I have wanted to write about my life growing up in Aurora, NC in the fifties and sixties for several years. It was a different world then. I’ve been back several times over the past decades. What used to be a thriving agricultural town of tobacco, potatoes, wheat, corn and soy beans is no longer what it used to be.
From this point on read as much as you like. Don’t worry about the grammar. I know there are issues there. I write like I hear it and will hopefully get to go back and fix those grammatical extravagances.
A MAN’S STORY – MUSINGS OF AN OLD MAN
In the end, all a man has is his story, and in that story he can live forever. That’s a statement made in the story of a mythical man called Beowulf. Beowulf is a pre-Christian hero that monks Christianized later and was written about mostly by the English. Beowulf was a Danish or Norwegian character.
Why would I make that paragraph my opening statement? Well, read it again. I have a story to write even though it’s not really about me, yet it is. I write it to extol the life of God in me over the years. It may take a while for you to see this, but remember I have to develop the story with all the surrounding factors in my life. It’s also about the people who I grew up around. Their influence in my life helped to shape me into who I am today.
I write from the earliest of memories, even those of little consequence other than to draw a smile on your face. The very earliest of memories I have is when I was yet still a baby. Yes, a baby. I grew hungry as I lay cradled in my mother’s arms in a rocking chair in the living room of the first home I lived in, in a small community called just that. . .Small. It was a community mostly made up of extended relatives in a poor county in eastern North Carolina.
Well, anyway, I was lying there and I figured if I cried, like I usually did when I was hungry, mom would get the message and get me a bottle. Just so happens that Thelma was visiting at that time and was sitting across from my mom in another rocker. Mom handed me to her to get my bottle, but I didn’t like her at the moment, so I cried even harder to let mom know I didn’t want to be held by her. I guess she misinterpreted that as “get me something to eat, now”. I still ended up in Thelma’s lap until my bottled was prepared. As my mom returned and took me back and gave me my bottle, my crying ceased and my memory fades away and I go back to the little baby with only this window of remembrance to speak of this day.
Fast forward to another day, when it had rained and I was let out to play in the yard. Ah, the joys of water in a road-side ditch. Oh, did I mention I had a spartanly made rocking horse? Oh yes, it was just made for my attempt at using it for a boat. I sat it in the ditch and by golly it floated. My next attempt was to sit on my steed upon the water and paddle my feet down the ditch and make landfall at the far end where my granddaddy’s driveway was. Unfortunately, upon my mounting the worthy stead he let me down by sinking to the bottom of the ditch like a rock and I was at least chest deep in water. My mom was watching my failure to navigate and immediately took me inside and changed my little shorts and t-shirt. No need for shoes. I didn’t wear any during warm weather.
I figured I must have tried to mount in the wrong fashion apparently causing the sinking of my horse. So, after my mom suited me up in a clean pair of shorts and drawers and t-shirt I proceeded to try a new approach to my horse in the ditch full of water. Failing again was the only option apparently and so my mom took me back into the house and cleaned me up again, only this time she let me out of the house only in a t-shirt and drawers. Oh, I should mention this came along with a good scolding this time. Undaunted, I knew I could master this issue and you guessed it. I made my mount from a different angle only to find failure once more. Okay, so after the spanking this time, my memory fades again and my brilliant experiment with it.
As a young child I was introduced to the Christian way of living, as best my parents knew. My earliest memories were of being in church at White Hill Free Will Baptist Church in Small. My mom taught the class I was in at the beginning. I remember sitting in those small chairs around a little table while we listened to a Bible story and then we’d color a page or cut and paste something together. Apparently I didn’t question why we traveled down the dirt road a mile to it when there was a Christian church right across the road from the house. It was called Mary’s Chapel. The people on down in the Back Woods, as we called that area, went to Mary’s Chapel, but we opted for White Hill. I learned later that White Hill is where my grand dad was in leadership. I understand he was instrumental in preserving this church’s sovereignty. It was apparently nearing dissolution. My dad, I learned later in life, wanted to be a deacon there, but they never recognized him in such a role so he never rose to this calling.
One other note to put here is that church is what got my mom and dad together in the first place. My mother, being a PK, (preacher’s kid) would travel sometimes with her dad along with the rest of the family to where ever he was “holding revival”. My grand dad (my mother’s dad) was a traveling evangelist in his earlier career before he became a pastor.
Anyway, he had traveled from the Raleigh area down to White Hill to preach and he brought Peggy with him. Well, she caught my dad’s eye and he couldn’t resist. He was nineteen and she was fifteen. They got married just a few days after she turned sixteen. I don’t know for sure, but I believe she may have wanted to get married for the right reasons, but she also wanted to get away from her family. Her dad believed in divine intervention for healing and she had lain unconscious for several days with an ear infection that rotted out her ear drum in her left ear. I believe she had not trouble with divine healing, but this incident personally affected her, leading her to take doubtful steps to believing God’s healing hand in the days she lived. She was stone deaf in that ear. But she never missed anything any one ever said. Take that from me. I could whisper something and she would tell me what I said.
I don’t want to ramble too far here, so let’s get back to something I’ve written here. I know someone reading this will ask the question about the ages of my parents. Back in the 1940’s and prior the life span of folks wasn’t all to long and marrying young was quite common. My dad’s parents were married at an early age. My grandmother was thirteen and my grand dad was not quite twenty. They raised my dad and two daughters, Miriam and Gerald. I remember Miriam was the youngest because she was still living at home when I was young. Gerald married a “Lowlander” down in Lowland, near Hoboken,NC. With names of communities like Small and Lowland, makes you wonder if anyone had any imagination, especially when you throw the Backwoods into the mix. Dad did have another brother that died about six months after he was born. As I understand it he was born paralyzed from the waist down, but I don’t know why he died so young. His name was Hester Darryl Rowe. Dad was almost nine when he came along. Anyway, my mom and dad got married and I was born before my mom reached seventeen. So there really wasn’t much difference in our age, considering there was nineteen years difference between me and my youngest brother. We’ll get into that later on.
My mom’s parents were, as noted, ministry. Her dad was a German immigrant. His parents came to America after WWI to get away from the destruction and start a new life here in America. My grand dad on this side of the family was small in stature. He was maybe five feet one or two. He was a light weight. Grandma was a bit more the normal size. They had six girls and one boy. I don’t believe I can remember all their names. I do remember Opal, Mary and Doris but at the moment the rest escape me. Doris was my favorite. She had Wanda, Ann, Martha, Bobby and Barry. Oh and Nancy. Nancy was a couple of years older than me, and the others with exception of Barry were my age range. I like hanging out with Bobby. He had cool friends. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
My grand dad Wiley, as I remember him, was a fierce preacher. When I was young, I remember seeing him get up behind the pulpit, barely able to see his shoulders above that sacred desk and he would expound on the Word of God convincingly bringing souls into heaven. But away from the pulpit he could be a character. He and my dad could carry on sometimes. I have pictures of them sawing wood with a cross-cut saw and just hanging out. Granddaddy was a practical joker and grandmother was the brunt of many of those jokes.
I remember times we’d get into the old Plymouth and travel the long road to Smithfield or Selma NC to visit. I remember it well, because I always got car sick and threw up. My mom would always carry something for me to puke in so we didn’t have to stop. Anyway, I remember one place they lived that had an old bus in the backyard. It was a treasure trove of things for a young boy to get into. It was so much fun. And the crickets were everywhere, especially in the house. I love catching them and playing with them.
On the other hand, my childhood was scattered with toys of all kinds from my Granddaddy Rowe. I was the gleam in his eye. I remember a bread truck with a sliding door on it. It was metal and almost half as big as me. The toy of choice though was to have a tractor. I had rubber tractors small and large. I even had a pedal tractor. That was my pride and joy. I loved that tractor, although I couldn’t pedal it very far. We lived in what was called the “sand hill”. There wasn’t a lot of solid ground around and that left me with only a small area where I could “plow ground”. My mom threw me a birthday party when I was three, I was told, and I got 22 small hard rubber tractors. I became a big time farmer under the house where my farm happened to be from that day forward.
Let me stop here for a moment and give some insight on where I grew up. It was, like I said, a small farming community by the name of Small near Aurora,North Carolina. All the farms were family owned and everyone helped each other. The doors on our homes were never locked nor were the keys removed from our cars and trucks, ever. We all had gardens to eat from. Canning was an artful chore done each summer so we would have food in the winter. Tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, corn and all sorts of other vegetables were put away. “Hog killin’s” were a family affair as well. I remember all of us getting together early in the morning and granddaddy and my dad would cull out two or three hogs and shoot them and cut their throat and let them bleed out. They would then put them in a pit, cover them with burlap and pour boiling water on their bodies. Then we would take a canning lid and scrape the hair off. Once they were cleaned up they were hung up by the heels on gambles, which were nothing more than pointed sticks that would keep their legs apart while they hung and the men would gut them out. Nothing was left to waste. Chittlings, cracklings, to brains were saved. There was nothing left but the squeal. The meat was separated into its cut. Hams and shoulders went to the salt barrel, ribs and such to their use. Some of the meat was ground into sausage with all those spicy herbs and such made to taste. Some was made into bacon and some just plain fat back put into salt. The ole smoke house would be full. I remember going in there and seeing those hams hanging from the rafters while they cured. Speaking of the brains though, the most odd of things was for me to watch my mom cook and scramble hog brains with eggs for my dad. He would eat it like it was the best thing in the world. It was not my forte though, so I never tried it.
