Chapter Four - My Childhood Days

	I was born in Pensacola, Florida in an area called Gaulding. I
thought I was born April 5, 1922 and celebrated my birthday April 5th
until I needed a birth certificate to join the Navy when I was 20 years
old. I found there was no record for a Thomas Roy Bowerman anywhere but
there was a record for a male child, surname Bowerman, no given name,
April 6th, 1922. What a shocker! You know all your life that all great
people are born on April 5th and suddenly you have to readjust your
thinking. I had a sneaking suspicion all along that April 6th was really
the greater day, and I was right of course.

	When I was very young we kept moving from town to town. Many of
the towns were just repetitions of other towns we lived in, with nothing
significant happening. I have selected only the towns where something
significant happened. It is also worth mentioning that we moved back to
Jackson, Mississippi several times and that we usually went to
Smackover, Arkansas between towns. I went to more than a dozen different
schools before I got to high school.

	My earliest memories begin in Jackson, Mississippi. I can
remember almost everything since I was five years old. One of my
earliest memories is when I was around five and was sexually abused by a
man. I remember telling my Dad about it. Dad went to the police and
there was a trial. I had to tell the judge what happened and the man
said something while I was talking. He ran up to the judge to say it and
the judge reached across and hit him on the head with his gavel. They
finally decided he had mental problems and put him in the asylum. I do
not remember it ever being a great embarrassment or causing me any
problems. Maybe it will show up in later life. After all, I am only 75
as of the time I am writing this.

	We lived on South Gallatin Street in Jackson. There was a
commissary that Dad was a partner in and our house was next door to it.
It was a very large frame house and built like many of the day. The
front was fairly close to the ground and as you went back it got higher
and higher off the ground and at the very back an adult could walk under
it without bending over. The yard was dirt, with no grass at all and one
end of the lot had hedges about 12 to 15 feet high. There were several
china berry trees and a low wooden fence about the middle of the house
on one end running over to the hedges. The back yard was fairly level
and there was a garage in the back. The front of the lot was about four
feet above street level and the dirt bank was great for digging tunnels
and roads for play cars. There was very little traffic on South Gallatin

	The house had a large porch all the way across the front and
there was a swing on each end and a lot of chairs. Mother had 24
boarders and they sat on the porch a lot at night. There were windows
opening on to the porch and you could sit inside behind the curtains and
listen without being seen. I sat in there a lot listening to Dad and the
boarders talking. Most of these men were alcoholics, many afflicted with
what was called Jake leg, said to be caused by drinking vanilla extract.
These were truly men with broken dreams and it was amazing to hear the
experiences of some of them. One had been a doctor and one had been a
lawyer and several had been white collar workers with good jobs and were
well educated. It was a liberal education in itself to listen. I thought
they might be just telling lies but became convinced that most were
telling the truth.

	Juanita and I shared a bed when we were very young and later
shared a room. Herman stayed with the boarders. They had cots very close
together to make the best use of the space available. We had a large
radio and Dad would always come home and eat supper, then listen to Amos
and Andy, Fibber Magee and Molly and similar programs after he had read
the newspaper from front to back. We were not allowed to speak or make
any noise while Daddy was reading the paper. Dad just had a second grade
education but he had taught himself how to read, write and handle math.
Dad was not an ignorant person; he was very intelligent. He was a Mason
and belonged to several organizations.

	Dad had what was called a carbuncle, on the back of his neck and
it gave him a lot of problems. He told the doctor to come by the house
and remove it. The doctor came in and I asked if I could watch and Dad
said it was okay. Dad pulled the bed out from the wall and sat down on
it and leaned back against the low headboard. The doctor opened his bag
and got a bottle of whiskey out and gave it to Dad and he drank the
entire contents in one long drink. The doctor got behind the bed and
shaved Dad's neck and wiped it off with something and started cutting.
Blood went everywhere but it did not seem to bother the doctor. He cut
really deep into Dad's neck. He finished up and bandaged it and Dad went
to work the next day as though nothing had happened. He had an awful
scar on his neck the rest of his life but the carbuncle was gone forever
and never bothered him any more.

