been told by several people who read my articles about our family [i.e., the “Slub of Slife” memoir] that I skipped a few years between part one and part two—and they are right.  Told them this is a “Mystery story.”  Maybe I will get around to finishing it but I make no promises.  Since the weather has been awful this winter, one would think I could have finished it all by now, but I get depressed and that is no time to have to think about the past, present, or future.  [Grandsons Drew and Keith, daughter Judy, and brother Bob had already moved, or would shortly be moving, from Newark.]  I feel like someone stole my “security blanket,” but I will adjust to that change as I have had to do in the past.  I HATE CHANGE. . . . Well, since I have long been accustomed to my family being on their own—and Rus & Rick and their families miles away, [Georgia and Oregon, respectively], all this should be easier.  If I was younger I am sure it would be.  My Mom and Dad had 6 children, 5 of whom lived away from this area—if they could adjust to that, I am sure I can, too.

April 4, 1996

. . . Wanted to send the article [J.B., an old friend] wrote about his time in the military (U.S. Marines) during WW II.  He said that anything he says about the Army [Rus’ branch of service] is not personal, so you should overlook that.  Also, this was not edited by any professional—so please overlook any errors in English or grammar.  That goes for any of my effort, too, but I guess you already knew that. [For more on J.B., see Part IV.]

Old friend Evelyn Jacobs and Betts (in front of 50 Choate Street)

November 8, 1997

About two weeks ago, Evelyn Jacobs and her daughter Sue came for a short visit from Baltimore.  Haven’t enjoyed myself like that in a long time.  We had a lot to talk about because we have known each other since about 1950—they were our neighbors [on Helicopter Dr., Middle River, Md.]—and more like family than just friends.  Talking over old times is always very interesting.  Ev and I agree that we are glad we raised our family back in the good old post-war days—raising children these days is like a war—tough to win. [See Part V for this period in Betts’ life.]

July 27, 1998

I thought you might be interested in this article—since it does mention Joe Lofthouse, a friend of your father’s when he was in the Maryland National Guard.  They were in the Guard around 1939-1940 and were taken into the regular Army following the Dec. 8, 1941, declaration of war.  When I met your Dad, he was stationed at Fort Meade, Md.  Eventually Joe and Ben decided they wanted to join the Paratroops and were sent to Ft. Benning, Ga., for basic training.  After basic they went to Ft. Bragg, N.C.  Ben was in the 82nd Airborne Div. and Joe ended up in the 101st Airborne Div., but I don’t know any details about Joe’s service, except that he was in the 101st during the Normandy invasion and lots of other missions.

Your dad did not remain in the 82nd because he was hurt in a “jump” and was transferred to a Field Artillery outfit at Camp Rucker, Ala.  After several months training his outfit went to Hawaii, and then on to Japan.  They expected to be involved in the war with Japan, but that did not happen.

I spent some time in Fayetteville, N.C., when your dad was stationed there—and did meet Joe Lofthouse and his wife Aggie—enjoyed time we spent there.  Sure heard a lot of stories from Joe and Ben about the time they spent in the Nat[ional] Guard and regular Army.  They really were “characters” to remember!!!

Betts and grandson David (1994)

November 8, 1999

[I] received a letter from a woman in Roswell, Ga., whose grandparents had lived in this house [50 Choate St., Newark, Delaware] back in 1915-1918.  She wanted to find out if the house was still standing.  What a surprise!!  I did write to her—short note—to let her know the house has been in our family since 1923.  When I checked the old deeds to the house, I found that her grandparents’ names were on it.  Her grandmother sold the house in 1921 and granddad [George T.] Dobson bought it from the new owner in 1923.  I plan to send her a picture of the house and some other info.  I think she is researching her family.  Also, she lives in the area near [you] and [your wife] Faith—4 postal zones away! [For more on the “back story” of the Dobson-Knighton house at 50 Choate St., see Part III.]

April 9, 2000

My brother George [Knighton] died suddenly last Wednesday [March 28]—heart attack—at age 73—would have been 74 in July.  It certainly was a big shock to all of us.  He and his family live in [the] Alexandria, Va., area.  We haven’t visited each other often but since his retirement we did keep in touch by phone, and he did a lot of the family [history] on his computer.  Hard to accept the fact that he is no longer with us.

Betts in front of her future “room” at the home of her daughter and son-in-law in Lewes, Delaware (2003)

April 27, 2000

I know I haven’t been writing as often [as] I should, but I will try to do better.  The loss of my brother George has really been tough for all of us—devastating to all.  His own family is in shock since he was not ill or anything like that.  I know we shouldn’t question this, but that is the way it is for me—I’m the oldest in our family [now], but I never expected to . . . reach the ripe old age of 77.

June 1, 2000

Holidays are kind of hard to handle since I am mostly alone at those times.  My family sure is scattered around and have their own lives. . . . Sure has been a rough year for the whole family.  Have been trying to kind of finish up on the family [history] thing I have been doing the past 12 years since I retired.  Actually, I started getting info about 20 years ago.  I have been having copies made of pictures of family members—some taken in the 1920s-1950s.  I was fortunate enough to have spent time in my life with my own parents, grandparents, and even my great grandmother.  Think it is time for me to finish it—but I have enjoyed doing all this.

Betts and granddaughter Allison (2004)

April 24, 2003

It is nice not to be alone.  Judy and Jay [Bestpitch] are very thoughtful and appreciate me because I finally realized it was time to make this decision [to sell her Newark home and move in with her daughter and son-in-law in Lewes, Delaware].  They were right–but it is hard to adjust in a way.  Newark was my home for such a long time.  I feel at home now [in Lewes]–don’t know why I was so long making up my mind.  Guess I didn’t want to give up my independence!  Guess I just had to prove I could be an independent person the past years.

* * * * *

At the Country Rest Home

Additional Sources  (Series)

Rick and Mary Lamplugh, The Best of Betts.  This is a “memory book,” prepared for Betts and her caretakers, first at a rest home and then in a personal care home.  I have drawn freely on this work, especially the photographs, to help put Betts’ words into context.

Finally, my deepest thanks and appreciation to my siblings, Judy Bestpitch and Rick Lamplugh, for their support of this project from start to finish.  I couldn’t have done it without them.

 

 

Posted in American History, family history, genealogy, Historical Reflection, History, memoir, Retirement, Uncategorized, WP Long Read | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Hillbillies

A Review of

J.D. Vance, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. New York: HarperCollins, 2016.

Goodreads

[NOTE:  An inveterate reader of op-eds, I was well aware of this book months before I bought it. According to commentators across the American political spectrum, Hillbilly Elegy was a work to be reckoned with; one reviewer even described it as the “Rosetta Stone” for those who were really interested in understanding the political appeal of 2016 Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump to the white working class in the so-called “Rust Belt.”  Liberal and progressive columnists generally opined that Democratic candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton would ignore Vance’s findings only at her peril; conservative writers found hope that the Republican Party’s policy prescriptions might prevail, even if some of them clearly doubted that Mr. Trump could, or should, win.

And yet, this book is not about candidate Trump. Rather, as the subtitle indicates, the author is concerned with “a Family” (his own) and a “Culture” (that of the white working class in the industrial Midwest and Upper South, many ex-pats from Appalachia ) that he sees as “in Crisis.” Op-ed writers and others among the northeastern cognoscenti only latched onto Vance’s work when their own efforts to “explain” the Trump phenomenon were proven wrong.]

* * * * *

Like many Appalachian natives during the 1940s, J.D. Vance’s grandparents, Jim and Bonnie Vance, whom he refers to as “Papaw” and “Mamaw,” left home (in their case, a “holler” near Jackson, Kentucky) and moved to the industrial Midwest in search of steady work.  Papaw found a good-paying job at the Armco steel plant in Middletown, Ohio, and things looked rosy, at least for a time.

Yet, as had been the case a generation earlier, when thousands of African Americans abandoned the Jim Crow South for economic opportunities in Chicago, Cleveland, and Detroit, white Appalachian migrants like the Vances experienced culture shock that they never outgrew.  The elder Vances had brought their “hillbilly” culture with them.  They clung stubbornly to the American dream, especially their faith that education would improve the lives of their three children, but cultural dissonance and family dysfunction were everywhere.

And, if that wasn’t enough, those “good jobs” eventually disappeared, thanks to technological innovation, automation, globalization, the steady decline of labor unions, and business decisions made in the interests of corporate and shareholder welfare, no matter their effects on the workforce.

J.D. Vance describes “hillbilly” culture as “a robust sense of honor, devotion to family, and bizarre sexism” that could produce “a sometimes explosive mix.” (41)  For example, Papaw was a violent drunk while his wife proved to be a violent non-drunk.  Mamaw once threatened to kill Papaw if he ever came home drunk again, but he ignored his wife’s warning.  The next time Papaw passed out on the sofa, Mamaw set him afire with gasoline; although Jim Vance survived the ordeal, his marriage was fractured.  Papaw moved to another house in the same neighborhood but still spent time with Mamaw, and their grandchildren moved easily between them.

J.D.’s mother, Bev, was also a piece of work. She became pregnant while still in high school, married early, and embarked on a life featuring a series of husbands and boyfriends, as well as regular bouts of drug addiction.  J.D. and his older sister Lindsay looked out for each other as best they could and found support from their grandparents when their mother was indisposed or otherwise unavailable.

Papaw died when J.D. was thirteen; his sister Lindsay married shortly thereafter; his mother’s addiction kicked in again; and his life threatened to careen out of control. Mamaw eventually allowed J.D. to live with her so he could finish high school, which he believed saved him, and he was also taken in hand by a teacher, who reinforced Mamaw’s maxim about the importance of education if he were to “make something of himself.”

