“POP”: The Life and Times of Earl Vict Essay
POPor Patterson Sr.
While researching and meditating on the history of my paternal ancestry over the last few weeks, I have had the opportunity to draw many connections between the life I have experienced to date and the lives of Patterson families as far removed as five generations. It has been eye-opening to flesh out the seeds of my lineage, discovering the foundations on which I was raised and reflecting on the stability of family and community back then. Family themes, such as the importance of hard work, education, selflessness, honor, religion, athletics, and community, have been gradually sewn in my young life by the collective lives and experiences of such men as: my great-great-great grandfather, William Andrew Patterson, his son, Eusebius, his son, Earl Victor, his son, E.
V. Jr., and finally, his son and my father, Earl Victor Patterson III. I have chosen to loosely center my writing on the life of my late great-grandfather, E.V. Sr.. It seems to me that “Pop”, as I have always heard him referred to, represents the common denominator between my “ancient” past and today.
Additionally, his life most directly highlights the aforementioned family themes that have characterized the Patterson family for ages.
Pop was born in Alamance County, North Carolina, on December 15, 1890. Born to Eusebius (“Sebe”) and Etta Albright Patterson, he was the oldest of seven children. He had one full brother, W. H. Patterson, and one full sister, Sarah Etta, who died in infancy; he also had three half brothers and two half sisters: Dean Eusebius, William Wayne, Walter McAdoo, Irene, and Audrey. Pop’s mother died when he was eleven.
As my grandfather, “PauPau”, recalls, Pop grew up on a small farm in Alamance, which bordered the farms of his uncles, George Washington Patterson and John Sherman Lincoln Patterson. The proximity of their farms and dependence on one another helped foster a particularly close-knit environment for Pop to grow up in. During his adolescent and teen years in Alamance, Pop undoubtedly learned the life lessons of hard work, personal responsibility, and education. You see, these three families built, raised, and manufactured nearly all of life’s necessities. They had a blacksmith shop, a sawmill, a cabinet shop, and a water-powered gristmill on their land (Interestingly, it was this one-of-a-kind, elaborately constructed gristmill that the brothers utilized to generate much of their capital just after the Civil War, a time when money was hard to come by. Apparently, their “Patterson Bros. Carolina Favorite Flour” was the first roller-processed flour manufactured in North Carolina. After processing, it was transported by wagon to Fayetteville and Wilmington. Well, PauPau suspects that the money made here went towards financing the property and construction of a few sizeable (i.e. three story, block long) buildings on the Court House Square of the county seat in Graham, North Carolina. These prime rental properties were passed down over the years, remaining profitable until PauPau sold them in the early 1980’s). The Patterson brothers also grew their own vegetables and raised cattle, hogs and chickens for food. They even salvaged ice during the wintertime. According to PauPau, when the “old mill pond” froze over in the winter, they broke off large chunks of ice and stored them through the summer months in a huge bin of wheat chaff. This self-sustaining, agrarian community was fairly typical of the region during the early 1900’s.
As I mentioned, Pop’s lessons in responsibility were not only taught on the farm or at the mill, but in the classroom as well. In his early years, Pop attended the local Friendship School. There he learned to read and write, presumably developing a passion for education. He also witnessed the birth of athletics at Friendship School. These childhood experiences were instrumental in shaping much of Pop’s early adult years.
The history of this academy is of particularly significant importance to Pop’s life and my ancestry. With precursor schools as early as 1800, Friendship dates back in the 1860’s, where it began as a one room building in the Friendship Community of North Carolina (Note, however, that it is not perfectly clear when the school officially adopted the “Friendship” title). Pop’s father, Eusebius, attended this school along with three of his siblings. It also appears that Sebe’s father, William A. Patterson, had a hand in its infancy, and a keen interest in educating the youth of Alamance County. He served as a trustee of Fairfield Public School (1882-85) and Friendship Graded School before his death in 1903. William’s belief in education, specifically at Friendship, proved to be infectious in the Patterson generations that followed. Documents on the history of Friendship School are riddled with students, teachers, and supporters who bear the Patterson name.
In 1906, at the ripe age of sixteen and presumably a graduate of Friendship School, Pop entered Elon College. Elon was approximately 13 miles from his home, so he lived with a friend on campus. Two years after arriving there, Pop was selected from a group of baseball and tennis players to join an upstart track and field program at “The Greater University of North Carolina”. According to an article from the Centennial Edition, Burlington (N.C.) Daily Times-News (May, 1949), Nate Cartmell, the two-time Olympic sprinter and newly appointed UNC track coach at the time, chose his track prospects on the basis of build, legs, and ankles. Personally, I got a kick out of this description because I competed in track as a young boy. PauPau frequently credited my modest successes to “those knotty knees of your great-grandfather, Pop”.
In 1909, Pop enrolled at UNC to continue his schooling and begin, what would soon become, an illustrious, however brief, running career. He majored in Education while at the University, remaining there through 1913 to earn his Masters. Pop also developed a deep interest and devotion to Carolina athletics. He became a nationally famous track star, breaking many records, and becoming the South Atlantic Intercollegiate Athletic Association mile and two mile champion in 1912-13. Ironically, however, one of his most notable UNC track memories ended in defeat. Carolina’s mile relay team, which included Pop and his brother, W.H., was matched against The Carlisle Indians. These Indians were led by, arguably the greatest athlete of all time, Jim Thorpe. As Pop recalled it, “we came around the last curve, I thought I was at least 15 yards ahead of the Indian, but like a fool, I looked back, and then I stepped in a small hole and fell down”. Before hanging up his shoes, Pop punctuated his great running career at UNC with an experience that he would later describe as one of the highlights of his life.
