of Virginia Hall Irby
Chapter 2, 1930 - 1940
First Draft Copy
& Sleep Shop
122 N. Highway B-288
Clute, Brazoria County
Lynch, Reding, Irby 3 Savanna Blue -
C. L. Reding Two Rivers Poetry -
G. M. Irby published poetry -
M. Hunter Long Shadows -
Five-year-old Virginia, 1923
For several months, my dad and Uncle Lyndon had been away working on a construction site near the border in south Texas. They sent us photographs of their trips into Mexico.
1931, September 26,
Earl Irby's step-father, Rufus R. Reid, died at the age of 51.
Earl Irby was thirteen years old.
1931 - 1932
My father worked in McMinville, Tennessee briefly, and then moved the whole family to Bath, New York, where he worked on construction crews for the Foley Construction Company of Boston, Massachusetts in the construction of Post Offices.
We moved to Washington, D.C. and stayed all during the summer in 1932. We lived in an apartment at 11th and "O" streets, North West. While we were there my father had MENIERS disease — an infection of the inner ear.
During this time we visited the museums, the White House, the airport, the Washington Monument, the National Cemetery, and many other places.
I was SO lonesome even with people all around! We lived in a bumper-to-bumper city and I didn't know how lonesome it could be.
We bought pies from a neat little French bakery. Delicious as they come! One nine inch pie sold for 25 cents, or a ten inch pie sold for 35 cents.
Pianos and furniture sold in nearby store-warehouses for nearly nothing. Pianos started at $5. For a real dandy they were from $10 - $65. I really wanted one of them and would of course have settled for one of those $10 ones, but mother decided we couldn't afford one.
I then began to understand the meaning of the GREAT DEPRESSION.
We moved back to Asheville, North Carolina. I started teaching a Sunday School class at the Reed Chapel Baptist Church when I was still in high school in the Oakley area of Asheville.
Daddy (Emless Hall) was Superintendent of Sunday School at the church. Every week he printed the Bible verse with colored chalk on a 4' x 8' blackboard. It was displayed during the Sunday School Assembly. Children made a big effort to stand with their backs to the blackboard and recite the verse without looking.
He remained the Superintendent until 1939.
* * *
Earl Richard Hall, my brother, was born on the 14th April 1933, in Asheville, North Carolina. He was born at home. A neighbor, Mrs. Worley, served as a midwife. She had delivered many babies and was a very religious lady. She came to the house about 9:00 p.m. They hustled me out of the house to spend the night with the Buckners, so I didn't get to see much. Mrs. Worley made sure that there were plenty of sheets and towels already boiled and ironed for sterilization. She was boiling everything that would touch either the baby or the mother.
She had hot water on the kitchen stove and there was boiling water in the outside iron washing pot. Mrs. Worley stayed busy all night as the baby was born. The next day they called the doctor over to insure that all was well.
* * *
The high schools ended the year with a SENIOR PLAY, staged by only the senior class. A talent show. A declamation contest where about twenty five students recited speeches or poems of eloquence, The Baccalaureate Sermon, and graduation exercises.
* * *
In the tenth grade I took part in the Declamation Contest. My subject was about Zeke Scroggins, a colorful guy that had lots of girl friends. I won first place and received a Bulova watch.
My daddy installed a pipe organ for a homebuilder in Asheville, North Carolina.
* * *
A boy at school gave me a box of chocolates for Valentine's Day. Before I got home I licked each and every piece so my little brother, Earl Richard Hall, would not want to eat any of the chocolates.
1935 - 1939
I attended Western Carolina Teachers College in Cullowhee, North Carolina. A short time later it was named Western Carolina University. I stayed with my uncle's family. Uncle Tyrum Hunter was president of the college. He was my mother's brother. He was a Harvard graduate.
The family in Cullowhee consisted of: Uncle Tyrum Hunter, Aunt Glen Hunter, Martha Lou Hunter (she was "Lou"), Jane Hunter, Elizabeth Ann Hunter (she was known as "Pete"), and I was cousin Virginia Hall (they called my "Preege".) I got the nick name from a boy from Cuba that was enrolled at Western Carolina. He couldn't pronounce my name correctly and always called me "Preeginia" instead of "Virginia." That was then shortened by other students to "Preege."
