1955 - 1956


Our Buickmobile with its occupants on shelves and in hammocks finally arrived in Virginia in mid February 1955.

We found a house for sale in Oceana, a small village town five miles from Virginia Beach and 12 miles from Dam Neck where I would have my military duties. It was an older house with four bedrooms, dining room, a fireplace, big yard, detached garage, and giant trees and a garden and pony stable. We also had an outdoor barbecue pit. It was fenced in with a heavy wire fence. It was the nearest to a dream home Morena had ever lived in The elementary school was located across the street from us and down about one block. We settled for a purchase price of $14,500. The twins and Joe were not yet school age. The older children except for Jimmy were not easily blended into the school.

I wondered why Jimmy fit in with such harmony. One day I picked him to go somewhere just as school was letting out. His Catholic teacher, Miss McNamera, lined the kids up in a row , checked their buttons and scarves, and kissed each one the cheek. The health department would probably throw her in jail today. She loved the children and they knew it and they loved her. I have never seen such harmony and sweet spirit in a class room.

We got reacquainted with our friends at the Tabernacle church and drove to Norfolk on Sundays. It was a 22 mile drive.

In the meantime the team who were so aggressive in our 1947-1950 tour of duty in Norfolk were now pillars in the Virginia Beach Chapel which had been meeting in a three bedroom house with walls knocked out when we left Norfolk in 1950. I was saddened to see that although they were doing a very worthwhile ministry in the church they had largely dimmed their vision to be out in the highways and by ways evangelizing. The Virginia Beach chapel was fast out growing it's mother church, the Tabernacle Church of Norfolk.

Through Dick Woodward, brother in law of John Dunlap, pastor of the Tabernacle Church of Norfolk, Morena was invited to hold classes for the entire student body of the black (segregated) school in Virginia Beach. The Christian school teachers were enthusiastic to have her teach the Bible and give the gospel to the student body. At a banquet honoring her, she was the only white person present.

Our older boys were in Dick Woodwards Sunday School class,. He had many extracurricular activities for them. One day he was taking them somewhere in his car. Jonanthan opened the cigarette lighter lid and found a cigarette butt in the ash tray. He turned to Dick and said, "I thought you were a Christian." Dick was let down and expressed his frustration to me. He said, "I am a failure as a teacher. I have never taught them that a person who smokes is not a Christian and the person who does smoke is a Christian." I think he renewed his emphasis that is by grace that one becomes a Christian.

One day we had all of the children, who generally attended children's church, in the auditorium for worship. When the choir came in dressed in their white robes, Jimmy whispered, "Are they angels?”

About that time we had guests and Morena put white linen napkins on the table. One of the children picked one up and said, "What's this." They had never seen napkins other than paper napkins.

We were only five miles from the beach so after school and work we often spent an hour or two on the white sand as the mighty waves of the Atlantic rolled in.

During the last few months of our stay I was in poor health due to asthma. The doctors were divided as to the cause. One doctor who held the view it was emotional asked me if we had a happy marriage. Other Doctors believed it was an allergy and gave me all kinds of shots.

It turned out that my allergy was to sulfur. In Virginia it is often damp and foggy. When the weather condition is such the fumes escaping from industrial plants are held down and are mixed with the air we breathe. That knocked the theory that it was the dampness which caused asthma. After moving to Colorado I was cured within a week and stopped taking shots.. After being in Colorado a few months, I opened a plastic bag of dried apricots and took a whiff inside the bag.. Immediately all of the asthma symptoms returned in all their fury. I found out they were preserved with a sulfur mix and only then knew what had caused my allergies in Virginia.

We really didn't get firmly established until it was time to leave.

After Dawson Trotman drowned, pastor Dunlap thought it was urgent for us to join the Navigators in Colorado. His church supported us with an unprecedented $200.00 a month and the Virginia Beach Chapel also supporting us regularly.

What a struggle for Morena. She loved our living and church situation and school situations...She was reading the Bible one day and saw a pronouncement of Christ. He promised He would reward those who left a list of things to further His Kingdom. The first on the list was HOUSES. She gave up the trees and was rewarded with mountains.

At the stroke of midnight October 31, 1956 a burden rolled off my shoulders. For the first time in 24 years I didn't have to be anywhere at any precise time. No one was checking up on me. Due to the colorlessness and routineness of completing the retirement paper work I also had the feeling that after all my years of service in the Navy and two wars and a very rewarding career the Navy wouldn’t miss me.

I entered a new phase in life in which my only connection with the highly regimented life in the Navy was to make a trip to the mail box once a month as proof the Navy remembered me and acknowledged my contribution to the nation's security with a monthly check.

On the morning of November 1, we headed for Missouri. I left the family with my folks and drove to Colorado Springs to get a place to live. I signed a contract for a house and motored 760 miles back to Missouri in 13 hours to pick up the family again. Marobeth was 12 and Jonathan 11, so Morena and I had to do all of the driving. As we passed Goodland, Kansas we saw a huge black cloud to the west. By the time we reached Limon, Colorado the snow was so deep we had to take shelter in a motel. It was noon the next day before the snow was cleared enough to proceed.

We checked into the Buffalo Lodge for ten days until we were ready to move into our house. The contract for the house I selected fell through so Morena got to pick out our first house in Colorado at 638 Glen Eyrie Court.. It cost $18,000. It had no garage. It did have three bedrooms upstairs and a full basement. We quickly turned the downstairs into bedrooms and a family room with fireplace and television. Our family spent many pleasant hours down there as a family.. A few months later Morena's mother moved in with us. December 6, 1960 Joy arrived to bring our family to ten counting Mrs. Holmes.

We had entered a new era in life which was to last for 22 years collaborating with the Navigators in a staff capacity while the children grew up in Colorado Springs. In 1978, Joy entered college and we moved to London where for the next three years I was to provide leadership for The Navigators in 22 countries in Europe, The Middle East, and Africa.

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James W. Downing
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