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Annabelle Nabors Buchanan: Chapter 1
The First Five Years: 1923 to 1928


The Winter of 1923 was bitter cold in Pennsylvania. Snow and ice had stopped all transportation except emergency vehicles.


It was just five days before Christmas that I was born in the Greensburg Hospital to Pearl and Albert Nabors.


My name, Annabelle, was given for my grandmother, Mary Belle and my Aunt Anna. This was very fitting since they would both have a great influence on my life. They had walked three miles in the snow to see the new baby. My grandmother had vowed this was a very special child to her.


Annabelle at age 6 months

My mother was just 20 years old. She had married at the age of 18 years. Most girls at that age had very romantic thoughts of marriage and I am sure she was no different.

However, her dreams had been shattered when my father could not cope with the new responsibility. He had fled the scene before my delivery.

Everything had been fine before the pregnancy. My dad had been charming, witty and exciting until then. After all, Mamma had given an engagement ring back to another fellow whom she considered dull in comparison.

She had moved on with her sister, Anna, and brother-in-law before my arrival.

It was told to me in later years that my dad did come to Aunt Anna's house to see me and was very excited. He had helped Uncle Wilfred trim the Christmas tree and brought gifts for me.

However, they did not get back together until six months later. Mamma took me to Washington, D.C. to visit her other sister, Carrie. The story goes that I had become a lovely baby. One of Aunt Carrie's neighbors wanted to adopt me. Mamma would not hear to that, and returned to Pennsylvania.

Dad once again courted her and they resumed their relationship. He had taken a job in Steubenville, Ohio. Thus, another baby was conceived.

I was just 15 months of age when Charlotte (Lottie) entered the scene.

It was a repeat performance for my dad. He could not face the situation, but did return later. They moved back to Pennsylvania, and grandmother's husband, Sam, bought them all new furniture for a little house. My dad had promised to change his ways. 

The pattern continued until four children were born. After Lottie came Ruth. The last birth was a boy child. He was named Albert, Jr., and Mamma was certain it would make a difference. However, that was not to be. My father was a hopeless case of drug addiction. I found out in later years the drug problem started in high school with a peer group.

I have been forced to think of this in today's world. It is not too well known, but there was a very serious drug problem in this country in the 1920's.


Pearl (left) and friends

One of my earliest memories was of Mamma standing by the window crying; waiting for him to return. I was told that he tried many times to stop drugs, but in those days, there were no rehab centers; only jails or mental hospitals.

After the fourth child, they separated permanently. My little sister Ruth was taken by Aunt Annie and Uncle Wilfred. That became her home. She nicknamed them Nanny and Woe, and those names stuck for years after.

Mamma took Lottie, Jr. and me to live with her mother and stepfather. Shortly thereafter, Lottie contracted polio. I remember her being in bed for what seemed a very long time. It could have been weeks; children feel that even an hour is forever. I recall playing with her while she was in bed, and that she had weights at the foot of the bed pulling on her legs. We all felt very sorry for her.

Sometime after that, Lottie was taken by my Grandmother Nabors, and that became her home.

After Lottie left, Mamma took my baby brother and me to live with her oldest sister, Carrie. She and her husband, Harry lived in Washington, D.C. They had no children, so were very excited to have us.

I still remember their beautiful home. It was located in Chevy Chase. That is a lovely part of Washington. There was a circular stairway coming down into the large hallway with shiny hard wood floors. From there the living room was visible. That Christmas was wonderful.

As I came down the stairs, a big Christmas tree stood in the comer of the living room. This description is very vivid in my mind. There were many toys at Christmas under the tree, more than I had ever seen before. There was a little red table and chairs, clay, a doll and dishes. It was so wonderful. I later learned that Uncle Harry had made the table and chairs.

However, this was not to last. My mother had become restless. She did not like being home alone so much. My aunt and uncle were very prominent in Washington, and attended many social functions to do with the Mason Lodge. 

So it was, that she packed up once more. The toys were stored in the attic and I was never to see them again. That has always been a sad memory. Many times I have wondered if my gifts were found by some lucky child.

We returned to Pennsylvania. Mamma obtained a little house. She still had my brother and me. She seemed to have lost her desire to care for the family, and became caught up in the wild life of the '20's. She had had four children in five years, and seemed to have lost sight of any life with my dad.


Uniontown, looking toward the county home


There were many boyfriends. The neighbors complained, and so it was that my brother and me were taken to the Children's Home.

I had become the little mother to my brother. I hovered over him when we were taken to the Home. I carried him, and changed his diapers. Memories of the Home were to remain with me always. It was, of course, a large structure, not unlike a mansion. There was a large foyer, very sunny with shiny floors. I can recall the dining room with white table cloths on the tables. We were all trained to say grace at meals, and this habit has remained part of my life.

