July 22, 2011
John Chappell's twitter feeds from the Pinelake murder trial's jury selection in Albemarle brings back memories of childhood years spent there. Albemarle for me means old Central Elementary School and the first, second and third grades. It was walking to school on crisp fall days with crunchy leaves underfoot, the excitement of the school's fall Halloween Fest with old fashioned games and prizes. It was the winter of 1960 when it snowed four Wednesdays in a row and had an ice storm on the fifth, keeping us out of school for weeks. It is a place of early vivid memories, first real friendships, and the pangs of a first crush on a girl named Brinn. I even remember my first awareness of politics, as Nixon and Kennedy debated on TV and support for each lined up among the kids in school, depending on views their parents expressed at home.
Albemarle was a place where a second grader was safe most anywhere, even venturing up town a few blocks away, or walking over to the football game on Friday night. The memories are idyllic, except for the fear of a giant boxer dog named Gretel who roamed the neighborhood and lived across the street. She belonged to my best friend Tom Wilson. Gretel was bigger than we were, and for some reason fostered a fear of dogs that lasted for years. Tom's dad ran a big farm and an FCX feed store and mill. I always thought Tom's family must be some of the richest people in the world. Their garage held the aroma of dozens of old fashioned salt cured hams, which hung in the rafters. Isn't it funny what you remember.
It was a very small town, more like Mayberry than any other place I ever lived. These days, much of the business community has moved out on US 24-27, so it doesn't hang together quite the same way. You can't tell that part of it from most towns that have grown via national chain stores. But it's still charming and if you travel from here to Charlotte, chances are you go through Stanley County and its county seat. Or you should - it's a much better route than going down US 1 to US 74 and west through Monroe. Take a few minutes extra and pull off the highway and drive around downtown. It's still a lovely little place where you think you've stepped back in time. Chances are, you'll like the people you meet, too.