Rockingham & Bennettsville Railroad
....a secret worth keeping
by: Bruce Osburn
No matter how hard I tried to hide my misadventures from mom she usually found out anyway. Either someone told her or I became afraid she'd somehow find out so I'd just go ahead and rat on myself. But one secret I kept from her was an incident that came close to being my last act of youthful foolishness. That was the day a steam locomotive came within a hair's breadth of sending this thirteen-year-old kid to an early grave.
If I had been killed that day my family wouldn't have been able to boast that I had been done in by a fast moving Seaboard Air Line locomotive. Nor would they have been able to embellish my demise by saying that a heroic engineer desperately reversed his engine and squealed the brakes as he tried to stop a long line of freight cars.
No, they would only have been able to say that I'd been done in by a sorry old train that probably never reached a speed of more than thirty miles per hour, and even that speed is doubtful. Yes, I would have been done in by a slow moving train that passed by only once every day or so, a train so obscure that no one outside the sandhills had ever heard of it.
The Rockingham and Bennettsville Railroad was a "short line" and there were probably no more than three engines for the entire road. The tracks ran southeast from Rockingham, running parallel with the Airport Road for a short distance. They made a grade crossing of the SAL tracks and Lackey Street extension (now Gin Mill Road) about two miles south of our house. The road continued on to Gibson, NC, turned south and into Bennettsville, SC, covering a distance of about thirty-five miles.
The rolling stock for that road was old and worn. The roadbed was not in good condition for some of the cross ties were rotten and the rails were not exactly straight or level. There was so little traffic on the road that bushes and briars had taken over the right-of-way. Brambles and brush covered the embankments and ditches right up to the ends of the ties. There was even a scattering of weeds which had taken root between the rails and openly defied the cars to beat them into submission.
That was strictly a freight line with no passenger cars to be seen anywhere. One engine with four or five cars slowly made its way over an uneven road to the next stop. The cars swayed and squealed as they passed through farmland, swamps and pine woods. Long, shrill blasts from a steam whistle warned of the train's approach to unguarded crossings.
I was messing around on the trestle that spanned Marks Creek the day I had my breeches steamed cleaned by an exhausting steam engine but I can't remember why I was there. I don't think it was because I had been kicked off the school bus. If that had been the case I would've been better off to walk the highway because someone might come by and give me a lift. So, I guess I was there because I just didn't have anything better to do.
I was on that long trestle when I heard the wavering blasts of a whistle warning cars on the Bennettsville Highway of the approach of an engine. That crossing was less than two miles east of me but I knew I had more than enough time to run ahead of the train to the crossing at Lackey Street extension. I didn't feel an urgency to get off the tracks 'cause I knew the train always moved at a slow speed and I could easily run the quarter-mile distance to the crossing.
I started out at an easy trot, running between the rails on the uneven ties. I had covered nearly all the distance to the crossing when I heard the shrill scream of the whistle. In all these years I have never been able to determine if the engineer was blowing the whistle at me or if he was blowing for the crossing at Lackey Street extension. I glanced over my shoulder only to see that the engine was already on the trestle - much closer and much sooner than I expected to see it!
I speeded up until I was fairly flying over the ties, unable to run a step faster than I was already running. The whistle spurred me on as I heard the rumble of the wheels and screech of the cars as they lurched from side to side. A thousand thoughts must have run through my terrified brain. How was I going to get out of this mess? What happens if I stumble on these rotten ties?
I jumped a rail and started running in the briars and brush at the ends of the ties. Lordy! Lordy! What to do? There was nowhere to jump because all of the right-of-way was just one big ol' briar patch so I just sucked it up and continued on my desperate dash to safety.
Lackey Street was getting closer but so was that darn engine! With the whistle wailing and my lungs nearly bursting I finally got close enough to Lackey Street to throw myself headlong onto the pavement. The engine passed so close behind me that I felt steam blow up my pants leg!
Damn that engineer! Didn't he see me? Damn! Damn! Damn! I had been running on the side of the tracks that he had a clear line of sight to and still, he darn near ran me over! That danged ol' engineer should have started slowing his train way back up the tracks!
If I had been squished that afternoon it would have been a sad day for my parents. And they would have been even more sadder when they learned that the R&B RR had to make a complete stop before it crossed over the SAL tracks. And those tracks were no more than six hundred feet from where I was sitting on asphalt rubbing my bruised knees. What difference could it possibly have made to the R&B RR on that day if the engineer stopped his train before he got to Lackey Street?
I don't think I ever told mom of that incident. As far as I'm concerned that was one secret she definitely didn't need to know.
Bruce Osburn 6-1-2001
.....and treasure hunts
by: Bruce Osburn
My oldest brother, James, was a nineteen-year-old sailor in Pacific waters when my family moved to Hamlet in 1948. About 1949 he was transferred to a ship at Norfolk, VA., and he came home every weekend he had shore leave. He didn't come alone. Sometimes there were one, two or three young sailor boys bunked down on the couch and on pallets scattered about the living room.
Some of the boys came to think of our place as a second home and even came there when James had weekend duty. They came by car, train, motorcycle or hitchhiking. I don't know what attracted those sailor boys to the little bitty town of Hamlet but they sure did like to come there. Maybe they just liked the homey atmosphere and my mom's home cooking. But I'll bet it was really because of those girls down in Cheraw I had heard them talk about as they laughed and slapped one another on the back.
Late in an afternoon they got into a car - and sometimes our truck -and headed off to Cheraw. Early the next morning, sometimes just before daybreak, they returned to our house looking for a place to sleep. I didn't know what those boys did all night long down there in South Carolina but they must have really enjoyed themselves 'cause they kept going back....and back....and back... week after week.
Their all-night escapades proved to be a bonanza for me and my brothers and we eagerly awaited the break of day. We weren't out of bed long before we grabbed a water pail and a whisk broom and set about cleaning the car. But, of course, our main objective was to see what treasures we could find; washing and sweeping the car was just an excuse to get inside it.
The first thing we did was jump into the back and pull the seat from the floor. Whoeee! Look at all that money! How'd that get there? There were nickels, dimes, quarters and half-dollars just lying there waiting for a plundering kid to pick up! Even the front seat gave up its fair share. Whatever it was those ol' sailor boys did on the back seats of those cars sure did made us rich!
Our treasure hunts never failed to turn up a dollar or so and that made it more than worthwhile for us to clean the cars. We were well rewarded for our efforts but sometimes I wondered if the boys didn't just "plant" the coins so they could get the cars cleaned.
I remember the names of only two of those then-young men - W.T. Bateman, Jr. of Hugo, OK and a guy we called Nick the Greek, because, I suppose, he was of Greek descent. I don't remember much about the others except for one incident. That was the day a red-headed kid stopped by and said he had permission to take Bateman's motorcycle. That in itself wasn't unusual because just about everyone rode Bateman's old 1941 Harley-Davidson "74".
But what was unusual was the fact the young sailor had never ridden a motorcycle before. Brother Gene, who was about fifteen, had been riding the Harley for several months so he showed the sailor how to kick-start the engine and how to "toe and heel" the clutch to shift gears. A few lessons in our back yard were enough to get the fellow underway.
He stuffed his AWOL bags into the two leather saddle bags and we stood in the front yard holding our breath as he wobbled down our drive toward the county road. With both feet sticking out to the sides he kept pushing himself upright as he slowly made his way closer to our pond. Our drive passed on top of the dam and we cringed as he zigged and zagged safely across and onto the asphalt of the county road. He turned south and we heard him gunning the engine and shifting gears as he sped out of sight down the highway, the distintive loud thunder of the old Harley identifying it and announcing its coming as it carried that young sailor on an adventure to Florida.
He returned the machine about two weeks later, still in one piece and none the worse for wear and tear. He probably had gotten a good feel for the old Harley before he had passed completely through South Carolina and it's safe to say he must have thought he'd mastered it by the time he got to Florida. I say that because he said he had raced that old Harley in the Daytona motorcycle races!
We never found out one way or the other if he was telling the truth about racing the machine. But James could tell of its speed because he traveled the distance of twenty miles from Cheraw to Hamlet in ten minutes! That's no typo! Twenty miles in ten minutes averages 120 miles per hour!
James had made the mistake of staying at his girlfriend's house too long and was there when the passenger train he was to take north from Hamlet came into Cheraw from the south. He jumped onto the Harley and started for Hamlet. When he got north of Wallace, SC, and onto route #177, he laid down on the machine with just his eyes peeping over the headlight and his feet hanging off the back!
He opened the throttle and practically flew over the road. He said that even though the Harley only registered up to120 miles per hour, the speedometer needle was standing straight up and down, indicating at least 130 MPH! He made it to our house where he dropped off the Harley, grabbed his AWOL bag and got a ride to the depot in Hamlet where he waited a few minutes for the train to come in.
After James got married in 1950 most of the boys stopped coming down for weekend visits. But we weren't completely abandoned because Bateman continued to visit and remained friends with our family for many years. When he got married about 1952 he brought his wife to Hamlet to introduce her to mom. In 1963 I was in Philadelphia for a navy school and I visited with him and his family in Glen Burnie, MD. One of James' daughters - who Bateman knew well when she was just an infant - has talked to him by phone as recently as two years ago.
James met one of my young friends in Hamlet that he would run into years later when both were sailors. L.G. McKeithan was a classmate who occasionally came to our house and it was during one of those visits that James first saw him. In 1962 James was stationed at Glynco Naval Air Station in Brunswick, GA, and a sailor that transferred into the same division mentioned that he had gone to school with an Osburn kid in Hamlet, NC. The two of them had a good laugh when James told L.G. that the kid was his little brother and that he remembered L.G. About 1963 I was in Brunswick and L.G. got in touch with me, the first time I had seen him since 1953.
I remember the days when youthful exuberance reigned supreme and the days when complete strangers were made to feel welcome at our house. Those were the days when young sailors horsed around with us little kids, drove us to an afternoon movie in Rockingham and picked us up later. Those were the days when friends and memories were made that last forever.
Bruce Osburn 6-5-2001
....and a prankster uncle
by: Bruce Osburn
Mary Lou Presslar's family moved into a house near us - the same house the Helton's would later move into - and lived there about a year. She was a year or more older than me and we - along with other kids - did kid things while we waited for the school bus in the mornings.
She was a gangling sort of girl - tall, mostly all legs and thin as a rail. But was she ever graceful on a pair of flimsy, strap-on roller skates! She flashed by at an incredible speed, made dizzyingly tight little circles and zipped backwards, sometimes on just one skate.
I don't remember when I first conned Mary Lou into letting me try on her skates but I must have done so because I learned to skate on them. When I saw her doing her stuff on the county road I went there and hung around until she let me have a go. And even though I didn't have a lot of skating time I learned to stand and go in the direction I wanted without too much trouble. The falls and bruises came less and less frequent as I improved and learned to keep my balance.
Then there came a day when I no longer had to wait for Mary Lou to make an appearance on the road just so I could get in a few laps. Brother Gene's girlfriend must have noticed the sharing of the one pair of skates because she gave me her old ones. They were practically identical to Mary Lou's - toe clipping, ankle strapping and an adjustable-length metal frame with steel wheels.
Dot Billingsley's old secondhand sidewalk skates gave me hours and hours and miles and miles of skating. And, even if I do say so myself, I became pretty darn good with those old skates. I learned to make tight little circles just as I had seen Mary Lou do, hop over cracks in the road and skate backward with just as much ease as going forward. I put so many miles on those old skates that I wore away the wheels until they were just washers. Every now and then one fell apart and scattered ball bearings all over the asphalt. But, at just fifty cents a wheel, I could afford to replace them one at a time without going broke.
During my skating time on the road I gave cars plenty of room to pass by. I never broke any bones or chipped any teeth. The only mishaps I suffered were skinned elbows and knees and maybe a bumped butt every now and then. But I had a scary experience one day that scared the bejeeze out of me because I could have wound up with a couple of broken legs or, worse yet, dead.
Uncle Doug Patrick had been visiting our house and on his way home he slowed his car just as he got alongside me. He held out his hand and motioned for me to come nearer. I glided over to his slowly moving old 1939 turtle-back Ford and held my hand out to him. He grabbed it and off we went! Hey, I'm not talking about a slow speed! I'm talking about a hair blowing, skate wheel screaming speed that made me holler like a banshee.
Uncle Doug just hooted and laughed as I pleaded with him to let go. We must have covered a distance of at least three hundred feet before he finally released my hand. I was going so fast all I wanted to do was stop as quickly as possible so I aimed myself for the shoulder of the road. As soon as the wheels sailed off the asphalt they bogged down in the soft dirt and I flew through the air belly button over appetite.
I don't know if Doug ever realized the danger he had put me in that day but that experience taught me never to hitch a ride from a moving car, either on skates or a bicycle.
Bruce Osburn 6-10-2001
MY TWO-SPEED BICYCLE
by: Bruce Osburn
Bicycles in the middle of the last century were much different than those of today. There were no such things as mountain bikes or trail bikes. Bicycles of five-speeds and more were several decades into the future. There were only two types a kid in Hamlet could have; a skinny-tired bicycle called an "English 3-speed racer" or the one most commonly seen on the streets - a big-tired bike that was best suited to the terrain of the sandhills.
I doubt if there were more than a half dozen of the English 3-speeds in all of Richmond County. I rode one once but it just wasn't designed for the soft, sandy soil of that area. It performed well enough for me on a street but every time the skinny tires left the hard surface they sank into the soft sand and the bike came to an abrupt halt which sent me tumbling over the handle bars or crashing down sideways. And judging from the great number of the large-tired bikes around town one would think that most kids preferred that type over the skinny-tired one.
We kids identified the bikes according to the size tires they had. The biggest ones were called 26-inchers, followed by 24- and 20-inchers. I think every kid eagerly awaited the day he could advance to a 26-incher and that day usually came when he was able to straddle the cross bars without falling. That signaled he was no longer a little kid but a kid that was now big enough to ride his older brother's bike.
Brand new bikes came with different pieces of equipment. Most came with a kick stand for parking and a chain guard to keep pants legs from being chewed up in the front sprocket. Some of the really fancy ones had a headlight attached to the front fender and a "belly tank" between the two cross bars which held a battery operated horn.
If a kid got a bike that didn't have any accessories he could still add something when he got enough money - maybe a clamp-on headlight for the handle bars. Better yet, he could install a wheel operated generator on the front fork and have both a headlight and a taillight. And if he had some extra cash he could add the best toy of all - a siren! Every kid wanted a siren because it loudly announced his arrival at home, at his buddy's house, at the movies or any other place he had the urge to pull the chain and irritate an adult or two.
Even if a kid wasn't lucky enough to have any bells and whistles on his bike he always made sure he had that all-important noise maker that made his bike sound like a motorcycle. (Well, it did make it sound just a little bit like a real motor bike.) Stiff pieces of cardboard clipped onto front and rear forks with a couple of clothes pins made a loud buurrrr as the spokes chewed up a rookie Mickey Mantle or a veteran Ted Williams baseball card.
There were bikes made for boys and there were bikes made especially for girls. A girl's bike usually had a guard on both sides of the rear wheel to keep a skirt from getting tangled in the spokes and it didn't have high cross bars like a boy's bike. The bars were low and joined to the frame near the pedal crank which permitted a girl to "mount" her bike without having to swing one leg way up over a cross bar and maybe expose her bloomers.
Girls rode boys' bikes and thought nothing about it but a boy was never comfortable riding a girl's bike. A girl just gathered up her skirt and piled it atop the cross bars and pedaled on down the street but a macho boy would rather walk than be seen riding his sister's bike!
I had two fat-tired bikes during our stay in Hamlet. One of them I bought on credit from James Moon for five dollars, giving him my twenty-five cents lunch money every day until it was paid for. (Well, that isn't exactly the way it was finally paid off but that's another tale.) I can't remember how I came into the other one, most likely it was a hand-me-down from someone.
A lot of miles were put on my bikes riding around Hamlet and far from home. I pedaled down Battley Dairy Road to a general store near the Outside Furniture Store, out to Highland Pines to visit my buddy L.G. McKeithan and sometimes I went down highway #38 all the way to South Carolina to buy firecrackers.
All those accumulated miles took their toll on the bikes. The fenders fell off, tires wore down until the cord peeped through, the chains slipped, the brakes were questionable at best and the rubber foot pedals fell off. But, no matter how broken down they became, I still preferred them to walking and did my best to keep at least one of them in riding condition.
Several "master links" joined enough broken sections of chain to make one long enough to join the two sprockets. A broken spoke was replaced with one from an already nearly spokeless rim. A half roll or so of electrical tape wrapped around a tire lasted until a boot was put inside to cover a worn spot. Or, better yet, a not-so-worn-out tire replaced one that had an inner tube poking through.
I wasn't the brightest kid in school so I had more than just a little trouble with my X + Y = Z problems. I was so dense I didn't know the difference between a sine or an acute angle or a hypotenuse. (And I still don't. I had to look in my dictionary just to find those words!) Sometimes there were equations raised to the third or fourth power just to confuse me even more. A little 3 or 4 sitting near the top of a number to denote a power was foreign to me but there was one power I knew about - leg power.
I was smart enough to know that it was harder to pedal up a hill than on flat ground. And I knew that it was easier for one bike to climb a hill than it was for another bike to climb the same hill. There had to be a reason for this and I found that it had something to do with the size of the front sprocket in relation to the rear sprocket. A large front sprocket propelled the bike at a good speed on flat surfaces but made the legs tire quickly when pedaling up a hill. A smaller front sprocket wasn't good for speed but was much better for climbing hills - in some cases a kid could make it all the way to the top.
The two front sprockets I had were interchangeable and one was larger than the other. I became quite adept at changing them when I planned a long ride and could swap them out in just a few minutes. They gave me the choice of speed or power. When I was riding around Hamlet I used the larger of the two for speed since there weren't many hills out my way. When I went to visit L.G. McKeithan in Highland Pines I used the smaller one for power because there was a long, long hill to climb.
