We've come a long way, baby: Mom takes to Facebook for birthday wishes

J. H. Osborne • Jan 28, 2019 at 4:45 PM

My sister, Pamela Fagans, turned 63 a few days ago. As soon as I emerged from my bedroom that morning Mom wanted me to show her how to tell Pam "happy birthday" on Facebook.

That, in itself, shows how much the world has changed since January 1956. It also shows change on my mother's part.

The day my sister, first of my parents three children, was born my father drove the 45 miles or so to rural Lee County, Va., to let Mom's parents know the baby had arrived, was a girl, and both mother and daughter were doing well. Today we all have cell phones. Instant contact at our fingertips. Back then my father had to drive two-lane roads, some gravel, in the snow for 45-50 miles to get the word out.

This was the first time Mom has asked me to help her post on Facebook, a medium she not-to-long-ago shunned and was proud to say she'd never posted a thing on. She hadn't been happy when I first created a Facebook page for her and Dad a few years ago. Now, she was ready not only to post, but to go live online. I ruled that out, however, opting to shoot and share a video. On video, I asked Mom what happened on that day in 1956.

She said she gave birth to her firstborn, Pamela Faye, at about 9:30 or 10 a.m. "She was the cutest, sweetest little thing, at 6 pounds, 2.5 ounces. It came a big snow. And her daddy got out and drove down to the country to tell (her) grandpa and grandma Wallen about their new grandbaby. And when he got back home he came back to the hospital. I was asleep but he woke me up and he had a big, beautiful bouquet of red roses."

A note: "down the country" is how we've typically referred to the rural areas of Lee, Scott and Hancock County that played pivotal roles in my parents' childhoods (as well as mine and those of my siblings and cousins). I'm not sure where "the country” begins, but if I’d had to pick in point as a child I would have said where the road narrowed and became gravel, not blacktop. That, I think, was somewhere west of Fairview on Route 600. I remember there was a large “Grapette” sign in the shape of a bottle cap right before we’d hit gravel.

Mom went on to say Pam's birthday brings back a lot of happy memories and then we sang "Happy Birthday."

I tried to kid Mom some by asking a couple of follow up questions. The first: when Daddy drove to tell our Wallen grandparents the news that morning, was he driving the car with the mismatched door?

"No!" was her answer. Later, off camera, I asked her to talk about the mismatched door and here is the story.

The day before her due date with Pam, Mom had an appointment with Dr. Christiansen. His office was in the then-fairly-new and modern "Medical Arts Building" on Ravine near Holston Valley Community Hospital. Dad had a fairly new shiny black Dodge two-door Wayfarer. But he'd loaned it to his youngest brother Harold who was in his last semester at East Tennessee State College (that's ETSU now). So when he drove Mom to that appointment it was in a "beater" he'd bought mainly for parts. It was green with one blue door, or vice versa. Dad was also covered in grease from working on cars in the small garage he operated in addition to working full time at Mead Paper. Mom went inside and left Dad in the car. And then it happened. Dr. Christiansen wanted to talk to Dad. Mom said he was waiting in the car and before she could say more Dr. Christiansen volunteered to walk her out and speak to Dad at the car.

Mom never quite got over Dr. Christiansen  seeing that mismatched door. By evening, Dad had borrowed his own father's new and well-kept Dodge Coronet for the eminent trip to the hospital.

I dug around in the Times News archives and found an article from June 1953. A group of doctors had just gotten zoning approval to build the Medical Arts Building. It was proposed to house offices for 10 doctors and have a pharmacy on the first floor. Each floor of the two-story building would have a grade entrance.

That last part is key to one factor doctors cited as the need for a building "away from the noise and bustle of the business district and the old-style 'walk-ups' that strained the hearts of many patients." The city earlier had rejected the doctors’ request to build on Ravine because zoning rules didn’t permit such buildings in residential zones. The doctors decided to buy the old Kingsport Improvement Building at Market and Shelby streets and convert it to a medical building. The zoning rules, however, were changed to allow the building originally proposed. But the Korean War caused construction to be delayed.


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