Memories of a Fisherman’s Wife by Alma Jean Irving
Starting on the day Jean was born into a family of strife with an alcoholic father and parents that fought every weekend. She was raised with a sister and three brothers. The three oldest of the children were very close in age and did everything together as young children. The other two children came along later.
She went on to marry her first love at age fifteen. He was twenty. He drank a lot of beer so consequently there were a lot of problems. Over the years he was unfaithful to her multiple times. He was not yet ready to settle down.
He was a commercial fisherman and times were hard. He would go out and get whatever seafood was in season to sell and bring some home to cook.
He spent lots of time away from home, sometimes two or three days. Sometimes he would be working but a lot of the time he was just goofing off or spending time with other people and sometimes it would be other women.
Jean spent a lot of time cleaning the house and moving the furniture around from boredom. Other times she would work outside the home. She tried to keep a stable home for the kids.
Sometimes he would take the children out in the boat fishing and clamming. An accident happened when he had the two boys out in the ocean in a small boat.
Roland escaped near death several times from events that happened while working in his fishing profession as a commercial fisherman.
What happens to him? And what happens to the girl in this story?
This story keeps your interest to the end.
It began for me on March 9, 1940. I was born to my mom and dad, who
lived in a very small home with no bathroom, just an outhouse, and no
electricity. Eventually, we did get some electricity. We lived on a dirt road
in a neighborhood just at the edge of the city limits of Wilmington, North
Carolina. My mama named me Jean, and my paternal grandmother (our
ma-me) stuck Alma on the front of it. I had one sister, Carolyn, who was
about eighteen months older than me. About eighteen months after I was
born, a brother, Sammy, came along. Sammy and I ended up with very
curly white hair. Carolyn’s hair was straight and darker. As we grew up
together, we became very close. We did everything together, which was
not much, considering we were very poor and did not have money to go
anywhere or buy things.
Even though we did not have anything, we did not miss it because we did
not know what it was to own things. Our dad made some of our Christmas
toys. He was a carpenter by trade, so he would get some wheels from the
general store and make wagons, scooters, wheelbarrows and doll baby
cradles. For Carolyn and me, our mom would make rag dolls or buy dolls
with no clothes and make the clothes for them. On Christmas mornings,
when we got up, we thought that we had gotten a lot of things even though
they were few in comparison to other children’s toys. We’d always get one
major thing, which was usually a doll for the girls and a wagon or scooter
or something like that—homemade—for our brother. We would usually
get our stockings filled with an orange, tangerine, apple, and some hard
Christmas candies. One time, my brother got an onion and a switch in his
stocking for being a bad boy. We had a neighbor that loved us, especially
Sammy. She nicknamed him “Meany”.
We did not have fancy things or a television. TVs were not in existence back
then. We would use our imagination to figure out things to do to keep us
occupied. We would lie on our back in the grass and imagine the clouds
were shaped like animals and things. We would spend hours looking for
four-leaf clovers. We played all the childhood games: red rover, ring around
the roses, blind man’s bluff, simple Simon, hopscotch and jump rope. We
also climbed trees, did cartwheels, ran, jumped, and dug in the dirt. We
could think of all kinds of things to do to keep us occupied and out of our
mom’s hair. Oh, we had so much fun back then when life was simple.
For a while when we were still small, our ma-me would come stay with us,
and she would help out with us kids. When we were sick, Mama, Daddy
and Ma-me would treat us with tar plasters, mustard plasters, caster oil
and chill tonic. That chill tonic (to build us up, according to what Mom
said) tasted absolutely terrible, so did the caster oil, which we got after each
holiday to clean us out. I always got a whipping and a second dose because
I always threw the first dose up. They would put tar plasters on us for the
croup and upper-chest congestion. If that did not work, then we got the
fiery hot mustard plasters. Each one of them would take one of us and hold
us down with the mustard plaster on our chest for about ten minutes. We
would be screaming and hollering and kicking because it was so hot on our
chest. It would burn us. Our chest would be red when they got through
with us, but it must have worked because whatever was wrong with us, it
would get better.
