Monday, 11 February 2019 10:41

LETTER: Small-town nostalgia

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To the editor:

In 1966, my family moved to Hamlet, North Carolina. My father was the terminal superintendent there with the Seaboard Airline Railroad. We came from Savannah, Georgia, and had no idea what to expect.

At that time I was entering the sixth grade and knew no one except my family — my mother Lois Wheeler, my brother Thad Wheeler, and, of course, my father, T. C. Wheeler. We moved into a small house at 100 Battley Road, and my brother and I started school at Fairview Heights Elementary. We knew Hamlet was a railroad town that had the largest railroad terminal in the world at that time, but knew little else about it. The major impact the people and the town of Hamlet had on my life during my 18 months there will never be forgotten.

My name is Spencer Wheeler and I am now in the twilight of a career in orthopaedic surgery in Savannah, Georgia, where I have practiced for the last 28 years. Reflecting on my time in Hamlet was inspired by a visit there in November of last year, while driving home from Charlottesville, Virginia, where I had been visiting my oldest son, Spencer Jr. A spontaneous decision to visit made me understand just how important my time in Hamlet was to who I have become.

Hamlet in 1966 was the epitome of small-town America. It was like living in Mayberry to me and my family. It was safe, it was friendly, it was filled with all of the values and beliefs that have made America the great country it is. I played Little League baseball on the Tigers with my best friend Jesse Howell. We rode bicycles everywhere through the streets of Hamlet, at all hours, with no concerns about crime or safety. We spent Saturdays at the movie theater watching monster movies with our friends and girlfriends. We went downtown to Mabry’s and Birmingham’s and had amazing milkshakes. We would often sneak off to Boyd’s Lake on game days to swim, taking breaks to eat our favorite snack, Zero candy bars.

In seventh grade we all attended school at the old Hamlet High School. We were only seventh graders, but we were all committed to the Red Rams (the HHS mascot). We went to every home game and knew the names of all the players. I still remember Dickey Cook and Nookie Quinn when they played for HHS. We all went to Dunn, North Carolina, for an away game on a special train just for the Red Rams students and fans. I have not known another person that has been to an away football game on a train. My experience of living in Hamlet has given me the real picture of what America stands for and what it is like to experience it firsthand. I still remember vividly many of my classmates like Rocky McDuffie, Cindy Carroll, Phil Harris, Robert Robinson, Linda Stinson, Pam Peele, Diane Bridges, Kathy Cockman, Robert Beck, Don Demay, Kemp Neal, Ricky Fetner, Diane Britt, Kathryn Crook, Cathy Parks, Gail Smith, Cindy Howell, Charles Maurice, Joyce Stone, Marty Hornsby, Sukoshi Williamson, Cherri Gunter, Deborah Pate and many more. I remember the weekend parties where we would all slow dance to “Cherish” and think we were in love. Those were the days!

Hamlet was a great place to be in 1966–67. It was a bustling railroad town full of life and hope. Visiting the railroad museum while I was there in November was extraordinary, and the museum host, Mr. Sam Ballard, knew my father and made the tour extremely special. The once busy town was noticeably much quieter and the downtown area and terminal were remnants of a bygone time and era. Most of the classmates I remember have relocated to other cities for reasons such as jobs, spouses, and education. Some remained as did many of their aging parents. The town was still quaint and friendly but lacked the hustle and bustle I saw in the '60s. Still, the residents seem happy living there and all continue to have hope for the future.

I am forever blessed by the privilege of being a small part of such a special place as Hamlet, North Carolina. It changed me forever and I am indebted to the people that made it all so special.

 

Spencer M. Wheeler, M.D.
Savannah, Georgia

Last modified on Monday, 11 February 2019 10:53