Wednesday, August 26, 2015

An Ordinary Walk: 1980

Seven years later finds {see previous blog} the McDaniel clan onward and upward with their lives and many aspects of the weekly letter stayed the same. I like that –the sameness -- the steady nature of my Daddy’s reporting of their [and our] lives.

By 1980, Mother and Daddy had move to Roswell, a suburb north of Atlanta. After living in the very-convenient to all things Atlanta on Oana, in a lot of ways, the drive to Roswell seemed long. The trek included lengthy interstate and then exiting to only go many miles north on secondary roads. When they settled there, Roswell seemed a sleepy hamlet, but this suburb of Atlanta boomed big in the coming years.

My college roommate Catherine and I lived off I-285 in Cobb County. After graduating from college in 1976, we both had teaching jobs – Catherine was in Clayton County, and I had taken a job at Douglas County High School. With four years of teaching under our belts and not close to having perspective husbands, we felt seasoned as teachers and restless as single women – and to change jobs and move out of Atlanta seemed desirable.

         with Catherine, winter 1980

Catherine and I visited Mother and Daddy at their house in Roswell for Wednesday supper or Sunday lunch – not only did we get a meal but we also enjoyed getting the use of their laundry. Added to these perks was the undivided attention both of my parents gave us – we discussed with them our itchiness to change what we were doing and perhaps move. One of the gifts both of my parents had was listening to others with interest and intent, and they always seem to be on my side. They gave selflessly to me in that regard. I will always miss that security.

Daddy wrote: “Harriett says she is definitely not going back to Douglas County – don’t know what she plans. It is hard to get a teaching position in her field in another system. We try not to think too much about it. I can’t see giving up one job until you have another one. I like to eat too well for that. But she will have to make her own decision and we will have to be content with it.”

Spoiler Alert: I was at Douglas County High School for another five years.  So needless to say, I seemed to be blowing some smoke and believing my own fantasies. Actually, I don’t know what got into me.

Hunter had married in 1978; he and his wife Janet lived outside of Washington DC. They both worked jobs associated with computer technology – a new field but becoming more popular as well as lucrative. Janet, known for writing lovely and informative letters, had Daddy commenting in the first letter of the year about how one of their friends told Mother that a thank you from her was “the nicest she had ever received.”

                            Hunter and Janet

Margaret, Hunter, and Janet at Aunt Harriett's house in Falls Church, Virginia

Margaret worked in Physical Therapy at Dekalb Medical Hospital. After house hunting, she bought a house on Larry Lane in Dekalb County, near work and off Lawrenceville Highway.

The day to day of Mother and Daddy’s lives seemed pretty status quo. In January, both Daddy and Kenneth shopped for cars, and Daddy bought a VW Rabbit, and, as I recall, a real scoot around car compared to the Beetle. After looking at many cars, Kenneth eventually ordered a Honda Civic, which would be back-ordered for six months.

Margaret had a fungus in her attic; I complained about having to purchase new contact lenses which “were expensive.”

Weather plummeted to the steady 30s in February. Daddy and Kenneth did their income tax together, and I, as sponsor of the newspaper staff at Douglas County, spent two weeks in rehearsals after school and into the evenings for a Student Teacher Talent show that the staff put together for a fund raiser.

Aside: Those talent shows became an annual event at DCHS. We had a live band, and I, believe or not, performed “live” on stage with that band: one year as Jeannie C. Riley – “Harper Valley PTA,” – another as Janis Joplin – “Me and Bobby McGee” – another as Pat Benatar – “Hit Me with Your Best Shot,” and the last one as Gladys Knight – “Heard it Through the Grapevine.” The guys who made up the band consisted of two English teachers and two of my students. As the program evolved, two local professional musicians would donate their time to the cause. This was all kinds of fun and made me all kinds of nervous – like throw up nervous, but the shows ran three nights, and made over a thousand dollars. That sure beats selling donuts on street corners or pushing gift wrap on strangers.    As I look back on that, I think: Dang. That was a nutty time; I was young and, frankly, crazy.”

