Collection of 13 audio stories about my hometown, Jamestown, NC.
Unlike fictional Lake Woebegone, Jamestown is a small town located in the Piedmont area of North Carolina. It is the town where I grew up and still reside today. Though I did expand my horizon to a couple of outlying cities during my 20's, I could not help but come back home.
Jamestown is undergoing major changes now. Not being as emotionally attached or perhaps because they just need the money, some descendants of its former residents, who themselves held its land sacred, are selling to developers and corporations. Now apartments and businesses are rising from its ground like mushrooms during a late summer rainy season. Then there is the highway bypass that has plowed through green space, farmlands, and homes. Its construction has caused years of ugly gaping wounds that rip through the town’s heart and seems nowhere near being finished. And now there is even talk of changing Jamestown’s name. How can Jamestown not be called “Jamestown” anymore?
Like most of the old-timers, I hardly recognize our town now. As we took our evening walk the other day, I pointed out the barbershop to my husband Chuck. I told him that it is the only business that is still located in the same place as it was when I was a child over 50 years ago. Some of the changes have been good, like the little park that has been placed across the street from the town hall. It has a beautiful, shaded walk with benches to sit and daydream, a Veteran’s memorial wall and walk to find relatives and old neighbor’s names and be grateful for their service and sacrifice, a few tables for an outside lunch, and a small backdrop where folks can come with lawn chairs and blankets on warm summer nights to enjoy a free movie or concert.
But there is something sad about watching all the new residents flood in. I guess I am just being selfish but isn’t it like human nature not to want to share when you have found something good? And Jamestown is still good. The following is a collection of articles I wrote over the years for The Jamestown News and I’ve added a few unpublished ones. Nothing fancy, just a few memories I want to share with you. I hope you get a taste of its sweetness and why I love Jamestown – my hometown.
Trish Simpson narrates the introduction to her collection of autobiographical stories about Jamestown, NC and growing up there.
Over the years, as I’ve gotten in conversations with others about their hometowns, I could tell they were impressed when I’d mention mine often smells like baking bread. Of course, I was referring to that wonderful aroma that wafts through the air from the commercial bakeries that have resided in Jamestown for many years. When I was a small child my father worked for Tip Top Bakery repairing their delivery trucks. Sometimes after school, my mom would take my siblings and me to the Tip Top outlet store, where Flowers Bakery is now, for a huge box of their” Honey Dipped” donuts. We’d fight over who got to lick the sugary liquid in the bottom of the box. I have never tasted a better donut since, and it gets my vote when folks start talking about who has the best donut.
I’m 53, and except for a few years in my 20s, I’ve always lived near the town of Jamestown. My family moved to the area in 1956. Mama, who was born and raised in Thomasville, proudly claimed Jamestown as her hometown. How many times as we drove through town did I hear her say, “I like Jamestown. It’s such a nice town.”
I’ve seen many changes. The changes are coming much faster now than before. You don’t have as much time to recover or grieve the loss of precious sights and places you’ve always known. I’ve had to tell myself more than once as I’ve seen areas developed, “It’s not your land, things change, sometimes things have to change, be grateful for the years you had to enjoy the trees and the land by the roadways, green and unspoiled.”The stretch on Dillon Road, where River Walk is now, was magnificent with color in the fall. Mama would say as we drove by, “This is as pretty as anything you can see in the mountains.” I can’t say I miss the scary narrow bridge that once spanned the river there. If the roads were wet or worse, icy, there was always a fear you could slide into the river if you had to stop too quickly to let oncoming cars pass. I recall it happening to at least one person. Our family never tried to pass another car on the old bridge. I remember scaring my dad when he was teaching me to drive by getting too close to the railing. I didn’t know my dad’s bass voice could go as high as it did when he squealed out, “You’re going to hit the bridge!”
