As I sit here on this spring morning in May 2015, my mind returns to the past.The past that I refer to is 40 years ago. I would like to take this time to tell you about my county — but as I write these words I have to say that this is not my county, it is our county.
These words come from the mind of a young — at that time — Marine. I came here in early 1975 with Bo Grooms, we had been stationed together at the Marine Recruit Depot at Parris Island, South Carolina. This was Bo’s home.
The day was not unlike today, it was a cool spring day. I remember the day well. It was Saturday and we had weekend leave. We at that time lived for the weekends and the ability to get away from the island.
It did not take many weekends; I was hooked. I knew after one day I would live here in Richmond County.
As I lived my life, I did pay attention to my surroundings and what was taking place here in Richmond County. In the mid-1970s we had everything that a county needed — we had great jobs and a great people. We still have great people, but the jobs have slipped away.
People had money and they had no problem spending it, things were good. My first job here in Richmond County was at Tartan Boat Company in Hamlet. I worked on the 37 hull, it was a nasty job but it helped pay the bills.
After taxes, I made about $80 for a 40-hour work week. I had rented a small single-wide mobile home off of County Home Road. The rent was $125 a month. Gas for the car was about 60 cents a gallon. When I went to the grocery store, I had a budget. I spent $25 a week for food. The trunk of the car was full, and I ate good. Now you’re lucky if you get half a bag for that same $25.Things were good for the whole county.
If you did not like the job that you had and you quit, it was not a problem; you had a job the next afternoon. There were so many jobs at that time it was unbelievable. We has mills on every corner, we had Clark Equipment. The railroad was running hot and heavy.
By the early’ 80s it was even better. We had two theaters and we even had three steakhouses. We got pork fried rice and egg rolls when Henry and Mary Fong came to town. They opened up Fong’s, our first Chinese restaurant. In 1982 we were voted an All-American City. The people of the county had such great pride, as well they should.
That pride still lives. Even though it might be a bit tattered and torn, it still lives on.
During the late ‘70’s and early ’80s, the modern-day carpetbaggers made their way to our county. They came in the form of union organizers. They helped in such a way that I find hard to describe. They pushed greed into the minds of the workers of Clark Equipment.
One of my friends bragged that the union organizers had told the workers that we, the organizers, can have you right up there with Detroit. (We know where Detroit is today.) The union can help get you another $6 an hour. All you have to do is just listen to what we tell you, it will be great. With our union we can help bring Clark’s down, so they will negotiate on wages. I know there was a whole lot more to this , but this was the start.
My friend told me that at times, all he had to do was take one screw out of his machine and it would be down for eight to 14 hours . Reason for this was then, all he had to do was to sit there until it could be fixed. What the hell was he thinking? When he lost his job, I had no sympathy for him. He helped destroy himself.
Clark Equipment was one of the best things that had ever happened to Richmond County. This was one of the best-paying jobs that would ever come to this county. All it took was a group of foolish employees to show us how well we had it.
As the clock of time was ticking in the early ’80s, we were introduced to the Lady of the ’80s . Her name was Cocaine. She promised nothing but good times. She was the feel-good drug. “You can’t get addicted to me. I’ll make you happy.” She was a lying witch. She helped destroy so many families here in this county.
The scars of this tramp of a drug live on today. She made the county weak. We were starting to slide into a pit of personal hell for some of our citizens. Some never climbed up and out of that pit.
There were others in the county that never saw this side of hell. Only by the grace of God did they not fall into this nightmare of a black hole. So I say today, count your blessings.
In the mid- to late-’80s, things were starting to change. In the mid-80s, I started to see more and more Mexicans coming to our county. I had no problem with this, for I saw a good, hardworking people. These were the poorest of the poor just trying to have a better life and feed their children. Who could fault this?
I could not.
In the late’ 80s I draw a blank, for my mind was a total mess. I was trying to get over my divorce. I can blame no other, for it was all my fault. Just young and dumb.What can I say? But I was not alone. Far too many of our young couples during that time period just did not make it.
In the early ’90s, Clinton and his dagger of death cut Richmond County’s collective throat. He did this with NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement. Remember all the mills I boasted of ? We all know where those jobs went — south.
It did not all fall apart overnight. Tiny steps, ever so tiny of steps. But it all added up in time. We in time lost all of our steakhouses. Do you want to go to the theater? Better get ready to go out of town, for as you know, they are gone.
We lost a lot of jobs, we lost a lot of our citizens. Mainly we lost our children, for they could not support themselves or their young families on minimum-wage jobs. But all was not lost. The jobs came back, in the form of the Dollar Menu.
We still need people to flip burgers. Wal-Mart needed employees. I don’t think they get any overtime, but they still have a job. The American citizens — our children that we lost — they had to move on. Well, their place was filled with the illegal aliens who came in.
Only there is a small problem with that. They can’t speak the language. Most of them do not want to be Americans, and Obama’s administration has taught them about our welfare system. So, we slip just a little deeper into the hole of lost hope.
With all of this said, I have not lost hope for our community. We are a strong Southern people, and I am so proud to call myself a citizen of Richmond County. With all the turmoil that is taking place in many other states and communities, we here in our county get along.
Be ye black, white or brown-skinned, we for the most part do show each other respect. As it should be. Life at this point in our country’s history is hard. It’s hard to make a living, I know this only too well with this retail shop of mine. I also know that we cannot despair for one moment. All is not lost.
We will just try harder. We are Americans, we know what it is to do without. We are a strong people. We will fight our way out of this.
We will be back on top. This county might have to struggle a bit, but it will all turn around. The power of God is with each and every one of us. God bless our Richmond County.
Robert Lee is a concerned citizen and former U.S. Marine who owns and operates Rockingham Guns and Ammo. His column appears here each Saturday.