In our neighborhood there were only seven kids. Seven kids in an entire 3 block area, so we had a central bus stop, at the bottom of the hill, near the “main road” through our area. Once there, usually mom stayed, having driven me and the boys across the street. They stood near the road and watched for the bus, I sat in the warmth of the car, driving mother insane with my chatter and questions. I look back now and I know that she had to breathe a huge sigh of relief when she saw that bus every morning. For a while now, mom had been working the three to eleven shift at the hospital as a nursing aide. She saw me on to the bus in the morning, and then went home to do her thing. In the afternoon, my grandmother, my mom’s mother, picked me up and I went to her house; which coincidentally, was right next door to ours. I would hang out with grandma, snack on good food, and play until Daddy came home from work around 5 or so. He worked for TVA then, and it was a pretty long day for him as a heavy-equipment mechanic. After dinner, daddy and I would go home and do homework. Then it was time for television, relaxing, or playing in the yard till bed time. I was in bed and long asleep by the time my mom got home, but she never failed to come in and kiss me good night.
Mine was what some would describe as an idyllic childhood. My parents, married thirteen years by this time, never raised their voices to each other. They were totally dedicated to each other, and to me. Our lives centered on family-friendly events, sailing, fishing, swimming, traveling, and family visits. Ours was a close family, for the most part, made closer still by my father’s frequent visits to his parents, brothers, and sister. We also saw my mother’s sister and my cousins every holiday and for a while in the summer most years. It was family closeness that made the tragedy to come both easier to handle and at the same time harder than anything we’d ever faced, together or separately.
My childhood hero was my father. He was the ‘man with the answers’ to all my questions. While I was an exceptionally frustrating child, with my hyperactive energy and lack of concentration, my father had a lot of patience. Understand that looking back now; I know that even though my behavior and grades had to be a disappointment to my parents, they never, ever showed it. Yes, there were consequences for failing every class I took. I can remember being grounded from television for nearly two years as a child. He was strict and unerring in his goal – to make me a better person. I was punished according to the infraction, in a fair and impartial way, and loved in spite of the things I did wrong, and I knew it. My parents were loving disciplinarians, with lofty goals for their only daughter.
My mother’s parents lived right next door to us and pretty much had for as long as I could remember. They spent lots of time with me, and fed me some of the best food I’ve eaten in my life. I took it for granted that they, like my parents would always just be there.
My father’s parents lived across town and we spent every Sunday I can remember eating at Bea’s Restaurant. It’s a classically timeless place with a unique concept on buffet dining. Each round table seats about seven. A turntable center is loaded with fresh sourdough rolls and butter, cornbread, beans, fried chicken, barbeque pork, coleslaw, potato salad, and peach cobbler. Everyone serves themselves from the buffet trays that are never ever empty, the serving staff being so attentive and on the spot.
My dad’s three brothers were the source of endless entertainment and torture when I was young. They were seven and eight years older than me, and all boy. I was locked in cabinets, tied up with belts, picked on, and tormented. But I loved my uncles; they were very special to me when I was growing up. My aunt didn’t live in town, and I had no idea until I was older why. That’s another story, that’s not mine to tell. The time I did get to spend with her during vacations and family visits, she was awesome. I remember my first ever concert was attended with her not long before she moved away. She and her then boyfriend Bob took me to see the Charlie Daniels Band. It was an experience I’ll never forget.
My mother’s sister lived a state away, and visited as often as her busy career would allow. My cousins, both about ten years older than me, were just like my uncles, only I didn’t see them as often. My aunt had had a rough life, with several bad marriages. She met my uncle Don, and things were just right for her after that. My uncle was a computer engineer for a company called Allied Bendix, on a contract with NASA. Their job was designing the brains for the space shuttle program and naval ships. My aunt became his executive secretary, and because of that was able to travel the world; living in places like Quito, Ecuador and Korea. It was a great time in her life, and mine too as I got to travel vicariously through them, because there was always a new package in the mail, containing some exotic doll, or carved figurine, or something equally great for a kid.
Even my great-grandparents were nearby. My paternal grandfather’s parents both lived close by. Maurice, I know was an author, who wrote thousands of articles for a magazine called Fur, Fish, and Game. They were wonderfully sweet very old people.
My paternal grandmother’s mom was my favorite in the world besides my daddy. She was a sweet woman with a quiet loving spirit. She loved her family, her life, and her God. She was fully prepared to go home to Jesus, when he saw fit to have her there. It wasn’t until she reached the age of 105 that he called her home to him. I missed the funeral – and have yet to forget that faux pas.
We had good family friends too, folks that we barbequed with, that my parents went out to dinner with, that came and had dinner with us, and that were valuable parts of my childhood. My dad’s work buddy Cheney was a constant source of aggravation and amusement as he pulled countless pranks on my dad, mom, and even me. One memorable occasion included tying my shoelaces and bathing suit strings together into what seemed like a million little knots, that I had to untie before I could wear shoes or swim suit!
Across the street from us was a dear couple with kids of their own. Wanda and Buddy were probably my grandparent’s greatest friends.