by Rev. John H. Farmer
As a wee lad I lived on Lawson Street, Richmond, a block off Hull Street Road which is a knot of road-spaghetti comprised of US 360 from Reedville entangling with highway US 60 and US 460 beginning in Virginia Beach. Its western terminus is currently near Brenda, Ariz.; combined and extending west of there to Los Angeles Calif., the historic extent of US 60. I never thought that that path from south Richmond to Reedville and back, would become my map home and away.
South Richmond was my geography, grown out of the old town of Manchester, cropped off by George Washington, along the south side of the James River, Richmond.
Today, even with the short White Stone, Route 3 sojourn across the Rappahannock River toward Harmony Grove and off to connect with west-leading I-64, I will opt for Route 3 north and 360 west, as my memory lane.
Starting at around age 7, every Friday, dad drove us from Richmond to Warsaw, jutted off 360 to Route 3, then another turn to Route 354 down River Road to Millenbeck and at Queenstown, out onto the Corrotoman River, two-buoys shy of Yankee Point Marina.
Those days were far less complicated than today, because someone other than me directed my path and purpose.
My reference of our two-story Lawson Street home takes me back to the divorce of my parents, and my being blessed to live with my paternal grandmother. Of course granddad was there as well, but his persona was indeed peripheral, as he was mostly off on the streetcar line most days selling cures, pills and ointments, and sleeping off his unsold patent medicines under the hall stairs, when at home.
I laugh at current real estate ads proclaiming starter, family and retirement homes. My early days were living in an after-the-war home, with a parade of aunts and uncles marrying, moving in and out, and my dad being my best roommate.
Three of the uncles were from far off Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. The resident Farmer, Vaughan, Brendlinger and Tooley, women all held clerical jobs and rode the streetcars to and fro until our clan thinned to two…
Weekly the contingent of uncles put on their best church attire and took religion in various, Methodist, Baptist, and Episcopalian pews, and/or an occasional bar stool. No doubt most of their fellow worshippers sported similar starched khaki and white shirts, still tattooed by former once sown-on chevrons that had identified their military rank in Europe and the western south Pacific.
The center of our home was the kitchen. The floor was scarred, multilayered linoleum; with wear holes looking like tree knots. It was the best smelling place in the whole world. Breakfast happened three times a day, so the guys could get out to new shift-work jobs at the US Defense Supply Center, Reynolds Metal, duPont, Phillip Morris, American Tobacco and several other cigarette factories. Some of those former industrial sites are now cherished and very expensive condos on the bluff overlooking the James River.
Grandmother Farmer’s kitchen was different from what is necessary of late. It housed a rocking chair, a Cameron Stove Works laundry stove, wood cook stove, large sink and drain, a multi-purpose cabinet that sifted flour and stored other dry goods. It also kept bread bowls and trays up off the floor. Our table would be hard to describe and certainly not now in fad. It had wobbly legs. Dad had nailed on irregular extensions to each end to accommodate those of us needing chow space. None of the chairs matched in age, height, nor style.
We had an old, oak icebox. The same chap who delivered our coal supplied it weekly. We loved that guy because when he stopped in to deliver ice, he’d sliver off chips for as many lads as gathered on the block.
To this day I do not like surf and turf. Dad hunted and fished all the time. Whatever his conquest, went into the box and all came out tasting like the sum. I gag at the thought of combined meat and fish dishes.
Grandmother never really ate with the rest of the shift-directed folks. Many years passed before I realized that she nibbled and tasted all the while she cooked. She’d take a chair or stool to a corner of the table, partook of spoonfuls off a saucer, constantly mindful of whose plate needed her. Refills usually came from the stove. There were few serving pieces. Leftovers found comfort in a blue Mason jar, which was the starter for next Saturday’s soup.
Dessert was occasional and rare, except for holidays and funeral receptions. There were a lot of those in our family. We paid our respects at Bliley’s, Third & Marshall, various churches or homes and returned to the kitchen to eat, cry, remember and catalog who had brought food, sent cards and flowers. Prayers, hugs and dessert healed us.
At one such loss, grandma sent along a Smithfield ham when travel away was not possible. Months later, hearing nothing from the far saddened land for months, she inquired if they indeed got the ham? Aunt, cousin or sister so in so replied, “Oh, Lida, we had hoped you wouldn’t ask; the ham was spoiled. It was covered with mold. We had to throw it out…”