The first birthday cake I remember having was when I was nine years old. (Surely I'd had a birthday cake before, but this birthday cake stands out in my mind.) Mother baked my cake in a tin oven she had bought from a fellow camper who made and sold them. (The challenges of the #GreatDepression brought out a great amount of creatively and ingenuity in people living in those camps.) These ovens were a simple box made out of thin tin with a door on one side to slip in the baked goods, but they worked well sitting over an open flame. At this time, Mother had a two burner Coleman gas burning stove she sat the oven on. Before she got the Coleman stove and the oven, she had baked biscuits in a big iron skillet covered with a heavy iron lid. She’d place three tin cans in our campfire to set the big skillet on so that they could bake above the fire -and those biscuits were so good! But, the tin oven was better for cakes, I guess.
While Mother was getting my cake baked, I went down to the camp of my best friend, whose name was Mary, to invite her to come eat cake with us because it was her ninth birthday, just like it was mine. When I got there, her daddy was sitting outside on a small stool and she was sitting with her back to him. He was combing her hair. (Mary didn’t have a mother. I don’t know where her mother was. She may have been dead.) On a closer look, I saw her hair was wet and her daddy had a pocket knife, like all the men used to carry in their pockets, and was scraping off lice eggs from her hair, one small strand at the time. (Lice lay their eggs on hair strands and they stick on hard and fast - that is why they have to be scraped off.) I watched for a long time and invited her to our camp to eat cake with us. Her daddy said she could come and we headed back to our camp spot when her daddy was finished with her hair. When we got back to our camp, Mother had the cake all baked and sitting on an outdoor table with a nice clean cloth covering it. When she uncovered the cake, there were little black ants all over it - Oh, I was so disappointed! But Mother said not to worry because she would get the ants off it and, for the most part, she did; however, she was not able to get all of them because some were deep into the cake. So, that is the year I discovered what ants taste like; I still remember the taste of those ants!! We ate the cake anyway, and we had a good time at my party.
We all had chicken pox and measles that year. I was the last one to come down with the measles and I was very, very sick. I remember being in Mother’s “upstairs” bed one day when she cooked pork chops for dinner, which was a rare treat. Oh, they did smell good! But, I was so sick I couldn’t eat any that night, so I asked Mother to save one for morning when I might feel like eating something; unfortunately, they were all eaten that night and there was none for me the next day. Since then, I have eaten plenty of pork chops in my life to make up for that dinner when I was too sick to eat!
It was also in my ninth year that Mother, industrious as usual, made roses out of crepe paper for us to sell. People really loved the roses and we enjoyed selling them. Mother was very intense about making those roses; she would cut the crepe paper in long strips and, with her thumbs, form the rose petals. Next, she wound the crepe paper strips round and round to make the rose and then connected the flower to a long wire that she covered with green crepe paper. When she finished, she had a beautiful long stemmed rose! Some women bought several to make a lovely bouquet of roses for their home or a gift for a friend.
Another memorable thing that happened in my ninth year was that my older sister, Freda, got married! She was thirteen years old and married a boy who was nineteen. He moved her to his parents’ house in the camp and I didn’t see her for seven months. I would hear the grownups talk about them and they would say that all she ever had to eat was tomato paste with macaroni. Then, one day Mother brought her back home. I don’t remember hearing the grown-ups talking about her coming home and she did not explain it to me either (I guess it was because I was a little girl and they thought I wouldn’t understand.) Here’s what Freda told me after we were grown: she said that she did have other things besides tomato paste with macaroni to eat but never got to go to the store with her husband to shop for their groceries. She said Mother came one day, after they had been married seven months, and told her to get her clothes and get in the car. Freda obeyed and Mother took her back to our trailer. Freda told me she was happy being married and would not have left her husband if she had had her way about it.
In total contrast to what was going on with my oldest sister, Freda, my mother had another little baby girl that same year! When it was time for the baby to be born, my daddy took my mother to the hospital in uptown Houston and left her there; he was not allowed to stay with her and did not see her or the baby for three days. I remember standing out by Jensen Drive Road on the sidewalk I loved so much with my daddy holding my hand when the ice cream man came down the road singing his ice cream song. He was singing, “Ice cream, Popsicles, Eskimo pies, clean your teeth, curl your hair, make you feel like a millionaire!” He sang it over and over again, announcing his arrival and advertising his ice cream selection. I asked my daddy if he would buy me an ice cream and I remember him saying, “I just have a nickel and we need to save that because the little baby might need something when it gets home.” That was all right with me so the ice cream man just went right on by. The new little baby girl came home with Mother the very next day.
