MANN TALK: The Heart of the House on Piedmont Road

by Perry Mann
Perry Mann
Perry Mann
Today in the Charleston Gazette, Richard Andre has a picture titled “Piedmont Road, 1962.” The picture shows Piedmont Road running east and, on the left on a hillside, shows six houses. On the right of the road is the New York Central Railway and to the right of it is a field bordered by California Ave.  I lived in a house on Piedmont Road nearer to town from 1938 to 1940 or thereabouts. And I played football in the field when we later lived in one of the California Apartments.

First, I lived on Piedmont Road with my father and two sisters and later with my mother and two sisters and finally with my mother, two sisters and my mother’s friend and her two children. My mother and father had divorced and separated. Thus, was the reason for the living arrangement and for the other family. Times were tough and money was scarce.

I remember the date 1938. It was then that I heard over the radio that the Allies had sacrificed Czechoslovakia to Hitler and in 1939 that the Fuhrer had invaded Poland and had in a few weeks defeated the nation and devastated it with Germany’s Luftwaffe and its Blitzkrieg tactic.

I was living there when I graduated Charleston High School. I attended the prom but was miserable. I couldn’t dance and no girl was on my arm. Charles Yeager, my closest friend and whose love, Bobby Cobb, lived in one of those houses in Andre’s picture, had his family’s car for the night. He drove up on the heights of North Charleston where we sat overlooking the city and its lights and talked into the wee hours about the situation in Europe and how it would affect our future and other topics.  We graduated in 1939 together with nearly 500 other students in an auditorium filled with 2500 parents and relatives on a night in May that was 90 degrees and humid.  Another miserable occasion.  No air-conditioning.

At home in the Piedmont house with my father, it was somewhat structured and there was enough to eat and there were the radio and friends and some teenage activities.  But I had fallen in love for the first time and it had me enthralled totally. I could think of nothing but Ruth. But Ruth wasn’t so enthralled and I was on tenterhooks. I remained so for years. She was older than I and she was more self-possessed. I had little to offer. I suffered some days and knew bliss the next.

My father, who had nothing but an eighth grade education in a rural one-room school had lost his job in the Depression and now found it almost impossible to get employment. Nevertheless, he offered to send me to Morris Harvey College for a year. It was a great sacrifice on his part. But I couldn’t concentrate on anything but Ruth, so I failed and left after the first semester.

Then, my father left and let my mother come to the Piedmont residence.  He went somewhere in the city and got a room, where we kids would go to get enough money for a movie in order to enter a more pleasant world.  My mother was intelligent, kind and generous to a fault. But she lived today and let tomorrow take care of itself. She had remarried and there was the intrusion of a stepfather. It didn’t work. The end came when he, in a heated argument, yelled at my mother that he would see her in hell and left slamming the door with emphasis.

My mother, hard up, rented some rooms in the house to a friend, who was also hard up, and her two children. Then, we were two adults and five children in one house.  It was shelter but little more. My father would send money to my mother for our keep. And he allowed her to charge at local grocery store. That was a mistake. My mother used the account with little inhibition. Finally there came a show down on it, when my father learned the amount that was owed. There was some strong talk in the air on Piedmont Road.

Once, my mother’s preacher brother came to visit. He like many men then was without employment. Also, he was addicted to drugs, a condition unknown to my mother. He wasn’t there long before he claimed to be ill and had my mother call for a doctor. The doctor came and had to climb the steeps Piedmont Street steps to the house. The doctor detected that my uncle was addicted to drugs and instead of giving him a shot of narcotics, he gave him a shot of distilled water. My uncle discovered this ruse and jumped out of bed and overtook the doctor on the steep steps and tried with force to drag the doctor back into the house. The doctor escaped and my uncle returned to the house and raged a while.

The house was owned and rented by a coal miner who lived in a house behind it. He lived alone. On Saturday nights he often would get inebriated, put records on his player and dance to the hillbilly music. He danced wildly at times and was a source of comedy to my sisters and me. But in retrospect it was sad like bowling alone.

Ruth lived just down the street in a house that overlooked Laidley Field. I was there to visit her often. Her mother wanted me there because Ruth was dating a man her mother detested.  It was there one night that I gathered enough will to tell Ruth that I loved her. I had wished for months with all my heart to tell her I loved her but just couldn’t get the words to come. I was happy to live at Piedmont Road in spite of the circumstances, for I was close to Ruth.

Finally, my father rented a house at 1904 Washington St. East. It is gone now making way for a building or buildings in the Capitol Complex. I and my sisters, Eleanor and Doris, moved there and I lived there with them until I joined the Army Air Corp in December of 1941. But before then Ruth and her mother moved to Washington St. East just a block below 1904. I would often on the way to work at Harris Upham and Co. stop and court her.  Those were blissful times--- adulterated by Hitler’s ominous rants in the early hours coming from home radios.  

Then came December 7, 1941. I was walking home from a movie and was stopped by a friend and told that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. I had no idea what the repercussions of such an event would have on me.  But in a few days after listening to the radio I was aware that war was to be for years to come. So on December 10, I went to the Capitol St. enlistment office and signed up. Ruth, who was Catholic, gave me a neck piece with Cross before I departed. When I returned four years later, I learned she had married.  

Andre’s picture of the houses on Piedmont Road awoke in me many memories of happenings in and out of my Piedmont house. Some were painful and some saddening. But also it awoke the memory of the thrill and excitement as well as the misery of First Love. And a recall of that seismic event in my life: December 7, 1941 and its aftermath.
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Perry Mann is a former teacher, a lawyer, a former prosecuting attorney of Summers County and a columnist for Huntington News Network. He lives in Hinton, WV. He was born in Charleston, WV in 1921.