Monday, December 8, 2014


I don’t remember ever calling my father any title but “Daddy.” I felt close to him as a child growing up in the western part of the capital city. He is in all my early photos, Mother being the one behind the  bulky, black Kodak box. I recall it was Daddy who taught me how to ride a bike, Daddy who gave me driving lessons at age seventeen, Daddy who handed me money for a new vinyl record, or a Hit Parade song magazine. Daddy who took me to his work when he was on duty as a telegrapher nights. 

He and Mother were disciplinarians. He wielded the switch, which I had to bring in from the yard. His voice was as firm as the lashings on my legs. Not powerful for welts to rise; enough pressure to remember my misbehavior. A switch sat on top of the fridge through my teen years, though never used. A reminder I wasn’t too old.

 I recall Daddy’s fun times when I began to date. He inspected every guy who came for me, insisting on making “small talk” while I delayed leaving the bedroom. He checked out the young men’s handshake, hair and shoes. When a handshake was limp, the date got a minute of instruction plus a reminder that a firm handshake gives a good impression.  He didn’t embarrass the kid about his dusty shoes, or his unkempt hair,  but he let me know his preference. Daddy’s shoes sparkled as new. He never had much hair, but in those days a teen’s hair wasn’t to fall the face, but smoothed back with Brylcream. 

He loved to tell jokes he’d read or heard in Sunday School. They were corny to me. My problem was I was too serious, like Mother, to enjoy the fun he shared with us. His humor heightened when he beat me to the ringing telephone in the evenings. In a serious voice he said, “Hello, State Prison, Warden speaking.” I writhed with embarrassment, jerking the receiver before a hang-up. No pleading stopped his fun. I miss that now

Daddy kept himself in good form by exercising daily with bars and weights he bought back in the 1940s. A slim man standing no more than 5 feet 7 inches, the bit of hair he had in his youth disappeared by age 40. An industrious worker, he repainted the family dwelling every four years, maintained a neat lawn with a garden blooming with irises, and the car washed and waxed for his and Mother’s Sunday-go-to-church ride.  He cleaned the house interior religiously, leaving the kitchen and laundry duties to Mother. Our floors and furniture shined. He took pride in what he and Mother had acquired by steady work.  They married in 1931 during hard times. We were a family of four.  Daddy never got a son, but that didn’t seem to bother him. His four grandsons made up for that earlier loss.

Daddy loved to dress up for church. At work he wore grubby but clean clothes so his good clothes wouldn't be ruined.  However, at home he wore a dark green apron over a red plaid flannel shirt in winter, and a cotton short-sleeved shirt in summer. I recall he loved the 1950 leisure suits. He had several in several colors. When he dressed in one he was our Dandy Daddy. His younger sister, Carolyn, reminded me that her brother always loved dressing well and that attracted the women. Daddy in his pre-marriage days was quite a ladies' man.

He was a tinkerer. After retirement he taught himself to work on antique clocks. Just as he was cited a top telegrapher during WWII, he was known in the Jackson area as the best repairer of clocks. He knew their souls. He heard their hearts beat.

 One of our house rules was to leave a note on the living room carpet, so upon entering, whoever was home first could see it. Daddy’s notes were usually in rhyme and often in rural dialect. What few foreign words  he knew, he’d throw in here and there. An example of his humor was at the end of a note Mother wrote me: Vivian, change the sheets and wash the dishes. Get a quart of milk and a loaf of bread at the store before 5:00. Attached to the note were these words:

                                    And milk the cow while you’re at it. Pa

 That made me smile.  


The Dean of studies of my high school walked into typing class while we students were clacking away. Our fingers halted. “May I have your attention,” he hesitated and looked at our upturned faces.  In a commanding voice he announced ” Miss Chambers will no longer be your instructor. She has resigned her position.” He gave us time to soak in the news, then added, “Continue your assignments as usual,” and left.  That was spring, 1951. I was a senior.

When had Miss Chambers last been in class?  We girls chatted all the while, remembering how plain she appeared. Her red curly hair and freckled face was a lasting memory.  Later in the day the rumor spread: she had married Mr. Edwards, the barbering teacher. We marveled that our Miss “Missing”Chambers, had caught herself a husband!  

No one suspected anything. Each week the new assignments appeared on a side chalkboard. Typing was an independent study. Once we’d learned the keyboard (I still hear the cadence of “a s d f space j k l semi-colon) we completed assignments and handed them in. No speed test, as I recall. 