I still shudder when I think about the danger of the old Jamestown School being torn down. Lord bless those wise and insightful folks who saved it. It brings to mind the Biblical admonition about not removing the “old landmarks.” When I visit the Jamestown Library that is there now and walk across the wooden floors, I seem to hear the same pops and creaks that I did during my elementary school days when our teachers had us tiptoe past the school offices so as not to disturb Principal Jackson. Or I am reminded of those seemingly endless flights of stairs we ascended to the school library on the top floor.
When I sit outside by Bow Stafford’s memorial fountain, I remember him and how to me, he more than anyone else was Jamestown personified. The faces, so many faces are gone. I think about Tom Ragsdale, Sr. I remember Mr. Ragsdale coming to our home with sincere condolences when my father passed away. He also donated a pew to our church in Dad’s memory. What a good and benevolent man he was.
But no matter what happens to Jamestown, I’ll always have my memories. One of the earliest is accompanying my father into Tilley’s Drug Store, and going over to the small soda fountain to get tiny paper cups of Coca-Cola syrup to settle the upset stomachs back home. I remember the small marble top tables and dainty metal chairs. We peeked into Dr. Fortney’s waiting room where it was so crowded the patients seemed to be sitting in each other’s laps. I don’t think people made appointments before coming to see Dr. Fortney in those days. My favorite memories of downtown Jamestown were of Blair’s store, where Southern Roots is located. We’d enter by the back door. I seem to recall the bang of a screen door, the low lights, and the cool feel of the cement floor beneath my bare feet. Joe Blair would call out a greeting to my dad from behind the meat counter, but we kids had only one thing on our minds, to redeem the pop bottles we had collected from the surrounding roadsides and head for the candy counters upfront. Who remembers the hot dog stand in a gravel lot where the Wells Fargo Bank is now? We’d stop in after school sometimes and our mouths would water as we watched Mama bring out rows of hot dogs nestled in an empty bun box, the steam from the chili trying to escape the wax paper wrappings. There are memories of waiting around at the old depot at the Oakdale Road crossing with my train fanatic brother Mike so he could photograph some train he was interested in or walking with my sister Lynne and her friend Nancy down Oakdale Road to the mill village, or the surprise birthday party my classmates gave me at Sadie May’s when I turned 17. What tender and melt in your mouth lasagna she made.
But some things haven’t changed like the sound of children’s laughter coming from the elementary schoolyard, or the soft, cool breeze that always seems to blow up the hill on hot summer days as you sit on the bench outside of Mike’s Exxon. Sometimes it’s hard to believe my dad and the station’s former owner, Harold Hall, are not just inside the door telling each other funny stories. And when I settle into the barber chair for Rob to trim my hair, I breathe a sigh of relief that the Barber Shop is still the barbershop.
Oh Jamestown, please don’t change too much. You are a rare and precious jewel among small towns. You’ve given me so much over the years and still do. I love to take walks on Main Street towards the setting sun and watch the clouds turn from gold to crimson, to deep purple. As I turn around to make my way back home, sometimes I get to see one of the most beautiful sights I know, a moonrise over my hometown …Jamestown.
Trish takes a trip through memory lane and sends a love letter to her hometown, Jamestown, NC
The windy days are best when the sky seems to rain leaves. Like children released after a long day at school, the leaves run ahead of you, dancing, spinning, somersaulting. Wherever you go you can hear the crunch of leaves beneath your feet, their spicy odor filling your senses until suddenly something inside of you that has been asleep all summer awakens.
The Forestdale neighborhood, with its blessed shady canopy in the summer, now drowns in piles of leaves. The swish of rakes and the scream of leaf blowers will be heard for many days to come as the rest continue to fall. The sky that is starting to peek through the remaining leaves is sometimes such a deep blue it almost seems purple. There are the golden afternoons to enjoy, ones where if you are still enough you can hear the click and snap of the falling leaves around you. Days where you just want to sit and bask in the warm sunlight, relieved it no longer feels oppressive as it did in summer. Your cats and dogs have the same idea as they roll in the dusty grass at your feet.
