Photo/Courtesy of panoramio.com
Remington, Virginia, my home town.
After I graduated high school, my father decided that it was time for me to have a car of my own. Prior to this I only mentioned wanting to own a car once, but I’d mentioned wanting to learn to drive several times. Buddy Hayes, a friend and neighbor, took on the task of teaching me to drive from the time I was about 16. “Blinky”, as he is known throughout Remington, had me sit behind the wheel of his car with a wide open field in front of me and told me what to do. It wasn’t long before I was kicking up dust – up and down the dirt road we lived on, shifting that straight stick like an old pro (thanks Buddy).
When it came time to purchase a car Dad took me to Alexandria Pike and turned into Arrington Motors. At the time I couldn’t have predicted that my mother, Earlene, would become very good friends with Mrs. Arrington and be a caregiver to her mother for many years to come. Unfortunately at the time, Mr. Arrington’s prices were well beyond my budget, so we decided to try a place on the by-pass on East Shirley Highway just up and across from where the “new” Warrenton Fire Station sits today. I found a black 1962 Ford Falcon for $250.00. I paid cash for it and basically parked it in the driveway because I had been accepted to attend Norfolk State College.
I went off to college and when I returned home for Christmas break, I wrecked my car simply because I was out of practice driving. The next year I decided it was time for another vehicle and I walked to Remington Bank after picking out a 1965 Ford Mustang for $500. When I got to the bank I went up to a teller told her that I was there for a car loan. She directed me to Mr. William Embrey’s desk, the president of the bank.
To this day I have never met the president of any other bank I was a member of.
I sat down and he said
“So you’re here for a car loan”
“Your Ellsworth Brown’s boy, right?”
“He’s a good man, Let’s see… fine, we can give you a loan”
He reached over, shook my hand and said,
“Wait here just a moment”
He left and came back a few minutes later with a bank book with the loan amount hand written in it and a check for five hundred dollars
“Bring it by and let me take a look at it”
That was it, I didn’t sign a single document, never saw a loan agreement. I bought the car and drove it by the bank to let Mr. Embrey have a look at it. I stopped by to the bank every month with my loan book to make the payments. I watched the loan amount slowly dwindle away over the course of 3 years.
Photo/Courtesy of alamedarides.com
1962 Ford Falcon, my first car.
That’s right, I received a car loan from the president of the bank, William Embrey, with only a firm handshake as a binding contract.
After owning the Mustang for a few years, and a few more cars, I allowed someone to convince me that it wasn’t proper for a respectable young lady to be seen riding in a custom van with drapes and a full size bed in the back and that I should get a new car more befitting a lady of her station. Well, guess what, I went out and bought a really nice car.
Yes, I bought a really nice car that I could not possibly afford to own. It didn’t take very long for me to discover this fact and after only 2 monthly payments to the Bealeton Branch of the bank, I called the loan officer who had given me the loan (we’ll call him Mr. Hand) and explained to him that I needed to return the car to the bank because I couldn’t make the monthly payments. Mr. Hand didn’t see it that way of course, “You’re making the payments on time every month so there’s really nothing I can do, my hands are tied”.
This back and forth went on for a few months, me calling and asking him to come get the car and him saying he couldn’t as long as I was making the payments. I actually begged him to come get that car. I explained that although I was paying for the car, I was behind on my rent and one or the other would have to be dropped and since I had to live somewhere, the car had to go, but he didn’t budge.
That’s when I decided to simply stop paying for the car, I just stopped. Two months of non payments went by and sure enough, Mr. Hand began calling on a regular basis, threatening to repossess the car if I did not immediately begin making payments again. He screamed into the phone, “I’m coming over there personally and tow your car if you don’t start making payments!”. My immediate reaction was, “Isn’t that what I’ve been asking you to do for the past six months, I’ve been begging you to come get this car”
“You start making payments or you’ll never get another car loan from this bank again!”, he was extremely upset (but there was nothing I could do, my hands were tied).
A week later, I removed the tires, put them inside the car and the trunk, along with the keys. I put the car up on blocks in the apartment parking lot, called Mr. Hand and told him where he could pick it up, packed and moved to Richmond with my sister and her husband, at their behest.
After 3 months of living in Richmond, I grew tired of the city life and left a good job, my lovely sister, her husband and the family they were starting and moved back to Fauquier County. I quickly found a new job and a new apartment, the only thing I was lacking was a car. I needed to catch a ride to work every day and I hated relying on someone else for transportation. One day out of the blue, I received a phone call, “Hello Stanley this is Gloria Comer at the State Bank of Remington, I hear you’re in need of a car”, (Mrs. Comer, VP of the State Bank of Remington? How in the world did she hear that I needed a car), she went on, “Why don’t you come by and let’s talk about it”.
“But Mrs. Comer, the loan officer over there, Mr. Hand, said he’d never give me another car loan”.
“Well I’m not Mr. Hand, come on by, I think we can work something out”.
I dropped everything, shot over there as fast as I could bum a ride and lo and behold, she told me “Pick out a car, bring it by to let me look at it” (YES! They still made you bring the car by so they could look it over back then) and before you knew it I owned a new car.
Back then, everybody knew everybody and more importantly, everybody knew everybody’s business. Someone had to have tipped off Mrs. Comer that I needed a car, but to this day I don’t know who that someone was. Not only did I pay off that loan, I finished paying off the loan on the car I left behind, that is, the couple hundred dollars difference between what I owed on the car and the amount they sold it for after the repo’ed it. Mrs. Comer didn’t have to do that, she went out of her way to contact me, to reach out to me when I was in need and I greatly thank her for that, and to Mr. Embrey, he gave me a car loan solely on the basis of knowing and respecting my father, Ellsworth “Doc” Brown.
As you all may know, some years later, the prominent bank president and community leader ran into some legal trouble, that is not what this story is about, this is a story about people who afforded me and others in the community opportunities that they may not have otherwise been open to if they had not been there for us. Had this happened today, his next move would be to run for public office, and by his popularity, I have no doubt that he would win.
I know, I hate it too, I wish I had a few controversial and highly explosive stories to tell about how terrible it was to live in this area in the 50s and 60s, but I don’t. If there were lynchings and cross burnings (and there may have been), I didn’t see them and so can’t write about them first hand, but… to be fair, it’s hard writing a “Growing Up Colored” series if you really didn’t grow up THAT colored after all. Oh, there was racism, plenty of it, but not the blatant racism and discrimination one would expect to see in a small southern town. I was turned down for a house rental just outside Remington once because of my color and the two young, white, women who bought the investment property in Remington, but lived in Arlington, never encountered that type of racism before. They called me crying to apologize after a neighbor threatened to burn down their house if they rented it to me, they were sobbing and extremely distraught, I sort of expected it. Funny thing, I’d just left the house after meeting the man, with him welcoming me to the neighborhood and shaking my hand. He stood there and watched me sign the rental agreement, all the time waiting for me to leave so he could bully the girls into submission. I left and the phone rang as soon as I got back home, letting me know they had to cancel the contract, I understood and agreed. I saw the old man in Remington several times after that but never said anything to him, he’d speak in passing, never recognizing who I was.
Growing Up Colored
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