The Adolescent Years: The Flat Land Experience!
High Point, North Carolina is not really flat land although it is about 225 miles from my mountain home. It is situated at the highest point of the 1852 Great Western Plank Road. This road intersected the 1856 North Carolina Railroad which ran between Goldsboro and Charlotte. In those days, the railroad was the primary means of importing and exporting goods to and from the area. The community that sprang up around this intersection was chartered in 1859 and appropriately named High Point. Agriculture, woodworking and textiles were the main source of income for the town’s early residents. The textile industry began to boom, furniture factories began to open in the early 1890’s and by the early to mid- 1900’s the town was well on its way to becoming one of the leading manufacturing centers of the south-east. Good paying jobs were readily available for anyone who wanted to work.
Mountain migrants were a hardy lot, and for poor, hardworking people looking for a better life, this flat land city was a land of opportunity. It was about 1950 when my dad moved his family to High Point to stay. He found his first work in the hosiery factories and then at Alma Desk for a short time. Then he went to work for the Carolina Spring Company which later became a subsidiary of Leggett- Platt Corporation, and retired from there after 30 years. He operated machines that made coils for beds and for other furniture products. He provided for his family by working hard in the hosiery and furniture industry for close to 40 years. As a family,we were considered by some to be poor, but growing up during those early years I never knew that I was poor. Dad was always able to keep a job and consequently, a roof over our heads, food on the table and cloths for us to wear.Considering the economics of the early mountain experience, High Point, while presenting its challenges, also provided opportunity to better ourselves. It took a while, but we did get settled into the flatland, city life! About 1950, there began to be a migration of sorts from the mountains to the tri-ad area of the state. High Point, North Carolina, was fast becoming the hosiery and furniture capital of the world and offered many job opportunities. Mountain folk were desperate for ways to earn a living I suppose, so, they began to move out of the mountains and down to the flat-lands looking for work. The children of the families that had lived in the mountains for generations went looking for a new way of life. Among the many families that migrated were the Guffeys, Passmores, McMahans, Dills, Grants, Morgans, Stiles, Mashburns, and Masons. All these left their beloved mountains and moved to this new, unknown, economic Promised Land. My dad and his young family were a part of that migration.
It has been said that, “You can take the mountain boy out of the mountains, but you can’t take the mountains out of the mountain boy!” Dad’s forays into the flat-lands illustrate the truth of this maxim. He left his family in the mountains and rode to High Point the first time on the train. He soon got a job in one of the hosiery mills, worked a few days, got home-sick, quit, and went back to the mountains! In a short time he would try it again, this time bringing his family with him. Catching a ride with one of mom’s brothers, we were a family looking for a new home. Grandpa and Grandma Dehart had already been living in High Point for a while and were pretty much settled.
Dad, of course, married into the Dehart family. Two of the Dehart brothers, Norman and Loyal, had married dad’s sisters, Helen and Mary Lou, and were themselves in the process of settling their families in High Point. Dad was again able to quickly get another job. I believe at this time he got a job at Alma Desk, a home furnishings manufacturer. We stayed in a boarding house close to his work and lived part of the time with his brothers in law and Grandpa Dehart.
But, you can’t get the mountains out of a mountain boy! One more time dad decided that he’d had enough of the new life in the flatlands and decided that he was going to move his family back to the mountains. But Mom, being the strong-willed, fiery red-head that she was, and enjoying her new life near her parents, refused to go back with him! So, dad, who also had a very strong will, quit another job and went back to the mountains, alone! But being alone didn’t go so well, and his feeling of responsibility for his family compelled him to move one more time—to the flatlands, this time to stay!
The early west side story- English Street memories:
With the exception of my time spent in the military and at school, High Point has been my home for more than 60 years and has been a good place to live and work. There have been good times as well as bad times. In those early days, the good times as well as the bad times were also hard times. Our young family had its share of economic hard times. When we first moved here, we lived with the Dehart family on the west side of town on English Street. Either Mom’s parents or my aunts and uncles provided a temporary roof over our heads until Dad was able to work a while and rent a place for us to live. I was only five or six years of age, so I don’t remember much about those days. But now that I think about it, it must have been very hard on Dad and Mom getting started from scratch. When we moved from the mountains, about all we had were the clothes on our backs. There were three children at the time: Calvin, Tim and I, and we were in bad need of a place to call home. After living with relatives for a while, Dad was able to rent our first house on the east side of town.
