This weekend I finally got to Raleigh for a meeting of the Tri-Tatters. One of the ladies there so graciously tried to teach me the basics of this old craft and I left with at least some knowledge of how to proceed. I think about all the things I’ve learned to do over the years: crocheting, knitting, chair canning, quilting, etc. and marvel that only one of these crafts was learned from a family member. It’s not that they didn’t have these talents, for I was given a quilt that my paternal grandmother made for me and acquired several quilt tops that she or my maternal grandmother had pieced together at some point and never had the time or inclination to quilt. I have beautiful crocheted doilies made by one of these same relatives and embroidery of my mother’s. So I have evidence that they were all talented in many areas. I just never saw them working on any of it!
I suppose the daily chores of cleaning and washing and cooking for the army of children (13 in my Dad’s family and 5 in my Mom’s) kept them quite busy when I might have been around. After all, at those times they also had spouses and grandkids to deal with. But somehow these wonderful treasures were made, one stitch at a time and in stolen moments of quiet and leisure.
I do remember my Grandmother Nicholson (Big Ma) standing over a hot stove for hours on end, stirring jelly and removing the foam as it boiled down and reached the “jell” stage. She made the best homemade applesauce which she used in apple turnovers and I looked forward to those treats after school almost every day. Grandma Roberson also made many preserves and on holidays, had enough pies and cakes to feed half the world. Her pineapple cake was my favorite and although Mom wrote down her recipe while working with her to make this famous delicacy, neither Mom nor I ever mastered the secret that made Grandma's cake the most moist and flavorful one I’ve ever eaten. I'm not giving up though.
Who knew how much my parents and grandparents really did. I rarely witnessed the actual work and certainly wasn’t taught how to carry on the crafts. I guess it was a time of simplicity and it never was a big deal to any of them because almost everybody else was doing the same thing. Thankfully I picked up at least a longing to know how to do many of the things that might have been passed along had there been time, or had I had an interest back then. And what a blessing that some of their handiwork still exists and is displayed for me to enjoy today. Who knew?
Growing up in Oxford in the 50s and 60s was a different world than today. Anything you wanted or needed could be found in our downtown. We had Leggett’s and Penny’s, Fox’s and Williams-Breedlove, Sharpe’s and Jimmy’s and Tot ‘n Teen so quality clothing was abundant. There were appliance stores, furniture stores and hardware stores. Granville Feed Store was an interesting place to go for garden seeds, and A & P and Colonial groceries anchored each end of town. Roses’ and Rayless were discount variety stores and there were several drug stores and even a movie theater for entertainment. Therefore, it was seldom that we needed to travel for any of our basic needs. Perhaps that was why we rarely ventured out of town for shopping adventures.
I remember going to Durham at Christmas to the big Sears store so Mom and Dad could shop for toys that we might have picked out in the Sears Catalog. Even though we had a Sears store here, it was basically a catalog store that had appliances and a few other items in stock. I suppose they wanted to see the actual toy to decide if it was really worth the money they would spend. How exciting those trips were to the big city—being a kid in the Sears Toy Department was a real treat!
How things have changed since my youth. People venture to Durham or Raleigh on any given day for everyday items that are unobtainable here. I don’t shop unless I have to, but I long for the time when traveling for shopping wasn’t a necessity because most items were so readily available here.
Often there wasn’t a lot of money for vacations as most people know them today, but that never stopped us from getting away. Life was simple then, but never short of love and fun…and opportunities to make memories. I can still smell the bacon sizzling, while Mom prepared a ‘breakfast of kings’ on a camp stove at Henderson Point at Kerr Lake.
Back then there was no such thing as marked camp sites with rental fees. This was the great outdoors and it was free! Early arrivers claimed the best spots out on the sandy point where there was shade under the pine trees that grew along the water’s edge, or under the enormous oaks as you entered the point. Others pitched tents in the direct sun, but through the day the water kept us cool or we’d take walks through the wooded path that wound around the non-lakefront camp sites. Here we met many new friends and got better acquainted with those we knew from home.