On the way home from the hospital, Mother and Daddy had an interesting conversation. Mother told Daddy that she had named the baby Audrey Mureal but Daddy told her he had wanted her name to be Pansy Marie, after a girl he had known when he was young; he said she was the first girl he had ever kissed! After discussing names for a little while, Mother told Daddy that it was bad luck for them to change her name but asked him, “What about just adding the names together?” He agreed that was a good idea, so from that day her name was Audrey Mureal Pansy Marie Hatcher and we called her Pansy. She used that name until she was grown and got her official birth record with her legal name Audrey Mureal on it; then she changed her name from Pansy to Audrey and now she is known as Audrey by family and friends alike.
My mother sure had a lot to do that year, taking care of four children, all with measles and then chicken pox, making all those beautiful roses, buying our merchandise to sell, having a new little baby, and taking care of my daddy, who was still on crutches. (Mother dressed Daddy’s leg often and picked out small bones from his leg where they had been shattered by the big teeth of the mule that had mauled him that terrible day months before. She kept the bones “collection” in a little box.)
Mother wore her shoes out that year, and had holes in the bottom from walking so much! That was the time when she made herself some sandals out of inner tube rubber. She made a sole and then cut straps to criss cross the top and sewed the straps on by hand. We thought she was so smart to make such pretty shoes, so she made us some like hers and we really liked them!
That was also the year Uncle Tom Wall came and began staying around our camp spot and eating at our table. There were lots of men who lived alone in the camps during the Great Depression and most of them were there to find work to take care of their families back home, so it did not seem strange when he gathered with us at our table. Uncle Tom Wall had migrated from Ireland and didn’t have any family here in the US. He was an elderly man and probably lived in the camp because the campsites and water were free to the public. He was also a big man who reminded me of Santa because he had a big belly and a red face and seemed to be jolly all the time. He had some kind of small income (probably the old age pension) and would help us with groceries. He took a special liking to my baby sister, Pansy, and when we would have only one biscuit left at a meal he would give it to her. Sometimes, he bought cheese and shared it with us - he saw to it that Pansy got her share of that too and, if only one piece was left, he made sure Pansy got it! Uncle Tom was also a blessing to us because of his jolly nature which brought some extra joy into our lives. He had a drinking problem, but my folks talked about how he always remembered to pray no matter how much he had to drink that day; they said he never forgot to get down on his knees by his bed in his little trailer and pray before he laid down to sleep. He had a sister in England who was a Mother in the Catholic Church and she wrote him letters. Mother kept one of the letters and it said that “There are rumors of war in Europe, Let us pray it is only rumors”. But, sure enough it was more than rumors and the Great War was actually on the horizon. Major changes in our lives were on the way again!
At nine years old, my independent nature was coming out more and I was learning to keep some secrets to myself. A major secret I kept was that I had started smoking cigarettes. In order for my mother not to smell the cigarettes on my breath or on my clothes, I kept my distance from her and that put me in a lonely position, although I did not realize it at the time. (In fact, it was not until years later that I realized this was the reason I began being distant from my mother and daddy. Neither of them smoked and I don’t remember why I ever started smoking.) We did not have money to buy tobacco and I would pick up what we called the “shorts” that people would throw away; then, I would reroll the tobacco into cigarettes and that is what I smoked. Patsy was my best friend in the family and she started smoking too, so we would sneak away in the trees and smoke together. (I guess we concealed it pretty well for a while, but when I was fourteen years old my daddy heard me ask one of his friends for a cigarette and it really touched his heart to hear me ask for a cigarette. He took me aside after the man had left and said, “Sister, I heard you ask a grown man for a cigarette and it hurt my heart. I’ll tell you what I’ll do, I’ll buy you tobacco if you tell me what kind you want and when you run out you come tell me and I’ll buy you more, but please don’t ever let your mother know I’m buying you tobacco and please don’t ever let me see you smoke.” That sounded good to me, so from then on Daddy bought me Bugler tobacco when he had the money. I smoked until I was twenty one and then quit. I haven’t smoked since then and I am thankful to my Heavenly Father for helping me quit.)