The East side- Tate Street memories:
Tate Street was one of the many dirt streets in High Point at that time and where we lived was only about two miles from down town and two blocks from a railroad spur which ran parallel to Tate Street. The old two story house Dad rented sat on this street about half way up a hill. At the crest of the hill there was a church on the left with a fenced in playground. Then, Tate Street intersected with other streets before continuing on to the down-town area. From our house, in the other direction, the street ran down hill to Kearns Avenue and the Globe Furniture Company.
While living on Tate Street, I began my first year of school. If I remember correctly, I was six years old when I started in the first grade. My older brother Calvin had begun his school experience at the old Cloverdale School two years earlier when he was seven. There were no school busses back then and we had no means of transportation at home. During this time, Dad either caught a ride with someone or walked to work. Mom had to walk with us to school and then be there when school was over to walk us back home. The walk was about a half mile one way, down the hill to Kearns Avenue, then to the right on Kearns, crossing the railroad track and South Main Street before getting to the school on Cloverdale street. She did this for about, I believe, two or three years. Thinking back, I don’t know how she did it considering the winter weather in this area! As I recall, we did miss a lot of school in those days. I attended school there in the first and second grades. I wish I could remember my teacher’s names and school events from this period, but I can’t. Later, when Calvin was nine and I was seven, there were times we walked back and forth to school on our own. Thankfully, we never got run over crossing South Main Street or kid-napped. But, being boys, we did get into trouble occasionally! Here is one such occasion.
We were walking home from school one day and as usual when we got to the old Clinard Milling Company at Mangum Avenue, we were using rocks to target practice on the flocks of pigeons that were always there searching for food. All of a sudden from the loading dock of the milling company we heard an angry, gruff, male voice holler, “What are yall doin? Why are you boys throwing rocks at my pigeons? Come over here!” Needless to say, we were scared to death, but we obeyed and went over to where the man was. He said, “I’ve got a good mind to call the police on y’all for throwing rocks at my pigeons!” By this time I was in tears, and Calvin was scared to death. But the man seeing that we were truly repentant of throwing rocks at “his” pigeons and certainly knowing that he had taken this a bit far, sent us on our way. I never threw rocks at his pigeons again!
The occasional trouble we boys got into included stealing apples from our neighbors apple tree. The apple tree was just on the other side of the fence in the back yard, and of course, off limits to us. We would crawl under the fence, steal the apples, then crawl back to our side of the fence and lie there in the grass eating them. Invariably we would get caught, either by Mom or Dad or by the neighbor. We would be made to take back what was left, and then get a whipping for our miss-deed. Over time we probably ate far more than we ever had to take back!
Staying on my side of the fence or in the yard was a hard thing for a boy seven years of age to do. So, I was always “slipping off” somewhere. It didn’t have to be far, just so it was out of the yard. I guess I just wanted to know what it was Dad and Mom didn’t want me to get into out there, beyond their boundaries. I have since learned that they were trying to protect me and them from a lot of heart-ache and hurt. But sometimes for boys, lessons are later learned and learned the hard way!
Someone once gave Dad a bicycle for us boys. We were duly instructed about the danger of riding a bicycle in the street and that we were to ride only in the yard. I was compliant, up to a point. I only rode in the street when
I was pretty sure that I would not get caught. Dad would either be at work or gone somewhere; or Mom would be too busy to be watching me every minute. Or so I thought. One day, I was in the front yard playing with the bicycle, it was a very small front yard. Dad came out of the house, on his way to the store. As he walked down the street, he turned and said to me, “Hoyt, I will be back in a few minutes. Do not ride that bicycle in the street! “I said, “OK Dad.” But as soon as he got out of sight around the corner, I was out in the street riding the bicycle. I was having a grand old time riding the bicycle just outside the boundary when I saw Dad turning the corner, coming back from the store. Time flies when you are having fun! In a flash I was back in the yard hoping against hope that he had not seen me. But he did see me. When he got back to the house and spoke to me, he said, “Hoyt, didn’t I tell you not to ride the bicycle in the street?” I lied, “Daddy, I wasn’t in the street.” Dad said, “Hoyt, I saw you. You were riding in the street.” Again, I lied. “No Dad, I was not in the street”. By this time Dad was furious because of my disobedience and lying. He grabbed me by the arm, half-dragging me into the house, at the same time taking the belt out of his belt loops. In the living room, we went around and around, Dad whipping me, trying to get me to own up to my disobedience and lying and me still insisting that I was not lying, that I had not been in the street with the bicycle. Around and around we went. I could not outrun that belt! It’s amazing how stubborn boys can be. But, Dad won. He had good eyes, a strong arm and was even more stubborn than me. And above all, he was right! He whipped me until I finally told him the truth. The old adage is true: A lesson learned the hard way, is a lesson well learned!
