Southampton: Home and away

Published 11:09 am Saturday, July 9, 2011

by Clarence Foster

This past weekend, the end of June, I was reminded of an old view from the railroad tracks. Two former schoolmates and a legendary old school teacher rustled some old leaves.

The teacher, Mrs. Helen Huntt Holoman, arrived in these parts from south of Durham, via Shaw, in the mid-’50s. She would settle in at Hayden High School (her first non-field-hand job) and terrorize the slackers and inattentives for the rest of our natural-born lives.

She’s not seen much, nowadays, but she resurfaced this past weekend as the sponsor of a “couples” affair at our Gilfield Baptist Church. Once again we are grateful, and a special thanks for the substantial donation from her and her husband of more than 50 years, William Holoman.

William and his twin sister, Anna Mae Holoman Gay, are older siblings of Laverne Holoman, valedictorian of the Class of ’61.

Laverne called me last weekend from her home in North Carolina. Although we’re pretty much the same age now, back in school, I was two classes back and beneath notice.

We exchanged pleasantries, and then this younger version (today a Ph.D. and retired college professor) of Mrs. Holoman, expressed an interest in an Ivor reunion. The moment paused — and drifted back in time.

It is my understanding that Ivor, unlike Zuni, is incorporated and, as such, is a fixed place on the map. When I looked at the town limit signs just before the 2008 Centennial celebration, it appeared that fewer than a half dozen black residences ever existed in Ivor. Nit-picking?

I’ve written before of an expansive Route 460 corridor as a kind of loosely connected Southampton County community. It is a somewhat new concept. One that comes in on the wheels of an avalanche of cars and trucks (and newcomers both foreign and domestic.)

On some level, you are wherever your mailing address says you are. Except that this didn’t square with (didn’t use to) the exclusionary notion of those who lived in these villages, officially or otherwise. My own mail comes via the Zuni post office across the Blackwater River in Isle of Wight County. The conflicting zip code is alternately a source of amusement and exasperation.

Both Ivor and Zuni have that “other side of the tracks” thing. But then, there was that whimsical, delusional, though precious sense of security in numbers.

Country boys like me, who lived off back roads and even off back paths and shared a common background with rural folk everywhere. Old folk stories, real and imagined, are traded from Maine to Florida.

I know exactly what Laverne means. I know that through the fifth grade she would walk the roundabout 460/railroad/dirt road route from her home, a half-mile up the road from Bracey’s Service Station to the Crumpler Crossing School. After its closing and for the remainder of grammar school, she was enrolled in the three-room school in “Ivor” (the language of proximity, convenience and common parlance.)

That trace of Ivor, a communal, indeed a family trait came with the fact of at least four grocery stores, a bank, the post office, a roadside boardwalk to elevate you out of the mud and just enough of that aimless wandering and loitering among friends, relatives and acquaintances to make a “Saturday afternoon.” Hey, just the walk there and back might suffice.

Now, let me tell you about Charles Hood… and for the last 25 years or so, the Rev. Charles Hood. He was the Hayden “big man” (6-foot-5 and numerous pounds,) taking over that role after the departure of “Wee” Willie Francis and Johnny Vaughn.

LeRoy Holloway called a couple of weeks ago to say that our old football buddy would be home from New Jersey and would preach this past Sunday at a Camptown church…[The spirit of the weekend, the convergence of old memories plays tricks on the mind. It seems that I can’t suppress this recurring vision of an inspired Mrs. Holoman snatching a cowering Charles from the pulpit and administering one of her own patented lectures.]

What a joyful, delightful fellow. A local football and basketball star, who stood and still stands very tall in Franklin. He came on the scene during the heyday of Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell and the flashy Elgin Baylor.

Though lacking the true elegance of the old full-court icon, the ever clowning, visionary Charles saw himself as Elgin Baylor. I’m sure that he will hear the name a few times while he is here.

He played center on our football team, the Hayden High School Wildcats. He is left with a crooked little finger, in testament to life in the pits.

I remember him in moments of big drives, breaking the huddle and charging up to the line: high stepping, threatening and pointing the way home. Welcome home, old buddy.

Yes, Southampton County was home, and away.

CLARENCE FOSTER is a resident of Southampton County and 1963 graduate of Hayden High School.