The task of telling you about my Dad is made much easier by his own words. In the following text you'll find liberal quotes (the “green serif-ed text”) from a half megabyte Word document that my Dad wrote (with my Mom's help) about his early years, and their marriage of over fifty years. I've taken that huge Word document and converted it into a few web pages I've placed online, so my Dad can tell you his story in his own words:
I quote quite a bit from Dad below, and add my thoughts and memories. Writing this was almost like having a long last talk with him. About the Good Times. But we must start at the beginning, long before I entered the picture.
In the last week of October, 1929, “the United States' Wall Street Stock Market crashed as results of the extravagancies of The Roaring 20's and kicked off the beginning of the Great Depression of the 20th Century. The following Tuesday, October 30, 1929, Herbert Lee Stott was born in Wake County in the State of North Carolina.”
Literally born on the very brink of the Depression on the day historians refer to as Black Tuesday, his formative years were unlike anything you or I can imagine today, nearly eight decades later.
During the depression years, you had to grow, harvest and store your own food because you could not afford to buy anything else. It was a very frequent routine in the afternoons for Mom and I to go to the pond, get into a wooden boat, paddle up the lake and catch a mess of fish for supper. We raised all the needed other ingredients. Corn which Dad ground into corn meal. Lard to fry the fish in was from the hogs that we killed every fall and cooked down the fat trimmings for the lard. Cole slaw from the cabbage that we grew. Mayonnaise made from our cow's milk. Cornbread from the cornmeal was mixed with onions which we grew and fried in the lard with the fish. That was good eating ... We got tired of the always available country ham, stuffed country sausage and country bacon left over and cured from the fall hog killing. Then there was the large pantry of glass quart jars of canned vegetables from last years garden. We ate well.
We had no electricity. We used kerosene Alladin Lamps for all lighting needs. There was no central heat. We had a 'Sitting Room' with a wood heater for warmth. At night, we changed into our sleeping clothes in the 'Sitting Room' and at bedtime, we would literally run to our beds in another room across the cold linoleum floors to dive into a cold bed. For extremely cold nights, we had a warming device into which we would load hot coals from the wood heater and insert it between the cold bed sheets and move it around to warm the sheets up a little before we dived in.
Christmas was always an exciting time. We always had a Christmas Tree which was cut from the farm’s forest. Our tree was decorated with hanging decorations plus strings of popcorn which we had popped and strung onto a string by passing the string through the popcorn with a needle.
One Christmas, Herb got a Red Wagon with a black handle to pull it with. That was a wonderful gift from Santa Claus. Herb still has that little red wagon.
That little red wagon is pictured at the right. Later this year, it will be passed down to Herb's treasured granddaughter, Caroli, just as he wanted.
And about that Christmas tree, some of my earliest Christmas memories involve going out with Dad and Granddaddy to choose and chop a tree at the back of my Grandparent's property, and then carry it home and string pop corn for it (that is, until Grandmother got one of those silver aluminum foil trees that I hated, yet which are collectors items today).
Growing up during the Depression was little different for my Mom, who, like my Dad, was also an only child (imagine if your financial world and everyone else's had crumbled, and days later you had a newborn child ... would another child even be an option?).
“He was soon given an opportunity to purchase a small grocery store with one gas pump (Texaco) and a room at the back of the store [...] With no more than a handshake agreement, Dad would pay off the $600 in small payments. I can remember trips to Lakeview to take money until it was all paid.
The three of us lived in the one room, with a bed, table, oil cook stove, pie safe (for storage) and very little else. My Mother had a sewing machine in front of the door so that she could see customers come in. She made all of our clothes and most of the material came from the 100 lb sugar sacks and flour sacks from the store. Sugar and flour was weighed and sold by the pound, or 1/2 pound, as the customer requested. The sacks were washed and boiled in a wash pot outdoors (we still have that pot on our deck in which we grow flowers) to get the lettering out and to make them white. Bleach was unheard of.”
Talk about a formative upbringing. Today, if the electricity goes out, we are lost. We have nothing to do. Heck, we get flustered if we can't get a decent signal for our cell phone. We simply have no concept what it was like to survive back then, to be entirely self-sufficient via means we can't imagine today.
My Dad retained that self-sufficiency his whole life, as did my Mom. But not in a rigid way, it was balanced. We three kids never wanted for anything we needed, nor were we spoiled by getting everything we wanted. But I think those who grew up in the Depression were both marked and strengthened in ways that lasted a lifetime.
As a slightly tangential example, I pass on this observation about my wife, my Mom, and a simple roll of paper towels (note, these are observations, not judgments). When I bring home a roll of those “Pick-A-Size” paper towels that are perforated in half sheets, my wife sometimes emits a minor grumble. She wants the full sheet. When I was recently at my Mom's, I noticed her paper towel holder not only had the “Pick-A-Size” half sheets, Mom had torn one of those in half, and placed the saved quarter sheet on top of the roll, ready to use.
As I said, that's not a judgment of either of them, that's merely indicative of upbringing. Susan and I both grew up in a world of plenty (thanks to our parents), but my Mom and my Dad grew up in a world of scarcity. And I would argue this shared upbringing made their early years together a lot easier than the same circumstances would for a couple today, because at first they didn't have a lot. Of anything. Except fun. And love.
Mom and Dad met on a blind date to a NC State vs. Wake Forest basketball game on Groundhog's Day in 1950, and as Dad tells it...
