1963 had not been the best of times for our little family moving from pillar to post and ending in Clarksville Tennessee. After my husband had been laid off from Eastern Airlines he found it very difficult to find another position as a licensed aircraft mechanic. He travelled up and down the East Coast making applications to many companies.
In Clarksville Tennessee he was employed by the owner of a gas station who only hired him so he could use him to service his own Cessna. Paying Charles to work in his gas station was cheaper than paying for the maintenance checks and certification that his plane was air-worthy at the airport where he parked his plane.
Our Christmas that year was quite lean and the winter was severe for us who had moved there from Florida. I think I must have been very unhappy with everything that had happened to Charles and didn’t see much hope in the future. We had rented a small house in a neighbourhood that was close to the Library and I was able to put the boys in the pram and walk over there. I don’t remember a whole lot about living in Clarksville except going to the library and a couple of other events.
One was the winter day when I heard my oldest son: “Mom, come and see, a big truck is trying to get up the hill, the truck's got big trees on it”, shouted my four-year-old. In Clarksville our house was the next to the last house on our street before the road took a sharp left hand turn up a steep incline.
In the winter this turn was a challenge to some motorists, and we were often entertained with automobiles slipping and sliding backwards into our neighbour’s front yard.
This day the truck in question was carrying a load of huge, felled trees. Not only did the truck slip backward after it had made the turn, but the load slid off the truck bed and into the house next door.
We were stunned and ran out on to the street where the truck driver sat in the cab of his “semi” looking for his load. We were able to let the driver know that we had just witnessed the three huge trees going straight through the basement of the house next door to ours and out the other end into the back yard! The lady who lived in that house sat in her living room the whole time and came out on her front porch like the rest of us.
Amazingly no one was hurt and the house did not collapse. Of course, I am sure the structure was severely damaged. The boys thought it was very exciting with police cars and, fire trucks, and tow trucks crowding into our street.
The other memorable event happened on the last day Charles was working at the gas station a customer had his gas tank filled and was turning the car to drive away when Charles spotted a fat cash bag on the rear bumper of the car. He stopped the car and handed the bag to the driver.
The customer was so grateful to Charles for giving him his bag and money that he offered him free meals at one of the 3 restaurants he owned in Clarksville. Charles accepted, and they exchanged contact information, but had to tell him he was leaving Clarksville the next day to move to St. Louis Missouri to start a new job with Ozark Airlines. We did take advantage on our last night in Clarksville and ate in one of his restaurants. This was something we could never afford and it helped a lot since we had everything packed in the car.
When we were packing the car, we had to make sure we kept the trunk available for my husband’s very large toolbox. It was four feet tall with a lot of drawers all filled with very expensive tools that my husband had to have for his job with Ozark Airlines at Lambert Field St. Louis MO.
The interior of the car was filled with sheets, blankets, pillows, household items, clothes and toys for the children. The stack was so high that the boys perched on top with their heads almost touching the roof, but the Snap-On-Tool box was strongly tied in to the trunk.
We thought we had our money budgeted for hotel accommodations while we searched for an apartment in the St. Louis area. We had no idea how much more expensive everything was there than it was in Clarksville Tennessee. We combed the newspaper ads and visited very many apartment complexes. The deposit requirement was our biggest problem. We did not have $1000.00 to cover the deposit with the first and last month’s rent in advance.
We had been driving around for a couple of days and we couldn’t afford another night in the hotel. It was getting late, and we were desperate as we drove through the downtown area of St. Charles Missouri,30 miles from St. Louis.
Downtown St. Charles where our studio apartment was located.
When we were stopped at a traffic light, we did not know where we were at all, just somewhere in St. Charles. As we waited for the light to change a voice from the car in the next lane said: “You must be new to the area – your car looks like it is loaded, are you looking for somewhere to live?!!”
A middle-aged lady who sat in a very glitzy Cadillac convertible in the middle of the road, in the middle of St. Charles MO just became our Fairy Godmother.
Were we willing to take a chance with a total stranger in a strange town? What did we have to lose? She told us to follow her and so we did.
The place turned out to be a studio apartment downtown. The “living room” had a Murphy bed in the wall, it did have a bathroom and a stove and sink, but that’s about it. There was a table and four chairs and a small bench 'sofa' that looked like it had been in a bus station. It was going to cost $70.00 every two weeks - an amount we could afford.
The fact that there was only one bed was a bit of a problem, but my husband was going to be working night shift and so we thought he could sleep during the day and the three of us could use the bed at night. This did not work out very well because my toddler was inclined to use sleeping dad as a road map for his toy cars.
There was no other room we could escape to, so I did some exploring in St. Charles. I found a lovely park not too far away and I took the boys there every day. Because I was such a regular, I met other mothers there with their children and became very good friends with a family who had two boys the same ages as Andy and Neil. Roger, Jane and their four children lived in a trailer. They had not been in St. Louis long either as Roger had just started to work for McDonnel Douglas. Charles and Roger became good friends.
