.....sweet voice of sadness
by Bruce Osburn
I think that in today's world of music what you hear coming over the air waves or from a CD player really isn't the true sound of the singer. After recording and re-recording, plus enhancing with multiple tracks merged into one, the result is often so far removed from the singer's own voice that one would be hard pressed to identify the singer if he or she were heard singing in the back yard. I think some of today's vocalists are great entertainers, but singers they are not, not capable of "carrying a tune in a water bucket." Nat "King" Cole was a good singer, as were Perry Como and Eddy Arnold, and so was my aunt Maxine!
Aunt Maxine was in her late teens or early 20s when she lived in an old rundown, ramshackle clapboard house with her husband William and two small children, Kathleen - forever known as "Cooter" - and Billie Jo. The house was near my uncle Richard's place and only about a couple hundred feet or so from one of Richard's tobacco barns.
Maxine's house had no electricity or anything remotely resembling modern conveniences of the early 1950s. Water was drawn from an open well by using a rope and pulley, toilet facilities were an old outhouse, meals were prepared on a hot, wood burning stove, winter and summer. I remember standing near a fireplace looking up alongside the chimney, up into the attic and through a hole in the roof to the stars shining brightly above.
Sometimes during the summer I spent a few days or weeks with uncle Richard helping him on his farm. Part of my chores included firing the tobacco barn furnace at night when tobacco leaves were being cured. I stayed there all night and usually made a pallet of blankets on a bench and dozed occasionally between checks of the barn.
Early on in the evening when I was at the barn I often looked toward Maxine's house and was unable to see anything, not even an outline, especially if it was a moonless night. But sometimes I saw through an open window the soft glow of a kerosene lamp as it was moved about the house, hardly lighting enough of the room to show the furniture. Later on the lamp became motionless, having been placed on a table or bureau.
Soon the soft scraping noise of a chair being moved to a favorite spot, or the slow squeaking of the porch swing told me Maxine was sitting with one or both of her babies and was about to treat me to some of the sweetest, heartfelt singing this side of heaven.
I think, deep down in her being, aunt Maxine was a sad girl. She didn't have a wealth of material things, in fact, she had very little, but she did have her family and I know she loved her two girls dearly. I think her sadness was relieved by singing, a release that let her continue in her lot for another day. She favored songs sung by Kitty Wells and could sing them as well as, or much better, than Kitty.
Without any accompaniment - no guitar, fiddle or radio - Maxine began to bare her soul to the world just as I had heard her do countless times before. Her voice rang crystal clear as she raised it into the darkness above the pines and blackjacks, drifting and floating into the stillness of the night, reaching to nearby neighbors' homes. Maxine's singing was so beautiful and heartfelt I felt the hair on my neck stand on end as she reached and held high notes, her voice easily heard at Richard's house. Her singing usually lasted ten to fifteen minutes and then it was off to bed, her spirits being lifted for another day.
Aunt Maxine died in 1963 - three months short of her thirty-third birthday - leaving two young girls barely into their teens for their father to raise. I still remember aunt Maxine because she made such an impression on my young self with her singing, singing that I clearly heard at a distance as I returned from an early night visit to Rex Taylor's house or when I fired the furnace at the barn. If she were here today I'm sure she would be number one on the country charts, putting to shame the likes of Reba McEntire, LeAnn Rimes and other pretenders to the top spot.
Bruce Osburn 7-26-2000
.......out in the bushes
Sometime in January, 1945, mom and her kids moved with grandpa from a farm on the Gun O Field in Marlboro County, South Carolina, to G. Walt Smith's farm in Richmond County, North Carolina. I was soon enrolled in first grade at Crossland School on US highway #1 south of Rockingham along with my brother Gene, a young uncle and a young aunt.
Crossland school was much like Whites Creek school we had just left in South Carolina. It was a three room building with six grades and just three teachers - with each teacher teaching two grades. It was typical of the rural schools in Richmond County; a clapboard building sitting high off the ground on several brick pillars, outdoor toilets - one for the boys and another for the girls - and a hand pump for water. It was near a wooded area to the rear and there was an open field extending to the highway about five-hundred feet in front of the building.
I attended Crossland for only five months and the fifty-five year interval since then has dimmed my memory of such things as uneventful days. I can't remember any of the kids I played with or even how I got to school. But most folks can remember their first broken bone or an event that was out of the ordinary. The reason I remember that school is because of an unusual event involving my aunt.
Maxine was a mature, robust girl fourteen-years-old in sixth grade. She was just one of several kids who should have been attending higher grades in Rockingham but had been held back for various reasons.
It wasn't long before Maxine attracted the attention of an admirer - one of the older boys who evidently was well versed in the "birds and the bees." I don't know what first prompted him to set his sights on her; maybe it was because she was a new girl there or perhaps it was because she just struck his fancy. But most likely it was because he thought she was "easy" for he had told some of the bigger boys what he would like to do if he could ever ....get her in the bushes.
Maxine soon learned of his plans for her and decided she would give him his wish and go into the bushes with him.
Yes, I remember the day my aunt told one of the big boys to find her admirer and tell him she had something for him ...out in the bushes. In just an instant her admirer came zipping around the building grinning from ear to ear. He disappeared into the brush and we boys heard a loud shout and hollering and the boy came flying from the bushes with my aunt close on his heels! She had smashed that would-be Lothario's dreams of conquest - and his head! - with a butt kicking he wouldn't soon forget.
I've heard there is an old proverb that cautions people to - "Be careful of what you wish for because you might get it." I suppose that would be true for that boy because if he had known what was in store for him he probably wouldn't have wished .....to get her in the bushes!
Bruce Osburn 12-5-2000
RADIO and UNCLE
...two quick tales
ca '40s & 50s
THE CONSOLE RADIO
When I was just a lad we had a big ol' radio that was almost as tall as me. I can't recall the name and I haven't seen it since 1953, the year we moved from Hamlet.
We must have had it for several years before we moved to Hamlet in 1948 because I can remember, when I was just a wee little boy, looking into the deep, dark recesses for little people. As I got older I came to accept that there were no little people hiding inside; but still, that was a marvelous thing to listen to. Saturday mornings brought us Archie Andrews and his gang of Veronica, Betty and Jughead. And there were others - the Green Hornet, the Shadow, and the favorite of all, the Lone Ranger.
When we first moved to Hamlet the radio was put in the living room where it stayed tuned to station WAYN in Rockingham. We listened to music, news and advertisements for the Jewel Box ( the ring of your choice for two dollars down and fifty cents a week!) and everyone's favorite furniture store, Raymond Goodman's. Sunday mornings brought gospel music from a nearby church.
But, eventually, it found its way to the boys' bedroom where, at night, it was tuned to WCKY in Cincinnati, Ohio. We boys went to sleep listening to bluegrass bands pluck their banjos and sing songs with a nasal whine only they could deliver. The music was interrupted often by an announcer hawking that foul tasting elixir of life every kid hated, Hadacol. Baby chicks by the hundreds - live delivery guaranteed - were pushed with the same zeal. And there was the Duke of Paducah who always shouted at the end of every show, "Boys, I'm aheadin' to the barn 'cause these shoes are akillin' me!"
And with just a few clicks of a couple of knobs we could get stations that must have been clear across the ocean. Adjusting the tuner knob until a green indicator merged into a solid light meant we were dead on the station. The sound was just as clear as could be, coming out of a speaker that was at least twelve inches in diameter. But not a word of it could we understand and, since we had just ended a war with Japan and that country was still fresh in our minds, we said it was Japanese. And they must have been all over the world because no matter where we turned the dial, they were right there, jabbering away and we couldn't understand one word they said!
UNCLE SAM PEARSON
This memory was made when I was just a kid of six or seven years but I still remember my great-uncle Sam. The year was almost into the mid-1940s and we were living with my granddad in the sandhills of Richmond and Marlboro Counties.
I can remember visiting uncle Sam and aunt Jo in Bennettsville at their magnificent two story mansion with a wide staircase to the second floor. Now, of course, I had no idea where Bennettsville was but I do remember our visits to uncle Sam who I knew for sure was the most important man in the world. After all, I had heard my grandpa and aunts and uncles talk about him every single day, saying things like "You just wait, as soon as Uncle Sam gets our boys over there Hitler is going to catch hell! And so is Tojo!" I knew my daddy and some of my uncles were "off at war somewhere" and my uncle Tommie Lee had been killed "over there," but soon, my Uncle Sam was going to "take care of Hitler and Tojo and bring our boys home."
Yes, siree! My uncle Sam was a mighty important man!
Bruce Osburn 7-26-2000
THE GOOD OLD DAYS
....a myth exposed
by: Bruce Osburn
"In the good old days" is a timeworn phrase used by generations untold to denote earlier, less troubled times. Those were the days when people were thought to be carefree with few demands placed on them, days when there were no pressing problems or hardships to cause stress, anxiety or loss of sleep. I have heard folks in the generation before mine use the phrase and I have heard my generation use it; in fact, I have uttered those very same words myself. And young people of today let the words roll off their tongues as if our generation grew up in the time of milk and honey without any hardships to spoil our days of ease and bliss.
A few years ago, while passing lunch time with some of my much younger co-workers, someone casually let the phrase come into the conversation and soon this "old-timer" was asked if I remembered "the good old days" when I was just a kid. I told them I did and recounted days when I had no worries at all, days when I played all sorts of games; tag, marbles, hide and seek, cowboys and Indians, cops and robbers and days when I did other things young boys were expected to do. I did things like swimming, fishing, tramping through the fields and woods looking for treasures, having snowball fights and more things than I could remember. I told them I wished my kids could have lived through that part of my childhood but then I surprised them when I said there was also a part of "the good old days" that I'm glad my kids and grandkids didn't have to experience.
Let me recall for you some of my younger days growing up in Marlboro and Richmond counties. Maybe some of you can identify with my experiences and then again you might think I've had too much time to reflect on the past; that I have unfairly compared the conditions that were accepted as normal more than fifty years ago to today's comfortable homes and availability of nearly everything imaginable.
Some of my memories are from the early days of 1944, when I was about five and a half years old. My dad had been sent "off to war somewhere" in June 1942 and in late fall 1943 we moved into mom's father's house in Marlboro County, SC. What I clearly remember about this farm (and the next one in Richmond County) was not just the fun we children had but also the conditions under which my granddad and his sons and daughters lived and worked. But, of course, at that time and young age I probably didn't know that things were any different in other places.
Granddad was a tenant farmer for Mr. Dockery, sharecropping on the Gun O Field which was about one and a half miles west of SC/NC route 177, very near the NC state line and quite possibly touching on the border. The farmhouse was typical for that rural area of South Carolina at that time; an unpainted, tin roofed, weathered clapboard house resting upon several brick pillars. The pillars did not ensure a firm foundation because they had settled into the ground over the years and the floors had become uneven. There was no electricity or indoor plumbing which meant the conveniences mom and her kids had become accustomed to, while living on base at Ft. Bragg and in a small house near Fayetteville, were nonexistent.
I don't remember how many rooms it had but I do remember it had a big front porch, the same porch most of the adults and big kids were sitting on the day someone delivered a telegram informing granddad that his twenty-two-year old soldier son, Tommie Lee, had been killed "somewhere over there." I don't remember uncle Tommie Lee but I do remember granddad and my aunts and uncles sitting there on that porch crying for the longest time.
I can remember the names of fourteen people living in that house. There was mom with her four boys and one girl, ranging in age from fifteen down to three years; four uncles from seventeen down to nine years; three aunts, the youngest two being fourteen and seven years; and the patriarch of the extended family, granddad. There were other family members working on the same farm but they might have lived in another house.
Sleeping arrangements were simple. Granddad had a room to himself and mom and aunt Cecil probably shared a room with the three younger girls. I know that mom's three youngest boys, which included me, shared a bed with my two of my uncles, ages eleven and nine. That arrangement was accomplished by putting three at the head of the bed and the other two crosswise at the foot. The three older boys probably shared a bed in the same room that the five younger boys slept in, either that or there were a lot of pallets somewhere!
As I recall, this farm was devoted mostly to growing cotton, a crop that required lots of manual labor. Besides plowing the fields with just a couple of teams of mules, there were also weeds to be chopped. The chore of chopping fell mostly to the women and adolescent children who trudged out into the broiling hot, sun drenched fields and attacked an ever growing infestation of grass and weeds with short, vigorous whacks and scrapes of a hoe.
It didn't matter how blistered and callused their hands became or even how close they chopped those weeds, they knew they would have to come back in a few days. For despite their best efforts the weeds and grass were green and tall the very next week, which meant their chore was neverending, lasting right up to the time the bolls ripened and burst open. That's when an even morebackbreaking chore began.
Dragging a coarse fabric sack by a shoulder strap the pickers began a task that was stoop labor at its worst. The sack was called by different names - tow sack, cotton sack or burlap bag - but all referred to the same sack. Bending over, and sometimes on their knees, the pickers pulled the little puffs of cotton fibers from the husks and stuffed them into the sack, which got heavier and harder to drag with each handful.
Picking cotton was a chore for everyone - men, women and children. Some of the men could boast of picking 300 pounds or more a day and some of the women could pick an impressive amount. Each child did not account for a large amount by himself, which was to be expected, but as a group their combined efforts were a contribution to the overall effort.
When it first came time to start picking one of my uncles made me a little sack so I could tag along with the smaller pickers but I probably didn't pick ten pounds in all my time in the fields.
Granddad left the Gun O Field early on in 1945 and moved to G. Walt Smith's farm in Richmond Co., taking all the Gun O Field family with him. This farmhouse was similar to the last in nearly every aspect. There was no electricity, no plumbing or anything else to make life easier. It was unpainted, sat high off the ground on brick pillars and there were the usual number of outbuildings for livestock and farm implements. The sleeping arrangements were the same as, or similar to, those at the Gun O Field.
I believe this was mostly a tobacco farm because I can remember watching my uncles "mud daub" cracks in the tobacco barn walls. They mixed tubs of cement and, taking small gobs about the size of baseballs, threw them at cracks high up on the log walls where old cement chinking had fallen out. Sometimes several throws were made before a lucky shot splattered into a crack, sealing it and preventing heat loss. That might seem like a waste of cement but it was probably easier than climbing and walking along the tier poles carrying a bucket of cement.
The men worked hard on those two farms and the women worked even harder. Not only did the women have to go into the fields but they also had to do an endless number of other chores that made the farm function. They had to make sure meals were ready, children were bathed, the house was cleaned and clothes were washed and ironed. During vegetable season they had to pick and shell peas and beans, some for meals and some for canning. Peach harvest was the time for peeling and preserving. In late fall they helped butcher hogs, helping cut, chop, grind sausage and render lard. (The cracklings made excellent "crackling cornbread!'')
Washing and ironing were not easy tasks. As far back as I can remember, and up into the the early 1950s, wash day at my granddad's house was always on Monday and was nearly an all day chore. Dirty clothes that had accumulated all week were taken out to the yard where one or two iron wash pots were sitting in a bed of hot ashes and firewood. Washing in cold water was unheard of and the water in the pots was boiling. Into the pots the clothing was thrown, along with pieces of homemade lye soap.
Vigorously stirring with a long wooden stick agitated the clothes and removed the dirt and sweat stains. (More stubborn stains got a hand scrubbing on a washboard.) After taking out the steaming clothing with the wooden stick the women set about hand wringing it, one person for small items, and two people for larger pieces such as sheets, spreads, table cloths, blankets and trousers. After the water was wrung out the clothing was put into another tub of hot water where it was again stirred with a stick to rinse the soap. After this rinsing and wringing the clothes were hung on a line to dry. (All that wringing in hot lye water produced some unsightly hands for the womenfolk.)
Wednesday was ironing day. The clothes that needed ironing - such as shirts and dresses - were sprinkled with water, rolled into tight bundles and set aside so the moisture would dampen every fiber of the fabric. Items that were to be starched - such as granddad's shirts and the women's cotton finery - were dipped in a starch solution and put in a separate pile.
Some of you might ask at this time how the women managed to iron all those clothes without any electricity. Well, they did it the same way their grandmas, great-grandmas and great-great-grandmas had done for more than 150 years - they used heavy flat irons. The flat irons my aunts and mom used were the same kind you might find today in an antique shop or flea market, except now they carry a price tag of $15 or $20 or more.
I can still see my mom and aunts preparing the kitchen for that chore. Stoking the wood burning cooking stove they placed four or six or more flat irons there to get hot. Some of the women used the dining table as an ironing board and some used boards placed between the backs of two ladder-back chairs. Taking up an iron from the stove and tilting it so the bottom was facing up, a quick little pewtooh! of spit onto the bottom told the ironer if it was hot enough or too hot. Some preferred to put a little dab of spit on a finger and quickly touch it to the iron, which in some cases brought a sizzle! at the finger and an "ouch!" from the ironer. But no matter which method they chose they made sure they wrapped the handle with a thick cloth before picking up the iron.