We skied behind Dad’s fishing boat. Once we emerged from the water the vessel moved along as well as one with a high powered engine, but pulling us up was a strain for that little 50 horsepower motor. I’m sure that tiny boat could have challenged the little train with a chorus of “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can”. Nonetheless, many hours were spent zigging in and out of the wake, jumping and careening before rolling over the waves as we lost balance. Falling never deterred us, the little motor never let us down, and Dad never seemed to tire of driving the boat for our enjoyment.
Kerr Lake will always hold fond memories. Family vacations there were simple… and relaxing, not to mention inexpensive. I don’t seem to have those experiences much anymore, for most of my vacationing is packed full of things I want to do and see. But on rare occasion I travel with no agenda and I find myself enjoying just being quiet in time and space, and return refreshed and rested. Perhaps that should be a lesson to me and I’ll find more time to slow down and ‘smell the roses’.
Looking back at former blog entries, I noticed much talk of storms and clouds and rain. Am I obsessing, or do we really have that much rain in this area. The last several weeks it certainly seems so, for every day I think of weeding the flower beds, it’s either pouring at the time or the earth is so soggy that I would ‘mire up’ to my knees if I made an attempt at getting out. So rain, rain, go away…please!
I have a tendency to move plants around. A lot. So much so that my friends tease “all your plants probably wish they could run away when you walk out the door.” Moving plants slows the growth, since with each new location the roots must take hold first. Therefore, with rain like we’d been having, the weeds are far larger than the plants I keep moving around.
But alas, until the rain actually holds off, what’s a girl to do? I’m sure all gardeners are having the same dilemma, but I needed to vent my frustration. By the time I am able to work in the yard, it will be too hot, I’ll be ready to sit in the air conditioning and read, and the mosquitoes will be waiting to eat me alive if I even stick my nose out the door. Perhaps, I’ll just learn to love maple tree saplings and chickweed.
Recently I have been participating in the Senior Games through the Granville County Senior Center. This past Thursday I competed in horseshoes at the field located just below Oxford City Hall, our old school playground during my middle school years (6-8 grades at that time) and where events were held once a year very similar to some of those in these games. School Field Days was certainly times I anticipated with enthusiasm and a competitive spirit.
I entered as many events as I could, as I have done this year as an “older adult”. One of my favorite event was the three-legged race, which my cousin and I practiced relentlessly until we could run like the wind. How many falls we took before perfecting that skill could never be calculated, but we honestly could run as if our legs were not connected by the time of the event.
Both the place and the horseshoe event threw me into nostalgia as I remembered my dad pitching with my brother and I. He was exceptionally good at the game and good at keeping the two of us occupied and out of Mom’s hair as she finished preparing supper.
I found out Thursday I wasn’t as good as I was at age eleven. What an awakening. What memories. What fun! If you’re not a Senior Games participant, you might want to consider it. You’ll be amazed at what you can still do and how much you like doing it.
I’ve never been much on flying kites, but this is certainly the month to do it. The last few days of constant winds reminded me of time spent making a kite from sticks and newspapers complete with tail of scrap fabric adorned with knotted “bows” that would stream in the wind. I ran and ran to get that old kite in the air, but rarely ever got lift off. If the wind caught it at all, the flying ended abruptly with the kite quickly crashing back to earth.
My brother on the other hand, had a couple of fancy store bought kites larger than I am. We ventured to a local school yard so he could show me how to fly a “real” kite. He had no trouble getting it aloft and after a few minutes handed the string to me. As soon as he turned it over, the wind caught the fabric, pulling me back and forth across the lawn several times before lifting me off the ground a few inches. I yelled; he laughed. I yelled some more and he laughed harder. When he finally took control and I was planted firmly on the ground once again, I was amazed at how much energy those few minutes had taken.
Kite flying is definitely not my thing, but watching all shapes and sizes of these colorful designs dance in the sky can be fun for anyone…I’ll bring my camera and leave the flying for those with more strength and skill.
