The Diary of Sue Austin








COMMUNITY LIFE - Marsh Causeway

COMMUNITY LIFE - 1933 Hurricane


COMMUNITY LIFE - Socialization


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Knotts Island Diary

by Sue Fentress Austin

Within the Brumley family unit, Adell took the time to jot down so many amusing tidbits of life among the teenagers. For Adell, the simple things of life seemed to bring to her much pleasure, and she dutifully noted them in her diary. . .a walk along the lane smelling the honeysuckles, pushing her younger sister in an old cart, taking a younger brother to the store just to buy some mints, making a chocolate cake and walking back and forth to church. No television, no electricity, no inside "p1umbing" (bathrooms!) and no radio in the Brumley household. No money for them either! For the 600 or so persons living on Knotts Island, it was simply a very basic, down-to-earth and completely normal way of living during the 1932-1936 time period. Everyone knew their neighbors and all helped one another in good times and in bad. Hardly anyone locked and bolted their doors at night. Ed Brumley did, but only because he kept church money inside his house that his girls helped to collect. This money ultimately went to pay the preacher’s salary. Some could say the Knotts Island portrayed in young Adell’s five-year diary typified what the word "pastoral" is all about. There is such beauty in a simple existence. To read Adell’s diary is such an experience. Come. . .let us simply revel in what was considered mere enjoyable pastimes for the teenagers just a few short years ago.

Vivian (Watertield) Jones was one of Nita and Adell’s dearest childhood friends. Here is a week’s worth of excerpts from the diary: The entries are exactly the way Adell wrote everything down.

17 July 1932 (Sun) I went to church twice. After Sunday School I went to Mrs. Susies & Charlies. I went home with Vivian for a week. We looked at pictures. Talked until late.
18 July 1932 (Mon) To Vivians. We helped Elsie to wash. We went to sleep in the afternoon. After supper we went boat riding. Played victrola tonite.
19 July 1932 (Tues) Afer dinner Vivian & I went up stairs & talked. After supper we sit on the boat house. Then I carried her boatriding.
20 July 1932 (Wed) We looked at pictures in the afternoon After supper we sit on the boat house & read a book. Went boat riding (date). Practiced a song. 21 July 1932 (Thur) We went to look for pheasant feathers — found one. After supper I carried Vivian boat-riding. Saw "the cat" — Heard the echo.
22 July 1932 (Fri) We went to the club house. I made a wish. Late in the afternoon we sit on the boat house & talked. Then we went boat riding again.
23 July 1932 (Sat) They (Effie) had company Sat morning. We came over & went to Mrs. Susies, then to the ball game. I didn ’t stay long. Colin, Jim & Willie came tonite. Split ice cream.

Adell was age 17 and Vivian 14. Vivian’s parents lived on Cedar Island which was located in Back Bay. Her father, Marion, was the caretaker of Cedar Island Clubhouse. Except for the summer months, Vivian had to live with her grandmother Susie (called Mama Susie by Vivian) who lived in the southern end of Knotts Island. Tunis Corbell writes that:

Marion used to have a garage at the north End Landing and leave his car there while he took a boat to Cedar Island. Sometimes he drove to the North End by mule cart and transported the mule to Cedar Island by “fIat" (now commonly referred to as a "barge"). He used a one cylinder motor boat to get back and forth. At that time I was told that Cedar Island had a nice little farm on it. It used to be owned by John Williams who relocated to Munden’s Point when he sold the Island to wealthy hunting people.

Adell’s week long visit was remembered many years later by Vivian. While the young ladies seemed to be having a B-O-R-I-N-G week by today’s standards, actually teens were able to enjoy one another, talking and generally entertaining each other. Quiet boat rides, looking for cast-off pheasant feathers, sitting in a boatbouse, probably on the dock, certainly did not lend itself to the stress that befalls so many of the young people of today. Do we envy Adell and Vivian? In some ways the author thinks we do. The beauty of nature, the quietness of the environment of Cedar Island, the enjoyment of just talking among friends evokes thoughts of a way of life that is forever lost. Elsie had two sisters, Effie and Charlie, who both lived on Knotts Island. Effie was married to Ernest Waterfreld and Charlie to Herman Jones. The book referred to on Wednesday was about babies and giving birth. Vivian took it from her mother’s chest of drawers in the bedroom. There was a hammock in the yard that the girls certainly enjoyed too. Fishing always brought lots of perch and frequently some eel. Vivian’s parents obviously enjoyed music and played records on a victrola. The pheasants were raised per the wishes of the then owner, Mr. Barbour.

Church going played a major role inthe social interaction between male and female. At the Brumley house, only Friday, Saturday and Sunday were reserved for the male visitors. Now, of course, if there were church activities going on, the exception was made. Practicing for plays was an okay excuse to catch a ride to/from with one of the boys who might have access to a vehicle.

