Growing up when I did as a “baby boomer” shortly after WWII I had the blessing of doing so in a small town which was more like a village of about 3000 or so. It was a very different time than now and Lord knows it had its dark side. Segregation was not only in force but it was both the law and the custom of the day and one which would brook no opposition or violation.
Each small town had what everyone knew as “town characters” which by in large was an affectionate term for folkes that were either a brick shy a load or just a wee bit “peculiar”. Everyone knew them and everyone looked after them and did not tolerate anyone hurting or even taunting them.
We had three such “characters” with one staying mostly in the county seat which was Rutherfordton, one who moved effortlessly between the the county seat, Spindale, the village in between and my home town, Forest City, formerly known as Burnt Chimney, and lastly one who lived only in Forest City. Two were men and one a woman.
Peggy H. was the grand dame of the streets of Rutherfordton. I remember all kinds of stories about the eccentric bag lady who might just walk up to you and inquire your thoughts on religion and or politics of the county and or country. Some said she had been a Rhodes Scholar with a brilliant future but fell into despair after having been left at the altar. Others said she had been unduly influenced her eccentric parents and still others that she had just been born that way and was just plain nuts!
Bill C. was Forest City’s own. He was a very distinguished looking man and when he “dressed up” he looked the part of an Edwardian gentleman. Bill had a speech impediment which rendered his speaking patterns more like a ten year old than an adult. He also would react very dramatically if you manage to sneak up and “goose” him in the side. This unfortunately made him a favourite sport for kids and I am ashamed to say I was one of those little devils a few times. If your parents caught you doing that you were given a spanking and talking to. In those days your actions had consequences. Bill loved football both high school and college as well as baseball. In fact he was once given a UNC hat by the coach of the University football team,. Bill had one spot on the street from whence he thumbed rides to the games and one place outside of the football field where he obtained a ride home. He was never left without a ride.
The last “town character” and by the far the most colourful was Glen W. Glenn was a cousin of mine I am proud to say. According to family lore he was kicked in the head by a mule and was never the same. He would have fit very nicely in a movie like “To Kill A Mockingbird” or as a character in a Faulkner novel or a Tennessee Williams play. Glenn loved “to hold court” at the drug store soda counter where he ate everyday but Sunday of course and offer his opinions on a plethora of subjects and persons including kin folke! He is person who once told me that my maternal great grandfather had bet the conductor on the train at Ellenboro that he could out run it and did so. But according to Glenn he “too his sick bed and never again saw a well day”. Glenn was also the man who infamously said that there was a funeral held for a merchant in a church that had over 7000 people in attendance and in another wild tale said a man weighed so much at the time of his death that they had to bury him in a piano box!
All but Glenn died fairly young and Glenn, who loved to honour people who were lying in repose by staying up during the night in the viewing room or family home which was the custom then, and who enjoyed immensely the food that was available to the family and friends of the deceased, had quite a send off complete with food at the mortuary for his friends and those who knew him with three clergyman officiating at his final rites.
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