BEST FRIENDS… and more
From as long as I was old enough to understand about “Best Friends”… I knew who mama’s Best Friend was… Willie Mae (Walker) Sisson.
In asking Mama about her best friend Willie Mae…. “Willie and I were best friends from day one! I looked at her on the very first day of school and said, “I don’t like this place”, and she looked at me, and… “I don’t think I do either.” That cemented our friendship and we remained friends all our lives. I lived in Siloam, while she lived between Siloam and Union Point on her father’s farm… but we went to elementary school together in Siloam. Later her parent’s, Bill and Katie Walker, moved to Union Point and changed schools. I went on to Greensboro to finish… but we still remained friends. Her father, Mr. Bill, ran the “City Hotel” in Union Point, and my father often took me there on the weekends to stay… her father would bring me home. We had a lot of fun at the hotel and that’s where I met my husband – he was the best friend of her boyfriend; they both were in the Navy.”
“When I grew up. the McKinley’s and the Walker’s never liked each other much, and always fought. If they were all at a dance… at some point, before the end of the night… there was a fist fight over something… and look who my best friend turned out to be… a Walker! We even married men who were best friends… although we also both divorced them. I remember asking Grandma Walker one day, “what would you do if Willie and I had a boy and girl who married and had a baby?” She replied quickly, “I wouldn’t let it in my house!”
We lived in Union Point, Georgia for the first five years of my life, and mama and Willie Mae were inseparable as they raised their families. Willie had three girls, Karen, Pat and Debbie… they were my playmates. Mama often talked about how she and “Willie”… as she called her, would take us girls to town for an ice cream… and while we enjoyed our cones, they’d sit on the bench watching people… and laughing. Willie loved to joke around… and I can still hear her laugh as I write about how she enjoyed a good joke.
“I have always had a sense of humor… Willie Mae and I laughed all the time… at everything. She enjoyed reading through joke books, and could sit and read… and laugh out loud. I used to laugh telling jokes and remembered every one ever told to me when I was a beautician; I told jokes all the time to my customers. Now I can’t remember where I lay anything, much less a joke. I hope I’ll never forget the joke one of my oldest customers told me as she laid back in the chair as I washed her hair. She asked, “have you ever seen a one-eyed sex maniac?” I laughed and said I guess I haven’t… she slowly covered one eye! I fell over laughing at this 80-plus year old woman telling that joke!”
Masonic Hall of “Chappell 511” on the main street of Union Point… Chartered in 1917… see story of mama and Willie Mae’s escapade below!
This is not the original building when my father was a member… there would have been no shimming up a pole for these windows!
The second floor of the now Broad Street Finance is where the Masonic Hall used to be… those windows would have been the ones my mother shimmied up to peek inside!
My mother and Willie Mae were always was always a willing pair to get in trouble together. Whenever the other was needed, they were always there… willing, ready and able! I remember one episode that my mother often laughed about and enlisted Willie for backup. Mama had always been curious about the monthly meetings that daddy went to at the Masonic Lodge in Union Point, and as he’d never tell her what they did there… well, one evening they followed him. I’ve always thought about it more as a “Lucy and Ethel” episode whenever she’d tell the tale. Mama and Willie crouched in the shadows until everyone on the sidewalk had gone inside, and as the meeting hall was on the second floor, mama told how she shimmied up a pole to peek in the window. Picture a young skinny woman shimming up a pole on the sidewalk… on a main street of town as you drove by! No sooner after finally getting a peek inside of them dressed and crawling on the floor did my father spot her through the window. Like a little kid, she dropped quickly to the sidewalk, and two giggling women ran like a bat out of hell… running all the way back to our house. I’m told he stormed home later asking what she thought she was doing! I can just picture those two long-legged women running down the sidewalk, collapsing on our front porch in hysterics… knowing that they better laugh now before daddy came home! I guess she had the last laugh!
The City Hotel sat on this corner… directly across from the Chipman Mill. I’ve been on the hunt for a photo of the City Hotel, but have yet to discover one… but I haven’t given up!
Mama says these are the backstairs at the City Hotel
If the above photo is the City Hotel… then mama also posed here in front of it.