As the hard times caused by the #GreatDepression bore down upon us, I began to lose my childhood innocence and to realize life was not always so great for our family in those days. Then, I became more aware of the struggles our family faced. My baby sister, Pansy, was a beautiful little blond baby girl with dark brown eyes. One day a lady asked my mother why she didn’t enter Pansy in a baby beauty contest that was going on at the time and I remember Mother saying, “Oh, she is too poor and would never win a contest like that.” When we left the woman’s house, I asked Mother why she said that Pansy was too poor. (She was being nursed on my mother’s breast milk and was a chubby little baby!) Then, Mother told me the word “poor” had two meanings; it could mean underweight or having no money, which is what she had meant when she was talking to the lady. That may have been the first time I realized we were “poor” people!
As I became more aware of the struggles our family faced I struggled more within myself, too. I was realizing I had a mind of my own and I didn’t have to think like my brother and my sisters and sometimes I was foolish in my independence. For instance, when I would get a piece of candy , I’d eat all of it right away and then watch Patsy as she ate hers slowly; sometimes she would keep it in her pocket and eat along on it all day. I would watch her and wish I’d saved mine like that - but the next time I would do the same thing again, because eating it fast was MY way!
Daddy gave Lula a “hoopie” about this time. A “hoopie” was a stripped down car, sort of like what the Clampets drove to CA. Daddy said Lula could drive it around but she would have to figure out how to get gas for it. She was about 12 years old and she and I were still best friends. So, we’d pretend we ran out of gas and a kind person would get a gallon or two of gas and put it in the “hoopie” and then we’d be on our way. I guess the gas gage didn’t work, because one time a man trying to help us said, “Little Ladies, I can’t even get any more gas in this car -your tank is full!” We were surprised and acted like we didn’t know the car was not out of gas and cheerfully went on our way!.
Seems like my ninth year went by fast, but it stands out in my memory as a good year between
being a child and the teenage years. On my child side, I spent hours playing with my friends on the beloved sidewalk, riding bicycles, and playing jacks. But I was in the process of leaving childhood behind and would follow the teenagers around as much as they would tolerate me being with them. I learned new words and, if the older kids would talk to me, I’d ask a hundred questions a day about what words and their secrets were all about. Those teenagers had so many secrets and, for the most part, they didn’t like to share them with a “little kid”, but I persisted and learned a lot when I was nine years old!
I claimed my first boyfriend, set up one night with a dead man and attended my first dance at age ten. That was quite a year of growing up!
We moved again that year. My daddy made a business deal to run a sawmill along with his brother In law, George Hickman. They drew up a long contract to seal the agreement and we moved to Batson Prairie and into a house with real windows and a porch on it. It was next to the mill Daddy would run. It was unpainted and we hardly had any furniture to go in it but it looked so good to me. It had four rooms and I felt like it was a mansion! Living there my daddy could come home and eat lunch with us and we could hear the steam engine pulling heavy when Daddy was pulling the lever that pushed the carriage forward with the big log, cutting it into nice boards. My daddy took pride in making beautiful lumber and he had great hopes when he got this opportunity to work again.
Mother was happy that she could enroll her children in school again. So, she put us children in the Batson School and we had to walk a long way from the house to catch the bus. Other children would join us, as we passed their houses, until we all got to the bus stop; by that time there were ten or more children in the group and many of them were our kin-folk. One of our cousins was just turning into a teen-ager and she really thought she was above us younger children and kind of snubbed us. I noticed she used lots of powder on her face – but she didn’t know how to put it on, so instead of blending it at her chin, her face powder came just to the line of her chin, making her neck noticeably darker than her face, which looked real silly. Being ten years old and not feeling any compassion toward this girl, I was glad she looked so funny! I’d look at her neck and think “She is not as pretty as she thinks she is. My mother could teach her to put on powder the correct way.” I was glad my mother was smarter than that snooty girl!