One time, Ma-me was going to whip me for something that I did not do,
but Carolyn told her that I did it. I ran around and around the house,
trying to get away from her, but Carolyn caught me by the tail of my dress
on the front steps and held me until Ma-me could whip me. They never
whipped Carolyn because she was puny. We loved our ma-me. Sometimes
we would spend the night with her. She died when I was about eight
years old, I guess. She had gone to Hampstead, North Carolina, to visit
her sisters that lived there, and while she was there, she had a stroke that
Our daddy was an alcoholic, and our mom was a housewife. Mama would
raise chickens and grow vegetables to eat. She would plant flowers in the
yard to try and make it pretty. Daddy would work all week and come
home on Friday night in a taxicab as we did not have a car. He would
bring home a week’s supply of groceries on Friday night. He always had
a bottle of whiskey with him. On Friday nights, we would usually have
pork chops with grits and pork and beans. Most of the rest of the week,
our only meat would be fatback or bologna with rice and dry beans, which
mom had cooked all day. She always made biscuits, dough bread, or corn
bread. Then on Sundays, we always had fried chicken with potato salad
and a vegetable and some kind of bread and banana pudding (made from
scratch). I can remember Daddy sobering up on Sunday, and he would get
in the kitchen with Mama and help her make Sunday dinner. We could see
him in there picking on Mama and trying to get on her good side. We kids
would go to Sunday school every Sunday at the East Wilmington Baptist
Church, which was on the same road that we lived on.
Mama usually started arguing with Daddy on Friday because he had bought
a bottle of whiskey. Then on Saturday, Daddy would catch the city bus and
go downtown. He would spend most of Saturday morning in the pool hall
now known as the Dixie Grill at Second and Market Street. He also did
some shopping for things we needed at home. Sometimes he would bring
one of us a pair of shoes if we needed them. Then the next time, another
one of us would get a pair of shoes. He would ride the bus home and get off
about a block from the house and walk down the dirt road to home. One
time, I can remember Daddy getting off the bus at the corner a block away.
Mama was on the front porch fussing because she said Daddy was drunk.
I asked her how she could tell. She replied, “Just look how he is walking
and look how red his face is.” Well, he just looked his normal bowlegged
self to me. No matter, he always had a white bag in his hand with candies
for us kids. We loved to get that bag of candy on Saturdays. You see, it was
the only candy we ever got. He never forgot to get something for Mama,
even though he knew she would throw it back at him and say it was a bribe
because he had been drinking. He would always have another bottle of
some kind of alcohol for himself. He would drink the rest of the day, and
Mama would nag at him and keep on and on until they would fight.
Sometimes she would throw things at Daddy. She threw a fork at him one
time, and it stuck in his eyebrow for a second before it fell to the floor.
One time, he was sitting on the end of the porch with his legs dangling
over the end. I was standing on the ground. Mama came running down
the porch and just pushed him right off. Daddy did things to her too. I can
remember him choking her until she turned blue and pushing her around.
They called each other bad names when he was drinking.
One time, Daddy took my sister, brother and me to a Halloween party at
the community center in town. Daddy had gotten drunk and was sitting in
a chair about to pass out. We were afraid the policeman was going to take
him to jail, so somehow, we managed to get him outside and get a taxi to
take us home. When we got home, Mama was so mad that she threw a jar
of nails at him as he was walking in the door and almost hit me as I was
standing right beside Daddy. She was really mad because Daddy did not
have the money to pay for the taxicab, and Mama had to use bill money to
pay the taxi driver.
When I was about nine years old, Mama had another baby, Edward Ray—a
baby brother for us. I remember we all used to sleep in the same room
with Mama and Daddy, but with the new baby, the room was getting very
crowded, so a couple of my aunts came over and took Mama and Daddy’s
bed out of the bedroom and put it in the living room where the heater was.
Mama had a very small crib for the baby to sleep in.
One day, Mama was in the yard, at the fence, talking to a neighbor. I was
in the house with Ray. He was asleep in his crib. He woke up and started
crying. Instead of calling Mama to tell her, I was going to be smart. I
decided I wanted to take Ray out to where Mama was. I took him out of
the crib and held him up to my chest with my hand on the back of his
head. I came down the steps and started across the yard. With him up to
my chest, I could not see where I was going. I tripped over a tree root and
fell right down on the ground face-first. I was so sure that I had hurt the
baby. I never took my hand off the back of his head. The jolt made him
start crying again. I was so terribly upset by now that I was crying. I was
not hurt and neither was he, but my pride was really hurt. So now today,
sometimes we tease Ray and tell him that his problem is that I dropped
him on his head when he was a baby. We always get a laugh out of that.