And did he ever!  Feeling unprepared for college, J.D. chose after high school a tour of duty in the U.S. Marines, just as the first Iraq War broke out. Basic training replaced the “learned helplessness” of Vance’s youth with the “learned willfulness” of the Corps, and enabled him to “live like an adult,” even in the face of Mamaw’s death and his mother’s continuing escapades with significant others, drugs, and time spent in rehab.

His military service behind him, Vance attended Ohio State University, where he graduated in less than two years, thanks to his military-induced self-discipline, truly impressive work ethic, and native intelligence. Then it was on to, of all places for this self-conscious “hillbilly,” Yale University Law School, where the generous financial aid package he was offered made his acceptance a foregone conclusion. Three years later, the newly-minted attorney and his wife Usha, a law school classmate who had taken him in hand and “civilized” him, became law clerks in northern Kentucky.  Thereafter, Vance took his talents to Silicon Valley, where he was very successful financially.

* * * * *

In trying to draw from his own experiences broader lessons about the culture in which he had been raised, Vance does more than simply assume his family’s experiences were typical.  He frequently draws upon studies in sociology and economics that place “hillbilly” culture in a broader context. Vance rejects as insufficient the usual argument that the Rust Belt’s white working class was suffering solely from “economic insecurity.”  He describes instead “a culture that increasingly encourages social decay instead of counteracting it,” producing “a lack of agency here—a feeling that you have little control over your life and a willingness to blame everyone but yourself.” (7)

His grandmother’s insistence that J.D. hold down an after school job taught him a lot about American society, or so he believed.  He saw evidence of class divisions everywhere, and he gradually came to resent those of his fellow “have-nots” who lacked a work ethic, learned how to “game” the welfare system, and seemed “content to live off the dole.” (139)  That belief led Vance to formulate an alternative explanation for the decisive swing from the Democratic to the Republican party by Appalachian and southern whites who saw the world as he did:   This seismic change, he contends, had less to do with the Democrats’ pro-civil rights stance or the influence of Evangelical church leaders than with the Democratic commitment to continue the welfare state.  To Vance, the “hillbilly elegy” is “a sociological one, yes, but it is also about psychology and community and culture and faith.” (145)

Vance also maintains that hillbilly patriotism, or “love of country,” was unfathomable—perhaps even funny—to “people on the Acela corridor.” (189)   Barack Obama was viewed from Middletown as an alien, a President who “strikes at the heart of our deepest insecurities.” Moreover, when the mainstream media defended Obama against the ridiculous accusations of the “birthers” that Obama had not been born in the U.S. and was thus not eligible for the presidency, people Vance knew in Middletown believed that “the free press—that bulwark of American democracy—is simply full of shit.” (191-192)

In looking towards the future, Vance returns to the social sciences, this time citing a study showing that “no group of Americans [is] more pessimistic that working-class whites,” and another finding economic opportunity and the prospects of social mobility for children in the United State unequally distributed geographically, with kids in the South, the Rust Belt, and Appalachia continuing to struggle.  Among the factors cited to explain this are the prevalence of single parents and income inequality, which suggests to Vance that social services need to be reformed so that they can actually help children like the ones he grew up with.

Vance concludes that “the government” cannot “fix” every problem, and that it does no good simply to blame either the President or the government for this systemic failure.  Rather, he argues, it is more important to “ask ourselves what we can do to make things better.” (265)  And Vance seems ready to take his own advice:  he is, according to recent reports, planning a move to Columbus, Ohio, to launch an organization to tackle the opioid epidemic in the region where he grew up.

* * * * *

Whatever one thinks about J.D. Vance’s prescriptions for administering public policy CPR to the Rust Belt’s white working class, this book is an engrossing read.  The account of growing up amid family dysfunction, clashing cultures, and economic decline is powerful—and at times scarifying.  The reader eagerly follows Vance’s quest for social and economic redemption, a decent chance to live out the “American Dream,” wondering how he will avoid the fate of so many of his friends and relatives caught up in the clash between “hillbilly culture” and the declining Industrial Midwest.

And, when Vance actually does make it from Middletown and the Rust Belt to the Marine Corps, Ohio State, Yale Law, and Silicon Valley, he is careful to point out landmarks along his escape route:  the influence of certain family members (especially Mamaw, Papaw, and Vance’s older sister Lindsay); Usha, the woman who helped him through law school, taught him to function among the upwardly mobile, and became his wife; the importance of finding a mentor or two along the way; the power of networking; and unusually good luck. Although it seems unlikely that many of those Vance is determined to help will be able to duplicate his success, the story of his escape to a better life remains both eye-opening and inspiring.

HarperCollins

* * * * *

Additional Sources:

Nancy Isenberg, White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America (2016); Chapter 10 (especially, pp. 256-261)

J.D. Vance, TED Talk, “America’s Forgotten Working Class” (Sept. 2016)

Vance, NYT op-ed, “Why I’m Moving Home,” Mar. 16, 2017

Vance interview, “Washington Journal,” CSPAN, Dec. 18, 2016

* * * * * *

For  those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to several books on the subject:

REABP CoverRancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

Pursuit Cover

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)

POTP Cover

Politics on the Periphery:  Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)

 

 

Posted in American History, Books, Current Events, Education, family history, Historical Reflection, History, memoir, Popular Culture, The "Great Migration", Uncategorized, WP Long Read | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

BETTS: A MOTHER’S MEMOIR, 1923-1964, Part VI: An Independent Woman, 1964-2013

john-quincy-adams-picture[For earlier posts in this series, see Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, and Part V.]

Betts’ work as family historian and memoirist ended in 1995, with the completion of her memoir, which carried the story of her life and that of her family through the autumn of 1964, when, as she wrote, there “came changes which affected all of our family.” This was as close as Betts came to telling readers that in September 1964 she and Ben angrily separated and subsequently divorced.  She was forty-one years old; for the next half century Betts was a single mother, or, perhaps more accurately, an independent-minded single woman.

* * * * *

Betts lived at first with her parents, but eventually she moved to an apartment in a private home between Newark and Wilmington, Delaware. After the passing of her mother in 1973, Betts returned to Choate Street to help her widowed father, and, following his death in 1980, the family home passed to her.

To support herself, Betts resumed her role as receptionist for Dr. Perry L. Munday until his retirement, at which time she moved to Christiana Hospital, near Newark, where she worked in the office of a radiologist. She walked to work at Dr. Munday’s office and rode the bus to Christiana Hospital.

Betts was a member of the first generation to have access to Social Security, and her years in the work force coincided with a time when it was generally understood that the retirement age was sixty-five.  And that’s what Betts did when her time came.

Like many retirees before and since, Betts was ambivalent about leaving the working world and shortly became restive for “something to do” that would enable her to maintain daily contact with people.  She hit on “volunteer jobs” as a way to fill at least part of what had once been her work week: Betts volunteered in the office of a museum consortium headquartered in Newark, and later worked behind the scenes in a grocery co-operative, also located in her hometown. Once again, the close-in location of these activities was absolutely crucial to Betts, who, remember, did not drive.  Just how important these “volunteer” activities were to her became clear when one of them ended:

The office . . . will be moving to the Baltimore area the end of the year, probably                 in November, so I will be finished there.  Sure was a lifesaver 10 years ago when                 I was wondering what I was going to do with retirement.  Seemed to me they did               a lot toward saving my “sanity” and I have always appreciated that.  Worked for               some very nice people and hate to see it end.  But guess all good things must end,                 huh?

* * * * *

Rus, Rick, Betts, and Judy

Rus, Rick, Betts, and Judy

Betts’ children visited when they could. Her daughter and grandsons lived for quite a while in Newark, so they saw her frequently. On the other hand, Betts’ sons lived far away, in Oregon and Georgia. When their children were born, Betts cultivated a late-life love affair with commercial aviation, which enabled her to travel great distances relatively quickly so she could see those grandkids.

Betts, Judy and Jay, Rick, and a selection of grandchildren and great grandchildren

Betts, Judy and Jay Bestpitch, Rick, two grandchildren, and one great grandchild

Changes came, and sometimes proved unsettling. For instance, in March 1996 she wrote:

Since the weather has been awful this winter, . . . I get depressed and that is no time to have to think about the past, present, or future.  [Grandsons Drew and Keith, daughter Judy, and brother Bob had already moved, or would shortly be moving, from Newark.]  I feel like someone stole my “security blanket,” but I will adjust to that change as I have had to do in the past. . . . My Mom and Dad had 6 children, 5 of whom lived away from this area—if they could adjust to that, I am sure I can, too.

For someone who was treated as physically “delicate” until she graduated from high school, Betts enjoyed relatively robust health as a wife and mother and reasonably good health for almost two decades following her retirement. Midway through the first decade of the twenty-first century, however, she began to experience blood pressure, mobility, and memory problems that eventually led her to sell her beloved home, which had been owned by the Dobson-Knighton family for more than eighty years. Diagnosed with dementia, Betts relocated to Lewes, Delaware, where she lived with her daughter and son-in-law for a time. As her memory and general health further deteriorated, she was moved to a rest home, and then to a personal-care home, where she died on December 29, 2013, ten days before her 91st birthday.

* * * * *

As a teenager, Betts had entered the workforce part-time, and she could hardly wait to graduate from Newark High so that she could get a fulltime job.  By 1940, when Betts found her first “real” job, the proportion of women in the workforce was about 25 percent. (Vandenberg-Daves, 28)  Yet, female employees like Betts were expected to work only until they married and began to have children, at which time they were supposed to leave the workforce and become “fulltime homemakers.”