Think about it. Only one day out of 365 to proclaim your love for that one special person in your life. Come on. Ok, so you say I don’t have that one special person. True. However here are a few stories I know about people who insist on celebrating Valentine’s Day. I’ll let you decide.
A young man always bought the biggest box of chocolate candy for his girlfriend who was in college and away on the actual day, February 14. Years later, he confessed that he waited until after Valentine’s Day when the chocolate was on sale before he made his purchase. His intent was to impress, not to profess his love. In the long run, they went their separate ways. The farce was apparently not just in the chocolate.
One wife, insisting her husband give her the grandest of all Valentine’s Day presents so that she could convince the office staff he “loved” her more than anyone else’s husband or wife, confessed she recycled his Valentine’s Day cards year after year. I suppose she had several over the years, so that it wasn’t actually the same exact card every year, but still……..
In my opinion, true love doesn’t need to wait for Valentine’s Day to be expressed, and if that’s the only day of the year it gets attention, perhaps I’m better off alone.
My best present the Christmas I turned seven was my first sled, which was almost as long as I was tall. The shiny red runners waited for candle wax or soap while I waited for a snow deep enough to try my new ride. Growing up, my brother and I attempted every hill in Oxford and some on the outskirts of town. It seems there was quite a bit more winter weather back then (one snowfall I recall had drifts of up to three feet deep). Snow plows were common, there being no brine prep on the roads like there is today. I can well imagine the frustration of the drivers of those plows as neighborhood kids lined up across the streets of town to block their pathways so they could get in more sled rides before the snow melted away. Full days of sledding weren’t unusual, with all of us stopping only for a quick lunch or to change into dry clothes. Snow translated to sledding…….every time there was enough to cover the ground.
Every Christmas Eve my family gathered at my grandmother’s house and set out walking and caroling. We stopped at each house on the street to sing to our neighbors. Generally, after we’d sung a few songs, the family inside would grab coats and join us. As we progressed up the street our group became quite large and by the time we started home we had gathered many voices to ‘make a joyful noise’.
On the way back, families dropped off at their homes, wishing all a Merry Christmas as they departed. By the time we arrived home, my grandmother had hot chocolate waiting for us all. A simple memory of love, fellowship and fun could not soon be forgotten.
Thanksgiving is sandwiched between two holidays that have become more and more commercially oriented throughout the years. Halloween is getting bigger and bigger with decorations and candy and costumes being big seller, and before all of that is gone Christmas is everywhere. Merchants have shelves stocked with ornaments and trees and gift items long before Halloween is a memory and sometimes even before it has passed.
Call me silly or odd or eccentric, but my motto has become “Don’t Skip Thanksgiving”. I love thinking about time spent with family over the years, celebrating Thanksgiving with a huge meal and lots of conversation and laughter. Time spent in church, singing songs like “we gather together to ask the Lord’s blessings…” or in school music class learning “over the river and through the woods, to grandmother’s house we go” bring special feelings of joy and connection for me.
There are so many blessings to remember; so much to be thankful for. I just can’t enjoy the Christmas season until I’ve taken time to enjoy a proper Thanksgiving. It’s much too important to ignore.
I’ve always enjoyed going to the State Fair. Unusual foods to try, rides to experience, games and exhibits everywhere. What’s not to like, except perhaps the crowds?
Well, there was the time when I realized rides that spin me around or tilt me throw my inner ear off. I rode the swings—a baby ride—and was so nauseated for the rest of the night I couldn’t eat a thing. Major bummer since the conglomerate smells which fill the air and impossible to ignore, and are normally one of my most favorite things about being there, were contributing to my problem.
One year I just had to go to the fair on a day of torrential rain. I don’t know what I was thinking, but I do remember that I was only sixteen. Did you know that umbrellas turn upside down or inside out when you’re riding a ferris wheel, pouring water into your lap, or that ferris wheel seats actually hold water. And when it rains at the fair, where there is lots of dirt and thousands of people trampling through, the mud will suck your shoes right off your feet.