Time went on, and things were going the same as usual. We moved to a little
bigger house after Ray was born. This house had only one bedroom, but it
had a huge living room. Mama and Daddy bought two heavy bedspreads
and hung them in the living room on a wire that Daddy had strung from
one side of the living room to the other to make partitions for us so we
could have a little privacy.
We still did not have an indoor bathroom; we still used an outhouse.
Mama got her first electric washing machine while at this house. It was
a wringer-type washing machine. Before that, she would wash clothes in
a metal washtub of water and use an old scrub-board. She boiled some
of them in a big old black pot outside where she had built a fire, out of
wood, around it. Anyway, she was really tickled to get that electric washing
machine. She did not have to use that old scrub-board anymore.
It wasn’t long before we had to move again, this time, to a different side
of town. We moved to Winter Park across the street from our maternal
grandma. We lived there for a while, and Daddy continued his drinking.
Mama managed to purchase an electric sewing machine. That was her
pride and joy. She made payments on it for a long time. She loved to
sew, and she made a lot of our clothes as we were growing up. When we
were small, she would make our clothes out of feed sacks or flour sacks.
The sacks came in different colors and print. She had even made our
underwear at times. She made more things for us girls than she did for
the boys. My sister liked pink and I liked blue clothes. Those were our
favorite colors. One time, we had a yellow skirt with blue birds on the
print. The skirt had straps with a piece of cloth crossing between the
straps in the front. The way we told them apart was that one of them
had two birds on that crossover cloth, and one of them had only one
bird. Carolyn and I were about the same size. We did not wear each
other’s clothes. We even sewed different colors of thread into the toes of
our socks to tell them apart.
Sometimes Carolyn and I would go spend the night at our grandma’s
house across the street. Our Aunt Joyce still lived at home. She was
about four years older than Carolyn. We enjoyed spending the night at
Along about this time, I can remember being at school on the playground
during recess. I saw that two boys had my brother, Sammy, down on the
ground, rubbing the side of his face on the dirt. Boy, I don’t know what
hit me except for instinct to take up for my brother. I went running over
there and yelled at the two boys to leave my brother alone. They just
looked at me with surprise and then got up and walked away. I must have
looked pretty mad at them or something.
It was not long before the landlord made us move due to the fact that Daddy
could not pay the rent. We got thrown out on the sidewalk by the sheriff
department. It began to rain, and Mama was so afraid her new sewing
machine was going to get wet. That was all she cared for. Daddy went and
found us a place to stay back over in East Wilmington, but Mama refused to
move there. She had gotten used to having a bathroom and running water
by now, and the place Daddy was going to move us did not have running
water or indoor bathroom. So the family was split up. Carolyn went to stay
with one aunt and uncle, and I went to stay with another aunt and uncle next
door to where Carolyn was staying. Mom took my two brothers, Sammy and
Ray, and went to stay with Grandma. Well, my daddy moved by himself,
and I was really torn up about it. I loved my daddy no matter what. Things
got worse for him. My aunts talked my mom into taking Daddy to court for
child support. He could not pay, so between child support and a bad check,
my daddy went to jail for a while.
While Daddy was in jail, Mama got the family back together, and we moved
to a small garage apartment in the Seagate area. We had to change schools,
and I really did not like my new school. We only stayed in that apartment
for about a month because Mama found another place, a small duplex in
Winter Park near Grandma and Granddaddy. I was able to go back to my
old school. That made me happy.
Daddy came home from jail while we lived in the duplex, which was only
three rooms and a bathroom. It was so crowded. By now, I was about twelve.
The neighborhood only had boys, and they were bullies. They would bully
Sammy and tease him a lot. They picked on Carolyn and me unmercifully.
Mama was pregnant with my youngest brother. Daddy had gotten in jail
again; I can’t remember why, but I would guess from writing a bad check
he could not make good on. Meanwhile, my brother, Howard, was born
in 1952. About six or eight months later, Mama moved us across the street
into a two-bedroom house. That was a little better. By now, I was about
thirteen years old and was going to Lake ForestJunior High School. Back
then, that was the seventh, eighth and ninth grades. We rode the school
bus to school from Winter Park. We walked about half a mile to the bus
stop every morning, no matter the weather. There was always a big group
of kids that caught the school bus there every morning. School was about
five or six miles away.
I was so painfully shy that I got an incomplete in my English class because
I could not get up in front of the class and do an oral book report. I made
good grades otherwise.
