Washington, NC - Memories

"What I Remember About My Journey"
by William E. Sparrow, Sr.

Chapter  1 -  The Journey Begins.

On  Sunday evening, February 10, 1929, in New Bern, North Carolina, it
was a dark and stormy night. All of a sudden there was a loud squalling
heard throughout the house and someone said "My God, he is small!"
Someone else said, "Hey, he only weighs three pounds, do you think he
will make it?" At this point the Midwife, Mrs. Gaskins, stepped in and
said, "Get me a shoe box, a hot water bottle, and a couple of towels,
this boy is going to be all right, he is chewing on his fist, he’s just
hungry. Hey I don’t know whether that is the way it happened, I mean the
weather and whether it was day or night. I was too young at the time,
but that is the where, when, and how William Edward Sparrow got into
this world sixty seven years ago.
My first recollections of my life are in the town of Washington, North
Carolina. My family  moved there when I was about three or four years
old. My Father was hired by the Saunders Lumber Company, which was
located in the town. We lived in a big old white pre-Civil War house
with no central heating. All heating and cooking was done on wood
burning stoves and/or fireplaces. Suffice it to say that it was a fun
house and town in which to grow up. This is were my journey started in
earnest and continued for twelve years until my  Mother and Father were
divorced in the summer of 1941. Now what do I remember about most of
those particular twelve years?
The times that I am telling you about were innocent times both for me
and for the country.  I think my first clear memories of growing up are
of going to school at John Small Elementary School. I remember the third
grade, because I flunked. I realize that sounds bizarre in today’s
world, but they cared more about whether you knew the work than they did
about your self esteem. Now you will find this some what more
interesting, I failed third grade, because of the  AIRPLANE. I know it
sounds crazy, but up until that fall I had never seen an airplane other
than in the news reels. That year the fates handed me a double whammy,
first a big old Ford Trimotor  airplane came to town and flew all around
the town and advertised half hour rides for five dollars. Well since
this was in the depth of the Depression and there wasn’t any money for
airplane rides. I was lucky to get a dime to go to the movies at the
Turnage or Reita theaters. Well the old Ford Trimotor left for lack of
business, but wouldn’t you know it , but some guy showed up in a Piper
Cub and he was cheaper, so he must have made some money, because he
stayed. Now for the final nail in my educational coffin.
It happened like this. I was out side playing and I heard a very faint
droning. When I stopped and listened it was getting louder. In a few
minutes it was getting really loud and to tell the truth I was getting
scared. All of a sudden there they were, a flight of about ten Boeing
P10 Pursuit Planes flying in formation, just like they did in the Movie
Tone News Reels in the movies.  As I remember they made about two passes
over the town and were then on their way.  What did this have to do with
my failure in the first grade, well I will tell you. All through  the
fall semester all I did was draw airplanes in every way possible. OK, I
just failed the first half. My mother showed me the errors of my ways,
both verbally and physically. She suggested that if I ever wanted to sit
down again that I had better find a better way to spend my energies than
drawing airplanes. You have to remember that this was during a time in
our history when corporal punishment was not frowned on in the home or
in the schools. I know that my memory is not that good, but I do
remember that all my playmates and friends were subject to this
There are other things having to do with school and I will delve into
them later on , but now lets get into the town where I spent part of my
childhood . Lets start with the house where I lived. While it didn’t
mean anything to me, Washington is located in and is the county seat of
Beaufort County, North Carolina.  It is situated on the Pamlico River,
where the Tar River joins it. In fact if I believe the map of Washington
the bridge that carries US Route 17 across the Pamlico is the dividing
line between the two rivers and I didn’t know that until recently. The
town was founded in 1776  and was named  for our first president. One of
the other points of interest about Washington, among many, is that it
was the birth place of Cecil B. DeMille and here I will assume that you
know who he was. I am not going to get too involved with the history of
the town and all of that, because I  really wasn’t into that when I was
a child growing up there.
Now lets take a look at the house where I lived.  I don’t know that it
was of a particular style of architecture. As I remember, from a
distance of some fifty six years, it was big, square, two story, and
white. As I said before, believe that it was pre-civil war and had no
central heat. It was heated by fireplaces in every room or in some rooms
a wood burning stove was connected to the fireplace. The kitchen was
heated in the winter by a wood burning cook stove and in the summer the
cooking was done on a kerosene stove. Before we get to the inside of the
house lets take a look at the outside. It had a front porch that
extended from one side of the house to the other side. If I had to guess
it was about eight to ten foot deep.  It was big and comfortable having
a swing on the right side of the porch and several rocking chairs spread
around. I remember that swing fondly in that in my imagination it was an
airplane, a boat or anything else that I desired. You must remember that
we are discussing a time before television, therefore, if you wanted
entertainment you used your imagination and made do with the things at
The house sat on a lot that was about one hundred by two hundred and
fifty. I always imagined that the lot was about a half of a city block
deep in that the back of our lot met the lot of the house on Third
Street. The front of the property had been built up about two feet above
street level and was held in place by a brick and cement retaining
wall.  It ran from the right side of the property to within ten or
twelve feet of the other side of the property. That opening was for the
drive way that ran down the side of the house. The center of the wall
was broken by some steps about five foot wide. This wall has required
some explanation, because it had an important roll in this journey. That
wall was required for sitting on with my friends, for jumping off of,
for standing on when ever there was a parade, and for walking on like a
tight rope. Even though the wall was about ten inches wide the top was
round and wasn’t all that easy to walk on. Now if you were facing the
house  from the side walk here is what you would have seen. There was an
automobile dealership, Chrysler I think, that ran back at least a
hundred feet with lots of windows on the second floor. Those windows are
a story unto themselves and will be addressed in due time. There was
ground between the house and the building and my mother had flowers
located there. On the left side , next to the drive way was a brick
store front that had a  long wooden warehouse type structure behind it
and it ran back for about a hundred feet. That store front had been many
things such as a little grocery store and up until the time that we
moved it was used for vulcanizing automobile tires. Any way the drive
way ran to the back of the house and sort of died out, although I
suspect that at one time it went further into the  yard. Now we will
start at the back of the house.
