My mom and dad grew up just down the street from each other. When they dated they would walk down town to the movies or to church or other places that young people back in the late 40s, early 50s would go. While that section of Elizabeth City wouldn’t technically be called a mill village, it sure had all the trappings of one. The Pasquotank and Elizabeth City Hosiery Mills were both well within walking distance. There were loud whistles that would sound every morning and every evening so that everyone knew when to come to work.. and when to leave. There were small neighborhood grocery stores just about every block or two. Many of them were still in existence even into the 1960s.
I walked those same streets many a time myself, back and forth between my grandmother’s houses… always making it a point to walk on the street side if I was walking with a female… just like me mom’s mom had instructed me. In case there is anyone that is unaware of this chivalrous act, this was done so that if anyone was going to be splashed with mud, or potentially hit by passing vehicles, it would be me… (thanks a lot granny!!). I believe I may have mentioned this in an earlier post.. guess it really left an impression on me.
The one thing that I noticed about all of these houses is that they all had front porches. Not just a stoop mind you… but a full porch that went across the entire front of the house. And since most of these houses sat within 10 or 20 feet of the sidewalk, they served as a vital component in the communications network of the day.
I remember my dad’s parent’s house had rocking chairs lined one next to the other the entire length of the porch. There must have been 6 or 7 of them. There were many a night we would all sit out there on the porch (no air conditioning in any of those houses) hoping that the window fans would work their magic and somehow remove the heat of the day from inside the house. We would sit there and catch up on the events of the day… what work got done.. what work didn’t.. who we had seen…. how they were doing… all the important stuff.
And then suddenly, a voice would call out from the dark. It might take a minute to discern specifically where it was coming from but then you’d realize it was the next door neighbor sitting on their porch. It went something like this.
“Hey Rufus, did I just hear you say you saw Tom down town today?”
“Yeah, I sure did. He told me to tell you hey.”
“I haven’t seen him since he messed up his knee. How was his knee doing?”
“It seemed to be just fine.”
Suddenly, another voice, from a totally different direction would chime in. It was coming from the porch on the other side or maybe even from someone strolling down the block who would stop for a moment.
“Hey Rufus, you say Tom hurt his knee? I hadn’t heard that. What happened?”
And my grandfather would proceed to shared the story of the log rolling over Tom’s leg down at the saw mill last week. This form of communication would go on all evening long as people arrived on their respective porches or out for their evening constitutional.
I loved this time with my grandparents and their neighbors. We could just sit right there and learn everything we needed to know about everyone in the neighborhood. Looking back on it, I feel it was a lot like social media is today… only with the added benefit of a physical presence. We sure have lost something today. We only seem to catch up with friends through technologies and our houses sit proudly, spread out so we are quite so close to others anymore. I sure do miss those close built houses and knowing everyone around me… While the good old days weren’t always good, there were somethings about it that I still consider a pure joy.