My dad came home from the war in June, 1945, and we moved into a house near Massey Hill. We never again lived in a house without electricity or running water.
Yes, I'm glad my kids and grandkids have bedrooms and comfortable beds of their own, washing machines to do a day's laundry simply by tossing it in and turning a knob, no cold outhouses to visit in the winter and any number of things we take for granted today but were nonexistent in the good old days. Were "the good old days" really as good as people think or are they .....just a myth?
Bruce Osburn 8-5-2000
When uncle Doug read this tale he commented that today's mechanical pickers leave more cotton in the field than the amount old-time farmers used to make as a crop.
And there is more than just a little truth in that statement for it can be be proven just by looking at a field that has been picked by today's mechanical harvesters. The harvested field still shows a sea of white stretching to the far side with puffs of cotton still clinging to the husks.
Aunt Inez said today's mechanical pickers wouldn't be good enough for her father. She remembers as a small child her father coming to the fields and telling the pickers to go back into a just-picked field to get all the "shirt-tails" they had left hanging in the husks. She said that when the fields had been picked to her father's satisfaction there wasn't a single whisp of white to be seen anywhere - the cleanly picked fields were brown and barren as far as the eye could see.
THE HIGH HAT CLUB
.....surprise in a booth
late 1940s-early 1950s
by: Bruce Osburn
Sometimes dad, when he was feeling generous, asked if I wanted to go along for a ride while he took care of some business in town. I was always eager to go because dad often stopped at a black owned tavern for a few "cool ones" on the way home and I knew I would get a Pepsi and watch him have fun with some little kids.
The High Hat Club was owned and operated by Miz Dora Brunson, a fair sized woman in her 40s or 50s. I don't know if she was married or not, but I do remember her having a regal bearing, always well dressed and her hair in the latest style.
The club was situated on the east side of Bridges Street just a little south of the Buttercup Ice Cream plant. Bridges Street was a poorly maintained dirt road that was marked with huge, shallow, dusty holes in dry weather and huge, shallow, muddy holes in rainy weather. It began on the north at East Main Street and ended about a half mile away at a bend of Lackey Street. Most of the houses, beginning at the Buttercup plant and on to the southern end, were of the shotgun style and were on both sides of the street.
As best as I can remember, the High Hat Club was not an imposing structure. It was a long, low, wooden building just three rooms wide, running longways alongside the street. It was built flat on the ground so there were no steps to climb when entering or - more importantly - to fall down when leaving.
The biggest room was the one used most and was on the north end. Here the juke-box and dance floor were located, with a large number of tables and chairs scattered about. The room next to it, in the middle, was where the coolers and other things needed to run a juke joint were kept. Here could be found peanuts, tater chips, crackers, boiled eggs, pickled pigs feet, Cokes, Pepsi Colas, RCs, all flavors of Nehi and, of course, the necessary beer.
The southern-most room, which was the smallest, was where dad drank his "cool ones." There was just enough room for a couple of booths pushed against the south wall and they were separated from a counter in the middle room by a narrow walkway. This was the room where the young neighborhood kids came to buy their sodas and candy and other things a kid needed to have. Bellying up to the bar, with some on their tip-toes, they exchanged their pennies and nickels for chewing gum and candy, or maybe a Moon Pie washed down with a big ol' Pepsi or RC.
On the return trip from town dad usually parked in front of the club, directly in front of the smallest room. We entered and sat down in one of the booths and ordered our drinks; he got a "cool one" and I got a Pepsi and a pack of peanuts. While I took a big swallow to make room in the bottle for the peanuts, dad reached into his pocket and pulled out a pair of lensless glasses with a huge nose attached. He put those gag glasses and nose onto his face, removed his false teeth, hunkered down in the booth and waited for little kids to come in.
As soon as a little kid entered he just naturally looked over into the booths to see who was there and, in the smoky half light of the dim room, what he saw must have been rather strange indeed. For there, not more than six feet away was an old man whose chin was touching his nose, a nose that was so big it almost covered his whole face! Doing a double take, and sometimes a triple take, the kid would buy his goodies and leave, getting at least one more look at that strange looking man before backing out the door.
It wasn't long before more kids learned of our presence and came there. Some came inside to buy a goodie or two and some just stood in the doorway, staring unabashedly with wide eyed amazement at dad while he puckered his lips and sucked them down into a toothless mouth. But I didn't care how long dad put on his one man show because every time he got a "cool one" I got a Pepsi and a pack of peanuts and I could match him one for one.
Bruce Osburn 8-9-2000
....and other spooks
by: Bruce Osburn
When I was just a wee lad my mom, aunts and uncles had a sure-fire way to make me be quiet, stop misbehaving or anything else they thought a rambunctious kid shouldn't do. My brothers and sister and my young aunts and uncles didn't escape the adults' disproving eyes and ears either, for they, too, were subjected to the same form of discipline. It was a discipline which can only be described as scaring the bejeeze out of us because just a mention of the boogerman was enough to bring an end to our hooting and hollering, bringing instant peace and silence to the house.
All of us kids were terrified of the boogerman and, even though none of us had ever seen him, we knew he was real because our adults had said he was and would they... lie to us? Just one little reminder to "Stop doing that or the boogerman will get you!" was enough to make us quit whatever it was we were doing and be on our good behavior for a few more minutes. A loud warning shouted from a front room at night to "Hush up in there, young'uns, and go to sleep or the boogerman will get you!" brought instant stillness and silence from the bedrooms.
For kids wanting to stray out of the yard at dusk a simple "Ya'll be careful out there. I just saw the boogerman down at the barn!" was more than enough to cause a speedy return to the safety of the porch.
There must have been more than one boogerman or else he was one fast fellow. He would be under the porch, around the corner, down at the barn, under the bed or in the chifforobe all in the space of five minutes or so.
I suspect we must have had our own personal boogerman because no matter where we lived - whether in South Carolina, North Carolina or Georgia - he was always there, making sure we kids were on our best behavior.
We had a double threat at my granddad's farm on the Gun O Field in Marlboro County - the ever present boogerman and a ghost! That ghost was just as real as the boogerman because our adults had told us so and we believed them. Sometimes when we kids were in bed fooling around and making a lot of racket it would be the ghost who quieted us down. A shouted "Ya'll go to sleep in there or Mr. Lead will get you!" from a tired, sleepy adult brought instant results. None of us wanted to be got by Mr. Lead!
Mr. Lead (pronounced as in lead bullet) was a previous tenant who had died on the farm. We kids had been told that he had buried his money in the back yard. That was enough to make us dig holes all over the yard looking for his treasure. But I guess someone must have found it earlier because we didn't find one thin dime, even after spending several days digging with hoes and shovels and anything else that would move dirt.
Mr. Lead nearly got us one night and four or five absolutely terrified children ran crying and screaming from the house trying to escape what we knew would be a horrifying end if Mr. Lead got us.
In order for the reader to fully appreciate the terror we kids experienced that awful night you must first understand the mind-set of children in that era and know, also, that a lot of adults were superstitious to a fault. Their beliefs and traditions were passed on to their children who accepted them as readily as the parents had accepted them years earlier. Beliefs such as seven years bad luck for breaking a mirror, throw salt over your shoulder if you spill any, don't get out of bed on the wrong side, good luck charms, bad luck if a black cat crosses your path and an endless number of others.
All of those superstitions we believed, as well as the existence of the boogerman and ghosts, because our adults had told us they were true. When an adult told us they had seen a ghost in nearby Pleasant Hill Church cemetery we knew it to be true and ran as fast as we could the next time we passed by.
On the terrifying night Mr. Lead came into our lives a tangle of us kids were all in the same bed and some were most likely already asleep. The room was in total darkness with just a trace of light from the stars and the moon. Uncle Sidney, who was about twelve years old, suddenly says to no one in particular, "I see Mr. Lead coming out of the chifforobe!" And then, "Oh! He's coming this way! He's coming to the bed!" Sidney became more than just a little excited and started yelling, "He's at the bed! He's at the foot of the bed!" By now every kid in the bed was wide awake and bawling. Next Sidney screams, "He's got my toe! He's pulling my toe!" and with that said he leapt from the bed and bolted through the open doorway and out the back door, followed by the younger kids, screaming and hollering, right on his heels!
Sidney made a beeline for uncle Doug's house. Through the cotton field he flew, not waiting on the younger kids, but saving his own life!
I was the youngest of the bunch at five years old and was bringing up the rear, trying my best to outdistance Mr. Lead. I couldn't make much progress because I had become entangled in the bed covers and I was being snagged by full grown cotton plants. As I tripped and fell down amongst the cotton plants the other kids continued their escape from sure and certain ruin! Soon I was all alone in that dark ol' cotton field, crying my eyes out, still five hundred feet or so from uncle Doug's house.
All of us finally reached the safety of uncle Doug's house where we stood around watching him and his buddies play poker. I think granddad heard the screaming and hollering but by the time he got to the back of the house we were well on our way across the cotton field. He later came in his car to fetch us.
I know that uncle Sid believed in ghosts as much as any of the kids but surely he could tell if someone or something had grabbed his toe. I have long suspected that uncle Boyce, who was about seventeen - or maybe uncle Hoover, who was about fifteen - was responsible for our flight across the cotton field that night. I believe one of them had somehow hidden inside the chifforobe and then came creeping out with the intention of scaring the daylights out of us. I have accused both Hoover and Boyce of this prank and they both have denied it.
I remember too well my young days when the boogerman, ghosts and other scary things were just around the corner. Remembering how scared I became when they were mentioned made me resolve, after I had become a parent, to never scare my kids with demons or things that go bump in the night. Not one of my children or grandchildren has ever had to look undera bed or in a closet before going to sleep at night.
Bruce Osburn 9-12-2000
my aunt Cecil
by Bruce Osburn
Nearly everyone knows at least one person in an extended family that fills the roles of care giver and counselor; someone that cares for the sick, listens to real or imagined problems and offers advice that, hopefully, will support the position of the one seeking solace. In my family those roles were filled by my aunt Cecil, roles she never sought but were thrust upon her by evolution.
Cecil Lee Patrick was born July, 1913, in Chesterfield County, SC, the sixth child of a family that by 1937 had grown to seventeen children. Her role as a care giver began early on in her life as soon as she became old enough to help her older sisters care for the younger siblings - the children of her mother and the children of her father's second marriage.
As she grew older that role also extended to taking care of young nephews and nieces whenever her brothers' and sisters' families increased in number. Traveling to a new mother's home she cared for the children, ran the household and took care of the mother in ...her time of confinement, staying there until the mother was ready to resume her chores.
She married Lawrence Fisher in 1939 and settled in on his family's farm at St. Pauls, NC, bringing her two-year old sister as part of the family. Uncle Lawrence was shipped off to Europe in the early part of World War II and aunt Cecil moved to her father's farm in Marlboro County, SC. Granddad was a sharecropper on the Gun O Field, a cotton farm that was worked mostly by his younger sons and daughters. It was here aunt Cecil resumed a routine she had been accustomed to for many years, a never changing routine that began before sunrise and ended long after sundown.
Aunt Cecil began her day preparing breakfast for her father, brothers and sisters on a room heating, wood burning stove - coffee, eggs, fatback, biscuits, grits and anything else available. There were at least three children to get dressed and made ready for school and that was followed by the ever present household chores. Mom moved there in late 1943 with her five kids, bringing the number of people sharing that old farmhouse to fourteen.
Uncle Lawrence returned to the States in 1945 and he and aunt Cecil moved into a house on MacDonald Avenue in Hamlet. Her workload was cut considerably here, in a two bedroom, upstairs apartment with all the conveniences of the mid-1940s. She had electricity, running water, indoor plumbing and a kitchen stove fueled with kerosene. With individual control of the burners the kitchen didn't become unbearably hot when meals were prepared and the amount of food to be cooked had been reduced to just enough for two instead of the usual dozen or more.
Aunt Cecil made some of the best meals in the sandhills on that old kerosene stove. She cooked fried chicken, pork chops, roasts, butter beans, peas, greens, cornbread, corn fritters, buttermilk biscuits and cakes. Her biscuits were famous throughout the family before she moved there and she continued to turn them out by the dozens. Whenever someone commented to her about making so many she has said more than once, "Shoot, that's nothing! I used to make seventy or eighty biscuits a day when we lived down on the Gun O Field!"
Nephews, nieces, brothers and sisters made sure they were close by and "just-dropped-in-to-see-how-you-are-doing" at mealtime so they could get some of those light, flaky, crusty favorites. Her landlady's two young sons, Billie and Bennie Sutton, made sure they got their fill and even brought some of their buddies in for jelly and biscuits. (Nearly fifty years later some of those then-young boys still remember aunt Cecil as the "biscuit lady.")
It was probably in that apartment that aunt Cecil began to fill the role of a surrogate mother, a role that eventually evolved into matriarch of the family. She and uncle Lawrence never had any children and this permitted her to take on responsibilities normally reserved for parents.
She again brought in her youngest sister - then about twelve years old - who lived there for almost a year. My oldest brother put up there for awhile, as well as my sister. Another of my brothers lived with her for a year while he completed 12th grade at Hamlet High School.
Aunt Cecil and uncle Lawrence moved a couple of times before settling down about 1966 on a small, eight acre farm on Grace Chapel Church Road. Here uncle Lawrence did what he liked to do best - raise vegetables for aunt Cecil and the extended family. Peas, corn, cabbages and anything else that would grow in sandy soil were given a chance to produce. That little farm provided a lot of vegetables for the family. Freezers were filled with peas and Silver Queen corn and cooking pots turned out lots of good meals.
There was always plenty to eat no matter what time of day or night someone rapped on her back door. Aunt Cecil was either cooking, had just cooked or there were plenty of left-overs that could be heated. Peas and butter beans, okra, corn, chicken, ham, corn fritters and biscuits disappeared with astonishing speed, especially her buttermilk biscuits! Visitors sat at her table and enjoyed whatever was placed before them, enjoying a fellowship that can only be experienced in close-knit families.
As the years passed relatives continued to visit aunt Cecil and uncle Lawrence, bringing their children to enjoy a meal and continue a tradition. I often stopped by when I drove from New England to Florida. Even after the opening of the Interstate Highways I made detours to Hamlet and a visit was not completed until I went to her house. A bed was usually available for overnight visitors and, if more space was needed, the living room couch welcomed anyone willing to be awakened by early morning foot steps.
Uncle Lawrence worked his farm right up until the time he became too ill to go into the garden. He died in 1982 at age 74 and his death ushered in yet another chapter in aunt Cecil's role as a care giver.
Cecil's older brother, Carl - whose wife had died earlier in Florida - wanted to come back to the sandhills so he moved in with Cecil. My mom was not well and she, too, moved into Cecil's house. Now there were two sisters and a brother sharing expenses and living their lives reunited as they had once been as children. But within two years both uncle Carl and mom died, leaving aunt Cecil alone for the first time in her life. But being alone did not mean she was lonely or forgotten, quite the contrary. Visitors continued to come in large numbers; almost every day someone rapped on her back door, there for a visit.
Fifteen years after Carl's and my mom's deaths her house is still seldom empty. Brothers, sisters, nephews and nieces from Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Delaware and other states make regular visits. Some come two or three times a year. Those in Richmond County come to take her shopping or to the hair dresser. Others come to haul off trash or take her for a doctor's appointment. And some come to ask for advice or to vent their frustration about something.
Sadly, aunt Cecil is now no longer the robust and buxom woman she once was. Time and toil have exacted their due and at 87 years of age she is stooped and frail, moving slowly about her house with the aid of a walker, sister or niece. She can no longer turn out meals for a dozen or more hungry visitors. No fried chicken, pork chops, greens, peas or other vegetables are now prepared by her hands but her kitchen is still just as busy as ever.
Children that had long ago snitched an extra jelly biscuit are now repaying a debt that was long in the making - a debt that had been incurred by their parents and siblings during the past decades. Weekend meals are now prepared by nieces and grandnieces in aunt Cecil's kitchen. With the addition of covered dishes brought from home an ample amount of meats, vegetables and desserts are placed around on the stove, counter tops and table. Serving themselves buffet style nearly a dozen kinfolk enjoy a family gathering, laughing and recalling events from the past. Nearly everyone tries their best to be heard over the noisy chatter and begins a question with "Hey! Do ya'll remember when.......?"
