I went to see Virginia Robertson Wood last week. Missy Jones had told me that Virginia had some wonderful memories from the 1940s. Sure enough, it was a delightful hour!
The 1940s…filled with those wonderful old movies and the glamorous ladies who graced the silver screen, remember? Well, I don’t either, not first hand, but I have seen the ones that later came to television, and I lived those days vicariously through the memories of the young girl who became my mom. Of course, those were the also the days of victory gardens, and saving gas stamps, and Patriotism with a capital P, as every one supported the war effort.
With those things in mind, I sat down with Virginia Strother Robertson Wood today, planning to visit with her about the war days, a War on the Home Front type of story, I suppose. And while Virginia and I do still plan to write just that, on this day, our minds roamed in a different direction. Today, we just roamed, letting the memories of a very young girl travel where they would.
“When I graduated from high school in Comanche, I moved into town because I got a job at the courthouse, and Mama and Daddy only had one car. I wasn’t going to take it away from them every day. I only worked at the courthouse a few months because someone told Mr. Chilton, the President of the Comanche National Bank, that I knew shorthand. He called me and asked me if I would be interested in a job. Gerry Slider* was leaving to get married, and her job was going to be open.
“So there I was, sixteen years old and living in Miss Mamie Long’s boarding house on College Street, just across from the old gym that later became the First Baptist Church Childcare Center. I made $40.00 a month, and I paid $18.00 for room and board that included three meals a day.”
Of course, Virginia had no car and she walked to the bank in the morning, back to Miss Mamie’s for lunch, back to the bank for the afternoon, and back to Miss Mamie’s after work.
“All of the girls walked: rain, shine, mud, frost, or freeze, it did not matter. We walked.”
And sometimes when they weren’t working, the girls would walk around town and look and dream the dreams that only young girls can dream.
“Wright Street was deep sand. Of course, nothing was paved back then. We used to walk up by the old Cunningham place [where Bill Clemons later build a home], and we’d dream about the girls who might have lived there, the girls like we’d seen on Gone With The Wind. We thought that house was the most wonderful place we had ever seen, and we never understood why it wasn’t purchased by the city for a library….ANYTHING…besides allowing it to be torn down. I’ll never forget how sick I was when it was taken down.”
Of course, in Virginia I found a kindred spirit, one who knows that those old places have a heart and a pulse, that they even speak to those who know how to hear their voices so I understood completely as we sat in total silence for a few moments, mourning what might have been.
And then, we moved back into happier memories.
“There was a café on the south side of the square. I think it might have been Lola’s. This was before I lived at Miss Mamie’s. I could get a bowl of beans, light bread, and tea for 15 cents. We’d save our money. Old man Filklestein had a place where Durham Pecan is today. He made the best hamburgers you ever put in your mouth. They were 25 cents, and the girls and I would save our pennies until we had a quarter so we could buy a hamburger!” she laughed aloud at the memory.
And then came one last sad memory, the memory of the razing of what today we often call the Victorian courthouse.
“I cried. I just couldn’t stand it. That was the prettiest thing, and why didn’t they use the money and repair the old one? Every time I’d go to Stephenville years later and see them working on their courthouse, I thought about how Comanche County could have done just that!”
Moving to much happier times, I finished my visit with Virginia by telling her the exciting plans that Revitalize Comanche is working on at the moment. Needless to say, she was more than thrilled.
“I’ve always wanted Comanche to do this,” 92 year old bubbled.
I forgot to tell you that didn’t I? Of course, there is nothing in me that is able to process the fact that Virginia can possibly be past the 90 mark, not in looks, not in attitude, not in anything!
“I just love it! Bally [her first husband] always said if we could just get rid of some of those Old Fogies, Comanche would come alive. If he were here today, and if he had his health back, he would be right in the middle of everything that you are doing. I’m just so excited!”
And I am as well! Who wouldn’t be after spending the morning with one of the most positive people in the town of Comanche? Well, actually, Virginia did make one confession to me. She believes she is going to have to get someone to help her in her yard since it is getting to “be a bit much” for her to do!*Gerry’s young husband was killed in the war. She later married Gaston Boykin.