On one of those long weekend stays with Willie at the City Hotel… “I stayed at the hotel a lot on the weekends with Willie… my best friend from day one of first grade. One night while we were in the bathroom taking a bath, we heard her uncles in an adjoining room, talk about the whiskey they had, and where they were going to hide it while they went out. After they left, Willie went in and took half of it for us. We got so drunk by drinking it and chasing with chocolate milk… what were we thinking! We were two drunk chicks in the bathroom later, and later throwing up. When they came back, we heard them in their room almost fighting with each other over the missing liquor; Willie finally went in and told them before they actually fought. They probably took one look at her… and knew where it went!”
“Willie’s parents, Bill and Katie Walker, owned the City Hotel and Café in Union Point. It was a large hotel, with one upper side of rooms they rented out… there was about twelve rooms and the other side was where they lived and the café. The hallway where the rooms were, was long with a huge fan at the end of the hall… keeping it nice and cool. There was a long stairway where you could leave without going back through the hotel or out the front way… we often slipped out those back steps.” Most of the people who rented there were the mill workers… the mill was just across the street. They’d stay during the week and work, then go home on the weekend.”
“Often, Willie would sneak down to the cafe in the afternoon and get us cigarettes… sneaking behind the counter to grab a pack of Kool’s… then flying back upstairs. One day, Miss Katie said, “we sure are selling a lot of Kool cigarettes lately”… Willie and I just fell over laughing!”
“I loved spending the night with Willie when her parents ran the City Hotel in Union Point. There was always so much more to do and get into, and always interesting people. I remember one night at the hotel when we climbed in the linen closet in the hallway… laid on the sheets, and propped our feet up against the door. When someone came by and opened the door, our feet just plopped out in the hallway. We’d lay there laughing and laughing as our feet and legs lay in the hallway. Willie liked to hide in there when she was mad at her parents. I’ll still do that today with my friend Carolyn – If I find something funny, especially at the Senior Center, I’ll look at her and roll my eyes and then fall over laughing. Some people must think I’m crazy, but I don’t’ care – I do what I want, when I want, and if they don’t like it, then they can go somewhere else.”
“Willie and I could just look at each other and fall over laughing, just like my grandchildren, Stephen and Melissa do, and probably still do today. We even did that as we got older, and especially while working together at the Holiday Inn in Madison.”
“One time while I staying at the City Hotel, Willie popped some girl in the face and made her nose bleed… her father, Mr. Bill, told us the law would be coming for us… in trying to scare us. We were always into something and never thought twice about fighting, either someone else or each other; we only fought each other over clothes and boys.”
“When I married, it rained cats and dogs that night! I’ve always heard that if it rains on your wedding day, for every drop of rain, you’ll shed that many tears – and I have shed many! I don’t remember what I wore that night, but we went to Richland’s, the local juke joint, to dance later… it was just outside of Greensboro. We came back and spent the night at the City Hotel afterward, as Willie’s father, Bill Walker, gave us a free room for the night… we had no money. Then we stayed with his parents in the mill house where they lived. The next day he had to go back to the Navy base in Memphis, Tenn.”
Even after we moved away from Union Point in 1957 … mama and Willie Mae remained in touch. I never saw or heard phone conversations like we have today with our friends… but back then it would have had to be a long distance “paid” phone call; those type of phone calls were only made out of necessity. Today we pick up our cell phone and never think about where the call is going, as it’s no different than a local call.
As I read about Dudleytown in the ghost book I picked up at work today, I asked Mama about ghosts on the farm, and… “I believe my Daddy is still on the farm… and probably still sitting in his favorite rocking chair… rocking back and forth. I remember one night being woke up and finding his rocking chair in my bedroom… rocking back and forth. I just laid there and watched it rock before going back to sleep. I told my girlfriend, Willie Mae, the next morning, and she got so scared… saying how she wasn’t going to ever sleep over again; I laughed and told her she was silly. Later I figured out what had happened… I had laid my exercise rope on the back of that chair, and at some point, it must have slipped off and caused the rocker to rock. I used to tell tales in town that Daddy’s ghost was on the farm. It made them talk about Mr. Ed still being on the farm, and they were afraid to come around. It did keep certain people from coming down to the farm and bothering me.”
“Willie, was always hesitant to sleep over on the farm, and especially after Daddy died; she believed that his ghost was still there. Anytime she visited, and a cloud came up, she’d have to leave quickly, wanting to go home. I remember one time… it was storming and raining really hard, and as she left to step out into the yard, a bolt of lighting hit the ground and she ran back in the house… but soon left anyway. She didn’t seem to care how bad the outside weather was, she’d rather brave leaving, then stay safe in the house, possibly facing the ghost of Mr. E. T.” (My father was often referred to as Mr. E. T. or Mr. Ed. (Edgar Thomas McKinley)
Mama and Willie at the farm… straddling the barb wire fence in granddaddy’s cotton field. In the photo of Willie Mae I discovered that granddaddy’s barn was in the distance… it was exciting to see, as I’ve never had it show up before.