This wasn’t the only meat we had to eat. My dad hunted deer and squirrel. During season we would have deer meat and occasionally squirrel. My grandmother usually cooked the squirrel. I remember one time during a hog killin’, for dinner that day we had fresh pork and squirrel on the table. Dinner, mind you, was the middle of the day meal. Supper was the late meal. We also had chickens. Lot’s of them, too. The pen, at grandmother’s house, measured something like fifty by seventy-five with a chicken coop that was at least ten by ten. I used to go out there with a bucket and would walk through the pen barefooted getting squishy all between my toes as I went to the coop to gather the eggs. You guess what was squishy. Oh and we had something other than eggs from the chicken pen. I’ve watched my grandmother go out there on occasion and corner a chicken and grab it by the legs and watch her walk out into the yard to a stump where a hatchet was stuck blade into the wood. The chicken with her wings spread and flapping my grandmother would flop that chicken’s head across that stump, grab that hatchet and whack that chicken’s head right off. She’d then put the body down and it was so funny to watch it get up and run around for about ten or twenty feet until it bled out. She would then pluck it clean and clean it out and take it inside and cook it. Sometimes she fried them, sometimes she stewed them. In later years when I married, mom and dad still had chickens and if we visited home my wife, Julie, would ask if it had been running around the yard that morning and my parents and brothers would laugh at her and she would get that look on her face. At that time in my family’s life with four other brothers my mom never cooked less than two chickens in those two seasoned cast iron frying pans she always used to cook in, one without a handle.
But let’s get back to the earlier years. When I was four we had an addition to the family. Wow, I’d been the center of attention and now I had to share. Danny came along, but not all was well. He was born with a cleft palate. He didn’t have the hair lip, but he had no roof in his mouth. When he was two and starting to form words we found he could not pronounce many of his words. Wa wa was water, bum bum was hamburger. My mom and dad searched every way to find a solution to his problem. It wasn’t till later in my life I found that they got some sort of foundation to pay for a new type of surgery being performed at Duke University. He was a test subject in return for the repair. He was gone for quite a while during which time I tested my granddaddy over my need to be at home instead of staying with them. I didn’t know in my young mind that my granddaddy was a sick man. He had congestive heart failure and I remember him running up and down the road from his house to the main road several times, because I was determined to go home. I could have put him into a heart attack. He finally took me home to get some clothes and when we opened the drawer there was a bed of snakes in it. Boy, did that scare the daylights out of me. But that’s another story. Well, anyway, through all that, in time, Danny came home from the hospital and I kind of felt sorry for him the first time I saw him. Since he’d had delicate surgery to the roof of his mouth, they put staves on his arms so he couldn’t bend his elbows. It kept his hands out of his mouth, so he couldn’t possibly damage what had been repaired. But in time he began to speak in unmistakable words and used a lot of them to the point my mother made the remark one day that maybe we should have left him like he was. I knew she didn’t mean it, but the boy could talk your ear off and he loved telling tall tales. Some of those come later.
Back to my grand dad for a moment. He was my savior on occasion. Sometime about the age of five I had begun to formulate the meaning of things and being raised on a farm I knew my family would go to the fields and “chop” corn, beans or whatever. Cultivators on the tractor would only get so far up to the stems of the plants in the field, but it took a good ole hoe to get really close in to get those cockleburs. This plant was about the most life sucking plants that could infest a field. Then when full-grown their “fruit” was these spiny little burrs that would stick to you when you walked through the field. But not to kill a rabbit here, I digress back to the five-year old lad that I was. Since hearing that “chopping” corn was being done about this time of the year and all the family was in the house I decided to do my part and went outside to the cornfield right next to the house. I figured the best place to start was in the middle. So I proceeded to go out into the middle of the field with my hoe and I “chopped” corn, literally. Corn stalks fell to the left and to the right. Those tassels would wobble back and forth as I chopped and then they would fall to the ground. I was doing such a good job till my dad came out and from the porch he could see tassels wobble and fall. He ran out in to the field where I was hidden and yelled at me to stop. I couldn’t figure out why. I was doing such a good job. He grabbed me by the arm with one hand and the hoe with the other and drug me back to the house, set the hoe against the house and proceeded to tongue lash me about cutting down the corn. I assured him I was only doing what I had heard they had been doing. During this time my grand dad had appeared at the door and was listening. When my dad was removing his belt to give me a good ole fashion whipping my grand dad said, “Son, remember those roofing nails?” It stopped my dad in his tracks and put his belt back and all I got was the tongue lashing. See, I didn’t know what that question meant until several years later, but grand dad was reminding dad that when he was a kid he and his cousin, Eddie, had gone onto the tin roof of the pack house where they stored tobacco and removed the lead from the roofing nails. They were going to use them for skimmers. For those of you with no knowledge of what a skimmer is, it’s what kids would use to throw across the water in the creek to see how far they could bounce it off the water before it sank. It was a game. Well, it seems my grand dad made them fix the roof so it wouldn’t leak, but he didn’t whip him, so the comment kept me from a belt swatting.
I loved my grand dad very much. His name was John Colie Rowe. I was his first and only grandson for the first four years. I’ll have to finish this about my grand dad. He was a hard man from what I learned in later years, but he was also a sick man. He was dying from congestive heart failure as I said. He had his first heart attack at 52 or 53 years old. He managed for himself, but he wasn’t well. He loved me and I knew it. I was the apple of his eye. When I turned seven I started school and Aurora High School. Oh, you say? Uh, yes, back in the fifties all twelve grades went to the same school in the same building. The elementary was on the first floor with exception of the seventh grade, which for reasons of space where on the second floor with the high school kids. But I digress again. During my first year of school under Mrs. Cuthrall, I was sitting at my desk one day when my mom appeared at the door and she and my teacher whispered to one another and then Mrs. Cuthrall called my over and told me my mom was going to take me home. I was puzzled as to why the unexpected freedom from books and recess, but I was willing to go. We started the ride home, my dad driving. They had sat me between them in the seat and my mom said “Larry, your grand dad died today”. I lay my head down in disbelief, sorrow and began to cry. I had lost my best friend, my grand dad. I looked up and said “Mom, really, he isn’t, is he?” She assured me he had died and I just lay there with my head in her lap and cried all the way home. Later she asked me did I want to go to the funeral and I told her that under no circumstances would I go. I didn’t want to believe he had died and I figured if I didn’t go to the funeral it would mean he wasn’t dead. I took this very hard. I would even have dreams for months after his death that one day I would be sitting in the living room at grandmother’s and he would come walking in with a sombrero on and I would jump up with joy and greet him and ask him where he’d been. He’d tell me he had just been on vacation in Mexico. My young mind let him live on inside me like this for a long time. Eventually I accepted he was gone, but I would go visit his grave down behind the house in the family cemetery whenever I needed to be close to him. I still miss him.
Well, I need to get back to something lighter. Danny was getting over his surgery now. He was two or three when grand dad died and has no memory of him, but he was coming along. One memorable thing he did one time during the interim before Mike came along was when my class at school was going on a picnic and Danny got upset that he couldn’t go to. He would tell me that I couldn’t go to this nicpic. Yes, I said nicpic. He was very adamant about it so much so that he told me when he got big and I got little he was going to beat me. He was very angry about it.
Then along came Mike. John Michael was born two years after Danny Ferrell. Mike was quick to become a character. The two-bedroom house we were living in was beginning to fill up. Mom and dad had the back bedroom and we three took up the front bedroom and there was a door between our bedrooms directly. Mike slept in a crib at the foot of the twin beds that Danny and I slept in. More directly his crib was at the foot of Danny’s bed. Our house was heated by a lone wood stove in the living room and during the winter it would die down during those cold nights, so we slept under two or three quilts along with the sheets. During the summer we had no A/C. To have that was unheard of. We just slept with sheets or just on the sheets. Well there was one morning when I lay half asleep when I heard Danny saying “Mike, stop it!” He would say it every few seconds and it eventually got me fully awake curious as to what Mike was doing to Danny from the crib. What was going on was funny to me. Mike was still in diapers, mind you. He was reaching inside the backside of his diaper and getting a little “ball” out of his diaper and throwing it at Danny. He’d laugh and it would only make Danny madder. I yelled for mom and after a few more lobs at Danny mom came to the rescue. It was a mess, but mom tried to contain herself while she scolded Mike and cleaned up his mess. It was clear the time was coming for the new house to be built so we could be separated.
