I was born under a wandering star at Martinsville, Virginia. I have only recently learned that Martinsville was founded in 1778 by American Revolutionary War General Joseph Martin. Land grants were made by King George III to the Bassett family soon thereafter. I was born in Martinsville, in my mother's bed, delivered by Dr. McDaniel. He was the only doctor in town; there was no hospital. My mother was his nurse in a small office/clinic that he maintained on the second floor of a corner building. The only drugstore was on the first floor. I remember that it had a long counter, soda fountain.
Now back to the Bassett family. My grandfather, Lee Roy Rogers, was born in Burnsville, North Carolina. The family Bible traces his family back to James Andrew Rogers and Mary Anne Clouse, his parents. My grandfather was a craftsman. All I ever knew of him was that he made furniture somehow or other all his life. His existence was quite peripatetic, taking him from one little town to another in western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee, where my mother was born. Her mother, Grace Campbell, died in the influenza epidemic of 1919 (Spanish Flu) and soon thereafter a little brother also died. My grandfather Rogers was left with three children, of which my mother was the middle child and only 5 years old. I don't know when or how he married again, but he was lucky to find Bonnie Harrison sometime in the next couple of years to take on the responsibility of these three and to later have one more son, also Lee Roy Rogers.
They lived in Mars Hill, Hickory, and Winston-Salem in North Carolina as my grandfather plied his trade. Sometime when my mother was in high school, the Bassett furniture business was thriving and looking for talented workers. My grandfather was hired as a foreman and moved his family to Martinsville. By this time, he and Bonnie had taken on the remnants of another family, a widow and two daughters, the Garlands. She was Daddy Rogers' sister. Her husband was killed in a train accident, I was told. At any rate, you see that my grandfather was a hardworking, resourceful and pretty adventurous human being of his day. He was known to have a motorcycle with a sidecar. My mother learned to drive a Ford on mountain roads, the mountain roads where bootleggers ran from the revenuers. They were the first NASCAR drivers.
All in all, the mountain towns of southwest Virginia were more than a little bit interesting. As I said several paragraphs earlier, I only recently learned much of the history of this part of the South. A full description of the history of Henry County is contained in Beth Macy's book, “Factory Man”.
The other side of my beginnings is a father I can't remember and his Justice family of which I know almost nothing. I have a few vague memories of the first five or six years of my life. My parents divorced when I was six. My mother took her chance to leave the cold mountains of Virginia and to reestablish her life in Jacksonville, Florida.
What I can tell is mostly information I have gleaned from Ancestry.com about the Justice clan. My paternal grandmother was Edith Caroline Moore before she married Otha Forrest Justice in Asheville, North Carolina. They had four children, my father, James Tilson Justice, Clarence, Clyde, and Pauline.
I was able to trace Edith's lineage back another generation or two. The Tilson name also allowed a little bit more information.
Upon graduating from high school, my mother had been awarded a scholarship to Lenoir-Rhyne College where she would've learned to be a teacher. Instead, and unbeknownst to her parents, the summer after high school graduation while ostensibly visiting relatives in Asheville, she enrolled in nurses' training at Asheville Memorial Hospital. Some will recall that Asheville was a resort city, also a city of sanitariums , very popular with those who could afford it, specializing in cures of TB. The training hospital there was well recognized for the rigorous education women could acquire there.
My father's ancestral home was Asheville. I believe his family had a dairy farm and I know that my father made furniture . . . perhaps as a hobby. How do I know this? He made a replica four-poster bed and chest of drawers doll size for me. (Jane Warren was given those pieces when we left Martinsville. She told me fifty years later that she had kept them and passed them on to her daughters and granddaughters. I have written two poems about Jane's place in my life.) I also believe that my father, James Tilson, attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and qualified as a teacher. At any rate, that explains a bit of how my parents met.
After my mother finished nurses' training, they came as newly-weds to Martinsville to live. My father taught school. When WWII began, he was 4F and nevertheless wanted to serve, so they moved to Newport News, Virginia, where he worked in the shipyards. I remember a spotlessly clean house, sparsely furnished, blackouts, - our car headlights were painted half black. We listened to the Wednesday night mysteries on the radio, often in the dark. Very scary! My father had a collection of recordings of classical music. We listened to those, too.
During the years of 1943-51, I lived in Jacksonville, Florida; Martinsville, Virginia; and Thomasville, Georgia. I attended a number of schools and supplemented the formal education offered me by becoming a voracious reader.
After I was graduated from Landon High School, Jacksonville, where I was fortunate to have highly competent and inspiring teachers. I attended Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida, for three semesters, and there began a quest, even a guiding and compelling beacon leading to further education. This quest spread out for more than twenty years until in 1981, having completed both the BA and the MA in English, I earned a PhD in Humanities at Florida State University. Joseph Conrad's three political novels: “Nostromo”, “The Secret Agent”, and “Under Western Eyes” provided my dissertation topic: 'Ironic Affirmation in Joseph Conrad's Three Political Novels, A Study of the Narrative Technique'.
I lived in Tachikawa, Japan; in the Greater Tokyo area, for three years in the early 1960s. Thereafter a string of locations were home: Pensacola and Key West, Florida; then Tallahassee again. Raleigh, as well as Charlotte and Goldsboro, all in North Carolina, were locations where I worked as university teacher, administrator, editor and writer for several magazines and a newspaper. I also worked as a free lance writer and an adjunct professor of English at several small colleges.
Louisville, Kentucky became home in 1991. Jacksonville beckoned in 1997, but after 6 years there, I was able to return to lovely Louisville in 2004.
I now live with my Canadian partner and we have residences in Toronto, Ontario and Louisville, Kentucky.
This site was last updated 04/30/17