Your lunch break may find you on one of the benches at Wrenn Miller Park where you may hear the hum and roar of the afternoon school buses mixing with the now daytime call of crickets. The persimmons are turning opaque and falling. There will be puddings this year. The race is on with the squirrels in our yards as they gather the pecans before we can; even picking them green before they hit the ground. The ancient black walnut tree that hangs over Dillon Road at the bridge is dropping its fruit. Too bad black walnut hulls are so hard to remove because Black Walnut Cake is delicious. The large field at the Moore’s farm is mowed for hay. The dark ruby red of the maples that surround the library are quickly turning to give their annual display, usually the last show of color in town. Some birds are slowly disappearing. The crows will now strut around town as kings for the winter.
The warmth of a sweater feels good as you venture out in the evening to one of the town’s restaurants or to a class at the community college or maybe to a historical lecture at the library. As you return home, with the summer hazes gone, even the stars look bigger and brighter. A blanket on the bed feels good as you crack your window for some fresh air. You hear the trains that run through town once again, the ones you had almost forgotten during the air-conditioned nights of summer.
The light that illumines the whole town is the pumpkin patch at the Methodist Church. The brilliant orange is almost blinding as you drive by, the happy squeals of the children on the hayrides they offer, precious. There are days for us to vote at Town Hall where the placards of the candidates are as varied and colorful as the surrounding fall foliage.
One of the loveliest sights to see in the Jamestown area is the mirrored images of the fall colors in the old City Lake: olive, crimson, gold, flaming and burnt oranges. You can enjoy this beauty up close on one of the park’s Leaf Boat Tours. Every Saturday offers more yard sales then you can shake a stick at and there is always something good to eat with the various church and organization fundraisers. How good of our Creator to warm us with these things before the cold, grey days of winter begin.
The beauty and the happening in Jamestown's autumn.
The faint smell of burning leaves stung my nose as I left the thrift store at the Methodist church the other night. A full moon was rising off to the east, the air was full of cricket song and golden lights were streaming from the church windows. A faint light still lingered on the western horizon. The night was too beautiful to pass by, so I put the purchases in my car, locked the doors, and started on an autumn night’s walk through Jamestown.
The large doors were open over at the fire station. I had to wonder if the folks there were enjoying the night as I was. The last of the early voting volunteers were leaving town hall. I glanced over and noticed how almost every inch of ground was covered by the candidates’ placards. As I neared the front of the town hall, something seemed amiss; something seemed darker. Oh, it was the absence of the ancient maple tree that we lost because of Storm Michael. Was the only one in town grieving the loss of that beautiful tree?
Crickets seemed to be everywhere. I continued to walk and as one cricket sound faded, a new one would join in the chorus, like a last hurrah before the coming cold would silence them. Once I passed the post office, I could see the athletic field lights on at Jamestown Elementary. Someone must have just scored a goal, as cheers and applause rose above all of the other sounds in town. I was so taken by the sights and sounds around me, I suddenly realized I could have fallen from a large stick rolling under my foot. Grateful I didn’t fall, I bent down to move it out of another person’s path.
A class was going on in Wine & Design. I looked in to see what the painting of the night was. The smell of warm garlic bread permeated the air as I passed the Southern Roots restaurant. The windows there were full of smiling faces in lively conversation. A quiet night at the Potent Potables bar. On the upper patio, a lone couple sat looking into each other’s eyes, his arm around her shoulders for warmth. I glanced across the street and Full Moon Oyster Bar was busy as usual. I passed Mike’s service station and noticed the hum and clacking sound of the machinery at the box factory. I love this sound because it takes me back to when as a child I could hear the second shift machines running at Jamestown Cotton Mill. This same sound lulled me to sleep many nights.
As always, the traffic on Main Street was non-stop and I had to wonder what effect the new bypass would have. For the first time today, out of the corner of my eye, I had noticed the gap in the woods the road construction had caused on Dillon Road; it was too painful for me to turn and take a longer look.The parking lot at the grocery store was fuller, with so many new residents in town. And just as I had started wondering why I hadn’t heard a train yet, one started approaching. The engineer was riding the horn. There must have been a deer near the tracks. They are bad to congregate down on the western end of the track especially this time of year. The cold clear night amplified the sound and I almost had to cover my ears. It still amazes me how we’ve become so accustomed to the rumble and blaring horns of the passing trains through town that we often don’t hear them. They are such a part of Jamestown’s soundscape.
