FROM A SPARK IN THE BALKANS
It never occurred to me until I started setting down the family annals that I knew little precisely about the doings of my mother's family between the days when my grandfather was involved in the campaign for establishing "The Training School" and the conflict which we today call World War I.
Much about what I have to say of these years is surmised by extrapolation rather than from documentation or from specific oral history, which was passed on to me.
So far I have quoted most often things told to me by my uncle, "Big Dave" Whichard, because he was the one who talked to me in the main about such things.
Also, I've said little about my mother because she was much gone from home and in the hospital when I was of the age to sit at someone's knee.
However, she was an unusual woman who, in some ways, lived an unfortunate life.
Mother was a talented person -- my grandmother often told me that Mother was very bright and the "best" student of those of her brood.
For her day and generation she was considered an accomplished musician --- she played the piano and the violin and was much sought in Greenville as vocal soloist for weddings and funerals.
I remember her lovely soprano voice, particularly when she sang in the choir of The Memorial Baptist Church when I was a tyke.
I was told that at an earlier time -- and this was likely in those pre-war years -- she had joined her father there.
He was said to have had "a fine tenor voice."
I would suppose that she mostly was studying these things in the interim era of our present concern.
Interestingly enough, she never told me with whom she studied.
I know that "Big Dave" was in the first graduating class from Greenville High School, but again my mother never made mention of any public school experiences, so my guess is that she was educated in the private academies upon which the community depended before public schools were established, around the turn of the 20th century.
At some point she also started writing, and knowing that she contributed pieces to The Daily Reflector one would suppose this is where those skills were honed.
I would also guess that at one time she was the principal member of the family who aided my grandfather with the newspaper, particularly in those war years when "Big Dave" was driving an ambulance in France.
She also was a correspondent for The News and Observer, the newspaper published in Raleigh by Josephus Daniels, and considered by many in eastern North Carolina as "the state paper."
"The Nuzum 'Zerver" -- as it was still called in my day -- would probably garner argument as to its pre-eminence in this regard with The Greensboro Daily News and The Charlotte Observer, but the presence of Daniel's paper in the state capital added to its credentials for that title.
Also, Josephus Daniels had entered upon the national political scene when he became U. S. Secretary of Navy in the wartime cabinet of President Woodrow Wilson -- his assistant Secretary was a young fellow from a blue-blood family in upstate New York named Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
"Big Dave" also told me my mother had at least one article published by a leading national magazine when she wrote about the childhood friends, the Wilson brothers and their army careers.
However, I never heard that this was a regular occurrence.
Suffice it that as a teen-ager and young adult my mother led an active life which was at odds with the withdrawal and seclusion which would mark her later years.
In my days she still wrote most of the "social news" for The Reflector which required more than a cursory notice, particularly weddings and formal parties.
It must be remembered that for life in a small town, somewhat remote form the affairs of the world, such celebrations were notable events.
Once the enabling legislation was passed for E. C. T. T. S. in 1970, Gov. Jarvis let no grass grow under his feet in getting the campus built, in putting Dr. Wright in place as president, and in helping him choose his first faculty.
In just two years the school opened and a student body of 104 women and 19 mean assembled on Oct. 15, 1909 to start the first school year.
Editor Whichard proclaimed it "Greenville's Glad Day," and many townspeople joined the student body at this their first convocation.
Gov. Jarvis and President Wright co-chaired the assembly and as the venerable ex-governor gave the benediction he passed the torch to Dr. Wright: "I shall be glad to advise you and help you, but you must be the leader."
Either in that first year or the next Essie Sheppard Whichard became a student at E. C. T. T. S., and it was here that she and her family learned that her next seventy years were to be plagued by recurring emotional problems.
As a training school student Essie suffered a "nervous breakdown" which resulted in her being admitted to The McGuire Hospital in Richmond, Virginia.
I know not what was then her diagnosis, nor how long she was institutionalized, but she apparently returned home with the expectation that her health was restored.
She did not return to school, but apparently did pick up again on her work activities with her father's newspaper.
It was during this period that she met Samuel Leon Bridgers, the man who was to become my father --- and who was then assistant manager of The Railway Express Agency under Henry Sheppard, my mother's uncle-in-law.
The early story of courtship of Sam Bridgers and Essie Whichard has been amply related in our previous annals of the Bridgers family.
My father later told me that he knew nothing of his fiancée's "breakdown" until their marriage had been arranged just after he returned form army service, and the ceremony was pending in few days time.
He also told me he didn't worry too much about this for he felt that once emancipated from the domination of an over-bearing though generous mother and older sister that his promised one would change -- besides she was a pretty young lady.
As is all opinions of man, he was part right and part wrong, but I'd be remiss to say I rue his decision -- I'm glad someone is here to write Shaggy Dog Chronicles.
Our aunt, Hennie, was the first born to our grandparents arriving in 1890.
Her given name was her mother's nickname, and for the purpose of sorting out who was being called, those of the generations before our labeled her "Little Hennie," a sobriquet which passed down in the family and extended beyond the family circle.
From early childhood she suffered severe and frequently recurrent bronchial asthma, with some symptoms evident daily, interspersed with dire bouts of status asthmatics.
Symptoms were brought on by over-exertion, respiratory infections, and ingestion of eggs to which she was violently allergic.
In the years, which I recall, she was most relieved by inhaling the acrid fumes from burning a medicinal powder, which she usually needed to do at least twice daily.
