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Annabelle Nabors Buchanan
Chapter 4
: My New Home 1939-1942

 

The long ride from Hopwood to Alfred, N.Y., was about 300 miles, and took all day. Alfred was a University town, and I loved it immediately. There were lovely old houses, wide streets lined with Maple trees that had been there for many long years.

Uncle Harry was assistant to the Dean of the Ceramic School and very much respected in the community.

The first thing Aunt Carrie did was take Mamma and me shopping in the nearby town. I received all new school clothes and church outfits. Mamma also had all new clothes.

Their home was lovely; a white wood structure that had been built many years ago. It was located just at the edge of town. There was a walk leading into the house from the street, the front door opened into a room fixed sort of like an entry hall. One door from that room led into a big living room, another door led into Uncle Harry's study, and another door led into the formal dining room. The kitchen was in the back of the house and opened to a huge backyard. There were raspberry bushes that were used for delicious recipes and canning.

A stairway led from the entry room upstairs. I was shown my new bedroom. Since there was a large maple tree outside the window, Aunt Carrie decorated the room in maple furniture. There were two other bedrooms, and a sewing room. Aunt Carrie was a very good seamstress, as her mother had been before her.

I loved my new home. The smell was rich and the aroma was that of furniture polish and very clean. The last few years at Grandma's had not been easy, and as a teenager, this was heaven!

When a few days had passed, Aunt Came saw a friend approaching the house. She told me to entertain the lady until she changed clothes. I was scared, but did as I was told. Her name was Miss Charles, an English lady. She was most gracious and we chatted for a while until Aunt Carrie came down. This was to be the first of many occasions that were part of the learning process of living with them.

I was enrolled in the high school about a half mile from the house. The classes were very small and the students were made up mostly of faculty's children, and a few from farms on the outskirts of town.

I had no trouble adjusting and very shortly afterwards was invited to a party at Sally Rices’ home. It was just a short distance from our house. I was in my glory. I knew a new dance step that had been learned in Pennsylvania. It made me the hit of the party. The dance was called "The Shag." I taught all the others to do the step, and ended having a boyfriend in the bargain. His name was Frank Lobaugh, the son of the university football coach. I also met Hannah Saunders, who was to become my closest friend.

Mamma and I had only been there for about a month, when she decided she would return to Pennsylvania. She wanted me to go with her. I told her "No," that I would remain until I finished school. It was sad to see her leave, but I could not imagine what it would be like to live with her.

Aunt Carrie and Uncle Harry were very much for routine living. I walked to and from school, and came home for lunch. Every other day, we had soup for lunch, and then the next day there would be Waldorf salad, cottage cheese, sliced lunch meat, and tea.

Breakfast during the week consisted of a dessert dish with ground nuts, which they had shipped from South America. With that, we had a pint glass of fresh orange juice that Uncle Harry made each weekend. Then on weekends Uncle Harry cooked a banquet for breakfast.

Each Saturday, the three of us would go to Hornell, the biggest nearby town. She would go to the beauty parlor, while Uncle Harry and I would go to the movies.

Aunt Carrie had flowered slip covers on the living room furniture in the summer, and the drapes were all changed to light and airy material. Then in the winter, they were all changed back to heavier and darker fabrics.

We went to church at the small Episcopal chapel on campus each Sunday except for holy days, and then we attended the big church in Hornell. I was baptized and confirmed Episcopal. I sang in the small choir. I loved the vestments made of red with white collars and black ties. The best time was when we sang in Hornell. It was really a good feeling and even the early hour of 6:00 a.m. on Easter did not bother me.

I was told that when my 16th birthday arrived, they would give me a party. Then I would be allowed to date within certain limits. Frank and I were counting the days.

She was true to her word. Uncle Harry removed the rugs in the living room and the entry room. They gave me a record player with several records. They were mostly Tommy Dorsey, the big band of our day.

I had a new gold crepe dress for the occasion. She had two tables set in the dining room, and hired her lady that cooked for special dinners. I was allowed to invite 16 friends. It was my very first birthday party and it was so grand.