Aunt Glen made sense any way you looked at it. She had unreproachable dignity, yet it was with humor and tact. Her social contacts were high minded people like writers, professors, concert musicians, travelers, and mountaineers.
She stole the show wherever she went. It didn't take any "showing off" — it was natural. She made everybody comfortable with natural dignity.
On her big front porch in Cullowhee, North Carolina, Aunt Glen had several big wooden rockers and two-custom made swings with cot-size mattresses and big cushions for the backs. The cousins and I took turns at sleeping on the porch every night during the summer, and come to think of it, sometimes even during the winter when it snowed!
If an early arrival came to the front door, we would hear them coming up the hill and we would cover up our heads and they didn't know who was there.
As we quieted down we heard owls and whip-poor-wills. When they slowed down, the mockingbirds would sing. From all manner of birds and nightlife we had a concert every night. The moon looked wonderful. I looked at it when I said my prayers ... that the Lord would hear my prayers and to continue to bless me, my family who had moved to Texas, my little brother ... and to open my mind that I may see Your will in my life.
One night a big dog came onto the porch. Martha Lou clapped her hands and said "S-C-A-T!" and he slipped and slid and scooted all over the porch before it could take one leap over the shrubbery for him to be gone.
* * *
Emless and Ottie Hall move to Henderson, Texas. He and his brother, Lyndon Hall, were employed during this time on various construction projects for large houses and schools in East Texas areas. They lived first in Henderson, then in Kilgore (on Henderson Road), then to Overton (Maddox edition), then back to Henderson, (Highland Park, Route 5).
In the late afternoon in the nearby town of New London, Texas, there was a terrible natural gas explosion at the town school. There were over three hundred school children killed, considered one of the worse disasters in American history. My daddy helped bring the bodies out of the school debris over the hours and days after the explosion.
It was this explosion that caused the gas companies worldwide to introduce a chemical in the normally odorless natural gas, resulting in the pungent smell of gas that we know today.
My family could not financially help me at all. I took a job as secretary to the Director of Training School. I worked during the summer as the Library Assistant. The Librarian wanted me to go to Nashville to study to be a librarian. She could get me a scholarship, but I thought I would rather be a teacher or secretary.
In Cullowhee, North Carolina, Aunt Glen charged me just $14 per month for my room and board in their house on campus. I was also supposed to help the colored maid named Beulah. She was a dear person but she didn't leave much for me to do. I vacuumed and all the girls helped with the big formal dinners that they had. I was in charge of having bouquets on the dining table and on the mantel. There would be roses, violets, gladiolus, daisies, dahlias, dogwoods, azaleas, ... I kept my eyes open for flowers and plants. They got deliveries from the college farm — vegetables, fruit, berries, and the like.
The drama department of Western Carolina presented the Nativity scene for Christmas in the local Methodist Church.
The Nativity scene was beautiful, the candles, the music, the reader, and all the participants together perfectly. Then Mary's seat collapsed and Mary sprawled to the ground with her light blue scarf and her soft white wrap flew asunder. When they brought her another chair and she rewrapped herself she held the blue scarf over her face so the audience could not see her giggling throughout the remainder of the performance.
* * *
When I was at home from college for Christmas Earl Richard Hall was four years old and wanted to know if I had heard "that big ole’, bad ole’, mean ole’, dog?" He also told me he made up stories about "skellingtons."
* * *
Several times I visited with Elvira Greenlee at her family home in Spruce Pine, North Carolina. The first time I took a bus, I arrived at night and the whole town was in a BLACKOUT from a power shut down (which happened with some degree of frequency at the hydroelectric dams of the mountains)
The whole town was completely closed down and I could not see anything. Four people got off the bus and two were immediately met by someone. Another lady and I were alone in the dark and we didn't know where a telephone might be. There were few cars. Very few individuals had telephones. Somebody showed up from a local newsletter and they knew the Greenlee family and they arranged for them to come a pick us up at the station.
Big areas frequently lost their electricity when it rained, when the rivers swelled, or lighting struck in the wrong place. Sometimes the lights would be off for several days, other times only for an hour or two. It was not a reliable utility.