Speaking of the house, it was a simple little four room house. Each corner of the house was a room with a small hallway between the back bedroom and the kitchen. There was no bathroom. The only facilities were a “Johnny pot” in that hallway, which by the way was cold on my butt in the winter time. It was a small pot about three gallons in size. It was enameled in white and had a lid on it with a small handle on it. If you wanted privacy you had to go to the outhouse a few yards out behind the house. Man, after that outhouse was torn down and gone that became the best place to grow tomatoes you ever seen in your life. It was good rich soil. Okay, I digress. When I was nine years old my dad and mom were studying building a new house in the field on the other side of where I “chopped” corn. It was about an acre. It was good ground for a yard for sure and a garden in between the two houses. They planned it out with three bedrooms and a bathroom. Wow, we were going uptown with a commode, tub, running water and everything. Oh, didn’t I tell you. The old house didn’t even have running water. Dad had been ingenious enough to somehow drive a shallow well in the kitchen and then built a cabinet around it with a sink. The sink drained to the outside where the water ran off into the field next to the house. Well if you didn’t mind keeping a quart or two of water saved over to prime it when you wanted to pump water up. My mom was happy to have a ringer washer out on the back porch. It was the kind some may remember that looked like a huge white tub on four legs with this wringer device on a swivel arm that would squeeze the water out of the clothes after it had washed the clothes. It was a dangerous toy to me. I stood by the washer once while the wringer was rolling and I played with the rollers with my fingers and it caught them and pulled my hand into it. It skinned the hyde off of the back of my hand before mom realized why I was screaming and came out to release the rollers. I never tried that trick again.
Living on a family farm meant a lot of things, but most of all it meant hard work. When I was coming up through the first ten years, I remember grand daddy Colie, had a horse, a mule and a cow. The horse and the mule were kept in a stable across the path from the pack house across the side yard from their house. Between these was the smoke house toward the back of the yard. On the other side was the chicken pen. Then off beyond the field were the hog pens. You wanted to keep them a ways off because they could smell up the place if they were close by. With no running water around, water had to be pumped up and toted to the farm animals, besides for our own use. Half bushel buckets were used for watering and they would get very heavy in a short distance. But we managed. When grand daddy died my dad was left to work his farm and what became grandmother’s farm as well. At the age of seven he had a Farmall Cub and a brand new Allis Chalmers A model. This is when my dad introduced me to driving. He’d put me on that Cub tractor and tell me to push down on the clutch and he’d put it into gear and tell me to slowing release the clutch. I’d choke it off of course and he’d get upset with me and we’d try again. It took a while, but I finally got the hang of it and he’d get me going toward where ever he was wanting the tractor and I’d drive it there. Most of the time he was wanting it in the field and he’d need the truck too with the fertilizer on it, so my getting it out there kept him from having to walk back for the truck. It was me who had to walk back home, which leads me to another of my expeditions.
When I was still a youngster, one evening I went into the kitchen at grandma’s where I asked her where grand dad was and she said he was out in the stable feeding the horse and mule. I went out to the stable and I didn’t see him anywhere, so I figured he must have walked off back into the field to the hog pens. I went on down behind the field to the hog pen and he wasn’t there either. So, I proceeded to continue walking on around to the back field. When I had gotten almost to Uncle Snodie’s side of the field I heard my name being called. Grand daddy had gone back into the house and grandma asked where I was and grand daddy said he hadn’t seen me, so they went outside and called me, but I was nowhere to be found. This lead to a frantic search and after about a half hour they caught up with me. I didn’t get a whipping, but I did get a stern talking to. You see, the reason is that back there where I was is where bear roamed. I would have been a neatly packaged little meal for one if I had run across one. Oh, I can see you scratching your head, “Uncle Snodie”? Yes Uncle Snodie Hodges lived across the field from grand daddy’s farm. He had his own little farm that ran along side of and behind theirs. Aunt Minnie was his wife and we saw each other about ever day.
Well, I might as well introduce you to the “locals”. Across from grand daddy’s house was Aunt Julia and her daughter and her husband Johnny Sumerall. Aunt Julia had one other daughter named Molly. Molly was a bit slow. She wasn’t what you’d say mentally retarded, but she had something going on that left her unable to do for herself. Over across the fork in the road was Willis Cayton, his wife and daughter Beulah Mae and her little boy, Dwight. Now Dwight is another story for later. Directly across from the church at the fork from us was Bill and Thelma Cayton. They were around till I was about ten and they moved to Holly Ridge. Bill became “Itchy” Popkin’s right hand man in the furniture business there, which later became Furniture Fair in Jacksonville. His older son Harvey rose up to take his place when he died and at this writing Itchy is still kicking and Harvey is in his sixties. I see Harvey about twice or more a year since my family has lived in Richlands for the last twenty-five years. You never seem to get away from family. You see, Harvey and I are cousins. On down across the field from Aunt Julia was her son Theodore and his wife Nina Mae and their children Jack, a daughter who’s name escapes me and H.T. H.T. wasn’t my favorite of people. He was just enough older to pick on me and beat the crap out of me every so often. I could go on, but may more introductions later on.
If you’re wondering, yes, we did have electric power to the houses in my time. Most of the houses were built before electric power came along, so most of the wiring was make-shift and the drops from the power poles looked more like an extension cord. This means that sometime before I was eight or so, my grandparent’s home got a well with an electric water pump and grandmother got running water inside the house for the kitchen sink only. She never had a bathroom while living there. Another luxury item that came along during this time was a TV. This was novel for most anyone in the community. I remember it was an RCA and the whole cabinet sat on a swivel, so it could be turned to where ever you sat in the living room. My first programs on TV were Romper Room and Captain Kangaroo. What was so fascinating was that lady on Romper Room claimed she could look into her magic mirror and say the magic words “Romper, Bomper, Stomper, boo, Tell me, tell me, tell me do. Who’s that watching us today” and then she’d say she was seeing Tommy, Susie, Jeff or whoever, but she never saw me for some reason. Maybe grandma’s TV wasn’t quite powerful enough or something. I never figured it out. Captain Kangaroo had Mr. Green Jeans, Mr. Moose, Bunny Rabbit and Grandfather clock. He was always a source of fun. Bunny Rabbit always suckered him out of carrots. Mr. Green Jeans, always had an animal to bring around to show us. Hum, seems I’d already seen them enough right out in our own yard. Must have been some kids somewhere that hadn’t. Oh, you can never forget Howdy Doody and Buffalo Bob and Clarabelle the Clown. The peanut gallery was always full of kids. Mr. Phineas T. Bluster was always there to make trouble, but Howdy was always so nice.
Being a car nut as I got older means I have to say something about what we drove in those days. My grand daddy opted between Chevy and GMC trucks. Daddy was much the same, but we had a Plymouth for the first car I remember. I believe the second car I remember was a newer Plymouth. It wasn’t until we moved to the new house I got more into our cars. We had a 57 Ford and then a 60 Ford station wagon. I remember dad coming home with a Rambler station wagon. Mom threw a fit. She wouldn’t have that thing in the yard. I can’t remember what dad eventually came home with, but as I twelve dad bought a brand new International pickup. It was green and had a big V8 engine. Man was it something. I was driving it all over the fields right from the beginning. See, I’d been driving tractors since age seven and was pretty good with a clutch by then. But I’ll stop here. We need to get back to bringing the family up to moving into the new house.
I must go back a bit now. I’ve rambled too far ahead. Mom and dad started planning on a new home for us when I was nine. This wasn’t too long after the infamous turd throwing incident. I remember someone coming to see us one evening with house drawings and floor plans. At the age of nine I was fascinated with the drawings, since I was starting to draw things. It was a three bedroom house with one bath. An actual bathroom in the house with plumbing and everything, including a septic system was included. That meant we’d be “living in high cotton” as we used to say. It was so far above what we had. It had a kitchen, dining room, living room, bath and three bedrooms. Now I’d have my own bedroom. Mike was growing up now and was more or less potty trained. I’m not sure, but I believe this was one of those times I remember something that was amazing. My dad and the man who brought the plans over went outside as dusk to look at where the house would be and the mosquitoes where so thick in the air you could swat your hand in the air and literally hit hundreds of them. It was unbelievable. Well, the day came and a big truck loaded with building materials arrived and it was raining. It was late afternoon and my dad told them where he wanted the material dropped so the driver proceeded to drive across this field, which would become our new yard. He got to where he was to put the materials and off loaded them, but then came a problem. The rain had soaked the ground and he got stuck in the mud. He was buried up to the axles. Fortunate for us we were farmers with tractors. It took till dark, but we managed to get him out of the mire and back on solid ground and he was on his way.
Dad was not only handy with farming and such, but he was a skilled carpenter. He and a man named Jamie Lamm and dad’s Uncle Rufus formed a partnership and started building. First came the concrete footers, then the piers and outer brick foundation. Then the floor joists and subflooring. The house came together quickly. We saw it closed in and then the inside work of wiring, sheet rock and solid wood flooring came together. It began to look like home. I remember one thing in particular was the sanding those wood floors with the big sander. Then they applied the sealers and such and got it slick and shiny. The final things include of all things a real modern-day washer. No dryer though. We still used clothes lines. We had a new stove and instead of that wood heater in the middle of the room we now had a kerosene furnace that would heat the whole house, not just the living room. Wow, what a change in lifestyle this would be. Mom got a new stove, too.
I remember the move. I was now nine years old and I would do what I could to help. After all it was only a couple of hundred feet from one house to the other. I had a new bedroom all to myself. It was in the front middle way part of the house. The windows were high up, so to see out I would have to stand on my bed. The church across the road was now more directly out my window and my best friend who had a new home-built about the same time was straight across the other side of the church on the other road of the fork in the road. The church sat squarely in the fork in the roads. One thing my Dwight had that I didn’t was a yard or night-light. For the first time in my life I would also have its glow coming through my bedroom window at night. I wouldn’t be totally in the dark.
