THE SUMMER OF 1958

Kirby Sutton, my brother in-law.

 

In June of 1958 my sister, Cynthia, graduated from high school and I completed the 10th grade in high school.  Our older sister, Charlotte Rae, her husband, Kirby Sutton, and their two small daughters, Debra and Jan were visiting us in Fresno at the time.  It was decided that Cynthia and I could go back home with the Sutton's to their home in Longwood, Florida for the summer.  Kirby was in the Navy and stationed at the Sanford Naval Air Station in Florida.  The journey would be by automobile and this was exciting to Cynthia and me since Pismo Beach was the only place we had ever been outside of Fresno, California.  The Sutton girls were probably around 4 and 2 years old then.  Kirby cut a piece of plywood to fit the back seat for a bed for the two little girls with blankets on top.  Naturally, this portable bed had to be redesigned in order for Cynthia and me to take turns sitting in the back seat with the girls for the trip.  Kirby liked to drive through the night on the first night of the trip.

When we stopped in Tucumcari, New Mexico for lunch we all had a good giggle when Cynthia ordered vegetable soup and the waitress pronounced it "wegetable soup".......the drive went on and on and on.  Texas is a large state and I believe we crossed at its widest point.....at least it seemed like it.  Having breakfast in Texas was a real eye opener......what was that pile of white stuff they heaped on our plates?  Oh yes, it was called grits!   We continued on our long, long drive through state after state.

We stopped in a motel in Dothan, Alabama for a night and it had 2 double beds, a sleeper couch and a crib.  I went into the bathroom to take a shower before going to bed and when I stepped into the bathtub I slipped and fell.  There was a window in the bathroom right over the tub and the window had a venetian blind on the window.  When I started to fall my arm hit that venetian blind and sent it flying.  I was not hurt but you can't believe the noise that I generated with that fall.  Charlotte Rae came to the bathroom door to ask if I was hurt and I told her that I was fine.  After we all got into our beds, we sisters began to laugh and couldn't stop.  Kirby was not happy with us and our laughter since he had to get up early the next morning to start his drive again.  When Kirby had set up the sleeper couch, it was stubborn and he jumped on it to make it stay down......the next morning we couldn't fix the couch back to its original position.

Onward we drove until we reached our destination in Florida.  That evening we were to attend a  picnic at some lake and that was our first experience with life in Florida.  They offered us rattlesnake and alligator meat........obviously we declined.  They also had baked potatoes they had cooked in a fire pit.  This young girl kept running around telling her mother that she didn't want her "tater........it was a rotten tater".

Our host and brother in-law, Kirby, kept telling us about the things he would let us do if we came on the trip to Florida that summer.  Since he was in the Navy and the base was close by, he told us that on Wednesday nights they played Bingo at the club on base.  He also mentioned there would be lots of young single sailors there as well.  The ONE and ONLY night he took us to play Bingo, the power went out and he kept lighting matches as fast as he could to keep an eye on Cynthia and me.  We were behaving but I think that activity proved to be too much for Kirby.  In the future we went to Bingo with his friend, Gene, and his wife.   The gravity of having two teenaged girls to watch was giving Kirby second thoughts.

We were not familiar in Fresno, California with racism or segregation in our life.  One Saturday, we went to Sear's and once inside the store I started looking for a drinking fountain.  I found one and  was just about to drink from it when I was admonished by Kirby and Charlotte Rae.  You see, I had not seen the sign on the drinking fountain that said, " For Colored Only"...another drinking fountain was near by and the sign on that one said, "For Whites Only"....that did not exist in our world back in Californai.

The weather was very hot and humid.  We knew about hot being from Fresno but that heat was dry and this Florida heat was humid.  Did I mention how BIG all the bugs and insects were?  This was long before Disney ever arrived in Orlando.  We did have a few fun side trips like going to Daytona Beach and actually being able to drive the car down the beach.  A trip to Winter Haven to Cypress Gardens to watch the famous water ski show was lots of fun.

Kirby had a Vespa Scooter that he rode to work and he taught me the basics of how to operate it.  I loved going out on those rural country roads with no traffic to ride that scooter.  I took Charlotte Rae's driver's license with me in case I got stopped by the county sheriff, but no worries with that one. I felt free as a bird riding on that scooter!  On the other hand, Cynthia was not as coordinated at learning to ride that scooter........hard as he tried, Kirby could not teach Cynthia how to operate it safely.  The end of her instruction came when she rode the Vespa up over the crepe myrtle bush and hit the side of the house........some things were not meant to be.

We had arrived in mid-June, stayed through July and now it was the early part of August and it was time for us to travel back to Fresno.  Our mode of transportation this time for Cynthia and me was the train.  Another adventure about to start!  The first train we caught was bad news.....just dirty and questionable people.  We had to jump on in the middle of the night, probably around 2 a.m. in the morning.  That train carried us to Jacksonville, Florida, where we then boarded another train to Chicago.  The train in Jacksonville was much nicer than the first train.  Cynthia hit it off with this young sailor right away and gave him my seat on the train.  I had to find another seat and back then the threat of the day was, "I'm going to tell Mama".  Somewhere along at another stop the sailor departed the train.  Cynthia did not like going to the dining car on the train and there was a guy in our train car selling sandwiches out of a suitcase...so that is what we ate.  Later at another train stop, some woman got on board the train and walked up and down the aisle hollering, "Chicken in a Basket, Chicken in a Basket" we didn't buy any of that.

When we arrived in Chicago we had to change train stations (another scarey thought).  The taxi driver piled our luggage into the trunk of his car and off we went to the next train station.  We got settled in there and had a few hours to wait for the train to leave.  Four young sailors were running around the station so that kept our attention for a bit.  We found a phone booth and called home to mama, who was home on her lunch break.  We started to cry on the phone and told mama we were homesick and what should we do.  She told us, "You girls straighten up and get on that train and get the rest of the way home".  Mama always had all the answers.

In Chicago we boarded the Santa Fe Super Chief train, a beautiful sight to behold.  This was the primo train compared to the other two trains we had been on.  We settled into our seats to enjoy the rest of the long ride home to Fresno.  I was determined I was not going to eat anymore sandwiches out of some guys suitcase.  I should mention to go from car to car on the train, you had to push the door button and when it opened you had to hustle to get through it  to the next car.  You could see the tracks and ground below if you looked down.  Cynthia had a terrible time trying to navigate between train cars but I had that part down and nothing was holding me back now.  I found the Dome-Car and went up there to sit and enjoy the view.  Cynthia came looking for me in a panic.  In our train car, in the seat behind ours was a young, very large black man (think Fat Albert from the cartoons and this is what he looked like).  I guess when I was away, he leaned over the seat and said to Cynthia, "Are you traveling alone?"  That did it, she was scared to death and came looking  for me.

I was no fool, since I discovered when passing through Texas, we picked up a bunch of young Air Force fellows just completing their basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.  That made my days up in the Dome-Car quite interesting.  I met a nice young man in uniform and we had a nice conversation.  A couple of months later I ran into him again at the Frenso County Fair.

All good things must come to an end and when that Super Chief pulled into the train station in Fresno, we were thrilled to see Mama and Grandma again.  We enjoyed our trip and had many great experiences but THERE'S NO PLACE LIKE HOME!

Even though years later Charlotte Rae and Kirby divorced, Kirby was always my brother in-law and we kept in touch until he passed away a few years ago.