My earliest memories come in bits and pieces, some actually remembered and others told to me as “cute things you used to do when you were a kid”. But I begin to remember things at around the age of 4, a time when my family lived and worked in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. I would think this was during 1949 and early in 1950.
At this time in the history of Oak Ridge, the city was still “the secret city” and was closed to the public. There were Federal guards manning gates with machine guns behind bullet-proof glass at all the roads and highways entering the city of Oak Ridge and Federal Reservations that operated in the valleys between the hills of the area.
People who were not “badged” had to stop at the gates and ask permission to enter and visit their friends on “the other side”. A guard would take the name and phone number of the person they wanted to see and call to verify they were expecting friends. If not, the visitors were turned away. More than once my dad turned away “friends” when he didn’t want company!
Even at age 4, I had a badge with my picture on it, and so did my mom, who was a housewife and didn’t work at either of the plant sites.
The pieces of memory begin with mom and dad going out dancing on the weekends, and one misunderstanding they had that resulted in mom walking home and refusing to ride with my dad. It probably involved either alcohol or a flirtatious moment, but I’ll never know. I was told that I hung out the window and cried for her to get in the car, but, being the strong minded woman she is, she walked all the way home.
Other memories involve a little dog I had that I used to throw off the couch and the dog just jumped right back up for another go at flying lessons, and dirt. I also ate dirt at this time in my life! Yep, and I can remember the taste, or at least that dirt from different places tasted differently. For example, the limestone soil around my grandfather’s farm did have a limey taste to it – duh!
One memory involves getting lost in the woods between West Outer Drive and the Oliver Springs Highway. A little boy that lived next door, who has been described to me as being a “little off center” was always bugging me and taking my toys. Even now I remember that I didn’t like him very much, but one day I let him talk me into going through the woods to a barn where he said were some puppies.
Off through the woods we went, and we did see the puppies, but we spent most of the time we were “lost” throwing rocks at passing cars on the highway.
We must have gotten hungry or something and started back through the woods. At one juncture the trail we were following split and an argument broke out between us about which path lead home. My friend wanted to go down a less traveled path that was loaded with briars, and I wanted to travel the path most worn.
Naturally, I allowed myself once again to be swayed and before long we were stuck firmly in the midst of the briar patch! I don’t remember how long we waited, or cried, but time had passed long enough for my mom who called my uncle, my dad, and the Oak Ridge Police Department and all were soon looking through the woods for the “lost” boys.
To this day I insist I was never “lost”…I wanted to go down the path that would have taken us home, the exact path I first saw my dad coming down while stripping his belt from its loops, and with my uncle and the police close behind.
Before dad could strike a lick, my uncle had me on his shoulders and was racing back down the path – to mother!
A few days later, the attached photo was taken of me. I am climbing a hill from visiting someone in one of the “flat tops” seen in the background, on my way to get in the car. I strongly remember that the reason I did not take the steps that run up the hill in front of the garbage bens, is that there was a blue-tailed lizard hanging and twitching on the side of the bens next to the steps. I did not want to get that close to the lizard, so I took to the grass. I was avoiding facing my problems by walking around them!
Now, back to “life’s problems” – it wasn’t long before the boy next door got “all up in my business” again and tried taking a toy away from me while we played in the dirt (I was probably chewing a bite too). I took a long cast-metal bus I was holding and quickly thumped him on the head with it. He cried and went home and I sat and played with much satisfaction for the rest of the day.
Finally, I was facing life’s little problems head on!