By Bea Hanna-Royce
Over the Hill Twice
Thank you, Mayrene, for jogging many memories.
My dad, Arch Hanna, owned the Central Garage just across Mill Road from the post office in our small town. Once in a while, Mr. Kingsley, the postmaster, needed a substitute rural route deliveryman. Dad was on call. Uncle Harold could run the garage for a few hours.
Occasionally, Dad would allow me to ride along. What an adventure. As he delivered letters, newspapers, and packages, I enjoyed seeing pastures with horses and cows, children playing in yards and farmers working in the fields, and hearing birds chirping in the trees of the forested areas. All that and we talked, just me and my dad.
About halfway through his route, we were coming to the Johnson farm. Dad would tell me to scoot down in the seat so I wasnt visible through the window. He said they would try to get me because they were black folks. I would stay down fearing for my life. At the same time, they didnt seem scary to me.
There were always little children playing near the house, so some came running down the driveway to collect the mail from the box beside the road. They seemed to be so happy, having such a lot of fun.
Mr. Johnson shared harvesting the fields with my grandfather, Ernest Altenburg. They were good friends. I remember going with grandfather to collect the birthday cake Mrs. Johnson baked for my grandmother. He took me and my little brother, Ernie, with him to their farm. Mrs. Johnson was so happy to see us she picked Ernie up to cuddle him. He took one look at her smiling black face and started to yell at the top of his voice. Kicking and crying, she handed him back to grandfather.
Mostly, I remember the cake. It was so large it just fit inside a bushel basket. It was just beautiful, white frosting with pink flowers around the top. Mrs. Johnson was an artist. Some of the children peeked out at us from adjoining rooms, but they didnt come into the kitchen. After Ernie stopped howling, Grandpa picked up the big basket and got us back into his car to go home.
Next day, Sunday, the Altenburg family gathered at the farm to celebrate Grandmas birthday. The cake was the main attraction. After dinner, Grandma cut the cake into pieces for everyone, and all raved about how good it was. Mrs. Johnson would have been pleased to hear their compliments.
I went on some other mail delivery adventures with my Dad. After the birthday party, after the cake, I never felt any difference between us. We were all human beings trying to do our best. The Johnsons were the only black folks in our area, and for many years there would be one in each class at Townville High School.
Wesley was in my class. He was always just one of the kids, until we graduated. As seniors, after our graduation ceremonies we had a class trip. We rode a Lake Liner from Cleveland, Ohio, to Detroit. When we debarked in Detroit, we went by bus to the Village, where we had reservations for lunch. The bus driver took Wesley to a different place to eat. No blacks were allowed where we ate. It spoiled the meal for all of us. The same thing happened when it was time for dinner. We were a bunch of small town kids being initiated into the real world.
When we got home from the trip, we learned that Wesleys brother, Robert, had been drafted into the Army. He was petrified. He didnt know how to act black. It wasnt long before Wesley was drafted, too. He was assigned to a southern post and he was sure he would be killed because he didnt know how to walk in the ditch and only patronize black places. He wasnt. He survived World War II and came home to become the most successful member of our class, our millionaire, building bridges.
The last time I went back to Townville for our 60th class reunion, I went to visit Wesley and his wife at their farm. He took me on a tour of his place, mostly proud of his fish ponds. While I was there, my niece, Ashlee, came to Ernies house looking for me. When she asked, he told her, Beas visiting her (black) friends. Some people just never grow up.
Ernie ran a business for many years. He served black customers as well as others, although there were only a handful in that area. For some reason, he never got out of the dark ages.
I am glad I did right from the gitgo.