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TideWriters Tales
Use of the Highways ~ Part IV
By Catherine C. Brooks
     In the twenties and thirties, even during the Great Depression, folks with automobiles and money for gasoline, wanted to enjoy travel weekends and on their vacations. Most of our men farmed and worked on the water; the women cooked, cleaned, washed and ironed, sewed and worked in the garden all week. Now that a way had become available, they wanted to see the outside world. My Grandpa Callis and Granddaddy Richardson both provided transportation for our family before Daddy had his own automobile. 

     We used Grandpa Callis’ Plymouth to buy groceries and sundry items at the local village—known as Mathews Court House—on Saturday afternoon or night. On Sundays, he picked us up for Sunday School and church services. If there were special services with song evangelists that Grandpa and Granny enjoyed, they invited us to go with them on Sunday afternoon.  

     The afternoon services that I remember attending were at the Pilgrim Holiness Church on Gwynn’s Island. There wouldn’t be time to change our clothes as usual when we arrived home from our church service. Mother used feed bag tea towels for bibs for my sister and me. She pinned the narrow end together at the back of our necks in order that our dresses would be fully covered. On these occasions we usually ate with our grandparents. The fully cooked meal sat on the back of the wood stove to keep warm until we arrived home from church. This allowed us to leave home a little past one o’clock. We rode to Cricket Hill where we always had to wait for the ferry to Gwynn’s Island. The state only provided a small ferryboat for this crossing since on a normal day that was sufficient. It carried six cars at the time. Many from the mainland of Mathews attended these services, so we most often got the second, or at the worst the third, ferry to leave after our arrival. It left every 30-minutes. The wait on our return was longer. It enabled us to visit with Mrs. Eugene Callis I—Miss Sally—who usually sat in a rocker on her front porch surrounded by shade trees. She entertained us with stories of the wharf, boats, storms that had been destructive and happenings on the Island. They had the meetings that I attended in late spring or early fall, but it seemed to always be hot weather.

     Granddaddy Richardson lived in Newport News but he and Granny visited the county every weekend. One weekend they’d stay at Mother’s sister’s home with her husband and two sons and the next weekend at our house across the road from my aunt. At least once each summer, he would suggest a trip to Richmond on a Sunday. Mother would pack a picnic basket with fried chicken, potato salad, deviled eggs, tomatoes to slice, bread and a cake. She fixed a two gallon thermos jug of iced tea or lemonade. 

     We would leave about eight in the morning and travel through Gloucester by the way of Ark. Once we passed West Point, I began to hold my stomach, anticipating the hills. We pulled up one hill and cruised down the other side, pulled up a second hill and cruised down the opposite side. Up and down over and over on the two-lane tarred highway for a long, long time. Every time we went down my stomach felt as it flipped a cartwheel.

     Richmond had parks with picnic tables. Since we drove 25 and 35 miles per hour over those hills, it was near noon when we arrived in Richmond. Once we located a comfortable spot, the food disappeared in short order. Leaving the park, we continued to Monument Avenue. I learned a history lesson each year as we saw the monuments. Daddy would tell us what one or two of the persons, whose statue we passed, had accomplished in the history of our country.

     When we reached Grove Avenue, off Monument, we knew we would visit Uncle Herbert and Aunt Bertha Richardson—one of Granddaddy’s brothers and his wife. We saw them about twice a year—once on our visit and again on theirs to Mathews. I learned to enjoy the turn-of-the-century furnishings, especially some of the first electric lamps with fringes and Tiffany shades. An hour passed quickly—for that is what we allowed ourselves. We traveled back the way we came, and I dreaded those up and down hills as before.

     In 1938 the Smithsonian Institution and National Zoological Park had grown extensively since Mother and her nearby sister, Marguerite, (Aunt Rite) had lived in Washington D.C. as teenagers. The Institution was founded in 1846 through the beneficence of James Smithson, an Englishman, in the amount of $550,000. The amount had increased substantially with other gifts. The Zoo, containing 167 acres, had been founded later in 1890. In 1938 it contained about 2,400 animals and nearly 600 species.

     Aunt Rite asked Mother if she, my sister and I would like to accompany her and her children for a day’s trip to visit the Capital City. Once I heard an inkling of the coming event, I couldn’t calm the butterflies inside. A dream come true.

     When the appointed day arrived, nine of us piled into the new 1938 black Chevrolet two-door sedan at 4:30 a.m. Three adults sat on the front seat and one adult with five children ranging in ages from six years to twelve years packed in the back seat. Two hassocks in the floor on either side of the back seat provided seats for the two smallest passengers—my cousin and my sister. Again the trunk held picnic baskets and large thermos jugs. We visited the Washington Monument, the Smithsonian Institute and the Zoo where we found a picnic table to eat our lunch. By this hour the early morning breakfast had disappeared. We couldn’t miss any section of the zoo except the plain old cows and pigs (farm animals) located near our picnic table. I wondered why they were there since I saw them every day. The trip provided exciting back-to-school reports about our summer vacation. 

© 2001 Catherine C. Brooks All rights reserved

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