January 23, 2012.

 By Sue Austin

My parents, William (Bill) Rosser and Lydia Adell (Brumley) Fentress, were both born on Knotts Island, NC. Bill’s birth date was 4/30/1916; Adell was born 10/6/1914. Their courtship began in the 1930’s when both were in their early teen years. Before marriage was even a faint possibility, Adell completed three years of college at East Carolina Teacher’s College (ECTC) in Greenville, NC and then taught for several years to pay back a loan. This loan was from Mr. Joseph R Knapp, a New York millionaire who had built a part-time home at Knotts Island’s Mackay Island. Finally, the loan was repaid and after eight years of dating they were finally able to marry on December 20, 1940.

My father was the youngest boy of seven children. His parents, Littleton Rosser and Alice (Ward) Fentress also had Essie, Eddie, Curtis, Frances, Mamie and Christine. Essie married young to Elswood "Pud" White, Eddie to Ethel Litchfield, Curtis married Julia "Rowe" Rowland, Frances to Elliott Barnes, Mamie to Claude Dudley and Christine, the youngest girl, to Benjamin (Bennie) Murden. I always thought that my Aunt Mamie and Uncle Curtis had enjoyed particularly interesting jobs before I was born. Both had worked for Mr. and Mrs. Knapp during the l930’s. Curtis was in charge of/drove the Bootlegger, a very large boat/yacht that picked up many wealthy guests from up north and shuttled them, via water, to the Knapp’s country style mansion overlooking the Currituck Sound. Mamie was one of the several Knotts Island cooks and even, on occasion, accompanied the Knapps back to their New York home to cook for them. My Aunt Mamie said they treated all their help very kindly and made sure all had tickets to Radio City Music Hall and other such offerings. Still though, she was always very homesick for her mother and siblings. When I tasted her homemade yeast rolls, delicious pound cakes with white cooked frosting and large cream puffs filled with yummy tasting filling, I knew exactly why the Knapps were anxious to whisk her away to their northern home each year!

Bill Fentress was not a happy school student and preferred hanging out with friends. His parents did not seem to be overly anxious about his missed days of schooling. In fact young "Willie" as he was then called enjoyed a reputation among the older friends of his brothers and sisters of a little nuisance who always got his way. During his 8th grade year, my father contacted Bright’s disease, a serious disorder of the kidneys that was often fatal. Bill did recover, but just barely, after having spent the majority of the school year in bed. When it was time to return to school the following year, he was set back a grade. My father got angry, left school and never returned. Surprisingly his parents did not force the issue. Young Bill helped on the family farm the remainder of his teen years. When his father died unexpectedly, Bill looked after his mother as well. He had access to cars belonging to his older working siblings and some spending money so life wasn’t all bad.

Adell was the second of three girls (Nita and Ruth). There were also two younger brothers, Edgar and Paul. Adell’s father, Edgar (Ed) Brumley, only had a 3rd grade education. He taught himself and in later years became a Justice of the Peace and even served on the County School Board. Ed Brumley was married to Minnie Hall Ballance who had even less education than her husband. Both parents strongly believed in education though and were determined all their children would graduate. And, all five did.

My mother began her teaching career in 1936, at Bayside School in Virginia. She boarded with a nice family during the week and returned to Knotts Island each weekend, transportation being provided by her young suitor, Bill Fentress. They married in 1940; Bill applied and was hired as an Apprentice at the Moon Engineering Shipyard in Norfolk. The newlyweds set up housekeeping and lived in the Norfolk area from 1940-1952. During this period of time, Bill and Adell welcomed two little girls into their family, but Adell also continued to teach. City life probably agreed more with my mother than with dad. By 1951 he had convinced Adell to return to Knotts Island. Both of his parents were now deceased; he had purchased the Fentress farm, was renting out the old home place, and had even set out 100 peach trees on the property. So, during the summer of 1951 our family moved again, for the final time, into a new home on Knotts Island. Bill farmed nights/weekends and worked a day job at Public Works Transportation at the Norfolk Naval Base. Soon he transferred to the Naval Air Station Oceana’s Transportation Department as a Heavy Duty Mechanic. Mom, after moving back to NC, was able to obtain an elementary teaching position at Creeds High School, then part of old Princess Anne County in VA. Then came an unexpected surprise in 1955; at age 42 Adell found herself pregnant. The rules in those days were very strict, nonnegotiable. A pregnant schoolteacher was expected to resign immediately. My mother went out, purchased several black dresses and some cute sweaters. She stuck a pin here, a scarf there. And taught until Christmas break. When mom told everyone that she wasn’t coming back and a baby was due in April, there was utter astonishment! On April 13, 1956, my parents welcomed their first son. When Adell did return to teaching, in the late 50’s, it was to the Knotts Island Elementary School. She taught the little ones until her retirement in the mid 70’s. It somehow seems appropriate that my mother could end her teaching career employed in the very school that Mr. Knapp, her benefactor of the 30’s, had built. My mother taught all three of her children during her career and even her first grandchild, Wendy Dawn.

Bill, Adell about 1974
Adell, Wendy Austin c. 1974

Those 100 peach trees that Bill had set out in the late 1940’s had turned into a "second" job for both of them. The little orchard had grown close to 1000 fruit trees in later years. Dad was known during the late 50’s until the mid 70’s as the Knotts Island Peach Man. His old green truck loaded down with peaches made the trips back and forth to Virginia Beach for many years. Mom complained that she never had a summer vacation from teaching because she was stuck in the orchard picking peaches all summer! My job as a teen was to help pick Mon-Wed-Fri and then load the truck and meet my Dad at Oceana when he got off from work. We would head for the roadside stands or the large grocery stores of that era - BeLo, Colonial Stores, and Giant- to unload the delicious peaches. Each container sold for $3 - $4. And, I made the huge sum of $15 a week! My sister did all the housework and cared for the little terror, brother Billy! She made the same salary (she should have made more). If it were an extra busy peach picking day, my sister and Ralph Ansell (one of Dad’s peach employees) would drive the truck to the Beach and deliver an early load of peaches. Those were especially fun trips for those two, filled with lively discussions of Island gossip, both past and present.

Bill and Adell’s children were Carolyn Sue (b. 1/14/42), Judy Alice (b. 8/25/43) and William Rosser, Jr. (b. 4/13/56).