A short walk tonight. The sky was now a deep midnight blue. The stars looked bigger and more defined. I turned to go back up the hill. I took deep breaths. The cool air was so refreshing after our long humid summer. As I returned to the church, I noticed the moon had risen and now appeared to be above the steeple. The thought came to me that this is the same moon that has risen over our town as long as it has existed and will continue to do so long after we are gone. As I stood there looking up, I was glad I had taken the time to enjoy this beautiful night in Jamestown.
Come along for an autumn night's walk through Jamestown.
For many of us who have lived a long time in Jamestown, High Point’s City Lake Park is like an adopted child we’ve taken to our hearts and made our own. Years before our birth child, Jamestown Park, we played beneath the shade of the City Lake Park trees, enjoyed with our classmates the end of the year school picnics, and swam with our families in the blue waters of its pool.
Some of Jamestown’s most hallowed historical sites lie beneath the lake that was made by the damming of Deep River in 1927 to provide a water reservoir for the City of High Point. A few of Jamestown’s earliest remaining buildings still stand within the confines of the park. The pool and park were built in 1934 through funding by the WPA, a federal recovery program of the Great Depression. At the time of its completion, the swimming pool was the largest in the southeast. When the park opened in June of 1935, the High Point Enterprise said it was “the finest of its kind in the southeast.” All I know is when I first saw it in the early ’60s, it was love at first sight.
My family enjoyed Sunday picnics there. Probably the fare was my mother’s wonderful fried chicken, her potato salad I’ve never been able to duplicate, deviled eggs, squares of cake and homemade lemonade carried in a gallon glass jar with a metal screw lid. The children in the playground area, probably unwisely so, had closer access to the water. I remember Mama’s nervousness if we ventured too close. Since my dad had been a pilot in the Second World War, the vintage plane for the kids to play on held special interest for us. The old rusty fire truck was great fun to climb on too. The Park train was the special attraction then. Instead of today’s high sitting, steam train replica, which can accommodate more types of folks, the old train looked like a diesel one and the seats were low benches down inside each of the cars. The ride seemed faster, probably from the lower vantage point and the driver had once been a real train engineer. Screaming while going through the tunnel was the tradition even then.
In those days, a kid could really get hurt out on the playground. There were sharp metallic edges, heavy objects that could hit you in the head, and hard ground to land on. But you know, those dangers kind of added to the thrill and adventure of it all. It took me years to get up the nerve to go down the big sliding board (which was not encapsulated as today’s slides are). I can remember getting caught in a long line of children that went all the way up the back ladder. “I can’t do this, I can’t do this,” I thought to myself. I caused groans and rolled eyes as I asked the kids to back up and let me back down. They were sliding down backward, face down and in twos. I felt pretty wimpy. I was a wimpy kid. “Don’t push me too high,” I’d caution the person behind my swing. Hadn’t I heard stories of people going over the top and back around? No such flights for me.
Children didn’t need a juice box or a soda at the park. Well, the snow cones they sold were really nice if your parents had the extra money to get you one. Most of the time, we were content to run to one of the many water fountains in the park and bend down with our perspiring faces for a quick gulp.
Over the pool in the pavilion area, there was a jukebox. I think the park staff facilitated dances and basketball games in those days. With open windows, two miles away my family could hear songs like, “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Twist and Shout,” drifting in on the warm summer night breezes. One night a couple of years back, as I sat with my brother Chris where he still lives at our old homeplace and heard the live music coming from Southern Roots, I was carried back to those days.
For years, Mama would take us to the pool to wade and splash around. We never learned to swim until later in life. She would sit on a bench and watch us. Sometimes I would go to the pool with my sister Lynne and her friend Debbie but that got pretty boring. They were several years older than me and seemed only interested in sunbathing and watching out for boys. For some reason at that time, it was a big thing for young couples to walk out over the dam to the middle and kiss.
