My Dad and I 1961
I wrote about my mom in the post Fear Milk and Horses. And I will write more about her in a future post.
So now let’s talk about dad, and what he told me about himself and situations in his early life. And what i can recollect in his presence in my life.
Dad was born to my grandparents James Elbert Culpepper and Annie Elizabeth Mims on September the 1 1907. James and Annie were married in May of 1894. Annie was 16 and James was 20. They had six children. Hugh, Eddie, Homer, Ellis, Zoe, and Robert, my father. My dad was the youngest , born the first of September 1907. Hugh the oldest born in 1895. Hugh only lived 2 years.
Workers on the farm early 1900’s
Dad told me quite a bit about his life. Dad, along with my family lived on a co-op farm in Thomasville Georgia. My Grandfather James managed the farm. They grew sugar cane. The owner of the old plantation allowed my family a plot of land to grow their own vegetables. Also a smokehouse for meat preserving. I imagine bacon tasted much different from it does today. Less nitrates I suppose. Different taste.
Everyone worked hard and on Saturday came bath time. They lit a big fire to heat up water and poured it into a large horse trough placed in the middle of the large kitchen. Zoe and grandma went first. They were girls. Girls first ya know. Dad was the youngest, so was next to use the water. In retrospect, I pity the rest of his siblings that had to bathe in the increasingly used and dirty water. Back in those days long underwear was sewed on around October. Not buttoned on. I wonder if that is why they only took a bath once a week. A lot of things we take for granted, they did not have. Like shampoo, and conditioner. Your hair was more oily back then I presume.
Former slaves Circa 1900
It was around 40 years after the end of the civil war, and the freedom of slaves. Even so many former slaves stayed and worked the farms. This time for wages. This was the case on the co-op farm where my grandparents lived.
The live in farm hands had their own small dwellings on the land in back of the old plantation. In the evenings dad’s family, and live in farm hands would gather around a big fire in the farm-yard to tell stories and talk. Dad told me of a time when my grandfather told ghost stories. Grandfather could weave a story that sounded so possible and believable. He not only worked up the black farm workers into a frightened frenzy, but the white farm workers too! He played on their superstitions if you will. One time he told of how ghosts would hide out in the woods and bushes and wait for an unsuspecting mortal to come by. Grandpa James would say ” Oh yes. You best be very careful going home tonight.” he would say with a worried look on his face. “Just look at that moon! I’ve never seen it so bright and full!” All this time the eyes of the farm workers would widen into saucers! “Oh yes” grandpa would exclaim. A worried look on his face. “and watch out! Dem there ghosts always bring kindred spirits with them. Wolfs mostly I reckon. Demons running back and forth and the like.” A long pause as grandpa paced back and forth with his hands behind his back. Eyes of all the workers on him as he paced back and forth. “I tell you what.” stopping his pacing and looking about at the workers. “I will go ahead first and clear the air of ghosts with this here garlic.” he said pulling a clove of garlic out of his pocket. Grandpa mumbled some unintelligible words over the garlic and said to the workers “Is that okay with all of you?” “Yes yes Mr. Culpepper.” one of the workers exclaimed ” That there sure nuff would put us to ease a spell.” said the workers. “Okay its settled. Off I go. I will whistle 3 times like this.” Grandpa would put his 2 little fingers in his mouth and let out an ear splitting whistle. “See ‘yall in the morning.” And off grandpa went down the trail toward the old plantation house. A little while later off in the distance came 3 distinct, well spaced whistles. The workers were still a bit wary to leave but soon they all got up and headed for their homes on the farm and bed. Now my grandfather had not gone home to the old plantation house. My grandfather went had ahead and hid in the woods, waiting for the farm workers to come down the path towards their homes on the farm. As they drew near he let out a ghostly wail, and a shriek! The workers stopped dead in their tracks on the path, the hair standing straight up on the back of their necks! One of the black farm workers cried out, “Lord a gorshen! It’s dem spirits coming to get us! Stays away you spirits” and off they ran as fast as they could down the path towards their homes. Grandfather rolled on the ground and laughed and laughed!
Dad and his friends loved cars! The only problem was there were not many of them back in the early 1900’s. They would wait all day on the dirt road outside the farm for one to come by. Some days none came by. But when they did see one, is was glorious to the boys.
Fishing Circa 1900
Life for dad, back in the early 1900’s was good. Long hot southern Georgia days filled with work in the field, followed by a swim in the swimming hole. Or perhaps some fishing in the creek. In 1917, this chapter of his life would come to an end.