Among the memories that I have of living on Tate Street, some stand out more than others. I remember Mom washing clothes on the back porch, using an old wringer type washing machine that didn’t work most of the time. It was on Tate Street that Mom quit dipping snuff, a habit she had picked up from her mother years earlier. Why I remember this, I don’t know. I remember sleeping in an upstairs bedroom with Calvin. I remember the rope swing tied to a tree on a bank just down the hill from us, and the fun we had swinging out over the street. I have memories of Dad getting paid on Fridays, which meant groceries, and only occasionally, chocolate chip cookies; of sitting with Mom and Dad on the front steps, late in the evening in the summertime, eating Brown Cow chocolate covered ice cream on a stick; and at other times sitting on the same steps begging Daddy to let me go play with my friends in the church playground at the top of the hill.
It was while living on Tate Street that we began to go to church occasionally. We didn’t go to church much in those days. But, I do remember going a few times with the family. We walked to the services at the Mount Calvary Baptist Church on Kearns Avenue and attended a Pentecostal Holiness Church over next to the Clara Cox apartments. The Holiness church was pastored by a Reverend Myers.
It was at this holiness church that Mom and Aunt Mary Lou sang duets together. At one service they sang, Life’s Railway to Heaven. A phrase in one of the stanzas says,”—–keep your hand upon the throttle and your eye upon the rail—-“. When they got to that part however, they sang, “—-keep your eye upon the throttle and your hand upon the rail”. They both looked at each other, got to laughing and could not regain their composure. So, they sat down, totally mortified. The whole church sat in embarrassed silence for a few moments and then joined in the laughter.
While we lived on Tate Street, Dad was working at Carolina Spring Company on the west side of town. Dad did not have a car so he had to catch a ride with a co-worker. His job was a very dirty, greasy job and the co-worker was making him sit on towels and cardboard to keep him from getting his seat covers dirty. This made Dad very uncomfortable. He still could not afford to buy a car, so he either had to walk everywhere he went, hitch a ride, or occasionally ride a taxi-cab. He decided it was time to do something; either buy a car he couldn’t afford or move within walking distance of his job. He didn’t believe in going into debt, so, after living on Tate Street for about three years we ended up moving, this time, back to the west side of town.
The West side- Redding Street memories:
We moved into a basement apartment on Redding Street just off of West Green Drive. I think both Mom and Dad were glad to be moving from Tate Street. The reasons being, this move would get us away from neighbors that we boys had antagonized and would get us closer to other family members. Uncle Loyal, Aunt Mary Lou and their children lived behind us on Ennis Street. Nanny, Mom’s youngest sister and her husband, Anthony, lived just up the street from Loyal and Mary Lou on the same side of Ennis. Grandpa and Grandma Dehart lived on out Ennis and one of her older sisters, Christine and her husband Henry, lived even further out on Ennis Street. At this new place, Dad was about a quarter of a mile from his work which made it much easier for him, since he was still walking everywhere, and we kids were a little less than a mile walk from school.
As I have said, our new residence was in the basement of a rent house. There were five of these rent houses on Redding Street, each having a basement apartment. By this time my brother Ron had come along and the four of us boys had to sleep in one bed room. In our “front’ yard, which was really the back yard of the house, there was a row of old wooden storage buildings where we played. I remember watching the big rats play around those buildings, and remember the red clay bank behind one building where I made “pottery”, and in the process made mom very angry at me for ruining the knees and seat of my pants.