Then there were the Arts festivals of the early ’70s. During the “hippy years” you could get a peace symbol or a flower with the words “flower power” painted on you while listening to live bands. I recall several concerts my sister, brother Mike and I attended.
Several years ago, when the City Lake Park underwent its major renovations, I watched with fear as I saw land cleared and some of the old trees brought down. The changes were needed and are beautiful now, but I was so relieved when I realized the park stayed recognizable and basically the same.
Sometimes, when I start feeling overwhelmed by the stress and pressures of this world, I go to City Lake Park and just walk around. Like visiting old friends, I stand among the trees I knew as a child. I sit on one of the benches and look out over the lake at the beautiful clouds and their reflections. I think about God and eternal things and breathe a prayer for help. It doesn’t take long before I start to feel God’s peace. As the winds that sweep across the lake reach me, He seems to use them to cool and calm my fevered thoughts and worries and I am grateful for answered prayer … and for the old City Lake Park.
Happy memories of City Lake Park, High Point, NC.
The sidewalks of Jamestown, those beautiful brick-patterned sidewalks. It’s good to see people out walking and enjoying them. When I walk late in the day, I pass various and sundry folks, rarely the same ones twice. Most people acknowledge my half-smile and “good evening” but my feelings get hurt when my efforts to be civil are not acknowledged, not even with a nod of the head.
I don’t want to be judgmental. I don’t know what is going on with the folks that don’t respond. I know we must be careful and use wisdom. Bad things can happen but I’m a skinny, middle-aged woman usually wearing shorts and a tee-shirt. This attire doesn’t create much of a place to conceal a weapon.
But then I’ve also learned you can’t judge by appearance. If you did. you would have things all wrong as to who is friendly and who isn’t I know the sidewalks create a tight place to pass a stranger. I’m not always comfortable myself but this is still a small town in many ways. It’s hard to let go of the days when folks stood around town and just talked, told jokes and stories, and asked about each other’s families.
I have so many memories of my dad talking with people like the mayor, the town’s doctor, and the leading businessmen. These were the busiest and most productive men in town, but they always took the time to stop and visit with you.
Now this is stretching it but I can even remember my Dad taking our pet raccoon into the drug store and going to the back and saying to the pharmacist, “Mr. Boone, I’d like you to meet Mr. Coon.” Not in a million years could something like that ever happen again. But in the past, all the folks who worked at the drug store could fill your order perfectly while listening to you talk about your latest illness, operation, or hospital stay.
You knew everyone in all the stores. I remember the manager, Jimmy Stone, at the Cloverleaf grocery store who talked with his customers as he worked in the aisles, and of course, there was Ed Robertson and bagged your groceries who made sure you had a smile on your face before you left.
What a relief to run into Mary Lee around town. She always has something funny to say to brighten your day or Alan Johnson with his kind words and radiant smile and it’s fun to jump in the lively banter that’s usually going on between Gary, Mike, and Cathy at the post office. Sometimes a good conversation is going on down at Rob’s Barber Shop but one of the last times I was there it seemed like everyone was more content to just look at their magazine.
A couple of years ago, there was a friendly teller at the drive-thru at my bank and I wrote to the manager telling him how much I appreciated her customer service skills. She was promoted but her replacement, bless her heart, tried to follow in her footsteps and would ask me each Monday morning “Well, what did you do over the weekend?” I wanted to laugh and say, “I appreciate your efforts but your question is just a little too friendly.”
Wouldn’t it be great to see all of those beautiful benches around town full of people sitting and talking? By the way, thanks to all those who donated the park benches? They are a wonderful addition to our town.
Remembering the days when folks took time to stop and talk to each other.
There is something about fall that brings the trees around us back into focus. Perhaps it is the crunch and crackle of their fallen leaves beneath our feet or the riot of color that awakens us from our mental summer slumber.