At night the children were all lined up for baths. In the hall there were drawers which were assigned to us. We were required to get our night clothes and get into line for baths. After that we went to bed in the dormitory. If there were the slightest noise after that, the nursemaid came in and everyone had a hairbrush used on their bottom. Needless to say, I had my turn!

One bad memory was when a new child brought impetigo into the Home, and we all got it. There was purple medicine put all over our bodies.

There was a large playroom that seemed very special to me. The memory of marching to the tune of "The March of the Wooden Soldiers" was my favorite.


Annabelle as a toddler

Once when we were seated at a table playing, a child pinched me. I responded by pinching him back. About that time the nursemaid saw me. No questions were asked. She politely marched me to a hall closet under the stairwell and placed me inside and shut the door. The closet was very dark. I was so scared and thought I would remain there forever. I screamed and pounded on the door, to no avail. My imagination went wild. There seemed to be tigers and wild animals on the walls about to devour me. It had been a short time before that all the children had been to the circus, so probably that is why animals were so vivid in my mind. Eventually, I was removed from the closet. It certainly seemed like an eternity.

On Sundays we were all taken to Sunday School on a large bus. I felt shame for the first time. Always my shoes had large holes in the toes. My clothes were shabby and we came in contact with children from the outside.

When Grandmother Nabors, my dad's mother, came to visit, I related the story of the closet, and she could see the condition of my shoes. She asked where my new shoes were. Of course there were none. She immediately went to the office. It seemed that she had left money for new shoes which had never been purchased. She also saw to it that the nursemaid was dismissed.

She took Jr. and me with her to their home in the country for a visit with Lottie. That was a great treat. My grandfather was so kind and played with all of us. Lottie had so many toys. Her favorite doll was named Ellen. She, of course, had become my favorite also. I cried so hard that Lottie had to let me take it back to the Home with me.

Mamma came to see us sometimes. She looked so beautiful. To me, she was like a fairy princess. She had rich dark hair, creamy complexion and blue eyes. She was just barely five feet tall. Always there was a boyfriend with her. She could never stay long, but told me she loved us.

Soon, my other grandmother came to visit us. I was five and a half at the time and was given my first big decision. Grandmother told me that she would like to take me home with her the next time she came to see us. However, she pointed out she could not take my little brother. I was to think about it until she returned. She was 65 years old, and one child was all she could take. She promised we would come back to visit my little brother.

She had laughing eyes, as blue as the sky and beautiful white hair. Everything about her made me feel good. There was no problem to making the decision. She said there were little white puppies at her house and that I could play with them. It sounded like a fairy story.

When we arrived at grandmother's house, it was just as she promised. The little white pups were there. It turned out that her husband, Sam, bred Eskimo Spritz dogs. The mother dog, Flossie, took to me right away.

Grandma's house was an old fashioned wooden frame house. It was located in a small town, Hopwood, at the foot of the Allegheny Mountains.

There was a coal house to the right of the house. A large truck came periodically and dumped coal into the entrance. Coal was their main source of heat, and also was used for cooking.

The house had a porch in front with a swing. I was to spend many hours there watching people go by. It many times became a social gathering place for people to talk with Grandma.

The front door was in the center of the house. To the left of the entrance was the parlor. It was used only occasionally. It had a thick red oriental rug on the floor. There was a settee with red plush covering, a rocking chair, and arm chair were the main furnishings. In the comer of the room was a wind-up Victrola. There was also a fireplace. Over the fireplace there were two large oval framed pictures. I learned they were my great-grandparents. Grandma's mother and father. They were quite severe looking. He had a great long beard, and eyes that seemed to see right through me. He had been a blacksmith. My great-grandmother had a dark high necked dress and a serious look on her face.

To the right of the entrance, there was another larger room. It was used a lot more. A pot belly stove was there, another rocker, table and more chairs. There was also a side board, or as we call them today, a hutch. Grandma's Singer Treadle sewing machine was by the window in the back. That piece of furniture has held many fond memories for me through the years. Grandma sat there for hours. She would whistle and sew all my clothes, plus those for others. I can still see her sitting there with her nose pincher eye-glasses. When it was not in use, it became a spot for me to play with paper dolls.

A stairway led to the upstairs where there were two large bedrooms. There were large dressers in each room with a lovely pitcher and wash basin to match. In the closet of my room, Grandma showed me books like ledgers. They had belonged to my grandfather when he worked at the courthouse. They were very impressive because his handwriting was so beautiful. It was like scroll writing.

