Vert and Robert

Born 21 September 1923 and died 16 February 2008.

When Robert was born in 1923 his father was already 48 years old and his mother was 41. He had 2 brothers -15 and 12 and a sister, 10. When his sister Mary was 3 years old, Roberts parents adopted her because his mother wanted "a girl to help around the house". Poor Mary missed out on all the after school activities because she had to rush home to prepare dinner, do laundry, etc. Carrie Mitchell never let Mary forget that she adopted her, as though Mary owed her something. But then, thats another story.

The 1920's were a good and prosperous time for most families, but not for the Mitchell's. Roberts father, Vert, was a big, good-hearted man. He was very quiet and strict and a Sunday School teacher, but he was no businessman. He was considered a "jack of all trades, master of none." By profession he was a miller, carpenter and upholsterer. Finding steady employment was always a struggle for him.

At the time Robert was born they were renting a house in Ashburn Virginia on the railroad tracks. In fact, although they had a fenced yard, Robert remembers on two different occassions their dog getting out and dying on the tracks. This house had no running water or electricity. They had no radio and t.v.'s weren't invented yet. The neighbors who owned the house used to sit out on their porch and "cuss" them; the children threw rocks at them. The Mitchell's were known as "poor white trash." Robert's family had to get a "peace bond" put on them to make them leave them alone. They had a vegetable garden and raised some pigs.

4 years oldWhen Robert was 4 years old his 16 year old brother, Lester, "ran away" and joined the army by lying about his age. Lester was a redhead and a "spitfire." He didn't get along with his father, but his mother let it be known that he was her favorite child. Lester was charismatic and very popular with the ladies. Soon after this, his oldest brother, Gordon, landed a good paying government job with the patent office in Washington D.C. After a few years of commuting more than an hour each way on a train, he decided he had to move closer to his work. Since he was the main bread earner, the entire family moved to Arlington Virginia. Robert was 8 years old at the time.

Of course by now the Great Depression had hit and jobs were even harder to find. Vert put up street signs, worked on a bridge, sold eggs - anything to make money. They moved several time in Arlington, I suspect they were being evicted each time.

To help out, when Robert was 10 his mother used to give him homemade donuts to sell on the street. He also hawked newspapers on the corner in the mornings and afternoons. His brother, Lester was out of the army and working as a chef in a Washington D.C. restaurant when he went out with his lady friend and got to drunk to drive. She drove them home on a rainy night and missed the curve in the road. Lester died on the scene. Robert's mother never truly got over that. A year later, his sister Mary got married.

13 yrs oldThen 2 years later his father, Vert, had a stroke and died. By now Robert is 13 and left alone with his mother (who certainly didn't work). Gordon had to step up and support them both until Robert turned 18, then they were on their own. Ends up Robert supported himself and his mother for another 10 years, until he was 28. Roberts teens were turmultuous. He befriended a guy named Louie. No one picked on him because Louie was a big guy. Louie's mother had died and his father ran a gambling establishment at the gas station he owned, he was a bookie. So when Robert was 14, he went to his first horse race track in Charlestown West Virginia with Louie. Of course, his mother didn't know all this was going on. He also started smoking cigarettes - Pall Mall unfiltered was his favorite brand

with LouieAround this time the Washington Redskins came into being. Roberts first real job, at 14 years, was working the concession stand at the old stadium they played at in Arlington. They later moved to JFK stadium in Washington. His sister, Mary, used to get season tickets and Robert used a couple of them and went to the home games with Louie. He remembers there used to be a Wonder Bread plant next door to the stadium and he loved to smell the bread during the games.

Robert also worked for the guy who had the concessions at the Pentagon. There was a question of food poisoning and they shut his employer down. This is when he went to flip burgers at Little Tavern. He always wanted to be a sports announcer when he was a kid, but he didn't have any college. In fact, he didn't have enough credits to graduate with his class and had to go an extra half a year and graduated in February. He was not interested in book learning and was busy running around and working. Robert was a shy guy, tho. After he did graduate from school, he asked his old typing teacher out for a date and was to shy to even kiss her. He was trying to break up a fight one time and ended up getting his jaw broken.

He was scheduled to start his new job with the Post Office on December 7, 1941, which was the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and began the U.S. involvement in World War II. He was only supposed to be part time help for Christmas but since the war took so many men, he worked as a "sub" for 6 years before he made a regular position. They had to hold jobs open for the servicemen when they returned, but of course, alot of them didn't return. Robert tried to join up twice, but was denied because of his hernia. So his first job with the post office was to help deliver parcels at Christmas. He knew the streets well and could drive, so they gave him a Model A truck and 2 "jumpers" (people who delivered the parcels to the door) to do the job.