I could have easily avoided that long climb except for the fun I got from flying down an equally long slope on the same road. When I went to Highland Pines I passed through Hamlet and west on Hylan Avenue. Not too far out of town on that road was a small valley the road descended into and back up the other side. Both hills were steep and about a quarter mile long.
When I started down that hill I pumped my ol' bike as fast as I could. In just a short distance I was going so fast my pedaling couldn't keep up with the speed of the wheels and all I could do was lean low over the handle bars and let the wind blow through my hair while I sped to the bottom at an incredible speed. But, alas, my fun was over as soon as I started up the other side. But my work was made easier because of the small front sprocket and I usually managed to make it all the way to the top, standing and pumping the whole distance.
There was an embankment on Hylan Avenue near its intersection with MacDonald Avenue that we kids rode our bikes down. The slope was extremely steep and had a vertical height of about twenty-five feet. And we weren't satisfied just to zip down that slope at a break-neck speed - we had to make a contest of it.
The challenge was to see which kid could go farthest down the slope before he jammed on brakes to avoid crashing into a briar covered ditch just a few yards beyond the foot of the embankment. The ideal scenario was for a daring rider to jam on his brakes just before he got to the bottom of the slope, turn sharply to the left and finish the ride alongside the ditch. Most of us were wise enough to jam on brakes well before the foot of the slope and then make the turn to the left without hurting ourselves. But there was one young fellow who threw caution to the wind and made a ride that won him the brass ring for distance. His ride was so spectacular no one ever attempted to beat it.
Some of you might even consider him foolish rather than daring. And the whole thing might have been just an accident, something he didn't plan at all, because it could have been he just had bad brakes. The past fifty years have erased that kid's face from my memory as well as his name. But I still remember his winning ride, one that was never again equaled. And I think that to fully appreciate that kid's ride you must first have a visual picture of the incident.
He rolled his bike off the shoulder of Hylan Avenue down that long, steep slope and started his run for a win. The back wheel was still spinning when he flashed past the point where most of us not-so-daring boys applied our brakes. In less than a second or two he was at the bottom of the slope and well past the point where he should have made a left turn. He sailed right into the ditch and the front wheel struck the far side. Everything that happened afterward registered in my brain in slow motion.
The bike stopped, did a half-rotation around the front wheel, broke free from the lip of the ditch and resumed its original speed just a few feet off the ground. The back wheel was now the fore and the front wheel was now the aft. And the kid was no longer sitting on top of the bike, he was sitting under it, head down and feet up. He was still astraddle the bike as it sailed deep into the briar patch - back end first and upside down!
The thick briar patch brought him to a stop and he scrambled out pushing his bike. The front wheel was now more oval than round, he was scratched and bleeding from the brambles, but by cracky!.... he had won!
I always took a different road back home just so I wouldn't have to make that tiresome climb up the other side of that steep hill on Hylan Avenue. I went by way of a road that is now known as Freeman Mill Road because there were no long hills to worry about and it was nearly the same distance to my home.
Bruce Osburn 6-24-2001
**************** Some thoughts I couldn't weave into this tale:
......I can't recall ever seeing a bike with training wheels. A kid usually learned to ride by taking his spills and scrapes until he got it right.
.....Bicycles left in racks at the movie theater or at school were never stolen.
.....A kick stand was hardly ever used in one's own yard. A kid would jump off his bike while it was still rolling and let it continue on until it hit something or fell over onto the ground.
.....The two most common brand names for "coaster brakes" were New Departure and Bendix. Bendix was easier to work on.
......There were two types of chains: "every link" and "every other link." I preferred an "every other link" chain because it was easier to put master-links in them.
.....When putting a "boot" into a worn-out tire it was better to put in an entire cap from another tire. That eliminated that annoying bump-bump-bump caused by a little boot.
...was a generous girl
by: Bruce Osburn
There was a young girl about fifteen years old who lived on McDonald Avenue that set her sights on my brother, Gene. She lived just across the street from my aunt Cecil and I saw her on several different occasions when I visited there. I came to know her well enough to speak when I saw her away from home.
I don't know why Gene didn't respond to Beverly's obvious attempts to spark a friendship between them. After all, she was an attractive girl and was more than amply endowed with physical attributes most guys went crazy over and some girls only dreamed about. But I suppose it was because Gene had already set his sights on another young girl by the name of Dot. And even though Gene didn't pay much attention to Beverly my younger brother, Kenny, and I sure did take a shine to her.
For a period of time she worked in the five-and-dime store that was directly across the street from the Hamlet Theatre.
When I went to a movie on Saturday afternoon I took full advantage of our "acquaintance" because I went into the dime store to buy a nickel's worth of candy from her before going into the theater. Some of you might ask why I'd go there to buy candy when there was plenty of it in the theater. Well, the answer to that is..... a nickel would buy much more candy in the dime store than in the theater.
My favorite five-cent candy at that time was a HeatH bar which I could wolf down in just a few minutes. Baby Ruths and Tootsie Rolls were more for the money but they, too, were soon just memories. Milk Duds and a Sugar Daddy lasted a long time only because they were hard to chew. A box of Malted Milk balls dissolved too quickly. Goobers and Raisinets disappeared long before the Three Stooges were finished with their slap-stick comedy.
But, a nickel's worth of candy bought at the dime store lasted a long, long time if Beverly waited on me and weighed it. Well, to be truthful, she didn't even weigh it and I came away with at least ten times more candy than could be bought for a nickel in the theater.
All I had to do was tell her which one of a dozen or more displayed candies and nuts I wanted and she scooped it into a paper sack. And no matter which one I got the volume was always the same. A nickel's worth of Malted Milk balls filled the paper sack clear to the top just as a nickel's worth of chocolate covered peanuts did. There were several times when I saw the store manager give Beverly the fish-eye look as I was seen leaving with a sack filled to the brim and Beverly was ringing up a .05 sale with a ka-chingof the old brass cash register.
Kenny and I were both guilty of taking more than we'd paid for - and we knew it. But, it really wasn't the same as stealing 'cause we'd only asked for "a nickel's worth, please" and who were we to argue with the person doing the selling? I've often wondered if Beverly was ever scolded for her generous amounts and made to answer for them.
Bruce Osburn 7-10-2001
Date: Thu, 12 Jul 2001 11:45:34 -0400
From: "Doug and Sandra Gray"
I believe the young lady was Beverly ------. Her father, Melvin, managed Kirkley's Cleaners next door to Campbell's Pharmacy on Hamlet Avenue. She lived with her parents on McDonald Avenue and the 5 and Dime store across from the Hamlet Theater was Cade's. Mr. Cade also had a store in Laurinburg. He had a couple of daughters and the oldest, Gloria, was 2-3 years younger than us. I hope all is well with you.
Date: Thu, 12 Jul 2001 13:06:21 -0500
From: Richard Osburn
To: Doug and Sandra Doug,
You're sooo right - it was Beverly ------. I didn't give her last name 'cause I knew it would cause a lot of......."That must be the 'so-and-so' girl".... among some of the old timers. Beverly had a big crush on Gene but he already had a girlfriend. Kenny and I really did take unfair advantage of her infatuation, but, hey, anything was fair when it came to getting free candy!
I didn't know the name of the dime store when I wrote the tale and I can't say that I ever knew it. The only dime store I can remember by name is Rose's on Hamlet Avenue. Gwen Helton's mom worked there. At one time the son of the manager was in my class - I can't remember if it was at Pansy Fetner or Hamlet Ave. School. I can't remember the boy's first name but his last name was "Fisher" and they came to Hamlet from Farmville, NC. Don't ask how I can recall that but it's just something that sticks in my mind.
Keep in touch.
Subject: Re: Beverly
Date: Thu, 12 Jul 2001 13:33:27 -0400
From: "Doug and Sandra Gray" To:
I figured you omitted her surname on purpose. Cade's Dime Store was later bought by Harrington who happens to now own the funeral home bearing his name in Hamlet. You are right about Rose's on Hamlet Avenue. The boy you remember was Bill Fisher. He and his family lived on Minturn Avenue. They left Hamlet when Bill finished the 8th grade. He graduated from Duke and became a Science teacher in Reidsville, N.C. He died of cancer a couple of years ago. My wife is amazed how much Hamlet material I remember. The IRH web site is a lot of fun to me. Keep on sending Russell material. ---
TOO MANY HAMSTERS
....where'd they go?
by: Bruce Osburn
Dad made plans to make his first million dollars sometime in the late 1940s or early 1950s. I can't remember the exact year but I do recall something about the enterprise - a business venture that would make us rich beyond our wildest dreams. All we had to do was raise hamsters and sell their pelts for the handsome sum of one dollar each!
I don't know why dad thought he was up to that challenge. After all, he had been a soldier for more than twenty-five years and before that he had lived on a farm only until the age of seventeen years. Oh, he could do all sorts of things that required a great deal of skill and planning. He was no stranger to electrical, carpentry and mechanical chores. He was skilled enough in those fields that he wouldn't have had any trouble in obtaining a journeyman's certificate in either trade. But, raising hamsters? That was much different than just turning loose a gang of hogs that required little attention.
Dad prepared our outbuilding for the hamster room. He bought cages, watering bottles with glass tubes, hamster (or rabbit) chow and ordered some breeding pairs. I don't know how many pairs he got but they proved to be more than enough.
Even though none of us had ever before seen a hamster we were all excited about dad's venture. I can't remember if we kids were told to help or if we just volunteered. We were completely ignorant of the proper feeding and caging of those cute little bundles of fur but we learned as we erred.
We laughed and giggled as we watched those cuddly little pets stuff the pellets into their mouths with both front paws. How in the world can they eat so much so fast? And look at their jaws! They're swelling up just like they got the mumps! Ain't they cute!
After about a week had passed we began to wonder where the strong odor of ammonia was coming from. Well, shoot, ain't that coming out of the cages? And look there - how come the paper bedding is all wet and clumped together? My gosh! Look at that pile of pellets!
We had just learned that those little rats weren't eating all those pellets we poured into their food dishes. Those darned ol' varmints were hoarding their food and they were going to the bathroom right there in their cages!
We learned not to give them more pellets than was necessary and that the cages had to be cleaned every day or so. But, hey! It's gonna' be worth it. This venture will soon start to pay off and, besides, they are soft and cuddly. See how this one snuggles down inside my shirt?
About three weeks or so after we first got them the females began to drop pink little babies about the size of peanuts. They were blind, hairless and helpless. But in no time at all the little ones were running about the cages doing things you wouldn't want your little kids to see. And those shenanigans just produced more of those blind little vermin.
They came so fast we couldn't keep the males and females separated and each of those promiscuous girls dropped a litter about once a month. Hey, the young ones didn't waste any time at announcing their fertility either, for they got into action even before we knew if they were boys or girls.
Right about this time I lose track of dad. This might have been the time when he went back into the army or he just left them to our care. We never sold even one of those nasty little rodents and we couldn't even give them away. Oh, we tried, but no kid wanted one. Maybe they had been warned by their parents not to bring one home.
They were no longer the cute and cuddly little bundles of fur they had once been. They had become a nuisance and were a pain in the neck.. I don't remember how long we had them before they began to lose their appeal, maybe no more than three or four months. But I do know that we were anxious to get rid of them - but how were we to do that? - no one wanted them.
I don't know if it was a deliberate thing we did or if it was more of an accident but the animals began to disappear from open cages. We eventually wound up with no hamsters to worry about.
A few months after they had "escaped" I saw a blond rat scurry under the outbuilding but I didn't see a long tail on it. We have wondered all these years if some of the hamsters had managed to survive and had established little colonies under the buildings. Maybe Rudy Cox can shed some light on this. How about it, Rudy, did you ever see strange little tail-less rats running about the place?
Bruce Osburn 7-19-2001
GAMES WE PLAYED
....taking a flying leap!
by: Bruce Osburn
Most of the games the kids in my family played were time-tested and had been played by kids for generations. There were the usual games that didn't need any special equipment at all - games such as hop-scotch, tag, foot races and rasslin'. And then there were games that needed at least one piece of equipment - jump-rope, marbles, baseball, basketball, dodge-ball and cap pistols for a game of cowboys.
The Osburn clan had two games that I can't recall anyone else ever playing. One of the games had no name - we just played it. The other we called "Hobo-swing."
The first game wasn't really a game at all but more like a carnival dare-devil ride that only the stout-hearted older kids got on. It was a made-on-the-spot apparatus strung between two pine trees and the younger kids didn't dare get on it.
A long piece of clothes-line wire was threaded through a foot-long piece of water pipe and one end wrapped around a pine tree about twenty feet up the trunk. The other end of the wire was wrapped around another tree near the ground about a hundred feet away and pulled banjo-string tight.
A daring kid climbed the tree, took the water pipe in both hands and launched himself out over the limbs. A screaming slide down the wire lasted just a few seconds and was repeated over and over until the kid got tired of climbing the tree.
The first one of the wire-slides that I recall the Osburn cousins making resulted in bruises for the first rider. The kids that made it knew what they wanted but didn't quite understand angles and velocity.
They attached the wire to two trees but the angle of the wire was too great. Not only that, but the "ground" end was too high. When the first rider flew down that steep wire he smashed square into the tree because he couldn't touch his feet to the ground so he could slow down and stop. A little rearranging of both ends of the wire fixed the problem.
The second game - "Hobo-swing" - was easy to make and one that I liked. First, we half-filled a burlap sack with pine needles, rags, cotton or anything else that was handy and closed the end with a couple of over-hand knots. Next, a rope was tied around the knots and the other end tied onto a stout limb about fifteen or twenty feet above the ground.
The proper way for a kid to ride the swing was to grab the rope in both hands and sit astraddle the sack, clenching it tightly above the bulge of pine needles with his thighs. After he was mounted he could swing just like he was on a a regular swing - a lot of leg pumping sent the ol' Hobo-swing swinging through a wide arc.
An added plus of a Hobo-swing was that more than one kid could ride at the same time. The second rider sat on the first rider's legs, facing him. A third rider sat on the second rider's legs, crosswise to the first two. A fourth rider sat on the third rider's legs, facing him. More riders got on if they could find a spot.
The whole idea of a Hobo-swing was not to use it like a little ol' kiddy swing - that was too sissified. A Hobo-swing was for daring young boys to show how fearless they were - to show that they were not afraid to take a flying leap out of a tree at a moving target.
That leap was made from a small platform about ten or twelve feet above the ground. It was big enough for one or two kids to stand on and had been made in another tree that was close to the swing. Several boys climbed the tree for their turn to jump and a kid on the ground took the sack with both hands and swung it with all his might toward the platform.
The first kid on the platform made a quick evaluation of the approaching sack - was it near the end of its arc? Was it close enough to jump onto? When he had satisfied himself that he could soar through the air and land straddle-legged on the sack he took a leap. The next kid in line waited for the sack to make its return and if he thought he could land on the first kid's legs he threw himself into space.
The first two or three kids had a better chance of making a safe leap than those that came after. The arc of the sack became less with each kid and by the time the fourth kid took a leap the sack wasn't coming as close to the platform. But still, some of the last ones dared to try it and busted their butts when they managed to grab just the rope and fell onto the ground.
I was never so bold as to try to ride the wire-slide. But I made many a leap at an ol' Hobo-swing, piling onto kids already hanging on and being piled onto myself. And I remember some of the times when I missed it completely, crashing onto the ground only to be knocked over by a tangle of feet and legs when the swing made its return.
Bruce Osburn 9-12-2001
...one bag of collards, please!
by: Bruce Osburn
I shot my first game of pool when I was about thirteen years old. It wasn't at Atkinson's pool hall on main street or any of the other pool halls in Up-town or Down-town Hamlet. In fact, I never shot a game of pool in any of those places. I was initiated into that mostly men-only sport at a black owned pool hall.
My introduction into the mysteries of a pool hall was by accident. When I left home with Pete Miller that day our aim was to make twenty-five cents or so by selling an old rooster to a black owned hotel/restaurant/bar/pool hall on the north end of Bridges Street. We suspected we wouldn't have any problem getting rid of that tough old bird because Pete's granddad, Mr. Knight, sold produce and other stuff to the owner.
When Pete and I offered our inedible bird to the owner he said he might be able to boil him down and make chicken and dumplings. But, he wasn't agreeable to giving us twenty-five cents in cash for that stringy old bird and instead made an offer of a "few games of pool." So, it was there that I learned to roll a cue stick on the table to check for straightness and learned to check tips for tightness. I learned to shoot eight-ball and straight rotation and that was all.
Pete and I shot pool in that place on several different occasions. It didn't matter that we were the only white kids in the place - no one gave us a hard time as we chalked-up our cues and had a good time of blasting balls over ripped felt. And the best part of the whole deal was it didn't cost us a thing! Not a nickel! The owner accepted a burlap bag full of collard greens or turnips for "a few games." I don't know if Mr. Knight ever suspected that his collard patch was contributing to the delinquency of a couple of fine, young boys.
Bruce Osburn 9-24-2001
....looks can be deceiving
by: Bruce Osburn
During the early months of World War II rural folks that had never before seen soldiers near their homes suddenly found army trucks and other vehicles rolling along backwoods roads because additional army camps had sprung up throughout the country for training foot soldiers and pilots. One of those camps, whether an old established camp or a new one, was just north of Hamlet near Hoffman. I don't know what type training Camp Mackall provided in the war years but it still exists today as an army airfield.
At the end of World War II some of the camps were closed or reduced in size and some of the buildings were either demolished or sold as surplus. My dad bought an abandoned barracks at Camp Mackall and everything in it was his. Brothers-in-law and nephews pitched in to raze the building and haul the material, one pickup truck load at the time. Dad salvaged doors, windows, plumbing, lumber and anything else he thought had value. Some of that salvaged material was used to build our new home in Hamlet.
