Washington, NC - Memories
"What I Remember About My Journey"
by William E. Sparrow, Sr.
Chapter 1 - The Journey Begins.
On Sunday evening, February 10, 1929, in New Bern, North Carolina, it was a dark and stormy night. All of a sudden there was a loud squalling heard throughout the house and someone said "My God, he is small!" Someone else said, "Hey, he only weighs three pounds, do you think he will make it?" At this point the Midwife, Mrs. Gaskins, stepped in and said, "Get me a shoe box, a hot water bottle, and a couple of towels, this boy is going to be all right, he is chewing on his fist, hes just hungry. Hey I dont know whether that is the way it happened, I mean the weather and whether it was day or night. I was too young at the time, but that is the where, when, and how William Edward Sparrow got into this world sixty seven years ago. My first recollections of my life are in the town of Washington, North Carolina. My family moved there when I was about three or four years old. My Father was hired by the Saunders Lumber Company, which was located in the town. We lived in a big old white pre-Civil War house with no central heating. All heating and cooking was done on wood burning stoves and/or fireplaces. Suffice it to say that it was a fun house and town in which to grow up. This is were my journey started in earnest and continued for twelve years until my Mother and Father were divorced in the summer of 1941. Now what do I remember about most of those particular twelve years? The times that I am telling you about were innocent times both for me and for the country. I think my first clear memories of growing up are of going to school at John Small Elementary School. I remember the third grade, because I flunked. I realize that sounds bizarre in todays world, but they cared more about whether you knew the work than they did about your self esteem. Now you will find this some what more interesting, I failed third grade, because of the AIRPLANE. I know it sounds crazy, but up until that fall I had never seen an airplane other than in the news reels. That year the fates handed me a double whammy, first a big old Ford Trimotor airplane came to town and flew all around the town and advertised half hour rides for five dollars. Well since this was in the depth of the Depression and there wasnt any money for airplane rides. I was lucky to get a dime to go to the movies at the Turnage or Reita theaters. Well the old Ford Trimotor left for lack of business, but wouldnt you know it , but some guy showed up in a Piper Cub and he was cheaper, so he must have made some money, because he stayed. Now for the final nail in my educational coffin. It happened like this. I was out side playing and I heard a very faint droning. When I stopped and listened it was getting louder. In a few minutes it was getting really loud and to tell the truth I was getting scared. All of a sudden there they were, a flight of about ten Boeing P10 Pursuit Planes flying in formation, just like they did in the Movie Tone News Reels in the movies. As I remember they made about two passes over the town and were then on their way. What did this have to do with my failure in the first grade, well I will tell you. All through the fall semester all I did was draw airplanes in every way possible. OK, I just failed the first half. My mother showed me the errors of my ways, both verbally and physically. She suggested that if I ever wanted to sit down again that I had better find a better way to spend my energies than drawing airplanes. You have to remember that this was during a time in our history when corporal punishment was not frowned on in the home or in the schools. I know that my memory is not that good, but I do remember that all my playmates and friends were subject to this discipline. There are other things having to do with school and I will delve into them later on , but now lets get into the town where I spent part of my childhood . Lets start with the house where I lived. While it didnt mean anything to me, Washington is located in and is the county seat of Beaufort County, North Carolina. It is situated on the Pamlico River, where the Tar River joins it. In fact if I believe the map of Washington the bridge that carries US Route 17 across the Pamlico is the dividing line between the two rivers and I didnt know that until recently. The town was founded in 1776 and was named for our first president. One of the other points of interest about Washington, among many, is that it was the birth place of Cecil B. DeMille and here I will assume that you know who he was. I am not going to get too involved with the history of the town and all of that, because I really wasnt into that when I was a child growing up there. Now lets take a look at the house where I lived. I dont know that it was of a particular style of architecture. As I remember, from a distance of some fifty six years, it was big, square, two story, and white. As I said before, believe that it was pre-civil war and had no central heat. It was heated by fireplaces in every room or in some rooms a wood burning stove was connected to the fireplace. The kitchen was heated in the winter by a wood burning cook stove and in the summer the cooking was done on a kerosene stove. Before we get to the inside of the house lets take a look at the outside. It had a front porch that extended from one side of the house to the other side. If I had to guess it was about eight to ten foot deep. It was big and comfortable having a swing on the right side of the porch and several rocking chairs spread around. I remember that swing fondly in that in my imagination it was an airplane, a boat or anything else that I desired. You must remember that we are discussing a time before television, therefore, if you wanted entertainment you used your imagination and made do with the things at hand. The house sat on a lot that was about one hundred by two hundred and fifty. I always imagined that the lot was about a half of a city block deep in that the back of our lot met the lot of the house on Third Street. The front of the property had been built up about two feet above street level and was held in place