Our house was behind another house. The lady that lived in the house
in front of us had a bunch of brothers and sisters. One time, one of her
brothers came to visit, and I was there, and she introduced me to him. His
name was Roland Melton. I really thought he was very handsome and smart
because he was about four and a half years older than me. By this time, I
was around fourteen because I remember him being about eighteen.
Mama could not afford the rent where we were. She was working for $15 a
week in a small machine shop, rewinding motors, if I remember correctly.
That did not go very far with a family of five children. We did not get food
stamps; there was no such thing. We did not get AFDC checks or any help
from the welfare as there was no such thing as checks from social services
back then. There were no food pantries or anything of help. Mama did
find out that we could move into a project and the rent was based on one’s
income. She got us on a list to rent one of the apartments, and we were able
to move. She could not afford to hire someone to move us, and we did not
have a car. So she got Roland to move us in his daddy’s big truck.
After the move, Roland asked me out for a date to go see a movie. I asked
Mama, and she said it would be OK if Carolyn goes with us. So Roland got
Carolyn a blind date. I was fourteen at that time, so he was my very first
date. We went to a drive-in movie. Carolyn and her date were sitting in the
backseat, and she had to fight him off all night. Roland was a gentleman
that night, and all he did was kiss me a few times and kiss me goodnight.
We were nice girls, and we did not know much about people or how we
should be treated. We had been overprotected all our lives, and we were
really ignorant of many things in the world. I guess you could call us really
Roland did not come around real steady but every now and then. Carolyn
and I met some of the girls in the project. They all seemed to be more
experienced and knowledgeable than us. We would go to the playground
on the weekend nights and get together with some of the other kids in the
neighborhood. Occasionally, we would all go for a walk. None of these
kids had money to spend. Carolyn and I started babysitting some on the
weekends to earn some spending money and to buy our school clothes.
Sometimes there would be a party at the community building that we
would go to on special occasions.
One time, there was a sock hop at the school. I was in the eighth grade,
I guess. I put on my saddle Oxford shoes and my circle skirt, which was
black with pink-circle patterns on it. I had a pink blouse to go with it, and
of course, let’s not forget the scarf around the neck. I could not dance, but
I went anyway. One of the boys in my class came up to me and held out
his hand to ask me to dance with him. My reaction was a slap on his hand
and a no.
During this time frame of my life, my gym teacher would get pretty upset
at me for biting my fingernails. This was a lifelong habit I could not shake.
She threatened to put tape on all my fingers. She asked me if I would leave
it on, and I told her no, I would not. Well, that was that, and I still bite my
fingernails on a regular basis.
When Carolyn was in the eleventh grade, she got asked to the senior prom.
I was not yet in high school. I was in the ninth grade. The girls in the
neighborhood wanted me to go to the prom also. They set me up with a
blind date to the prom. Carolyn and I had to borrow prom dresses from
a cousin of ours. Mama managed to buy Carolyn and me a cheap string
of pearls. Everyone gathered together at one location to go to the prom.
When the boy I had a date with came, he was driving his own car. I did
not want to go with him alone, but the rest of them said they would meet
us at the prom. The rest of them went and caught the city bus to ride to
the prom. This boy, John, drove me all over Wilmington. I did not know
why, but when we finally got to the school, he left me in the car so he could
go check to see if we could get in. He stayed awhile and finally came back
to the car. He told me it was too late to get into the prom. So he took me
home. Carolyn and the rest of the group were worried about me. I learned
later that John went back to the prom and got up with his girlfriend with
whom he had been broken up with. So while he was driving me around
town, he was actually looking for his old girlfriend. When he found her at
the prom, he then took me home, and he went back to the prom. I really
didn’t care, but it was a little hurtful and embarrassing to me.
Another time, a whole bunch of us got together on a Saturday night.
None of us had anything in particular planned. We all decided to walk the
five miles around GreenfieldLake. I will never forget. I had on a yellow
dress with a big collar around the low-cut neck. It was one of Aunt Joyce’s
hand-me-down dresses, but I loved that dress. Anyway, there were boys and
girls in the group, including my sister, Carolyn, and my cousin, Martha
Lee. I was near the back of the group. One of the boys ran over and tackled
and pushed me into the azalea bushes near the lake. I screamed bloody
murder. Carolyn and someone else came and pulled me out of the bushes. I
stayed away from that boy after that. I never liked him anyway. None of us
were with anyone as a date or couple. We were just looking for something
to do other than sit around. Grass stains were all over that dress from the
grass and bushes he pushed me into. Sometimes we would sneak into the
drive-in theater near the lake. We would go to the back end near the woods
and sit on the back row and watch the movie. We did that a few times. I
was afraid we would get caught and be in trouble. The others were a lot
braver than I.
