Savannah Club Apartments to a wee one like myself, seemed like where id be living forever. I had my neighbors to visit, ice cream trucks to chase and lawns to poop on! Mama and Wanda were closer than ever, George was still nice to me and there was Grandma and Granddaddy!
We would visit Big George and Gloria Davis on a pretty weekly basis. Their youngest, Steve lived with them for what seemed like forever. Years later he would seemingly move in with us on and off periodically. Going over there was so much fun for me. There were always tons of sweets to eat and lots of toys just for the grandkids. Basically, going to Grandma and Granddaddy’s meant you’d be spoiled! There was a park directly across the street with a slide and swings and a merry go round. A little further down the street was Anderson’s Market. We Davis grandchildren walked to this neighborhood market/butcher shop what must a been a thousand times. Grandma or Granddaddy would make sure we had money for candy, ice cream and soda. We’d often take coke bottles with us to get the deposits back or exchanged for a new coke! They had an old-fashioned coke machine that you pull the ice cold bottles out of. In the south, you didn’t ask someone what kind of soda you wanted, you’d ask them what kind of coke they want.
“what kind of coke you want?”
“Sprite” “Grape” or even “Pepsi” was an acceptable answer.
George and Mama pick me up one evening after I had spent the day there. Everything goes as usual with Granddaddy insisting I spend the night, me hoping I can, and George saying no. He didn’t always say no, but tonight there was a good reason. We start driving in a different direction than usual. We go over a few bridges and end up on Whitemarsh Island. We turn down a long driveway and end up at a house in a wire fence yard.
“It’s our new house, Barrett!” says Mama, she is visibly excited, and this immediately puts me at ease.
“Come look, Son.” George said. He called me “Son” a lot. In hindsight, it always seemed like he said it in a way to try and make it true, but it came off as more condescending. He used it most when trying to teach me some hick life lesson.
The property was beautiful! A huge yard with a huge Oak tree. It was covered in Spanish Moss and had a tire swing on a rope from one of its sturdy branches, and another tree just the right size for a four-year-old to climb and. George once told me it was an apple tree. It wasn’t. On either side of the gated yard, there was nothing but trees and a few houses for a far as the eye could see. The house itself was a cute one story with a big recessed front patio area that was bricked in including the ground…wait, what’s that?
…There was a stair case to the right of the house, it went down for about 20 feet and connected with a wooden deck. The wooden deck had a dock attached to it accessible by a wooden walkway. To the left of the deck was a door…the DOWNSTAIRS door into the house. The house was actually two stories and the entire house was on STILTS actually OVER the water that is Richardson’s Creek! You could navigate this creek to the Savannah River and then to the open Atlantic Ocean. It took me quite a while before I could walk up and down those steep stairs by myself – I was only four.
When you first walk in the house, you are in the kitchen/hallway area. The hallway leads to two bedrooms and there was a small area to the right that could have been a small living room, but we used it for a bookcase except Christmastime when the space is where our Christmas tree went. There was one bathroom for both bedrooms and it only had a shower. The bathroom with a tub was downstairs. There was a tile missing from the ceiling right above the back of that tub, and George told me how they found a snake skin in there that was freshly shed. Big mistake. I was terrified the entire time we lived there that a snake would come out of that huge hole in the ceiling when I took a bath. Either that or the whole house would fall in the river.
There are two sets of neighbors I remember. The first was an older couple who lived on the property directly south of us. I remember them as Archie and Edith Bunker 2, taking over from the couple back at SCA. To the south of them were the Kenuckles. There was the dad who’s name I forget. The mom, Rose, or as George called her, “Rose the Nose”. The daughter, Vicki Lee, was a year or younger than me. Then there was Ken who was my age. I thought Ken was the best, he was like a hero to me. I wanted to be just like him. For my fourth birthday present, he gave me a shirt with a “6” on it that was just like one he had. I was so happy! Later the next year in kindergarten, I would make a huge Valentine for Ken. I’m sure George didn’t care for that, and I’m sure Ken never got it, but Mama did save it.
Once I got used to the horror house on stilts, I loved being out on the dock. We could fish and crab right off of it. George eventually got a boat and we’d go for boat rides all the time. I always wore a life preserver an I loved to ride on the boats bow, especially when George would go fast and make the boat bounce. Years later I would traverse these waters all by myself from a different dock. I was also already very influenced by music and would sing and repeat songs never knowing what they meant. Enter Jeanie C Reilly’s classic “Harper Valley PTA”. I loved it and sang it all the time. So much that once while we were all out on the dock having a nice Saturday, I said to George for fun,
“George, you’re just a Harper Valley hypocrite!” it was from the climax of the song.
What happened next is when I realized George wasn’t always a fair man. He not only scared me, but disappointed me. He did what would become his “You think you’re funny? You don’t make me look foolish” chuckle. He often made this noise before declaring you’d done some injustice to his manhood or something equally ridiculous. He couldn’t take a joke, but everyone else was expected to.
“What’d you say”
“Harper valley hypocrite from the song. What’s a hypocrite?” I replied, immediately frightened by the tone in his voice.
He laughed and smiled – “oh that’s not a nice thing to say, even if it is in a song. It means someone isn’t nice or honest”. Make sure you ask me or your Mama next time if you aren’t sure. Okay?”
