Monday, January 07, 2013

Gone, But Not Remembered

 The Charlotte we grew up in is quite different from the huge metropolis it is today. It wasn't  really a "small town" but it was small enough to still have many of the charming characteristics of a small town.

The unofficial definition of a small town is, "It's so small that the residents have to take turns being the town idiot." Our town was big enough that we didn't have to do that (although some of us did from time to time).  We had our share of full time characters. I have confirmed this with Don Nance, whose memory of totally useless facts and very forgettable events is even better than mine.

Don worked with one of them when he sold sodas and crackers at the wrestling matches at the Armory Auditorium;  "Jumping John."

"Jumping John" had some kind of physical affliction that caused him to walk in a very exaggerated manner, much like a chicken walks. Actually more of a "jump" than a walk. Otherwise, Don says he was a very nice and bright young man.  In fact, of all the so called "characters" that became fairly well known in our town, there were none that I know of who ever did, or even thought about doing anyone any harm. If you ever attended any events at the Armory, you saw "Jumping John" selling beer and peanuts.

Merchant Marne Flagship
"Walking John."  He lived about a block up from me on East 5th Street. He claimed to be in the "Merchant Marines" waiting for a ship ...that never came in.  He would start out early every morning and start walking.  People would spot him all over town.  It was common to hear people began their conversations by saying something like, "Do you believe I saw "walking John" yesterday on Derita Road or out by the Morris Farm, etc. It was like a competition to see who could spot him the farthest away from East 5th St.

"Crazy Jerry." Jerry was seen all over town pulling a huge wagon full of old newspapers ostensibly  taking them somewhere to sell.  His home base was Stanley's Drug Store on East 7th Street, where, when he wasn't pulling his newspaper cart, he was offering to "Sing Song for a Nickle."  He was totally harmless.

There was the immaculately dressed black gentleman who always sported a rather large bouquet of flowers on his lapel. I don't recall if we had a nickname for him or not, but he was one of our most famous "characters." He even marched in our parades. He was a one man "float."

And speaking of flowers, there was "Mister Thursday."  He would arrive downtown every Thursday with flowers which he would present to one of the lady clerks at all the major department stores.  He never said a word, just presented flowers and left. No one ever knew who he was, or why he did this.

I don't believe the nicknames we gave these characters were in any way meant to be disrespectful. That's just the way we talked back then. For example, one of the great baseball players of his time was "Dummy Hoy."  Dummy is what people called anyone who was deaf back then. Hoy was actually one of the most intelligent players of his time and it is said that he was responsible for the development of the hand signals that umpires use to this day.

His real name was William Ellsworth Hoy and he played center field for Washington and Cincinnati in the late 1800's.  He would correct people who would refer to him as "William," and let them know that he preferred to be called "Dummy."