The Story of James E. Bennett, Jr.
in his own words
The Beginning - 1925 To Spring 1943
The Beginning - 1925 To Spring 1943
James E. Bennett, Sr. and family on the side of the road waiting for the tire to be fixed. Mrs. Bennett (Elizabeth Markham) is holding Jimmy (James E. Bennett, Jr.), and Edith and Gloria are standing beside her. Edith is the taller of the two girls.
The first home that I remember was on Crescent Avenue in Charlotte, N.C. It was a one story house with a front porch. The porch could be entered from either side as there was a curved brick wall that closed off the front of the porch and supported the overhanging roof. My father raised Chinese Chow Chows for a hobby, so we would always have one or more dogs around the house. During the summer nights a lot of times we would sit on the brick wall and Edith would tell scary stories to all who would listen. One night Edith was really telling a very scary story when someone started yelling and we all looked up and saw a white object coming right toward us. That broke up the story as we all ran inside the house. The object came right to the door. We were really scared. The object started barking and shortly my Dad show up and took the white sheet off the dog. He had walked the dog around the block and across from our home, put a sheet on him and sent him home. We lived in that house until 1936. During one of our trips to Charlotte in 1996, we drove by the old home. The Crescent Avenue area of Charlotte is still considered a very good area to live in. The house from the outside looked like it was in excellent condition. I remember chasing Gloria through the house and she ran into the dining room and closed the french door. I ran into the door, breaking the glass, and ended up with a long deep cut in my left arm. Almost bled to death. A neighbor rushed me to the hospital and later my father had to buy a new back seat for his car, because I bled all over it.
My father bought out Conner And Walters right before the depression that started in 1929. Conner and Walters was a barber supply house. Dad always drove Studebakers. Sometime in 1934 or 35 my father was loading out some heavy barber shop equipment into a freight elevator. He was walking backwards and the elevator gate was open and he stepped backward into the elevator. The elevator was in the basement and he fell two stories, breaking several vertebra in his back. He spent considerable time in the hospital. In damp weather his back always hurt.
Business was slow and he moved the family out to a home on North Tryon St. about four miles from the city limits in 1935. The land was located on Highway # 29 (North Tryon extension) and we were the first house on the left after you passed the city limits. He had the house built but due to the lack of money the house was not finished inside. The heating system was a fireplace in the front room that burned four foot logs, and a large pot-bellied coal stove in the kitchen. Water was by a deep well. We did have indoor plumbing with one bathroom. Air conditioner units and television were not on the market at this time. The house was not insulated, with vertical board and batten siding. We had around four acres with lots of trees, a 400 foot frontage on Highway #29 North, the main road north out of Charlotte. The house was located about 150 feet from the road on the north end of the lot and later he built a small office building for his business on the south corner of the lot, just off the highway right of way. The house was on one floor in an L shape with the front room and the dining room on the short leg of the L facing the highway (north south direction). The breakfast room, kitchen, bath room and three bedrooms were located on the large length of the L. We had an enclosed back porch and a large open front porch. The living room and the dining room were connected by an archway. The bedrooms and the bathroom were located off the hallway.
I started in the fifth grade in Newell School. Newell school had grades from first through eleventh. At that time all county schools had only 11 grades. Our classrooms were small. Actual I met Kathryn as she was in the same grade. Many of my classmates were a year or so older than I. We had around 35 in the class room. I was the city boy, as we were in a farming area. The people in those days were land poor. More land than money. That all changed after the World War II.
We continued to attend Sunday School and church at the First Presbyterian Church in downtown Charlotte. Mother and Father were long time members of the church. Edith, Gloria and I all became members of the Church. Both Edith and Gloria were married in the Church. Latimer, whom Gloria married, was also a member of the Church and so she stayed a member.
I don't remember much about school until I got into high school. Most of the boys took an agriculture course but several, including myself, took French. The only organized sport the school had was basketball. I was too awkward to play on the team, even though I was tall. Kathryn played on the girl's team. During our recess we played football in the fall and winter and baseball in the spring and summer. I could not hit the baseball and was not a very good player, so I was always the last player to be picked when choosing up sides. Football was a different story. I usually played quarterback and I could throw the football almost as far as I could throw a baseball. My running was good. We didn't have uniforms and it was a rough game. The school was set back from the highway with one way drive in and a one way drive out. The goal line was the two cinder drives going to the school and going out from school. One thing you would learn pretty quick was always cross the end line standing up. To be tackled on the cinder road was something you wanted to avoid to prevent from getting hurt or tearing up your clothes. There were three of us that ran around together, Edwin Lowrance, called the iron man, and Quillian Hunt, called Squire. I didn't have a nick name at that time. Ed was called Iron Man because he was hit by a car and caused a lot of damage to the car and he wasn't hurt. Quill was called squire because he could climb trees better than most boys. We were all tall, six feet or taller, and as a group we were called the three musketeers. There was a set of stairs at each end of the building, and we would take three steps at a time in unison and shake the two story building.