Robert and GracieIn 1948, when he was 25, he had to have all his teeth pulled because he neglected them all his life. When they were on the mend, every morning before work he would stop into the local White Tower restaurant and get a coffee and a bit to eat. He noticed this cute waitress there by the name of Gracie Mitchell. She had a little girl, named Becky, from a previous marriage. When they were dating they had to go out most of the time because he lived with his mother and Gracie was boarding in a room that didn't allow men company. They finally married on February 18, 1950 and together bought a house in Arlington, Virginia for $13,000. They went to New York city for their honeymoon. Roberts mother, of course, came to live with them, as well as Becky. He also bought his first car at this time, when he was 27 years old. He remembers meeting Becky at school and walking her home, before the car. Up until then, they took buses everywhere they went.

Robert and motherLiving with Carrie Mitchell (Robert's mother) was not the easiest thing to do. I believe Carrie thought her son would take care of her the rest of her life, and she didn't like the fact that Gracie came with a child. Blood meant alot to Carrie and she was very possessive. On several occasions she told Gracie to stay out of her kitchen. Eventually Robert had to choose and he chose his wife. So 3 years after they married, Carrie went to live with her adopted daughter, Mary. That didn't go so well for Mary and her husband, either, but then that's another story.

1958 familyWhen Gracie gave birth to Becky she had a hard time of it, and the doctor told her to wait 10 years before having any more children. So right on schedule, when Becky was 10 and Robert and Gracie had been married for 5 years, they gave birth to a son - Lester. He was named after Roberts brother, who was also a red head. Then 2 years later they had a daughter - Debbie (me). That would complete Robert's little family. Gracie continued to work, mostly waitress jobs, so they could afford to stay in the house.

Soon after Carrie left, Louie and his wife split up and Louie asked if he could stay until they made up. Louie rented a room in the basement and ended up staying 15 years. Louie's wife worked at the White House and got an invitation to the inaugeration of Eisenhower sent to Robert and Gracie. Click on photo to see a full size of the invitation. And later, the inaugeration of Johnson and then of Nixon. He didn't attend any of them.

Eisenhower inaugerationIn the 1960's and 1970's, every summer he would take a week vacation from work and take the family to Ocean City Maryland. They stayed in a cabin and made their own meals. Every Sunday he would take them to a local beach in Maryland called Beverly Beach, until they closed the beach to the public due to an influx of black people who had run the beach down. At that time, they were no longer allowed to keep black people out. During this time there was great turmoil with equal rights. His children went to a segregated elementary school and then were bussed into "colored" neighborhoods for junior and senior high school. Arlington had 3 sections where the black people lived and there was very little intermingling of races. Clarendon, an area of Arlington, had a local Klu Klux Klan meetinghouse in the 60's.

Robert's mother called him Robert, Mary called him Bob and everyone else called him Mitch. He smoked up to 2 packs of cigarettes a day, drank beer (mostly on weekends), was for many years on a bowling league and followed the horseraces for most of his life. He liked to shoot pool and play poker with his buddies. Every couple years he traded in his car and after retiring from the Post Office where he worked for 36 years, he bought a new (used) camper, each one bigger than the last. He would keep the RV for about 5 years before getting another one.

When he was working for the Post Office he started at a wage of 65 cents an hour. The post office was a respectable job back in the 1940's. Half his career he was a clerk, then he became a supervisor and a manager. By the late 1970's the post office became a stressful place to work. That coupled with his onset of high blood pressure prompted him to retire at the age of 55. He had saved up a year of sick leave, which he used before going out. Soon after retirement, in 1980, Mitch and Gracie sold the house in Arlington and bought a small house in Fredericksburg, Virginia. They planted a vegetable garden in the back yard, which became bigger each year, and started buying the campers and taking frequent trips - mostly to race tracks on the east coast. In 1981 they took a trip across the United States where they stopped or passed through almost every state in the country. This trip took them half a year. Mitch was also active in the local Moose Lodge for many years.

Redskin timeThis biography would not be complete without mentioning his love of the football team - Washington Redskins. He went to home games with sister Mary all through his life, and on retirement, he created a room for his newfound collection of memorabilia - the Redskin room. The Redskins even moved their training camp to Roberts hometown of Ashburn Virginia. Lester had a childhood friend who was a photographer for Associated Press and took photos on the sidelines. Debbie had a childhood girlfriend who became a Redskin cheerleader for many years. Robert always had a good word to say about his team, he didn't like "fair weather fans", and every year at the start of the season he would say he was "optimistic" about their chances for the playoffs this year.

Robert got diabetes when he was 60, which was controlled by diet and pills. In his later years his eyesight got worse. Eventually developing malecular degeneration. He also had cataract surgery on both eyes. When he began having sleep apnea, he finally gave up driving and sold his vehicles. Then his wife of 56 years died. Robert was never right after that, displaying signs of dementia and congested heart failure. He died a year and a half later of a heart attack at the age of 84.

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