Saturday, November 14, 2009

Memoirs of a Grandfather, Part II

My grandfather's memoirs continue with the account of his time in high school, his engagement to Lessye Martin, his search for steady employment, and how he came to travel 10,000 miles away from Alabama.

Time passed so swiftly and during the latter part of 1919 we moved to Hackneyville to a large well built house on a small farm. My oldest brother, Albert, would come down and apply his expert carpentry skills which made the house into a show place.

It was here I started high school in the large multi-room Hackneyville High School where the following 5 boys comprised the best basketball team anywhere around; Douglas Watson, Fon Hancock, Jute Reed, Leon Smith and myself. While at Hackneyville High I fell in love with a cute little brunette named Lessye Martin.

Finishing high school in 1922 posed quite a problem since financial conditions were not favorable to go to college, (which Lessye wanted to do). Also the fact that local employment was unavailable I decided to go to Florida, a decision that was prompted by Stacy Faircloth, a friend of Lessye’s sister, Edna. This being my first adventure on my own I soon learned that the next meal depended entirely on my ability to find employment. I worked at many different occupations in Winter Garden, Florida; store clerk, truck driver, packing and hauling oranges, and finally plumbing. It happened that Bill Kempson, owner of the Winter Garden Plumbing Co., needed a helper. Since I knew nothing about plumbing he sent me to plumbing school and as soon as I finished the course of instruction he turned the shop over to me and then spent full time on his insurance business. The business was a profitable one and in 1924 Bill offered to sell me the business for $3,000. The owner of another local business, George Walker offered to loan me the money. This obligation seemed too big for me, but to this day I wonder if that wasn’t one of the biggest mistakes I ever made. However, those are circumstances one can never be sure about.

When Bill turned the operation of the business over to me he opened a joint bank account. This worked fine until Bill, a compulsive gambler began to over-draw the bank account. A long distance call usually prompted him to deposit enough to cover outstanding checks. This happened so often that I got fed up explaining to my suppliers why the checks bounced. However, being torn between the purchase of the business or operating under these circumstances was more than I was willing to cope with and I was also a little homesick.

After all these years I am still trying to find some justifiable explanation for the action that I took at this turning point of my life. In retrospect I would surmise that several facts might have had a bearing on the direction I took. First, I was unable to find employment around my home town or in Birmingham, and second, thoughts of traveling to foreign lands as my brother Walter had done while he was in the Navy, were going around in my mind, so I would say it would be impossible to predict what any twenty year old might do under such circumstances.

It was about this time that a lady named Mrs. Teal who lived in Millerville, Alabama had gained a state-wide reputation for her fortune telling ability. I do know for a fact that Uncle Julian Watson, who had a pair of mules stolen, went to see Mrs. Teal and she so clearly described the location of the stolen mules that Uncle Julian had no difficulty locating them.

In pondering my situation it occurred to me that this Mrs. Teal might have the answer. So one Sunday afternoon Leon Smith, his girl friend, and Lessye and I drove to Millerville to see this famous fortune teller. When she told me I was about to take a long voyage and that Lessye and I would never be married I was so shocked because nothing could have been further from my mind at that time. It had been a foregone conclusion that Lessye just had to be a part of my future. It now seems unbelievable, but a few days later I went to Birmingham to visit my sister and look for work, and not finding work I became so distraught that I wound up at a U.S. Army recruiting station. I was informed that the farthest place from Alabama for which I could enlist was Fort Mills on the Island of Corregidor in the Philippine Islands, a place I had never heard of. So, on that 23rd day of June, 1924 I signed up for a three year hitch in the U.S. Army. I was 21 years old.

I dropped Lessye a note telling her what I had decided to do and she fired back a telegram saying, “If you love me please do not join." It was not only too late, but I think I had already decided that taking this road would at least solve my immediate problems.

So off to the Philippines I went, but first to Maxwell Field in Montgomery, Alabama where I was immunized from everything, and, as a result of all the shots, I was hospitalized on July 4th, 1924 with a temperature of 104 degrees. After I recuperated I went by train from Maxwell Field to New York City. In addition to looking over the big city, I also enjoyed the sights on Coney Island, after which I boarded the U.S. transport, ‘Thomas’, that carried us through the sweltering Panama Canal. Here we had a nice visit in Panama City then on to San Francisco for a couple of days. From San Francisco we were shipped off to Honolulu where I met a beautiful Hawaiian girl who clerked in the United Souvenir Store. After showing me the town she came dockside to see me off and placed a lei around my neck while the fellows on board ship looked on with envy. As the band played “Aloha” it seemed like the whole show was for my benefit.

As the old transport, ‘Thomas’, pulled out of Honolulu for the 7,000 mile journey to the Philippines, I took stock of my finances. Finding I had only $1.65, which was about all one could expect from a Buck Private’s salary of $21.00 per month especially after visiting New York City, Panama City, San Francisco, and Honolulu. So I decided to blow the works in a crap game. Winning my first roll I continued to double my bets until I broke the game which amounted to $64.00!

For many days we ploughed through the wide blue Pacific with nothing to look at but seagulls and flying fish. Finally after arriving for a short stop at the Port of Guam in the Mariana Group of Islands, we landed at Manila, the city known as the Pearl of the Orient where we tied up at Pier 1. We then transferred to a U.S. Army Mine Planter which carried us to Corregidor, the impregnable fortress at the mouth of Manila Bay. My final destination was the barracks in Battery “C” 59th Coast Artillery on Corregidor, which as the crow flies is about 10,000 miles from Alabama. (To be continued....)

1 comment:

Julygirl said...

Love the pictures, especially of the cotton field.