A few days ago, I was noticing the trees that surround our old home place and a flood of memories came back. More than once I heard my father say about the giant wild hickory nut tree that stands by the barn, “That’s one of the tallest trees in Jamestown. I can stand on Main Street a mile away and see it.” He hung our chain swing from its lowest limb where as a child I swung and thought about the big new world around me.
There is the old pecan tree by the kitchen window despite its million woodpecker holes produced more pecans last year than all of its young surrounding upstarts. There is the massive maple tree that towers over the living room window. In 2005, I was so distraught by a dream that it was destroyed by a tornado I recorded it in my journal. I was stunned when in 2007 according to the eyewitness account of a neighbor; a small tornado took out half of it during a summer thunderstorm. Fortunately, it fell parallel to the house and caused no damage. The tree provided shade for my elderly mother in a downstairs bedroom during the last years of her life. She did not want air conditioning installed so even during the heat waves of the late 1990’s, the shade of this massive tree and a floor fan kept her cool. It still stands lopsided but providing shade and shelter.
The maple tree that shaded our play area was a jungle gym in itself as we climbed and swung on its branches. I can see myself at age 12 sitting in the smaller maple tree by the mailbox reading “Treasure Island.”
Jamestown is truly blessed with beautiful hardwoods. I still see trees that I can remember from my childhood. While walking a month or so ago, I was caught in a heavy downpour. I ran to one of the huge cherry trees that stands between the street and City Lake Pool. I had to wonder if it was one of the trees that my mother sat beneath 50 years ago as she watched us swim.
There is the old black walnut tree that bends over Dillon Road at the bridge, the tree by the Mendenhall store that we would pass every Friday night on our way to McDonald's for a hamburger. As a young woman, tired and sleepy, returning home from Greensboro, I would travel Guilford College Road. It was dark and narrow back then with a hairpin curve. When I would see the silhouette of the huge oak that once stood in front of Jamestown Friends Meeting Church, something inside of me would say, “You’ve made it, you’re safe, you’re almost home.”
Our trees surround us, seemingly cradle us, watching generations as they come and go. I appreciate Town Hall allowing the mammoth maples, despite their age to remain in front. There can be such beauty in old things, especially in trees.
When I would see the new construction in and around town I would feel something unsettling in my soul, barrenness, a foreign feeling that reminded me of Dorothy’s words to Toto, “We’re not in Kansas anymore.” In writing this I realize what was upsetting me, the absence of green, of shade, of strong trunk and limbs reaching heavenward. My hope and prayer is that some of the trees will be replaced and not forgotten.
Memories of trees dear to my heart.
A day started early back in 1938 for 10-year-old Olene McGhee. As she awakened, she could smell the freshly baked biscuits and fried ham her mother Ida had prepared for breakfast. There would be her mother’s newly churned butter on the table, along with jellies and jams made from the fruit of the family’s orchard, and lots of creamy milk from their cow. Her parents had been up since 5 am. Olene’s father Will had already brought in wood and lit the morning fire in the cookstove, gone across the street to the well at his parent’s house to get water for the family’s use that day, took care of the livestock, eaten breakfast, and left for his job at Oakdale Cotton Mill.
After breakfast, Olene gathered up her school things and the bag lunch her mother had prepared for her. With her older siblings, she started the mile and a half walk to Jamestown School. Since there weren’t enough buses in those days, the children that lived within three miles of the school had to walk or find another way to school. Olene was glad this was not a rainy day. Bales Chapel Road, where she lived, could get awfully muddy when it rained. Once there was sleet and rain and the children slipped and slid so much, they had to give up and return home. The morning sun shone brightly on Olene’s curly red hair. She had just washed it with the rainwater she collected and had rinsed it with vinegar.
As the children walked to school and turned onto Dillon Road, others from the Ward’s, the Edward’s, the Johnston’s, and the Dillon families joined them. The sound of the children’s laughter rang in the air. They would pass only a few houses. The woods grew thick where River Walk is now. The bridge was narrow across the river, and the kids couldn’t help but peer over to look at the moving water below. They were always careful to look and listen at the railroad tracks because there were no crossing signals at that time. In later years, when they did ride the school bus, a child had to get out and look up and down the track before the bus could cross. Back then, the trains were harder to see because the trees were allowed to grow nearer to the tracks.
