Depot plain jpg1

OURHAMLET.ORG

A place for you to share memories and information on the history and happenings of Hamlet, NC.

Bruce 1

CONTACT
David

 

THE OLD SWIMMING HOLE
fun and near tragedy
ca. 1950-51
by: Bruce Osburn

    When I was just a lad, about twelve or thirteen, I nearly drowned in our ol' swimmin' hole.

    We lived about a mile south of Hamlet on Lackey Street extension (we never could force ourselves to say Bridges Street extension, as it was shown on the map.) About a quarter-mile directly behind our house, beyond the Seaboard Air Line main track to Cheraw and through the woods, was a small pond the local boys - and sometimes an adventurous girl or two! - used to swim in. It could also be reached by going south on Rice Street or maybe Champlain Street, out past the old Moncure Hospital and down the hill on an old sandy pig-path of a road. It was generally accepted that the property was owned by a Mr. Liles who owned a grocery store on the south end of Lackey Street so we called the place Liles' Lake.

    In the distant past there had been a two room bath house with a window for selling snacks and collecting swimming fees but hard times had come and the lake had been abandoned as a money making enterprise. The property had fallen into a sad state of disrepair; the bath house doors had long since disappeared, the dam was in a bad state of erosion, and the spillway boards had either rotted away or had been pulled out. The lake was now nothing more than a glorified stream; still, the water was nearly five feet deep at the spillway. The water was clear and cold over a clean, sandy bottom.

    Over the years the dam had badly eroded and had slid down into the lake, creating a sloping shelf just in front of it. But, despite the neglect and subsequent erosion, the dam was still high enough to provide a launching pad for shallow diving if we had a fast running start and leapt far enough to enter deep water. That little pond was almost the exclusive domain of the kids that lived out "in the country," the Osburns and the Heltons and the young black boys from the Bridges Street neighborhood. Only occasionally would any of the "city boys" venture out.

    On the day that I almost lost my life some of the "city boys" had made their way out, including my classmate, James Moon. Of course, a little rivalry soon developed and each group, "city boys" and "country boys," were determined to show their best dives. One of my dives proved to be too steep and too short.

    My head hit the soft bottom of the slope and there I was, feet and ankles sticking out of the water, thrashing about, unable to dislodge my head from the gook. It seemed an eternity before I felt someone grab my legs and pull me free. James Moon had seen that I wasn't fooling around and jumped in and saved my bacon!

    After a short time we were frolicking as before. I doubt if any of the other boys realized what had just happened, or, if they did, thought no more of it than someone falling off a bike. After all, when we were young we thought we were indestructible, brushing off cuts and bruises as nothing more than mere annoyances.

    James Moon has probably forgotten that day, but I haven't. If not for him I probably wouldn't be here today. James, if you read this, here is a thank you that is nearly 50 years late.

    Bruce Osburn 12 - 1 - 1999


    HANGING OUT TIME
    .....young years in Hamlet
    ca. 1948-1953
    by: Bruce Osburn

    In summer 1947 my dad retired from the Army at Fort Bragg, NC. He bought 14 acres of wooded property south of Hamlet, NC, on Lackey St. extension and set about building a house. In January, 1948, his task completed, he brought my mom and three youngest children to our new home and we settled in. Mom had grown up in the sandhills so we had plenty of family there to welcome us - aunts, uncles and cousins.

    That was a great place for young boys to grow. There were plenty of swampy areas for playing "Tarzan" or "Jungle Jim," lots of old cotton fields and corn fields for getting up a game of cowboys and Indians. Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and their partners rode many a dusty mile in those fields dodging bullets from the bad guys. The same fields were, on at least two or three occasions, football arenas with hotly contested games with me and two or three of my buddies against the boys from Bridges Street neighborhood.

    Those weren't sissy type touch games with helmets and pads. No sir! They were pile-on, mash-your-head-in-the-dirt tackle games, with a few inside punches slipped in for good measure. Have you ever rolled on the ground in a corn field that has had the stalks cut for fodder? Those little six-inch stubs could inflict some terrible pain!

    Those games were so rough you didn't want to have that football in your hands! No way! There were more laterals and fumbles than the law allows! There were a few bloody noses and scrapes and bruises but it was all in fun and no one was the worse for it. We country boys could walk home down Bridges St. without fear of being ambushed.

    Arrow heads could be found in freshly plowed fields and especially in "new ground," an area that had had its old growth timber harvested and then plowed under, such as our property. The arrow heads were more plentiful there and often we founf shards of pottery. I had, at one time, an old shoe box nearly full of arrow heads and pottery. My classmate and friend, Al Horton, saw them one day and expressed an interest, picking them up and admiring them. So, what did I do? I gave them to him! The whole kit and caboodle! Never to see them again! I hope Al's kids still have them; they represent many a furrow walked with bent head and toes kicking clods!

    Many years later, after I had reached adulthood, married and with a family of my own, I was reminiscing with my mom about the great number of Indian artifacts we children had found on our property. Well, yes, she said, she thought there might have been an Indian village there in the old days. She then asked if I remembered a slight rise in the ground out in the pines that looked out of place. Yes, but I had not given it much thought. She then said she thought that it was an Indian burial ground. When I asked why she hadn't told me when we lived there she simply said, "Because I knew you would dig into it." Ah, the wisdom of our parents! We should all be like them!

    Our neighbors, the Heltons, had several children, two of them boys just a couple years younger than me. Howard and Larry were my constant companions. We played together, smoked cigarettes and fought amongst ourselves - usually them against me. However, we were the best of friends and helped one another with our chores so that we could have more hanging out time.

    That hanging out time allowed us to develop our childhood survival skills and explore the surrounding wilderness. We knew where the best pond for swimming was (Liles' Lake was the best overall; our pond and the one just down the road a piece were too dirty and heavily infested with lily pads, plus a considerable population of moccasins.) We learned which tree limb had the best fork for making sling shots (the dogwood,) where to find the most wild grapes when they became ripe (the swampy area directly across the road from Mr. Hadley's chicken house,) which trees were the most supple for swinging from tree-top to tree-top (those that didn't break were best, no matter what the species!) how best to attach boards to a tree to make a tree house (don't use short nails,) which limb made the best bow (one you could bend was ideal,) how to find out if a train was coming by putting an ear to the track (we never did get that one down pat, so we just looked up and down the track,) plus other necessary skills that made a boy a boy, things that would make Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn proud.

    We even learned how to hot-wire our 1946 Chevy pickup truck so we could drive through the fields to the corner store. (My brother Gene, 3 years older than me, didn't like that at all, but mom told him if he would leave the key at home instead of taking it with him all the time I wouldn't have to hot-wire it. Hurrah! A victory for me!)

    We found treasures just about wherever we went; small pieces of petrified wood, (man, you're crazy, that ain't wood, that's a rock,) old snake skins (more than a few times real live water moccasins,) turtles (a decomposed turtle's shell made an excellent helmet for a dog or cat,) frogs (big bull frogs had tasty hind legs; we even heard that people paid good money for them in restaurants) and rough, round, hollow rocks.

    Those rocks were of various sizes, some as small as marbles and some as big as golf balls. We called them "pop-rocks" because when tossed into a fire they sometimes would explode after fifteen or twenty minutes. Sometimes we threw them at birds or any other animal within range.

    Other times we just smashed them. Inside was a rust colored powdery substance which we were convinced the Indians used for making their war paint. Even though we were never able to make a suitable paste for painting our own faces we just explained that away by saying we didn't know the secret for proper mixing. (Decades later I learned the rocks were called geodes.)

    Yes, growing up in Hamlet was an exciting and adventurous period in my young life. I lived in four states and attended 12 schools - two in Hamlet - before I graduated high school and, of all the places I lived, not one has memories so lasting as those made in Hamlet.

    Bruce Osburn 12-7-1999


    WILD MAN OF BORNEO
    ....a terrifying day at the fair
    ca. 1948
    by: Bruce Osburn

    One day I was at the carnival that usually set up for a week in the fall of the year at Hamlet fairgrounds. That was an event this ten-year-old kid had anxiously looked forward to, saving my pennies and nickels and dimes, awaiting my one or two visits to see the wonders of the carnival midway.

    On this day I was with an uncle about sixteen years of age. I don't remember how we got there or if anyone else went with us for that is not the memory that has remained with me all these years. What has remained with me fifty years or so is a memory of an event I have told and retold countless times - all at the expense of my uncle. That event was our encounter with the Wild Man of Borneo.

    We were making our rounds of the side shows - fat lady, tattooed lady, sword swallower and others - when we found ourselves at the exhibit for the Wild Man from Borneo. Now, that man must have been ferocious for we could hear him growling and howling clear out on the midway. But, inside the tent, the dim light made it difficult to see where he was. We saw a group of kids, some on their tip-toes, looking over a canvas barrier at something not visible to us. We cautiously approached the barrier and there, sitting on the ground, we saw him!

    Behind the barrier, safely and securely separated from us by strong canvas and a fishing net thrown over horizontal poles, was the Wild Man from Borneo! Oh! What a fearful sight! A savage looking man with long, black, matted hair down to his shoulders. There were big, fat snakes all around him, some even crawling across his legs! And he just sat there with a dead, headless chicken in his hand, paying those big ol' snakes no mind at all!

    Oh, that savage must have been in terrible pain 'cause he kept growling and shaking that dead chicken at us. Suddenly he sprang from the ground and charged right up to the barrier! All of us screamed and ran for the exit but that ol' Wild Man couldn't bust out 'cause he was behind that strong canvas and net cage! So he just stood there, fully upright among the snakes, with his head and shoulders pushed tightly against the fishing net. He stuck the dead chicken's neck into his mouth and took a bite - Crunch!!

    After a couple of times nearly escaping and scaring the bejeeze out of us kids, the unimaginable happened - the barrier collapsed and he was free! Free! Right there amongst us, out of his cage and threatening to eat us! In a flash I was at the tent flap with the rest of the terrified kids and turned around to look for my uncle.

    Poor guy! He was just standing there, petrified, unable to move. Well, that ol' Wild Man saw my uncle standing there and charged him, growling and making frightful noises. He charged right up to my uncle who instinctively did the only thing he knew to do - he smacked that ol' Wild Man square in the face with a punch only a scared kid could throw, knocking him onto his kiester! My uncle's feet finally took flight and he ran from the tent, saying to me as we made our escape, "That ol' Wild Man near 'bout got me but I whopped'im a good'un up side 'is head!"

    Oh, the perils of a kid growing up! If the boogerman doesn't get you, the Wild Man of Borneo will!

    Bruce Osburn 12-12-1999


    BUTTERCUP ICE CREAM
    ....was good!
    1948-1950

    by: Bruce Osburn

    There was an ice cream plant on Bridges Street in Hamlet that provided jobs for some of the local people, one of them being an uncle and another one a cousin. Uncle Lawrence Fisher was there before we moved to Hamlet in 1948, working in the boiler room. Cousin Jack Patrick was a route salesman or some such position. And after my sister Ginger graduated Hamlet High in 1949 she worked there for a short time before joining the Air Force.

    Buttercup was the premier ice cream in our area, at least with the folks of Hamlet. I think it was much preferred over the more widely known brands of much larger ice cream makers and it was easily recognizable with its familiar yellow buttercup flower imprinted on each container. Sales must have been good because the company was in existence for several decades. But what I remember most about Buttercup was not its contribution to the community as an employer but how it affected my family for a brief two years or so, events that were sanctioned by management, examples of Buttercup generosity that few are aware.

    We kids were always glad to see uncle Lawrence and aunt Cecil come to visit. Their visits meant more ice cream for the refrigerator freezer, small as it was. (Hardly anyone had a bigggg freezer, like today). Uncle Lawrence didn't buy the ice cream, he simply picked it from the loading floor and took it home. It wasn't stealing; it was simply salvaging that which was going to be thrown away.

    Those were the days (at least at Buttercup) before conveyor belts, forklifts or roller wheel loading conveyors. The route drivers loaded their trucks with help from plant personnel, tossing the packaged ice cream, which usually contained 24 itemstper package, from man to man until the truck was loaded. During loading some of the packages were dropped, hitting the floor and damaging the contents. The damage wasn't so great as to ruin the entire contents, just a few bars or cups or sandwiches. But rather than ripping the packages open and saving the undamaged items and then repackaging, it was cheaper to simply toss the damaged goods into a 55-gallon barrel for later disposal.

    So, that was what uncle Lawrence brought to our house - goods that were being trashed. There were fudgesicles, push-ups, dreamsicles, ice cream sandwiches, nickel cups, dime cups, chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, pints, half gallons, anything that would fit into a little bitty freezer. We had no favorites, anything was fine. And so it was with the local boys that came to visit. They always managed to eat their fill and mom didn't care, because if the freezer became bare uncle Lawrence and aunt Cecil would bring more any time she wanted it.

    Uncle Lawrence and dad saw an opportunity to make some money from all that wasted ice cream. Uncle Lawrence got permission to remove the 55-gallon barrels when they became full, which would be as many as six or eight barrels a week. Dad fenced in about three or four acres of land, turned loose a gang of feeder pigs, and he and uncle Lawrence were now in the pig farming business!

    Sometimes there were up to twenty or thirty pigs running there from late summer to spring, all fed on ice cream! They got no corn, no slop, no dry feed, no nothing, just ice cream!

    Dad would go to Buttercup and pick up three or four barrels of discarded goods, bring them home and mix water with the ice cream, creating giant 55-gallon milkshakes! The pigs were fed with this liquid - sticks, paper and all!

    Somehow they managed to spit out what was not edible, gained weight and became so fat that there was no way they could "make it through the heat of summer." Consequently, all the fattened pigs were taken to market in late spring (I believe at Aberdeen, NC, just up the road a piece,) most of them weighing in at 500 to 600 pounds. The adults often remarked that they were some sorry hogs, not worth a fritter, good for nothing more than making lard and fatback, not a streak of lean in them anywhere! But, all in all, they brought a pretty good price at market and were a good source of income.

    Another resource at Buttercup began to find its way to our place. The boiler there was coal fired and made a lot of clinkers, some of which could be put to good use on our roadway. We had a pond in front of our house and our access road passed on top of the dam. As a matter of routine maintenance we three brothers had to haul dirt from a back field and fill the potholes and washouts there. This wasn't a desired task, especially if you had more important things to do, such as hanging out with your buddies.

    Uncle Lawrence made a deal with a worker at Buttercup that did away with most of our dirt hauling chore. The worker was to haul clinkers as needed to our dam in return for fishing privileges. Now, our pond might have been dirty and not fit for swimming, but it had plenty of catfish, some weighing two pounds or more.

    I remember the first load of clinkers delivered to our place. Up the road I saw a giant of a black man, walking beside a goat drawn wagon! That's right! Goats! Mr. John Bankhead was bringing us a load of clinkers! Not as many as could be loaded onto a pickup truck, but, all in all, quite a load for two billy goats (it could have been four goats.)

    John Bankhead brought many loads of clinkers to our dam and spread them. And he caught a lot of catfish for his labor. Many times he came out just before dark, set four, six, or more poles into the side of the dam, lit his flambeau to keep off the skeeters, sat back and waited for the fish to bite. John Bankhead became a friend to this young boy.

    We had lots of conversations while sitting together on the dam waiting for the fish to bite, about things I can't remember now but they must have been important when I was a kid. (I have heard that his real name was John Bethune, but for some reason or other everyone called him John Bankhead).

    My youngest brother Kenny and I thought nothing was wrong with poking around in trash piles to see what treasures they held. One day while going through trash at the Buttercup plant we found what we thought was the answer to our lack of store bought toys and other boy stuff.

    Buttercup produced frozen treats marketed under the Popsicle trademark and Popsicle had a program to get more of a little boy's money by offering a coupon redemption scheme. A kid could send in ten Popsicle wrappers (or coupons or whatever was required) and fifteen cents and get a gen-u-wine compass for finding his way out of the woods. Or fifty wrappers and $1.00 for a real, two bladed jack knife. (My recollection of the number of wrappers and the amount of cash is suspect, but you get the idea, the larger the prize, the more wrappers and cash that was required.) But here's where the good part comes in; if a kid didn't have any cash he could send all coupons and get an item. That little compass could go for about fifty coupons and no cash. And that knife could be his for two-hundred fifty coupons and no cash. (Here again the number of coupons is in doubt, fuzzy memory you see, but you get the idea.)

    Kenny and I found in Buttercup's trash that day the mother lode of treasure! There, amongst all the office trash, were hundreds upon hundreds of Popsicle wrappers! There were thousands! All neatly bundled in packages weighing about one or two pounds each, just as they had been shipped from the printer. We determined the only reason they were there was because the packages were soiled, a little wet and sticking together just a bit. But surely they were fit for getting prizes so we grabbed as many packages as we could carry and made our way home down Bridges Street.

    At home we began to make our decision as to what prize we wanted. Would it be a bowie knife in a sheath, or a foot ball, or a baseball glove or maybe something bigger? Why not all of them!? We certainly had enough wrappers and it wouldn't cost us a cent.

    As we made our plans to have more boy stuff than anyone in the neighborhood nagging little thoughts began to plague us. We knew that Popsicle expected kids to buy one of their treats in order to get one wrapper. So it seemed to us that Popsicle expected a kid to spend a nickel for every wrapper he collected. But we hadn't bought those wrappers, we had found them. Would they become suspicious about so many absolutely flat, clean wrappers? Would we get into trouble for not buying all those wrappers?

    Our mom's carefully instilled values began to influence our decision making; her "don't steal, don't take something that doesn't belong to you" won out. Kenny and I destroyed all those wrappers and went back to being just normal kids without any store bought stuff.

    Yes sir! Buttercup Ice Cream tasted good; to us kids, and to our pigs!

    Bruce Osburn 12-14-1999
    ***************************************************************
    Late one afternoon dad went to Buttercup to get a load of discarded goods and on the way home he stopped at the High Hat Club for a "cool one." All those 55-gallon barrels on the bed of a pickup truck - and parked right in front of a honky-tonk - aroused the suspicions of a State Trooper. The trooper followed dad home, right into the yard. As he was getting out of his patrol car he hollered at dad, "Hey! Whatcha' got in them there barrels!?"
    "Ice cream," says dad.
    "Whatcha' think I am, some kinda' damn fool?" says he as he climbed up onto the back of the pickup and shined his flashlight down into the barrels.
    I know he thought dad had a load of "white lightning" or, at the very least, barrels of mash. And even though I won't swear to the actual conversation, the fact that the trooper followed dad home and looked into the barrels is true. And it wouldn't surprise me at all to know that the trooper seized several quarts of the "evidence."
    **************************************************
    Uncle Doug said he remembers coming out to our house and would soon see aunt Jane down at the hog pens, with nothing but her feet and legs sticking out of a barrel, looking for some good stuff.
    ************************************************
    Subject: BUTTERCUP ICE CREAM
    Date: Tue, 28 Dec 1999 11:49:48 -0500
    From: "doug and sandra gray"
    To: Bruce Bruce,
    I worked there twice. The first time was in the summer between the 7th and 8th grades. I worked on a truck delivering to Pembroke, Laurinburg, McColl and Bennettsville. We worked five and one half days per week. I was paid $12/week. I loaded the truck in the morning and carried in what the store ordered along with the driver. My driver was a Mr. Smith. I too remember getting free ice cream to carry home each afternoon. I always stopped at my friend Jim Shaw's house and gave them some of it before heading to Washington Avenue. His father was bed ridden from a stroke and loved ice cream. The next time I worked there was the summer after my Sophomore year in college. I worked in the plant making ice cream. Of course, all of us had to wear white clothing and the pay was a whopping $1.00/hour. We always made 40+ hours per week. Since I was living at home, I managed to save $35/week. Truly, Hamlet was a GREAT place to grow up. I wish for you and yours A HAPPY, HEALTHY NEW
    YEAR!!
    [Doug Gray]


    THE GRAPE TREE
    ....encounter in the woods
    ca. 1948-1952

    by: Bruce Osburn

    Wild grapes abounded in the woods surrounding Hamlet during my young years. In late August and into mid-September they ripened into a sweet, juicy fruit much sought after by birds, 'possums, 'coons and tree climbing young boys. They could be found almost everywhere - on old fences, fallen down barns and outbuildings - anywhere critters were likely to have dropped a seed.