* * *
One time mother was tired and needed to nap. As soon as she shut her eyes my little brother, Earl Richard, whispered to her ... "Mother, ..." and then again, "Mother, ..."
He thought if he whispered he wouldn't awaken her but he needed to know the answer to a question as soon as possible.
In exasperation, mother said "What do you want now!"
His question was ... "Have you ever saw an alligator?"
She sat up, looked at him and said ... "What?"
"Have you ever saw a ... have you ever SEEN an alligator?"
That was the big question that couldn't wait.
* * *
I dated Norris Hampton during my second year at Western Carolina. He was 6'4" tall and was a great basket ball player. He wrote me a poem after I broke up with him. He was a very nice fellow but not my idea of the perfect one.
The poem was this:
Mid-night oil I rarely burn,
Yet when in my bed I lie,
My heart for yours does often yearn,
While silent minutes are fleeting by.
The joys of life we often seek
Are reviewed and dwelt upon,
But every night in the week
I think of you until the dawn.
I would be chided if others knew
How my rest I thus abuse,
But I know that truly you
Would not my rest misuse.
Tis not misuse when the mind
Dwells on things of beauty rare;
Of virtue, too, and all its kind
Helped by wisdom in one so fair
Has not the bard said once and well
That kindness does with beauty dwell?
When the twain are met in one,
Who's to dare face Venus' son?
I faced his dart, in laughter, too,
And here am I in love with you.
At Western Carolina College I took a course called "Social Usage." Every Saturday afternoon, as a class, we listened on the radio to a New York Metropolitan Opera broadcast, and would then discussed it later.
We also brought librettos to interpret. They were usually in Italian. We learned about: Introductions, brides activities, receptions, operas, dancing, table settings, handling food, and dress codes.
You'd think I could know what to do with my hands when I got into the real world!
* * *
When Jane's social date stayed too long, Aunt Glen had already threatened Jane that she would appear in the room with a CHAMBER POT and say, "Jane, I'll put this upstairs by the bed for you."
* * *
Aunt Glen's nephew, Bill Rice, came in and out of her house as if he lived there. I was at home downstairs by myself reading the newspaper just in my bra and slip. Bill walked in and surprised me as I held the newspaper over me for cover. Then right behind him came my uncle, aunt, and two cousins. I was embarrassed and flabbergasted.
* * *
Uncle Tyrum and Aunt Glen Hunter lived in the president's house of the Western Carolina Teachers College in Cullowhee, North Carolina. The house was built about 1920. The state kept it in good condition with college students on work contracts. The students kept it mowed, painted, and landscaped. The house was nearly wrapped in big porches.
There were high-back rockers, two big custom-made swings, and several ferns, begonias, and geraniums on the porches.
There was a living room, dining room, kitchen, two bathrooms, five bedrooms, a study, a back screened porch big enough to have a dining table and benches for eight with a couple of high back rockers — there was a sleeping porch with two beds, a desk, and a sewing machine — a fireplace in the living room. Many built-in cabinets. There were brick sidewalks on the terraced lawn. Lots of trees.
The house was heated from a furnace in the basement. All of us had been told how and when to "stoke the fire in the furnace." The furnace burned coal. It's like boats and trains that were "stoked." Heat passed "in some way" by the furnace and was blown into a register in each room in the first floor. Warm air blows in. The upper floor is heated by warmer air coming up from the lower floor. (Warm air goes "up," and you never walked barefooted onto a register — it will burn your feet.)
* * *
Uncle Tyrum had a business meeting in Asheville, about 67 miles from Cullowhee. Jane and I wanted to go to Asheville and do a little shopping. Uncle Ty had his mind on everything but the road. He drove fast, then slowly, fast, then slowly, fast, then slow. That, along with the crooked road, made me sick as a horse!
We had to stop and let me be sick and I rode in the front seat the rest of the way. We agreed to meet Uncle Ty at 6:00 P.M. in front of the Bon Marche Department store. The stores were closing and it was cold. An hour passed and no Uncle Ty. We called Aunt Glen. Uncle Ty had returned home already. She asked "Where are the girls?" He looked surprised and asked, "What girls?" We stayed that evening overnight with Jane's aunt and the next day we rode back to Cullowhee on a bus.
