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February 04, 2004

Alabama Roots, Part 2

The memoirs of my maternal Grandmother, Iva Wright. Part One may be seen here.

About 1932, while I was still in high school, a young man came into town. His name was Carl Wright. He had been going to Birmingham Southern College, had finished his work there, and had come back home to try to find a job. No jobs were were to be had, of course, so he was staying at home helping his father. He started coming to our church and was a member there.

Soon he became very much involved with the youth in the church, and we worked together in the Epworth League. He was eight years older than I and had, at one time, come to our house as a child to play with my older brothers. The reason I hadn't met him was that he had been away at school during the time I would have found him interesting. I was impressed with him from the very beginning. One of the reasons was that he was always so spic and span. He always dressed very nicely and took great pride in the way he looked. He also had a wonderful physique, a good sense of humor, and an attractive personality. No wonder I was impressed.

I was somewhat of in awe of him also because he was a college man while I was just a high school girl. Soon I realized that he was hanging around wanting to be near me. He would ask if he could sit with me in church, and I was thrilled at that.

One day while we were preparing programs for Epworth League, he told me that he had just broken up with a girlfriend he had been going with for eight years, since his high school days. They had been engaged for a big part of that time, but he began to realize that they were constantly bickering with each other. They could not seem to get along, so he called the whole thing off.

I was feeling sorry for him and said, "Well, maybe someday soon you will find someone who can take her place." I had no idea that that person would be me.

It was not long after that that, he asked me if I would be willing to date him in spite of the fact that he was an old man.

I said, "I don't think of you as an old man and I would be glad to date you." So we started dating and we were having good times together.

When one evening when we were together, he said, "I'm having difficulty making up my mind about the kind of work I want to do." He said, "I feel very strongly that God is calling me into the ministry, but I'm not sure if that is what I need to do. I also would like to be a coach, so I am torn between the two. What do you think I ought to do?"

Well, I was sort of shocked that he would ask me my opinion, but I said, "Well, it seems to me that if you really feel that God is calling you into the ministry, you should not pass up that call."

That was the only thing I had to say or knew to say. I knew that he would be good at either of those careers. He was good with people and especially with young people. He had learned to love working with young people when he was in college. Because he had to work to help put himself through, and he spent several summers at a YMCA camp near Birmingham. These summers were a very good experience for him and they were times that were always treasured.

One evening Carl proposed marriage to me. He told me how much he loved me and that he wanted me to be his helper through the years. I said "Yes." I was very pleased to say "Yes," but we had our problems because Carl had no job and he was still undecided about what he wanted to do with his life. But other things were developing. My father had retired from his post office work because he was having difficulty with his eyesight, and, like everyone else, our family was having a hard time because of the depression.

The big house that we were living in in town--a beautiful, old colonial house set back in a grove of trees, a place where we had all enjoyed living--we would have to give up. Daddy thought it was imperative that he get something to do, so he rented a little truck farm that was about a mile out of town.

There was a house on the place that we could live in, but did not know what condition it was in. When we moved, my Grandmother Harris, who was living with us, became ill, and not too long after we moved, she died. Soon after that, Mother announced that something had to be done to the house, as she had discovered it was infested with roaches. It also needed a lot of other work--it needed new paint and a kitchen cabinet among other things. We started working on the house, and when Carl came to see me in the evenings, he would come with his paint brush and help us do anything we were doing. But we also had fun. We would get in the kitchen and make candy or pop popcorn--things like that which we could enjoy together. Of course, my younger brothers Wallace and Jim enjoyed that a lot.

When springtime came, Carl was at our house every night. We could not stay away from each other, and we decided that we wanted to go ahead and get married. I realized that it was time for me to talk with Mother. I told her how we wanted to get married and about our concern that Carl had no prospect for a job. We just didn't know what to do.

She said, "Honey, your Daddy is going to need a lot of help on this farm because he hasn't farmed in a long, long time. Wallace is not large enough yet to help him much, and he could certainly use Carl's help because Carl knows about farming. Why don't you move into our house and help us on the farm until you can get established and Carl can find work?"

When I told Carl what mother had said, we both were very happy. It had solved our problem, and we made plans for our wedding. We would be married on February 8, 1934 and it would be a very simple affair. We would go to the Methodist parsonage and have the ceremony there. We got in touch with my sister Vivian and told her what we had planned. She came home form Horton to be with us. After the ceremony, we went to the home of my brother Floyd and his wife Mary to give them the good news. Then we went on our honeymoon--an unusual honeymoon, to say the least. Vivian went along with us in the car of my brother Alvon, who had generously allowed us to use it We drove the five miles from Boaz to Albertville and went to see a movie. None of us could remember afterward what the movie was about--we were too excited about our wedding. When we came home, all the members of the family had gone to bed, and we had had no supper, so we went into the kitchen and ate buttermilk and cornbread.

The next morning we got up early and took Vivian back to Horton and her school teaching job. On our way, we went by Carl's home. His father out in the back yard. We stopped the car beside him and Carl called his father over.