The dating scene is mscinating to ponder when reading through the five years worth of diary entries. Many nights there were half a dozen to a dozen young men visiting Nita and Adell, and later on, Ruth. For awhile one name would be paired with Adell, then later another name and then maybe several young men would be driving her for a coke or to church. . .And so it went. Of course she almost never went alone — Nita was usually along. Serious dating it surely wasn’t as most of the male visitors were merely after social companionship. Nowadays the young folks socialize by bar hopping; then it was by a much cheaper means, house hopping. The young men of the Island also had the numerous stores to hang out at where they exchanged gossip and hunting/fishing stories. The womenfolk generally did not go inside a store after dark. In Adell’s day, the young men who came up to her house to visit had a very long and very dark lane to "walk up”. Several of the men had cars (borrowed from parents or relatives) and these vehicles would arrive loaded with other friends and relatives of the driver. Adell writes down exactly who showed up each and every night and generally what the group did. Also, who of the Brumley clan went to church and how many times they went to church that particular Sunday was likewise documented. For awhile certain couples would ride around together and attend church together. . .then look out. . .Nita and Adell would be getting into some other young man’s automobile! Young people will always need to get acquainted and sort of check one another out; that custom is surely here to stay! One enormous change over the years is that in Adell’s day, the young ladies returned home alone to their own bedrooms. But in Adell’s case, going to bed, "retiring" as she expressed it, meant a shared bed with her sister, Ruth, each night!

Music came in many forms on Knotts Island. Then, as now, this brand of entertainment was mighty popular among the young. In January of 1932, Mr. Garrett came tonite and played banjo. Also the same month, Jim and Lester sang some songs. Three months later, because of a Friday teacher’s meeting the Brumley girls were home. . .Mary & Gladys Watetjield came today. Mary got her hair cut. Colin came tonite. Mamma & I played some records. "Big Eye Rabat " after he left. On July 1, 1933...Tonite Bill came...we (Ruth & I) started to Alvah ’s Restaurant, met Lester & Jim so we came back-very hot. Jim & Lester sang some. Then on the l3th. . . Tonite Boob & Lester came. Lester, Ruth & I sang. On June 26, 1935, Tonite B came & brought 2 new records: "IsIe of Capri " & "Old Faithful ". Other popular records during this time were "Silver—Haired Daddy," “Springtime in the Rockies," "Soldier Boy" and “My Heart’s in Texas." Lester, like Jim, had a beautiful voice and being blind was no hindrance to his musical ability. Tunis Corbell remembered Lester in this way:

Lester was very intelligent and quite learned. He sang often in church and school functions. His dad, David, was also a good singer and gave the most beautiful prayers in church that I have ever heard. Looking at the back of his head while he prayed was my impression of what God looked like. Mr. Knapp (as Tunis was told) provided for an education for Lester as a piano tuner and for Garland Waterfield (also blind) as a telephone switchboard operator for Knotts Island 'Central’ as it was called in those days. Lester could drink with the best of them and would shoot craps and gamble whenever there was a game. He had a quick temper and never let his blindness get into the way of two-blocking someone’s try to get in the first ‘blow.’ He could walk the length of Knotts Island alone and know where to turn off the road for church, school or someone’s home. I never knew how he did this. His father was the only ‘Cooper’ I ever knew — he made barrels at Paul Jones Store. Lester ‘tuned’ our piano several times and always came alone.

On July 1, 1936.. .Nelson, Caswell Scott & Lester came. Caswell went home for his mouth harp. Two days later the diary says., Caswell played mouth harp. Jim Miller had an excellent voice and just loved to sing. The diary frequently mentions the singing of songs by the young folks, expecially young Jim Miller. Caswell Arkerson was widely known for his ability to make his mouth harp talk! He and his brother, Oswald, visited often and the group didn’t mind at all sending Caswell back home for his harp. The 78’s were played on the old wind-up victrola. Even though it was Depression Times, the young people did not lack for the latest in music. Most of the Brumley records seem to be supplied by Willie Fentress as he was first called in Adell’s diary. His sister, Mamie, was a cook for the Knapps and was especially generous to her little baby brother Willie. The Number One favorite game at Ed Brumley’s was most definitely dominoes. The visiting young men played many a game in the Front Room with the Brumley girls. The male names that appeared over and over again that last year of high school were Norwood "Boob" Ansell, Willie F/Bill Fentress, Colin Doxey, Lester Waterfield, Charlie Caton, Jim Miller, Melford (Mech) Grimstead, Caswell & Oswald Arkerson (brothers), Alvah Jones, Harold “Jonsie" Jones, Nathan Etheridge and Rufus Balance (Adell’s cousin). A second group of young males were soon added as the months went by — Albert Dixon, Herman Guy Jones, Ira Jones, Scott Etheridge (later to marry the younger Brumley sister, Ruth), Edmund and Roy White (brothers), Tilford Wade, Bill Stevens, Emitt and Kermit Ballance (cousins of Adell) and Meredith and Ormond Williams (brothers and cousins of Adell). In the early ‘30s, it was only Nita and Adell playing dominoes; later fun-loving Ruth, the baby of the Brumley daughters, joined the dating scene. During just the year of 1932 alone, playing dominoes is mentioned 21 different times in nine months. August 10, 1933, Adell writes Effie & children came tonite & Bill F & S Oswald, Jim & Lester. We played the funny game (10 questions). Ruth kept me awake part of the nite — moving. An unanswered question relates to "Packing Grandfather’s Trunk" and "Hide and Pack." Were they names of records or popular board games? Many, many mentions are made of playing these “whatever they were." EW and Paul even played the “Hide and Pack” game (and now years later, Paul, cannot even recall the significance of the word) and loved it.