On the night of the game, Herb met Edna in front of the Coliseum with her friends. Ernestine had told Herb that Edna had a bad cold. Herb brought along an envelope of little red pills that were passed out to students by the NCS infirmary for Edna to take for her cold. She never did take the pills for some reason. She did not know what the pills might contain.
[As this was being proof read on 1/4/00, Edna went to one of her archive boxes. She found a 2 1/2" x 4" small manila envelope which contained the actual 2 small red coated pills from February 2, 1950, which she had never taken because she did not know what the pills might contained. She also found half of a Reynolds Coliseum admittance ticket stub for the basketball game.]
“After the game, they went to Roy's Drive-In for the typical hamburger and coke in her brand new 1950 Buick (pictured at left). Herb thought that he had found a rich girl but it turned out that the only riches that Edna had was a monthly payment note to pay off for the car sometime in the distant future.
After that first date, there were more dates, and trips to New York, and Washington, DC, and...
That summer involved meeting each other's families and friends and pretty frequent dating. It got to the point that the only logical thing to do was get married.
[As this was being proof read on 1/4/00, Edna pulled from her archive box a receipt for $142.00 for the purchase of an expensive set of wedding rings.]
We were married on September 23, 1950, at Hillyer Memorial Christian Church in a wonderful ceremony with a crowd of family and friends in attendance. Our honeymoon was at Fontana Lake in the mountains of North Carolina.
Dad received an inside tip about an imminent draft notice for him, due at the end of 1950. "That was during the Korean War days during which time there was heavy ground fighting in the mountains of North Korea. Herb had no desire to participate in that winter time war. The Coast Guard nor the Navy would take a married man. So the U. S. Air Force was the final choice."
The Air Force led to many travels and adventures (mostly in England), and to hear Mom tell it, they lived on cheese and crackers half the time. But the time in the Air Force passed, and in 1955 Dad got a job in Raleigh at Westinghouse, making $196.00 per month. Over the next few years, Herb got promoted, and life got better. Dad was driving his beloved Austin Healey that he'd had shipped back from England, and then came the next piece of the American Dream:
On October 2, 1956, Herb and Edna bought their first house at 1340 Banbury Road in Raleigh, NC. The cost was $13,500 with an assumed loan at 4% interest with monthly Mortgage Principal and Interest Payments of $54.61, Taxes of $14.79 and Hazard Insurance of $2.60 for a total of $72.00 per month. The house was a 3 bedroom, single bath, living/dining room with fire place, kitchen and furnace room.
Dad and Mom had two years to enjoy their first home as a couple before they became a group. Yes, it was the next piece of the American Dream ... me!
Reid was born on September 20, 1958. Edna went into Rex Hospital of Friday September 19. Late that night, the hospital people told Herb that he might as well go home since birth was not imminent. We only lived less than a mile away.
They called early in the morning for Herb to come back to the hospital. Herb is not even today a human until after a shower and breakfast, so those activities were accomplished before going back to the hospital. The hospital people were surprised that Herb arrived all cleaned up. Reid was not born until after the N.C. State football game was well underway on Saturday afternoon, but the event was certainly worth waiting for. We named him Gregory Reid Stott. There were no Gregory or Reid names in our past.
Dr. Poole, Pediatrician, came by and demonstrated to us, to soothe our concerns of how to handle the small fragile baby, that a baby is not so fragile. He did so by grasping Reid’s head with two hands over his ears and gently holding him up off but over the bed with no other support. [Reid says: This explains a lot of things about me, doesn't it?]
The Austin Healey was not built to handle 2 adults, 1 baby and all the stuff necessary to take care of the baby. So we sold the Austin Healey to a Landscape Architect for the same price as our purchase cost of a few years before in England.
For a full four decades or more, I would never be allowed to forget, “before you came along, I had an Austin Healey.” He was always clearly kidding, but still ... I also discovered just a couple of months ago that his password for his Internet account was ... “MyHealey.”
At any rate, in those early days, I imagine I provided plenty of distraction. But I don't remember. My earliest memories are well evoked by Dad's comment from 1962, when I was 4:
There were no children of Reid's age in the immediate area on Banbury Road. He visited a lot with Mr. Miller who was our next door neighbor who loved to work outside most of the time in his yard. Reid got to know him real well and played in Mr. Miller's yard a lot. Reid developed a fascination for some reason to play a war game of shooting Germans. Reid had no idea that Mr. Miller was of German descent.
Oops. Too many black and white WWII movies, I guess. But, yep, I had a plastic rifle, a plastic helmet, was looking for Germans, and wasn't shy about it.
Another of my early memories from that time involved work. Or whatever concept of “work” I had when I was 4 years old. I remember on certain Saturdays Dad would go in to the office at Westinghouse for a while, and I'd get to go along. He couldn't have been doing any serious work, not if he brought me along. But it was typical of later times as well. Dad worked hard, but much of the after hours work he did was on the couch in our den, not away from the home. I learned early that Dad worked hard, not because he was gone working, but because I saw him working.
During the early 60's, I'd also gained a younger brother Brett, and a sister, LeeAnn. And Dad's hard work had meant not only promotions, but now a new job in a new place. Bergen County, New Jersey. In effect, a suburb of Manhattan. From North Carolina. Country come to city.