I was elected to be the Vice President of the Student Senate of Western Carolina Teachers College, Cullowhee, North Carolina.
The Class President was Charles R. Holloman. Elvira Greenlee was also a member of the Student Senate.
1938, December 25
We always enjoyed the Christmas cards we received. When I was at Western Carolina we sorted our cards according to the themes. All the cards with reindeer, candles, bells, wise men, angels, snow scenes, Santa Claus, wreaths, Christmas trees, fireplaces, etc. Uncle Tyram and Aunt Glen received over 300 cards.
We piled the stacks on the living room carpet. Then we laid out the prettiest in each stack and finally picked out the #5, #4, #3, #2, and then THE PRETTIEST CARD. Even today, my cousins place a footnote on my cards from them; "this one belongs in the 'WISE MEN' stack."
During the time I was in Western Carolina College I had the following by elective vote:
Student Senate, President of Business Education Club, President of
Journalism Club, Vice President of Student Body, President of Day
Student Government Association, Secretary of Business Education
Club, Western Carolinian Annual Staff, May Court, Schubert Glee
Club. I also taught a Sunday School class, was Assistant Librarian
during summer, and secretary to the Director of Training.
* * *
Helen Andrews's little brother liked to eat liver but didn't really know what it was. Once he was in the kitchen when it was being prepared, then later at the dinner table he refused to eat any, saying: "Some cow might have licked that calf!"
* * *
Nylon stockings were introduced.
1939, February 4,
Quoted excerpts from a letter to my parents:
You know Mr. Deans' friend [named] Irby that I was telling you about? He is the artist from Detroit that is here in school. He is the one that I have so much fun writing poetry to. Well, he and I are coming right along these days. He took me to the Science Club party Friday night ... I was a swanky party indeed! [It] had a ten piece orchestra, good refreshments, good crowd, good chaperones, and a good time. I really did have a good time. It was just pouring the rain and when Irby came for me, Uncle Tyrum had me to take the car so that we would not get wet ...
Then yesterday afternoon I spent all of the afternoon in the art lab posing for Irby. He painted my picture. Rather he got the portrait yesterday and he will be working on it for about a week I guess, coloring it and every thing. I was just flattered to death that he asked me to pose for him because he is about the best artist around here and everybody comes by to see his work and there it will be me ...
Most of his drawings are landscapes, buildings, trees, and things like that. He has drawn most of the campus buildings and they are just marvelous ... Our chapel program is coming right along. We are going to practice all afternoon tomorrow ... I got the sweater Birdie made for me and it is fine. I have it on this very minute and I'm so proud I don't know what to do. It fits perfectly and is exactly what I have been wanting for a long time. Allon had his too. We both strut around like a million ...
The night that I got the last letter from you I was in the library studying. Irby came in while I was reading the letter and he sat down with me. I showed him what you said about ‘sounds like you are just about resigned to being an old maid. If I would keep a few [boys] hanging around, you may change your mind and they might come in handy ’ ...
I showed that to him and he proceeded to write the following poem:
Of all the friends that we possess
And of all the ones with frown or smile,
I think our mothers lead the rest
For their advice is well worthwhile.
We do have more fun writing poetry. I thought I had some more of our poetry here with me, but I don't; it must be at home ...
He [Irby] went to have his eyes tested for glasses last week and found that he will have to have some.
I wrote and dedicated this following poem to him for that worthy cause:
He winks and blinks at all the girls
And says the cause is "technicolor" —
But lassies simply go in whirls
And hearts go flutter, flutter!
But foxed indeed were all these lassies
When they found 'twas need of glasses!
My friend has an eye defect
And the light that lies
In the depth of his eyes
Gives an indirect lighting effect ...
See how much fun it is to write poetry? That winking and blinking stuff is really not true. I thought that I would just tease him a little. Poetry is quite a hobby. I will copy you a really sensible poem of mine when I get home. It is one that I wrote to Earl Irby one night the same day that I wrote these in this letter.
One day I said something to him about being mysterious, I said, ‘I wonder about you lots of times' and he wrote the following poem:
(Note: He wore colored glasses this particular night because
it was the night of the day he had his eyes tested.)
