The Party Years
by Russ Lancaster
I lived in three houses in 1969. I began the year living just off Bennettsville Road, South of Hamlet. I was in my second year of working for the railroad. That was the year of the great February ice storm which left me without power for 30 days. Living outside the city limits on a side road made our house a low priority for the CP&L repair crews. Those 30 days of primitive living conditions helped me decide to look for greener pastures.
I found a house on County Home Road near the railroad yard office that was roomier and moved there around April 1969. I was given the option of renting for a year with an option to buy. My luck wasn’t the greatest at that location either. The owner decided in September to sell to someone ready to buy and rather than wait for my year to run out, she forced me to move. I only had an oral contract and had to leave.
That move turned out to be a blessing. I went down to the Hamlet Hospital and met with Dr. Bill James’ secretary. I had heard that he might have a house I could rent. I was in luck, not only did he have a house, he had a whole street of houses aptly named James Avenue.
James Avenue was a dirt road that ran East and West parallel and South of Rollins Avenue. It was about 4 or 5 blocks long and populated with new brick homes. It seems Dr. James had bought the property, built the street and the houses as an investment. Though it was never said, I think he did it out of the goodness of his heart as well. Here were many houses, all new, all brick and priced to rent within the range of most of Hamlet’s railroad workers. The houses were all-electric, each had a carport, screened in back porch and a spacious yard.
Dr. James allowed me to move into one of these fine houses that same week. The house was the last house on the right on the East end of James Avenue. I had a next door neighbor to my West and another across the street. To my East and South was a deep embankment and nothing but woods. This was a great place for a house.
When I moved there in 1969 this section was just outside of the City Limits of Hamlet. I had city water and sewer service but had to rent a post office box and handle my own trash pickup. The trash would be taken out back and burned in a 50 gallon steel drum to keep it from overflowing. There was a man who would pick up the remaining trash but only once a month.
The neighborhood was the greatest I had ever lived in as an adult. It was quiet, yet active. I knew almost everyone in the neighborhood when I moved there and learned the rest of them within a month or so. Sitting outside watching kids play, socializing with one another and friendliness were common. I knew of no disputes or arguments in the 5 years I lived there though there may have been some. It was a wonderful place.
I imagine if the houses had been a little closer together as many are in the cities these days things might have been a little different. You see, between 1969 and 1974 my age ranged from 28 to 33 years old. This was the height of my young adulthood and the days when I was most rambunctious.
In 1969, our three children were aged 9, 5 and the youngest a few months old. Helga was 26, I was 28. Our friends were many and our house was the place many of them chose to hang out when they had nothing else to do. There were not many days when some, if not many, of our friends were not around.
These were the years when we played tennis and golf, baseball, softball, horseshoes… anything to keep active. These were the years when our bodies were the leanest and best fit. These were the years when our children were easy to keep occupied… the years when they went to bed early and slept late. These were the years when we needed only one car… mothers stayed home to raise their children back then.
At night, when the kids were sound asleep, we and our many friends on summer evenings could be found out on the big old screened in back porch enjoying the cooling breezes, listening to the sounds coming from the woods which surrounded us on the South and East and just have a grand old time. We taught each other folk songs, how to play the guitar. We learned about having fondue parties and Boonesfarm wine. It was a time of discovering tie-dye shirts, bell bottomed jeans. It was a time of men wearing their hair long and growing moustaches. It was a time of boogie fever disco, folk and protest songs dealing with the war in Viet Nam. It was a kind and gentle America with folks our age laid back and not having any worries at all. We all sort of took care of each other and each other’s kids. No one felt left out or alone. There were so many friends to turn to, to rely on, to take care of or be taken care of by them. Doors were left unlocked with no fear. It was America slowing down and mellowing out with the fabulous 50’s now more than a decade behind us all. It was a special period of time marred only by a war that no one wanted that waged on our TV sets at night but far away from most of us. It too was marred some by flag burning and the beginning of drugs. Thank God we never participated in those things nor did more than a couple of our friends. 1969-1974 were some of the most special times of our lives.
Dr. Bill James looked after the young folks of Hamlet that were raising their own families back then. He made sure he shared some of his wealth with all of us. He immortalized himself in our minds and in the heart of Hamlet by giving us the means to live better than our parents had, by providing us such fine homes in such a fine neighborhood for such a low price. We may not have appreciated him and what he did for us back then the way we can now. The enormity of his sharing his lifestyle with all of us on James Avenue and never even asking for nor expecting a thank you was just the normal thing for him to do.
I wish I could have the chance now to thank Dr. Bill James for the great jump start in life he gave me in that 5 year span of my life between 1969 and 1974. I never thought of it much back then but whenever I think back on my life in Hamlet, I always think too of James Avenue and the man who made those wonderful years possible for me and my family.
I don’t get back to Hamlet very often any more. And when I do, I seem never to have the time to drive back down off Rollins Street to James Avenue and look around. Maybe that’s a good thing because I’m sure it must have changed from the way I remember it.
I can see it every day in my mind and it always looks the same there as it did in 1969. I can hear the laughter of the children, the sizzle of fondue pots, the strumming of guitar strings and the voices of my friends on the back porch sitting there until two o’clock in the morning singing our songs and discussing whatever we discussed back then. I remember those sounds, visions and smells as well as anything and rejoice in those good old days. And I remember Dr. Bill James giving me and my friends the memories by providing places for us to live that were better than we deserved or expected. I remember them all…
But most of all… I remember Hamlet
This section is to honor the works of Russ Lancaster who started the “I Remember Hamlet” web site years ago. Without his pioneering the web at that time we might not have gathered all these memories of our Hamlet, NC. We thank you Russ for what you started in 1996, may you Rest in Peace. Russ was kind enough to let me download his web site before he took it down. Thank you Russ.
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