Arlene – chapter II


Mama worked as a domestic to help supplement our family income, so she had to leave our family to stay at the home of her employer and take care of their family.  One of Mama’s employers asked her to bring me to work with her so I could play with her daughter who was my age.  These were white professional people who did not allow their daughter to play with the nearby white children.  This was so ironic that when I was older,  I asked Mama about it and she surmised that her employer thought it was better for her daughter to play with me because she would never considered me her social equal.  She felt the white children weren’t good enough, so she did not want any association that might lead to true friendship.  This class-ism existed along with the racism in our community.  I went with Mama to work only once because she did not want me to be used.

When Mama came home on the weekends Henry would cook breakfast, pick her up in his arms to carry her into the kitchen and prepare her plate.  He treated her like a queen.  When I became older I realized that Mama was not as in love with her husband, as he was with her, or as I thought she should have been.  Henry wanted to have babies, but she had some trepidation.  Although I was his step-daughter, Henry treated me like his blood.  Mama appeared jealous of my affection and did not want to share me with Henry.  Sometimes, Henry would take me to the movies, so we did have some father/daughter time together, but Mama wanted all my affection.

Mama and I moved to Bluefield, West Virginia so she could work.  Around 1929 when I was eleven years old we moved back to live with Henry.  He drove to Bluefield to pick us up.  We look out and saw him and Mama said that Henry look so handsome in his green suit with shirt and tie to match.  Apparently Mama and Henry had been communicating without my knowledge.  Henry told Mama about the house he had waiting for us and took us home.  He had a new job in Ammonati, Virginia.  It was a nice coal mining village.  New houses on both sides of the street because it was a new coal mine.  Henry was a coal miner now to support us, although he continued his other enterprises.  The town had paved roads and cement sidewalks.  It was a nice place and Mama like living there.

Jim Jones was the owner of the coal mine company, Pocahontas Fuel Company.  In those days before a mine opened, housing was built for the workers near the mine.  Consequently the company owned everything and provided everything depriving the workers of the opportunity for entrepreneurship.  Henry rented a house, with two bedrooms, living room, dining room, kitchen and pantry.  Everything was on one floor.  When we got there Henry had furnished the house with plush furniture, a couch and two chairs, and a floor model radio in the living room.  The bedrooms were furnished with comfortable furniture as well.

I had a bedroom all my own and was afraid to sleep in the room alone.  So I slept on the living room couch, outside my parent’s bedroom door.  I was a nervous wreck.  I would get in bed with them anytime I felt afraid.  I would scream “I’m scared” and one of them would come to get me.  I became a brat who did not sleep in her own bed.  If someone died I would be scared for weeks.  I slept with them until I was 13.  At thirteen I decided I wanted to sleep in my room, and hopped out of their bed and never returned.  Now I think back on my behavior and know that I would not allow my child to sleep in my bed so often.  My parents allowed me to control their bedroom.I feel as though my immature behavior may have ruined their marriage.  When I married and had babies, my husband told me “no babies in the bed at night:.  I could play with the babies in our bed, but the babies had to sleep in their own beds.

While we lived in Ammonate I attended public schools 6th-8th grades.  I was active in the school drama department.  I played many lead parts in the plays.  I attended AME Methodist Episcopal Church and sang in the youth choir.  We attended church services every Sunday.  My parents were very loving and kind and provided me a nice home, clothes and spending money.  My parents worked hard together to insure we always had financial security.

My two best friends were Edna Hairston, my pastor’s step daughter, and Annie Presells.  We went to school socials and house parties where they played big band music on the radio.  We listened to Cab Callow, Earl Hines and others and danced to their music.  Two of the big bands, Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway came to our school.  The boys wanted to watch the musicians play their instruments and the girls wanted to dance.  We went to basketball games and had lots of fun being young.  Henry Hilton was my boyfriend.  He was tall, handsome, with a medium brown complexion.  I thought he was so good looking.  We went to movies and dances and I thought he would be my future husband.  We wanted to wait to come of age before getting serious, but little did I know who was coming into my life and would change it completely.

Again in ninth grade I went to stay with my grandmother at Roth and started school there that winter.  Grandmother had been very ill and needed someone to stay with her.  She was arthritic and her youngest daughter, Jean married Melvin (Buddy) Moore and moved to Glynn Alum, West Va.  Before I agreed to live with her I made her promise me that she would not die while I was there.  I had a great phobia of the dead.  I loved Mama Carter but she had to promise me.  She smiled and promised that she wold live a very long time.  I felt better about living with her and agreed to stay as long as she needed me.

In my mind I can see Mama Carter as I remember her, tall, slender, medium born complexion, middle aged woman with long dark hair.  she walked unsteadily and wasn’t able to do house work due to arthritis in her joints. Her hands were stiff and prevented her picking-up anything.  Her knees were stiff, causing much difficulty when she attempted to walk.  Over the years Mama Carter had given birth to six children: Harrison, Martha, Janie (my mother), Wesley, Jean and Isaac.  Her health had deteriorated, when I arrived to live with her, Wesley and Isaac.

Wesley was a fun uncle who taught me how to dance.  He was a really great dancer and loved to dance as much as I did.  He would put my feet on top of his and whirl me around the room.  He was so much fun and very patient with me.  I loved music so much that I would jump up from the dinner table and start dancing when one of my favorite songs played on the radio.  I confess I was pretty much allowed to do whatever I wanted to do while growing up.  However, I became a strong disciplinarian with my five children.

While living in Rolfe my friends and I walked to get the train to Norfork High School because that was the only means of transportation there.  There were two high schools in Norfolk, one for whites and one for blacks.  There were no high schools in Rolfe so we had to go to Norfork to school.  The whites rode in the white only cars and they had a car marked colored.  McDowell County sent checks for all the kids to take the train to the Norfork schools.  We were transported on the same track that transported the coal out of the mines.  Only a few people had motor cars in those days.  The only other transportation was a bus owned by Mr. Jeter a white man who allowed everyone to ride .  There was no discrimination on that bus.  If you paid your fare, you could sit in any seat available.  The bus was limited to mostly inside the coal mining area.  Our school transportation checks arrived the first of the month for the train rides for the month.  One month we decided to walk to school and keep the train fare to buy clothes.  There was no place for us to work and money was scarce due to the depression.  We went to school every day on time, but somehow the County caught on to us, and the next semester the County sent train tickets instead of checks.

As I grew older I had a serious boyfriend, Leonard Smith at Roth.  He was older and a chauffeur and handy man.  We had fun times together.  He worked for an African-American doctor who let him use the car.  On Sundays, we would go for long drives or a movie.  He planned to be my future husband.  I loved dating guys who liked to go places.  I had some great girlfriends which included my best girlfriends, Pauline Griffin, Dorothy Gamble and Frieda Satterfield.  We went to school together and had fun attending parties.

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