"I'd like for you to meet my bride, Daddy, " he said.

Well, of course, his father was completely surprised because Carl had not told the family that we were getting married. I thought he had, but he just simply couldn't bring himself to tell the family that he was getting married under the circumstances, with no job and no prospect for a job. He didn't think his family would understand at all. I shall never forget what his father said.

He said, "Well, son, you didn't come home last night and we were worried. We didn't know where you were." And then he turned and looked at me and said, "Iva, you're getting a good boy." He had tears in his eyes.

I said, "Yes, I know."

Thus began our marriage. His family was upset, and it was natural that they would be, but later we became very close.

As the year wore on, Carl was very helpful to my father and worked very hard helping him get established on the farm. One day, we discovered that one of the horses had gotten away, wandered off, and my father needed someone to go get the horse. Carl volunteered. He set out walking, inquiring as he went if someone had seen a stray horse. It eventually became night time and he had not returned home. For several hours he didn't return, and I was just beside my self wondering what had happened to him. I though he might have gotten lost or maybe something worse had happened. After supper, everyone else in the household started getting ready for bed, but I sat on the porch waiting for some sight of Carl. About midnight , there he came, riding on the horse. He had had no supper, so I fed him and felt so thankful for his safe return and for what he was doing for my father.

We took advantage of the fact that the farm had a lot of fruits and vegetables, over one hundred peach trees plus some pear trees and apple trees and two acres of strawberries. During that summer we canned all of the food we could and having that food put away was a big help that next winter.

When fall came we went to Oneota, Alabama, to the 1934 Methodist Annual Conference. I fell sick with a cold while there and had to go to bed, but Carl attended the conference. One afternoon he came home to tell me that the Bishop had given him a church. It was to be in Cordova, Alabama, near Birmingham. We were so excited that we got in the floor and started dancing. It was a happy, happy time.

Cordova was a little town that had a big cotton mill. It was also a mining town. Unfortunately, for nine months of the the twelve months we lived there, both the mill workers and the miners were on strike. Almost all of the people in our church were out on strike and were living on government handouts. It was a sad time in that town. But there was just one man in our church who was a wealthy man. He owned a big general store, a cotton mill and lots of other property. He came to us and told us that he would probably be the only one in the church who would be able to contribute to our welfare.

He said, "I will give you twenty dollars a month. What you need to do is come to my store and purchase anything you need and have it put on your bill. At the end of the month, I will give you your money, and you will pay me what you owe."

He also said, "If for any reason you get sick and need medication that I do not have at the store, I will give you the money to go to the drug store and get it."

That was the way we survived and were paid that year.

The basement of our church was turned over to the WPA (Works Progress Administration), the organization that was set up for people to work for government pay. They paid ten dollars a month for the rental and that paid for the two-room apartment that we lived in. When we first moved there, the day we arrived, we met one of our members, a Mr. Cotton, and he told us that we could not live in the parsonage that had been lived in by the previous older ministers.

"They had furniture, but you don't have any." He added, "The parsonage is big and hard to heat and we have decided that you need to get a small apartment. We know a woman who has a small apartment in her house." They wanted us to go see it. When we got there, the woman introduced herself and her son, who was one of the teachers in the local high school. She showed us the two rooms--two nice, big rooms. The front room was a bedroom/sitting room combined with a wood or coal heater. The next room was used as a dining room/kitchen. It had one big closet were we kept our canned fruits and vegetables.

We had a kerosene cook stove and a kitchen table and cabinet--no place other than that to keep our dishes and things. There was a back porch attached to our kitchen and a bathroom that had been attached to the porch. We used that bathroom along with the woman and her son. We also had access to a side porch where we could sit on and enjoy the out-of-doors. We found that little apartment just as cozy as could be and enjoyed living there.

Our little two-room home was a welcome place for us. Earlier, we had bought some pots and pans from the ten-cent store. You can imagine the quality of the set, but they were the best we could afford. We also had a new set of dishes we were eager to use. We had packed these things away in preparation for having our own place. Unfortunately, the man who had come to move us from Boaz to Cordova left before we realized we had not loaded up our pots and pans. When we got there, we had to borrow until we could get our own.

Cordova was a very hilly little town . There was not a single street that was level. We had to climb a hill if we went anywhere. Carl and I decided that we were going to do a lot of visiting to get acquainted with our parishioners, so every day we would get out and climb those hills. They were so steep that Carl would sometimes have to get behind and help to push me up. We had fun doing it, however.

Our church was a good size and it was full of young couples and a lot of children. I have never seen so may children in one church. The church folk told us that when they had gone to the Annual Conference that year, they told the Bishop they had had old preachers for many years and wanted a young preacher. They wanted a young man who would work with their children and their youth. It didn't matter, really, whether he could preach or not. I think they got the right preacher.

