By Eula Golding Walters © 2015
Online: January, 2015
The time was early 1962. I was in my senior year at the smallest high school in the state of VA. Coal Creek housed first through 12th grades, and holds many memories for me, both good and not so good. But that's a story for another day.
I had lived and worked hard all my life on the farm where I was born and raised in Carroll County, Virginia, at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. As much as I cherish that home and those days now, at the age of 18 all I knew was that I had to get away ASAP!
I also knew that I didn't want to stay and work in Galax. The only available jobs were furniture and clothing manufacturing plants. I had watched my parents' eek out a living in those factories and knew it wasn't for me.
College was not an option. The money was not there. As much as I would love to have been an elementary school teacher, I had no one to guide me thru the process of applying for a scholarship or aid of any kind, even though my grades were in the high A's.
So, what to do with my life? In years past, recruiters had come from Washington, DC, representing the FBI. They talked to the graduating classes about the benefits of working for the FBI. Several people had done this and all seemed to be enjoying their life in the big city.
For some reason, the recruiters didn't show up the year I graduated, but I was determined. I had more reasons to go than I did to stay! I wrote the FBI and told them I was interested.
Within a week or so, two agents showed up. They met me in Galax at what was then the police station. They questioned me..."why do you want to work for the FBI?"...'I think it's a very respectable place to have a career.' "Do you have a way to get to DC?"....'Um....I guess...sure I do! My brother will drive me!' "Have you ever spent time away from home before?"....'Oh yes!' That is, if you count going on a field trip to a newspaper in Greensboro, or going to visit my sister in Bluefield, where I drank her Dr. Peppers and read her True Romance magazines while she was at work, as being away from home. "I see that you have a diamond on your finger. Are you engaged? The Bureau frowns on that"... 'Oh, no, I'm not engaged! I've broken up with him; just haven't given the ring back yet.' Had my fingers crossed behind my back on that one.
They then administered the Civil Service test, which I aced. We shook hands and went our own ways. Two weeks later I received a letter signed by J. Edgar Hoover, welcoming me to the family of the FBI! I was hired!! They gave me a June start date, but I was scheduled to participate in the State 4H Public Speaking Contest at Blacksburg in early July, so I wrote and asked for an extension to my start date and received it. Not sure I'd have the nerve to do that today.
I soon borrowed $300 from my Grandma, broke up with my boyfriend, went to Boaz Studio to have my picture taken so those who loved me would have something to look at in case I never made it back home; bought a few clothes at Cato's, and packed them in my new cardboard suitcase, won the speaking contest, bribed my brother John into driving me, and I was all set.
I was so happy to be getting away from all those chores that I barely noticed my Mother was crying on the day I left, as she handed me a new quilt she had just made, a pillow, and an iron that someone had given me for graduation. I left her with three small children to shuffle while she worked the farm along with her factory job. She was to have a new baby a year after I went away.
I'll always remember my and John's trip to DC. How we made it there is beyond my imagination. But make it we did. I remember driving along Rock Creek Parkway, past the zoo, the Capitol Building, and the Washington Monument, and thinking that all of this now belonged to me.
John dropped me off at a prearranged boarding house, within sight of the Capital Building, filled with other girls just starting at the FBI. I was so proud of myself for what I had accomplished. If I had only known what this little country girl, fresh off the farm was going to face in the very near future, I'm sure I would have run after that old Chevy Coupe and gone home faster than I came.
Girls from all over the country were at the boarding house. As the mistress of the house introduced the 'new girl' that evening at dinner, three girls from NY, (I couldn't understand a word they said!), began mocking my very hillbilly accent and the way I was dressed. Another girl, an Alabama belle, took up for me. Dorsey put her arm around me and said, or rather drawled, in the slowest, highest pitched, voice I have ever heard before or since, 'now, don't y'all be a messin' with this here youngin.' Then she said to me, 'Y'all be jest fine. I'll take keer of y'all.' She instantly became my best friend.
I went to church with a couple of the girls the next day...quite a contrast to the tiny Southern Baptist church I'd attended at home. We were on our own for lunch, so I ventured out on the street, dressed in my cut off, Daisy Duke denim shorts, a mid-drift, spaghetti strap top, and bare foot. I hadn't gone a block when two VERY big men fell into step with me, one on either side. I can't really tell you the things they said to and about me, but I'm sure you get the idea. I never once looked up or said a word...just kept glancing in the store windows for the first restaurant I could find. Finally I spied one and darted inside. Thankfully, they didn't follow me. I think I choked on every bite I ate, and please believe me when I say that I NEVER again ventured outside dressed in that attire!
