The Teen Age Years
by Russ Lancaster
Two of the best years of my life as a boy in Hamlet were 1954 and 1955 when we lived in the Hugulet house on Minturn Avenue. We lived near the top of the hill in the second block East of Highway 177.
This house was big enough for the oldest kids to each have a room of their own. I had the back bedroom. My sister, Fran, was toward the front. My younger brothers Bobby and David were somewhere in the middle.
The house had a tremendous front porch with big double glass doors opening to the living room. The porch then extended East and South toward another entrance into a dining nook surrounded by numerous small windows.
There was a family room between the living room and the dining nook and that is where we spent most of our time as a family.
The house had no air-conditioning nor do I ever remember needing one. It was well shaded and a window fan or two circulated the air to keep us comfortable even on the hottest days.
There were great neighbors, Isley Barnes, Mike Horton, Sandy Crowell and Neda King to name a few. It's hard to remember the other's names after all these years.
I do remember an elderly couple on the Western side of the house that kept mostly to themselves. I was a bit of an irritation to them and tried to stay out of their way. I remember they had one of the last Kaiser automobiles ever built and it was a new model. I had read somewhere that particular model had a windshield that would give in rather than break if struck by a foreign object. I had to test it out for myself and picked one of those early mornings before beginning my paper route to give it a try. I whacked it with a baseball bat, not hard, but hard enough to see if there was any "give" to it. It didn't feel like rubber to me and I'm glad I didn't hit it any harder than I did because I'm sure it would have shattered. To my knowledge, they never knew of that stupid stunt. If they did, they didn't rat me out to my parents.
It was while living in that house that I bought my first item on credit. I caught the old Rockingham-Hamlet Bus Line (yes, we had one back then) and rode to a Schwinn dealer in Rockingham. I promised to pay $2 a week for a bike until it was paid for if he would let me have it. Surprisingly, the dealer agreed. It was a perfect, well-builit bike for a paper route.
A problem soon arose that taught me a valuable lesson. In order to make my $2 a week payment, I had to get to Rockingham each Saturday. I rode my bike those 5 or 6 miles each week for about 6 weeks. Then I got tired of making the trip and figured if they wanted their money, they should send someone to collect from me. I skipped the next two payments. I came home from school one afternoon and my bike was gone. I asked my mom what had happened and she told me a man from the dealership had repossessed it because I hadn't made the last 2 payments. I was heartbroken. Even worse, I had no way to deliver my papers the next morning.
I went to sleep wondering what I was going to do the next morning. I could only think that it would be a long walk trying to deliver papers on that extended route I had and that I might be late for school. But, I was determined to make my rounds no matter what it took.
The next morning, as I sat on the porch rolling my papers, I saw the answer. Just down the street on the Crowell's front porch, I could see Sandy's bicycle. It didn't have a basket but I could throw the sack of papers over the handle bars and make my rounds. I knew I shouldn't wake them up at 4:30 in the morning but thought I would have the bike back on their porch before they woke up. I "borrowed" Sandy's bike, made my rounds and made an excuse in case I was caught. They were one of my customers and I would tell them that is why I "borrowed" the bike. Luckily, I wasn't caught.
I continued this cowardly act for about 10 days. Then, knowing my luck would run out pretty soon, decided on a better way to handle my problem. I walked downtown to East Main Street (or Hamlet Avenue)... my memory is fading... to the Firestone Store. They didn't sell tires like you would expect, they sold things like model airplanes, toys and bicycles. I had enough money saved to pay for one of the then new "English" models. They were new in Hamlet anyway. They were made of a slim tubular design with narrow tires and a three speed gear shift. My old faithful Bendix rear end brakes would be gone and I would have to depend on caliper brakes with the controls on the handle bars. This bike was not built to take the pounding given by a daily paper route but it served its purpose until I quit to take a job as soda jerk at the bus station.
I never told the Crowell's about my borrowing Sandy's bike. Sandy was a year behind me in school and he never mentioned it. In my later years, I often played golf with his father, Julius Crowell, and neither he or I ever mentioned it. I think it remained a secret. I never told anyone, anywhere about the incident until I wrote this little story today. It has haunted me for years that I was deceptive if not dishonest. I feel better for sharing it with you as you read this.
The block I lived on was on a steep hill. Isley Barnes, a few years older than me, lived a couple of houses down the street. I looked up to him and earned a great deal of respect for him when he volunteered to play "catch" with me, tossing a baseball back and forth between ourselves. Isley even chose to place himself on the downhill side (lucky for me). If I threw the ball badly, it would roll down the hill forever. He would have to chase it down, not me. He was a good influence, a gentleman in his late teens taking time to play with someone barely in their teens. I will not forget him.
Those were the years I was playing Pony League baseball in the summer and JV baseball for Hamlet High in the Spring. The house had about 6 cement or concrete steps us to the porch from the sidewalk. I honed my skills at catching grounders every day by throwing the ball onto those steps and catching it as it bounced back at unpredictable angles. It was good practice. I had to be careful not to overthrow the steps or I would surely crack the windows on those magnificent front doors. Thankfully, I was accurate.