I hardly ever consider buying anything at the fair, but this year I made an exception which turned out to be a huge mistake. Long story short, I purchased a cell phone. The guy completely ruined my plan, gave me incorrect information and I had to make a second trip to the fair to return the phone to get everything straightened out. Lesson learned.
Ok……so there might be a few things not to like. I still have to say I love a fair. And the mixtures of all the odors of all the foods are still one of my favorite things…unless I forget I can no longer be flipped and twisted and twirled and tilted like I could…once upon a time.
It used to be that school rarely started before Labor Day. Not that it wasn’t scheduled to begin earlier, but in the South farming was a livelihood for many families. We didn’t have the migrant workers so prevalent today and children were relied upon to help in the fields. Everything ran around when the last of the tobacco had been laid by, so most often the start date of reporting back to school was delayed at least once and more often twice. Most of us were ecstatic! However, those kids who were working in tobacco might not have been so thrilled.
I well remember a few summers when I helped hand leaves, getting paid very little for long hours and fighting to keep up with those experienced in tying tobacco. Picking up three leaves and making sure the ends were even so the person tying could wrap them on a stick was a job that started slow. It took lots of practice to gain enough speed to satisfy the person tying, even with two handing. There was also the occasional tobacco worm to gross me out. If that weren’t enough, the tobacco gum stuck like glue and blacken hands and nails making washing them useless without GoJo, or some similar concoction.
As the stalks became bare and summer wound down, I knew that I’d soon be exchanging one job for another. It was cleaner work, but I was happy to be out of the heat and back with my friends. Once again we would see each other after the usual delays…….in September.
I’ve been swimming all summer. Most days the sky has been a dome of blue or gray. But for my last two swims of the season, I was reminded of fun I had as a kid, finding pictures in clouds with my mom. We’d lie in the front yard stretched out ‘flat of our backs’ on an old quilt, gazing into the sky, pointing and repeating over and over, “Look at that! There’s a………….whatever.” We saw flowers and animals and things--perhaps a bridge or a tower or a wagon would magically appear--then disappear.
So busy looking all around me today, I got lost in the sky and bopped my head on the side of the pool. That smarted. But oh the things I observed—a catcher’s mitt, submarine, kazoo—making that slight headache fade like the blowing clouds.
Breezes aloft were strong and pictures changed quickly. I watched as a few of the billowy white clouds transformed into patches of gray with layers rushing by each other until I was dizzy from the movement. Suddenly a black tower swirled upward making the sky come alive with a monster that might reach down and pluck me out of the water. But just as quickly as it grew it dissipated, and I breathed a sigh of relief when reality snapped back into my imaginings.
There are many fascinations in the sky—most especially, all the pictures that come out of those fluffy, puffy clouds with shades of white and gray that pull me into another world—the world where simple pleasures of my youth envelop me and I feel the warmth of those lazy summer days spent with Mom.
Summertime and bare feet were synonymous when I was a kid. I kicked my shoes off when school got out in June and tried my best not to wear them unless absolutely necessary. I loved splashing in the puddles from an afternoon shower and walking through the cool grass after sunset. Even running across gravel and hot black pavement had its own reward—a sense of “tomboy toughness”—proof I could hang with the boys in the hood.
There was an occasional down side—like the time I almost cut my big toe off while chasing my cousin through my great aunt’ backyard. Rene, the aunt, (and her ancestors before her) often pitched broken china into garden spots, perhaps a common practice before regular city garbage pick-up. When I saw the blood covering my foot, I figured I’d taken a shard in a big way. Turned out, I’d squished a big fat berry as I traipsed through her strawberry patch and wasn’t injured at all. The relief was twofold—no stitches needed--more importantly, I wasn't caught smashing her perfectly good berries!
When the sun beat down on the streets, tar bubbled up like boiling water, stretching that gooey black substance into little raised pockets we couldn't resist. Racing to pop the biggest bubbles that often splattered and stuck, we drew a slight frown from mom at the end of our day of play. Scrubbing sticky tar off sometimes pulled a little skin with it, but cleaning those tar-crusted feet was a routine as hot summers in the south. Bare feet were worth a little discomfort. Besides, heel blisters and pinched toes from wearing shoes were no picnic either. I preferred freedom. I still do.