Sometime in 1917, the family made the move to Battle Creek Michigan. Dad was ten. They all packed it in and headed north. I don’t know the particulars of the move. I.e. what kind of car? Maybe a trailer? Was it done in one move? Keep in mind. This was a huge family. Lots of items to be packed and moved. I don’t know the address as to where they moved. But it was in downtown Battle Creek.
Dad told me of watching the brick layers lay down a road. They were very fast. A brick in place in just a couple of seconds. Dad had to earn his acceptance after the move. The move was somewhat of a cultural shock to dad and his siblings. They had moved north. They were far away from the farm. They spoke with a southern accent, and this brought ridicule upon them. But through it all, they became excepted and liked by the community. My grandfather James landed a job a Post Cereals. Things were looking up as they settled into their new surroundings.
Trolly circa 1910
Boys were mischievous back in the early 1900’s as boys are still mischievous today. Maybe they weren’t as violent back then. You were not supposed to hurt anyone. And you were responsible for any damage that happened. In 1922 dad was or was about to be 15. One of the mischievous things he and his friends enjoyed doing was tripping the trolley. First you obtained a 12 foot board. Then you waited for the trolley to come by and thrust the board over the electric wire overhead to derail the voltage pickup wheel. Then run as the trolley conductor chased you down the street!
And of course he and his friends were involved in outhouse tipping. This event only happened on Halloween. Outhouses were still popular into the late 20’s, early 30’s. It was a place you could be alone in your most private moments. There were still a few of them left in town. Even though indoor plumbing was available. The boys would wait in the bushes for their next victim to enter the outhouse, then wait a few more seconds for the occupant to “settle in” and then charge the outhouse tipping it over on its door and run!
It is sketchy as to what I know about dad from around 1922 to 1941 when he enlisted in the Navy. However I do know this. In 1928 he married Mabel Margaret (Last name unknown). In 1930 they had a son, Alan Lee Culpepper. Alan would later become a chemist at Dow Corning. In Midland Michigan. He was in the team that developed Corning Ware. More about Alan in a later post. The marriage however was not a good one, and in 1939 ended in divorce.
A Filling Station circa 1920
Dad once ran a filling station. It was back in the day when all had stations were full service. You did not have to leave you vehicle. They did everything for you. Checked the oil. Tire pressure. Filled it up for you! Service with a tip of the hat and a smile. One night dad was closing up and counting up the days till, when a man came in and demanded all the money. The man had a gun. Dad reached for the money and handed it over. In that split second after the man received the cash, dad’s hand darted out and grabbed a shovel that was propped up near the cash register, and swung it at the thief and connected on his head. The man fell unconscious. Dad called the police and continued on with the closing of shop.
December the 7th, 1941
On December the seventh, 1941 Japan invaded Pearl Harbor. At once dad went downtown and unlisted in the navy. Years later he told me the reason he chose the Navy, and why he did it at once. Dad said, pointing to his head, “In the army and the marines you do a lot of walking. And walking with heavy weight on you. In the navy you ride!” “Also I enlisted at once before the army or marines could draft me.”
Great Lakes Naval Training center 1941
So off to Great Lakes Naval Training Center, Great Lakes Illinois he went. Dad was not a lifer. His agreement with the Navy was discharge after war was over. A reservist serving the duration.
The USS Belknap DD-251
He was then received orders to report to the USS Belknap DD-251. The Belknap was an old 4 stacker destroyer. She was laid down in July 1918 and launched in January of 1919. She was a reservist ship until the start of WW2. Then she was placed on the active list and was ordered to Reykjavik Iceland to patrol the waters for enemy submarines. Dad was known as Pappy on-board the Belknap, as he was the oldest on-board. The navy is and was the place to drink coffee. Everywhere dad went on-board people would offer him a cup of Joe. During 1940 Belknap was converted into a seaplane tender (reclassified AVD-8, 2 August 1940) and recommissioned 22 November 1940. She was assigned to Patrol Wing 5 at Hamilton, Bermuda, and remained there until early 1941 when she returned to Newport Rhode Island. Between May and September 1941 she made three voyages from Newport to Newfoundland and Iceland.
Exploding Depth Charges
One day while on patrol they started tracking a “ping” coming over the sonar. They were on to something. General Quarters! The object was shadowing the ship! The captain ordered depth charges be deployed. Boom. Boom. Wait. Floating up to the surface came a great whale! A bad day for the whale for sure.
