Edgar Douglas Christman was born in Jacksonville, Florida, on November 26, 1929. His parents were Monseurat Adela Josephina “Jo” Carles and Ola Edgar Christman.
Monseurat Adele Josephina Carles was born in 1903 in Catalonia, Spain, near Barcelona. Her father Emilio Carles was a member of Spain’s diplomatic corps. His work took the family to South American and then to Mexico. When Jo was twelve, they moved to Jacksonville, Florida.
Jo was an unusual person: beautiful enough to be named Miss Jacksonville and also intelligent and determined enough to become a business executive. She learned to drive a car, attended Stetson University, and wanted to become a lawyer.
Ola Christman’s ancestors were German immigrants who settled first in Pennsylvania and later moved to Salem, NC. His great-grandfather was Frederick Thomas Christman who lived in Salem.In 1828, Frederick converted to the Baptist faith and was no longer eligible to work or live in Old Salem, moving to eastern North Carolina.
Ola was born in 1889 in Johnston County, the son of Thomas Ruffin Christman and Virginia Alice Hocutt. Ola’s mother died when he was young, and he lived for some time with his uncle Joe Hocutt on a farm near Rocky Mount.
Ola served in the US Navy in World War I. He was first married to Bernice Long, a US Army nurse who died of illness during the war. After the war, he moved to Jacksonville, Florida, where he became Comptroller at the Jacksonville, Florida Railroad Terminal. The Jacksonville Terminal served as headquarters for five railroad systems.
Ola met Jo when he started taking Spanish class, and she was his teacher. She had not become a lawyer after all; instead, she worked for T.S. Roberts, founder of the Monticello Drug Company. She was originally in Spanish translations but worked her way up to become Vice President.
They married in April 1928. Young Edgar was born the following year. He was a striking boy with white hair, crossed eyes, pale skin. He began to wear glasses at age 2-1/2 years old.
Ed’s crossed eyes required four operations. His operations were performed at ages 4, 5, 12 and 14 at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. For the final trip, he traveled by himself and was met by Eva Jones RN, a friend of his father who worked at Hopkins. Ed remembered this trip vividly, including spending the night in the hospital in a room with a man who was immobilized, and of their good conversation about baseball, apples, and many other subjects.
Remembering the experience, he said, “I assumed things would be all right. I guess that is my nature.” Then he rode the train back to Rocky Mount, where he met his parents and they spent Christmas holidays in North Carolina. Ed remembers the farm with its cotton fields in eastern North Carolina. He was especially close to his Uncle Raymond Christman, who played an important part in his life.
Ed loved every chance to ride a train. He remembers taking the train to North Carolina to visit his relatives. One highlight was on his 9th birthday where he saw his first snow while sitting in the horseshoe end of Duke Stadium, watching Duke defeat Pittsburgh. Three years later, he was back at the Duke Stadium for the 1942 Rose Bowl, which had been relocated from California to Durham due to the attack on Pearl Harbor.
He was enchanted by the Pullman cars and the elegant porters who served the passengers. Once, Ed complimented the porter on one of these trips, saying “I want to be like you,” which got a big, generous laugh from the porter. He said later, “He must have thought I was a nut, a little white-haired boy wanting to be a Pullman porter.”
Ed’s parents did not pamper or protect him from life; in fact they taught him to drive and to shoot a gun. Fortunately he did not use these skills more than a time or two! Yet their approach to parenting strengthened Ed’s sense of confidence and initiative. One of his earliest memories was of pushing his tricycle on the porch underneath the mail box to get the mail.
Ed: I began wearing glasses at a young age. Although there were very few others with glasses at school, I was not excluded from football and baseball played in the neighborhood. I could throw the football a long way but was not sure who would catch it! At school, I was usually assigned a front row seat which made it easier to get up and go to the board to see the questions or the teacher would give me a copy of the questions. The fact that I was white-headed from birth meant I was called “snow white” and “cotton top.”
Edgar, as he was called, attended Fishweir Elementary and then Robert E. Lee High School. He had four best friends in his neighborhood and was treated equally. Once in school, Ed was in a fight with a child who hit him and broke his glasses. One of Ed’s friends knocked that boy down for hitting Edgar.
The boys played baseball and football on a vacant lot nearby, and they played dodgeball in the back yards. They rode bikes and went to the movies. Ed was a fast runner and a good thrower. He was better at throwing than receiving; once, while going out for a pass in football, he ran into into a parked milk truck which had pulled into a driveway inconveniently located on the “field.”
One year during high school, Ed ran the quarter mile on the track team. He remembers during a race someone yelling to an opposing runner: “Get that Eskimo!”
Ed’s Lee School had a rival school across town: Andrew Jackson High. One year, during the Thanksgiving Day football game, Ed and his friends played a prank. One had a car and they drove to Jackson High. Ed, as the most skinny and lanky boy, shimmied up the Jackson High flagpole and put out the Lee flag. Then, one of the boys, perhaps Ed, called the principal to tell him to look outside. Ed was sure he was going to be found out, arrested, and sent to jail, but all was well, and a good story remained.
Jo Christman was a non-practicing Catholic, and the family attended St. John’s Presbyterian Church in Jacksonville. Ed was baptized in the Presbyterian Church.
Ed and his father enjoyed sports, and they attended Jax Tars baseball games. They also saw the Yankees at spring training, getting autographs from Joe DiMaggio, Charlie Keller, Bill Dickey and others. In the late 1930s, young Ed traveled to the World’s Fair with his mother and saw a baseball game at Yankee Stadium with Bob Feller pitching.
His most important daily companion was the radio. Ed was allowed by his parents to take his supper on a tray and eat supper in the living room, next to the radio, during the Lowell Thomas program. He listened to baseball, including hearing Ted Williams hit for the cycle in an all-star game. He remembers hearing the live news of the Hindenburg air ship crash.
Among his favorite dramatic programs were Dick Tracy, Little Orphan Annie, and Our Gal Sunday. He also loved the comedy shows Fibber McGee and Molly, Fred Allen, Jack Benny, Edgar Bergen, and Charlie McCarthy, plus mystery and suspense programs.
One of Ed’s fondest memories was to watch the coal burning in the stove and sit with his parents, sharing its warmth.
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