Her advice is still sought and she continues to give it. Everyone cherishes the time and memories we share with her for she is a remarkable woman, the matriarch of our family, loved and respected by all.
Bruce Osburn 9-16-2000
......aunt Cecil died 26 June 2001
.....in tubs and creeks
don't drop the soap
by: Bruce Osburn
I remember the day Miss McKinnon came into my seventh grade classroom at Hamlet Avenue School on a warm spring day and tilted her head slightly as she lifted her nose to test the air. After a couple of whiffs she casually commented that since the warm months were upon us we no longer had to wait until Saturday night to take a bath and further suggested that we should now bathe every day.
The phrase "Saturday night bath" and what it implies is not a myth. Those words identify an event - sometimes an embarrassing event - that some of the children in the sandhills endured during their young years. Some of the houses out in the country had running water to the kitchen sink so the kids usually had clean hands, faces, necks and feet. But, alas, those indoor conveniences of flush toilet and tub were a rarity and that all-important "all-over" bath was most times postponed until Saturday.
When I was just a little kid living on my granddad's farms my baths were taken in a galvanized tub. Water was heated on a wood burning stove and mixed with cold water in the tub until the temperature was just right. The order of bathing was oldest little kid first and then on down the line until the youngest was washed. And don't think for a minute that the wash water was thrown out after each kid. Oh, no! That would be a lot of water to be heated and thrown out! And after three or four little kids had been washed the water began to turn a little gray.
During cold months the washtub was placed near a fireplace or potbellied stove where most of the adults were crowded about trying to stay warm. Mom poured in hot water, off came our clothes and there we were, standing before our aunts and uncles naked as the day we were born! But we weren't embarrassed by this display of our nakedness; that is, not until we got to be about eight or nine years old. That's when we began to keep our backsides to those in the room, washed and got out as fast as we could.
Marks Creek was less than two miles from granddad's farm in Richmond County and it offered an excellent spot for washing away the dust and grime of hard working farm hands. The stream was about three feet deep near an old wooden bridge and although the water was about the color of weak tea it was still clean enough to bathe in. While the bigger boys and men tended to their bathing we little kids practiced holding our breath underwater, tried to learn to swim and chased water bugs.
Those little black, hard shelled bugs - which were no bigger than a watermelon seed - fairly zipped across the surface of the water. They zigged, they zagged, they darted every which way. They skidded, they slid, they doubled back, spun in circles and were absolutely the most elusive critters ever! We kids tried our best to catch one because our uncles had told us they were magical bugs. They had told us more than once, "Ya'll catch one of them water skimmers and put 'im under your armpit and squeeze 'im real tight and ya'll can hear the roosters crow in China."
But no matter how hard we tried we were never able to catch one of those fast little skimmers so we never got to hear the roosters crow in China. In hindsight it's easy to see how lucky we were that our uncles didn't tell us the same thing about the fuzzy red and black striped "cow killer" ant. They were easy to catch with a jelly jar and would have made us do more than just hear the roosters crow in China!"
In the late 1940s uncle Doug Patrick lived near the NC/SC border behind a general store in Osborne, North Carolina, and sometimes I stayed there a few days during the summer. When uncle Doug came home after a hot day's work of driving a truck for the State he'd grab a cake of soap and off we'd go to a nearby creek. Uncle Doug's creek wasn't as big as Marks Creek but still, it was an inviting little stream about knee deep and a dozen feet wide. The water in this little creek was also clean and tea colored and the current had made several sandbars on which we kids liked to play.
Cousins Shirley Jean, Mack Douglas and I would horse around and splash water on one another until uncle Doug gave us the soap, telling us, "Don't drop that soap in the water!" Uncle Doug really got upset if we dropped his soap into the water because it sank like a rock where, after hitting the bottom, it rolled with the current and collected more grit than there is on a piece of sandpaper!
When we moved into our newly built house near Hamlet in 1948 the bathroom was one of two rooms not yet finished. So, all of us had to trudge out to an outhouse and we kids had to take our baths in the den. After about a year had passed dad finally finished the bathroom and we pushed over the outhouse, filled the hole with dirt and removed all traces of our old two-holer.
With plenty of hot water at just the turn of a knob we kids began to take more than just one bath a week. But it seemed that no matter how thoroughly I thought I had washed, mom had her usual question: "Did you get your neck and ears clean?" And, even though I told her I had, she always took a look.
She took a cotton wad, dipped it into alcohol and rubbed my neck vigorously. She poked her cotton wrapped finger deep into my ears and then showed me the cotton.
Good grief! Where'd all that dirt come from? It was absolutely amazing! I came to believe that mom could rub a cotton wad on anyone or anything and find dirt.
After I made more trips to the bathroom mom finally got the results she wanted and I was declared clean enough to go to bed.
Bruce Osburn 9-26-2000
....a community that once was
by Bruce Osburn
Mom and her five kids lived with her father during the early 1940s on two different farms, one in Marlboro County, SC, and the other in Richmond County, NC. Both farms were near a rural community in NC where farmers and orchard keepers went to purchase household items, farm equipment and to pass time with their neighbors. I don't know when this little wide spot in the road first came into being but from the appearance of the buildings it's safe to say that the 1910-1920s wouldn't be a bad guess.
Located about three-quarters of a mile east of NC Rte. 177, and within a stone's throw from the SC border, Osborne was a small community of three or four houses and two stores. The Seaboard Air Line tracks from Hamlet to Cheraw ran right through the middle, splitting it neatly between the two stores. The store on the west of the SAL tracks was a small "mom and pop" grocery and the one on the east side was one of several large general stores scattered throughout Richmond and Scotland Counties owned by Mr. Z.V. Pate.* There was also a rail siding with a loading dock; here peaches from the many orchards in that part of NC and SC were loaded for shipment to faraway markets and farm equipment destined for Mr. Pate's store was off-loaded.
Osborne's existence was closely linked to Mr. Pate for it was his store that drew most of the vehicular traffic - cars, trucks and horse drawn wagons. It was a "company store" that "carried" farmers until their crops were sold, extending credit throughout the year with just a promise from the farmer to pay off the debt when he sold his crops.
Mr. Pate's store was about twenty five feet wide and maybe seventy five feet long, It was made of brick and when viewed from the outside could be assumed to be a two story building. I don't recall ever being on a second floor there but I do remember the high walls of the store, with shelves reaching almost to the ceiling. There was always the pungent odor of animal feeds, leather equipment for horses and mules, fertilizers, oils and musty smells left over from previous decades.
The store was stocked with practically everything farmers needed: lamps, kerosene, seed, fertilizer, feed, bridles, collars, hames, trace chains, single and double trees, groceries, shoes, dresses, bib overalls, shirts, pots, pans, buckets, tubs, fence wire, guns, ammunition and more. Things that were too large for the shelves were placed in the center of the store and sweets and co-colas were there for any kid lucky enough to have a penny or a nickel.
Shopping in Mr. Pate's store during the early 1940s was much different than today's shopping. There were no shopping carts or hand baskets to aid in collecting the items. But that didn't present a big problem because not many items were purchased at one time anyway. Most of the goods purchased were things that could not be produced on the farm - things such as sugar, salt, rice, shoes, cloth goods, Mason jars, lamp shades, enameled dishware, farm implements and the like. Most food items were produced on farms and salted, cured, smoked, pickled, canned, dried or otherwise preserved to last until the next season.
The customer told the clerk what was needed and the clerk picked the item from a shelf. For things high up on the shelves he used a mechanical clamp attached to a long rod which he raised to the desired item, squeezed a handle and lifted the can or bag from the shelf. If the clerk wanted to show-off or speed things up he simply nudged the item off the shelf and caught it as it came tumbling from a height of eight, twelve or fifteen feet. For things that were too big to get with the clamp the clerk would climb a movable ladder mounted on rails in front of each wall of shelves.
I have no personal recollection of the following event but I have heard my mom repeat it a few times so I know it to be true. It's an example of stupid rules and blind obedience to them.
Mom had picked up a few items in Mr. Pate's store and, after paying for them, decided to get a treat for the few children she had with her. She placed twenty-five cents on the counter and asked for five candy bars. The clerk delivered a spiel about a war going on, rationing of sugar, etc., and said he couldn't let her have that many. Pointing to the young'uns she had in tow mom said that the candy was for them. Still not budging from his responsibility to uphold the rules, he adamantly refused to sell mom five candy bars at one time.
Mom turned the kids toward the door, marched them outside where she gave each a nickel and let them go back into the store, one at a time, until each child had a candy bar! How's that for getting around stupid rules and lack of common sense!?
Osborne gave up its soul many years ago, a community that fell victim to changing times, a community that had outlived its usefulness. Fewer farmers came less frequently to buy "on time," growing old and becoming weary from their life's work. The children didn't follow in the fathers' footsteps for they wanted no part of an arduous and uncertain future, electing instead to graduate high school and get a job they could depend on to provide for them and their families.
When the children left for better futures sharecropping became a relic of the past and peach orchards were abandoned. The trees died in the fields and the packing houses fell down around the foundations, to be swallowed by wild growth, forever removing the last vestiges of orchards that had once covered thousands of acres. Pine plantations now cover what was once planted in corn, tobacco, cotton and peach trees.
The last time I went to Osborne was about ten years ago. I wasn't into recalling and putting my past on paper at that time so I didn't make a close observation of the place (I wish now I had) but I can recall some of the images I formed as I passed by in less than thirty seconds.
Uncle Doug's little creek was no longer as inviting to passersby as it once was, having gone wild with overhanging brush and weeds. Mr. Pate's store was in a terrible condition and I wouldn't be surprised if it has completely fallen down by now. The SAL siding and loading dock were gone; gone because the peach orchards had ceased to exist and there was no fruit to ship, and gone, too, because there was no freight to off-load for Mr. Pate's failed store. I didn't notice if uncle Doug's rented house behind Pate's store was still there but it's doubtful.
The rail tracks still pass through Osborne, the trains roaring through without slowing. Osborne is still shown on some NC maps but not on others. Yahoo Map Site shows Osborne, even though it's misplaced on Rte. 177 rather than its actual location a short distance east at the intersection of county roads 1828 and 1803.
* Mr. Z.V. Pate was a well known merchant and land owner in that area. I know of two of his stores that are still standing, one in Laurel Hill, NC, and there is one in Gibson, NC, that closed its doors a few years ago. Some of you may know of others. In 1969 I bought property on Grace Chapel Church Road and when I walked my property lines I found on a cement corner marker the letters ZVP.
Bruce Osburn 9-27-2000
Today Osborne can't even be considered a proper "ghost town" for there is nothing to suggest a community had once been there. I passed through Osborne on 10-27-2000 and found not the slightest trace of the community that once was. I walked on the ground that Pate's store had occupied and couldn't find a single piece of evidence to show that a huge brick building had once stood there.
Not a trace of the other store and homes could be seen for the trees and brush had overgrown all evidence of the community. Uncle Doug's stream had been turned into a swampy area, having been dammed up by beavers. The only sign of life was a neat, well-kept double-wide mobile home about one-quarter mile west of the rail crossing. I wonder if the folks living there are aware of...... the community that once was?
VISITS TO THE DENTIST
by: Bruce Osburn
Doctor Buck Edwards' dental office was on the south side of Main Street across from the Hamlet Theatre and, I believe, on the second floor of a building near Mabry's Drug Store. His office was not fancy, just the usual for that time period. But that part of it used for the treatment room was more than just a little intimidating to a youngster, especially for a kid who had never before set foot inside a dentist's office.
The memory of my first visit to a dentist hasn't escaped me for I still remember that awful day. That was the day I sat down in Dr. Edward's long, reclining chair and stared with wide eyed amazement at an array of instruments that must have been designed solely for the purpose of extracting maximum pain and discomfort from scared little kids.
In a nearby tray I saw long metal picks and scrappers and big shiny pliers. Snaking crookedly alongside the chair and extending overhead was a device with skinny rods and little round pulley belts and elbows that could be bent and twisted any which way the dentist wanted it to go. (I had never before heard of Rube Goldberg but surely that contraption must have been one of his earliest inventions.)
Dr. Edwards put a bib on me, adjusted the chair until I was lying almost flat and turned on a bright overhead light that was nearly as big as a dish pan. He aimed that light at my face, picked up one of those long skinny picks and said "Open wide!" I took a deep breath and opened wide, squeezing the arms of the chair until my knuckles must have turned white.
While I laid there too scared even to breathe, he probed and picked and scraped and then announced that I had some baaad cavities. That wasn't news to me 'cause I knew I had several; why else would mom send me there?
The next thing I saw was a big ole ugly needle in his hand! Whooee! That thing was so big it could've been used to pump up footballs! Somehow he managed to coax my mouth open to give me a shot of Novocain and not long afterward he reached for his Rube Goldberg contraption and said "Open wide!"
That drill was an improvement over a hammer and chisel, but not much. That darn drill turned so slowly that it mostly gouged out the cavity as it vibrated and rattled my jaw bone so badly I had trouble keeping my head still. And if that wasn't bad enough the drill sometimes got stuck in the tooth and he had to tug and twist to get it loose.
Eventually he finished his work and I started for home with my very first filling shining brightly in my mouth. More visits followed that first one and Dr. Edwards and I worked out a routine that eased my fear of his office. I was so terrified of the needle I let him begin grinding on a tooth before he gave me a shot of Novocain. If all proceeded well and I felt just little, quick flashes of pain, then I escaped the needle on that visit. But sometimes he struck a nerve which caused me to almost leave the chair and, after being pulled back into place, I got the needle and was thankful for it.
It's been nearly fifty years since I last visited Dr. Edwards and I believe I still have some of his handiwork in my mouth, along with other dentists' work from the following years. But it was Dr. Edwards who introduced this then-young kid to the mysteries of a dental office, working to allay my fears and making future visits less frightful.
Dentistry has greatly improved over the years and a visit today is not nearly as scary as it once was. It's not unusual for today's kids to make their first visit to a dental office as young as three or four years of age. And long before they get braces to correct overbites and crooked teeth some may have already experienced the needle and the drill. Dentists of today like to think of their profession as being painless and they are, for the most part, correct. By using water cooled, high speed air turbine drills they quickly remove that black, ugly mess from a tooth and fill it with whatever you want.
But, I still think the most scariest part of a dental visit, whether fifty years ago or today, is the thought of, and then seeing, that big ole ugly needle coming near your face and hearing the dentist say with a big grin ..."Open wide!" That's enough to make anyone get white knuckled and wiggle just a little deeper into the chair.
--thanks to Jeanne A. for confirmation of Dr. Edwards' name--
Bruce Osburn 10-7-2000
Subject: Buck Edwards.
Date: Mon, 09 Oct 2000 23:51:13 -0400
From: "Jim & Nancy P." Organization: None
I meant to mention this to you earlier but forgot!! Must be that over 50 thing again! I also remember those trips to Dr. Edwards office. I think those times are the reason I hate the dentist to this day!! He was not a very gentle dentist as my recollection goes. Thanks -----I think-- for the memory.
Sister Ginger told me that when she was about 17 years old she worked as Dr. Edwards' receptionist/assistant for a week. Dr. Edwards was known to have an eye for the ladies so mom made my younger brother Kenny go along and sit with Ginger all day at the office.
Aunt Cecil said that when she went to Dr. Edwards for treatment uncle Lawrence went along and sat in the treatment room until the work was done.
HAMLET AVENUE SCHOOL
....games and a fool's errand
by: Bruce Osburn
I attended Hamlet Avenue School from September, 1950, until June, 1953. I entered seventh grade and that was the year students from Pansy Fetner and Fayetteville Street schools were joined with the students of Hamlet Avenue. Some of the kids from Pansy Fetner and Fayetteville Street had ridden the buses together for years so all were not strangers on the first day. I had lots of experiences during that time that I remember and there are events that I have no recollection of whatsoever.
I'll begin by saying that that was the first school where I had more than just one teacher during the day. At Pansy Fetner, my previous school, one teacher taught all the subjects to her students; the three Rs plus geography, history, health and any other thing necessary for our proper education. There at Hamlet Avenue we 7th graders were introduced to the concept of teachers specializing in just two or three subjects, with one teacher holding sway over the class for a couple hours before turning it over to the next teacher. I suppose we kids weren't yet considered capable of finding our way about the halls because we remained in our home rooms all day and the teachers changed rooms.
The teachers for 7th grade were Mrs. Gibbons, Miss Mitchell and Miss McKinnon. I don't remember much about the first two, but I have a fleeting memory of Miss McKinnon. As best I remember she was just a little slip of a woman and full of energy. She was always fully charged when she came into the room, entering at such a rapid pace one would have thought she was late for class.
