You can look at this picture and see how I could lie about my age

April 21, 2024

“You can look at this picture and see how I could lie about my age. I was fifteen but said I was older to get jobs. I had just started working at Greer’s market in Fairhope, wrapping meat and cleaning cases. Jimmy was the assistant manager. He was twenty-five and so nice. I picked him out and wanted to date him. He thought I was older.

I offered a ham to a guy working with us, if he got me a date with Jimmy. Jimmy heard about the ham deal-splitting it would help him out. Jimmy’s brother was crushed in a coal mining accident; he was struggling to take care of his whole family. Jimmy took the deal and asked me to the drive-in movie. I was thrilled. Six of us went in his uncle’s little coupe to see Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Jimmy picked me a rose that night–I kept that flower in my Bible all of my life. When the movie was about over I told him, ‘I think I love you.’  He said, ‘I think we should go.’ He was very responsible, and my age dawned on him.  We went home. That was it.

Jimmy spoke to me now and then at Greer’s. I was helping my family, too. My father and grandfather had run the ferry back and forth from Fairhope to Mobile. Then Dad worked on a tugboat. I was eleven when he died from Tuberculosis. Before he passed, he told me to help my mom take care of my two little sisters. I started working as soon as I could.

I was at Greer’s for a few more months after that date with Jimmy, then I lied about my age again for a job at the Grand Hotel. I put on my beautiful brown linen dress and fixed my hair. They thought I was 21 and hired me to be a server. Daddy was in heaven looking down on me–I wouldn’t drink whiskey, but I could make a living selling it. I moved into the dormitory with the other girls working at the hotel. William Holden was one of my first guests; he wanted his crackers and butter first. I learned how to wait on those rich people just right.

Everyone in Fairhope knew the telephone number of the girls’ dorm at the Grand Hotel. Jimmy got ahold of the number, leaving me a message to meet him at the American Legion Club. I was shocked but tickled and took the hotel bus to meet him. We had a Coke. He told me about his new job at the hotel, and we started dating. I would meet Jimmy at the picture show on Wednesdays, our days off. I put a dollar in his hand every week to pay for the movie. Never saying a word. His money still went to caring for his family. We dated for a year. He got promotions and started making more money. One night after the movie, Jimmy asked, ‘Well, are we going to do it next Wednesday.’ I said, ‘Do what?’ He said, ‘I guess go to Mississippi.’  That’s how he asked me to marry him. He was scared to death. I said yes.

We drove to Mississippi, but the courthouse was closed.  We went around back and found a man who could marry us.  I was 18 by then, but they asked Jimmy-not me-if he was old enough to get married. After we married and walked down the steps, Jimmy hit me across the back and asked, ‘What do we do now?’ We got home and packed everyone we knew into the car for the midnight movie. That was our reception and honeymoon. We stayed out until daylight, then went to work.

We married in 1952 and later moved to a new house on a dirt road in Fairhope; it was in a cow pasture close to the bay. We bought the house with $500 down and a loan from GI bill. Jimmy worked a couple of jobs so I could stay home with our three kids; he loved coming home to the children, dogs, and me. Every night at dinner, he asked the kids, ‘Have I told you and your mother today that I love you? God has blessed us with another day.’

Jimmy was about to retire. People started saying, ‘Jim, you’re getting a stomach on you.  Are you drinking beer?’ He had never had a stomach and said, ‘No, I must be eating too much bread.’ It wasn’t bread; it was cancer. Jimmy was determined to live, but the doctor told me,  ‘you know we’re in trouble.’ I didn’t say anything to Jimmy. He lived for only six more weeks. The night before he died, we walked to the Orange Street pier, sat on a bench, and talked. It was the first time he acknowledged he was dying. He told me he wasn’t leaving me high and dry. Jimmy was fifty-nine years old when he died. We were married for thirty-four years, but he’s been gone for forty.

I had the best life after I finally got Jimmy Atkins. I would never find another man like him, so I didn’t try. I’m 90 years old and still live in our house. I never needed for anything. I kept working and entertaining myself after Jimmy died, but it’s harder now. I broke my hip; it’s tough to get around. I can’t work and rake like I used to. That’s defeating, but God keeps me here.

I’m still amazed at how Jimmy cared for us. I think I knew he would be worth the money I invested in him with the ham and the movies. I loved that man and was well-paid back.”


(Alma is next to her mother)


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