My sister Miriam moved to Little Rock to attend college and become a nurse. That was every young woman’s dream. Norman Vincent Peale’s book, The Power of Positive Thinking, was one of the few books that my mother owned.
Garvis left a 1949 Ford for Mother to take care of while he was away. I remember very little about the car, but I do remember Mother driving it. We made trips to the country to visit Grandma and Grandpa.
Mother always had to stop on the way home and hide in the bushes while she relieved herself. I asked her why she didn’t use the privy that I used while at Uncle Ernest’s house. I know now that she could not stand going into that toilet and was willing to take the chance of stepping on a snake while moving through the weeds. On one such trip, she was so frightened by a large snake that fear took the place of relief.
One trip from the old home place found us using another back road to reach Uncle Claud’s house. Mother was traveling so fast around a curve that she moved closer to the center of the gravel road than was safe. As often happens, another person was committing the same sin, and the result placed us within inches of disaster. The two cars passed so close that the piece of chrome trim on the door was pulled off. A hairs difference either way would have guaranteed sure death or a clean get away.
Mother didn’t want me to talk about the near disaster. As I was setting in the front seat one afternoon, the side door flew open and I remember thinking that I needed to jump from the safety of my seat to the sure pain of the road. I have no idea why I didn’t sail out that door, but I didn’t. I have remembered that urge with wonder all my life.
Garvis eventually took back his car and we became walkers again. I know that it was hard for Mother to walk to and from work every day, but I will always believe that it helped to keep her young. I will never forget that August 2, when Mother turned fifty. I asked her how old she was and her response, “Half a hundred.” Made her seem ancient.
The Sears and Roebuck Catalogue was a great source of entertainment. I remember looking through the pages that contained the many things that I couldn’t have and wishing for most of them.
Most of all, I wished for a father. My suggestion to mother was for her to order one for me. I didn’t understand why I should be the only person in my world that didn’t have one. Years later Mother told me why she had made the decision not to remarry. There was lots of unreturned interest from men that Aunt Estelle would send by for Mother’s approval. She explained that there was a chance that a male in the family might abuse her children and she didn’t want that.
Since Garvis and Miriam were grown and out of the house I guess I was her major concern. One of the many ways that mother sacrificed herself for her children. Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is taking action in the face of fear.
First grade was a sign that I was growing up. I was proud to tell everyone that asked that I was in the first grade. Mrs Myers was my teacher. She is the one I wanted and she is the one I got. I guess that mother made every effort to get me the teacher that I desired but I only suspect that to be the case.
I was no longer the top dog. There were boys on that playground that could kick my butt and I knew it.
No one knew their way around town like I did, I still ruled there. I didn’t know it then but the two classes of first graders would stay close together for the next twelve years. Of course we added a few and lost a few but mostly the class started together and stayed together.
Dwight D. Eisenhower was our President. His Vice President, Richard Nixon, was the first to be broadcast on television.
I saw a television for the first time at Aunt Estelle’s house. I went home with them and there it was, a little box with a round screen that showed a target in the center. It really did look like a target. That was the first time that I had ever been away from home. My Aunt said, “Harold why don’t you come home with us” and I said “yes I will”. Mother gave me a lecture when I go home the next day. Television was only broadcasting for about twelve hours a week and no one was working at ten o’clock at night. It looked like a waste of time to me.
We spent Christmas night with Aunt Frances and Uncle Alton. It must have been a lonely time for Mother. Garvis was gone and if Miriam was home that Christmas I don’t remember it. They always made a point of visiting us. I especially remember Uncle Alton going out with me and shooting firecrackers. On one of his Christmas visits, we did our ritual of shooting small firecrackers. He held a lighted cigarette and I put the fuse next to the heat. When it sparked, I would throw my bomb into the road.
Neither of us saw the car approaching until it was upon us. He told me to wait, but the fuse was already lit. I took him at his word and the firecracker took my finger. I do not know which person hurt the most. Uncle Alton never stopped telling me how sorry he was. He fell asleep with a lit cigarette and died in the fire December 10, 1976. His body was found next to the front door. He had evidently been overcome by the smoke.
Jerry Jacks solidified my desire to be an artist. I was the only first grader that got the loan of his paper because as he told others, “Harold is going to be an artist someday”. Jerry and I were great friends until his mother, a school teacher, moved to another town for a teaching position there. Mrs Jacks always had a big jar of marbles that she collected from the older boys when they played keepers at school. Sometimes she shared the contraband with us.
I remember setting outside Jerry’s house, on the sidewalk, waiting for my pants to dry. When I left his house I needed to pee so bad but I would not ask his mother if I could use the bathroom. It was more that a six year old could hold. It took three hours for my pants to dry enough for me to go unnoticed through town. Failure is the first step to success. Someone tore that house down after they moved to Monticello.
The polio vaccine was developed by Dr. Jonas Salk and the first contraceptive pill was more than an idea. This was a time of prosperity. For $1,200 you could purchase a Microwave oven the size of a refrigerator. We were part of the baby boom and a building boom. The Bible was published in its Revised Standard Version. It will keep preachers busy for years.
I discovered something interesting that went on at night in my home town. There was a man the would spend his late evenings sweeping the streets. He had this large broom and every night he would take that broom and a large barrel and clean the streets around the town square. Everyone called him Conk but only the adults called him that in a polite way.
Conger Knight, Jr. was a tall man that didn’t talk with a lot of clarity. His speech impediment was more than physical, my cousin Leland told me that Conger was retarded. Conk died while I was away at college. The streets never looked the same after he left. Years later they purchased a vehicle that didn’t do the job half as well. I suspect that there are very few, if any, that remember Conk and what he did. How silent the world would be if only the best birds sang.
Grandpa Walker died November 24, 1953. Even when death is expected, it is unexpected. He was 94 years old. Someone came to our house long after we went to bed. There was a loud knock on our door and some whispering between mother and some person standing in the shadows. I don’t know who it was but I suppose it was Mr. Jones from the funeral home.
Mother put me in the back of Garvis ’49 Ford and she drove the eighteen miles of gravel road to Uncle Ernest’s house. I had spent many years at that place but that night was very freighting. Mother didn’t want me to go inside so she insisted that I stay in the car and sleep. Sleep was not possible. Every demon that had ever existed was out that night and passing before the car windows. Bravery and fear walk together. I did survive.