This new house was just getting settled into with Danny and Mike sharing the largest bedroom, mom and dad in the back corner bedroom and me in mine when the old adage came into effect. New babies come with new houses. Mom was pregnant again. Timmy was on the way. I was ten when he was born and we had the last of our black mammies. I remember her well. I just can’t remember her name any more, but if I do I’ll add it into this story. She was a nice woman. She tended to Timmy as if he were her own and mom could get some rest. By this time mom was no longer sold on the idea of breast-feeding, so Karo syrup and milk mixed and warmed was the formula used to feed Timmy. I remember one instance that mom got after me for. Our mammy was dressing in my room and she was in her undergarments and I was sitting at my desk and mom told me I shouldn’t be in there while she was dressing. This coming from my mom who walked around the house in her bra and panties most any time when was getting ready to go somewhere seemed a little hypocritical. The mammy told mom it was okay and not to worry. At that time I wasn’t interested in women anyway, so who cared. Certainly not I.
I was more into drawing my cars and playing with modeling clay at this time in my life. I loved doing this. I would spend hours making cars and tractors and other stuff with my modeling clay. This is not to be confused with modeling dough. That stuff would get hard if you left it out, but clay was always pliable. My drawing though was much like my thinking. I was developing a sense of symmetry and everything had to have balance and I also liked straight lines. Most all of my cars had straight lines. I liked drawing race cars. I’d put numbers and stuff on them to make them look fast. I had a desk now with a goose neck lamp and I would spend hours with my ruler, pencil and paper drawing. One other pastime I got well into was reading. My imagination would follow what I was reading with a fervor that gave me a voracious appetite for books. I read every Hardy Boys mystery and then I started in on Nancy Drew. I loved the mysteries. But one of my most favorite books was a book title Sabre Jet Ace. I have to admit I read this book at least three times and always imagined myself in that jet through every dog fight in the Korean war this title character fought. Another less admirable admission would be this book was in the school library and my liking for this book lead me to steal it. I kept it in my closet for years. You see I didn’t check it out. I just took it. My room became my sanctuary.
About this time I began to experience a problem. It was around the fourth to fifth grade. When I’d read I would get about fifteen minutes down the road and my eyes would start to hurt. It would be unbearable and most times I would get a headache and would quit reading. I guess I was about eleven going on twelve. Things around me started changing too. Puberty was beginning to rear its ugly head. But the eye problem was more dominant. It took till between the sixth and seventh grades before teachers at school convinced my parents I needed to see an eye doctor. I remember my grand daddy and grandmother wore glasses. Was I doomed to this malady? Well, the trip to see Dr. Davidson, a name I’ll never forget, and the exam that caused me to have plastic frames wrapped around my face holding the lenses that saved me from headaches when I would read. I was so farsighted it would just about run off the scale. It changed my life at the time. I had to be more careful now to not get hit or bumped in the face and break my glasses. That was an expensive project for my parents to get them fixed. At this same time they decided to go whole hog and took all of us boys to the eye doctor and Mike ended up with glasses for a while too. His vision corrected as he got older. Mine only got worse till I was in my thirties. Then it leveled out.
Much began to change then. Puberty was beginning to take a full swing at my maturing body. I honestly thought sometimes I was dying. Sometimes I would wake up at night with my heart racing for no reason whatsoever. One night I got up with this going on and ran into my mom and dad’s bedroom and woke mom up. She asked me what the matter was and when I told her, you know what she said? Of all things, she said if I didn’t go back to bed and go back to sleep she was going to do something to me give me a reason why my heart was racing. Wow. I settled for no reason over that and went back to bed and roughed it till my heart settled down and then I went back to sleep. Then something really strange happened. I began to grow hair in places I’d never had hair before. Hummm, what to do. I found a strategy, but my dad more or less put an end to it when he started questioning me about why there was hair in his razor. I swore I didn’t know anything about it, so I quit shaving all the hair off. I realized about then that it was supposed to be there, although I wasn’t too keen on this new change. The most sudden change took place in what seemed like overnight. No, it wasn’t my voice. That did irritate me though. High pitch, low pitch. Oh well, I wasn’t a singer anyway. It was girls! Wow, I didn’t know testosterone could be such a powerful hormone. By this time I was entering the seventh grade. My dad had decided to learn to cut hair a little better. I was now wearing glasses. My outward appearance had changed dramatically. I was showing a more mature look as I was entering the teen years. I hadn’t paid much attention to my brothers during this time. I was too busy exploring who I was and those around me that were my age. To back up just a bit, I will have to say when I was in the fourth grade I had my first girlfriend. Her name was Taffy Hollowell. She had a sister named Bootsie. Taffy was beautiful to me. I even gave her a ring. But even that time was nothing to compare with the fire that was starting to burn at this new time in my life. I think I must have been right on the cusp of thirteen when the seventh grade class I was in went to the state fair. This was a rite of passage, as every seventh grade class under Mr. Leary went to the state fair. It was a great awakening for many of us, including Mr. Leary. He was overheard to say later that our class was the most “mature” class he’d ever taught.
This comment came from the fact that the lot of us learned to “make out” during the trip back from the fair. I was a bit gentlemanly and mostly shy, but bold enough to take to a girl on the way back. Her name was Betty Reece Broome. Her boyfriend on the way up dumped her and I felt sorry for her and also found that catching a girl on rebound so quickly could reap good results. I sat with her on the way back from the fair, but I never did more than put my arm around her and comfort her. The fair was in October and we went steady the rest of the school year. Oh, and I gave her a ring too. The only thing that I wouldn’t do a second time now is that I gave her the same kind of ring I gave Taffy three years earlier. It was a twin cultured pearl setting. Betty Reece and I were always together at school. Her dad was a member of the school board, a well-respected man. Somehow I had managed to elevate my red-neck status for a short while. Problem was I was to go back to working on the farm the next summer and Betty Reece broke up with me at the end of the year because she said we wouldn’t be able to see each other since I worked the farm. I was then relegated back to being a regular red-neck. My social status was doomed to remain like this for a few more years. One big thing that occurred during this time was the Beatles were introduced to the American public via the Ed Sullivan Show and Betty Reece thought Paul McCartney was the best looking thing in the world. She and Susan Austin were best friends and I remember the talk on that subject.
During this time I was struggling with my grades. School had become a boring institution to me. It wasn’t really relevant to me. Plowing ground, pulling cockleburs, feeding pigs and such were my world. How does world history relate to this? I was now beginning to wonder what would I do with myself as a grown up when the time came. I really had no plans at this time. I was a “go with the flow” sort of person.
At this time I became aware of something that I hadn’t put much stock in until then. Church had played an important part of my life. I began to feel a pull on my life that became very strong. At thirteen I sensed a calling on my life by God. Perhaps I was to be a preacher. I would lie awake in my bed at night and preach to an imaginary crowd about their need for salvation. I guess I learned the technique from watching Pastor Lupton, the pastor at White Hill Free Will Baptist Church where I went almost every Sunday. My dad always said he preached the Word on a deep scale. I had heard my grand daddy preach too and his approach wasn’t all that much different. Around this time my church experienced a change of pastors and we got a new pastor who had a son and two older daughters. The son was about my age and had red hair. I never did take a liking to him. He was a bit too aloof for me. Once they came all in tow to dinner at our house after Sunday morning church. After we ate Danny, Mike and I took this lad for a walk in the woods surrounding our home and tried to get him lost. Somehow he managed to get back to our house. We were hoping mom and dad would have to organize a search party for him. There’s something I want to say about the daughters, but that’s for a later time.
About this time we would get week-long visits from cousins older than me by about three years. Aunt Doris’s oldest daughter, Nancy, came to visit. She was beautiful. Her upbringing in the Raleigh area got her constant ribbing about her lack of country smarts. She’s say something like she was going across the street to visit and we’d inform her there are no streets in the country. Things like that. We had Aunt Mary’s daughter come visit too. She was about the same age as Nancy. Her name was Carolyn. She knew how to roll with us, so she was more adaptable to country living.
From thirteen to fifteen became somewhat of a blur to me. I don’t really know why. Too much change was occurring, I suppose. I do recall that about the age of fourteen I became enamored with a particular car. Johnny Summerall came by the house going up to his house with this shiny car like no other I’d seen before. It was small, sleek and fast looking. I had to see it up close. I followed it up to his house and there it was in his yard in front of his garage. He worked on cars. To what extent I don’t know. He must have worked at a shop somewhere for a living. I can’t say I ever knew exactly what he did do for a living, but he was going to work on this little car. He jacked it up and was crawling under it. He had the hood up and I peeped over the fender. There lay the biggest motor I’d seen to date. I’d never seen a V-8 motor before. All my dad had ever owned were straight sixes. This little car had only two seats and it was two toned blue and white. I was in love with a Corvette. About this same time my enthusiasm for cars was beginning to grow. Fortunately for me the muscle car era was beginning to take on new heights with the powerful small blocks and the emerging big blocks. I was totally onboard with this. The second impressive car I saw at this time was owned by a high school student well ahead of me by the name of Terry Willis. His dad apparently had money. Terry drove his first car to school one day when I was about fourteen. It was a ’63 Chevy Impala convertible with a 409 with two four barrel carburetors. What struck me was for the first time I saw flash on a motor. It had chrome valve covers. Wow.