I guess we were considered just a little more mature by the time we hit 8th grade for that was the year we began to change rooms and the teachers were the ones that stayed in their home rooms. I can't remember either of the three teachers we had that year but my classmate, Doug Gray, has identified them for me as Miss Pruitt, Miss Hathcock and Mr. Winfree.
The teachers I remember from 9th grade were Mr. Moses - who was the industrial arts instructor, - Mr. Abdulla, Mrs. Phifer (I think she taught English) and Mrs. Moses, who I had just for "study hall." Another teacher I remember was an extraordinary young girl that made her first year there (I think) during the 1952-1953 school year. School yard rumor had it that she hailed from Monck's Corner, SC. That may or may not be true, but whatever the case, she was not a teacher to be taken lightly.
She was in sharp contrast to most of the teachers there. She was young, pretty, petite, feisty and bursting with a fiery energy to match her short, collar length flaming red hair. Even the biggest boy student deferred to her when she got her dander up because no one dared test the patience of Miss Maxine Hood.
In 7th and 8th grades we kids still had the pleasure of having a recess at some point during the day. I can't remember if we had more than one, but I know we had at least one. During those periods, and at lunch time, we engaged in many activities that only kids can do well.
The girls usually got up a game of hopscotch, of which there were at least two different styles. One style consisted of a grid closely resembling a cross with a set of spaces off to both sides near the top of the cross. Another style was shaped like a snail with the grid running in a spiral. But, no matter what style grid was used, the rules were the same; no stepping in another's square and no stepping on the lines.
But before anyone could attempt to make a jump they first had to toss a piece of glass or a coin or some other token into the next empty space. A successful "jump" on one foot to the top and back earned the jumper an "X" in her choice of a square and only she was allowed to put a foot in it afterward.
Another game for the girls was jump rope. There were single ropes and there were double ropes where a lot of "h-o-t-p-e-a-s" were whipped up. A few girls played jacks but not many 'cause they didn't want to get their knees or bloomers dirty.
School yard games were played during their own seasons. "HORSE" was played during basketball time, roller-bat during baseball season, marbles in their season and playing with yo-yos began when the yo-yo man made his yearly appearance on the school yard.
Every year, on every school yard, a Duncan Yo-Yo man came with an assortment of yo-yos. He put on dazzling displays of tricks that could be done with a Duncan Yo-Yo; rock the cradle, walk the dog, round the world and tuck one in the pocket. He got the kids worked into such a frenzy that every kid had to have one of those Duncan Yo-Yos. Twenty five cents from mom or dad or grandpa got a Duncan Yo-Yo and a kid would have loads of fun until the next game season came in.
Some games had no season and were played whenever a kid pulled out his Barlow and got up a jackknife game. Two of those games I remember were mumbly-peg and the other was land-stealing. It's been so long since I played mumbly-peg that I have forgotten just exactly how the game was played. But I seem to remember that the point of the knife was placed at different places on the body and then flipped toward the ground where, hopefully for the player, the blade stuck into the ground, thus earning the player another attempt from a different point on his body. The loser had the embarrassment of having to pull a peg out of the dirt with his teeth.
Land-stealing was a game played by two boys and began with a circle about six feet in diameter drawn in the dirt. The circle was equally divided with a line drawn across the middle and each of the boys attempted to take his opponent's "land". A kid took a turn by standing in his land and throwing his Barlow into his opponent's side of the circle, trying to stick the knife blade into the ground. If he succeeded in sticking the knife into his opponent's side he drew a line at that point from one side of his opponent's land to the other side, thus claiming the just won land as his own. He continued throwing his knife until he failed to stick it into the ground at which time the other kid attempted to recover his own land as well as take that of his opponent. When a kid did not have enough land remaining to stand in with at least one foot he was declared the loser.
The knife throwing games were played in the canyon between the two wings of the building. It was also here that the bicycle racks were located and more than one kid found a flat tire on his bike in the afternoon, it having been punctured by an errant throw by some unknown knife thrower.
One of my all time favorite memories is of the day one of the young boys got his comeuppance. I'm sorry to say I can't remember the names of the kids involved but I do remember something about them.
One of the kids involved was a boy that must have suffered from "little-boy" syndrome. He was smaller than his classmates and tried to compensate for this shortcoming by being a pest and obnoxious brat. He liked nothing better than to interfere and stick his nose into another kid's business.
The other kid in this tale was a girl about the same age and completely different than the boy for she was well liked by her classmates and had more than enough friends. Her father owned a chicken and egg farm in Hamlet but, even though I had been there several times, I can't remember the exact location. I only remember that it was somewhere just west of NC #177 and a little south of US #74.
Sometimes - when brother James let mom know he was coming home on navy shore leave bringing some of his shipmates - brother Gene and I would go there to get several dozens of eggs. (Each of those sailors could put away at least six eggs at a sitting.) While I sat in the truck waiting for the eggs to be brought out I often saw the girl helping to feed and water the chickens. With a full five gallon bucket in each hand she made her way about the farm putting out feed and water. (Just for you that are curious, five gallons of water weighs about 41 pounds.)
The day the boy got his just deserts found me trying to sweet-talk a girl standing in a group which included the girl from the egg farm. Obnoxious boy came over and began to pester and stick his nose where it didn't belong and, after a few seconds, the girl told him to go away and mind his own business. The boy grinned at her and told her to go do something to herself which was physically impossible.
He had barely gotten the last syllable past his grinning lips when the girl shot out a hand and grabbed him by his shirt collar, spun him around, grabbed him by the seat of his breeches with her other hand and lifted him clear of the ground. Holding that squalling kid horizontally at arm's length, with his arms and legs flailing about, she purposely strode toward a nearby water filled mud puddle left from an earlier rainfall and gave him a heave.
After she had thrown that hollering young'un face down into the mud puddle she calmly wiped her hands as if to say "good riddance" and returned to her group. She had tossed that kid into the mud puddle with no more concern than she would have given to a dead chicken she flipped out of a hen house.
In 9th grade one of my subjects was mechanical drawing, the first requirement of a course designed to get young boys involved in industrial arts. Mr. Clifford D. Moses was the instructor for the course and allowed the younger mechanical drawing students to go out to the shop when they had a free class. My last class of the day was "study hall" and I took advantage of being able to go there and watch the older boys work with lathes, table saws, wood planners and the like.
But before I could leave study hall I had to produce a permission slip to go to the shop signed by Mr. Moses. That wasn't hard to do because Mr. Moses would sign one for practically anyone who asked. But sometimes I forgot to get the slip while I was in drawing class and when study hall came around I lacked that necessary slip of paper. The study hall monitor was the wife of Mr. Moses and would not accept anything other than a signed note from her husband.
That presented a problem, but not for long. With a good deal of practice I learned to make an almost exact rendering of Mr. Moses' initials, "CDM." When I found myself without a signed note I simply wrote one for myself and my buddy, L.G. McKeithan. With a flourish I signed "CDM" and took it to Mrs. Moses. She looked at it, nodded her head and off we went. My forgeries were so good that Mr. Moses, after questioning why we were in the shop, simply shook his head when I showed him a note, saying he just didn't remember signing it.
One day while I was in the shop some of the older boys pulled a prank on me that I didn't even realize had occurred until it was over and done with. My older brother Gene was there at the time and he wouldn't even let me know that I was being made a fool.
On this black day one of the older boys that was working on a cedar chest or some other project called me over and told me to go to the tool room and get a board stretcher. At the tool room I told another older boy that "so-and-so" wanted a board stretcher and I was given a piece of machinery that must have weighed a hundred pounds. Struggling and banging it against my legs I finally got it to the cedar chest boy who told me to take it back because he didn't need it anymore. So, back to the tool room I went with just as much difficulty as before.
I have said elsewhere in these stories that if a kid kept his eyes and ears open he was sure to learn something new each day. Well, it was certainly true for that experience because I learned the next day I had been made a big fool. But that was a learning experience that kept me from being made an even bigger fool when I went aboard my first navy ship four years later.
Old navy salts got the biggest kick out of sending young kids fresh out of boot camp on errands for non-existant gear. Young boots who had just reported aboard their first ship were sent looking for spools of pipe thread, left-handed pipe wrenches, six-pound water hammers, grease guns filled with relative bearing grease and yes, even gauge glass stretchers. But that learning experience at Hamlet High School gave this eighteen-year-old boot enough courage to tell the old salts to kiss a certain part of my anatomy when they were about to send me off on a fool's errand.
Bruce Osburn 10-23-2000
THINGS THAT GO BUMP IN THE NIGHT
...and mysterious lights
by: Bruce Osburn
I have said elsewhere in these tales that the boogerman and ghosts were sometimes called upon to keep me and my brothers from misbehaving or, for that matter, straying too far from the house at night. I won't deny that just the mere mention of either was enough to make us stop doing whatever we were doing or to come inside when the adults thought it was time for us to settle down. As we grew older we learned that our adults had fibbed more than just a little bit about those demons, but still, the fear of darkness that had been so deeply instilled in us during our young years was not easily overcome.
Even after we learned that there really weren't any evil things lurking about in the darkness we were still wary when we found ourselves away from home after nightfall. Being with another kid wasn't nearly as scary as being alone. In fact, the more kids in a group, the better, for there was safety in numbers. We thought that if there was a booger out prowling about maybe it would get your buddy first, leaving you to escape!
Sometimes I went to see a movie and found myself in darkness when it was over. On the way home, whether I was riding a bike or on foot, I always stayed in the middle of the road for I wanted to get as much distance as possible between me and the ditches. And I didn't tarry either for I pumped that old bike as fast as I could or ran until I couldn't run anymore, slowing to just a fast walk until I could get my second wind.
One night after visiting a buddy I started for home by way of a sandy, two-rut road that wound through the back part of our property. About fifty yards of the road passed through a swampy area and part of that route was a home-made corduroy road. As I made my way into the low area I noticed a strange glowing light off to one side of the road near one of the two small streams that fed into our pond. As I got nearer the glow got brighter and I got more scared. Picking up my feet just a little faster I sped over the log road and past that glow in record time.
Daylight drives away boogers and things that go bump in the night so my courage was restored enough the next day to investigate that strange light. After searching for several minutes I finally discovered my "booger" - a moss covered stump that became alive at night with fox-fire. After convincing myself that I wasn't going to be gotten by a booger I went there several nights just to see that curious sight. That was the first time I had ever seen that oddity of nature and I have never seen another since.
I think there were at least a few nights when mom wished she hadn't made us kids so afraid of the darkness and of things that go bump in the night. I don't have any personal recollection of the following two incidents but I have heard mom repeat them several times and she always got a good belly laugh from the kinfolk hearing them.
This tale begins on a rainy, stormy night when mom returned home after spending the evening with uncle Lawrence and aunt Cecil. When she tried to get inside the house she discovered that both doors were locked and all the kids were in bed fast asleep. She attempted to wake someone by banging on the door but wasn't able to do so.
So, mom sloshed through the puddles to the backside of the house and up to the boys' bedroom window where she could rouse one of us kids from our sleep. With rain pouring off the eaves and down onto her head she raised her fist and pounded on the window and, at the same time, let go with one of her shrill, patented screams - "GEN- neeeeeeee!"
Gene jerked upright, looked straight down the bed and saw something pressed against the window that scared the bejeeze out of him - that scary ol' boogerman mom had always warned us about!
Gene grabbed the bed covers in both hands, threw himself backward onto his pillow and, at the same time, pulled the blankets over his head! In fact, he pulled those covers with such force he uncovered himself from his feet clear to his belly! The only things covered were his head and chest! Several more shouts from mom finally got Gene out of bed and to the door.
This other incident also involved Gene. Mom determined she heard a noise outside the house one night and when she learned the key was still in the truck she told Gene to go get it. Gene flatly refused to go out into the darkness so mom ran outside and got the key herself. When some of the kinfolk learned of that incident they chided Gene for being a "scaredy-cat" and making his poor ol' mama go out into the darkness where she might be got by a booger. Gene's response to that was: "Hey, I'm just a fifteen-year-old kid and Mama is an old woman who has already lived her life!" (Mom was actually a youthful looking woman of 42 years!)
This tale is from my own experiences. I was about thirteen or fourteen-years-old and had been riding around in the early evening with two of the Caulder brothers - Billy and Arlo - and their cousin Aulton Brown. When Billy drove into our yard later that night it was apparent that no one was home so they asked if I wanted them to stay there until mom came home. Putting on a show of bravery I told them that I wasn't afraid to stay by myself and further added that I had a friend inside. When they asked who my friend was I said, "A shotgun."
I was soon lying nervously on the sofa reading a comic book while I waited for uncle Lawrence and aunt Cecil to bring mom home. Pretty soon I heard a rattling noise outside near the window. I got up, loaded the .410-gauge shotgun and then resumed my position on the sofa with the gun craddled in my arms.
The rattling continued unabated, moved away from the house out into the yard and again back near the window. And then I heard rattling against the steps and onto the front porch, not more than eight or ten feet from where I was rapidly approaching a state of panic. That noise was followed by a rapid rap, rap, rap just outside the door so I cocked the gun, pointed it at the windows in the door and waited. In less time than it takes to tell a moth lit on the screen door and I thought that it was someone pressing their nose to the door to see inside! I was so scared I couldn't pull the trigger!
When mom returned home she found the house ablaze with light. Every light in the house was on and I was still on the sofa, fast asleep with the cocked gun still in my arms. Uncle Lawrence somehow got into the house and crept into the living room where he gently disarmed me without making the gun go off.
The next morning I found out that one of our dogs had broken its chain and was responsible for the rattling and rapping. (Have you ever seen a sitting dog scratch fleas? That hind leg really bangs the floor with every scratch!)
I don't believe my early years were much different than those of other kids of that era. And being afraid of my own shadow had no lasting effects on me at all; heck, I can go outside tonight and not have to look over my shoulder more than four or five times!
Bruce Osburn 11-5-2000
...Aulton, Arlo and Bruce
by: Bruce Osburn
In January, 1948, my family moved to Hamlet where I enrolled at Pansy Fetner School. I was placed in Mrs. O'Brien's 4th grade class and it was there that I first met Aulton Brown and his cousin, Arlo Caulder. We three were in the same grade and became fast friends, a friendship that continued for more than five years during the time we were classmates and has continued until today.
I think Arlo's mother was a sister to Aulton's dad - who, I believe, was named Lonnie but I'm not absolutely sure. The Caulders' home was about five-hundred feet from the Browns so we kids bounced back and forth at will. There were several children in the Caulder family and I remember their names by the use of a simple recitation of the alphabet. I remember them in order of the first letter of their name, not by order of age. They were Arlo, Billy (Thomas,) Carlton, Donald, Earl, Frances and Gerald. I remember the name Ilene but I believe that name goes with Frances, as in Frances Ilene. I don't know if any more were born after I left Hamlet in 1953.
Aulton and I were actually the "buddies" for I was involved in activities more with him than with Arlo. Sometimes I stayed overnight with Aulton and sometimes he would stay at my house. When I stayed with him I was treated just like I was one of the family and I addressed his grandmother as Granny, same as the rest of the kids. I helped Aulton with the few chores he had, such as feeding the chickens, getting eggs and tending to the cow. On Saturday mornings we, along with his sisters Lydia and Audrey, cut and made brush brooms so we could sweep the yards.
Yard keeping in that era was different than today. A well kept rural yard in those days consisted of smooth, hard packed soil and not the first blade of grass! Every new sprig of grass that managed to grow there was pulled out by the roots and tossed aside. All leaves and other debris that had collected since the last Saturday were swept into a pile and burned. When all was finished there was not a leaf, twig, cigarette butt, scrap of paper, chinaberry, rock or any other unsightly object to be seen because a clean swept yard imparted the same image of the home owner as does a closely mowed, edged lawn of today.
If I stayed for a weekend I had to go to church on Sunday with the rest of the family. I think every one of Aulton's uncles was a preacher and had a church of his own. And so, not wanting to offend any one of them, his parents took us to a different uncle's church practically every Sunday. (Well, that's the way it seemed to me!)
When I spent the night with Aulton we were a little more likely to do mischief the next day - not always, but occasionally. It seems that we were more likely to do something as a group than if we were alone, with no one daring the other to do something he shouldn't. I remember one day we decided to skip school so we got off the school bus and did just that. Several of us young boys played hooky and goofed off all day. I remember there was me, Aulton, Arlo, Carlton and Larry Quick, who was another of our gang.
I can't remember just how we passed the day but I do recall we had a good swim. The reason I remember this outing is because of the odd construction of the spillway at the pond we swam in. Most ponds in our neighborhoods had the spillways made into the face of the dam but this pond had the spillway out in the water, maybe fifty feet from the dam. There it was, just like a chimney poking its top through the surface and the water spilling over into the drain which extended from that point through the dam.