That year my mother and daddy gave a dance in our home. We had gone to dances at other people’s houses but this was the first time we had lived in a house so that we could host a dance. Mother and Daddy let the neighbors know and got in touch with the men who played music at the dances for free, since they were mostly neighbors too. Our dance was scheduled for a Saturday night. To get ready for the dance, we moved all the furniture out of our front room and sprinkled a little sand on the floor. (The sand would make it easier to slide our feet across the wooden floor when we danced.) When it was time for the dance, the musicians brought their fiddles and guitars, set up in one corner of the room, and began to play beautiful music. The house was full that night! People were laughing and having a good time, and Oh, all the dancing, with the men leading the women in either a two-step, Waltz or sometimes a Dosie Doe, like they do in square dancing. We children loved the dances because it meant that lots of children would be there for us to play with into the night; it was so much fun to catch fireflies in the semi darkness or play games like “Hide and Seek” at midnight. We could have spent endless hours playing like that! But sometimes I would go into the house and dance with my daddy. He would lead me in the two-step dance, which was two steps one way and then two steps the other way. It was fun the way he would do a little jump after two of the steps and I knew just when to jump like he did! (We danced together a lot of times like that over the years.)
It was the custom at these home dances that, at midnight, the woman of the house and some of the other women attending, would go into her kitchen and fix food for a midnight dinner for everyone. Sometimes, teenage boys or young men would go find a chicken house whose family was gone from home, get some chickens and bring them back for the women to cook and add to the midnight meal. Everyone laughed about the chickens because usually the chickens belonged to someone who was at the dance, so they felt safe raiding their chicken house. I remember Mother making biscuits and gravy for the midnight meal. My, how everyone enjoyed those biscuits and gravy!
That year I claimed my first “fellow.” His name was Harold Davis and he lived next door to us with his daddy and brother. He had no mother but I never questioned why he had only a daddy. They called his daddy Shack Davis and his brother was named JC Davis. Harold was thirteen years old and his brother was sixteen years old that year. (Several years later JC joined the Army and went off to war. He never came home alive and we were so sad about that.) But, I thought the sun rose and sat in Harold, although he never gave me a second look because he was “in love” with my older sister, who was about thirteen and closer to his age than I was. It broke my heart that he did not favor me instead, but I was still “in love” with Harold and never forgot him!.
By this time, my baby sister was the favorite child in the family, followed closely by my brother, Buddy. He was walking now, and, although he couldn’t run very well, my mother didn’t have to carry him around anymore. Lula and I were the younger girls who admired our big sister, Freda, because she was more grownup than us. Mother taught her that she needed to be an example for the younger children, so, she was pretty bossy because she wanted to be our leader. She loved to tell us how to comb our hair and wear our dresses, but, she knew a lot more than Patsy and I did and we learned to listen to her; we loved her and looked up to her because she was so smart.
That year Uncle Tom Wall moved from Houston to live near us in Batson Prairie; he was sick and knew he had a bad heart. We were glad he'd decided to move closer because Uncle Tom was a special person to us, even though we knew he was not really related to us. He was seventy-one when He died in the night after a long, hard rain. He died with his eyes and mouth open and, because it had been a few hours since he’d died, his eyes and mouth would not stay after we closed them. So, my folks had to figure out how to solve this problem. They decided to put coins on his eyes to keep them closed and propped a spoon under his chin, with the end of the handle resting on his chest, to keep his mouth closed until his body could adjust. Then, my daddy had to walk a long distance down a muddy road to buy him a casket. He brought the casket back to the house in a wagon and they put Uncle Tom's body into it. That night we all set up with the body, as was the custom of the day. (Some folks said, in teasing, that we set up with the body to keep anyone from stealing the money off his eyes, since money was so hard to come by during the days of the #GreatDepression ! ) As we kept watch through the night, the grown-ups told stories about dead people, which was also customary, and I could have sworn Uncle Tom was snoring in his casket!
Living in the house was nice as long as it lasted, which was only several months. Daddy loved his job running the sawmill and making the beautiful lumber, but he also had to sell the lumber. After a while, he discovered just how difficult selling the lumber was in the economy of the #GreatDepression. Like so many other businesses, he soon could not make the payroll that was necessary and had to shut down the sawmill.
Of course, Mother and Daddy knew they had to find another way to take care of our family. So, they hooked the trailer back on to our car and we headed back to where we could at least sell our wares to the public that still had jobs.