Carl always worried a lot on Saturdays about his sermons. He had to preach a morning service and an evening service, and that meant that he had to prepare two new sermons every week--not an easy thing for him. One Saturday evening, he had a dream of preaching the next morning. He said that he started off and got so carried away that he began pounding on the pulpit. Then he jumped on top of the pulpit and lambasted everyone present. Following that, he jumped from the pulpit to the chandelier and held on with one hand waving his Bible with the other. It was so entirely different from anything he had ever done or would ever do, we had a big laugh about it.

As Easter approached, he became more and more concerned about his sermon. He worked very hard. When Easter Sunday came, he was well into his sermon and doing fine when a group of people walked in the front door of the church. It was his sister, Willie Mae, her husband Herbert, and their little girl Imogene who had come from a distant town. They wanted to surprise us, but arrived late for the service.

Carl was so pleased and so surprised to see them that he completely lost track of his sermon. He couldn't remember where he was or what to say, so he just announced the closing hymn and pronounced the benediction. Now, you might have thought that the congregation would have been a little miffed at this on an Easter morning, but they were not. They were so concerned that we had unexpected visitors, they started to bring in food for us. One woman even brought in ice cream to go with the cake she brought. But Willie Mae had come prepared. She wanted to make sure we had plenty to eat. We had a wonderful Sunday dinner that day.

I got sick one day and didn't know exactly what was wrong. I had been washing clothes in the back yard and had lifted a tub of water on its side to empty it. When I did, something happened to me. I went in the house and was in such pain I had to go to bed. I called the lady who lived on the other side of the house and asked her if she had an aspirin I could take until I could get to the store. She gave me some but it did not help. I suffered all night long. The next day I was told that I had had a miscarriage. We very sad to hear that. I didn't even know that I was pregnant.

We planned a trip home to Boaz , as we had not been home since we moved to Cordova. We purchased train tickets and were to leave at five o'clock in the morning. Because we were so excited about going home, we couldn't sleep that night; we just lay in the bed, finally drifting off to sleep just before daylight. Suddenly we were awakened by the alarm clock and realized that we were about to miss the train. We ran all the way to the station to see the train just pulling out. They did see us, however, and stopped so we could board. It was wonderful to get home in time to have breakfast with our parents.

While we were in Cordova, a member of our church--one of the miners--became very ill with Black Lung Disease. He was not an old man, and he had a house full of children. As a complication of the disease, developed pneumonia and there was practically nothing the doctor could do for him. His oldest boy had heard someone say that maybe if he had goose grease to rub on his chest he would be ok. So the boy got on someone's mule and went out searching for goose grease. It was a very cold day and he stayed out until he was just about to freeze, but he could find no goose grease anywhere. He returned home disappointed, only to find that his father had already died. Of course, when we heard it, we went to the home.

When we got there, Carl said, "Iva, I think you need to go to the kitchen and see if you can get some food for these people." I searched the kitchen, but there was no food there. I have never seen a kitchen so bare. There was nothing there that I could cook--no flour, no cornmeal, nothing. It was a pathetic situation. We began let people know, of course, and they started to bring food in for the family. That was the situation with so many of those families during that time. Our eyes were opened that year to real poverty.

Toward the end of that year, Carl was reading the Christian Advocate and noticed an ad that said, "Is there a young ministerial couple who would be interested in serving a small mission church on Harkers Island off the coast of North Carolina? It sounded so exciting to us. and we decided that we would answer the ad. They sent us lots of forms to fill out. We filled them out and returned them, but received no reply until the 1935 Annual Conference time neared.

The bishop called Carl in and said, "Are you still interested in going to North Carolina?"

He said that he was. The Bishop continued and told him that the little church on Harkers Island had found a preacher, but there was a church across from Harkers Island on the mainland--a place called Marshallburg--that had need of minister. "Would you be interested in that church?

Carl said we would like to take that church, so we were sent to Marshallburg--a long way from home!

The Bishop told us to, "Go home and get your clothes packed. Go see your family, and get on your way."

When we told our church folk at Cordova that we were leaving, they had a farewell meeting for us after our regular Wednesday night prayer meeting. Different ones started telling us how they felt about our going, how much they were going to miss us, and how much they appreciated what we had done for their church. It was all very touching. But when the little boy who was the president of the youth group--a boy about twelve years old--stood up , he started crying.

He said, "I just don't want you to go. You can't go off and leave us."

Carl and I were just so torn up, when we got home we said, "Why do we have to go anyway?" We were ready to call it all off, but Carl said, "We can't do that. We have made a commitment to the Bishop and we have said we will go."

We made our plans and we went home and told our families good-bye. It was not easy because we were going a long way off--to a foreign country it seemed. Mother especially hated to see us go, but we packed our suitcases and our trunks with all our worldly goods, put them on the train, and started our two-day and two-night trip to North Carolina. The people were going to be strangers and their customs and habits would be strange to us, but we were going to make a wonderful new life for ourselves. We were also going to soon find out that another baby was on the way. Life was beautiful and life was exciting.

We were looking forward to great things in the future.

Posted by Bigwig at February 4, 2004 08:03 PM | TrackBack
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