On the side next to the automobile agency and starting  at about ten
feet from the back of the house was a huge cistern for storing rain
water. It protruded up into the air about two and a half feet, so that
the owner of the house had built a platform or the equivalent of a porch
over it. There were some brick steps that went from the top of the
platform down to the side yard, also there were steps that went into the
backyard. This made a nice stage if my friends and I wanted to put on
shows.  I think that we did , once. The side of this platform next to
the house connected to the porch that came off from the kitchen. We are
almost finished with the yard description. Within an area of the yard
that was about fifty by fifty feet there were five big pecan tress that
provided plenty of pecans every year. On the right side of the yard,
along the auto agency brick wall was located a big wood shed and one
other building that had probably been a carriage house and or a garage
in later years. The lower half of the yard was mostly weeds and bushes.
My friends and I played many times in that backyard for hours on end. We
will return later to some of those escapades. Now, a paragraph on the
house that I lived for some part of twelve years.
As I said before this house was a neat home to grow up in, it was
interesting now that look back at it.  Facing the front of the house,
the front door was placed off to the left of the center of the house.
The front door was quite impressive in that it was at least  four feet
wide and I would judge about six and a half to seven feet tall. To say
the least it was rather massive, but swung easily on it’s hinges. Upon
entering the house you were in a reception area, which gave way to a
hall that ran down the center of the house almost the full length of the
house. If you turned left you were faced by a set of steps that ascended
to the second floor. The steps rose about six or seven steps to a
landing which turned 180 degrees rose another ten or eleven steps to the
second floor. There was a space under the stair platform that was used
as a coat closet. Also, at the landing level there was a door that went
out side. Now if you went outside there weren’t any steps or porch. You
could see that at one time  there had been a small porch with steps and
probably a portico so that you were able to pull in a coach or
automobile and enter the house without getting wet in bad weather. On
the right side of the hall there was door that entered the living room.
When you entered the living room and turned left you were facing two
pocket doors and they divided the living room from the dining room. The
dining room had four doors in it. There was, on the left side of the
room a door that went out into the center hallway. There was the pocket
doors that you came through and on the back wall were two more doors.
The first doorway on the left back wall went through a hall way, that
formed a pantry,  into the kitchen. The last door,  on the right side of
the back wall , went out to the summer kitchen.
Way back in my childhood, Oh say  about 55 years ago I ruined my
sister's understanding of Christmas and Santa Claus. You have to have
an understanding of the house in which we lived. The house was built
before the  Civil War and was a rather large house. The  upstairs had a
hall way were the steps came up  from the first floor. On the same side
as the stairs were two closets and a  bathroom. The closets and  the
bathroom had a door  and over the door was a  transom. Well, let me
tell  you that transom was our  trap door into the closet. Now you have
to  understand one of the functions of those closets, aside from the
obvious,  that's were Santa Claus I was hidden by my parents. Being a
very inquisitive child needless to say I went exploring when ever a door
was locked, in fact it was like a beacon. Aside from that it was about
two weeks before Christmas and I was at an age where Santa Claus wasn't
completely accepted by me. So one day I got a chair and put it in front
of this particular locked door and looked in through the transom. WOW,
there were all of these neat toys and things. At this point my memory
fails me in that I don't remember how I got pass the locked door, but in
any case I did get into the closet. There was a peddle car for my
sister, Vida, so I got it out and was peddling all over the upstairs.
About this time Vida came up the stairs and wanted to know about the car
and I told her it was from Santa Claus, i.e.; our Mother and Father.
Needless to say Vida was not happy camper, but some of the Christmas
candy seemed to calm her down. I don't  remember what else was in the
closet for our  Christmas, you would  have to ask Vida when  you see
her. In point of fact the one reason that I remember as much as I do is
that she never lets me  forget that time in our  lives. She always
starts the story with a statement to the effect that "I  always got her
into trouble".
I think that my  Mother found out about the intrusion into Santa land
when she went in to check the items she had purchased. She discovered
that there had been a  pilferage of the Christmas candy. There followed
a long conversation between my Mother and  myself.  She pointed out  my
transgressions and  punctuated each one with  a stroke of a hairbrush.
I  never got that curious  about Santa's gifts again.
I don’t remember the year, but I remember that it was during the time
that my family and I lived in Washington, North Carolina in the big
white house on West Second Street to be specific. Yep, that is where it
happened. All right you say, what was it you say? It was Christmas
My Mother, Vida Brock Sparrow,  and my Father, Robert Sparrow, invited
the family for Christmas Dinner. Uncle Ed Brock, Aunt Marguerite, Cousin
Eloidia were there. My Grandmother, Mammy Lucy Brock,  was there along
with Uncle Frank Pittman, Aunt Sug, and my Cousin Frankie. Uncle Warren
Arnold, Aunt Mary, Cousin Mary Gertrude, Cousin Betty Belle, and Cousin
Jimmy. Present from my Family was my Father, Mother, Sister Vida, Sister
Lucy, my Brother Bobby and of course myself.  We all sat down in the
dinning room and had Christmas dinner.
Now, remember that these festivities occurred almost sixty years ago and
my memory may well play tricks on me, but I think dinner went something
like this. We would have had a country ham, roasted turkey, dressing in
a pan, giblet gravy, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, collards, string
beans, candied sweet potatoes, creamy white celery, biscuits, and
miscellaneous pickles and such. Desert would have been something like
this, sweet potato pie ( a couple), mincemeat pies, and the following
three types of cakes; fresh coconut, thin chocolate icing, jelly. Now,
you have to understand about my Mother’s cakes the layers were always
thin and usually piled about seven or eight high. The icings were on the
thin side, which never seemed to detract from their flavors. I remember
everyone seemed to like them very much. Along with these delightful
items was the family tradition, "Syllabub". I am not sure that this is
the correct spelling, but I do remember that it was what I looked
forward to every Christmas, and in fact carry on that tradition in my
own family to this day. It was a very simply dish really, being nothing
more than whipped cream  seasoned with wine and sugar to taste. I felt
very honored and grown up when I inherited the job  of making this
confection every year.
After the dinner and desert was finished the only thing that anybody was
fit to do was sit, talk, and just plain visit. I use to love to sit by
the fireplace and listen to my Father and Uncles swap stories about the
old days and enjoyed them very much.