In the back of the house was a large kitchen. It had an oak table, kitchen cabinet on one side, and a cupboard on the other. The cabinet had a large bread drawer where cakes and pies were kept. Also, Grandma kept a little box of face powder in the cupboard. When there was a knock at the door, she always dabbed her nose with the powder before opening the door. A huge coal burning stove was the center of attention in the kitchen.

The door from the kitchen went on to a nice back porch. There were barrels for catching rain water. The water in Pennsylvania was very hard, so the rainwater was used for baths and washing our hair. Other barrels were there for sauerkraut to be stored. It always smelled so good to me. Many times, I dipped my hand in for a bite. The cellar was in the yard, a short distance from the house. It was dug into the ground, much as a storm cellar might be. I loved to go down into the cellar and see the old fashioned irons and other ancient things. The irons were so heavy, it was hard to believe they were used to iron clothes. The cellar was full of old lamps. Also, that was for storage place for all the canned food for the winter.

The property consisted of about a quarter of one acre of land. There were many fruit trees and a large grape arbor in the yard. An abundance of flowers were around the house. There were lots of Holly Hocks, Four O'Clocks and Zinnias, and always dill - just a few of the names I remember. Also, there was a chicken coup with about ten Rhode Island Red chickens. Many times, I watched a chicken have their head chopped off. It was always a mystery to me at that young age to see the chicken flop around the yard. Then it was dipped into a galvanized tub of scalding water, and the feathers plucked. The smell of wet feathers still lingers in my mind.

An out-house was quite a ways back in the yard. There were no street lights, so night time was a scary trip with the flashlight.

In the springtime, a horse and plow came to furrow the ground for planting the garden. It was always a special joy for me to watch. There were all kinds of vegetables planted. In fact, the only things store bought were milk, flour, meat and basics.

Grandma’s house was kept immaculate. She always said, "Cleanliness is next to Godliness Mondays were wash day, and that was something to behold. The wash benches were brought into the kitchen, a big copper boiler was placed on the stove and all white clothes were boiled. After boiling them, they were scrubbed on a wash board in the first galvanized tub. Then put through the hand operated wringer into the second galvanized tub for rinsing. Then, of course, they were hung on the line.

Fridays were always the day for baking. There was homemade bread to fill the house with its aroma. Cakes and pies were made for the weekend company.

The summers were very hot and humid. I loved the weekends because most of Grandma's seven children and step-children would visit. My cousins would be there and sometimes my sister Ruth. We would play games such as hide and seek, climb trees and stuff our stomachs with fruit. Our cheeks would be as red as the cherries we ate.

At the end of the summer, it was canning time. Many times Mamma visited and would help. The large copper boiler was used to make ketchup. Grandma's face was so red as she stood stirring the delicious food with a long wooden spoon.

Spring and fall cleaning time was like moving. The rugs were hung on the lines and beat with a carpet beater. The furniture was washed and polished. The smell of the house was so good, clean and fresh.

The grade school was just around the comer from our house, so as I got older, it became a playground. In summers all the children gathered there. I loved playing all the outdoor games. It was real punishment if I could not join the others. That seldom happened. Grandma could call to me when she wanted me to come home. Sometimes when I chose to ignore her call, the privilege would be taken away for a day.

I was a mischievous child in early grade school. My first grade teacher was quite old. Miss Porter was her name. She was extremely thin and was overdue for retirement. Talking was my greatest fault. She sent me to the cloak room many times for that behavior. The door of the cloak room was not down to the floor, so I would bend over and make faces at the others in class. It usually ended in a spanking.

Miss Porter was great on arm movement for writing class. One day I was busy writing incorrectly. She came by and cracked my arm with a ruler. That lunch hour when I went home, I wrapped my arm in a big bandage. When I returned to school, she said, "My, what happened to your arm, Annabelle?" My response was "That is where you hit me." I am sure she must have needed to laugh about that. I have laughed many times since.

Many years later, I met her in the post office. I greeted her and said "I bet you don't remember me, Miss Porter." Immediately, she said "Oh yes, I shall never forget you!"

One time, it was my misfortune at recess to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I was running around the school and ran directly into another girl. Her head hit me full in the mouth. My mouth swelled up, and a straw had to be used for eating. She was one of the few black children in school, by the name of Sarah Montgomery.

My grandmother wanted to know who had done this to me. I did not tell her it was an accident, so she said she would take care of it. Poor Sarah walked by our house to school the next day, and Grandma went out on the porch and told her never to again hurt me. Sarah wore cork screw curls and they were bobbing up and down like crazy. I was in the parlor looking out the window and sticking out my tongue at her. This is not something I am very proud of doing.

My life at Grandma's was a happy one most of the time. I had many friends. The best friend was Hester Oliver. She was a chubby little black haired girl. She would come down on summer afternoons. We would spread all our dolls under the grape arbor and play. Most days she would stay for lunch. Eventually, we would quarrel, and I would tell her to leave, only to regret it later.

