FEATURE PAGE
August 26, 2021




A group of 26 rising seniors – including the author of  Mirrors of a Southern Girl – stand on the front steps of Smithfield High School in 1958: (left to right) in front – Gwen Jones, Judy Coats, Joan Kaye Strickland, Priscilla Lassiter, Nancy Lassiter,
Jo Ann Wiggs, Wade Hamilton; second row – Jackie Bridges, Rebecca Stephenson, Barbara Ann Johnson, Mary Nell Lee, Jack Upton, Glenda Johnson, Mary Jo Warr; third row – Betsy Johnson, Kenneth Woodard, Genevieve Johnson, Staton Boyette, John Allen, Wayne Williams, Bill Stewart; fourth row – Clyda Lynn Boyette, Sashie Skinner, Butch Johnson, Joe Glenn Lee, Brian Langley.

She remembers her growing up
in Smithfield as Miss Mary Nell Lee

Here are a few excerpts from Mrs. Ferguson's Mirrors of a Southern Girl....


From a chapter about her early "School Days":

I had my first school misbehavior in first grade. Mrs. Padgett was my teacher, and I remember liking her. Now the dunce cap was a real thing, and I got to wear it while I sat on a stool in the corner. I had talked. That was probably not a surprise to Mama....


Joe and Louise Lassiter were the custodians for the Smithfield School for all my years.... The most important part of their day was making sure all the students received a kind word or a compliment from them. They seemed to know when I was down, and there would be such a loving response. I don't remember the words, but my soul remembers their love....


From a subsequent chapter, "The Switch Tree":


When I was growing up, we got a whippin' or a spanking when we were bad. Now let me be clear, my face and upper body were never hit. It was my legs or my behind. Often I heard Mama say, "You are going to get spanking when you daddy gets home." I lived in fear the rest of the day.


Outside my parents' bedroom on Fifth Street was a bush. I called it a tree, but it really was a big, bad bush with stinging branches. I would have to go outside to pick a switch for my whippin'. I knew to pick a sturdy branch or Daddy would pick it for me, and I did not want that to happen. I then stripped the leaves from the branch and put it on the kitchen table ready for Daddy when he got home.


From a chapter about going "Downtown":


When we lived on Fifth Street, a highlight of the week was walking ... downtown to the Saturday afternoon movie. It did not matter what was playing at the Howell Theatre. Until I was twelve, I had a dime and a nickel for the movie. It was nine cents for the ticket, five cents for a drink, and one cent for a lollipop. While watching the movie, I dipped my lollipop into my Coke and then licked it....


When I went to the movies, I never thought about the fact that black people could not sit downstairs where I sat. It was just where I sat. I was aware that there were also the colored and white drinking fountains outside the courthouse. I understand I was supposed to drink out of the one marked white. I never questioned why as a
child. Many times as an adult I have asked the question: why did I not know?...


We had two "dime" stores named Rose's and Gregory's.... Perhaps I got my school supplies in one of them. I can remember asking Daddy for money to buy my beginning-of-the-year supplies. My frugal daddy said I probably didn't need a new three-ring notebook because last year's would still be fine. Then he gave me his teasing grin and handed over the money....


During tobacco season time, you made sure to keep your eyes down when walking so you could miss the brown spots of tobacco juice that were spat on the sidewalk. Nasty! You always had to make sure you were not near someone getting ready to spit as it could spatter on you. Double nasty! Walking through town was like going through an obstacle course, and it was not the place to go barefooted.


From a chapter about her "High School Years":


The dating game was very complicated. If you were considered to be popular, you needed to have a date on Saturday night. All week in school I flirted and hoped. The boy would call at home and ask you out, so every time the phone range, I jumped, hoping it was for me.


I dated a lot of boys, but most of them were only one or two times. Maybe those boys did not like spending money on a girl who only kissed goodnight on the third date....


A date was not required for many parties we attended. Girls could go together and have a great time dancing and flirting with boys we liked. We had a sock hop at the Legion Hut, as well as many other parties in this log cabin now called the Neuse Little Theatre....


Those parties are where I learned to dance. We did the bop, which is what we now call the shag. Our slow dance was performed in the waltz position, often cheek-to-cheek with someone you liked. It was very special if you were dipped at the end of the dance....


If there was no party, we could also ride around and end up at Jack's Drive-In Grill, which was located on the corner of Market and Bright Leaf Boulevard where there is now a laundry. Many hours were spent pulling into Jack's, sitting in our cars, maybe ordering a Coke that was brought to the car, looking to see who else was there, pulling back out if we saw no one of interest, riding around again for the purpose of spotting a certain boy's car, and then back to Jack's in hopes we might be lucky. Lucky simply meant seeing a boy we liked.


Of course, there's lots more from where those excerpts came.