I recall some of our neighbor’s names. Harold Callaway and his wife lived next door in one of the basement apartments. They had two sons and, I believe, one daughter. I can’t remember their names. One of the son’s years later came and asked me to marry him and his fiancée. I don’t remember the names of the people who lived in the apartment on the lower side, but the Duncan’s lived in the upstairs of that house. The Duncan’s had four children. The youngest son, Kenneth, was Calvin’s age. He was the best marble shooter in the world. He broke my heart many a time by winning all my marbles. He was also a good guesser. You’ve heard about Jack and the Bean Stalk, haven’t you? Well, we played Jack in the Bush, with marbles. In this game, the players would take turns reaching into their pocket or sock for a hand full of marbles. The one with the marbles would shake and rattle the marbles in his hands while saying,” Jack in the bush.” The other person would say, “Cut her down.” Then the first person, while still rattling the marbles would say, “How many licks? “Then the second person would guess how many marbles was in his hand. If he correctly guessed the number, he “won” all the marbles. A few guesses and you either won a lot of marbles or went home a very marble poor, disappointed boy! Kenneth was good at shooting and guessing! We used to sit on their front porch for hours on end playing with his ice hockey game. The competition was fierce, but I managed to win a few times at hockey.
Above us and directly across the street from our apartment, in a large two story house lived the Lambeth family. There were two children in this family, as well as a set of grandparents. I played basketball with the son, but cannot remember his name. Betty was his sister’s name. I remember her because she was my first sweetheart. I’ll have more to say about her later. There were a lot of children in the neighborhood and usually we gathered behind the Lambeth house where we would play basketball, shooting the ball through a metal hoop nailed to a big oak tree. At the intersection of Redding Street and Ennis, Redding Street continues in a gradual left turn where it begins to run parallel to an abandoned railroad track. We played baseball in the back yard of one of the houses on Redding Street and used this railroad as our center field “fence” because of its high bank. What a challenge for us boys to try to hit the ball over the railroad! At the time it seemed so far away! At other times we used the high bank of the railroad bed as a sliding board. Two or three boys would pile on to a big sheet of cardboard. And down the bank we would fly! What a ride! It would take your breath away! During the summer, after dark, we would gather in a corner yard under the dull glow of the street light and play Kick the Can, Hide and Go Seek, King on the Mountain and other fun games.
It was at this time that I was introduced to cigarette smoking. I say introduced, because it was one of the other boys who offered me a “puff” while we were playing Hide and Go Seek. He either stole the cigarette from his parents or picked it up off the street. The off the street kind were called “butts”. Cigarette butts! And were they strong! The first few times I smoked it was a sickening experience, but over time it got easier and easier. I got many a whipping from Dad and Mom over the next few years for smoking, but the peer pressure and the addiction always seemed to win the day! I would try to hide my smoking from my parents but the smell would always betray me. There is a lesson in here somewhere! I smoked for about twelve years before the Lord delivered me.
At this same intersection was a small church which was started as a mission by the Green Street Baptist Church. I don’t recall that as a family we ever attended the services there, even though we lived almost directly across from it. It seems as though I may have gone to a Vacation Bible School there once. It was during the later years of our residency there that our family began attending services at a new ministry on the east side of town. Preacher James J. Grant had come from the mountains to High Point to hold revival services in an old building on Oakdale Road. Sunny Side Baptist Church had its beginning in those revival services.
I was eight years old when I started the third grade at Ada Blair Elementary School. My brothers, Calvin and Tim, attended there also. Ronnie was not quite school age. My baby brother Sam was born at about this time. The school was named after one of two sisters who had taught in the High Point school system years earlier. Emma Blair had a school named after her as well. My dis-like for school began during this time, not so much because of the teachers or the school work, because I liked the teachers and I was a pretty good student, but rather because of my timidity, the peer pressure and the bullying by other students. My first day of school at Ada Blair, I was late arriving to class. The principal led me into the room, introduced me to the teacher and the class and had me take a seat. It sounds easy enough, but to an eight year old who was a total stranger in this new world, I was frightened beyond belief. But, gradually, I adjusted and was able to make a few friends. Willy Dunbar was in my class and was my best friend. He wasn’t real smart but he was bigger than most of the boys his age and a real buddy. He stood up for me when he was around.
Betty, the little girl who lived across the street from me, became my friend, probably, because I would carry her books for her. It was after all, about a mile walk from school to our house. She had to like me a lot to let me carry her books that far! She was my first sweet heart. I learned that for sure one day in the school auditorium. We were sitting next to each other, in the dark, watching a bi-monthly educational film of some sort. Although all the students in the school were in the auditorium, I was keenly aware that she was sitting next to me, (amazing isn’t it, how quickly young people get started down that road?) I thought, “I really do like her! But does she like me?” I noticed that she had pulled off her shoes and was in her stocking feet. I slowly took one of my shoes off, and with a stocking foot, I searched for her’s. I touched her foot! Would she touch me back? Yes! She touched me back, and for the first time in my life, I was in love! Playing footsies had led me to my first true love. I was so proud of myself! But, alas, our love did not last. She would some years later become the wife of a co-worker of mine, Billy Misenheimer.