We only rented that studio until we had enough money to move to a very nice apartment in a much nicer neighbour-hood. It was in a subdivision on a cul-de-sac with 10 duplexes in a semi-circle with one huge back yard for all. Most women were stay-at-home mothers so all of the neighbours congregated either in the back yard or one of the front porches to visit and watch the children playing.
I was disappointed that Andrew could not start school. In Scotland he would have started school when he was 5. That year he would have been 6 in October, but the school system there said he would have to wait a full year before he could start school. As it turned out it put him behind when we moved to Georgia because there, he should have been in school a year earlier.
One day it was suggested that we pile all the kids in three cars and drive to Pere Marquette State Park in Illinois. It was a beautiful autumn day and we took off. I had no idea where we were going as I was new to America and especially that part of the country. I did not realize that not only were we going to another state but we had to cross the Mississippi River and there was no bridge!
The other mothers knew where we were going and that we would drive onto a ferry to take us across the river. This was nothing like the ferries I was used to in Scotland where people, bicycles, cars and trucks went on to the ferry and engines chugged us across the River Forth estuary. No, this was a hand operated ferry that could only accommodate 2 vehicles.
We got to the State Park and it was glorious. The children loved it and we played games and went swishing around in all the coloured leaves. Pretty soon we had to think about getting something for the children to eat.
There was no such thing as a Wendy’s back then. The only place we could find was a tavern that was open and they allowed us to bring in all the kids. We sat them up at the bar with the bar and bar stools being at just the right height for toddlers. The only thing on order was hamburgers so that’s what they had.
On the return journey, when we got back on the ferry, there was a pickup truck on the ferry loaded with pumpkins. We bargained and hassled the farmer until we all bought beautiful pumpkins at reasonable prices to take back for Hallow'een. The unique old-fashioned ferry took us back across the mighty Mississippi. I am sure all the children slept all the way back home - we had had a long active day.
We all remember where we were that devastating day when President John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallals Texas. I was in the supermarket and rushed home to wake Charles who still worked night shift at Ozark. I can remember the stillness and quiet everywhere that day and how everyone was glued to their televisions.
I took the boys to the St. Louis Zoo five times in one year. They got on very good terms with a baby Orangutan named Henry and got to sit in a rocking chair and feed him with a baby bottle of formula. The boys got to play with him, and they also played with a litter of new lion cubs.
I also took them to the Anheuser Busch stables to meet the Clydesdale horses. We actually took a ride in a coach pulled by Clydesdales.
One day in January Charles came home and said we were moving to Atlanta. He had been working all night on the tail of an aircraft parked outside at the airport in a blizzard with 20 degrees below zero weather so the offers he got from Delta and Lockheed looked very appealing.
Good bye to St. Charles
He had been reluctant to respond to these companies because when he worked for Eastern the Union had not treated him fairly, so he did not trust Airlines or Delta. Lockheed was a military contractor, and they had a reputation of laying off excess employees when contracts were fulfilled.
Charles had been hired at Eastern Airlines in 1959 in a 4-year apprenticeship program to become flight engineers. This meant very low wages and 4 hours X 4 nights a week of night school classes for 4 years. There was a class of 27 men hired as apprentices. They all worked for below minimum wage and had to pay the expensive union dues.
Eastern Airlines had a big strike and a great number of employees were laid off. All the apprentices were laid off and when the strike was settled the Union did not call the apprentices back. Our land-lady’s son was hired by Eastern at that time, he had no mechanical experience andy yet he made union wages. Weeks after the strike was settled the apprentices were not called back to work.
The 27 apprentices hired a lawyer to make an appeal to be rehired, but the Union Members did not want the now fully licensed and certified airline mechanics back at Eastern as they were a threat to non-licensed union members. We eventually lost our home in Hollywood and were actually homeless for a time.
That cold January Charles accepted the offer from Lockheed instead of Delta. I rather wished he would have accepted the offer from Delta as that would mean we would continue to get free airline travel. Neither Ozark nor Delta flew internationally back then so I would not have been able to get free tickets to take me back to Scotland, but discounts would help.
So, we had to pack up again and get on the road down to Atlanta Georgia. On the way there we stopped at an A. & W. Root Beer drive-in for hamburgers. I had never been to anything like this before. It was just like what we saw in the moives with girls on skates bringing a tray to the car.
The tray was loaded with hamburgers and milk shakes which was attached to the outside of the driver’s window. I thought "Isn't that neat" BUT, it started to rain - a real downpour. Frantically, Charles reached to bring the tray in to the car. As he maneuvered it in to the car the milkshakes all fell over into Charles lap and saturated his trousers with sweet sticky ice cold milk shakes.
When it stopped raining he got out of the car and shook himself like a wet dog, but it looked more like he was dancing the watusi. He kept looking for a place where he could take a shower and get a clean pair of trousers. I laughed all the way to Georgia whenever I thought of my very staid husband dancing around the car shaking his hips.
Things worked out very well for Charles at Lockheed, he achieved his dream of being a 'Tech. Rep.' He started as an aircraft mechanic building C-141 airplanes, then after passing some tests he was promoted to Field Service and ended his career being the supervisor of 60 men in the Field Service International Department on C-130 airplanes. He retired after 32 years with Lockheed at the age of 62.