Cliffside remains only in memory
By Dannye Romine Powell
The Charlotte Observer, April 23, 2002
You can’t go home again, and you certainly can’t go back to Cliffside.
Not the way it used to be.
Not to the little mill village in the southeastern corner of Rutherford County, where for decades, beginning in 1902, families raised vegetables, fished the Second Broad River, called out spelling words, put up peaches, fell exhausted into bed, got up in the morning for another day in the mill.
A week goes by, a month, a year, then suddenly, by gosh, a lifetime. Or at least a long, slow childhood.
The details lie dormant or even forgotten, until one day …
One day somebody by the name of Reno Bailey retires from years of working in radio and TV and computer software. Before noon of that first free day, the memories start tumbling in.
Memories of Cliffside – in the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s. Back when the town bustled. Before the mill moved. Before the ’60s and ’70s, when Cliffside was razed, shotgun house by shotgun house.
So if you’re used to software, and your wife Betty once maintained 150-or-so computers at Sharon Elementary, you soon discover Classmates.com on the Internet.
Reno types in his name and Cliffside High School, class of 1953, and pretty soon he gets an e-mail from Sam Davis, who wants to know if Reno remembers how the houses on River Street were built on that steep bank. Or if he’s seen the aerial shot that shows the little street that curves around the sulfur well.
Sam remembers Bud Padgett, who’d climb the town’s water tower just because he could. And Reno remembers how Mrs. Mills at the drug store would shame the boys into buying a box of Valentine candy for their sweethearts, whether or not they had sweethearts.
One day it dawns. A Web page for old Cliffside.
Reno asks Sam if he’ll help, and Sam says sure and brings in Ginny Anne Reid and her trove of old photos.
Voila – the remarkable “Remember Cliffside.”
Looking for remnants
I wonder if Cliffside captivates Reno now because he has more time or because he’s at an age – 66 – when he’s more aware time’s running out?
For years, Reno says, you have a family to raise and pinnacles to climb, and you don’t give a thought to the past.
“I’d visit my folks, and I knew they were tearing the place down, and I didn’t care.”
These days, Reno drives over once a month and walks around – it’s like a big park, he says – and looks for the remnants of the old streets.
And if he could go back for an hour to the way it used to be – how would he spend it?
“I’d want to see my friends Martha Watkins and Cricket Black, Danny Wortman and Harold Clardy and Dean Scruggs and Perry Dene Davis and Tommy Hamrick and Shirley Humphries.
“And we’d go to the cafe at the bowling alley and order a shake and a cheeseburger, and then to the drugstore for a cherry Coke. And we’d walk around the school …”
… as if the hour would hold.
Reprinted with permission from The Charlotte Observer. Copyright owned by< The Charlotte Observer.