Only this isn’t what the asshole did. His foreheads veins started pulsing, you know, because he’d been done wrong, and he popped open a fresh Budweiser of many.
“Well why don’t you go inside and go to bed now. I don’t want to be a hypocrite.”
I was dumbfounded. Hurt. Confused. I had started to respect this man and he wouldn’t even let me talk to explain myself. I didn’t even know what the word meant.
“Inside! And watch what you say, boy” he might as well have said “climb into your shell, boy. I’m the boss”.
I cried myself to sleep while the daytime sun shown bright for everyone else in the world. This wouldn’t be the last time George broke me.
There is one moment that was rather humorously life altering. One night just George and I are in the kitchen. George is a six pack in and onto something stronger. I was starving and asked George for one of the apples behind him.
“Those aren’t apples” he said. They weren’t. “You won’t like it”. I didn’t.
“I’m hungry. I like them!” I insisted. “Bite?”
“Sure,” George grinned, “knock yourself out.” And he handed me one.
I took a huge bit out of this apple only to be met with the taste of raw onion.
“Argh!” I spit it out into the sink. “Something to drink!”
“We don’t have anything but water.” George said, looking very amused.
“No, something else, please.” Like most children, I hated water when the possibility of coke was around.
“Here,” he said “drink out of here” he put a glass bottle out and held it so I could get a sip.
The fire that met my tongue was unbearable, especially with the raw onion minced in my teeth. George had had me drink a swig of his Jim Beam, right from the bottle.
I threw up and started crying. Mama came around and took me to brush, gargle and tucked me in to bed.
To this day, I despise onions. Cooked, cut up small, powdered, minced and especially raw onions. Nasty! However, strangely enough, in my drinking days, I never had any problem with Jim Beam.
Another weird tid-bit, is I remember always getting up in the middle of the night, strategically getting past the hippie beads that divided the hall doorway, and helping myself to some delicious butter, some lemon juice, and if I was lucky, some Pepto Bismal, out of the fridge. I didn’t need the Pepto, I just loved the taste of it. While it never made me sick, I did once say I was sick when George wanted me to eat my dinner of a bologna sandwich. We would be going to the drive in later, and I wanted a burger and fries from there. I said my stomach hurt, my plan being not to eat the bologna. Well George called me on that and said he’d guess I wouldn’t need anything from the drive in then. I was so disappointed. No soda, no popcorn, no candy and no delicious hamburger. Mama did give me one fry, although she did kind of show off that she had a burger and I didn’t.
We went to the drive in many times. I remember it was always R rated action or drama movies. Whatever George wanted to see, regardless that there was a four-year-old with him. We saw “Death Wish” there and I remember getting a feeling when I saw some naked men on the screen. Maybe that was my first tingling of sexuality.
We also watched a lot of television as a family. We started watching Little House on the Prairie in 1974 when the show started. As much as George was a bastard, he also had a rare soft side. Like with Christmas, Little House was special. He be crying at the end of episodes and just say,
‘That damn, Michael Landon.”
I agree, George. I agree.
In 2010 I wrote a fan letter to Katherine MacGregor, the actress who played Mrs. Oleson on Little House. About a year later in April of 2011 I received a response. There may be some spoilers for upcoming Blacksheep posts in my letter to her, but I’m posting this here for ya’ll anyway.
Around September of 74, George came home with a puppy and a kitten! Not on the same day, but close. I guess he figured the step-father guidebook would say pets are the next step to winning over the child. The puppy was a mutt who was mostly black lab. I wanted to name him Bat-man, but George said I couldn’t, so I went with the next logical choice, Robin. For the cat, I went old school and she was christened Susan. In addition to them, I also had a pet chicken!
George had built a chicken coop under the house between the bluff and where the second story started. It looked like a cave to me. They did lay eggs and it was fun to find the eggs in the nests. I loved my chicken, Henrietta, so much that I brought her with me when I went on Romper Room! My first television appearance ever!
I know, everyone says they were on Romper Room, but I really was. Here’s the pictures to prove it!
Mama, Clarice, was intro fitness and worked out a gym called Jerry’s Gym. It was on Victory Drive and was behind a Burger King. It was comprised of two gyms, one for women and one for men. This was the 70s after all. Well my mom met a nice lady there named Kay Winslette. Turns out that Kay is THE Ms. Kay from Savannah’s version of Romper Room. Ms. Kay pulled some strings and I got to spend two weeks on Romper Room! I would be on during Halloween, so I’d get to wear my costume on air on one of the days. I would wear my latest Mickey Mouse costume, as the Mickey Mouse costume I wore last year was passé now! This year’s model had Mickey in a sorcerer’s hat. I also got to hold the flag for the pledge one day. Henrietta made her appearance near the end of my stint on RR. She was a huge hit in the chicken wire cage George made for her. I loved being on RR. I felt like a real television star, like Bobby Brady!
Christmas was a wonderful time, as Evil George goes into hiding and Fun George comes out. It was the first year I got my picture with Santa, I wonder who he was? Also, this was the first New Year’s Eve where I understood what was going on. This year would be at home, but most years after would be as big affair as Christmas Eve was. The Davis’ knew how to celebrate holidays!
And just as soon as 1974 started, it was 1975 –
And OMG, I’ll tell you about the Forbidden Secret Pot Growing Room!
To be continutated
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