I was excited about going back to Houston - back to the place I knew best! Oh, how I loved it there, where so many of my friends lived and where we’d played many happy hours on my beloved sidewalk. However, the camp we moved to was a new one that didn’t have a sidewalk nearby and I was disappointed about that. It was there, in what we called the “Red Camp” that I turned eleven years old. We called it Red Camp because it seemed like all the women there had their hair dyed red!
The year I was eleven was kind of uneventful, I guess, because I don’t have much memory of that year. But - I do remember a couple of interesting things about it.
That was the year my sister, Lula, just older than I, ran away with another girl. She was big for her age and mature looking, but she was really only fourteen years old. They went to another town and ended up staying at something like the Salvation Army shelter, They stayed for about three days before they decided to come back home. Mother was so happy (and relieved I’m sure) when Lula came home. This was the sister I was really close to and we’d always played together a lot, but about this time in life she seemed to outgrow me and left me to be a little girl while she grew up in to a young woman. So, I was sad while she was gone and very happy when she came back, but I don’t think I understood the seriousness of the situation as it was.
Another thing I remember is that It snowed that year, which was very unusual for that part of the country,
Oh, it was so cold - but the snow was so fun
to play in!!! We had a small Coleman two burner stove that we heated our
trailer with. Mother set it on the table and we stood around it to get warm. We
continued to sell our wares from door to door but it was not as much fun when
it was so cold.
Back: Freda, Mother, Lula
Front: baby sister Pansy, Stevie (11 yrs old)
We had some interesting neighbors there in the “Red Camp”. One of them was a peddler who sold bananas on the streets. He would have them piled on his pickup and parked next to his trailer. At night my friend Mary and I would go out in the dark and take some bananas from his truck and eat them. We had to eat them really fast because Mother wouldn’t let us stay outside in the dark for very long or we would hear her whistle for us. He never did catch us getting his bananas. Many years later I was telling someone I had never stolen anything in my life and, I guess it was God, that reminded me of the bananas. I had never thought of it as stealing, but I had to admit then that I truly had stolen those bananas from our neighb
When I was twelve I was more aware of events taking place outside our immediate family – my brother and sisters, my mother and daddy. For instance, I took note of the sanitary improvements in our camp, the extended family dynamics that were occurring and the dramatic changes that could occur in a person’s life after getting saved at an old brush arbor. I also became very aware that my sisters were growing up and that the boys were becoming aware of their beauty.
We moved our trailer to the Litchford camp ground on Lyons Ave where there were only a few trailers and it was a little more private than the camps we had lived in before. A big change was that there we had restrooms! I liked that about it, even though they were out of doors and we had to share with the other neighbors. The restroom was a little building with a long bench against the back wall. The bench had two holes, so that two could go at the same time if there was the need. Beneath the holes were big five gallon buckets that caught the waste. A huge dump truck would come around once a week, pick up the big buckets from the toilets, dump the contents into the dump truck and haul it off. I turned up my nose when the truck came every week, but this was a step up from where we used to use the restroom. At this camp, we were deeper inside the Houston City Limits, so the city health codes requiring restrooms were in effect there, I guess.
Mama and Papa, our maternal grandparents, came to live in that same camp too. As usual, Momma Johnson was just as jolly as could be and she had many friends in this new neighborhood. A unique thing when she was living near us in this particular camp was that she had a little bantam chicken who laid one egg under Mama’s bed every day. Mama loved that little chicken and I thought it was pretty too. But, I noticed something that I hadn’t paid much attention to before when Momma and Papa had lived near us: I never seemed to be able to get close to her. On the other hand, I noticed she seemed to love my sister Freda very much and to favor her more than my other sisters and me. Maybe it was because Freda was the first little granddaughter by her only daughter at that time. Mama had seventeen children but only nine lived to be grown and most of them were boys! My mother was her first child, born when she was only thirteen years old. She never had another girl until Mother was married and had my sister Freda. Then, just a few months later, Mama finally had another girl whom she named Virgie. My mother was very good to her little sister, Virgie, and my Aunt Virgie enjoyed being around Freda and Lula, my older sisters, since there were only brothers at her house. So, my Aunt Virgie was at our house a lot – maybe more than at her own house - and my sister, Freda, had a special bond with our grandmother whom we called Mama.
