I have some good memories of Brevard and environs from before we left there. Well, good in the sense that they were fairly positive or at least innocuous, and they're still with me after more than half a century. Some, when I've told my sister about them recently, she's been surprised at — "How can you remember that? You were only two!" (or three, or whatever)
|In the five years or so we were there, we lived in three different places that I remember. My first memories are of a rustic sort of house deep in Pisgah National Forest, not far from a CCC camp. In those days we named our dwellings and our autos; the house was called John Rock, after a nearby granite outcrop by that name, and the "John" was, I believe, John Jacob Astor, who built the place as a hunting lodge, some time before the forest was established as a protected National Forest. I have rough recollections of a dark wood exterior and a wide lawn to one side. And there was something about a largish wire-enclosed cage where a deer had been kept for a while; seems like it had been hurt and was awaiting attention by forest authorities, but those kinds of details must have been picked up later. There's a photo of Hale inside it in one of our photo albums.||The Civilian Conservation Corps is something that worked in the Great Depression; it seems to me that it might be a good thing to revive, to replace or supplement current welfare programs, sort of a la the Peace Corps, but for local, U.S. applications. Of course, as long as the Government officially, or at least practically, and certainly statistically, ignores the homeless problem (something that began with the Ronald Reagan administration, but has hardly been party-dependent) then this may only be a pipe dream. Comic Relief was a wonderful effort while it lasted (I miss it, but of course Robin Williams and Whoopi Goldberg and Billy Crystal had to move on, I guess), but no matter how much good it did, it couldn't do enough, because it couldn't address the underlying causes. Too many people don't recognize it as their problem. And we (a government of the people, for the people and by the people, remember?) thus won't put the appropriate pressure on those who can get the job done.|
My main memory of John Rock was escaping from a playpen and, seeking my father, walking down a path to the CCC camp, where he had taken me to visit one time before. I found my way to the camp, and to one of the raised (one could see under it), pre-fab type buildings where, I guess, some kind of class or meeting was taking place. I walked up to the door, opened it, and said, "Hey!" That is, or was, the greeting in those parts, like "Hi!" in other regions of the country. Somebody up in front, also said "Hey!" in response, though I suspect (in retrospect) that he meant it differently. In fact, he may have said it first. I do recall that when I repeated it (as very young children will do), I got disappointingly little further response. I was told to stay where I was, which I obediently did (well, I might have had to be reminded), and, eventually, after what seemed to me tediously long, Dad (or someone) came along and picked me up.
Long afterwards, recently in fact, Elinor, my sister, told me that I had given them all great concern on that occasion. Not only did the path down to the CCC camp cross a small bridge with no railings, but in order to get to the camp I must also have crossed a road with fairly busy traffic. I would have been two or three at the time.
The second place, though I long recollected it as the first, I remember only as "The Smith Cottage." I believe it was in town, as opposed to the other two which weren't; in my memory it had a small front porch, more like a landing, and an entranceway that divided into what I long assumed was our area and somebody else's. My clearest memory from there was looking into the rear of the motor housing of a running vacuum cleaner (a Eureka, but that I remember from later), where I could see sparks flashing. And I was being warned not to put my fingers into the holes... Elinor recently explained to me that my maternal grandparents had come to live with us (more about that in the next installment), but could not deal with the conditions at John Rock, so they had been staying at the Smith Cottage until another place could be found. I must have been brought over to stay or visit with them on occasion, and that section that I thought was someone else's was in all likelihood Grandma and Grandpa's room, where, as in later years, I was never supposed to go. Funny how distant memories can distort things.