We moved in early spring with Reid at age 5, Brett at age 3 and LeeAnn at age 6 months. Reid wasted no time in introducing himself to the neighborhood children with his almost formal introductory handshake (as we watched out the kitchen window).
I remember that day pretty well. Lots of snow on the ground, at least from my youthful North Carolina perspective. And two kids across the street making a snow fort. Who could resist?
After I'd introduced myself (formally, apparently), one of them said in full Joisey accent, “Say sumthin' else, you tawk funny.” I thought nothing of replying, “Well, y'all talk funny, too.” But being kids, we pretty quickly got past that kind of thing. For adults, it wasn't always so quick.
It was difficult for Edna and Herb to get to know the neighbors. We were from down South and did not understand their New Jersey upbringings/attitudes and those New Jersey people did not understand nor have much interest in learning how to accept Tar Heels. Herb had trouble when working out in the yard to get an acknowledgement of his “Good Morning” greeting to a neighbor who was less than 10 ft. away across a 3 foot high hedge between yards. It was difficult to accept that kind of suspicious upbringing. It took about three years to really break through what we conceived as a barrier. After the break through, they were wonderful people.
The area offered opportunity to see many things. We spent weekends with the children driving around to see things. There were the mountains and many lakes west of us. There was New York City with much to see and visit. There were Zoos, Empire State Building, outer drive, Wall Street, Greenwich Village, Central Park, The Bowery, Harlem, Time Square, Rockefeller Center, RCA Music Hall, Airports, Long Island, Lower New York State, all of New Jersey including the ocean, Pennsylvania, etc. The Worlds Fair on Long Island happened while we were there which resulted in many welcomed visitors from North Carolina to stay at Stott's Motel.
I was indeed lucky that we made such family trips. I got to see the Ed Sullivan show, have a birthday dinner at Mama Leoni's, along with all the things Dad mentioned above. Those were highly formative years, during which I was exposed to all of these things, and more:
Reid would spend quite a bit of the summer at Granddad and Grandmother's place at the beach in NC. Over time, he developed an ability to pencil sketch most anything that he wanted to. He would include sketches in his frequent letters home. We have many of those efforts in our archive records.
One summer Saturday after he had visited downtown Oakland when he was about 7-8 years old, he came home and said that he wanted to take art lessons at a art supply store downtown. He presented a business card from the art shop (which we still have) to let us know where he had selected to take the art lessons. He started taking the lessons and today we have in our house and Grandmother has in her house some excellent oil paintings that he created from pictures and from real scenes at the beach.
Those two simple paragraphs contain so much, and I can't quite emphasize how they form who I am, more than four decades later.
First of all, Dad went in with his parents to buy that beach trailer for them after Granddaddy had a serious heart attack and had to retire from working. But Granddaddy loved to fish, and we all believe that trailer added many years to his life. As a side benefit, I got to spend much of my youthful summers in the mid to late 1960's at the beach (more can be found about that special time of my life here: “In Memory: Cora Lee Hinton Stott, 1908-2002”).
It's a place that doesn't exist anymore. A place where a seven year old boy can wander the beach alone for hours, with no fears and no worries. A place where, if you were accosted by an adult, it was because they saw you doing something that would have made your parents yell, too. A place where you could find a five dollar bill in the sand, and think you were rich beyond your dreams! I think it gave me a sense of freedom and independence at a very young age. A sense that there was nowhere I couldn't go, on my own, and explore.
Secondly, and as important, there's those oil painting lessons. That art supply store was in the same strip shopping center as the local Five and Dime. Younger readers may not have a clue what a Five and Dime is, but older readers may well remember them as their own personal toy store when they were a kid. If you wanted to spend your 25 cents allowance on little plastic toy soldiers, or penny candy (remember the rows of candy dots on wax paper?) you'd march yourself to the Five and Dime.
As I recall, it was perhaps a mile from our home, and I'd walk there on my own all the time. I'm sure on one of those trips, my youthful “sense of freedom and independence” brought me to walk into this art supply store and explore, and I discovered those oil painting lessons. I truly don't recall what inspired me to ask Mom and Dad if I could take them. And while a kid might expect Dad to give the standard “we'll see” as an answer (as in, we'll see if this is a passing whimsy before we spend money on it), mine said OK.
Not only did I get early exposure to the specific creative arena of oil painting, I got one thing even more important, in the long term. Being an overly inquisitive child, when I met the man who taught the Saturday afternoon oil painting classes (in which I was the only child among about a dozen adults), I asked him what he did for a living. Because my Dad, he worked at a place where they made stuff, like all Dads I knew. Surely this guy did, too, with the art lessons as a weekend hobby.
He told me “what he did for a living” ... was this. Teach art classes, and make his own paintings to sell. This somewhat stunned my young mind. The idea that you could make a living doing something ... creative. It may seem like such a simple realization, even for a kid. But I mark it as a formative moment.
While I don't paint today, from that early age on, I've always had some type of creative outlet. Painting. Then theater. Radio. Photography. The web. Along the way, I found methods to make an income from these creative areas. And it all began with me bringing a business card home at the age of about 7, along with a request my Dad spend some of his hard earned salary.
He could very easily have said “no,” or “we'll see.” But I believe that simple “yes” is largely responsible for who I am today.
There were other “formative” memories associated with that house in Oakland, New Jersey:
One morning during the rainy period, Brett went down to the lower level and came back to the kitchen and let us know that something was wrong in the basement. The surface water had exerted pressure on the sewage in the septic tank and it started to back flow into the toilet bowl in the half bath in the basement. When the toilet bowl filled up, it started to overflow onto the floor.
