Friday, 10 July 2020 11:28

COLUMN: First time away from home

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COLUMN: First time away from home Image source: IFCAR - Wikimedia Commons

How many of you can remember when you left home for the first time? Was it to go into the armed forces, go off to school, get married, or just to get out on your own?

Right out of high school, I left home to attend an electrical lineman course at what was then Central Carolina Technical School in Sanford. The ‘60s was a time when our state saw several technical schools (they later became community colleges) open across our state.

I had first signed up to take an automobile mechanics class at Richmond Technical but changed my mind and opted for a nine-month course in the electrical lineman field.

It was a little too far to drive my ‘62 Ford Fairlane back and forth the  60-some-odd miles to Sanford  every day, so, with help from my parents, I signed up to stay in a boarding house right in the middle of downtown Sanford. The boarding house was run and operated by a widow lady by the name of Mrs. Horton. My room and board consisted of a living room to watch TV, a shared upstairs bedroom, one bathroom upstairs, and three meals a day, one of which was a bagged lunch.

It so happened I would be sharing my bedroom with a classmate from Statesville named Albert. I’ll tell you more about Albert later in this story.

Mrs. Horton ran a strict but clean boarding house. She lived on the bottom floor and, at the time I was there, she had three boarders. Every morning around 6:30, she would have breakfast ready and my bagged lunch was prepared and placed on a small table beside the main eating table. Supper was the main meal, which she had on the table at 6 p.m. Supper consisted of a type of meat, a few different vegetables, Irish potatoes (fixed about three or four ways), and homemade bread. You could eat all you wanted — but don’t let her catch you in her kitchen for a midnight snack.

I shared a bedroom with my classmate Albert on the second floor of the boarding house. Well, everything went well with us except for one thing: he snored like an elephant. He slept on his back and when he started snoring, the curtains in the room would be moving back and forth.

Well, it won’t long before this lack of sleep from Albert snoring done and caught up with me. One night I had enough, so I slipped out of the room and went into an empty boarder’s room to get some sleep. The next morning Mrs. Horton called me aside and asked me why I was using another room. I guess the other boarder had squealed on me. She said if I wanted a room to myself, I would have to pay more rent.

The next day at school, good fortune came my way. The teacher told the class that he and his wife were looking for renters for an old four-bedroom house beside them out in the country. Included in the weekly rent would be a good supper prepared by his wife. Well four of us took him up on his offer, including Albert. We enjoyed our new arrangements for the rest of the school year because we each had our own bedroom.

Our school classes would sometimes end around 2 p.m. So, Albert and I got jobs in one of the many tobacco warehouses located in Sanford. It was our job to load the baskets of sold tobacco on 18-wheeler trucks with forklifts. We were to manually check each basket by reaching down in the tobacco to check for anything that shouldn’t be there. Why, sometimes we would find pieces of heavy metal, bricks or even watermelons. What some people wouldn’t do to get the weight up.

Most Friday evenings I would head home to Rockingham for the weekend. So happened one Friday, I filled up with gas and started down Hwy 1. When I got to Hoffman, I noticed my gas gauge was really falling, but I thought the gauge had to be wrong, so I kept driving.

I always took the short-cut through the Sandhills Game Land. I got to about the middle of nowhere and my car sputtered and cut off. I managed to pull it off the side of the road. Won’t much traffic on them back roads and no cellphones. What was I going to do now? 

Back then, there was a state-run sawmill just off Game Land Road. I walked as fast as I could hoping the mill hadn’t closed for the day. As I got there, they were getting ready to leave but they gave me some gas and took me back to my car. Thank the Lord for state workers. I cranked the car and drove it to Ledbetter and got enough gas to get home. 

When my dad got home, I told him what happened. He raised the hood of the Fairlane and told me to crank the car. Then he called me to come look. The fuel pump had gone bad and gas was spurting everywhere. A friend of ours replaced the fuel pump and I was ready to go back to school early Monday morning.

Well, I hope you have enjoyed yet another of my stories. Since then, I do watch the gauges on my dash, but over a half a century later, I still can’t sleep in a room with somebody snoring.

J.A. Bolton is author of “Just Passing Time,” co-author of “Just Passing Time Together,” and recently released a new book “Southern Fried: Down-Home Stories.” Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..