    Our favorite spot for finding grapes was near the south side of Hamlet - that low, swampy area sandwiched between Lackey Street extension and the Seaboard Air Line tracks running to the south. Of course, my buddies and I didn't have to find the grapes, we already knew where they were from previous years for we had gorged ourselves many times during the short two to three week period the grapes were ripe.

    Most people think that grapes grow on vines but the grapes in our neighborhood grew in trees. When we went out for grapes we didn't go to a grapevine or a grape arbor, we went to a grape tree. But yes, of course, our grape trees had to have vines and, where they emerged from the ground, some were as big as the upper arms of small boys.

    Those vines had reached up into the trees when they were just sprouts and now they covered a goodly portion of the woods - on lower branches, middle branches and clear to the tops of the trees. And even though perfectly good grapes could be found at ground level my buddies and I knew for certain that the biggest and juiciest ones were to be found way up in the trees. But that presented a problem - how to get there? Well, heck, there was only one way - shinny up a tree.

    Some trees were more suited for climbing than others. A pine tree was not considered to be a good tree; the bark was rough, pine sap got on us and the pine needles poked us in the eyes! A poplar tree was great for climbing but offered no good place for sitting because the limbs were of a skinny nature and made our keisters ache after a short time. So, we learned to alternately stand and sit, one hand for holding onto the tree and one hand for picking grapes.

    Once we were safely up in the limbs of the trees we could easily spend thirty minutes or more picking and spitting, moving from tree to tree Tarzan style. But it wasn't all fun and games; sometimes we had to pick a gallon or so of grapes for our mothers, who would make grape jelly or jam. This was considered an unpleasant chore and was not good hanging out time.

    Selecting and eating those little orbs of fruit was an art in itself because not all grapes were fit to eat. There were some that had not turned the desired shade of black and were not sweet. And there were some that had been ripe too long and had begun to shrivel and turn sour. Those were the ones we didn't even waste time picking. We went for the ones that were just right - plump, black and juicy. And once we had them between our lips another skill was necessary in order to get the full enjoyment of that little fruit.

    After I had plucked that little delectable morsel I took it between a thumb and forefinger and placed it between my lips. Next, a gentle squeeze of thumb and forefinger popped the pulp from the hull into my mouth and slightly more pressure of thumb and forefinger on the hull extracted the remaining juice. (The last two steps required a slight sucking effort, something akin to sucking a long piece of spaghetti from a dinner plate).

    After the pulp was safely inside my mouth I squeezed it with my tongue against the roof of my mouth to remove the seeds, which were then expelled with great velocity at a buddy if one was nearby. After getting rid of the seeds it was safe to swallow and begin the evolution over again, which an experienced kid could do in four to five seconds, from picking to swallowing.

    The step to remove seeds could be omitted if the eater was trying to get more than his fair share or if he didn't believe his mom when she told him not to swallow seeds because they would sprout in his stomach. However, swallowing lots of seeds today could prove to be uncomfortable tomorrow when visiting the outhouse.

    Late one afternoon, when the grapes were at their peak, this twelve-year-old kid took up a bucket and headed for a favorite grape tree. My aim was to surprise my mom and bring her some nice fat grapes for whatever use she might have for them. (Doing something without being told was not considered a chore because it might get you a dime for an RC and a Moon Pie).

    I got to my grape tree and started picking grapes near the ground. (You see, these grapes were not for immediate eating, they were for my mama, so the best ones weren't necessary). Soon the bottom of my pail was covered by two or three inches of grapes but, wanting to get some of those nice juicy grapes way up in the trees into my stomach, I abandoned my effort to fill my pail and set it on the ground.

    I shinnied up a grape tree and was soon busily picking and spitting. It wasn't long before I heard someone coming through the brush and, looking down, I saw three young boys from Bridges Street neighborhood approach the tree I was up. They walked to my bucket and one of them said, "Hey, looky here! Somebody done left these here grapes."

    Well, those boys knew I was up that tree and knew those were my grapes. The biggest of the three picked up the bucket and, looking up into my tree said, "I think I'll just eat these ol' grapes." And, with that said, he stuck his hand down into my pail, pulled out a grape and held it up in my direction, taunting me.

    From where I was, about fifteen to twenty feet up the tree, the tormentor looked to be about my size so I thought a little blustering on my part would get me out of a serious situation. So I hollered, "Hey! Y'all leave them grapes alone or I'll come down there and kick yo' damn butt!" Well, my tormentor gave me a toothy grin, squeezed my grape into his mouth and took up another, taunting me even more.

    Blustering had not solved my problem so maybe a little bluffing would work. Coming down as fast as I could I began yelling, "You gonna' get it now! I'm gonna' kick yo' damn butt all over these here woods!" I hit the ground running and thought sure this little act of bravado would set them off toward Bridges Street at double quick time. But, alas, poor me! I had made a serious miscalculation in the size of my adversary. From up there in the tree my estimation of size was off more than just a tad, for he stood nearly a head taller than me!

    Determined to give one more try to bluffing my way out, I put both hands on his chest and pushed! Oh, what a stupid thing to do! That boy was on me like a duck on a june bug! He grabbed me by an arm and gave me such a fling he threw me clear out of my shoes! Crash! Right into the bramble briars went I!

    He was on me in a flash and, not wanting to get beaten up too badly, I began yelling "Uncle! Uncle!" which was the universal signal that I had had enough and the victor should stop pounding me. Being aware of the rules he ceased his assault and helped me to my feet, helping to brush away the leaves and twigs clinging to every part of my clothing.

    My bucket had been overturned during this 15 seconds war, the grapes scattered among the leaves and underbrush, never to be seen again. Picking up my bucket and holding it so they could see it was empty I jacked up my courage and, with one breath, frantically told them a barefaced lie. "Y'all's goin'a make get me a whuppin' when I get home 'cause my mama done sent me down here to get her some jelly grapes and now y'all done throwed'em all over these here woods and there ain't a 'nough time left for me to pick a bucket full and she's goin'a tear my tail up!"

    Even though my buddies and I occasionally had a little tiff with the boys from Bridges Street we never held grudges and most especially never wanted to get a kid into trouble with his parents. That was the unwritten law; don't cause problems, don't be a tattletale. When one of the mothers from Bridges Street came to our hanging out places and asked if we had seen "so and so" we just said, "No ma'am, we ain't seen'im," even if we had just been playing together. We knew that kid was in serious trouble if his mother had to come way out to our hanging out places looking for him.

    Those three boys were fully aware of what would happen to a kid who did not do as his parents told him and, not wanting to be held responsible for me getting a licking, they took my bucket and in no time at all had it filled to the brim! Parting as friends I took my pail of grapes and started home. There were so many it seemed a shame to make just plain ol' jelly from them. So, at home I scrounged around and found an old five-gallon crock and squeezed those grapes by the hands full into it. I threw in some sugar, a little yeast, added a little bit of water and set the lid on top.

    After many days had passed the juice stopped bubbling. I strained the seeds and pulp and put the juice in three quart jars. I took one of my treasures to my buddies Howard and Larry Helton and we went off into the woods for our first introduction to the "nectar of the grape."

    Well, I think we got snockered because we got to laughing and horsing around like fools. Mr. Helton came home about nightfall and found Larry still a little silly, which upset Mr. Helton greatly. Within a day or so I was at the Helton's home and Mr. Helton told me several different things he would do to me (none of them pleasant!) if I ever gave his boys any more of that stuff. I believed him and never did it again. That was my first and last time at making hooch.

    I think an explanation of being thrown out of my shoes is in order. Normally, during the warm months from about May to October, we kids hardly ever wore shoes, not even to school. However, if we were going off into the woods for a day's exploring it was not considered sissified to put on shoes, especially considering the vast number of bramble briars lying about on the forest floor and snaking up into the trees. So, when I left home that afternoon to pick grapes I slipped my feet into an old pair of brogans to protect them from the briars. The shoes didn't even have laces and were therefore loose on my feet, so, when my adversary slung me into the bushes it was not so violent as to jerk my arm out of socket. Heck, my shoes would have fallen off if I had so much as kicked a little ol' tin can!

    Bruce Osburn 12-15-1999


    OUR POND
    ....boats, frogs and snakes
    1948-1953
    by Bruce Osburn

      My dad bought fourteen acres of land near Hamlet on which to build a house for our family. The property was mostly wooded, with a grand house site on a small knoll gently rising from the county road - locally referred to as Lackey Street extension - about five-hundred feet to the east. Five hundred feet or so to the west of the house site was the Seaboard Air Line rail road to the south. As an added bonus there were the remnants of an old pond between the county road and the house site.

      With the help of brothers-in-law and nephews dad set about clearing the property. Some cutting of trees was necessary to clear the house site and other trees were cut for saw timber. There were huge pine trees there and they were felled and taken to a sawmill where they were cut into foundation sills, joists, rafters and other such house building materials. Dad bought an abandoned army barracks at Camp MacColl and salvaged the material it contained; doors, windows and lumber.

      With his home grown lumber and the materials from the barracks he built a huge house with 3 bedrooms, kitchen, dining room, den, living room and bath. In six months his labors produced a house suitable for moving into, even though there was still a lot of Sheet rock to be put on walls and ceilings.

      Dad hired a drag line and had the dam restored to a watertight condition. He made a concrete spillway and allowed water to back up behind the dam and, in a few months, we had a full pond. Don't think for a minute that that was a pristine pond. Quite the contrary. That pond was so dirty we could actually see suspended sediment in the water. When we went swimming the sediment collected on leg hair and made a blond kid look like he had black hair. Absolutely filthy! But, oh, did we have fun there! Fishing, boating, and yes, even swimming. In fact, a lot of boys learned to swim in that dirty ol' pond!

      That was not a small pond for it covered two acres or more, including what we commonly called the "head of the pond," the area farthest from the dam where the stream entered. That part of the pond that was cleared of standing trees was of various depths, ranging from about six feet near the dam, four to five feet in the center and tapering off to mere inches in the head of the pond.

      Our little pond was a haven for small wild life; mice, rabbits, 'possums, 'coons, snapping turtles and bullfrogs. The bullfrogs' and mice's greatest danger was there too, for the water moccasin was in abundance. Birds were plentiful; sparrows, cardinals, blue jays, brown thrashers, kingfishers, mocking birds, an occasional hawk and my mom's favorite, the blue bird. I saw a couple of owls once and every year plenty of migrating ducks in late fall. Every now and then a few ducks would get a late start on their way south and arrive when the pond was frozen. What a sight that was! Ducks alighting on a frozen pond are not graceful in the slightest way!

      Gene, the oldest of the three boy children at home, decided a pond without a boat was of no use at all. He set about building a "row boat," a boat that proved to be not a "row boat" at all but a "pole boat." The boat was made from 2 x 4s and 1" tongue and groove flooring, measuring about 8' long, 3' at the stern and tapering to 2' at the bow. It was nothing more than a flat bottomed, blunt nosed mud scow, but it floated! Well, it did after sitting in the water long enough for the boards to swell and seal up all the cracks.

      And it was sea worthy. We could get four or five kids in it, two or three of them pushing with poles. Thus manned, we could go anyplace the water was deep enough to float us. We spent many hours in that mud scow - hanging off the sides or looking for a good fishing spot.

      When we decided to go for a boat ride we had to be willing to pay the price. Getting the boat into the water was not an easy task for it weighed nearly two-hundred pounds when sufficiently water-logged to seal the cracks. It almost always took two to launch that ol' mud scow so there wasn't much danger of a kid going out by himself.

      Much tugging and grunting was necessary to drag it off the bank and get it afloat, not forgetting to get a good bailing bucket and the necessary poles. Getting the boat afloat was considered to be the most dangerous part of the outing, for not only were we subjecting ourselves to strains and pulls, water moccasins liked to crawl under the boat when it was on the bank.

      When first approaching the boat we poked it with a pole or gave it a good kick to scare any snakes away. (How were we supposed to know snakes were deaf?) And after we had first moved the boat a few inches it was prudent to stand back a few seconds to see if one would crawl from under the boat. But once we were on the high seas, what an adventure! Sailing to Japan, and China and other faraway places!

      Our mud scow also provided fun for the boys from Bridges Street. Some came out and helped themselves to the boat for an hour or two of adventure. Sometimes their sailing adventure included me or my brothers for several of us would pile into our ol' boat and set out for a bit of fun.

      Once, when brother Gene and I were in the boat with three or four of theBridges Street gang, an opportunity arose that gave Gene and me a chance to play a prank on them. That prank tickled Gene and me to pieces but scared the living daylights out of the other boys.

      We poled the boat about fifty feet from shore and Gene and I started horsing around, rocking the boat from side to side. That didn't sit too well with the other kids because some of them couldn't swim and they began to protest quite loudly. That only encouraged Gene and me to double our efforts.

      Gene and I stood with one foot on top of the sideboards and really got that ol' boat rocking! Their shouted protestations were in direct proportion to the movement of the boat - the greater the motion the louder the screams! When Gene and I finally got the boys worked into a frenzy we suddenly shifted all four of our feet onto the same side of the boat and upsy-daisy!, that ol' mud scow flipped completely over - up-side down and down-side up!

      Gene and I ducked underwater and came up under the now up-side down boat where there was plenty of room for us to get our heads out of the water and breath normally. Those poor, frightened kids from Bridges Street hung onto the overturned boat the best they could and we heard one say, "Where's them two boys? How come they ain't come up yet"? Pretty soon one said, "Oh, they's drowned, they's done drowned!"

      And then there was a noisy splashing toward shore as they dog-paddled through the clinging lily pads or tried to walk on the muddy bottom. A brief hesitation on shore retrieved clothing - some of the kids were jay-bird! - and toward home they ran, stopping just long enough to pull on their pants.

      Gene and I came from under the boat and just howled! We pulled this prank once more before word got out around the neighborhood and the Bridges Street kids would not get into the boat with us again.

      One day while I was fooling around at the pond a man stopped his car, came to me and said, "Kid, go out there and get me some of those water flowers."

      Well, he was an adult telling a kid what to do, so shoot, I just waded in up to my knees and grabbed a couple of handsful. I went back to shore and gave him the five water lilies I had pulled; he reached into his pocket, pulled out 50 cents, gave it to me and went back to his car. Holy smokes! Fifty cents for five water lilies! That was more money than I could earn all week doing chores.

      I was pretty fair in arithmetic and a quick calculation showed ten cents per flower. I looked out across our pond and determined I was rich! There were hundreds of flowers out there just waiting to be pulled and at ten cents each would easily add up to be more money than I could count. I hung around our pond several days waiting for that man to come back to get more but he nor anyone else ever came to buy my flowers. Darn, my business failed before it ever got started!

      Our pond had a considerable population of frogs of different types. There were toads, little tree frogs, and at least two types of bullfrogs - small brown bullfrogs and big green bullfrogs. I liked to tell people that our frogs were so intelligent they could talk.

      Some nights I could hear a great big ol' green bullfrog let go with his deep throated, long, drawn out croak of "Yooouu-stolllllll, yooouu-stolllll."

      I'd stand on the bank and answer him, "What did I steal?"

      A smaller frog would pipe up with a rapid, repetitive, high pitched "Tabacca, tabacca, tabacca."

      And I'd say, "Well , where did I hide that tobacco?"

      And a cousin of the big green bullfrog would answer with a deep, throaty "Unner th'rooot, unner th'rooot".

      "Well", I'd say, "How deep under the root did I bury it?"

      And a little tree peeper would chime in with a shrill "needeep, needeep, needeep".

      Yes sir, we had some mighty smart frogs in our pond!

      Those big green bullfrogs were a desired item for I liked to deep fry a pair of legs whenever I could. Sometimes I could catch one with my bare hands if I was stealthy enough to slip up on one that wasn't paying close attention to his survival., which was not very often.

      One day while out exploring I discovered a little bitty stream leading to our pond and followed it back to its source, which turned out to be a small spring producing hardly more than a trickle. As I neared the spring I heard the familiar, barely audible splash of bullfrogs entering water. I had just found a "honey hole" full of big jumpers!

      I made sure my Red Ryder BB gun was cocked and sat down near the spring to wait for a bullfrog to come up for air. I knew I would only get one shot so I sat as still as I could. But none showed its head and after ten or fifteen minutes I packed it in and went home.

      The next day I was right back down there. I crept up to the spring as quietly as I could with my BB gun at the ready. Splish, splish, just as yesterday, they were gone. I waited for awhile and none appeared so back home I went. The next day and the day after, the same thing.

      I was so determined to get one or two of those frogs that I decided to do a little cleaning of the spring. I removed all the accumulated leaves, sticks and other trash from it. I pulled the grass and weeds from around the rim. In short, I wound up with a spring that was as clean as a whistle, both on the bottom and for two or three feet back from the edge. Now I was sure to get my prize for there was no place for them to hide. Tomorrow when I came back I would just stick my hand into the water and pull'em out.

      The next day the same thing occurred. Splish, splash and they were gone. I ran to the spring and looked down into the clear water and no frogs! Where were they!? I stepped into the spring and squatted so I could survey the bottom and sides. Nothing!

      Exasperated, I thrust my hands into the water and began feeling around on the bottom and near the sides. As I explored the sides, lo and behold! my hand reached into an open space under the side! When the frogs jumped in they swam underwater to a nice, dry place under the edge of the spring!

      Pushing my arm in up to the shoulder I felt around and there they were, jumping and leaping all over the place. I grabbed one and administered the coup de grace with my Red Ryder BB gun. I went for another one and headed home with two fine pairs of frog legs, and tasty they were! But, in my greed to get as many as possible in as short a time as possible, I killed the golden goose.

      In just a few weeks the little spring was no longer a home for bullfrogs for I had either killed them all or scared them to a safer place. When I told my buddies how I outsmarted those frogs they called me a damn fool, telling me how water moccasins like bullfrogs and hang around frog holes. They said I was as likely to have grabbed a snake as I was to have grabbed a frog! Another survival skill learned!

      Some of brother Gene's city buddies learned of our big ol' bullfrogs and asked permission to come out to get a few. Three or four guys came out early one evening with their frogging gear - 3-pronged gigs, knee boots, hip boots and bright, lantern type flashlights. Those guys were ready for some serious frog gigging!

