News Stories & Columns
Small Southern Towns Have a Saving Grace
Small Southern Towns Have a Saving Grace
By Dot Jackson
The Charlotte Observer, April 2, 1982
When I hear the kids talking nothing but video games, and the commentators deploring city violence, and the traffic gluts the streets, and the sirens scream in the middle of the night. I wonder what has happened to us.
Is this the Good Life? Is this what comes of progress and advancement? And then, I get to spend a day in a place like Mooresville, or Bryson City, or, as we talked about recently, the remnants of Cliffside.
Not that onerous things haven’t found their way to small-town South; of course they have. But there always seems to be a saving grace, with is exactly that: Grace.
A friend was describing a visit the other day to some people who live in a well-heeled subdivision of an otherwise fine little town.
“It was horribly nice,” he said. “Decorator furniture. Manicured lawn. The one good thing about it, there was this dirty snaky pond down in the weeds. The kids were all down there playing and having a wonderful time.”
I was marveling that kids had been seen playing — instead of sitting glued to some electric wetnurse, getting weak and withered in the limbs.
And then this letter came from Marc Dedmond, in Ellenboro.
Marc Dedmond is 34, a certified public accountant. In his letter, he was remembering being a little boy, in Cliffside:
“I remember the alligator pits wherein (I was often told) alligators once lived, although I have yet to see one there. These were located behind the Towel Town Cafe, although no one ever called it that. To all the locals, it was the bowling alley, since the bowling lanes once were located there. It seems that much nourishment was provided my older brother and sister there, in the ‘hot dog slaw and grape soda’ they served.
“Underneath was the local garage and Esso station, which my grandfather once ran. Across the street was the Dixie Home Store, Jackson’s Department Store, the mill outlet store and the drug store, which were all thriving businesses, patronized by the community.
“Many hours were whiled away in the booths of the drugstore, sampling the output from the soda fountain in the front. As a youth, I registered constantly for the electric train they gave away every year, but never did win it at the Christmas Eve drawing.
“On the steps leading to the dentist’s office upstairs, there was a sign proclaiming that anyone caught spitting on them would be punished — which prompted everyone, including me to spit just to show that we could get away with it.
“On the next block was the Memorial Building, with its massive town clock on top that provided assurance that ‘all’s well’ with its chiming every quarter-hour, until temporarily stopped by some friends of mine who broke its face by throwing green peaches at it.
“The barber shop and the beauty shop were downstairs beside the gym, which was later to become the skating rink, where I often swept the concrete floor (with the clothes I was wearing). On the main floor was the town library, where one would find the local characters playing checkers, especially around shift-changing time at the mill, under watchful eye of the large stuffed hawk (or was it an owl?) on its perch.
“Next to the library was the Cliffside Theater, where all the local kids discovered movies, and I discovered girls — although the girls did not discover me there. I remember when we planted cherry bombs timed with cigarettes around the theater, and then went back to have a talk with the theater manager. As the bombs exploded, we agreed with the manager, as he complained about hoodlums lighting fireworks.
“Behind the Memorial Building was the cannery, where I blistered my foot severely by testing how hot a steam pipe really was. Next door was the washerette, where the drunks often took a ride in the dryer. Ana behind both of these was the ice plant, which my father ran, and his uncle before him. A short way up the railroad track was the red train shed, which some called the round house, although it looked square to me.
“Beside the main office of the mill was a fountain, which I think I can remember as once being full of fish, and was brightly decorated each Christmas…
“My father took us to the sulfur well often. Though the water tasted like rotten eggs, I remember telling him how ‘good’ it was. There was also a well on South Main next to the railroad, which would not be remembered except that it’s where my father caught me in my preteens gambling for baseball cards.
“And there was a large magnolia next to the ‘alligator pits’ whose branches provided a needed refuge to kids playing ‘Fox and Dogs.’ Main Street was lit by old-timey street lights, many of which didn’t burn due to little boys with rubber bands and paper clips…
“I lived the first 17 years of my life in Cliffside. After spending the next four at UNC and three in Charlotte, I discovered the ‘big city’ wasn’t for me. I moved back, only to discover that Cliffside had moved away from me. Practically everything I had talked about was gone, a victim of the bulldozer and ‘progress.’
“I am just thankful that bulldozers and progress can’t destroy the memories…”
And I wonder what the next generation will remember?
Reprinted with permission from The Charlotte Observer. Copyright owned by The Charlotte Observer.