(Editor’s Note: Last year I wrote "When I Was Eight," a short story for my youngest son on the occasion of his eighth birthday. I’ve decided to post that story here, one chapter per day, for three days. Keep in mind the story was written for an eight year old…so the tone is quite simple!)
Chapter One: California to Georgia
There were four people in my family: my Mom, named Marie, my sister Norma, who is six years younger than me, my Dad, and I. My Mom was a housewife who also did office work from time to time, which was pretty unusual in the early 1950s. Most mothers didn’t work in those days; they usually stayed home and took care of the family. My father, whose name was also Buck, was in the Air Force. He was a “career” Air Force man, which means he was in the Air Force for over 20 years…just like I was. My Dad worked in the Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations, or OSI, which is sorta like the FBI, only military. In the late summer of 1952 my family was living in Sacramento, California. Dad was stationed at McClellan Air Force Base and the Air Force reassigned him to London, England. Dad was a captain at that time, just like your brother Buck is now. My Dad and Mom decided that Dad would go to England alone and find a house for us to live in, and then my Mom, my sister and I would join him after the house was set up for us.
My Dad left for England from California. My Mom, Norma, and I stayed behind and packed up all the furniture and stuff for the move to England. After the moving company picked up our stuff, my Mom packed Norma and I into our 1952 Hudson (that was the type of car we had) and we left for Atlanta, Georgia, where my grandmother lived. We were going to stay in Atlanta until Dad got our house in England ready for us. It took us about ten days to drive from California to Georgia. Back in those days there weren’t any fast, four-lane interstate highways…all the roads were two-lanes, for the most part. It took a lot longer to get from one place to another in those days! We had a pretty good trip, except for a breakdown in Salome, Arizona. Something went wrong with the car and it took three days to get it fixed. Salome was, and probably still is, a very, very small town and there wasn’t a Hudson dealer in that town. The mechanic that fixed our car had to order parts from either Tucson or Phoenix, I don’t remember which. We spent three days in a motel room waiting for the car to be fixed. I remember my Mom was pretty upset about the car breaking down and stranding us in this small town in the desert. The rest of the trip was uneventful, and we arrived in Atlanta safely. The trip was pretty exciting for a seven-year-old boy, and I had a lot of fun.
A 1952 Hudson. Ours was Green
My grandmother lived in a brick two-bedroom house in northern Atlanta, halfway between downtown Atlanta and a town called Buckhead. My great-grandmother lived with her, and they had lived in that same house for over 40 years…in fact, the house they lived in was the house my Mom grew up in. They lived in a nice neighborhood. There were big oak trees, crabapple trees, willow trees, and the house was about two hundred yards from Peachtree Creek, the site of a famous Civil War battle. I called my grandmother Mana (pronounced “Mah-nah”) and my great-grandmother Granny. Their real names were Estelle and Effie…good southern names! I always thought of them as being very old, but my grandmother was about the same age I am now, maybe younger. Mana worked at a company called Prior Tire in downtown Atlanta, and Granny took care of their house. Neither Mana nor Granny drove, and they didn’t own a car…they took taxis or the trolley to wherever they had to go.
Mana's House, 2185 Willow Avenue
So. We settled in to wait for Dad to write and tell us he had found a house and we could leave for England. The wait was longer than we expected, and I had to begin the third grade in Atlanta. My mom registered me at E. Rivers elementary school, about a 15 minute walk from Mana’s house. I don’t know what the “E” in E. Rivers stands for…I’m guessing that the E is the initial of some semi-famous person’s name, maybe Egbert, maybe Edward, or maybe Elizabeth. But it was a nice school. I don’t remember the names of my teacher or any of my classmates. I went to school there from September until early November of 1952. I walked to school every morning with two boys from the neighborhood, one was named Jamie (Something) and the other boy’s name was Bunky Pennell. Bunky was my best friend, and his name was actually Steven. People in the South have a strange habit of giving their kids nicknames, often silly sounding nicknames. But, those names didn’t seem silly at the time, ya know! I often wonder if Bunky went through his whole life being called Bunky, or if he changed his name to Steven once he grew up. I’ve kept MY nickname all through life. As a kid I was called Bucky, and as an adult I’ve always been known as Buck, never Norman. But I think Buck is a lot cooler than Norman, and certainly better than Bunky, don’t you think?
I suppose my stay in Atlanta was perfectly normal for a seven-year-old boy. I went to school, I rode my bike, I played with the kids in the neighborhood. I had a pretty cool bike, a Schwinn Roadmaster. It was red, with big white sidewall tires. It also had a small “tank,” sorta like a motorcycle tank, with two small headlights at the front of the tank. The headlights were battery powered and were pretty useless except for decoration purposes. But it looked cool! I really liked that bike, but it stayed behind in Mana’s garage when we went to England. Although I didn’t know it at the time, my Dad and Mom would replace that Schwinn with something better…but more on that, later.
An Old Schwinn, Similar to Mine
I had one exciting experience while in Atlanta, though. I took my first trip on an airplane. My grandfather and my grandmother were separated, and my grandfather lived in Tennessee. My grandfather bought airline tickets for my mom, Norma and I and we flew to see him in Tennessee. You almost never forget the first time you do something, and you certainly NEVER forget your first flight. We took an Eastern Airlines DC-6 (or maybe it was a DC-7…they were very similar) from Atlanta to Chattanooga, a flight of about an hour or so. I was so excited! Flying in those days was a BIG deal because airline travel was still relatively new, and most people who traveled either drove their cars, took the train, or took a bus. Flying was expensive and not many people did it.
An Eastern Air Lines Douglas DC-7
We stayed in Chattanooga for a short while, I don’t remember exactly how long. I didn’t know my grandfather all that well, and that trip to Tennessee was the last time I saw him. He died while we were stationed in Europe. I think I only saw my grandfather two or three times in my whole life. The grandfather I’m speaking of here was my Mom’s father. I never met or knew my father’s father.
Just like 2004, 1952 was an election year and the country was caught up in the campaign. The presidential campaign of 1952 is the first one I remember. Dwight Eisenhower, a very famous World War II general, was the Republican candidate for president and Adlai Stevenson was the Democratic candidate. I remember arguing with my grandmother about why Ike was better than Stevenson…after all, Ike was a Five-Star general and a war hero! What had Stevenson done that made him better than Ike? My Mom, Mana, and Granny all helped me understand what the election was all about, but if I remember correctly, I thought it was just a big game. Each political party (we have two major parties: the Republicans and the Democrats) has a “convention” during election years. People from all over the country gather in a city for a week and discuss the election, listen to speeches, and decide how they are going to run their campaign. The Republicans had their convention in New York City this year; the Democrats had theirs in Boston. In 1952, both parties had their conventions in Chicago. I remember all the adults in the house watched the two parties’ conventions on television that year, and they all thought it was a Big Deal. The one thing I remember about the conventions in 1952 was that they were on TV EVERY night for a week, and I didn’t get to watch my favorite TV shows. I didn’t like THAT!
One final thing about the election. I don’t know if you saw them, but people wear buttons during the election campaign with the name of their candidate on the button. It’s a way of letting people know who you support, and it’s also a way to get conversations started about politics. Here’s a picture of the button I had in 1952, and the button I had this year!
Next: On to England.
Part III is here.