Mother urged my sister and me to be independent from early age. She often told us,“ When you get to high school, take typing. It’s the best course you’ll ever take and use forever.” That was one of the directions she gave us along with “Get a pilot’s license so you can travel the world” and “Don’t get married until you’ve traveled.”

Manual upright typewriters  - - usually Underwood or Royal - - came equipped with black cotton ribbon. We groaned when an error was made. That meant rubbing out the error with an eraser with as few smudges as possible.  Making copies in those days? A nightmare.  Between two sheets of white paper you placed a piece of thin carbon paper with the shiny side facing the second page. When an error occurred, groans were louder:  one to three erasures, depending on the number of carbons used. Each page corrected at one time. We were unaware at the time someone was busy inventing a correction fluid that would ease our woes.
That inventor was a single mother in 1951 who had typing erasure problems with her electric typewriter at her job. Tired of the smudges she made using the carbon ribbon, she became inspired after watching window painters eliminate flaws in their work. She devised a method and two years later with tempera paint she bottled Mistake Out, which with improvements was renamed in 1958 Liquid Paper.
Today in our using computers, all we have to do is “delete” and rewrite. However easy this is, I’m glad to have learned on a now-outdated typewriter. 

Friday, October 10, 2014


Fishing through the myriad of boxes and folders that contain family history, I’ve come upon several letters written to my parents. They bear the dates of 1937 and 1938. At that time my parents had been married less than ten years.

 Brown and faded, the letters are written in pencil, as pens were a luxury only afforded by the few. But the three-cent stamps and the post office stamp with date, time, and place are indelible.

 The first is from my grandmother who lived a simple life in South Mississippi with her husband, a store keeper. Grandfather Mitchell  had built a one-room store across the road from the house and corn mill. So much bartering went on in those days that money seemed to be used for extras, as  what Grandmother sent to her daughter, Annie, my mother. At the time my grandparents had two daughters living in the Jackson, Miss. area. Her name was Wilmouth; everyone called her Will.

The short note was written on lined paper, within a 5” x 8 tablet. The kind you bought in a country store. The paper has browned considerably with age. In the 1930’s  loose-leaf paper was a thing of dreams. The envelope is dated May, 1938; I doubt this envelope contained the letter at all, since the contents tell a different time:

  Dear Annie. Enclosed your will find a check for four dollars. You have it cashed an give will one dollar & Elsie (her daughter) one you keep one give viv a fifty cts Hubert fifty cts  [sig] this is your Christmas Presant. Buy any thing you all want.  Love, Dad and Mother.
Despite their offspring receiving high school and college educations, these humble folk never had the opportunity past the fourth grade. Just enough to write notes and add and subtract.

The second letter received by my parents was from a couple who had lived in the neighborhood and had moved out west. Only a portion of this letter is repeated, just to inform the reader of life in this California city in August, 1937. This time the letter is on unlined paper from a similar tablet, but also written in pencil.

Dear Mr. and Mrs. W: guess you folks think we’ve forgotten you, but really we’ve been so much on the go since leaving you all.  This is a beautiful country. Nothing like it anywhere.  We’ve been in this town two weeks, stayed a week in San Francisco. We are 48 miles from there now. This town is surrounded by mountains. With all kinds of orchids growing right up the sides of them (mountains). Four of us drove up Mount Hamilton after dinner and coming back we coasted 19 miles. The top of it is 4200 feet above sea  level.

Most of the work here is controlled by the union.  It’s a wonderful thing. Snooks (the wife) is making $18 a week and $1 to $1.25 in tips daily. It cost here $5 to join the union and $1.25 a month dues. My pay is $7 per hour for 8 hours, and I paid  $25 to join and  five dollars a day dues. Grocery stores and markets open at 9 a. m. and close promptly at 6 p.m. --Saturdays, too. We have a swell five room apart. for $35 a month.

This is the home of Edmund Lowe, Fatty Arbuckle, Jackie Cooper,  Janet Gaynor and a number of other stars. The population is about 80,000 people. Expenses are not much more than in Jackson. Jobs are not as plentiful as expected but when you do get on you get well paid.

Oh, I forgot to tell you about the desert. There is about 300 miles and hot as fire. We bought ice and dry ice too, and then almost died.

We are going to get us a large Kodak and make some pictures and send some to you. This is just like you see in the Wild West pictures. You sure can enjoy picture shows after you have seen this country. P. S. This town is pronounced San o-zay.