Daddy came home again after we moved to the project. He got back to
his drinking, but he would work during the week. He would drink all day
on Saturday and pass out by evening. Daddy would not let us go out nor
have friends over. He would not even let Carolyn and me sit on the front
steps. He said we were attracting boys. But on Friday or Saturday night
after Daddy passed out, Mama would let us out of the house to have a
little fun. We still did not have a TV or a telephone. By the time I turned
fifteen, Roland would come around a little more often, and we would go
to the movies occasionally. Roland brought his cousin over one time and
introduced him to us. His name was Harvey. He and Roland were the same
age, but Harvey had been away in the service. Well, Carolyn and Harvey
dated with Roland and me. Roland asked me to marry him. I was having
a bad time in school, and I just wanted to get out of school and out of the
life we were living at home. I also felt like I was really in love with Roland.
I was determined to marry him. I was only fifteen, and that was way too
young, but I felt I had nothing else in my life to look forward to. Daddy
raised all kinds of fuss and said he was not going to let me marry that boy.
We got married in October of 1955. Daddy threatened not to let Mama
back in the house if she signed for me to get married. To this day, I cannot
figure out why she let me get married so young. I guess she figured times
are hard, and it would be one less mouth to feed and take care of, or maybe
she figured that I would get into trouble or something, like get pregnant.
When we got home, my aunt Dorothy was there with a cake for us. By
now, Daddy was in a better mood. My aunt Dorothy knew how to make
Daddy smile and forget he was mad. We all laughed a lot that night, and
some made jokes. A few of mom’s neighbors were there. It was a nice small
After the party, we left Mom and Dad’s and went to The Miljo, which
was a drive-in restaurant. A local hang out to young people. We sat there
until 3:00 a.m., and I drank a chocolate milkshake. Roland had a beer.
Back then, you could purchase beer if you were eighteen, and he was then
twenty years old. Afterward, we went to his mom and dad’s house and slept
in his room. We did not have a honeymoon or anything. I did not care. I
just wanted to be with him. I quit school the week we got married. I was
not old enough to quit school because I was not yet sixteen, but I took the
marriage certificate to the school office, and they allowed me to quit.
We continued to stay with his parents. After about six weeks, I passed
out at the breakfast table one morning. When I awoke, I was in the floor
with my mother-in-law washing my face with a cold cloth. The first thing
I heard was my father-in-law saying, “Roland, have you already got that
girl pregnant?” Then it hit me that I had not even worried about getting
pregnant. I did not even know how to keep from it. I was so uninformed.
The same thing happened again the next day. She took me to her doctor. It
was so early the doctor could not tell if I was pregnant or not. The doctor
assumed I was though. For a week or so, I just kept getting nauseated and
feeling really bad. I did not feel like doing anything to help out. She finally
got the doctor to the house to examine me again. He gave me some pills
for nausea. They did not help at all. After a few weeks, my mother-in-law
was getting upset with me. She wanted me to help her with cleaning the
house and any other thing I could do. I got the word from the family that
she thought I was faking. She should have known better because I had
always helped her before. I was sick every single morning, and it took me
all morning to feel better. There were some things I could not stand to
smell. One day, my father-in-law was cooking steamed oysters in a big pot
on the stove. I got so sick I threw up and could not eat anything for a few
days. I just had a real hard time keeping food down. I lost about twelve or
so pounds the first two months. One day, I wanted a bacon, lettuce, and
tomato sandwich. I felt like I could get it down. I wanted Roland to go over
to the grill at HarborIsland and get one for me as his family did not believe
in eating sandwiches. There were eleven kids in the family, and they just
felt like sandwiches did not have a place at their table. Anyway, his mom
did not want him to go get the sandwich for me and had some things to
say about it, but in the end, he did go get one for me. I did manage to keep
it down. It wasn’t like he had to go five miles. The grill was just right over
the WrightsvilleBeach drawbridge. It was probably a quarter to a half mile
from the house.
