Washington, NC - Memories by William Rhodes
I share with you a sentimental journey through my first thirteen years.
When I was a youngster there were times when my life was filled with a
host of things that gave me pleasure. There were some not- too - sweet
moments also. Anyway, I am often warmed by thoughts of the past so I'll
roll back my life to a time when butter was 12 cents a pound;
cholesterol, calories, and termites were of no concern. TV, HMO's, and
panty-hose were things in the future.
Dr. Dave Taylor got me here without a struggle and signed my birth certificate William James Rhodes III, named after my father and grandfather. Two brothers followed in three year intervals: Charles Allen born in 1922, and Bryan Talley in 1925. Washington was the birthplace of our father and his seven brothers and sisters, mother was from Hyde County.
Washington is a town on the navigable Pamlico River. Historically, the town was established in 1771, and the first town in the United States to be named after George Washington when he became General of the Continental Army in 1775. I must confess at this point, I did not know the history of my birthplace until fifty-five years later.
It would be hard to forget Washington, where I spent the first thirteen years of my youth. It was a nice place to live, and I came along at a time when front doors were seldom locked, walking at night was something one could do without fear, and people all over town called you by your first name. My memories also include the first car I saw driving down the street, the first airplane that flew over my head, the first time the family sat around a box and heard voices from far away. I should say that my generation has seen things other generations will never be lucky enough to see.
The year was 1924 when my parents moved into a house, I believe, on the corner of Bonner and 4th street, in the same block as John Small School, I would be starting school the next year. Next door lived the Ross family: Billy, Neal and Clinton. Clinton and I were close to the same age and soon became good pals. Ed Thompson, Bill Tally, and Horace McLean (sp) lived in the next block, and E. T. Harris around the corner. Our neighborhood probably had the best 'kick-the-can' team in town.
As August passed into September, I was enrolled in the first grade. There was a nice group of kids in my class, and I got to know boys and girls from distant neighborhoods. One classmate I especially liked was Fred Moore. Fred and I became instant friends and spent many afternoons together. Not sure but I believe my teacher was Miss Pierce, Ms. Kelly was the principal... that I can remember.
During my later life, I had never read a circus poster that I didn't think about the circus coming to Washington. Dad would awake me very early in the morning and we would walk to the Norfolk and Southern station to see the unloading. It was exciting to watch the elephants pull cage trailers off the train, and it was more exciting to attend the circus. You know, I can't remember attending a circus since those years.
Regardless of how much I liked going to school there were always summer vacations to look forward to, and I certainly remember mine. From the first school vacation until the seventh grade I spent 3 glorious months on the farm with my grandparents in Hyde County, returning to the house from my daily wanderings absolutely filthy. It was a joy not having my mother around to make a horrible fuss about how dirty I was. Grandmother thought it was a healthy childhood sign. Let me go on record as saying I truly believe that getting dirty is as much a child's right as crying from a cut finger.
While growing up in Washington, I was fortunate to have a number of cousins: Frances and Ann Rhodes; Martha Lewis and Vann Rhodes; Sam and Jim Williams; Claude and Ellen Jordan, and Mary Blane Justus respectfully. I will single out Sam and Jim Williams for this narrative.
Samuel Hodges Williams, Jr. was two years my senior. To Sam I was just a kid but to me, Sam was the big brother I never had. There were a few times during my young life that he might have been my Guardian Angel too.
James Edwin Williams, Jim, was a year older than I so we had more in common. By the way, the Rhodes Clan called Jim -- Bro. I was ten old before I knew he had another name. Both Sam and Bro were very special to me, and during the summer of 1930, Bro became a very special friend.
It was during that summer Sam pulled me out of the river on two occasions. I had never learned to swim, and after falling overboard the second time, Sam laid the law down. I was not to go on the river again until I could swim a safe distance. As much as I loved the water, I respected Sam's concern for my safety and turned to Bro. for his help.
Within a few days, Bro rowed us out to a sand bar just off Hackney Avenue for my first lesson. The lessons went on daily for a week and I was now ready for the Olympic Team. Really, I turned out to be a good swimmer and during my late teens got recognition for high board diving. Later in life, and still a good swimmer, I was able to save the life of my son by pulling him from the ocean at Kitty Hawk.
Another dumb thing I did that brought Bro to the rescue was the time I took a paper route to be started in Washington Park. I had myself a paper route to begin the next week but didn't have a bicycle. When I told Bro, he let me use his bike in the afternoons. After two weeks, I had enough money to make a down payment on a rebuilt Columbian. The shop owner, I believe he was Mr. Maxwell, was very kind and let me pay off the balance of eight dollars weekly.
The year is 1931 and during August I became twelve years old. It was the year if one had $445 they could purchase a new Chevrolet 6, 60 HP, four door sedan. To go first class a Chrysler could be had for $1,495. Men's Gold Bond shoes were selling for $2.95, and all wool suits with two pair of pants were being had for $11.95. It was an expensive time, and we complain about the cost of living today.
