November 26, 2015
Ever Thought About Doing This? Friends From The
1950s Joyfully Reunite In Their Old Neighborhood
By MARIA YOUNG
Charleston, WVa (AP) They came in a group, down South Hills’ Hickory Road, then stood together in the cool autumn air and watched time disappear.
It was just that easy to look at the old neighborhood, at the stone wall that’s still standing and the home with the giant porch, and see — not remember, but actually see — themselves as a group of kids again. Playing countless games of canasta, throwing bottle caps at the passing cars, forming innocent friendships and making memories that have lasted a lifetime.
``I never dreamed I would see these people again,’’ said Susan Wilkinson Rockwood, of Gallatin, Tennessee, one of more than half a dozen Hickory Road kids from the 1950s who came from far and near this month for a reunion that’s been more than half a century in the making.
``When you hear the term `it takes a village,’ this was our village,’’ said Ellen Chambers Deese, who came in from Mooresville, North Carolina, for the occasion.
There were six families with nearly a dozen kids who played together the way kids did back when parents didn’t have to keep such a watchful eye, back before cellphones could connect them to other people or video games could consume cavernous blocks of time, when they had to rely on just the people who were there right in front of them to play the days away.
``We always had friends, always something to do, someplace to go,’’ said Benny James, who now lives in Union.
Those days, as it turns out, meant more than any of them realized.
They were, Benny said, ``a big part of my life and maybe taking that period of time as a whole, as a clump, maybe the best time.’’
Others felt much the same.
All these years later, Susan and one of her sisters couldn’t get rid of the idea of a reunion. But a reunion with people they hadn’t seen in more than 50 years?
``Lynne and I had talked for years about our fond memories here, and said, `Wouldn’t it be neat if someday we could all get together?’ And we kind of figured it was just a pipe dream . and finally I said, `You know, let’s try. All they can say is no.’
``And so the six families we were closest to, I looked up names on the Internet, didn’t know if I’d even be able to find people, but I found everybody and I sent out a letter.’’
The old gang was made up of Margy Jemison Barbee, Clem ``Cork’’ Pearce, Sarah Sheets, Randy Sheets, Lynne Wilkinson Taliaferro, Susan Wilkinson Rockwood, Jane Wilkinson, Ellen Chambers Deese, Benny James, Debby Pearce and Judy James.
The responses were almost instantaneous — and overwhelmingly enthusiastic.
``I was thrilled. I told my husband, `I can’t believe this. Susan Wilkinson is saying we’re all gonna get together.’ I answered her immediately. I said, `Yes, absolutely,’’’ said Margy, who journeyed from Greenville, North Carolina, to join her old friends on Hickory Road.
``It was the greatest thing ever. I was delighted,’’ said Benny. ``And there was never any question that this was something we were going to do. It was something that had to be done.’’
Only two people couldn’t make it. Most of the others met for lunch, then walked the short distance to Hickory Road.
The surrounding community has changed, of course. Fernbank School is now a Rite Aid. The site of the old Ellis Supermarket is now home to a bunch of upscale shops and restaurants. Hickory Road, though, has stood the test of time. There’s a not-so-new home on a vacant lot where the kids used to play, but the two-story colonial-style houses, the steep cement steps and tiny front yards remain much the same.
The group wandered from home to home, knocking on doors and venturing in when willing homeowners allowed them, remembering the big black-and-white TV at one house or climbing on the garage roof at another, and trading stories all the while.
``I remember getting lost on Abney Circle,’’ said Sarah Sheets. ``We all decided to take a walk, and then it got dark, and we kept saying, `Our parents are going to be so worried.’ Then we realized we didn’t know where we were, so we called home, just knocked on somebody’s door and asked to use the phone, and Mom said, `We didn’t even realize you all were gone!’’’
Benny James and his best friend, ``Corky,’’ used to sit on the stone wall near Corky’s house and wait for cars to drive by.
``Then we would run across the street to see how close the car could be to us when we ran across in front of it. I mean, it was just crazy things, but I guess we were testing the limits in a way,’’ Benny said.
There were badminton tournaments and plays they put on, even a neighborhood newspaper the kids all wrote.
``I broke into that home right there,’’ said Jane Wilkinson, pointing, as the group burst into uproarious laughter.
``There was nobody home, so I thought that’s what you do, you just left yourself in,’’ she said. She was five years old at the time, and for her entire young life she’d seen that if someone didn’t answer the door when you knocked, you simply opened it up and let yourself in.