Herb went down and tried to daintily hem up the flow on the floor with towels. The flow was too much to hem up. Daintiness abandoned, efforts were directed to get things up off the floor including chairs, couch, TV set, book racks, etc., etc. The depth of the sewage continued to increase. When it got to wading around in about 12” deep sewage which continued to come in, Herb sat down on the steps to rest and think.
The outside garage floor was eyeballed to be at about the same level as the concrete floor of the crawl space under the house. Herb took a 4 pound sledge hammer and attacked a cinder block at floor level in the wall between the garage and the basement. When the cinder block was fractured to open up a hole, the contained sewage from the basement surged eagerly into the garage, down the driveway and down the street.
I watched most of this messy mayhem from our basement steps, as my Mom and Dad frantically tried to stem the flow and salvage what they could before it was literally afloat in sewage. It got deeper and deeper, and it was a losing battle until Dad brought his sledgehammer logic to the situation. I learned that at times like that, you had to think outside the box.
I also recall a Halloween in that house, when Mom and Dad were going to a costume party. Dad had just finished getting into his outfit when the doorbell rang with some neighborhood kids who were trick or treating. Mom opened the door, and behind her, the Devil, dressed all in red with horns and all, came bellowing down the stairs. The kids didn't stick around for candy. I can remember my Dad standing there, dressed like the Devil, laughing like the devil.
I also heard my first cuss words in that house. It was the weekend Dad decided to wallpaper the downstairs bathroom. I knew there were very few things my Dad couldn't do, but wallpapering appeared to be one of them.
When I was in the fifth grade, another change in jobs meant another move, this time to Saint Johnsbury, Vermont. As my Mom says, we spent two winters and one summer there, and summer was on a Thursday. That level of snow can be a real pain in the patootie for an adult, but for a kid, it's pure adventure. School only closed due to snow on one day in those two winters, when we had two feet of snow on the ground, and then an additional three feet of snow fell in 24 hours. Five feet of snow in our front yard. We literally tunneled in it.
We lived in a great house, and old yellow Victorian that was probably built not long after the turn of the century. When we would make these family moves, my Dad was often the one who'd have to choose our accommodations, and Mom would show up and hope he'd done well. He always did, and this house was a blast for us as kids, with a huge wraparound porch, a curved staircase (perfect for the Hot Wheels track), and train tracks in the back yard to crush your pennies flat.
But whenever we made these moves, my parents also faced another dilemma. My brother Brett was born with mental retardation, and each new school district meant a new set of problems. For example, when we moved to New Jersey, Dad writes “The pediatrician who we initially selected in Oakland for Brett suggested that we immediately put him in a school for the handicapped away from home and in effect, forget about him. We found another pediatrician. With some effort, we found a local special education school for Brett to enter.”
In Saint Johnsbury, they encountered this problem anew:
Upon inquiry with the St J. school system, we learned that there was no special education schooling available for Brett and that there was no funding available to start one. Herb explored the problem. He found a contact in the Vermont Public School system. Then found a contact in the Vermont State Capital City of Montpelier who revealed that there was an unused/unallocated $75,000 fund that could be used as initial funding to setup a special education school in St. J.
The school was setup and started into operation with a large class of students including Brett. The town had needed a school for a long time. (In 1998, 30 years later, Herb and Edna visited St J. and the school was still in operation.)
For nearly four decades now, thousands of special education students in Saint Johnsbury have benefited from a program that did not exist ... until my Dad came along, and would not take “No” for an answer.
While in Vermont...
The Stott family developed a real love for the beauty of the outdoors. Reid and Herb developed enjoyment for fishing in the Vermont's small streams for brook, rainbow and brown trout. On average, we would go about three times per week. Many of those times, everybody would go and take a picnic or cookout.
You can imagine. You're ten years old. Your Dad asks you a couple a times a week if you'd like to grab those waist high waders he bought you and go stream fishing. Not “sit on the bank of the stream and fish.” Get in the water and go after the fish. Offensive fishing. In streams that had a rocky bed (no mucky mud like here in the South), were completely crystal clear, and rarely more than a couple of feet deep. You could literally see the fish 20 or 30 feet away, and sneak up on them. Even if I didn't catch a thing, I had a blast every time.
Well, except for once, and I learned from my Dad on that occasion as well. This time we were on our way to a family fishing outing in our big red Mercury, and when Dad came over a hill, there was a car broken down in the middle of the road. He skidded into the other lane, but before he could stop we hit got hit by an oncoming car. My sister got a few cuts from flying glass, but luckily, we were all otherwise unhurt.
Three drivers meet up in the aftermath. Two of them white, and the owner of the broken down car ... black. Perhaps the only African American within a hundred miles, this being Northeastern Vermont in 1969. And when the driver of the oncoming car starts to get ugly with him, to the point of physical posturing, my Dad breaks in and tells him something along the lines of “why don't we wait for the cops to get here, and deal with all of this.”
Even at my age, I got the clear unspoken implication that the cops would be dealing with him, for assault, if he kept it up. The other guy got the implication, too, and backed off. Some 35 years later, this experience likely informed my instinctive response after a car accident. Likely kept me out of jail, too. Thanks, Dad.
