One Girl's Summer Among a Bevy of Boys
Steve Bouser's article about what he did as a boy in Missouri put me right back on Cotton Mill Hill in West Durham, the place where I was born.
I didn't even have to close my eyes to see the line of millhouses on 13th Street.
Riley families filled the frames of five of them. We were on the left of my paternal grandparents. My father's two brothers, Lester and Lucius, lived in that order to their right. Their only sister, Lena, lived in the last house at the end of the street.
I had three cousins: Jimmy Lawrence was nine months older, and Billy and Morris were nine months younger. We were all under the watchful eyes of the elder Lucius Thomas Riley and his miniature, but mindful, second wife, Fannie Smith Riley.
The yards (and street) were dirt. Grandma Riley spent a good part of her time sweeping away every blade of grass. It was a sign of cleanliness. But all the houses had porches with banisters and rocking chairs. They were high enough to crawl under. Pretending to hide was a pastime in itself.
There was one large, rusty, red bicycle among us. Jimmy Lawrence had been a 10-pound baby and pushed Billy and Morris off when it was their turn to climb up on the split seat.
But he wouldn't touch me because, being a girl, I took advantage of being Granny's favorite.
Billy was a whiz with marbles. He would draw a large circle just beyond the front steps so the adults could watch his moves. Because he was the scrawniest, he could squat down real low, which gave him better aim.
Morris was good with a slingshot and kept all the birds off everyone's clotheslines and out of the gardens.
My game was jack rocks. I could throw that red ball into the air and scoop up a whole handful before it bounced one time.
We were all good at licking a small chip of ice. The trick was to see who could make it last the longest. The same was true for sitting on top of the hand-churned, salt-packed ice-cream maker.
Granny always added an extra old blanket when it was my turn, so, naturally, I won.
Since no one had a car, we used a broom handle to dig out large squares in the middle of the street to make a hop-scotch.
Every barefooted child for two blocks showed up. The same was true about sitting on the only grassy plot we knew. It ran around the mill's reservoir, which was behind the Utleys' house. It was always after supper.
Thinking back, we didn't do anything except just line up in a row with our arms wrapped around our knees and watch the big spray of water that awed and cooled us as it shot into the air.
We had paper kaleidoscopes, coloring and comic books. And even though they wouldn't admit it, Jimmy Lawrence, Billy and Morris wanted to help me cut out paper dolls and would sulk around on the back steps while I acted like a little princess and took my own good time doing it.
They pouted when the hose used only for watering the gardens between us was turned briefly on me before they could push themselves fully-clothed into its marvelous mist.
My father raised chickens. We watched the eggs break open while a biddy pushed itself out of the shell. My mother loved cats. Once, we watched kittens being born. She used the occasion to explain how babies came into this world.
All the adults worked in Erwin Cotton Mill. We went to Erwin Auditorium every Friday night to watch a Gene Autry or Roy Rogers movie. It cost 11 cents; a cherry-ice from the soda shop cost 5 cents.
What was the best thing I did? I caught fireflies and let them go, as my mother and father did with me.
Lois Holt is a Southern Pines writer. Contact her at email@example.com.
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