My mother was one of a kind

She rode motorcycles wth my dad in thrill shows, traveled the world on her own and taught me to read when I was five years old.

My mother, Ethel MacPeak Thompson, taught me to read before I started school. I read Perry Mason novels by Erle Stanley Gardner at age 5, along with books on history plus newspapers and news magazines.

She was a unique woman who raised me by herself for the first eight years of my life. She lost her husband, and my father, when I was nine months old, to a horrific industrial accident accident at the U.S. Phosphorus Plant in Tampa, Florida, where he worked as the firm’s chief electrician.

Mom worked for the Navy Yard in World War II, managing gas coupons for sailors and civilian employees. Wife Amy’s mother worked on a assembly to build war planes in Texas during the war. Both of our mothers served the nation in time of war.

Mom’s decision to teach me to read and understand what the words said gave me a head start at knowing what was going on the world around. us. Besides books, I read news stories in newspapers like the Tampa Tribune in Florida and later The Roanoke Times along with news magazines like Time.

She told me the truth about Santa Claus and other childhood myths. I knew early on that the presents under a Christmas came from her and relatives and not a fat guy in a red suit. Rabbits did not lay eggs. She told me that Black people were as good as we were but were mistreated by our nation.

She provided vivid stories about my dad, who served on the U.S.S. Missouri battleship as Electricians’ Mate First Class William D. Thompson in the war and stood on the deck in his dress whites in Tokyo Bay when the Emperor of Japan surrendered to end the war.

She met my future dad in Norfolk when he came tothe gas stamp office to get extra coupons so he could ride his Harley Davidson motorcycle down to Tampa to see his parents before heading West to ship out on the Missouri for an assault on Japan, where many him expected to die in combat.

The Missouri was on its way to be part of the task force that planned to attack Tokyo but two atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki before the ship arrived finally forced a surrender by the enemy and the ship would, instead, serve as the site for the surrender.

When he got back to Norfolk, my future mother was dating Navy Yard civilian employee Joe Weatherly, a motorcycle racing champion who would later become a NASCAR racer and friend of Floyd County native Curtis Turner. Weatherly and sailor “Tommy” Thompson raced on their motorcycles through the streets of Norfolk on a Friday night to win the right to take Ethel MacPeak out.

Thompson won and dated Miss MacPeak for several months before proposing. She remained friends with Weatherly and I remember her crying when he died in a crash at a 1964 NASCAR race at Riverside Raceway in California.

She and my future dad rode their bikes for fun, as part of thrrill shows and as their main form of transporation, including a trip from Norfolk to Meadows of Dan in 1946 to see my parnets with news thery were planning to marry. My future grandparents, at that time, had not met their future son-in-law or knew she was riding motorcycles.

Tommy rode his Harley down to Gibsonton, Florida, just south of †ampa to give his parents the news and Etrhel rolde down by herself two weeks later to join him. They were married there in 1947.

I had no actual memories of my dad when he was electrocuted when a another worker accidentally turned on the power of a massiver electric motor my dad was working on in 1948, nine months after I was born.

After his death, I do rememeber wrapping my arms around my mother while riding on her Harley on the roads round Tampa and later in Floyd County after we moved there when I was five and a couple of years after.

We lived in an apartment over Hoback’s furniture and app;liance store behind the Bank of Floyf. I learned a lot about my dad from her stories and the photographs in a large scrapbook I still have. She told me that my dad was the only man she ever loved and could never be replaced.

So I didn’t understand when she replaced him three years later by marrying a divorced man with three kids and a lumber business in Farmville, about halfway between Floyd and Richmond. Ethel Thompson became Ethel Bolt.

I had little desire to replace the dad I never knew with a stepfather. I refused his request to formally adopt me and change my last name to Bolt. I was a junior with my dad’s name and nothing, I said, could change that.

I was a problem child and one who also cold not understand why some Black friends I had in Farmville could not be in school with me because of segregation. When the racist school board closed the public schools in Prince Edward County and opened an all-white “private school” to keep schools segregating, violating the Civil Rights Act that required integration, I spoke out, even as a child, against racism.

In a school essay, I criticized the actions of the school board and the equally-racist board of supervisors, which made me a target of bullies whose fathers were members of the Ku Klux Klan in the county but one student told me where the Klan held its rallies and I crawled on my hands and knees through the woods to take secret photos of the rally. I was a paperboy for The Farmville Herald, and showed the photos to editor Ben Bowers, who said the owner of the paper would not allow publication. He offered them to The Richmond News Leader and the afternoon paper published the photo and also offered it to the Associated Press.

It led to more fights with school bullies and my mother wanted to send me to my paternal grandparents in Florida so I could attend schools there, where they we integrated. That led to fights with with my stepfathr who wanted to send me, instead, to Fork Union Military Academy to “lern discipline and better manners.”

The issue became moot when they decided to sell the sawmill busihess to my step-father’s brother and move trhe family to Floyd County to take over the family farm and where the kids could attended an integrated school.

My stubborness led to problems between my mother and step-father, but she supported my efforts to give up study halls and go to summer schiool so I could graduate from Floyd County High School a year early. I made no secret that I wanted to leave the county, permanently.

When my stepfather died , I came back to Floyd County for the funeral and saw my mother break down as she cried and mourned a man she loved. I apologized to her for the difficulties I had caused.

“It was not your fault, but mine,” she said. “My stories build your father up as a superdad. Doing so was a mistake. I loved your father. I loved both my husbands.”

Before meeting my dad in Norfolk, my mother had traveled much of hte country with a friend from high school and she began to travel again after her second husband died. She visited Australia, took cruises and explored parts of the word she had wanted to visit with my dad.

In 2004, after 49 years traveling the world as a newspaperman and photojournalist, I retired and returned to ‘Floyd County with Amy to help care for Mom as her health failed. She died in 2012 in the early morning hours with me holding her hand through the night.

She had requested to be with both her husbands after she died and we scattered her ashes with m step-fathers’ grave at Buffalo Mountain Church Cemetery and took the rest to be with my dad in Hillsborough County Cemetery north of Tampa in Florida after a ride on my Harley Davidson along the route she took from Meadows fo Dan to Florida to meet her future in-laws and marry the first man she loved.

Happy Mother’s Day mom. You lived a fulll, complere life on your terms. I am proud to be your son.

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