Late 1969 brought another job-related moved, this time to Clinton, NJ, in the west central portion of the state. Dad had a 45 minute commute to work in Fair Lawn, but we had an amazingly rural home life, for New Jersey, amid "rolling hills ... heavily populated with deer."
Mom and I have talked about it recently, and she and Dad used to worry that the many moves we made had a negative effect on us kids. She recalls me being particularly sad when we left Vermont ... but I don't recall it. And as I told her, in hindsight, it was the best kind of preparation for going out into the world. Every couple of years or so, I'd find myself in an entirely new environment. Often, with an entirely new, um, culture (think 1960's North Carolina, to a suburb of Manhattan, to upstate Vermont). A new school to navigate and master. And new friends to be made. How could adapting to such change not be great training for life?
Each move that we made represented a step up in Dad's career. Even as a kid, I understood that, and don't recall grumbling about any of it. It was just the next adventure. And after a year or so, it led us out of New Jersey, and back to Raleigh, North Carolina, where I was born. Full circle.
We moved back to Raleigh when I was in the 7th grade, and by the 8th grade, I had my first girlfriend. This, of course, meant a need for transportation, and I had my eyes set on a Peugot 10 speed racing bike with the outrageous 1972 price of $120. But my income consisted of $5 a pop for mowing a few lawns around the neighborhood ($10 for the retired millionaire across the street). So Dad agreed on a split. When I'd saved up half the price, he'd chip in the other half.
At the age of 14, it was probably my first “expensive” possession, and Dad made sure that I worked for it and felt a sense of investment. Of course, it came back to bite him a little bit.
You see, there was this Girl Next Door. I knew she was way above “my station,” yet, as a typical teenage boy, I would do most anything in hopes of getting in her good favor. And one summer evening this Girl Next Door decided she wanted to visit some friends of hers, but she felt it was too far for her to ride her bike alone. So she asked me to go with her. It was about 6:30pm. I knew immediately that by the time we travelled the several miles to this place, it would be nearly dark. And our bikes had no lights for the return trip.
Why, sure, darlin', I'll go with you!
Of course, by 8:30pm, I was calling home ... “Dad, can you bring the station wagon to bring us and our bikes home?” And of course, he came and got us. But, Boy Howdy, did I know I'd made a mistake. He made it clear that part of being a man was not getting yourself into situations where you needed others to get you out. Especially him. Because Dad knew that I knew it was too late for that ride, and I'd counted on him to bail me out.
Just so I could hang with this Girl Next Door ... who truly had no interest in me beyond the safety of having a second rider with her. What can I say but ... hormones. However, on the whole, I don't think I was too difficult or rebellious as a teenager. Dad never had to meet with the school principal (even when I called him out in the local paper), or bail me out of jail.
Well, there was that middle of the night phone call Mom and Dad got from my first girlfriend's parents. It seemed that Beth wasn't in her bed, and they wanted Mom and Dad to ask me if I knew where she'd gone. And when they went to my room to ask me, why, they found I wasn't home either!
It was a summer night, and for no reason whatsoever, Beth and her best friend had decided to sneak out after their parents had gone to bed. And, of course, asked me to go, too. I thought I was so slick. After a couple of hours of literally doing nothing (no drugs, no sex, not even a cigarette was smoked), I snuck into our backyard, and slowly slid open the sliding glass door to the den. And slowly and quietly slid it closed behind me, quite pleased with my slickness.
Then the lights suddenly came on. Mom and Dad are sitting on the couch in their pajamas. I am suddenly not so slick. There's no yelling, but by the time Dad is done talking, I feel about a half inch high. There was never any need for him to be loud or physical with me when it came to punishment. Simply conveying his sense of disappointment using cold logic I could not deny was plenty punishment enough. The most effective kind.
Because it was always balanced with the fact my parents gave me incredible liberties during those same teen years. Or rather, they let me earn them, via trust. And I knew, plain as day, that late night bike rides or sneaking out degraded that.
An example was the summer of 1974. Crosby, Still, Nash, and Young were doing a rare tour, and their closest stop to Raleigh was Norfolk, Virginia. My two best friends from high school, Ron Phillips and Jay Delancy, were going, and with few hopes of being successful, I asked Dad if I could go with them.
He said yes! And I went, did as I told them I would, and came back seemingly unwarped by the experience. So ... then I asked them if I could go to another outdoor concert. It was called the August Jam, at Charlotte Motor Speedway. 200,000 people crammed together to hear the Allman Brothers, Emerson Lake and Palmer, the Marshall Tucker Band, Foghat, and many others. It was my “Woodstock.” I saw far more than my parents would have liked (if they'd known), but again, came back unwarped, on time, with a whopping experience under my belt.
As the summer of '74 came to an end...
Reid reached the age of driving. We had some wonderful times teaching him to drive. The rear parking lot at ITT was quite large and this was a favored place for him to get acclimated to handling a car. There was however one huge problem that had to be controlled as Dad hollered WATCH OUT FOR THE LIGHT POLE!!!
In my defense, I was learning to drive on a VW Beetle with a stick shift. And for a gawky not quite 16 year old, coordinating the movement of the left leg with the right hand required both eyes at times. So while I'm looking down at the gear shift and/or the clutch, I hear Dad casually say “Pole.” And while I'm still looking down, worried about grinding his precious transmission, I hear him say it louder ... “POLE!” But I've almost got the shift done so I keep my head down. And then Dad shouts “POLE!!!” I look up, see a light pole dead ahead, and swerve hard-a-port. There was simply no need for that many light poles in a parking lot.
