ARLENE – A WOMAN OF THE GREAT MIGRATION

CHAPTER III

ARLENE & OTIS

In 1935 Mama Carter allowed me to go home to live with my family.  I was in tenth grade and happy to finally go home. I missed my parents.  The next year when I entered 11th grade and adjusted to being home, I endured one of the greatest shocks of my life.  I awoke feeling “happy-go-lucky” without a care in the world and then I was told that Mom and Dad were separating.  It was a bomb shell exploding in my mostly happy, carefree life.  I tearfully asked Mama, “What are we going to do?  Where are we going to live?”  I was heartbroken and devastated.

My parents separated in July, 1936.  They sold the furniture and all the things they owned and divided the money.  Mama and I planned a move to Bluefield, West Virginia.  Mama worked in Bluefield before the separation and thought her experience would help her find a permanent job there.  She found us a studio apartment that we rented from Mrs. Hancock a widow who owned a nice brick house on the main street in the city.  The apartment house was in the rear of her home.

Mom and Mrs. Hancock wanted me to continue my education.  I was not attending school because of the planned move and did not want to go back.  I would have completed 11th grade.  I felt like my Mom could not support me alone doing domestic work.  I didn’t have time to think about what I really wanted to do with my life.

Unbeknownst to me, my future husband, Otis saw my picture on the mantel at Aunt Jean & Uncle Buddy’s home in Glen Alum, West Virginia.  He became very interested in me through that picture and wanted to meet me.  He was acquainted with my Aunt and Uncle through his church in Glen Alum, and volunteered to drive them to Ammonite, Va. where we lived. Mama Carter shared time living with my family and their family.  Jean and Buddy came to take Mama Carter back to their home to live for a while.  Mama Carter had been with us for several months.  I went to a school social and wasn’t home when they arrived, so Otis’ plan to meet me fell through.

When I arrived home later that night Mama asked me to guess who had been there?  She told me that Jean and Buddy came to pick up Mama Carter, and the young man who drove the car wanted to meet me.  She explained that she was happy I was not home because she did not like the idea of him intruding.  I was excited and wanted to know more about the young man who drove over 100 miles through the mountains to meet me.  She tried to play it down, but did tell me that he was tall and handsome.  Soon after his visit my parents separated.

After the separation, Mom and I were on our way to Bluefield, Va. to live.  I asked Mom if we could stop by Glen Alum to see Mama Carter.  I had an urge to see my grandmother because I feared that it could be a long time before I would have an opportunity to see her again.  Mama agreed and we went to Aunt Jean & Uncle Buddy’s house where Mama Carter was staying.  This was a fateful visit because I met Otis at their home some time in August, 1936.

When we arrived in Glen Alum Otis came over to my aunt’s house to meet me.  I will never forget when he drove up in a 1935, beige, Chevy.  He was a tall, handsome, young coal miner with a beautiful tan complexion that turned bronze during the summer sun and I was very impressed with him.  I thought he was so smart, and was captivated by him.  He took me out to the restaurant for ice cream.  The girl he dated happended to be out of town, so he was free of her, but her mother made herself known to me by coming to the restaurant while we were there.  However, Otis ignored her.  He told me he lived with his parents to help his Dad care for the family.  He was the 12th child of 15 children.  His parents were old and still had children and grandchildren to raise.  They lived in a large 8 room house on a hill in Glen Alum.  His two brothers, three sisters and several nieces and nephews lived together.

Before Mom and I left for Bluefield, Otis asked me to write to him soon and let him know when he could visit me.  We did not own telephones, so we corresponded by mail.  He came to visit me the next weekend and proposed to me during that visit.  He told me about his religious convictions, and that he had prayed for God to help him find a wife.  He was to become an ordained deacon at the Baptist chuch and felt that it was time for him to marry, if he was to remain true to his religious commitment.  He hadn’t found anyone that he truly loved.  Then he told me about seeing my picture on the mantle at my Aunt’s house and a voice telling him “that is your wife”.

We liked each other immediately, so when he asked if we could go on a date; I said I wanted to see him again.  I felt that God had sent him to me at a time when I did not know which way to turn.  On our first date he said ” Arlene, you are my wife”.  I was shocked, and said I have to think about this.  He said that he was serious and wanted to marry me.  He said, ” I know you have boyfriends, but I am serious and I am not taking any chance that you may marry someone else”.

