Editoral Page



 Life in Vanceboro, 1940's & 50's

The Early Days

On a cold rainy day November 7, 1939, a baby boy entered into this world in Vanceboro, North Carolina to Dr. & Mrs. C. V. Willis actually delivered by his father.  His name was Carroll Vance Willis Jr., and weighed in at 10 pounds 14 ounces.  That lad was me and in the next paragraphs I will attempt to recall some of my memories of my growing up years.  Folks laugh and think I am joking, but I actually remember being pushed around in my stroller, that was before my first birthday.  I remember pushing around the beads on the front of the stroller.  I was told by my mother that I walked unassisted when I was 11 months old and was quite active.  I remember my first tricycle and having to ride it on dirt which made peddling difficult.  No paved sidewalks in Vanceboro then.  I remember when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941 even though I was only a little over 2 years old at the time.  I remember my uncles' going off to war and my grandmother reading me letters they sent back during that period.  The blackouts and loud planes going overhead were a common thing back then.  Meat, gasoline and many other things were rationed and tokens were given to the public to buy certain items including food.  It was a great time when the war was over in 1945 and my uncles all returned home.  Electric stoves soon became the choice of housewives and the "light bill" became the power bill.  Most folks had shallow wells with a hand pump to draw water.  Oh yeah, there were no inside facilities, only "Johnny Houses" in the back yard.  Baths were taken out of a large bowls and called bird baths.  No central heat, just kerosene heaters in the center of the house....bedrooms were unheated for the most part.  Haircuts for boys cost fifteen cents and adults twenty five cents.  The town's only theater was called "The Vance" and Saturday morning found the town children there watching their cowboy heroes and one cartoon.  If you were under 12, the movie cost nine cents, popcorn and a Pepsi cost five cents each.  John Hellen sold peanuts every Saturday in front of his grandfather's store if you preferred those.  Some of the local places I visited on a regular basis were:  Pat's Soda Shop, Benny Lilly's Restaurant, The Pool Hall, Don Franklin's store where I bought some of my fishing tackle and listened to shortwave broadcasts on his Zenith Oceanic Radio.  Cleve's Supermarket was where my mother bought most of our meats in those early days.  Mr. Jasper Witherington's Hardware store was when I bought my project building materials and Mr. Donald Witherington's Funiture Store was where I went to listen to him tell of when he used to work at the Tobacco Market and do the arithmetic in his head as the auction was taking place.

School Days

My first grade teacher's name was Annie Franks and she was an excellent teacher for my first grade experience and it was the time I got to meet some of my lifelong friends.  Mrs. Franks always gave a silver dollar to one student when school was over.  Kay Simpson got that reward.  I started my second grade with Mrs. Taylor as my teacher and then had to relocate to Morehead City because our house my parents were renting was sold.  For a year or so my father had to improvise in order to maintain his medical practice and was offered to locate his office in a rear room of the local pool room while he contracted to build a new office building on Harvey Street when he eventually settled in for the duration of his active medical practice that ended in April of 1978 after 40 years in Vanceboro.  My 2nd through 6th grade education was accomplished at Morehead City Elementary School.  My brother Bobby was born in 1948.  My teachers At Morehead City Elementary were: 2nd: Mrs. John Bunn, Third: Mrs. Holloway, Fourth & Fifth:  Mrs. Byrd Wade, Sixth:  Mrs. Robert Taylor, my family relocated back to Vanceboro in the fall of 1952.

 We purchased the Richard David home on Main Street where I lived through my 18th year before leaving for other school work.  My 7th grade teacher was Miss Jean Williams, a attractive petite blond that was an excellent instructor.  Then it was off to the 8th grade with the Whitfords, Zack and Belle.....everyone was scared of them as they were noted to be very strict, but fair.  Actually most folks that had them as teachers would say they were some of the best teachers of that day.  They could be seen walking to school every day, coming down Highway 17 from their rental house.  I don't think they ever owned a car but did move into Vanceboro in their later years.  I had an occasion to talk to Mr. Whitford when he was in his later years and I asked him if he remembered me in his class.  He told me one thing he remembered about me was that I had other things on my mind other than school...........he was right!

Some of the friends I had in those days in no particular order:  Jerry Lilly, Phil Gaskins, Dickey Dixon, Mack Miller, Jimmy Taylor, Wesley Powell, Hugh Cleve, Frankie Cleve, Delano Hill, Kenneth Buck, Jerry & Jackie Laughinghouse, Olin Sammons, Earl Hart, Hal Smith, Charles Witherington, Leonard Taylor, John Bryan Hellen, Graham Wetherington.