Mama also had another baby boy around the same time my mother had me. We pretty well grew up playing together because we were the same age and enjoyed each other’s company. We both had red hair and we were both pretty well independent children. So, when I was twelve, Junior and I would walk to school and back home in the afternoon together and, as we walked home, we’d pick up cigarette butts along the roadside. Later, we would take the tobacco out of the wrapper and reroll the tobacco into cigarettes to smoke. One day we had found a big cigar and decided to chew it. So we both bit off a chew of the cigar tobacco and were enjoying chewing it when, suddenly, we saw a man in uniform walking toward us and we became very afraid – we just knew we were about to get caught by a policeman! I spit mine out but Junior swallowed what he had in his mouth. (I thought it would make me sick if I swallowed it, but it didn’t bother him at all!) Then, we hid behind some shrubs along the street. When the man passed by, we saw he was wearing a mailman’s uniform instead of a policeman’s uniform and on his shoulder he was carrying a bag of US mail! We didn’t have our cigar anymore – and just because of a plain old mailman!! Afterward, we laughed a lot about how afraid we were.
Junior liked to shine shoes and he had made himself a shoeshine box that held his polish and rags he used to shine the shoes. A man could put one foot on top of the box and Junior would put polish on the shoe and rub it all over the shoe and then take his shining rag and rub it all over the shoe to make the shoe shine really pretty. One day he told me if I went with him to shine shoes outside the bar on Main Street, he would use money he made to take us both to the movies. I remember standing outside the bar and men coming by and Junior asking them to let him shine their shoes but I can’t remember going to the show. A dime back then was hard to come by so he may not have found a man who would spend his dime for a shoeshine instead of a beer. We sure tried though.
My sisters didn’t have the same birth father that I had, but my daddy raised them as his own and they loved him very much. Then, in that year when I was twelve, my older sisters’ birth father decided to look them up and get acquainted with them. Lula was fourteen and Freda was almost sixteen and they had never met their birth father. It turned out he was a jolly, red-faced man that reminded me a little of Santa Clause. Lula had been only 18 months old when Daddy married my mother and, although everyone called her Britches, he started calling her Lula, which was my mother’s mother’s name. But, when this birth father came, he did not call her Lula; instead, he called her Patsy. He said he had named her that when she was a baby and always thought of her by that name. Lula liked the name Patsy better than the name Lula so she asked us to start calling her Patsy. We all liked it too, so, after that visit we called our sister Patsy and she seemed to blossom with that name. Freda (pronounced Fred – ‘a) was named after her birth father whose name was Fred, so he called her the same name we always had. (When she got older, she decided she wanted us to pronounce it differently, though. She had us start calling her Freda, pronounced Free-da) After meeting him, Patsy and Freda thought of their birth father as just a friend and never really accepted him as their father. But he had about five little girls our age by his wife he married after he was married to our mother and Patsy and Freda got to know them and kept in touch with those sisters from then on.
There always seemed to be an old brush arbor around with a preacher and great singing! It turned out that there was one close to the Litchford camp ground. In those #greatdepression days, evangelists didn’t have to deal with city ordinances and getting permits and they could use the vacant spaces in town for free! To make a brush arbor, they would make a frame out of boards, then take limbs off the trees and lay them on it for a roof. Then, they would hang lanterns up on the posts near the roof; it looked bright and exciting in the dark of night. People came, heard the gospel message, some of them got saved, and their lives were changed! At that time, the man we rented from had a son and daughter in law, whose name was Mildred, living in one of his rent houses. They had a little five year old daughter, Perselthie, who was a lovely child with beautiful red curls all over her head. Mildred decided to attend one of the brush arbor meetings and got saved! She wanted to share her faith with someone, so, she decided she would tell my grandma of her salvation, believing my grandma to be a saint and someone she could share her perplexing situation with. (But my grandma was not a saint and she sure couldn’t keep a secret!) Mildred told my grandma that she and Uncle Frank, as we called him, had never married but were just living together even though they had this beautiful little daughter. What religion my grandma had didn’t last long because that was just too good to not be told! It wasn’t long before even most of the children knew Mildred and Uncle Frank were not married. At that time it was very unacceptable to live together out of wedlock, so this made for really juicy gossip. I don’t know if they married to make things right, or not, but the lesson my twelve year old mind learned from that was to never trust anyone with my secrets - not even a saint!