Sometime during those days Aulton and I found ourselves in Hamlet one afternoon. I can't remember why we were there or, for that matter, how we got there. All I remember is that we were on the Battley Dairy Road hitchhiking to his home, which was about a mile beyond the Outside Furniture Store. Several cars had already passed us by before one finally stopped. But instead of offering us a ride the old man scolded us for hitchhiking and then drove off, leaving us standing there no closer to home than before he stopped! That must have ticked me off because I remember grabbing a handful of still moist "road apples" from the roadside and splattering them on the rear of his car as he drove off.
On another afternoon when I was hanging out with the gang someone suggested we sell some watermelons to a grocery market so we would have a little cash to buy some much needed gas for Billy's car. That sounded like a good idea but we had one little problem - neither the Browns or the Caulders had a watermelon patch. But we knew there was one just down the road a piece just waiting for someone to come along and help themselves so we stuffed ourselves into Billy's car and took off!
Billy had a two door '39 or '40 model Chevy business coupe that could comfortably seat three on its one seat and two uncomfortably in a space behind the seat. That was the place a business man would normally hang his suits and other traveling gear. The passenger compartment might have been considered small for so many kids but that shortcoming was more than offset by the huge trunk, a trunk so big four or five kids could easily get into it if we ever decided to slip into a drive-in movie. The passenger compartment was small and the trunk was large because that's what a traveling salesman needed, hence the name "business coupe."
Billy parked the car on the shoulder of the road and we juvenile delinquents darted out into the field and began thumping and pulling watermelons. We had about a dozen or so stuffed into that cavernous trunk when a black man came along and asked what we were doing.
"Well," says someone, "Our uncle done told us we could come down here and get some of his melons if we wanted them." "Boys," says he, "Ya'll know them ain't yo' uncle's watermelons. Them's my melons. Now ya'll quit pulling my melons and take them outta yo' trunk."
So, we quit pulling melons and began to unload the trunk, gently placing the melons on the side of the road.
"Oh, no, boys!" says he, "Ya'll ain't gonna' come back to git them melons! Ya'll throw'em on the ground and bust'em!"
And that's what we did, every danged one of 'em. Busted'em to pieces! And since we still needed gasoline we had to rely on our "Georgia credit card" to get fuel.
Bruce Osburn 12-3-2000
....my friend Arlo passed away in May 2001
MOM'S SWEET VOICE
......would bring us home
by: Bruce Osburn
"BRU-ceeee! Baa-RUU-ceeee!" I heard those words piercing the pine thicket and knew I was in deep trouble. I knew mom was standing in our backyard more than a quarter mile away, calling me home.
Whenever mom wanted us children, and we were nowhere to be seen, she would let go with one of her patented shouts - which was more like a shrill scream - calling the kid she wanted. I can't remember when she first changed my one syllable name of "Bruce" into the two syllable "BRU-ceeee." The stress was on the first syllable and the last syllable was held as long as she had breath, drawing the eeeeeeeee into a high pitched scream that lasted several seconds. She included an extra syllable when she was upset with me - "BRU-ceeee" became "Baa-RUU-ceeee," with the stress on the middle syllable.
Gene's name was transformed into the two syllable "GEN-neeee." Kenny's name didn't gain a syllable, remaining "KEN-neeee." I honestly believe mom could be heard a half-mile away when she was determined to bring us children home.
It was late in the afternoon and I should have been home long ago. I had been at James Moon's house that day and stayed longer than I should have. James lived on Henderson or Champlain Street, which was not far from our house - if we walked through the pines and brush. When I started for home James came along and we wound up, sitting and talking, on the west embankment of the SAL tracks less than a half-mile from my house.
As in all memories, the ones we have are often times the result of an unusual event and the consequences of that event. The event I remember is a conversation James and I had regarding Korea. This conversation was most likely in early summer of 1950 because the gist of our discussion was whether or not any of our relatives would be sent ..."over there."
I know that I must have been trying to impress James with my opinions - which really weren't mine at all. After all, how much does a snot-nose kid of twelve years know about such things as world politics. I was simply repeating what I had heard my uncles and aunts say in their discussions of that place. I probably had no idea where Korea was but I had "big ears" and listened to what the adults had to say. They were concerned about whether or not "our boys" would have to go to war because we had uncles, nephews, cousins and brothers who were in the military. Our family had one member killed and one wounded in the last war and they didn't want to suffer that pain again.
Mom's shouted three syllable "Baa-RUU-ceeee" told me I was in serious trouble. Her tone of voice told me she wasn't just calling me to supper - she was really peeved! I knew I was about to get my breeches dusted but I also knew my chances were good that mom wouldn't spank me in front of my friend so I asked James to walk home with me and hang around for awhile until she cooled down. We started for my house and I decided a little insurance would be to my advantage so I stuffed pine needles into the seat of my breeches just in case mom gave me a licking as soon as I showed myself.
Mom was waiting in the back yard when we got there. James and I began doing boy things and I tried my best to act as if nothing was out of the ordinary. After a short time mom told James that she wasn't going to spank me and he could go home if he wanted. James started for home and I went out to an outbuilding where I removed the pine needles from my pants and went back to the house. As soon as I showed myself mom asked, "Did you take that pine straw out of your breeches?" When I told her that I had, she gave me my licking!
.......What makes children think they can outsmart their parents?
Bruce Osburn 1-3-2001
......and stupid experiments
by: Bruce Osburn
During the years my family lived in Hamlet there was a lot of railroad type equipment scattered throughout the area. There were freight cars and other rolling stock on sidings and there were section shacks along the tracks at different locations.
The empty freight cars were inviting playgrounds for the more daring among the kids. The open doors just begged a passing kid to sneak into a car and look for treasures that might have been left there. Some of the kids may have even fantasized about taking a slow moving freight to some faraway place but I was always afraid an engine would hookup and take me far from home before I could jump clear.
Section shacks were placed at intervals along the tracks and various types of repair equipment and tools were kept there. There was one near our house and I always gave it a close inspection when I passed by because sometimes the section workers would drop a spike or nut or bolt or some other piece of scrap metal onto the ground. Those pieces of junk, along with others I found while walking the tracks, slowly grew into a pile that brother Gene would take to the junk dealer in Rockingham and sell for a buck or two. One day I found a real treasure near the section shack which I quickly shoved deep into my pocket.
Laying near the tracks on the ballast bed was an object I recognized immediately, even though I had never before seen one. It was wrapped in thick, bright tin-foil, about 3/4" in diameter and was about 3 inches long. On each end was a thin strip of tin-foil that was used to attach it to the top of a rail. Those two thin strips sticking so conspicuously from the ends told me that this was a "torpedo" because I had seen just the end strips laying along the tracks before. I didn't realize it at the time but I had just picked up and stuffed into my pocket one of the most dangerous of all the items found along the tracks.
We kids had been told that a torpedo was a signaling device to alert locomotive engineers when section hands were working on the road ahead. The workers would attach one, two, three or more torpedoes onto the track and when a wheel of an engine ran over them they exploded with a thunderous clap that could be heard for miles and, more importantly, in the engine cab. The engineer was thus alerted that workers were ahead, the distance to them being indicated by the number of torpedoes he heard exploding beneath his engine.
I picked up that small piece of dynamite and took it home. I can't remember if I hid it in an outbuilding for later foolishness or if I started messing around with it right away. What I clearly remember doing is tearing one end open and pouring some of the yellow contents onto a brick. Not knowing exactly what the result would be when I struck it with another brick, I was cautious enough to pour only a small amount - about a tablespoonful.
I took up another brick and, holding it about 3 or 4 inches above the little mound, let it drop ......Kaa-Boooom!
The noise that jumped from that brick nearly scared me to death! There was such a blast I fell backward, my ears ringing from an explosion that was several times louder than a shotgun blast. The brick I had dropped was now in two pieces - I don't know if it was the result of the force of the explosion or if it broke because of the drop. There's no need to tell you this but I got rid of the rest of that torpedo as quickly as I could. I was extremely lucky that I didn't injure or kill myself with that deadly toy but one of my classmates wasn't so fortunate at a different time.
There was an accident that happened to one of my classmates when we were in 7th or 8th grade at Hamlet Avenue School. This incident occurred in a garage in Highland Pines - a community off Hyland Avenue and near East Rockingham.
A gang of boys had found some torpedoes and, boys being boys, decided to make a pipe bomb. They took a length of pipe, capped one end and poured the contents of a torpedo into the pipe. The fellow that was holding the pipe took a metal rod and rammed it into the pipe to "pack" the powder.
The resulting explosion blasted a hole through the side of the metal garage, blew off most of the boy's hand and embedded small metal fragments into the eyes of my classmate, Albert Yates. Everyone was worried that Albert would be blinded for life but, thankfully, he regained his sight. (If I have erred in the identity of the one that suffered eye injuries, it's unintentional and I apologize - fifty years does weird things to memories.)
If I remember some of the details correctly, the fellow that was holding the pipe came away with just his thumb and little finger remaining on his injured hand, the three middle fingers being blown to smithereens. Some of you might have seen him and didn't know how he came to lose part of his hand. I think, at one time, he worked at the service station in the southeast quadrant of the intersection of US 74 and NC 177, the one identified by Russ in his tales as Bullock's station.
There was another railroad-type incident worth mentioning that involved three young boys who were a grade behind me in school. I don't know the details of their adventure but I'll bet there's a story to be told.
All that I remember about the incident is that the three young boys jumped from the wooden bridge on Rice Street into a loaded coal car as a train left Hamlet going west. My memory is that they were nearly a hundred miles from Hamlet before they were discovered. My classmate, Doug Gray, remembers the incident and identified the three as Rex Parker, Tommy Melton and Jimmy Tennant - there has to be a tale in that adventure!
Bruce Osburn 1-5-2001
SCHOOL BUS HIJINKS
....old number 10
by: Bruce Osburn
During the years we lived near Hamlet we kids rode to and from school in buses. In those days high school students drove the buses and they were also responsible for maintaining order aboard - their word was law and woe to anyone who mouthed off to the driver. More than one smart alecky kid found himself walking home after - in the parlance of the time - being "throwed off the bus."
The buses were kept at the drivers' homes at night and over the weekend during the school term. During the day the buses that were used to carry kids to schools in Hamlet were parked on the east side of Hamlet Avenue School, that being the school the drivers attended. I don't remember how many there were - at least 5 or 6. Each bus had its own number and all the riders had their bus numbers entered beside their names in home room. If a bus was late the teacher would know which of her absent students might show up later.
Most of the buses - if not all - made two trips in the morning and a like number in the afternoon. A bus' first route of a morning usually began on, or near, the road the driver lived. The second route could be anywhere within the school district for Hamlet. I don't know how much of the county Hamlet district encompassed but I know that the buses picked up kids east of Hamlet on US 74; the Bennettsville highway; the Gibson highway; the Cheraw highway; the Battley Dairy Road; west of Hamlet on Hyland Avenue out to Highland Pines - and all the little connecting lanes and byways near those roads.
When classes were dismissed in the afternoon the kids at Hamlet Avenue School boarded their buses which would then go to two elementary schools to pickup students that had been dropped off earlier in the morning - Fayetteville Street School and Pansy Fetner School. (About 1951 Fairview Heights School replaced Pansy Fetner.)
During the five and one-half years we lived in Hamlet there were several drivers on my bus route. When a senior class driver graduated school another driver was assigned to his route. Some of the drivers I remember are Eugene Wright, Curtis Quick and his brother and some of the Farmer boys. Another was Wolf McIver, a driver from another route who would substitute on our route when our regular driver was absent.
We kids had to memorize our bus number but the only one I remember now in my old age is #10 - and it was never assigned full time to my route. We referred to it as old number 10 because that's what it was - old. It was an International of vintage age, quite possibly as early as a late '30s or early '40s model. Unlike the other buses - which had soft, comfortable seats - old number 10 had hard, wooden bench seats.
Old #10's three keister bruising seats ran the length of the passenger compartment. There was one on each side and one right down the middle. The middle one was a double-wide seat and the kids sat facing either side of the bus. There were no back-rests but those kids sitting on the side benches could lean their backs against the side of the bus. The kids sitting on the middle bench could lean their backs on one another.
The kids should have loaded the bus from back-to-front when they boarded. That was because those sitting on the sides had their knees close to, or touching, the knees of the kids sitting on the middle bench and that made walking up and down the aisles difficult. Old #10 was the least desirable of all the buses to ride.
I rode old number 10 more than a few times. Sometimes it substituted on our route when our regular bus was out of service and other times I rode it when I went home with my buddy, Aulton Brown. Part of Aulton's route was a narrow lane that passed through a peach orchard at the extreme south end of Battley Dairy Road, near its intersection with NC #177. I don't know if that two rut lane was an actual part of the route or if the driver just got a kick out of speeding down that gut upsetting road. It wasn't so much the rattling and lurching from side to side that caused all onboard to squeal and shout but the weightlessness caused by dips in the road.
I'm sure some of you know of a dirt road in your old neighborhood where young boys took their dates for a joy ride on what we called "love bumps." Those shallow dips in the road made many a butt float off the seat if the driver knew how fast, or slow, to pass through them. Well, old number 10's driver wasn't interested in how slow he could pass by on that little lane, but how fast he could go.
I suppose we were lucky the bus had a speed governor because the driver put the "gas to the floor," sending old number 10 zipping along as fast as he could hold it in the lane. Over the crest of a bump and down into the swale floated us kids off our seats and scattered us about. Being floated off the seat wasn't nearly as rough as being slammed in the keister when the bus suddenly shot up the other side of the depression, bringing a hard wooden bench or the metal floor rudely in contact with tender butts. And all the while we kids were yelling and screaming the driver just hooted from having so much fun! We could see his grinning face in the rear view mirror as we crashed around behind him.
The drivers were paid the princely sum of one dollar a day - twenty-two dollars a month - for their services. The money was a welcome addition to whatever else the drivers earned from other jobs they may have had because, believe it or not, teenage boys had expenses to cover. Those expenses ranged from taking a girl to a movie, co-colas and hamburgers afterward and right down to the least desirable of all expenses - gasoline!
Most of the kids who drove buses had access to cars they could drive any time they wanted. Those cars could be a father's car or, in a few cases, a kid's very own car! But, no matter whose car a kid drove, he still had to buy fuel - and wages of a buck a day for driving a bus didn't buy much gasoline, even if it did only cost just twenty or twenty-five cents a gallon.
And so, in order to stretch their meager income as far as possible, some bus drivers resorted to helping themselves to the fuel that was so temptingly close - right there in those big ol' school buses sitting in their yards! Some of the kids that needed more gas than they could afford to buy simply took a "Georgia credit card" and siphoned several gallons from their bus into a handy bucket.
The bus mechanics put lock-caps on the tanks but that didn't deter the more determined from getting what they wanted. They simply crawled under the bus, removed the fuel line at the gas tank and drained their "fair share" into a bucket. Brother Gene told me there were three brothers who drove the same route for several years. As one brother graduated another brother took the route and on down to the last brother. They took gas from their bus over a period of three years or more and were never found out. That was because they always took the same amount each time and the consumption remained rather constant over the years.
Before W. Kerr Scott became governor of North Carolina many of the rural roads of the state - including Richmond County - were unpaved. One of Scott's campaign planks was to pave every school bus route in the state and this was done after he was elected. Before that time it was common for buses to become mired to the axles during rainy weather - my uncle Doug Patrick pushed our bus out of deep, slippery clay ruts more than once with a motor road grader - and during dry weather the wash-board roads would bust tender butts and rattle teeth!
Bruce Osburn 1-11-2001
....cold nights and mashed toes
by: Bruce Osburn
Our house was several cuts above the average rural home in Richmond County when dad finished building it in 1948. It had three bedrooms, a kitchen with separate dining room, a large living room, a den/sitting room and a bathroom that was completed about a year later.
My sister's bedroom was more than large enough for a double bed plus the furniture needed to ensure she had all the creature comforts she was entitled to. Mom and dad's bedroom was similar in size to my sister's. It had a huge closet that was the length of one wall - with doors at both ends. The boys' bedroom was the largest of the three since there were three of us to bed down there. The living room couch also provided sleeping space and pallets were put on the floor when a lot of visitors came.
About 1950 brothers James and Gene put their carpentry skills to good use and made a gabled room in the attic which I used for goofing off and smoking cigarettes. They floored over the ceiling joists, made long side walls which extended upward about four and a half feet before they started to form the sloping ceiling - which was less than six feet at its highest. That little room was no more than eight feet wide and about twelve or fourteen feet long with a window at one end. It was really just a space best suited for stooped walking and for sleeping on mattresses thrown onto the floor.
