Labor Day and Homecoming-reunions, skating and storytelling

Published 4:05 pm Monday, September 6, 2021

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Milt and I enjoyed the Labor Day weekend with friends.  We had a wonderful time remembering the good old days when we were students here in Washington.

Labor Day marked the end of summer for most people. But when we went to school, Labor Day was not a holiday for us. While it did mean a transition in summer activities for us, it also meant a lot more.

It meant Homecomings for many local churches. Homecomings were festive events where the church families gathered with families and friends near and far. While it was great seeing relatives from New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington DC, the food was the big attraction for me.

The best fried chicken, potato salad and cake I’ve ever eaten were found at those Homecomings.  To this day, I had never had a coconut pineapple cake like the women on Fourth Street could make. Many families also had reunions at the same time.

The Elite Club on Griffin’s Beach Road was buzzing with activity. So was Fourth Street.  Pig Jones Barber Shop, and my dad’s Pool Room were the first stops for many out of towners. There they’d stop there to catch up on the latest news/gossip and share the ‘happenings’ in the big cities.

Then after a stop on Fifth Street to Pomp Credle’s Restaurant and Mary’s Tavern, they’d settle down on the porches on Fourth Street, parking their cars with out of state plates for all to admire.

That’s when the fun began for us kids. Many of our neighbors came to homecomings and family reunions and brought lots of children with them. For one glorious weekend there were hula hoop contests, hours-long games of jacks, hopscotch and stop ball.   The best fun of all was roller skating.  The older kids would whiz by the younger ones leaving us in awe of how people could move so fast on two skates.

I never learned to skate well but I would hold on the back of a speeding bicycle of a friend with my skates on, and the exhilaration of moving that fast was amazing.

Now as much fun as that was, it was made even better by the older people, some well into their later years who would tell us how much fun they had roller skating. It was hard for me to imagine that roller skates had been invented when they were young but I was fascinated by their accounts. Later, I checked to see if roller skates were around in the 1920’s and I found they were being mass produced in the mid 1880’s.

The elders told of warehouses in town that were used as roller skating rinks.  They said Dr. Sam Nicholson had a tobacco warehouse around Third and Market Streets in the early 1900’s.  When tobacco season was over, the floor was swept clean and used for roller skating.  It was the same for the Farmer’s Tobacco Warehouse at Seventh and Market Streets.  Skating was not allowed at the Central Tobacco warehouse at Third and Bridge Streets.

They also said Washington had a well-known skating club that was started by JC Rodman in 1893. It was the first skate club in Washington according to their narratives. They said people used a concrete floor at the Brown’s Opera House to skate on. Blacks weren’t allowed to skate at the warehouses or the Opera House. They went to Norfolk on special excursions to skate in events hosted by Black Churches. They said they had a great time.