Dad Litchford, as we called him, also had a son living in one of his rent houses and the son got a big crush on my sister, Patsy. I remember once when all of us were in the car and pulled up in front of a store. Dad Litchford’s son came out of the store with an ice cream cone in his hand and brought it to the car for Patsy. Patsy just laughed about a grown man being smitten by a fourteen year old girl, but she sure didn’t turn down the ice cream cone!
It was also in this year of being twelve that I learned the joy of reading books because we started our recycling business and stopped selling our wares door to door in the neighborhoods. Mother had discovered we could make just as much money gathering and selling newspapers and magazines to the big warehouse in downtown Houston and preferred it to the door to door sales business, I guess. Most families who could afford to took a daily newspaper to stay up with what was happening in their town, country and the rest of the world. Magazine subscriptions like Redbook and Reader’s Digest were also popular. Even during the #greatdepression some men kept their jobs and their families could afford such luxuries. So, we established our route and the ladies of the house would save the newspapers and magazines they were ready to discard for us to pick up on a regular basis.
We had a small outbuilding where we lived and, after we would run our route, we would make sure the newspapers and magazines we’d collected were all nicely tied together in bundles with heavy cord and store them there. I formed a real love for reading there in that little storage building. I would pile up some newspapers to make myself something like a chair and read for hours; that is where Mother often found me if she wanted me for anything. There were, however, some magazines my daddy didn’t want me to read, like True Love and Secrets…. and a few others. I knew better than to be caught reading those! But, other than that restriction, I was left pretty much alone to spend many happy hours reading. I always found the short story at the back of Redbook to be very entertaining and fun to read. I really enjoyed Readers Digest too. Those stories were about all kinds of everyday common people – sad, happy, successful, suffering, foolish and kind people and, by reading it, I learned a lot about how life affected other people and how other people handled the various situations they had to face. Interestingly, I never compared myself or my life with the people of the book and I never wished I was them instead of who I was. I was just happy being Stevie.
When we had accumulated a “load” of newspapers and magazines, we’d take them into downtown Houston and sell them to the warehouse. It was a huge building and it had a special smell that comes from newspapers; it was my special haven because of all the books and magazines. While mother and daddy sold our newspapers, I would be picking out books and magazines to take home with me; I guess no one cared because I was never told not to.
One time I had what I thought was a mighty fine idea - I thought I’d sell some of the best magazines to ladies who lived in the houses on the street behind where we lived since they weren’t on our pick up route! I felt confident because I knew how to do that kind of work, so I knocked on doors and when the lady of the house answered the door, I’d show them the beautiful magazines and tell them they were a nickel apiece. The ladies would ask me in and we would set down and she would look at every page of my magazines with great interest. I just knew she was going to buy one, but none of them did! It took a while for me to figure out that the ladies enjoyed the magazine and were happy that I’d shared it with them but they were not going to buy them from me. So I gave up on that project and decided it was enough to just enjoy reading them myself!
On our radios we began to hear, and in the papers we read, about a man named Hitler who was a leader in the country of Germany. Hitler thought Germans were the master race and began to lead his country in taking over other European countries. First they invaded and took over Austria, then Czechoslovakia. These countries weren’t strong enough to defend themselves against the powerful Germans. Britain, France, Australia, and New Zealand, realizing their countries were in imminent danger of being invaded too, decided to join together to fight against the Germans, who had, by then, teamed up with Italy and Japan. That is how World War II began.
America was sympathetic to the Allied (the Britain side) cause of defending their homeland from being taken over by Hitler, but, with memories of World War I still fresh, Americans had little stomach for sending their boys overseas to die. So, instead, America entered into a supportive role, lending, leasing and selling tanks, airplanes, and ships to the Allied side. Defense industries, mass producing these modes of military transport began to spring up in all the major cities like Houston. Thousands of people went to work in those companies.
Then, on December 7, 1941, when the Japanese bombed the American fleet in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, America officially joined the Allies and our young men began to join the military in great numbers.