Ed Brumley was immensely interested in history and Adell says in April of 1932 that — Jim brought Papa paper on Thorougood House. Jim might be interested in courting the daughters, but he was looking out for the papa too!

The silly things that guys allow girls to do to them in the name of “fun". . .well crazy stuff happened in those long ago days too! Listen to what went on August 12, 1933: Bill & Boob, Alvah, Albert D & Melford came. Nita fixed Boob with her curls & hat — he went in the Sitting Room. Readers never having seen this cast of characters can only visualize and chuckle to themselves. The author did know "Boob" and this stunt sounds like Nita in one of her devilish moods! That young lady enjoyed making mischief in her younger days! The Sitting Room would be where the parents would be found and the young people would have the Front Room to themselves. Of course, the two rooms were just a few steps away and separated only by a wide Hall. Still it provided privacy of sorts for the dating crowd. Dressing Norwood Ansell up as a girl must have been hilarious and caused some real merriment. Nita no doubt gave Boob some mighty fancy "finger" curls and then slapped her hat upon his head. How Ed and Minnie must have laughed at the sight! On a more serious note, Tunis Corbell wrote the author that:

"Boob" was an especially good friend of mine. Since he never married, I used to go out with him to visit girls when I was a teenager. He was a great guy and I remember when he represented Knotts Island as a Commissioner and was a State Representative for Currituck County in Raleigh in the late fifties or maybe into the sixties. In the early thirties he made many speeches at political rallies on Knotts Island. He subscribed to the "Congressional Record" and always pushed me to read every copy after he had finished with it. He never learned to drive a car, but did drive his tractor all over the place after he bought one in the sixties. I also remember his father, Caleb, and his mother, Ethel, very well.

Tunis didn’t say so, but Ethel was one ofthe Island’s very best seamstresses. She could whip out a man’s suit in record time.

Adell wrote an amusing description of the summer heat on June 26, 1934... Very hot, tonite Bill came. Ruth asked him to pour water in her face. Then we wet him. She played and sung, all the others were to bed. Ruth must have figured it was worth getting her face wet in order to do it back at him! She was 16 and having a ball! Ruth probably remembered a similar episode a few years earlier (August of ’32) when ...Colin, Jim & Herman Guy ‘poured" water on us (N.R.A.).

In March of ’32, Colin and Jim came tonite. We made needle float on a glass of water. Another night- Played Tit Tat Toe (Melford, Nathan, Jim & Colin) and Naming Match. June 7th arrives and the diary notes that Willie F & Edmund came tonite. We had a good time. This is the first mention of Willie (nickname) Fentress. Adell would be 18 in just four months; Willie was 16 only 40 days earlier. (Neither dreamed that 8-1/2 years later they would be husband and wife.) Two nights later, Adell says. . . Willie F, Tilford Wade, Lester & Ulysses came tonite. Everything was too moribus. And like today, music was a prime drawing card for the dating age group. . . We played “Silver-Haired Daddy" (Colin and Jim). There was apparently a popular game called "Fortunes" that the boys and girls enjoyed playing together because Adell speaks of it over and over. . . We tried fortunes — Lester, Charlie, Ira, Jim & Colin.

Summertime meant driving the cattle. On August 30, 1934, Adell says..Rainy. NRA, Jonsie & B to Beach in Elswood ’s boat. They were driving cattle. Went to see Audrey and Dora. How scared I was of the cattle coming back. Stopped here and ate cantaloupes. Cattle were allowed to roam freely on the Beach. This "Beach" was an area of land, rather more like a strip of land, next to the Atlantic Ocean and directly across from the community of Knotts Island. Only a body of water known as Knotts Island Bay provided separation. Families marked their cattle, left them more or less to fend for themselves on the sandy beach/small islands surrounded by water in the Bay until close to selling time. Prior to the sale, efforts were made to fatten up the cattle by working them in closer and closer by feeding methods. Finally they were put on barges or in some cases swam over to Knotts Island and placed in other pens. Then soon they would be on their way to market.