After he left I told Mama that he asked to marry me, and she did not like it.  She did not want me to leave her.  Otis came to vist the next weekend and asked Mama if he could marry me and of course she said, “NO”.  I talked to her and asked her to think about it.  I told her that this man wants to marry me and take care of me.  I told her, “I don’t know how to work”, and I reminded her that she could not take care of me working as a part-time domestic.  Otis and I made plans for our wedding during each visit.  Otis came several weekends and each time I talked to Mama and wore her down.  She finally consented, but we had plan “B”, if she had not consented, we would elope.

He had similar problems on his end.  His family was against the marriage as well.  They told him that he did not know me well enough to propose.  They did not want to insult the Campbell family whose daughter he was dating.  His girlfriend and her parents were very close friends with Otis’ parents.  She called his parents, “Mom” and “Dad”.  Although, they were not formally engaged, the families felt they would eventually marry.

It is possible my life may have been different, if my parents had not separated.  I had planned to marry a local young man, Leonard at Rolf.  He was waiting for me to come of age.  He just happened to be out-of-town driving his employer when all this occurred.  There was no way to communicate since we did not have telephone service.

 When Leonard came home it was the eve of my marriage and he heard the news that I was engaged to Otis.  He came directly to my house and while I tried to explain to Leonard why I was planning to marry someone else, Otis drove up.  My young cousin, Charles Smith ran into the kitchen shouting your boyfriend is here.  Charles was a little boy then, but until the day he died, he would tease me about saving me from getting caught with Leonard in the kitchen.  He thought it was hilarious that Leonard had to leave out the back door.  I never saw Leonard again.  However, Leonard’s cousin came to the wedding and cried throughout the ceremony and asked me afterward, “How could you do this to Leonard?”

Otis and I planned a small wedding ceremony for November 23, 1936 at my grandmother’s house in Rolf.  We met in August and were married in November.  Otis asked if I wanted a big wedding, but I said, no.  I remembered a neighbor, Lucille who was jilted by a man from Mingo County.  She planned a huge wedding and the groom did not show up.  Ironically, Otis was from Mingo County and he was aquainted with the absent groom, so he understood why I wanted to keep the wedding a secret.  No one was invited until the wedding day when Uncle Wesley went out into the neighborhood inviting people to come.  I invited only family.

Otis came up the day before the wedding and spent the night at our house.  He slept in the bedroom with Isaac, who was one year older than Otis.  They remainded good friends after the wedding.  I remember Uncle Wesley, Ollis and Pauline Gamble (our witnesses), and a few family members and friends.We had a very small wedding.  Aunt Jean and Uncle Buddy were not there even though they were responsible for our meeting.

I wore a blue dress trimmed with grey and Otis wore a blue suit.  There were no photographs because Mama and I were in such disarray after moving to Bluefield that we could not find the camera.  When I married Otis I had known him for three months.  We met in August and married in November.  I liked him a lot, but I cannot say I was in love so quicky.  The love grew with time.  We stayed married until the day he died.  We were married over 70 years.

After the wedding ceremony I stayed at home with Mama Carter, and Otis went home that night.  He had to work the next day.  He planned for me to go back with him, but allowed me to stay because my grandmother asked if I could stay with her until my birthday.  I would turn 18 years old on my birthday in December.  She talked him into letting me stay.  My grandmother, Alice Carter ran my life all of her days.  She had a little story ready for Otis.  She told him that the marriage was so quick that she needed time to get use to the idea.  He relented and said I could stay, but he would pick me up on the day after my birthday and that I better be packed and ready to leave.  Otis was swamped by my family throughout our marriage.  They have always tried to tell us what to do.  We had a little private time together and then he left.  My grandmother sent my husband away without me.  I felt disappointed, but knew he would come back for me.

Before he left home to come to our wedding, he told his family, “I’m getting married”.  They did not believe him.  His Mother, Susie said, “Who would marry you?  No one wants to marry you.” and laughed.  He drove away that morning and planned to bring back his wife, so when he drove home after the wedding his younger sister, Lilian was watching out the window.  She wanted to see if he truly had married and was bringing home a bride.  When he came in alone, they asked him jokingly, “where is your wife?”  He replied, “I have one, although she is not with me.”  Susie told him to show her the marriage license, and he did.  They were astonished and speechless.

To be continued in Chapter IV

J. Keel

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