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Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Orangeburg et. seq. thoughts

Once, as a very young boy, I spent as much of my time as my mother could make me spend outside in the yard.  I remember doing this in Orangeburg on Ellis Avenue Extension and, later, in Aiken, at 1912 George Street, in Crosland Park.  The rest here will (mostly) be about my experiences in Orangeburg.

While in Orangeburg, Mama and Daddy (that’s what I called ‘em) had two houses (first one, then the other.)  The first one, a small white house with a lot of glass in the front, was on a busy city street (the main down town street, I think) right next to a railroad track.  I’m not sure how long we were at that first house.  I remember a couple of things about that stay, though.  Right across the tracks was a small old wooden house with maybe two or three rooms.  Two ladies lived there—the younger was named Mary Sally and the elder was her mother.  They may or may not have had electricity. I definitely remember a kerosene lantern on top of a table in the middle of the main room.   I can’t say if there were any other houses around or not.  The two houses on either side of the tracks was all there was in my world at that time. While I didn’t go to her house often, Mary Sally came to our house a good bit, mainly to be my babysitter.  I’m sure we were there when I was five years old since that was when my brother Jimmy was born and Mary Sally spent a good bit of time with me while Daddy was at the hospital.  I think she even taught me how to scramble eggs. 

I still make them the way she did, and when I do, I call them “Eggs à la Mary Sally,” scrambled in the pan with bacon drippings, heavy on the pepper, salted to taste. 

Mary Sally was mid-range in the melanin department, something that wasn’t something that made any difference to me or my parents.  New Albany, Indiana, where both my parents grew up, apparently did not have many blacks and I was never taught any customs requiring that they be treated any differently than anybody else.  This wasn’t the case in Orangeburg in the 1950’s, though, and I suspect my dad got a quick course by his boss, Mr. Strange, at the meat-packing plant.  None of that filtered down to me, though, and Mary Sally was just Mary Sally with no thoughts of race (or even a knowledge of what race was or that it should make any difference) ever occurring.  She was sweet, and I loved her. 

We left that house before my kindergarten year and went to an all-white neighborhood.  I think it was before I started kindergarten.  I’m really not sure.  Also, there was the time we were in an old home, or an attached cottage, near the downtown area, on the same street, I think, as that first white house by the railroad tracks, where we stayed for a short time when we first arrived in Orangeburg.  I think the owners’ were named “Cable.”  They had a yard man named “Lawrence” who liked to fish.  One day shortly after we arrived, Lawrence brought some live fish (could be they were eels) to the house and put them in a large tin coated wash tub under one of the trees in the yard.  I remember him trying to teach me how to fish using a cane pole.  By “how to fish,” I mean how to catch some small pine branchlets using the string on the end of my pole to wrap around the branches, “catching” them.   I don’t remember if I was any good at it, but I did enjoy trying.  At the time I was having a hard time walking.  Everyone was afraid it was polio.  Turns out, it was probably just me sitting on my legs in our not so old Chevy as we drove from wherever, maybe New Albany, Indiana to Orangeburg to start dad’s job.  After a few days’ pampering, I was up and running.  Close call—luckily not a horse shoe thing, though.

But enough early Orangeburg thoughts:  Moving on to Ellis Avenue Extension (how I remember that I really can’t say,) we were really moving up in the world.  Our house was an old farm house, I think, two storied, sitting in the middle of a one-time pecan grove.  It was owned by the Metts.  Mr. Metts, a jeweler, and his wife lived in a new brick house behind the house we rented from them.  They had two children, Hugo and his sister Annis (both much older than I.)  Annis was old enough to babysit, which she did on occasion. 

My best friend, Frankie, lived one fence climb away to the side of our house.  That fence got climbed a lot.  Frankie was a native born Orangeburger, and he spoke the language well.  One day he taught me a new word—“nigger,” as in “my nigger maid said…” something or other.  I, of course, took the word with me and used it in front of my parents as if it were nothing special (which was exactly what it was—until I used it.)  For some reason my parents took offense at the word.  Which was unfortunate for me since Daddy’s taking offense meant Stevie got a spanking.  I also got the explanation that I was not to use that word, period.  The spanking was just for emphasis, a point well taken, at that. 

Interestingly enough, I had one race-relations experience while living in Orangeburg.  There was a big pecan orchard between our houses and the houses in the next subdivision, which was, apparently, a black subdivision.  One day, while playing in that orchard, another kid came walking up.  We got to know each other and had a good play time (I don’t remember what we were doing, but we both had fun and agreed to meet the next day.)    

A woman who lived in one of the houses next to the Metts’ house noticed us and called my mom.  Seems little black boys and little white boys did not play together in Orangeburg in the early 1950’s.  I was counseled that night.  Still, I went to meet my new friend the next day.  I told him we couldn’t play together.  He told me his parents had told him the same thing.  Getting to know people of another color was something I did not have the opportunity to do until I became an “Airman.”  What a shame.  Sometimes heritage sucks. 

