Over my years of looking at this picture I always had fond memories. When i looked at the picture I saw the same thing, two of my siblings, some of my first cousins, and my grandparents. I saw a happy group of people in the front yard of my maternal grandparents' house in Beirne, Arkansas.
When my mother was still alive, I never once asked her about the occasion for the picture. I guess it didn't occur to me it was a special occasion, probably because we had so many family gatherings at Granny Ross' house during my childhood. I just assumed it was another gathering with some of our relatives on any given Sunday. As I started piecing together the story behind the photo, it became clear to me my fond memories of this photo would soon turn to bittersweet memories, for now I see this occasion as the last trip made from San Francisco to Arkansas before the death of our father in December 1957.
In this vintage photo, my grandparents, Robert "Pete" and Lennie Ross are surrounded by a few of their grandchildren.
In the back row, left to right is my sister Shirley Eakin, Robert Ross, Lennie Ross holding Paula (aka Polly) Dodgen and my brother Harry (aka Butch) Eakin. In the front row are first cousins Brenda Dodgen, Janice Dodgen holding me Linnie (aka Lin) Eakin, Jeffrey Ross, and Karen Ross. This photo was probably taken sometime during the summer of 1956. Because I was four years old and have no recollection of this trip, I again have had to enlist my siblings' memories to help fill in the blanks. Now to paraphrase Paul Harvey, here's the rest of the story...
Sometime during the summer 1956, Mother took Shirley, Butch and me on a road trip to Beirne, Arkansas from our home in San Francisco to visit with her parents. Mother must have been homesick, since Shirley recalls, "she just wanted to visit her mother" as the reason for the trip. She left Robert, Larry and Daddy at home to fend for themselves for about a month, probably more! What a trip it must have been to travel nearly 4000 miles round trip on a bus with three kids ages, 12, 10, and 5.
According to my sister we traveled on a Scenicruiser. This new type of bus was Greyhound's newest concept introduced to their fleet just a couple of years before our journey. It was the new way to travel across America. The Scenicruiser had tasteful appointments, a full restroom with running water, air-suspension that made the ride feel like you were floating on air, and the piece de resistance, the panoramic window seats on top of the bus!
As children will do, Shirley and Butch (and possibly me if they allowed me tag along with them) would rush at every stop to get the best window seats once available. Getting to sit in the panorama window seats on the bus was a dream for us little kids as we traveled the highways that Greyhound described as strips of velvet!
We all probably had our favorite toy or book to help occupy our time on the bus. Shirley recalls she brought a library book with her on the trip and managed to lose it somewhere along the way. I'm sure Mother wasn't too happy about that and this event most likely added to the thrill of the trip.
Even if it was an American dream to travel on one of Greyhound's Scenicruisers, I can't imagine traveling on a bus from San Francisco to Gurdon, Arkansas, the nearest bus station to Beirne! I doubt that the four of us felt at the end of the first leg of our journey that every mile was really as magnificent as the Greyhound company advertised! I'm sure, however, the "complete washroom" was a godsend to Mother as we motored our way days-on-end to Arkansas.
Back in California, Daddy and the other two boys stayed home since there wasn't enough money for all of us to go to visit our grandparents. The daily routine didn't stop just because we were on the road. Daddy went to work downtown at the one of the tall buildings where he was a janitor. When he left for work he left the teenage boys to their own devices.
Robert spent most of his time working on his old car with a friend from church. According to Larry, he never got the car running well enough to drive much, if ever. Larry, almost 15 years old, spent his time working his paper route and swimming at the pool a couple of streets from the Army Street (now known as Cesar Chavez Boulevard) apartments where we lived. Mealtime wasn't too much of an adventure during our absence since Larry recalls the guys survived on "mashed taters and beans" during their month of freedom.
While in Arkansas, we visited as many of our relatives as we could. We didn't need any money for our stay since we were fed and sheltered by relatives the entire time. The photo documents that Mother's siblings, Dale and Luscious came to their parents' house in Beirne, since all their children are in the picture. It was either a Sunday after church or we all decided to dress up for the Beirne photo shoot. Shirley recalls she was wearing a pink dress for the exciting shoot! We were all dressed in our Sunday best, even Jeffery in his cute hat and suspenders.
On the return trip, both Shirley and Butch recall how hot it was at some of the stops. Agricultural Quarantine Inspection sites were the norm at most state's borders. Contraband fruits and vegetables were prohibited to cross borders, particularly into California where so much of the United States' produce was grown. When the bus stopped in Indio, California for a required agricultural inspection, we must have gotten off the bus for a while. Butch recalls how he burned his hands on the hot metal handrails outside of the station. It was an impressive, but not rare 120 degrees that day. While Butch was traumatized by the heat, Shirley was observing the little old ladies fainting from the intense heat as they walked from the bus! It must have been a sight to see. Who knows if the inspectors ever found any contraband fruit or vegetables on the bus.
A happy group of people in the front yard will remain my main memory for this picture. Now nearly sixty years laters I also see the future when I look at this picture. I see the coming changes to our family and our eventual relocation to Arkansas after the death of our father.
Eakin, Larry. Personal phone communication, 22 January 2016.
Eakin, Harry. Personal phone communication, 13 January 2016.
McElroy, Shirley. Personal phone communication, 12 January 2016.
PD-4501 Scenicruiser. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PD-4501_Scenicruiser, accessed 13 July 2016.