By Christmas, Roland’s brother, Billy, was coming home from the army on
leave. Roland’s mom started taking the double bed out of our room and
put the twin beds back in there so she would have a place for Billy to sleep
when he got home. She never said anything to me about it, and I felt like
she was just kicking me out. I told Roland to take me to my mom’s and
leave me until Billy went back to his base. He did take me to my mom’s,
but he told his family I had left him. He would not come for me; he just
left me with Mom and Dad for a few months. Later, Roland fixed up the
little house next door to his mom and dad’s house. The house belonged to
them. He came and got me to come back to him, and I did. I had to go
over to his mom’s and use their bathroom on their back porch as the little
house did not have a bathroom. When he brought me back to stay in the
little house, his family would not have anything to do with me, at least
his mom and sisters would not. His dad would speak to me if the women
were not around. So I stayed pretty much in the house while Roland was
working. At this point, he was trying to fish for a living. His mom had
given me a bunch of baby clothes when I was still living with them. They
were from her kids. The clothes were soiled, with buttons missing and rips
in the seams. I spent my days sewing on those clothes by hand for hours
every single day. When Roland would get home, he would always stop at
his mom’s first. They would tell him that I was sitting over there in the
little house reading all day long. Then he would come home and jump all
over me for reading. I was not even reading was what was so bad about it.
I did not have a TV either. No one around there knew what I was doing in
the house all day because they never came over to check on me or visit or
anything. Roland never gave me any money for anything. Once in a while,
he would give me bus fare to go see my mom and dad. He would give me
a time frame to be home. He made sure I did not spend much time at all
with my family.
One Sunday, when I was about five months pregnant, Roland got all
dressed up in his good clothes and went and caught the bus and went
into town. We did not have a car at that time. He said he was going to a
movie. I begged him to take me, but he would not. He came home very
late that night. He had lipstick on his shirt. I asked him about it, and he
would not even speak to me for three weeks. He treated me like I had done
something wrong. I learned later that he had met an old girlfriend, who
had been living out of town, and she had returned home to Wilmington. I
also found out that the first thing she did was call Roland’s mom. Roland’s
mom told him about it and told him that his ex-girlfriend wanted to see
him. Somehow, he got up with her and met her downtown. I could not
understand it. So after three weeks, I went back to my mom’s to stay for a
while because Roland was not speaking to me either. It was very lonely and
upsetting to me. I cried a whole lot those days. I was at my mom’s for about
three weeks when Roland came over with the company truck on his lunch
hour. By now, he was working for a metal shop near where Mom and Dad
lived. He begged me to come back. He told me to get on a bus and come
back because he had no way to come and get me. Stupid me, that was what
I did. Seemed I learned later that he told his family that he did not know I
was coming back, and he came home and was surprised to find me there.
By now, he had moved all our stuff out of the little house and into the three
small rooms behind the fish market and vegetable store that his parents
had. There was still no bathroom. I would still have to go over to his mom’s
house to use the bathroom. His sister and her husband had moved into
the little house, and Roland had left our washing machine over there on
the back porch for his sister to use. So with the situation of his family not
speaking to me, I would not go over there and ask to wash my clothes on
their back porch. Instead, I would wash in the yard on a scrub-board and
old metal washtub right where they could all see me. No one even offered
me to wash over there or anything.
After three weeks of this, and no one would speak except for his dad when
no one else was around and Roland was not man enough to take up for
me or see that I had what I needed. He also would not stay home. He was
always going off somewhere. I was so lonely and hurt. So I called Mama
and asked her if she could get someone to come and get me. She did get my
aunt Joyce to come and get me and my things in her car. I was now almost
seven months pregnant. Roland and I talked about it, and he said he would
come and see me and bring me some money to take care of me until the
baby was born. Well, that never happened. He or any of his family would
have anything to do with me.
Mama and I washed the baby clothes and got them all clean and in order.
Someone sent me four dozen used baby diapers, and I managed to get one
dozen new ones. Mama borrowed a small baby crib for me to use. I stayed
with Mama and Daddy until the baby was finally born on August 9th 1956.
The baby was a bald-headed little boy. Roland came to the hospital after all
those months and tried to talk me into going to his mom’s to stay with the
baby when I left the hospital. I told him no, that I was going home with
Mama. Roland’s mom and sisters came to the hospital, trying to get on my
good side again. But I knew I could not go back to their house for the same
kind of treatment I had been getting the whole time I was pregnant. I told
Roland that he would have to get us a place to stay away from his family,
or I would not be coming back. So that was what he did.
