An experience lost to the past

Published 5:56 pm Monday, August 5, 2019

The month of August brings back many memories as a young man growing up in Washington. Some were good and some were not so good, but still they are memories that need to be shared, and I hope you can relate to some of them. The first one was not a good memory, but it was something that our family had to do — move from the river.

Moving back to town was never really fun because we always enjoyed the river so much. August meant it was time for our family to return to Tenth Street and the neighborhood where we were raised. We always moved to the river in mid-May when school was almost over and baseball season had ended. Knowing we had to return meant that we cherished each memory of the river just a little more. At that time, people who had summer homes would return so that their sons could start football practice on Aug. 15 each year. There was no carpooling to and from practice because it embarrassed us if we had to ride with our parents to practice — especially from practice!

The other memory that August brings was a fond one because it usually meant the opening of the tobacco markets here in Washington. I can still see the trucks lined up from Sermon’s Warehouse (my grandfather at one time owned that warehouse) on Hackney Avenue all the way down Third Street toward my family’s dry cleaners. You could smell the scent of tobacco and going to the warehouse on the day of a sell was special. I can see Mr. Ox and Mr. Wayland leading the sale. Mr. Ox usually had a towel over his shoulder and a cigar in his mouth as he auctioned the piles of tobacco. Walking down rows and rows of tobacco with no air conditioning would make everyone sweat. The tobacco was tied up neatly in its pile, not just thrown into a basket. Tying dried tobacco is an art that is lost today.

The opening day of the market in Washington was a big day. It was an economic lift for our merchants. Farmers could then buy school clothes for their kids and any other needed supplies for their homes after they paid their bills for the year’s tobacco crop. My dad, who farmed, always seemed to be a little happier on opening day of tobacco market. Sometimes he would ask me to come to a sale with him and that made me feel a little bigger and older.

When the tobacco market opened each year, that meant there would be tobacco buyers in town. These men were treated like kings, and they never went away hungry. There were meals planned by farmers each night, each trying to gain an edge for the next day’s sale. We even rented our summer home to Mr. Dixie and his wife who bought for Export Tobacco Company. They stayed in our cottage as long as the market was opened, and I do not know if they ever paid rent. Probably not!

Those who missed out on those days have missed a part of growing up in eastern North Carolina that will not happen again. For those of us who did experience “opening day,” we need to share our experiences with the youngsters of today. They need to hear about the sights and sounds that the tobacco market brought and the economic impact it brought to our community.

Yes, August was a special month for me in many ways. It might have ended my summer fun, but it brought smiles to others and provided me an experience I will never forget, nor will I get again.

They were the best of times with the best of friends and in the best of places, Washington, NC!

— Harold Jr.

Harold Robinson Jr. is a native of Washington.