You felt safe and loved in this place. But sadly, that small-town charm diminishes when you grow up and move on. As anything else, things looked grand and bigger than life, as it did for me back in the late-1950s. Growing up in Spruce Pine was the best years of my life, and memories still flood my mind from time to time.
I write this as I remember and look back. The world has changed and generations have passed on, but let me tell you about the little town I grew up in and how proud I was to call Spruce Pine home.
I was not born in Spruce Pine. My dad was in the military and stationed in Fort Jackson, South Carolina, which is where my older brother and I were born. Both my parents came from Mitchell County. My grandfather Duncan owned Spruce Pine Lumber and my grandmother and grandfather Grindstaff had a post office, grocery store and shoelace company called Kalmia Braids. My grandfather Grindstaff owned the mineral rights to The Emerald Mine at Crabtree and on weekends as a small child, I went to the mine and watched my grandfather go into the mine and walked the many beautiful places around there with my grandmother. She was a true rock hound and shared the love of finding such a beautiful and rare thing as an emerald.
If you wanted a good meal or a great place to stay it was Baker’s Motel and Restaurant, where the chocolate pie was most memorable and all my birthday parties there were so special. Our family ate there a lot and afterward we walked across the bridge to school. Scary thoughts for us sometimes, but I have great memories of the freedom brought by walking to school. After school we stopped off at Rexall Drugs on lower street to get a great milkshake. There was also Days Drugstore, where when walking in the door, a barrel of Lifesavers hit you square in the face.
As I walked around town before returning home, I passed many wonderful stores like Wellborn’s, McCall’s, Peebles, Carl’s, Belk, Wilma Eloise and J.R. Garland’s (all clothing stores). Oh, and later, The Closet.
The News Center is where my dad got the newspaper on Sunday and I use to go buy a licorice stick and a frosty root beer in a cold mug, and sitting on the corner in a round seat that swiveled made me feel like I was really something.
The Dime Store (sweet Mr. Kahn) was on my walk, usually first, because I though Mr. Kahn was my lucky leprechaun. He was small in stature, but big in heart. One year I talked him into buying many colored baby chicks for my siblings, which I hid from my parents until one night they all got out and hid inside a hole in the basement wall and woke up my mother. The 5-and-Dime was also a source of freshly popped popcorn.
I would walk by looking in all the store windows, which were so beautiful to me. I had to stop on Upper Street at Lantz Jewelry to look at all the pretty “gold” charms and talk to Mr. and Mrs. Lantz, who always made time to chat. And Riddles on Lower Street beckoned me at the door as well. There were grocery stores like the Mayland Meat Market, Westall’s and Hickeys. Drive-ins such as Don’s (my favorite for everything) and as I got older, Saturday nights were spent sitting at the best spot to show off your car or date. Gloria and Don loved to see us coming because we were big eaters. We also had our time circling the City Drive-In and the Circle Drive-In on the Chalk where dad drove us on Saturdays and became a hangout in later years when we got our driver’s license and “circled the Circle.”
Also downtown was Young’s Restaurant, where at the booth you could play music in your own juke box by putting in a dime.
I remember the furniture stores such as Duncan’s, Peebles and Ray Howell, and gas and service stations for your car such as Canipe’s, Burleson’s, Taylor’s Buick, the Ford dealership, Shook’s Auto Repair, Spruce Pine Tire and Goodyear, where, on occasion, they flew helium balloons that flew by my house.
Brad Ragan, who hired most of Spruce Pine, was such a kind man.
I remember the flowers mom ordered for special occasions from Beck’s Flowers, Spruce Pine Florist and Lakeview Nursery where Ms. Rita and Jimmy Phillips would always greet you like family and Rita would come to the house to plant the flowers for mom.
If you needed fuel to heat your home, it was Blevins Oil and Riddle Oil, and there was Burleson’s on the hill for plumbing, which we saw often.
Beauty shops such as Ann’s, Pat’s and Helen’s did my hair as I got older and was required to wear it up as a majorette. My brothers went to the barber shop (Mr. Hall), which I snuck in on occasion to get a sucker.
I have to mention my favorite weekend place, The Carolina Theater, where I saw Roy Rogers and my favorite people – the sweet lady who took up tickets and smelled amazing as her perfume drifted outside the tiny window, and the kind man who worked there did everything from running the projector to working the snack bar would shine a flashlight on me if my boyfriend gave me a kiss. And who could forget my sweet Mr. O.D. Calhoun, who I am sure learned a lot from the new generations as time had marched on from famous country bands to movies like James Bond.
I could go on and on and I know I left a lot of people and places out, but I wanted the public to know how wonderful it was “back in the day” and give credit to the many families that sacrificed to make the town what it was.
Things have changed since the late-1950s, as one would expect, but the spirit of the place lives on. Many people saw Spruce Pine as I did, which was “a place to call home.” Many are still there and stayed to raise their children, and their children’s children. May we never forget the place we grew up and called home. I will never forget where life was good and everyone knew your name.