After the delicious dinner and gifts, the music came on and dancing started. Uncle Harry was an excellent dancer, so I danced first with him. Then he danced with each girl. The party was a real success, and I never had been more happy.

I was soon to learn how strict Aunt Carrie could really be when she set her mind to it. On New Year's Eve, Bill Robinson, a neighbor was having a party, and I was invited. The answer was “no” because it was on a Sunday night, and parties were not allowed on the Sabbath. No use to argue, the answer had been given. I watched my friends from the upstairs window with tears in my eyes. It was a hard lesson in self-denial. In later years I realized how important self-discipline can be for our survival.

Uncle Harry was a perfectionist, and golf was no exception. He studied books on the subject and even made a mat from linoleum, then painted footprints where the correct positions should be. He and I would go to the university football field. He would use his mat for practice and hit the golf balls. It was my job to recover them. Then for reward, he would teach me to hit the ball a few times.

On one occasion, he asked if I would like to drive the car home. He was a good teacher, and I did fine. The problem was, Aunt Carrie saw us drive in. She said, "Are you crazy, Harry, letting the kid drive our new car?" That was the end of that.

Uncle Harry was the Fencing Coach at the university for boys and girls. He let me try fencing with the foils and sabres at home, but I was never really interested.

After dinner, he and I would walk through the campus. The carillons played by Professor Wingate made it so peaceful, and lovely. Uncle Harry was a very quiet man, so I did most of the talking, and sometimes we just walked in silence.

The winters were very cold and 0° was common. Hannah, or "Gabby," as she was called, always walked to school with me. We never stopped talking. There seemed to be so much to say. One morning we walked to school, only to find out school was closed because it was 0°. We returned home and when the temperature warmed up, a crowd of us went tobogganing. It was so great. We also went at night on the campus. There were many hills. We really went at high speeds and would scream all the way down the hill.

I saw a lot of Frank in those days and Hannah would always join us with her boyfriend, Mac McGuire. We went to her house a lot and played Dutch bridge, a card game, or to a movie. We could walk to all the places, so we had no need for a car.

The first year in school there I took drama class. It was a real favorite with me. I got the part of the villainess in "Curse You, Jack Dalton." Aunt Carrie went up to the attic in our house and dug out a sheer red flapper dress from the l 920’s. That was my costume for the play, along with several strands of beads she had in the trunk.

The parents were all there the night of the play. I had three curtain calls and Aunt Carrie was so pleased.

When spring came, I went to the high school dance and wore my first formal. Aunt Carrie was very well trained in that area. She bought me a peach colored gown and gave me a short velvet evening cape with a red stone clasp at the neck. I felt like a million dollars.

The problem was that a boy asked me first that I did not care for. His name was John Sidlin, and he walked like he had two left feet. He knelt on his knee in our living room to ask me and that did not appeal to me. Aunt Carrie insisted that it was good manners to accept the first invitation. It was a terrible dilemma, because I wanted to go with Frank. Finally, he and I pulled some kind of trick and achieved our plan. I cannot even remember what we did to accomplish it.

1940 - That spring, Aunt Carrie and Uncle Harry took me with them to Atlantic City. It was so wonderful. We stayed at the Strand Hotel on the boardwalk. It was the first time I had ever stayed in a hotel or saw the ocean. It was just one of the good experiences with them.

That summer, Aunt Carrie also learned of voice lessons to be given on campus by a Canadian teacher. She had me try out. They accepted me and for six weeks, I attended lessons every day.

I made friends with a few French-Canadian girls that were with the group. They came to my house after classes and we would play croquet in the yard.

At the end of the course, we had a concert, and of course, my aunt and uncle attended.

Each summer before school started, we made a trip to Pennsylvania. They would take me to visit all the relatives especially my sisters.

I had developed a lot of dignity and the pain about my parents was already beginning to heal.

When we went to see Lottie at Grandma Nabor's house, my father was there. That was a surprise I was not prepared for. He came up to me and tried to put his arm around me. I immediately pulled back and pushed him away. It was sad for Lottie, because we did not stay long.

We spent more time at Nanny's and so I saw Ruth the most. Aunt Carrie had me put on evening gowns and show them how I looked and had me sing for them. I guess she wanted them to know she was doing a good job. It seemed to me it was a repentance for the wrong she had done to her children. When we were ready to leave Pennsylvania, the tears flowed like wine.