In the summer of 1913, Pop accompanied his track coach, Nate Cartmell, on a university and privately financed trip to Europe.The two traveled to Glasgow, England on the Steam Ship Numidian. From there, Pop and Nate spent the next four months touring the immensely popular European track scene, appearing in 25 meets across England, Scotland, and Germany. Pop was fairly successful in these races, winning several medals and occasionally money for his efforts. Legend has it, he won a big race in Berlin, and the Kaiser himself presented Pop the award (it was a silver sugar bowl that, to this day, is displayed in my parents china cabinet back home). Having enjoyed the experience so much, Pop returned home with visions of representing the United States in the 1916 Olympic games, to be held in Berlin, Germany. Unfortunately, his hopes were soon dashed with the onset of The Great War. Years later Pop reflected on his experience with great fondness. He was especially struck by the beer in Germany, the beauty of the countryside, and by the enthusiasm that the English brought to track and field. He specifically recalled some 107,000 fans in attendance for the Edinburgh meet, noting that nearly all of them were betting on the runners.
Following his first-class voyage home, Pop returned to Alamance and once again turned his attention towards Education. He taught at Friendship for the next two years, serving as a math teacher and principle in 1915-16. Presumably in the spring of 1916, Daniel Sapp of Lancaster, South Carolina was appointed to find a teacher for a local high school. His search brought him to Friendship School and he persuaded Pop to accept a teaching and coaching post at the institution. He relocated to Lancaster where he taught, among other students, Mr. Sapp’s daughter, Annie Laurie Sapp (“Biggy”). The two quickly grew fond of each other and, following a few months of courtship, they were married in The Lancaster Methodist Church on September 22, 1916.
Immediately after the wedding, they set up residence in Burlington, North Carolina, where Pop resumed his teaching and coaching duties. Just a year later, Pop and Annie once again moved, this time to Boston, Massachusetts. He took a higher paying job as a textile inspector but refused to cut ties with his passion for teaching/coaching. He committed himself to coach the Friendship High School track team by mail and in the summer. These teams had great success, producing seven state titles in his eight years as the “long distance” coach. Consistent with his interest in athletics, Pop became a big Boston Braves baseball fan during these years. PauPau recalls that Pop was good friends with a number of the players and that they occasionally came over for supper. Unfortunately he doesn’t recall any names.In 1919, during their stint in Boston, Annie returned to Burlington where she gave birth to their only child, Earl V. Patterson Jr. (whom I refer to as PauPau). She insisted that no child of hers would be born in the north, so she made a quick trip home and came back when Earl was born. Pop and Annie raised their son in Boston for the next six years, occasionally visiting Nantucket Beach or Cape Cod for recreation, but primarily just working hard.
In 1925, Pop and Annie decided to move back to Burlington, North Carolina. They moved in with a relative and Pop got a job selling Buick automobiles for the C.P.K. Motor Company. He worked there for two years before buying his own Starr dealership in town. The economy was soaring in the mid twenties and business was good. Pop and Annie were eventually able to buy a nice house and also decided to expand the dealership. Unfortunately, just as they were beginning to settle down, The Depression hit America. When economic times went south, people sure didn’t have the money to buy automobiles. Pop couldn’t cover his loan payments and was forced to liquidate his company, sell his new home, and declare bankruptcy. The family relocated six more times during the Depression, moving whenever they found a cheaper place to live. PauPau vividly remembers these times. He recalls seeing Pop in the late afternoon, day after day, sitting perfectly quiet next to an old furnace in the back of the dealership’s garage, clearly bearing the weight of decisions made and those still looming. PauPau stresses how taxing the Depression must have been on people like his father, “heads” of the family. He goes on to express his great pride in, and respect for, his father during these times, “he never said a word, never complained a bit, not once blamed anybody else”.For the next ten years, Pop worked long hours as a salesman for the Chrysler dealership in Burlington, while Annie continued rearing Earl. During these years Pop would realize some of his greatest thrills to date. Pop and Annie saw Earl attend UNC and, as fate would have it, become a track star at Chapel Hill. He competed in the hurdles and the high jump, winning a conference championship in the latter. In 1941, around the time WWII began, Pop took his last job. He went to work for his half-brother, Dean Patterson (another one of those Friendship School boys), in construction. The firm was one of the largest construction firms in Burlington at the time. Annie began volunteering at the Red Cross a lot, running information services, wrapping bandages, etc… Pop and Biggy retired sometime after the war, and spent the last 20 years of their life caring for each other and relaxing. Carolina athletics, periodic visits from relatives, and family trips to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina highlighted these later years.When Earl finished his duties in the Army war effort he briefly returned home before joining his uncle in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Together, they built a fairly lucrative road contracting company throughout southeast Louisiana. He soon married Frances Caroline Lenhard (“MaMa”) of Baton Rouge. They raised two sons, and one daughter: Earl V. Patterson III (my father), Troy Lenhard Patterson, and Caroline Ann “Sister” Patterson.Bibliography:
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