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July, 2002

Early Travels

by Larry

My mom, Julia, had a number of on the road experiences in her growing up years. These adventures would give her windows on new worlds of which she had hardly imagined before.

Her father, John (Byron), perhaps a somewhat immature young man, seems not to have appreciated the good fortune fate had handed him and, even before the Great Depression made earning a living challenging, tended to vacate the family premises for weeks or months at a time.

Yet, many of Julia's relatives lived fairly close by, with others making frequent visits or met through her travels. Early in life, Julia benefited from and was enriched by being part of a large, extended family.

For instance, while they were not exactly trips, Julia came to anticipate keenly very special outings with her Great Uncle Sherrod who would come at least once a year and take her to a carnival, always a quite thrilling occasion for her.

It is perhaps worth noting that some of her great uncles were very well off and had luxurious houses, usually with several servants.

Indeed, her father had met Mama Louise, Julia's mother, an especially attractive young lady, when he was visiting his Uncle Sherrod and she was employed as a maid in the household. Another of her great uncles, Loren, was a successful stockbroker and a bank president.

Julia's first full-fledged traveling occurred about 1929 when she was six. She, along with her sister, Florine, were taken from Waco, TX, to Tioga, LA, on a trip to visit with one of her mother's sisters, Aunt Florine, her own first sister's namesake.

She does not recall just how long the journey and visiting lasted but does have several vivid memories of that earliest excursion. None of the roads were paved, all just dirt surfaces. They crossed a major river by ferry, perhaps the Sabine, that forms part of the border between TX and LA. Julia found this particularly memorable.

In LA, she met several young cousins on her mom's side. She ate some delicious blackberries. Her new youthful acquaintances warned her about LA bayous, dark, dirty bodies of water which, they said, were filled with vicious, hungry crocodiles. Then they threw her into one! No wonder she remembers that visit.

Her next major journey occurred shortly after she had moved in with Grandpa John (Bell) and Step-Grandma Florence. Julia was thirteen, in about 1936, still adjusting to the rather severe and restraining guidance she received in that household, when she got an opportunity to go to Gary, IN. Her older cousin, Opal, was driving there and asked Julia's help on the trip with looking after her son, David, then eighteen months of age.

Great Uncle Henry, earlier a barber in Smithville, TX, and Great Aunt Maggie had gone to live in Gary, where they resided with their son, Ray, and his wife.

Julia's namesake, her beloved Great Aunt Julia, had died, vacating her house in Waco, which was owned in the family. Opal was going north to bring her folks back so they could live there with she and David. Afterward, Maggie and Henry looked after David during the day while Opal worked. She was single again after her husband had died.

The trip Julia made with Opal and David, and then with Aunt Maggie and Uncle Henry too on the way back, lasted about three or four days each direction, plus two weeks in Gary.

On the way up, they visited and stayed the night with Uncle Loren. He had a luxurious house where he employed a butler/chauffeur, a housekeeper, and a full-time cook. Julia was most impressed!

She said that first trip to Gary was, overall, the best thing to happen in her life to that point.

Before leaving, she got a new dress and a pair of stylish shoes!

In contrast to the strict, punitive attitude of her Step-Grandma Florence, her cousin Opal, about in her thirties at the time, seemingly did not care what Julia did. While they sped along, the windows open, she might wave and yell at other travelers in their cars, or, once they had arrived in Gary, she could play rambunctious hide-and-seek games with cousins close to her in age, and so on. As long as she kept David happy, Opal just let her do as she pleased! Julia had a blast. It was simply a wonderful time of freedom, entertainment, interesting new experiences, and having fun with others who liked her for just being herself.

Besides the good times she had visiting among the young people, they went to the Shedd Aquarium and the Field Museum of Natural History, in nearby Chicago.

At the museum, the others were quite amused by her innocent reactions to a first viewing of nude statues.

That trip to Gary also marked the beginning of a prolific pen-pal correspondence between Julia and her cousin, Mac, who not only wrote many letters but, as a then amateur photographer, also often sent interesting pictures he had taken.

In so many ways the time in Indiana had been an exciting oasis. She had a ball!

The last of Julia's early travels was again to Gary, and followed a miserable several month period when she was eighteen, in 1941.

She had, shortly before, with some misgivings, especially fears over her ability to handle the role of an officer's wife, regretfully broken off her engagement with Leon.

Just prior to that trip, she was working the graveyard shift (11 PM to 7 AM) at a bakery, for $22 a week. Her job mainly involved putting icing on cakes and finishing sandwiches and cookies. The work was a real strain because she could not get used to the night shift and had a lot of trouble sleeping during the day.

Health rules at the bakery were then very lax. It was terribly hot in the building, with poor ventilation and no air conditioning. If something fell on the floor, they were expected to use it anyway. Later the bakery would be unionized, and quite rigid rules about health and cleanliness were enforced afterward. The employees also received higher pay. A new bakery, with temperatures better controlled, was built to comply with the improved conditions then required.

By the beginning of summer, her work had already lasted a number of months when she got a terrible poison ivy rash, over virtually her entire body. A doctor told her she needed a different job, one not so warm, as the heat just made the skin condition worse.