That began to change, and quickly, during the Second World War, when, with men fighting abroad, their mothers, wives, and daughters filled many occupations not previously considered “women’s work.” (Sholar, 42)  As Betts’ experience shows, this “patriotic” endeavor called for sacrifice, creativity, and time management skills, especially with children in the house:

Imagine: four women and three babies sharing the same two-bedroom apartment! Our neighbors marveled that all of us could share an apartment, but it really was a case of survival —we were working mothers with babies, but not much money.  This was a long time before “Women’s Lib.” [Pt.IV]

At war’s end, husbands, fathers, sons, and brothers came marching home hoping to reclaim their jobs, and there was a societal expectation that women workers would “do the right thing,” quietly give up their jobs, and cheerfully return fulltime to home and children.  Betts did exactly that for a decade or so, but she never forgot the early independence that working outside the home had provided—and, of course, with a growing family to support, additional income was imperative.  Almost as soon as her youngest child entered elementary school in 1954, Betts went back to work.

Her first fulltime job was with the family doctor.  When Betts told Ben the news, he was less than thrilled, predicting that she “would last about a month in that job.”  Her later comment on Ben’s attitude was classic Betts:  “I believe that was the only reason I stayed with Dr. Rombro, except for the fact that I really enjoyed the office work and the contact with people.” Moreover, Betts understood that her taking a job also struck at Ben’s perception of himself as the family breadwinner: “[I]f a woman worked outside the home, it ‘proved’ that her husband could not provide for his family.  Well, I must have been among the first ‘liberated women,’ because this was the 1950s.” [Pt.V]

* * * * *

In retrospect, it seems clear that Betts attributed her evolving independent streak to the rheumatic fever and subsequent heart issues that had kept her from doing things other girls her age did.  In reminiscing about a girlfriend, for instance, Betts recalled that, in order to attract boys, Mickey “decided to learn to roller skate, dance, etc.  All the things I was never permitted to do, remember—I told my doctor that I was going to have fun, no matter what!  Guess you know that went over big.” [Pt.IV]

For Betts, then, work and marriage enabled her to become an independent person, one who was fully capable of thinking for herself, regardless of what her parents, her physicians, or her husband might have wanted her to do:

I was surprised that I had become a person who could make her own decisions.  When I was growing up, decisions were always made for me, by my parents or by the doctor. . . . When we married, I was a dependent individual who always had someone else tell me what to do.  I expected to be able to lean on your Dad the way I had my parents, but I found that he was not around enough for that. . . . I had a lot of responsibility in the home, and I learned to make my own decisions.  As your father always said, I became “too d—– independent”!  I was always told that we do what we have to do, and this was the first step.  I have had to live with my decisions. [Pt.V]

Betts in her early 80s

An Independent Woman

End of Part VI

Next–After Words:  Betts on Family, History, and Family History

Additional Sources (Part VI)

Jodi Vandenberg-Daves, “Twentieth-Century American Motherhood:  Promises, Pitfalls, and Continuing Legacies,” The American Historian, No. 10 (November 2016), 26-32.

Megan A. Sholar, “The History of Family Leave Policies in the United States,” The American Historian, No. 10 (November 2016), 41-45.

* * * * * *

For  those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to several books on the subject:

REABP CoverRancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

Pursuit Cover

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)

POTP Cover

Politics on the Periphery:  Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in American History, family history, genealogy, Historical Reflection, History, memoir, Popular Culture, Research, Retirement, Uncategorized, WP Long Read | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

A Happy Fourth, from Antebellum Georgia!

I know some of you may find it hard to believe, but a personal financial site, WalletHub, has decided, in its wisdom, that the number one major American city in which to celebrate the Fourth of July is:  Atlanta!  (This according to our local fish-wrapper, which perhaps had reservations, running the story on the first page of the “Living” section, not on the A section’s front page where stories about “the ATL’s” wonderfulness usually appear.)

I’ll bet at least some of you are wondering how (in the world) the folks at WalletHub arrived at their startling conclusion.  Glad you asked.

According to the article, rankings for Fourth of July celebration-worthiness were based on–ta-da!–“five key dimensions (celebrations; affordability; attractions and activities; safety and accessibility; and Fourth of July weather forecast)”; AND ALSO–ta-da!–“18 relevant metrics . . . , including legality of fireworks, number of festivals and concerts, walkability and prices of beer, hamburgers and more.”

Those of you who doubt WalletHub’s conclusion must not have been reading our paper’s run-downs of “free, family-friendly Fourth of July activities” that have occupied the front page of the “Living Section” over the past week:  every town, big and small, in the Greater Atlanta Area has scheduled parades; races (including the Peachtree Road Race, Atlanta’s signature event on Independence Day for forty-eight years); barbecues; face-painting; and, of course,  ubiquitous fireworks extravaganzas.

But, has the Fourth always been celebrated this way?  In a word, no.  The nation’s birth has been commemorated in a variety of fashions over the past 241 years while shambling towards today’s combination of “free family-friendly events” and consumerism.

To look at this process in microcosm, let’s take the state of Georgia as a case study and the years between 1787 and 1832 as the time frame.  (Oh, by the way, those of you with small children should not try most of these activities at home. . . .)

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The Year of “Betts”: “Retired But Not Shy” at Seven

[NOTE:  I launched “Retired But Not Shy” in June 2010, a couple of weeks after hanging up my whiteboard following a long career teaching History at an Atlanta prep school.  At that time, I had what I thought was a great title and a cool avatar, but only a dim idea of what I hoped to do with the blog.

The closest I could come to a “mission statement” in 2010 was the blog’s subtitle, “Doing History after Leaving the Classroom.” This seemed clear enough on the general subject of my musings, yet sufficiently vague to give me room to maneuver as I looked for “blog-worthy” historical topics.  And so, I sailed into the blogosphere, eager but without a clue what lay ahead.]

* * * * *

Over its first twelve months “Retired But Not Shy” attracted a total of 657 hits.  Not that I had known what to expect, but the number seemed underwhelming, even to me. Still, I figured that a newly-created blog was bound to require time to grow.  Moreover, I was  having a great time, regardless of the size of my audience, so I plunged onward into year two. In an effort to, um, “drive traffic” to the site, I linked it to Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+.  I even created a “subscription list” of friends who’d indicated they were at least willing to read the blog; small at first, the number of names on this group e-mail gradually increased.  I regularly notified my “subscribers” that I’d put up a new post and a little bit about the topic; embedded a link; and reminded them that “comments are welcomed.”

The number of visitors to “Retired But Not Shy” has grown steadily over the past seven years, from less than 700 in year one to more than 4000 in year seven.  Does this growth mean that my blog now is “wildly popular”?  Not hardly, but at least it has developed a loyal following.  So, thanks to all who’ve found your way here since June 2010.  I hope you’ll continue to stop by!

* * * * *

I began this blog hoping to put up a monthly post of around 2000 words.  As I got into the habit of posting regularly, and continued to enjoy doing so, my only question was, “what will I write about next”?  The answer, as it turned out, was: “as many interesting, history-related topics as I can find!”  Within a few years, I built up a sizeable backlog of essays, and I was able to begin posting twice a month, a pace I’ve maintained ever since.

By the end of year seven, I’d published 142 posts, so many that I’d begun to worry about the ease with which a visitor could find items of interest on the site.  A viewer could  check the blog’s “archives,” but that involved either going through month by month or using the  “categories” function, a crude sort of index, that I doubted many visitors even noticed.

Consequently, in yet another attempt to guide visitors to posts of interest, I added this year, at the top of the homepage, a series of topical “pages.”  Currently there are eight of them: Blues Stories; Dead Georgians; Historical Reflections; Interdisciplinary Work; Prep School; Teaching History; The South/Civil Rights; and The Vietnam Era.  Clicking on any of these topics brings up a “page” listing all posts in that category, with each title linked to the specific post in the archives.

* * * * *

“A Citizen of Georgia”?

Another significant feature at “Retired But Not Shy” over the past two years has been the return of  “long form” posts.  An eight-part “historical problem” from post-Revolutionary Georgia history, “Who Was ‘A Citizen’? (Georgia, 1783-1788),” began mid-way through year six and finished in August 2016.  This year’s series, “Betts: A Mother’s Memoir, 1923-1964,” is based on the writings of my late mother; four parts were published in year seven, with the rest scheduled to appear early in year eight.

Betts in 1942

Viewers’ reactions to these two series have been quite different.  The “historical problem” didn’t receive many “hits,” but that was fine with me.  I had developed the “problem” to revisit a conundrum I’d tried unsuccessfully to resolve during my dissertation research more than forty years ago, the identity of a pamphleteer who signed himself “A Citizen.”  And, despite the apparent lack of interest from my readers, the exercise allowed me finally to “solve” the problem, or at least get closer to a solution than I’d been able to do as a grad student.  (For the introduction to the “Historical Problem,” go here.)

The “Betts” series, on the other hand, which takes my mother and her families from 1923 to 1964, has been warmly received.  I had long promised Mom that I would “do something” with her memoir once I retired, but that assurance took longer than I’d expected to fulfill, so long that she didn’t live to see it.  Still, Betts’ story obviously resonated with many of you out there in the blogosphere, and I appreciate your visits and your comments.  (If you need to catch up in “Betts: A Mother’s Memoir,” here’s a link to part one.)