The only time misfortune seemed mine was when I visited friends and their mothers were so young. Their homes always seemed so modem and nice. I comforted myself by thinking my mother more beautiful.

Then at our house we made the transition to electricity. It was so exciting. Grandma got an electric washing machine. It had large chrome cups for the adjector. They went up and down and pounded the clothes clean. It had an electric wringer. Of course, I wanted to put the clothes through. Grandma warned me to be careful, but I loved to talk, and forgot to watch what I was doing. My hand got caught in the wringer. There was not automatic turnoff. Grandma had to pull the plug, and then pull my hand from the wringer. My hand burned for about a week.

Another wonderful addition was the radio. We enjoyed it so much. Grandma listened to the daily soap called Ma Perkins, and I heard the popular shows of the time, Rin Tin Tin, The Lone Ranger, and we all listened to Amos and Andy. When Mamma was there, she played all the music.

The winters were the extremes of summer - very cold. Weekends were more quiet. We would huddle around the kitchen stove and shell walnuts for fudge. Grandma would tell me stories that I relished. At night I slid into a feather bed, while a fire in the fireplace gave a warm glow to the bedroom.

Grandma told me she had married my grandfather, William Beggs, at a very young age, 17 years. His mother was a tiny French lady, right from France, and his father was Scottish. She always said her mother-in-law had the blue blood of France in her veins. This puzzled me. I could not imagine someone with blue blood.

She and my grandfather had seven children. Aunt Carrie was the oldest, then Uncle George, Uncle Bob, Uncle Bill, Uncle Dave, Aunt Annie, and my mother.

When Mamma was only six years old, her father died of pneumonia. Grandma was a very good seamstress, so she started sewing to support the family. Aunt Carrie was already married, and the older ones worked. She sewed for all the wealthy ladies in town. One lady stayed a customer for life. Her name was Mrs. Altman. She came to the house when I lived there. She fascinated me because her skin had a true bluish cast to it. I am sure I stared more than was polite. I thought for sure she had blue blood as my great-grandmother did. Grandma said it was because she had taken medicine. The doctor said not to go out in the rain after taking the medicine, or she would turn blue, and she had disobeyed. My Grandma told me many stories like that. Of course, I believed every word like Gospel.

She said Uncle Dave had been out late one night, and as he went through the cemetery, the Devil chased him home. He ran very fast and got home and into bed and covered up his head. She said that he had heard the chains rattle, and fire came from the Devil's mouth. My eyes must have been as big as saucers, because then she would laugh so hard.

Another time she said there were clothes on the line in the yard, and of course, they would freeze in the winter. That time Uncle Bill came home and thought it was a robber in the yard. He got a gun and told the robber to stop, but of course the image remained, so he shot the object. The next morning, he discovered it was long underwear on the line, and they were riddled with buck shot.

There was a neighborhood lady I loved to visit by the name of Mrs. Province. She had four grown sons, and no girls. They all made over me and let me play the player piano. I loved to do that. Then, we would go out to see all the rabbit pens. They had all kinds of rabbits. I told her all my dreams and gossip, and who my latest boyfriend was. When her sons came in, they would lift me in the air and tease me. Then I would go home to more stories from Grandma.

Grandma told me, when Mamma was ten, she introduced her to Sam Walls, and he became her second husband. He had four children, so the youngest that were still at home became part of her family. I met all his children. Belle was the oldest and lived on a farm in the mountains. It was the only time I ever visited a farm. I was in the pasture with a couple of her children, and all of a sudden they told me to run. A huge bull was coming straight for us. I just cleared the fence in time. It had a curly bunch of hair on its head.

His other children all lived in Uniontown. I remember Elizabeth, Margaret, and his son Arthur. I knew Elizabeth the best because she was the one who had eloped to get married with my mother.

Sam was a good man, and had retired by the time I came to live with them. His favorite of Grandma's children was Mamma. That was probably because she was so young when he married into the family. He had a hard time showing his feelings. Mostly, I remember him sitting in a rocking chair, playing the harmonica. His favorite tune was "The Wabash Cannon Ball". When Sam laughed, gold crowns were visible. He had a big mustache, and he was mostly bald, except for a fringe around the back of his head. The only discipline he administered me was not to eat between meals. This he was very strict about. In the evenings, he and I would play checkers. Looking back, I have great feelings for the man who permitted Grandma to bring me to their home.

Return to Table of Contents - Next: Chapter II: Life with Grandma 1928-1938


Copyright © 1984 Annabelle Nabors Buchanan

Republished on Minerd.com with permission.  Reproduction forbidden without written consent of Minerd.com.