It was December 18, 1963 and I was spending the week with my aunt Roberta. She wasn’t really my aunt. Like many folks in the South and throughout the country for all I know I had a few folks that I called aunt or uncle or cousin who really were not my relative but were close friends of my parents or grandmothers. In Roberta’s case it was my grandmother on my mother’s side. Roberta live next door to my grandmother in Roebuck Junction, NC when they were both “just young things, all pretty and full of life” as my grandmother used to say. When granddaddy got a job in Charlotte they moved away but she and Roberta were still best of friends and we would often visit her during the summer. Roebuck Junction was a small mill town where most of the whole town worked for Mr. R. J. Bledsoe who owned the local textile mill. Its not much of a place now with the mill closed down and all of the younger folks having moved out. Like most of the folks in town my aunt Roberta worked in the mill for Mr. R. J Bledsoe. She worked at the mill because of her “no good husband, Earle run off and left her alone with no money, no provisions and no children” as granddaddy used to say. That was one of the reasons I was staying with aunt Roberta. She needed someone to help out around Christmas: putting up the tree, cutting holly and mistletoe, putting up the decorations. She also tended to get lonely and a little weepy during the holidays and I was always her favorite. The other reason that I was there was that it was just plain fun.
I grew up in the city and so Christmas in a small mill town was a big surprise for me. I really did not know what to expect but aunt Roberta made the best fried chicken in the world so I was willing to try it out. Looking back on it now, Roebuck Junction was a wonderful, peaceful town that offered the added benefit of the possibility of snow for Christmas. A wonder that never was a possibility in Columbia, SC. At age 10, however, it just seemed to me to be a nothing, redneck small town with nothing to do. This was in the days before cable TV and video games and so as I was all alone while aunt Roberta went off to work every morning there was little to do other than the chores that she left for me to do.
Roebuck Junction, however, turned out to be a wonderful adventure. The town center was located on the northern part of town and Mr. Bledsoe’s textile mill on the other. Most of the houses (owned by Mr. Bledsoe and the company) were scattered in the area in between. That meant that most everything was in walking distance of aunt Roberta’s house. I had been to stay with her before and all of the merchants uptown knew me. I could walk into most any store and be recognized by the owner. It often resulted in some great surprise. Everyone in town knew about aunt Roberta’s situation and “that no good Earle Bishop who had just gotten the wonder lust and taken off” (as Tootsie Landis had said one time when I went into his Bar and Grill one day. It was called a Bar and Grill but it was really more of just a Grill because Roebuck Junction was in a dry county. Tootsie was a big man with a single, bushy eyebrow that covered both eyes and met in the center of his forehead. He made the best burgers in town and told me that he would give me a free lunch once a week for every week I helped out aunt Roberta. Well that week I walked down town about lunch time and walked into Tootsie’s and he asked me if I was ready for a hamburger. I told him sure enough and sat down at the counter and watched him cook the burger on his huge griddle. I sat down right away because Roberta told me never to go around to the section where the pool tables were because that was where the “low lifes” hung out. So I sat down next to Mr. Jean Beudrox. He had moved to Roebuck Junction after he met Audrey Sprinkle during WWII. He was a soldier from Lake Charles, Louisiana and had met Audrey at a USO canteen in England. She had signed up to help with the war effort. She was fascinated by Mr. Beudrox’s accent and said he was just a big teddy bear. They had moved back to Roebuck Junction because Audrey could not think of leaving her parents. Mr. Beudrox asked me if I was ready for Christmas and I told him I was. He asked me about Roberta and what we were going to have for Christmas. I told him a turkey I guessed. He told me that if I really wanted a great Christmas dinner I should step around to his house where they were having Turducken. I said what is that. He old me that in Louisiana they went out and shot a duck, cleaned it and then went out to the yard, killed a turkey and a chicken. You took the duck and stuffed it inside the chicken and then stuffed the chicken inside the turkey. Good eatin’ he said and judging from his 300 + pounds I figured he had eaten a few turduckens in his time.
© 2010 LeRoy H. Ferguson, III. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without permission, unless otherwise noted.