It was that kind of neighborhood.
``It was Utopia,’’ Lynne said.
In truth, life wasn’t completely perfect for all the kids of Hickory Road, any more than it is for anyone else. But something about Hickory Road seemed to make things a little better. One of the kids had a father who died when she was an infant — looking back now, she can see that having so many other surrogate parents eased the sting of a missing dad. Another was an only child who was never without a playmate. Another still had parents who divorced when she was 10, a traumatic split that forced a move to a bigger, less welcoming place. There, she found that the strong and stable foundation she’d had on Hickory Road helped to sustain her in the turbulent years that followed.
More than one person got choked up or wiped a few tears trying to explain what exactly it was that Hickory Road meant to them. It was an idyllic and innocent childhood, to be sure, but most of them haven’t been in touch for more than half a century, since life forced them apart — and yet they all still feel like long-lost brothers and sisters. There was a rare sense of belonging, of security and stability that hasn’t gone away. And many of the group admitted they’d struggled to find that same sense of community anywhere else.
``We used to walk downtown together, and ride the bus, by ourselves, as six-, seven-, eight-year-olds,’’ Margy said. ``You couldn’t do that now.’’
Looking at her own children, Susan remembered, ``I would say, and Lynne would say, `I wish they had a neighborhood like we grew up in.’ It’s just all different these days.’’
``I don’t think I’ll ever see it again,’’ Lynne said. ``There are just not neighborhoods like this anymore.’’
Looking back, Ellen said, ``It was magic.’’
(Note: photos are not of the friends in this story.)
Flying During The Holidays? Here’re Some Tips To Remember
New York (AP) -- If you're braving the airports this Thanksgiving, you won't be alone.
Airlines for America, the lobbying group for several major airlines, forecasts 25.3 million passengers will fly on U.S. airlines during the 12 days surrounding the holiday. That's up 3 percent from last year.
To help ease you though your travels, here are some of our favorite tips for easier flying.
- At the first sign of a serious mechanical problem, call the airline to have it "protect" you on the next flight out. That way if the problem leads to a cancellation, you are already confirmed on a new flight and can just print a new boarding pass.
- If you miss your flight connection - or bad weather causes delays - get in line to speak to a customer service representative. But also call the airline directly. If the phone lines are jammed, try the airline's overseas numbers. You'll pay long-distance rates, but might not have to wait. (Add those numbers to your phone now.) Finally, consider sending a tweet to the airline.
- There are more to airline lounges than free drinks and lights snacks. The real secret to the lounges is that the airline staffs them with some of its best - and friendliest - ticket agents. The lines are shorter and these agents are magically able to find empty seats. So consider buying a one-day pass. It typically costs $50 but discounts can sometimes be found in advance online.
- If weather causes cancellations, use apps like HotelTonight and Priceline to find last-minute hotel discounts for that night. Warning: Many of the rooms are nonrefundable when booked, so lock in only once stuck.
- Weigh it at home first. Anything over 50 pounds (40 pounds on some airlines such as Spirit) will generate a hefty overweight surcharge, in addition to the checked bag fee.
- Before your bag disappears behind the ticket counter, make sure the airline's tag has your name, flight number and final destination. Save that sticker they give you - it has a bag-tracking number on it.
- Place a copy of your flight itinerary inside your suitcase with your cellphone number and the name of your hotel in case the tag is ripped off.
- If you can't live without it, don't check it. It might take days to return a lost bag. Don't pack medication or outfits for tomorrow's meeting or wedding. Never check valuables such as jewelry or electronics.
- Prepare your carry-on bag as if it will be checked. You might not have planned to check your bag, but given today's crowded overhead bins many fliers don't have a choice. Pack a small canvas bag inside your carry-on so if you are forced to check it, you can at least keep your valuables with you.
- Set up alerts for seat openings. ExpertFlyer.com offers free notifications when a window or aisle seat becomes vacant. For 99 cents, it sends an email if two adjacent seats become available. The service is available for Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, JetBlue Airways, United Airlines and Virgin America but not for Delta Air Lines and some smaller carriers.
- Check the airline's website five days before the trip. That's when some elite fliers are upgraded to first class, freeing up their coach seats. Another wave of upgrades occurs every 24 to 48 hours.
- Check in 24 hours in advance when airlines start releasing more seats. If connecting, see if seats have opened up 24 hours before the second flight departs.
- Keep looking for new seats. Even after checking in, seats can be changed at airport kiosks and on some airlines' mobile applications.