The characters we knew
It would be hard to list the characters around when I was growing up without mentioning my favorite, Uncle Bonnie! First, he really was not my uncle, but I grew up calling him that, so I will use that name, if you do not mind.
His real name was Bonnie Singleton (B. E. Singleton), and he lived behind me on Ninth Street in a big white house with the love of his life, Mrs. Sallie (Honey). It was good at times that the two were married, because Mrs. Sallie was the only person that could calm Uncle Bonnie once he got mad.
I can remember Uncle Bonnie in his signature white golf hat, that buttoned down in front. Seems like he wore that hat all the time, along with his white shirt and dress pants. Uncle Bonnie was like a bantam rooster and had something going all the time. He never backed down from a challenge. He ran the cotton gin when I was a young boy, on Hackney Avenue in a building that is now converted into condominiums. Behind it is B.E. Singleton and Sons (now owned by Charlie Manning and Bobby Hanna) which was once owned by him and his sons, Googie and Marshall Todd. He and Mrs. Sallie had four children, J.C. (my dad’s hunting buddy), Gloria, Googie and Marshall Todd, and together they lived in that big house, with a shed in the backyard, until their children were older, then they built a brick house. Both homes are still standing today!
Uncle Bonnie saved me from many spankings and let me ride in the front seat of his car with only a cotton diaper on and tater ridges under my neck. Once, I remember when they were painting the shingled house on Telfair Street and made the mistake of leaving the paint cans out and opened. I decided that it would be up to me to finish their job. I had paint on me from head to toe, and my dad came over and started to scold me until Uncle Bonnie came by. He said, “Harold, you boys left the paint out, and the boy only decided to finish, so it really is your fault.” Uncle Bonnie took me, paint and all, in his front seat to his house to get the paint off with turpentine. Never heard another word!
Uncle Bonnie was famous for his oyster roasts in the shed. There would be 15 men sometimes, and the problems of the world were solved there. Uncle Bonnie saw to it that I was always there, and that it is how I grew to love oysters. He and I ate them any way we got them and to this day, I think of Uncle Bonnie when I have oysters.
Mrs. Sallie always had a place at the table for me, but we waited ’til Uncle Bonnie got home to eat. It was the best food you could eat anywhere. If someone walked away hungry, it was not Honey’s fault. Marshall Todd (Mama Todd) had a pool table in the basement and after lunch I went down to play like a grown up. I never became good at it, but it was not Uncle Bonnie’s fault.
Another time that Uncle Bonnie saved me was when I decided to feed the fish in Mrs. Sallie’s goldfish pond. It was beside their house, complete with lily pads, so I decided to feed them one day. They always fascinated me and I thought they were hungry, so I started feeding them bread. Mrs. Sallie came out of the house and started telling me that they never ate bread. Uncle Bonnie to the rescue again! He said, “Honey, that boy is not old enough to know what they eat.” In his car I went, and the case was closed. There were many lessons learned in the front seat of his car and feeding goldfish is something I never did again.
I can remember when Gloria married Skeets and Googie brought Dottie to live on Telfair. My buddy, Marshall Todd was still around and took me under his wing. My mom spanked with an egg turner, and finally when the handle broke, I thought the spankings were over. But, oh no, Marshall Todd gave me one (blue handle with white rings around the handle) for a Christmas present.
The Singleton family has been a part of my life since birth, and I have always valued their friendship. The lessons learned from Uncle Bonnie and Mrs. Sallie can never be replaced. For those of you who knew Uncle Bonnie, I am sure there are stories you could tell, but to me, he was character and a true Washingtonian. I love Uncle Bonnie and Mrs. Sallie and all the Singletons — thanks!
They were the best of times with the best of friends and in the best of places, Washington, N.C. The Original Washington!
— Harold Jr.
Harold Robinson Jr. is a native of Washington.