School always began with the students meeting in the auditorium for assembly which included the Pledge of Allegiance, a devotional, and the singing of a few songs. Olene was usually called on to read the scripture verse for the day. She was in the fourth grade this year and thought her teacher was especially nice. Classes began but everything in the school had to come to a stop because a train was passing through town. The school windows were partially open even in cold weather because of the radiator steam heat. Nothing could be heard over the loud screams of the whistle and the roar and clatter of the massive steam trains. Through the large windows, you could see the billowing plumes of smoke the engines produced.
It was soon lunchtime and one of the kids from the Methodist Protestant Orphanage at Five Points asked Olene if she would trade her homemade lunch for a lunch ticket for the cafeteria. Olene agreed. But that afternoon, Olene’s stomach didn’t feel quite right. Her teacher sent her back to the school’s cafeteria and a lady there gave her some vinegar in water. After classes in math, reading, and history, it wasn’t long before the school day was over and time for the children to walk back home.
On the way home, Olene grew quiet. She was thinking that she was glad tomorrow was Saturday which meant she and her brother Julian would be sitting at the Broadhurst Movie Theatre in High Point. For only .10 they could watch their cowboy favorites and an exciting serial cliffhanger. She had to wonder if the heroine survived last week’s disaster.
Young people walked everywhere in those days. Olene and her friends thought nothing of the two-mile walk from home to City Lake Park. Her family usually went every weekend. There was always something going on there: celebrations, concerts, picnics, dances, swimming. In those days, the pavilion there served as a community center.
When they arrived home from school, after a few chores, the neighborhood kids would gather and play games in the middle of Bales Chapel Road since a passing car was a seldom event. Sometimes Mr. White would pass by in his mule-drawn wagon, coming home from High Point where he had been selling produce from his garden. The kids would ride their bikes or play games like “Stealing the Sticks.” Sometimes they would work in the garden or in the orchard. Most families that Olene knew had a vegetable garden and kept livestock for their meat, milk, and eggs.
That night at supper, Olene looked around at the faces that she loved. She wished that things could stay like this forever, that they could always stay together as a family. She purposely fixed in her mind how each person looked and where they sat around the table. She would hold onto this memory for the rest of her life.
After supper, Olene’s house grew quiet as the kerosene lamps were lit and her older siblings studied their lessons. Olene wished they could go visiting the neighbors like they had last night. How dark the night was even with the kerosene lantern her father carried. When the children finished their homework, they gathered in the living room around the battery-operated radio. They listened to programs like” Fibber McGee and Molly” and “Amos and Andy”. Or sometimes they played records on the crank-up Victrola. After work, her father had walked to Johnson’s Store in Jamestown and bought a few things for the family. As always, he had brought Olene a small bag of candy. Olene shared her candy with everyone as they listened to the radio that night.
9 o’clock came and Olene’s mother said, “Bedtime children.” Olene went to the room she shared with her sisters and soon was dreaming sweet youthful dreams. She did not dream that in a few short years the world would turn upside down and the young men of Jamestown would leave to fight a war ocean away. She did not dream that her brother Julian, so gifted, so good, would give his life for his country somewhere in France. Her dreams were probably more along the line of the night, years in her future when she would look across a crowded dance floor and fall in love with a handsome young fiddler named Dewey Mabe, who she would later marry. Or perhaps she would dream of the children like the ones they would have, Carol and Richard.
Olene’s homeplace on Bales Chapel Road was located where Bales Wesleyan Church now stands. Olene McGhee Mabe, now 92 years old, still resides in the Jamestown area.
A day in the life of Olene McGhee Mabe in 1938.
We have too much these days. We really do. Whatever happened to what we used to call a “treat”? Now in our affluent, prosperous times, we can purchase any exotic food, drink, or confection just by visiting our local market. We wolf them down, hardly taking time to taste what we are devouring, knowing that there is “plenty more where that came from.” When treats are no longer few and far between as they once were, we miss the anticipation, the sense of reward for our labor, the savoring, and the sweet memories of the partaking.
