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GREETING SEASONS: Childhood memories of winter, spring, summer and fall in the Carolina Sandhills

For me, growing up, the changing seasons were a magical time that I remember fondly. Much of my love for science and nature likely came from my marveling at the changes that the world around me underwent each quarter-year. This week we witness such a change as spring turns into summer.

As a child, summer brought the sweltering heat and the knowledge that I’d be able to spend the whole day in the yard. Many flowers would continue to bloom and I would be able to continue my springtime hobby of catching bees.

My favorite part of summer was the thunderstorms. We had several tall and slender pines that would bend in the wind like some oversized blades of grass. During a storm, I would press my face against the glass and watch as the trees would reach the limit of their flexibility and sway against the wind just to be swayed back again. The bigger the storm, the better —in my estimation — and lightning always added the extra touch that made for a good afternoon.

Thunderstorm in the distance, as seen from Morrow Mountain in Stanly County. Photo by William R. Toler – Sandhills Voice

I remember one summer evening in particular. My dad was at a deacon’s meeting and it was just my mom and me. A large thunderstorm blew in quickly and — as usual — I ran, stood on the back of the couch and watched the show.

We had what must have been a nearly ancient tree a few yards from our back window. I remember the lighting hitting the tree in slow motion. The blue ribbon wrapping around the tree, touching the ground, and then reversing. The tree responded by exploding, sending phloem and xylem all over the back porch.

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The most interesting part of the event happened about two feet from my window — and since my face was pressed against it, two feet from my face. A glowing blue tear-drop-shaped ball the size of a softball floated slowly down the side of the house and then disappeared before hitting the ground. I have since learned that this was likely ball lightning.

Thunderstorm approaching downtown Rockingham. Photo by William R. Toler – Sandhills Voice

Among the many accounts of the phenomena is one that was told by my great-grandmother. Apparently, a ball of lightning rolled around her kitchen after falling out of the chimney. As legend has it, she chased it with a broom.

Till this day, fall is the seasonal transition that is, to me at least, the most defined. There is a special smell in the air that only lasts one day and I love it. I immediately remember bobbing for apples, hay rides, cake walks and many other activities that would take place at my church around harvest time. Of course, as a Rockingham city slicker in the 1990s, harvest time was an abstract sort of thing.

Photo by Charlie Melvin – Sandhills Voice

Fall has this magic that reverses the magic of spring. And releases the spooky side of nature. The fallen dead leaves crunch under your feet and Halloween decorations reiterate the season of decay. As a child, I think this time may have been second only to Christmas as far as special times went.

Adjacent to our backyard was a small but very noticeable and somewhat ancient-looking graveyard. I spent many hours exploring the graves and reading the headstones. As an adult, I am fascinated by the past and by the people that lived it. I especially love to find ways that make the past feel closer. I think these walks nurtured that interest in me. As a young child, many times my friends would be uninterested in spending too much time in my backyard. I expect the graveyard had a lot to do with that. Though it could have been my fascination with catching bees.

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Photo by William R. Toler – Sandhills Voice

Winter was cold. That’s obvious. But today I don’t seem to notice winter as the unchallenged cold season that it seemed to be when I was younger. The Sandhills aren’t known for snow but they are known for some snows.

The snowstorm of 2000 is embedded in my memory. We had a foot or more accumulate over the course of the storm. Our power was out for weeks and our only source of heat was a wood fireplace. Our two Yorkies burrowed through the snow that was at least 6 inches above their heads. Only the leashes were visible as they cut through the snow.

Snowstorm of 2000. Photo by Kenny Melvin – Sandhills Voice

Christmas was the highlight of winter and the culmination of the year. I remember going to the yearly candlelight Christmas Eve service at the church. I had hot wax spilled on my hand for several years running. To me, it was part of the tradition and I was slightly disappointed when the church purchased new candle holders without holes in the bottom.

Of course nothing comes close to the excitement of Christmas morning and the time spent with family and friends. One of my most cherished photos is of my mom and me with my first bicycle. I am married now and the magic of this time of the year has gained new meaning. It’s a time to spend with my wife and enjoy new beginnings. Kind of like a new season.

I distinctly remember the start of spring as a child. I would play in the backyard which was filled with many azaleas like some Southern labyrinth. My father rescued most of them from a civic club fundraiser whose ambition was unaccompanied by sales.

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Photo by William R. Toler – Sandhills Voice

The bees were numerous and I would spend what seemed to be entire work days catching them in my little critter cages. I’m not sure that my parents knew the object of my interest in the garden but there you have it. In addition to the bees were various lizards and the squirrels that our Yorkies would terrorize — or maybe it was the other way round.

The enigma that was the pink magnolia at my bedroom window usually was my first signal of the arrival of spring. I call it an enigma because I was told that I’d hurt the tree if I picked the flowers. I stayed away from it out of fear of injuring it. The smell of the single gardenia bush in the yard was so loud you could see it. My mom has always disliked their sweet smell and we were limited to the one bush that came with the house. I did not inherit this dislike.

Photo by Charlie Melvin – Sandhills Voice

My father’s gardening ambition did not end with the maze of azaleas. Sometime before I was born, he built several raised beds to grow veggies. I remember watching him push this old plough that in my 4-year-old mind was missing the mule. He’d hit some adventurous root that found the loose and fertile soil of the garden and fall one way or the other. Eventually, he’d settle on some dotted and squiggly lines that would pass as rows.

One of my most fond memories is sitting on the edge of the garden under a large magnolia tree eating peppers that my dad had just plucked from the plant. Sometimes I get the whiff of capsaicin and get teleported back to that moment.

When one season ends and another begins, I always find myself excited for the upcoming season. My favorite season is whatever season tomorrow will be.

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Correction: This story has been corrected to show the correct year for the snowstorm in photo caption. 1:45 AM 7-1-23

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Charlie Melvin
Charlie Melvin
Charlie Melvin is co-owner and co-publisher at Sandhills Voice Magazine and its sister publication The Richmond Observer. By day he works in industrial education as a manufacturer training specialist and adjunct instructor at a local college.

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