      A couple guys in knee boots headed for the shallow part of the "head of the pond" and waded into the water. Pretty soon one of the guys shouted out, "WHOOOEE!"

      Another voice said, "Do you see one"?

      And the answer, "No. But I see a big ol' cottonmouth!" So, the hunter was now in danger of becoming the hunted.

      But, I'll give those boys their due. They certainly weren't sissies, taking flight at the first sighting of a little ol' cottonmouth! No sir! They just shifted their focus from frogs to snakes.

      They gigged more than just a few, possibly a half dozen or more. And everyone of them tossed onto the ground where I was standing, barefoot as could be. When the boys made a good stab they simply flipped their gig backward and the cottonmouth was flung loose and fell there on the bank. Some of them had their innards hanging out from torn sides, not yet dead and trying to crawl away. That's when I gave'em a good whack with a tree limb. And some of those ol' cottonmouths were huge, bigger than an arm, but hardly more than four- or five-feet long.

      [After I had written the above episode I called my brother Gene, who now lives in Gainesville, Fl, to ask about it. He said one of the boys that came out was Bobby "Hill" Atkinson, whose father owned the pool hall on Main St. He thought one of the other boys was Harold Spence but was not absolutely sure and the boys got five snakes that night.]

      Yes, our pond provided a place for fun and, at the same time, a place of danger for young boys. But - and you might think I'm jerking your leg now - our greatest fear when swimming was not the moccasins because they tried to stay out of our way. Our greatest fear was for little critters no more than three or four inches long for they compelled us to get out of the water every ten minutes or so to examine our skin, so great was our fear of the dreaded leech! That little parasite had no preferences when it came to sucking blood; white or black, you were just as apt to find one on you as was your playmate!

      Bruce Osburn 12-19-1999


      LILES LAKE
      .....a fun place
      ca 1948-1952
      by: Bruce Osburn

      During my young years growing up in Hamlet I spent many days during the warm months doing boy things at an old pond near our house. The pond was known to the folks in our neighborhood as Liles' Lake, attributing ownership to a Mr. Liles on Lackey St. (Since writing this tale I have been informed by Marilyn Martin Coggins that she remembers going there as a young girl in the early 1940s and the pond was then known as Henderson's Pond.)

      During its heyday the lake must have been a popular destination for families seeking relief from hot, summer days. It was located only a mile or so from the south side of Hamlet, within easy walking or biking distance. The lake was bounded on the north side by a gently sloping, clean, sandy beach that continued on into the water, providing an excellent bottom. There were no stumps or mud to mar an afternoon's swim. The water was clear and cool, with visibility of several feet. It was, all things considered, an ideal spot to while away hours with family and friends.

      Someone had attempted to make this lake a money making property and had built a two room bathhouse - one room for the boys and one room for the girls. The rooms were separated by a smaller room that served as a swimming fee collection point and also a place to get a Coke or Pepsi or RC and different types of nabs. There were no rest rooms; but there were plenty of woods nearby and the call of nature was left up to the ingenuity of the swimmer!

      Despite the best intentions of the owner the lake failed as a money maker and was abandoned for that purpose. By the time our family moved there in 1948 the place was in terrible shape. The first visit I made there revealed a building that had been vandalized. The doors were laying in the brush, shot away with .22 rifles and shotguns. Several holes penetrated the roof and some of the cinder blocks had been knocked from the walls. The dam was in a sad state and held back only about half of its original body of water.

      But the condition of the property did not deter the adventurous kids from Hamlet and my neighborhood from getting maximum enjoyment from that small body of water. We swam, fished, camped out, cooled stolen watermelons and did things only boys were expected to do.

      One day I went there to do boy things and came upon a group of Boy Scouts from Hamlet that were on an outing. We did the usual showing off and fooling around but soon my attention was directed at trying to catch some crawdads near the shore. Naturally, since it was a warm part of the year, I didn't have shoes. I was in water about ankle deep and thoroughly engrossed in chasing those crawdads. I was at a full run when my right foot came down, full force, on the sharp end of a black jack oak sapling someone had cut and thrown into the water. Yelling like I had just been murdered, I fell down on the shore and grabbed my foot with both hands. What a gash! The outside part of my foot had been ripped open from bottom to top!

      My blood curdling screams brought the Boy Scouts on the run. They quickly assessed the situation and, before I could escape their clutches, had dumped the biggest portion of the contents of an iodine bottle into the gash, which increased my yelling a couple of decibels. They then passed something through the gash, against my protestations, to clean the sand out. They then wrapped my foot in a big ol' bandage and I started for home.

      When I got home mom couldn't help but notice that big ol' bandage and my limp. She sent me off to see Dr. Garrison who looked at the wound, commented on how clean it was, and quickly put in several stitches. Those Boy Scouts had so impressed me that I was determined to be one, too. I went to a meeting with one of my Boy Scout friends, but alas, I was told that there was a 50 cents a meeting dues fee, which I didn't have, so I continued to be an unsupervised kid learning survival skills on my own.

      We kids drowned a lot of worms there impaled on a little hook. A little hook was necessary because the fish we were more successful at catching were what we called "sun fish." They were a small fish with a little red dot near the gills which some people called brim. Of course, the name brim was often applied to any fish no one knew the proper name for. The ones we could be sure of correctly identifying were the catfish, the eel, and a long, skinny fish we called a pike (well, sometimes we called it a jack) so our knowledge of things marine was limited.

      But, the little sun fish were easy to catch. We caught them with a little piece of worm just barely covering the hook or we used a little piece of dough stuck onto the very tip of the hook. Another method was to use a bare treble hook and snag one while they were feeding on a piece of old stale bread thrown into the water.

      Those little fellows were hardly ever as big as a little boy's hand so catching one or two or even six or seven was a futile effort in trying to get enough for a fish fry. A kid needed to catch at least a half-bucket of those little fellows before he had enough to take home.

      At home we scaled and gutted the fish. Mom rolled them in corn meal, tossed them into a deep pot of hot grease and fried them to a golden brown, very crisp morsel. At the same time she had put on a pot of grits and made a few corn dodgers. And when all was ready we kids - and adults, too!- sat down for some good bone picking and finger licking!

      But we knew Liles' Lake had bigger fish than those little sun fish. In late afternoon, when shadows were beginning to get long, activity picked up on the surface of the pond. Water skimmers and other critters that spent their life near the surface of the lake became prey to large-mouth bass. The bass attacked with such ferocity they completely cleared the water! Sometimes they made just a swoosh! at the surface and were gone.

      But regardless of how many cane poles we set into the bank, and enticed those bass with worms, not one was ever caught. My fourteen-year-old cousin, Danny Osburn from Massey Hill, NC, was visiting one weekend and quickly assessed our failure to catch ole Mr. Bass. "You ain't gonna catch them bass with'a little ol' worm" said he, "you gotta catch a bass with'a plug. Next time mom comes down I'll show you how to catch a bass."

      Some weeks later Danny came for another visit, this time with his fishing gear. The only fishing gear I had ever used was an old cane pole and, in emergencies, a small tree limb. Danny had more fishing stuff than I had ever seen! He had a metal casting rod, with a reel, and a tackle box full of hooks with feathers attached, little silver spoon looking thingamajigs, wooden bugs with treble hooks and a thing he called a jitterbug.

      That jitterbug had two treble hooks - one in front and one in back - and had painted eyes and spots on its body. In the front was a little eyelet for attaching the string and directly below the eyelet was a small piece of concave shiny metal. "This ol' jitterbug'll get them bass," said he. "This is a top-water plug and makes a popping noise when pulled through the water and drives them bass crazy."

      Late one afternoon found us at the lake ready to challenge Mr. Bass. Danny tied the jitterbug onto his line and cast it out into the lake. During retrieval he gave small jerks to the lure, causing the jitterbug to skip across the surface, making popping noises just like he said it would! After several casts and no bass I began to think that my worms were just as good as Danny's fancy fishing gear. We moved from spot to spot trying to find where they were hiding.

      Danny made another cast and something went wrong. The jitterbug was making its arc through the air when suddenly, backlash! The line tightened and sent the lure off on a different trajectory, almost at a ninety degree angle from its original intent, where it landed far to Danny's left, about eight or ten feet from the shore in water only about two or three feet deep.

      After unsnarling the backlash Danny began to reel in the line as rapidly as he could. But, to further compound his woes, it appeared the line had become entangled in the front treble hook. Instead of popping along on the surface that ol' jitterbug was putting on a dazzling display it wasn't designed to do. Being entangled in the treble hook the line was now pulling the jitterbug from near the center, and that little piece of concave metal was now causing the jitterbug to spiral during retrieval.

      It burst from the water and leapt a foot or so to the side where it again entered the water and repeated its gyrations. After four or five of those leaping displays ol' Mr. Bass couldn't stand it any longer and struck that jitterbug so fiercely he cleared the water a good foot or two.

      "I got'im! I got'im!" shouted Danny, and began to reel him in. "He's a big'un, oh, he's a big'un" Danny whooped, and then, disaster! The reel fell off onto the sand! Ol' Mr. Bass started his run for the center of the pond, unhindered, the line spinning off the reel so fast it was making the sand fly. "Get the line!" hollered Danny, "Grab the line!" I made a headlong dive onto the sand and grabbed the line, and scooted and scampered backwards with the line clutched tightly in both hands. As I made my way up the slope, dragging Mr. Bass with me, Danny flashed by me and was at the water's edge when the fish cleared the lake.

      We made our way home, taking our prize with us. I had never before seen such a big fish, not even a catfish and I had seen plenty of them. It was readily apparent why they were called large-mouth bass - I could stick my whole hand inside his mouth! At home ol' Mr. Bass was put on the scales where he showed a weight of three pounds, ten ounces, easily the biggest fish ever. Now you might think Danny had that ol' fish mounted for display, and you'd be wrong. He was treated like any other fish that found its way to our house. He was cleaned, cut into small pieces, rolled in corn meal, deep fat fried and eaten along with the customary plate of grits. But he is still remembered for someone had the foresight to suggest we take his picture, which we did.

      All of the activities at Liles' Lake were not confined to water sports. One activity was centered around plant life and involved only one person that I can recall. Al Horton, a classmate of mine, was a budding horticulturist and he, or someone, had discovered a concentration of water plants that included pitcher plants and venus flytraps. That little patch of plants was located on the east side of the Sea Board Airline tracks going south, right where the out-flow of Liles' Lake emerged from the drain pipe under the railroad bed.

      Al spent considerable time at that little bog selecting and digging up specimens to take home. Sometimes I saw Al there and stuck my nose into his business. Most times I wound up destroying what he was trying to save. I ripped apart pitcher plants just to see how many bugs were trapped inside the tubes. A venus flytrap fascinated me. Touching the fine hairs inside the open jaws with a twig triggered the flytrap to close. The closure was not a snap closure like a steel trap, but a movement that seemed to me to be so slow any insect would have plenty of time to escape the jaws of death. But I guess Mother Nature knew what she was doing because venus flytraps thrived there.

      Bruce Osburn 1-25-2000
      ___________________________________________ Subject: HAMLET MEMORIES
      Date: Sat, 29 Jan 2000 16:11:10 EST
      Hey Bruce,
      I didn't know you remembered! What color was the Jitterbug? Was it yellow with black spots, or Green with Black spots? I know it was one or the other. I don't remember the reel falling off my rod. I do remember how excited we both got, and I do remember you grabbing hold of the line. I sent a little note to Russ. I hope I can find where I stored it so I can send you a copy.
      [Danny]

       

      The following notes were sent to Bruce on 7/24/00 by Brenna Husel:

       

      Bruce, I am writing to you because I saw the webpage on Hamlet and your story on Liles Lake. My grandfather was Joseph C. Liles, former mayor of Hamlet, and my grandmother was Edith Henderson Liles. The pond is actually Henderson Pond as Marilyn Coggins suggested, but I have heard it referred to as Liles Lake a few times.

      Thought I would write and update you on the pond... my uncle, Joe Liles, drained the pond about 10 years ago, dug out all the stumps, got all the weeds out, cut back some trees, etc. Then he completely refilled it and stocked it with 2,000 fish. He built a screen house and a deck over the pond. Up the "new" road is his house, which faces Rice Street. We spend most holidays down there at the pond having cook-outs and swimming. Before he decided to build a house there, my mother built a house a few acres away on the other side of the lake. We used to walk through the woods to the pond and Mom (Linda Liles Bendell - HHS '60) would tell us stories about how everyone used to swim and fish there. There was a log in place of the dam that we would walk across to get to the other side. We could not use the pond while we were growing up because it was in total disarray.

      Now, there is a little bridge (you can drive to the other side) over the dam and the lake is surrounded by gardens. It is such a lovely place... so relaxing. Uncle Joe goes down there everyday to fish, work in the garden, or just lounge. His daughter, Christian, brings her friends to swim a lot. He has duck boxes on the far side of the lake, so there are usually some little" quackers" around. His wife, Carla, has hanging baskets in the screen house, so it looks so nice all the time. I can't tell you enough how wonderful it is to have the pond and to be able to create memories at a place that is so much a part of Hamlet's history.

      Since you had so many memories there, I thought you would like to be updated.

      [Brenna]


      PANSY FETNER
      ...a school remembered

      1948-1950
      by Bruce Osburn

        I first attended Pansy Fetner School in January, 1948, after my family had moved to Hamlet from Massey Hill, a part of Fayetteville, NC.

        Pansy Fetner was a nondescript school - a two-story brick building with six grades, a small auditorium and a lunch room. The building and grounds occupied an entire block, bounded on four sides by streets. Two entrances, front and back, provided access to the classrooms. The lunchroom, located in the basement, had an outside access door on the east side. The playgrounds were on the east, south and west sides. The north side, which was the front entrance, was near the street and offered no space for playing.

        The west side playground was the domain of the boys and the east side was for the girls. The south side was for anyone, that being the location of the outdoor drinking fountain. I don't know if the separation of the boys and girls was school policy or if the arrangement simply evolved over the years. Whatever the reason, it was an arrangement that worked well.

        We kids played many games during recess and lunch periods - hopscotch, marbles, softball, football, rasslin', jack-knife throwing and kite flying in March. If any kid could invent a new game it was played with as much enthusiasm as it deserved.

        The play areas were too small for full-sized softball or football fields so we improvised and adapted our games to suit the area. We, boys and girls separately, played an abbreviated game of softball called "One-eyed Cat" that consisted of 1st batter, 2nd batter, 1st baseman, pitcher, catcher and as many outfielders as wanted to play. The outfielders were 1st outfielder, 2nd outfielder, 3rd outfielder and so on until the last player to join the game had the highest outfield number.

        The object of the game was for the two batters to run the bases - from home to 1st and back to home - without making an out. If either of the two batters was "put-out" at 1st base or at home, every player was advanced one position. The catcher went to 2nd batter, the pitcher to catcher, the1st baseman to pitcher, the1st outfielder to 1st baseman and the 2nd outfielder to 1st outfielder and so on. The batter that had just made an "out" was now the last outfielder.

        Those that joined the game late had a slim chance of advancing to batter, especially considering the short time for play. So, in order to give everyone a shot at batting, one of the rules was that anyone catching a fly ball for an out traded positions with the batter. That rule induced a lot of low hits and grounders, which would invoke the first bounce rule. Catch a ball on first bounce and it was as good as catching a fly ball! It was a fun game, especially if you got to bat, and made a few sore hands because hardly anyone had a glove.

        The kids attending Pansy Fetner were a varied lot. There were kids from town, kids from the country, affluent kids, poor kids, tall, short, pretty, not so pretty, polite, not so polite. Some of the kids from the country lived on working farms and their labor was essential for the success of the farm. There were more than just a few of these kids and some did not begin a new school year until the cotton was harvested in late September.

        It seems that a bully could be found on every school yard and Pansy Fetner was no exception. Our resident bully was rather large for our school yard. Whether or not he was big for his age or he had been held back a couple years I don't know. But whatever the reason for his size he thoroughly enjoyed picking on small kids. I was in 5th grade and had seen him and his bullying ways so I avoided him as much as possible. He was the typical bully and I was the typical coward.

        But one day something made me confront him. He was being his nasty ol' self and tormenting a little kid so badly the little fellow was crying. I walked up to him and said, "Leave'im alone! Stop picking on'im!"

        Well, ol' bully boy just looked at me and spit on my foot. He done spit on my foot!! There was no greater show of contempt than that! Why, that was worse than a D-DOUBLE-DARE-YOU! I knew I about to become victim #2 so I lashed out with my left fist with all my might. I connected with the side of his face and he fell to the ground.

        Before I could flee, and he regain his feet, a teacher had us both by the ears and marched us off to Mrs. Tillman, the principal, who gave us both a good paddling.

        I had just escaped a school yard butt kicking, been paddled by Mrs. Tillman and knew I was in for a licking when I got home. Mom had told us kids more than once to behave ourselves at school. A spanking by a teacher earned us another at home. Fighting at school also brought out the belt. I knew mom would find out about my day because my youngest brother, Kenny, was in 1st grade there and was sure to tell her when he got home.

        At home that afternoon the usual pleasantries were exchanged and nothing was mentioned about my day at school. Had Kenny not yet told mom? Not long afterward mom noticed me favoring my left hand and asked about it. Aha! Kenny had tattled! I knew I had to tell her about my day so I 'fessed up.

        After listening to my excuses she simply said, "I'll tend to you later". Oh! That was the worse thing she could do! Waiting for a licking is pure torment, not knowing when the switch will draw welts! After several hours had passed I began to think mom had forgotten. After a day had passed and still no thrashing I began to relax a bit. Days and weeks and months passed and even I forgot about it.

        Years later while remembering the past with mom she confessed why she hadn't tanned my hide that day. Kenny had not tattled like I thought he would but had actually saved me from mom's wrath. Kenny had told Mrs. Tillman (I think she was his teacher) that I was going to get another spanking when I got home. Kenny told Mrs. Tillman about mom's penalties for us kids if we misbehaved at school. I don't know if Kenny was gloating because he knew I was going to get it when I got home or if he was pleading my case, trying to evoke a little sympathy from Mrs. Tillman.

        Mrs. Tillman called mom (yes, we had a telephone!) and told her I had gotten a spanking at school. She then explained her reasons for spanking me - discipline, set an example, maintain good order on the school yard, etc. And then, she saved me from getting a licking! She told mom she knew of her discipline policy and said, "Mrs. Osburn, please don't spank Bruce for what happened at school today. My heart really wasn't into spanking him but I had to. In fact, I am glad he did what he did. That other boy deserved everything he got!" (Or words to that effect.) Can you believe it!? A teacher going to bat for a kid!

        Pansy Fetner was less than two blocks from Hamlet Library and we students were sometimes marched there, single file, to return and check out books. Some of us boys were eager to go because, undoubtedly, we were planning to be explorers or big game hunters when we grew up. We made a bee-line for the instructional books that would help us achieve that ambition and quickly snatched issues of National Geographic from the shelves so we could learn what animals to hunt. Before we had made many identifications a sharp rap on our heads from an ever vigilant teacher sent us to less educational books. I read a lot of Nancy Drew books and can't remember anything I learned from them.