My mother told me that in their earlier years that medical advice had been for the family to move to the southwestern states, a suggestion which her parents found acceptable, but was not done because "Little Hennie" didn't wish to leave her hometown friends and surroundings.
My mother came along second when "Little Hennie" was three years old.
These years and ages are freely bandied about now, but during her lifetime "Little Hennie" would never reveal her age.
David Julian Whichard was their first brother and he came along when my mother was two years old.
Throughout this narrative he has been called "Big Dave," mainly to differentiate him from his father and grandfather, though the name came later in his life to discern him from his son.
This seems a good time to tell this story, though it does put the chronology of our tale a bit out of joint and does make the dog grow shaggier.
Father and son -- David Jordan and David Julian Whichard -- were neither large men physically, and if "Big Dave's" response to being assigned to the girls' recess period is remembered, most will realize his size.
Fully grown, "Big Dave" was about 5-1/2 feet tall.
When he and Virginia Suther were married in the mid-1920's their first-born was a son whom they named David Jordan Whichard III, though in truth, he was only the second with that specific name.
Immediately he became "Little David" and his father "Big Dave."
Ironically, "Little David" grew nigh to six feet in adulthood while "Big Dave" remained diminutive.
"Little Dave" eventually became "Young Dave" and finally just "Dave" while his father "Big Dave" to both his sons as well as his nieces and nephews, and finally to the friends of his sons.
The incongruity of man and name -- with its perverse appeal to absurdity -- likely gave the unlikely name an even further momentum.
It was nigh a ubiquitous sobriquet for him in Greenville when he died about five years ago, at the age of ninety-eight, the closest any in the family has come to being a centenarian.
"Big Dave" still went to The Reflector office daily until a couple of years before he died -- the Publisher Emeritus of the newspaper his father and uncle started in a country village; which he, his brother-in-law and siblings saw through lean times, and which his sons and grandson have carried into times of prosperity and expansion.
When The Daily Reflector was sold to Cox Publications (Cox Communications) in 1995 -- with a life span of 113 years -- it was the oldest business in Pitt County to have been continuously under single-family ownership and operation.
But back to our time.
You now ken the name "Big Dave" for a small fellow, but a name which matched the size of his heart and generosity and his standing in his community.
Having spent the bulk of his out-of-school hours in his father's newspaper plant since six years old, "Big Dave" probably slipped easily into full-time involvement in the world of work.
He had started as a messenger boy carrying cotton prices to downtown brokers and business houses, and ad-copy to the merchants for proof-reading and final acceptance.
And he worked his own way into proof-reading then writing.
However, from subsequent observation it seemed he was as much taken with the mechanical aspects of printing as with the editorial side of things.
The printing business was as much in the throes of technological changes as was the rest of industry, and the younger Dave Whichard was fascinated by the new experience.
In 1909 when "Big Dave" was a teen-ager The Reflector took one of its biggest steps towards modernization.
Linotype machines were installed and moved the venture from a painstaking manual undertaking to a mass-production mechanical one.
This must have seemed a piece-de-resistance to a youngster challenged by intricate innovations.
In my day three of these marvelous monsters, backed by large windows letting onto the sidewalk on Third Street, attracted an unending parade of curious on-lookers, and one can imagine what an attraction such mechanical marvels must have been as novelties a quarter of a century earlier.
This all seems a milieu made to order for my uncle, particularly in his first years as a full-time newspaper man.
This all ended temporarily when he enlisted in the army in 1917 with the American Expeditionary Forces and was sent to France.
The A. E. F. was under command of Gen. John "Black Jack" Pershing, hero of the Spanish American War in Cuba at the end of the nineteenth century, and of the pacification of Mexico just before "The Great War" broke out.
Meanwhile there are still "Irish pennants" of stories left dangling about the rest of the family and The Reflector in those days yet to be tied together.
At some point along the way "Little Hennie" went to work for The Daily Reflector, though no one yet lives today who knows exactly when or in what capacity she started.
From my earliest recollections she was circulation manager, social editor, and from her large desk behind the front desk also was more-or-less the office manager.
This was her den and soon those who dropped by often in The Reflector office learned to say nothing critical about a member of her family, The Daily Reflector or The Memorial Baptist Church.
This later attachment always struck me as odd for, in my day, she never darkened the door of the sanctuary, but in all fairness, she had great trouble negotiating the high and many steps after her asthma became more ubiquitous.
The apple of her eye was her youngest brother, "Crick," whom we've but barely mentioned.
He had been christened Walter Linden -- we've told how his abundant activity eventuated in his nick-name because a neighbor though he jumped around "... like a cricket."
He had been born at the turn of the century, died before his time in his early thirties in a grievous accident which took its toll on the family, and left lasting scars which those of us who knew him as a kinsman will take to our graves.
It is presumed that somewhere in his schooldays he too went to work at The Reflector, but this was far from an abiding interest as it had always been with his older brother.
"Crick" was a "sport" and a sportsman who enjoyed a full life, was an extremely popular person in his hometown, both as a youngster and an adult.
He rounded out the family circle late in the second decade of the century involved in the publication of The Daily Reflector.
"Big Dave" was once quoted as saying about the newspaper: "... I have always considered it a living instrument -- a member of the family."
So, indeed, did we all, and it has always been difficult when each the Whichard family and The Daily Reflector started and stopped.
This seems a logical place to close the paternal genealogy of The Shaggy Dog Chronicles, and to close the circle between the Bridgers and the Whichard families.
It's particularly more than most wished to know about beavers.
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