The chapters which are numerical are factual. The chapters which are alphabetical are fiction, though in some instances the fiction modestly drapes what is factual. I will post one chapter a week, alternating factual and fiction.
Across the playground from our front door, Armistead Way was a boundary of sorts. On the other side of it there was undeveloped land going north from where Newcomb Way came into it. Going across Armistead Way there was a steep path down into a wooded area with a stream coming out of a culvert and going east. That stream was another boundary to the project. After about a city block of woods there was an open field. The summers we lived on Newcomb Way my father made a garden in that area. We had no plow so he had to use a spade to turn over the soil in the area he planted. I helped in the garden, planting seeds after he prepared the rows.
Following the stream a bit further, it became wider and deeper at one place. There was more water sometimes than other times. When it was deep enough the children would go swimming. I don’t remember, but my sister insists that once she and I went “skinny-dipping” there.
Further north along Armistead Way, it was dense with bushes and trees. One time I found a butcher knife and went hacking a path through the brush and low hanging tree limbs. Maybe I thought I was a jungle explorer and the knife was a machete. Something went wrong. I hacked into the top of my wrist. It was a very nasty cut. I don’t know what I did, other than run home. I’m sure my mother was scared to death. I don’t know if she took me to the doctor or bandaged it herself. I do know that it left a distinct “F” shaped scar which was duly noted in my military records years later.
When we first moved into Armistead Gardens, the Presbyterian church was the only Protestant church. It met in the community building. The building was built of concrete block. The ground on which it was built was on a steep slope. The front of the building faced Armistead Way and was almost on street level, but the back, which faced Horner’s Lane, looked like it was more than a story to the beginning of the main floor. The church services and adult Sunday School classes were held on the main floor, a few steps up from street level. The children’s Sunday School classes were held a million steps down in the “basement.” The rooms in the basement were gloomy. It seemed like a dungeon.
I remember a Hallowe’en Party in the basement of the Community Center. I think the Presbyterian Church organized it, but it was for any of the children in the project. The organizers decorated the room with flickering red lights, fake cobwebs, cardboard skeletons, witches hanging with black thread from the ceiling so it looked like they were flying on brooms. There was punch made of red Kool-Aid, large grapes made to look like eyeballs. After we ate the obligatory cup cakes, washed down with Kool-Aid, there was a costume contest and bobbing for apples.
The Catholic Church met in Fox Mansion, a real mansion with a rich history dating from before the War of 1812. After the new section was built it became the community center for that area.
The new section had been built long before we moved to Armistead Gardens. The houses were much more attractive both inside and out. Some of the houses were brick, while many were row houses built of cinder block. They all had pitched roofs. Their houses faced streets with sidewalks rather than narrow alleys. They had hardwood floors and drywall walls. They were heated by coal furnaces instead of fuel oil which had to be carried into the house every day.
The summer after we moved onto Newcomb Way we had visitors. My Grandad and Grandmom Pritt came from Elkins in a new Ford. My Uncle Donald and his new wife Delania came with them. Beverly and I had been living with Grandad and Grandmom when Donald returned from the War. We had learned to love Uncle Don, but Dad had not seen Don since he was drafted into the Army.. Delania lived out in the country and the road to her parents’ farm was paved with large stones. Tires at that time were not good quality and Donald had a number of “blow outs.” I remember Grandad saying, “If you don’t marry that girl soon, you are going to go broke buying tires for the car.”
They had loaded the car with home canned food and some dishes and other treasures Mom had left with them. Strapped to the back of the car was a bicycle they brought for me! They were not selling bicycles in the stores at that time. This was an old pre-war bicycle. It was made of steel so it was heavy. Don had sanded it and painted it royal blue (The paint used by Western Maryland Railway on its passenger coaches). He had shined up the chrome spokes and wheels. It looked brand new. That bicycle opened a whole new world for me.
I think they were only with us two days. They must have stayed in a motel for several nights. I guess they also went to Washington to visit Myrtle (one of my father’s sisters} and Gene before their long trip back to West Virginia. The second day they took us on a picnic to Bay Shore Park. The trip out to the park was across a long bridge. What I remember was hunting for shade. There was plenty of beach but no trees. With red hair I sun burned easily.
After they left I rode that bicycle on every street in Armistead Gardens. I had to learn how to fix a flat tire, put the chain back when it came off, and other mechanical skills. The bicycle took me to every place in the Gardens and I made a lot of new friends.
There was a Maintenance Office for the project. There were men who would repair plumbing, the furnace, or other problems in the house. They also loaned tools for the lawn and gardens. They gave out grass seed. They would also give paint for doors and screen doors. Automobiles were scarce, but some people in the project were finding old pre-war cars and fixing them up. Some of these old clunkers sported new paint jobs using screen door paint from the Maintenance Office applied to the cars with rags.
Most of the people in the old section lived on the edge of poverty. I remember one day when there was a knock on the door. When my mother opened the door there was a little boy dressed only in his underwear. “Lady could you gimme a piece of bread?” She took a slice from the loaf. “Is this all right?” “Well, do you have some oleo or jelly you could put on it?” All the time he was shivering. As soon as she handed him the sandwich, he devoured it and ran off, barefoot, up the street.
From Christmas time until the end of February many of the men were laid off and had no income. Either the coal miners were on strike, the steelworkers were on strike, the longshoremen were on strike – always some reason to lay off the workers in the dead of winter. That was when the weather was cold. The fuel oil tanks were soon empty and unless some money could be borrowed at the loan company or from relatives, concrete block houses with concrete floors were miserably cold and damp. My parents’ first stop for Christmas shopping was at the two loan companies where they had accounts to see how much they could borrow and add to their account.
During this time, we would see oil trucks that did not usually deliver oil in Armistead Gardens. When I was older I learned that they were delivering oil to Freemasons who were out of work.
My sister and I enrolled in P.S. 231, Brehm’s Lane Elementary School. A school bus came for us and carried us to a brick school building in a very nice neighborhood. In later years everyone I knew who lived in that neighborhood were upper middle class – the manager of an upscale leather goods store, an executive of American Stores grocery chain, a banker, a manager in an industrial plant, a lawyer.
We attended that school the rest of the school year and all of the following school year. I have my report cards from those years. They show an unusual number of absences. I am surprised that I passed.