I remember the depressing words Shakespeare put into Macbeth’s mouth, “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creep through this petty place from day to day, and all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death.” Thank God that I do not feel that way. My life has been full of wonder and joy, and I still look forward to my tomorrows. Of course, some of my yesterdays were filled with sorrow or pain, but they were more than counterbalanced by days of beauty and, most of all, by love.
I was literally bathed in love from the moment I was born in the summer of 1929. My widowed mother married my widower father in 1928, and I was the only child of this union. I had four half-brothers and three half-sisters. One brother and two sisters, my mother’s children, were still at home when I was a child. We resided in the small village of Pleasant Garden. Mother’s oldest son, my brother Branch, attended high school in the nearby town of Greensboro, North Carolina, and spent much time with his cousins there. He was a star athlete on a high school football team, and the Pleasant Garden school was much too small to field a squad. My father’s sons were older and already out on their own. The eldest, Clement, was married and had a family. Robert worked in the nearby town of High Point, North Carolina. Father’s daughter, my sister Sallie, was away in college.
When my mother brought me home from the hospital in early September 1929, I was literally overwhelmed with attention. My mother and father pampered me, of course, and then there were my brother Harold and sisters Florence and Roberta. Mom and my sisters cuddled me continuously. I can still remember some of it. Indeed, I was loved and petted so much that I truly doubt that my feet ever touched the ground during the first two years of my life. It is a wonder that I learned to walk.
One vivid memory of this time that helps illustrate this. Mom had a rocking chair in the living room, and every night she would rock me and sing a lullaby or two before putting me down to sleep. This went on until I was far past lullaby time. I began to grow nervous that one of the neighborhood children would see Mom rocking me. At that point, I distinctly remember saying to Mom one night, “Mom, I’m a big boy now. You don’t have to rock me to sleep anymore.” That was the end of it. I rather missed the rocking, of course, and I know Mom hated to give it up. I was the last of her babies. But life must go on.
I spent many wonderful hours in the company of my brother Harold. I can still see him riding me in the wheelbarrow as he went to work in the family garden, and I distinctly remember going with him to get a Christmas tree in the woods back of our home. Despite our age difference, he was patient and loving toward me beyond belief. I idolized him and wanted to be just like him when I grew up.
I loved my father also, but I was a bit in awe of him because of his age. He was 56 years old when I was born, more than old enough to be my grandfather. His own father was a Civil War veteran, and he himself had been born during Reconstruction. There was a large photograph of my father as a young man that hung in our hall, but I refused to believe that it was my father. I insisted that it was a photograph of my brother Robert, his second son, who looked very much like his father as a young man. Nevertheless, my father was always kind and generous toward me in every way. He was a physician, a general practitioner, and as I grew a bit older I would sometimes accompany him on a house visit. I remember sitting in the living room of one of those old farm houses while my father attended a patient in a bedroom. Over the fireplace was a flintlock rifle, and a powder horn was hanging from the mantle. What stories those old homes could tell.
Life seemed sweet to me in the little town of Pleasant Garden in the 1930s. These were the depression years, but I was not aware of it. To me, all seemed normal. Times were hard, but everyone appeared to get by. Certainly, few suffered for lack of food.
The Jordan home was located with some other houses on what we referred to as “the hill.” It was not a very accurate description of what might more accurately be described as a slight rise in the ground that would have been no great challenge to the climbing skills of a pregnant turtle. Anyway, our home was a very nice one. I cannot remember much about the interior layout, but I know it was comfortable. There are two images of the place that remain with me. One is that of the big dining room table around which the family gathered each evening for one of Mom’s delicious meals. The other is a mental picture of our small swimming pool in the back yard. I believe that my father had it constructed as a lily pond, but it was big enough for the small kids to swim in My friends and I would spend a lot of time in that pool on a hot summer day, and then we would stretch ourselves out in the sun to dry. In the afternoons and evenings, especially in summertime, all the nearby children would gather in front of one of the neighborhood homes and play games – hide and seek, prisoner’s base, capture the flag, snake in the gully, etc. What marvelous times we had!
I remember that in the spring of every year young girls would pick wild flowers and weave them together to make garlands. At the same time, my male friends and I would capture June Bugs and tie a bit of thread to their legs and have them fly around our heads. Sometimes on a summer night there would be taffy pulls. Also, there was storytelling and lots of conversation. There was no television, of course, but radio was big in those days. Dad would always keep up with national and world news by newspaper and radio. And there were the entertainment programs – radio theater, Amos and Andy, Fred Allen, Jack Benny, Lum and Abner, etc. We would often sit in the living room just before bedtime and listen to those programs.
Once in a while, my father would drive the family into Greensboro to see a movie. The better movie theaters were palatial palaces in those days. There would be an organist playing music as the people entered the theater and took their seats. Then, the curtains would open and we would be entertained with a cartoon, a newsreel, and previews of coming attractions. After that, the curtains would close again, only to be opened once more, with great fanfare, for the feature attraction. Needless to say, I was impressed. If memory serves me correctly, the first feature film I saw was Treasure Island with Wallace Berry and Jackie Cooper – made in 1934. I still remember watching Jackie Cooper, high on the ship’s mast, as an evil pirate climbed up toward him, a vicious grin on his face. At the last moment, Jackie fired his pistol and the evil man fell to his death. The movie audience erupted into spontaneous cheers.
Prohibition ended in the early 1930s, but it had no effect on our home. My father did not drink. Also, Mom was a Methodist teetotaler to the core, and her children followed in her footsteps during their teenage years. I believe that some of them may have occasionally consumed beer or wine later in their lives, but abstinence remained the norm. In the church going, middle class Southern society in which we moved there was very little social drinking.
Purchased games and toys were not much in evidence in the 1930s. Those were very hard times for many people, and money was not available for non-essentials. Children learned to create their own entertainment. They would take an empty thread spool, a matchstick, and a rubber band, and make a little vehicle capable of moving across a hardwood floor. There were also homemade slingshots, rubber-guns and other such inventions. My friends and I would often engage in wild flights of fantasy as we imagined flying in airplanes or sailing the high seas on some piratical adventure. When not playing with my friends, I would sometimes entertain myself for hours making elaborate structures with playing cards and wooden blocks. I also liked to draw pictures of airplanes and ships. I had no artistic talent whatsoever, but that did not keep me from trying. There were always things to do and fun to be had. What wonderful memories!
Images of our childhood, if they are pleasant, are often viewed through a rosy nostalgic mist that obscures all flaws. Nevertheless, to my mind’s eye these were magical, golden times, and I will treasure these beautiful reflections till the end of my days.
Pleasant Garden was a very pleasant place indeed.