Napoleon and One Mile Pond
by Russ Lancaster
There is a reason you see a picture of a boy walking the railroad tracks on many of our pages, including this one. It is related to many of my memories of growing up in Hamlet and the way we boys and sometimes girls found fun and adventure in places kids these days wouldn’t give a second glance.
One mile pond is one of the discoveries we made totally by accident. Our close knit group of young boys (you can see their names on our Washington Avenue memory) walked the railroad tracks of Hamlet many times for fun. On the day we discovered One Mile Pond, we ran the tracks – in terror.
We had decided to cross the tracks separating Charlotte Street from Jefferson Street and see what was on the other side. We had heard of kids that lived in that strange land across the tracks and were looking to show them we were better baseball players and such.
Just before the bridge on the Charlotte Street side, there was an old shack with a tin roof. A black family lived there and the man of the house was known to us simply as Napoleon. We had "rocked" his house many times before by chunking small rocks from our vantage point on the start of the bridge down onto the tin roof. Each time, Napoleon would emerge, raise his fist in anger, shout at us and we would run.
On this particular day he must have been waiting for us. We did our usual, rocked his tin roof and waited for him to come out. Surprise! He was already out, hiding under the bridge and with an ax. He was right on top of us before we knew what was happening. We jumped the bridge guard rail on the opposite side, scampered down the embankment and headed west along the tracks. We looked back and he was still coming, not running but taking gigantic steps. His stride seemed to equal 10 of ours and even though we were running he was gaining on us. He must have chased us for only a minute or so but it seemed like much more. I can still see him right behind us waving that ax.
Finally, we knew we were safe but we didn’t want to retrace our steps. We continued west along the tracks. There were no houses, only the high embankments on each side and woods along the way. We decided we would walk all the way to Rockingham if necessary but we would not go back the way we had come.
Then, at last, we saw a slight clearing in the woods to our left. The ground on that side was near our eyesight level. From the clearing we could see the shimmer of sunlight coming off water. Of course, this must be a way out.
We entered the clearing and found what we would name "One Mile Pond". We named it that because we guessed it had to be at least a mile from the bridge. It was a small pond of black, yet clear, water. We stopped, rested and talked of our encounter with Napoleon. We stayed a long time, talked of girls, school and other such things. We found the source of the pond, water bubbling from an underground spring feeding down a little rill into the pond. It was quiet, warm, soothing and beautiful. We thought we had to be the first to even know of such a place. We found the gray shale colored rocks that formed a bed for the railroad tracks and skipped them across the water. It was a discovery we totally enjoyed and a place we would revisit many times.
We didn’t find a way out of there back to the bridge so we spent the whole day there sneaking back to the bridge around dusk with a keen eye out for Napoleon. We didn’t see him again that day and we never "rocked" his house again.
Summertime saw us return to One Mile Pond many times during those early teen years. We would take our "camping" food with us. Crackers, canned pork ‘n beans, vienna sausages, sardines and such. We even took our bottled RC Colas with us. We would put them in the shallow water at the edge of the pond to keep them cool. Even in summer, the water remained cool being fed from underground and the pond itself being shaded by a canopy of black jack oaks and other trees. Those were some fine meals.
In the winter, we would make our trek back to the pond hoping to find it iced over. We took chances walking on that thin ice that would have driven our parents crazy if they had known. We usually took my dog, a mixed breed spitz named Spot to check the ice. He loved water and didn’t mind if we threw him out on the ice to see if it would hold him. If it broke, he would swim back to shore, shake himself off and beg for more. If it held him, we would tentatively walk out ourselves. The ice always held if the "Spot" test worked.
I haven't been back to that special place since my teen years. I missed the opportunity to take my son there or even tell him about that old place. He is now grown with a family of his own and will only learn about it here. Our parents were never told, it was a secret place for a small group of boys; It was ours.
One Mile Pond may not even be there any more. There may be houses where there were once only woods and rabbits and such. The pond itself may have dried up. I am probably too old to make that walk to find out if I ever return to Hamlet.
But, those of you who live there and have children may know of the place. We swore to secrecy back then in the fifties but times have changed. If you do know of the place and if it still exists, please let me know. If your kids know about it or have ever been there, let me know.
I have a feeling that such adventures don't exist for teen agers any more, that TV, computers and video games are their field for adventures. But, I remember the thrill of discovering that special secret place and all the innocent but good times we spent there. I still remember Napoleon, those railroad tracks and those RC Colas chilled by the cool black yet clear water of One Mile Pond, the boys that hung together those days and the fun we had when we made our own adventures. Yes, I remember all of those things with great fondness… 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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