Earlier, I mentioned that my dis-like for school was caused by some of the bullying that went on. Maybe my memory of this is exaggerated a bit, but if it is, it is because of a boy by the name of Butch. Probably, Butch didn’t pick on anyone else in the school, but he sure made my life miserable. In those days I was a skinny, introverted, runt of a boy, and was too scared to stand up for myself. And, Butch, well, at least in my mind he was the biggest, meanest boy in the entire world and loved to pick on me! He lived not far from where we lived, so there were many days that he would be in the group of kids walking home after school and a lot of those days I was the focus of his attention. On one particular day, in the front yard of the East Green Street Baptist Mission, he had pushed me to tears, so, I decided to push back, make my stand. That is one of the more memorable mistakes of my life! Butch was not only a picker, he was also a fighter! I found myself on the ground with him on top of me, the recipient of a good pummeling! My famous first sermon was preached to Butch that day. I remember saying to him, in my one day to be preacher’s voice,” You just wait; Jesus will get you some day!” Well, I hope Jesus did get him at some point, but in a good way! And yes, I wonder now, where are the Willy Dunbar’s of the world when you really need them?
These are some of the more pleasant memories of this period. They are a bit nostalgic and romantic I suppose. However, there are some things that happened during the time we lived on Redding Street that are not so pleasant. I share some of these memories hesitantly, because I in no way wish to disparage my family, especially my mother and dad whose memory I hold dear, and who sacrificed so much for their family. But I choose to share them because it is a part of my life and memory and because of my desire to be honest and realistic and not just nostalgic and idyllic. There is something also to be learned from our experiences. The best of families have their share of problems. Our family was no exception to that rule. But, thankfully, God’s grace brought us through those hard times.
Perhaps, some of these problems came about because of our poverty, which was made worse because of the birth of two more brothers: Ron and Sam. As I look back on those days, I don’t recall as a kid ever being aware of just how poor we were. But we were poor. We had a roof over our heads, shoes and clothes to wear and food to eat; although the roof was rented and overhead was noisy at times because of the folks who lived above us, and most of the shoes and clothes were “hand me downs”, and our meals were the basic, ”beans and taters”. The cock roaches and rats were bad too! So bad that one night, a rat got in bed with Tim and gnawed one of his toes! Dad did the best he could to provide for us, but his very small pay check was not enough to enable us to afford anything better. After all, a dollar and fifty cents an hour, or less, does not alleviate a measurable amount of poverty.
But it wasn’t just the poverty that was a part of the hard times; it was also dad’s interpretation and, some would say, his misunderstanding of the Bible that sometimes made things difficult. Mom tried to help out some financially by taking in ironing, and wanted to get a full time job to help with the bills and such, but dad would have nothing to do with that. His understanding of the Bible made him feel that a woman’s only place was in the home and under subjection to her husband. That, plus the fact that he was to proud and jealous to let mom go to work and help him. This is a statement made based on what he has told me in recent years. Ah, the wisdom that hind-sight brings, and, many times regrets as well! This was the source of a lot of the problems Dad and Mom had during this time. On one such occasion, Mom defied him and got a job in a hosiery mill. The fight was on! Over the course of a few weeks, it escalated to the point of getting real ugly. Mom finally gave up the job, but only after a lot of fussing and Dad had gotten very, very drunk. I remember that night well! I spent most of the night hiding in a closet! As far as I know, this is the one and only time my Dad ever drank alcohol. For our family, that was a bad experience; one he regrets and one I will never forget!
Another area of misunderstanding and cause for friction between mom and dad during those years was dad’s understanding about what the Bible teaches concerning a woman and her hair. Like any woman, mom wanted to look the very best she could, so, when she insisted on going to the beauty parlor to get her hair “fixed”, it invariably led to a disagreement and a big fight. I mean the water throwing, pot throwing kind, as well as the verbal kind of fight! Looking back over those years, they were some of the best and worst of times!