This letter must have set my parents to thinking about their future travels. By 1945 we family of four climbed into a packed Ford station wagon (with real wood panels on the sides, as Ford advertised) and take a similar trip to California following Route 66. 

When our daughter, who had lived west for a few years, moved to the Boston area, one of her many letters home reminisced  also about California in the 1980s.

California felt more open, long, flat stretches of land against mountains. There seemed to be little in between. I think, though, that it's probably different the more north you go. Outside of San Francisco the weather was hot, dry, windy -- more desert like. It was interesting to see the different flora --the pines, the eucalyptus, fruit trees, berry bushes, flowers, like the pictures in (the magazine) Arizona Highways, only up close, real life."

A note dated May 25, 1947 reminded me of my camping days. It was sent to Mother from the camp leaders before my sister and I departed for a summer session for the second time. It read:

 Janet, Susan and I are so happy Vivian and Glenda will be with us at Camp Montreat (NC) again. We can hardly wait for the time to arrive. I will meet the girls at the (train) station Tuesday, June l7 any time after 7 p.m. in Memphis. Te train leaves at 7:40 p.m. We are all thrilled over the special Pullman.
Camping high up in Montreat, NC was a special treat for my sister and me. Mother let us stay the entire two months to escape the hot summers of Mississippi. I was 15 years old and Sis was nine. We never forgot the beauty of the thick woods, steep mountain paths, and the rolling water over rocks near our camp.

Thursday, September 18, 2014


I’m young enough to still remember the patriotism and aid my family joined with other American citizens to support the home and the war fronts in the mid-1940’s. We saved tin cans, limited our sugar intake, made balls out of  foil gum wrappers. The most memorable effort in which our four-member family participated was saving our money to help others.
 Living in Jackson, Mississippi, during the 1940’s did not afford many luxuries. We owned no car, using the city bus or walking to and from work or school. Movies were inexpensive enough to afford a night out with friends a few times a month. However, everyone possessed a radio, the single most important way to hear the  progress of the war, general news or the President to deliver his “Fireside Chats.” There were fun shows like “Amos and Andy,” and “The Jack Benny Show“. After dishes were washed and dried and homework complete, we listened to the radio from 7 p.m. until 9 p.m.
One evening we heard an advertisement seeking Americans to send food packages to families in war-torn Europe. Sending in $25  the applicant  was supplied with the name and address of a European family with whom to correspond. The money sent to CARE, Inc., afterwards would be converted into a food package for the assigned family.

Before the evening was over, we had voted to save dimes from our change. My sister was only six years old and I thirteen. We wouldn’t be handling much money. But the excitement of nightly checking Daddy’s pockets and Mothers’ coin purse, with their permission, of course, made Sis and me as much a part of the savings effort as that of our parents’. 

My metal dime bank was cylindrical in shape. A narrow indention on one side  measured amount of money saved. The little bank sat on top of the dresser in our parents' bedroom. When the bank reached the top at five dollars, my sister and I took turns pouring the coins into a box. The savings began again. After we accumulated twenty-five dollars, which took from a month to six  weeks, Dad sent a money order to the CARE . Then we waited several weeks for a letter from France.

Time has erased the particulars of a French family. There were a mother and several children. Since I was the letter writer in our family, I wrote them about our lives, school, our friends, being careful not to offend this family under strife. I had to restrict my words to two sheets of onionskin paper, for keeping the postal services open for mail to and from soldiers was another voluntary aid to the war.

Madam Poret scribbled on a page shaped like an envelope laid out unglued. She folded the flaps and with a swipe of her tongue sealed the letter.  She wrote in her small, careful handwriting using a fountain pen of blue ink. In each letter she described the contents in the latest box, about her children, how they were growing. Never did she mention the war.

When the familiar white envelope decorated in red, white, and blue arrived from France, stamped with PAR AVION, we were eager to get it translated. Jackson was small then, and Mother, who worked downtown, inquired around about a translator. One man, the patriarch of a Greek family and owner of a downtown restaurant, volunteered to read our letters. Although he agreed to the job, he never seemed happy to see me. He instructed me to be in his restaurant on Capitol Street at exactly 3:45 p.m. My school rang its final bell at 3:15. I rushed the two blocks from school to the bus stop to catch Bus #4 to arrive at the precise time. 

