Tuesday, January 21, 2020

I Remember

By Dianne Campbell Johnson

Note: Our guest blogger is Dianne Campbell Johnson, my mother who passed away in 2011. She is in the photograph above seated on the right. The others, from left, are her brother, Harry Campbell Jr.; her mother Kate Irene Russell Campbell McCree; and standing, her sister, Geraldine Campbell Marshall. My mother began working on our family history as far back as 1970. I know this because I inherited all of her notes, and I was surprised to learn that way back then, she was digging up records and asking questions. I found this essay in her papers. - MNJ

I remember my shoes being tied by my Uncle Jim while standing on the marble shelf on the back porch on a Sunday morning while the church bells rang.

Pie school.

Rounding the corner just as Uncle Jim was throwing out his wash pan of water.

Being told the “chain gang” men would get hold of you and do bad things to you.

Saturday baths in the #2 tub beside the woodstove.

Having to eat after my step-grandmother fed my grandfather.

Charming “doodlebugs” out of their holes with branch stems.

Riding in my grandfather’s car, standing between persons in the front seat looking out the front window.

After I got so tall, I had to ride the middle front seat on my knees facing back looking at the back seat riders. Car rides were mainly to church. Cedar Grove on Sundays and rides on Sunday evenings.

Grandfather was a father figure. He was a loving grandfather. My father died when I was 18 months old. His name was Harry Alex Campbell.

We lived with my grandparents from my earliest memories.

I could lie in bed and hear the trucks on Highway 29 which was miles away.

We didn’t have an indoor toilet until I was 5 years old. The night “pot” or “chamber” was our bathroom placed in the bedroom at night and removed in the morning.

Mama cooked on a wood stove that was green and white with lids that lifted so wood and paper could be put in to make a fire to cook by.

Lights were turned on by a chain that hung from the middle of the room attached to the lightbulb holder. All electrical appliances ran from this outlet in the center of the room ceiling. Drop cords get their name from this.

Lace doilies adorned the furniture, armchairs, and backs. Embroidered pillowcases covered all pillows. Nothing was Perma press then. Grandmother boiled water and poured it into a pot outside with a fire around it and washed clothes.

Easter meant new clothes all the way to the skin. The Easter bunny left eggs, and our parents made it so real.

There was usually ice water for supper but it was a pleasant surprise to get fresh-squeezed lemonade instead.

Special occasions meant fresh green coconut cakes and homemade icing made of egg whites. My favorite kitchenware was a grayish-blue enamel pan that my mama served oatmeal in.

The serving table always had a linen cloth on it.

The house was well furnished with a blue velveteen living room set with a sofa and two chairs. A tiger-skinned rug with its head still attached once spread across the room in front of the big piano. The old mantle clock would chime away the time.

I remember the opossum tree in the Christmas parade and the dogs barking underneath. White men had a float with a tree and real possums with dogs jumping up trying to catch them. That’s the only time I got to see a possum.

I remember my granddaddy’s chicken yard. We weren’t allowed in there. A rooster jumped on me once and had me pinned to the ground. Everyone ran out the house and my granddaddy chopped off his head.

We made soup in a lye pot.

Mr. Dan started to appear. He later swooned Mama and they were married. Any reference to Daddy hereafter will be him because he is the only father I know.

We threatened to run away if Mama didn’t marry him. She got our approval before marrying him because we were a package deal. Geraldine, the oldest, then Harry, then James, and me.

Schools have been a part of my life since way back. I first went to a Lutheran school (Mount Calvary), then the Baptist Church school where my nickel rolled into the crack where they baptized people under water. I was afraid to walk across the trap door.

At the Lutheran preschool, Mr. and Mrs. Skinner were pastor and wife. They were real good to me. However, I decided I’d had enough school and wanted to stay home with my grandmother. I got a Dick Tracy baby doll just to make me go back to school. I took the doll and still stayed home, and my grandmother taught me to braid hair.

My first day of school, I sat across from my cousin, Alice, my daddy Harry’s brother’s baby. She had the biggest bow I’d ever seen on her top braid. It was so crisp and pretty.

We were all dressed up and our first-grade teacher was Nancy Miller. You didn’t have to go to kindergarten then, but it helped. I liked Nancy Miller so much that I told the school administrator that my first name was Nancy. I don’t even have a middle name.

These were the days of Spot the dog, and Dick and Jane. What would we have done without them?

These books had other people’s names in them that no one in the school knew. We later found out that we got the white school’s old books and they got new books.

I had other school experiences besides my time of school-hopping and my preschool drop-out record.

I went to school a lot with my sister, Geraldine who was five years older. Then it was allowed. I had a head start on the other kids because the teachers already knew me and I knew their routines.

Mrs. White was my second-grade teacher and that year was fairly uneventful. Third and fourth grade was spent with Effie Brown. The school was a little crowded, so my third-grade year was spent in the fourth-grade room along with about seven or eight other kids. 

Mrs. Brown wanted to skip me to the fifth grade, but Professor Reid thought I might suffer or lose something if I did. Back then you could skip kids.

In eighth grade, I was the “Grammar Grade Queen.” I was in spelling bees throughout, always a finalist but never winning. I was Les Amies’ first queen. Les Amies was a black women’s group. The name meant “let’s be friends.” There was a junior group with lots of social activities.

I walked barefoot home from the eighth-grade Valentine’s ball and gave my shoes to Betty Jean Horton.

I attended Bennett College for Scholastic Achievers in the 10th and 11th grades. Delores Morehead, Rogerlene Thompson, and Marilyn Gaither and I attended.