But I successfully got my license, without giving Dad a heart attack (I think LeeAnn came far closer than I did). I was a licensed 16 year old, doing well at a school I liked, on the football and track teams, had lots of good friends, and as a junior, had a senior for a girlfriend (and a special one at that). Fate dictates that such teen happiness is bound not to last.
It came time for another job change for Dad, and this one would take us to the thriving metropolis of Cookeville, Tennessee, right in the middle of my so far near perfect junior year of high school. But my response wasn't sullen teen rebellion. Once again, I understood the reason. We'd been here before. I'd survived this before.
But when we got to Cookeville, my first trip to the high school revealed they did not even have a track, never mind a track team. And due to the differences in the quality of school systems, every course I was placed in except for English was a senior level course. I would have to come back another year for one course. I tried to stay active, and find another way:
While Reid was in High School he played the part of “Trapper John” in play called MASH put on by the drama club at the school. He also got an after school hours job as a Disc Jockey at a local Cookeville radio station WHUB. We have a tape recording of his voice on that radio station.
Reid was not challenged in the Cookeville school. Near the end of his 11th grade he indicated that he would like to start college the next year at Wake Forest before he even entered the 12th grade. He soothed our shock some by telling us how it could be done and what he had explored and had found out.
It could be done and we agreed. So he went to Wake Forest without a high school diploma. Initially he lived in a dormitory on campus. We well remember when he moved in because all his belongings had to hand/back carried to the 3rd floor. That was a task.
Actually, Dad, it was the fourth floor. August. No elevator. No air conditioning. From the perspective of 30 years later, I don't know how either of us did it.
And as for my “college coup,” now where do you think I might have gotten or learned the tenacity and initiative it took to research how I could get myself out of the Cookeville Coma School and into college a year early? Possibly from the man who, when he was told there would be no special education school for his son in St. Johnsbury, went out and researched how it could be done, and made it happen?
As fate would have it, before I went off to college we moved again. This time to LaGrange, Georgia, about two months before I was to go off to Wake Forest. And getting me there was indeed quite a task. Not only the physical move from Georgia into the dorm some 600 miles away, but also the years of hard work, saving, and preparation that Dad and Mom had done to make attending an expensive school like Wake Forest University a possibility for me. I was quite aware of the cost, and tried to make the most of it.
And then during my freshman year, I got a call from Dad saying that he'd been let go due to some ugly corporate politics at his job. I went off on my own (as I tended to do even before I left for college), and found a low paying full-time job in radio that I was prepared to move into at the end of my second semester, because I figured it would be necessary financially until Dad found something new.
But when I presented this idea, he told me to forget about it, as they'd long ago put aside the money for my college education, and it was not a problem. I was trying to be prepared, but Dad had already topped me on that point. Plus, very quickly, he got what would be his final job. And one more new home for Mom and Dad.
At the end of my freshman year at Wake Forest, I drove from Winston-Salem to a place called Meridian, Mississippi, pulled off the interstate, and called home to ask “where do I live?” Mom and Dad had found a wonderful house on the outskirts of town, and it would be their home for over 25 years.
That summer, Dad introduced me to someone he had met through his connections in the local business community, the owner of Woodall Electric. I spent much of the summer working as an “electrician's assistant,” which is a glorified term for gofer and wire puller. I worked my butt off in the Mississippi summer heat.
It was the closest my Dad ever came to “getting me a job.” I'm sure he could have very easily put me into some much cushier “helper” job making even more money at the Fairbanks plant he managed, if he'd been so inclined. But he wasn't. And I sure got no favored status at Woodall Electric because of my Dad. In a world filled with nepotism today, I'm sure some wonder how I could view that behavior as a positive thing. But it was.
In late August I returned for my sophomore year at Wake Forest, finally turned 18 a month later, and never lived at home with Mom and Dad for any length of time after that. I was always hundreds of miles away, working in radio in Winston-Salem, Macon, and Tallahassee. So I wasn't around for much of his involvement in the community in Meridian. But I sure heard about it, and saw the after effects.
Over the years in Meridian, Herb had some very good civic organization involvement. This included service on the Board of Directors of the Lauderdale County Economic Development Group, Board of Directors of the Meridian Chamber of Commerce, Officer of the Meridian Manufacturers Association, Board of Directors of The United Way, Board of Advisors of The Salvation Army and Advisor on the Junior Achievement Program.
From the day he took the plant manager job and moved there, to his dying day, Dad was as concerned about the economic well being of Meridian as he was about the economic well being of his company. Because he knew that in a town of 50,000 people, the two are tightly linked. So he was always very involved in civic and business associations, way above and beyond any call of duty just due to his job.
Not that “the job” suffered for it. Fairbanks makes heavy duty industrial scales (think of what it would take to weigh a railroad freight car ... while it is moving), and when it became time to redesign a significant chunk of the aging product line, Dad decided to make Fairbanks one of the early adopters of Computer Assisted Design (CAD):
A system was selected, approved by Division and Corporate Management and the first ever CAD system between Atlanta, Dallas, Memphis and New Orleans was installed just before 1980 at a cost of about $400,000.
