By Catherine C. Brooks
By mid summer, most everyone needed a change—a real vacation. Granddaddy and Granny Richardson, who visited one of their daughters in Mathews County every weekend, wanted Momma, my younger sister, Lou, and me to travel back home and spend a week with them. Living near his work in Hampton, Virginia, Granddaddy would have taken a week of his vacation to spend time vacationing with us.
Before the 1933 hurricane destroyed much of the shoreline and parts of the amusement parks on our coasts, Buckroe Beach in Hampton would be a must on his list for us to visit. The Merry-Go-Round was top on my mind so Lou and I would head there first. I wanted to ride one of the horses that galloped up and down, but Momma felt I was too small and might fall—I guess it was more expensive too. The Great Depression affected everyone in the early 1930s. I settled for the next best thing and sat in a pair of seats, with Lou facing me, on the outside of the carousel.
The fun house—unlike the one at Busch Gardens today– was another attraction.
Momma finally decided to take us. She had feared for us to witness the
unknown alone so accompanied us on this excursion. After we entered the
dim passageway, we climbed into a seat of the small boat with seats from
side to side. Others in line waiting to board and a guide, who sat in his
seat forward of center, with oars to move the boat through the water, joined
us. Excitement, filled with new anticipation, overtook our group as we
traveled quietly through the shadowy entrance. Then entering a dark tunnel,
wild animals roared, first one and then another roar began before the former
had ceased—eerie. I felt goose bumps rise over my body and dared not move
even a finger. As light appeared, some in our boat, and others in the boat
ahead of us, screamed, releasing the fear that they had held within. When
the guide rowed forward, we saw life-like pictures of wild animals, and
nearing each beast in the narrow corridor, the growl became scary with
the crouched animal hunched and ready to claim its prey. There were Indians
with tomahawks, coming toward us from behind trees. And as we traveled
forward, other dangers appeared. By this time, I had realized nothing was
real but just lights playing on large pictures. Yet I was glad Momma had
traveled with us—Lou hid her face against Momma’s side. After the frightening
scenes, we heard and saw pleasant ones: meadows, rippling brooks, colorful
birds singing, and butterflies among the flowering trees, scrubs and in
the floral gardens. After a portion of an hour on the hard seat of the
boat, we were ready to climb out and walk away with our grandparents, who
had watched the swimmers on the beach from their seats near the fun house
entrance. One trip satisfied my childhood curiosity for fun houses.
Sure enough with sunny skies the next morning, we headed for Grand View, another beach in Hampton, with Lou and I wearing our itchy-woolen bathing suits under dresses. We saw few automobiles when we parked, and the beach looked deserted. Granddaddy thought everything perfect. One hot dog stand stood alone on the right side of the entrance with soft drinks, kept cold with hot ice. I wondered if I could have a juicy hot dog on a bun with mustard, onions and relish after we came out of the water. That would be a real treat with or without a soda. I knew Granny had placed a large thermos jug of iced tea in the trunk of the car with some paper cups. I liked her iced tea.
After we played for an hour or two on the beach and in the water, we had had our fill for one day. We always took a last dip in the Chesapeake Bay to wash all the sand possible off our bathing suits. Besides Granddaddy, Granny and Momma must have been baking, sitting on the beach watching us. The July and August sun was a scorcher.
After we walked the distance across the wide beach to Granddaddy’s car, I was ready for a cup of iced tea. Granddaddy headed for the trunk and the thermos jug. He opened the jug, pouring himself a cup of the cold liquid with Momma coming from behind to pour for Granny, Lou, me and then herself. We each sipped the cold beverage until we emptied our cups.
“Who wants a hot dog?” Granddaddy asked.
“I do,” Lou and I piped in unison.
“Here Grace,” handing Momma some money, “sit your cup in the trunk and get one for each of us.”
By the time we had eaten our hot dogs and had a second cup of iced tea, our bathing suits were dry enough and we could put on our dresses. Since Granddaddy always had a new or practically new automobile, we didn’t want to get his seats marred with our wet suits—at least he didn’t want us to. And I feel he had a two-fold reason for our eating before we left for sightseeing and then home—filling empty stomachs and protecting his cloth car seats.
Seventy years have passed since that last visit to the famous beaches of Hampton before the 1933 storm. And I can’t tell you what we ate at Buckroe Beach with its many food booths, but I’ll never forget the lone hot dog stand at Grand View. The young man, who attended the booth, took pleasure in showing us hot ice—“so cold it is hot,” he’d say.
Most years we spent one day in Norfolk, visiting relatives and viewing changes in the city. Granddaddy always showed us the small-tool-makers shed in the Newport News Shipyard where he spent his workdays. It sat on the outside edge of the yard, and he worked alone in the building, making small tools and ship parts with small machinery and hand tools—a tedious job I learned in later years. He pointed out new schools, the Victory Arch in Newport News and other things of interest.
About Friday we all went shopping with Granny leading the way to Woolworths, Murphys and Kreskies—all five and dime stores. Many of their items actually sold for five cents and ten cents, but larger items were more. Granny had items in mind to purchase for Lou and me, but always asked if we wanted each. There were whirly gigs, bubble-blowing kits, a ball attached to a bat, jacks, jumping ropes and more. We left with one item apiece from each store and with candy or some other treat being her last purchase of the day.
By weekend, we were ready to leave for home, away from traffic stops, streetlights and streams of traffic on the highways.
Though it had been an exciting week, we welcomed the sight of our large ten-room house that we knew as home. And Daddy sat the buckets of tomatoes or baskets of corn, which he had gathered from the garden, down when he saw the automobile driving in the yard. He came to greet us with open arms.
© 2003 Catherine C.
Brooks. All Rights Reserved. Contact Catherine Brooks at
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