On July 6, 1919, my mother was born. She was born at home, in a Richmond neighbourhood called Fulton Bottom. It wasn’t the nicest neighbourhood, even then. It was near the Gas Works, where they burned coal to obtain coal gas, that they piped through town. With that gas, people heated their homes, cooked their food, and even lit their rooms. All that’s left of the Fulton Gas Works are the structural steel remnants of the holding tanks.

There was also the Fulton Yard of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad. This is where my grandfather would pick up his train to go East to Newport News, West to Charlottesville or Lynchburg, maybe all the way to Clifton Forge. I don’t know.

Mother talked about the railroad, and how there were Summer excursion trains to Buckroe Beach (for White folks) and Bayshore (for Colored folks). By the time I came along, we drove to Buckroe.

Mother had a vast reservoir of memories. Street cars figured in. The Blizzard of 1940 and the street car figured in one story, where not even the streetcars ran. She loved the movies, with Clark Gable, especially.

The Depression hung over her childhood and her life. People would take jobs like turning Bull Durham Cigarette tobacco bags. People actually did roll their own cigarettes. It was piece work turning those bags. A good job was the brass ring to be grasped from the carousel ride of the Depression. And one day that dream came true for Mom.

She got a job at Reynolds Metals, when they moved from New York, because she knew how to type. She learned Spanish in high school, at a proficiency level that enabled her to translate for her boss.

The anecdotes about her alcoholic father were dark and told us much about her and her frequently dark moods. Clinical depression was what I grew up around. It took me years to understand that this environment was dysfunctional. And that I was scarred by her nightmare as well. Recovering from one’s family of origin is always a life long ordeal.

Happy Birthday, Mom.