So, as I stated before, my father was in the Navy and while he was at sea, we were roaming up and down the East Coast. We literally ran from Durham, North Carolina, to Newport, Rhode Island, Charleston, South Carolina, Baltimore, Maryland, Bainbridge, Maryland, and finally Norfolk, Virginia. I know very little about what went on in Durham or Newport, because I was much too young. see PHOTO 1 I do know that my mother said that once I was moving around and walking, I would run into the ice cold North Atlantic and play in the waves, along the coast of Rhode Island. see PHOTO 2 I don’t remember moving to Charleston, South Carolina. However, I do remember feeding the swans, strolling along the Battery with my mother and sister, ladies stopping to ask if my mother had given me a “Tony” permanent, and the street vendors from St. John’s Island. see PHOTO 3
Less than six days old.
Barb and Chris
Newport, Rhode Island
The Battery as Seen Today
Charleston, South Carolina
Interestingly, the Geechee were former African slaves who inhabited coastal islands from the St. John’s River in Florida to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Many of these people would stroll the streets of Charleston selling eggs, fruit, and fresh vegetables; they would callout their wares in their peculiar dialect. Lifelong residents of Charleston, South Carolina didn’t seem to have a problem understanding what they were selling; however, mama was from West Virginia and had no clue what they were saying. When she asked a local what the man was selling, I looked at her and said, “mama he’s selling fresh yard eggs just picked this morning!” While we lived in Charleston, Momma was working as a nurse at Roper Hospital. see PHOTOS 4 & 5 Later in life, she told me that when I started speaking and translating Geechee for her, she figured it was time to leave Charleston, South Carolina. Of course, the move was actually because my dad had orders to another duty station.
Roper Hospital Today
From Charleston, South Carolina we made the long move to Baltimore, Maryland. I reckon I was about four years old at the time. When we were in Baltimore, we lived on Freedom Way in some brick apartments that were pretty much like today’s public housing. I remember having terrible earaches and one night my parents rushed me to the doctor, where he proceeded to lance my eardrums before they could rupture. I think that was the start of some of my more pressing health issues that I have experienced throughout life. I also remember, after moving from Baltimore to Bainbridge’s base housing, I had to have my tonsils removed. Because of my blood type, with my father being on a ship, the U.S. Navy flew him from the Mediterranean. At the time, I was the youngest kid to have their tonsils removed by doctors at the base hospital.
While we were in Baltimore, before we moved to Bainbridge, my mother worked as a hospital nurse, so we had a nanny who stayed with me until I started preschool. Anyone who knows me will tell you … I am one of the least prejudicial people in the world. Therefore, what I’m about to say will sound very strange, but it was out of the mouth of a babe… One who did not know any better. Our nanny was a very large black woman who took very good care of us, especially me. Once again, ignorant of the issues, I called her Mammy. Having lived in basically non-integrated housing, this was very strange to me. I didn’t register this fact from living in South Carolina, but I did notice the difference when we were in Baltimore. I am guessing this was because I was much older. So, one day I said to her,” Mammy, if you keep your hands in Clorox® all day and it makes your palms white, why don’t you cover your whole body with it, and it’ll make you white?” I don’t know what possessed me but when I look back on it, all I can think is … child you were so goofy and ignorant!
Before we moved from Baltimore to Bainbridge, I started to attend pre-school, what we call 4-K these days. Every day, momma would pack me a lunch to take to school. Mostly, it was bologna and American cheese or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. She said that one day I pitched a fit because I wanted a “Patty Luber” sandwich. She had no clue what I was fussing about, and I could not tell her what was in this sandwich. She finally called my teacher and asked her if she knew what made up this particular sandwich. The teacher explained that Patty was a fellow student and every day she brought egg salad and lettuce sandwiches, on white bread, with the crust trimmed away. And that, my friends, was the start of my lifelong love of egg salad.