That successful installation led to several advanced product designs for the installation of a Computer Aided Robotic Welder System
Computers and robotic welders in the early 80's? In Meridian, Ms.? I recall this news moving me to ask Dad, “so, do you use a computer in your office?” I recall his reply very well: “I don't need to know how to use a computer, I pay people to know how to use computers.”
I'd watched Dad create what I now know to be spreadsheets since the 60's. He had big pads of graph paper on which he'd input his figures in a grid, and calculate the results. Basically doing with pencil and paper what we now do with a program like Excel. His record spoke for itself (his division was the most profitable within the company), and he saw no reason to change. However, the Gods of Irony are perverse, as computers would eventually become a major part of his life, through no real choice of his own.
As the 1980's came and went, there were many “passages of life.” Granddaddy (Dad's father) passed away in 1984, and for the next two decades, my Dad made sure that his mother had everything she needed, including moving her to Meridian when the time came in 1992. As I told Susan after Dad passed away, I didn't need a model for how to help my Mom and make sure she's OK after he was gone. He'd shown me how for decades, with his mom.
Dad survived teaching LeeAnn to drive, and a scare she was going to become a “professional student.” When the day came for her to get married, I don't know if I've ever seen him any happier. Except maybe a couple of decades later when LeeAnn introduced him to his first granddaughter (more on that below).
Also during this time, Mom and Dad had a chance to go on a company sponsored cruise in the Caribbean, and I came over to Meridian to stay with my brother Brett so they'd be able to go. While I was there, I found a box of old photos of Mom and Dad, many of which were still stained from the flood in Oakland (many more were completely destroyed, including Mom's yearbooks). And there were also roses that Dad had given Mom for Groundhog's Day, the anniversary of their first date. I couldn't resist making a photo collage of it all, and gave them a big print of it for Christmas that year.
On a previous business trip to the Fairbanks plant in Oakdale, CA, Mom went along, and they travelled on to Yosemite and Lake Tahoe. When Dad went back in April, 1990, this time he took me along. I dropped him off early in the morning at the plant in Oakdale, took the rental car and made the roughly two hour drive to Yosemite. I got to spend about seven heavenly hours there while he had his meetings, and brought back photos like this. After Dad was done at the plant, we spent the next couple of days going to Monterey and the aquarium, and on down Highway 1 and Big Sur. It was a great trip.
But the rest of the 1990's brought major changes for Dad:
On May 25, 1993, Herb had pulmonary failure, entered Rush Hospital for 2-3 weeks. After about a week at home he had to go back into the hospital for another 2-3 weeks. Those were some tough times with excellent support from Reid and LeeAnn and everybody.
Dr. Nicholson and Herb's boss, Ben Graves, convinced us that continuing to work at Fairbanks was not a practical option. So, Herb retired.
Well, my own recollection is a good bit more dramatic than that, including setting a land speed record for the run from Atlanta to Meridian. But I was pleased with the end result, Dad's retirement, because I knew he would literally work himself to death, if allowed. His second trip back to the hospital happened, in my opinion, because he went back to work way too fast after his first stay in the hospital.
But I also recalled a conversation we'd had a couple of years before about the concept of retirement. He'd been talking at that time about getting a bass boat (which he never did), but as he said, “you can't fish all the time.” It seemed clear to me that this near future of retirement was somewhat of a mystery to him. What will I do?
The people at Fairbanks Scales arranged a Retirement Party for Herb at the Northwood Country Club. It was a well attended event with a wonderful dinner. Even the company’s owner, Bill Norton, came from Kansas City. The crowning event was the presentation as a retirement gift of a Personal Computer. Bill Norton in earlier years during “State of the Business Presentations” had quizzed Herb as to why he had not purchased a “Damn” computer. Herb told him that he just did not have time to learn how to use it.
Well a computer is certainly better than a Gold Watch for a retirement gift. My computer(s) have given me hours and hours of enjoyment since my retirement.
Hours of enjoyment is an understatement we'll cover in a second. All of us noticed a pretty significant change in Dad's overall attitude after retirement. It wasn't like Dad wasn't a joker and a tease at times, but I think it would be best to say that he had a lot of responsibilities, and they weighed on him. And made him seem pretty serious much of the time.
After retirement, his attitude was nearly giddy at times. As he explained to his former boss, he used to be responsible for an entire division of the company, and the hundreds of employees (and their families) who depended on a paycheck from it. Now he was responsible only for himself and his wife. And his attitude showed it.
Mom and Dad took a liking to train travel, and made several trips after his retirement, including a marathon trip out west in 1997 (and then sent me on a Red Rock Road Trip so I could see some of the same things). And for their 50th anniversary in 2000, they took another cruise.
And that's about where Dad's own written chronicle ends, just before their 50th anniversary cruise in 2000, but the next few years would bring more changes. Grandmother had moved to the Aldersgate Retirement Center in Meridian in 1992, and in 2002, she passed away at the age of 93. Though Grandmother had lived a long full life, and Dad had taken care of her as well as any son could, it still hit him pretty hard. I made the trip to North Carolina with Mom and Dad for the funeral.
In 2002, it was also time to downsize. Mom and Dad's several thousand square foot home and six acres of property had become a bit much with all us kids long gone (taking our lawn mowing skills with us). So after over a quarter century in that home, Mom and Dad bought a very nice two bedroom duplex where yard work was something they watched, not did. LeeAnn and I were there on moving day to help them get unpacked, and also brought back a Ryder truckload of stuff that one might called a “forced inheritance” due to this downsizing move.