I do not remember seeing my mother during the visits. Maybe it has been blocked. I did hear of her escapades. One story was that her jaw had been broken by a man in a bar where she was drinking. I was told that her looks were changed by the damage. I felt so sorry and by that time gave up on the wish that Mamma would every change.

Back in Alfred, life was so good. At one point, we had guests from New York City. They had a young girl my age. Aunt Carrie decided I should learn how to set a table properly and serve. She would nod to me to go into the kitchen and when she rang the little bell, I served the food. The young girl remarked later that their maid did that at home. I felt a certain amount of hostility to my aunt, but knew it was a one-time thing.

Aunt Carrie made sure that I learned to work. The sterling silver was my job to keep polished and there were two sets of flatware. Also, cooking was one of her first jobs for me. I learned to make cakes, cook all vegetables and meat. There were also house cleaning chores. It was my job to polish the hardwood floors around all the rugs. They had to shine and she never allowed a dust mop. It was done on my hands and knees.

It seemed at time Aunt Carrie was possessed by demons. At those times, nothing pleased her. She would pick at me for any little thing. I never sassed or argued. One of those times, she was upstairs in the sewing room, and I was cleaning the kitchen. When I cleaned the glass shelf over the stove, it fell and broke. She heard it, and said “All right, what did you break?” She came downstairs and slapped my face. I bit my tongue until it bled, but would never say anything. I think that must have been more frustrating for her. She continued that day, and when we were seated at dinner, she still picked. Uncle Harry said "Leave the girl alone.” She stopped and was much nicer for that evening.

Holidays are vague in my mind. Perhaps because they were so quiet. On Christmas, of course, we went to Hornell, and I sang in the choir at church. Then we went to the biggest hotel dining room for dinner. That seemed fine to me at the time. It wasn't until I had a big family that I realized how lonely it was.

One Thanksgiving, Uncle Hany's sister, Viola, came to visit. She was younger and a real fun person. She had lived with them as a teenager, so could relate to me. She and I were in the kitchen one evening cooking cauliflower. We had pans with removable handles. Viola and I were talking so much, and I was not paying attention when the handle came loose. The cauliflower spilled all over the floor. She said, "Quick, pick it up and they will never know the difference". So that is just what I did. She and I snickered every time it was passed.

During her visit, Uncle Harry, Viola and I went to a University football game. It was a night game and very cold with snow flurries flying. We had our blankets wrapped around our legs, and had a great time. When we arrived at the house Aunt Carrie had hot chocolate waiting. I certainly hated to see Viola leave.

There were many notable guests came to the house, but I was never expected to serve again. One time, I had the pleasure of sitting next to the President of Colgate University. He talked to me all during the meal. It gave me an ability to talk with anyone and a curiosity about people that has remained with me.

In the summer of my Junior year, Aunt Carrie's daughter Helen was having a baby. She was diabetic, so Aunt Carrie was asked to come and help. She had been dose to her through the years. I was told to keep house for Uncle Harry. He went to work each day. I cleaned up the house and Hannah would come down sometimes. We went up into the attic and got out all flapper dresses, and had a ball putting them on. She had stage make-up and we would give each other facials and use the make-up.

I loved going to her house. Her parents were so relaxed and comfortable. They had six children, so there was lots of activity. She had older sisters, Harriet, Rachel and Virginia and two brothers, Steve and Phillip. Sometimes I would go up there at 6:30 a.m. and we would leave for the tennis courts. They were on the University campus, so we would play until the students chased us off.

One day, I forgot the time and really rushed to prepare dinner. The pork chops were burned at that time. I must say that Uncle Hany did not complain.

Of course, while Aunt Carrie was gone, it was my duty to do the laundry. They had an Easy spin-dry washer. Aunt Carrie failed to show me how to use the spin-dry part. I was too shy to ask Uncle Harry, so I rung all the clothes by hand. There were large blisters from ringing the sheets. When Aunt Carrie came home, I related to her what I had done, and she laughed so hard. She was pleased by the way I had kept the house.