Other no-longer-needed army materials were sold to anyone who had the money to buy them. I can't say with any certainty that our neighbor, Mr. Helton, got in on this government disposal program but I believe he did; he had several rolls of tightly bound wire near his house that were said to have come from the fields and woods surrounding Camp Mackall. The wire was supposed to have been a substitute for barbed wire but was a poor imitation.
The barbs were made of short, six-inch pieces of bright copper wire that had been twisted around a single strand of a larger wire that was about two or three-hundred feet in length. A short piece of copper wire was wrapped around the larger wire every six or eight inches apart, hundreds of them on each roll of wire. It didn't take me long to see the prospect of becoming independently wealthy because Mr. Helton had a dozen or more of those big rolls of wire just laying on the ground with grass and weeds growing through them.
Money was an important part of a 14-year old kid's life and I earned some of mine in different ways. Some was earned by collecting the two cents deposit on soda pop bottles and some was earned by selling scrap metal I found on the SAL roadbed. I knew the difference between just plain old scrap steel and the much more desirable brass or copper. Scrap iron brought about a cent a pound at the scrap dealer while copper or brass brought about thirty or forty cents a pound. Mr. Helton had pounds and pounds of that bright copper metal just going to waste so I asked if I could take it and he said ...yes!
I began by untwisting the short pieces and tossing them into a pile. Those little wires were the toughest pieces of copper I had ever handled and my thumbs and fingers were soon ripped and bleeding from being cut by the sharp ends. I learned that two pairs of pliers made the unwinding easier and kept my fingers from being ripped open.
As I removed the wires I had to pull the strands of the roll apart so I could get to the wires deep down inside the coils. You might ask why I didn't just unroll the wire to make my job a little easier. Well, you see, that wasn't just your regular soft, steel wire - it was a hard, tough wire with plenty of spring steel in it. If I had cut the wires that bound a roll into a circle I would have had wire uncoiling and springing all over the yard! So, I had to work a roll by sections, temporarily spreading and binding the coils until I was finished with that part before moving on to other coils.
I took my hundreds of pieces of short wire home each day I worked at it. At home I threw them into a bushel basket and waited for the day when I would have enough for brother Gene to take to the scrap dealer in Rockingham. I can't remember how many days and weeks I worked at collecting those little wires, maybe even a month or so. But, eventually, I filled my basket and estimated I had a hundred pounds or so. Thirty or forty cents a pound would make me rich! That was as much money as some folks made in a week at a cotton mill!
Brother Gene took my basket to the scrap yard and I watched as the dealer thrust a big magnet into my wires and then held it up for me to see. There were hundreds upon hundreds of wires clinging to that darned ol' magnet! There were so many wires sticking to the magnet it looked like a giant cockle burr. Dang it! All I had to show for my bloody fingers was a hundred pounds of copper coated steel wire - and at just one cent a pound for scrap iron! One buck for more than a month's work!
I was never again foolish enough to collect copper or brass without first poking a magnet to it.
Bruce Osburn 10-8-2001
A SOUTHERN TRADITION
by: Bruce Osburn
During the years my family lived in Hamlet there was a tradition that was alive and well in that little town. It was a tradition that had survived for centuries, was widespread throughout the south and had the official sanction of both state and local governments - it was that southern institution called segregation.
Bus stations and train depots had separate waiting rooms. Blacks were relegated to the rear seats on buses, both local and long distance. Public schools were officially segregated and privately owned businesses engaged in the practice. The one and only in-town theater had separate seating arrangements - blacks entered through a side door and climbed a stairway to the balcony while whites occupied the lower seats. No blacks could be found eating at any of the white owned cafes or restaurants but they could be seen in the kitchens as cooks or dishwashers.
Segregation, as practiced in our little town, was mostly one way. Blacks who entered white owned retail stores didn't know if they would be waited on right away or ignored in favor of a white that had entered after them. But, on the other hand, whites could enter any black owned business and expect to be served with all due respect. My dad took advantage of that tacit understanding and often stopped at the High Hat Club, a black owned tavern, for a few "cool ones." At times I was with him and we plunked ourselves into a booth where we were served without any hesitation on the part of the owner. I think that if a black man had entered a white owned honky-tonk and sat in a booth expecting to get a "cool one" he would have been thrown out on his ear, no matter how seedy the tavern.
I think the adults were more likely to be demonstrative in their support of that separation than the children were. Some of the adults were quite animated in public encounters, sometimes to the point of shouting and gesturing. But, when the same two individuals met in the privacy of a yard the exchange was cordial, much different than the public meeting. Sometimes I wondered if the public displays weren't just posturing for those folks standing nearby.
I remember an old white man who could be quite vocal in his disparaging remarks about black people when he was engaged in conversation with others of the same bent. But, in actuality, he didn't practice what he preached. He was the same white man that went to a black man in the area whose house had burned and told him he had an old refrigerator he didn't need anymore. He then went so far as to haul it to the black man's new residence. He was the same white man who suddenly remembered he needed something from town every time he saw the old black man and his wife walk by on their way to Hamlet, more than three long miles away. After they had passed his house he got into his car and, after he had stopped to pick them up, tell them he was just going into town to pick up something.
Those attitudes could be altered to suit the occasion because some of the white folks thought they raised their status among their neighbors if they employed a part-time maid. So, it was not unusual to see a black woman sweating over a hot ironing board or doing other energy-sapping household chores that had been put aside until it was time for her weekly appearance. Her pay for a day's work was usually about the same amount a white girl earned for an evening of baby sitting. But, to show they were a benevolent employer that wanted to save the maid taxi fare, the white folks picked her up and delivered her back home - she always sitting, of course, in the back seat of the car.
Some of the adults were condescending to their maids and yardmen without even realizing it. Old black men and women were routinely addressed as "Uncle" and "Aunt" without the least bit of disrespect intended. That was yet another tradition which had ingrained itself into the southern way of life. And even though no disrespect was intended it nonetheless relieved the white folks of having to address their hired help as "Mr." and "Mrs." Even the little kids picked up on the tradition because I remember that I addressed the black man who farmed our land as "Uncle Gene." But I also said "yes sir" and "no sir" to him because he was an old man and we kids were taught to be polite to older people.
Children seemed to gravitate toward other children, regardless of skin color. They could be found swimming jay-bird in an old swimming hole or tossing a football or baseball in open fields. Impromptu bike races or foot races occurred at chance meetings and sometimes there was a brief rasslin' match to settle the pecking order. I remember sitting naked on the dam at Liles' Lake with a couple of black kids and openly discussing why my hair was straight and theirs was kinky. Little kids, when left to their own devices, tossed aside traditions and just wanted to have fun.
This tale was not meant to be a political and/or social statement. It's just simply a tale of observations and events that I remember from my childhood. I have no agenda to pursue nor do I have a desire for anyone to alter their own personal views or preferences.
Bruce Osburn 10-17-2001
by: Bruce Osburn
"Bruce Osburn! Why didn't you do your homework this time!?"
"'Well, it's 'cause I had to work, Miz O'Brien," says I.
I had just repeated my stock answer as the reason I had failed to turn in my homework. I had told that lie nearly every day since entering Mrs. O'Brien's fourth grade class in January, 1948, and I was getting good mileage from it. I must have been convincing in my lying 'cause I can't remember her ever making me stay after school to do what I should have done at home. But, eventually, my tales of being an overworked kid began to wear a little thin and I was found out to be the liar that I was.
I wasn't a stupid kid. It's just that I was one of those that hated to do school work outside of a classroom. And even though I hated to do homework - and seldom did - I was still able to absorb enough information while in class to get by. I could read a chapter or two of geography or history and remember enough of it to pass most of my written tests. Oh, I didn't make A+ or even B+ but I did well enough to make Cs and that was good enough for me.
My laziness - or irresponsibility - stayed with me all the way through graduation. All during my high school years - from 9th through 12th - I never took any books home, not one! In 9th grade in Hamlet I had "study hall" first and sixth periods and I used that time to do my assignments. From 10th through 12th I barely squeaked through but still managed to don cap and gown on graduation night.
Mrs. O'Brien knew my dad and asked him what kind of chores or work I did at home every day after school. Dad told her I had no regular chores and I certainly didn't do much work. When dad learned about the excuses I had been giving Mrs. O'Brien he told her that I would do my homework plus do some work at home!
It was early in the spring and dad's garden already had a good start and would soon be producing vegetables. One of those vegetables would be my responsibility from then on.
Every morning I had to get up earlier than usual and go into the garden to do my work. There I cut a half-bushel of okra which dad sold to Ormsby's fish market, which was just a little east of the SAL tracks on Hamlet Avenue. The reason I cut the okra in the mornings rather than in the afternoons was because Mr. Ormsby wanted only the freshest of produce. If I had cut the okra in the afternoon it would have wilted just a tad before dad took it to the market.
I began to do my homework and do work at home. Dad got all the money and I got itchy arms from the stinging leaves. Some of you might think that I developed an aversion for okra but that's not true at all. In fact, I love that itchy little pod to this day! You can slice it, roll it in cornmeal and fry it or you can boil it down in a pot of butterbeans, it doesn't matter. I'll eat it any way you cook it for there are few vegetables that are as good as that slippey ol' pod!
Bruce Osburn 10-18-2001
THE MAINTENANCE MAN
by: Bruce Osburn
Shortly after we had settled in at Hamlet dad was hired by the county to provide maintenance for school buildings. I don't know if he did the upkeep on all the schools in Richmond County but I know for sure that he kept tabs on three schools in Hamlet - Pansy Fetner, Fayetteville Avenue and Hamlet Avenue School. Dad was experienced enough in electrical, plumbing, carpentry and mechanical chores that he had no trouble in doing any of the work.
I sure was proud of my dad 'cause he had a title - maintenance man! When someone asked what my dad did I don't think I ever said he was a retired army master sergeant. No, I proudly announced that he was the maintenance man for the schools and, with a long title like that, he must have been important.
Pansy Fetner School was the victim of a breaking and entering into the lunchroom which caused damage to the outside door and also the theft of some food. Dad repaired the damage to the door and the Hamlet police were notified of the incident. The police weren't successful at making an arrest and the mischief continued. After several more entries were made dad became a little upset at having to repair the door and, since the police were unable to put a stop to it, he decided to set a trap.
After Pansy Fetner had closed for the day dad went there and set the most simplest of all traps - a string and light bulb. He ran a string from the lunchroom door up to a pull-chain switch on a light on the first floor.
Dad stopped by the police station before going home and told them about his little trap. He told them that if they should see a light in a certain first floor classroom they should go straight-away to the lunchroom. Later during the night an officer on patrol noticed the light was on and headed straight for the lunchroom where he nabbed the intruder.
Not one bit of credit was given to dad for his efforts in bringing about the capture but the police sure did pat themselves on their collective backs. According to them the arrest was the result of an ever alert and diligent police force, one the folks of Hamlet could be proud of.
There was a chore dad did that had nothing at all to do with maintenance and was nothing more than janitorial work. That was a chore I liked because sometimes I picked up a nickel or dime or two. On Saturdays mornings - after an at-home basketball game the previous night - dad and I went to Hamlet High to clean the gym and locker rooms. Any money I found while sweeping under the bleachers I could keep and sometimes I found enough to buy a goodie or two. If I found a basketball laying around dad let me shoot a few hoops after we had finished.
What I liked to do best was clean the locker rooms. Oh, if only I had the foresight then - like I have hindsight now - what a tale I could write! I would be able to tell you who was doing what to whom, who was the best at what they did and other things you always wanted to know about someone else. And all that information didn't come from the walls of the boys' locker room - the best and most revealing came from the girls' locker room walls!
But, alas, my foresight wasn't 20/20 then and I didn't write any of that important stuff down. So, you old timers can relax. The brain cells that recorded all that information have long since sloughed away and I can't remember anyone's name, not one.
Bruce Osburn 10-18-2001
.....and penny bubble gum
late 40s-early 50s
by: Bruce Osburn
Some of the kids in my neighborhood were sometimes lucky enough to come into a few cents by doing chores or by conning an aunt or uncle into coughing up a coin or two. Some saved their nickels and dimes until they had enough go to the movies and some just blew their pennies as quickly as they could run to the nearest store.
That store was just up Lackey Street extension a short piece, less than one-half mile away near the south side of Hamlet. It was owned by a black businessman who owned property on Bridges Street and was run by a black man everyone called Pig - an old, wizened sort of short fellow. One could argue that Pig had his job mostly because of charity and good will on the part of the owner because store sales certainly weren't that great. I don't think Pig had much education; in fact, I don't think he could read or write. And I believe that shortcoming - if true - led me to have a bitter disagreement with him one day.
Pig's place wasn't large, just a concrete block structure about twenty feet square. I remember that it had one small glass display counter and a few nearly empty shelves near the walls that held the scant stock of the store. The rest of the store was just empty space, way yonder more room than was necessary for the little bit of stuff that Pig had for sale. I can't remember if there were chairs but I do remember I sat on empty up-ended soda pop crates whenever I passed a few minutes with Pig. Howard and Larry Helton and I used to go there and spend considerable time with Pig, eating and drinking and smoking and lying.
A thin dime could fill a little boy's stomach at Pig's. After paying five cents for a Pepsi or RC a kid still had a nickel to buy other goodies. A huge Jack's sugar cookie cost just one cent and a couple of those filled a pretty big hole in his stomach. Two cents for a couple of double-pack Mary Janes or Squirrels filled him even more and there was still a penny left over for a piece of Double-Bubble or Bazooka bubble gum to chew on the way home.
Pig's place was supposedly a grocery store for he sold canned goods and other packaged food stuffs that weren't likely to spoil too quickly. I can't say this with any proof or certainty but I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the grits and corn meal had weevils in them.
He also sold things for immediate consumption - pickled pigs feet, pickled eggs, Penrose hot sausages and all kinds of nabs, both Lance and Tom's. And for take-out there were sardines, potted meat, vienna sausages, saltine crackers and other fast-food items that were so important to those folks who didn't have the time - or means - to fix a brown-bag lunch. In fact, I bought a few of those to-go lunches when I worked a week cutting timber.
I could buy lunch for just fifteen or twenty cents. First off, a Pepsi or RC was only five cents. A small package of saltines was a nickel and potted meat or sardines cost five or ten cents. In those days it seemed like all sardines - no matter who packaged them - were just little bitty fish and always packed in some type of thick oil. Back then a sardine could be wolfed down without worrying about big bones - unlike today's sardines which are as big as the little fish I used to catch at Liles' Lake. And, after I had eaten all those little fishes, I crumbled the few saltines I had left over into the oil and made a slurry of it. That was good eating, too! So, it shouldn't come as a surprise to know that I liked the sardines we had back then better than the ones we have today.
Potted meat was also on the menu and it's a wonder anyone ever ate a can of that pale, pink mush. Just a brief scan of the ingredients was more than enough to make you lose your appetite. There were pig ears, snouts and lips; cow ears, noses, lips and udders and more things than I can remember. Vienna sausages were much the same except they had been extruded into a little weenie looking thing. But, all the animal parts went down pretty good with crackers - all washed down with an RC that had been placed in a creek to stay cool.
I've told you all of the above just so I could set the stage for the time Pig and I had our big disagreement over the price of one of his goodies. He had his say but I came out the winner - even though he still insisted he was right - and I got more than I should have.
Somehow or other I came into a few coins and went to Pig's place to have a Pepsi and maybe a package of peanuts or whatever I thought I needed. As I was about to leave I stepped to the glass show case and told Pig I wanted a pack of the chewing gum he had just placed there. That chewing gum wasn't the familiar Double-Mint, Juicy Fruit or Spearmint we were so used to seeing. It was in a much more colorful pack and was for sale in Pig's store for the very first time. It was in the same type pack as the more familiar brands - a pack of five sticks which had been packaged in a 24-pack box. That, alone, should have been enough to tell Pig all he needed to know about the price.
I gave Pig a nickel for the gum and he gave me four cents in change. My first reaction was to tell Pig he had made a mistake and I pushed the four cents back to him. He told me the gum was just penny gum and pushed the four cents back to me. After we had pushed that four cents back and forth a couple of times he really got hot under the collar. He yelled at me that he knew the difference between regular chewing gum and bubble gum and what I had just bought was penny bubble gum.
I was basically an honest kid. Oh, I had borrowed a few watermelons and cantaloupes every now and then but I had never stolen money, personal items or shop-lifted from anyone. I had taken more candy than I'd paid for several times but that wasn't entirely my fault. (Read about that in my tale of "Beverly".) And the more Pig yelled that he knew the price of bubble gum the madder I got. Finally, I got so hot I told him I wanted the whole box, every danged pack! I gave him twenty-three cents for the rest of it and stomped out the door.
I was a popular kid for a few days. My buddies and I had more gum than we had ever had before and we owed it all to Pig's..... pig-headedness! ......and we never did make any bubbles with Pig's penny bubble gum.
In later years an addition was made onto the back of Pig's place. The building was still standing as late as four months ago and the difference in the original and newer blocks was visible as I drove by. I don't think the building is used today and may be in its last days. If you live near Hamlet take a drive out Lackey Street, on past the SAL tracks and you should see Pig's place straight ahead at the bend in the road (Gin Mill Road.) Let me know if it's still there.
Bruce Osburn 10-24-2001
TRICK or TREAT!
....Bull Durham remembered
by: Bruce Osburn
"Trick or treat! Trick or treat!" we shouted at an old man standing behind his screen door. He had come there in answer to our knocks and he just stood there, with a confused look on his face.
It was plain to see that he was surprised to see us and, to be truthful, we were afraid to be there. You see, we kids had heard scary tales about his place and no one dared to go there. Yes, we were probably more scared than he was surprised!
I had gone trick or treating that night with two of my younger buddies, Howard and Larry Helton. At fourteen years of age I was too old for that kids' night and I like to think that the only reason I went was so Howard and Larry could have some fun and perhaps get a sack of candy. But, of course, I probably had high hopes of getting my fair share, too!