I happened to be heading home last night as the storm clouds gathered. For a brief moment I thought I might get in before the deluge, but pulling into Barbara’s drive seemed to mark the limit of the sky’s holding power. The first raindrops fell as the car door slammed and within seconds, a solid wall of rain surrounded me. The relatively short distance home seemed to take forever, for I could recognize nothing around me—no landmarks were visible as the walls of water poured down. Strong winds blew the rain, swirling it up and around to fill the streets with free standing waterfalls. Electrical power must have already been interrupted although that didn’t occur to me. There was an eerie light pushing the darkness as the glow of early summer evenings struggled to peek through the black clouds.
No one was out but me—no cars, no lights at the library—a creepy tingle traveled up the back of my neck as I trudge on toward home and safety. A few limbs had fallen into the street as I approached Front from Main. I carefully maneuvered past the obstacle blocking my path and breathed a sigh of relief as I turned into my drive. Thankful for the overhang along the edge of my roof, I pulled close to the back steps, gathered my things and managed to move quick enough to gather but a few rain drops. The storm raged on for over an hour, several of my neighbors lost power. My lights only flickered a couple of times as I sat quietly reading—thankful to be warm and dry inside my home.
Teen summers were spent at Rucker Park—at the pool in the afternoons, at the ball field in the evenings. Dad and I both played on softball teams, so we were frequent visitors. When he was playing, I’d go along to hang out on the swings or in the game room / dance hall above the bathhouse. Even during the day, we kids would take swim breaks, and enjoy a snack from the concession stand while listening to the juke box or engaging in a game of ping pong. The expansive openings with push out shutters (some might call them windows) were perfect spots to look down upon the water and scope out the cute guys (or girls)! With bench seats around the wall’s edge, it was easy to elevate and peer out. The room was sparsely furnished, so there was plenty of dancing space when the mood was right. I’ll never forget slow dancing to Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman” with my dream guy for that season—whenever I hear that song I always smile as I remember that moment with R….
Today Rucker Park is run by the Oxford Recreation Department. Everything about it is different, yet in some respects things are somewhat the same. The pool, an infinity type, is still cement, but operates quite differently than ones in the sixties. Instead of a diving board and a deep end, the new pool has depths from three to five feet with no diving available. It’s much larger than the one from my day, and turned lengthwise north to south rather than east to west as it once was. The old bathhouse is gone, no swings that I’ve seen yet, but the old ball field is still intact. Nonetheless, I have been swimming there for the last few weeks and find it quite well run. Although it doesn't hold the draw for me that the old Rucker Park had, I’m sure the kids of today are making their own memories. There are times when I’m in my zone, swimming my laps, I see the kids from my neighborhood—laughing, talking, splashing to keep cool. And I’ll just bet if that special song spilled over from a radio, I’d be dancing the night away once again.
As we suffered through the ninety and one hundred degrees temperatures of June this year, I couldn't help but recall the days of my youth--when air conditioning didn't exist in most areas of Oxford--at least those I was familiar with. We counted on afternoon thunderstorms and cooling rains for relief that would allow sleep through hot, steamy nights. Window fans were a luxury, but small oscillating fans ran 24-7. Even downtown merchants flung doors wide open and kept tall fans blowing through that space to help cool stores so customers would be comfortable.
Today I think about how wilted I feel as I move about in the extreme temperatures and how much hotter it seems than in years before. In reality, I believe that we are all spoiled to the coolness and the lack of humidity we experience through the wonders of those electrical units running all around us. We tend to hibernate in summer months, staying out of the true outdoors. How soft we are since becoming conditioned to cool temperatures of our inside worlds. Would heat bother us if we had never known conditioned cool? Perhaps seasons would be just a passing of time and temps, a normal course of things, a condition we just tolerate--like it used to be.
Citizens of Oxford
This is a place to reminisce. What do you remember about growing up in Oxford, NC?