The move to Mobile
by Jean Kearns, 1991
We lived in Camden until 1942 when we moved to Citronelle, Alabama, when I was in the fifth grade. It was a traumatic move for all of us. Daddy had been transferred to Mobile, 30 miles away, but because of the war and the thousands who had moved to Mobile for work in the shipyards there, he had to commute every day for over a year. Mom still tells of the moving van pulling away and the whole family crying except me. They all thought I was so brave. (I wonder if this commendation for not crying was the beginning of my efforts to suppress expressions of emotions.) I loved the old two-story home at the end of a short little street. I enjoyed the newly married couple from Canada who lived next door to us. I was accepted so readily in my new school situation that there was very little adjustment for me to make. The year there ended in great glory for me as I was crowned queen of May Day.
What fond memories I have of Monterey Street in Mobile, Alabama. Even though we were living in a city residential area rather than outskirts, we were still free to play and experience our surroundings. There was one large house between our home and the Bunch home, and Mary Alice Bunch and I became best friends. We spent many week-end nights together. On Saturday nights we would make fudge in our kitchen. We loved to slide down the bannister from their upstairs bedroom to their front foyer. Her mother was as relaxed as mine so we felt equally at ease in either home. We would lie on the grass in our yard and talk friend talk. Our differences in religion didn’t matter to us, even though Mobile was a divided city of Catholics vs. Protestants or vice versa. When we spent the night together, she would say her rosary and I would say my prayers. On special holy days, we would walk to St. Mary’s Church for her prayer time before going on to our Saturday afternoon movie. She couldn’t go to my church, couldn’t even get permission to be in or attend my wedding at First Baptist Church.
All the seventh graders in Mobile attended Barton Academy, a building used as a hospital in the Civil War and named after Clara Barton. Since I had never ridden a bus to school before, it was a great experience to walk to Dauphin Street every morning, meet my friends there, and ride a city bus downtown to Barton Academy. I was terrified the first few days of seventh grade, however, and felt that no one in my room liked me. It was the first time I had ever felt so alone. Had it not been for Martha Simon’s coming over to speak to me and including me in her group, I would probably have had a miserable year. I thought she was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen with her very blond hair and genuine smile. Martha and I were friends throughout high school, we had our senior tea together, double-dated together many times, and she was a bridesmaid in my wedding. In fact, it was Martha who introduced me to her boy friend who later became my husband, Jackie Kearns.
I had a rude awakening when I visited Martha’s home. Her father was dead and she was the youngest of four girls and one brother. Now, the siblings in our family had our share of disagreements and scrapping, but I was appalled at the screaming and fights that went on among the Simon sisters. I didn’t know anything like that went on in homes. However, the fight would be followed by such a display of affection, hugging and kissing, that you would think it was another family. I remember reporting to my mother about this after my first visit there that I would much rather live in our peaceful home with less affection shown than the way they lived. This was true, but secretly, I wished that my parents would have been more open in their display of affection toward us as we grew older, so that we siblings would have been more affectionate to each other.
Bunchy, my neighborhood friend, and I went through the heartbreak of rejection by high school sororities together. We knew it would be very unlikely for us to be asked to pledge one of the sororities because we were both new in town, but we hoped because we lived on such a nice street as Monterey, they would overlook the fact we had only lived there for about a year. However, we were not part of “the group” and rush day was unforgettable as the carloads of girls stopped at several homes on our street, ran up to the doors of the lucky girls, and informed them that they had been chosen. We cried, and we were almost ashamed to go to school the next Monday because we had not been selected. Now I had experienced discrimination, and it hurt.
Murphy High School was the only high school in Mobile at that time and it was like a college campus, with separate buildings for each discipline. After I learned my way around, I associated with several groups of friends because of involvement in different organizations, and felt a real part of the activities there.