	Part of the time in Jackson my Mother cleaned house, washed and
ironed clothes, cooked and washed dishes for the family and all the
boarders. This was a back breaking job when you consider that we had no
washing machine, just large tubs and a rub board. The sheets alone were
more than enough for one person. Part of the time my Mother worked at
the commissary and a Black lady named Laura did the cooking and house
work. Another Black lady named Charlotte helped out. I loved them both.
Laura was young and fat and cheerful all the time and Charlotte was much
older and thinner. She was my favorite and we talked a lot about almost
everything but the difference between whites and blacks. Charlotte would
not talk about that but she did tell me once that the black would not
rub off on me. She had a son named Feazell and I liked him, too. Feazell
told me once that if I was ever black for just one Saturday night I
would never want to be white again. I do not want to give the impression
I was not prejudiced. I can remember always thinking as a child that I
was better than blacks, that they were like a lower form of life. My
Mother was also prejudiced but she had a conscience. Bill Harrell was
the other partner in the commissary and when a black came in for a
single plug of chewing tobacco Bill would often charge them for a box of
12 plugs and make them put their X on the ticket. My Mother would watch
for this and the next time they came in she would give them the other 11
plugs and tell them they had paid for it.

	Eugene Graham owned the heading mill. He was a real fat man,
weighing somewhere around 400 pounds. He had a daughter named Emma who
weighed between two hundred and fifty and three hundred pounds. Mr. Graham
had a special car with one large door on one side and extra
springs on that side. Bill Harrell was a really nice looking man, trim
and well built. He married Emma to get the Graham money. I do not think
he thought either of them would live very long. Mr. Graham did die young
but he lost all his money in the stock market crash and died a pauper.
Dad told me many, many years later that Emma looked like she would live

	Bill Harrell and Dad had a partnership agreement that stated
either one could sell to the other at any time for a stated price and if
the other would not or could not buy them out then that partner could
buy the other out for the same amount. Bill waited until Dad finished
one of his binges and had spent everything he had and could not raise a
penny and offered to sell out to Dad for five hundred dollars. Dad's
half was probably worth ten thousand or more but he could not raise five
hundred dollars. Bill gave him five hundred and bought out Dad. Dad had
always gone back to Mr. Graham when he sobered up and Mr. Graham would
fire him and Dad would tell him he could not fire him, he worked there.
Sooner or later Mr. Graham would laugh and tell him to get to work. This
time Mr. Graham introduced him to a man named Kellogg and told Dad it was
all over, Kellogg was the new foreman. Dad came home and got all the
Kellogg cereal out of the pantry and jumped on it and threw it out of
the house. We were never allowed to have Kellogg's in the house after

	Marion Simmons was my best friend and anywhere you saw one of us
you saw us both. In Jackson, Marion and his folks lived across the
street from us. Marion had two sisters, Ruth and Bettye, and a younger
brother named W.J.. I guess I was always in love with Bettye but she
never took me seriously as she considered me to be too much like family.
Their mother was Mattie Simmons and their father was Earl Simmons. Earl
was much, much older than Mattie. Earl was also the best Christian I
ever knew. When he got really frustrated he would say "dad dum it" and
then ask forgiveness for that. I never heard him curse. He was very
strict with his children. I remember Marion getting a fake cigar once
that had some glittering red stuff on the end and Earl went out and got
a switch and switched him real good. Marion was yelling it was a fake
and pressing it on Earl's arm to prove it but Earl told him it was wrong
to have it because it showed you wanted to do it.

	The Simmon's made less money than our family and were at poverty
level. The Edward's Hotel in Jackson had a big Christmas party for the
under privileged every year. They somehow got a really tremendous tree
in the lobby and stood it up in the center of a spiral stair case. The
children got a good meal, talked to Santa and Santa gave each of them a
very nice present. I was not going to be able to go because Dad made too
much money and I was really disappointed. Then Dad handed me a ticket
and told me to have a good time. I had a great time and remembered it
for years as the best party ever. Then Herman told me Dad had told Earl
Simmons he would have to give me one of his tickets and Ruth did not get
to go. I was really hurt and embarrassed when I found out and I guess
Ruth hated me all those years and I was not even aware of it.