We didn't have costumes - just our regular clothing - although I was wearing a navy pea coat and watch cap which might be considered a disguise of sorts. We didn't have good luck at every house; mostly we got comments such as, "Ya'll are kinda big for trick or treating, ain'tcha'?" Dark-thirty had long since passed when we finally started for home but we were still looking for doors to knock on as we passed by Hamlet Hospital.
Directly across Vance Street from the hospital was that spooky old house we kids never went near. We saw that the yard was dark but, still, we mustered up what little bit of courage we had and made our way toward an un-lit front door. We stumbled up a wide set of steps onto a full-width porch which was absolutely terrifying in its pitch-black darkness. Our raps on the screen door brought the old man and we yelled. "Trick or treat! Trick or treat!"
After he had gotten over his initial shock of seeing us there he said he didn't have any candy anywhere about the place. He went on to explain that we were the first kids to come trick or treating in many years and he had long ago quit buying candy since no one ever came anyway. He was still apologizing as we turned to leave and he off-handedly remarked that all he had to offer was some Bull Durham.
"We'll take it!" says we and he reached in his shirt pocket for bag and papers. We young boys sat on the steps and rolled a smoke and chatted with him for a while. When we started to go he told us to keep the makings 'cause he had more inside.
The old man really wasn't the scary ol' ogre we had believed him to be. In fact, he was a friendly and likable sort of fellow. And his treat was the best one we received all night!
That night was so long ago I can't remember all the streets we visited nor do I remember what treats we got. I can't say with any certainty whether we got as little as just a handful or if we got as much as a sackful. But, what I do distinctly remember is that little nickel-bag of Bull Durham smoking tobacco. I remember the time we spent on an old man's porch while we smoked hand-rolled cigarettes and talked about things that must have been important back then but by now have long since been forgotten.
Bruce Osburn 11-6-2001
VISITS TO THE DOCTOR
by: Bruce Osburn
"Well, Bruce," said Doctor Garrison as he inspected a round, red, itchy rash under my armpit, "I suppose you have more of these things, don't you?"
"Yes, sir," I answered in a barely audible voice because I sure was embarrassed to tell him where.
A visit to a doctor was a rare event for me when I was just a kid. Only the most serious of my injuries required the care of a doctor and I probably didn't go more than a half-dozen times during the the five and one-half years we lived in Hamlet. Of course, I had my fair share of stubbed toes, sprained ankles, skinned knees and elbows plus an assortment of cuts, splinters and puncture wounds. But most of those injuries were treated by my mom using time tested and proven home remedies.
Our medicine cabinet had the usual patented medicines: Bayer aspirin; BC headache powders; alcohol; iodine; mercurochrome; bandages and peroxide. I preferred to use mercurochrome and peroxide on my cuts and scratches but mom leaned a little toward alcohol and iodine. I guess she figured no pain, no gain. Cousin Danny preferred to use the peroxide to "peroxide" his hair when he visited. That was a fad during the early 1950s but mom didn't allow her kids to do such nonsense.
A thin strip of cloth wrapped around a stubbed toe kept sand from getting into a split toe nail. (Did you ever notice when you were a kid that a stubbed toe was always re-stubbed just before it was completely healed?) I wish I could count the times my nails fell off after a toe turned black and blue. It's a good thing I wasn't limited to just two sets of nails like I was to teeth.
Lard liberally slathered on a burned or scalded arm eased the pain until it was bearable. Butter smeared on a bumped forehead made the swelling go down. A fresh, wet cud of chewing tobacco applied to a wasp sting drew out the poison and reduced swelling. If chewing tobacco wasn't available a chewed cigar or cigarette worked just as well.
When I pulled a splinter from a foot or hand I made sure I rubbed it in my hair so the wound didn't get infected. Stepping on a rusty nail scared the bejeeze out of me 'cause I just knew I was going to get lock-jaw. Every cut I got always took longer to heal than it should have 'cause I kept picking the scab off. The "dog days" of summer were the worse because every cut or scratch was sure to become infected. (Well, that's what the adults told us.)
When we children got the measles or chicken pox we spent the whole time in bed - in a darkened room - 'cause mom said they would settle in the eyes and make us blind. Or, worse yet, since we were little boys, they would settle down there and, heaven forbid, we would never be a daddy! I think I might have even been treated a couple of times with a "hot toddy" - white lightning and honey - for some stubborn illness that hung on for a long time.
Mom's home remedies must have been effective 'cause the only time I went to Dr. Garrison was when the treatment was beyond mom's ability. And that treatment was usually for sewing up a deep cut or gash. I remember three times I went there to have that done: once for a knife-cut thumb; once for a scythe-cut hand and once when I gashed open a foot at Liles' Lake. But, on the day Dr. Garrison asked if I had "more of these things," my visit wasn't to get a cut sewn up but for something I had never been there for. I had developed a rash on a couple places on my body which itched like crazy. And I scratched until they were raw.
I suspect I picked up that rash from swimming in our dirty ol' pond. Mom had always warned us that we were going to get ringworms for messing around in that muddy water but..... what do moms know? We just kept going back in any time we got the notion.
When Dr. Garrison asked where else I had a rash I pointed downward and, naturally, he told me to drop my pants so he could have a look. So, there I stood, with my pants and drawers down around my ankles while he inspected my nether regions. He put me on an examining table and then aimed ultra-violet lights at my two rashes. He told me to lie still and he left the examining room to see other patients. The whole fifteen minute treatment would have been less embarrassing if only he had shut the door - for there I was, naked as a jay bird, lying in plain sight for everyone in the hallway to see.
I wondered why Dr. Garrison had asked if I had more than just the one rash under my arm and that was answered when I got home. Mom asked if I had told the doctor about the rash down there and when I said I had she confessed that she had called Dr. Garrison before I got there and told him just in case I forgot.
I got more of those pesky little rashes as the years passed but I was never again embarrassed by having to lie naked in view of anyone. Dr. Garrison changed the treatment and all I had to do was go to a drug store for a pressurized container of ethel-chloride. When it was sprayed onto the rash the skin was frozen and the fungus was killed. It got to the point that when I got a ringworm I by-passed the doctor and went straight to the drug store for a container.
Bruce Osburn Brunswick GA 11-21-2001
SNAKES I HAVE KNOWN
.....and the sham cobra
by: Bruce Osburn
When I was a kid I thought that the only good snake was a dead snake. I killed - or tried to kill - every one I saw. I killed nonpoisonous ones just as quickly as I dispatched a cottonmouth. And yet, most of those that I smashed weren't even as dangerous as the neighbors' mangy dogs. The dogs usually threatened me if I invaded their territory but when a snake knew I was nearby it tried its best to avoid me. I don't ever recall seeing many just lounging about. Most times I saw them as they were slithering away as quickly as their legless forms could go.
Most of them were just harmless ol' rat snakes, chicken snakes, corn snakes, black racers, coach-whips and glass snakes but never a hoop-snake. (In all the years we lived in the sandhills I never saw one of those snakes that could roll faster than I could run. Do you think maybe it was because they were nonexistent and our adults were just.... pulling our legs a little bit?)
Now, I've just named several different snakes but for all I know the first three could be one and the same. When a snake was seen near a barn it was identified as either a rat snake or a chicken snake. The identification depended more on the closeness of chickens than anything else. If there weren't any chickens nearby it was a rat snake. But, on the other hand, if there were chickens nearby then it was a chicken snake. If it was seen in a corn field then it was a corn snake - it really was a versatile creature! A black racer and a coach-whip may have been the same creature also, it all depended on who was doing the identifying. Even the easily identified glass snake was not known by its proper name.
I don't suppose anyone actually knew the correct name for what was locally known as the joint-snake. Nor do I think most folks knew that it was really a lizard - as I learned many years later. Its body was not flexible and supple like that of a snake. It was more rigid, slick and hard like glass and one quick smack with a stick broke it into several pieces. That was merely a defensive feature like that of a common back yard lizard for both could regenerate lost tails. It really was a mis-understood creature because we believed that it could reattach those dis-jointed body parts and become whole again. So, in order to prevent it from threatening us again we threw a piece or two of it as far away as we could or put a piece in our pocket to take away.
When I messed around our pond I stayed alert for those nasty ol' moccasins. I watched where I was stepping 'cause they were bolder than their nonpoisonous cousins. They didn't always run away when approached; they silently stood their ground so it was always best if I saw them before they saw me. When I saw one sunning itself on the bank I looked for a tree limb that was long enough to smack it without getting too close. If it was in the water I ran to the house to get a gun. One day I went to get the shotgun and brother Gene went back with me. We must have been in a nest of them because Gene killed about eight or ten just as fast as he could reload.
We also had another snake killer in our house. Sister Ginger had a little Cocker Spaniel that had free run of our property and Prissy could dispatch a snake as quickly as I could. I've seen her kill several nonpoisonous snakes and, for all that I know, she might have done in a cottonmouth or two. She would run at a snake and grab it about the middle of its body, give it three or four violent shakes, quickly release it and dart away. She repeated her attacks until she had broken the snake so badly it couldn't defend itself. Sometimes she succeeded in killing it right away and other times she left it to die.
I never saw a rattlesnake in all my young years. I saw scores of water moccasins and they never failed to send my heart racing 'cause I knew how dangerous they were. But, the most frightening sight I ever saw was a snake that was nothing but an impostor.
I was fooling around in a field on a summer day when I unexpectedly came upon a skinny snake about five or six feet long. I don't know who saw who first, me or the snake. It was stretched out in a corn row and when it went into its defensive posture I nearly dropped dead. It reared up until its hooded head was about a foot or so above the ground, flattened its hood until it was three or four inches wide and began slowly swaying back and forth.
Holy Cow! I was about to be attacked by a cobra! I had seen enough of them in jungle movies to know what they were and I knew a cobra when I saw one! I tore out of that field faster than a rice-shot dog and was in the house in just a shake. I went crying to mom that a cobra near 'bout got me! After she calmed me down she explained that it was just a harmless spreading adder. Well, I'd heard of that kind of snake before but I had no idea what the term spreading meant until that day.
I don't kill snakes any more - I take them from my yard and toss them back into the woods and I dodge them when I see one crossing a roadway.
Bruce Osburn Brunswick GA 11-25-2001
....why two holes?
by: Bruce Osburn
"Get it out! Get that snake outta there," Mom screamed as she came running toward the house. She'd just bolted from a rickety ol' two-holer and was busily readjusting her clothing as she came through the cotton field. She had been scared out of grandpa's privy by a harmless ol' black snake and she loudly announced she wouldn't go back until the snake was.... gone.
Do you know what grandpa's privy at the Gun O Field had in common with an outhouse, a john, a convenience or a necessity? Well, they were all one and the same thing - just a common, everyday outdoor toilet. But they aren't common anymore; in fact, I think you'd have to go far back into the hinterlands to find one today. And most likely it would be just a seasonal facility at a hunting camp or some other such remote location.
Those outdoor toilets didn't just disappear overnight. Their demise was gradual, extending right into the 1960s, maybe later. They were a source of foul odors as well as fodder for cartoonists. Many were shown precariously perched on a mountain side with a quarter-moon silhouette cut into the door. They were associated more with hillbillies but in fact they were in use by a great number of folks in the nation for they were a necessity that had to be endured.
A convenience was once just as common a sight as chicken houses, pig pens or barns. And I don't mean just in the rural areas of our nation either, because they were just as abundant in the cities as well. Even our nation's capital reeked with the malodorous aromas floating up from the Washington slums just a few blocks from the Capitol Building. And the ones in the cities were more likely to be the proverbial, filthy cess-pools than those sitting way out in the backyards of the U.S. of A. Some of those in the cities served upwards of fifty or sixty people each while those in the rural areas were, for the most part, used only by family members.
The sandhills of the Carolinas were no different than the rest of the nation and nearly every rural home had one somewhere about the property. Contrary to what people might think, an outhouse didn't always indicate poverty or low class. A wealthy land owner living far from town was just as likely to have one in his backyard as was his tenant farmer. Some of the homes far out into the countryside didn't even get electricity until the late 1940s so how were they going to provide a ready source of water to a commode?
There were different styles of privies. Some were one-holers and some were two-holers. But do any of the old-timers know why someone would go to the extra effort to cut a second hole? Did folks actually sit side-by-side while they did their business? But regardless of the number of holes it was always prudent to sweep around and under the hole with a small leafy branch before sitting. Spiders liked to spin their webs there to catch a meal of the ever present flies and no one wanted to be bitten by a black widow.
Some outhouses were just ramshackle structures sitting askew over a shallow hole. Some were made of slabs while others were made of good lumber. Some doors were hung with metal hinges while a few were hung with leather hinges. The leather hinges kept the door in place well enough to provide a modicum of privacy but it had to be lifted off the ground to open or close. A desired item to have was a store-bought commode seat which was fastened to the rough boards of the seat to protect a keister from the unbeveled edges of the hole. A few outhouses had a vent pipe running up the backside of the building to carry off the stench but I never saw one that actually did what it was supposed to do - every one I went into smelled just as putrid as all the others.
Your grandma was telling the truth when she said that every john had a Sears Roebuck catalog in it. And yes, the pages were awfully slick for the chore they were to do. However, vigorously wadding up of a ripped-out page produced a piece of paper sufficiently rough to accomplish the task at hand. And yes, corn cobs were used too, and there was always a supply of them in a corner just in case the catalog became rain soaked. (I saw a gag souvenir in a shop in Florida that consisted of three corn cobs in a clear package - two red cobs and one white cob. The directions for use were: "First, use a red cob. Second, use the white cob to see if you still need to use the other red cob.")
I wish I could tell you that the following anecdote was one of my own but it isn't. Nearly thirty years ago I read a newspaper article about a county health worker who, in years earlier, traveled around the rural areas of South Carolina trying to persuade people to install screen doors and window screens to keep flies out of the house. At some of the houses he was met with resistance to his suggestions. More than a few times he was told that the flies weren't a problem and didn't make anyone sick. But he was prepared for those denials because he kept several five-pound sacks of flour in his car. He'd take a bag of flour to the outhouse where he'd scatter all of it down into the hole. Back at the house he'd tell the folks what he'd done and tell them that the next time they saw a fly crawling on the baby's mouth to check to see if it had white leggings and if it did then they'd know where it came from. The health worker said he always drove by the houses a few weeks later and was pleased to see that most of them had brand new shiny screens on the windows.
Mom was true to her word. She refused to go back into that outhouse where a snake had just poked its head up through the hole she was sitting next to. And she wasn't about to go in the cotton field either. An enclosure was quickly made from blackjack saplings which was good enough for her until the menfolk dug another hole and pushed the old privy to its new home.
Do you think any of today's kids would use a smelly ol' outhouse, even if they were.... just busting to go?
Bruce Osburn Brunswick GA 12-04-2001
....and stinky diapers
by: Bruce Osburn
I suppose most kids learned their baby sitting skills by sitting for parents and relatives or maybe a neighbor. That chore usually fell to young girls but I learned to feed and change squalling babies just as well as anyone. I learned those skills by sitting for my nephew and nieces.
I was less than two weeks short of my 12th birthday when mom's first grandchild was born in July, 1950. I can't remember when I was first entrusted to mind "Peanut" all by myself but it was probably not many months before he was a year old. My sister-in-law lived with us and when she went somewhere with my mom I'd be left in charge of the little fellow. I learned to squirt milk from a bottle's nipple onto my arm to see if it was at the right temperature before I poked it into his mouth. I also learned to make him burp and was sometimes rewarded with a big blast of sour milk down my back.
I became quite adept at changing diapers without sticking a safety pin into a tiny thigh and I learned to shake a lumpy one into the commode without getting any stuff on my hands. Some of the slurpy, runny ones were really gross and made me gag but they had to be changed, too. Those were the ones that I swished around in the water while the commode was being flushed. But I never did learn how a little bitty baby that couldn't even walk yet could make such a stinking mess and get it all over his legs!
There were no disposable diapers in those days and our washing machine worked pretty hard to keep a supply of clean ones on hand. It really went into overtime when twin girls arrived in April, 1952, because there were then three babies that did their best to soil every clean diaper in the house. And even though we had an automatic washer there was still the need to hang them out to dry. When it was freezing outside enough space was always found inside the house to spread them because those kids just didn't slow down.
My baby sitting for those three little kids ended when they moved to Cheraw shortly before we moved to Tampa in June, 1953. My many nights of looking after them were mostly uneventful. Oh, they threw-up on me a few times when I burped them but I never dropped one onto the floor or stuck a safety pin deep into a leg. But there was an incident one night that scared me senseless. And no matter how hard I probe my memory of those years I can't remember another incident that scared me so.
All the adults had gone to the movies on the night I was scared beyond belief. I was told to mind the babies and was left at home with my eleven year old brother, Kenny, as well as my good friend, Aulton Brown, who was spending the night. Well, it wasn't long before I thought it would be a good idea to hot-wire our old Chevy pickup and drive to Pig's place for some sodas and nabs. Aulton and I hot-wired the truck and we headed out for the store, leaving Kenny to mind "Peanut" and the not-yet-crawling twins.
We were away probably no more than fifteen or twenty minutes and when we got back home the doors were locked. I banged on the door and it was a minute or so before Kenny finally showed himself in the hallway, sobbing like I'd never seen him cry before. I knew right away something was wrong because he didn't want to come to the door even though he could see who was there. After a bit of kicking on my part he finally unlocked the door.
I burst into the hallway screaming "What's wrong!?"
"One of the twins fell off the bed!" he cried.
My first terrible thought was that the baby had landed on her head on the bare, hard wooden floor and was dead. I shoved Kenny aside and flew into the bedroom where, much to my relief, I saw both babies stretched out on the bed asleep. Kenny had so upset me I became enraged. Never before had I ever been scared that badly and I was livid! I lit into Kenny with all the fury I felt, hitting him as hard as I could with both fists, all the while screaming at him never to scare me like that again.