        Wasn't childhood great!!? Bruce Osburn 2-5-2000

         

        Subject: "Mrs" Tillman
        Date: Tue, 8 Feb 2000 21:56:28 EST
        From: Marilmc
        To:
        osburn@darientel.net
        Bruce,
        I have just scanned your story on Pansy Fetner. I had moved back to my birth place too late to attend. I do, however, remember Rena Tillman who was called Tillie by my aunt, Emma Ware, who for many years taught second grade at the old Hamlet Avenue School. Tillie was definitely Miss Tillman and lived, when I knew of her, at the home of the town librarian, Mrs Hudnell who later married the Baptist minister, Mr Willis. Don't know if there was a Mrs Tillman at Pansy Fetner, but then, I was never enrolled there.
        Marilyn Coggins
        Fernandina Beach, Fl

         

        Subject: HAMLET stuff MISS TILLMAN
        Date: Wed, 09 Feb 2000 00:29:21 -0600
        Marilyn,
        You are probably correct about the marital status of Miss Tillman. I called all the teachers Miz, not knowing if they were married or not. (I probably didn't even know there was a difference between the address for a married teacher and a single teacher. The only thing I knew was to say "yes ma'am" and "no ma'am".) The only ones I knew for sure that were married were Mrs. O'Brien (I knew her husband was Jap O'Brien and had a men's store) and Mrs. Kyser (her husband was superintendent of schools). The only other teacher I remember from Pansy Fetner was Miz Barrington and I don't know if she was married or not. But I do remember seeing Miz Barrington 10 years after I had left Hamlet (and 13 years since I was in her 5th grade class.) I was a 25 year old sailor and had stopped off in Hamlet to visit an aunt that was in Hamlet Hospital. I entered the lobby and approached the desk to ask for the room number and the lady behind the desk called me by name! I recognized Miz Barrington right away but I have always been amazed that she was able to recall my name, considering the number of kids she had as students. So I guess some teachers did pay attention to their students and took an interest in them.
        Thanks for the reminder.
        Bruce Osburn

         

        Subject: Pansy Fetner...Richard I didn't know how to post this. Jean
        Date: Sun, 14 May 2000 06:44:23 EDT

        I attended 1st grade at Pansy Fetner school with 1 of the 2 Mrs/Miss Lackeys for a teacher. I think the other one taught 3rd grade (I could be wrong on that). I have a few distinct memories from that time. I remember it being a large and foreboding place to a child just turned 6. I do remember from Richard's article the proximity of the playgrounds and water fountain. I was constantly in trouble for talking and got my hand smacked about everyday. It was at this early age that a smart aleck was being born. I wanted to just stick my hand out and say get it over with when I walked into the classroom in the morning. I was forced to eat cottage cheese (which I don't eat this day) in a dark corner of the cafeteria........a really bad day. I remember the readers...Jane, Spot and friends. I remember Rain Days and it seemed every car in Hamlet was trying to pull in front of the school to pick up the kids. I remember going home with a friend (Katie Gibson) and not bothering to check with my Mom and later being found by the police playing in her front yard. I also remember my brother, Johnny, walking all the way from Austin Street in Pinecroft pulling a red wagon at age 3 and appearing at Pansy Fetner...he wanted to go to school. One of Gwen's friends saw him and turned him in. I remember those little flip seat desks (and how much noise they made when you dropped them in place) and then someone in authority selling them for $5.00 each when they tore down the school in the 60's. One of my friends still has one. I remember that Ray Williams sat behind me in class and he was the one I was usually talking to...I don't remember him getting his hand smacked...LOL.. We attended the new Fairview Heights elementary the next year and everything was clean and bright and not dark and scary. I guess that was 51-52 school year. We went to Pansy Fetner after Agnes White's Happy Hours Kindergarten. I can't remember much about that time except that I do remember it as a wonderful experience. If anyone out there does remember it would be nice to see a story about that.
        [Jean]



        THE SCHOOL BUS ROUTE
        ....and kids I remember
        1948-1953

        by: Bruce Osburn

      During the years my family lived near Hamlet we children rode a school bus to and from school. In the beginning there were just two of us taking the bus - my brother Gene and me. In September, 1948, my youngest brother Kenny started first grade and my sister Ginger returned home and entered 12th grade, making four of us Osburns to wait impatiently each morning for it. Because of safety concerns the kids that boarded at our stop were the first to be loaded in the morning and the last to be dropped off in the afternoon.

      There was a rule that prohibited loaded buses from crossing the tracks of a busy railroad. The Seaboard Air Line crossing on Lackey Street was much too dangerous because sometimes more than two trains an hour passed there. Gigantic steam engines belched thick black smoke as they strained against the weight of a hundred or more loaded freight cars as they left Hamlet yard for points south. And there were barely hissing engines burdened only with the sleek aluminum cars of the Silver Star or Silver Meteor. They rapidly gained speed as they whisked fully loaded coach and dining cars to Florida, along with a couple of Railway Express cars filled with US mail, a train of only 12 or 14 cars.

      But there was no way for our bus to avoid the Rockingham and Bennettsville Railroad tracks and they were crossed at two different locations. The first was about two miles south of our house and the other was at NC route #38 near the Carolina Gas Company offices and storage facilities. I guess school officials didn't consider the R&B RR a threat because that line had few cars and passed by only once every day or so.

      Our route began at our stop and meandered through the rural area southeast of Hamlet. About forty-five or fifty kids were picked up on this route and delivered to three schools in Hamlet. Some were delivered to Fayettevillle Avenue School, some were taken to Pansy Fetner School and the rest were off-loaded at Hamlet Avenue School.

      Most, if not all, of the buses were required to make two separate routes - or loads - each morning and afternoon. As luck would have it we got the least desirable of the routes - first load in the morning and last load in the afternoon. Literally translated that means we were the first load of kids picked up in the morning and the second load dropped off in the afternoon.

      The first-load children in the morning were dropped at their schools way before classes started because the bus had to make another trip for the second route. In the afternoon the second-load children - who were actually the same kids of the first load in the morning - had to wait on the school yard until the bus returned from making its first afternoon route. Actually, this wasn't as grim as it first appears. There was lots of time for hanging out with your buddies and delayed the chores you knew were waiting for you at home.

      When I was in school there was a milestone most kids were eager to reach - their sixteenth birthday. For some it was the day they trashed their books and quit school saying they didn't need more education to work in the textile mills. And for some it was the day they got their driver's license and for still others it was the day they got their license plus getting to drive a school bus.

      In retrospect it could be argued that the State of North Carolina engaged in a dangerous practice - that of allowing students to drive school buses. The drivers were paid one dollar a day - twenty-two bucks a month! For this princely sum they were given more responsibility than a sixteen-year-old kid should have; proper and safe handling of a huge motor vehicle, order among the passengers and arriving on time.

      Their word was law; misbehave and you were unceremoniously ejected from the bus to make your way home the best way you could. I don't know if any of the drivers that kicked kids off buses were ever brought to task by irate parents. But mostly, I think the kids were in for more trouble when they got home. For if there was one thing kids of that era were taught, it was respect for authority. Even thought we were not required to address the driver as "sir" we were most definitely required to sit when he said "sit" and shut our mouths when he said "shut up." Maybe sixteen-year-old kids were more responsible in those days and deserved a vote of confidence but I would never entrust a grandkid of mine to today's teen age drivers.

      Our driver brought his unloaded bus south on Lackey Street, crossed the SAL tracks and arrived at our stop at 7 a.m., rain or shine. If we weren't there at our stop, tough luck, for there was no waiting for late sleepers.

      Come along and let me introduce you to some of the kids I rode the bus with more than fifty years ago.

      Our bus made its first pickup at the end of our road which was the designated stop for the families of three houses. During the five year period we lived there a couple of families moved in and out. Some of Mr. Knight's grandchildren came to stay for several months at a time. I still remember the names of some of the kids at our stop - Howard, Larry and Gwendolyn Helton; Pete, Sally, Helen Miller and another sister; Mary Lou Presslar; and the four of us Osburns.

      At the next stop was Garrison Hatcher and I believe he had a younger sister. Another stop brought aboard a golden haired girl about my age but she was only there a year or so. The Chavis' stop was about a mile from our house and there we loaded Caroline, Walter, Roman, Farly, Amos and Levi. I know there were older boys there but they didn't attend school. Caroline was a dear friend. She was about four years older than me and treated me just like I was her own little brother, giving me candy and gum and other treats.

      Our next stop was less than a half-mile beyond the Chavises. We picked up Richard and Lois Rogers and another sister (Peggy?) just after we crossed the Rockingham & Bennettsville RR and made a left turn at the cross roads.

      In 1962 or 1963, while I was serving aboard the aircraft carrier Saratoga, I saw Richard while we were both waiting in the pay line. The letters "O" and "R" were being paid in the same line and Richard had seen my name on the pay list and came looking for me. We had a brief visit but I never saw him again. After all, the Saratoga had over 5,000 men aboard and all of us were as busy as could be. Richard worked on the flight deck and I worked down in the bowels of the ship in the boiler rooms.

      In 1962 the Saratoga was in Portsmouth, VA, shipyards and a buddy and I went to Hamlet on a weekend. We were "riding our thumb" so we had to make our way around Hamlet on foot. We passed by the corner of Lackey Street and Main Street and there, sitting on the front porch of the hotel which had been converted into living quarters for nursing students, was one of the Rogers girls. I don't now remember her name but I did at that time. We visited for a bit and then I went on my way.

      Our next stop was just past Marks Creek at the Knights. There were two or three boys, but I can't remember any of their names.

      A half-mile or less brought us to the Wrights. I remember one of the boys named Eugene who, at one time, drove our route. There was at least one more brother and I can't remember about sisters. Directly in front of the Wrights lived Bruce Hardin who was about my age.

      Before the driver could shift from second we were at the Roscoes where Virginia and her sister Ann boarded. Ann was in my grade but in a different class. Virginia was a year or so older than me. Continuing on our way for just a short distance, hardly enough time to shift out of second, was another pickup of a first or second grader.

      First gear brought us to Bobby Peele's house - he of the dancing feet. If you drove slowly by Bobby's house some afternoon you might be rewarded by seeing him perform one of his tap dance numbers.

      We crossed the Rockingham & Bennettsville RR once again at NC #38 and turned right. At the next stop the Quicks boarded. There were two boys - Curtis and his brother - and their sister, Shirley. Both of the Quick boys drove buses during their school days. Shirley was about three years older than me and I was in love with her. For a year or so I saved her a seat on the bus and woe to the person who tried to sit in her seat! There were always plenty of seats available when she boarded and she could have sat almost anyplace she wanted. But she sat next to me and thanked me for saving her a seat which sent my young heart soaring. Yes, siree! Shirley was quite a girl!

      Our next stop, about a half-mile's distance, brought aboard two brothers whose names escape me. Which is all well and good because I wouldn't identify them here so as not to cause them pain. Both were quite young, about seven and nine years. The older of the two was more than mildly retarded and was not able to speak clearly or to attend to his needs.

      The oldest boy was teased by some of the kids and his little brother always came to his defense. Even though there was no physical contact between the boy and his tormentors the taunts were still enough to make him cry. The younger one screamed in protest at the tormentors, his eyes flashing in anger and small fists raised in a defensive stance, giving his brother what little protection he could with his small body.

      I'm ashamed to say that I did nothing to prevent the abuse but in my defense I can say that I didn't participate in the harassment. My mom had cautioned us kids early on in our lives not to stare at or make fun of people with physical or mental disorders - laughing at a kid with crossed eyes earned us a sharp rap on the head. She would remind us that we might someday have children of our own that weren't perfect in every way.

      Next in line were the Smith girls - Rebecca "Becky" and her sister. I think the sister was Mary Ellen but can't be absolutely sure. Becky was in my grade but a different class room.

      About a quarter-mile to the "T" intersection was the home of the Gibson girls. There were three of them, one called Jeanett and the other two I can't remember. What I do remember is that one of them used to bring her needle-point work aboard the bus and stitch away on the trip to school.

      I think there was at least one more Gibson girl to board before the bus reached the Farmer home. Three Farmer boys were there and at least two of them drove school buses while in school. The only name I remember is Boyd.

      Several hundred feet more and we were at the Liles' home where Elizabeth Liles and Barney Patrick boarded. Barney was my 1st cousin and he's the Barney mentioned by Russ Lancaster in his tale of The Grab.

      We crossed a wooden bridge over the SAL tracks and turned left onto NC #381 where our next stop was less than two miles. There we picked up Abbie Hammond and just a stone's throw more, just before we went under the SAL tracks near US #74, we picked up Phoebe Martin and her brothers. Abbie and Phoebe were both in my grade.

      US #74 was just ahead and we turned left, passed the Coca-Cola bottling plant and made our last stop at a small grocery store. The kid boarding there wasn't supposed to ride our bus but our driver and he were friends.

      After a quick detour to Fayetteville Avenue School to drop off kids the bus went on to Pansy Fetner School to off load more kids. From Pansy Fetner the bus went to Hamlet Avenue School where it remained until it was time to start the process in reverse.

      In the afternoon the route was reversed. The kids that boarded last in the morning were the first to be off-loaded in the afternoon. The kids that boarded first in the morning were the last to be off-loaded in the afternoon. During the shortest days of the year some of us kids caught the bus in the dark and came home in the dark.

      Our bus route was about ten or twelve miles, maybe more but certainly not less. It was, by and large, an enjoyable trip. I enjoyed it and remember the good times I had.

      Bruce Osburn 3-20-2000

      9-9-2001 Brother Gene read this tale and told me that he used to drive one of the buses also - but not officially and not for pay. He said that when he was just thirteen years old one of our route drivers used to let him drive. After the Chavis family had been dropped off in the afternoon the driver let Gene drive the mile to our stop, which was the last one of the route.


      THE LUMBERJACKS
      ...child labor?
      early summer 1952
      by Bruce Osburn
      When I was nearly 14 years old I worked a week during the summer at a job so dangerous that if the same circumstances occurred today OSHA would shut down the entire operation.

      My dad had gone back into active service with the Army during the Korean Conflict and was sent to Germany for two years, not to return home until about October 1952. During his absence every dollar brought into the home was put to good use. Brother Gene worked at Mr. Everett Goodwyn's Texaco station on Main Street across the street from the Post Office.

      Every nickel or dime I made collecting soft drink bottles for return of two cents deposit was a nickel or dime mom didn't have to give me for the movies or candy or soft drinks. I don't want you to think we were destitute, quite the contrary. We were considered rather well off as compared to our neighbors and relatives. We did not want for anything but did not turn down opportunities to make an extra buck or two.

      The property owner next to us arranged to have some of his timber harvested by an operator of a local sawmill. The area to be cut could only be reached by going through our property so mom agreed to allow the log truck to pass through on the back side of our place. She declared that the dam over which our access road passed was too fragile to support the weight of a loaded truck.

      After cutting and hauling for a week or so the logger told mom he was finished and asked if she would sell some of our timber he had seen on the back side of our place. A deal was made for selective cutting of several huge poplar and gum trees that were ideal for the veneer mill - trees that were suitable for making plywood.

      The day the sawyers arrived found me checking out their progress shortly after they started cutting. Much to my surprise I found two of the neighborhood boys, Garrison Hatcher and Pete Miller, manfully pulling away at a two-man cross-cut saw. Those were the days before engine powered chain saws were in widespread use, days when sore muscles and lots of sweat were required to fell a tree.

      Felled trees had to be "limbed" with an ax, several whacks on each limb, being careful not to amputate a toe or a foot in the process. Or, just as serious, a glancing blow that sent the ax head smashing into a shin bone! Logging in the 50s was indeed a man's job, the weak and slackers need not apply.

      Garrison lived just down the road and we rode the same school bus. He was one grade ahead of me but must have been at least two years older because he had a driver's license. Well, I suppose he had a driver's license, he's the one that drove the log truck when it was loaded. Being able to drive the truck made him the "straw boss" of that crew, even if it did have just two men. (or, more acurately, a two boy crew.)

      Pete was a grandson of Mr. Knight who lived right next to our place. Pete and his family moved in and out of his granddad's house at least two different times while we lived there. He was a year or so older than me, didn't smoke and could run like the wind! At times he and I went to the movies on Saturday and on the way home we jogged south on Lackey Street.

      After trotting side by side for a half block or so Pete would suddenly put on a burst of speed and sprint ahead of me. He turned right at an intersecting street, ran west one block and then turned south again, running parallel to Lackey Street. Before I could run two or three blocks Pete reappeared on Lackey Street, barely winded and laughing as I wheezed and coughed my way to join him. Yes, sir! Pete Miller was one fleet-footed son of a gun and could run like a bullet!

      During the week that Garrison and Pete cut our timber I helped them at times; lopping off a few small limbs, hacking away furiously at larger limbs, lubricating the saw and helping to load the truck. When the logger came to pay mom for the timber he asked me if I would like to help his crew cut some pine timber the following week. I jumped at the chance to make a buck or two.

      The pine timber we were to cut proved to be quite large in size. Some of the trees were close to two feet in diameter and would require much sweat and sore muscles to bring down.

      After they had made a notch near the base of the tree Garrison and Pete began pulling that back-breaking saw back and forth, hoping to throw the tree in the direction they had determined was best. But cutting down a tree and making it fall where they wanted it to drop was not easy to do.

      While a pine tree was being cut down it oozed sap from every damaged area - near the outside just under the bark and at the growth rings. As the saw was drawn back and forth sap collected on the blade making it sticky and hard to pull. To reduce some of that drag and lessen the exertion of the sawyers, kerosene was applied to the blade.

      A standard kerosene applicator consisted of a Pepsi or RC bottle filled with kerosene and a handful of pine needles pushed end first into the neck for an applicator. Part of my job was to keep the blade liberally lubricated; too much drag made the sawyers yell nasty comments at the fellow with the bottle.

      But even a well oiled saw blade did not ensure easy cutting. Sometimes the wind or a lot of limbs on one side of the tree made the tree pinch the blade, making it impossible to pull. When that happened we brought out wedges which were inserted into the cut behind the saw blade and driven into the cut using the back side of an ax head. Two or three wedges were usually enough to free the blade so the sawyers could get back to their business. I had a task of my own.

      My part of the operation started after the trees were felled, limbed and cut into suitable lengths for the sawmill. That's when I had to "snake" the logs from the place of cutting to an area that we could get the truck to. Well, I didn't just jump up on a motorized log skidder like you see today's loggers use. No, no! My snaking gear consisted of a hairy-hoofed horse that was way yonder taller than me, a pair of trace chains, a singletree, a pair of reins and a set log tongs! Placing the tongs on the end of a log and clicking my tongue sent the horse off toward the truck.

      That was one strong horse. It could pull a sixteen-foot log with hardly any effort while I walked alongside guiding it between trees and other obstacles. But that ol' horse was dumb. It didn't know if the log it was pulling was an eight-footer or a sixteen-footer or, for that matter, a skinny little kid. When I prepared to return to hook onto another log I took the reins in one hand and the tongs in the other. A click of my tongue and a soft "giddyup" made that ol' horse leaned into its work!

      Off through the woods it went, dragging me in its dust! Sometimes I ran, sometimes I slid, but at all times I held onto those tongs.

      I suppose if someone had come upon this scene it would have been a laughing matter to see a skinny little kid weighing about a hundred-twenty pounds leaning backwards at a 45 degree angle, trying to control a fifteen-hundred pound horse that was dragging him through the woods!