When I was growing up in Jamestown, my family was poor even for the standards of the simpler years of the early 1960s. Mama had a food budget of $10 a week to feed a family of eight. Fortunately, at that time we lived on a farm and could produce some of our own food, but my brother Kenneth used to say we would have all starved to death had it not been for the A&P store. Mama would take advantage of their cheaper Ann Page house brands and their day-old bakery table. I remember that store with its green tile linoleum and its piped in syrupy music. As you walked in the door, children’s chairs decorated with a Pennsylvania Dutch pattern were displayed overhead. I greatly desired one but had learned at an early age not to ask for things. My parents were doing the best they could but were not able to provide many extras for their children. Most weeks through, Mama still was able to find enough money to get us a treat.
I remember a clear bag of Hershey Chocolate bars she once purchased. Since I was the only kid at home, I got mine first. I can remember the strong temptation to take another bar, which I knew would short one of my siblings their share. I must have succumbed to that bad desire because I seem to recall my brothers and sister chiding me with cries of “You little pig!” Homemade treats included a concoction my mother called a “milkshake.” It was milk, from our cow "Sook", swimming with cream and poured over a glass of ice cubes with a spoonful of sugar and splash of imitation vanilla flavoring that she had purchased from the traveling Rawleigh salesman. (Remember that great medicated salve he also sold?) Or it may have been the big pancakelike cookies she made from the morning’s leftover oatmeal. I stood by the iron skillet in anticipation as she fried each delicious one. She also made wonderful pudding from our own persimmon tree.
As I look back on those more humble days for my family, I am amazed at how God provided for us. Through no effort of our own, our land produced in abundance: apples, peaches, pears, persimmons, cherries, blackberries, Muscadine grapes, pecans, black walnuts, and hazelnuts.
Sometimes when we’d go shopping at College Village, we’d stop in for a treat at the Sweet Shoppe Bakery. Today, it takes a trip to Disney World to light up a child’s eyes with wonder. In those days, with those longed-for words from your mother, “Now pick out something you’d like,” the display case at Sweet Shoppe Bakery would do the trick.
It seems each of the surrounding community stores also held a particular treat for us. Mama stopped at Varner's store. The Varner's built the store for their paraplegic daughter Peggy to run. It was treat enough just to visit with Peggy. Mom got her favorite RC Colas there. Moore’s store had a good meat department and my Dad’s treat was their linked hot dogs. For us kids, our favorite was Blair’s Store on Main Street , where we would redeem the deposit from bottles we had dug out of the roadside ditches. Since the candy we purchased there was from the fruits of our hard labor, it tasted that much sweeter.
When traveling to see our relatives, “down in the country” as my parents called it, we’d often stop for a treat at a blinding white curb market on Highway 64. I can recall the flat lay of the land, the far-off whine of the wheels of an approaching car, the slapping sound maturing corn stalks make in the breeze and the whistle of a red tail hawk overhead. Their Coke cooler was the old horizontal type that you had to shift bottles around to find your favorite flavor. Back in those days Coke and Pepsi didn’t have such a monopoly and there were all kinds of drinks from independent bottlers to choose from. Digging through those coolers was like searching for buried treasure but you had to hurry before Daddy called “time’s up” by saying something like “you’re letting all the cold out.” For a travel-worn kid, hanging your face in a Coke cooler on a hot summer day was a treat in itself.
But I think the ultimate “treat” for us was when the homemade ice cream freezer was brought out at my Aunt Jane’s house. To me, homemade ice cream incorporates all the elements that make a treat a treat. The anticipation: it takes a long time to make homemade ice cream. The sense of reward for your labor: any of you who have ever hand-cranked an ice cream freezer will “amen” that point. The savoring: it’s hard to wolf down a big bowl of ice cream on a sleepy Sunday afternoon, sitting under a large shade tree with those you love.
Remembering the days when treats were appreciated.