I don't know what reaction Aulton had for what I did. And I suppose Kenny was just as upset as I was. I can't remember if we've ever talked about that incident but, if he remembers it, I hope he's forgiven me for beating him so badly.
My baby-sitting skills were sought by Louise Guthrie, my uncle Lawrence Fisher's sister. Louise taught school in Rockingham and she lived on Austin Street in Hamlet. Along about 1952 Louise had a baby girl she named Linda. When Linda was just a wee girl, probably no more than six months old, Louise asked me to baby-sit her. Sometimes when I went there to mow the grass Louise called me into the house to mind the baby while she went to town for a few minutes. That was OK with me because Louise paid the same for baby sitting as she did for cutting grass and, besides that, sitting Linda was an easy chore which wasn't nearly as demanding as yard work. I don't know how many times I baby-sat Linda, maybe less than a dozen times.
I next saw Linda about 1969, 16 years after my family had moved from Hamlet. I was on navy shore leave visiting my mom, who had moved back to Hamlet, and Linda was there visiting our uncle Lawrence Fisher who lived just across the county road from my mom. Linda came to mom's house to see the man who used to baby-sit her when he was just a young boy. After that reunion I saw Linda several more times in the following 20 years or so when I went to Hamlet. In fact, there were a few times my youngest daughter played with Linda's oldest daughter, Hope, who was a year or so younger.
During the past years I often inquired about Linda when I went to Hamlet to visit our aunt Cecil Fisher. On one of my visits about a year ago I received the most devastating and saddest news one can hear. This tale doesn't have a happy ending for I have to tell you that Linda's daughter, Hope, had been killed in a car crash just days earlier in Laurel Hill.
The last time I spoke with Linda was in June of this year, several months after Hope's death. We ran into each other at aunt Cecil's funeral and had a short conversation.. Even though she appeared to be holding up fairly well I was still a little reluctant to mention Hope's death but I wanted her to know how I grieved for her. But when I attempted to express my deep sadness and heartfelt sympathy for her loss I became emotional and began to cry. She saw that I was upset and did an unexpected thing.... she began to console me! She had not long before suffered the most devastating tragedy a parent can experience and yet she was the one who was doing the comforting.
Bruce Osburn Brunswick GA 12-09-2001
T. TEXAS TYLER BROOKS
...and his Hupmobile and banjos
by: Bruce Osburn
Mr. Tyler Brooks was an uncle of our neighbor, Mrs. Helton. I can't say exactly how old he was but, to this young teenager, he looked to be about 80 or 90 years old. But I know that wasn't true because old folks always looked older than they really were. He might have looked ancient but, still, he was an energetic and active fellow so, in retrospect, I suppose he was only into his late sixties. He was a familiar sight at the Helton's house, stirring up clouds of dust as he drove up in an old, wooden-spoked wheel, four door Hupmobile.
He was a skinny fellow of medium height and probably didn't weigh 130 pounds. His appearance was mostly disheveled and he usually had a few days growth of beard on his sunken cheeks. The Helton kids jokingly called him "T. Texas Tyler Brooks" when he wasn't within earshot and I don't think I ever learned the reason why. It was mostly a joke among the Helton children and I suppose only they knew why they had attached that melodic nickname to him. But, no matter how hard we laughed when Larry delivered one of his singsong renditions of a long, drawn out "Teeee-Texaaaas--Tyyyyler--- Brooks," we still had the good sense to address him with a more respectful.... "Uncle Tyler."
More than a few times uncle Tyler took us kids along when he went traipsing about the countryside. We piled into his cavernous old Hupmobile, some of us sitting up front and the others in the rear hanging over the back of the front seat. One day we were cruising down a county road at a hair raising speed of about 20 miles an hour when someone standing alongside the road shouted at us, "Hey! Ya'll gotcha' headlights on!" Tyler let go with a blistering string of profanities informing the fellow that he knew darn well he had his headlights on 'cause the generator was putting out too much juice. The voltage regulator was on the fritz so he kept the headlights on to keep from overcharging and ruining the battery. (Well, that's what he said.) That conversation was made in a moving car so you have a good idea how fast - or is that how slow? - we were going.
Dead batteries were a constant source of grief in that era and lots of cuss words were directed at them. But folks in those days knew more than one way to start a car that had an.... ain't-no-good-for-nothing! battery. A little shove by a couple of people got a car moving fast enough for a push start in 2nd gear. Some folks even parked their cars on a hill so that all they had to do was give a gentle push, jump into the car, shove the gear stick into 2nd and pop the clutch. And macho drivers who weren't afraid of breaking an arm just took the hand crank and gave the engine a spin.
Something else could be done with those old cars that's impossible to do today - move a car under its own power without actually starting the engine. That was demonstrated to us kids one day when Tyler stalled the Hupmobile when he drove into a shallow stream and drowned the engine. After failing to restart the engine Tyler pulled the gear stick into 1st gear, released the clutch, reared back and pushed the starter pedal to the firewall. The starter began to turn the engine and that old Hupmobile slowly inched itself out of the stream solely by the power of the starter... and the engine didn't even fire - not once! After the engine dried out Tyler cranked it up and off we went. And we didn't even get our feet wet!
Tyler was a musician of sorts and played banjos he made himself. I don't suppose any of his ugly, home-made instruments would have won a prize for appearance or sound but, still, he could strum a lively tune with one. They were primitive at best but produced a good sound - even if it was just a bit tinny. And that tinny sound was to be expected because they were made from old baking pans.
The banjos Tyler made were square instead of the more familiar round shape. That unusual shape came about because he used a deep cornbread baking pan for the resonator. A 2-by-4 taken from a scrap pile was whittled into a shape that vaguely resembled a fingerboard and then it was poked through two holes cut into opposite sides of the pan. Store-bought strings were attached to the tailpiece and stretched over the pan's flat bottom and onto hand crafted tuning pegs at the neck. After a little string plucking and twisting of the tuning pegs Tyler eventually got the notes he wanted and he settled in for a little bit of picking and grinning.
I can't say that Tyler played as well as some of the old-time Bluegrass strummers we listened to on station WCKY but still, he could put on a pretty good show with one of those old cornbread pans. I remember clapping my hands and tapping my foot on at least one occasion when he kicked back and plucked a few lively tunes.
Bruce Osburn Brunswick GA 1-5-2002
...I'd rather have cake
by: Bruce Osburn
"No. Not now. Let's go back to the house and get some more cake," says I to a red-haired girl who had me by the hand. She had just minutes earlier led me down a sandy driveway and was now suggesting that we go into a nearby blackjack thicket. That thicket was a dark, concealing patch of scrub oaks not far from the front porch but yet far enough away to be out of the light. I guess she had something on her mind but all I could think about was the cake and ice cream we kids had not yet eaten.
I never had a birthday party when I was a kid. Not only that, but I remember I was invited to just two in my entire childhood - and that night was my very first one. A girl in my class had invited me to her party and I accepted. I knew her pretty well because we rode the same school bus and we horsed around and teased one another on the way to and from school. On the night of her party I slicked myself up and pedaled my old bike the six miles to her house.
I can't remember how many kids were there but surely there must have been at least six. And I also don't remember where the girl's parents were - maybe they'd made themselves scarce when the kids got there. But what I do remember are some of the games we 12- or 13-year-old kids played - "post office," "spin the bottle" and "this, that or the other" - all games that gave a kid a chance to get a kiss. I spent a lot of time that night in a dark closet hugging and kissing girls who came in to... get a letter, had been pointed at... by the bottle or had been selected as... this, that or the other. And, of course, I remember eating my fair share of cake and ice cream.
I guess we kids must have paired off as the evening wore on 'cause I remember being alone with the redheaded girl. She suggested we take a walk down the road and soon we were several hundred feet from the house. That's when she invited me to go into the bushes. Well, now, you might think that was the night I got lucky and was introduced into games played only in secret but it wasn't. Oh, I had stolen a few kisses and squeezes in my brief life but I was more like the dog that constantly chased cars..... what's he gonna' do if he catches one? I had had about all the hugging and kissing I needed for that night but, ice cream and cake?... well, that was a different matter. We went back to the house where I ate more and then I pedaled my way back home.
A few months later I was invited to my second party. That one was just a little further from home, down near the Outside Furniture Store on Battley Dairy Road. A few of my classmates were there and so was the little redhead. We kids played the usual games and later on paired off and took walks... down the road. And yes, I paired up with the redhead and strolled away from the house. This time she succeeded in getting me into a pine thicket where we rolled around on a thick carpet of pine needles doing a lot of hugging and kissing. But pretty soon I guess I got to thinking more about cake and ice cream and less about hugging and kissing. We brushed the leaves and pine needles from our clothing and went back to the house where I got more to eat and then jumped on my bike and pedaled off toward home.
I guess the little redhead found herself a boyfriend not long after the last party or else she decided I was still just a little boy who wasn't quite ready for... rollin' in the hay. I say that because she stopped horsing around with me like she used to.
Bruce Osburn Brunswick GA 1-27-2002
....now don't forget to swallow!
by: Bruce Osburn
"What in the world's wrong with Bruce?" mom asked as I laid there puking my guts out. I was lying at the edge of the back porch with a bad case of the dry heaves. My stomach had already been emptied and now the only thing I could bring up was vile tasting bile, great gobs of green slime that were just a few shades darker than my face.
I had been helping my uncles in the fields earlier that day. Well, at 5 years or so I couldn't have been much help but they let me ride on the wagon if I stayed out of the way.
In those days of the early 1940s practically every man smoked cigarettes, either hand-rolled or store-bought. And my uncles even let me take a puff every now and then..... but only if we were out of sight of my mom. A few men got even more enjoyment from tobacco by chewing huge cuds when they weren't puffing away.
Woodrow Grant was also helping my uncles in the fields of the Gun O Field on the day I got sick. He was a young man, probably in his twenties and I suppose he liked to play pranks on unsuspecting kids. We were in the wagon when he stuffed a huge cut of tobacco into his mouth and I asked if I could have a chew. He cut me a small piece from his plug and I shoved it into my mouth. That's when he told me it wasn't any good unless I swallowed the juice. Well, I suppose I wanted to get maximum enjoyment from that little cud because I swallowed it all - the juice and the cud.
Before we got out of the fields I was already throwing up over the side of the wagon. And by the time we got to the house I was really in a bad way but managed to make it onto the porch. That's when mom came from inside the house to see who was doing all that retching.
I don't remember what the outcome of my misadventure was but years later I remember talking with Woodrow at a funeral service for my mom. I can't say that he remembered the day he gave me a chew of tobacco but still, he remembered me! So, I guess little kids can make lasting impressions on adults because he'd kept me tucked away somewhere in his memory for 42 years.
Bruce Osburn Brunswick GA 2-2-2002
....the ebony venus
by: Bruce Osburn
"Hey! One of ya'll wash the sand outta my slip an' I'll give you sump'um you ain't never had before!" said a teenage girl as she peeped her head around a doorway and waved a white cotton slip. I knew that black beauty wasn't talking to me so I just sat tight to the spillway and cast a questioning eye at two young black boys sitting next to me.
That day in Richmond County began much like any other summer day - a hot, sunny day that made young kids think about their favorite swimming hole. Later on in the afternoon when I got to Liles' Lake I saw two young boys from Bridges Street neighborhood sitting near the spillway. We began talking and they asked if I was going swimming. I told them that was my intention and then they asked if I'd brought my swim suit. When I said that I hadn't 'cause I'd planned to go jay-bird they told me that was their plan, too. But, there was a problem. They pointed to a pile of clothing in front of the door-less old bathhouse and said they didn't know who the clothes belonged to nor where the people were.
We sat there trying to decide if we should just leave our pants on, strip naked or maybe just down to our drawers. We didn't want to offend anyone but, at the same time, we also didn't want to get more clothes wet than was necessary. Before we could make up our minds about our swim wear - or lack of it - the owners of the clothing showed themselves. We heard laughing and shouting coming from a blackjack thicket on the north side of the lake and when we looked that way we saw two black boys and a black girl coming down the sandy hill.
I could plainly see that those two boys weren't skinny little kids like the ones I was used to playing with. They were big boned and muscular, not someone I'd want to get into a rasslin' match with. I saw right away that they were more than just a few years older than us 13- or 14-year-old kids but the girl, on the other hand, was younger than them and not much older than us little boys. The only clothing they had were skivvy drawers on the boys and a thin cotton slip on the girl. They appeared to be just a little tipsy and the evidence for that was the partly filled quart jar of white lightning they were passing among themselves.
They headed straight into the water and began splashing and ducking heads, the same as all kids do. They completely ignored us little boys sitting not more than 30 feet away and went about their frolicking as if we weren't even there. We knew we shouldn't go into the water with those drunks so we just sat on the dam and stared goggled-eye at the girl every time she got into knee-deep water. I don't think there's anything that can cling like a thin, wet, cotton slip and in so doing reveal everything it's suppose to conceal. Every time she stood in shallow water I saw plain evidence that she was one finely sculptured ebony venus. (Wet T-shirt contest girls of today would never match that girl's displays.)
After they'd taken several more slugs from the jar and swam and horsed around for a short time they headed back into the blackjacks. We little boys were still sitting in the same spot when they again came running from the brush about 15 or 20 minutes later. They came down the sandy hill pushing and shoving and laughing and the boys grabbing for the girl. At the bathhouse they picked up their pile of clothing and went into one of the door-less rooms. That's when the girl made her offer to.... give us sump'um we ain't never had before!
With just her head and an arm sticking out beyond the doorjamb she waved her slip asking one of us to come wash out the sand. We little boys dared not move and after a few seconds we heard one of the big boys shout, "Go wash it out yo'self!" And with that said he gave her a forceful shove that propelled her several steps outside the door. With a great deal of arm flailing and back-pedaling she finally brought herself to a stop with her feet firmly planted in the loose sand. She turned to face us and there she stood in all her naked glory - legs wide spread, arms akimbo and that sandy ol' slip in one hand hanging down alongside a slim leg.
She held the slip out to us and again repeated her offer. One of the young boys suddenly leapt from his sitting place as if he'd just been touched with a cattle prod, made a sand scattering dash for the young girl, grabbed the slip without stopping and ran knee-deep into the water where he swirled the slip around several times. He then ran back to the girl with the still dripping slip in an outstreatched hand and she took him into the room.
The other kid and I sat there giggling 'cause we knew what that boy was going to get. But only about 30 seconds had passed before the kid came sailing out the doorway and landed in the sand. He picked himself up and, with downcast eyes and hanging head, he rejoined us at the spillway.
"Did'ja? Did'ja?" we asked. "Did'ja do it?"
"Nah." says he. "One of them big boys got mad and throwed me out!"
Those three in the bathhouse put on their clothes and left and we three kids went swimming jay-bird - just as we'd planned all along.
Bruce Osburn Brunswick GA 2-3-2002
OLD MAN JIM PATRICK
by: Bruce Osburn
I have only a dim memory of my paternal granddad, Jim Osburn, for I remember seeing him for just one short period of time. He came to our home in North Carolina for a few weeks when I was 8 years old and he was 78. And I can't remember seeing him again before he died four years later in Georgia. I don't think I ever did anything with him and all I know about him is from family tradition, just bits and pieces of tales that I've heard his sons and daughters repeat.
But, I clearly remember my maternal grandpa, Jim Patrick. He was 58 years old when I was born in 1938 and my earliest recollection of him is in the fall of 1943. That's when mom and her five kids moved into his farmhouse on the Gun O Field in Marlboro County, South Carolina. But not long afterward there came a time, beginning in June, 1945, when my family was away from the sandhills for a 2 1/2-year period. After our return to Richmond County I saw grandpa nearly every week from January, 1948, right up until June, 1953, when we again moved from Hamlet. During that 5 1/2-year span I stayed in his house for weeks at a time and went places with him - even to his girlfriend Thelma's house! After our last move from Hamlet I continued to visit his house with my parents and other times after I joined the navy.
Grandpa wasn't the man his future in-laws wanted for their daughter. They weren't in favor of 18-year-old Daisy marrying 20-year-old Jim and they let their feelings be known. So grandpa took matters into his own hands. He went to Daisy's house and while they were sitting on the wagon Jim suddenly whipped the horses into a flat-out run down the road. Great-grandma Laura chased them down the road screaming, "He stole Daisy! He's done stole Daisy!" (Well, that's what aunt Cecil told me!)
Jim and Daisy set up housekeeping in Bennettsville where he worked as some sort of city watchman and later took over the operation of a cotton seed oil mill. In the 1910s and up until 1921 he was the farm overseer for a cotton plantation in Chesterfield County, SC. and had some property of his own.
When grandpa was a young man he was known to get into trouble with the law for drinking too much white lightning. And he was also known to get into an occasional fight - with fists and guns. Aunt Cecil told of the time he got into a fistfight with a man in Bennettsville that quickly turned into a shoot-out with pistols. One of grandpa's sons - a kid about 14 or 15 - slipped away to a hardware store where he bought a box of ammo! At other times when the police tried to apprehend him he simply outran them to the city limits, stopped his car and jeered at them.
Two tragic events pushed grandpa to the brink of near ruination. The first event was a night of heavy drinking that went terribly wrong and the second was the death of his wife. That night of drunkenness was the beginning of the end for everything he and grandma had worked so hard for over 20 years.
In late May, 1921, grandpa was out drinking with some of his buddies and a dispute erupted while they were driving about the countryside. Pistols were drawn and shots were fired. Before the shooting stopped grandpa had been wounded and one man was dead. Less than a week later grandma Daisy died just a few months before her 39th birthday. My aunt said that doctor bills for Daisy and lawyer fees for defending grandpa at his murder trial wiped him out. A Chesterfield County jury delivered a verdict of not guilty because - according to a newspaper report - ...."they considered it the result of drunkenness and therefore nobody was to blame." After grandpa's acquittal he began sharecropping at farms in Marlboro, Chesterfield and Richmond Counties. From 1921 until 1946 he changed farms about 6 or 7 times.