      I think the most dangerous part of our work was loading the truck. We were using a '46 or '47 Ford, single rear axle with dual tires and a flat bed of about fourteen feet. We didn't have a hydraulic loader; heck, we didn't even have a hand operated winch with boom arm. What we did have were skid poles - two trees trunks about twenty feet long. One end of the poles was placed on the edge of the truck bed several feet apart and the other ends rested on the ground. Up this ramp we rolled the logs by hand, just the three of us.

      We loaded the biggest, and thus heaviest, first. The first row of logs went easily enough but the loading got tougher as the logs begin to pile up on the truck. The ends of the skid poles on the truck were raised with each successive row of logs which made the ramp steeper with each row.

      By the time we got to the fourth row things began to get dangerous. Some of the logs got away from us and rolled back down the ramp. More than once we had to dive under the truck to escape serious injury. Not only did we have to worry about logs rolling over us we also had to be careful not to drop a log off the other side of the truck. When that happened we had to snake it back to the loading skids and push it up the ramp again.

      One week of logging was more than enough for me. When I went to get my pay I told the man in charge I was quitting the logging business. He gave me the huge sum of $5 for my week's labor and asked if I knew how to drive a tractor. Do I know how to drive a tractor!? Shoot, I started driving a tractor when I was about ten or eleven years old and learned to drive a truck at twelve!

      The next week I operated a tractor on his farm hauling water barrels loaded onto sleds. I didn't even have to get off the tractor; field hands filled the barrels and other field hands unhooked the sleds. It was the easiest one week of work I can remember and it paid $5 also!

      Bruce Osburn 3-24-2000


        SURVIVAL SKILLS
        ...and useful information
        late 40s-early 50s
        by: Bruce Osburn

          Here are just a few things I learned as a kid in Richmond County. Some of these things were necessary for my childhood survival and others were just good to know.

          Every kid needed to know these things before leaving the safety of his yard for a day's exploring:

          ......A coach-whip snake will wrap itself around you and beat you with its tail until you are dead. When it thinks you are dead it will stick its tail up your nose to see if you are still breathing, so if a coach-whip ever catches you and wraps around you and beats you until it thinks you are dead, hold your breath when it sticks its tail up your nose and it will go away and you will have just saved saved your own life.

          ......A hoop snake doesn't have fangs. It has a poisonous hook-like tail that it sticks into you. A hoop snake chases you by grabbing its tail in its mouth, making itself into a hoop, and rolling downhill after you. It can roll downhill faster than you can run, so if a hoop snake gets after you, run uphill. (Everyone in the neighborhood knows about the fellow down in SC who was being chased and jumped behind a tree. The hoop snake stuck its tail so far into the tree it couldn't pull it out and the fellow killed it. The tree fell over dead the next day.)

          ......A water moccasin cannot bite under water. (If you see one swimming toward you, duck under water and hold your breath for five minutes and it will get tired of waiting and go away.)

          ......An alligator snapping turtle won't release its jaws from your fingers until it hears thunder. (Banging loudly on a wash tub may fool it.)

          These things were good to know:

          ......The only part of a stolen water melon you could eat was the "heart." (The other parts would make you sick.)

          ......A lie was not a sin if you had your fingers crossed when telling it. (Make sure you had your hand in a pocket or behind your back so no one could see your fingers.)

          ......Those little white, hard sores on the end of your tongue were caused by telling lies. (You forgot to cross your fingers.)

          ......Stepping on a crack in the sidewalk would break your mother's back

          ......A joint snake could reattach its broken body parts. (Put a piece of it into your pocket and take it home to make sure it dies.)

          ......A bumble bee that has a white spot between its eyes can't sting. (Honestly. Try it sometime.)

          ......Sprinkling salt onto a bird's tail feathers paralyzes it. (Even though I tried several times, when I was four or five years old, I was never successful at getting salt on a bird's tail so I can't vouch for the truthfulness of this useful bit of knowledge, but it must have been so.... would my uncles lie to me?)

          ......The little white larvae found in wasp nests made excellent fishing bait. (The adult wasps made painful welts on your neck.)

          ......Cats really do land on their feet. (From all heights.)

          ......Tarzan didn't really swing through the jungle on vines. (A sharp-eyed kid could see he was using a rope with leaves tied onto it.)

          ......Roy and Gene and Hopalong and Lash and Red Ryder didn't have six-shooters. (They had 40 or 50 shooters, never having to reload during the entire movie.)

          ......A pig's bladder made a pretty good football. (You let your buddy have the privilege of constantly blowing it up.)

          ......Hanging a dead snake over a fence would make it rain before sundown. (Good to know during droughts.)

          ......A bicycle with a Bendix rear wheel coaster brake was easier to work on than a New Departure rear wheel. (New Departure had a kazillion washers in it.)

          ......Strips of rubber from red inner tubes from the war years made the best sling shots.

          ......Smoking a butt you just picked up off the street was OK if you put the burnt end between your lips. (This was so you didn't catch any diseases from the first smoker.)

          ......A kid had to ride a bull before he could become a man. (I rode the Helton's bull calf when I was about 13.)

          This one is so true it needs no further comment:

          .....An umbrella does not make a good parachute for jumping off tops of barns.

          Ah, yes, I'm surprised so much knowledge could be put into a kid's head; things he couldn't possibly learn in a classroom but were absolutely necessary for his proper education.

          Bruce Osburn 3-27-2000


          PIG TAILS
          ...and copper pennies
          early 1950s
          by: Bruce Osburn

          What in the world happened to them pigs' tails?," said I as I looked over a fence at the rear ends of a couple of plump hogs pushing and shoving to get their snouts into a slop trough. Those butts were devoid of anything remotely resembling the familiar curlicue so proudly sported by that favorite cartoon character, Porky Pig.

          Why, I had seen bobtailed dogs with more than those poor ole pigs had! Those naked pigs had just a little bitty nub, just enough to show that a tail had once been there.

          "Oh, I done cut'em off," said the man who was dumping more slop into the trough.

          Just earlier I had been out on the SAL tracks inspecting the condition of the ballast bed and looking for rocks that didn't belong there. When I found one I threw it at a nearby tree or at bottles that had been tossed from passenger trains heading to Florida or returning up north. I had kicked the rails a few times to make sure none of them were loose and had jumped from one rail to the other several times to make sure they hadn't shifted.

          A few nuts and bolts and a broken spike were tucked away in my pockets for it was my self-appointed duty to patrol the section of track from the crossing at Lackey Street all the way to our house, picking up all the scrap metal I could find. At home I would toss the junk onto a slowly growing pile that my brother Gene would sell to the scrap dealer in Rockingham. I don't think there was a cleaner section of track anywhere on the SAL.

          While I was fooling around on the tracks that day I saw a man approaching from the direction of Bridges Street, located about a half-mile up the tracks. He was struggling along with two buckets which I knew were filled with slop for hogs. I knew where he was going because I had discovered a group of pig pens several months earlier but had never seen anyone the few times I was there.

          There were six or eight or ten pens there, maybe more. Most were about the size of a small room and made of various materials. Some were made of fence wire, some were made of boards and slabs, and most managed to have a piece or two of rusty, crinkled tin roofing nailed up someplace. Each had a slop trough and a water tub and held pigs of different sizes - young piglets to ones ready to be "knocked on the head." This site had not been chosen haphazardly; it was in a blackjack thicket and there was a spring nearby that supplied plenty of water. There were no houses nearby so it was unlikely that the rank odor of pig pens offended anyone.

          "Why'd you chop off 'is tail?" asks I and he says, "It takes too much to feed the tail. That ol' tail ain't good for nothing and there ain't no use feeding that ol' tail so we just cuts'em off." A quick inspection of the other pens confirmed what he had just said; every pig on the place had its tail lopped off right next to its butt!

          As we talked the hogs devoured the slop, making that trough as clean as a whistle. That's when I noticed about eight or ten pennies nailed to the bottom of the trough. "Whatcha' got them pennies in there for?" asks I and he says, "Why, that's so they don't get sick. All's us got them pennies in our troughs."

          And so they did. And who can argue against wisdom like that, wisdom that had probably been passed down for generations? And it would be hard to disprove the magic of those beliefs for all the hogs were fat and sleek - no wasted food there! - and I didn't see a sick one amongst the whole bunch. And I'll bet those slop fed, tail-less hogs tasted a lot better than our ice cream fed hogs!

          Bruce Osburn 3-28-2000


        DRIVE-IN THEATERS
        ....fun for the family
        1948-1953
        by: Bruce Osburn

        When we first moved to Hamlet in 1948 there was only one drive-in theater, the Sky-Vu Drive-in on US 74, between Rockingham and Hamlet. The facilities then were much different than what we became accustomed to in the late 50s through the demise of the drive-in in the late 70s.

        After paying the reasonable price of forty cents for each adult the driver was directed by an attendant where to park. Children under twelve, with an adult, were free - and you should have seen some of those twelve-year-old boy kids, some beginning to show signs of stubble on their faces.

        There were no individual speakers, nor were there ramps on which to put the front of the car so those in the back seat could see without ducking their heads. There was one giant speaker mounted on top of the screen and the volume was loud enough for all to hear if you didn't have a squalling baby in the back seat. So, in order to get as many cars as possible onto the parking area, and up close to the speaker, the attendant parked the cars cheek-to-jowl! There was hardly any space between the front of one car and the rear of the car in front of it. If you decided you didn't like the movie, tough luck! There was no way for you to get out until the cars in front of you left.

        During the warm months skeeters and other blood sucking insects had a grand ol' time making your stay miserable. Since the car windows had to be down in order to hear that big ol' speaker those darn insects had unlimited access to everyone in the car. Some movie goers attempted to outsmart those little buggers by lighting a slow burning insect repellent called Punk. I can't say that the repellent had any effect on the insects but it certainly did on those folks in the car; stinging the eyes and irritating the lungs. Cigar and cigarette smoke worked just as well.

        Around 1950 or so two more drive-ins had opened - the Rock-Ham on the airport road and the Hamlet Drive-in on Battley Dairy Road. I don't know if either one of the three had an edge over the others as far as conveniences were concerned. Mostly, I think folks went to the one that was showing a movie they wanted to see, regardless of the theater. Individual car speakers were now the norm and each space had an elevated ramp so the folks in the back seat could see the screen easily, without getting a crick in the neck. As the years passed theaters began to improve their facilities; adding concession centers for the sale of more food items than one can remember, swings and slides for the kiddies, and the necessary rest room facilities.

        Before managers discovered they could make zillions of dollars selling hot dogs, hamburgers, french fries, sandwiches and various other goodies at a concession stand, movie goers were limited in their refreshments by the items they brought from home and from drive-in vendors pulling little kiddy wagons. When you least expected it, some kid would rap on your door and ask, " ya'll want a co-cola and popcorn?" (All colas were called "co-colas" and included Coca-Cola, Pepsi Cola and RC Cola, you just had to name your choice.)

        This method of selling drinks and popcorn prevented more than just a few kids from ...getting into trouble. The kids never knew when someone would rap on the side of the car and, failing to get a response from anyone up front, shine a flashlight into the back seat asking, "Ya'll want sump'um?" That would send the back seat occupants into a frantic search for missing clothing, followed by a quick exit from the theater.

        Movies during the week were mostly for mom and dad. Movies such as Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire in a dance musical; the Andrews sisters belting out favorite numbers; Humphrey Bogart, George Raft, Peter Lorre, James Cagney and their ilk gang busting or being busted by one another. Throw in Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour on the road to somewhere and you were sure to find one to your liking.

        Fridays and Saturdays were for the young at heart and just plain kids. There were movies with Johnny Mack Brown, Lash LaRue, Tim Holt, Rex Allen, Tom Mix, Red Ryder and Beaver, the singing Tex Ritter and throw in Hopalong Cassidy for good measure. And those all- time favorites, Roy Rogers, Trigger and Dale and Gene Autry with his horse Champion. Did I miss anyone? Sure I did, there were so many it's hard to recall all those role models who helped to bring us kids to young adulthood.

        And there were the westerns made for grownups but enjoyed just the same by the kids - movies with top guns John Wayne, Randolf Scott, Gary Cooper and James Stewart. And don't you dare forget those unsung heroes who played second banana and were listed far down in the credits only as "with." They held those movies together with their great performances and were as much of a draw as the top actors.

        Two of those actors that quickly come to mind are Bob Steele, that fine character actor who delivered the pure essence of what we imagined a real cowboy to be and there was Jack Elam, he of the cocked eye. I still remember the scene in "Rawhide" starring Tyrone Power and Susan Hayward when Jack was wounded in the hand during a shoot-out and took a stick and pushed the bullet clear through his hand! That scene alone was worth the price of admission! Go rent the movie, it was still available about 5 years ago.

        All three theaters engaged in an occasional "dollar night." For one buck you could load your friends and neighbors into a car or pickup truck and go see a movie. On the face of it one would assume the theaters were losing money with this promotion but in hindsight one can see that they were actually making more that way than by charging 40 cents a head. Mom and dad paid 80 cents to see a regular movie but mom and dad and two neighbors in the same car paid one buck, thus increasing the revenue by 20 cents for the same space that mom and dad would have paid 80 cents for, and the theater was more likely to fill all the spaces. And after all of the extra co-colas and popcorn and french fries that were sold were added up it's easy to see that volume does count for something.

        The dollar night promotion was an occasion for the Osburn family to have an outing. Putting our porch furniture onto the back of our '46 Chevy flat-bed pickup truck easily provided sitting space for six or eight people, adults and kids alike. With three people in the cab and the ones on the back of the truck, we were a sight to behold! (We did it long before Ellie and Granny and Jethro and Jed!)

        Our aunt and cousins from Massey Hill, NC, were visiting when one of the dollar nights was held at the Hamlet Drive-in. The chairs and glider were loaded and the side boards put in place but someone decided it wasn't necessary to put the tail gates on. Off we started, aunt Katie Lee at the wheel, the cab loaded and six or more kids and adults on the back.

        Turning onto MacDonald Ave. and going west for a couple of blocks brought aunt Katie Lee to a stop sign at an intersection on a hill.. Now, aunt Katie Lee was an excellent driver, having driven cars and trucks since a young girl. However, every car and truck had its own idiosyncrasy and our truck was no exception. Aunt Katie Lee had not driven it long enough to learn how much to release the clutch pedal before it "took hold" and when she attempted to start off again the truck rolled backward. That little movement caused aunt Katie Lee to "pop the clutch," sending poor little eight-year-old Dixie Lee and her chair flying off the back of the truck! Down she went, belly-button over appetite, crashing onto MacDonald Ave. There were no movies for us that night.

        Even though the price of admission was cheap enough there were still some young boys and girls who tried to save forty cents or so by slipping in. The favored method was to put two or three kids in the trunk of a car and have two kids pay the eighty cents to get in. There was no problem getting the kids that were hiding in the trunk back into the passenger compartment for most cars of that era had a back seat that was easily removed and the trunk was thus exposed. A quick crawl through, replace the seat and enjoy the movie.

        This practice evolved into a cat and mouse game and a suspicious looking driver could expect to hear these words at the ticket booth: "How many you got in the trunk?" or "Open your trunk and let me look." Another way was to drop off kids nearby and have them go through the woods and fields to an area near the back of the theater. After paying for one or two the driver would park near the back of the lot and the kids would run to the car, one by one, home free!

        I liked to go to the movies but was short on cash and didn't have many friends who had cars. My neighbor, William Knight, who was three or four years older than me, was in the same situation. But that didn't stop us from watching that magic screen. We would walk from our homes through Hamlet to the drive-in on Battley Dairy Road. As we drew near we slipped through the woods and fields until we came to the back of the theater. Lying down in the weeds we waited until it got dark, made a quick dash to the last row of speakers where two or three were turned to maximum volume, beat a hasty retreat back to the bushes and we were in business! The only bad thing about this arrangement was the great number of sand spurs, cockle burrs and beggar lice that attached to you.

        There are few drive-in movies in existence today, victims of the ever advancing technology we all embrace. We now have sixty channel cable TV with all the premium movie channels, Blockbuster and their competitors, VCRs to record a favorite show for later viewing and all the other things that only Buck Rogers knew were coming.

        The drive-in theaters filled a niche in our society for more than four decades. They were cheap entertainment for large masses of our population, an outing that required no formal dress or reservations, just a suggestion that a good movie was showing. Heck, the kiddies could even go in their jammies so mom could get them in bed quickly since they were probably asleep when they got home anyway. They were a rite of passage for those beginning the dating game and many a boy stole his first kiss there.

    Bruce Osburn 4-3-2000




    THE PARATROOPER
    .....excitement from above
    ca 1951
    by: Bruce Osburn

    "Ma! Ma! Aunt Nellie! Aunt Nellieee! Come quick! Hurry!!" we cousins shouted in unison as we stood in the back yard looking up into the sky.

    Our shouted cries brought mom on a flat-out run from somewhere inside the house. She shot through the open back door and with a straight-arm she sent the flimsy screen door banging against the side of the porch. Clearing the back steps with a leap she screamed, "What's wrong!? What happened? Who's hurt?"

    Pointing up into the sky we hollered, "Look Ma, look!" Mom tilted her head skyward and there she saw a small plane slowly circling overhead. Dangling below the plane was a rope ladder with someone sitting on the bottom rung. Turning loose with one hand he waved to us, sending us kids hooting and hollering and jumping up and down. Suddenly, the daredevil turned loose with both hands and flipped backward, catching himself on the bottom rung with his knees. "What's that damn fool doing!!?" gasped mom, as she grabbed her head with both hands. Whoeeee! We knew mom was really excited now because she hardly ever cussed, usually resorting to saying only the letters "d" and "h," as in "I'm d mad" or "I'm mad as h."

    "That's O'Brien, Ma! That's O'Brien!!" we hollered as the plane pointed its nose toward Hamlet with O'Brien still hanging below. " Oh!, my goodness! What in the world is that boy up to now?" said Mom as the plane disappeared on its way to Hamlet.

    O'Brien was our eighteen-year-old cousin - one of the Massey Hill gang and he was an adventurer of the first order. At age fifteen he fibbed just a little and enlisted in the NC National guard. At seventeen he was in the regular Army and, not satisfied with being just a regular grunt, he joined the Paratroopers stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. He had come to Hamlet to put on a jumping exhibition and perhaps make a little cash.

    The next part of this memory picks up at the Rockingham airport. I don't remember how I got there but there I was, with cousin Danny, O'Brien's younger brother. O'Brien had flown over Hamlet and Rockingham hanging from under that plane trying to generate a little curiosity and draw people out to see an air show. When he later arrived over the airport a few people had already hurried out and were waiting for the show to start.

    O'Brien crawled out of the plane and descended on the ladder. The ooohs and aaahs were voiced, the more so when he flipped backward and caught himself with his knees. After several passes overhead, with him hanging upside down, he suddenly fell away toward the ground! The screams and whoops grew louder as he stumbled head over heels toward the ground at a terribly fast speed. And then, from out of nowhere, appeared a beautiful white canopy which rudely jerked him to a descent just a little less rapid than his free fall.

