Commentary: The way things used to be

Marshall A. Mays

Commentary: The way things used to be
December 13
00:55 2018

By Marshall A. Mays

I never thought I would agree with my grandfather, but I must say: I like the way things used to be.  There have been so many changes in Winston-Salem since I was a youth.  I could write on this subject at much greater length, but I am confined to few words.  I am writing of Winston-Salem as it was in the 1980s to early 1990s.  

When I was a youth, Winston-Salem was a great tobacco processor.  It enriched those who worked for R.J. Reynolds.  I was drawn to cigarettes by the huge iconic Joe Camel that looked down from billboards all over the city.  By the grace of God, I quit smoking before I did any damage to my body.

If only scientists could figure a way to remove from tobacco the chemicals that can cause cancer.  Smoking tobacco was such a pleasure.  It suited me splendidly, until I realized it could wreck my health.

Yes, tobacco is a dangerous product.  I must tell the truth, however.  The smell of tobacco curing in downtown Winston-Salem, and spreading for miles around was always a wonderful smell for me.  It was better than the smell of beer brewing, or coffee percolating.

When I was 16, I resorted to a dilapidated picnic table that sat amidst many rails of train track.  There were five or six lines that were actively used by freight trains.  I sat at this picnic table for hours at a time writing literature.  I wrote prose and poetry.  I continued writing there for three of four years.  I can no longer do this.  The table is gone and all but one of the tracks have been removed.  Some city group has restricted the free exploration of the poets in our city and they have constructed fences for miles along these tracks.

There was a Subway restaurant that survived for over a decade in the business complex known as Mercantile Plaza.  I had a friend who was mentally ill.  His fixed income didn’t allow him much disposable cash.  He managed to ingratiate himself with the manager of this sandwich shop.

 My friend would remain in the near vicinity of the restaurant all day. Every hour he would sweep the floors of the business.  He would take out the trash.  In return for these services, the employee who happened to be working would allow my friend to fill his large cup with any beverage he desired.  He worked.  He filled his drink about every hour.  I could always manage to find my friend there.

There were a number of beautiful but isolated places that I discovered, and brought my friends, in the city of Winston-Salem.  One of these places was the pasture beside The Children’s Home.  I witnessed an almost limitless number of sunrises while sitting among peacefully grazing cattle there.  Another place was the train trestle where I concluded hundreds of satisfactory days while viewing brilliant purple, pink, an scarlet sunsets.  I led my more adventurous friends through a labyrinth of scrub pines, sticker bushes, and thick tangles of vines, to emerge at the edge of a huge rock quarry.  These picturesque places were the settings of much of my youth.  

Marshall A. Mays is a writer who is a lifelong resident of Winston-Salem.  As we close in on the end of another year, and remember the past, I would like to share with The Chronicle readers a small snapshot of my history in Winston-Salem.

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