The Belknap was then ordered to the Pacific and arrived during September 1944. During 18–22 October she served as a screen ship during the Leyte invasion and during 3–11 January 1945 as a shore bombardment and beach reconnaissance vessel at the Lingayen Gulf, Luzon, landings. On 11 January she trained all her guns on a Japanese kamikaze which eventually crashed into Belknap’s number two stack, crippling her engines, killing 38 men and wounding 49. Belknap remained at Lingayen making emergency repairs until 18 January when (ATF-102) towed her to Manus, Admiralty Islands. Following temporary repairs at Manus, Belknap proceeded to Philadelphia Navy Yard via the west coast, arriving 18 June. Decommissioned 4 August 1945.
Dad was standing watch on the bridge when the kamikaze pilot hit the number two stack. He hurried to help control the huge fire that had started. He was manning a fire hose, and training the stream of water on a fire when one of his shipmates grabbed him and took him by the shoulders and said. “Bob. You are hit”. My dad put his hand to the back of his neck and it came away covered in blood. His helmet had 2 holes in it. One the size of a quarter and the other the size of a half-dollar. Shrapnel from the attack had hit him. Dad had been out on his feet. Shock took over and he continued to fight the fire in a semi-conscious state. Just as soon as he brought his hand down and saw all the blood, he passed out. Dad was lucky. The shrapnel from the kamikaze attack had entered his helmet then his skull and then exited never touching his brain. All damage just under the skull. For the rest of his life he had a few fragments that remained lodged in his head just under his skull. Dad brought the helmet home with him after the war. He allowed me to play with it and I did so playing army with my friends. Dad received the Purple Heart for his wounds.
After the ship made it’s way to the Philadelphia shipyard for eventual decommissioning and scraping my dad was assigned to the base for discharge. Dad and a few of his buddies from the ship went onto town for beer and some R&R. They entered one of the sleazy beer gardens on the strip, found a table and ordered their drinks. Over in the corner in a booth sat four girls just off from their shift at the Philips Factory where they assembled electronics for the war effort. Dad had his eyes on one of the girls. A very pretty brunette with high cheek bones and a shapely figure.
Beer Garden 1940’s
Dad approached the booth and introduced himself. Ruth, the girl dad had his eyes on, snubbed him. She did not want anything to do with dad. But dad was persistent, and managed to get Ruth’s phone number. He was in love. For him it was love at first sight. And so was Ruth. She just did want to admit it. But she was deep in love. The war came to an end on September the 14th 1945 and on June the 29th 1946 Ruth, my mother, became dad’s wife.
Battle Creek in the 40’s
Bob and Ruth moved to Battle Creek Michigan soon after their marriage, into a very small apartment on Capital Avenue. The place was tiny! Only one could be in the kitchen at once. Also the place was full of cock roaches. To top it off their neighbor beat his wife regularly. The man was an alcoholic. A slave to the stuff. Soon they both got tired of the situation at the apartment, so dad bought some acreage on D drive North in Battle Creek Michigan and built a very small house on the property. And I mean the place was small! About 500 square feet of living space. But they were happy there and they farmed the field. They harvested potatoes, corn, beans and the like. Mom got a job at Kellogg’s as a box packer. Dad was having a problem back then with booze. Mom did not like this. One night dad came home drunk and mom gave dad an ultimatum. She said “Either you quit drinking and get a job at Kellogg’s cereals, or I am leaving you!” And she he meant it! Dad quit drinking on the spot. Nothing was going to come in between himself and his “Rudy”. Rudy is what dad affectionately called my mom.
100 Jono Road
However the place was rather small. And as I have said before, my mother loved to move. In 1950 they bought a home on 100 Jono road in Emmett Township, Battle Creek Michigan. It sits on a 3/4 acre lot. Dad had his garden, and both he and mom worked at Kellogg’s. This is the house my parents owned when I was born in 1955. Soon my mother became restless and wanted to move again! This time right down the street! More about 100 Jono in a future post.
179 Jono Road
179 Jono Road was where I really got to know my dad. The fun we had camping out in the back yard. Or waking up very early to get in the car and pull the boat to a lake and fish. My father’s family always came first.
Mom and dad made a number of moves until he retired in 1969 from Kellogg cereals. And in 1970 he packed us up and moved to Port Richey Florida. He had bought a house on 3rd Isle North in Port Richey Florida. Dad enjoyed his retirement, but also stayed busy. He had taken a course on bookkeeping before his retirement and landed a job at Richey Booking in New Port Richey Florida.
Dad was a true man and provider. He never let us down. I know I have disappointed him in many ways. But I still try to please him to this day. As though he was looking down on me.
Florida National Cemetery
Dad passed away on May the 21st 1999 at the age of 92. Mom would soon follow him in death on 29 Dec 2001 at age 87. Both are Interred at Florida National Cemetery, Section 135, Site 770.
I will never forget dad, or stop missing him.