    Now this jump was before the advent of parasails and parachutes that have a good deal of directional control. This was a standard army issue chute - the one we were so familiar with from having watched WW II movies - and the jumper had little control over where he landed. And, wouldn't you know, Murphy's Law reared its ugly head and O'Brien found himself drifting toward a runway marker. He raised one foot in an attempt to miss it and, instead of landing with both feet together, he hit the ground on one foot.

    Well, of course, he broke his foot. He gathered his chute into his arms and hobbled over to the crowd where Danny was busy working them, passing around a hat trying to collect what he and O'Brien were sure would be a king's ransom. I don't know how much Danny milked from that crowd of a couple dozen but I'm sure it wasn't enough to the ease the pain suffered by O'Brien.

    I had bragging rights for a couple of days in the neighborhood; after all, I knew that paratrooper and he was my cousin.

    O'Brien explained away his broken foot to the Army doctors by saying he had gone fishing and lost his footing on a slippery rock. (Jumping for sport was frowned upon by the Army.) He did nearly 10 years in the military, including a hitch in the Navy. He now answers to his first name, Charlie, and still flies, but no longer jumps or hangs from a ladder. He now sits inside at the controls piloting his own plane. He and his wife Jeannie divide their time between Pensacola, FL, where they have business interests, and a Catholic mission they supervise in Belize, in Central America.

    Bruce Osburn 4-5-2000


    GUNS, GUNS
    .....and more guns
    1948-1953
    (part one)

    by:
    Bruce Osburn

    During the five-and-half years we called Hamlet home we had several weapons for propelling projectiles at bottles, trees, birds, rabbits, snakes and each other. Each weapon has a tale of its own so I'll relate a few that come to mind.

    Every young boy needed a slingshot to stick into his back pocket. It was a sign that he was capable of knocking down tin cans and other targets at great distances. A slingshot didn't cost anything and was easy to make - all you needed were a fork of a limb, strips of inner tube, a tongue from an old shoe and a little bit of string to tie the parts together. But just any ol' fork wouldn't do. Oh, no! Considerable time was spent looking for that perfect "Y," a fork that had prongs of nearly equal size, a fork that looked like it wanted to be a slingshot!

    A dogwood tree had an almost perfect fork for making slingshots after, of course, a little modification. The best fork always had three prongs, of which the larger middle one was removed with a pocket knife. (Every boy had a Barlow; how else was he supposed to cut fishing poles and slingshots?)

    Next came the rubber strips. The best strips came from an old red inner tube from the war years. That tube was much more elastic than a black one and a sling shot with red rubber could shoot farther than any other. A leather tongue from a brogan finished the slingshot and now a kid was ready to fire away at anything within range - birds, rabbits, tin cans, bottles, dogs, cats and his buddy.

    Ammunition was easy to find just laying about - small rocks, china berries and best of all, marbles! A marble ensured a more accurate trajectory and was preferred by most kids, especially if a kid could shoot a good game of marbles and win a lot while playing "keepsies" with his buddies. (Only sissies and wimps played marbles for "funsies".)

    Bows and arrows were easy enough to make but were not as popular as a slingshot. (How in the world was a kid supposed to put a bow and a fist full of arrows into his back pocket?) A few kids made them and some were quite powerful. One of my cousins put an arrow clear through a kid's ankle, between the Achilles tendon and the bone. The few I made were not a danger to anyone or anything.

    The one shooter all young boys dreamed of owning was a BB gun. After much pleading and promising to be responsible, my younger brother Kenny and I received one for Christmas about 1949. On that morning there, among a few articles of clothing and oranges under the Christmas tree, were two lever action BB guns; one for me and one for Kenny! We didn't have to share! WOW! And they were gen-u-wine Daisy Red Ryder Air Rifles! The very best BB gun ever!

    We knew they were real 'cause Red Ryder had signed his name with a hot branding iron! Right there on the wooden stock for all to see! And it even had a metal ring near the breech with a real leather strap tied into a loop so it could be hung over a saddle horn! We didn't have a saddle to hang it from, heck, we didn't even have a horse, but if we ever got a bicycle we could hang it from the handle bars.

    Included with each BB gun was a box of paper targets we could stick onto a tree and practice our shooting. And we could do a lot of shooting with those Red Ryder BB guns for they held enough BBs to shoot all day. Twisting the end of the barrel a quarter-turn exposed the loading hole where we placed one hand, forming a funnel into which we poured the BBs, several hundred at a loading.

    Mom gave us the usual admonitions about what was OK to shoot and what was not OK to shoot: "You can shoot tin cans, trees, sparrows and crows. Don't shoot blue birds or red birds. Don't shoot glass bottles or jars. And, I'm telling you right now, don't you dare shoot one another 'cause you'll shoot your eyes out!"

    Kenny and I dutifully obeyed mom's instructions for some time. But eventually, just shooting at paper targets and tin cans lost its challenge. So what if we could shoot a hole in a piece of paper or put a ding in a tin can? Who cares! And besides, those ol' tin cans were so tough we couldn't shoot a hole in one, all we could do was knock it off a post. But glass jars and bottles, there's something to shoot at! With a well placed shot a quart jar was reduced to several large pieces. Now we could see evidence of our destructive powers! Every glass container became fair game. (Except co-cola bottles. They were worth two cents each and were safe as could be.)

    In addition to shooting every jar and bottle we saw in trash heaps we also shot discarded insulators. Exploring around the SAL right of way would yield several glass insulators that had been tossed to the ground by linemen working the telegraph wires. A BB shot to the top of an insulator produced a small piece of glass shaped like a cone, knocked from the inside. There were blue, green and clear insulators, all producing their own distinctive cones. And every bird we saw, flying or sitting, became a target, no matter what the color. BBs were plentiful and could be shot as quickly as we could cock the gun.

    We began to tire of this type of shooting and the inevitable happened - Kenny and I began to act foolishly. Disregarding mom's warning that we would "shoot your eyes out" we declared war on one another and that ultimately led to our disarmament.

    On the day we lost our BB guns Kenny and I were having a battle near the house. I was hunkered down behind the dam of our pond, using the top of it for a gun rest and Kenny was hiding behind a large pine tree in the front yard about a hundred feet from me. He would shoot at me and I would shoot back at him, chipping little pieces of bark from his pine tree.

    We were letting loose with a barrage when I noticed mom come through the front door and onto the porch. She stood there for a brief moment, just looking around. She gave no indication that she had seen either of us so I quickly stood up and whispered as loud as I could through clenched teeth, "There's mama!" Kenny didn't hear me, but he saw me - a perfect target! He stepped from behind his tree and fired away, hitting me on the neck. I grabbed my neck and again hissed at him, "Here comes mama!"

    My warning was too late! Mom was off the porch in a flash and standing beside Kenny before he could again cock his gun. Grabbing Kenny's prized gun from his hands, she took it by the barrel and gave a mighty swing at the pine tree! Crash! The wooden stock splintered, forever destroying Red Ryder's signature. More vigorous swings at the tree utterly destroyed Kenny's BB gun, pieces of wood and metal falling to the ground! The barrel was now nothing more than a misshapen piece of scrap metal, hardly recognizable as once being the barrel of a fine Daisy Red Ryder Air Rifle, complete with saddle thong! All the while mom was smashing Kenny's BB gun she kept screaming, "I told you you'd shoot your eyes out. I told you!!"

    I knew I was next and meekly approached mom. She snatched my beloved Daisy from my hand and quickly reduced it to junk, the pieces falling to the ground right there next to Kenny's junk. All the while she kept shrieking "I told you! I told you! I told you!" It would be a year or more before mom would again trust us enough to have another BB gun.

    Brother James had acquired a bolt-action .22 rifle when he was just a young boy and it was kept with all the other guns in our house. It was probably army issue, having an adjustable leather sling, a peep sight and a clip that could hold seven rounds. It was perfect for plinking away at tin cans and other targets. We shot four different types of ammo in it - .22 short, .22 long, .22 extra long, and sometimes hollow points. All the kids in the house learned to shoot it, and mom, too. This is her experience with it on a scary day.

    The year was 1948 or 1949 and all of us kids attended school in Hamlet. Brother Kenny was in 1st or 2nd grade at Pansy Fetner and he was dismissed from classes about noon time, as were all the students in those grades, their school day being only a half day. Pansy Fetner school was only a mile from our house and Kenny would walk home rather than wait around two or three hours for the school bus.

    Kenny always came home by way of the SAL tracks. One day, at about the time he usually appeared, mom stepped onto the back porch and looked out to the tracks about a 1000 feet from our back yard. She didn't see Kenny anywhere but she did see a man lying on the west bank of the right-of-way. Mom watched him for a few minutes and became alarmed. The man would sit upright, look north and south on the tracks and then lie back down. After he did this several times mom became convinced he was waiting for her little boy so he could kidnap him!

    Taking up the .22 rifle she let loose a round that splattered the ballast rocks near the man, not too close but yet close enough. He sat bolt upright and looked around to see where the shot came from. Mom fired again, this time striking the west bank. The man made a desperate dash to a metal section shack on the right-of-way, getting as much protection as he could between him and the source of the shots. Mom continued to watch him for a few minutes and then she heard a putt-putt-putting coming from the south.

    She turned and looked in that direction where she a motorized hand-car with several workers aboard chugging on its way toward Hamlet. It slowed when it got to the section shack and the man mom had just scared the breeches off darted from his hiding place and jumped onto the car. Boy, was mom embarrassed! He was just a section hand waiting for a ride back to the train yards!

    Every time someone teased mom about that incident she would say she wasn't trying to hit the man; she just wanted him to know that someone was watching him, just in case he was planning to steal her little boy.

    Bruce Osburn 5-6-2000


    GUNS, GUNS
    ......and more guns
    1948-1953
    (part two
    )
    by: Bruce Osburn

    Mom had mentioned that our 16-gauge double-barrel shotgun was too much for her to handle and wanted something with a little less kick. Uncle Lawrence Fisher said he had just the right thing and brought his .410-gauge shotgun for her to use. That act of generosity almost proved to be the undoing of uncle Lawrence.

    The event that uncle Lawrence remembered until he died began innocently enough. He had driven out to our house in the afternoon for some reason or other and upon entering onto the back porch he found the back door ajar. He knew mom was home alone because all of us kids were in school, so he gently pushed the door open and stepped into the hallway.

    Tippy-toeing down the length of the hallway he made a barely audible creaking noise; step, squeak; step, squeak, until he reached the end of the hallway which opened into the sitting room. He slowly moved his head to the corner and peeked into the room where he fully expected to see mom sitting in her favorite chair, reading.

    What met his eyes was not exactly the sight he expected. What he saw nearly scared him to death; for there, not more than fifteen feet away, was the business end of his .410-gauge shotgun aimed directly at his head! There stood mom in her bedroom doorway, gun to shoulder, and the only words she uttered were, "You don't know how close you came to having your damn head blown off!" No one ever tried to slip up on mom again!

    We had another gun that was a curiosity in itself. We didn't know where the gun was made, or even the caliber. We just called it the "Japanese gun," implying that it was a war souvenir that somehow found its way to our house. But dad hadn't served in the Pacific war zone; he'd served in Germany so the gun could just as well have been a "German gun." We had no ammunition for it so it was never fired. But it did have a bayonet and that was good enough! Attaching that long piece of sharpened steel to the barrel and charging, stabbing and slashing pine trees in our yard provided more than enough fun for young boys!

    Dad had somehow gained possession of an army issue .45 caliber automatic pistol and it, too, was part of our little arsenal.

    Brother James and his sailor buddies came home on the weekends and blasted away at anything in sight. Saturdays were a noisy day at our house, both indoors and outdoors. Inside, mom was busy trying to feed two or three hungry sailors and outside everyone wanted to shoot that big ol' .45, grownups and young'uns alike.

    My two older brothers, James and Gene, and those sailor boys would spend several hours on a Saturday just blasting away. Anything was a fair target; buckets, tubs, trees, outhouses and even birds on the wing. Our bird house had long since been reduced to splinters, blown away with dozens of direct hits. Nothing was safe around our house when that big ol' pistol was out of its holster!

    Well, now, you might ask how we could afford to buy all those hundreds upon hundreds of bullets? And the answer to that is, we couldn't, but we had an almost inexhaustible supply of .45 ammo coming from South Carolina. My Uncle Chester Osburn, MSGT, was stationed at Ft. Jackson and sometimes he came through Hamlet on his way home to Massey Hill. He'd stop by our house for a quick sandwich and brief visit and be on his way. On some of those stopovers he brought hundreds of .45 caliber bullets with him, loosely stowed away in long, woolen army socks! Two or three fully filled socks at a time! No, we didn't have to worry about running out of ammo. (This source of ammo was cut off about 1951 when Uncle Chester was sent to Korea for a tour of duty. Our wasteful shooting came to an abrupt end because, as I said earlier, we couldn't afford to buy all those bullets.)

    I, too, stepped up for my turn at shooting that monster. I had noticed before my first turn that each time someone shot the pistol the recoil would kick their gun hand almost to the side of their head. (Well! I could see right then that them ol' sailors ain't nothing but wimps and sissies. I bet I can shoot that ol' gun and it won't even kick my hand a little bit!) Soon, my chance came for me to show my style. I grabbed that heavy piece of deadly artillery in my twelve-year-old hand, took a sideways stance to the target, leveled the gun at arm's length, sighted down the barrel, tightened every muscle and sinew in my skinny arm and pulled the trigger. KA- BOOOOM!!

    GREATGAWDALMIGHTY! What a kick! That damn gun near 'bout tore my arm off! It felt like my arm bone had done been pushed clear through my shoulder bone! And my wrist was hurtin' sump'un terrible, since the wrist bone had just now been shoved back into the arm bone.

    But, by damn, I showed them ol' sailors how to shoot that big ol' .45! My hand didn't fly up to the side of my head. No, sir. It didn't even hardly move a little bit when the gun went off! Let them wimpy sailors take notice of that! (It didn't matter that my wrist would be sore for several days.)

    I have saved the best for last and this tale is the result of an incident that occurred in 1952. A little after midnight on a warm summer night mom came into the boys' bedroom and awakened brother Gene. "Get up, Gene," says she. "Get the shotgun and go down to the pond and scare off those people making a fuss down there!"

    Mom had been awakened from a sound sleep just minutes earlier by loud noises coming from our pond. She took the .22 rifle, stepped outside the house and pulled the bolt back to load a round but it jammed and she couldn't clear the chamber. That's when she went for Gene. Gene got up, found the 16-gauge shotgun, grabbed a couple of shells and headed down to the pond.

    Stopping on the dam about two-hundred feet from the opposite side he pointed the gun skyward and fired. BOOOM! Thunder and flame leapt from a barrel of that old shotgun which was immediately followed by screaming and hollering and yelling and splashing. Gene let go with another blast in the general direction of the noise and turned back to the house. Back inside he told mom that he had taken two shells that had been loaded with rice which we used for running stray dogs away from our house.

    Sunrise revealed shoes, a few items of clothing and some beer bottles laying on the shore. Those guys had run off toward Bridges Street so fast they didn't even have time to collect all their clothes! And that ain't all they left. Sitting about seventy-five feet away on the edge of the county road was a car! Their car! They done run off so fast they left their car! Whoeee! Those fellows must have been in a hurry to get away from there!

    The car and other items sat there all that day and no effort was made to retrieve them. Sometime during the night, after everyone in our house had gone to sleep, they came for their stuff. We don't know if they pushed the car down the road before starting the engine or if they just jumped in and tore off! (We often wondered if any of the guys had been hit by a piece or two of rice and, if so, did it swell up and cause any pain?)

    In October of that year dad returned to the States after serving a tour of duty in Germany. He came into Hamlet by train after midnight and hired a black taxi driver to take him home. When dad indicated to the driver to turn onto our road the driver suddenly began to blow his horn - long, loud blasts.

    "Hey!" says dad, "You're gonna wake up everybody!"

    "Yas'uh! Boss. Yas'uh!" says the driver. "Dat's 'zackly what I's doing. I's gonna wake up ever'body! Dat crazy old woman dat lives 'ere will sho' 'nuff shoot you fer messing 'round dis 'ere place! All's us knows 'bout dat crazy old woman!"

    So, mom had gained a much deserved reputation among the black folks of Hamlet as "that crazy old woman who'll shoot you for messing around her place."

    Bruce Osburn 5-6-2000

    When we moved from Hamlet in 1953 dad gave most of our arsenal to uncle Charlie Liles. We don't know where the .22 rifle, 16-guage double-barrel shot gun and the "Japanese" rifle are now. I have the .45 pistol.



    LACKEY STREET
    ...where memories were made
    1948-1953
    by: Bruce Osburn

    In April of 2000 I made a visit to my boyhood home of 50 years ago. I was saddened at the way parts of my old neighborhood had deteriorated and, at the same time, a little pleased that some parts had improved during the past decades. There is some truth to the old adage "you can't go home again," for nothing was the same.

    Some areas had fallen victim to old age and neglect while other areas had prospered. There were new streets and houses now occupying the old cotton and corn fields where I used to play cowboys and Indians; places where I had found "pop-rocks," arrow heads and petrified wood.

    Let's take a walk on Lackey St. and I'll tell you some memories I have held for more than five decades. Lackey Street began at its juncture with Main Street and ended about a half mile south of its beginning, just after it made a sharp turn to the east and crossed the SAL tracks.

    I have made this trip into Hamlet and back home again more than a thousand times. I remember the first cross street south of Main Street was MacDonald Ave. and just a little east on that street, where it passed behind a hotel, bank and Mabry's Drug Store, was a little garage run by Hoyt Terry. Mr. Terry used to repair uncle Lawrence Fisher's car.

    Most of the homes on Lackey St. during that time were well kept with carefully manicured yards. People took pride in their homes and spent considerable time planting flowers and shrubs to enhance the landscape because no one wanted to be outdone by their neighbors. I can't remember any "new" houses for the majority of them were from an earlier era. Most of them were big, imposing houses surrounded by gigantic oak trees that were there when the homes were first built.

    Some were brick and others were wood frame. Some with two stories and most with big, airy, front porches where folks would sit during the cool of the day, lazily swinging to and fro in wide porch swings, and speak to their neighbors as they passed by on errands or just out for a stroll. I knew practically every house and yard, even waved and said "howdy" to some of the folks.

    Just a hop, skip and a jump south of MacDonald Ave. intersection, on the east side of the street, lived Mrs. Lackey. I think she was a teacher at Pansy Fetner school but that's not why I remember her - I remember her for an unpleasant experience three of us young boys had there.

    Howard Helton, his brother Larry and I took up our fan rakes one fine day to go into Hamlet to hire ourselves out to rake yards. We struck a deal with Mrs. Lackey to clean her yard and set about raking up great piles of leaves. Mrs. Lackey's several old, majestic oak trees dropped leaves by the hundreds of thousands. They weren't big leaves like that of a black-jack oak but the little leaf of the water oak and live oak, the kind that requires a lot of effort to move from one spot to another. But, still, the three of us were making good progress piling up newly fallen leaves and ones that had fallen years ago, leaves that looked like they had laid there for centuries! They had laid there so long some were rotten, just little bits and pieces. They had been there so long it was difficult to find much grass since it had been smothered by years of accumulated leaves.

    But, despite the overwhelming amount of leaves to be removed, we weren't discouraged. In fact, we were feeling great 'cause we knew we would soon have a little jingle in our pockets. A jingle that would pay for candy, nabs, RC Cola belly washers and, best of all, store bought cigarettes!