Never did he see me more than once a month, but any customer enjoying his afternoon coffee would have sworn with Mr. Translator that I was in there every week. Without a hello or good afternoon, Mr. T took my letter, mentioned nothing about my sitting down. He remained behind the cash register to read.  Fretting, he skimmed the pages, murmuring that the letters were "poorly written”, and then spit out the translation like he‘d eaten hot peppers. That, combined with his heavy Greek-English accent made listening difficult. There was no time to jot notes, despite my having a pencil and pad ready. The strain of listening to the news between his mutterings trained me to memorize better. By the eighth letter I could spout the exact information. Until then, I reviewed the contents in my head while riding the bus home. It was important to relay the information at the evening meal.

There were probably fifteen letters in the two years of correspondence. Mother kept the letters tied with a ribbon on a bookshelf in the family den. Over a span of thirty years when I visited my parents, my eyes drifted to the family den to check on the bundle. Just that move gave me the satisfaction that they had not disappeared.  One day I asked permission to take them home. They needed to be in a safe place, I told to Mother. By that time I had studied two years of French and wanted desperately to renew their contents. 

My mother died in 2002. Cleaning out her house, I gathered up all her correspondence and boxes of albums full of snapshots of a life time. Inside one was a sepia photograph sent by Madam Poret. She had been a beautiful woman whose long brown hair swept up in a pompadour above her face. The photography studio stamped its name and address on the back. The printed copy was very small, as though part of a strip of prints. She looked away, perhaps at the photographer, with a slight smile.

In 1975 I made a trip to Europe with a group of students. The packet of letters had not been located before I left. I had the idea of going to the town where she lived and inquire about the family, if there was such an opportunity. That town is now long forgotten, but M. Poret and her family are not.

Saturday, August 23, 2014


Mother once told me at age eight her older brothers had thrown a snake at her feet after they killed the creature. That, despite it being dead, coiled around her ankles. From then on she never wanted to see a photograph or drawing of reptiles. Later we daughters had inspect all newspapers and magazines coming to the house and hide the reptile  photos with a sheet of paper or remove  the page. Sometimes we put a note on the cover of the magazine that said, “Don’t look on page 12”.

My first fright with a snake was in Zoology class at Hinds Jr. College. The prof held a snake of some sort –obviously not dangerous. Each student was asked to feel the snake’s back to get a sense of it not being “slimy.” I broke into a sweat and hid in a far corner. Then it was my turn. I got light-headed and with the support of my lab partner, helped me move two feet nearer. By then the prof realized I couldn't get any closer.

As a kid I enjoyed reading comic books, I refused to read the back cover of characters like The Green Lantern and Superman.  There, advertisements splashed across the full page, “Buy your own snake for $5 and we’ll send you your choice from the list below.” Even reading the list of available snakes wasn’t a girly thing. Today reptile farms still exist. Online you can purchase boa constrictors, tree pythons, milk snakes, corn snakes, racers, rat snakes, hog nose snakes. Costs run from $22.95 to hundreds of dollars.  Choose your color and type; match to your decor.  

In the tenth grade one of the early high school programs featured a worker from a Florida reptile farm.  He placed on stage five sacks, the kind used for potatoes. The audience recognized the heaviness of the wiggles at the bottoms of the bags. We jerked upright in our seats and screamed, stretching our necks to see as much as possible as he opened a sack and dropped a specimen  to the floor. It waved its tiny head around, then curled and lashed out at the stick the man was holding. “Now, look how the snake behaves as I walk near, how he senses where I am by raising its head?” He walks backward, away from the snake. “Notice the change when I back away, how he relaxes.” We thought the snakes were trained.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


  The west part of Jackson has changed in the seventy years I’ve been gone.  I have trouble finding Minerva Street.  It runs north and south off Capitol Street. I look for that hulky building that once housed the Coca-Cola plant in the mid 1940s. The building is there, on the corner, the adjoining railroad tracks making a slight protrusion here and there. I  turn left off Capitol Street and maneuver the torn street once full of stand-alone homes and small apartment homes. 

I recall the quiet evenings. This was an ideal street for us to live on. Sidewalks on both sides of the street allowing evening strolls after a hard day’s work.  With a short walk Daddy could be at work at the Postal Telegraph office on the other side of the viaduct separating North Jackson from West Jackson.

 I drive down  the street once, turn the car around and retrace the route. I stop at the spot where I lived for three happy years. There’s no house.  Only a parking lot full of vivid memories. Gone is the low wall that ran alongside between our house and the Sanantones.  I had looked for that wall to determine the location of my house. Most of the lots on the west side had been obliterated for additional parking.