Because the rehearsals were exhausting in their length and, of course, repetitive in having to run through the program over and over, and like I said, my newspaper sponsored it, some days I taught all day and ended up not leaving Douglas County to 11 PM. The commute back to Cobb was twenty-five miles; Daddy wrote, “I hate to think about her driving all the way home from Douglasville late at night but there is not much I can do about it.”

         article in Douglas County Sentinel, 1982

As we made our way into March and April, Daddy had little to report: they played bridge with their good friends, the Watts. Mother joined the Roswell Garden Club, Daddy went to the doctor where he was told that he “was in really good shape” but had difficulty sleeping at night and thus, staying awake in the afternoons. He “would just have to live with it.”

He joined the board at Roswell Methodist, a friend of Margaret’s got Kenneth a job at Western Electric, and we all had the flu. Daddy wrote that I was “put out with myself for being out three days from school.”

Kenneth had his adenoids removed. Daddy bought a new bulb for the door chimes that cost “1.79, and he couldn’t believe it.”

As the year continued, so did the ordinary-ness of our lives. We worked, we stayed busy, and his letters read like I was the one who came over the most – well, I already told why, but he did make this comment: : “Kenneth and Margaret do not get over as much as Harriett does. We would really miss Harriett if she should leave Atlanta.”


Kenneth’s new job as an Engineer Associate made him “quite thrilled and [we] are thrilled for him.” They took him out to eat to celebrate at S&W Seafood where “he has such a good outlook with this new job.” Kenneth had been working at Graybar, where he was undervalued and underpaid, JMHO. J

Catherine and I looked unsuccessfully for a job in Hilton Head [what kind of job there – hotel maid, beach ball inflator, golfer?], Margaret visited the aunts in Virginia, and the aunts visited Mother and Daddy later that month. Margaret and I helped Mother pick out new lamps for the living room, and knowing my mother, never quick on decisions like this, it must have taken many weeks since Daddy included that on-going process in concurrent letters in late spring. 

                            Aunt Ava and Margaret

Note: Those lamps now reside in my sister’s mountain house in Brasstown, North Carolina. FTR. That was a time investment. so when we die, somebody else needs to take those puppies.

Even though I signed my contract in June to go back to Douglas County, Catherine and I left in June for a job search in Florida. We drove my white Beetle VW with no air-conditioning, and I remember that as being one awful ride. In one of his letters, Daddy insinuated that it was Catherine who was unhappy, and that she “wished for me to go with her wherever she went.”

Note: I remember all of this job searching – pretty fruitless, obviously, but I don’t remember how much my parents worried about it. We must have seem so reckless and flighty to them to want to walk away from solid jobs when the job market was so hard.

At the new house in Roswell, Daddy had taken it upon himself to make the yard look presentable. In retrospect and reading about this, it’s quite a change from the father I grew up with – who hated all things yard work.  According to his letters, he planted flowers, threw out lime, raked, put out pine straw, and cleaned the beds. So. Not. Daddy.  At one point, Mother and Daddy drove back to the Oana house to get a gardenia cutting that had come from my maternal grandmother.

Note: Unfortunately, that cutting would die. Later, Daddy bought Mother a gardenia for the back yard, and when they passed away in 1995, and their house sold, David dug up the bush to move to our house, but it didn’t survive that winter. David bought me a gardenia on Mother’s Day in 1996, a year after my mother died, and it still flourishes twenty years later. 

Daddy’s motivation for yard work shows how much they ended up loving living in Roswell. They would make new friends, get involved in a new church, and eventually go on fabulous trips when they retired. The move from south Atlanta became rejuvenating for them.

As summer approach, Mother and Daddy made travel plans for a trip to Minnesota and Wisconsin, we celebrated Mother’s day at Margaret’s new house, and then later Father’s Day. Hunter and Janet came to visit, and Hunter spent time “at Margaret’s house doing her fix-it list,” and then they left for a vacation to Charleston and the Outer Banks. 

Daddy’s Rabbit became the car to borrow – both Margaret and Kenneth borrowed it for various trips --- Margaret to Florida, and Kenneth to a wedding in Albany. I’m not sure why we borrowed it except that Kenneth didn’t get his new car till late summer, and Margaret and I were still driving VW Beetles, which had the acceleration of a lawnmower. Maybe the car was just faster. Ha. Newer? Daddy filled it up with gas?