Her older cousin, Ray, in Gary, which had a more comfortable climate, offered her a position cooking and cleaning. She gladly accepted and was there for several months, until cooler weather prevailed again in Texas.

The trip followed a rather difficult time not only for Julia but also for her cousin, Mac, and several of his friends. This group was poignantly close and trying to do a lot of things together, partly still in grief over a tragedy a little while earlier. They had been out target shooting when one of their party had been killed in a freak accident.

Most often in their free time Julia, Mac, and his friends would pile into a car and drive over to one of their homes for a pleasant evening of hanging out together. Occasionally, though, they would all head to Chicago for entertainment. They sometimes went to restaurants in "the windy city," where they ate the very best Chinese food or good Italian vittles. At both ethnic eateries, abundant, delicious fare, in multiple courses, along with "coffee" (wine served in coffee mugs) could be enjoyed for $1.

She also became acquainted with Otis, Opal and Ray's brother, who looked just like Julia's father.

Otis' oldest son, Wallace, two or three times took Julia to Chicago too, treating her there to really excellent meals, fine movies, and good company.

Though apparently both Julia and her younger cousins were unattached then, she said these were "cousinly times," not romantic ones.

Before she had gone back to Texas, Mac, who, like her, had finished high school the year before, joined the Army. Afterward, they visited only when he was on leave.

Shortly following Julia's return to Waco, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, Leon was transferred to an Army post in CA, she renewed her relationship with him, and they were married, in Riverside, CA, on 2/3/42.

In the nearly two decades to follow before Leon's retirement, the couple would move on average once a year and have the first several of eight children. It is likely that the interesting, entertaining, confidence building, and freeing experiences Julia had in her early travels helped accustom her to the challenges and adventure that characterized much of her early adulthood, having a more nomadic existence, aiding in the social aspects of her husband's career, and beginning a large family.

Who's Who in "Early Travels?"

(While not all of the following were mentioned in the "Early Travels" piece, most played a part in Julia's childhood or teenage years. Shown in parentheses were their middle names. Last names have been omitted due to the natural privacy concerns of some in our extended family.)

David - Opal's son, grandson of Julia's Great Aunt Maggie and Great Uncle Henry.

Florence - John (Bell)'s second wife, and step-grandmother to Julia, Florine, and (Julia's brother) John. (Julia [Henrietta] lived with Grandpa John [Bell] and Step-Grandma Florence from her early teens until her marriage, in early 1942, at age nineteen.)

Florine - Julia (Henrietta)'s aunt and Mama Louise's sister.

Florine - Mama Louise's second daughter (named for her and Julia's Aunt Florine), and Julia (Henrietta)'s sister.

Hattie (Henrietta) - Beloved mother of John (Byron), Julia (Henrietta)'s father, and of her Uncle Leonard (Elmo). Hattie was Julia's paternal grandmother. She died relatively young.

Henry - Julia's paternal great uncle, through his marriage to her Great Aunt Maggie, and father of Ray, Opal, Roy, Nig, Otis, and Bud.

John (Bell) - Father of John (Byron), Julia (Henrietta)'s father, and of her Uncle Leonard (Elmo). There was also a daughter, Sarah (?), who died in infancy. John (Bell) was also grandfather to Julia, Florine, and John.

John (Byron) - First married to Louise, and father of Julia (Henrietta), Florine, and John. He was the son of John (Bell) and Hattie.

Julia - Julia (Henrietta)'s beloved great aunt, who died, vacating a house in Waco owned in the family. She was another of several sisters and brothers of her paternal grandmother, Hattie.

Julia (Henrietta) - first child of Mama Louise and John (Byron), and granddaughter of Grandpa John (Bell) and Grandma Hattie (and of Step-Grandma Florence).

Loren - Another of Julia's great uncles. He was one of several sisters and brothers of her paternal grandmother, Hattie.

Louise - First married to John (Byron), and mother to Julia (Henrietta), Florine, and John, by that union. She had another daughter, Blanche, through her marriage to Sam. She later had a stepdaughter as well, Beryl Ann, through being wed to Burley.

Mac - Ray's son, and cousin of (and about the same age as) Julia (Henrietta).

Maggie - One of Julia (Henrietta)'s great aunts, and mother of five boys and one girl, including Ray, Opal, Roy, Nig, Otis, and Bud. Maggie was another of several sisters and brothers of Julia's paternal grandmother, Hattie.

Opal - Sister of Ray, Nig, Roy, Bud, and Otis, daughter of Julia (Henrietta)'s Great Aunt Maggie and Great Uncle Henry, mother of David, and one of Julia's older generation cousins.

Otis - Brother of Ray, Roy, Nig, Bud, and Opal, son of Great Aunt Maggie and Great Uncle Henry, and one of Julia's older generation cousins. Otis was also Wallace's father.

Ray - Brother of Opal, Roy, Nig, Bud, and Otis, son of Great Aunt Maggie and Great Uncle Henry, and one of Julia's older generation cousins.

Sarah - Another of Julia's great aunts, and sister to Grandpa John (Bell).

Sherrod - One of Julia's great uncles. He was another of several sisters and brothers of her paternal grandmother, Hattie.

Wallace - Oldest son of Otis, and cousin of (and about the same age as) Julia.

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