Write Again … The tender years

Published 10:16 pm Friday, September 11, 2020

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It was a small, modest rental house, on Harvey Street, between Main and Water streets.

Of course it didn’t have much in the way of amenities that most folks enjoy today, but it was fine, and far better than most of the houses occupied by black folks then, who were referred to as “colored.” A very sad commentary, that.

We lived there from very early in the ’40s (when my parents actually moved there, I don’t know) until 1946, when they bought a small house on 12th Street, between Market and Bonner. The street in front of our house was unpaved, of course. That came later to much of Washington. True.

My memories of living on Harvey Street are good ones, mostly. I knew that the war was raging in full force then, but somewhere else. Rationing affected us, some more than others, but the fuller comprehension of the indescribable horrors of those times overseas came to most people here after the carnage ended. May there never, ever, be such tribulation visited upon this earth again. Never. No one would survive it, with the technology of today.

Yet, my memories of those times, so dark for so many across the world — times of sacrifice and suffering for many on a scale never before experienced — are the good memories of a normal childhood. A child who was loved, protected and provided for in difficult times.

Two memories of those days are of neighborhood stores. Mrs. Whitley, who lived on the corner of Harvey and Water streets, had a little neighborhood store in her backyard. I remember one time when I went with my mother there, and there were some men sitting about the yard.

Who were they? It was explained to me later they were German POWs who were working at the lumber mill. They seemed friendly, just taking a lunch break.

On the opposite corner from the Whitley house was another little neighborhood store, owned by Katie Bowen. When my mother went there with me, my main interest was in getting a “Katie cake.” A real treat. She always gave me one.

Such little, seemingly insignificant childhood experiences remain in my memories even now.

Also I recall going with my mother atop the Bank of Washington once when it was her turn to spot and identify any aircraft that might fly over or nearby. There was a small free-standing enclosure that had silhouettes of various aircraft on the walls to aid in identification.

I remember when our next-door neighbors, Mrs. Diamond and Miss Nettie, were really alarmed when something they had never seen before appeared in the sky. What could it be? Someone, I guess, later explained it was contrails from high altitude planes. God writing in the sky?

There are other memories of those times — not a lot — including one of Preston and me eating my birthday cake. Which birthday? I’m not sure, but a photograph of us would suggest perhaps my third or fourth milestone. (A reminder that all photos should have dates, if, that is, anyone takes photos other than those stored in their phone’s memory. Such technology isn’t very much a part of my world.)

A very vivid childhood memory I have came while visiting my grandparents at their farm in Edgecombe County. I was playing in the yard when my grandmother came down the outside steps: “Why are you crying, Grandmama?” I asked.

“President Roosevelt died, son.”

It was April 12, 1945.

The remembrances I have shared here are from a very long time ago, as we earthlings measure time, and of little or no interest or importance to anyone other than myself. This I understand.

We all, however, have those “little” memories that are at the very least a part of who we are, or who we were.

Don’t we?

APROPOS — “Memory is the diary that we all carry about with us.”

— Oscar Wilde