This was the year that two big events happened in my life, mother gave me a birthday party. The party was set up in the backyard and after the adults had retired to the house the real fun began. We played a new game that was currently growing among the young people, called Spin The Bottle. The boy's and girl's sat in a circle with a coke bottle in the center. A person would spin the bottle and if it was a boy spinning and the bottle pointed to a boy, they would shake hands. If the bottle pointed to a girl in the circle, the boy and girl would go into the the garage for a kiss or two. We were having a great time until mother came out onto the dark back porch...end of game, end of party and there was never another party at our house. There were other parties going on around town, and Spin The Bottle was the name of game.
The second event that year was joining the Boy Scouts. Our troop met in the National Guard Armory, and I believe the Scoutmaster was Frazier McDevitt's (sp) dad. During the remainder of that summer and well into the fall we had hikes to Riverside Park, a great place for swimming and diving off the pier. The gourmet meal of a Boy Scout then was canned pork and beans heated over a camp fire: This, along with soda crackers, and cocoa made with water was our dinner. For breakfast we had the beans left over from dinner. If it was a Saturday over night hike, we would get home Sunday morning in time for Sunday School.
On one occasion at Riverside Park, I got careless and dived off the pier before checking the tide. The tide was low and I struck bottom in such a way that my right arm got a bad sprain. This was confirmed by our fifteen year old Scout doctor who had a first aid badge. Anyway, old doc and a couple of boys gave me immediate attention. Since there were no boards around to make a splint the boys cut a pine sapling into three equal parts and bound the pine splint with a piece of rope large enough to anchor a yacht. My undershirt became the sling. How I was able to ride my bike home I'll never know; using one hand and the pain was terrible. Mother was sitting on the front porch when I arrived and turned several colors after seeing my condition. She made me keep the splint on while we walked to the hospital. Dr. Taylor saw me and thought the boys did a good job. The condition was just as the scout doc had said.
I have often wondered if kids today swim from the Norfolk and Southern draw bridge as we did. Four or five of us would go out on the trestle, get naked and spend the afternoon diving and swimming. Well, that was before a few of our mother's found out where we were spending those afternoons. The trestle became off limits but the memory lived on.
Dad, being a former amateur type boxer along with his cousin Francis Howard, started a boxing club for the neighborhood kids. The ring was full size with the floor well padded; manila rope was used to frame the ring. Once this club was operating the neighborhood members had friends they never knew they had. Boys showed up on Saturday nights from all areas of town. Refreshments were a donated basket of apples for opening night.
It was a neat ring, and the padding was a great help to me. In each bout, I seemed to spend more time on my back than standing up. No matter how hard I tried, I could not master the art with gloves. After Clinton Ross, and he was the smaller, put me on the canvas twice during one bout gave me cause to cancel my membership in the Rhodes-Howard Boxing Club. After a few meetings that ended with black eyes and blood stained clothing the club ended. Some parents complained so the ring was taken down, and it was back to bare fist, and Mother could breath easy again.
Growing up during the depression years, as bad as they were, did create a sense of sharing. It was a time when family and neighbors took on a great concern for one another. For example...from dad's garden, vegetables were distributed in several direction around town. Mother often prepared a boiled dinner, without meat, for several elderly people. One widow lady who was our friend and unable to do yard work called on me to cut her grass since I worked cheap...free. She constantly kept telling me what a fine boy I was and there were not many like me. Flatter, flatter all the time i was doing her yards. Often after leaving her house I felt like I might be Jesus Christ.
Although conditions were bad during the 30's, we kids found ways to do without unnecessary things, and still enjoy a good life. It was a time before prayer was expelled from the public schools, and children of both colors could walk to their neighborhood schools. In those days we accepted things as they were. Our idea of rebellion was throwing spit balls while the teacher was out of the room. Lord help your fanny if you got caught and sent to Ms. Kelly's office; spanking was not against any law in those days, and I can relate to that.
How well I remember the Coast Guard Station at the foot of the bridge. The attendant and his family lived on the property and had a son about my age. Although time has erased his name, I remember the good times we had together. I also remember the Coast Guard Cutter, Pamlico, that used to pick up and leave buoys. It was a big ship to us kids, and fun to go on board.
Now I'm reminded of another ship that tied up under the bridge. It wasn't large like the Cutter Pamlico, it was a raft houseboat that seemed right out of Tom Sawyer. The raft was home for a black man who enjoyed our visits, and was grateful for the food items we brought from home while he was in port. The man was a friendly person and told interesting stories about his life on the river. The raft was not motorized and I still wonder how he was able to travel the waterways.
I only went one year to the old Washington High School, I believe it was the 7th grade. The building was already an antique, and like most city schools at that time, architecturally, it reflected the same degree of imagination required to build the prison at Raleigh. The old building was a fire just waiting to happen, I was fortunate to have classes on the ground floor.
Washington had a birthday party in 1932 to celebrate the 200 birthday of George Washington. I seem to remember a large replica of a birthday cake built behind the courthouse Billy Duke, Jack Wright and I were among the clean up detail of volunteers. Another big event in Washington that year was when I fell in love for the first time. The romance lasted about two months until another dream walked into my life.
Memories are a many splendored thing, and hopefully more people will add the things they remember to the new Washington - Memories page. We should cherish yesterday, dream tomorrow, and live today.
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