IRH - The Vickers House

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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IRH - The Vickers House

Post by David » Wed October 25, 2017, 1:25 pm

The Vickers House
by Russ Lancaster
I lived in many parts of town when I was growing up. My mom and dad were renters back then, not home-owners, and moving was a part of our lives. The best house I ever lived in was the Vickers house on Washington Avenue.
It wasn't just the house that made it so special, it was the neighborhood as well. I made special friends during that period of my life that remain special even today.
The house sat next door to Chief Hicks' house. He was Chief of Police at the time. The Hicks were special folks themselves and you would often find them out on the front porch. It seems like they always had something for us kids when we passed by, things like biscuits, kool-aid or iced tea.
Kent Hicks, a year older than I, lived next door. David Lee Smith lived on the second floor of their house with his mother. Kent was the leader of our group of kids and often was the deciding factor on how we we were going to spend our day. He made good decisions even though we sometimes got into a little trouble following his lead. Not the kind of trouble you might imagine knowing how kids are these days, but the trouble of sometimes doing things that were a little too dangerous. Things like hiking into swamps in the woods or having BB gun battles at a place we called "the Clay Hole". Those things were kept secret from our parents, they would not have approved. But, to us, they were a part of growing up, a part of learning how to get along and even depend on one another.
The kids in our neighborhood were a close knit group with each having a special talent that would enhance our group as a whole. You may remember some of their names but may not have thought about them in a long while.
There was Kent, the leader. David Lee Smith was the bravest. Johnny Hamrick was the singer. Donald Harris was another leader, he lived a block away over on Spring Street and was my best friend from 1947 until our Sophomore year in high school when he moved away. Mike Gray, know affectionately as "Stinky" was the best marble player. By the way, I don't know where his nickname came from, he certainly didn't stink.
Jackie Booker, a year younger than most of us was a good fighter and team player. Tommy "Rabbit Ears" Melton was the best baseball player. George Glenn, short and fast was our comedian. Martin Brown was a tough guy, but only on the outside. He was quiet, strong, loyal and a good friend. Jimmy Pollard was smart, and like me, a follower ready to be led into trouble at the drop of a hat.
There were also the girls of the neighborhood. Sue Strickland who lived over on Spring Street, she was a tomboy capable of beating most of us boys at our own games. There was Cynthia Honeycutt who lived on Kent Street. We all thought she was the most beautiful girl that had ever lived. There was Gay Lovette from over on High Street who was a year younger than the rest of us and also had enough "boy" in her to best us in a lot of our games. There was Martha Sue Warwick, (I think I have her name right) that lived just off Washington Avenue though I can't remember the name of the street. She was the girl that first taught me how to kiss while playing "spin the bottle" and "post office".
There was a girl named Ann Reynolds that lived near Mike Gray. Her father worked for Coca Cola. She was super smart and kept us in our place when need be.
And, there was Mary Ann Brown that lived down near the other end of Washington Avenue that was a year or so older than us. She lived in the house now owned by Nat and Ruth Campbell and she taught us how to gamble.
I'll stray from my Vickers house story just a moment to tell you of how we fell prey to her gambling game. One summer, she had a friend or relative from Florida staying with her. We would walk down to her house with the big old gray front porch and try to learn of this place called Florida. Her friend told us the center lines on the highways in Florida were for bicycle riders. We found this unbelievable and told her so. But she told us of other things we believed and we accepted her into our crowd for the summer.
The two girls brought out a bowl, probably a goldfish bowl, narrow at the top, wide at the bottom and filled with water. At the bottom of this bowl was a small glass, probably a shot glass. All around the bottom were pennies. They told us to bring our pennies and drop them in the bowl. If one were to land in the small glass at the bottom, they would give us a nickel. It surely sounded like an easy way to make money but it wasn't. We had visions of trading pennies for nickels dancing in our heads. Those two girls knew we would be suckers and they were right. We dropped and dropped our precious pennies and maybe only once a day would one land in the little glass. The water would grab the pennies and guide them ever so surely to the outside edges of the bowl. By the time we finished their game, their bowl was filled with pennies. We boys may have had one or two nickels. We had been had. Even worse, we couldn't try the same trick on each other or even on our brothers or sisters. Word was out about how the game went and we were broke. Even so, it was a fun experience.
The neighborhood was filled with things for us to do. There were woods up past the new ball park in which to hike. Seaboard Street was barricaded for us each Christmas so we could try out our new skates. The sidewalks around Washington Court Apartments were perfect for bicycle riding. The Clay HOle on Wiregrass Road gave us cliffs to climb, clay to mold and a good backstop for shooting BB guns. Kent taught us which wildflowers to pick to impress our parents. The Fischers and Mrs. Griffin had two of the first TV sets in Hamlet and would let us watch from time to time. The school playground was but a block away. Hiking to the Hamlet Theater on Saturdays was a special treat. Cops and robbers, cowboys and indians, war... These were the games that cost nothing to play and could last for hours. It was a great neighborhood filled with adventure for young boys and girls. Parents managed to remain unseen to us but their watchful eyes were always upon us.
Getting back to the original story... the Vickers house. As you can see, it was ideally located for us kids. The house itself had its own numerous features to keep us comfortable, safe and entertained.
It was a one story house on a huge lot. There was a spacious front yard with tall, easy to climb trees. The huge limbs were suitable for our make-do tree houses. They easily bore the weight of ropes for swings and shaded the house from the hot summer sun.
