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Dale Basinger: My walk down memory lane

By Dale Basinger

Special to the Salisbury Post

Having grown up in the small community of Crescent in the 1940s and 1950s, the larger community of Rockwell seemed like a teeming metropolis to me as a young boy. The population of Rockwell even in 1960 was only 948, but to me it was where we went to buy things and find a job that actually paid money.

My wife and I still live in the Crescent community in our home which was built in 1975. One of my favorite activities for over 30 years was to jog to Rockwell and back, which was a five-mile round trip. My arthritic knees will not allow me to do that anymore but I can still go on my three-mile walk occasionally. So recently I decided to walk the Main Street of Rockwell to see if I could conjure up memories of the past.

Leaving my car parked in the Food Lion parking lot, I proceed to walk east toward Rockwell which now has a population of 2,136. I walk past stores that were not there in the ’50s including Sonic Drive In and the strip mall which features a Dollar General Store. But there is a house still standing across from Danny’s where a former classmate lived. His name was Jay Johnson and we attended school together for 10 years until his family moved to Florida.

A short block later I pass by the F&M Bank where formerly stood the house where my good friend and classmate Brantly Park lived. I spent several nights in that house with Brantly and his parents, George and Carrie Park. Carrie worked in the Rockwell school cafeteria and always gave me extra portions because of my friendship with Brantly.

Continuing east down Main Street I pass the first of two stoplights in Rockwell. The first block of West Main looks better than it has for years due to the restoration of the decaying house on the corner by the Fesperman Insurance Agency and the razing of the Ursinus parsonage. After walking by the second stoplight, I have a flashback to one of my many jobs in Rockwell. Now, where there is a gazebo honoring our veterans, once stood a service station owned by “Nub” Ridenhour. For a time I was employed there to wash cars on Saturdays. For a bargain rate of $1, you could get a complete wash inside and out, and we stayed backed up on Saturdays because this was the only day this service was offered.

In front of Darrell’s restaurant I cross over to the other side of the street and begin my walk west. In this block there was once a movie theater which showed anything from westerns to Lum and Abner and Ma and Pa Kettle. I recall going there particularly on weekends, when a quarter would get you not only entrance, but a box of popcorn and a soda. Like many small town theaters, this one went out of existence because of low attendance. The marquee outside the theater announced the closing with these words: “Closed Due to Popular Demand.” Someone sent this in to Reader’s Digest which featured a humor column, and they were rewarded with $5.

In this same block, while in high school, I worked some weekends at Stiller’s Clothing for men and boys. Mr. C.W. Stiller was one of Rockwell’s unique characters with his wit and charm. Additionally, he served his community on several school boards. Because I played basketball, his nickname for me was “Swish.” He was also a great salesman and had a large clientele for his high quality clothing store, which also featured top-of-the-line shoes.

Besides helping to sell clothes, I was often sent out to Moose’s Grocery store to purchase lunch. The order was always the same: Two lunch meat sandwiches and a soda for each of us for a total of $.50. Mr. Stiller told me I didn’t need to go to college if I became his assistant and that he would pay me $75 a week after I graduated from high school. I was sorely tempted.

Continuing my walk west, I pass the square where Depot Street intersects with Main Street. I was reminded that just two blocks to the northwest was the Rockwell Casket Company where I worked the summer of 1961, the summer after my graduation from high school. Even though my work involved making boxes for shipping the caskets, I never had any morbid feelings about my work. I had grown up in a house where my bedroom window had a close-up view of the graveyard of Bethany Evangelical Church, which was torn down and replaced by Lyerly Evangelical Church. My work at the casket company paid $1 an hour for 40 hours a week. To me that was a fortune when I could fill up my parents’ Ford Falcon for $3.

My walk west on Main Street continues as I pass by St. James Lutheran Church, the Police Department, Hardee’s and Danny’s, where I come to Rockwell School. My memories of being educated there for grades 1-10 remain very vivid in my mind. Before 1959, Rockwell school housed grades 1-12, but in 1959 East Rowan High School opened and I attended East my junior and senior years. I never understand how some people cannot remember their past teachers when they would usually spend 180 days a year with them. My teachers for grades 1-10 were: first grade, Mrs. Ruth Hodge; second grade, Mrs. Jo Eagle; third grade, Mrs. Lottie Honeycutt; fourth grade, Mrs. Elizabeth Kinley; fifth grade, Mrs. J. A. Bolton; sixth grade, Mrs. Carrie Currie; seventh grade, Dr. Melvin Morgan; eighth grade, Mr. Cal Kesler. My high school teachers when I was a freshman and sophomore were, in no particular order: Mr. Richard Hamilton, Mrs. Pat Barrow, Coach Carl Rudisill, Mrs. Velva Lee, Ms. Sullivan, Mr. C.D. Sides, Mrs. Marguerite Bost and Mrs. Charles Page. As far as I know, none of these teachers is alive today, but I remember each of them fondly and for the first time in my life thank each one of them for giving me such a good education. And thanks to ALL PUBLIC SCHOOL TEACHERS for helping to keep America great.

My walk down memory lane is almost complete as I pass by Powles-Staton Funeral Home and cross over to retrieve my car parked in the Food Lion lot. But I have a lot to think about and I decide to have a sub at Subway which occupies a space where Mrs. Ruth Gulledge, my annual advisor at East, used to live. She and all my former teachers made such an impact on my life!

Dale Basinger is a retired teacher from the Rowan-Salisbury School System.

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