About the time I was fourteen a company was beginning to make waves in and around Aurora. Texas Gulf Sulfur had done some preliminary exploration and had found phosphate in the ground up near the sound. It appeared to be under our whole area to the extent that another company called North Carolina Phosphate went into gear buying up what they could ahead of TGS. At this time my dad, who had been working for a meager $75 a week and running a farm to feed himself, wife and four kids, was looking at something of a boon to not only the community, but ourselves as well. In a couple of years things began to take shape as Rae, Brown & Root moved in and started construction of a refining facility. This facility was large and took two or three years to build. At the same time there was a crane that came together and billed as the world’s largest crane at that time. It was run off of diesel engines that generated electricity to run its motors. It was said to be capable of generating enough electricity to power an entire town. When the crane was finished it started digging itself into a hole to the level of phosphate strata about a hundred feet down, yet the boom was still visible about the top of the hole it was in. This process began before the plant was finished, but was necessary to get to the mineral out ready to be refined when the plant went into production.
My dad had built finished home wood workings as well as the houses they went in. Cabinets in that day were custom built into the house. Not ordered up from some factory prefinished and hung on the wall. He had also worked on the research vessel, the Dan K. Moore at the boat yard in New Bern. There he built cabinets and such into the boat out of teak and mahogany. A lot of scrape wood like this made its way to our house where dad used it to trim out cabinets in our house. He also made candle holders, picture frames and small pieces like this for dressing up the house, so our house had a lot of expensive what-nots and such. The largest piece he made was a bookcase about waist high for pictures and mom’s figurines. He did make a large wall mirror with a mahogany frame. But those days came to a close. He was about to enter the world of rough carpentry. Construction called. Around 1964 he went to work for Rae, Brown & Root. He was hired to run a radial arm saw shop. It’s a very dangerous saw. It had a 15” circular blade on it that was very versatile in cutting and ripping wood. It would also cut angles. He and another man named Shorty Henderson from down around Chinquapin ran this shop and cut all the wood to order for the carpenter crews who built the forms for pouring concrete. There was also another man named Mitchell. He was quite interesting. He was a practical joker and was always in trouble in a friendly sort of way. There was also Beck Banks and his brother Mack. Dad stayed close to them for many years. There was one other old fart who was their saw blade sharpener. I wish I could remember his name. I lived with him and dad for a few months when I worked construction several years later after I got out of high school.
To some, this may be boring, I don’t know, but this tells you something that affected the family. Dad was now making more money than we’d ever made before and it came to a point the farming days were over too, so far as tobacco goes. I have much to say about that in a bit. Dad had had many days of good, but many more bad days while farming. He could grow some of the most beautiful crops you could ever ask for in soy beans, corn, wheat and tobacco, but rain or the lack thereof helped make the decision to quit. Money from construction was paying off now. During his time with this first construction job he worked seven day weeks, many times ten hour days. We were doing well financially, but not without its heartbreaks.
My mom started selling Avon in the eastern part of the county. At this time my grandmother had been selling Avon to the western side of us for a few years already. When my grandmother started selling Avon I was about ten or eleven and during the summer when I wasn’t busy working in the field pulling weeds or chopping tobacco I would travel around with her on her route just so I could see some of my friends. This was a treat to get out and about away from the same ole, same ole. You know what I mean? Well, my mom got into it so she could make some extra money and during this time she was doing well. When I hit fourteen, I believe, we were supposed to get a Soil Bank check. That’s a check you got from the government for NOT growing a crop on your land. That was cool. We paid our house payment annually because farming wasn’t a weekly pay check, so we’d pay once in the fall. Now this may shock a couple of you. Back then that house dad built with his uncle and friend, Jamie , cost a whole $7500. The annual payment was around a thousand. I know I’m straying, but there’s a story behind this, so hang with me. Now this check was supposed to come in the mail and it became apparent to us that it was not on time and the house payment was coming due. We’d had quite a bit of rain around that time and some erosion had occurred in areas. The roads around our area were still dirt and could wash away fairly easy. When it came down to it, mom came out and said one day that the check had come as she was leaving for her day out selling and delivering her orders and she put it in her sales case she would take into each home to show the ladies the latest fragrances and such. Well, dad asked her for the check and she went to retrieve it and it was gone according to her. Eventually after much looking around she made one excuse as to where it was and then another. She finally said it was found, but it was at one of the customer’s homes that was on a washed out road and couldn’t get to her house. Dad was getting impatient and finally angry. Then one day I was working in the field when I was called to the house. It was puzzling to have that happen, but when I came in I found out why. Mom had run away. She packed some clothes and took the car and was gone. We had no idea where she was. She left a note saying she had done a bad thing. She had used to the money for something else and it was gone. Dad found out that her dad had been put in jail and she spent the money on him to get him out of trouble. Now I know, I said my grand dad was a Baptist preacher. His problem wasn’t he was a criminal. He’d had stomach ulcers and back in that day they did surgery to removed the ulcerated portions of the stomach. In doing so they prescribed a powerful pain killer. I would suppose it to be something like morphine or such. Remember, we’re talking the fifties and sixties here. He had become addicted to this drug and had been picked up driving under the influence of the drug and was jailed. So this is where the money went that was intended to make the house payment. Well, it took a couple of days, but dad found her at her sister’s house. He went and got her and brought her home. We were all there when she came in the door. She came to me first and wrapped her arms around me and began to cry uncontrollably asking me to forgive her for this indiscretion. Of course I did. She’s my mom. You love unconditionally. We managed to find money to make it through.
One of my dad’s problems around this time seemed to be that he didn’t trust banks for some reason. I may have some time frames crammed together, but let’s say from thirteen to sixteen were rough times in a way, yet we were making good money. The reason I know, you ask? Well, I was an avid hunter of squirrel and bird. I had my own .22 caliber single action rifle to give those small animals a fighting chance, because I was a pretty good shot. I was roaming in the woods one day during the time my dad was working ten hours a day seven days a week. He was never home, so I took off down behind the house into the woods to find my prey. We had long abandoned the pig pens that ran through the woods back there and the undergrowth was no longer there. The pigs had rooted out most of it, so it was mostly trees and the leaves on the ground around them. As I was walking a path I was about a couple of hundred yards behind the house and I came upon a tree that didn’t look right around the base. There were two sticks about the size of large cigars laying neatly parallel to one another. I though this odd, so I knelt down to size check this out. I picked up the sticks and under them were pine needles that were too straight. Now I was interested. I lifted up the pine straw and underneath it was the lid to a Duke’s mayonnaise jar. I lifted the jar out of its hole and I almost had a heart attack. It was full of money. Knowing dad was no where around I started counting. There was over $2200 in that jar out there in the woods hidden at the base of this tree. The old man had hidden it out there from mom. I guess the distrust of the previous event had prompted him to make sure his money was safe. Well, it was to an extent. At least until I found it. I went back and told mom about it and she got so excited. We made a pact. We would not say anything about finding it, but we would occasionally go down and slip a twenty out of it and go spend it on whatever was necessary. We had to be very sly about it. I’m sure dad would count it, but we also figured he would think he must have miscounted it if he was keeping tabs on his money. He never mentioned it for fear he would give himself away and we never mentioned it to keep him putting money in the jar so we could have something to slip out of it on occasion. He finally pulled all the money out at some point, much to our dismay, but we enjoyed it while he had it there.
One other thing I might mention about my driving skills is when I took driver’s ed at the age of fourteen and a half. Okay, I know it sounds like bragging, so let me put it this way. If it’s fact and can be proven, it ain’t bragging as I was told one time. I’m not a daredevil by any means, but I do push the envelope. I made an A on the course and we had to do the driving part during the early summer just after school got out. Mr. Alligood, the principal was the road instructor for the course. I was riding and driving with two other students. Jimmy Archbell and Billy Windley were opposites. I sided with Jimmy. He was a classmate. Billy was a year up on us. Problem was Jimmy and I both grew up on farms and as farming goes if you were a boy, you naturally learned to drive at a young age. Billy was the “city boy” of us three. He’d never driven a stick shift. Jimmy and I thought an automatic trans was sissy stuff. Mr. Alligood recognized our skill levels and worked with us on those levels. About most every day Mr. Alligood had to go to the home office for the Board of Education to deliver his paperwork and he would only allow Jimmy or myself to drive in town. It was a 30 mile trip to Washington from Aurora. The first day when Mr. Alligood came by the house to pick me up he put me behind the wheel of a white 1955 four door Chevy immediately. I backed out of the driveway, dropped it into first and popped the clutch, spun a little dirt and we were off. With that, Mr. Alligood said he knew I knew how to drive already, but to not be spinning the tires anymore. I obliged and kept a lower profile, leaving the cocky side of me at home. Jimmy and Billy were in the back seat and we headed off to Washington. This went on for the three or four days we were on the road and Billy always got the back road driving because he would lurch when taking off about giving us whiplash. He was a horrible driver. The one mistake I thought Mr. Alligood did was to take us up on the rim of the dikes around the clearing ponds for Texas Gulf with Billy at the wheel. He made him do a three point turn on the narrow one lane path at the top. This turn around reminds me of the movie where Austin Powers tries to turn the electric cart around in that narrow corridor. Billy would back up and the back end of the car would start dropping down off the shoulder of the dike and Jimmy and I are looking at each other to see if we should jump or not. Fortunately Mr. Alligood had those extra pedals to stop and clutch the car for Billy. We did succeed in getting off this little path safely although mildly shaken. Of course Billy passed the course, but was recommended to get more time in a car with a stick before he got his license. Jimmy and I were good.