* * * * *

Perhaps the most surprising thing revealed by the statistics wordpress.com furnishes on activity at “Retired But Not Shy” is the continuing appeal of several very early posts.  To give some idea, let’s look at two “top ten” lists, the first for year seven, the second for years one through seven:

Year Seven (June 2016-May 2017)

  1. Teaching Prep School with a Ph.D., I
  2. Georgia Governor Wilson Lumpkin
  3. Bobby “Blue” Bland
  4. Teaching History Backwards
  5. The Chitlin’ Circuit
  6. Son House
  7. John Lee Hooker
  8. Life—and Death—on a Cherokee Plantation
  9. Betts, II
  10. Georgia Governor George R. Gilmer

Cumulative (June 2010-May 2017)

  1. Teaching Prep School with a Ph.D., I
  2. Georgia Governor Wilson Lumpkin
  3. Teaching History Backwards
  4. Son House
  5. Mississippi John Hurt
  6. The Chitlin’ Circuit
  7. Muddy Waters
  8. Georgia Governor George R. Gilmer
  9. Bobby “Blue” Bland
  10. High School, Now—and Then: Reflections on a Fiftieth Reunion

Notice how many of the “pages” (or topical indexes) are represented in both lists—Blues Stories; Georgia History (those “Dead Georgians”); Historical Reflections; Prep School; and Teaching History.

If you know anything about the Blues, you’ll also recognize that lots of Blues fans have found their way to “Retired But Not Shy”:  four of the top ten posts from this past year, as well as half the posts on the cumulative list. This continuing interest in the Blues posts still surprises me, though after seven years you’d think I’d be used to it.  Thank you, Blues aficionados!

The most popular post on each list, “Teaching Prep School with a Ph.D.: Is It for You?,” has been “the little engine that could” for this blog. Its appeal has been so strong that I eventually added two posts on other aspects of the same topic (go here and here).

As a Georgia historian, I had expected those of like mind to visit regularly, and they have. The “Dead Georgians” posts consulted most often concern the state’s treatment of the Creek and Cherokee Indian nations in the 1820s and 1830s as Georgia worked with grim determination to move the Native American tribes out.  This helps explain the enduring popularity of posts on two Georgia governors during the era of Cherokee Removal, Wilson Lumpkin and Governor George R. Gilmer; as does, I continue to believe, the research topics meted out by Georgia history teachers in secondary schools and colleges throughout the state.

One item on the year seven top ten list and one on the cumulative list can be found on the “Historical Reflections” page:  Part II of the “Betts” series; and “High School Now—and Then,” which I wrote after attending my 50th high school reunion, pondering both similarities and differences in the quality of the education offered by my public high school in Delaware in the early 1960s and by the prep school in Atlanta where I taught from 1973 through 2010.

Finally, from the “Teaching History” page, “Teaching History Backwards” describes a different approach to my History of the Modern American Civil Rights Movement course and how that turned out.  The title admittedly suggests that the post is a broader treatment of the topic than it actually is, but even a visitor disappointed by my approach can still pick up at least a few tips.

* * * * * *

For  those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to several books on the subject:

REABP CoverRancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

Pursuit Cover

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)

POTP Cover

Politics on the Periphery:  Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)

 

 

 

 

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BETTS: A MOTHER’S MEMOIR, 1923-1964, Part V: Trying to Make It in Postwar America

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[Note:  This segment of Betts’ memoir carries her family’s story from the late 1940s through the mid-1960s.  For earlier installments, go here, here, here, and here.]

* * * * *

Shortly after our second son, Rick, was born, on November 11, 1948, Ben went to work in the maintenance department at Cities Service Oil Company and continued to work also for Richter Trailer part-time.

Rick (1949)

I’m sure you remember the story about the “green glasses,” how your Dad got angry at someone at work who was trying to make him hurry and finish a paint job.  Ben would not be hurried, since he prided himself in doing things right the first time.  Anyway, Ben told the guy who was harassing him that he would paint the man’s glasses green if he did not leave him alone.  The man continued to harass Ben, so he did as he had promised and painted the guy’s glasses green!

* * * * *

27 Helicopter Dr., Victory Villa, Middle River, Md. (recent photo)

27 Helicopter Dr., Victory Villa, Middle River, Md. (recent photo)

There are lots of stories about our life in those days, but I won’t go into that because I would have to write a book!  We had friends in our neighborhood, and I am sure you remember the Jacobs family, the Carneses, and the Striplins.  We tended to spend what little social life we had with some of those folks, outside, talking, enjoying a cold beer, or eating steamed crabs at the picnic table in someone’s back yard.

We became the proud owners of our first television set in January 1949.  I think it was our anniversary present to us!  Our friends the Striplins also had a TV.  We often had company in the evenings, watching programs like the “Ed Sullivan Show,” Milton Berle’s “Texaco Star Theater,” and whatever else we could find to watch.  Television was limited to three channels, and there was not much to choose from.  I think programming ended about midnight and didn’t begin again until around 6 a.m. Also, it was black and white, not color.

Daytimes, Norma Striplin and I got together to watch the “soaps,” while the kids ate lunch, napped, or played outside.  One of our favorite “soap operas” was “Love of Life,” which our kids called “Slub of Slife.” [Note: the origin of the title of Betts’ two-part memoir] The “soaps” were a change of pace from laundry, housework, changing diapers, and “baby talk,” among other things, and they added variety to our lives.  Guess they still do.

In those days, we also had a coal furnace in the kitchen.  I always seemed to let the fire go out—your Dad always said, “You walk by this thing a million times a day.  Don’t you ever open the door and check to see if it is still working?”  Ben did not realize that I did not really understand what I was supposed to do when I did open the door to the furnace.  My father had always taken care of the heating situation in our house on Choate Street.  Sometimes, I wished I knew how to do everything!

There is another story that I tell quite often, about Norma Striplin and I trying to build a fire when we had neglected to check the status of the heating.  Since I knew your Dad’s opinion of me as one who did not keep a watchful eye on the heat, I always tried to build another fire before he got home from work.  Well, needless to say, I was hardly ever successful.  If there was no kindling, I would get the hand saw and try to cut some small pieces of wood.  Even the children thought that was really funny!

After all these years, I am sure you now realize how unhandy I really am, and I was lots worse when I was a younger woman.  Anyway, one day, Norma came over and said that her furnace was out, and they did not have any wood to start the fire.  I scrounged around for some wood but could not find enough to help in this situation.  We went over to her house, and Norma finally decided to go up to the attic and see what was up there that she could cut up.

Norma was a farm girl, so she could climb, and also handle a saw or anything else that was needed for her family.  Certainly a lot different from me at that time!  When she came down from the attic, Norma had a few pieces of an old chair, and as it turned out, the rest of the wood was part of the braces that held up the roof of the house!  I was amazed, but we did finally get a fire started.  Years later, when I went back to visit in that area, I was surprised that the house was still standing and still had a roof on it.

* * * * *

During these years, I not only had the children to take care of but also a couple of dogs, because every child needs a dog–for Mom to take care of.  That was the way it turned out at our house.  Actually, later on, after we moved to 312 Endsleigh Avenue in 1955 we had a cat, too.  I guess my children remember “Tom” the cat best.

312 Endsleigh Ave., Ballard Gardens, Middle River, Md.

312 Endsleigh Ave., Ballard Gardens, Middle River, Md. (recent photo)

We inherited Tom thanks to Judy.  Personally, I could not stand to have a cat around, but Judy had rescued this kitten in our back yard; a dog had it cornered.  She chased the dog and brought the kitten into the house. I insisted that she take the kitten outside, but Judy cried and said the dog would get the kitten, and of course her act worked.

I told Judy to take the kitten to the basement, but “out it goes in the morning.”  As it turned out, we had Tom for six years or more.  The children got attached to him, and, even when our doctor said we should get rid of Tom because of allergies in our family, we kept him.  I told the doctor that the children would rather get rid of me and keep the cat—enough said!

Rick and "Tom"

Rick and “Tom”

Ben went to work for Gibraltar Trailer Manufacturing Company building house trailers, around 1950.  He worked in the plant and also did service work for the company.  Jim Fyle, the owner of the company, enjoyed hydroplane racing.  Whenever he was going to race, Fyle always asked Ben to go along to pull the boat trailer.  When the races were held locally, we could go with him, but that didn’t happen very often.  Hydroplanes were racing boats that just skimmed across the water, and I always considered them dangerous as well.

In 1954, Ben again changed jobs, going to work for Ottie Gowl at Atlantic Trailer Company.  Ben was a supervisor and also a maintenance man.  This meant that he traveled for the company whenever there was a problem with one of the trailers after delivery.  Ottie had been employed at Gibraltar Trailers but finally went into business for himself.  He had a lot of faith in your Dad’s ability and considered him a very good worker.

Ben Lamplugh

* * * * *

Before we moved to Endsleigh Avenue, we lived in Victory Villa, where all the children started school—Rus in 1950, Judy in 1952, and Rick in 1954.  They walked quite a distance to Victory Villa Elementary, but they were with the rest of the children in the neighborhood, and usually mothers walked with them until we felt sure they did know their way to school.

When we moved to Endsleigh Avenue in1955 our children had to change schools.  They went to Martin Boulevard Elementary School, which was about two blocks from our home.  One reason for moving was to have the children in a school close to home.  After the kids were in their new school, I helped there, substituting in first-grade classes or assisting the nurse with paper work or screening tests.  This filled up some time for me, since I really missed having my children at home.

I also worked part-time for Middle River Realty Company but found sitting at a desk too confining, even on a part-time basis.  In the fall of 1955, I started work in the office of our family doctor, Dr. Marvin Rombro.  I worked there part-time from 1955 to 1959.  When I told your Dad I was going to work in our doctor’s office, he said I would last about a month in that job.  I believe that was the only reason I stayed with Dr. Rombro, except for the fact that I really enjoyed the office work and the contact with people.

* * * * *

I had not worked for about ten years, and it felt good to have something to do outside the home.  The fact that I went to work did not help your Dad’s and my “relationship” (as it is now called), because in those days “a woman’s place was in the home,” and, if a woman worked outside the home, it “proved” that her husband could not provide for his family.  Well, I must have been among the first “liberated women,” because this was the 1950s.

