Memories of a lost childhood friend

“Leave It To Beaver” with a “Mayberry” accent. That is how I often describe childhood for many of us growing up in this community over a half-century ago. A newspaper obituary leapt from the pages a few days ago when I was saddened to note the death of a childhood friend, Camille Moss Ballard. I was reminded of a good person, and growing up here during those times.

Kids lacked the sophistication of later generations long before smart phones put the information superhighway, and parents, at one’s fingertips. Finding a pick-up ball game, a creek, games of kick the can, or anything else away from our mothers’ domain, could absorb us for hours. Dads, of course, were busy at work.

The Beatles-led British musical invasion of the early 1960s enthralled many young people. Almost every girl from age 7 to 27 was sure that John, Paul, George or Ringo could be her boyfriend. At age 8, Camille and her friends were no different. Naturally, that invited opportunities for boys to tease. Along with my partner in mischief at the time, Allen Schnell, we assured Camille that the “mop-haired” Englishmen were awful.

Camille and her sisters’ mom, Evelyn, and my mom, Nancy, became pals while my dad was serving in the Korean War; and the friendship extended to our families. Camille and I were among the long line of kids marching into First Baptist Church’s sanctuary during Vacation Bible School on June mornings long ago. Later, our families shared beach trips to Ocean Drive.

Camille could give as well as she took, though. Once, in response to some of my teasing, Camille threatened to have her granddad lock me up in jail. It seemed plausible enough to me at age 9 as Camille’s granddad, Mr. Mack Wallace, served as Richmond County’s chief jailer for many years.

One time, Mr. Wallace conducted several of us kids on a tour of an unoccupied area of the 1910-era jail. The sound of a cell door clapping shut was sobering, especially as Mr. Wallace watched us very seriously with the keys in his hand. He ran a tight ship, too, as our jail was one of N.C’.s few local facilities approved for housing federal inmates when necessary. I walked the proverbial “chalk line” around Camille — at least for a while.

A retired educator, wife and mother, Camille is missed by so many. As she departs us at age 62, I recall my granddad’s passing at 62.

Old to an 8-year old. But, amazingly, so young now.

Douglas Smith lives in Rockingham and is a frequent writer of letters to the editor.