Part 1 – The Early Farm Years, or How I learned to Cuss
Introduction – This is the first of a series of essays about my mother, a major influence in my life. This series, which will be added to periodically, is written primarily for my daughters – Kymberly, Christina, and Larissa – who did not get to really know her. However, life with my mother was always interesting and I am happy to share this series here.
My mother, Lois Richmond, had a significant influence on my life, interests, career choices, and the fact that I am even writing this series of essays. Perhaps, someday, someone will be able to say with certainty that these influences were genetic—that is, she and I were genetically inclined toward similar interests—or if I was simply influenced by her many interests. It is the old question of nature versus nurture. In any case, I am happy that it occurred. She led an interesting life over many years. While I cannot capture each noteworthy event here, I hope I can convey something of her spirit and personality in the following paragraphs.
Lois Richmond, c. 1944, on the Farm in front of Susie’s house on the Chickahominy River
To tell this story naturally (for me) I must point out that from as early in life as I can remember, I addressed my mother and father by their first names, Lois and Paul. That is what I heard them call each other, and they never encouraged me to do differently. It became a little awkward for me as I reached maturity, and all of my peers referred to their parents as “mom” and “dad.” I would say, “Lois cooked some wild ducks last night. What a disaster.” The response was “Who is Lois?” rather than “What happened?” Then I would have to explain. No explanation was ever quite satisfactory for any of my friends. I would hear, “That’s just not right.” I never did get to describe what happened with the ducks.
Why I am an Only Child
My mother was named for her mother, “Florence,” and her father, Louis, i.e., “Lois.” Lois was born in West Virginia, the oldest of nine siblings. I suspect that is why I am an only child—she had her fill of taking care of children when she was growing up. In fact, I am probably lucky to be here. I recall asking my folks about a brother or sister. My father said something about discussing that with Lois. As I recall, she said, in effect, there was nothing to discuss! (It is probably a good thing that she did not use profanity!)
I know very little about my parents’ lives before I was born. I know that she went to public school and college in West Virginia. Certainly, she did well in school—she was an intelligent and well-read person. She and my father met in West Virginia, and were married around 1940. By this time, my father’s mother (I called her “Susie” because she absolutely forbade me to call her anything like “grandma”), widowed since 1914, moved east to Tidewater, Virginia. I do not know the details, but somehow, my parents came to Virginia shortly after they married.
I was born in Princess Ann County (Norfolk) Virginia. My father told me that he worked in a Colonial Stores supermarket in Newport News or Portsmouth, Virginia. About this same time, Susie married W.R. Shackleford (see the first article in this series titled “The Farm”) and moved to Moyseneck Farm.
The Richmonds Come to the Farm
W.R. died in 1940 as a result of a logging accident (or so I was told), and Susie inherited the farm. My parents made the decision (Susie probably had a strong influence here) to move to the farm. It is simply a child’s perception, but I have the impression that this would not have been my mother’s first choice. I suspect that Susie made an offer (a house on the farm) that they could not refuse.
My parents did whatever they could to generate income. As I was becoming more aware, I know that there was a large chicken house about fifty yards behind the house. My parents gathered eggs, cleaned and graded them, and sold them to a grocery store in Williamsburg.
Mother was interested in colonial Williamsburg history, and she was a good seamstress. So she decided to dress standard nine-inch dolls in colonial clothes and sell them to the souvenir shops in Williamsburg. Apparently she had some success at this. She had ordered a huge box of naked dolls to dress and eventually, they were all gone. In a recent online search, I found one of her dolls that had been resold through an online auction—that doll had been sold in Williamsburg some 60 years ago. (Mother also dressed dolls in cheerleader outfits. My girl classmates always hoped I drew their names for the Christmas gift drawing. They knew they would get one of Lois’ dolls!)
Doll dressed by Lois Richmond in the early 1950s and sold in a Williamsburg store. The tag reads “A Moyseneck Doll, Dressed in the manner of 18th Century Williamsburg – Ball Gown.” She sold many similar dolls in the early 1950s.
Lois loved to take photos. She had an Argus C-3 35mm film camera with which she produced some memorable, in some cases, embarrassing, photos. There are many photos from around the farm and of my father working the farm, trapping, fishing, and tending animals on the farm. She provided a very good photographic record of the time of their early years together.
And the embarrassing photos, ah yes, well…. You see, at about the age of three, I had the run of the yard around the house. The house was set on the edge of a small clearing. All roads and the “driveway” (the bare area in the front yard) were dirt, and there were several sizeable puddles in the front yard—they seemed like veritable lakes to a small three-year old.
As I mentioned, Lois was quite good on the sewing machine, and she made me several really cool stuffed animals, one of which was a horse. The horse had no legs, but rather had a large cushion body just the right size for me to straddle and sit on. Its neck and head sat up in front of me just like the real thing. I think she used sawdust to fill it (there were large several sawdust piles on the farm from earlier logging operations).
I am not sure how, but I managed to get the horse out of the house (I am sure Lois would have turned me around if she had seen what I was doing). And there was that puddle. It was a warm summer day and I pushed the horse into the puddle and launched my next adventure—and Lois got even—I still have the photos to prove it. I think the horse was “retired” after that event, but, I did not need that horse for future “bare back” puddle adventures, and my mother captured those on film, too!
It was amazing how quickly my mother could find and set the camera and take a photo. This is one of the less, but still, embarrassing photos she took of my adventures with mud puddles!
On one occasion, I found a box and pushed it into the largest puddle I could find, found a stick for a paddle, and set off on some other adventure (I had an active imagination). Again my mother showed up with a camera to capture “the young Columbus launching his ship.”
Finally, on another warm and sunny day, there were several inviting puzzels. With no horse or box available, I decided to just go for a swim. I did not see any need to get my clothes wet and dirty in the puddle, so I stripped down, as my father would say, “bare-assed naked.” You guessed it, my mother showed up with the camera. (Yeah, I have those photos too; locked up!)
Days at the Beach
Lois and Susie would go to Virginia Beach every summer before I started school. Those trips are well documented by mother’s photography. I loved the beach, and Lois and Susie both spend many hours helping me build sand castles, dig in the sand, and play in the surf. I think we stayed in a rental cabin or maybe a hotel room—that I do not remember exactly. I do know that Susie had a package of Ex-Lax in the room that I discovered. It looked and tasted like chocolate to me. I don’t member much more about that except that I got a good hard lecture about getting into other people’s stuff.
Lois Richmond at Virginia Beach,
As I said, mother did not swear. That was not true of my father, at least “back then.” I like to think I had some influence on him tempering his speech somewhat. It went like this.
While at the beach, Susie took my mother and me to a nice restaurant with cloth napkins and white table cloths. Even as a toddler, I was impressed. I was seated in a nice high-chair by the table. I sat there for several minutes, looking around, when I looked up and saw this huge chandelier. Looking at this huge glass contraption overhead, calmly, in a loud child’s voice I said, not once by twice, “Well I’ll be gawwd-daaamned.” Again, I forget exactly what happened at that point except that within microseconds, I was lifted out of the chair and whisked out of the dining room. Don’t know if we ever went back there again, or not.
I do know that my father got an earful about cussing around me, and by the time I was a more fully aware youngster, he swore only occasionally. As I matured, I noticed that he rarely swore.