One of my friends was Thelma Burdick. Next to Hannah, she was my favorite. I spent over-nights at her house many times. She lived on a dairy farm at Alfred-Station. They had a large family also, and it was a good change from the University life. I can still see her dad, a tall blonde man with his bib-overalls going out in the early mornings to the barn. Her mother was a very dedicated lady to her family and husband. She wore a cotton house dress and immaculate aprons to serve us breakfast around the big kitchen table. I think it was so enjoyable to me because at my grandmother's home and Aunt Carrie's, I was an only child.

Two other friends were Sally Rice and Genevieve Polan. Gen was in my class but neither were really close friends.

In the summer of 1941, after Aunt Carrie returned, my uncle told her there was a chance to buy another house. It was the home of Frank Lobaugh’s family, and had been in the family back to his grandfather's day. Frank's family was moving to New York City. He was no longer my boyfriend, but I hated to see them leave.

The house was priced at $10,000.00 and a lovely big brick home further up town. They decided to buy it and we moved.

It set a ways back from the street and it was larger than the first house. It had a large front porch across the front and went around the side of the house. The front door opened into an entry hall. There was a long stairway leading upstairs. The stairs were painted ivory with thick dark red carpeting. The door from the entry hall led into the main living room. It was very sedate with a fireplace and very high windows facing the street There was a doorway leading from that room into a second living room with another fireplace with a built-in love seat to one side. It was furnished more casual. There was a bay window on the side of the room, and at the other end, another bay window, which was located in Uncle Harry's study. Another door from that room led into a formal dining room, with yet another fireplace. That room had a doorway leading into the large kitchen, and pantry in the back. The kitchen also had a hidden stairway to the upstairs.

It was a wonderful home for entertaining. However, it did not have the warmth for me that the first home had.

Upstairs, there was a sewing room at the back of the house, a full-sized bath, and another small room that led into my room. My room was in the upstairs part of the bay window. A large lilac bush was right outside my window, and the fragrance was overwhelming in the springtime.

My aunt and uncle had their room across the hall from me, with a small half bath, and in the front of the house was the guest room with another fireplace made of marble. I should mention that all the fireplaces had been converted to gas.

Aunt Carrie entertained quite a lot. I remember one bridge party and luncheon. It happened to be on Washington's Birthday, so she made red, white and blue bread, one loaf of each. The finger sandwiches were very pretty and a big hit. I loved to come from school after a party. There were so many goodies.

Shortly after moving into the house, Uncle Harry started having a breakfast once a month for all the Episcopal students at the University. That was a glorious event for me. Of course, I became attracted to one fellow named Darryl Beard. He invited me to fraternity parties and dances. They were always chaperoned, so Aunt Carrie gave permission.

I was an average student, and my best classes were English and History. Bookkeeping was also one of my better grades, but the sciences did not appeal to me, and the grades showed it.

Our gym teacher was a man named Mr. Miller. I think he resented having the girls’ classes as much as we did having him. For some reason, he got a kick out of teasing me. He always had me guard a tall girl in basketball, and laughed when I struggled to do the job. In softball, he always said "Slugger Nabors" is up, watch out! That would cause me to get mad and I would grit my teeth and hit that ball a country mile. It worked every time.

Just before my senior year, a new building had been erected for Alfred students to join with another town. The high school was named Alfred-Almond. Then there were more town students than faculty students.

We also had a new gym teacher and her name was Miss Bacon. The girls were certainly pleased about that.

In December of 1941, while attending class, we were told of the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. We did not even know where Pearl Harbor was until that horrible day in history. It was to become a memory etched in all our minds from that day forward.

There was not a profound difference in our lives right away. Soon though, there was a rationing of meat, butter and silk stockings were not available. The silk was used for parachutes to be used by the Air Force. Everything that could be used for the service was rationed, especially gasoline.

