Author seeks help with stories from 1930s

Published 8:50 pm Monday, February 16, 2009

Downtown Suffolk, August 1935. Fifteen-year-old Tommy Mullins stops in at the hardware store on Main Street to see if he can find an odd job to do. He’s in luck – two packages to deliver, meaning he gets to take 50 cents home to his mother.

This scene probably never happened, but it could have. It comes from a book a Chesapeake man is writing, set in Suffolk during the throes of the Great Depression.

Dan Edwards, the author, spent time in Suffolk as a child. His father was a lover of music; his mother, of storytelling. He inherited both traits, and now is a minister of music at Centerville Baptist Church in Chesapeake.

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He was looking for a way to fulfill his love of storytelling when the character of Tommy Mullins popped into his head. After the character came to him, he had to decide where to set his planned series of books.

“The story was between Suffolk and Smithfield,” he said. “Suffolk won because it had more trains.”

The story begins in August 1935. Tommy, about to enter his sophomore year at Suffolk High School, is working hard to help his mother make ends meet.

“Tommy’s father has gone to Richmond to look for work,” Edwards said. “Letters have turned into postcards, and postcards turned into very scant postcards. Since the first of June, they haven’t heard from him.”

The two live in a second-floor apartment on Jackson Street. Tommy’s mother does other people’s washing and cleaning and watches after their children.

Tommy, in the heat of the summer, wanders the downtown core of Washington Street and Main Street, looking to do odd jobs for business owners. When the shops close for the day, he and his sweetheart, Molly, meet up with other teens at Russell’s Drug Store for a Coke. He and the other boys plan to try out for the football team when school begins.

Edwards plans a series of seven books surrounding Tommy and his friends, each covering a term of school through his graduation in 1938. There’s only one problem – he wasn’t around in 1935, and he doesn’t have access to a time machine.

That’s where natives of Suffolk who are around 80 years old come in.

Edwards is seeking the help of people who remember what downtown Suffolk was like in the 1930s — and especially people who attended Suffolk High School — to help him ensure tht the “local color” aspects of the story are correct.

“I can’t have him walking into a wall, walking into a building that doesn’t exist,” he said. “I need to make sure that within a reasonable context, what I’m describing … is true.”

Other downtown landmarks in the story include Pearl Street, Newport Street, the Seaboard Coast Line railroad tracks, Grace Street, Cedar Hill Cemetery, Saratoga Street, Peanut Park and a jewelry store. Other places mentioned include Whaleyville and the Dismal Swamp.

Edwards already has visited the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts (formerly Suffolk High School) and combed yearbooks and newspaper microfilm for information. Now, he is seeking the help of individuals. Anybody who remembers anything about the places mentioned in the 1930s, remembers things their parents or grandparents said, or has pictures, articles, stories, or other information can contact him at Be sure to put “Tommy Mullins” in the subject line.