Behind the house, next door, was an open field where my brothers, sister and I played baseball and softball games fit for 3 to 5 people. You probably haven't thought about such games for a long time, I know I haven't. Games like "One-Eyed Cat" and "Roll the Bat". They were children's games but they too taught skills that would be useful in real games later on. One Eyed Cat was a game needing only a pitcher, 2 batters, a first baseman and an outfielder. Roll the bat was a misnomer to say the least. The bat was never rolled, only the ball was. You hit hit ball, then laid your bat down at an angle toward whoever retrieved the ball. If they could successfully roll the ball and hit the bat, they became the batter and you took their place in the field. You could also lose your turn at bat to another if they were able to catch the ball on first bounce or in the air. It was a silly game that we spent hours playing. Such games kept the teen-agers and younger kids occupied and therefore out of trouble. I haven't seen "Roll the bat" or "One eyed cat" played since around 1960. I suspect kids these days are too occupied with organized baseball or Nintendo, the Internet, TV and such. They don't know what they are missing.
The house on Minturn Avenue also had a little shed out back. I suspect it may have been used for tools or something at some time before we moved there. My sister, Fran, and I chose to make it into something else. We cleaned it out and found some old chairs, a table, a lamp and such and converted it into a place of our own to invite our friends. The little shed had windows, a door and even electricity. We found an old radio that was missing its cover and knobs. I remember plugging it in and attempting to tune it and being hit with a shock of electricity. We played card games out there like "Battle", "Old Maid" and "Go Fish". It was our place and we loved it.
The living room of the house on Minturn was huge and mostly unused. It was kept closed most of the time in the winter to better heat the rest of the house. The only vent for the basement fired coal furnace was in the den. However, on Sunday afternoons in the fall, I was allowed to enter the room to watch my favorite team, the Washington Redskins. They were perpetual losers but always exciting to watch. One Sunday, the Redskins scored three touchdowns within 2 minutes to come from behind and beat the Philadelphia Eagles. I was so excited I jumped as high as I could. I hit the beautiful chandelier with both raised arms and it came crashing down around me. My mom came rushing into the room and wanted to know what had happened. I told the truth and for some reason she never even scolded me. Maybe she was a Redskins fan too? I never did figure how I got out of that mess.
Growing up as a young teenager was a learning cycle that all folks go through. I had my problems too, even on Minturn Avenue. Once, my parents and siblings went out of town for the weekend to Miami. I opted to stay at home to take care of my paper route. The Sunday papers were about 4 times as heavy as weekday papers and that particular Sunday I decided I would try to take my dad's old 1950 Ford station wagon to run my route instead of using my bicycle. It was early in the morning, dark, and if I was lucky, no one would ever know. I backed the station wagon down the driveway and the engine stalled with the rear end sticking out into the street, front still in the driveway. I could not get it restarted and eventually ran the battery down. It stuck out there like a sore thumb and I knew I would be in trouble whenever my parents returned from their trip.
I got in trouble all right, but not for trying to drive the car without a license or permission. I got into trouble for lying when asked how the car got into the position in which they found it. I told them a family friend, Madge Fischer, had borrowed it and had stalled it there. I should have known better. Of course, they called her and there was no use pursuing that story any longer. I had made things worse by not being truthful. Not only had I shamed myself, I had to apologize to Madge as well.
That same year, at Christmas, I delayed delivery of my papers hoping my dad would drive me through the route. After all, this was a special occasion. As kids, we all went to bed very early on Christmas Eve so we could get up early on Christmas morning and open presents. After a very early breakfast and after the presents were all opened, I asked my dad if he would drive me around the paper route. He did and it turned out to be a special present. I got to share with him that morning the fun I had delivering my papers, to show him things along the route that he had never taken the time to see... the things that only a paper boy would notice.
I shared with him comments on how each customer treated me on collection day, how they wanted their papers placed on the porch, behind the screen door or simply thrown somewhere near the house. It was a good day for father and son.
That particular Christmas, knowing of my love of radios, my parents gave me a new Motorola. It was strictly AM, there were no FM stations to speak of back then except in big cities and they only played classical music. My interest in radio was the crime and drama programs, baseball and listening to the beginnings of rock and roll. It was a good radio and I went to sleep each night listening to programs such as "Johnny Dollar". That was my favorite program of all. Johnny Dollar was an insurance investigator and never left a case unsolved. He could find murder when someone had appeared to commit suicide, he could find fraud when investigating a theft. He was a hero to me.
Yes, Johnny Dollar was a hero to me back in those days on Minturn Avenue. But, he was only a fictional hero. The real heroes were the folks I have mentioned throughout this story. The ones who taught me lessons, the ones I looked up to. Even my own sister and brothers were heroes in their own right for putting up with a bossy teenage boy like myself. I remember those days, those people and that grand old house with respect and 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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