Grandma Bessie and Train Trestles-Mill Hill Girl

Stories from Mill Hill Girl

The stories from “Mill Hill Girl” are of life growing up in a small southern town.  Most are humorous, while some reflect a hint of melancholy of a simple mid-century childhood.  If you choose to read my stories, I think you will find a little of yourself in the pages.  Some of the stories are factual, while others due to my lack of recall and imagination may be only as I thought they were.  To which is fact or fiction, I cannot tell, for I have slept too many nights since then.  I hope you will enjoy all the stories from “Mill Hill Girl” on my website. 

Grandma Bessie and Train Trestles

            It is only by the grace of God that children survive to adulthood.  Children are fearless, carefree and seekers of adventure.  I have heard it is a scientific fact the human brain and its ability to completely reason is not fully developed until around age eighteen.

            So, at age eighteen we are considered adults.  In this day and time, it seems that development has been delayed sometimes as late as age thirty plus.  There are many arguments for this phenomenal.  Perhaps it is due to environmental or social issues.  I will leave that debate to you.

            One thing for sure, today’s children are faced with many unfolding challenges.  Fortunately, medical breakthroughs have eliminated a lot of my childhood threats. Some of you, like me, may remember standing in long lines to get a sugar cube laced with the oral polio vaccine.

            In my little neighborhood folks did not worry about their children being abducted, schools were a safe haven, no one had ever heard of fentanyl, and TikToc was the sound your clock made. 

            Good or bad, we roamed our neighborhoods with little adult supervision.  We learned the facts of life from other kids, settled our own battles and formed life-long friendships.

            Most people minded their own business and Walter Cronkite told us the nightly news.  We had never heard of Iran and China and Russia might as well been on another planet.  It was if we were safely tucked away in our own time and space.  

            On November 22, 1963, that bubble was broken.  The president of the United States, John F. Kennedy, was assassinated.  I was only in the first grade, but I remember that day clearly.  The principal announced school would be dismissed and all the teachers were crying.

            In my eyes the president of the United States was next in line to God.  Even though my father assured me, that the people in Washington would figure out what to do.  I was afraid, and for the first time, I realized not all was in Daddy’s hands. 

            On our black and white TV set we watched little John salute his father’s casket.  That image will be forever imprinted in my mind.  I was young, but I understood what it meant to be an American, especially to my father who served in World War II.            

            Our parents had their fears, too.  If the mills shut down, would they be able to provide a roof over our heads, food on the table, and clothes on our backs.  What if money was too tight at Christmas?  Would Santa be able to magically deliver our wishes from Blackwelder’s Toyland or from the Montgomery Ward’s catalog?

            Speaking of Christmas, I am troubled that in our modern era, the magic and wonder may be gone.  Perhaps kids now are too smart to believe in such things as Santa Claus and flying reindeer.

            Some say Christmas has become too commercial.  Since most children get what they need and want all year round, maybe parents don’t feel the need to put much effort on December 25th.   But is Santa the true reason for Christmas?

            Ah, the true meaning of Christmas.  Where will our modern children learn about that?  Certainly not in schools.  In our diverse society Christmas is just winter break or holiday vacation.

            The only place children are likely to hear about the birth of baby Jesus is at church.  Sadly, many families don’t attend church, not even on Christmas eve.

            But for us, going to church was more than worshiping, it was the center of our social activity.  I have fond memories of Christmas pageants and helping decorate the enormous tree.  I think I can recall every face in the church choir and the marvelous sound of that old pipe organ.  The echo of ‘Halleluiah’ and ‘King of Kings’ still rings in my ears.

            For generations my family had been a part of that church.  I so loved to watch my mother talk and laugh with her childhood friends.  Now, many of her friends are gone, but the kindness they showed me is forever.  I am thankful that their children are now my forever friends.

            It was not unusual for households to include a live-in grandparent.  My father’s mother was part of our house-hold.  I never knew my grandpa he died the day after I was born. 

            Grandma Bessie had never worked outside the home or drove a car, and as far as I know, she had no means to take care of herself.  She was afraid of almost everything and to top it off, she was very superstitious.  So, it was necessary for her to live with one of her five children.

            Why we were my grandmother’s caretaker I don’t know.  There were just some things you did not question. 

            Our house was small, and I shared a room with her.   In contrast to my side of the room, her side was always immaculate.   I learned at a very young age things did not go well for me, if I plundered through Grandma’s dresser drawers.  More so, I was not to touch the enticing items displayed on the mirrored tray on her vanity.    Not the little bottle of ‘Evening in Paris’ perfume, scented powder, fluffy powder puff, cake rouge, gold tube of red lipstick, or Angel Face compact.  All those treasures belonged to Grandma.

            She stood less than five foot tall and was an amazing cook.  She never spoke about her   parents or her youth with the exception that she had once won a beauty pageant.  To my knowledge, there are no early photos of her.   I have since discovered that her father served in the Civil War.  Sadly, if there were stories he shared with her, they have long been buried. 

            At the foot of Grandma Bessie’s bed was a small rocking chair, there she spent most evenings, rocking, praying, and reading her Bible.

            I suppose asking for forgiveness for listening to other people’s conversation on the party line (of which she was very good at doing.)

            Sometimes I sat with Grandma Bessie at church.  Her long black hair was always rolled neatly around her head and topped off with a fancy hat.

            When we sat down on the pew, she reached into her black purse, tore a piece of beechnut gum in half, and shared it with me.  According to my best recollection her singing was rather unpleasant.  Silly me, I feared someone would think that noise was me singing. 

            Because my grandma lived with us, my mother was able to work outside the home.  To tell the truth, I think she welcomed the break.  Looking back, I must have been a handful.

            We only had one car and most days it was necessary for me to walk to and from school.  Luckily, all I needed to do was cross the street in front of our house, then walk about a half of mile to the school. 

            In my early school years, I was not supposed to cross the street by myself.  In the mornings, my grandma helped me cross the street and after school safely back across.

            From our porch she could hear the school bell ring and knew I should be along shortly.  To me that bell was the sound of freedom.  At first my return journey was only distracted by a brief stop on the playground, stopping to look in the soda shop window, pausing to talk to a neighbor or pet their dog.

            However, I was not the only kid walking home from school and some were older and far more experienced.  A single kid will be likely to follow the rules, two kids might break a few rules, but a gang of kids are destined for trouble!

            Soon I learned that if you save your lunch money, after school you can buy a whole bag of candy at the soda shop.  That was a healthy alternative—right?

            I learned that roaming inside the tall chain-link fence at the warehouse was a huge German Shepard dog.  If we stood outside the fence, the dog just paced back and forth.  That was thrilling enough, but if one of us picked up a stick and banged the fence, the dog would pounce the fence, snarling and barking.  At which time we would run as fast as we could down the street. 

            Once we caught our breath, we headed for the creek, slid down the bank, and turned over stones looking for crawdads, frogs, or snakes.  

            Then like an innocent little angel, I finally appeared on the opposite side of the street waiting for Grandma Bessie to help me across the street.  She scolded me for taking so long and questioned how I got so dirty at school.

            Over the years a few boys joined us, and those little adventures broadened.  We bravely explored the reservoir, discovered a real bull at the coal yard, walked the train trestles, started small fires, got in fights, and learned a few cuss words. 

             Yes, all my trouble began with boys.

 “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it” Proverbs 22:6