During the 1940s grandpa favored Plymouths and Dodges for his transportation. I can't remember ever seeing anything other than big, 4-door sedans that were made in the 1930s, all with running boards. Saturday was usually the day for going to town and as many as could pile into a car set off for a day of visiting and shopping. The last stop of the day was always at the ice house to buy a hundred-pound block of ice. The only place to put it was across the front bumper, resting against a fender or the hood. Home was 10 to 20 miles away, depending upon whether they had gone to Cheraw, Bennettsville, Rockingham or Hamlet.
Grandpa always drove carefully on the way back home because just one big bounce of the car would have sent the block of ice sailing into a ditch. Dirt roads were the norm and were marked with deep holes and washouts. Their sorry condition made drivers slowly zig-zag from one side of the road to the other just so they could miss those spring-breaking holes. Such was the sorry state of the roads that driving in the middle or on the left side of the road was just as acceptable as driving on the right side. By the time home was reached the block wasn't nearly the size it was when first loaded; it had melted away and the bumper had become deeply imbedded in it. What was left was broken into chunks and put into an old icebox.
Grandpa stopped farming in the late 1940s and made his home with one of his sons, Richard, who continued doing what he was so familiar with - sharecropping. Grandpa just sat back and gave advice from then on. But, sometimes he tried to make a buck or two by peddling. He'd buy a hundred-pound box of fish, load it into the back of his car and drive up and down the county roads south of Hamlet selling fish door-to-door. He'd pull into a rural yard, toot the horn and loudly announce, "Fish man!" He'd open one of the back doors and show the whole fish - heads, scales, tails and all - still iced-down in the box. He sold the fish for 10- or 15-cents a pound more than he'd paid for them and if he succeeded in selling them all then he had a handsome profit for a half-day's work Some of the unsold ones were sure to end up on his supper table.
I also remember that grandpa didn't waste gasoline and tried to save a drop or two when he had an opportunity. More than a few times I've seen him push the clutch pedal, shut off a car's engine and let the old car coast down a hill as far as it could. Just before coming to a complete stop he turned on the ignition, restarted the engine by releasing the clutch and went on his way. He was familiar with all the hills in his part of the county so just before he came to a long one he speeded up just a bit so the car would coast a little further.
Evidently grandpa didn't like to visit for long periods of time. I've heard my kinfolk tell of the time he persuaded one of his sons to drive him to Jacksonville to visit my mom (400 miles.) After he had been there just a few hours he announced that he was ready to go. And so, back to Richmond County and home. I've also heard that he had a son drive him to Illinois to visit another son (700-800 miles) and that visit was just a few hours and then on the road for home.
Grandpa looked like a bear rug to me because every part of his body was covered with thick hair. Every part, that is, except where it mattered the most - on his bald head! He concealed his shiny head with a hat when he wasn't eating or sleeping and occasionally he removed the hair from his stomach and chest. I've seen grandpa kick back in his porch chair until it rested on the side of the house, light a match and singe hair from himself. One hand brought a lighted match on a hair burning pass from belly to neck while the other hand followed close behind putting out the fire. He'd laugh at me while I stood there oohing and aahing and then make more passes until most of the hair had been reduced to just a foul smell.
Grandpa was known in the sandhills as "Mr. Pat" and I've also heard folks refer to him as "Old man Jim Patrick." He was the patriarch of a large family that numbered nearly a hundred and all of his children deferred to him, even after they were married with families of their own. His grandchildren numbered in the fifties and they and their children were scattered throughout the U.S. from north to south and east to west. He died in 1959, a month short of his 79th birthday. He had outlived two wives and two of his seventeen children.
Bruce Osburn Brunswick GA 2-15-2002
.....bane or boon?
by: Bruce Osburn
When I was a kid I hardly ever walked by a comic book without first picking it up to see what it was about. And those that I'd already read didn't escape a second reading - or even a third or fourth, maybe more. It didn't matter where I saw one, whether at a friend's house or on top of a trash heap, I took the time to stop and at least flip through the pages.
I bought a few in my young years but not nearly as many as I read... for free. And a big part of my free reading was at the SAL passenger depot when I went there on Sunday mornings to buy a newspaper. That paper was just a bit expensive and I suppose the price of it entitled me to a bit of comic book reading. I can't ever remember being scolded by the clerk but just one look with lowered eyebrows or a little shake of his head was the signal for me to move on. But, my favorite reading room was at my aunt Cecil's apartment. No, she didn't have any comics but her landlady's kid had a kazillion!
Aunt Cecil rented an apartment in Nell Sutton's house on McDonald Street. Mrs. Sutton had two sons, Billie, who was a couple of years younger than me and another younger son, Bennie. Billie had what was surely the biggest and best collection of comic books in the county. I don't know if he ever traded any or if he just bought them and kept them forever. But what I do know is that he had hundreds upon hundreds neatly stacked in several piles in his mom's living room. He had every kind a kid could ask for - Superman, Superboy, Batman, Spiderman, and every other super-hero type comic there was. He also had the Archie Andrews type plus Porky Pig, Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse and all the other talking animals and birds. I don't think I'd be lying if I said he had at least one issue of every comic book hero or character that had ever been published.
Mrs. Sutton's house was not originally constructed as an apartment house but as a single family dwelling. She and aunt Cecil used the same entrance door which opened into a small foyer. The living room and the kitchen opened off the foyer as did the stairway leading to aunt Cecil's second-floor apartment. There were no doors in the foyer so anyone that entered there had free access to both the first- and second-floor living quarters.
When I went to Hamlet I stopped by aunt Cecil's apartment more than a few times for a jelly biscuit and some comic book reading. Sometimes Billie was home and I read with him. And at other times none of the Suttons were there but I was still allowed to go into their living room by myself. Aunt Cecil warned me not to go into any other part of the house and I had a good idea what the penalty would be if I did. I sat cross-legged on the floor a dozen times or more reading one comic after another, always searching for ones I hadn't read. I must have read hundreds and left more than that unread. Billie's collection even helped me make book reports at school without having to read thick, boring books.
I don't know why reading a novel was so much more boring than reading a comic. Maybe it was a visual thing; reading a book with no pictures just didn't hold my attention. But, an illustration painted a much more vivid image and I was more apt to remember what I'd just read. And, since the books we were assigned to read didn't have many pictures, I just couldn't sink my teeth into a tale. But, I could read comic books for hours on end without getting bored and that's how Billie's collection saved me from having to read several hard-cover books.
Practically every novel that had ever been published had as its counterpart a more sophisticated comic book called a Classics Illustrated; titles such as Last of the Mohicans; Moby Dick; Tom Sawyer or any of the other thick books we were assigned to read. So, whenever I had to read a long, boring book I went to Mrs. Sutton's house and read the tale in a Classics Illustrated. It followed the original story line closely enough so that I was able to get enough information to fake my way through a report. I suppose Classics Illustrated could be compared to Reader's Digest; all the essentials and none of the chaff.
When I was young there were some kids who were scolded for reading a junky ol' comic book. I suppose their parents had the notion that comics just weren't suitable reading material for their children. And even today some parents still hold to that belief. But my mom neither encouraged nor discouraged me from reading them. I would even go so far as to say that I certainly didn't suffer any ill effects from the many hours I had my nose buried in one. In fact, they probably helped to improve my reading skills because isn't any reading better than none? One of my young buddies said he didn't read the Katzinjammer Kids comic strip because he didn't understand the words. But I learned to read all those mangled and shortened words, even the hillbilly dialect of Barney Google and Snuffy Smith, including Daisy Mae and Li'l Abner and the Katzinjammer Kids.
Bruce Osburn Brunswick GA 2-23-2002
....toys for the big boys
by: Bruce Osburn
It has been said that the only difference between a man and a boy is the price of their toys. And I guess there is more than just a modicum of truth in that statement because more than a half-century ago, long before today's "big boy" toys such as four-wheel ATVs, motor-sport bikes or any other expensive plaything, there were toys for the big boys, too! They weren't originally intended to provide sport but an inventive youngster could take a piece of farm equipment and turn it into something to play with. There was usually no expense involved and the amount of fun to be had was left up to the ingenuity of the kid.
In 1945, when we lived near Massey Hill, N.C., we had a huge John Deere tractor for working our forty acres. Dad was still in the army but thought he was enough of a farmer to give it a try in his spare time. I don't know if he was really capable of being a farmer or not. I know that he lived on a farm in Georgia until he joined the army at about age 17 but I've never heard anyone say that he had more than enough property for anything bigger than a garden during his army years.
Dad bought the John Deere not long after we'd settled in on our Ponderosa on Cumberland Roadjust a little south of Fayetteville. I suppose he got it to do plowing and other such tractor work but I can't remember any row crops. All I can remember are the fruit trees and grape vines we transplanted but I couldn't even guess the number of acres he devoted to those crops.
Some of you old-timers might remember seeing a John Deere just like ours when you were a kid. It was that easily recognized tractor that one might see today at an antique tractor show in a farm community. It had two small wheels up front at the center and the rear spoked-wheels were nearly five feet in height. It produced a unique sound from its two-cylinder engine that only a John Deere was capable of doing. Someone not familiar with that ol' tractor would probably swear that the engine was misfiring half the time. It sounded like it was going to stop any minute and was famous for blowing smoke rings when it again started to fire on both cylinders.
Not all crops had rows of the same width and to compensate for that difference the rear wheels could be adjusted by sliding them inward or outward on the axles. Thus, there was a foot or so of axle that was visible on each side of the differential. And those exposed axles provided the means for my 16-year-old brother, James, to make his own fun.
He'd take the John Deere deep into the swamp and deliberately get it stuck in the mud as deeply as he could. Then he'd take a logging chain, wrap one end around a tree a short distance behind the tractor, pass the other end under the axle and hook it onto a spoke of the wheels. Then he'd put the tractor in reverse and winch himself out of the bog hole by winding the chain around the axle. That was his fun and I guess it was almost as dangerous as someone streaking hell-bent through a pine forest on a 4-wheeler.
Dad sold our place to his brother in summer of 1946 and the John Deere was part of the sale. It would be more than a year before we again owned property. Dad bought 14 acres near Hamlet and also an Allis-Chalmers, Model G, to farm with. That was an unusual piece of machinery and I doubt if any of you have ever seen such a strange looking machine. The engine was in the rear and the small implements - such as sweeps, middle busters and the like - were mounted under the center. I suppose that was so the driver could better see where he was cultivating. Bigger implements such as disk harrows, bottom plows and planters were attached to the rear.
I think that little Allis-Chalmers did more work than the John Deere. We had it for about two years, during which time we planted several acres of corn and always a large garden. We also used it to haul dirt to our dam, move a few logs and haul cow and pig manure to the fields where we spread it with shovels. I can remember walking many a mile holding a planter upright while Gene drove up and down the rows as we planted corn and peas. (I wonder why Gene got to ride and I had to walk? Could it have been because he was older and in charge?) Sister Ginger even managed to have her picture taken while sitting on it one day. Which is a good thing, I suppose, for without it I wouldn't be able to show you what it looked like.
James joined the navy along about 1947 and I can't remember seeing him again until about 1949 when he was transferred to a ship home ported in Norfolk, Va. He came to Hamlet on the weekends and was not to be denied his fun. He took the little Allis-Chalmers deep into our swamp to get it stuck in the mud so he could play a bit. There wasn't any exposed axle to attach a logging chain to so he improvised as all smart kids are prone to do.
He cut two lengths of pine tree just a foot or so longer than the diameter of the rear wheels and lashed them to the tires with a cable. The ends of the logs acted as grippers and every time an end came to ground it picked the tractor up and moved it a foot or so. With every move James worked himself out of the bog hole only so he could again run it into a deep hole and begin his fun all over again. He did that foolishness on several different occasions and didn't stop until he darn near killed himself.
During one of his trips to the swamp something went wrong and he nearly busted his head open. The steel cables he used to lash the logs to the tires were tougher than the rims. One of the cables sliced completly through one of the thin rims and the loose end of the log smacked James in the head. I can't remember if he was knocked completely off the tractor but I think that was the day he stopped his foolishness.
I can't remember the year we sold the Allis-Chalmers but I do remember that I was the one who delivered it to the new owner in Hamlet.
Bruce Osburn Brunswick GA 5-19-2002
RED BIRD'S FENCE
....a shocking surprise
by: Bruce Osburn
Poet Robert Frost has a line in his poem "Mending Wall," ....good fences make good neighbors. I suppose his philosophy was that the stone walls so common in his part of New England kept farm animals from straying onto a neighbor's property and, just as important, kept the neighbors themselves from trespassing. But, when dad made a fence on our property his aim wasn't to keep the neighbors out; his sole purpose was to keep our livestock in.
When we first moved to Hamlet we had only one animal that we had to keep from straying - a cow we called "Red Bird." That name was given to her because she was a Guernsey that was mostly reddish-brown. (Well, shoot, maybe she was a Jersey.) She was not-so-old and still "fresh" enough to produce more than a couple of gallons of milk a day. She had her own identity tag permanently stapled to an ear which showed that she'd been examined and declared free from tuberculosis.
Dad fenced in a few acres near the county road for a pasture. Each day one of us young kids took Red Bird to pasture in the morning and back to the barn in the afternoon. Milking chores fell to Gene but "cow-patty" shoveling in the barn fell to both of us. When the pile got to be too big we fired up the little Allis-Chalmers and moved a load or two to the fields where we scattered it about.
Red Bird was a gentle and docile creature but was prone to slip through the two-strand barbed wire fence when she took a notion. She didn't pose a danger to any of the neighbors but chasing her and bringing her back home didn't sit well with dad. He didn't believe in letting farm animals run free and to stop Red Bird from roaming he electrified the pasture fence. It didn't take long for her to discover that something was different about the wires she had poked her head through so many times before.
Red Bird's escapes were stopped with just one thin wire strung on porcelain insulators along the entire length of the fence. After she'd been zapped a few times she avoided getting close to it at all, no matter how green the grass looked on the other side! And in just a few short weeks the grass and weeds were thick and uneaten near the fence line. And the jolts were quite painful because I saw her fall flat onto her stomach with splayed legs when she made contact with her nose on a rainy day.
Well, right about now I suppose you're asking why I'd go to the trouble to write a tale about an ol' cow getting shocked every now and then. Well, actually, I just needed to explain to you why the fence was there in the first place. The real reason I'm writing this tale is to let you know that brothers can get great pleasure out of pulling cruel pranks on one another. And kids back then were not much different than kids of today. Some kids were taken on snipe hunts and some were told.... "come on in - the water's not cold!" Or, worse yet... "go ahead and jump - it's not deep!" And one of brother Gene's pranks was convincing Kenny and me that the fence wouldn't shock us!
Our electric fence was of the "pulse-charge." That means that it wasn't "hot" all the time. Instead, it was "hot" only for a very brief time, alternating between "hot" and "cold." If I stood near the fence charger I could hear a low hum as the charger electrified the fence. That hum lasted two or three seconds and wouldn't repeat itself for another two or three seconds. That cycle could be compared to a neon sign flashing on and off because during the "no-hum" period the fence wasn't charged. But, of course, Kenny and I were too young to understand - all we knew was that the fence would give us a jolt..
More than once Gene took Kenny and me to the fence and told us it wouldn't shock us if we touched it. And, to further convince us, he'd touch his finger to the wire. And no matter how many times Gene pulled that trick Kenny and I were stupid enough to try it, always getting the shock of our lives! How were we to know that Gene only touched it when the charger wasn't humming and was quick enough to take his finger away before it charged again?
I wonder if Gene still remembers conning Kenny and me to touch our fingers to the wire? Well, I do! I remember Gene laughing and giggling every time Kenny and I hollered "Ouch!" after we were foolish enough to believe him when he said, "Go ahead and touch it. It won't hurt'ya!" And, even after I learned why he didn't get shocked, I never got the courage to try it. Because even today I'm not fully convinced that it wasn't charged all the time!
Bruce Osburn Brunswick GA 5-24-2002
THINGS I REMEMBER
by: Bruce Osburn
Here are a few events that I have personal memories of and one that I recall my mom repeating. I can't write a tale for each so I'll just group them into one.
I remember that my 16-year-old uncle Boyce used to let me ride bare-back with him on the mules. And the reason I remember that is because of just one incident. That was the day we rode a short distance from the house at the Gun O Field and on the way back home Boyce prodded the ol' mule into a flat-out run for the barn. I was astraddle the mule in front of Boyce and the further the mule ran the further up his neck I bounced. Before we got to the barn I was far up that ol' mule's neck holding on for dear life with my short arms and legs. Boyce just hooted from having so much fun!
I also remember that Boyce came to my defense one day when mom found cigarette butts in my pants pockets. I was just a 5-year-old kid but had already been introduced to the bad habit of smoking by - you guessed it! - my uncles. I used to pick up butts in the yard and puff away when I was away from the house. Well, Boyce must have realized that he was at least partly responsible for my behavior and told mom that I was just picking up butts for him. Mom didn't buy that lame excuse and she gave me the first of the many spankings I got over the years for smoking.
I remember that either uncle Boyce or uncle Hoover was a good shot with a .22 rifle. I remember seeing one of them return from the woods holding several dead squirrels by the tails. And he hadn't gone hunting just for the sport of it. No, he had gone hunting for food. They also had rabbit traps placed in a few spots near the woods.
I have two memories of a neighbor near the Gun O Field, Woodrow Grant, and I have already recounted one of those memories in my tale of "Chewing Tobacco." This other one is just a bit gruesome and made me wince the day I saw the event that made this memory.