Thinking of high school years brings back so many memories:
meeting new friends;
going home with Irene Coumanis every day for weeks after her mother died;
looking for Irene’s older cousin, Nick, in his red convertible and almost swooning when he passed and blew his horn;
receiving my first kiss from a boy, Billy Buckley, Bunchy’s cousin from Beaumont, Texas;
having slumber parties with my girl friends;
skating at night on the sidewalks throughout west Mobile with neighborhood friends;
visiting with Mr. Dooley, the old man who lived with his two daughters on our street;
picking spider lilies from a field and taking them to him when he had a stroke, and feeling sure I would never see him alive again;
baby-sitting with the sons of the young doctor who lived across the street from us and getting so angry at them the night they locked the bathroom door and papered the bathroom with toilet tissue;
enjoying the clothes my mother made for me, especially the beautiful formals she made for the proms and high school teas;
playing clarinet in the high school band and being excused from school to march in parades; especially fun were the Mardi Gras parades;
joining the hundreds of other students on the train to see the Murphy Panthers play the Montgomery Lanier team and spending the week-end with several girls at Frankie Wilson’s house;
sitting on my front porch and crying because we had heard the news of President Roosevelt’s death;
meeting Jackie Kearns, a member of the Murphy Barber-shop Quartet, at the lockers outside my home room and hearing from so many friends during the rest of the day that he wanted to talk to me;
dating Jackie almost exclusively during the rest of my Junior and Senior years at school;
becoming very active in the youth group and choir at First Baptist Church;
taking hay rides to Gulf Shore, watching the phosphorus on the water at night, and “necking” with Jackie;
worrying about my sister’s boyfriends who were fighting in World War II;
picnicking on the beach of Mobile Bay with the youth from First Baptist;
hearing the news of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on the car radio as we were returning from visiting my grandmother;
riding around Bienville Square blowing our car horns, laughing and crying, after we heard that the war was over.
I could go on and on. Those were happy days for the most part. I was a good student, not a great one. I was a good friend and I had some good friends. I was a good daughter, I think. I know that I never wanted to do anything that would hurt my mother and daddy. There was a relaxed atmosphere in our home. It was always open to friends of the children, and Mom had many guests for Sunday dinner. Many times, too, we had extra people living with us and they never seemed to be extra, but just part of the family. My Aunt Lucille lived with us several times and friends of my two older sisters would live with us as they came to Mobile to find work.
I did not live up to Daddy’s expectations in high school. Because my oldest sister had been Valedictorian of her high school class of less than forty members, Daddy expected me to be valedictorian of my class even though almost 1000 students graduated from Murphy that year. I felt he expected too much of me and jokingly told him I would never want to work as his secretary because he would be too tough. He is still a perfectionist. Even though he is blind and cannot take care of his bookkeeping himself, he insists in his gentle way that everything be done “just so”. And, as I reconcile his bank account and write checks for him when I am at home, I feel very concerned about doing it all “just so” in order to please him.
He was ahead of this time as far as insisting that his daughters prepare for a career and felt that business college was a necessity after graduation. So, graduation from high school was followed by a year of business college. The business college placed me in a secretarial position with a woman lawyer, Doris Van Aller. I worked for her over a year and never lost my feeling of awe when in her presence. She was a powerful woman, so different from most of the wealthy Mobile women, a civil rights activist before “the” time. Many poor blacks would come to her for help and many paid her with fresh turnip greems or sometimes just a thank you. Mrs. van Aller opened my eyes to the inequities which blacks faced daily in the Deep South. I knew that our family had always been kind to those who worked in our home, so I had never really considered the unequal treatment they were receiving.
During that year I became more and more concerned about my spiritual life. I knew I had been raised in a Christian home, but I had always been told taht the decision to become a Christian was an individual thing, not a decision your parents made for you, so when I was seventeen years of age, I expressed my faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and my Savior and asked for membership in First Baptist Church. This was the beginning of an understanding of God which helped to remove the fear of a dreadful God that had plagued me almost all of my life.
During the time I was working for Mrs. van Aller I was saving money and putting silver, china, and linens in my hope chest, all of the things a young woman was expected to do at that time. Daddy was pleased when I did the proper things. I had always been reminded more by Daddy than by Mom of the importance of doing what is expected of me and of being very careful to do nothing that would give the wrong impression to people. He never wanted a boy and me to go inside our house if they happened not to be at home because of what the neighbors might think. So, if Jackie and I returned from a date even in the wintertime and my parents were not at home, we would have to sit on the front porch swing until they came.
Jackie and I were beginning to make plans about our future. He loved music, was very active in the Mobile Opera Society, was studying voice under the finest vocal instructor in Mobile, Madam Rose Palmai Tenser, and was a soloist in the church choir. He was working at an electrical fixture company after high school graduation but had decided to pursue music as a career. To do this, he must go to college. I had applied to a teacher’s college, but because Jackie wasn’t able to go to college until he worked and saved money to go, I didn’t want to leave Mobile. His mother had insisted that he have typing and shorthand in high school and it was helpful as he worked in Mobile and then as he worked his way through college and seminary.
Jacques Merlin Kearns and I were married on August 25, 1950, in a beautiful wedding at First Baptist Church, Mobile.
Jean Hennesy Kearns
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