Behind the colored glasses
You wondered what was hid
In broadened grin I answered
That, I guess, many folks did
It wasn't a touch of conceit
Nor was it family pride;
It was a touch of mystery
That some folks think I hide.
. . . And I replied with the following [poem]:
I'm sure you've seen a great display
As you walked down the busy street.
You thought it very interesting and there you say:
I know that that is hard to beat,
I shall go in and take my choice —
But when you found no further pick
You were guided by a still small voice
That told you that this had no kick.
There you were with greatest interest
Expecting much and finding nothing
Its fascination sunk as the sun in the west.
As you went out, you felt a 'ting'
That people, too, are often this way
Displaying great things, concealing none
So never let there come a day —
When mystery has sunk it's sun,
And left with you — only display —
Don't let your friends become besmirched!
Be mysterious! Keep more things in store;
Because on every tree is perched
Birds 'twill like as never soar.
They are too hasty in every way
To show all they have in first display.
Now that's what I call fun! Lots rather be having fun doing this that ogling around at the boys like I didn't have a bone in my body ...
1939, May 5,
Irby was my escort to the May Day Ball when I was in the May Court. It was an event held in the outdoor amphitheater on campus.
* * *
Carl Sandburg had a house in western North Carolina. I once stopped at his house with Uncle Tyram and Aunt Glen. I don't remember much about it but I do remember there were goats in the yard and that he seemed like a happy man.
* * *
I graduated from Western Carolina Teachers College in May, 1939, with a double major. One in Business Education and one in English.
For my first job after graduation, I taught Business English and Administration at Black Mountain High School in Black Mountain, North Carolina. Ten of the teachers, including myself, lived in the Monte Vista Hotel because it was a nice mountain resort hotel and they had special rates for people who stayed there during winter months.
I taught business administration in Black Mountain High School, fifteen miles from Asheville. I taught typing, shorthand, business English, salesmanship, and business law.
During the second year I lived in an apartment with two other teachers, Helen Andrews and Maude Kaiser. Helen has continued to be one of my best friends through the years. She was eight years older than I and she is so dear! Three of her brothers are Methodist ministers. She taught Home Economics and she worked for years with the Girl Scouts and was an artist with crafts.
The township of Black Mountain is adjacent to and touching Montreat, the Presbyterian Assembly Ground. On the east side, it is also adjacent to Ridgecrest, the Baptist Assembly Ground. And three miles to the south is the YMCA and YWCA Blue Ridge Assembly areas. At that time, a part of the Blue Ridge Assembly facility was also occupied by the Black Mountain College, a very cultural and innovative group of artists, poets, and musicians, many of which would later be known world-wide as leaders in their creative fields. Although I didn ’t personally know the individuals of the 1939 and 1940 class, I do remember some of them coming and going in the Blue Ridge Assembly facility, particularly when I had a summer job at the Assembly during the summer of 1940. Over the 22-year existence of the Black Mountain College, some of the most famous faculty members and students were: Josef Albers, Willem de Kooning, Walter Gropius, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Franz Kline, and others. Among the Board of Directors and advisers were the likes of William Carlos Williams, Albert Einstein, and Buckminster Fuller.
At the time, Black Mountain corner drug store had a very popular soda fountain where all kinds of my students would hang out — There was little profanity, no stolen cars, no sleeping around, no drugs, no alcohol. They were having a wholesome great time. I think of how times have changed in the last 50 years and I shudder with anxiety.
The Black Mountain students came from diverse homes. Some were pure mountaineers and proud of it. Others were products of wealth and proud of it. "Gangs" didn't prevail. Black Mountain was blessed with Christian principles.
Once when Earl Richard Hall was about six years old, he scattered crumbs and food on the tablecloth. Mother and I scolded him and I told him we would have to serve his food on a tray. Earl swelled up, his chin trembled, and he said in a feeble voice, "you make my throat hurt."
* * *
George Roper was an acquaintance of ours and his parents from New York were staying at the Monte Vista Hotel. While in town they were seeing a specialist about some of George's behavior.
As Irby and I were sitting in the car in the parking lot of the Hotel one night, we saw George coming out the front door of the Hotel.
So he wouldn't see us, we scooted down in the front seat of the car. He came between our car and the car beside us, stopped, and then urinated on the ground ... this incident being my most EMBARRASSING moment while on a date.