A tree had fallen on Woodrow when he was cutting firewood and a limb poked a hole clear through his leg. I don't know if he sought medical help from a doctor or if he treated the wound himself using home remedies. A few days later I watched as he placed a rag on the end of a stick and pushed it into the wound and clear through his leg. Then he took an end of the rag in each hand and see-sawed it back and forth a few times to clean the inside of the hole.
Uncle Doug lived just across the cotton field from grandpa's house at the Gun O Field. I remember going there with some of the older little kids and watching him and his buddies play poker. The games were probably just nickel-dime poker and the pots were small. But sometimes a pot grew into several dollars and that was the signal for us kids to help ourselves to a few cents. Most of us probably couldn't count money but we knew when a pot was big enough for us to loudly shout "pinch the pot!" and grab a coin from the pile of silver. After each kid had "pinched the pot" the grownups pushed our hands away if we tried to get more than they were willing to give up.
On one of the many Saturday trips to Bennettsville mom and her sisters had a good laugh at the expense of their brother, Hoover. After they arrived in town the menfolk and the womenfolk went their separate ways. Some may have gone to a movie and some may have gone shopping. Later in the afternoon the sisters passed by a cafe where the boys were known to stop for a bite to eat. They peered through the window and saw their brothers sitting at the counter eating sandwiches. As they stood there they began to chuckle among themselves because of Hoover's behavior. He was having a serious conversation with another of the boys and, without a conscious effort, was doing something he usually did at home. All the while he was talking he had one hand slowly moving back and forth over his sandwich .....shooing away flies that weren't there! He was only doing what he had become accustomed to at home... keeping the flies off his food!
My mom was responsible for shaping my social and moral behavior. I remember hearing her say more than once that we children.... should be seen but not heard.... when visitors were present. That meant we shouldn't interrupt adults during their conversations and we weren't to make noise or other disturbances.
Her admonition to... leave it alone if it doesn't belong to you... kept me from plundering in things that weren't mine.
I made an unwise comment in her presence one day about a cousin's cocked eye which earned me a severe switching while instilling in me the wisdom never to poke fun at anyone different than me.
I also learned through painful experience that telling a lie wasn't a wise thing to do either. But I goofed up every now and then and let one sneak past my lips anyway. And I found that it was much more difficult to remember a lie than to remember the truth because one lie begot another. It was impossible for me to remember the excuse I'd given earlier so the lies piled on top one another until mom told me to get my story "straight." But, telling the truth was best because it was just one explanation, never changed and was always easy to remember.
Bruce Osburn Brunswick GA 7-10-2002
....running in circles
ca late 1940s - early 1950s
by: Bruce Osburn
I was well acquainted with the sting of an open hand and the bite of a keen, flexible, stinging switch when I was a kid. On more than a few occasions my legs carried the welt marks left by one of those instruments of pain mom was so capable of wielding. I got lickings for naughty deeds I knew I'd done and also for deeds I was completely ignorant of.
But I must confess that most of my punishment was given on the spur-of-the-moment, precisely at the instant my misdeed was discovered. Those impromptu punishments could best be described as "spankings" because mom used her open hand. Taking me by the left hand she let go with a flurry of smacks onto my butt, the both of us spinning in a tight little circle as I attempted to break free. And, no matter how hard - or lightly - mom applied her hand, my yelps were always the same. I always screamed louder than the spanking deserved 'cause I hoped mom would think she was really hurting me and stop.
The lickings I dreaded most were the planned ones. They were the ones that mom would promise to me by saying, "Just wait until I get you home!" Those promised lickings were usually brought about by some misdeed I'd done while we were away from home, usually in a public place. A promised licking gave me more time than I needed to work myself into a tizzy 'cause I knew mom never forgot. And by the time she got around to giving me my punishment I was a nervous wreck
I often packed my bags during the summer and visited my cousins for weeks at a time. While I was at an aunt's house I knew I had to behave just like I was one of her own kids or else I was in deep trouble. I knew better than to misbehave or get mouthy 'cause I knew she would smack my smart-alecky mouth just as quickly as mom would - and just as hard! And even if an aunt didn't give me a lick or two I still stood a good chance of having my breeches dusted when I got home because she was sure to tell mom about any mischievous deeds I'd done.
It was dad who was mostly responsible for shaping my respect for my elders. He held the opinion that small children should obey their elders without any hesitation whatsoever. And those elders included more than just mom and him; every adult deserved my respect, from my aunts and uncles right down to the neighbors.
I walked softly when I was around dad - not for what he did but for what I was afraid he might do. As long as I was a good kid I had nothing to worry about. He took me to town with him, gave me money for the movies, bought me nabs and soda pops when he had a few "cool ones" at a juke-joint and even took me riding on a Harley "74" a few times. But, when he saw me misbehaving, I knew that there was always the possibility of punishment. Some of my antics didn't warrant a licking and I knew enough to stop them as soon as dad sent the signal that he was not pleased with my behavior.
No words had to be spoken when he caught me doing some trivial misdemeanor. All he had to do was give me an eye piercing stare, slowly dip his head while at the same time lowering his eyebrows until his eyes were nearly hidden. That withering look could bore a hole through a cement wall and I quickly made myself scarce, getting out of his sight and going to a place less threatening. I might not even know that I was doing something wrong; all I knew was that whatever I was doing didn't meet his approval. But, there were times when he thought one of my naughty acts deserved a licking and I got one.
But, no matter how bad a light I put dad in, he never spanked me. In fact, he never laid a hand on any of the last three of us children to be born. And, for that lack of punishment, I have mom to thank.
Dad dispensed his spankings too freely to the first two of us five children. The instrument he favored for delivering his anger was a garrison belt - that thick, broad, leather belt issued to all soldiers. From the accounts I've heard he wielded it often and harshly. Finally, about six years into the marriage, mom told him that he was never to hit the children again; if he wanted anyone punished she would do it. So, as I entered my mischievous years, the words I dreaded most to hear from dad's lips were, "Go tell mama to spank you!"
Sometimes I knew exactly what naughty thing I'd done to earn a spanking and other times I was completely bewildered because I had no idea what had so upset dad. There was no use asking what I'd done because, in his mind, it should have been more than obvious. So, I set out to find mom to tell her, "Daddy said for you to spank me."
In the dozens of times dad sent me for my punishment I can't ever recall mom asking, "Why? What did you do?" No, not once! The only thing she needed to know was that I'ad been sent to her to get a licking and a licking I was going to get. Mom had no desire to walk out into the brush to get a switch so she always sent the kid that was about to get a licking to fetch his own.
Early on in my mischievous years I made a beeline to a patch of dog-fennel for my switch. But I soon learned that that wasn't a wise thing to do. For those of you who aren't familiar with that weed you should know that it's extremely light with a pithy center. And after just a few whacks across the legs it was reduced to splinters. After mom had busted the dog-fennel into small pieces she sent me back outside to get a keen switch. Her favorite ones came from peach trees but we didn't have one nearby. But what we did have was a weeping willow on the dam of our pond and it had branches just as slim and flexible as a peach tree. And as far as mom was concerned a willow switch was just as good as a peach switch.
I can't remember mom ever saying that switching me hurt her more than it did me. No, she just took the switch in her right hand, grabbed my left hand in her left hand and started in on my legs! But even before she hit me the first lick I was already squalling 'cause I knew what I was in for. The switch made a shrill swishing sound as it flashed down upon my legs in rapid succession, coming darn close to breaking the sound barrier! With every lick I made a hop, skip and jump as I ran in circles around her all the while screaming that I wouldn't do it again, even though, in most cases, I didn't even know what I'd done in the first place.
In retrospect, and despite all that I've said, I suppose the switchings weren't nearly as severe as I made them out to be. After all, even a willow switch breaks after several good whacks and the lickings probably lasted no more than 10 or 15 seconds. And just how many licks can be delivered in that space of time? - surely not enough to be considered abuse.
Bruce Osburn Brunswick GA 7-20-2002
.....at the forks
by: Bruce Osburn
Elijah Strickland ran a small store about 5 miles south of Hamlet, right there in the forks of the road where present-day Loch Haven Road begins at Battley Dairy Road. His wife, Dot, a short, rotund lady, was mostly responsible for minding the store. It was a typical general store of that era; a clapboard building where one could buy animal feeds, fertilizers, tubs, buckets, dry goods and a few groceries. Pickled pigs feet and Penrose hot sausages were there for those that wanted them. There was a display counter filled with candy and gum, snuff and chewing tobacco, ready-made cigarettes and Prince Albert, Bull Durham, Velvet and other hand-rolling brands. A few large glass jars with Lance or Tom's emblazoned on the sides were filled with peanuts and nabs. And, of course, there was a cooler filled with chunks of ice where soft drinks were kept.
Outside was a gas pump. The really old kind that had a handle for pumping the gas up into a glass tank marked with lines to show the gallons. From there the gas flowed by gravity into a car's tank.
His store served as a community gathering place for the folks in that area. They came there to buy a few items and pass a little time with a neighbor if one should come in. And before any of our gang were old enough to get drivers licenses we hung out there, especially on Saturday night. We drank our belly-washer Pepsis or RCs while we perched on feed sacks and watched Saturday night wrestling on a small TV placed high on a wall. That TV must have been the only one within a mile or more and folks came in with the sole purpose of watching it. But, of course, didn't they need something to eat and drink while they were there?
Elijah was a Lumbee Indian, dark skinned with dark eyes and hair. In addition to the store he was involved with timber cutting and owned farmland. And his timber cutting and farm made for a couple of my memories. I have already related my dangerous experience of working in the woods in my tale of "The Lumberjacks" and Elijah was the fellow who hired the crew of boys. When I finished my one week of logging Elijah hired me to drive a tractor on his farm.
The only reason I remember driving the tractor is not because of something that happened in the field but rather because of the things I didn't have to do. I think I drove the tractor all week but if someone was to tell me I didn't then that would be okay, too, because I simply can't remember. But what I do remember is the good feeling I got when I saw that I wasn't being treated like the 14-year-old kid that I was.
Farm hands were setting-out tobacco plants and my sole responsibility was to drive the tractor. I hauled whatever was needed; mostly plants and 55-gallon drums filled with water. I didn't even have to get off the tractor if I didn't want to. Field-hands filled the barrels, unhooked the sleds and did all the other heavy lifting and toting. Can you imagine how smug I felt while I sat high above the adults and watched them do stoop-labor?
Another memory includes a lad just a year or so younger than me that lived just a short distance from Elijah's store. Curtis Carlisle was hired the same day I was. I don't remember what his duties were to be but we started for the field, me driving the tractor and Curtis sitting astraddle the hood. I had the tractor speeding down the paved road in "road gear" when I did something a sane kid shouldn't do. I jerked the steering wheel from side to side and sent poor ol' Curtis sailing head over heels off the hood and onto the shoulder of the road. And don't you know, he landed on a broken bottle and deeply gashed a foot. I don't remember if he got right back on the hood or if he limped off toward home to have his foot tended to.
If you know Curtis ask him if he remembers that day. Ask him if he still carries a scar from that misadventure. And if he does, ask him if he remembers the stupid kid that caused him to get it.
.......Thanks to Audrey Brown Driggers for her help on this tale...
Bruce Osburn Brunswick GA 8-23-2002
A COUNTRY CHURCH
....a memory revisited
by: Bruce Osburn
Pleasant Hill United Methodist Church is in northern Marlboro County, South Carolina, about a mile from the NC/SC border. The present church building dates from the late 1800s, its original wooden frame being faced with brick about 30-years ago. It sits on a mostly sandy yard about seventy-five feet west of Pleasant Hill Road. There's a cemetery on the north side, extending from the road and wrapping around behind the church and on to a tree line to the west, covering more than an acre or so.
It was about 1925 when the Jim Patrick family of about 10 souls moved to Sam Pearson's farm in Marlboro County. And it was probably in that year that they began attending the nearby Methodist Church. More children were born in the following years and some of the older ones married and moved away.
Along about 1934 grandpa Jim moved from the Pearson farm. That move took him just up the road a short piece to the Gun O Field, a farm that was even closer to the church. In 1943, due to circumstances caused by World War II, mom and her five kids moved into grandpa's house. I have no memory of attending the church but, who knows? - maybe I did and maybe I didn't. I just don't have a memory of doing so.
But I do have a memory of attending a funeral there for a classmate who drowned in Everett's Mill pond. I don't remember the boy's name but I do remember walking to the church from Whites Creek School along with other classmates in late summer of 1944. I had never before seen a dead person and that day was not to be my first time. While the rest of the kids filed past the casket I remained frightened and seated near the back of the church.
By 1945 most of the Patricks were gone from that area. But, even though they lived several miles away, there were still a few who remained members of the church. They continued to attend on a regular basis and still do, right up to the present day, along with their children and grandchildren.
I still remember that church, in part, for what we children were afraid of - ghosts! And it was our bad luck that we had to walk close by the church cemetery on our way to and from school. It didn't matter if we walked in the sandy road or took a short-cut through he woods, we still had to make our way past the graves. And we knew there were ghosts lurking about because our adults had told us so and we quickly made our way by the yard because we didn't want to be ...got!
And then there was a time when grandpa Jim thought he was about to be got by one. That tale was told on grandpa and everyone who heard it repeated over the years just howled. It seems that grandpa was walking home one night after imbibing with his buddies and was still tipping his jar of white lightning when he passed by the church. He went to the grave where one of the neighbors had recently been buried and waggled his jar at the grave asking, "Hey, do'ya want a drink?"
Unbeknownst to grandpa, another neighbor was there in the cemetery at that time . He had heard grandpa coming and had hidden behind a grave stone. When grandpa asked the recently deceased if he wanted a drink the hidden neighbor piped up with "Why, yes, Mr. Pat, I believe I will have a drink!" Grandpa smashed his jar on the stone and flew off toward home!
In the past few years I've driven past the church several times when I was on a family search. But I never had a reason to visit until just recently when I attended the funeral for my cousin, Mack Patrick. Besides seeing lots of cousins I took the opportunity to look for kinfolk buried there. I found only one, an aunt that had died in 1976.
But there was an incident that occurred before the service began that absolutely stunned me. I was standing just inside the doorway reading the bulletin board when I heard someone on the porch say to my brother, "You must be Gene Osburn." Well, I was just nosey enough to go outside to see who was talking. As soon as I stepped onto the porch the same fellow turned to me and said, "And you're Bruce." I didn't recognize him so I asked if he was Woodrow Grant.
"No," says he, "Woodrow's long gone. I'm Mack Smith, your aunt Jane's brother." Well, the name was familiar but certainly not the face. Mack went on to say that he used to spend a lot of time hanging out with my uncles on the Gun O Field. And then he nearly knocked my socks off when he said, "You used to squeeze eggs out of chickens!"
Now isn't that strange? - some folks are remembered for the great deeds they do but I'm remembered for the mischief I did. And I must have been an awfully naughty little kid 'cause why else would a 19-year-old boy remember a first-grader for 58 years?
**note**.....read the tale "Hen Doctor" to find out what Mack Smith meant by 'squeezing eggs from chickens.'
Bruce Osburn Brunswick GA 9-10-2002
...and their several uses
by: Bruce Osburn
During my younger years, way back when I was a pre-teen and up until the time I joined the military, I always had a match or two in my pocket. They weren't considered to be taboo items like some of the things today's young boys carry. They were just as common as a Barlow knife and, for some kids, were much more useful. In fact, for a number of kids living in the country they were indispensable. There were fires to be lit in cook stoves or fireplaces. Yard trash had to be set afire. And, of course, cigarettes needed to be lit.
I remember two types of matches. One type was a long, white-tipped "kitchen match." And even though they were commonly known as strike anywhere matches they were nevertheless packaged in a box with a strip of grit imbedded on the side. Each box contained three-hundred or so.
Another was the "safety match." That type required a special striking surface to light and came in at least two distinct packages. One package was a small box that contained about fifty and another package was a "book" of twenty. The box of fifty cost the reasonable price of one cent. The book was free.
Back in those days folks readily accepted disposable items that bore a company's logo.... but only if they were free. Those items included cups, ashtrays, road maps and other small things used for promotions. Even though people were willing to accept a free gift there was no way they would pay good money for the same item. And they wouldn't promote a product by carrying around a company's advertisement on something they had purchased, no matter how inexpensive the item. The general consensus in those days was that if a company wanted to advertise, let them foot the bill!
And so, the book-matches were free because they advertised products from A to Z. If a smoker wanted a book or two he just took them from a container near the cash register. It didn't matter if he took one or a dozen, they still didn't cost anything because they were promoting a product. Cigarette vending machines dispensed a book with each pack of butts. The receiving tray was a good place to look for a book if one was needed since not everyone took them. (I guess those were rich folks who had lighters.
The kitchen match is the one this memory will be about because one of my classmates received a painful burn from some. That incident occurred in Mrs. McKinnon's seventh-grade class and clearly illustrates the inherent dangers of that little stick, dangers we ignored or were not fully aware of.
I used them as they were intended to be used and at other times I played with them. One way was to shoot one from my BB-gun at an X scratched onto a brick or cement block. They never failed to reward me with a little pop! when they struck the target. Another way was to break the white tips from the match and place a dozen or so into a "hand grenade."
A grenade was easy enough to make from old stuff found in dad's junk boxes. Just two large bolts and one nut were needed for this toy. One bolt was screwed into the nut just one or two threads deep and then the match heads were placed on top of it. The other bolt was screwed into the opposite side of the nut until it made contact with the match heads. Care had to be taken not to over-tighten it or else it would "explode" in my hand. After I put the bolts together I threw the "grenade" at the block foundation of our house. It almost always hit on the end of a bolt which compressed the match heads enough to make them explode.
That type of kitchen match had been around for more than a hundred-years. And I knew that because I used to see them in Saturday afternoon cowboy movies. The bad guys struck them on the seats of their britches. Some struck them on their gun butts. Others used door jambs or the sides of the bar in a saloon. A few used a thumbnail and still others used their teeth. And I had to try all those methods. I was successful at all of them except in a bar. (By the time I was old enough to go into taverns I had a lighter).
