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Cornelius News

The way we were


As Cornelius begins another wave of development, here is a look back at what it was like to grow up here 30 years ago.

By Clinton Harding Ballard. I miss my home town. The one before fast food, soccer mom SUVs, diverging diamonds and bridges built to look like a sail boat. I never cared much for sailing. Speed boats look more fun. Before the traffic, golf courses, and people from somewhere else telling locals how Cornelius should be. I miss Catawba Avenue. The one that once held a Bicentennial Parade; we dressed like the folks from that time, our mothers made our wigs from cotton. The Catawba Avenue before granite curbs and fancy lights, back long before Samuel L. Clemens decided to take up permanent residence. Back when it was a Main Street, built by people who invested their blood, calloused hands and tender hearts for their fellow towns people.

I miss Miss Harrill’s Dime shop, Fred’s Shoe shop, Charlie Dove behind the floor waxer at Teeters. I heard that if you could carry a note like Charlie, your hair would never turn grey. I guess thats true because Charlie never had a grey hair. I miss Miss Fisher, who would frequently visit just when the Price Is Right was on our floor model RCA. She would talk at Bob Barker like she was on stage, as I played with plastic cars and my mom vacuumed. My mother always had a liking for her; she also let Betty Thompson climb in our station wagon once. I think my sister and I still have a weird phobia about station wagons.

I miss Bandit football, the baseball rivalry between the Sonics and the Lakers. Back when Goose called the balls and strikes. I miss slow traffic, RP Gammon, who nick-named my Daddy. Johnny Raymer’s blue Ford truck and Mrs. Karriker. She had a way of answering the phone like no other. “Good Morning Cornelius School.” I heard it daily sitting in her office for some trouble I’m sure I did not cause. I often wonder what happened to the rocking chair that sat in her office. I bet I wore out half the wood on those rockers. I miss the Friday Night Disco’s at the legion building, when 10 o’clock was late. I miss riding my bike into town, back when a kid could do that. My Daddy still calls east of 77 “in town,” because that’s all it was when he rode a bike. I miss Pine Street, where Mr. James and Mr. Ralph sat on their porches, chewing on fat with Father Time.

I don’t remember their last names, but I still miss their faces. Friendly faces, not stressed, worried, or tired. I miss Tuntz Burton on his trusty red stallion, his Massey Ferguson, diesel smog and all. I miss Scrap, adorning the street corners. He may have “drank a little,” but his kindness and heart were the size of Texas. I miss the Western Auto, where Mr. Lentz gently got my first bike off the wall. I was Evil Knievel, even with training wheels and hard plastic tires. I miss Barrett’s Service station, back when Buford Redling would shuffle to fill your tank and check under your hood. He never moved quickly, Buford, but he did not have to. Big Albert breaking tires off wheels (he was a big man) and, of course, Charles, who fixed your car problems. I miss Charles a lot.

I guess the things I miss are gone like the Tree of Knowledge, but not the remains of its stories. They’re still told every morning in town by the likes of locals with names like Booty, Jaybird, Jack, Silas, Whitey, Mack, Tink, Ernest, names that run deep in the soil. Of course they miss a town that I will never know, their town before I was brought home from Mercy Hospital.

I guess like many I miss a home town that has slipped away, a forgotten place just in our memories, out of reach. Just maybe more I miss my childhood along with the town that grew me up.

Ballard, who grew up on Pine Street and Schooner Drive, graduated from North Mecklenburg High School and Wingate University where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Communications. He works at Ace Hardware in Cornelius and lives in Heritage Green with his wife Katherine and two children. Clint’s parents are Wayne and Carol Ballard, who live on Schooner Drive. RP Gammon nicknamed Wayne “Whitey.”