* * *
I met W. C. Honnicutt while I was in Black Mountain, North Carolina. He was a well-to-do widower whose wife had died of tuberculosis. He was an attorney and also owned five big businesses, a beautiful home, an airplane, and was recognized as a rich man. He was forty eight years old.
Most of the teachers, nurses, and secretaries were "after him." I already had picked out EARL IRBY and wasn't looking for another. I liked it that way!! Mr. Honnicutt liked it that way. Irby liked it that way. It was a great sport to fly with him in his plane around the Blue Ridge Mountains around Black Mountain and Asheville, and to go to fine restaurants as well. Although nothing shook me from EARL IRBY!
* * *
I sponsored a little mimeographed student newspaper at Black Mountain High School. We published articles from all grades. One 4th grade boy wrote a poem about Ferdinand the bull. His poem was this:
Along came a bee
buzz, buzz, buzz
and sat right down
where Ferdinand wuz.
Earl Irby graduated from Western Carolina College in Cullowhee, North Carolina in 1940.
I worked with Mr. Sanders, bookkeeper of Blue Ridge Assembly in Black Mountain. I had a room in one of the dormitories and ate in the cafeteria. They had three dormitories, and assembly building, a library, forty cottages, a swimming pool, horses, and a beautiful setting. The Assembly Inn had (and still has) a wonderful big porch full of high-back rocking chairs.
I could see a great view of the valley below. From two miles away you could see trains and automobiles and they were so far away that you couldn't hear them.
(As I was writing this, we laughed and giggled at my misplaced modifier when
I wrote: "From Blue Ridge you could see trains sitting on the porch,
but we couldn't hear them.")
* * *
Once we were having a vesper service there beside a trail on a pleasant evening. A fox was curious as to why we were so quiet. As we began singing a meditative song he came up and lingered awhile. Then he lifted his head and sang with us for a while, howling. Before we finished he disappeared into the forest.
* * *
My mother and father had a little white dog named Knippy who would bite down on rags so hard you could lift him off the ground while he still held the cloth between his teeth. One day while mother was driving the black 1935 Dodge with Knippy in the front floorboard he suddenly started licking her on her bare leg. It was such a surprise to her she lost control of the car and ran “smak” through the front doors of a country church.
Emless R. Hall moved to Freeport, Texas from Henderson, Texas, to work on construction for the Austin Construction Company who was building for the new Dow Chemical Company. At first he shared a room in eight hour shifts with other construction works at Mrs. Clarke's Rooming House on Broad Street. Then, with help from his brother, Lyndon Hall, and Mr. Salesbury of Clute, they built a new home at 710 Shanks Street in Clute for Emless, Ottie, and Earl Richard to live in.
Before Dow Chemical Company got off the ground, snakes had to be dealt with. Big six-foot rattlers, water moccasins, and copperheads were the gruesome ones. The first workers burned off salt-grass and laid down boards so that trucks could enter with oyster shell and sand. On every pile of lumber was posted signs of warning, "Beware of Snakes!," and "Watch for Snakes!," "Use Steel Rods To Turn Over Lumber."
1940 - 1941
Irby taught sixth grade at the school in China Grove, North Carolina. This was about a three hour trip on steep and crooked roads through the foothills into the mountains where I lived in Black Mountain, North Carolina.
I never applied for a job. The jobs came to me. When I taught in Black Mountain, the school board had selected me from a roster of business education graduates, maybe because I made one of three "A's" in the Business Education Training School. Anyway, two years later a member of the Lee Edwards High School Board of Asheville drove to Black Mountain and asked me if I would consider a change to teach in Asheville. Lee Edwards High School was very prestigious ... the finest in the state of North Carolina. Plus, they offered a city supplementary pay and they were a testing ground for progressive education in it's earliest stages.
I was elated.
& Sleep Shop
122 N. Highway B-288
Clute, Brazoria County
Lynch, Reding, Irby 3 Savanna Blue -
C. L. Reding Two Rivers Poetry -
G. M. Irby published poetry -
M. Hunter Long Shadows -
“We had a concert every night with birds and nightlife. The moon looked wonderful.”