My gaze falls across the street. I remember that house was different and didn’t belong on the street. Once I was invited inside to meet the elderly couple and their son. I can’t recall the reason I was there. They were sitting in the” parlor”, a space heater  inside a fireplace keeping them warm.  I gazed around to see the walls of a soft brown wood.  The house was a palace more than a home. With my “now” eyesight this same house sits with its roof caved inward from neglect. I cross the street and I see the brick sidewalk , still there, twenty giant steps long. The most elevated spot on the street.

 The beginning point of my bike lessons. The new shiny red bike was my August birthday gift.

Dad and I started at the bottom of the hill at the south end of the street . The push up the hill north to the house with its wide front porch and that brickwork on the sidewalk was difficult for skinny me, even with Daddy’s help. At the bricks I followed Daddy’s instruction. I scrambled onto the sea with Daddy holding onto the bike.  He pushed. Away I flew to the bottom of the incline, peddling fast and screaming with innocent joy. The bike remained upright with Daddy’s steady hand.  At the bottom of the hill I jumped off, turned the bike around and we repeated the push up the hill. 

 Despite the neighborhood disintegrating, the memory of bike lessons endures.  Those were special afternoons with my daddy. 

Monday, August 18, 2014


My parents were disciplinarians. Not tough, but firm. Their instrument of torture was the switch. A nice green limb from a young tree, heavy at one end and very slender and bendable at the other end which made a clean swipe.  If the switch broke after a few uses, a new one had to be picked. Daddy would order my sister or me to “go out and find a good switch.”  Sis and I learned soon how to find the best ones. We’d take time to find the “daddy” size. When we discovered a green limb, we’d call him to cut it for us with his trusty knife. We then cleaned it of leaves and tiny branches. Finding the best limb was sometimes worse than the “bite”.

Our back legs got the switches. Not the lower legs or the arms.  The very threat of its sting was enough of a reminder when we passed the refrigerator where the switch sat lounging across the top, a silent reminder of its power. Like obedient children, if there were no switch, we'd announce to Mother its absence. 

The earliest I remember having a switching was when I was five years old. A seven-year-old girl was playing with me one late afternoon.  In the course of play she announced she knew some nasty words. She told me about three and said, "I double-dog dare you to say them to the next person who walks by." Now if you are double-dog dared something, you have to carry out the dare. (I’ve forgotten those “nasty” words in the intervening years.) They seemed like foreign words at the time and I had to practice  the correct pronunciation. We watched until a lady walked towards her home that same evening.  I went up to her and said “$*&%r.” She stopped, asked me “Where do you live, you nasty little girl?” I pointed to the house behind me. She walked straight up to the door and knocked until my daddy came to the door. He was on his way to work for the evening. She explained the situation and demanded, “I think you should punish your daughter for such ill behavior.”

The next morning Daddy and Mother sat with me on our front porch. I had dreaded this talk.  “Where did you learn the words?” they demanded.  I replied, “Betty said she knew some and would teach me.”  I worked hard to hold back the tears trying to roll down my cheeks. “She dared me say them to the next person walking by.” With a stern look Daddy said, “You should have known those were not good words. You still will get a switching, but remember, you can’t talk like that anymore.” 

"But. Dad. I was double-dog dared . . ."  My parents just didn't understand; I still got the switching.
To this day I don’t swear, unless I'm mad as h---.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014


The purpose of "Seems Like Yesterday" is to write stories of my two families, parents and sister one, and my husband and children, two, as I experienced them. I began writing as soon as I retired from teaching in 1992.  As in most families, the kids, whether small or grown, don't want to hear "Momma's stories again." I wasn't much of a storyteller. I loved to read anything from the public library. I loved to read to Jim Scott and Janie as they lay in bed nights. It was then we were introduced to the stories by Dr. Seuss, Maurice Sendak,  A.A. Milne, Beatrix Potter, Lewis Carroll,and other great children's authors.

I live in Mississippi, land of storytellers.  I can't make up stories as well as many do, but I've tried to record experiences in the way I remember their happening, adding a bit of fluff here and here. I've been fortunate to have some of these published. The Big Novel sits in a white box in the study. It's the story of life in Jackson, Mississippi when I was in high school. There are no plans for publication, but the manuscript rests until one of you decide to plow through the 50,000 words.

Jim, Scott, and Janie, these stories are for you, my precious adult children. You first heard them in my loud, gravely voice. I hope this collection will encourage you to write your own stories for yourselves and for Henry.

Henry, you will have a treasure trove of stories to read when you are old enough to be curious about your paternal grandparents. These stories are for you with love from your Vivi.