I don't think any of the womenfolk ever entered that little space but we boys went there countless times. There was no stairway - or even a permanent ladder - leading into that little room. Entry was made by standing on a chair or a not so tall stepladder and reaching up and pulling ourselves up to and through the access hole into our little room. That method of entry caused lots of scuff marks on the nearby wall when we accidentally put our feet there trying to get a good toe-hold.
It was a great place to sneak a smoke because mom couldn't even get her head up to the access hole so she could check on me and my buddies whenever some stayed overnight. As I write this I begin to think that maybe we young boys weren't so slick after all. I'm thinking that all mom would have had to have done was go outside and look toward the attic window for the tell-tale clouds of smoke we exhaled from our burning lungs. I got my breeches dusted several times for smoking but I don't know if any of the lickings were the result of mom seeing smoke billow from our little hideaway.
By today's standards that big ol' house was too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter. The summer months were not too unbearable 'cause we could leave windows open and take advantage of breezes that swirled through the pine woods. The winter months were not so easily passed because we had just one source of heat for the entire house - a potbellied stove.
The stove was located in the central-most part of the house but it didn't do a good job of heating all the rooms. Even with a roaring fire the only room that got toasty-warm was the den because the warmth of the room became less and less the further away from the stove we went. The kitchen was not so dependent upon that source of heat because mom could chase the shivers out of there by turning on the oven in the electric range.
That ol' potbellied heater consumed prodigious amounts of fuel and every piece of it had to be toted inside by us young'uns. Our first winter we burned debris left over from the trees dad had cut down for saw timber. The next winter's fuel came from trees that Gene and I cut down in the summer to dry.
I guess dad finally felt sorry for us having to chop and haul such large quantities of wood because we began to burn coal. A fuel oil and coal company delivered coal and all we had to do was tote the chunks inside and haul the clinkers out.
The coal was an improvement over firewood but it created bigger and more ashes. It also caused a fine dusting of soot about the house because of leaks around the stove and flue pipe. Dad finally began buying coke which was the best fuel of all. It wasn't nearly as heavy as coal nor was it as dirty. Not only that, but it burned more completely, leaving just a powdery ash that was easy to remove.
Most of the heat from the potbellied stove went straight up the chimney. Very little of it radiated into the three bedrooms, all of which opened off the den. Just before retiring for the night the stove's firebox was filled, the air drafts closed to slow combustion and everyone snuggled under blankets and comforters for what was hoped to be a good night's rest. I don't know why but at night all the bedroom doors remained closed.
After we kids had snuggled deep into our beds we were most times in a position that would not change during the long, cold night. Even if we wanted to change positions it was hard to do. You see, there was so much bedding piled on the bed that we were pressed tightly onto the mattress, hardly able to move. In fact, those covers were so heavy they smashed our feet so flat that our toes no longer pointed to the ceiling - they pointed to the footboard!
When morning came there was not any part of a kid to be seen in the boys' bedroom. Sometime during the night we had pulled the blankets over our heads in an effort to warm our ears and noses. We were deep down under the blankets trying to prevent even the slightest loss of body heat into the cold room.
Since the bedroom door was closed - and there was no heat coming in - the room had chilled during the night until it was just as cold inside the room as it was outside the house! And when mom awakened us for school we didn't tarry in the bedroom any longer than it took to jump from under the covers and dart into the warmth of the den where she had earlier stoked the heater.
I look back on my home of fifty years ago and remember the good times I had there and also the inconveniences we put up with. But, in all fairness, we didn't consider them inconveniences at the time because practically everyone else was in the same situation. As I have said elsewhere in these tales the good old days really weren't what they are thought to be. Who in their right mind would want to go back in time to those days and give up all the comforts we enjoy today?
Bruce Osburn 3-13-2001
THE LITTLE ENGINE THAT COULD
....and failed inventions
by: Bruce Osburn
It seems that talents are either bestowed by heredity into a family or else our environment sparks, nurtures and develops special abilities within a family group. It appears that my family falls into the latter - for all the brothers were mechanically inclined to some degree. Some were competent enough to do back-yard mechanical chores and some became highly skilled.
I think our ability to take on chores of such complexity was sparked by our dad. He often described himself as "a Jack of all trades and master of none," which was not true at all. Even though he spent thirty years in the army doing things that soldiers do, he was more than ...just a soldier.
I know of two houses he built - one in Spring Lake, NC, and one in Hamlet. Each of those houses was built without floor plans - except for sketches he might have drawn on a piece of paper. He erected them board by board, wired them, plumbed them, hung doors and windows, laid brick and block for foundations, chimneys and septic tanks and did everything else needed to get his family indoors. Nay, he was much more than a "Jack of all trades," a poor kid with just a 4th grade education - he was a master of all that he did.
My oldest brother James was just as ambitious. Even though he did twenty-one years in the navy as a radarman he was still a mechanic in the truest sense, becoming a certified aircraft engine and airframe mechanic after he retired.
Brother Gene began tinkering with engines at a very early age and continued in that field until he retired, chalking up nearly 50 years of sticking his head under hoods of cars. He drove for the first time at ten-years of age - and had his first fender bender on the same day! I think he was just fourteen-years old when he did his first major overhaul of an engine - a ring and bearing job on a 1935 Chevy.
My younger brother Kenny was not so involved with automobiles but knew enough about a car to keep it running.
As for me, I did backyard jobs and furthered my knowledge of things mechanical when I joined the navy and became a member of the engineering department. I worked on boilers, valves, pumps, steam turbines and other types of steam related equipment. After retiring from the navy I did eighteen more years doing the same thing at a steam electric generating plant.
But I digress from my teaser of a title. I just wanted you to know that my brothers were not afraid of getting their hands dirty when they were young and that they thought they could do anything they set their minds to.
After we had been in Richmond County for a year or so we came into possession of a small gasoline engine. I don't know where it came from nor to whom it belonged. Gene and I - and lots of other kids - had months and months of fun with that little one-cylinder engine.
Gene decided that what we needed for our pond was a boat. Not just any ol' boat, but a motor boat. After all, we already had an old mud scow that we kids managed to have more fun with than the law allowed so can you imagine the fun we could have with a...motor boat?
All the things Gene needed to convert our ol' mud scow into a motor boat were right there in our outbuildings. All he had to do was take a few parts from this or that. The first thing to fall victim to Gene's tools and give up some of its vitals was mom's old wringer type washing machine. It had served well for many years but had been replaced by a brand new automatic washer now sitting proudly in the kitchen. A few deft movements by Gene put the wringer's reversing gears on the floor. The gear box was to be the transmission - what good was a motor boat that would only go in one direction?
Gene's first attempt at building a motor boat proved to be a complete disaster. Oh, he got the little one-lunger mounted okay but other than that it was a fiasco. His little motor boat was a sidewheel paddle boat and when he shifted the gear box from neutral to forward he almost sank before he could shut the engine down! Those two paddles splashed more water into the boat than he could bail! And even after installing splash-guards there was still too much water coming into the boat so he gave up.
I don't know who suggested that Gene use a propeller - although I suspect it was brother James. In any event the little boat became a propeller driven boat which proved to be a much better design than the paddle wheeler. I don't know where that two-bladed brass propeller came from but most likely from a navy storeroom somewhere.
A length of water pipe became the propeller shaft tube, complete with bearings at both ends. A home-made rudder pointed the boat where we wanted to go and the washing machine gear box gave good control of ahead and astern direction although there was a lot of gear grinding when shifting.
The reader should know that most of the work done on that boat conversion was of a "jerry-rigged" nature. There was nothing professional about it at all and as a consequence the propeller had a bad habit of falling off to the bottom of the pond. When that occurred we had to drain the pond so we could retrieve it - and this we did several times.
But we couldn't just pull all the boards out of the spillway at one time and let the water cascade through the drain pipe uncontrolled. We had to drain the pond slowly because if we released too much water there was the danger of flooding our neighbor, Mr. Knight. And, besides that, the pond just below us utilized the county road as its dam - and who would want to upset the county by "washing out" one of its roads?
We young kids got maximum enjoyment from that little boat despite the effort we had to put out for a trip around the pond. The boat was far from being watertight, especially where the shaft tube penetrated the bottom. Great gobs of tar failed to seal it completely and a kid was kept busy bailing the whole time. Draining and refilling the pond was time consuming and our interest in motor boating lasted only about a year or so. The little engine was taken off and put aside for later foolishness.
I had a 26" bicycle that I had bought from James Moon for five dollars and what was left of it would do nicely for Gene's next project....a motor bike. I had almost worn out the bike from running all over the country - the fenders were gone, the brakes were bad (must have been a New Departure rear end!) and the pedals were just slick steel rods.
The rubber part of the pedals had fallen off long ago leaving just those slippery pegs waiting for a forgetful kid with wet feet to stand up and pump. His reward for doing that was a painful gouge on an ankle when his foot slipped off the end! Sometimes there was a more painful injury when a delicate part of the anatomy made contact with the cross bar!
Gene removed the pedal crank and sprocket, did a little modification to the frame with a hacksaw and sledge hammer and somehow attached the little engine onto the spot the crank had once been. A pulley of some type was bolted onto a Radio Flyer wagon wheel and it replaced the bike's rear wheel. A pulley belt from the rear wheel to the engine completed the drive-train and we were ready for some daredevil stunts!
But alas! That was another failure. That motor bike design failed to perform as planned and no one ever rode so much as ten feet on that sorry piece of junk. The only thing that was accomplished was that my bike frame wound up on the scrap heap.
New life was breathed into our little engine when Gene came up with another plan. This time he was going to build a... motor cart! And that was decades before anyone had ever heard the word go cart.
Gene made a wooden frame about the size of a door from 2 by 4s and 1" flooring. At what was to be the rear of the cart - in the middle of the frame and extending from the rear edge forward - was a slot wide enough to accommodate the front wheel of my trashed bicycle. That cart was going to have just three wheels - a bike tire at the rear to push it along and two wagon wheels up front.
A long piece of water pipe bent into a 90 degree angle was bolted onto the movable front axle - which was another piece of pipe - and this was to provid the means of steering. The driver was to sit in the middle of the frame, take the end of the bent pipe in his hands and steer the cart with this "tiller."
When Gene finished his work we pushed the cart down to the hard surface road for a test run. I don't know if Gene suspected something might go wrong or if he was just being a good brother because he let me have the first ride. I took my position in the middle of the cart, clinched the tiller between my knees and took the end with both hands. Gene started the engine, pushed the gear box into gear - and I was moving!
I didn't have any control of the throttle but still, that little engine began to perform at its best, slowly gaining speed. Hey! This is fun! Look at me! It works! But hey! Wait just a darn minute! I can't steer this thing!
I had traveled only about a hundred feet or so before the cart began to veer toward the ditch - and I had no control at all. No matter how desperately I pushed on the tiller the cart continued on its course to sure and certain destruction. Gene had been running alongside and I was hollering for him to shut it off but the cart picked up speed and outpaced him.
I could see the ditch coming closer and I knew I was in for a jolt. I screamed and pushed on the tiller with all my might, all to no avail. Crash! Down into the ditch the cart went and I was thrown every which way. Gene came up and began lamenting about his busted cart with its front axle twisted out of shape. But I wasn't concerned about that darned ol' cart at all - not one little bit!
I had more important things on my mind - really valuable things! You see, I was much more worried about the damage that danged old tiller had done when I slid down onto it and the end jabbed into my .....well.... you-know-where!
I dropped my breeches, pushed my drawers down to my knees and did a thorough physical examination right there on Lackey Street extension! I had never heard of an eunuch but I knew that I didn't want to be in the condition that would have made one of me!
Only one test drive of about two hundred feet or so was ever made with that little cart. Gene and I dragged it back to the house but I don't know what ever became of ... the little engine that could....
Bruce Osburn 3-15-2001
....and home remedies?
by: Bruce Osburn
When I was just a little kid in my formative years I learned some superstitions that were held out to be the truth and practically everyone I knew believed in them. Those beliefs were not just dreamed up by our adults to amuse us or to make us behave. They had been around longer than our family and had been passed down from generation to generation, with each generation believing in them just as deeply as the previous.
In today's enlightened time it is easy to look back on those years and realize just how gullible people could be and how they tried to explain away good or bad fortune. Here are just a few superstitions I learned as a kid.
I learned that if a black cat crossed my path it meant that bad luck was in store for me.
Getting up on the wrong side of the bed was sure to make me grouchy all day.
Breaking a mirror was seven years bad luck - unless I buried seven pieces of it in the yard. If the mirror hadn't broken into at least seven pieces it had to be broken again until the required number of pieces were had.
A sure-fire way for me to get rid of warts was to find a bone in the woods, rub it on a wart, replace the bone on the ground just as it had been found, turn my back and walk away without looking back. (I tried it a couple of times and it must have worked 'cause I don't have any warts now!)
Eating fish and drinking milk at the same meal would make me sick - so sick I might die! (I was in the navy before I ever got enough courage to have both at the same meal.)
Stepping on a crack would break my mother's back.
A ring around the moon meant that a storm was coming. The number of stars visible within the ring indicated the number of days before the storm began.
Lighting three cigarettes with one match brought bad luck.
An infant must roll off a bed before it is a year old or else it will die before its second birthday.
Some of the kinfolk openly admitted to their belief in superstitions and some denied believing. But I could tell which ones were true believers just by observing their actions. Some would throw a pinch of salt over their shoulder if they knocked over a salt shaker, or some would make a comment that a visitor was coming hungry if an eating utensil was dropped. A dropped fork meant a woman was coming and a knife meant a man was coming - or was it just the opposite? And I have seen more than one adult do an ever so subtle zig-zag sidestep so they could pass in front of - instead of under - a ladder leaning against a building.
And just as there were bad luck omens there were also charms to bring good fortune to those that believed. A rabbit's foot in a pocket brought good luck as did a penny found on the street. A horseshoe over the door ensured good fortune, providing it was mounted correctly. The ends of the shoe must be pointed upward or else the good luck would spill out.
I spent a week or so during the summer on uncle Richard's farm when I was ten years old. During my stay there I spent some time with the children of a neighboring black sharecropper and it wasn't long before I noticed that the children had amulets hanging from their necks. They told me the amulets kept them from getting sick and had been made by their mother. Well, shoot, I figured I needed one of those things too, so their mom mashed some herbs and secret things into shreds, sewed them all together in a little cloth pouch and hung it around my neck.
When I returned home I still had that magical amulet around my neck to ward off evil things but mom made me throw it away. I don't know why she wouldn't let me keep it; after all, it had kept me well the whole time I was at Richard's!
There was a strange preventative medical treatment the folks from Bridges Street neighborhood practiced. I was curious enough to try it once but it tasted so awful I was unable to take a full dose. So I don't know if it was effective in doing what it was supposed to do or not - and I never learned what that was.
In a ditch near the place our access road joined the county road was a deposit of pure white clay. It was mostly grit free and the texture, when wet, was as smooth and pliable as that of modeling clay.
When it was dry it was hard and brittle. The local folks called it "chalk" because, I suppose, it was as white as a piece of school house chalk.
The folks from Bridges Street said it had some sort of medicinal value. They came there and ate it by the handsful, filled pails to the brim and carried it home. I don't know what it was supposed to do but I'm sure it must have been effective because who in their right mind would eat that terrible tasting stuff for no good gain. And I'll bet it was good for clogging up the ol' guts, too, especially if someone suffered from the quick-step and had to make frequent visits to an outhouse!
Bruce Osburn 4-8-2001
OUR CHEVY TRUCK
....faithful 'til the end
by: Bruce Osburn
When dad retired from the army in 1947 he traded our 1938 Plymouth sedan for an old Ford truck which was later traded for a 1946 Chevy pickup. Those trades came about because dad was to build a house in Hamlet and he needed a truck to haul all the things needed for that job. After the house was completed dad hung onto the Chevy since it was needed for other chores. Hogs were taken to market, dirt was hauled to our dam, trash and garbage were moved to our dumping area, corn was taken to a feed mill for grinding, tobacco was taken to market, scrap metal was taken to the junk dealer and there were other hauling jobs that needed to be done. It even took the whole family to drive-in movies and was used occasionally by sailors to take a girl or two on an unforgetable adventure.
Dad went back on active army duty in 1950 and, since mom couldn't drive, the driving chore fell to Gene who was the oldest of us kids remaining at home. Gene was only fifteen years old and more than willing to accept that responsibility because it gave him unlimited use of our ol' Chevy pickup truck.