    We had one side of the yard nearly raked when Mrs. Lackey came to inspect our progress. She called us over to a spot we had already done and pointed to the ground, saying, "Ya'll didn't get all the acorns."

    Holy cow! Does she want all those acorns picked up? You betcha! Every danged one of 'em! More than once she called our attention to spots we had raked again and again, pointing out little acorns that must have been there when Sir Walter Raleigh first came over! We saw right away we had made a bad bargain and were in for a long day.

    So, we worked ourselves to the back of the yard, squeezed through the hedges and were gone! We reached the SAL tracks and turned south toward home, laughing and giggling the whole way, acting like we had just pulled a prank on someone. We didn't collect a nickel for our efforts, but we didn't mind for we thought she expected too much bang for her buck, and we had escaped a situation even our parents wouldn't expect us to do.

    Just several houses beyond Mrs. Lackey, on the west side of the street, was where Mary Britt lived. Mary was in my grade and I would holler at her if she was outside when I passed by. I vaguely remember huge piles of wood in Mary's yard, so I believe her dad must have sold firewood as a sideline. Since I left Hamlet in 1953 I have had one encounter with Mary, which she probably doesn't remember.

    In 1969 or 1970, while visiting my mom, (she had moved back to Hamlet in 1969 after my dad died) I found myself short on money so I took a fist full of US Savings Bonds to a bank in Hamlet to cash. (The same bank used for a scene in the movie "Billy Bathgate.") At the teller's window I presented my bonds and indicated I wanted to cash them. The teller asked for ID, so I showed my navy ID card. Evidently she required one more source of ID because she asked if anyone in the bank knew me.

    My younger brother, Kenny, who had accompanied me, piped up and said, "Yeah, I know'im."

    Not completely satisfied with that ID she said, "I mean, anyone working in the bank?"

    "Sure," I said, "you know me." She appeared surprised but an explanation of our school days produced a smile of recognition and I left with money in hand.

    Not a great distance beyond Mary's house, on the east side of the street, was a small neighborhood grocery store owned by Mr. Liles. The building was two stories with the store on the first floor and living quarters on the second. There were two big chinaberry trees near the street that provided shade to both the entrance and a second story front porch. Dad used to buy some of our groceries there, along with other household items.

    I remember Mr. Liles' store mostly, I think, because of the unusual display of just one product. The product was in medium-sized boxes that had already been put in brown grocery bags and placed on a shelf. I suspect that those brown bags had not been put around the boxes by the manufacturer but instead by Mr. and Mrs. Liles. There were no identifying marks anywhere on the paper and that omission contrasted with the prominently displayed brand names of other products. If not for the obvious attempt to conceal the product and the maker's name I probably wouldn't have this memory. I went into the store with dad a few times and occasionally he got one of those unmarked packages.

    Mr. and Mrs. Liles had at least three children - John, Linda and another girl. John was older than Linda by a year or so but both of them started school at Pansy Fetner in 1948. The other girl was older than John by at least a couple years. John, as an adult, worked for the North Carolina Highway department and was killed a few years ago when his tractor, with bush-hog attached, struck a bridge and overturned. (The information in this paragraph was provided by my brother, Kenny Osburn, a classmate and boyhood friend of John Liles.)*

    Just beyond Mr. Liles began a group of houses occupied by some of the less fortunate folks of Hamlet. They were quite close together, on both sides of the street and extended several hundred feet to the SAL rail crossing. Most were of the "shotgun" style of house - one room wide and two or more rooms deep.

    I have heard the reason they were called shotgun houses was because if you shot a gun at the front of the house the bullet would penetrate every room before it finally went out through the back. But people do the best they can and shouldn't be disparaged because of their homes. I visited Elvis Presley's birth home in Tupelo, Miss. and it, too, was a little bitty shotgun house!

    The Lackey St. of my childhood has vanished. What once were several blocks of neat and well cared for homes are now blocks of houses crying for attention, houses with the most forlorn appearance imaginable. On the east side of the street is evidence that someone had attempted to breath life back into this once proud neighborhood. Now standing silent and following the decline of the rest of the street are the remains of a shopping area, several adjoining shops that are now deserted and boarded up.

    The neighborhood has changed so much I can't pick out Mary Britt's home. Liles' grocery store is barely standing, its roof has collapsed and fallen onto the second floor. The two trees are nothing more than huge trunks, just stark reminders of their once soaring grandeur. But all is not doom and gloom for the shotgun houses have disappeared and have been replaced with more contemporary houses, with just a few on each side of the street.

    (There is the possibility that what I have related is not entirely accurate. How much larger does a neighborhood appear in a young boy's eyes and, as the years pass, gets even bigger and grander in his memory? Are my memories of a half century ago flawed? Was Lackey Street really the way I remember? Or were the houses smaller, the trees just little saplings, the flowers and shrubs a figment of my imagination? I would appreciate feedback from anyone with memories of their own about Lackey Street.)

    About five-hundred feet past the SAL tracks, at the bend of the road where it turns south once again, was a small store where we kids spent some of our money. The store was owned by a black businessman who was the owner of a combination hotel/restaurant on the north end of Bridges Street and it was operated by an elderly black man called "Pig" by blacks and whites alike.

    Pig sold soda pops, candy - lots of penny candy! - gum, cigarettes, soda crackers, Jack's Cookies - one penny a cookie, about 1/4 inch thick and 3 inches in diameter - Lance nabs and peanuts, potted meat, sardines, vienna sausages, and other items that could sit on shelves for a long period of time and not spoil. The amount of stock on his shelves could have been put into an army foot locker with room to spare. But despite its shortcomings it was the nearest store to our house and whenever we had a nickel or dime to spend we kids would go there and pass a little time with Pig. One of my memories has its beginning there.

    I was there one afternoon talking to Pig and enjoying a cigarette and soda pop when the Coca-Cola salesman brought in a couple crates of Coke. He was drenched in sweat from having already worked most of a hot summer's day. Those were the days before air conditioning in cars and trucks, the days when soft drinks came in thick glass bottles which added several pounds to the weight of a crate. As he was about to leave he turned to me and said, "Hey, kid, you wanna job? I'll give you a couple bucks if you help me on my truck."

    I was in the truck before he could change his mind and I embarked on my first and only job on a soft drink truck. He had a hand dolly for hauling the sodas into stores, such as the several crates we took into Miss Dora Brunson's High Hat Club on Bridges Street, but for an order of just two crates or less he took them inside by hand. Grasping a bottle at the neck and the end of the crate in one hand he easily lifted the Cokes and was off. But, being a skinny little kid of twelve or thirteen, I had to use the dolly or take only one crate at a time, one hand on each end and holding it up close to my tummy. The day was mostly uneventful so I can't remember everywhere we went. However, there was an incident so unusual that the memory of it has remained with me for fifty years.

    The driver had a regular route of service stations, stores and other retail outlets. He also had a route of home sales - half a crate here, a full crate there, anything to increase his volume. Stopping on Bridges Street he lifted a crate off the truck and said to me, "Take a crate to the back door of that house."

    I hurried around to the back with a crate of Cokes and rapped on the door. Hearing a "Come in!" I stepped through the open doorway and was almost knocked backward by a terrible odor! I placed the Cokes on the floor and stood there stunned, gaping at the source of the stench.

    Sitting in a chair with a cover around her shoulders was a young black girl whose hair was thoroughly slathered with some type of grease. A woman standing behind her had a hot metal comb in her hand and, taking a handful of hair, she tugged and pulled that hot comb through the young girl's kinks and tangles. Holy cow! What a stink! A plume of smoke rose from her hair, grease dripped onto the cover and the hair was thus straightened, smooth and straight as a board! I had never in my life seen anything like that! I stood there with my mouth hanging open and with wide-eyed disbelief, absolutely transfixed!

    The woman stopped combing long enough to snap at me, "Hey, boy! Wha'chu staring at? I done paid the driver, now git on outta here!"

    "Yes'um," I said and beat a hasty retreat. Good grief! I didn't know black girls went to so much torture to straighten their hair. But hey, what the heck, white girls went to the same extremes to make their hair curly. Go figure! That half day's work was easy money for me and I wanted more but the driver said his regular help would be back the next day. Oh, well, the two bucks would last me a few days.

    Just a short distance from Pig's place on the east side of the road lived Gene, a black man about 50 years old, and his wife. When my dad went back into the army in 1950 Gene became our source for fresh vegetables. Mom made a deal with Gene that let him plant crops on about five or six acres of our property for his benefit in return for planting and tending a small garden for our use. This arrangement proved so successful to both parties it remained in effect even after dad returned home. Gene was a familiar sight around our place, he and his horse and wagon.

    Next in line, about five-hundred or six-hundred feet south of Pig's place, were Mr. and Mrs. Hadley. They lived in a small brick house on a small rise on the east side of the road, about three-hundred feet from the county road. Mr. Hadley was a chicken farmer, raising thousands at a time in a long, narrow chicken house. Mrs. Hadley was a Mabry, sister to the man that owned Mabry's Drug Store.

    The first year or so we lived there mom and Mrs. Hadley did a little bartering - a pound of mom's homemade butter for one of Mr. Hadley's empty chicken feed sacks - twenty-five cents got one if no butter was available. The sacks were imprinted with beautiful floral designs and other patterns. Mom's foot-treadle powered Singer sewing machine stitched together many pillow covers, curtains and table cloths for the homes, dresses and blouses for the women and shirts for us boys.

    I was embarrassed to wear the shirts to school, but wear them I must. The plain, one-color ones were OK, but the patterned ones, with multiple colors, were something else! Shoot, we were wearing Hawaiian floral shirts way before they became popular in California!

    Directly across the road from Mr. Hadley's chicken house was our north property line. Here began our fourteen acres of woods, wetlands and farmland. The property was bounded on the east by the county road, on the west by the SAL railroad and extended to the south for nearly one thousand feet.

    No effort was made to generate any profit from our "estate." True, mom sold some timber once and dad tried his hand at pig farming. But mostly, our place was just a house with a lot of land. The only one I can remember who realized any gain from our land was the black man, Gene. He planted corn, a patch of watermelons, a garden for his use and one for us. His obligation for the use of our land was satisfied by making us a garden but he brought mom sacks of cornmeal he had ground at a grist mill and didn't rat on us kids when he caught us in his watermelon patch.

    There was a narrow pig-path of a lane that branched off the west side of the county road and wound its way through weeds and a stream to the open farm land of our north property. The depth and width of the stream fluctuated with rainfall and dry spells, plus the number of cars that passed through the stream spinning their wheels. Our north property was great for lovers doing whatever lovers do at night without fear of being found out. One such night earned me two bucks!

    Mom came into the boys' bedroom one night and said to me, "Bruce, there's someone out there who wants you to drag'em out of a bog hole." (Brother Gene must have been out sporting or else he would have been called.) I don't remember if I took the pickup or the tractor, but in any case, I found myself at the pig-path of a road where a car was stuck in the middle of the stream. I knew the young lady in the car 'cause she lived just down the road a piece, but I had never seen the fellow she was with. I suppose the girl knew we had a tractor and sent the fellow for me. Anyway, I hooked onto his car and dragged it to the hard-surface county road. Saying he didn't have any cash money, he wrote me a check for two bucks and sped off.

    At home I showed the check to mom, wondering if I had just been flim-flammed. She looked at it and said, "It's probably a good check. He's a lawyer from up on Hamlet Avenue."

    The very next day I was in that lawyer's second floor office demanding my money. He gave me two bucks, took his check and I haven't seen him since. (Even though the underlying facts are true, and I remember his name as well as my own, you'll notice that I didn't identify him by name 'cause he might be alive to this day, maybe even a successful trial lawyer specializing in civil suits - defamation of character and things like that.)

    Back on the east side of the county road - about six-hundred feet away - lived the Heltons. My memories from their home are too numerous for this space and deserve a page or two by themselves.

    The area between Pig's place and our house has changed for the better. New houses have been built where I used to pick wild grapes. More houses have been built near Mr. Hadley's place and his chicken house has been converted into apartments. The fields that once surrounded the Heltons now have streets cut through them with new houses throughout; I'm not even sure which house they used to live in.

    Our house was across the road from the Heltons and that is where I had the lowest moment of my visit because the most saddest sight of all was the empty space where my boyhood home had once stood. The house that had rang with joy and laughter was no more. The house my dad had built, the house that had welcomed three newborn Osburn grandchildren into this world, the house that had welcomed relatives and friends, weekend visits from sailors and WAFs ....was gone.

    The house I called home had long ago burned to the ground and was replaced with a mobile home which in turn had disappeared. The spacious yard was not there but had been taken over by wild growth. Our pond was even more infested with lily pads and the dead trees in the "head" of the pond were more plentiful. It was a sight that produced a slow, painful tightening of my throat.

    This sight did not come as a complete surprise to me for my brother Kenny had told me years ago that the house had burned, to be replaced by a mobile home. But still, knowing what to expect did not ease the sad feeling I had when I reflected back over the years, remembering a more happier time, with visions of things that had once been but were forever gone.

    Yes, it's true, you can't go home again.

    Bruce Osburn 5-20-2000

    **********

    The following information was provided to Bruce by Brenna Bendell Husel by e-mail on 24 July 2000: There were actually four children... The oldest, Sandra Liles Golden is retired from Hamlet Hospital and still lives there. John Henderson Liles, did in fact die in a mowing accident, Linda Liles Bendell (my mother), is a teacher at Richmond Senior High and still lives in Hamlet and the youngest is Joseph Crawford Liles, who lives on the other side of Henderson Pond from mom and owns Liles Properties (real estate company).



    Trains and Hobos
    ...handouts and secret signs
    ca. 1948-1953
    by: Bruce Osburn

    The Seaboard Air Line railroad was the western boundary for our property. For a thousand feet or more the tracks ran parallel to our open fields, a road for trains going north and south, carrying passengers and freight to distant cities. Cities that we had read about in our geography books but few of us had ever seen - Raleigh, Columbia, Richmond, even way up north for connections to New York and down south to the cities of Florida. We knew they traveled to those far away cities because I used to go to the depot to get a just delivered New York City newspaper that had tons of comics. And practically every freight train had cars of the Florida Fruit Growers Express in its long line of cars. Some were empty cars going south and others were loaded with fruits and vegetables of Florida going to the large cities of the north.

    When we first moved there SAL had only steam engines on this road. Great, powerful locomotives that were capable of pulling a freight train of a hundred-fifty cars or more. Sometimes there was just one engine pulling a string of cars and sometimes two engines were hooked in tandem. But, regardless of the make-up, the engines were always straining as they left Hamlet yard going south for there was a just barely perceptible grade south of Hamlet.

    Belching thick, black smoke the engines slowly began to pick up speed as they passed by our place at a speed that was hardly faster than a fleet-footed youngster could run. We kids would stand near the tracks and wave at the engineer as the train passed, with a sweaty black fireman shoveling coal from the tender into a hot, glowing furnace. A couple of short, wavering blasts of the whistle acknowledged our waves, bringing out flashes of teeth as we grinned and waved even more.

    Passenger trains usually needed only one engine because the few sleek cars of the Silver Star or Silver Meteor and the Railway Express were not much of a burden forthose powerful workhorses. By the time the south bound passenger trains passed ourplace they were already traveling at a fast rate of speed, the engine hardly straining and not much smoke from the stack. We kids would wave at passengers gazing out the windows, dreaming some day of looking out those windows ourselves.

    Around the turn of the decade SAL began to replace the steam engines with a sorry looking engine called a diesel. Those diesel engines didn't speak of power for there wasn't any driving force to be seen. There weren't any reciprocating pistons with long push rods connected to drivers of more than five feet in height. And there was no steam to be seen venting off nor the occasional sound of whump-whump from a boiler.

    No longer could train buffs speak of a 4-6-4 or a 2-4-0, now an engine was simply a "diesel." It became common to see three or four diesel engines pulling a freight, straining to get up the slight grade and assisted by a pusher engine (steam, of course!) which would cut loose and run backward into Hamlet yard. (Has there ever been a country song written about a diesel?)

    After just a short time living there the passing of trains became such a common occurrence that we paid no attention to their presence. They no longer woke us up at night when they came into or left Hamlet. Even though our house was only about five-hundred feet from the tracks, we became oblivious to them. If someone asked if a train had just gone by our response was more often than not, "I don't know."

    One day while I was home alone a man approached me in our back yard. He told me he was trying to hop a freight leaving Hamlet and asked if I would give him something to eat. I told him I could give him a jelly sandwich or some fat-back and biscuit or maybe a baloney sandwich. He quickly agreed to either and I fixed him a sandwich of something. He took his sandwich and went back to the tracks where, I suppose, he managed to hop a slow moving freight going south.

    Not many weeks later another hobo appeared at our back door and asked mom for something to eat. She gave him something and he left. We had more visits from hobos right up to the time we moved from Hamlet. I suppose they continued to ask for handouts from the next owners who, if I remember correctly, were the parents of my schoolmate Rudy Cox.

    Some years later while visiting with aunts and uncles the subject of conversation got around to the hobos that used to come to our house. Mom said she couldn't understand why there were no visits from hobos to our house the first couple of years we lived there, and then they began to appear, one every month or so. One of my uncles joined in with, "Well, shoot, Nellie, they marked your place the first time Bruce gave one of 'em a sandwich! They done put a mark near your house and they all knew how to read it."

    Years later when I was in the navy I passed by on these very same tracks several times, making the trip between Rhode Island and Jacksonville, Florida. I had fulfilled my childhood dream of someday looking out the windows I had looked into so many years before. I saw my old home from the moving train and remembered when I was just a lad, a lad that had eagerly waved to crewmen and passengers alike. Remembering those days made a waver of me again as I returned the same joyful wave to little kids standing in fields and on the streets of cities I used to only read about.

    I took my last train ride in 1963, from Philadelphia to Jacksonville, finally abandoning that mode of travel for the much faster jet planes of today. But not before I had passed through nearly every state east of the Mississippi River. I traveled from the sea to the mountains of Kentucky and West Virginia, through the farm lands of the mid-west, Alabama, Mississippi, the Carolinas and every state in between, passing through the great cities of our nation, creating new memories along the way.

    Bruce Osburn 5-25-2000


    OUR NEIGHBORS
    .....the Helton family
    ca. 1950-1953

    by: Bruce Osburn

    Our neighbors, the Helton family, lived across the county road from us. Their house sat in the middle of a large field and was plainly visible more than a thousand feet away. I could stand in our yard and look toward their house and if either of the two younger boys was out playing I would go there for a little bit of doing boy things. I didn't need an invitation to go there and this was especially true during the summer months when we kids had more time than we knew what to do with.

    The younger Helton boys were pretty much left to their own devices during the day because both their parents had full time jobs. But they weren't completely without supervision; Gwendolyn, their 14 year old sister, usually had an eye on them and made them toe the line to some small degree. With that loose rein we were free to do almost anything within reason we wanted to do.

    Those boy things consisted of different activities; fishing, swimming, exploring the woods, looking for arrow heads and pop-rocks, destroying wasp nests, doing a little rassling to settle the pecking order, playing catch with a baseball (tightly wrapped with many feet of black tape), going to Pig's place for an RC belly washer and, yes, even doing a few chores such as milking the cow and toting in firewood and water.

