Two more ladies who nourished my early development and taste

Don’t Touch That Sugar!

Three doors and about a hundred yards dash from my home was where Miss Mamie lived.  Her house was always busy. I liked visiting her and her three young adult daughters, whom I knew as “Monk”, Iona, and Eula Mae.

As I entered their home during ages 3 through 7, I could see a variety of “what nots” on the mantle and end tables.  They would let me play with them to explore the gentleness of the tiny porcelain pieces. There also was a standing order in their home: Don’t Touch That Sugar! The restriction applied to the sugar in a little glass bowl sitting on the left corner of the massive cupboard.  It was reserved for James Edward.  A clean spoon lay next to my special reserve, both positioned to welcome me even before the hostesses knew I had arrived, since my visits were frequently unannounced.

One day disappointment greeted me.  The container was empty.  My eyelids were too small to contain the tears falling to the floor, leaving their trail along my puffy cheeks.  Miss Mamie saw my agony, and upon a quick inspection also discovered that her directive had been ignored.  She summoned the group with one loud command: “Get in here.”  The girls quickly suspended whatever they were doing and assembled before their mother. Miss Mamie calmly took a seat, then sat me on her lap and pressed my head to her bosom at an angle which enabled me to wipe my tears on her apron and observe the person who caused my grief.  In a slow deliberate voice, she said, “Whoever emptied James Edward’s sugar dish had better go and fill it up.”  And, gently stroking my head, she urged, “I think you had better do it before another tear drops from my baby’s eyes.”  Eula Mae moved swiftly, as her mother set the rocking chair in motion, lulling me to a comfortable level as she hummed a Negro spiritual.  Eula Mae beat the deadline.  She then took me from her mother’s lap, continued the hymn, cradled me and expressed contrition, “I’m sorry James Edward.”  Miss Mamie pressed a heaping spoon of sugar to my lips and reminded her daughters, “James Edward gets about in a hurry.  Whenever he can’t find what he needs it slows him down.  Don’t make him wait.”  She knew me as her own, as did every other adult in the neighborhood.   

Between the ages 3 – 7, I was a ‘neighborhood sighting concern.’ My whereabouts often prompted the neighborhood question, “Have you seen James Edward?” Whoever sighted me would yell, “He’s over here,” or “I saw him heading in the direction of – – -?

After leaving Miss Mamie’s house that day I went – – -?

The Sounds and the Music

On Monday, my mother walked more than two miles to work. On Tuesday it rained, so Miss Virginia Howell, my mother’s employer, gave her a ride home.  When the car stopped at our door, I rushed to greet both ladies; to welcome my mother home, and to answer Miss Virginia’s questions. “How are you James Edward, and what have you been doing?”  Her interest was not pretense.  Both she and her husband always asked the same questions, and then carefully listened to my answers.  My response was tentative: “Miss Virginia, I heard some very pretty music on the radio on Sunday.”  It was 1946; I was 12 years old, and our house was now wired for electricity. Our new entertainment included the radio programs Lum and Abner, The Great Gildersleeve, Burns & Allen, The Lone Ranger, Fibber McGee & Molly, and The Romance of Helen Trent. After church services on Sunday, the offerings included The Shadow, Nick Carter Master Detective, The FBI in Peace and War, Mr. District Attorney, and another program where I heard beautiful music. Miss Virginia continued her inquiry: “What was the name of the program and what did the music sound like James Edward?”  “I don’t know the name of the program, all I remember is that it was something about a watch, over, and the color tan.” We waved goodbye.

Friday afternoon was sunny. When my teacher rang the hand-held bell to signal the end of the school-week, I routinely rushed to the path which guided me home. But on this Friday, Miss Virginia’s car blocked my route. She was smiling, and she even opened the front door of her car and offered me a ride to her home. When we arrived, she told me to get a package from the rear seat. Both my mother and I wondered about Miss Virginia’s purpose. She sensed our confusion and promptly asked me to repeat my description of the program where I heard the beautiful music on Sunday. My mental notes were the same: Something about a watch, over, and tan.  She then asked me to open the package, which contained a stack of carefully wrapped heavy records. Miss Virginia then said, “Now James Edward, I hope I did this right, because your face showed such delight as you mentioned the music, so here’s what I did.”

Miss Virginia was a White schoolteacher, with access to the library and other places for research. Her instincts led her to the local radio station, WGOV, where she examined the program log for Sunday. She then made some guesses. The only program on which a watch was repeatedly mentioned was The Wittnauer-Longines Symphonette, and on the previous Sunday, the only selection which sounded like over, and tan was Richard Wagner’s Overture to Tannhauser. My friend positioned me to crank the Victrola record player. As I cranked, the turntable spun at 78 revolutions per minute (78 rpm’s). She gently lifted the metal arm which held a thick needle and lowered it into the wide grooves of the record. The orchestral introduction of The Pilgrims Chorus vibrated from the speaker and touched me as deeply as her loving gesture. She held my hand, and we both cried.


Good Memories

Good memories are treasures that we horde for ourselves.

Sometimes they are the only currency that can buy peace of mind.

They give us safe passage to where we were once content.

Good memories are not exhausted by time.


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