Right off the bat I must confess to a big goof, I forgot my baby sister
in my last message. Her name was Lucy Shipp Sparrow. If you remember the
Tulip Festival that took place the year that Cecil B. DeMille came to
town, on his yacht, her picture appeared on the front page of the local
newspaper. She was dressed in a Dutch costume, sitting on the low
concrete wall on Market Street and she was crying her eyes out. The wall
as I remember it was in front of the jail and to the left of the Court

One of the things that I saw in the picture that I referred to, before,
was a building that housed a restaurant that my father loved, because
according to him they had the best fried oysters in Washington. As I
remember it he was right. Speaking of my father and his love for
oysters, therein lies a story. Every year about this time, when the
oysters came in, my Dad would head down to the Fish Market at the foot
of Market Street to see if his favorite oyster fisherman had brought his
boat up river. He wouldn't buy oysters from anyone else. This was so,
because this particular fisherman  farmer had his own little bay off the
end of his farm. Because of this he hand fed the oysters with corn meal,
which made the oysters large and plump. Dad would buy a bushel of this
delicacy, bring them home and store them in the summer kitchen where it
was cool. Further, he would dare anyone to mess with them, I know that
my brother Bobby got a whipping at least once in that he didn't believe
Dad. It may be that time plays tricks with your memory, but I remember
Dad showed me a couple of these oysters when he opened them and they
would almost pop out of the shell once they were open, in that they were
so fat and plumb. Well at least that is the way that I remember it.

If my memory serves me correctly, the Buchmans lived across the street
from me, sort of catty cornered. For the life of me I can't remember
their sons name, although we played together quite a bit. I remember
that he had a bike. I believe that it was an Iver-Johnson with lots of
chrome, a head light and I was green with envy. He did let me ride it a
couple of times. There was also a house that was right next to the
Agriculture Building where the High Family lived. They consisted of Mrs.
Elizabeth High, her daughter Linda High and her son George Thomas High
(Sonny). Sonny and I played together quite often and were friends. After
we moved to Baltimore I lost track of him. I think that he moved to
Raleigh, to live with his father. There was one more kid that I played
with almost all of the time. His name, as he told it , was Claude
"Junior" Rouse and I think he probably had it reversed. I have also lost
track of Claude "Mousie" Rouse. That was the nick name that he acquired
because of his small stature. The one good thing about growing up in a
small town like pre-war Washington, was this; we not only played in my
yard, that was quite large, but we played all over town, but that is
another tale for next time.

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