Wineka column: Boyhood friends' memories

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 29, 2011

KANNAPOLIS — Tommy Cannon remembers a summer day when he and friends dammed the creek, took off all their clothes and jumped into their newly created swimming hole.
Later as they splashed and enjoyed their engineering prowess, the boys heard some giggling. A couple of girls from the neighborhood were in the process of stealing their clothes.
“When we got out and took off after them, they ran,” Cannon said, acknowledging that getting back their clothes was more important than modesty.
That’s just one of the many “lies” told Saturday when 42 fellows from the old neighborhood met at Lakewood Baptist Church for their annual last-Saturday-in-January gathering.
It’s an informal reunion designed to celebrate their childhood, mostly from the 1940s and 1950s. They grew up in a Rowan County corner of Kannapolis where Lakewood Baptist (then White’s Memorial Baptist Church) was a focal point.
They made their friendships at the church, on a ballfield across the street, in Boy Scouts or at school in Landis. Most of their parents worked in the cotton mills — Cannon in Kannapolis and Linn-Corriher in Landis.
They hung out at places such as Strickland’s and Adams’ stores. They hunted for squirrels and rabbits, begged for Sunday afternoon plane rides at Straight Rhinehardt’s old air strip, hacked through the woods, jumped over creeks and fished in the lakes and ponds.
They made their own recreation, and they loved it.
“Didn’t any of us have anything,” said Bob Mullis, who started the reunions five years ago and still takes care of getting everyone together annually. “We didn’t know we were poor, nobody told us.”
Their parents were caring, but tough. If they did something wrong — and there was plenty of mischief — the kids expected a “whuppin” at home. Nobody locked their doors or windows. In fact, it was hard to say where keys to any of the houses were kept.
They grew up quite familiar with outhouses and making do with the materials at hand.
When it snowed, Cannon said, the kids would fashion sleds out of two-by-fours and trudge to the hill behind Mullis’ house. One of those times, Cannon said he flew to the bottom of the hill, hit a tree and the impact from the collision drove a nail from the board into his butt.
Mullis claimed Cannon was the only guy in the neighborhood he really feared, because he was so tough.
“I was never a bully,” Cannon protested. “Who did I ever bully?”
The guys gathering Saturday ranged in age from 59 to 96. With the help of Glenn Jenkins, who is the 96, and Jerry Tucker, Mullis assembled the names, addresses and telephone numbers for the first reunion in 2007 and he has been adding — and subtracting — names since.
Some people couldn’t make it this year for reasons such as knee-replacement surgery, a broken ankle, the length of the trip from several states away and prior commitments. In 2010, two of their friends died, Mullis informed the group Saturday.
Met on ‘day zero’
Mullis and Jim Dishman have been friends “from day zero,” Mullis said. But Dishman told the story about when he and another buddy, John Johnson, went fishing at the new Kannapolis Lake.
They knew they had to dodge the game warden, and on the way home, when they saw the warden coming toward them in his vehicle, the boys hid their string of bream in Ray Chatham’s mailbox.
The bad part was, the boys went to the store and over to the ballfield and completely forgot about the fish. Chatham later had to get a new mailbox because of the smell rotting fish.
When Dishman was older, after he was out of the service and home from college, he confessed to Chatham that he and Johnson had been the fish-in-the-mailbox culprits. A dark cloud came over Chatham’s face for a moment before he burst out laughing.
He declined Dishman’s offer to buy him a new mailbox.
“We were juvenile delinquents,” Dishman said, “but they didn’t call it that back then.”
James Cannon, Tommy’s brother, got in plenty of trouble out of his pride for Landis High School.
He and some buddies painted “Class of ’57” on the Landis water tower and were painting “Class of ’57 will meet in heaven,” on a roof at the high school when they had to move fast to avoid capture. In their haste to get off the roof, some of the boys broke the expensive slate tiles.
James Cannon’s mother lent him the money to pay his share of the damage so he could graduate and — the day after graduation — he left for the Navy.
Almost everybody in the church fellowship building served in the military. Tommy Cannon, who tried to join the Marines at 16 but was sent home, later enlisted in the Navy and made it a 20-year career.
When others returned, they scattered. The Rev. Dr. Buddy Strickland became a textile engineer, minister and author. He has written three books, including a memoir from his childhood days on his father’s farm.
His father bought the Strickland store as a place to sell his farm’s produce, and his mother took a portion of the business and made it a lunch counter.
The other fields represented by the men are too numerous to name, though they include a medical doctor, several other ministers, Realtors, teachers and businessmen.
Bound by Scouting
So many of the men talked about being in Scouts with Glenn Jenkins as a Committeeman and Paul Cannon — James and Tommy’s father — as Scoutmaster.
James Cannon said he owes his life to Pete Belk because of a weeklong camping trip the Scouts took to Washington, D.C. At a campground outside the capital, Cannon and the three other “hoodlums” he hung around with, sneaked out the back of their tents one night, walked to the road and hitchhiked into a nearby town, where they played a round of miniature golf.
Belk’s job for Scoutmaster Paul Cannon that night was to make the bed check, and he never reported the missing Scouts.
“My dad would have beaten me to death,” James Cannon said. “I’m indebted to him (Pete).”
Parks Mullis, a retired highway patrolman and brother to Salisbury travel company owner Wayne Mullis, who also attended Saturday’s gathering, reminded others of the slingshot shooting accuracy of their late friend, Otis Austin.
Austin hunted small game with the slingshot and could shoot chinaberries off trees, Mullis said.
“It was a close-knit community and a great time to grow up,” said Jerry Blackwelder, probably the youngest guy in the room. “Things were so much simpler. Our “gee whiz” toy was a television. They were just coming on stream.”
Ken “Baby” Deal said the memories of life along the spine of this area — what is today’s West A Street — flood back every year, even simple things like rolling automobile tires down the road.
Kids then knew how to make their own fun, Deal said.
“Young people today are sitting on their behinds, watching TV,” he added, “and we wonder why there’s something blowing up all the time and people shooting each other.”
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or