At her new home, Margaret planted a huge garden that Kenneth, who lived close, would come over after work and help her. For all his time and effort, she “allowed him to use her laundry.” LOL. Daddy’s words, not mine. She shared her bounty with Mother and Daddy, and he said “we got a lot of vegetables.” Daddy apparently had planted a small garden himself, but he had little luck with it.

1980 proved to be a hot summer. Daddy made references to it almost every week. Margaret’s garden, by August, began “yielding little.” He and Mother stuffed mailboxes for the Republican party, Kenneth finally got his new Honda, gray, red interior, radio, but no ac [what were you thinking, brother?]; Margaret fretted over turnover in her department at work, and I looked forward, not, to a new school year. I had gotten into a car pool, “which I loved,” but I still moaned about going back to teaching.

Kenneth, Mother and Daddy, and I -- [Daddy had gotten a bad haircut by going to a local cosmetology school. They ended up having to shave his head. So chic!]

Kenneth moved into an apartment in Doraville, Mother sat with a friend at the hospital into the wee hours, and they replaced all the lamp shades in the house [I love this detail] – and still “there was no rain.”

By September, my car gave me trouble and Daddy found a great mechanic in Douglasville to work on it. They took a trip to see the new Atlanta airport terminal, Margaret and her boyfriend Phil visited the aunts in Washington and Lynchburg, and I had an engine overhaul that cost 250 dollars and took two weeks. I also dropped a class for my Masters, and Daddy concluded, “she’ll never get it done.” 

LOL. He was so right. I worked on that darn Masters for five years. Ugh. So much monkey business.

Daddy bought a new stereo that Margaret and Kenneth helped assemble, but it took all day and then the turntable only “played out of one speaker.” This stereo came with a fancy, glass cabinet with glass shelves for each component. My daddy loved music. I see this little hiccup with the assembly just an indicator for all our future technology woes.

It finally rained, and Daddy named it “the best rain since June.”

In October, they helped set up an annual arts festival at Bulloch Hall as part of the Historical Society fund raising.  Mother had been sick off and on with what they thought was a virus, but she found out that she was anemic, but apparently her other health problems, not disclosed as to what in the letters, remained “without answers.”

Margaret went on a church retreat in Ridgecrest, South Carolina, while I had headed up to a football game in Virginia. with my friend Marilyn. Daddy noted, “Both of my girls are out of town,” and this comment, I find, so endearing.

As the year begins to close, Daddy tells of how he can’t fathom “where the time has gone.”

I came to see them less and less as I told them “I had much to do.” Catherine and I had split the cost of a washer and dryer, and I guess, had less reasons to make the trek to Roswell to see them.  

Daddy’s work was full of tension as the interpersonal relationships under the new superintendent [the fifth one he had worked for] were a “mess.” They stayed up and watched the election results on television and “were shocked at the size of the Reagan victory and … couldn’t believe that Mattingly beat Talmudge.”

Thanksgiving was aunt-less and Hunter and Janet-less but included Margaret, Phil, Kenneth, Catherine and her brother Art, my friend Peggy, and me. I have pictures but no memories of this one.

We still sent Christmas lists to the aunts, probably not any more timely than when were twelve, and mother spent the day after Thanksgiving “baking for Christmas.” Daddy said that “I put up the tree all by myself and would get to the other decorations later.”

Note: My mother made dozens of cookies for Christmas that she stored in huge Tupperware containers and kept on the freezer in the utility room off the carport. After each evening meal during the company filled Christmas season, I have distinct memories of her lovingly arranging those cookies for dessert on festive plates.

Thirty-five years ago – and look at the tidbits of life I have to remember because of Daddy’s letters. We aren’t a drama filled bunch, except for me, and it’s delicious to visit this year again. Thank you, Daddy.


 Daddy and Mother, 1978, at Hunter and Janet's wedding in Connecticut 

ETA: Kenneth told me that his Honda Civic cost 5,000 dollars and to add air conditioning would have been an additional 800 . He's, apparently, the son of our parents -- frugal, but hot. :-)