There was no air conditioning. The lucky, we were among them, had space fans and even an occasional window fan for ventilation. The floors were hardwood and somehow always felt cool to the touch when walking bare-footed or lying on them beneath a large window with a breeze stirring the curtains.
There was no central heating. We had a big pot-bellied coal stove in the living room. It was fed from a bucket of coal always kept nearby. The coal pile itself was out beside the house unsheltered from the weather. In winter, the belly of the stove gave out a great deal of warmth and the louvered front grill showed the flickering flames and red hot coals and ashes inside. There was a removable tray under the stove for emptying ashes and for collecting the hot coals that occasionally dropped from the stove above. When the weather would turn severely cold, a good portion of the stove would take on a reddish glow as the coals were heaped upon one another and stirred to keep the fire hot.
The main room was that big old living room. There was no TV but there was an ever full magazine rack filled with Redbook, Life and the Readers Digests my mom was so fond of. There was also a radio that gave us music and weather during the day as well as an occasional baseball game. There were even daytime radio shows we never missed like "Queen for a Day" and "Truth or Consequences". My dad would also invent games to keep us occupied. Some were simple such as using an old soft drink crate and numbering the 24 slots. A ping-pong ball would be bounced into one of the slots when we used it to play baseball. The more difficult slots were the ones designated for home runs whereas the easier accessible ones were reserved for strikes and outs. We didn't lack for entertainment. My mom taught us how to make bean-bags for tossing with dried beans and an old pair of socks tied off at the end. Those were very good times.
The bedrooms were toward the back of the house and I was lucky enough to have one alone. It would be very cold back there in the winter as the doors were kept shut to keep the living room and kitchen heated. I had "Dr. Dentons" (pajamas with feet), given me by my grandma and piles of covers and quilts. My dog, Spot, was allowed to sleep on the foot of the bed to keep my feet warm. When it got too cold, a hot water bottle sometimes was placed under the cover by my feet. There was no trouble sleeping back then. No matter how cold the room was, we were tucked in tightly and comfortably.
We used an old push mower to keep the lawn trimmed. I don't mean gasoline or electric powered... I am talking about the old inertia powered mowers that you actually had to push to make the blades move. It was a chore back then but not too bad a chore. I don't think I could push one today, but back then it was expected and it wasn't too hard to do.
There was a solid line of trees to the east of the house separating the front yard from the back and giving total privacy in back. I could climb out my bedroom window and be among pear and pecan trees. There was lots of room back there to play with my dog. There was a big barbecue grill for hot dogs and hamburgers. That big old hidden back yard is where we shucked our corn and snapped and shelled our peas and beans for the big old chest freezer. Those vegetables tasted as fresh as just picked in the middle of the winter.
There was an old garage back there with chicken coops on the West side. We had our own fresh eggs and chicken dinner was no more than a hop and skip away. The chickens were killed, boiled and plucked as need be. Country living inside town. We had it good.
We soon learned to climb the garage and pick pecans in season without having to shake the tree. I spent many hours atop that old garage eating pecans, sometimes throwing the ones I couldn't quite crack to Spot down below where he would be barking and begging for more.
The garage was also great for a leaping off place for playing "follow the leader". Kent Hicks would jump off the garage into the soft field out back and dare us to follow him. We would follow him, not wanting to lose the respect of the others. Sometimes we would make a jump all the way to the pecan tree limbs and hang on for dear life.
Behind the garage was a huge field. My dad grew corn, beans, peas, cucumbers, tomatoes, watermelons and cantaloupes back there. He showed us how to tend the garden, how to keep the worms off the corn and how to know when something was ripe and ready for picking or eating. He hired an old black man with a mule and plow to ready the garden each year. There were no insecticides used back there, just good old farming know how kept us going though my dad was the only one of us who knew how to do it.
After the growing season was done and all was harvested, the empty brownish corn stalks could easily be pulled from the soft ground where they had once stood way above my head when green and ripe with corn. A clump of dirt would surround the root. The weighted root end made for great spear throwing and we would fight each other for hours back there until we tired of the game. We would come in with the dirt mixed with sweat, wash up and be treated to my mom's great cooking. We had no washer or dryer and though I didn't think about it back then, I wonder how she managed to keep clean clothes available for us.
I have lived in many houses much fancier and nicer than the old Vickers house but none that I have such fond memories of. I have had many neighbors in the other place I lived but none can hold that special place in my memory of the folks I have mentioned here. Those were the first friends, the special ones that will always be just kids in my mind. I can step back at will inside my head be with all of them. I need only close my eyes and think back to those times and those days and I am there. I remember them all as well as I remember what happened last week... but most of all... I remember Hamlet

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Re: IRH - The Vickers House

Post by sigmore » Fri October 27, 2017, 5:11 pm

An awesome little story. We all have them but some had it harder than others, so I always try to keep things in perspective and be thankful with what you have. Good one David. I'll miss ya'll this year. Been a tough one. Just couldn't make it up this year. Ya'll drink a cold one for me. I never would have thought that when I saw my good buddy Gary last year that it would be for the last time. He was pretty happy the way things were going for him and Sue. The turd was supposed to come to Florida this last summer and visit. Gonna miss him for sure.

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