We can not choose our parents for the most part, but perhaps we can choose our”home town” after living long enough to choose the place which most gives us a sense of home and place in the world.
I have now lived in the town of Rockingham for most of my adult life and now consider it without a doubt my hometown.
I came to Rockingham in 1973 to become the Local Life editor at the Richmond County Daily Journal. The paper was then owned by Neil Cadieu. Local Life editor was a synonymous term for society editor back in the day of thriving small-town newspapers. Usually two or three pages of the daily newspaper were designated society pages and were devoted mainly to the interests of women in the community covering such events as weddings, bridge club get-togethers, and personals.
I am sure many younger people would not understand what “personals” were in local newspapers. Personals consisted of a series of short sentences about such things as trips local people had taken, out-of-town visitors, family reunions, etc.
Besides the usual content found on the society pages, I wrote a weekly column called “Ramblings” which was a chatty, stream of consciousness collection of my personal experiences living in Rockingham as a single woman.
Needless to say, the best part of my time at the Journal was meeting my future husband, Clark Cox, the love of my life. I eventually left the Journal and went into the teaching field spending most of my teaching career at Morrison Youth Center.
Having grown up in Aberdeen, I always looked forward as a kid to coming to Rockingham to do “big shopping” such as for new school clothes and Christmas shopping. All the big stores were downtown and the shopping centers had not been built yet.
Coming to live in Rockingham as a young adult, it did not take long to become aware of distinct characteristics and a uniqueness of Rockingham and Richmond County.
Perhaps the most impressive to me was the pervasive influence in the county of its sheriff, R.W. Goodman. He was far from being an ordinary county sheriff. Born into a textile worker’s family, Goodman became the longest-serving sheriff in North Carolina history and within those years became a political force not only within the county but the state as well.
I also came to realize there was a difference and somewhat a rivalry between Rockingham and the neighboring town of Hamlet. Of course there was the sports rivalry going back to Hamlet High School and Rockingham High School before the building of the consolidated Richmond Senior High, but the rivalry and differences went deeper.
Hamlet had had the benefits of being a prosperous railroad town with its many workers making higher wages than workers in Rockingham many of whom worked in the several textile mills at that time. Railroad workers received benefits from being members of a powerful national union; whereas, owners and managers of the Rockingham textile mills discouraged and worked against local unionization.
Within the last few decades, the textile industry in the county and the prominence of the railroad in Hamlet have been greatly diminished.
The histories of Rockingham and Hamlet are indeed a “tale of two cities” that have made these two neighboring towns distinct and unique.
Now as a longtime resident of Richmond County, I am beginning to see a true revival in the downtown areas of both Rockingham and Hamlet….new stores and restaurants, wall murals, outdoor dining tables, and expansive landscaping. I am hoping to see more young people remain in the county.
Lately, I have met people who have just recently moved into the county and seem happy with their decision to have moved to my hometown. After all, Richmond County has a lot to offer.
Helen Cox is a former journalist and educator in Richmond County.