Ed. note: The story that I heard was that they were called "The Wrecking Crew".
Our gym was a log building and we used to go roller skating there on Saturday afternoons. I was a fairly good skater. At home my Father built a sand clay tennis court off to one side of our property. The summer was spent helping Mother And Dad in the office, making hair tonic, laboring and filling the bottles, going with him on his routes visiting the various barber shops, carrying the orders to the barber shops, working in the yard or walking in the woods behind the house. We didn't have a grass yard but there was always something to do such as cutting the weeds on the road side bank and raking the leaves in the fall. After the tennis court was built, I spent a lot of time cleaning the court, rolling and marking the lines. We always played on the weekends. Gloria and I played a lot during the week. Edith, after finishing high school in 1937 (11 grades), went to a business school to learn to work in an office. She ended up working in a small bank and several of the men that she worked with played tennis. They would come out on the weekends and play. It was one of the better clay courts in Charlotte at that time.
I remember very clearly Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. It was on Sunday. A lot of people didn't know where Pearl Harbor was. Edith had at one time dated a sailor, so we did know where Pearl Harbor was. No one had a high opinion of the Japs and were sure that the war would be a short one. I remember the laundry man picking up the laundry and saying to my mother that the war would be over before I got old enough to be in the armed forces.
The war helped dad’s business but everything was in short supply and gas, oil and tires were rationed. Dad did business with a small bank called Commercial National Bank, which by 1995 became the fourth largest bank in the United States under the name of Nations Bank. Too bad he didn't have stock in the bank. Charlotte was around 88,000 people at the time I finished high school.
Edith married Gene Kirk in 1947 in the First Presbyterian Church in Charlotte. Gene was one of the first draftees and ended up in an tank destroyer unit and basically was in combat from Normandy to meeting up with the Russians on the Baltic Sea. Gene turned down a battle field Commission and was a top sergeant. They started dating after the war. Gene also went to Newell School but was a couple grades ahead of Edith. After they were married, Gene built a home across from where his parents lived. They stayed there until they sold the land and moved out in December 1996. They had only one child, John. After the war, Gene worked as a rural mail carrier and also did truck farming. The Kirk family had a farm and Gene's Father was a mail carrier before Gene. In fact Mr. Kirk had three sons and all three were mail carriers. Bill Kirk was in my High school class. The other interesting thing about the area around the Kirks' land was that after the war, Charlotte College was started in 1964. Later the college was taken into the North Carolina University system and they built a campus on land around the Kirk's farm. The Kirk's land made the entire Kirk families very well off.
Gloria graduated from high school in 1938 but stayed home for a while as she was very young (15) when she finished high school. She went to a business school and ended up working for an insurance agency. She stayed in the insurance field and become well known in Charlotte's insurance field. She married Latimer McClintock of Charlotte in the First Presbyterian Church in 1949. McClintock is an old family name in Charlotte. Latimer's father worked for the U.S. Government in Washington D.C. and they retired to Charlotte. They had a house fire early Christmas morning in 1954 and neither survived the fire. Latimer went to work for Duke Power when he was still in high school, and joined Duke Power full time after he graduated from Davidson College. During the war he served in the army in the South Pacific area. When he retired from Duke Power, he had worked longer than anyone else at Duke Power. They had no children. Latimer died of cancer in 1983. They also lived in Charlotte. Latimer had many talents, one of which was painting. We have several of his paintings.
I learned how to drive when I was fifteen and would drive my dad around his sales route. I received my driving license as soon as I became sixteen. My first date was after I became sixteen as one had to have a car to get around in the area that we lived. During the school year I went out with Kathryn. I went to one summer camp at White Lake, N.C., but I never learn to swim. I graduated from Newell High School in 1942, (11 grades) and went off to N.C. State College located in Raleigh, N.C. in the fall of 1942. I enrolled in the engineering school. I really was not prepared for college and, in looking back, I did not study as much as I should have. I had a hard time with English and Chemistry.
During the Christmas break I decided to join the Marines, but my dad told me to complete the school year which I did. In Raleigh I stayed in a private home of Mr. and Mrs. Fred Brigman near the campus. They had several rooms which they rented out to students. They had a young daughter named Alma. I completed the college year, returned home to Charlotte and volunteered for the Navy. Dad signed the papers as I was underage. My first Sunday in the Navy I turned eighteen.