Okay. What next? I’m beginning to find more things to say about this time frame. I had glasses by now. My hair was long for the day, but nothing like what was to come during the hippie era. At least it was longer on top. And I had hair in other places I wasn’t used to. Hummm. I had gone through some trying times, yet good as well. One thing I can say. Having started driving farm tractors at age seven had me into the farm truck by age ten. By the time I was twelve I was plowing and cultivating the fields and dad had given me thirteen acres of soy beans to tend by myself. He also gave me eight rows of tobacco to take care of and the money from that harvest was mine. But at this point in time, I began to drive the family car. Wow, that was so much fun. By the time I was fourteen my mom would give me the keys and send me to the store a mile up the road at the highway to get this or that. No one ever bothered me except Jody Sawyer. He was an old coot who lived half way between my house and the store. For the first year he didn’t know I was driving past his house. I don’t know what set him off, but it became a game of cat and mouse. Most of the time I’d slip past him and get what I needed and get back house before he called the highway patrol. Of course I lived in a community that was fairly forgiving and had its own highway patrolman living a scant three miles from my house. I got away with this all the way past getting my driver’s permit and was three months from getting my official license to drive alone when I went to the store one day and had gotten what I needed and had gone back to the car and started it. Just as I was beginning to pull away one of my friends who had his license turned the corner and halted right next to me frantically waving at me. I rolled down my window and he said the cops were coming and sped off. So what did I do? I just shut the motor of and sat there. Sure enough around the corner came the highway patrolman. He pulled up next to me rolled down his window and asked me what I was doing. I told him I was just sitting there. He asked me how I got there and I was honest. I told him I drove there. He asked where my mom was and I told him she was at home. Unbeknownst to me my friend had already beaten a path to my house to tell my mom and dad I was being picked up. Well, the highway patrolman told me since he hadn’t actually caught me in the act of driving to get into his car and he was taking me home. So I go into the car and we started home. Not a quarter mile from home I saw mom and dad round the corner barreling towards our direction. Well, all of us knowing one another we all stopped right there in the road and my mom got out of the car and laid into the man. He said “Stop Peggy, I not going to do anything”. He said he had gotten many complaints about me driving the road to the store and he figured he’d better do something before he got into trouble for letting me run the road under age. He was okay with my driving to an extent. He knew I knew how to drive as good as anyone, but he told me to lay low. I only had a couple of months and I’d have my own license and Jody would have no more fodder to throw at me. So I did, but when I was sixteen, you can bet I was at the driver’s license office to make me official. I was out partying that night, too. I was unstoppable from then on. I had developed a pretty good knack for driving.
I must relate another thought at this point. Along around the age of thirteen or fourteen, my grandmother had decided it was time to get out of the old drafty house over across the ditch. Our old house next to us was still a sturdy frame dwelling, so she had Uncle Rufus, her brother in law and Jaime Lamm to fix it up. They did a bang up job. Rooms were reassigned new use. The living room was still the living room, but the kitchen became the master bedroom. The hallway where we kept the Johnny pot and was the back entrance to the house became the bathroom. Yes, it finally had running water and a bathroom. The bedroom where I slept with my two brothers became the kitchen and mom and dad’s bedroom became the guest room. The porch was finished out complete with swing. An outside well was driven and a pump was installed to furnish the water for the house.
Along this time Jaime Lamm’s wife had died of cancer and was a widower. He started dating my grandmother. My mom used to get a kick out of it, because this woman was her mother in law. Mom used to wait for them to come home from a date and would peep at them when they kissed under the porch light before him leaving after a date night.
Well, to make this story complete without going into a long dissertation, they got married at White Hill Free Will Baptist Church. I had a part in the wedding. My grandmother bought me a suit to wear to the wedding for being in it. I remember a 8mm movie was made of it, but I have no idea where that would be now. Jaime was now a full fledged member of our family. Jaime also had a side-kick name Waylon who hung around a while in and out, but eventually he was out of the picture. I really don’t know what happened to him.
Jaime was a carpenter and a farmer, much like dad, so he closed in the front porch and made a small dinette area off of the kitchen and the living room expanded out to make it more spacious. In the back he built a huge workshop area, but just of the end of the guest room he built another bedroom that was a step down from the general floor level. It had its own little half bath and a door leading to the work shop area. It was very nice to have this when Julie and I visited later after I got married. It was somewhat private.
During that time from puberty till I got my license, girls were around and I had fair social skills, but I was still a backward young country boy that was shy. Nonetheless, I was finding out that sex carried a big curiosity for me. What with all the girls now developing all those refining qualities that drew my imagination to new levels, I was now wanting to kiss one of them and find out more about this thing called love. We’re talking about after I had already had two sterile relationships with girls in my class from previous years. It wasn’t until I reached sixteen and my dad had given up farming for the most part that I began to seriously look into this matter. Of course now having a license made this whole endeavor a new adventure. Danny was now twelve, Mike was ten and Timmy was growing into a school age twit that I was totally ignoring. Danny and Mike were only on the fringe so they didn’t count in my equations. I said that to give some perspective to my plights, as sometimes I was encouraged to take them along with me when I would drive the car out for some cruising. I didn’t like my style being cramped. I’ll get back to this in a moment. I have to build a little foundation to my first true love.
At sixteen I had acquired my farming skills and I used them during the summer with Danny, Dwight and some new friends who had moved to the area because of the phosphate mining that was now beginning. There was Danny Lee and Donald Ray Johnson (typical Southern naming, huh?). And of course they had another brother named Junior. Wow, what a stretch. Junior Johnson. That was the name of a NASCAR race driver at the time. Can you tell we were rednecks? This family didn’t seem to know when to stop either. They also had a sister, named Diane, that was the youngest of the family. We all, except for the sister went to work for a local farmer who was raising tobacco and “primed” his fields. I found this job’s name morphed into “cropping” in later years. It was hard work, but we could make as much as sixty dollars a week doing this. That was big money for us guys. Barn hands got about $45 a week. Oh, I forgot. During this time we were forming a band. I know this is going in layers. It’s difficult to put it all into sequence so just bear with me. Little Bud Leary was working with us as well. He was about fifteen at the time. We all worked hard and got wet, sweaty, hot and still managed to get the crop in. Some days were over a hundred degrees. One time we had to throw Donald Ray into a tobacco truck and send him to the house to get under a cold shower. He suffered a heat stroke, but he recovered and was back the next day. Well, back to Little Bud. We all noticed one of the barn help was a young thirteen year old girl named Vickie. She was a little cutie and she had this thing for Little Bud. But Little Bud says he wasn’t interested for whatever reason. At first, my take was she’ll be a real heart breaker someday when she gets older. Problem was, the attraction for her became an obsession of sorts. My mind got all clouded and in love, or was that “in heat”? It started to take over and I felt she had to be mine. Here I was sixteen going on seventeen and she was still a budding young thing. But you have to remember, my dad and mom married at a young age as well as my grandparents, so that redneck lifestyle was dying very slowly. Eventually by the time summer was over, the crops were in and school started I had made my move and she became my first love, much to my parent’s chagrin. Her parents weren’t all that happy about it either, but they weren’t saying much about it for the moment. Vickie lived a couple of miles away so she was close enough I could see her as often as we desired. She wasn’t my first kiss, though. Must I back up a moment? Okay.
My grandmother’s brother who lived in Manteo had an adopted daughter named Susie. Susie was a fast moving girl. They came down to visit before I started dating Vickie and there was an overnight stay where Susie slept at our house. That was a mistake. I was sleeping in the recliner in the living room and she came and got in my lap and laid her head on my shoulder and we naturally got all hot and bothered and we started kissing. She taught me how to French kiss and I loved doing that so much I think we made out for several hours. We never did more than that, but that lead to me taking trips to Manteo until she decided some Navy guy had more to offer than I did. She was only thirteen as well. Geez, I picked them young. Well, that’s when I had an overlap of girlfriends. I also dated Sue Campbell about this time and Shirley Hopkins. Sue was 16 and Shirley was almost 16. Both the oldest of my girlfriends at the time. I guess I tried to at least keep their names in the S’s. Remember? I broke off with Sue Campbell, because her mother was about to have us married in her thinking, and my mom told me I couldn’t date Shirley because she was my cousin. I had a problem with that because Shirley was such a good kisser. I later learned she was good at something else too, but not with me. Am I getting on the border of having to rate this story? Let’s hope I keep it clean. Well, after all this was when I met Vickie.
Vickie Lynn Cayton was from a low-end middle class family, but in our community it didn’t really matter all that much. It was what went on to bring this family together that made it such a mess. James and Geraldine had a somewhat difficult background. James was what we now call a player. Geraldine ran loose and hard when she was young. She had one son, who at this time, lived in Virginia. Then came Vickie, then Rosemary and then little Jimmy. I’m so glad for the draft. The Army took me away and saved me from a very disastrous and likely marriage.