Gene did the grocery shopping and took mom anywhere she wanted to go but he began to think of the truck as his very own personal vehicle. He stopped riding the school bus and drove the truck to school every day. He no longer stood in cold or rainy weather waiting for the bus to come - as Kenny and I had to do. Some winter mornings, when the weather was at its absolute foulest, Gene would not leave the warmth of the house until ten or fifteen minutes after Kenny and I had already been standing at the bus stop, shivering in a cold rain, waiting for a late bus to arrive. When Gene slowed just before entering the county road Kenny and I would plead and beg with him to let us ride to school with him. His response - "Ride the bus! That's why they send it out here!" - was shouted as he burned rubber and left us standing there with wet heads and chattering teeth.
Some of you might ask why Gene left home so early when it only took about 10 minutes to drive from our house to Hamlet High School. Well, the reason for his early departure was so he could make a five mile detour to the intersection at US #74 and the Gibson highway. There he picked up his girlfriend, Dot, a girl he would woo for two or three years. He picked her up in the mornings and took her home after school. And all the while Kenny and I had to wait on the bus because... "That's why they send it out here!"
Gene didn't want anyone to drive that ol' truck and he kept the key in his pocket so no one could take it without him knowing. Even when he went off with some of his buddies - in their cars - he took the key with him. But my buddy, Jimmy Helton, who was a shade tree mechanic and stayed greasy most of the time, showed me how to hot-wire it. I took it anytime I wanted because mom didn't mind as long as I was doing something useful, such as hauling trash to our dump or dirt to our dam. And you can be sure I took advantage of that tacit permission by hauling small loads and plenty of them!
Our ol' Chevy did its last duty for us when we moved to Tampa in June 1953. It was loaded with as many household items as we could fit on its small, stake bed. When we drove across our dam and headed south to Florida there was more furniture in the house and on the porch than we had on the back of the truck. Dad, mom and Gene were in the cab and Kenny and I were sitting on an army foot-locker on the back with our knees against the tail gate - and that's the way we rode for two days. After we had settled in at Tampa that faithful old friend was traded for a 1951 Chevy sedan, a car that sparks no memory in me at all.
Bruce Osburn 4-14-2001
SANTA CLAUS and GENE
....don't tell the little kids!
by: Bruce Osburn
This is yet another tale that I have no personal knowledge of. It is one of several that I have heard mom tell at family gatherings after someone said, "Hey, do ya'll remember when we lived down at....?"
This is a tale concerning my brother, Gene, when he was just a kid about eight or nine years old. The year was in the early to mid-1940s, dad was "off at war somewhere," and mom and her kids were living at grandpa's farm in either Marlboro County, South Carolina, or Richmond County, North Carolina. I suppose the exact location isn't important, just that it was somewhere in the sandhills.
Christmas was near and I'm sure that all of us young kids were anticipating the arrival of that generous old fat man with his huge bag stuffed with goodies for those of us who had been good. And, as all kids are destined to learn at some point in their young lives, Gene learned about the real Santa Claus. I suppose he wanted to share that newly discovered bit of information with us younger kids because he told us the truth about Santa. That awful revelation must have upset us kids but not nearly as much as it angered mom. She made a decision to punish Gene for destroying our belief in that magical old man and she gave him a switching he probably still remembers to this day.
Mom's favorite switches came from the abundant peach trees that grew near most of the homes in the sandhills. She favored them because they were - in her words - keen. They were long, slender and flexible. A well placed lick on a bare calf sent the switch wrapping completely around the leg, making a welt that outlined the path of the switch. She didn't like the thick, brittle dog-fennel we kids fetched when she sent us for a switch. She smacked us with one of them until it splintered and then tersely told us to get a keeeen switch.
And so, it was with a keen switch that Gene got his licking. As best I remember, mom said she really laid it to him, giving him a thrashing like none before. Later on in the early evening, after we kids had been put to bed, mom began to agonize about what she'd done. She was worried that she'd given Gene too severe a licking; in fact, she thought she might even have drawn blood and she was anxious to know. So, lighting her way with a kerosene oil lamp, she went into our bedroom and to the side of the bed. She didn't want Gene to know that she was worried about the severity of his licking so she just snapped, "Stand up, Gene!"
Gene stood on the bed and mom said, "Drop them drawers!"
Gene unbuttoned his long johns and let them fall to his ankles. The soft glow from the oil lamp wasn't enough to light the room and mom couldn't see well enough to determine if she had drawn blood. So, she bent closer to Gene and moved the lamp up close to his legs to get a better look.
When Gene saw that hot lamp shade coming nearer to his legs he thought he was in for some more punishment! He began jumping up and down and, at the same time, bawling and screaming. "Don't burn me Mama, please don't burn me! I won't ever do it again!"
Mom said it was all she could do to stifle her laughs and, after determining she hadn't done any real damage, she slowly backed out of the room.
I suppose Gene had been given some bad information about that jolly old fat man because my kids and grandkids will tell you he's still here. This might be hard to believe, but some of them have actually seen his sooty boot prints around our Christmas trees!
Bruce Osburn 4-15-2001
....was not easily impressed
by: Bruce Osburn
My head and shoulders burst up through the surface of Liles' Lake with great urgency, sending a spray of water flying outward as I gasped deeply for a breath of air to fill my collapsed lungs. The first thing I became aware of were these words shouted by rotund ten-year-old Helen: "Bruce Osburn, you get away from my sister and leave her alone or I'll tell my granny!" I sure as heck didn't want Mrs. Knight to be told anything so I filled my lungs and moved away from Sally. I sulked and waited for yet another opportunity to get close to her so I could ...get a hug and steal a kiss.
Sally was a granddaughter of our neighbor, Mr. Knight. She was about my age, maybe a year younger at twelve or thirteen. She was the middle of three sisters and was, by far, the most attractive. Her shoulder length hair was a soft yellow and she had just the right amount of eye catching bumps and curves at strategic places on her slim, graceful form. Her thin, hand-me-down cotton dresses announced her emerging womanhood and anyone could plainly see that she was, without a doubt, the prettiest girl in the neighborhood - maybe even the whole county! Shoot, Sally was so doggone pretty I was determined to... get a hug and steal a kiss!
Sally and her siblings moved in and out of her grandfather's house a couple of times during the early 1950s. They boarded the school bus at the end of our lane, as did other neighboring families. In my effort to get close to Sally I did silly things I wouldn't want my buddies at school to know. While we waited in the mornings for the bus to come we played hop scotch, jump rope and probably other games boys weren't expected to play. I think I might even have played the most sissyish of all games - jacks! But I would have done anything to get Sally to notice me and perhaps light up my day with a coy little smile aimed in my direction.
During summer months Mr. Knight and his grandkids went to Liles' Lake to swim and bathe. When I saw them cross the SAL tracks near our house I made it my business to jump into my swim suit and sprint down a hot, foot-scorching sandy path to the lake. As soon as I got there I put on my greatest displays of derring-do, trying to catch Sally's eye. But no matter how many dangerous back-flips, stinging belly-flops or water splashing cannonballs I did, she remained unimpressed. No, siree! She didn't give me the least little bit of encouragement of later.... getting a hug and stealing a kiss.
When she was at the lake with her granddad I made sure I was on my best social behavior after I joined them. But, when she went swimming with only her sisters, well, that offered an opportunity for me to be just a little more aggressive. I could swim underwater fairly well and I used that talent to ambush Sally when she was standing neck-deep in water and not expecting any shenanigans. Well, I suppose she didn't expect my tomfoolery because she always kicked at me every time I tried to... get a hug and steal a kiss.
On that day when plump little Helen hollered at me and threatened to tell her granny, Sally had just seconds earlier connected with a well placed, up-thrusted knee that knocked every bit of the breath from me and I exploded from the water gasping and struggling for air!
Sally never forgot to be on guard when I was around and she never let me put my arms around her. I wonder if she still remembers that obnoxious little boy who was so determined to... get a hug and steal a kiss...?
Bruce Osburn 4-21-2001
HOW I BECAME INVISIBLE
or ..the day the devil got me
by: Bruce Osburn
Within the past year one of my daughters told me she had used a trick to get my four-year-old granddaughter to do something she had refused to do. The trick was similar to one that mom had used on me when I was the same age and the outcome for my granddaughter was the same as it had been for me because she, too, became ......invisible!
This is yet another experience that I can't remember but is one I've heard mom retell over the years, even as far back as when I was just a teenager. My daughter may have remembered my mom telling of the time I became invisible or she may have heard me repeat it. Regardless of the way she learned about it this is the way the tale developed.
The year was 1943 and we were living in Waycross, GA, near my dad's folks. We had moved there after dad was sent to Europe just six months after the USA entered World War II. From all accounts I was a mischievous child - naughty and, some might say, stubborn. One of my Georgia uncles liked to tell of the time I became mad about some trivial matter (....such as not getting my way?) and stomped off to his newly sprouted garden and walked heel-to-toe down several rows of young vegetable plants.
On the day I became invisible there were only four people in our house. The three oldest kids were away at school. My younger brother, Kenny - who was just a knee-baby - and I were home with mom and a visiting aunt. Along about noon mom and my aunt prepared lunch and I was told to wash my dirty hands. But instead of doing so, I sat at the table and asked for something to eat.
Mom ignored me and pretended I wasn't even there. She began to eat and said to my aunt, "Do you know where Bruce is?"
As with all people who are so in-tune with one another and can quickly see what is developing, my aunt said, "Well, no, I don't. He was here just a minute ago."
Mom and my aunt continued to ignore me, all the while eating their lunch as if nothing was out of the ordinary. Every time I reached for something one of them would deftly deflect my hand while pretending to take it for themselves. Mom and my aunt continued their game with comments such as, "I wonder why Bruce isn't here for lunch? I know he must be hungry."
Mom said that every time they wondered aloud where I was I would yell, "Here I am, Mama! Here I am!" She said I stood on the chair and banged on the table but still, they acted just like I wasn't there.
Finally, mom said, "Well, I guess the ol' devil got Bruce. I told'im to go wash his hands and if he didn't I suppose the devil's got'im. You know, that ol' devil will always get a kid who won't mind his mama."
Mom said I jumped from my chair and ran off to wash my hands. When I returned to the kitchen she said, "Oh, there you are. We've been wondering where you were."
It was bad enough that the boogerman was always watching us kids, but now we had the devil to worry about, too! In less than a year we would be told about ghosts and they, too, became a part of our young lives, rounding out a triple threat that was to remain with us for years.
I don't know if my becoming invisible had any effect on my behavior in later years but I do know that mom and my aunt had a deep belly laugh each and every time they told of it.
Bruce Osburn 4-23-2001
HOG KILLING TIME
...and a disturbing revelation
by: Bruce Osburn
Dad and uncle Lawrence went into the hog raising business sometime about 1948. They fenced in about four acres of swamp and dry ground, turned loose a bunch of feeder pigs, fed them ice cream and waited for them to get fat. Most of the hogs were taken to market in late spring, effectively wiping out our drove of thirty or more. But the boar and some of the brood sows were kept, along with any shoats that were too young for market. Some of those shoats would later be food for our table and the others - and any born later - would be fattened for sale the following spring.
In autumn, around about late November or early December, when the air was crisp and the blowflies had taken flight, preparations were made to butcher some of the shoats which had now grown into animals of three-hundred pounds or more. Butchering the animals required the efforts of three or four families so uncles, aunts and cousins all pitched in to make chops and sausages of three or four pigs.
"Hog killing time" began at the pens. Dad or one of the uncles selected an animal and simply placed the barrel of a .22 rifle onto the pig's head and pulled the trigger! Bam! The pig fell to the ground and one of the men grabbed it by the front legs and twisted it onto its back. Another took a long, sharpened knife, placed it on the under-side of the pig's neck and thrust it deep into the chest cavity. After more than one or two jabs the heart was pierced, sending an eruption of blood streaming onto the ground, quickly draining the life from the pig.
After the hog had "bled out" a chain or rope was placed around it and dragged to the house. Here, a hole had been dug that was large enough to put an open-top 55-gallon barrel into. The hole was not a vertical, steep sided pit, but rather a sloping hole that allowed the bottom of the barrel to be down-slope and the open top was at the surface. The barrel was filled with hot water and the freshly killed pig was shoved snout-down into the barrel. A few quick turns and twists of the carcass ensured that it was thoroughly scalded.
After the pig had been sufficiently scalded the men dragged the carcass onto a piece of old tin roofing, or some boards, where we children began our chores. We used the lids of tin cans to scrape the hair from the hog, being careful not to cut deep gashes into the skin. A properly scalded hog was easy to scrape but one that had been put into water that was not at the right temperature was another matter because the hair had "set" and was really tough to remove.
After we kids had scraped the hair from a pig both its hind legs were slit at the ankles. A stout stick was passed behind the tendons and the carcass was hung from a pole or an "A-frame." One long cut from groin to throat opened the stomach cavity, spilling the innards into a large hole directly below the pig's head. That hole had been dug earlier for just one purpose - to collect the innards as they were removed.
Some of the local folk kept the innards for chitlins but my family didn't eat anything that came from the stomach cavity. Well, sometimes the liver was saved if it wasn't covered with white spots. No one knew what caused the spots so, just to be on the safe side, a spotted liver was dumped into the hole along with the rest of the offal. Sometimes we kids snatched a bladder from the hole 'cause it made a pretty good football, that is, if one of us could be persuaded to blow it up.
After the pig had been gutted a few cuts with a knife and a few strokes of a handsaw removed the head. Shoulders were cut off and the carcass was thrown onto a chopping table where the hams were removed. Now the women began their work with earnest. Cutting, slicing, trimming, chopping and grinding reduced the animal to chops, roasts, ribs and sausage. Some of the sausage was packaged in bulk - for patties - and some was stuffed into casings for links.
The fat trimmed from the animals didn't go to waste. Some of the thickest pieces were salted for use as fatback and some were cut into smaller pieces. Those small pieces were rendered into lard and afterward were called "cracklins" which made excellent cracklin cornbread!
Small pieces of lean meat that were left over from cutting and chopping were saved and made into "scrapple," a type of cornbread concoction that was enjoyed by just about everyone. Several slices of hot, fried scrapple in the morning - liberally drenched with Karo or cane syrup - have sent many a country-boy out to begin a hard day's work.
There was another by-product of hog butchering that I vaguely remember - something called hog's head cheese. Most people ate it when it was available and appeared to enjoy it. As best as I can remember it was the result of boiling a pig's head for several hours and then collecting the "juices." Small pieces of meat and spices were mixed into it and then allowed to congeal in shallow pans. It was much like Jello gelatin except it was homemade with bits of meat and spicy.
No one in our family had a big home freezer so after the meat had been cut and ground into suitable pieces it was taken to a local freezer locker where it was stored until needed.
During one of the early hog killing days I saw something that caused me to stop eating one of my favorite breakfast items - scrambled eggs and brains. I can remember eating that good breakfast down on granddad's farm when I was just a little kid, between the ages of five and seven. But during our three year absence from the sandhills I can't remember many mornings when we had it.
The reason I gave up that favorite breakfast was because of something I saw uncle Richard do. I saw him bust open a pig's head with an ax and watched as he began to shake something from it into a pan. "Whatcha' doing, Uncle Richard?" asks I as I went to investigate.
"Well, I'm getting the brains," says he.
"Whatcha' gonna do with'em?" asks I.
"We're gonna eat'em," says he. "That's what we're gonna do. You know, scrambled eggs and brains."
Those brains were the most repulsive things I had ever seen! And uncle Richard was dumping them into a pan so we could eat them! From that day 'til now I can't remember ever again eating anything that came out of a pig's head. I'll think I'll just stick to those good ol' eggs!
Bruce Osburn 5-8-2001
THAT OLD HOUSE
...lured us kids
by Bruce Osburn
There was an old, old house - better described as a shack - near our place which provided shelter to some families that couldn't afford anything better. It was too close to the SAL tracks - about fifty feet - and was in such a sorry, run-down condition that it must have been a choice of last resort for those seeking shelter. The roof sagged, the front porch tilted away from the main structure and several boards hung at strange angles from its unpainted sides.
There was no electricity so there were no modern conveniences to be found anywhere
about the place. A privy was nearby and water had to be carried from a small spring on the other side of the tracks. The only redeeming feature was a gigantic black walnut tree that grew at the southeast corner.
That old house must have been there at least seventy-five years, maybe more. I had been under it numerous times chanting "doodle bug, doodle bug, you better come out....." and had seen that the huge sills had been hand hewn. It had the usual rusty tin roof, clapboard siding, a big front porch and everything sat on crumbling brick pillars. A few of the pillars under the porch had mostly fallen away and were reinforced with short pieces of tree trunks.