As I said earlier, some young boys carried white-headed kitchen matches. They used them for lighting fires at home or for lighting their cigarettes. It wasn't unusual for a kid to have eight or ten, maybe more, in a pocket. And my classmate was one of those that had more one day in class. He knocked something from his desk and when he bent over to pick it up the match heads rubbed together and ignited.
The way I remember the incident is that he never made a peep. Not one ouch! He just gritted his teeth and grabbed a handful of trousers leg. He managed to snuff out the fire after the match heads had flared up and done their damage. Mrs. McKinnon sniffed the air and demanded to know who was striking matches. I don't know if she ever found out what had happened that day but I'm sure the kid must have had a deep and painful burn which gave him a scar to remember his bad luck.
Does anyone else remember that incident? And if you do, do you remember the name of the unlucky kid?
Bruce Osburn Brunswick GA 10-06-2002
....a close call
by: Bruce Osburn
"Snake!" yelled Chris. "Snake!"
"Where?" was my one-word response as my heart skipped a beat or two.
I'd taken my two boys fishing that afternoon. I had serious doubts about catching anything to brag about but, still, it would give them a chance to drown a worm or two. After all, the little pond we were fishing could hardly be expected to produce anything larger than a minnow. All that was left of what once may have covered an acre or so was now nothing more than just a little bitty weed- and brush-infested pool of clear water. Gigantic pines and hardwoods completely encircled that little pond that was just a little larger than a bungalow. The dam had been breached years ago and the evidence for that was the leg-sized trees growing on both slopes of the dam. A small stream cascaded over roots and mellon-sized rocks in the broken dam before emptying into a not-so-deep gully.
I'd discovered the little pond a few years earlier, right after I bought six acres of woodland on Grace Chapel Church Road. While walking my property lines I discovered a little stream that passed through the back side of my land and I followed it just to see where it would lead. At one point the brush was so thick I had to stray away from the stream and walk the high ground. And when I finally found an opening in the woods to return to the stream I darn near missed it. The pond was so secluded I was already on the dam before I realized that I'd just stumbled upon a haven for frogs, turtles and other water critters. Lily pads floated on the surface, water skimmers and spiders darted about while minnows sucked at the surface.
I forgot about that little pool of water until about 1973. I'd been transferred to a destroyer escort in Charleston, S.C., and made visits to my mom, who had put a mobile home on my property. So one weekend I decided to take Kevin and Chris fishing in that little pool. We went to Hamlet for cane poles and tackle and dug a few worms near the house. At the pond we threw our baited hooks into the knee-deep water and waited for little sunfish to bite.
All fishermen always think the fish bite better .... over there... so we changed spots every five minutes or so. I took up a spot on the face of the dam, with my feet nearly in the water. I'd been there just a minute or so when 9-year-old Chris moved to join me. After just a few seconds he shouted that word that caused my heart to flutter: "Snake!" And when I asked "Where!?" his response didn't do anything to make it quit beating so rapidly.
"Right behind you, Dad! Right behind your foot!"
I slowly turned my head and looked behind my feet. I didn't see anything except leaves and twigs. "Ahh, there ain't nothing there, Chris," I answered.
"Yeah, Dad, it's in that hole. Right behind your foot!"
I took another look but still didn't see anything, not even a hole. But Chris had a better angle of sight so I took him at his word. I slowly moved one foot and then the other until I had a chance to scamper up the side of the dam. I went to Chris and he pointed out a hole that was concealed with grass and leaves. I took a long, hard look and then I saw it! About six inches inside the dark hole I could faintly see a reptile's head. I looked more closely and then saw patches of yellow under the throat. "Ahh, Chris, that's just an ol' turtle. He ain't gonna hurt nobody."
"Uh uh, Dad. That's a snake. He stuck his head outta the hole and I saw him stick his tongue out." Well, if it was a snake I didn't want anything to do with him.
We went back to mom's place so I could gather my wits. And about an hour or so later I asked brother Kenny to go back there with me. I was determined to find out if it was a snake in the hole or a turtle. After all, I'd been standing no more than six inches in front of his hole and I was puzzled why it hadn't struck me, if, in fact, it was a snake. But before we started for the pond I lashed a Buck knife to a broom handle with electrical tape. The six-inch blade would be great for probing around in the hole.
While walking back to the pond I told Kenny that if it was a snake it might be stretched out on the dam soaking up some heat from the sinking sun. So when we approached the dam we looked around before going onto it. And sure enough, there it was, in a sunny spot building up its body heat for the night. And it must have sensed us at the same time we saw it 'cause it struck out for the water. I charged with spear held high and, in my best imitation of an Indian warrior, launched my Buck-knife spear from about 15 feet away.
Luck, more than anything else, was on my side. The blade found its mark, midway its length, impaling it to the ground. And was it mad! Both ends were thrashing around on the ground, with the front end showing why there're called ..... cottonmouths. One of us smashed its head with a tree limb to complete the kill. I pulled my spear from it and commented that it must have just finished off a couple of bull frogs 'cause its belly was awfully big, bigger than it should've been for its length. So I decided to cut it open to see what its last meal was. That's when I discovered that it wasn't a "he" as I've said but rather a "she."
I sliced open its belly and a tangled mass of live cottonmouths tumbled out.... and they came out fighting! As soon as they emerged from the birth sac they attacked. Those little eight-inch fellows struck with open mouths at sticks Kenny and I teased them with. After they'd vented their hostility we crushed them underfoot.
I don't know much about the birthing habits of live-bearing snakes, or any others, for that matter. So I can only assume that the reason I wasn't bitten that day was because the female was ready to give birth. And I can thank my lucky stars that Chris was sharp-eyed enough to spot it. Because who knows how much stress the snake could've taken before striking out at something so close to its burrow?
Bruce Osburn Brunswick GA 5-14-2003
....out in the cornfield
by: Bruce Osburn
Recently I heard a song by Alan Jackson entitled "When Daddy Let Me Drive." I'd heard the song several times before but this time I listened more closely to the lyrics. When he sang the part about hauling trash down Thigpen Road I thought.... been there, done that.
When I first started driving our '46 Chevy stake-body pickup in 1950 I was just 12-years-old and had to do it on the sly. When no one was home I'd hot-wire it and drive around the yard and down the lanes leading into the brush. The transmission was stick-shift and I had to teach myself how to shift gears without grinding off a tooth or two. But, still, I learned to start off without stalling the engine or stripping gears and I became pretty good at it. Mom found out I was driving but it didn't upset her as long I was doing something useful. So she had no problem getting the trash hauled off when she wanted and the dam was kept in pretty good condition with the loads of dirt I hauled.
Fast-forward to 1974 when I "retired" an old car I parked at mom's house near Hamlet. It was an 10-year-old 1964 Buick Riviera that had seen better days. Rust holes were breaking through on the rear fenders and the huge, dual-pipe muffler was just a little holey. The bucket seats were showing signs of having suffered through more than a hundred thousand miles. I had patched the floor on both sides and the transmission slipped just a tad. The windows had to remain open because of danger of carbon monoxide. But the major complaint was ....Marie hated it!
She informed me one day that I could do with it what I wanted but she absolutely refused to drive it any more. She had said for years that the hood was too long and the seats were too low. She said she had a hard time judging how far she was from other cars because she couldn't see the end of the hood. So I began to drive it to and from work and Marie began driving our big ol' 1969 International Travelall. And after just a few days I realized that the Buick made far too much noise for the naval base. So I bought Marie a Ford sedan and reclaimed my Travelall. And that's when I took the Buick to Hamlet and parked it. I had good intentions of restoring it but nixed that idea when a mechanic told me how much he would charge to repair it.
One weekend while visiting my mom I thought I'd let my two boys - 12-year-old Kevin and 10-year-old Chris - have a little fun with it. It had been sitting there for several months but a jump-start got it running. We drove through the woods on a sandy road to an old cornfield of several acres where we were going to have our fun. I let each boy have a go at it....and there were no restrictions. I really didn't care if they threw a rod or blew a piston so I told them to let'er rip! I just wanted them to experience something most kids don't have an opportunity to do.
The boys were so small they had trouble reaching the pedals and seeing over the dash. But that didn't slow them. They took the wheel in both hands, scooted down in the seat, stretched their short legs and craned their necks to look through the steering wheel. But it didn't matter where they steered because there was nothing to hit except a few stray corn stalks. Those young boys revved that 425cid, 4-barrel carb, V-8 engine wide open. They did donuts, throwing dirt far behind and cutting deep ruts in the soft, sandy soil. They slid the tires to a stop, then punched the accelerator to the floor, spinning the steering wheel to make tight little circles. But I think they had the most fun when they sped crossways the rows, flying through the air when the front end plowed into a furrow that sent the car sailing clear off the ground. And they just hooted as they were tossed about like firewood.
I think if you ask the boys if they remember that day they'll say they do. And if you want to know what happened to the Buick... well, along about 1980 someone came by wanting to buy it so mom sold it for $50. They pumped up the tires, put on jumper cables, poured gas into the carburetor and fired it right up.... and it hadn't been started in about five or six years. Brother Kenny told me that the new owner drove it less than six months before he "totaled" it.
Bruce Osburn 5-30-2003
KRISPY KREME DOUGHNUTS
...a Carolina favorite
By: Bruce Osburn
I like donuts. Especially the ones known as Krispy Kreme, the ones that got their start in North Carolina. Oh, I don't make a pig of myself when I run across a dozen or so, but, still, when I see a package in our kitchen I gobble up one or two... or four. And my favorites are the glazed ones, those that are slathered in sticky, runny icing.
Those are the ones that shouldn't be picked up with a napkin although that's the first thing I try. The napkin always gets stuck to the donut so I just give in and grab it with my fingers and enjoy. Besides, licking my fingers is part of enjoying one, even if I'm sitting in a cafe. And I remember licking my fingers after pigging-out on my very first glazed Krispy Kremes when I was about 13- or 14-years-old, sometime about 1951 or 1952. I'm not saying that that was the first time I ever ate a donut, I'm just saying that it's the first time I remember eating a Krispy Kreme. And that night was in Rockingham. But I'll get back to that event later because that's the whole meat of my tale.
I next remember getting my fill of Krispy Kremes in the fall of 1955. I was working afternoons and nights at an Esso service station at the corner of Person and Peace Streets in Raleigh. And directly across the street was a Krispy Kreme bakery. Oh, the aromas that drifted across the street and into that station! Sometimes we night-workers chipped in a little pocket change for a sackful. We ate those dripping donuts, still hot from the cooker, while chasing them down with a belly washer. And at just sixty-cents a dozen everyone was sure to get his stomach filled.
Person Street doubled as U.S Route #1 through Raleigh. That was nearly two decades before the opening of the Interstate Highway system and our station pumped lots of gas to snowbirds traveling to and from the deep south. Sometimes at night when tourists stopped for fuel they asked what smelled so good. We pointed out the bakery across the street and told them it was fresh donuts being baked. And while we grease monkeys looked under the hood, checked the tires and swept out the insides, one of the passengers darted across the street to get a sackful.
My introduction to Krispy Kreme was by courtesy of Jimmy Helton. He was about three years older than me but, still, he let me go places with him a few times. And, on the night I made my memory of Krispy Kremes, Jimmy asked me to go along for a ride while he visited with a young girl over near five-points in Rockingham. Somewhere along the way he stopped to buy a dozen glazed Krispy Kremes.
The girl led us out to a darkened front porch where she and Jimmy sat at one end and I was directed to sit at the other end, about 20 feet away. Jimmy and the girl each took a donut from the sack and I ambled over to my spot and sat down. While they sat in the darkness laughing and giggling I sat there leaning against the wall listening to semi trucks shifting gears as they passed by on U.S. #74.
About 15 or 20 minutes later they stopped doing whatever they were doing and Jimmy hollered for me to bring them another donut. But I couldn't. You see, those darned ol' Krispy Kremes were so doggone good I ate them all! Every danged one of them! I couldn't stop eating until the very last one was gone!
I don't remember what Jimmy said to me but I remember the girl calling me a .....damn little pig!
Bruce Osburn 11-06-2003
. . . and screw worms
"Hey, Bruce! Did you put Smear-X on those pigs like dad told you?" cousin Buddy asked.
"Nah," says I, "That darned ol' sow chased me right outta them woods!"
"Shoot, can't you do nothing right? I reckon I'll have to do it myself."
The circumstances leading to my headlong dash out of the woods trying to escape a frothy-mouthed brood sow had begun a day earlier. Uncle Cecil and aunt Elizabeth were preparing to leave within a few hours for Great Lakes Naval Station to attend graduation ceremonies for one of their sons. And uncle Cecil had a chore for me.
Early on in the evening he told of discovering one of his sows had dropped a litter of pigs deep in the brush. ". . . and before you go to school tomorrow I want you to go down there and put some Smear-X on the pigs' navels, " he told me. And then he added, "Put some on the sow's backside, too, if you can." He went on to tell me the general area the pigs were bedded down and that he had put a crocus sack on a tree to mark their location. He also told me that I should take some feed to distract the sow while I was doing my chore.
So, bright and early the next morning, I filled a paper sack with dry feed, found a pint jar of Smear-X, picked up a short piece of thin wooden slat to use as an applicator, and set out to find the sow. I knew exactly what uncle Cecil expected me to do, and I knew why he thought it was important enough to send me off on that chore, one that I had never done before.
Back in the 1950s there was an unsightly and dangerous parasite that infected farm animals . . . a parasite that was simply called a "screw worm". A screw worm was the larva — or maggot — of a fly. And any animal with an open wound was likely to become infested. So, to prevent flies from laying eggs directly on a wound, a medicated salve was liberally applied.
Uncle Cecil preferred Smear-X for keeping the flies from infecting his stock. Smear-X was a black, viscous substance with the consistency of tar. In fact, it was so thick that I doubt any would spill from an overturned jar. And just one large gob smeared across a wound sealed it enough to keep the flies off.
I saw the sack dangling from a pine limb at the edge of the pasture long before I was near the pigs. So, after shouting "Yoooo ... pig! Suuueeey!" a couple of times, I heard the sow grunting. I found her in a shallow depression about twenty or thirty feet into the brush, guarding a litter of days-old piglets. And I became scared just as soon as I set my eyes on her.
I had expected to find one of uncle Cecil's half-tame, short-nosed, short-legged, domesticated sows — the kind we scratched behind the ear while they were feeding at a trough. But, instead, I was face-to-face with a feral hog. For there stood a genuine Georgia piney-woods rooter — a long-nosed, long-legged, rail-thin, half-wild, mean-spirited acorn eater. She could very easily have been a sister, or, at the very least, a cousin, to an Arkansas razorback. Fear began to well up in me, and the smell of that fear probably exuded from my every pore.
But I didn't want to upset uncle Cecil by failing to do my chore, so I lured the sow away from the piglets. I used the feed as bait and dumped the entire sackful onto the ground. The sow turned her eyes from me and focused her attention on the feed. After she began to eat I started for the piglets, but, before I had taken a few steps, my eyes dropped to the backside of the sow. There I saw her exposed rear end and an opportunity to smear it, too. So I dipped the applicator into the jar, got a large gob, and smacked it onto the target, right below the sow's up-turned tail.
Now, I had done some stupid things in my young life but that daubing was by far the most stupid thing I had ever done. For just as soon as I touched the stick to her butt, she squealed and made a lunge for my legs. But my luck was much better than my judgment, because when she spun around to attack me, her head smacked into a small tree. That stunned her just long enough for me to take off. And take off I did! I went flying through the brush, heading for the nearest fence, which was about two hundred feet away.
I went back to the house and left for school — and the piglets still didn't have Smear-X daubed on them.
And it was that afternoon at cousin Buddy's TV shop when he asked if I had done what his dad had told me to do.
When we got home that afternoon we started for the woods to finish my chore. I had been successful at smearing the sow but the piglets were still running around unprotected.
The sow had moved the litter (which turned out to be a good thing) during the day to a spot only about twenty or thirty feet from a fence. When Buddy and I found the piglets the sow was nowhere in sight. And that's when Buddy did a stupid thing himself, even more stupid than what I had done earlier that morning. He reached down and picked up one of those little fellows . . .and it let go with an ear-piercing squeal!
That baby pig's shrill, mama-calling squeal brought the sow from deep in the brush.. We heard what was surely an elephant on the rampage as it came charging through the underbrush and palmettos. But when it emerged into the clear we saw that, instead, it was the same old sow that had attacked me that morning. It burst out of the brush about fifty feet away with evil intent showing in its open mouth . . . and Buddy still had that squealing pig in his hand!
No one had to tell me to take off again. And Buddy unceremoniously dropped the pig onto the ground and took off, too. The fence was about thirty feet away but that long-legged razorback was gaining on us with every step. And that's when another player entered that drama.
Cousin Lawrence's cocker spaniel had tagged along with Buddy and me that afternoon. She was a lop-eared, light cream colored, wavy-haired lap dog that I had always thought to be a sissy dog. But I changed my opinion of Taffy that day.
Just as soon as the sow burst out of the palmettos — and sent Buddy and me off to the fence — Taffy made her move. She ran yipping and yapping at full speed toward the sow. I looked over my shoulder just in time to see the sow collide with Taffy. The pig didn't even slow down as she hooked that little dog with her long snout and flipped her backward. Taffy hit the ground several feet away and came back for more. She yipped and nipped at the sow's feet which slowed her long enough for Buddy and me to hurdle the fence.
Buddy and I made our way back to the house, with Taffy running alongside. That's when Buddy declared, "To hell with them pigs! Let the screw worms get 'em!"
I don't remember if the little pigs were ever smeared. I know that I didn't do it. And I doubt that Buddy went back for another try. Maybe uncle Cecil smeared them when he came back from Illinois.
Bruce Osburn Brunswick, Ga. 8-09-2005