|The last place we lived in North Carolina was outside the forest — just barely. It was a two-story house built on the side of a hill well away from the highway, a couple of miles out of town and adjacent to the official entrance to Pisgah National Forest. The forest itself came right up to our back yard, with only a fence atop a brief embankment to mark the boundary. Across the highway was one of the ubiquitous paper plants that dot the region. When I was last there, a couple of decades ago, it was an Olin Mathieson plant, but at the time the only name attached to it was "Ecusta," (long u, ee-coo-sta) and we called the house Ecusta Vista. I remember a longish water tank there (I don't find it in this image) that resembled a tank car in a train set I had then (a wind-up mechanical one), and I announced to everyone in my family that that water tank was "my train." When we moved away, I remember taking a last look at it and expecting to come back to get it one day.|
This is a relatively recent image of the Ecusta Mill plant. Evidently it was still called that, though it was in fact a subsidiary of Olin Matheison. It made cigarette and light printing papers among other things. I received this image or a link to it three or four years ago from someone who had found my reference to it here, and he advised that the plant was about to be closed down. I can't find a specific year for when it was closed, though it apparently occurred in August, perhaps of 2002 or 2003. Other references online indicate that it was up for sale, but not all bidders were apparently interested in restoring it to active business.
I've been called a dreamer, and some of my earlier memories were of some recurring dreams. The best ones were flying dreams. Most people have these early in life, I guess, and over the years I gradually lost that ability to fly at will in my dreams, but then it was a regular, and often counted-on, element. My imagination was good enough that I knew what the tops of the outbuildings and, indeed, our house, looked like, even from angles that I would never have been able to see in reality. One less cheerful series of dreams involved road graders, those long, yellow, structurally insectoid machines, making a noise like a tractor on steroids, that would appear, crawling out from behind the house, usually spoiling whatever pleasant dream I was having and frightening me awake. I have no recollection whatsoever of the incident that spurred those dreams, though I was told later there had been one.
Then there was a more mysterious series of near nightmares. I dreamt of being in the back yard and hearing a mysterious humming. I'd look up; something was imminent, beyond the rooftop, but about to appear. Sometimes there was a kind of feverish glow that would just begin to edge over the rooftop. Frightened, I would run into the house, usually through the breezeway that led to the kitchen. In the kitchen I would look up and see a strange sort of pinpoint of golden light, akin to that fever glow, radiating, a little like looking at the sun through squinted eyes, coming down from beyond and through the ceiling. I can actually remember trying to stand my ground in later occurrances, but sooner or later my panic grew so strong that I woke. It wasn't until many years later that I thought I understood that one's significance. Pearl Harbor had brought the U.S. to war in the Pacific by this time. Though that and the European theater of war were distant to me, I do recall listening to the news on the radio, including short wave broadcasts. And while I don't specifically remember being told about the bombing, or that I understood what it was, I'm sure Hale or Elinor had tried to explain it to me. The dreams had been my interpretation of their description of what might happen, should the war come to us.
For a period of time we had a maid whose name was Evelyn. This was a little confusing, since I knew that was my mother's name, too. She was somehow different from my family, but she was really sweet with me, though most of the time too busy to play, and I did like her. Much later I learned that she was young, perhaps only around the same age as my brother and sister. Meanwhile, I guess I was picking up some of the vibes of racial prejudice, since it was fairly ubiquitous and uncontroversial in that time and place. Elinor has told me that I had already some idea of the back-of-the-bus thing, though it's hard for me now to relate to that. And I know that while I learned, somewhere, the wrong words to "Eeny, meeny, miney, mo..." the one time I recited them, at some rare social occasion, I was told by someone I respected that the line was "catch a monkey by the toe" and the other word was bad. I certainly associated neither word with Evelyn. However, she wasn't quite family and, as a mischievous kid, I didn't really feel I had to obey her as I would Mama or Daddy, so one time when she was supposed to be watching over me, I clambered up the embankment behind the house, got past the fence, and ran off into the woods, despite her calls after me to come back. I wasn't supposed to do that, either, but I knew the way from other clandestine investigations, and all I really was going to do was run down a path, get to the gate in the road where we had our more usual access to the forest, and come back around and surprise her. It was just a game. Details of further events of that day are no longer with me, but it seems like I couldn't find her when I got back. I'm pretty sure I got in trouble for what I did but, worse, I'd gotten her into trouble. And I'd lost a friend. I'm not sure, but she may have left soon after that, though I think there were other circumstances having to do with her own family. But this was one of the earliest tough lessons in my life. Not that I haven't been stubborn and thoughtless many more times since, and sometimes worse, when I was old enough to know better, I'm sorry to say.