I can't remember the number of rooms but four wouldn't be a bad guess since the house was mostly square in shape. There probably wasn't even one level floor in the entire house and the doors hung askew. So much so that the front door had to be lifted from the floor so that it could be opened or closed. I don't know if the windows opened or not but I do remember that those windows were responsible for me getting a licking.
During the five years we lived near Hamlet the house stood mostly empty. Two of Mr. Knight's daughters and their children - the Millers and the Roscoes - lived there at different times for a few months. There were two Roscoe boys but I can't remember their names. In fact, I can't remember if their last name was Roscoe or if one of the boys was called Roscoe. But I do remember that the oldest one, who was about my age, could really smoke a baseball. He stung my hand more than once through an old, worn out catcher's mitt. (He also chewed tobacco and could spit juice just like an adult!)
On the day I got my breeches warmed I was fooling around with someone I can't now remember. It could have been my brother Kenny and, then again, it might have been the Helton boys - heck, maybe it was all three. But, no matter who was with me, we were up on the tracks doing boy things. Maybe seeing who could walk a rail the farthest without falling. Or jumping from rail to rail. And, of course, throwing rocks at bottles alongside the right-of-way or at insulators on the telegraph poles.
It couldn't have been long before temptation got the best of one of us and the mischief began. Someone reared back and threw a rock clear through a window in the old house! I don't know who first wound up and let one fly but that was the signal for all of us to join in. We began trashing that old house with gusto, throwing rocks as fast as we could at every window we hadn't already smashed! We had broken nearly every pane facing the tracks when our exuberance was suddenly shattered by someone hollering, "Hey! Wha'chu boys doin'? Ya'll stop bustin' out that glass and git on out'a here!"
We boys had been so engrossed in smashing those windows that we didn't see Gene - the black man who farmed part of our land - come through the woods on his horse drawn wagon. After admonishing us to stop our mischief he continued on his way down the pig-path of a road toward our house more than a quarter-mile away.
I watched as he passed around the edges of the fields, through a pine thicket and right into our yard! He stopped at our front porch and mom went to his wagon for a few minutes, after which he drove on out of our yard and across the dam. I figured I shouldn't go home right away so I just hung around on the tracks a little longer.
When I finally got home mom asked where I had been and what I had been doing. Right then I suspected I was in deep trouble and was about to get a licking. I was always a little cautious about telling mom a lie. She said she knew right away when I was lying just by watching my behavior. According to her I would become fidgity, shifting my weight from foot to foot and that my eyes gave me away every time - something about the way they darted about but never at her. She has said that if I told a convincing tale and she still doubted me she would just say, "Look me in the eye and tell me again!" So, whenever I was bold enough to tell mom a lie I had to be absolutely sure there was no way possible for her to ever learn the truth.
And I had learned through painful experience that it was far better to get a licking for telling the truth than to get a licking for telling a lie. Mom absolutely hated a lie. She would give us a switching much faster if she caught us lying than if we told the truth. In fact, telling the truth about a naughty act sometimes kept us from getting the switch.
There was one more thing that encouraged me not to lie - I knew that if I told a lie I would get a little hard, painful white sore on the tip of my tongue. Mom had told me that telling lies caused those little sores and would she.... lie to me?
Well, I was caught on the horns of a dilemma because I knew that no matter what I said I was done for. If I said I had been doing nothing and Gene had told her about the windows, then I was going to get it for lying. On the other hand, if Gene hadn't told her and I 'fessed up anyway, there was more than an even chance that I was still going to get it.
So, I had to assume Gene had told her that he had caught us busting windows and I 'fessed up, hoping the truth would spare me the switch. Mom exploded! What I had done was far worse than accidently breaking a plate or even busting out the windows in our shed. This time I had destroyed someone else's property. It didn't matter that the house was just a shack and no one lived there, no sir! It was still someone's property! Mom lit into me with vigor and she gave me the thrashing that I had earned.
Through my sobs I yelled at mom that she knew all the time what I had done, 'cause I had seen Gene stop to tell her. She had a laugh at my expense because she told me that Gene had only stopped to talk about the garden he was tending for us. Shoot, mom never would have found out about those darned ol' windows if I'd just kept my big ol' mouth shut!
The old house is gone now, knocked down and hauled away, and has been replaced with some kind of manufacturing plant.
Bruce Osburn 5-18-2001
THE HEN DOCTOR
....where's them eggs!
by: Bruce Osburn
I did something a long, long time ago that I should be ashamed for people to know but I'm not. The reason I'm not embarrassed is because I didn't know it was an unacceptable thing to do and, besides that, I had been told by an adult to do it. My uncle Doug Patrick is solely responsible for this memory ever coming about and any wise remarks should be directed to him.
Doug still remembers that day fifty-eight years ago when a rooster spurred me and he laughs every time he tells about it. I have a fleeting memory of the incident but it isn't as deeply etched into my memory as other experiences are. My recollection is based mostly on the great number of times I've heard it repeated.
This memorable incident happened when I was a five-year-old kid living down on the Gun O Field farm in Marlboro County, South Carolina, with my grandpa and a dozen or more souls. Even though a kid of that age didn't have any regular chores I think I liked to gather eggs for mom. There were a couple dozen chickens on the farm and they all had free range about the yards and fields. Some of the "sitting" chickens built their nests in hard to find places and some co-operated by using the nesting boxes in the barn.
I've been told that I used to go to the barn several times a day to collect eggs and would get mad when the chickens were slow in delivering. Uncle Doug told me one way to get a chicken to lay an egg faster was to stroke it on the back while it was on the nest. From all accounts I dutifully did my stroking of the hens but that didn't seem to increase egg production. So, uncle Doug came up with a better solution.
He told me that if stroking a hen's back didn't speed up delivery I was to stick my finger into the place the egg came from and pull it out! Well, shoot, what's a five-year-old kid going to do? Surely my uncle wouldn't give me any bad advice so I did exactly what he told me to do!
On the day I was spurred on the side of my head I was stroking and poking a chicken when it started squawking and flapping. That commotion brought an old game rooster flying at my face and he raked me with his spurs. With blood streaming from my head I ran from the barn bawling as loud as I could. My screams brought mom who became upset at the sight of my bloody face. She became even more upset when she learned a rooster had attacked me and hopping mad when she saw that I had chicken poop on one finger and learned how it got there.
I don't know what words mom had to say to uncle Doug about his foolishness. And I suppose that was the day Doug gave me the nickname "Hen Doctor." Doug was a prankster of the first order and he still laughs about that incident to this day.
Bruce Osburn 5-21-2001
SUNDAY SMOKERS and SPITTERS
....dibs on that butt and don't cut your foot!
by: Bruce Osburn
There must have been a lot of visiting to catch up on when we moved back to the sandhills in the late 1940s. For a few months it seemed like we had visitors every Sunday. Uncles and aunts came an hour or so before noon and stayed nearly all day. Sometimes just one family came and then there were days when two families showed up at the same time. The visiting tapered off after awhile but still they came, right up until the day we moved from Hamlet.
We young boys took our even younger cousins exploring in the woods or boating on our pond. And there were things we did near the house- roller-bat, shooting marbles, playing tag and more things than I can remember.
During warm months we showed them a good time at our favorite swimming hole. Liles' Lake was just across the tracks and through the woods, less than ten minutes at a brisk walk. A couple of stolen watermelons thrown into the lake cooled in an hour or so and busting them open and sharing the hearts finished off an afternoon of fun.
While we kids entertained our cousins the adults passed the day talking about whatever adults talk about. During cold months they visited inside the house. When the weather was comfortable some of the dining room chairs were taken to the front porch where they were placed among the porch furniture and visiting took place there.
The women usually sat on the porch glider and chairs, slowly pushing themselves to and fro with their feet. Most of the men put their chairs near the wall and leaned backward until the chair sat on just its two back legs and the back rested against the wall. Thus positioned everyone passed the afternoon visiting, some smoking cigarettes and a few spitting into the yard.
When we kids played near the house I kept an eye on the smokers. At times there were more than just one or two because both men and women puffed away with the same urgency, sending great clouds of smoke drifting into the pines. Some of the men rolled Prince Albert or Bull Durham cigarettes and some smoked ready-mades like the women did.
But the women were the ones I watched more closely because all of them didn't burn their cigarettes down to just a little bitty stub the way the men did. When some of them finished a smoke there was still a lot of butt there, sometimes more than half a cigarette!
So, whenever I saw one flip a butt from her fingers I did a little zig-zag trot across the yard and ever so subtly - without drawing the least bit of suspicion - smashed the lit end with a big toe or my heel. After everyone had gone home I picked up those butts when mom wasn't looking and put them with my private stash. And the best part was that when I lit one I didn't have to put the burnt end between my lips because I knew who had smoked it!
For the most part the kinfolk were welcomed visitors but there was one aunt and uncle whose visits we kids wished weren't so long. They had no boy kids our age to play with and they left behind things that were absolutely disgusting! Neither of them smoked but both used tobacco - the uncle chewed and the aunt dipped!
As soon as dinner was over on cold days, and the adults had made their way into the living room, mom told one of us kids to "Get a couple of tomato cans for your aunt and uncle." (I don't know why all tin cans were called "tomato cans." Why weren't some called "bean cans" or "soup cans" or "corn cans?") During indoor visits the uncle sat at one end of our sofa, the aunt was at the opposite end and they both loaded their mouths with an obscene amount of chew or dip.
After the juices started flowing they began to expectorate into their cans with regularity and without regard to anyone in the room. Their hands stayed busy all afternoon - over the arms of the sofa to the floor where they picked up their can, up to their mouths where there was heard a disgusting pewtooh! and back to the floor. If visiting lasted more than a few hours those ol' spit cans came darn close to overflowing!
When visiting took place on the porch they sat near the edge so they could spit directly into the yard. The splatters of juice starkly contrasted with the gray background of the yard because almost all rural yards were bare of grass, being instead just wide expanses of hard packed soil. The areas they spit into soon became dark and slippery because hour after hour they directed long streams of tobacco juice at their own personal spot. They created slicks that grew larger and larger as the afternoon shadows grew longer and longer.
We kids were extra cautious when the spitters were around. When we played running games we gave the porch a wide berth because we never knew when a stream of juice might hit us square in our faces as we came tearing around a corner. And we sure as heck didn't want to cut our bare feet in that nasty ol' stuff, either!
If any of you readers have never witnessed a tobacco chewer or dipper expel a mouthful of juice I think you'd be surprised at the distance - and accuracy - achieved by a long time user. My uncle tilted his head backward just a tad and with a quick forward thrust of his head and upper torso he squirted a stream of juice through puckered lips that flew a distance of eight or ten feet - and right on target! A quick wipe of his mouth with the back of a hand or a sleeve collected the little bit that had dribbled down his chin.
My aunt was just as adept at spitting but she used the middle and index fingers of one hand to assist her. She formed those two fingers into a "V" and placed them on both sides of the center of her mouth. She pressed her lips tightly against her teeth, took a deep breath and used it to force a mouthful of juice through her tight lips. It's safe to say that she achieved the same distance as my uncle and was just as accurate. She usually wound up with two brown fingers and traces of spittle oozing from the corners of her mouth.
When they left for home in late afternoon all that yucky spit was left behind, right where they last spit! We kids had to remove those nasty ol' cans from the living room and, scowling as we held them at arm's length, we were darn careful not to trip on the way to the trash heap.
Those two huge slicks in the yard were covered with sand 'cause there was a chance we might forget about them and cut our feet when we came flying around the house. Cutting our feet in tobacco spit was more disgusting than cutting our feet in chicken poop! Either cutting required us to do a one-legged hop to the nearest yard spigot so we could wash away that nasty ol' mess.
I wish I could have thought of a moral for this tale and not end it so abruptly. Are there any lessons that can be learned from this? The only thing I can think to say is ......dibs on that butt and don't cut your foot!
Bruce Osburn 5-23-2001
....no slacker, he
by: Bruce Osburn
This is a memory of our neighbor who lived adjacent to our south property.
Mr. Knight and his wife had at least four daughters and one son. The daughters ranged in ages from their twenties to their forties. I remember that three of the daughters were - or had been - married and I knew the children of two of them. During the five years we were neighbors I had, on different occasions, talked with all of the daughters when they visited their parents. I can't remember if I ever knew their names or if I had ever seen their husbands.
The fourth daughter - and the youngest - was in her twenties and wasn't married. I think the longest conversation I ever had with her was the night I pulled her boyfriend's car out of a bog hole on the north side of our property. (Read about that incident in my tale of "Lackey Street.")
William, the son, was about four years older than me and we used to sneak into drive-in movies together. He joined the air force but served only a couple of months because of a prior injury that began to bother him. Mr. Knight may have had other children and grandchildren but the ones I've mentioned are all I remember. I didn't spend a great deal of time at his place, but I was there at different times long enough to form memories of him.
During warm months Mr. Knight was a familiar sight as he crossed the SAL tracks on his way to Liles' Lake. A visit there for him was two-fold; he liked to swim and he bathed there. He was well into his sixties and could swim circles around us young kids with his long, slow strokes. He easily outdistanced us cigarette smoking boys, leaving us in his wake as we wheezed and gasped for air.
Sometimes some of Mr. Knight's grandkids would tag along with him to Liles' Lake, either for just a swim or to bathe. One of his granddaughters became of special interest to me when I reached the age when boys became more interested in hanging around with girls than hanging out with their buddies. (Read about that young girl in my tale of "Sally.")
Mr. Knight was not a wealthy man. He lived in less than a modest house, did heavy hauling with his mule drawn wagon and traveled about town on a bicycle because he didn't own a car. So, from all the visible evidence, it could be assumed he was a man of little means.
But I suppose Mr. Knight didn't consider himself poor, after all, his circumstances weren't that much different than those of other families in the county. Maybe the reason he didn't know he was economically challenged was because no one told him so.
In those days there were no government agencies going into the hinterlands telling people how bad off they were. There were no overstaffed offices doling out all kinds of social services such as subsidized housing, food stamps, free medical care or other "entitlements" from a compasionate government. What a man had - or didn't have - was entirely the results of his efforts. A man accepted his responsibilities to his family and looked to no one other than family members if he was unable to provide for their welfare. In that respect Mr. Knight did an admirable job of supporting his family and extended family for there were times when some of his grandkids came there and stayed for long periods of time.
Mr. Knight did whatever was necessary to earn money for things he couldn't produce himself. He loaded blocks of ice into rail cars of the Florida Fruit Growers Express at the ice house in the north yard. I don't know if it was a full time, weekly job or if it was seasonal, working only when cars were re-iced as they passed through Hamlet on their way to the north.
Some of you Hamlet folks may have even talked to him as your mother bought holly and mistletoe arrangements from a gaunt man in bib-overalls standing at your door. During the weeks before Christmas Mr. Knight hitched his mule to the wagon, took up his longgg, single-barrel shotgun and drove to the lowlands of Marks Creek. There he shot down berry laden holly branches with his shotgun. Clumps of mistletoe were collected in the same manner. At home Mr. and Mrs. Knight snipped, arranged and tied the clippings into wreaths and bunches. Those colorful red and green Christmas decorations were lashed to his bicycle and he sold them door-to-door around Hamlet.
Another source of income came from light'ard splinters he hacked from old pine stumps he found at different places in the neighborhood. I don't know how he managed to get a huge fat light'ard stump onto his wagon but he did. Unloading it wasn't difficult. At home he'd lash a chain or rope around the stump, tie the other end to a tree and simply drive the wagon from under it. He chopped slivers off the stump and tied them into bundles about the size of a rolled up newspaper. Those splinters were sold to the folks of Bridges Street neighborhood and to anyone else that wanted excellent kindling for starting fires in cook stoves and fireplaces.
He usually had at least one hog in a pen near his house which he fed with slop collected mostly from the folks of Bridges Street. I don't know what arrangements he had in regards to the slop, but I do know that he collected it in five-gallon buckets which he hung from the handle bars of his old bicycle. Garden season found him peddling his home-grown vegetables around town from the same bicycle.
There was a small stream just a few steps from his back door where he kept a couple of baited bush-hooks to catch catfish swimming upstream from a pond just below his house. A few of the nearby trees where he shot flocks of blackbirds may still be standing. Those blackbirds were collected by Mrs. Knight and cooked the same as a gamebird hunter does with quail or doves.
Mr. Knight was a fellow one would do well to emulate. He had the highest of work ethics and looked after his extended family in a time when there were no social services to turn to. I haven't seen him or any of his kin since we left Hamlet fourty-eight years ago. His house was still standing as late as a year ago, even though it has been added to and significantly changed in appearance.
Bruce Osburn 5-30-2001