Every summer, while we lived in Bainbridge, my Granny Rollins would ride the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad from Parkersburg, West Virginia to Bainbridge. Her main goal was to take my sister and I off to wild, wonderful West Virginia. I make that sound like it wasn’t fun, but in reality, it was the best time in the world! That was when I got to spend hours and days with my Uncle Tom and Great Aunt Martha! I’ve already told you about both of these people who played a big part in my growing up. There will be more on them later. The last time Granny Rollins came to get us was when, trying to get pregnant with my brother, my mother had contracted hepatitis. see PHOTO 6 We stayed with granny and grandpa until well after my brother was born.
Once again in West Virginia, we would spend time at granny and grandpa’s house, at my Aunt Jean’s house on the other side of town, or at the lake with Great Aunt Martha. When we stayed with Granny Rollins, we would pick Damson plums, help grandpa hoe his garden, and granny would teach us how to can all the fruits and vegetables that were being harvested. Now, grandpa had about a half-acre of land beside his house. On that land, he had rows and rows of vegetables. He planted corn, beans, squash, tomatoes, cantaloupe, watermelon, and so many other vegetables! Every day he would go out and carefully hoe each row. He made sure every single weed was gone; nothing was going to grow in his vegetable patch but vegetables. That was just his vegetable patch. He never owned a gas-powered lawnmower, instead, he had an old, rotary, push lawnmower. Of course, his front yard was easy to cut, it wasn’t very big. My sister and I would take turns pushing that lawnmower over the front and side yards. We thought it was great fun! I guess grandpa felt like Tom Sawyer painting that whitewashed fence by getting everyone to do the work for him.Boy, did he have some beautiful flowers! There were old-fashioned cleomes, roses, echinacea, and big, white Shasta daisies all dancing in the wind and playing in the sunlight. There were some downsides, however, to being there with grandpa and grandma. Grandpa had a razor strop and grandma knew how to make you pick out your own plum switch. You just didn’t act up when you were at grandma’s house. But all in all, while staying with my grandparents in Parkersburg, West Virginia, I learned some very good life lessons.
(left to right) Chris, Barb, Jimmy and Mom
Great Aunt Martha near the slide
Barb (left) and Chris (right) at the lake
On Sundays, Granny R would get us out of bed, clean us up, and trundle us off to church. My grandmother went to church every Sunday! Her church was called the Evangelical United Brethren… While doing some genealogical research, I found that this denomination had broken off from a branch of the Mennonites, who had left Greene County, Pennsylvania and formed their own church. Mind you, this was the same church where my parents were married. I would sit in the congregation, look at the altar, and just visualize my parents from the pictures that I had seen of their wedding day. Even today, when I go back to West Virginia, as I sit in that church, I can still conjure up those same images. While the outside of the church has changed measurably, the sanctuary is still the same. By the way, this church has now integrated into the United Methodist Church.
Some weeks we would go to Lake Washington with my Great Aunt Martha. Those were some glorious times because I went fishing, explored the woods, and swam! Oh, how I loved to swim! see PHOTO 7 Aunt Martha’s lake house was built on the side of a hill; it was a two-story affair with a large basement underneath and the actual house sat above stairs. When you first arrived, you would walk across a large expanse of flat grass; oh, it was wonderful grass. It was the kind of grass you just wanted to lay down in -- thick, green, and smelling of springtime and summer. Next, you would trail up a slate path to her very large patio. As I remember, the patio had a knee wall around the outside edge and that was made totally of flat pieces of slate. Little did I realize that every snake in town liked to come lay on those nice flat walls! While I love nature, there’s one thing I cannot stand: Snakes! I don’t want to kill them; I just don’t want to be around them! Once you made it to the top of the patio, you could enter her front door. This place wasn’t very large. She lived alone and didn’t need a big house. To the right was a galley kitchen, the main room consisted of the dining and living area then, towards the back of the house, was her bedroom and a very small bathroom. We were not allowed to use the bathroom in the house. Oh no, we got to use the outhouse and said outhouse was up against the hill behind the patio… With the snakes! When my father and Uncle Joe built a bathroom and shower in the basement, we were finally allowed to use the indoor plumbing.