Times sure have changed, and I admit that I have changed a lot, too.  When we married, I was a dependent individual who always had someone else tell me what to do.  I expected to be able to lean on your Dad the way I had on my parents, but I found that he was not around enough for that.

I had a lot of responsibility in the home, and I learned to make my own decisions.  As your father always said, I became “too d—– independent”!  I was always told that we do what we have to do, and this was the first step.  I have had to live with my decisions.

* * * * *

37 North Chapel St., Newark, Del. (recent photo)

37 North Chapel St., Newark, Del. (recent photo)

We moved to 37 North Chapel Street in Newark in December 1959.  Your Dad worked at your Uncle Bill’s gas station in Wilmington for a while and then for Deemer Steel in New Castle as a maintenance man.  When he took us to see where he was going to work, Rick said, “That place sure needs to be fixed up.”  Steel plants never are clean and neat, are they?

Your Dad continued to work part-time for Uncle Bill, depending on his work schedule at Deemer.  I worked at the University of Delaware from March to September 1960, then went to work for Dr. Perry L. Munday from September 1960 through January 1962.  At this time, Rick was attending middle school and Judy and Rus were at Newark High School.

Ben become discontented with his job at Deemer Steel and decided that he wanted to go back to Baltimore.  I was not happy about another change in 1962, because Rus was to graduate from high school in June and was already enrolled at the University of Delaware for September 1962.

Rus, Betts, Judy, and Rick (1962)

Rus, Betts, Judy, and Rick (1962)

* * * * *

We did move back to Baltimore, and Ben went back to work for Jim Fyle at Gibraltar Manufacturing Company.  We lived at 9100 Philadelphia Road, in Rossville, Maryland, a suburb of Baltimore.  We were again neighbors of our good friends the Jacobses, and that was one good thing about the move.

9100 Philadelphia Rd., Rossville, Md. (recent photo)

9100 Philadelphia Rd., Rossville, Md. (recent photo)

Rus remained with his grandparents in Newark so that he could graduate with his class at the high school.  Meanwhile, Rick was enrolled at Golden Ring Junior High, and Judy went to Overlea Senior High School, so they were bus students for the first time in their lives.  I worked at Wilmer Eye Clinic at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore from April 1962 to September 1964.

Then came changes which affected all of our family.

End of Part V

Next: Part VI:  An Independent Woman, 1964-2013

* * * * * *

For  those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to several books on the subject:

REABP CoverRancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

Pursuit Cover

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)

POTP Cover

Politics on the Periphery:  Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)

Posted in American History, family history, genealogy, Historical Reflection, History, memoir, Popular Culture, Research, Retirement, Uncategorized, WP Long Read | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Chasing the Delta Blues: The Mississippi Blues Trail, Part 2 (Blues Stories, 26)

john-quincy-adams-picture

[This is the second and concluding post about the trip the Willowy Bride (AKA, the WB) and I took along the Delta portion of the Mississippi Blues Trail in May 2013.  For Part 1, go here.]

* * * * *

May 23, 2013

Today was the most “Blue(s) Highways Vacation Trip” we’ve had:  it was leisurely and we left Route 61 several times in pursuit of scenic “attractions.”  (Not something I’m famous for on vacations, by the way.)  Still, we put less than 120 miles on the odometer, winding up in Tunica, a little over 60 miles from Cleveland, where we had spent last night.

We left our motel about 8:30 a.m., which meant that we had about 1 1/2 hours before the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, our planned first stop, opened for the day.  Since Clarksdale is probably only 30 miles or so from Cleveland, we were in no hurry.  Consequently, we made a few detours and stops en route.

One place I wanted to drive through was the historically all-Black community of Mound Bayou, founded after the Civil War.  I figured that, given its unique history, there’d be a museum or tourist information center, but there was not much to see, because a fire had destroyed much of the downtown in the 1940s. (My thirst for information on Mound Bayou would be slaked the next day at the Tunica River Park Museum–see below.)  We also followed signs that took us off Route 61 in pursuit of Mississippi Blues Trail markers.  One, in Wintonville, was on the former site of the “Harlem Blues Club.”  Another, in the nearby town of Shelby, commemorated Blues pianist Henry Townsend.

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We arrived in Clarksdale shortly after the Delta Blues Museum opened and spent a couple of hours browsing through it.  The museum has continued to evolve since our first, abortive trip there several years ago, when the gift shop was open but the museum itself was closed for the installation of a new exhibit.  Like the B.B. King Museum, this one has added an extension to its original home, an old train depot.  The plan is to add a series of exhibits tracing the history of the Blues from Africa to the present.

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Unlike the King Museum’s addition, this one, though completed, is fairly empty as the museum conducts a fund-raising campaign.  Still, the end section of the addition is temporarily the home to a Muddy Waters exhibit that features one of Muddy’s Ford sedans and–drum roll, please!–the restored cabin where he was born on the Stovall Plantation. There also was a life-size model of Muddy, seated and playing his guitar, in that same area. As my church friend had said, the Delta Blues Museum is not nearly as interactive as the B.B. King Museum, but it does feature a few video clips, plus lots of striking photo exhibits, stage costumes, donated instruments, posters, and biographical information on a ton of Blues musicians, both famous and otherwise.

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After our visit to the Delta Blues Museum, we strolled through parts of downtown Clarksdale, and we discovered the “Rock ‘n’ Roll and Blues Heritage Museum,” based on the holdings of a former Dutch banker who is so enamored of the Blues that he even released an album of his own titled something like “Dutch Blues”!  The “Rock ‘n’ Roll and Blues Heritage Museum” reflects the eclectic tastes of its founder.  While there are a few donated items (e.g., a teacher’s desk from the Tupelo Middle School attended by Elvis Presley), most of the artifacts were acquired by the owner, beginning in the Netherlands when he was a young man.

The Dutch collector was big on record albums (and the records themselves), posters, guitars signed by Blues players, some photos and prints (including several by John Lennon of Yoko Ono that were only sold as prints–and in very limited quantities–in Holland).  The collection is organized chronologically by decade, starting after World War II and continuing into the late 20th century.  We spent perhaps an hour and a half in the museum and in the “gift shop,” which had so many interesting records, cds, and dvds that it reminded me of a scaled-down, Blues-only version of Wuxtry Records over near Emory University in Atlanta, where both of our boys loved to spend time.  I actually bought a cd by local Bluesman “Pat” Thomas, whom the WB and I had met yesterday at the Old Highway 61 Museum in Leland, as well as a dvd about a film crew traveling through Mississippi in search of the Blues.

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We ate in Clarksdale at the Ground Zero Blues Club, which is across the street from the Delta Blues Museum and co-owned by Hollywood’s Morgan Freeman, a native of the Magnolia State.  The food was OK, but it was really the funky, bluesy atmosphere of the place that made it memorable.  Oh, and the custom of visitors inscribing messages on every vertical surface in the club!

ground-zero-blues-club

From Clarksdale, we drove thirteen miles up Highway 61, then took Route 49 West across the Mississippi River to another Delta Blues mecca, Helena, Arkansas.  Our destination was the Delta Cultural Center, on Cherry Street, just opposite the town’s levee.  At present, the Center has two museums across from each other.

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One, in an old train depot, is mostly about the River and its impact on Delta life–and vice versa; the other has space for a traveling exhibit (this time, on Lincoln and slavery), and the music of the Delta, mostly Blues but with some attention to Gospel.  In that section of the Center also is the “broadcast studio” where an elderly disk jockey still conducts daily versions of the “King Biscuit Show,” the original of which made Rice Miller, AKA Sunny Boy Williamson II, a radio Blues icon; the modern version, however, is streamed over the Internet.  This particular museum “complex” wasn’t too impressive, but it would have been a shame to have been so close and not stopped to see it.  Plus, I think the Willowy Bride wanted to be able to say she had crossed the Mississippi River on this trip, so Helena certainly filled that bill.

May 24, 2013

After checking out of our motel, we found a Blues Trail marker honoring Son House, at the Clack Road site formerly occupied by a train station.  Next, we drove 10 miles south to Tunica, where we walked for perhaps an hour.  Tunica has gussied up about a three-block stretch of downtown so that at least some of the stores and restaurants might have a chance to draw tourists.  Central to the area is a little park, separated by a fairly new U.S. Post Office into two parts:  one section is mainly grass with some trees; the other includes an “American Veterans Memorial” and another patch of grass and trees girded by a quarter mile macadam walking track.  All in all, a pleasant venue with a real “small town” feel.

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We then drove back the way we’d come–and on Old Highway 61, a two-lane road with four-way stops about every mile–not the more modern Highway 61 with its four lanes, grassy median, and a 65 mph speed limit, at least until the road reaches each town, when the speed limit drops to 45 mph.

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We stopped at the Tunica Museum for what we thought would be a quick visit, but we ended up staying for over an hour, I guess.  This was another nice museum–clearly arranged around a variety of topics, interactive in places, and surprisingly successful in its efforts to be more inclusive, especially regarding the contributions of African Americans.  Two exhibits caught my attention:

1)  On the Blues (surprise!)–set in the reconstructed corner of a “juke joint.”  The audio portion featured an interview with Sam Carr, son of Bluesman Robert Nighthawk and a Bluesman himself, in an endless loop, but with each repetition bracketed by different Blues songs.

2)  On integrating Tunica’s schools–a video presentation wherein a series of talking heads, Tunica residents–black and white–offered their perspectives on the Civil Rights Movement and the struggle for school integration in the city.  Once again, a nicely balanced treatment of a prickly subject.

