On this Memorial Day, it seems fitting to share an excerpt from the book about my father, Arnold Thompson, with you. A more patriotic soul never lived. His God, his country and his family were the most important aspects of his life. He did not have to go to war in 1941, as you will read in the following excerpt from GENEVA, and I think he might have been disappointed as well as relieved. My parents were newlyweds then, so this profoundly affected the rest of their lives, probably for the better. Perhaps the refusal of his services strengthened his patriotism, knowing that he was indeed indebted to those who were able to serve in that way. Fittingly, he died on the Fourth of July, (in 1981) as did John Adams and Thomas Jefferson many years before him. It seemed appropriate, somehow, that Independence Day was the day he went to join those patriots.

ARNOLD THOMPSON

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We never ate lunch at home, only when we were at school. At home the main meal of the day was served at one o’clock or thereabout, and it was called Dinner. My father worked for the Post Office in downtown Anniston where he had first been introduced to my mother. Before Mama married Daddy, she had several unusual jobs for a woman of that time. She was a driver for a country peddler, a lady named Mrs. Green who sold Watkins Products, and one day in the course of their business, they went to the Post Office to get Money Orders. Daddy worked at the window where they sold the Money Orders. Miss Geneva Jones, age 22, was introduced by Mrs. Green to Mr. Arnold Thompson, age 30. They courted for three years, then got married in some kind of a fever at 10 p.m. one Wednesday night on January 29, 1941. But I digress.

Both my parents having grown up on farms, they were used to eating their main meal in the middle of the day. This did not mean sandwiches and potato chips and the like. This meant hearty Southern food, which I didn’t know was the very same thing as Soul Food till I was 25 when people started calling it that. Southerners all ate the same kind of food, regardless of their skin color. Daddy many times made a garden in the summer, and grew vegetables, some of which were home-canned, since freezing didn’t catch on for a few more years. Mostly, though, we ate seasonal foods, like fall vegetables in the fall, etc. Grocery stores then did not have the Chilean or Mexican produce which today enables us to have “summer” fruits and vegetables all year long. Dried beans or peas made palatable with ham hocks or streak o’ lean were sometimes served in the winter along with the turnip greens or some other root vegetable. Sometimes we had one of my two favorites, macaroni and cheese or mashed potatoes. Geneva had Irish forebears, and I think my fondness for starchy food is genetic.

One thing that was inviolate was the cornbread – Daddy would not eat his Dinner without his cornbread. Our Dinner consisted of meat, at least two vegetables, sliced tomatoes if in season, hot peppers (cayennes), and maybe some chopped Vidalia onion depending on the other offerings. No butter was ever served with the hot cornbread. We kids could sometimes have it if we whined enough. Mama announced periodically, “We don’t eat no butter, ‘cept at breakfast.” Dessert was whatever was left from Sunday Dinner’s dessert, or maybe a cookie or two if we had any, or even a scoop of ice cream. We did not routinely have real dessert like a big cake or pie once the Sunday Dinner dessert was gone. Usually, though, we could have fruit, especially watermelon if in season, but they never ate that till the 4th of July. It was widely believed that watermelon was not “fit to eat” till then. Daddy grew these some years, and he was quite the connoisseur, just like with the Sorghum. He always thumped them and inspected the stem end for the proper shade of green-to-brown. In fact, these two foods must have been his favorites because if there was nothing else for dessert, and he wanted something sweet, he would take about a tablespoon of soft butter, add about two tablespoons of Sorghum to it, and whip it into a spread with his fork, right there on his dinner plate. Then he ate another piece of cornbread with it. None of the rest of us shared this fondness. He would give this up periodically when he decided his “bay window” was getting too big.

Daddy walked the two or so miles downtown to the Post Office every day, except when it rained. He was allowed two hours for lunch so he walked home again at 12:30, and we ate at one p.m. Then he took a short nap, and we had to be quiet while Mama cleaned up her kitchen. Then he set off again about two o’clock, and worked until six or 6:30, then walked home again. One did not have to worry about getting mugged on the street after dark.

We had a car — we never, ever, had but one — and usually my mother used it. If the weather was bad, Mama drove Daddy to work and picked him up, even at lunch. At the time I was born in 1945, they were still driving the 1939 Oldsmobile that Daddy had bought brand new before the United States got into World War Two. It was red and tan, and I think we had it until I was well into second grade when it was traded in for a black ‘48 Ford. Mama told me that when they had been married just eleven months, one Sunday afternoon they went out for a walk around the neighborhood, just visiting here and there, getting their exercise. One of their neighbors, Mr. Bob Lipham, told them about Pearl Harbor being attacked. They hadn’t even heard.

Daddy never bought another brand new car till I was long gone from the nest. He always said a good used car was just fine. Like most kids, after I got bigger, I was mortified at his unfashionable thrift. He used to take us all for a ride on Sunday afternoon, and we’d all sing together the songs they taught us. One had a line that went, “When I was single my pockets went jingle, and I wish I was single again!” He and my mother always looked at each other and laughed. I never could figure out what was so funny.

In 1945 rationing was still going on, so the abundance I remember at the table probably came as a result of postwar prosperity a few years later. My Daddy did not have to go to war for several reasons. He was drafted, though, and he went in for his physical. He had had rheumatic fever when he was nineteen years old which had enlarged and weakened his heart. Mama said they kept him overnight out at Fort McClellan but sent him home the next day. Also, he had always had the care and feeding of Grandma Thompson since he was eight years old, and now he had a wife, too. All of these factors together gave him the coveted “4-F.” As a result, we were luckier than many kids I knew who did not have a Daddy at all, or else they had a step-Daddy, because theirs got killed in the war.

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