Since my thing wasn’t really reading, all the millions of Aunt Martha’s books (I exaggerate) didn’t really interest me. However, give me a fishing pole, a little gold safety pin, plus a couple of slices of baloney or bacon, and I was ready to fish. Aunt Martha’s pier was across the road from her house. She knew if I wasn’t in the house or on the patio, I was down on that pier trying to catch every bluegill swimming around the dock. Many mornings we would have my fresh caught fish for breakfast. Some afternoons Aunt Martha would walk us around to the beach and we would go swimming. Of course, that was after our brutal sink or swim swimming lessons. Digressing, I would point out that those swimming lessons were responsible for wiring my brain for reading.
Lake Washington was a closed community; they had special amenities at their little community beach. Attached to the shore, they had a large dock for sunbathing, right behind the dock was a bathhouse, and out away from the shore was a huge concrete dock with a gigantic metal slide. If you were lucky enough to get out to that area, you could climb the ladder to the top of the slide. Once you were at the top, however, there was an old sucker ring pump used to water down the slide. Newsflash! If you don’t pour water on a metal slide, you’ll lose an inch of skin! So, you would climb up there, pump like crazy on that handle, just so you could slip down that slide, land in the water, swim around, and repeat! see PHOTO 8
Some of the best days of my young life were spent at Lake Washington, with Aunt Martha and the many family reunions held at her house. These experiences were responsible for the purchase of our current lake house. It was neat to spend time with all my cousins. We would play croquet, swim off the dock, and eat mad quantities of watermelon -- spitting the seeds into the yard. In addition to my sister and brother, I had nine cousins: seven of them were guys and two were gals. Of course, since my mother was the oldest daughter in the family, my sister and I were the oldest grandchildren. So, yep, I got to corrupt all my cousins!
(left to right) Chris, Barbara, and Friend at Bainbridge
No family makes it through life without some form of tragedy; my mother’s family was no exception. First her older brother, as I said before, got polio when he was about 14. Her youngest brother, a twin, died of lung cancer at the age of 17. However, tragedy did not stop there. About the time I was 12 or 13, my Uncle Bob’s family was in a car accident near LaFollette, Tennessee. It was a rainy 4th of July; a drunk driver struck their car killing my aunt and her daughter. That was just about the last time I saw any of the boys from that branch of the family. Bobby, Tommy, Johnny, and Joey just disappeared from all family functions. My Uncle Bob moved three of the boys to Idaho with only Bobby staying behind in Tennessee. Yes, there’s more to the story and I’ll get to that a little on down the road.
I also got to spend lots of summers with my Uncle Tom. Yes, he’s the one who taught me to fish, shoot an air rifle, boat, and appreciate humanity. In my book, he was a great humanitarian; he fought against racism and segregation, spoke out for the environment, and gave a voice to Americans with disabilities. I guess you would say that he helped to influence my opinions on racial justice and equality. Between Uncle Tom and Aunt Martha, they both instilled in me the great appreciation for the environment and environmental causes.
I guess I have bird walked far enough off the beaten path and I need to get back to growing up Navy. Up until about the age of seven, we lived in Bainbridge, Maryland at a Navy training facility. Most of the time, we had great fun playing and doing the things children do; we would play in the woods, run along the creeks, go to the base outdoor movies, attend camp, and go to school. The things I remember most about that time were getting the bejesseus scared out of me by watching the Wizard of Oz at the base outdoor amphitheater, my brother being born, going to Camp Sandy Cove, and my mother teaching in the same school I was attending. see PHOTO 9, 10, 11, and 12
Chris (left), Barbara (second from left), the Summervilles, & the Baures in Bainbridge
That's me on the right!
Me in the middle of the second row