On Monday, my first day of work, the girls told me to just follow them and do what they did. We walked just opposite the Capital Building to a bus stop. A bus came along and everyone began crowding on, pushing me further back in the line. I suddenly realized that everyone I knew had gotten on the bus and the driver was shutting the door! 'Watch the door, watch the door!' he was saying. Watch the door my eye! I was watching my future about to pull away from me! I locked my elbows on either side of that closing door, pushed it open, and somehow got on board. The driver looked at me and said, 'Little girl, when I say 'watch the door, I mean watch the door. Don't you ever pull a trick like that again!' What a way to begin my first day of my very first job!
Homesickness was the major illness of the day. I think everyone went thru it. I didn't realize that I had caught it till one day we were gathering, after pounding the streets trying to find a permanent place to live had turned up nothing. As we sat at the table in the little restaurant, I began to cry...and cry...and cry! I just couldn't stop, not having a clue that I had a terrible case of homesickness.
Things began to look up though when Dorsey, my friend from Alabama, and two girls from Ohio, teamed up with me, and found a furnished apartment in South East, DC. Oh my! I felt so grown up! We split the $125 monthly rent, which included the furniture and utilities. We also split the bed bugs that filled our mattresses and sucked our blood at night.
Boring!!! That's the best word I can use to describe my job. All the newbies were put in a training class. I was often asked to read aloud in front of the class, and just as often made fun of by another Southern, but not hillbilly, girl. But at least the guys liked me, each asking for a date, one after the other.
I did go out with a cutie from North Carolina whose uncle had tickets to a Senators/Yankees ball game. It didn't mean a lot to me then, but now I'm proud to say that I got to watch Mickey Mantel, Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra, and Roger Maris, play base ball.
Training was the best part of my job. After that it was pure boredom. We pulled out what looked like sewing machine drawers, from a mile long file cabinet, took them to our desk, and compared fingerprints with those on a card, and wrote the identifying marks on the criminal card. I invariable fell asleep, not being used to just sitting all day. We got two fifteen minute breaks a day, which we all looked forward to. We piled out into the huge hallway, many of the night-owls catching a few winks. Being my mother's child, I decided that a prank was in order to liven up the crowd. One of the guys was sound asleep with his head back and his legs sticking straight out and his ankles crossed. I untied and retied his shoe laces, tying both feet together. When the buzzer announced that break was over, he jumped up and fell flat on the floor. I cringe today when I think of doing such a stupid thing. I hope he forgave me.
All this took place in the Identification (or fingerprint) building, not in the main Justice building. I soon learned that I would not be carrying a gun, with a hat pulled down over one eye.
I also soon learned that you can't go from working hard on the farm, eating good-for-you food, to sitting all day, eating juicy hamburgers and fries, and keep that girlish figure. I went to DC weighing 125 pounds, and by Thanksgiving I was up to 170! I had lain away 10 outfits with my first pay, and by the time I got them out, I was two sizes larger and couldn't wear a one of them. I signed up for a soft ball team and began eating an apple a day till I lost the weight.
I went to DC not knowing how to swim, and actually I still don't know how. But I decided that lessons would be a good thing, so I signed up at the Y. I was doing pretty good, till the day we learned to dive off the high dive. I had done my patriotic duty that day, and given blood. (You got the rest of the day off work if you gave.) I didn't realize that I was weak from the blood draw, until it was too late. I climbed up on that high dive, and proudly did a belly flop into the water. I immediately sank to the bottom and never came up. It seemed forever before they realized that I was down there to stay, and came to my rescue. I didn't take any more swimming lessons.
My typing skills helped me to soon 'move up' to a typing pool, where I sat with 1000 others, typing up criminal records. What a crew we were! No visiting was allowed; the supervisors walked among us, carrying what looked like a whip. Thankfully, I never saw one use theirs, but we got the message. I'm sure that they went to schools all over the country, recruiting the ugliest, meanest, old maid school teachers they could find.
I was very naive, but it soon dawned on me that when a girl kept making trips to the bath room, looking pale, and holding her purse in front of her stomach, then later to hear her name being called over the loud speaker to report to her supervisor, then to see her come out, crying, clean out her desk, and walk out with out a word, that she was expecting a baby and wasn't married. This occurred at least once a week. I'm sure that life was hard on those young girls, who like me, had never before been away from home and supervision. I often wondered what happened to them. I had thought that everyone was just like me, and listened when they gave us the weekly 'talk' about not going to bars, going to church on Sunday, and never wearing blue jeans.
