As my now late husband and I rounded the curve while driving over the famous S-Bridge in 2005 for the very first time, I remember thinking what a lovely entry to the quaint town of Hertford.
He and I were considering moving to Northeastern North Carolina from Hatteras Island back then so we were visiting Pasquotank, Perquimans, and Chowan counties to discover which locality was calling our name. We drove through downtown Hertford and parked on Market Street in front of the realty office.
The office was closed so we grabbed a realty magazine from the box out front and walked over to the local drug store where we bought cones of ice cream and a copy of the local newspaper, The Perquimans Weekly (PW).
We sat on the benches outside, thumbed through the magazine, and read the newspaper while enjoying our ice cream. Suddenly the nearby church bells started to chime, surrounding us with inspirational music as we breathed in the local atmosphere. We looked at each other and grinned from ear to ear.
That was the moment I fell in love with Perquimans County. We never made it to Chowan.
With years of newspaper experience under my belt, I told my husband on that visit maybe I could work for the PW one day. Little did I know that in just two short years, my wish would come true.
I was lucky enough to work at the PW from 2007 through Dec. 2012. I did a little bit of everything which is what you do when you work for a small-town community newspaper. While that may sound like a lot of work, it is. But it is also how you get to know the local people and what makes the heart of the community beat.
In short, the wonderful people of Perquimans (mostly) welcomed me into their lives by sharing bits and pieces of their lives with me.
Like the deaf man who constructed a spiraling handmade wooden staircase up to the treehouse he built in a gigantic pine tree. At first, communication was strained (he couldn’t hear my interview questions), but thanks to a pad of paper and pencil, we made it just fine.
Or like the young man who surprised his special lady with a Christmas Day marriage proposal on the local high school’s football field.
Like the mother who worked to keep kids off the streets by organizing non-school cheering squad practices and even held a fancy dress-up ball for local boys and girls to teach them some of the “finer” aspects and manners of life; the precious little girl who suffered from encephalitis and the struggle her family endured; the veteran who was there for us at Normandy; the brave mother who told her story after becoming a local victim of Eugenics; the three heroic firefighters honored for saving a man in a burning house.
Like the business owner who held annual Valentine auctions to help the local Retail Merchants Association. Like the local dress shop owner who thought outside the box and held luncheon fashion shows to help attract customers.
Like the mayor who would dress in vintage costume and hop onto visiting tour buses to escort tourists while directing them to all the hot spots around Perquimans County.
I covered many new business openings and, sadly, many closings as well. Did you know Hertford had a wedding chapel, Asian supermarket, and book store on Market Street? Or a delicious peach orchard out past Belvidere that sold fresh peaches right after picking?
Cars filled with peach lovers would line the road out front as time for the gate to open neared. Customers liked their homemade peach ice cream, too, and loved watching it freeze in churning ice cream freezers.
I discovered that the locals certainly like to have a good time and their hard work and support provided the PW with years of stories and photos: Indian Summerfest, Christmas Parades, Friday Night Concerts on the courthouse square, Summer Night Outdoor Concerts at the Newbold-White House, Farm Tours, Garden Parties complete with linen suits, flowing dresses, and straw hats, NAACP awards and black congregational church meetings, Wagon Train that traveled through the county, Belvidere Days, ALS Walks, Street Dances with live bands, Grand Illuminations, Tag Sales benefiting the local rescue squad, Car Shows, Martin Luther King Jr. celebrations, the sailing of the Miss P, Pig Out on the Green, late-night Paddling of the Perquimans, tail-gating high school sports, band performances and other youth activities, and the burning of the Yule Log at the Newbold-White House.
The Heritage Days at the Newbold-White House taught us how to make dip candles, homemade sausages, churn butter, and fry cracklins over an open flame. Hertford’s 250th Anniversary drew the governor and provided an opportunity for a photo of townspeople which today would resemble a flash mob.
The unique Nicholson House showcased a strolling entertainer during tour dinners. Turns out that entertainer was one of the original Marlboro Men featured in the olden days on tv commercials. He lived in Hertford and boy, could he sing. I bought four of his CDs.