by a brick and cement retaining wall. It ran from the right side of the property to within ten or twelve feet of the other side of the property. That opening was for the drive way that ran down the side of the house. The center of the wall was broken by some steps about five foot wide. This wall has required some explanation, because it had an important roll in this journey. That wall was required for sitting on with my friends, for jumping off of, for standing on when ever there was a parade, and for walking on like a tight rope. Even though the wall was about ten inches wide the top was round and wasnt all that easy to walk on. Now if you were facing the house from the side walk here is what you would have seen. There was an automobile dealership, Chrysler I think, that ran back at least a hundred feet with lots of windows on the second floor. Those windows are a story unto themselves and will be addressed in due time. There was ground between the house and the building and my mother had flowers located there. On the left side , next to the drive way was a brick store front that had a long wooden warehouse type structure behind it and it ran back for about a hundred feet. That store front had been many things such as a little grocery store and up until the time that we moved it was used for vulcanizing automobile tires. Any way the drive way ran to the back of the house and sort of died out, although I suspect that at one time it went further into the yard. Now we will start at the back of the house. On the side next to the automobile agency and starting at about ten feet from the back of the house was a huge cistern for storing rain water. It protruded up into the air about two and a half feet, so that the owner of the house had built a platform or the equivalent of a porch over it. There were some brick steps that went from the top of the platform down to the side yard, also there were steps that went into the backyard. This made a nice stage if my friends and I wanted to put on shows. I think that we did , once. The side of this platform next to the house connected to the porch that came off from the kitchen. We are almost finished with the yard description. Within an area of the yard that was about fifty by fifty feet there were five big pecan tress that provided plenty of pecans every year. On the right side of the yard, along the auto agency brick wall was located a big wood shed and one other building that had probably been a carriage house and or a garage in later years. The lower half of the yard was mostly weeds and bushes. My friends and I played many times in that backyard for hours on end. We will return later to some of those escapades. Now, a paragraph on the house that I lived for some part of twelve years. As I said before this house was a neat home to grow up in, it was interesting now that look back at it. Facing the front of the house, the front door was placed off to the left of the center of the house. The front door was quite impressive in that it was at least four feet wide and I would judge about six and a half to seven feet tall. To say the least it was rather massive, but swung easily on its hinges. Upon entering the house you were in a reception area, which gave way to a hall that ran down the center of the house almost the full length of the house. If you turned left you were faced by a set of steps that ascended to the second floor. The steps rose about six or seven steps to a landing which turned 180 degrees rose another ten or eleven steps to the second floor. There was a space under the stair platform that was used as a coat closet. Also, at the landing level there was a door that went out side. Now if you went outside there werent any steps or porch. You could see that at one time there had been a small porch with steps and probably a portico so that you were able to pull in a coach or automobile and enter the house without getting wet in bad weather. On the right side of the hall there was door that entered the living room. When you entered the living room and turned left you were facing two pocket doors and they divided the living room from the dining room. The dining room had four doors in it. There was, on the left side of the room a door that went out into the center hallway. There was the pocket doors that you came through and on the back wall were two more doors. The first doorway on the left back wall went through a hall way, that formed a pantry, into the kitchen. The last door, on the right side of the back wall , went out to the summer kitchen. Way back in my childhood, Oh say about 55 years ago I ruined my sister's understanding of Christmas and Santa Claus. You have to have an understanding of the house in which we lived. The house was built before the Civil War and was a rather large house. The upstairs had a hall way were the steps came up from the first floor. On the same side as the stairs were two closets and a bathroom. The closets and the bathroom had a door and over the door was a transom. Well, let me tell you that transom was our trap door into the closet. Now you have to understand one of the functions of those closets, aside from the obvious, that's were Santa Claus I was hidden by my parents. Being a very inquisitive child needless to say I went exploring when ever a door was locked, in fact it was like a beacon. Aside from that it was about two weeks before Christmas and I was at an age where Santa Claus wasn't completely accepted by me. So one day I got a chair and put it in front of this particular locked door and looked in through the transom. WOW, there were all of these neat toys and things. At this point my memory fails me in that I don't remember how I got pass the locked door, but in any case I did get into the closet. There was a peddle car for my sister, Vida, so I got it out and was peddling all over the upstairs. About this time Vida came up the stairs and wanted to know about the car and I told her it was from Santa Claus, i.e.; our Mother and Father. Needless to say Vida was not happy camper, but some of the Christmas candy seemed to calm her down. I don't remember what else was in the closet for our Christmas, you would have