Our first apartment without our daddy, was at the corner of Capitol Street and Prentiss Street in
West Jackson, Mississippi. A rambling two-story white house with a covered porch had two apartments downstairs and one upstairs. We moved into the upstairs, trudging up and down wooden steps for two years. We lived on a bus line, very important to us because we had no automobile. This was 1947. I was sixteen and my sister was ten. Years later we reflected on that time and realized we were “latch-key” kids long before the term was used.
We moved from an ugly, run-down apartment on the south side of Minerva Street, five blocks west of the train station on Capitol Street. Daddy and his mother and a sister or two filled the large rooms. Originally a duplex, the parents had to rent both sides. Mother said his family members, who moved in and out of our small living quarters from the time they married, always expected Mother to wash and iron their clothes, make the beds, and cook and clean the kitchen. One day, with preparations already made, Mother announced to Daddy, “Either move with us to another place or the girls and I will move to a separate apartment.” She’d found one on a bus stop that allowed us to go places nights and arrive home without walking far. I liked it because many of my friends lived on Prentiss Street. There on the opposite corner the city bus heading downtown stopped. This was my first year to ride the bus to Enochs. Because the buses ran frequently, if I missed one in the morning or in the afternoons, wait time was fifteen or thirty minutes depending on the time of day.
Our apartment had two bedrooms and one bath. A large living room and a spacious kitchen dominated one side of the apartment. The kitchen’s line of windows looked northwest above houses to the horizon. Once a firecracker warehouse caught fire and we all stood ooh-ing and ah-ing at the marvelous bursts of color on the other side of town.
Mother was very excited about our new living quarters. She found through the newspaper advertisements a piano she bought and had moved into our new home. Without stressing the fact, she hoped we’d take piano lessons, what she lacked as a young person. I was a reader, not a musician. I’d sit and tinkle the keys, or play chopsticks that everyone knew in those days.
To help defray costs of the apartment Mother rented the second larger bedroom. Two sisters who had recently moved to Jackson and gotten jobs out of high school answered and moved in within a few weeks of our own move. They were of a religious group that sang in church that didn’t allow music from instruments during their services. Perhaps that’s why we had music nights at home. They played hymns. not poplar music Glenda and I preferred, but that didn’t matter. It was music. We rejoiced when they brought home friends, as that called for a night of singing. Once they asked us to go to their church one Saturday night. We did and found it different from services at Calvary Baptist Church. Those girls became fast friends for the duration of their and our lives.
In the late 1940s everyone used one bathroom without a problem. Few homes to my knowledge had two .Mother and the lodgers worked up a plan whereas no one would step on the other going in or out. I never knew what our utility bills cost, but Mother never complained. Then the girls asked if their cousin could share their room. Mother loved these girls so she didn’t oppose another like them. A redheaded young lady who worked at Walgreens in downtown Jackson moved in. She loved music, too. We were like one happy family for two years.
In addition to music, Mother wanted to expose us to books. The piano was the first on her list, and second, was her subscription to Book-of-the-Month club. She never read but she faithfully chose her books to arrive every month. There was space in the living room for stacking the books in a corner. Mother said, “These aren’t yet the books you can read. One day they’ll be in a bookcase in a larger home and you’ll be older and free to read these.” We loved the day a book arrived. Magic floated around us. I was older so I could handle the scissors to open the box; Glenda got to pull out the book and get first look at the beautiful book cover. At her death we moved all those books, many still unread, to the library’s book sale.
I already was making weekly trips to the Jackson Public Library across from the New Capitol. So as Mother’s books stacked up, I kept busy reading my borrowed selections. I had to return checked -out books every week and was allowed only one at a time. Mother’s books moved whenever we moved, they were carefully packed and unpacked and packed again. I was in college when I read some of her copies. Her Readers’ Digest Condensed Books arrived the following year and I read and reread those books for over ten years.
Glenda didn’t understand why we’d moved. She didn’t progress in her school work well the first six weeks. In those days teachers made personal visits to speak with working parents. After she spoke to Mother at work, she was invited to dinner and a visit to see our home situation.
The teacher told us later she thought Glenda was having family problems and wanted to know the background. After one of Mother’s delicious meals and conversation, Glenda relaxed, saw a pleasant side to her teacher, and became a good student thereafter. I always thought she was confused about leaving Daddy. We accepted without question any of Mother’s decisions. Perhaps Mother should have sat us down and told us the bad situation she had with Daddy’s family.
Daddy made appearances some weekends. Unknown to him, we didn’t miss him or care he ever visited, but we made him feel welcomed. He never spent the night. Glenda and I took it for granted this situation, because Daddy was almost a stranger to us. With Mother we had fun and played board games. We helped her fold laundry and wash and dry dishes while she told us what happened at the stock market. Mother had her first real job at Merrill, Lynch, Pierce Fenner and Smith Stock Exchange. We shortened the last three names and called her business Merrill, Lynch. She was backstage manager and often came home late from work. We took care of feeding ourselves and cleaning up our space. Our bedroom had twin beds and Glenda and I slept on one bed while Mother had the other. Lucky we were not to be large girls. We often were in bed when she came home. We heard her fixing her a bite to eat before she took a bath and get a few hours rest.
At two or three o’clock in the morning she’d jump out of bed, dress and be out the door. In a moment the brakes of a bus stopping across the street let us know Mother was safely on the bus I asked Mother when she stayed with me many years later why she worked such odd hours. She revealed she was terrible with numbers and despite the adding machine, she couldn’t tally the day’s receipts. The New York office was kind and gave her to the next morning at 8:00 to send in her report.
Life in those times was safe. It was not unusual for Glenda and me to go alone to a movie after our homework on Friday nights and return home on the 11 o’clock bus. We met our friends at the show and sat together. Then Glenda and I would regroup and take the bus home.There was on every corner of Captiol Street a bus stop convenient for everyone. The bus home stopped one house away returning from town. In those days folks sat on their porches till late at night in summer. This was added safety.
Onc Saturday Daddy rode up in a red coupe to visit us. It was formerly a meat packing car. The brand name had been painted over. Glenda and I didn’t ask how he could buy a car and not help pay for our clothes. Instead we girls snuggled in the back and sat on tiny seats while Mother climbed in the front. Daddy treated us to a ride around West Jackson and stopped for ice cream. He never offered to buy us a hot dog or hamburger. Typical of Daddy to keep “his” money close. After a few weekends the car rides ended.
We lived on West Capitol for two years. I finished tenth grade and Glenda the fifth grade before Mother found a brand-new, spacious house in a new subdivision when the city streets extended further north in Jackson. This ended our apartment living forever.