These are just some of the people that make a great local community newspaper. These are just some of the people I remember. These are just some of the people who shared their lives through the newspaper to help others.
It’s not the publishers, editors, reporters, or ad salesmen (or women) who make the newspaper. It’s not the politicians, the political parties, opinion columns, or church sermons that make the newspaper. They’re all nice and good...but...
For me, it was the people. It’s their stories. It’s the dedication to giving them as much information on local issues that affect their lives. It’s about giving them that information accurately, fairly, and in an unbiased manner to the best of one’s ability so that the reader can be informed, decide, and make their own choices.
It’s about listening more than talking or in this case, typing or taking notes.
I know I have left much out of this list. Please forgive me for doing so but, trust me, you are not forgotten.
I haven’t forgotten our local leaders — the county commissioners and town council members who work to better our lives, properties, and community. I also haven’t forgotten our first responders, police, EMS, and firefighters. Or the court system, healthcare system, school system, county/town departments, and highway department! And, I haven’t forgotten our local organizations, local subdivisions, local churches...each has been so critical to the continued success of the PW over the years.
Coverage of the most famous in Perquimans was always important...Catfish Hunter, Wolfman Jack, S-Bridge, Layden’s Country Store, the state’s first wind farm...just to name a few.
I absolutely loved my years at the PW, but I admit I left with a few regrets.
I never got to visit Harvey Point despite being fascinated by all its secrecy. I ventured out there once and parked on the side of the road near its gated entrance, trying to decide whether or not to get out of the car and take a picture of the entrance.
Within seconds of my arrival, a black SUV barreled down the road towards me and stopped near the gate...and waited. Watching to see what I was going to do, I’m sure.
That’s all I needed to see! I fumbled with my purse trying to look like I was lost, then turned my car around and headed back to the office. Never did find out how they saw me approaching but I am sure they must have cameras everywhere! Figured they probably had a satellite or two pointed down at me and listening to everything I said after that. Not that I am paranoid or anything...
I regret that I never wrote a story encouraging replacement of the old-fashioned auditorium seats that were located in the high school auditorium and local county courtroom.
I don’t know if those small wooden seats are still there today (haven’t been there in a few years) but I can attest to how uncomfortable/painful they were (at least for me). And if you are fat like me, forget it. You might get one hip in there, but not two!
Another regret includes the legendary Skip Matthews. As most of us would do, he killed a rattlesnake found on family property. But he wanted to know what it tasted like, so he cooked it on the grill and ate it! His family sent me a picture to run in the paper, so I called and got a little more info from Skip and wrote a story to go with the picture.
Well, the morning after the story and picture ran in the PW, into my office walks the game warden needing a copy of the paper and wanting to talk with me. Apparently, the snake was an endangered species (who knew?) so he eventually charged Skip with breaking the law.
Man, I felt terrible.
A few weeks later, I walked into a local restaurant and passed by a small gathering of elderly gentlemen, all seated in a row and all looking a little like stand-ins for the movie “Grumpy Old Men”. As I walked by the first fella, he looked at me and asked, “Aren’t you that reporter who got Skip Matthews in trouble with the law?”
“Yes,” I answered him, hanging my head in shame. “But, his family sent me the information. I didn’t mean to get him in trouble.”
He just grunted.
So I regret getting Skip Matthews in trouble with the law. Guess I will have to change my tombstone epitaph from “See, I told you my feet were killing me!” to “Here lies the reporter that got Skip Matthews in trouble!”
Seriously, I loved covering Perquimans County. I fell in love with the people, some of the best, most down-home folks you ever want to meet. Thank you for your help. Thank you so much for allowing me to be a part of your lives. Thank you for sharing your stories with me.
Thank you for supporting the Perquimans Weekly, your local community newspaper.
And, whatever you do, please stay away from Harvey Point, please get those old auditorium seats replaced wherever you find them, and please do not kill or eat any endangered snakes!