    Mrs. Helton was a long time employee of Rose's dime store on Hamlet Ave., having worked there for many years. She was a buxom woman of medium height that any kid would be proud to have for a mother. Even though her physical size suggested she could be a strict disciplinarian and carry a big stick, nothing could be further from the truth. She was a soft spoken, gentle woman, not having to resort to screaming and ranting to get our attention. She was deeply religious and many a time I found myself shanghaied if I happened to be there when the family went to church. Sunday was usually church in Rockingham and sometimes during the week a revival within twenty-five miles or so from home.

    Mr. Helton was more than just a little different in his appearance. He was short in stature, with a lean, hard, muscular body. His arms and neck were deeply tanned, so much so that his neck was deeply lined and creased, looking as if it was as tough as whet leather. He worked as a heavy equipment operator; operating bulldozers, motor graders and other types of construction equipment. During the two or three years we were neighbors Mr. Helton worked mostly in South Carolina, leaving Hamlet on Sunday night and returning home Friday night.

    One could say - with some degree of accuracy - that Mr. Helton was one of the first RVers in Richmond County. He had a '46 or '47 Chevy panel truck with a cot and a small cooking stove and other home making things. I don't remember if it was a blindsided truck (no windows on the back sides) or if it had rear side windows. But whatever it was, Mr. Helton parked it at the job site and lived out of it during the week. Friday nights found him back at home taking care of things that needed his attention.

    Mrs. Helton did her cooking on a big, iron stove which had a fire-box at one end, an oven in the middle and a water tank on the other end. A constant source of heat was needed to keep the water hot for dishwashing and other kitchen chores, and to that end, a fire was kept burning during the day and early evening, which meant that a lot of fuel went up in smoke. Mr. Helton's choice of fuel was wood and he had the equipment for providing more than enough.

    For one dollar, Mr. Helton got a truck load of slabs and strips from a local sawmill. (I think it was located on Battley Dairy Road, between the Rockingham & Bennettsville RR tracks and the intersection of Airport Road.) At home the slabs and strips were unloaded near the woodpile, close to a power saw. The saw was fixed to the ground about 10 feet behind an early 1930s Model-A Ford and made short work of a load of firewood.

    A rear wheel of the Model-A was jacked up and blocked from the ground and a pulley belt about six inches wide was passed around the rear tire and onto the hub of the saw blade. Starting the engine and putting the transmission in gear spun the blade, an evil looking thing about 3 1/2 feet in diameter, at a terrific speed and we helpers pushed slabs and strips through that spinning death trap. No guards, no shields, no safety devices, nothing to keep an arm or hand out of the blade or pulley belt. One slip, one trip, and one of us would have been maimed or killed. But such was the attitudes in those days - danger was something one lived with. One afternoon of cutting provided enough firewood to last all week or more.

    Howard and Larry had two older brothers, one of them Jimmy, about sixteen- or seventeen-years-old, who had a talent for things mechanical and stayed greasy most of the time. He usually had things of his own to do and didn't pass much time with us "little kids." But sometimes, being a good brother, he let us get into his car and go somewhere with him.

    Now that you have an idea of some of our activities, let me tell you one of the stupid things we did when no adults were around to smack us on the rear ends.

    One day during the week, when his dad was in South Carolina and his mom was at work, Jimmy came up with an idea to take a drive in the old Model-A Ford. We kids pushed the old car off its blocks and with Jimmy at the wheel we pulled onto the county road and tore off south. Jimmy had that old Ford wound up, going as fast as it would go. Fifty, sixty miles an hour, shoot, we must have been doing at least seventy, absolutely flat out! With the wind blowing in our faces we were holding on for dear life, whooping it up, having the time of our lives! Jimmy turned around at the cross-roads about two miles from home and on the return trip opened that old Ford up again. Absolutely terrifying! But boy, what fun! Jimmy drove back to the wood pile and we put the car back on its blocks and no one was the wiser.

    Yeah, yeah. I know what you're thinking: "What's so great about taking a joy ride? Everybody's taken at least one breath-taking ride at one time or other."

    Well, let me see if I can better describe this adventure.

    The Helton's Model-A Ford was a car in name only. It was more accurately described as a strip-down, the only semblance to a car being four wheels and an engine. The reason we were hanging on for dear life was because there were no doors on the car! Nor was there a roof, or even a body! Heck, the car had no fenders, windshield, or floorboards. The only things it had were a home made wooden seat of sorts, half a hood to keep the rain off the engine, and a firewall holding the gas tank.

    Everyone, except Jimmy, was precariously perched on the chassis with legs wrapped around cross members. Our feet were just inches from the road and our fingers wrapped around any hand-hold within reach. We were definitely living close to the edge.

    Another danger was the brakes. Brakes on the Model-A were of the mechanical type and not to be confused with hydraulic or power assist brakes. It was darn near impossible to make a panic stop with that type brake even when the driver pushed on the pedal with all his might. We were indeed lucky no one pulled out in front of us.

    This next event did not involve me but was told to me by Jimmy and I have reason to believe every bit of it. My brother Gene was about the same age of Jimmy and, even though they did not travel in the same circle, they knew one another and spoke when they met. When I mentioned this event to Gene several months ago he said he knew it to be true.

    Jimmy had an old Oldsmobile touring car, early 1930s model. (My kids call this type of car "a gangster car" associating it with old cars seen in Al Capone type movies.) One day his dad was home when Jimmy came flying down the county road faster than any car had ever gone. When he pulled into his yard his dad rushed out asking what in the world he had done to his car to make it go so fast. "Well," says Jimmy, "I done put two transmissions in it."

    Yes, Jimmy had put a second transmission into his car, the second one in backward. By putting the second transmission in 3rd gear he was still able to use the first one as usual, 1st to 2nd to 3rd. When he had his Olds maxed out in 3rd he would reach back to the second transmission, put it in neutral and "feather" the engine to the speed of the wheels until he could put the second transmission into second gear, which increased his gear ratio, sending that old Olds flying down the road!

    Jimmy's dad didn't like that at all and told him to remove the second transmission. This Jimmy did, but not before spending two weeks looking for another drive shaft to replace the one he had shortened when he put in the second transmission.

    It's a miracle we made it through our teen-age years.

    Bruce Osburn 6-13-2000

    **********

    "Jo" Anne Cox Davis
    Hamlet at the present time 7/1/00 9:49:57 PM
    I just found this site today and I think it is great. I enjoyed the Helton story as Mrs. Helton was my mother's sister. My dad bought the Osborne home in 1953, the year I graduated from HHS. I have lived in Roanoke, VA for over 30 years, but I'm here to be near my mother who had a stroke two years ago. I enjoy living here but will return to Va. when no longer needed here. I'm a widow and miss my children and grandchildren. Russ you have done a great job and are to be commended. Many thanks. "Jo"

    **********

    Christopher Fulp
    Hamlet 7/6/00 10:20:01 PM
    Ola Helton was my Great Grand-mother. Her only daughter Gwen Wallace is my Grand-mother, and Kim Saunders is my mother. My mother came from a family of 5, Sharon, Ernie, Myron, Kim, and Dana. Dana is currently in S.C., Kim in Hamlet, Myron in Florida, Ernie in Laurinburgh, and Sharon in Texas.

    **********

    Subject: HAMLET Helton stuff
    Date: Sat, 08 Jul 2000 11:47:08 -0500
    Christopher,
    I read your posting to Hamlet Guest Book and it tickles me to know that people can read one of my memories and identify with it. As you can probably deduce from my stories, the Helton family was an important part of my childhood. Your grandma Gwen and I were in the same class, Howard and Larry and I were constantly trying to outdo one another, and I did a little hanging-out with Jimmy even though he was at least 3 years older than me. I don't know much about Elbert, since he was not living at home. I guess he was married, living in Rockingham.
    I last saw Howard, Jimmy and Larry about 10 or 15 years ago at the mechanic's shop Larry was running at the overpass on US 74. That was the same shop Larry's uncle Vance Brooks used to run in the '40s and '50s. The three brothers were all there at the same time and we had a good visit.
    When you see your grandma Gwen tell I said hi, and I still think of her family. If you see any of the boys, tell them the same. I last saw your g-grandma Ola about 1973. (I don't think I ever knew her name, Miz Helton was all I needed to know!) I was in Hamlet for a visit and took my two sons into Rose's dime store to introduce them to her. Your g-grandma was a fine woman and I consider myself fortunate to have known her.
    Bruce Osburn

    **********

    Subject: The Helton Family
    Date: Mon, 2 Jul 2001 20:15:53 EDT
    I read your memories of Hamlet and The Helton Family is my family. Jimmy is my Dad. If you didn't know, Larry passed away. Howard, Gwendolyn, Jimmy and Elbert are doing fine. Mr. & Mrs. Alex and Ola Helton (grandpa & grandma) they also passed away. I liked your stories and would like to hear more of them.
    Thank you,
    Alex Helton

    **********

    Subject: Re: The Helton Family
    Date: Mon, 02 Jul 2001 22:31:06 -0500

    Thanks for your e-mail. It makes me feel good to know that people can read one of my tales and identify with it. I really had some fun days with Howard and Larry when we were just kids full of vim and vinegar.
    I spent the night at their house a few times but I can't remember if they ever spent the night at my house. The reason I remember staying at their house was because your grandma Ola would make us boys recite a passage from the Bible before going to bed and I had to do a lot of deep thinking before I came up with something that passed for a quote.
    I'm really sorry to hear that Larry has passed away. When did that happen?
    I last saw Larry, Howard and Jimmy about 10-15 years ago at the shop Larry was running near the railroad overpass on US #74 in Hamlet. They were all there at the same time.
    Do you live near your dad? Ask him if he remembers me. Ask him if he remembers putting an extra transmission into his old Oldsmobile. Sometimes I think I need a little confirmation of my tales just so I can be sure I didn't dream them up.
    Tell your uncle Howard and aunt Gwen I said hello when you see them.
    Again, thanks for your e-mail.
    Bruce Osburn


    UNCLE RICHARD'S FARM
    ..life as a sharecropper
    ca. 1950-1951

    by:
    Bruce Osburn

    I was named after my uncle, Richard Patrick, who, in the late 1940s and through the 1950s, was a tenant farmer, an occupation sometimes referred to as a sharecropper. He worked a farm in the southern part of Richmond County that was much closer to South Carolina than to Hamlet or Rockingham. The owner of the property provided land, equipment and a house for Richard and his family, which included his dad; his brother Sidney; his wife Gin with two young children and more being born at regular intervals.

    The house was not the best in the county nor was it the worst. It was wooden construction with imitation red brick tar-paper siding and had four rooms. There was a front porch running nearly the width of the house and a back porch that ran the full width. Both porches had a number of chairs and the one at front had a wide porch swing which provided plenty of sitting room when visitors came. The front porch was less than thirty feet from the county road and was an ideal place to sit and wave at neighbors as they passed by in cars and pickup trucks.

    Three of the rooms were used as bedrooms and the fourth one was the kitchen. One of the front bedrooms doubled as a sitting room where visitors gathered, discussed the weather, crops, hard times or just gossiped about relatives and neighbors who were not present. The visitors seemed to hang around a little longer after uncle Sid bought a TV about 1951. It must have been the only TV in the area because a lot of neighbors came by, both adults and young'uns.

    Each room was lit by a single bulb hanging from the ceiling and was low enough so that it was handy for plugging in an iron or radio. Most of the lights had a string tied onto the pull-chain and the other end tied to the headboard of a bed. If a light needed to be turned on at night, just reach up and pull the string, remote control in its earliest form!

    There were also the necessary flytraps placed throughout the house; long spiral-wound sticky strips hanging from nails or thumb tacks stuck into the ceiling. Tall folks had to take care not to walk into them because they were some of the stickiest things around! The dining table in the kitchen had the legs placed in tin cans filled with kerosene to keep ants off the table.

    There was no bathroom, nor was there running water in the kitchen. Out back was a hand pump for filling water buckets which were placed on a "water bench" on the back porch. Here thirsty folks quenched their thirst by using a dipper hanging from a nearby nail. It was also here that teeth were brushed, hands were washed before meals and feet, faces and necks were washed before bedtime. "All-over" washing was saved for Saturday and the bather stood in a #3 wash tub discreetly placed out of sight in an outbuilding.

    The land owner relied upon tobacco to make a profit from the land . Uncle Richard planted, tended and harvested the tobacco, taking it to market in late summer or early autumn. After the crop was sold and expenses deducted for seeds, plants, fertilizer, poison, hired help, feed for mules and numerous other items, uncle Richard and the owner "settled up," each taking half the profit. (It might be interesting to note that the land owner kept the account books and I often wondered who did the adding and subtracting.)

    Uncle Richard was permitted to use as much land as he wanted to plant crops for himself without having to split the produce or proceeds with the owner. He planted corn, watermelons, cantaloupes and a truck-garden for his use and sale of vegetables. He had a few pigs which were butchered in the fall and there were chickens running free in the yards and, sometimes, in the house.

    In two separate years, during summer months when school was out, I hired myself out to uncle Richard as a farm hand. I made a bargain to work for him as soon as school was out and work up until school started in September. I can't separate my memories for each summer so this will be a tale that merges them together, there not being much difference between the two.

    I make an agreement for a summer's work that would pay me thirty dollars plus an old single-barrel 12-gauge shotgun. I took a few changes of clothes and settled in at uncle Richard's farm where I was to be a general flunky. My chores were to fetch water and stove wood, feed the chickens, pigs and mules and help in the fields.

    Working in Richmond County fields during summer could be life threatening. Some of the days were brutally hot with no breeze. There were days when a searing hot sun beat down unmercifully on uncovered backs and heads, sapping energy and numbing the brain. The sun was so hot and bright that just looking into a blue, cloudless sky hurt the eyes and make them tear. But into this oppressive, broiling hot environment uncle Richard and I had to go because "You gotta make hay when the sun shines." We had to take advantage of rainless days and tend to crops when conditions in the field demanded it, not when we felt like it. Of all the chores I had the one I hated most was working in the fields - especially the tobacco field.

    I think anyone who has ever worked on a tobacco farm can recall the seemingly endless number of different tasks needed to be done before the crop could be sold and will sympathize just a little with me. There was the planting, replanting, poisoning, picking off leaf eating worms, suckering, topping, cropping, stringing, hanging in the barn, curing, taking out of barn, unstringing, sorting and grading, tying in "hands," packing and then taking it to market where the farmer's success or failure depended upon the bidding of buyers from RJR, American, Philip Morris and other tobacco companies.

    The price paid for the tobacco determined whether or not the tenant farmer would be able to make a note payment on a used pickup truck, buy shoes and clothes for his kids and maybe a pretty frock for his over-worked wife. Some did and some didn't, having toiled and sweated most of the year just for their bare subsistence.
    I don't know how many acres of tobacco uncle Richard planted but I do know that his tobacco rows must have been the longest in the county. I told anyone who would listen that uncle Richard's tobacco field was only four rows wide and one mile long! Well, that's exaggerating just a bit, but I do believe the rows were more than fifteen-hundred feet long. The only reason I can think of for such long rows was that fewer rows were needed and he didn't have to turn the mules around at the ends as often.

    Useless sprouts began to grow on a tobacco plant as it matured and had to be removed. Those little stems grew on the stalk at the base of each leaf and were called "suckers" because they sapped growth and nutrients. If they were allowed to grow uncontrolled the tobacco plant would soon look like a big bush instead of the familiar single stalk seen in the fields. So, it was necessary to remove those suckers at regular intervals so that the leaves could grow and develop. Part of this twelve- or thirteen-year-old nephew's job was to help uncle Richard break off those little shoots.

    Uncle Richard and I began breaking off suckers, working our way to the end of those long, long rows. Richard was much better and faster at this chore and soon he was out of sight as he took two rows at a time while I struggled with just one row. More than once, on his return on two more rows, he found me lying under the biggest tobacco leaves I could find, hiding from the bright sun and fast asleep!

    Even though I was not much help in the fields I was more than just a little helpful when it was time to gather and put in a barn full of tobacco. I drove the mules pulling sleds filled with leaves from the field to the barn, helped "hand" to the stringers, "take-off" sticks and hang the sticks in the barn.

    Uncle Richard must have had some confidence in me because he let me work all night at the barn by myself when the leaves were curing. I had to make frequent trips into the barn to see if I was keeping the temperature at the proper level and to make sure the barn didn't catch fire. I did those two things by adding or pulling slabs at the furnace and by checking the flue pipes for fallen sticks of tobacco which could flare up.

    I developed an appreciation for the hard work uncle Richard did to support his family and even got a lesson in exploitation of the working folks. Uncle Richard and I loaded more than a hundred cantaloupes onto his pickup truck and took them to a grocery store in either Hamlet or Rockingham to sell. Bargaining with the store manager Richard said he wanted ten cents each for his melons. Declaring that was too much the manager said he would pay five cents and no more. Richard hemmed and hawed but finally agreed and we began to unload the melons.

    I took some inside the store to refill an almost empty display shelf and saw a price of twenty cents plainly displayed. Even though I was just a snot-nosed kid I could see right away that the store was going to make much more money than uncle Richard and without nearly as much effort.

    I don't think I was cut out to be a farmer for I hated every minute I was in the fields. The first summer I didn't last long, probably less than three weeks. The second summer the thought of getting that 12-gauge shotgun kept me going into the fields until I finally cried "uncle," gave up and begged to go home, not lasting more than six weeks.

    Just before school started uncle Richard came to our house when I was out doing boy things and gave mom fifteen bucks for my help on his farm, telling her I didn't work all summer and didn't earn the full thirty bucks. I later saw uncle Richard and asked if he was going to give me the shotgun anyway.

    He said, "Oh, that gun? Rex Taylor came by one day and I gave it to him."

    Can you believe it! The one thing I had busted my hump for had been given to a neighbor's kid! And not only did I lose my gun but mom bought school clothes with the 15 dollars. Shoot, I could've earned more spending money just by picking up soda pop bottles and I wouldn't even have had to leave home!

    Uncle Richard died twenty one years ago but not before he had long since quit farming and moved into Hamlet. He and aunt Gin raised a large family, how many I can't say 'cause I lost track of his kids. I still visit Hamlet on a regular basis but have not kept in contact with my many cousins there or those scattered throughout the eastern states. About the only time we see one another is at reunions or funerals and I can't remember them all, by sight or by name. Several years pass between gatherings and the last one I went to was in 1993 and since that time I guess I have seen no more than ten of them.

    The imitation red brick-siding house is gone now. Gone, too, are all the other buildings - two tobacco barns, livestock barn, sheds and outhouses. The huge sawdust pile that was there from an earlier time - the one we kids had been told not to play on because it was on fire deep down inside - is gone, too. A pine plantation is there now and the only evidence to suggest that a family had once lived there are the crumbled remains of the concrete footing the front porch once rested on.

    A lot of memories were made on that farm - memories that remind me of my carefree and uncomplicated younger days. Days when I rode the mules, slid down the sawdust pile, got wet under the water pump and chased chickens around the yard. Those were things that only a kid could do and get away with.

    Bruce Osburn 7-22-2000

     

     

This Hamlet, NC site donated and maintained by David Lindsey