	Earl Simmons was a man of many talents. He could draw great
cartoons, had been in vaudeville and was an electrician, could re-wind
motors and many more things. He used to have hooks in the floor and
would put on his vaudeville act. He had rings in the heels of his shoes
and could fasten them to the floor hooks without you being aware he was
doing it and lean any direction almost to the floor. Earl also knew a
lot about radio and he dabbled with inventing. He came up with an idea
for a slanted radio. All radios had been straight up and down and a pain
to stoop down to tune. Earl designed a special cabinet and wrote a
cartoon about what he called "No stoop, no squat, no squint" radios. He
sent it to Philco with the assumption they would pay him for the idea. A
few months later they came out with the model and used his slogan and
cartoons to advertise it. After he heard nothing he sent his idea in for
a patent and wrote Philco. Philco claimed to him they had the idea in
the mill for a long, long time but the patent office told him Philco got
a patent a few weeks after Earl mailed them his material. Earl was also
a song writer and you still find some of his hymns in church hymnals.
Earl wrote a special song to be sung only at his funeral.

	When I was about eight years old, my best friend, Marion, was
much older. Marion was a full nine years old. We were really close
friends. Every evening about eight PM Marion and I headed North on South
Gallatin Street to the railroad tracks and then up the tracks into
Jackson. The downtown area was maybe 3 or 4 miles from our homes (across
the street from one another) depending on how much out of the way we
went exploring things. When we got downtown we headed to the Jackson
Clarion-Ledger and bought our newspapers for three cents apiece. We had
to decide how many we could sell as we had to "eat" the left overs. We
then headed to our block assigned to us by the Clarion-Ledger. Marion
always sold three or four times as many as his side of the street had a
cafe and mine had nothing but the Governor's Mansion. Very few people
walked that side of the street but you better believe that if they had a
nickel when they hit my block they had a paper when they left it.

	We usually sold papers until two or three in the morning or
until we sold out (not often) or until some new policeman thought we
ought to be at home. If we had a real good night we would go by the all
night bakery and buy a sack of day old cookies. We could get a sack the
size of a large grocery bag almost full for 25 cents.

	We would head for the tracks and work our way back to South
Gallatin Street. Sometimes we picked out a track and stuck to it. If
there were box cars side lined on it we went up and over and down the
other end. Often this included going down into and through gondolas.

	We would get home somewhere between three and four AM and
sometimes we stayed at my house and sometimes we stayed at Marion's
house and at times we just stayed up all night talking. We were at a
tender age but our parents never seemed to worry about us. If someone
had mentioned drugs we would have thought they were talking about
Grove's Chill Tonic or Syrup of Pepsin or maybe Carter's Little Liver

	I remember so much about Jackson. My memory has dulled very
little. There was a small house behind the commissary and a childless
couple named Sledge lived there. They used to get in terrible fights but
if anyone mentioned the noise they always said they were "killing
roaches." When other people got into arguments they got to where they
said they were killing roaches. Sometimes if you wanted to fight someone
you would ask them if they wanted to kill roaches.

	Mr. Sledge was really a nice man and he loved children. He took
us fishing in the Pearl River a lot of times. I remember one time I went
fishing with Mr. Sledge and he decided there was a better spot on the
other side. The Pearl was shallow enough to walk across in a lot of
places and was very deep in other places but Mr. Sledge knew the river
for miles around Jackson. He told me to follow him and we started across
and about the time he stepped in a hole up to his chest I went in over
my head and the current took me down river. I could not swim then and
cannot swim now as I have no flotation at all. I must have been taken
half a mile when I hit a stump and grabbed and held on for dear life. Mr.
Sledge had been running, crawling and swimming trying to catch me and
when I hit the stump he was right behind me. He took me to the bank but
fishing was over for the day as all the equipment was gone.

	Many, many years later I read an associated press release about
two children drowning in the Pearl River and it mentioned Mr. Sledge's
name. I called someone in Jackson and found out it was the same Sledge
who used to take me fishing. I guess I lucked out. I cannot recall Mr. or
Mrs. Sledge ever being employed. I am sure one of them must have been but
it seems he was always available when anyone wanted to go fishing. One
thing is for sure; he was a nice man and never molested any of us.

	The Commissary delivered groceries and also had to pick up meat
and other items around Jackson. They had a Studebaker spring wagon and a
horse. My brother Herman did most of the delivering and picking up. He
would hitch that horse to the wagon and go charging off at a full
gallop. The horse hated Herman and bit him on the chest once. Herman
picked up something to hit the horse with and before he knew what had
happened Dad appeared and took it away from him and hit him with it
several times.

