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Stirring up memories



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More tales from Taylor Homes
January 26, 2005

 Imagine being far away from a California or New York or Iowa home, being a young, lonely young woman with maybe a baby on the way.  Imagine moving into a row of isolated apartments on a dirt road.  Imagine being faced with the unfamiliar sight of a wood stove to cook on, and living with other people’s left over furniture.

            Imagine making the most of it. 

            That’s what many young women—some of them only teenagers—confronted in Bainbridge during World War II.

            I have more Zachary Taylor Homes stories to tell.

            Recently, Glenn Gunsallus shared his tales of a long Christmas dinner held at these homes near the Southern Airways School during the Korean Conflict.  Glenn’s story triggered some earlier memories from Virginia Wilson Smith who wrote to me from her home in Valley, Alabama after reading about Glenn’s long dinner.

            Last year, Virginia shared her stories of growing up in Wilsontown in the Pine Hill Community.  The memories ended about the time Virginia graduated from high school in 1938.

            Now she recalls the war years when she worked, like many Bainbridge residents, at the airbase. 

            “It was probably one of the best jobs I ever had,” Virginia recalls.

            A young wife herself—her husband was serving on an LST ship in the South Pacific—she  worked in the office of the Zachary Taylor Homes from around 1944 until they closed at the end of the war.  She recalls that the manager of the home was Charlie Stripling.  Dolly McNease was the office manager and Thomas Josey was in charge of maintenance. 

            There were two projects, she continues—one on the highway and one on the base. 

            The homes were a project of the Federal Housing Authority.  Virginia worked in the morning at the location on the highway, and then Thomas drove her over to the other location where she spent the afternoon alone.

            “We had (as a whole) real good tenants.  They were there to support their husbands and they put up with unusual living conditions.  Can you imagine?” 

            She goes on tell how when the tenants came to the office for their mail or to pay the rent, they often shared their frustrations and disgust.  But in spite of all the hardships, “they were determined to stay there as long as their ‘fly boy’ was there.”

            It wasn’t all hard times.  A recreation hall sat nearby the highway location.  There the residents could get together for pot luck suppers and teas and other social functions.  Once there was a big square dance and folks from throughout the community attended.

            Another gathering place was the Post Exchange.  Virginia, since her husband was in the service, shopped there right along with the Taylor Homes residents.  “Just about everything was scarce; if I saw it at the PX, I bought it.”

            In those days of scarcity, frugal cooks made do with whatever they could find—at the PX or local grocery.

            This recipe dates from that era, a good cake that doesn’t use up the hard-to-come-by sugar.

Butterscotch Sugarless Cake

1/2 cup Crisco 

1 cup white corn syrup

2 eggs, well beaten

1 package (3.5 ounces) butterscotch pudding mix

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 /3 cup buttermilk

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

            Preheat oven to 350-degrees.

Beat together Crisco and corn syrup in bowl. In another bowl, combine eggs, pudding mix and salt. Add to shortening mixture.

Add buttermilk alternately with combined flour, baking powder, and baking soda. Mix well and add vanilla.   Divide batter evenly between two greased and floured 9-inch cake pans. Bake in preheated oven 30 to 35 minutes or until done. Remove from oven, cool completely then fill and/or frost as desired.

Virginia completes her remembering with a strange but believable story.  As training slowed down, FHA closed the housing project.  “It was while we were closing the office and securing the homes that Jordan Construction Company came in and began paving the streets…We learned that once the contract for paving was let, it could not be cancelled.”

Virginia concluded her fascinating letter, “Thanks again for allowing me to reminiscence a time more than 50 years ago when my salary for the year was $1,050.00.”

But it’s the other way around.   Virginia—now over 85—deserves our thanks for sharing her vivid and fascinating memories.

I hope she will do it again.

            A little over a year ago, Virginia gave me a great recipe.  It sounds just as good today.

Praline Sweet Potatoes

3 cups mashed sweet potatoes

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 tablespoon vanilla

1/2 cup sweet milk

1/2 cup butter

            Mix all ingredients together and put into a buttered 2-quart casserole. 

            For the topping,  combine 1 cup brown sugar, 1/3 cup flour, 1/3 cup butter, 1 cup chopped nuts and sprinkle over the potatoes.  Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

If you have some Taylor Homes or other home front memories, you can e-mail me.

Post-script:  Glenn Gunsallus provided me with full identifications of the picture from his 1952 Southern Airways training class.  Thanks, Glenn.


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Trilla Pando is a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance & the Story Circle Network