The war boosted the economy and ended the #greatdepression in the United States. We, like other Americans, felt hopeful once again and were eager to go back to work and chase the American dream of peace and prosperity. During the years of the #greatdepression, we had been challenged, but learned to combat the challenges with resourcefulness and cooperation. We’d been without so many comforts of life but learned to be comforted by the simplicities of life – shelter, food, water, friends, family and a sidewalk to play on. In my view, we’d just lived one day at a time, and didn’t fret about the #greatdepression. Looking back, I’m sure my parents and my older sister probably had some grave feelings about the #greatdepression and its effects on our family and longed for better things. But, in the bliss of being a child, I knew nothing about fine homes and fancy cloths so I never longed for them. I was a happy little girl and I’d thought we had all the important things: we always had our precious Mother and Daddy and we kids had each other and I loved them all and knew they loved me too!
The days of living in the camps of Houston would soon be over for the Hatcher family and we would be moving back to the area of our hometown. You see, the need for lumber had increased with the establishing of the defense plants that were building ships. Sawmill work was what my Daddy knew best, so Daddy decided it was time to make a go of it again and we moved to Channelview TX where Daddy had a job lined up at the sawmill there. He would again have the prestigious job of being the sawyer. A little one room sawmill house had been built for the sawyer and his family. We moved our little trailer in behind it and that is where Patsy and Freda would live. Mother and Daddy, Pansy, Buddy and me lived in the little one room house – but not for long!Just after we’d gotten settled in, a man named Lon Oldham came along and convinced the lumber company owner that he and his sons could do better than my daddy cutting the lumber and running the mill. That’s when I met my future husband for the first time. He was one of those sons and was named Samuel David, but he always went by his initials so he was known as SD. But I was just a 13 year old kid and he was a man of 22 years, so he never paid me any attention at that time. When it was all settled, we had to move and the Oldhams got the job!
But lumber was in great demand and there were many other sawmills. So, Mother and we girls moved to Baytown where Freda and Patsy and my Aunt Virgie, who were 15 & 16 years old got jobs at a laundry. Daddy and Buddy, who was about 11 years old, went to Hull to look for work because there were no sawmills around Baytown. After a short time, Daddy rented us a house on Batson Prairie so our family could be reunited. The Prairie, where it was said that herds of wild mustang horses used to run free, was only about 4 miles from Daddy’s job at Mr Morgan’s sawmill in Hull, so it seemed a good place for us to live. I imagine Daddy might have felt a little like those wild Mustangs who’d enjoyed the Prairie before people began to populate the area and erect confining fences that prevented them from pursuing the life they loved –the medical needs of my little brother and the financial distress caused by the #greatdepression had confined him in Houston, away from the type work he longed to be doing for so long!
By that time, my sister Freda was a young lady of about 16 years and she did not want to leave her job at the laundry and her good friends she had made there in Baytown. So, she did not move with us when we moved from Baytown to the Prairie. Instead, she stayed there with a family of one of her friends.
During the time we lived on Batson Prairie, Patsy and Virgie fell in love with boys on the Prairie. They had a double wedding ceremony in that house we were renting, which had a kitchen and a great big living room. Patsy and Virgie bought brand new striped overalls to be married in!
I turned thirteen and officially became a teenager, but there was no birthday party to celebrate it and it was no big deal to me. I was getting interested in boys, though, and Lester Legget became my first real boyfriend.
As soon as he could, Daddy rented us a nice house uptown in Hull. It was a very pretty house with several bedrooms, a living room, a bathroom, a kitchen and a nice front porch. For the first time I had my own room and my own bed and curtains on the windows! Freda would come stay a few days with us sometimes when we lived there. By then she was dating Odell, who was quite a dude. He would come see her in his fancy car that had a musical horn. He’d start blowing that horn when he got near the rairoad tracks in Hull and ended up getting in trouble with the Hull police! They told him “Keep your highfalutin horn in Baytown!”
Finally, we were putting down roots. Our family was all settled in to a nice house, Daddy had a job he enjoyed, my baby sister was a joy to us all, and I could go to school a whole year without changing schools! I loved my teachers, my big chief tablet, the smell of the school, the pencils with no erasures, and the special assignments on pretty, white sheets of paper. Life was good!
However, a new chapter was unfolding for America as the dark shadow of war hovered over the world. My family, in small ways, would join this war effort to fight the enemies that dared to threaten our homeland, our way of life, our freedom to be who and what we wanted to be. After all, we knew how to survive and even flourish in tough times - we had survived the #greatdepression and Mother still held her back straight, wore her nylon hose and put her powder and blush on every day!