Note to all my relatives: This is a work of fiction very loosely based on events which may or may not have happened.
The morning of September 4, 1951 broke, as late summer mornings often do in Northern Alabama, with the sun rising through the ground fog. Fog filtered sunlight made the transition from night to day a lazy occurrence much in keeping with the pace of life in the Tennessee River Valley, and the South as a whole. The fog burned off as the sun rose above the trees along Spring Creek near our house.. It promised to be another sultry day. There was little rushing about. Hookworms and heat set the tempo in the pre air conditioned South at a languid largo.
I was up at first light. I threw my leg over the top rail of the crib, where I still slept despite having turned four that summer, and lowered myself to the floor. I shucked off my pajamas and threw them back in the crib, then pulled on blue shorts and a white tee shirt with blue and red stripes. I reached back through the crib bars and pulled out my brown teddy bear, George, tucked him under my arm and headed toward the kitchen. In my bare feet I padded down the long dark hall that connected the bedrooms to the kitchen, where I heard my parents talking. Daddy never lowered his voice in consideration of those who might still be sleeping. Every word he said was distinct; Mother’s voice only a murmur. Daddy was issuing his orders for the day.
“The movers should be back at 8:00. You need to have the children up and fed and the breakfast dishes washed and packed by then. Have Patty and Nancy the strip the beds and pack the bedding. It won’t be clean, but there’s no time to wash it. I want to get a couple hundred miles down the road today, maybe even to Cairo, even though we can’t leave until the movers do.”
Without comment Mother got up from the table. She took their plates and put them in the sink filled with steaming dishwater. When she turned, she saw me standing in the doorway.
“Good morning, Mary Sunshine. Get in your chair and have your breakfast while I go wake the others. Put your dish in the sink when you finish.” She headed down the hall to get my sisters and brother up.
“Can I ride in the moving van, Daddy? When are the men going to get here?”
While awaiting an answer, I clambered onto one of the gray vinyl dinette chairs at the table and poured some cereal into a bowl. Daddy poured the milk in for me. I put two spoons of sugar on when he wasn’t looking.
My father was a tall, slender man who wore his hair in a crew cut. His hair was all black except for a patch right in front about the size of a quarter that was completely white. When he looked up from the road map he was studying, his blue eyes met mine.
“They’ll be here soon. You’ll ride with us in the car. They have to pick up some other loads and won’t get to Idaho until days after we do. Now eat your breakfast like your mother said.”
My brother, Junior, was still buttoning his shirt as he joined us. He was skinny and had his dark hair in a crew cut like Daddy’s.
“Dad, why don’t you just put her in one of those big boxes and let them put her in the moving van?”
While I really wanted to ride to Idaho in the moving van, I had been teased enough by my brother to know that if he suggested that I do something, there was a problem with it. I didn’t understand how far it was to Idaho. I still periodically insisted that I was going to walk to my grandparent’s house in Florida.
“Leave her alone and eat your breakfast, Son. I want you to help me take the beds apart.”
“Yes sir, I’ll hurry.”
Daddy folded up his map and put it on top of the refrigerator with the other important papers he wanted to take in the car with us.
“I’m going to start with Mary’s crib. We’ll do your bed next,” Daddy said.
“Can I help? I can hold the screws when you take them out.” I jumped down from my chair and ran to the sink with the half eaten bowl of Cheerios. I wanted make sure nothing bad happened to my crib. Hearing that it was to be taken it apart was somehow scary. So far, all the talk of moving out West where the cowboys and Indians lived and everyone rode around on horses was exciting, but kind of like make believe.
“You can help me until your mother needs you for something.”
My father knew better than to send me outside to play. I had a habit of wandering off. There were many incidents involving me being found far from home by neighbors. When I was younger, mother often tied me to the clothesline in an effort to keep me at home. Sometimes the neighbor’s dog, Troubles, would come over and chew the rope through and off we would go. Everyone in the small government village, where only TVA workers lived, knew each other and knew where I belonged. My oldest sister, Patty, fretted about what would happen to me when we moved to a place peopled only by strangers. She said when Mother and Daddy bought our new house she would teach me the new address and my phone number. She told me it would be as easy as learning how to wink.
Patty and Nancy were now up. Patty had a dark blond pageboy and wore glasses. As we passed in the dim hallway, she winked at me. I squinted up one eye in what I thought was an excellent wink. She laughed and said, “Keep practicing. You’re getting better.”
“Happy, happy birthday,” I sang out. “Is Tommy coming over to say goodbye?”
“Yes, he’ll be over on his way to work.”
Patty’s eyes and nose started turning red again as tears formed. Today was Patty’s eighteenth birthday. She was getting what she said was the worst birthday present ever, our move to Pocatello, Idaho. Tommy was her fiancé. Like many couples, they got engaged during their senior year at Sheffield High. This fall, Tommy was headed for Naval Reserve training. Patty had been all set to enter the University Of Alabama School Of Nursing when Daddy told her she was going to Idaho with the family. I overhear Mother tell Mrs Cosby that it was a wonder she and Tommy hadn’t skipped over the nearby state line to Mississippi where the legal marriage age was 15.
Nancy came out of the bathroom, wrinkled her nose and mimicked me by mouthing “Happy Birthday” to Patty’s receding back. Our family had lots of birthdays close together. Nancy had just turned 12 in August. She still wore her reddish, blond hair in ringlets, or more accurately this morning, in rats’ nests. She was dressed in green shorts and a cropped top with little flowers on it.
“I’ve got a lot to do today. You’d better stay out of my way,” she hissed at me as we passed in the hall.
I stuck out my tongue at her and scooted into my parent’s bedroom where Daddy was already disassembling my crib using a screwdriver and crescent wrench.
“Good, here’s my helper. You hold these when I give them to you,” He dropped several pieces of cool, dark metal into my hand. “Screw the nuts onto the bolts so they don’t get lost.”
I was proud to have such an important job. Daddy said if I lost one, my crib wouldn’t stay together when we got to Idaho. I held them tightly until he was finished. He took them from me then counted them.
“Are they all here?”
“Yes sir. I was very careful.”
He put them in a little bag that he tied to the crib frame with strong jute string.
“When will the men be back to get the rest of our things?”
“In a little bit. If you promise to stay on the porch and not wander off, you can go sit on the front steps and watch for them. You come tell me as soon as they get here.”
While waiting for the moving van from my perch on the front steps, I saw Tommy’s car turn the corner and pull up in front of our house.
To be continued…