We ended up in the Tunica casino resorts area, where we spent the night.  (No, we didn’t plan to try our luck at slots or poker, so we avoided the, um, “resorts.”)  Seems that, after constructing 6-8 casino/resort complexes, the powers-that-be decided to invest some of their earnings in a project that was not about gambling.  This was the Tunica River Park  Museum, which, according to the brochure, included a nature walk in the wetlands bordering the Mississippi River; the aforementioned Museum; and a river boat, the “Tunica River Queen,” which offered ninety-minute rides on the river to interested visitors. Ironically, there has been so much rain this year that the river was high, so the nature walk was temporarily unavailable.

The museum was pretty interesting, though.  I especially enjoyed the aquarium; a series of panels on the history of the Mound Bayou settlement that we had driven through the other day (which helped explain why the town itself seemed barren of historical sites); a video on the Delta and the Blues; and several panels and a video on the Great Mississippi River Flood of 1927.

Towards the end of the tour, there was a video on the coming of the casinos and their impact on the economy of Tunica County.  Yes, the narrative seemed to be a joint production of the local Chamber of Commerce and the corporations that owned the casinos, but there seems to be no question that the casinos have brought jobs and money to the county (26% unemployment before 1991, less than 4% when the video was made, for example).

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The Willowy Bride had mentioned wanting to ride the riverboat, but by the time we’d finished our visit to the museum, we were both ready to eat and decided to pass on the River Queen.  We drove back to Tunica once more, to have dinner at the locally famous “Blue ‘n’ White,” which serves southern comfort food in a former Pure gas station.  Great barbecue, funky, down home atmosphere, reasonable prices.

mississippi_blues_tour4_robert_johnson_childhood_plantation

One Blues Trail marker on today’s itinerary underlines another irony in the history of Tunica County.  Posted in the heart of casino-resort territory, according to the Mississippi Blues Trail map this sign marks the site of the Abbay and Leatherman Plantation, where Blues legend Robert Johnson grew up.  That’s right:  the former plantation area of Tunica County, where any number of famous Blues performers, including the legendary Mr. Johnson, grew up, worked on cotton plantations, and performed, today is busy raising another, more lucrative crop–gambling palaces–and “picking” tourists instead of cotton!

* * * * *

For those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to my books on the subject:

REABP CoverRancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

Pursuit Cover

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)

POTP Cover

Politics on the Periphery:  Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)

Posted in "Charley Patton", Age of Jim Crow, Alan Lomax, B.B. King, Big Bill Broonzy, David "Honeyboy" Edwards, Delta Blues, History, History of Rock and Roll, Howlin' Wolf, Interdisciplinary Work, John Lee Hooker, Leadbelly, Mississippi John Hurt, Muddy Waters, Popular Culture, Research, Retirement, Robert Johnson, Son House, Southern History, The Blues, Uncategorized, WP Long Read | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

BETTS: A MOTHER’S MEMOIR, 1923-1964, Part IV: World War II

john-quincy-adams-picture

[Note:  This installment of Betts’ memoir takes her from the 1930s through the Second World War. (For previous posts, go here, here, and here.)]

* * * * *

I spent a lot of summer vacations with my grandfather and grandmother [Dobson] in Newark from the age of six until we finally moved there, so it was familiar to me.  I came to know the neighbors on Choate Street, some of whom were long-time friends of Granddad Dobson and had known my mother when she was young.

Living close to my grandparents was a real treat.  I wouldn’t say they spoiled us, but it felt special when we visited their house, especially when we could go by ourselves—we didn’t have to share their attention with brothers or sisters!  Today, most children are lucky to see their grandparents once a year.  Children need to know their grandparents.

This area of Newark was close to everything one needed.  Main Street was full of all kinds of stores, but the one I always loved to go to was Bob Cook’s store, where we bought groceries and where there was a great selection of “penny candy,” and that was a good thing.  A penny was important when a youngster went to a store, much more important than it is these days!

I had a friend on Chapel Street named Vivian Zimmer, and her family moved to 55 Choate Street.  I spent a lot of time at her house, with her brothers and sister as well as her mom and dad.  They had a player piano in the living room, and we spent lots of weekends at the piano or watching her family play cards together.  Vivian remained friends over the years until she died about three years ago.  She used to come home for visits, so I got to really visit with her often over the past thirty years.  I miss her.  Betty and Ginny England were also neighbors in the years we lived on Choate Street.  I remember so many wonderful people from that part of my life.  I have lots of great memories.

* * * * *

I was lucky enough to make friends easily, so my school years were fun, although I was not a “social butterfly” by any means; I was just determined to graduate from high school.  Basically, I was probably an average student, never on the honor roll, but school was not a struggle until I ran into Bookkeeping.  I signed up for the Business Course in high school because I knew that I wasn’t interested in college, and even if I were, there would have been a huge money problem.  By the time I graduated, Kay was seven years old and Bob was about two, so my parents still had a lot of financial responsibilities.

I had wanted to be a Medical Secretary, but at that time there was no schooling available in Wilmington for such training.  The closest place was Philadelphia, and no way did I want to go that far away.  I graduated from Newark High School in June 1940 and decided to enjoy the summer and then look for some kind of work.  I found a job as a live-in nanny for a very young girl, but I must admit that the job did not last very long.  It was not for me, but my friend Mickey Grundy was interested, so she took the job and worked for that family for over a year.  She was waiting to enter nurses’ training at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City, but she had to be nineteen years old to enter, so this job filled in that time for her.

[I had forgotten about that until Mickey and I were talking this year, and she reminded me how much she enjoyed the time she spent with that family.  She also kind of got interested in meeting some boy, too, and decided to learn to roller skate, dance, etc.  All the things I was never permitted to do, remember, because of my physical problems—I told my doctor that I was going to have fun, no matter what!  Guess you know that went over big.]

The weekend after I graduated from Newark High, I went to a graduation get-together at the home of friends of our family.  I met several different people, and among them was a boy named J.B., who had only recently moved to Newark from Iowa.  He was living with his father and also intended to work in Newark, I guess.  My first impression of him was that he was conceited as well as good-looking.  I have to admit that I eventually realized that I was a poor judge of people.  Since all young people did not have cars in those days, J.B. and several others who lived in my neighborhood walked home with me.  We did not see each other much during the summer because he had a lot of new friends, and I also had friends that I continued to see.

Betts in 1942 (probably sent to John Burke)

Betts in 1942

* * * * *

[Note:  There is a gap of about three years (1941-1944) in Betts’ memoir at this point.

Betts and J.B., the young man she met following her graduation from high school, eventually fell in love, and J.B. gave Betts a ring before he left for service as a U.S. Marine in the South Pacific during World War II.  For reasons that remain unclear, Betts and he broke off their relationship during the war.  Thereafter, Betts met, and shortly married, the man who would be our father, Benjamin Leroy (“Ben”) Lamplugh, who also soon went off to join the war effort.

Betts and Ben

Ben and Betts

The memoir takes up Betts’ story again in 1944, shortly after the birth of her first child, George Russell, nicknamed Rus.]

* * * * *

After Rus was born, on May 20, 1944, I decided that, since Ben was overseas, I would have to go back to work.  My job with the railroad was no longer available, since I had taken so much time off due to difficulties with my pregnancy.  About the fifth month, I had bleeding problems, which ended up with a ten-day hospital stay; injections of Progesterone, which was still in the research stage; and, when I was sent home, I spent the next two months in bed.  Luckily, I had a fine, healthy baby so it was all worthwhile.

George Dobson, Betts (with Rus), Isabelle Dobson Knighton

George Dobson, Betts (with Rus), Isabelle Dobson Knighton

Without my parents’ love and support, this would not have been possible.  I had been living with them since my marriage, because Ben was in the military.  The railroad did have a job for me, though, in Maryland.  In September 1944, along with my son, I moved to 2 Byway South, Riverdale Apartments, in Middle River, near Baltimore.  This location was within walking distance of my job.  I worked in the railroad’s freight office, where we handled shipments for the Glenn L. Martin Company in Middle River, a major supplier of aircraft to the government.

Betts, Gertie, and "Trixie," during World War II

Betts and Gertie,  during World War II

* * * * *

My sister Gertie and her daughter Lynne came to live with me early in 1945.  That spring we moved to a larger apartment in the same complex, this one on Byway North.  Our friend Virginia (“Ginny”) England Henderson, her daughter Sandy, and her sister Betty England also came to stay with us.  Imagine:  four women and three babies sharing the same two-bedroom apartment!

Our neighbors marveled that all of us could share an apartment, but it really was a case of survival—we were working mothers with babies, but not much money.  This was a long time before “Women’s Lib.”  Actually, the arrangement worked out fine for us.  Betty England went to high school, so she was home in time to replace her sister Ginny and my sister Gertie as “babysitter.”  Gertie and Ginny worked as waitresses from 4 p.m. to around midnight.  When I arrived home from work around 5 p.m., Betty went to her part-time job in a local restaurant.

Needless to say, we were a busy group!  Sounds like musical chairs or a merry-go-round, and sometimes it felt like that.  We shared a lot of good times all together during a tough period in all our lives, and the babies did just fine.

Among other things, there was rationing of shoes, meat, cigarettes, etc.  Everyone was issued ration stamps, and, when the stamps were gone, we had to do without some things until the next month.  All-in-all, it was a time that proved we could do a lot of things on our own.

I was surprised that I had become a person who could make her own decisions.  When I was growing up, decisions were always made for me, by my parents or by the doctor.  My life was never really my own.  This time of my life proved a lot to me.  We continued to share the apartment until Ben was discharged from the U.S. Army in November 1945.

* * * * *

I don’t believe Ben or I ever realized how difficult the change in our lives would be when he was no longer in the service.  We were no different from thousands of others who had married during the war, I suppose, but because we had not really lived together it proved to be very difficult.  When Ben came home, Rus was about eighteen months old.  Ben expected him to be a “baby,” but, as we soon found out, at eighteen months a child can’t really be considered a “baby.”  Rus certainly didn’t understand what “that man” was doing in our house!  It was a long time before Rus would even go out in the car with his Dad, unless I went along, too.  It took a lot of time and patience for things to get to the point of “normal” living.