Over the next couple of years, Mom and Dad spent a lot of time and energy settling into this new home. For the first time since at least 1958, they could make a home just for themselves. No child-proofing, no concern about school districts, no allocating of living space for little ones. They spread out and made it theirs. To my eyes, they were very happy there.
However, less than a month after moving in, we made them drive over to Atlanta to attend our wedding on October 26, 2002. Mom and Dad's predilection for saving everything worked out quite well in this case. Susan wore the bridal garter that my Mom had worn 52 years before, which I presented back to her at the reception after the ceremonial removal from the bride. It was something borrowed, and something blue.
As happy as they were for us, it was hard to top the joy they would feel three years later. Somehow, LeeAnn and I had conspired to keep Mom and Dad grandchildless for decades. But that came to an end in the fall of 2005, when LeeAnn and Danny travelled to China to adopt Caroli Louise Doyle (a.k.a. “Princess Caroli”). In fact, their trip coincided with Dad's 76th birthday, and Caroli introduced herself all the way from China with the long distance birthday wishes you see on the right (also found here within the site “Journey to Caroli”).
Below that photo, you see a “100% American Grandpa,” as the sweatshirt advertises, upon first meeting his first grandchild on Thanksgiving weekend, 2005 (Mom tells me Dad pulled over just before getting the LeeAnn and Danny's house just so he could change into that sweatshirt).
Dad got to spend about ten days with his granddaughter, as he and Mom made two trips over, one for Thanksgiving shortly after LeeAnn and Danny returned, and again for Christmas. The 2005 holidays are times we will all cherish.
Which brings us back to computers. After the holidays, LeeAnn and I tried to make sure there were plenty of photos posted online regularly for Grand-parental viewing. Dad had a much used AOL account, and he'd used it make and maintain contact with many friends from the course of his life and career. It was now a portal to watch the fast growth of his granddaughter.
The computer was indeed the best retirement gift he could have been given. In fact, it was the first of three or four he bought over the following 13 years. Dad was rough on computers (if he didn't know what something was, he'd double-click it and see what happened ... where did I get my curious nature?), and LeeAnn and I were often called on for tech support. In September of 2004, he and I worked together to order a new Dell, which I got set up for him. And one of his priority concerns was getting that dad-blasted WinFaxPro installed and setup.
Dad burned that program's capacity up. As mentioned above, he'd always been very involved in the community, and worked in economic and business forums to try and improve the Meridian area. But once he retired, and represented only himself, not Fairbanks, his efforts took on a new tenacity, fueled by technology.
Over the years, he'd compiled a massive list of fax numbers for everyone from county commissioners, to the mayor, to his senators, to the local media ... well, every person you'd want to contact if you were a local lobbyist. And he would regularly compose these fact laden missives that laid things out far more starkly than he had as a local business leader.
He wasn't out to make friends, he was out to make a point. He was no lobbyist for personal interest, his agenda was the greater good. I told him many times that if he kept it up, he was going to get his butt elected to something. That tended to quiet him down for a minute as he briefly contemplated the last thing he wanted: an elective office. He just had a voice, and things to say, and wasn't shy in how he went about it. Again, does that sound like anyone else you know?
On March 28, 2006, Steve Swogetinsky of the Meridian Star published an editorial entitled, “Stott's voice will be missed”, in which he said in part:
My first meeting with Mr. Stott came in 1991. I interviewed him for a business story. He was the manager of Fairbanks Scales, and I remember that he ran a tight ship. Also, for several years I saw him regularly when my family attended First Baptist Church of Meridian.
Part of my job then was to produce the Opinion page for this newspaper, and Mr. Stott was one of my regular letter writers.
For many years, he expressed his views about the state of this community on The Star's Opinion pages. Often, he expressed his concerns and dismay about the economic conditions and various political issues. He aggravated some folks at times when he questioned their ideas and plans, looking at them from a different light.
Mr. Stott had no agenda that I ever knew of. If he thought things were bad, he would say it in his letters.
Mr. Stott made his point with numbers. I never read anything he wrote in which he quoted what “somebody said.” He pulled local statistics into his formula and let things fall where they might.
That's where I always saw Mr. Stott's place in the discussion. I found him to be a well-grounded, smart man who cared about this place we call home.
His voice will be missed.
His voice is missed more than Mr. Swogetinsky can imagine. But I hear it everyday. I see it in the things I do. And it's not just genetics. In so many ways I am what I am because of the way I was raised by my Dad and my Mom. In that way he lives on every day, inside me.
In closing, I want to share my last memory of Dad, something I've shared with no one until now. Not that last night in the hospital when he passed away, or anything from those dark days. It was the day after his funeral. Susan and I were leaving to head back to Atlanta, and on the way out of town, we stopped by the cemetery to visit Dad's grave of less than 24 hours.
Mom had asked that I get some good pictures of all the lovely flowers people had sent. And when I'd finished doing that, I kneeled at the head of Dad's grave and talked to him. I told him how much I missed him already. And that I hoped I could do half as good a job taking care of Mom as he did taking care of all of us for so long.
And right at that moment, on that cloudy windy day, I felt the sun touch my forehead and instantly warm it. I looked up and saw the clouds had parted just enough to let the sun shine on me for a moment, as if to say it would all be okay.
And I knew it was Dad. Saying goodbye, for now.