to ask Vida when you see her. In point of fact the one reason that I remember as much as I do is that she never lets me forget that time in our lives. She always starts the story with a statement to the effect that "I always got her into trouble". I think that my Mother found out about the intrusion into Santa land when she went in to check the items she had purchased. She discovered that there had been a pilferage of the Christmas candy. There followed a long conversation between my Mother and myself. She pointed out my transgressions and punctuated each one with a stroke of a hairbrush. I never got that curious about Santa's gifts again. I dont remember the year, but I remember that it was during the time that my family and I lived in Washington, North Carolina in the big white house on West Second Street to be specific. Yep, that is where it happened. All right you say, what was it you say? It was Christmas Dinner. My Mother, Vida Brock Sparrow, and my Father, Robert Sparrow, invited the family for Christmas Dinner. Uncle Ed Brock, Aunt Marguerite, Cousin Eloidia were there. My Grandmother, Mammy Lucy Brock, was there along with Uncle Frank Pittman, Aunt Sug, and my Cousin Frankie. Uncle Warren Arnold, Aunt Mary, Cousin Mary Gertrude, Cousin Betty Belle, and Cousin Jimmy. Present from my Family was my Father, Mother, Sister Vida, Sister Lucy, my Brother Bobby and of course myself. We all sat down in the dinning room and had Christmas dinner. Now, remember that these festivities occurred almost sixty years ago and my memory may well play tricks on me, but I think dinner went something like this. We would have had a country ham, roasted turkey, dressing in a pan, giblet gravy, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, collards, string beans, candied sweet potatoes, creamy white celery, biscuits, and miscellaneous pickles and such. Desert would have been something like this, sweet potato pie ( a couple), mincemeat pies, and the following three types of cakes; fresh coconut, thin chocolate icing, jelly. Now, you have to understand about my Mothers cakes the layers were always thin and usually piled about seven or eight high. The icings were on the thin side, which never seemed to detract from their flavors. I remember everyone seemed to like them very much. Along with these delightful items was the family tradition, "Syllabub". I am not sure that this is the correct spelling, but I do remember that it was what I looked forward to every Christmas, and in fact carry on that tradition in my own family to this day. It was a very simply dish really, being nothing more than whipped cream seasoned with wine and sugar to taste. I felt very honored and grown up when I inherited the job of making this confection every year. After the dinner and desert was finished the only thing that anybody was fit to do was sit, talk, and just plain visit. I use to love to sit by the fireplace and listen to my Father and Uncles swap stories about the old days and enjoyed them very much.
Right off the bat I must confess to a big goof, I forgot my baby sister in my last message. Her name was Lucy Shipp Sparrow. If you remember the Tulip Festival that took place the year that Cecil B. DeMille came to town, on his yacht, her picture appeared on the front page of the local newspaper. She was dressed in a Dutch costume, sitting on the low concrete wall on Market Street and she was crying her eyes out. The wall as I remember it was in front of the jail and to the left of the Court House. One of the things that I saw in the picture that I referred to, before, was a building that housed a restaurant that my father loved, because according to him they had the best fried oysters in Washington. As I remember it he was right. Speaking of my father and his love for oysters, therein lies a story. Every year about this time, when the oysters came in, my Dad would head down to the Fish Market at the foot of Market Street to see if his favorite oyster fisherman had brought his boat up river. He wouldn't buy oysters from anyone else. This was so, because this particular fisherman farmer had his own little bay off the end of his farm. Because of this he hand fed the oysters with corn meal, which made the oysters large and plump. Dad would buy a bushel of this delicacy, bring them home and store them in the summer kitchen where it was cool. Further, he would dare anyone to mess with them, I know that my brother Bobby got a whipping at least once in that he didn't believe Dad. It may be that time plays tricks with your memory, but I remember Dad showed me a couple of these oysters when he opened them and they would almost pop out of the shell once they were open, in that they were so fat and plumb. Well at least that is the way that I remember it. If my memory serves me correctly, the Buchmans lived across the street from me, sort of catty cornered. For the life of me I can't remember their sons name, although we played together quite a bit. I remember that he had a bike. I believe that it was an Iver-Johnson with lots of chrome, a head light and I was green with envy. He did let me ride it a couple of times. There was also a house that was right next to the Agriculture Building where the High Family lived. They consisted of Mrs. Elizabeth High, her daughter Linda High and her son George Thomas High (Sonny). Sonny and I played together quite often and were friends. After we moved to Baltimore I lost track of him. I think that he moved to Raleigh, to live with his father. There was one more kid that I played with almost all of the time. His name, as he told it , was Claude "Junior" Rouse and I think he probably had it reversed. I have also lost track of Claude "Mousie" Rouse. That was the nick name that he acquired because of his small stature. The one good thing about growing up in a small town like pre-war Washington, was this; we not only played in my yard, that was quite large, but we played all over town, but that is another tale for next time.
If you have any old pictures that you want to share, email me. We will scan your picture, put it on this site and return the original to you (negatives are acceptable). Thanks !
Memories Part 2