There was one bad episode that winter. Sally had come to our house. She and I practiced dance steps and then went to the library. We ran into her boyfriend, Charles Ferguson and his cousin who was visiting from West Point. They returned home with me to get permission for me to go to her house. Permission was granted with instructions to be home by 11:00 p.m. When we arrived at her house, the boys started playing chess. The game seemed to go on forever. I would never interrupt, so I suffered in silence. Finally, the boys walked me home, and it was easily midnight. The house was dark when we arrived. I tried to go upstairs very quietly, but each stair had a squeak. I could hear my aunt and uncle talking in their room.

The next morning no questions were asked. She just told me to pack my clothes to leave. It was the first time I stood up to Aunt Carrie. I turned and went upstairs and started packing my suitcase. Eventually she came up and looked at me and then said, "Well, maybe we should talk about this.” I ended up unpacking after telling her what had happened. I had the feeling that my uncle had done some talking to her.

He was really a good man and the closest I had for a father. He made a business trip to Washington, D.C. and brought us gifts. Mine was a grey and charcoal paid suit with a white collar, and it fit perfect. For my aunt, a beautiful evening gown and a darling hat.

In the spring of 1942, my aunt and uncle went to Florida to visit her daughter, Helen. They boarded me with a lady named Miss Binns. She was a spinster and a sculptress on the campus. She was very English and a member of the Episcopal Church. I can still see her, tall regal frame and very plain. She walked with such dignity and always wore a tam on her head. Her home was very old, but extremely neat. It was quite bare, except for necessities. She had so many sculptures that she had made. One was a bust of her father, who had been the president of the university in its early days.

She had adopted two little girls from New York City. Their names were Rosie and Elizabeth. They were so fond of me. and pleased that I was going to stay there. Miss Binns was a kind and delightful lady to know.

I, given the keys to our house, and each day it was my duty to go there and water the plants.

Shortly, after going to Miss Binns, home, I was invited to a fraternity ball with Darryl. I accepted and assured Miss Binns that my folks would approve.

I went to our house and took some of my aunt's jewelry and long white gloves, also her long black velvet cape with a ruby clasp at the neck. I borrowed a formal from Hannah' an aqua dress with low cut neck and I wore a black ribbon around my neck with a cameo in front. I thought I was really something. I happened to be the only high school girl attending. Looking back, I probably looked a little bit ridiculous. Professor Wingate was our chaperone and he drove us in his car to and from the ball. The next day, I returned the jewelry, especially the rings to our house.

Shortly after that dance, Darryl joined the service, and I never saw him again. The war was on all our minds, and we wondered who would be next.

When my aunt and uncle returned, life went on as usual. One special thing comes to mind. We went to a program at the university in which the Russian Cossack dancers performed. That was a very spectacular event.

My future was being discussed and it was decided that I would take a Civil Service test. They also thought I should submit application to nursing school in Rochester. I preferred to wait for that.

My senior year went by quickly. I entered into all the activities. Thelma Burdick and I obtained all the advertising for the yearbook. Plans were big for the senior ball and I was voted as one of four to assist the Queen. She was a petite blonde named Eleanor Griswold. Since there were only twenty-seven in our graduating class, there were not too many girls to choose from.

I attended with a boy named Clay Ormsby. He was the brightest one in the class, and helped me quite a bit with studying in those days. I certainly enjoyed dancing with all the teachers.

In May, just before graduation, a telegram from the government came saying that I had been accepted for a job in the Treasury Department in Washington, D.C. after graduation. The salary was $1,420.00 per year.

Graduation was exciting and then preparations were made for my trip. Aunt Carrie was full of advice. Do not make up with strangers too soon, and be very careful with my wallet. She said to sleep with it under my pillow.

She and Uncle Harry took me to Olean, N.Y. to catch the train. They gave me $100.00 and that was to do until my first paycheck. I left 10 days before my job started so that I would find a place to live. They advised me to go directly to the Y.W.C.A. It was very hard saying good-bye. I was both scared and excited at the same time. So, at the age of 19 years, l was ready to embark on a life of my own.

Those two people had given me a home when I needed it so desperately. I really never questioned their advice. So, another chapter in my life was about to start.

Return to Table of Contents - Next: Chapter V: Washington DC, June 1942

 

 

Copyright 1984 Annabelle Nabors Buchanan

Republished on Minerd.com with permission.  Reproduction forbidden without written consent of Minerd.com.