Nelle struggled on through life doing her best at the jobs she could find. She was a hard worker and through her mother’s training, she was a young woman with morals and values. The family attended church every Sunday and the Bible was a focal point of reading at home.
Unfortunately, nearing 19 years of age, Nelle met a handsome young man named Joseph Whitehead. At about the same time, her younger sister began dating Joe’s brother. It wasn’t long until the two couples married. And within a year Nelle and Joe had a son, Joseph Eugene Whitehead. The marriage was not to be long-lived as Joe was an alcoholic and found it entertaining to batter those whom he proclaimed he loved.
The divorce was final in the mid 1930s, during difficult years for the country and the city of Nashville. Nelle struggled once again to find work. A variety of jobs came her way. When the young men began to go away to war, she landed a job with AVCO working as a Rosie the Riveter on airplane parts. She definitely did her part in the war effort! However, that job ended when the boys began to come home and needed their jobs back, and once again Nelle found herself raising a young son and without work.
Luckily for me, Nelle found work at Foster & Parks in Nashville working as a devil for the typesetter who would become my father. A “devil” in the printing industry is someone hired to tear down the type which had been set to print something, and then to melt that metal down so that it could be reused. When her older brother learned about her new job, he told her to stay away from “that typesetter called Country Adams. He’s nothing but trouble.” Obviously, Nelle didn’t pay much attention to her brother’s comments, doing everything Country asked her to do, especially when he told her if she could bring him back a pack of Luckies, he’d take her to the movies. She did everything she could to secure that date, and came back with the Luckies and a smile on her face.
A promised date took them to the movies and out afterwards for a little clubbing. Country unfortunately had a bad habit with drink, and he became drunk. Nelle had strong feelings about alcohol and drunkenness and told him that if he wanted to see her again or have any part in her life, he’d have to clean up his act. It must have been true love for Country stopped drinking, and they married in 1945. They agreed not to add to the three children they had between them, but God intervened and I was born in February of 1946. Nelle’s son, Gene (or Bubba to me), was 14 and quickly became my hero.
Country’s two daughters, Virginia and Elsie, were young women already married when my parents married. They each had children born not long after my birth. It wasn’t clear to me why at the time but Virginia and Elsie didn’t visit us much. As I grew older, it became quite clear that they too had struggles with mama.
Between 1946 and 1954, Nelle suffered through four pregnancies, all of which ended in miscarriages. The reasons for these losses isn’t known to me, but I do know that she didn’t smile much during this time. Finally in November 1954 my young brother, Brad, was born. Brad cried and fussed a lot due to enlarged tonsils and adenoids preventing him from sleeping well. However, there was nothing to be done at such a young age. The lack of sleep took its toll on our parents.
I certainly didn’t like the idea of having a baby brother, and I made my feelings clear by carving with a ballpoint pen in a mahogany nightstand. My parents were constantly telling me when Brad did fall asleep: “Now, be quiet. The baby is sleeping.” I soon began to tire of this repeated instruction, so I chose my words carefully and went about creating my art. Neatly carved in that nightstand, until this day, are the words “Shhhhhh, baby is sleeping.”
No one seemed to understand the why behind my creation, nor did anyone take the time to ask me to explain. I felt left out, and at eight years of age the last thing I wanted around was a baby. Instead, I was punished, which I believe I deserved. It was after all an effort on my part to get their attention to express my needs, and I chose a very poor medium to deliver my message.
Brad’s arrival seemed to round out the family as my parents wanted it. Country was so proud exclaiming to all who would listen: “God has blessed me like he did Abraham with a son in my old age. He was 53 when Brad was born, and Nelle was 42. At their ages, a fretful and crying baby was indeed tough for them. Having an eight-year old carving up the furniture wasn’t helpful, and so they decided that there would be no more additions to the Adams household.
I choose not to address anyone else’s relationship with Nelle, or as I’ll call her from now on, Mama, as I don’t feel it is fair to delve into areas where I can’t confirm facts. What I do know about my life, and what I witnessed in my younger brother’s can be confirmed, and I share it willingly because it ties into the end of our journey and brings power and beauty to the finished story.
And thus begins the story of my life with Mama.