In telling mama about all the snow we had here this week after Melissa’s wedding… she said, “During the 1970’s we had a lot of snow… imagine us in the South. I remember one night when I was back living on the farm, and working at Nathanael Greene Restaurant in Greensboro, when we had a few inches of snow. I had to ride in the car tracks of other cars just to get home that night, but I couldn’t get down to the farm so this man with a big truck rode back and forth on the rode down to the farm to pack it down and make tracks for me to get daddy out. I took him over to Willie Mae’s, and he was so mad about leaving his house… he never liked leaving the farm. We stayed at Willie’s and he beat the floor with his cane all night long. I still believe he’s there on the farm… when people don’t really want to leave this earth, their souls don’t leave. I believe my mother left the earth and went searching for her son Leroy, but not my father – he’s still on the farm and his soul will always remain there…that is where he was happy and I was too.”
A funny story mama told about “Willie”… “One time Willie got mad at me when we both worked at Holiday Inn… and we were both grown women. I worked there as a bartender and she was a waitresses in the dining room. Two of her boyfriends came in at the same time one night and sat at the bar and talked to me… I knew them both. When she came by and saw them both sitting there, she told me get them to leave, but I told her that if I tried to get to get them to leave, they’d surely get suspicious… so I said nothing. When she walked back by a few minutes later, and saw them still sitting there, she shook her fist at me – and I told her quickly, “hey wait a minute… I’ll meet you outside… she didn’t take it outside though! We always fought as kids over clothes and boys.”
“One night after work, Willie and I just took off for Florida… we were both single, and often didn’t have a care in the world. We had talked all week about how we wanted to go to the beach… so after we got off work after midnight, we just headed to Florida… we got lost but eventually found our way. Willie and I stayed about two days at a place owned by her uncle. In leaving to come home, I accidentally locked my keys in the trunk. Willie had her car keys in her purse, so we tried them and one of her keys opened the trunk and I got my purse out. Her uncle just stood there shaking his head as he couldn’t believe that another make and model car key opened my trunk. We drove back home that day only wearing our bathing suits… and laughing all the way about her key opening my car trunk.“
“I’ve always had a sense of humor, and Willie and I laughed all the time – at everything… and I can still hear her laugh when I think about her today. She still enjoys reading through joke books today and can sit, and read and laugh. I used to laugh telling jokes and remembered every one told to me when I was a beautician. I told jokes all the time to my customers. Now I can’t remember where I lay anything, much less a joke.”
Mama sitting on top of the “Rat Hole” – train behind!
The Famous “Rat Hole”
In reading through the Greene County book, I discovered a story on the Rat Hole behind the Hosiery Mill in Union Point – it was something I never knew of and I immediately asked Mama. “I don’t remember anything called the rat hole.” But once I told her it was behind the hosiery mill and built under the railroad for people to cross through from one side of town to the other when the train stopped on the tracks, she said. “ Oh that, I’ve been through the opening there that separates the town from the other side, but I never heard it called the rat hole. Me and Willie used to cross through it going to town. She walked through it daily when she walked to school, but she was always afraid and usually ran through it.” I called Willie Mae and asked her and … “Oh yea, I remember the Rat Hole – I crossed through it daily when I went to school. Sometimes when I ride by it now I always look through it.” (While we were in Ga. in June (2010) I rode by and took photos.)
Funny how we are called different names by people… Mama called her best friend Willie, while I always said Willie Mae, but she called mama by her given name of Helen; Willie’s girls called mama either McKinley or just Kinley! I can still Willie Mae’s laugh… sadly we lost her in 2015, but I bet she’s waiting on mama with a joke book in her hand… just thinking of what they’ll get into when she comes! They both were 1930 babies… mama in April and Willie Mae in September… and I bet Willie liked to tell mama how she was older! They’ll have a lot to catch up on one day! Mama is 90 years young this year… but never believes me when I tell her she’s 90! Maybe I won’t either one day… if I live that long!
Happy “Heavenly” Birthday “Willie Mae”! Today you would have turned 90!
Mama, Ellie (Willie Mae’s granddaughter) and Willie Mae
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