	I remember also in Jackson that Black people were often arrested
for looking at white women "in a lewd manner." Blacks were supposed to
look at the ground when they were around white women. When you are
raised in these surroundings and under these conditions I think it is
impossible to be totally unprejudiced. I know I have some prejudices and
maybe more than I realize. I never claim to have Black friends. I am
acquainted with several Black people that I like very much and enjoy
being with them and talking to them but friendship is more than that and
I would not say they are true friends that I share confidences with and
support and defend like a friend. I guess I am a bigot to a certain
extent. I know I can not deal with inter racial marriages. The thought
of a Black guy making love to a white woman turns me off totally but the
idea of the reverse does not sound as bad. Yes, I guess I am a bigot,
but on the other hand I am not a hypocrite. No, I would not want my
Sister married to one. On the other hand, if I was Black I am sure I
would be militant and would probably feel whites were inferior. No one
would stop me from doing anything a white was allowed to do.

	Many things happened in Jackson and when I sit down and
concentrate I can remember event after event and even many, many
conversations. I just recalled a large sign board on South Gallatin
Street, 3 or 4 blocks North of our house. It was very high and had
several support cables. Someone had loosened one of the cables and put a
short pipe around it and fastened it back but with a lot of slack in it.
The pipe had a ring welded to it and a rope tied to the ring and to the
top of the sign board. We used to climb up the sign board and take the
rope and pull the pipe  to the top, then hold on to it and ride down the
cable. We had to hit the ground with our feet just right and start
running and turn loose or we would slam into the post the cable was
fastened to.

	There was also an old mill close to our house that had been run
by steam engines and belts and pulleys. There was one wheel still in its
bearings that must have been ten feet in diameter. We would climb up and
put our hands on a rafter that ran above the wheel and work ourselves
over until we were above the wheel and drop on it and then start walking
to turn the wheel and see how fast we could get it going. Sometimes two
of us would get on it facing opposite directions and one walk backwards
and one walk frontwards.  And sometimes one of us would get thrown off
and wind up on the ground hoping we did not get under the wheel. How do
kids keep from getting killed doing things like that? I surely do not

	The one close White friend Herman had in Jackson was eventually
Chief of Detectives in Jackson and Herman was eventually an alcoholic
and wino. How do things like that happen? I do not know. I do know that
Herman would not go to Jackson after he got so bad as he did not want to
do anything that would embarrass his friend. Herman was often arrested
wherever he was.

	There was a small town just outside Jackson and I remember Dad
telling about this woman driving through there doing fifty miles an hour
or some other outlandish speed for the time. There was a speed breaker
at each end of town and she hit that breaker and bounced in the air and
made an awful ruckus. The police nabbed her and took her to the Justice
of the Peace and he fined her $10, a really big fine in those days. Dad
said she handed the Justice a $20 bill and started out and he said,
"Hey, wait for your change." Dad said she looked at him and said, "Keep
it, I will be coming back through on the way to Jackson in an hour or
two and it will save me a stop. "

	The only kids I knew in Jackson who ever really physically
mistreated Blacks were the Walls brothers. One was named Ralph and I
forget the name of the other. They always carried glass milk bottles
with them and if they met a Black kid and he did not get off the
sidewalk until they passed one of them would break a milk bottle over
his head. If one said anything the other would break another bottle over
his head and tell him to shut up or he would kick him in the heel where
he kept his brain. The Walls boys always said, "If you really want to
hurt a Nigger, kick him on the foot ." I suppose the Walls boys
eventually became Bubbas.

	There was one thing I did for the first time in Jackson that I
have never told anyone about because I have felt no one would ever
believe me. I did it several times there and also later in Bonita,
Louisiana and in Aberdeen, Mississippi. I would lay down on the bed and
concentrate on what I called floating. If I could concentrate enough
without being distracted by anything I could get my body to raise a foot
or so off the bed. I thought at first that I just imagined it or even
dreamed it but I know it happened. I often dreamed, and still have the
same dream, that I did this and caused my body to move around the room.
I cannot remember ever actually moving any direction except vertical but
I know that did happen quite a few times. I also know that I have been
out in a field and marked a spot to jump from and ran to the spot and
jumped and appeared to become almost weightless and jumped as far as
fifty feet. I cannot explain this and it sounds so stupidly impossible I
have never told anyone about it. About once or twice a month I still
dream I am walking and my feet go into the air and I fold my arms and
put my hands under my head and move feet first horizontally. It feels
real. I do know I was able to distinguish between dreams and the real
thing when I was a kid.

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