In the ‘50s and early ‘60s, a lot of folks had jobs at textile mills. Work at the mills was hard but if you were willing to work you at least had a job.
A lot of the mills closed during the week of the Fourth of July. A lot of the employees took advantage of this by spending a well-deserved vacation with their family at the beach.
My Dad didn’t work in textiles so he just took his vacation a few days at a time, especially during tobacco-selling time. Fortunately for me, my neighbor, who worked at a local textile mill, would invite me to go with them to Cherry Grove Beach just about every year. The family had three boys, plus they would invite a lot of their nieces and nephews, all of us about the same age. All these kids were a lot to take on but, as far as I know, everything always went just fine.
Every year they would rent a two-story house a couple blocks off the beach. We would walk just about everywhere we went, except when we took our one road trip to Calabash to eat seafood. We did most of our own cooking at the rental house and everyone chipped in and helped.
What times we weren’t swimming or walking on the pier were spent playing all sorts of card games like setback or penny poker. Seems it didn’t take a lot of money to entertain us back then.
One year, as I remember, the oldest of my neighbor’s boys had saved his money and bought a 1953 Ford coupe. Making only 50 to 75 cents an hour, it took a while to have the funds to purchase a car back then. His plans were for him, his brother and me to drive the car to the beach on our Fourth of July vacation.
Well, the day of our trip came. I had helped him wash and wax the coupe and we had her looking sharp. We packed all we thought we might need in the trunk and took off down Hwy. 38 towards Bennettsville. As we crossed the state line into South Carolina, the old coupe started blowing steam from under the hood. We pulled off the road to let her cool down. Lucky for us there was a small stream next to the road. After refilling the radiator and not seeing any leaks we started on towards the beach.
Well, this time we made it to the first stoplight in Bennettsville and the car started steaming again. Pulling off at a service station, we were told that our water pump would need to be replaced. Not having a lot of money we decided to nurse the car back to Rockingham.
After several more water stops, we finally made it home. Now, how was we going to get to the beach? Long story short, my friend’s granddad loaned us his Cadillac. Boy, you talk about being on top of the world, we toured the beach in style that year.
In the ‘60s, I was a member of the Future Farmers of America through our agriculture class at Rockingham High School. Our teacher’s name was Mr. R.L. Souther, a stern teacher, but truly a fine southern gentleman. Every year, Mr. Souther would take the boys in his class that wanted to go to an FFA camp located deep in the North Carolina mountains. The camp was an old C.C. camp that had been converted into a camp for the FFA. It lay deep in a valley surrounded by large mountains.
Mr. Souther would drive his car and some of the older boys would drive their cars. I think the cost of the camp was $40 and the gas was paid for by us boys making and selling picnic tables and chairs at school.
While at camp, we were served food three times a day at the mess hall. This was a long narrow building with a kitchen on one end and rows of tables and benches down the middle. Ping pong tables and horseshoe pits saw a lot of action during our week’s stay. We took road trips to watch “Unto These Hills,” the outdoor drama at Cherokee, and also to enjoy the scenic view along the Blue Ridge Parkway. We also made the high winding trip to get to the top of Mount Mitchell.
As a boy, I enjoyed these mid-summer vacations during the week of the Fourth. As I have gotten older, the larger crowds and the traffic on the Fourth have ‘bout convinced me to sit in a lawn chair and just watch someone else’s fireworks.
Hope you enjoy our nation’s 244th anniversary, and can find something to do to celebrate during this pandemic, even if it’s nothing but eat a hot dog and wave a flag.
J.A. Bolton is author of “Just Passing Time,” co-author of “Just Passing Time Together” and recently released new book “Southern Fried: Down-Home Stories.” Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org