A girl from Pennsylvania befriended me. I had a vague feeling that she was a bit on the wild side, but I figured nothing could happen while at work. Then she invited me to go home with her for a weekend. The trip to the Steel City was interesting and uneventful. On Saturday night however, we went to a dance. Beer was flowing, and people kept urging me to drink and to dance. I had never tasted alcohol and this was not going to be the night I started. I had no natural rhythm, so I couldn't dance, and was the wall flower of the night. We later left, but instead of going to her home, two cars full of guys and gals went to the beer store and then drove to a secluded place to drink and dance and do other things. Talk about wishing I was anywhere in the world other than sitting by myself in the back seat of that car! On the way back to DC the next day, my friend feebly tried, but couldn't prevent the other two girls from taunting me. It was a most miserable ride! I don't think she and I ever spoke to each other after that, but about a month later, she too began the trips to the bath room, then the call to her supervisor's office, and then she was gone. I thanked God that I had stayed in that car!
Weekends were spent exploring. We would group up, catch a bus, and off we would go to the museums, the famous land marks, the Capital Building, Arlington Cemetery...anywhere we could travel by bus or foot.
We would cut thru the big hotels, getting glimpses of the rich and famous. We once came upon Floyd Cramer, playing my most favorite piano song in the world, 'Last Date'. Another time we saw Johnny Mathis, singing in that beautiful high tenor voice of his.
My favorite time of all was getting to see Ray Charles in concert. To say that I loved, 'I Can't Stop Loving You' was an understatement. I loved all his songs. I'd been trying to break up with a boy I had met in Blacksburg at the 4H conference, back in July. He was SO persistent, catching a bus all the way from Rappahannock County. I'd find him sitting on my doorstep, after I'd come home late from a date. Just as I was opening my mouth to tell him that it was over, he reached in his pocket and pulled out two tickets to a Ray Charles concert! Oh well, breakup could wait.
What a treat that was! I got my hair and nails done, bought a new black dress, and sat within 10 feet of the Master. His back-up was Diana Ross and the Supreme's, so I was double treated. I'll never know how it happened, but as he began singing, 'my song', one of his body guards came to my seat and asked me to go stand by the piano! After I pinched myself real hard, I followed him and stood beside Ray Charles as he sang, just for me! It was no problem whatsoever to break up with Bobby when he took me home that night!
Those days, in the early 1960's were ideal times to live and work in DC. It seemed there was nothing I didn't do, or no place I didn't go. Roommates came and went; we switched apartments like others switch shoes. Boy friends were a dime a dozen, and if one didn't show up, another would.
Changes did come though, especially with the Kennedy Administration. When I first went to work for the FBI in July 1962, there was not one black person working there. When I left the Bureau in late 1964, 90% of the workers were black. I realized that I was living in a huge movement of change. The winds of time were blowing, and would soon become a strong storm.
I enjoyed spending time with a fellow who had just gotten out of the Navy. We once sneaked onto Andrews Air Force Base in the middle of the night and climbed onto Air Force One! It was pitch dark, and as we were walking down the isle, I bumped into something sticking out into the aisle and did a flip right over two marines who were stowing away for the night. We all swore not to tell if the others didn't, and off Mike and I went looking for another adventure.
One night he decided it was time to go to Erie, Pennsylvania to visit his parents, whom he hadn't seen in more than a year. We hopped in his car and off we went. He got sleepy and had me drive. Never mind that I didn't own a driver's license, nor really knew how to drive. Believe me, the Pennsylvania Turnpike was not the place one should learn how to drive; so many tractor-trailers and so many long tunnels. Each time I met a tractor-trailer I just closed my eyes and prayed. And it worked! We arrived in Erie at the crack of dawn and I slept while he visited. His Italian mother made a mountain of spaghetti. We ate, and then they drove us around the lakes. We said goodbye and began the drive home. Somewhere along the way I feel asleep and slept till he shook me awake in front of my apartment. Going to work that day was no fun.
For a boy that I never even kissed, Mike was so good to me. One summer I went home by Trailways - a 13 hour drive - and brought back my 10 year old brother and 6 year old sister for a week. It was a week that none of us have ever forgotten. I took them to the zoo, to all the museums and famous statutes, to the Capital building. They loved the Smithsonian. Kay cried when she saw the Bambi that had been sacrificed for an exhibit. At the zoo we petted a new born lion cub that was lying out in the grass, completely unattended.
On the way home, as we waited for the bus at the Department of Justice Building, Ernie suddenly needed to go to the bathroom...bad. I asked if he could wait till we got home as I didn't know when another bus would come by. He tried, but just had to go. I took him inside the building and he was gone for what seemed forever. I finally asked a man to go in and check on him. He came back and said that he had wet on his clothes and was ashamed to come out. The man stayed with him while Kay and I walked to Khan's Dept store and bought him new clothes. I sure couldn't trust someone to do that today!
Mike drove us wherever we couldn't catch a bus to, even to the Chesapeake Bay. We all played in the water, Ernie and Kay seeing it for the first time in their young life, till darkness overtook us. Kay cried and cried when she let go of her helium balloon and watched it float out of sight. After dark we stood on the Bay Bridge and watched the electric eels light up the water.
