The Shortridge House
by: Russ Lancaster
In the mid 1940's we lived upstairs in a big two story house on Oak Street. I think the house belonged to John Shortridge. I know for sure that he and his family lived downstairs. The street was yet to be paved at the time and we still had ice delivered in blocks for our old wooden ice box. There were just four of us Lancasters back then, My mom and dad, my new sister - Fran, and myself. The Friersons lived next door to us and the Putnams lived down at the bottom of the hill.
I was only four or five years old at the time but have some memories, both good and bad, of that old house and growing up there. That was the time when I attended my first birthday party at Richard Putnam's house. I have mentioned a couple of the other memories in my story "Minding Ones Manners" elsewhere on this site and will try to steer clear of repeating them here.
I remember the party at Richard's house. I wasn't quite sure why he was getting all those presents and I was getting none. I remember being quite upset about it until the cake and ice-cream were served. I also didn't understand why I had to wear my Sunday clothes that afternoon (blue short pants and a white shirt and bow tie). My mom later explained the concept of birthdays and presents and I understood well. I'm sure Richard had a better day than I that day. But, I'm glad I can remember at least parts of it.
I stayed out of trouble a lot back then by having a knack of giving a pretty good answer when caught doing things I shouldn't have. One of them dealt with the dirt road out in front of the big old house. My mom told me time and again to stay out of the road. I had a tricycle and liked riding it on the hard surface of the dirt road, it was easier than trying to ride it in the front yard. There weren't many cars to worry about. The war was just ending and folks had been on gasoline and tire rations for the past few years.
But, this one day, I knew my mom wasn't watching me too closely. She was upstairs washing clothes with an old tin tub and a washboard. I looked both ways and out into the street I went with my tricycle. I heard a noise from the West and saw a road grader coming toward me from the top of the hill. I had never seen such a thing and it scared me. I yelled and pulled my tricycle back off the road and sat there until my mom came out to see what the ruckus was all about. She had seen me but didn't let on. As I sat there out of harm's way on my tricycle, she asked me what I was doing. My answer was plain and simple... "I was talking to God", I said looking skyward. Whew... That worked, no more fussing did I hear though I saw a twinkle in her eye and saw her lips try to had back an ever so slight smile. I had gotten away with it. But, that would not be the end of me and that road.
A few weeks later, the city decided to pave Oak Street. I watched from the front porch as they lay down the tar mixed with small pieces of gravel. I didn't like the smell but I liked watching the men work and like watching those huge machines level the tar and gravel into a smooth hard surface.
A few hours after they left, with the new paved road still warm and a little stick, I found a new way to get into trouble. I found an old car tire somewhere around the house and painstakingly rolled it up to the top of the hill. I wanted to see how fast it would roll back down. I got it out onto the street on top of the hill and started to give it a roll. It picked me up somehow as my stomach hit it and rolled me right over as if a part of the tire itself. The first part of me to hit the pavement was my forehead and it hurt. Not only did it hurt, bits of gravel from the freshly paved street were embedded into my forehead. I screamed, cried and ran home. My mom took me to the Hamlet Hospital where a doctor (don't remember which one) took tweezers or something and literally removed the embedded gravel. That was my last fight with that street but not my last memory of that house.
One morning, my sister (Fran) fell or something and began to cry. She either lost or began holding her breath and making no noise at all. She began turning blue. My mom screamed and the next thing I saw was John Shortridge with those long legs of his moving up the steps at lightning speed taking three or more steps at a time. He said not a word but took my sister from my mom, flipped her upside down holding her by her ankles and gave her a good swat on the butt. It was like a miracle. She immediately began making noises again, crying louder than ever, but my mom was happy to hear those sounds. John Shortridge may have saved her life that day.
I also remember catching poison oak while living there. I don't know exactly where I got it but I had a good case of it. It was hot in our upstairs quarters and made the itching twice as bad. My mom would take me down and sit me in a chair out on the great old front porch. She covered me with calamine lotion and put socks on my hands to keep me from scratching.
Pressley Frierson, about my age, lived next door. He had done something to make me really mad (I won't tell what even until this day), at least not on these pages). I was just a wee little kid but decided to get even. My mom had tried to tell me how to tell the difference between toadstools and mushrooms and that I shouldn't eat either when I found them in the yard. She told me they could be poisonous. I wasn't old enough to understand poison or danger and figured they must be like the poison oak itch I had had before. I called Pressley over and told him they were magic cakes and that he could eat some if he wanted. I figured he would get the itch in his mouth or on his face or something. I had no idea they would make him sick. He hate a piece of one, gagged and went home. He ended up being really sick later that day and I felt bad for having tricked him. I never told anyone about that incident nor did I ever try to trick him again.
While we lived there, Pressley had an even worse experience that the one I laid on him. He was hit by a car one day on Oak Street and dragged for quite a ways. He ended up in the hospital in serious condition that time. I was sorry for him but glad that my mom had taught me a (along with the road grader and tire) to stay out of the road. Pressley had to learn that lesson in a harder fashion than I.
Once I really said something that ticked my mom off and she began to chase me. I don't remember what I did but knew I was in for a spanking. I ran down the stairs and out the front door, off the porch and around the house. I could hear her on my trail but I was clearing each corner of the house staying just a corner ahead of her but I was getting tired. My little five year old mind tricked me into thinking I was smarter than my mom. I sneaked back on the porch and crouched down behind the rails as she passed by. I thought she would spend a long time running around the house chasing me as I hid there and rested. She went by once but as I was waiting for her to come back around again, she tapped me on the shoulder from behind. She had quickly figured out my game and had come in the back door of the house, walked silently down the hall and watched me as I crouched and waited for her to pass by again.
That was the first real spanking I ever got though not the first one I deserved. I learned that day that no matter how old I got or how smart I thought I might be, my mom and dad would always be smarter. It was easy to figure out why. They would always be older and therefore always have had the same or similar experiences long before I. That was an important lesson to learn and I remember telling one of my own children once when they had belittled their mom why she would always be smarter than they. Now they too understand.
That's about all I remember about that old Shortridge house on Oak Street and that's not too bad for someone as old as I am to be able to look back that far in time. The last time I saw John Shortridge, he was in a wheel chair, his legs gone but his smile was still there. But when I look back in my memories of him, I still see that giant of a man with the longest legs I ever saw as he climbed those stairs that day to save my little sister's life. He was a friend of my family forever and I consider myself extremely lucky to have known him.
Yes, I remember John Shortridge and Oak Street. I remember the big house and the upstairs apartment and the big front porch downstairs. I remember the fear of the road grader and Pressley Frierson. I remember learning how smart my mom was and of birthdays and presents and Sunday clothes. I remember the ice man with his giant pick delivering ice up those stairs to go in our old wooden ice box to keep our food from spoiling. I remember the radio talking of the weather being "fair" and thinking that meant a fair going on at the old ball park. I remember the lessons I learned as young as five years old in that grand old place.
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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