The Vagabond – Growing up in Gadsden, Part 8


Author’s note: Robert Elton recently sent The Vagabond his memoirs of growing up in Gadsden. Robert is originally from Gadsden and graduated from Gadsden High School. He studied broadcast production at Auburn University and went on to work for South Carolina Educational Television Network. Robert and his wife Jean Pearce Elton live in Orangeburg, South Carolina.

Episode 14

A funny thing happened on the way to Gadsden

When I got married in 1956 and moved away, my mom and dad found themselves in an empty nest. Dad passed away in 1962, and as a widow, Mom would usually have a “Honey-Do” list waiting for me when we visited.

Mom had been having trouble with her doorbell, so I decided to buy her a new one. My brother and I knew just enough about electricity for both of us to be a danger to mankind, but we decided to install it ourselves.

I crawled up into the attic and hooked the transformer into the house wiring and then yelled down to Bill to push the button at the front door.

Nothing happened.

I checked my connections to see if they were good and tight, then went downstairs and pushed the button myself.


We stood there scratching our heads when for some reason, I decided to turn on the front hall light. When I flipped the light switch, we heard, “Ding, Dong!”

We bent over double laughing. When he finally caught his breath, Bill said, “Run to the kitchen and turn on the water faucet to see if the light comes on!”

The following story is basically true. However, I admit that over the years I’ve embellished it somewhat to make it funnier. Actually, I never let the facts get in the way of a good story.

My mother lived alone for several years after Dad died, but Mildred Landers, a family friend and the wife of Gadsden’s former fire chief Clyde Landers, would check on Mom just about every day.

When on occasion my mother had to be admitted to the hospital, Mildred would call one of us and let us know what room she was in and what that room’s phone number was. Mother always checked into the old Holy Name of Jesus Hospital because of its excellent care, and she always got a private room with a phone so her long distance children could check on her.

One night, Mildred called me in Columbia, South Carolina, to let me know that Mother was in the hospital. She gave me the room’s phone number.

I threw some clothes into a suitcase and asked my wife Jean to call my brother Bill in California and give him what we thought was my mom’s room phone number.

It turned out to be the number for patient information.

When Bill called, thinking the phone was right next to Mom’s bed, no one answered for a long time. He was calling late and visiting hours were over, so apparently the desk at the patient information booth was not manned.

Finally, a man happened to walk by and picked up the phone. Hearing a male voice seemingly from Mom’s private room late at night took my brother by surprise.

“Uh…is this The Holy Name of Jesus?” To which the man replied, “Oh, no sir! Why, I’m just the janitor!”

Episode 15

People who need people

At the beginning of this series, I mentioned that it is the people who make Gadsden what it is today. There are good people all over this little metropolis, good Southern folks willing to help others in need, even strangers. These same people may not even realize how much their actions helped shape the lives of the people around them. Several Gadsden people made a difference in my life. Maybe some that I mention have made a difference in yours as well. I was fortunate to choose the right friends early on.

As incoming freshmen at Gadsden High, we all came together in the school auditorium to be welcomed by Mr. F.T. Dobbs, the school’s principal.

We could sit wherever we wanted during the assembly, and I happened to sit next to a blonde-headed guy I had never seen before. It only took about a minute to feel like I had known him all my life.

As we waited for Mr. Dobbs to begin, this boy was cracking one-liners left and right. It was my kind of humor. His name was Kenneth Herlong, and we soon became best friends for life.

It was an odd match. Kenneth was well-disciplined with a strong work ethic, while I was just a happy-go-lucky immature sort of kid with few social skills. Kenneth did not know it, but I watched the way he handled his schoolwork and the way he helped his mom and dad at home. Kenneth wasn’t perfect, but who is? He went on to become an accountant and later taught the subject at Gadsden High and Gadsden State.

In our later years, he told me one day that if I didn’t go to his funeral, he would not be coming to mine. That’s what he said – our brand of funnies.

Ken passed away a few years ago. Yes, I attended the celebration of his life and heard many of his former students and friends praise him for his influence upon their lives.

When it’s my turn to check out, I’m thinking Ke-nneth and I will be sitting in the balcony, celebrating with our wives.

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