High School

We entered Farm Life School as a freshman in the fall of 1954 where friends I had known since the first grade began to the process of finishing our basic education.  Teachers I met for the first time were: Mr. Albert Tyson, Mrs. Nell Haddock, Coach Hollingsworth, Mr. Jake Hinton and of course Mr. Ed Blair, Principal.  There were other teachers teaching courses I didn't take my freshman year, Mrs. Vivian Taylor, Mrs. Dorothy Hart, Mrs. Ruthie Hinton and others that came in my sophomore and ensuing years.

I had been in the Craven County Band for several years, but soon found that I couldn't play sports and be in the band at the same time, so I opted for playing football and basketball.  That was the first time I ever participated in organized sports.  Prior to that, we boys would just choose up sides and play games on our own.  No adults around to tell everyone what to do and when to do it.  I wonder if that actually built character better then than now when young folks just follow orders from a higher authority?

Life around Town

The boys in town had a favorite swimming place.  It was called the Cox Hole located back of old Vanceboro Jailhouse and reached by a short walk down to Swift Creek.  There was a rope hanging from a tree that allowed the boys to swing out over the creek and drop in deep water.  Of course "skinny dipping" was the choice to swim there.  Not many boys owned a bathing suit then, and they dared not cut off their work jeans to make short pants and be called a sissy.  The Boy Scout Hut was also located near that same location.  During that time there was no volunteer fire department in the area, it was later in the fifties when that was organized and when that loud horn sounded someone you knew was having a fire disaster.  In the summer it was mostly tobacco barns that caught fire.  There was a theater in town called the Vance that was owned by Mr. Holliday and managed by his son in law, Wilton Edwards.  The town children would visit the theater on Saturday mornings to see western movies and a cartoon or a funny comedy by the Three Stooges or other actors.  If you were less than 12 years old, the movie cost 9 cents and adults were charged 35 cents.  Popcorn was 5 cents in a bag or 10 cents in a box.  Candy was 5 cents as were fountain carbonated drinks.  In the 40's before fireworks were outlawed in NC, there were two small stands on either side of town.  Highway 43 ended on the North side of town and Highway 17 went through town bringing many tourists on the way to Florida and other vacation spots.  Trees lined Main Street and provided shade for the weary travelers to pull off and take a nap if they were tired.

My first job

Tobacco was king of all the crops farmers grew as far as income was concerned.  More dollars per acre was obtained with this crop than any other.  Sure corn, soybeans (called
Jaypan peas) were the main crops along with lesser crops like rye and wheat.  When I
was in the eighth grade, I was offered my first real job "pulling" tobacco as it was called
then for $10/day starting at sunrise and often lasting until sunset.  This was about a 12
hour day in the heat of the summer.  My best week earned me $60 which made me
think I was really rich.  Food items in the 50's cost about one tenth or less than they do
today.  Pepsi Cola cost five cents for a 12 oz and later a 10 oz bottle made with real cane sugar and the taste was really good on a hot day.  I worked for most of the
summer each year through my 11th grade and two of those years I actually lived on my
grandmother's farm during the period and did all kinds of farm chores in addition to the
tobacco harvest.  I learned that hard work did not hurt and help prepare me later when
I entered the real work force.  In those days if you didn't work, you didn't eat; no food stamps or WIC programs.  There was a certain pride that folks had back then that doesn't seem to exist these days.  If a neighbor had financial problems and couldn't work perhaps caused by a medical condition, the local churches moved in and provided temporary assistance to the family until the bread winner could function again.  More often that not the bread winner was the man of the family.

Spare time

The first TV stations, Channel 9 and 7 came on in the early 50's and the world of entertainment changed for everyone in the community. The teenagers still motored
over to New Bern and cruised around the Wiggly Pig and sounded car horns at each other, and maybe stopped and had a couple hot dogs for fifteen cents each and a
nickel for something to drink.  At times some of the friends would ride over to
Minnesott Beach and visit the dance hall and watch the boppers dance
(I was NOT a dancer so I just watched).  During my entire growing up time,
I never heard of a break-in to a personal resident or business.  Everyone respected
each other's property.  In a small town, everyone pretty much knew each person
and they all were on the watch for folks that might not the best intentions.  If an adult
saw a young person misbehaving, they had the unwritten permission to take action
to make sure they straightened up.  Their parents were advised of the problem and
action and often that meant a second punishment.  No one was abused during this
time.  The Principal in every school had a paddle standing in the corner of his office
and all the students knew what could happen if misbehaving led one to that office.
A spanking almost never happened because everyone knew the rules and abided
by them.  A policeman or other law enforcement was respected and feared knowing
a trip to the jail might be the order if necessary.

More to come later......

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State of North Carolina Home Page


New Bern Sun Journal


Raleigh News and Observer





Page construction by:  Carroll Willis