Wednesday, June 5, 2013

I remember being a little girl in Wilmington in WWII

Growing up during WWII in the port city of Wilmington, NC, I didn't have a clue that there was anything going on to distress the heart or make one sad. I was a little girl. Born 1939 on the cusp of the war.

We lived in the older part of the city. Our house was just 4 blocks from the river front. Our house was a duplex and was built around 1860 - that's right, pre-Civil War! I was born in one of the upstairs rooms in the front of the house. There was a large porch on the front and back and upstairs and downstairs. Lots of porch space. But this little girl was born in the front bedroom on the cusp of WWII in a house built on the cusp of the Civil War.

Wilmington is a city of history and it is a beautiful city. Makes you wonder if the history, so varied and so time-spanning, is part of the beauty. I like to think it is. Wilmington is almost like a peninsular because it is like a finger surrounded by two rivers (the Cape Fear and the Northeast Cape Fear) and the Atlantic Ocean. The rivers empty their bowels of refuse from washing all across the state of North Carolina into the Atlantic. 

But back to that little girl. Our house was home to a multi-generational family. There was Grandmama and Granddaddy Houston and three un-wed uncles - brothers to my Dad. Of course, there was my Mama and Daddy and my older brother. I became his shadow as soon as I learned to walk. Later, after the war, another brother was born and he tried to become my shadow. My three uncles were in the army in WWII. Two fought in Europe and one was an Army Pilot who trained other pilots. He died in a crash training a pilot.

I remember my uncles and my Dad tossing me from one to another when they would be in town. My memory really might not be so good as to remember that, but there are films that Daddy took showing this very activity. I was having fun and they were, too.  Later the uncles married and moved out to their own houses. That left my grandparents, Mama and Daddy, my two brothers, and me - the little girl.

We were free to roam the neighborhood playing up and down the street and around the block. The city was set up in square blocks. I remember the streets - especially in front of our house. It was paved with brick. I told you the city was old and our house was old and the brick street was old.  And I remember playing in the backyard. Not many folks had grassy yards back then and Wilmington. being a coastal city, was known for its sandy soil. It wasn't white like the beach sand. It was gray sandy soil. Mom could grow a few flowers in the yard, though. I loved her jonquils and her roses.  Half of our back yard was fenced off (the back half) and that is mostly where the flowers were. I pretended it was a secret garden. That was the little girl pretending.

I didn't realize we were poor. We just were. And we were happy as far as I knew. We had food enough and Mama was a wonderful cook. We had clothes to wear. Mama could really sew nicely. I didn't realize as a little girl how few clothes we did have. We had a house. I didn't know how hard it was on Mama and Daddy to keep the bills paid so we could have a house.  We didn't have a car. But I didn't realize that. I just went with Mama and Daddy where they went and we walked to town and to church and to the grocery store.

When I was little I had difficulty walking. I really didn't realize it, but my parents did. A special doctor in Charlotte (we took a bus to see the doctor) said I either needed surgery to fix my feet and legs or they could first try dancing lessons. Well, this little girl learned to dance. I tapped. I did ballet. I did acrobatics. And my legs got where they worked just fine and I could walk straight.

This little girl grew up into a teen and then a young woman. I married. I moved away from the port city of Wilmington. But the gray sand still is in the  memory my toes hold from running barefoot. I still feel the wind of the Atlantic blowing through my hair. I still have the warm memory of the sun beating on my face. And I still recall swimming in the wonderful Atlantic and enjoying the swells of God's wonderful waves.

I remember, fondly, being a little girl growing up in the Houston Household in Wilmington.


  1. I am so glad to see a picture of that house! I didn't know it was old either. I just loved to go there. I would love to have a copy of the picture and an.y others you might have. I didn't know you were poor, I just thought it was great to live that close to the beach and across the street from a bakery! Oh, and I thought that was the neatest toliet with the tank high up on the wall! Wonderful memories of carefree visits and love!

    Cousin Prissy

    1. Hi Cousin Prissy!
      That picture is from Google. I think I have one of the porch area taken around 1958 somewhere. If you remember, the house was white and not painted as this one is. The original color was white, too. The pastels are "someone's" idea of what period houses looked like. Or perhaps they just liked the colors. They have painted the doors yellow and the house blue with white trim.

      Remember the house had fireplaces in nearly every room? Did you know that the floors were cherry wood? At least that is what someone identified them as to Mom.

      Your Dad was one of the uncles that tossed me to 'n fro back then. I loved him so much and still think fondly of him.

      Yes, the toilet tank was high up on the wall with a chain to pull. We had a claw foot tub in the bathroom,too.

  2. Thanks for sharing these wonderful memories with us! I always find it interesting that the most memorable parts of our childhood are the experiences we have, not the things we own.

  3. Vera, Thanks for sharing your childhood memories and perspective. It was wonderful to read!

  4. Thank you for sharing the story and the pictures. I have always wanted to go to Willmington, I do love NC, it's just so hot in the summer!

    1. Yes, it is hot Jodi! Humid, too! Frankly, you really don't ever get accustomed to it. So glad for air conditioning now.

  5. Vera, thanks for sharing a piece of your life and your town with us! That's neat!


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