To fill in some more background on that part of my life, I had quite a few friends. At one point there were over twenty of us redneck boys who pretty much kept the neighborhood awake late at night on weekends. One of those guys was Dickie Walker. He was dating Vickie’s older sister Sue. Dickie had a brother we called H.D. and a sister who was in my class at school. Her name was Katie. She was a genuine female redneck. Well, there was another guy in the community at the time named Terry Jones. Terry wasn’t in our group. He was a bit older. Well, to tell the truth so was Dickie, but the Cayton family kind of tied him and me together since we were dating sisters. Well, Terry and Dickie were out all night with Sue and one other girl. They got drunk. Just before daybreak Terry and Dickie drop the girls off at their homes and go for a final run before going home. Terry had a 1959 Chevy Impala. It was a very fast car. There was an open stretch of road on Hwy 33 just past Edwards and they decided to run it out. As Dickie recalls they had topped 120 mph when they came up on a curve and Terry couldn’t get around it. He lost control and flipped across a field. For the younger people reading this, seat belts did not exist in cars during this time. Both were thrown from the car. Rescuers said Terry’s stomach was cut completely open and he was standing there with his insides exposed, screaming. Dickie was out. Terry died before they could get him to the hospital. Dickie was in surgery for better than five hours to repair his arm and all the other injuries he had. He was out for a while. I went to see the car the next day. It was like a ball of aluminum foil on a truck bed. It was sobering to me. The issue came to light that these particular Chevy’s had a thing for lifting off at a certain speed because the fins on them acted as wings. Check out the picture of the one below and you’ll see what I mean. That’s one of the factors that made the wreck so bad. Of course being drunk and running at 120 didn’t help either.
I was in high school now. This was the mid sixties. Civil rights was the hot topic at the time and John Kennedy had been assassinated a couple of years earlier in ’63 and about this time Martin Luther King was as well in 1968. It was all televised on TV. I spend the whole weekend watching news reports with the Presidential assassination. It was a horrible time for the country. Then when Martin Luther King was killed I was visiting with Susie Hardy in Manteo and was supposed to catch a bus in Elizabeth City back home. There were riots in Elizabeth City that weekend over it. I’d never encountered such a thing as this. And as an incoming sophmore in high school a whole new life was beginning to unfold for me.
Even though all this was going on, I did have things going on in high school, which is where I am about now. Timelines and ages may not be clear, but I’m writing as I remember things, so just enjoy as we go. Eighth grade wasn’t much to write about. But let’s see if I can recap the teachers I had over the years just to bore you for a minute. There was Mrs. Cuthrell, first grade. Second grade I remember, but not the teacher for some reason, Mrs. Mintz, third grade, Mrs. Bonner, fourth grade. I remember her because her son, Mike, was in my class. That’s also the year Mrs. Redditt subbed for her. She was a trip. Fifth grade? I may have to research that one too. Sixth grade was Mrs. Sadler and eighth grade was Mrs. Dorothy Bonner.
Now for my freshman year in high school. I was always considered a smart person, but somehow that didn’t translate. Honestly, to this day I believe I have a disability of some sort. Perhaps ADD. Don’t laugh. I have an attention span like that of a child. I start something and in the middle of it all it takes only one little thing to put me on another track as being more important and I’ll completely forget about the first endeavor. Well, I took the usual subjects that year, except I wanted to take Algebra. Big mistake. It was too abstract for me. It didn’t have enough information so far as I was concerned. I struggled with it and flunked it at the end of the year with a 68. The teacher was Mr. Wynne. He could figure Einstein’s Theory in his head, but he couldn’t explain it for anything to me. I could not understand the man. And he wouldn’t give me the benefit of the doubt for being so close to a low D. So I passed four subjects that year, but failing one didn’t stop me from going on to my Sophomore year. Another mistake I did was sign up for Geometry under the same teacher before I knew I’d failed Algebra and was saddled with Theorems and Postulates. Guess what. I flunked that too. This held me back as a Sophomore for a second year. Now I was humiliated. See one of the things I got to do that year was be a waiter at the Junior/Senior banquet, which got me into the Junior/Senior Prom. At the end of the year I cherished it because I didn’t think I’d see that as a Junior. Oh, I had to learned how to do what is now called the Electric Slide and the Cha Cha. These are my only endeavors into dancing. I would never have qualified for Dirty Dancing. More like Ugly Dancing. But see, this was where my back up plan was paying off. I was a musician. What’s so weird is I wasn’t coordinated enough to dance, but I could play drums. That is a coordinated effort involving all my limbs to work together to create the rhythm for everyone else to follow. Go figure.
In spite of all my love life I have expounded on thus far, my freshman year, I had not yet met Vickie. But I had met Peggy Sexton. She was hot and most everyone around that wore pants knew it too, but I somehow managed to befriend her. We never really became an item, but we were close. My Sophomore year I was beginning to develop a better relationship with my classmates and I had more friends that were girls. My mom was teaching me how to relate and how to treat girls about this time, so it made it easier for me. Anyway, when I had to repeat my Sophomore year, my Junior classmates knew I was not cool with being back. One of the girls in the class invited me to the Junior/Senior, when I should have been a Junior. Her name was Susan Dixon. She was a sweet girl. I really liked her, but we never really had the chemistry. The only thing I could go for was she was big up top. She was self-conscious of it so she always wore jackets to hide it. I was very respectful to her for inviting me to take her to the prom. We had a good time and I promptly took her home afterward. This is about the time I was running the road to Manteo and Vickie was on the horizon.
I had a serious problem during that second year of being a Sophomore. I had a really great English teacher and I loved literature, but I hated English. I wasn’t doing bad at it and would have been passing except for one big time draw back. I had to take U.S. History that year and I had a gay teacher named Mr. Thomas Ragland. He used to like to sit on the front of his desk and prop his leg up and show his “package”. That’s a sidebar and I could say more, but back on track here. He would assign us to do oral reports. No pun intended here. At this time I didn’t mind playing drums, because I wasn’t out front as the main attraction when we played, but I was deathly afraid of public speaking. So, to avoid doing the oral reports, I would not do the assignment, thus a big fat zero. He would take these oral reports, grade the papers for content and then pass them to the English teacher who used the assignment to grade it for composition, thus another big fat zero. So, my second Sophomore year ended with having flunked four subjects thus far in high school. This meant I had only enough units to take me to my Junior year. Humiliation had taken a toll on me, but then something happened. For the first time in the history of the school they were having summer school. In order for me to skip the Junior year and jump to my Senior year all I had to do was go to summer school, retake U.S. History and English III and I was in like Flint. So, guess what, Mr. Peele taught the classes and she and I had a good understanding. I passed both courses with an A. I was elated. I skipped the Junior year as in I was a Freshman, and a Sophomore two years and went straight to a Senior. This meant I had to kick into another gear. I had to pass all five subjects that year to graduate with my class. I was stoked to do this. Vickie and I were an item that year. It was also the first year of total desegregation. That’s another adventure in itself. Somewhere in here I have to write about being a wannabee Klan member and how I never got around to it. That’s not a subject many people like to talk about, but it is a part of my past.
My Senior year was full of adventure. It was like I had awakened from a sleep and was aware of everything around me. I had some change coming in too, since when I turned sixteen and gotten my license I also got a license to drive a school bus. Student drivers were how the kids got to school and back home everyday back then. We apparently were more dependable than students are now. We had very few incidents. I know of only two bus accidents in then years I was in school and one of them happened directly behind me my Senior year. Remember Shirley, my cousin? She was a very petite girl and they gave her a bus license and also a bus with very hard steering. None of the buses actually had power steering. The first day out for Shirley, we had gone from the high school to the elementary school to pick the little kids up. Well we were fully loaded and going out the drive onto the highway we had to make a left turn and proceed to the stop sign about a hundred yards and make a right. Shirley was leaving the school yard and was trying to make her left turn, but she couldn’t get the wheel to turn completely and ran the school bus into the ditch on the other side of the road. It almost laid over on its side. She never drove again.
Now for the skinny on my Senior year. Of course I was driving a bus full time. I had Bus 30. It was the route I lived on and fortunately I lived near the end of my route. I was coming into my own. Vickie and I were going strong. I had taken my friendship with my classmates to a new level I had not been on before. There was Taffy Hollowell, Ray and Fay Cratch (twins), Betty Bell Howerin, Mack Parker, Dana Hollowell (not related to Taffy), Bob Cayton, and a list of others. The list finally had depth that I had not had before. With my twenty redneck local boys and all I was pretty well known for a change. Not only that, but I had taken a step up the social ladder. All my life I had worn blue jeans and flannel shirts or something of the equivalent. My Senior year I had moved up to Hagar slacks and dressier shirts. One thing I had not noticed was some of my pants were skin tight. There was a comment one time to the effect that I must spray them on. Not all of my pants were like that. Along this time there was a fad for bleeding madras. They came in some pretty bright colors. I was able to snag a pair of pants that were orange, yellow and some other matching colors in that. Then there was the pair with blue tones. I wore the brighter pair to Sunday school one Sunday morning and was the talk of the crowd. At school you could see me coming way down the hallway.
I was taking crip courses my last year. I took General Math, Bookkeeping, English/Lit, stuff like that. A sort of irony in this last year was the last half of the year we had gone through the entire math book and the teacher decided we’d finish the last half of the year in the same Algebra book I was using when I was a Freshman. Guess what. I made an A on the course my final year. Actually I graduated with two A’s, two B’s and a C. My big accomplishment for the year was I was on the high school newspaper staff. I was a typist and the artist for the paper. Being the artist was a bit overplayed. We did everything on a mimeograph machine. Drawing on mimeograph paper was about as easy as climbing a greased pole. My artistic talents had taken a good move forward. I could draw most anything by now. My straight line drawings from the fourth grade had now taken on more lifelike dimensions. I specialized in cartoon characters. I mostly worked on drawing the Peanuts characters and was doing bulletin boards in the hallways at school. Mr. Wynne’s wife was the typing teacher and was also teaching my bookkeeping class. The latter was my “C” class. She was about as easy to understand as her husband, but I was getting along with her quite a bit better.
