written by Kathy Blue
Coming home again to Downtown Garner is sort of a tradition in my family.
When I was six months old, my mother, Betty Corbett Perry, finally wheedled my dad into moving back to Garner – her hometown. Last year, I did the same thing to my husband. I wanted to be back home in Garner.
In October of 1956, we moved into our first house on Aversboro Road; at the time, Forest Hills Subdivision consisted of a few houses with grass newly covering the red dirt. Our next house, a 1929 brick bungalow on Griffin Street, was in “Old Garner” – the perfect place to grow up. It’s now called Historic Downtown Garner, but since I’ve become an antique over the years, I can live with that. We had a huge willow-oak tree in the front yard where my dad built a large multi-story tree house; it was the scene of many Klingon raids as we flew the Starship Enterprise through the skies of Garner.
In 1961, my dad and my uncle built “Perry’s Folly” – a 14 foot cube with a wooden door that was supposed to be a bomb shelter. Dad was a Marine Reservist, and he figured we needed protection from the “commies” that he knew were on the verge of bombing us. My mother calmly let him destroy the backyard, all while resolutely stating that she wasn’t going in it. She said she didn’t want to spend months in a cramped, dark concrete box with 3 kids and my dad. After the scare was mostly over, we kids ate the k-rations and made a fort on top of the concrete. The bomb shelter still sits in the back yard, but soon it’s coming out of there!
Kids today probably can’t believe it, but when I was young, we were expected to go out and play.
That meant – get out of my kitchen and out of the house! Garner was the perfect backdrop for us to explore and pretend. We played war with Ronnie and Connie Lee, throwing pine cones hand grenades into our respective enemy’s bunkers – across Rand Mill Road and into the ditches where the other team hunkered down with their own huge stockpile of make-believe grenades. We rode bicycles all over Garner – down Avery Street to the school playgrounds, up Creech Road to the tennis courts, and to our friends’ houses all over town. It wasn’t unusual at the time to have your friends ride their bikes a couple of miles to visit.
We played all sorts of ball – kickball, football, baseball, basketball, tennis, and probably more that I can’t remember, with the Lee boys, with Jimmy and Andy Carroll, and whoever else we could scrape up. Not a day went by without a few balls being lost over the electric company’s fence.
The face of Main Street has changed a lot from the days I rode my bicycle up and down it.
Mrs. Guy Penny lived on the corner of Main and Griffin. Next to her house was the Western Auto store, then another shop, and the local barbershop. Beside it was the First Citizen’s Bank, with a small break in the buildings where we ran through Ms. Mary Lee Penny’s yard and into her garden. (This was a great place to put out dime smoke bombs.) Moving down the street, there was the optometrist’s office and then a building that became the Garner Public Library in 1968. On the south corner of Main Street and Rand Mill stood Curley’s Home Supply and on the north corner was the Notions Store. I seem to remember my mother referring to it as owned by Miss Minnie, but I’m not completely sure. (This not being sure of my memories is a more and more common event as I get older.) I spent a lot of time at Stephenson’s Store,buying RC Colas and candy. Lloyd’s Drugstore was down the block, with its paddle fans and hardwood floors and soda fountain. On Fridays, and sometimes more often than that, my dad would give us quarters to buy a scoop of ice cream. I always got lime sherbet, my sister would get chocolate revel, and my brother, chocolate. I miss ice cream on Main Street.
Once you leave our small business district, you’d come to Dr. Buffaloe’s house. Doctor Buffaloe had been Garner’s doctor sometime in the shadowy past. My mother said she went to him as a child, but by the mid 1960s, his house was a huge abandoned hulk. The windows were broken out and when the end blew, the curtains streamed out like ghosts escaping a house of horrors. All of the local kids knew it was haunted. We all rode our bikes as fast as possible past it because we were sure that something horrible would come shrieking out of it. The Buffaloe house was demolished in the early 1970s, but it stood where the Lions club building is.
In 1974 I graduated from Garner Senior High and went on to UNC. After I married in 1978, my husband and I lived briefly in a small house on Penny Street, until we moved down near Benson, where we raised our 2 kids.
But I really longed to be back home.
I enjoyed the quiet of the country, but needed the feeling of being somewhere. In the country, all you could say was you lived in the boonies. Now I can say my HOME is in Garner.
We spent the last few years renovating my family home, lovingly restoring the heart pine floors and plastering cracks. And the more work we did, the harder I worked on coaxing my husband to see how much better it would be to live in Garner, rather than the country. Once he gave in (I’ve trained him well!), we started thinking about renovating my family home as a place for us to live instead of as a property for sale.
I’m volunteering with the Garner Revitalization Association and the Garner Area Ministries, which makes me feel like I’ve got things I can do for this place that is so much a home.