At the time of our marriage, Ben was with the 82nd Airborne Division, at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in the summer of 1943.  After being injured in a “jump,” he was transferred to a Field Artillery unit at Camp Rucker, Alabama.  After several months, he was sent to Hawaii, where he was when Rus was born in May 1944, and he then was supposed to be transferred to Japan.

Eventually, Ben was sent to Japan, but he was never involved in any action there because the war ended.  When Ben came home late in 1945, the girls moved into the apartment next door to us.  Eventually, Gertie and Ginny and their children moved to Baltimore to be nearer their jobs.  Ginny’s sister Betty moved back with us and stayed until she finished school, while continuing to work nights at the restaurant.

A few months before our daughter Judy was born (October 5, 1946), we moved into a prefab home in a development called “Victory Villa,” a government housing area originally built for the families of wartime workers employed by the Glenn L. Martin Company.  Victory Villa was filled with Martin employees and ex-GIs trying to get used to civilian life and raising their families.

Ben, Judy, and Rus

Ben, Judy, and Rus

Thanks to the GI Bill, Ben found “on the job training” at Owens Yacht Company in Dundalk, Maryland.  He wanted to learn carpentry, and this was a good place to start.  Ben had an aptitude for the work and did very well.  In those days, the pay scale was low, but we did manage to make ends meet.

Ben also found a part-time job doing maintenance work for Richter Trailer Sales on Pulaski Highway, not far from our home.  He worked for Richter for several years.  Ben was a good worker and kept busy supporting his family.  Of course, he wasn’t home much, but in the post-war period one had to work hard to make ends meet.  Things had finally settled down, and we were able to get along and had no problems.

End of Part IV

Next:  Part V: Trying to Make It in Post-War America

* * * * * *

For  those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to several books on the subject:

REABP CoverRancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

Pursuit Cover

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)

POTP Cover

Politics on the Periphery:  Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)

 

Posted in American History, family history, genealogy, Historical Reflection, History, memoir, Popular Culture, Research, Retirement, Uncategorized, WP Long Read | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Chasing the Delta Blues: The Mississippi Blues Trail, Part 1 (Blues Stories, 25)

john-quincy-adams-picture

[NOTE:  Anyone who has perused the “Blues Stories” page of this blog will know that, of all the stopping places available to  fans interested in “Blues Geography,” my favorite location is the Mississippi Delta, generally regarded as the “birthplace of the Blues.”  Thing is, though, even to me, a Blues aficionado for more than twenty-five years, the Blues sometimes seems to be on its last legs.  In fact, with the recent demise of B.B. King, some Blues scholars believe we have entered the “classical music” phase of the Blues–all the “true originals” have died, and those who remain either merely “cover” classic Blues tunes or, in their own work, whatever their talents, really don’t measure up to the “greats.”

delta-map

 

 

And yet:  the Delta is still there, so perhaps there’s hope for yet another “Blues revival,” this one to carry that music well into the twenty-first century.  What follows is an account of a trip we took, following the Delta segment of the “Mississippi Blues Trail,” in May 2013, a trek that was mostly about the Blues of the past, not the Blues of the present (but then, I’m a historian).

Note:  Except for the maps in this segment and the photos of the Ground Zero Blues Club and the Abbay and Leatherman marker on the Blues Trail in Part 2, the photography was done by my Willowy Bride (referred to hereafter as “the WB.”]

mbt-map

 

* * * * *

May 22, 2013

This morning around 8:00 a.m., we left Pearl, Mississippi, where we’d stopped yesterday to see a Mississippi Braves game, for a leisurely drive up “Highway 49.”  This route, along with its western neighbor, “Highway 61,” helped shuttle thousands of African Americans, including not a few Blues performers, out of the Mississippi Delta and into the “Promised Land” of Chicago and other cities to the east and west.  I had mapped out an itinerary that would take us up route 49 to Indianola, then across on 82 to pick up route 61 at Leland.

On the way to Indianola, we turned off 49 for a quick look at Belzoni, which advertises itself as the “Catfish Capital of the World.”  (Though, to a Blues fan, Belzoni will always be the place Charlie Patton spent time in jail, thanks to the local sheriff.)  The town even hosts each April a Catfish Festival that reportedly draws about 10,000 visitors.

Perhaps the combined Catfish Museum and Welcome Center had been overtaxed by last month’s festival, for, when we arrived a half hour or so after the announced opening time, the building still was locked up tight.  We were able to see a few artifacts on the grounds related to the raising of catfish, as well as one of the town’s collection of “Catfish on Parade,” a group of identically-designed leaping catfish statues that were “completed” (i.e., decorated) by local artists (similar to the tiger statues scattered on the campus of the University of Memphis).  Rather than take the time to check out the other catfish statues located throughout “downtown Belzoni,” we drove on to Indianola.

We had to visit Indianola, the birthplace of B.B. King (sort of) and, now, the location of the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center.  The Museum is built around a restored brick cotton gin building where, as a youngster, B.B. worked for a couple of weeks a year.  The thoughtfully organized, interactive, no-holds barred approach the Museum takes to King and his career makes for a mesmerizing experience that moved me to tears several times.

img_0180

When a friend at our church learned that we were planning to visit his stamping ground of the Delta (he grew up in Greenville), he raved about the King Museum (and he was right!).  He also recommended a restaurant that was only a few blocks from the Museum, the Crown, as a good lunch spot, and we decided to take him up on his recommendation. Turns out that the restaurant is attached to a gift shop next door.

While Mississippians love their catfish fried, the four women who own the Crown take more of a lady’s tea room approach, devising ways to prepare the regional “delicacy” that do not involve frying, which was fine with me.  I had no memory of ever having tried catfish but vowed I’d give it a shot.  I ordered “catfish salad” (think chicken or tuna salad, but made with catfish), a small bowl of chicken and okra gumbo, and a delightful green concoction called a “vegetable salad,” heavy on broccoli but still quite tasty.  And the catfish salad was much better  (i.e., lighter tasting, not as “fishy”) than I expected.

Indianola was a nicer place than I thought it would be.  Like any small southern town, it was low on the sorts of amenities we suburbanites might like to see, but there was a sense of order to it as residents and visitors went about their daily rounds.  The WB and I walked around town for a few minutes to get the lie of the land, as well as of the bayou that runs through it.  My hardy photog began taking shots of the bayou and of a couple of Blues-related sites with her digital camera to add to the ones she’d taken outside the King Museum.

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Newsflash!!  While driving north on U.S. 49, we went by Yazoo City, home of one of my favorite southern writers, the late Willie Morris.  But that’s not the newsflash.  No, what was even more exciting (to me, if not to the WB) was that at one point we drove over the Yazoo River that had given its name to the “Yazoo Lands” (much of the present-day states of Alabama and Mississippi); which were in turn at the center of the “Yazoo Land Fraud”; of which I am the world’s leading living authority (he said modestly!).  All that impressive knowledge of variations on the word “Yazoo”?  It–and $20–purchased a pair of “senior” tickets to the B.B. King Museum. Sigh. . . .

Next on our agenda was the Old Highway 61 Museum, which is housed in a former hotel in downtown Leland.  It’s a small affair devoted to artifacts from and information and pictures about, Blues men and women from the “Mid-Delta.”  As the WB later remarked, it was reminiscent of any number of the museums in small towns we had visited previously–earnest and informative, but fairly quick to go through.

But then we got a surprise–and how!  A sort of ambassador, or maybe unofficial greeter, of the museum, Blues man “Pat” Thomas, son of the slightly better known Delta Blues man  James “Son” Thomas, came in, introduced himself, and proceeded to provide a brief concert just for us on his acoustic guitar as we made our way through the four rooms that comprise the museum.  He played “61 Highway” and “Rollin’ and Tumblin’.”  Talk about “Music to Tour a Blues Museum By”!

When we were ready to leave, I thanked Mr. Thomas, who offered me a couple of white dominos that he had drawn on and signed.  (He’s also a folk artist, and one of his specialties is cats drawn in black magic marker on white dominos.)  He even suggested that the WB take a picture, and she obliged.  When she showed Mr. Thomas the finished product, Pat thought there was too much light in the photo (probably from the overhead skylight in the front part of the museum), so he asked her to take another picture.  And then Mr. Thomas suggested that we step outside, where she could take a picture of Pat and me standing in front of the Blues Trail Marker about his father, “Son” Thomas.

img_0189

Mr. Thomas sounded authentic as Hell on his guitar, and he certainly looked “old” enough to be a “real” Blues man, with his wizened, bewhiskered face.  But, here’s the thing:  he neither sounded nor acted “old.”  Fortunately, some of the material on display in the Old Highway 61 Museum was about Pat and his father, and one article mentioned that he was born in . . . 1960!  That’s right, the “Old Bluesman” (really, of course, “Son of the Old Bluesman ‘Son’ Thomas”) is all of 53 years old (i.e., I’m older by a decade and a half!).

The WB was surprised when I told her this.  Still, Pat Thomas’s life was probably not that much easier than his father’s had been, and, as far as I know, he had not yet achieved nearly the recognition of the regionally significant “Son” Thomas.  Still, the time we spent with “Pat” Thomas was exhilarating, sobering, and surely will be one of the highlights of the trip.