Roland got us a small house about a mile from his family. It had one
bedroom, a bathroom, a living room, and a kitchen. Things got a little
better by being away from his family. We called the baby Bimbo. His real
name was Arnold Roland Jr. The name Bimbo came from the name of a
barge that was being towed up and down the waterway from time to time.
Most of Roland’s family were commercial fishermen. Roland quit his job
and was working as a fisherman.
When Bimbo was about four months old, Roland would take him every
Sunday morning and go visit his family and take Bimbo to see all his
friends and fishing buddies around the waters in the fishing community.
Bimbo grew up knowing all the fishermen and people who hung around
the waters, and they all knew him. Later, when Bimbo was about three
years old, I took him to town one day. We were walking along Front Street
when a man came walking by us and spoke to Bimbo by name and asked
him where his daddy was. Bimbo told him his daddy was fishing. I did not
know who this man was, but I asked Bimbo who the man was. Bimbo said
in his small little-boy voice, “Just a man my daddy and me knows.” Bimbo
knew a lot of people that I did not know, and they all knew him and called
him by his name.
We stayed in that little house until Bimbo was about a year old; then we
moved over on the highway near The Wrightsville Waterway Bridge. The
house was across the street from The Babies Hospital. It was also across
the street and down a couple of houses from my in-laws’ house and their
store. Now that months had passed and things had quieted down, Roland’s
family was now speaking to me again; and from time to time, I would walk
over there and talk to his mom and family. I did not have my own car.
Roland had a car off and on, but I did not have a license to drive until I
Roland was trying to fish and catch oysters and clams to make money. He
had a hard time keeping a boat in operating condition. He always had a
small wooden boat. Sometimes he had an outboard motor, and sometimes,
he had to use oars or a paddle to get around in the boat. It was a hard
way to make a living. To others, it looked glamorous and exciting. Maybe
it is exciting for the fishermen. They work with the tide. Day or night
depending on what they are allowed to catch at certain times of the year. A
lot of times, for supper, we would eat whatever he had caught that day. We
even had fried spots and grits for breakfast a lot of times. In the wintertime,
when oysters were in season, Roland would go out in the sound and catch
bushels of oysters to sell. Sometimes his daddy would buy some of them
to sell at his fish market, and some he would sell to other places or people
who wanted them. He sold them for $2 a bushel. A lot of the time he
would bring the oysters home and steam them in the backyard just enough
to make them a little easier to open. We would open them and put them
in round white cardboard containers with lids that we bought from Jacobi
Hardware Store. We would put them in the refrigerator and sell them to
people for $1 per quart. We had people knocking on the door, wanting
to buy the oysters. Back then, we did not have to have a permit or health
license to open and sell the oysters. We had gone to town and bought the
biggest refrigerator that we could find to put in the house to store the cold
oysters in. If we did not get them all opened before it was time for him
to go back and get some more, he would put them in a big metal tub and
bring them in the house where I could open them while he was gone. I did
this while I watched Bimbo. It was very hard, but we had to make some
money to live on.
Roland had gotten friendly with an older couple that lived on the street
behind our house. They were from up north. They were very nice people.
They made wine and homebrew for themselves. They taught Roland how
to make the homebrew. Homebrew is homemade beer. They would give
him a couple of quarts every time he stopped by to see them. He would
take fish and other seafood, that he caught, to them.
Roland started making the homebrew at home in a five-gallon crock. He
showed me how to do it also. He would make a five-gallon crock and then
bottle it. A crock would make about thirty-two quarts of homebrew. He
saved quart beer bottles and washed them in hot, soapy water. We bought
bottle caps and a bottle capper so he could cap the bottles after he had filled
them. I helped him do this at times. One day, I was bottling and capping
a batch of it when the preacher knocked on the door. I was doing it in the
kitchen. The preacher could not see the kitchen from the living room, but
I am sure he smelled it as it could smell very strong. I was so embarrassed.
Sometimes on Sunday mornings when no one could buy beer, because of
the law, he always had a person or two knocking on the door, wanting a
bottle of the homebrew to see them through the hangovers from the night
before. Roland would always give them a bottle or two. It was not against
the law to give it away, but you could not sell it.
Alma Jean Irving was born in Wilmington NC. She has a husband of eighteen years, Gill Irving. She was born and raised in Wilmington NC. She has a high school education. She is the most down to earth person of good character you would ever want to know.
Jean has raised three children with families of their own. She has retired from the work force after working most of her adult life.
Jean wanted to write this book about her life to let others see that you can survive through troubles and trials and still become a strong person.
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