This year, being the grandest year of school for us 25 or so who had been together for twelve years was a bit stifled by the fact that total desegregation had come into being. S.W. Snowden High School next door to us had been the “black” school. It was now the elementary school for grades 1 thru 7. The 8th grade was housed with us, so we had a large contingency of new black students in our class. There were about fifty added to our class that put us somewhere around 75 for our graduating class. I’d be crazy to say there weren’t problems, but surprisingly those problems were small and mostly isolated. We had a couple of low-life poor white trash students that were expelled. True to form, they never came back. They quit school. I learned a lot on how to assimilate, adapt and overcome most of the issues that came about during that year. I was beginning to dispel an issue I was most in favor of not two or three years earlier.
To back up a moment, I must explain that “two or three years earlier” statement. When I was fifteen or sixteen I remember standing in the driveway of our home listening to my dad and his cousin Herman Baker and another man talking about the black/white issue. The whole foundation of it was based on their interpretation of Biblical proportions. And you know what that led to? The Ku Klux Klan. There was a chapter forming in our neck of the woods. Herman was a Baptist preacher at the time, and may still be if he’s alive, and my dad and this other fellow were discussing this and I injected my desire to become a member of the Klan myself. They said I was still a bit young to be a member but was glad at my enthusiasm to do so. When the day of incorporation of the chapter came about a four acre field on the Tunstall Field road up from our house was designated as the first meeting place. It was full of people in robes, carrying torches. The gala wasn’t without it’s cross burning. The cross was probably 25-30 tall. There was a lot of who ha over it. I was impressed for the moment. I was also impressed by the fact that the Klan wasn’t just into surpressing the blacks, but also something of a self-appointed vigilante group. By this time Vernon and Lena had moved into the house Dwight lived in about ten years earlier. It was across the field from our house. Well, in spite of the things I had seen around my own house Lena’s indiscretions with other men became the vocal point of the Klan. I was awakened one night to a commotion outside. When I looked outside I saw a cross burning in their yard. She was being warned to cease these indiscretions or suffer further humiliation at the hands of the Klan. Now I must stop this rabbit trail.
That Senior year was a learning experience to say the least. I found friendship with quite a few of the blacks. We had that music talent show I mentioned earlier when I was playing in a band. The Fulford brothers sang R&B and were great. They performed next to us in the show and it was such a great time. I also learned things that were perhaps a bit shady too. One of the black girls was a brassy young thing who got pregnant and came to school one Monday morning with a story to tell. She went somewhere and got an abortion. It was illegal then, mind you. I remember her commenting on how sore she was and it was making it difficult to climb stairs.
This year made the past two years more memorable. The adults thought the Junior/Senior banquet and prom who be a source for trouble, so they cancelled it. What a big letdown. But not to be letdown too much the white’s put together a banquet for ourselves at the Berne Restaurant in New Bern. We all got together and shared our stories of our twelve years with one another over a nice dinner. That, I can’t blame anyone for. After all, I feel it transcended the race issue. It was more of the idea that we had endured 12 years together and had become somewhat of a family. We wanted to celebrate being able to travel those years together and come to the end of it intact. I say that because during those years we had lost some of our class mates, although none from our class. There was Aurelia Rowe. She died from CF. Most kids during this time were fortunate to live past seventeen or eighteen years old. She died at sixteen. Of course there was Terry Jones, from my earlier story. Life did seem to be cruel at times, so for our class to making it like we had was worth the party.
We reached the end of the school year and graduated with pride. I was most appreciative of being able to graduate with my class. It was a hard road, much of what I created myself, but was able to overcome. My mom and dad were proud. I was their first to graduate from high school. Danny didn’t graduate from high school. He quit school and joined the Army and got his GED. I’ll have to get back to you on Mike and Timmy. Tad did graduate. See I have trouble remembering these events as I had married by this time and was living well over a hundred miles away. Figuratively I was living further away.
Let me digress a moment to the redneck crowd I hung around with. This will be the last thought before I transition to the after high school era. With the crowd I hung with, we were so large and diverse that it was great to be associated with so many, but not without its trials. Billy Holiday was the rebel of our group and caused more than his share of trouble. We had to put him on the straight and narrow on several occasions. He’s the one who stole gasoline for his car from Jaime Lamm’s farm. Jaime switched the tanks. He had diesel fuel in one, gas in the other. Billy’s car was messed up trying to burn diesel. I think that broke him from stealing gas or in this case diesel fuel. Anyway, there’s a couple of times he harmed people. There were a couple of times he pulled his car out in front of people and cause wrecks. Once we know was intentional. Al Stilley, was the recipient of the intentional pull out. You see, Billy started this rumor that I was out to beat Al and he told him I was going to beat him. I had never said such a thing. About this same time our group had been given the freedom to use and old two story house next to A.B. and Levy’s Hardy’s house on a dirt road for our meeting place. All that was required of us was that we be responsible for having the power turned on and pay the electric bill. That we had done. Well, one evening this Al and me issue had come to a head. Al came looking for me and knowing where I was he stopped by and came in. Funny thing is our getting together reasonably cool let us put things into perspective. We conclude Billy was instigating this fight. Al and I shook hands on putting Billy in his place again. While we were sitting around talking Billy drove up in his ’62 Ford convertible. Al turned into something else. He could be very hot headed. That’s why I said it was funny we got together like we did. Well, Al lit out the door and ran around to the driver’s door of the car and confronted Billy about his lie. Billy was a wus anyway and he got defensive and floored it and left with Al yelling at him as he sped off leaving a trail of dust on this dirt road. Al got into his car and gave chase. He lost Billy, because Al was driving a VW and Billy was driving in a V-8 car. Later that night Billy was lying in wait in a side road, knowing that Al would be coming by. When He saw the headlights of the VW coming down the road Billy waited to the last second and with his headlights off pulled out in front of Al causing Al to swerve and roll his car over. Billy left the scene. Al was alright. I think Billy is very fortunate to still be alive knowing Al’s disposition.
A second time Joe Harris, who lived down the road from me had a Mecury Comet that was hopped up pretty good. It was a very nice car. Billy pulled out in front on him on the corner where Shirley lived and Joe swerved off the road and his car ran up a guy wire on a power pole, snapped the pole and his car landed on its roof in the road. I happened to come up on this one. After this incident I think Billy toned down his wayward driving habits.
I must at least relate one more incident with Billy. Even though he was a member of our gang, we had a way of letting him know we didn’t approve of his antics. On one of those evenings we decided to spend the night at our club house Billy had done something he shouldn’t have done, as usual. We had running water at the house too, so we locked Billy out of the house and he would drive off yelling he’d be back to get us, so we decided to make sure we got him first. We got a couple of peck buckets and filled them with water and sat them by the front door. We locked the door and went upstairs to bunk down. Sometime shortly we heard Billy’s car pull up and we went down stairs as he was coming up the steps. He started banging on the door when he realized it was locked and demanded we open the door. Sooo, two of us go the buckets up and a third opened the door while he was banging on it and we threw both buckets of water on him. He was totally soaked, to say the least. He was totally PO’d at all of us. But he learned a lesson. Don’t trust us when we open a door. And don’t think you’ll get away with anything if you wrong one of us.
Okay, so I lied. One more thing, although not related to Billy directly. He was involved, though. A.B. and Levy Hardy lived next door to our club house. Their dad worked for Bayboro Chevrolet and never owned a car. He always drove home a car off the used car lot. That left the budget open to buy A.B. and Levy both brand new Honda 150’s. They pulled the mufflers off and we rode them all over the neighborhood with those loud pipes at all hours of the night. I bought a Honda 90 so I could ride with them on my own little speedster. One night around one or so we were riding through a little path between some houses and the main highway and as we went by we say a porch light go one at one of the houses. We just laughed at the idea of waking someone up. We weren’t laughing when we came back by though. The porch light came on again as we drove by, but we saw a shot gun at the guy’s side and he raised it up into the air and blew off a couple of rounds. That was enough for us to go settle in at the club house for the night.
Okay, okay, how about one more. There were two little country stores within walking distance of our club house and we used to go up to Tiny’s the most. She married Hobert Walker when her husband died. It was the smaller of the two stores I’d say, but she was always friendly to us. The other store, I can’t remember who ran it, but every once and a while we would go sit under his stoop if it was raining. One of those evenings one of the guys realized the front windows weren’t locked. There just inside the window was the ice cream box and on top of the ice cream box was all the candy that was stocked for sale. We tried not to make it obvious, so we would only take a few candy bars at a time. Back then a Milky Way or Zero were treasures for candy. Aluminum can drinks were coming into being about that time, too and you had to have a church key to open them. Pop tops hadn’t been invented yet. So we always had something to eat on Saturday night.
All in all, there are many other things I could mention and may remove this paragraph and add those thoughts and memories as I get them, but for now it is time to move on.