End of Part 1

* * * * *

For those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to my books on the subject:

REABP CoverRancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

Pursuit Cover

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)

POTP Cover

Politics on the Periphery:  Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in "Charley Patton", Age of Jim Crow, B.B. King, David "Honeyboy" Edwards, Delta Blues, History, Howlin' Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Leadbelly, Mississippi John Hurt, Muddy Waters, Popular Culture, Research, Retirement, Robert Johnson, Son House, Southern History, The Blues, Uncategorized, WP Long Read | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

BETTS: A MOTHER’S MEMOIR, 1923-1964, Part III: A Depression-Era Childhood

john-quincy-adams-picture[Note:  This installment of Betts’ story is drawn from her memoir, “Slub of Slife.”  For Parts I and II go here and here.]

* * * * *

We had no bathroom in the house [in Wilmington, Delaware], so we had an “outhouse” (enclosed “piddle palace”), and we got a bath in a large laundry tub in the kitchen.  There was no such thing as a washer or dryer, either.  A scrubbing board and a lot of hard work for Mom—with four children to keep clean, plus Mom and Dad.

At one point, my great-grandmother Mattie Dobson lived there with us.  She was granddad Dobson’s mother.  I do remember her so well.  She was a sweet little lady—snow white hair, and kind of “house bound.”  She was always very nice to us.

We all had the usual childhood diseases, and in those days we were “quarantined”—which meant that we could not go outside until the disease had run its course.  This was supposed to keep other people from getting the disease.  I had rheumatic fever—and remember having to stay in bed for a long time.  It left me with a heart problem, and I spent the next ten to twelve years under a doctor’s care—always being told “No, you can’t do that” when I wanted to play.

My Dad had no contact with his father, William Henry Knighton, for years.  Dad’s mother died when he was around two years old, and he was sent to live with relatives.  In 1931, after Dad heard from his aunt that his stepmother had died in Philadelphia, he and [my brother] George went to the funeral and again met his father.  After a few months, his father asked him to bring the family and live with him in Philadelphia, in his large house at Front and Race streets.  Since work and things in general were bad due to the Depression, we did move to Philadelphia and lived there with Granddad Knighton and his stepsons for a year or so.

William H. Knighton

William H. Knighton

I do not know where my Dad worked during that time, but I do know that he and his father could not get along very well.  We went to a school which was within walking distance.  I don’t remember much about it, except that it was integrated—black and white children went to the same school.  This was different from the situation in Wilmington, where schools were segregated, so it took a while to get used to that.  Granddad’s house was pretty big.  I remember that it had gas lights, big rooms, even a indoor bathroom.

* * * * *

We continued to live with Granddad Knighton, but because of his job we moved to 424 Grant Street, in Camden, New Jersey, in 1932.  I’m not sure what kind of work Granddad did, but I think Dad got a job in a grocery store.  We attended Cooper School, which was the same school Dad attended as a child, although he dropped out of school around the age of twelve. (In those days there were no laws that said a person had to go to school—and Dad had to support himself at a young age.)  My sister Mary Katherine (“Kay”) was born at Cooper Hospital on March 6, 1933.

Granddad Knighton’s house in Camden was a row house.  Guess a lot of big cities had row houses.  This one was larger and nicer than the one in Wilmington, as I remember it.  Life there was interesting.  We had bread and milk delivery by horse-drawn wagons, and “hucksters” came around during the week selling fruits and vegetables.  Ice was delivered in the same way.  This was the 1930s, and people did not have refrigerators or other electrical appliances unless they had money to purchase them, and this was the Depression era.

Keeping house was surely complicated—hard work.  To clean a carpet—use a broom—and scatter rugs were hung outside and beaten with a “carpet beater.”  I remember that my sister Gertie and I would argue about who would clean up the living room.  You see, Granddad Knighton had a favorite chair.  He used to sit in it with his head in one corner of the chair and his legs over the opposite arm of the chair, and sometimes change would slip from his pockets, down the side of the chair.  I’m not sure he was even aware of that, but we surely were!  Whenever we could, we checked down the sides of the chair, and, if we were lucky, we would find enough change to maybe go to the movies.  Movies were a luxury—probably cost five or ten cents for each of us to see a movie.

Granddad Knighton played the harmonica and the banjo—not at the same time, though!  He was a little man, with gray hair and a mustache.  He used to carry a wad of money in his pocket, but Mom always said it was a five dollar bill wrapped around a roll of one dollar bills!

We only lived in Camden for about a year; I guess Dad got tired of arguing with his father.  The summer after Kay was born, Dad went to Newark [Delaware] to visit his cousin and to look for a job, which he found as a truck driver for Bill Covey–Kraft products.  He came home [to Camden] and got [my sister] Gertie and took her with him to help care for the house he had rented (62 North Chapel Street), and she started school in Newark. The rest of the family moved to Newark when Kay was about one year old—in 1934.  (The house we lived in is no longer there; it has been replaced by a parking lot and a couple of office buildings.  That is progress!)

I don’t remember Christmas that year, but I guess we were all together by then.  We just packed up and moved, leaving Granddad Knighton.  This was the end of 1933, and my sister Kay was nine months old.  I’m not sure where Granddad Knighton went; we lost track of him over the years.  I think he kept in touch once in a while with my Mom and Dad, because eventually we knew he was in Minnesota.  He died in January 1947, and my sister Gertie and brother George attended the funeral and met the family he had worked for, for all those years.

[I did not go with them, because at that time (my daughter) Judy was three months old, and I couldn’t leave her and (her older brother) Rus since I had no one to look after them.  Your father (Ben) was a hard worker, and he was not used to taking care of children.  He used to say it was my job—his job was to earn a living (for the family).  That’s how it was in those days.  Actually, that was the way it was when I was growing up, too.  Times have surely changed for the better in some ways!]

* * * * *

We moved to 57 Choate Street about 1936, and my brother Bob was born August 12, 1938, while we were living there.  At that time, my Dad was working for Clarence Dean, managing a grocery store on Main Street.  He was working twelve to fifteen hours or more a day, and eventually he had to quit because he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown.  He went to work at Continental Diamond Fiber Company (later, the Budd Company) and worked there for more than twenty years.

George T. Dobson

Finally, about 1940, we moved to 50 Choate Street to live with Granddad Dobson.  His second wife, Anna Ring Dobson (my Mom’s stepmother) had died in 1935, and Granddad found it difficult to live alone.  He had a couple of housekeepers, but they did not work out.  Finally, he rented the [50 Choate Street] house and came to live with us at 57 Choate.  Things went well for a while, but then it was decided that we could all live together at 50 Choate Street if another bedroom was added. Granddad Dobson had the room built, and we moved there.

50 Choate St., Newark, Delaware

50 Choate St., Newark, Delaware

You all are familiar with the size of the house at 50 Choate, so you can imagine how crowded it was with Granddad Dobson, Mom, Dad, and five children (Aunt Gertie was married by then so she was spared the crowded conditions.)  I often wondered how it was possible for all of us to live in the same house, but we did not have much in the way of furniture, clothes, or appliances.  TV was not invented yet, but we did have a radio, so you can figure out how long ago that really was!

We lived under rather crowded conditions, but I must say that I cannot remember any time that I was unhappy during my school years.  Mom and Dad were good to us.  I often wonder how they survived raising six children under these circumstances.  They were exceptional parents, I guess.  They often said that, since they were both “only children” when they married, they did not want to raise one child alone, so they had a large family.  I’m sure that they had financial problems along the way, living through the Depression, and we did not have an excessive amount of material things, but we were lucky to have wonderful parents.

I never realized how tough their job really was until I grew up and had a family of my own.  I then understood why my Dad used to go down into the basement and lock the door behind him!  He had a woodworking shop down there and spent much of his time in the basement when he was not at work at Continental Diamond Fiber.  When it was quiet upstairs, he would come up and sit in the living room, listening to the radio.  Needless to say, though, he probably didn’t spend much time upstairs.  Quiet is something you very seldom had in that small house when we were all there!

Things simmered down, I guess, as we grew up, went to work, married, etc.  Mom and Dad were able to spend their last years together in their own home until Mom’s death on September 7, 1973.  Dad survived Mom by seven years, passing away on March 20, 1980.

* * * * *

At the time we moved to Newark [Delaware], the population was about 2500 people.  There was two-way traffic on Main Street and lots of shops—this was long before the concept of shopping centers.  It was also long before Delaware Avenue became part of the main traffic system.

The elementary school, grades one through five, was at Delaware Avenue and Academy Street; the junior-senior high school was located on Academy Street.  [My brother] George and [my sister] Peg started school in Newark in the elementary grades, and I was in sixth grade in the junior high, along with Gertie, who was in seventh grade.  I went all the way through high school with basically the same classmates as those I started with in sixth grade.

My sister Gertie quit school before graduating, as did my sister Peg.  Dad was very disappointed about that; he wanted us to get an education, since neither he nor Mom had gotten one.  He had been working since he was around twelve years old, and Mom had quit school at age sixteen to marry Dad.  I made up my mind that I would graduate and, though he never said so, I think my father was proud of me for it.

Betts as a teenager

Betts as a teenager

George and Kay were able to do even more:  they went through the University of Delaware, George with help of the GI Bill after his World War II military service; and Kay with scholarships from high school, and working, too.  My brother Bob also did not go to college, but he did go to trade school and graduate, having learned the printing trade.

Life in Newark was wonderful, mostly because we didn’t move away from friends anymore.  I still have friends that I met in sixth grade.  I was not active in school affairs or sports because of childhood health problems.  I remember having my tonsils out at about age twelve because our family doctor said that my health would not improve until I did so.  He was quite right—I did get along better without them, but I was still on digitalis for heart problems for quite a while.  I was never permitted to play sports, though I must admit that sports were of no interest to me anyway.

End of Part III

Next:  Part IV:  World War II

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For  those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to several books on the subject:

REABP CoverRancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

Pursuit Cover

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)

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Politics on the Periphery:  Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)

 

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