Car dates sometimes meant leaving the Island to attend plays and other forms of entertainment in Virginia. Adell mentions a tent show and even a circus at Creeds that she and Bill once attended. Another fun place to stop by and visit was the little restaurant run by Adell’s classmate named Alvah Jones. Alvah had graduated with the sisters and was a very good friend. He was born with a physical deformity — his neck was practically non-existent and his back was hunched up a little and this caused him to be shorter than everyone else. His father, Paul Jones, operated Jones Brothers General Merchandise Store with his brother, Herman, just across the road from their home place. The merchandise store once stood on the corner of today’s Cason Point Road. Alvah’s little hangout was just across from his father’s, a small but very "in" place to go for cokes and ice cream. So many, many diary entries mention the car trips to Alvah’s for ice cream. Most likely this store served as a place to ride out to with your fellow. It also provided Alvah with a productive way to spend his days. The author wonders if Alvah’s store didn’t attract the age group that Paul Jones was happy to be rid of!! And yet another popular store to stop and visit was Halstead’s located in the little town of Creeds. Creeds was a drive of about 15 minutes in today’s 55 mph speeds, but longer in the 1930 era of dirt roads. Adell also describes going to the Creeds Café and stopping often at Casies Stores (Casey Munden’s was located towards the North End of Knotts Island) for a “Coco Cola."

During July there was some excitement in her diary...Saw the sky rocket. Tonite Bill & Harold C came and took us to practice for the play. I drove up to Casies. Bought LaLa Pops. Ha! Just in case the reader is wondering about the Pops item — it was suckers! The sky did occasionally provide something extra special It did to Adell on August 31, 1932. . .First eclipse I ever saw. Thought it would be a total one but it wasn’t (every 32 years). I wonder where we’ll be the next one in our old age. Ha! The author wonders if Adell thought she was OLD at age 49 when the next eclipse happened .... it’s doubtful!

Another very popular teenage entertainment was baseball, surely America’s most favorite sports game. And oh yes! Knotts Island had a very good men’s baseball team, and they played often at the schoolhouse yard. Young people and old alike came out to visit and socialize and perhaps, even occasionally they watched the game! Sometimes church or community organizations sold treats. One of the very good players was Colin Doxey. He had a quick hand and keen eye.

Adell did note on June 24th, having kept her diary now for a total of six months, that Colin read this book (not all). Colin must have been a very trustworthy fellow, in that he was allowed to have a quick look. As the years went by, hardly anyone EVER was allowed to read her thoughts. Bill F. tried to get a peek, but as Adell writes in April of 1935, Tonite Bill came. Got the key & said he was going to read my diary; but didn’t — ha! Had fun. It was interesting that the key was downstairs in the room used for entertaining company. Adell could have hidden the key easily somewhere in the house and never had to worry about any of the guys messing with her diary. This diary business of hers probably was a boy/girl fun-thing.

Scott Etheridge was a frequent visitor to see young Ruth, especially during the year of 1936 when Ruth was 18. In early June, Adell completed her third year at ECTC and returned home. Her diary on August 23rd reports — This PM Ruth, Scott, Bill & I went to Mr. Etheridge’s for grapes. Tonite Scott & Bill came. Again on the 31st she says — R & I went home with Scott & picked grapes in moonlight. Somehow or other, that last line about picking grapes in the moonlight was all about Ruth and Scott. Adell could have cared less about grapes so late at night, but per her mother’s rules, the girls could not be out with their fellows alone.

Our Nita, however, seemed to be forever playing hard to get. At different times in the diary Nita would do a fair amount of “riding out’ with Colin Doxey and Nelson Brock, just to name a few. It was young Ulysses Dixon, a Coasty (nickname for members of the Coast Guard) who got her attention and whom she would later marry. You would have never guessed the depth of her feelings by the manner in which the poor guy was treated. Nita told the author that Ulysses was six years older than she and stationed in New York. He had a pass to come home and sent a note letting her know he was on his way home. The night that he appeared on the doorstep she was already in bed. When Adell tried to get Nita to come down, she refused and left Adell to "deal with it” as Nita remembered. Two times Ulysses came and went. The third time he told Adell, "Tell Nita I won’t come back!" And he didn’t on that trip. Later after Nita and Ulysses married he would often say to her, "What in the world was so different about you than other people?? Then almost as an afterthought he would say, "Can’t anyone understand you!” The Nita lady was an elusive personality and it was obvious her fellow probably never did quite figure out that gal he married!!


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