I had adopted a little Shepherd dog that Ernie fell in love with. On the day they had to go home I took them to the train station, crated up the dog, and shipped it home. They kept that dog for almost 15 years.
I kept them so long that I had no time to take them home and get back in time to go to work. I had no choice but to put them on the bus by themselves. The driver put them in the seat behind him and promised me he would look after them. I can still see Kay's huge, round eyes as she looked at me over the seat bar as the bus pulled out of the station.
I later learned that they had a several hour layover in Roanoke, and instead of sitting in the station like they promised, they went out and walked all over Roanoke! My sister, Janet, was expecting them to get to the bus station in Marion around 7:00 in the morning, but was woke up by pounding on the door around 5:00 am. There they stood, holding hands and their one little cardboard suitcase, having walked all the way across town. Ernie was quite proud of himself.
I guess of all the things I enjoyed in DC, the most enjoyable was the fact that I could send money home and help out with the smaller kids. The first Christmas I felt like Santa himself, as I bought Kay and Nancy each a Barbie doll suitcase, filled with Barbies and extra clothes. I had laid away a bike at Vass-Kapp and was so proud to pay the last payment and take it home for Ernie. Can't remember what I got for Daddy, but I gave Mother money to buy herself new eye glasses. That was the year I learned that it truly is more blessed to give than to receive.
I guess the most exciting, as well as the saddest event that happened, was the assassination of President Kennedy. As tragic as it was, I will always be glad that I was in a place where I could witness the funeral events as they took place.
I remember going to the bank of pay phones lined the wall in the Identification Building, needing to make a call. I picked up the receiver of a phone and could hear excited chatter on it. I picked them all up, one by one, and each of them was the same. No dial tone, just frantic voices. Just as I got back to my desk, the PA announced that the President had been shot. Just a few minutes later it was announced that he was dead and that we were dismissed from work until further notice. In complete shock, we filed out of the building, joining the thousands of others filling the streets. No one was speaking; you only heard sobs coming from every direction. Traffic was at a complete standstill. There was no way they could get thru that mob of humanity.
The next day my roommate and I went early to the Capital Building. Standing there on the lawn, we watched the parade slowly making its way from the White House, up Pennsylvania Avenue, to the Capital Building, carrying the President's body. It was so sad to see the riderless horse, with the boots turned backward.
After this, as I stood on the lawn, I heard a commotion and looked up to see a small TV perched on a man's shoulders. I watched as Jack Ruby pulled a gun and shot Lee Harvey Oswald in the stomach.
At some point we were told to line up if we wanted to go thru the Capital Rotunda to view the body of the President. As we were walking to form a line, a large black limousine pulled up and parked directly in front of me. The door opened and Mrs. Kennedy stepped out, holding the hands of Caroline and John. I stood no more than three feet away from them. No one said a word, but just fell back in line and allowed them to pass. She never once raised her head.
We then began to form the line. Even though we were standing right in front of the Capital Building, once we finally got into the line, we were many blocks away. We formed a line of at least 10 people wide, and slowly moved forward all thru the night. I remember that we began to line up at two o'clock in the afternoon, and I went thru the Rotunda and placed my hand on the casket at 4:00 am, 14 hours later. We then went home and fell into bed, fully intending to get up the next morning and attend the funeral. We woke to the sound of the jets streaking across the sky, just after the funeral, in honor of the fallen President.
The next week, we were invited to a friend's home for Thanksgiving dinner. We were treated like grown ups! Dinner guests asked us about our experience and our opinions of it. Later, we sat around, sipping wine (my first ever) and watched as the new President, Lyndon B. Johnson, gave his first address.
I later was to meet Bobby Kennedy and shake hands with him, just a week before he was slain. As he asked me to vote for him, all I could think of was that he must have had a bad case of acne as a youngster, as his face was filled with pock marks. I was also there when Martin Luther King was killed, and watched as the looters attempted to burn down the city.
I had many other exciting adventures during those years, many good ones, but a few that are best stored only in my memory and not written down.
All too soon, it was 1968. I was married and had just birthed my second child. We realized that the city was no longer the safe place to raise a family that it had been just a few years before. We heard that General Motors was hiring, and soon moved our little family to Martinsburg, West Virginia, where I still live today; having raised four children, who have given me 15 wonderful grandchildren, as well as grand children-in-law, and great-grandchildren.
Much has changed since then. I divorced, went to work for and retired from the IRS, met and married my sweet boss, and life has been good. One constant that was born in me and remains to this day, is my love for those Blue Ridge hills I lived and roamed in my youth. I am blessed to have a second home in Fries, no more than 20 miles from my birth place. We love going 'home' as often as possible, again roaming those hills via the country roads, trails, talking to old and new friends, and listening to the beautiful, haunting ole time music. And the rest, as they say, is history!