Frankie had his good points and his not so good points.  His speech patterns (of yore) were definitely, for me, one of his not so good points.  One thing I liked about Frankie was the fact that he had a BB gun.  He showed me how to use it, and I killed my first bird.  Seems I had a bit of a bloodthirsty streak in me at that time of my life. (I suspect this is normal for we “hunter/gatherers.”)  I didn’t get to use his gun much after that.  Don’t know why.  Maybe Mama and Daddy had a talk with Mr. and Mrs. Farnum.

I had a couple of other friends who lived next to Frankie and next to the Metts.  Phillip was one of these boys’ names.  They had a bicycle that they taught me how to use.  After riding that bicycle around their back yard for an hour or so, I got pretty good at it.  I did find out running a bicycle headlong into a pecan tree was not a good idea, though. 

There were two houses in front of ours, between our house and the road, one on each side of our driveway (the extension?)  Wicky Staib was an older boy who lived in one of the houses.  Wicky took a shine to me and showed me his BB pistol.  Actually, it was not quite a BB pistol.  It shot small lead shot smaller than a BB.  Wicky had a trap with spinning things in it that he used for practice.  It was fun.

**Warning to parents—the next paragraph should, perhaps, be X-rated.

The Clarks lived in the house on the other side of the driveway.  Patty was a year or two older than I was.  Patty got some cowboy boots one year and liked wearing them.  One day I made her mad, apparently (I don’t remember too much about the “why” here, just the “what.”)  Patty kicked me with one of her cowboy boots.  I wish I hadn’t had to learn just what is meant by the term “kick him in the balls,” but I did.  Guess I learned that lesson well, though, since that was definitely the one and only time for me.  Guess, since then, I’ve always been a bit protective of that area of my physique, especially around gals wearing cowboy boots. 

On the other side of Wicky’s (away from the Clarks) was a house with a couple of nice people (no children, though.)  They knew my dad; I think the man, a veterinarian, knew him from work.  She was a pretty lady who, I guess, had a day job.  Their name was Eberhard, I think.  

But enough about the neighbors.  I remember once playing in a sandbox we had.  I was “driving” a little plastic jeep, kind of a precursor to today’s’ SUVs.  I had a sand road and a sand hill built.  So much for that memory—guess it says I was OK with playing alone. 

Halloween was big in those days.  I remember going around the neighborhood.  I don’t know if I had adult escorts (suspect I should have had.)  I knew about soaping screens, and once saw a house with darkened windows with soaped screens.  Can’t say I ever laid my hand on a piece of soap on Halloween, though.

There was a creek that ran down a property line a couple of houses down on Ellis Avenue.  We explored the creek and learned we could find “mud puppies” by turning over a few rocks.  I took a couple home once.  I think they stayed a few days in a bowl and then were returned to the creek. 

We kids liked playing in empty lots.  We played baseball in one lot (and we played a lot!)  One summer part of the lot had a lot of broom straw.  We got together and built a mound of the stuff and the guy who had found some matches lit it.  The fire spread quickly (something we had not anticipated.)  We all ran home.  The local fire department came quickly and took care of the problem.  The kid who had found some of his parents’ matches found out one reason to not take those matches again.  I think it was one of my most memorable spankings.  By the way—the “sand lot baseball” we played served me well when we moved to Aiken.  My first year in “little league” saw me hit eight homers.  I could slap the fool out of that ball, and the field did not have a little-league fence.  If the ball went between two outfielders, it was a race—mine for home plate, theirs for the ball. 

The next year we played in a newly constructed little league ballpark.  Try as I might, I just couldn’t loft the ball out of it. Towards the end of the season, I’d just about given up.  The pitcher threw a fast ball, and I took a gentle swing, meeting the ball perfectly.  That was my one and only homer that year.  I still have the ball.

Oh, well—so much for Orangeburg, almost.  Memories of the first three grades boil down to painting--tempra painting, that is.  Lillith (or Lilly?) was the best artist in my class.  She did a painting that filled up her sheet with color.  I liked it so much, my next painting was a good copy of hers, style-wise, that is.  She may not have appreciated my compliment, if that was what it was, but I liked it. 

One other thing I should mention was my experience with electricity.  My parents and I went to the Metts’ house one night for dinner.  I guess I should describe the fare, and I would if it weren’t for the electricity part (actually, I have no idea what they were serving.)  That electricity part had to do with a lamp cord and a razor blade.  Seems if a lamp cord is caressed by a razor blade in just the right way, a “pop” may be heard and the room lights would go out.  This was my first overt experience involving electricity.  I wonder if that may have been one reason I decided to learn something more about it when I enlisted in the Air Force.  Guess it was a valuable experience, having served 26 years as an electronics technician in the Air Force and Air National Guard—most of which was free of the “pop” I had heard that night at the Metts’ house.

That’s about it for this topic.  Funny how things come back to you when you take the time to try to remember.

SVG  05 August, 2015-08-05