My maternal grandmother lived in the west end of old Hampton during the 1940s and 50s.
This was a beautiful, older neighborhood with tree-lined streets and sidewalks bordering spacious yards of old Victorian homes tucked behind 50-year-old boxwoods and shaded by ancient oaks.
In many respects West End, as it was known, was like many neighborhoods in the pre-World War II era. It was virtually self-contained. The neighborhood boasted two independent grocery stores, a century-old drug store, a doctor’s office, three churches, an automobile repair shop, a confectionary and a radio repair shop.
If residents of West End needed additional resources a wooden footbridge ran from the end of Melrose Avenue over Hampton Creek to Queen Street, providing access to downtown Hampton.
As a young boy I would often spend weekends with my grandmother and would enjoy running errands for her, including visits to Jones’s grocery store where I would present a short list to Mr. or Mrs. Jones and return home with a bag containing bread, milk, fruit, peanut butter, cereal and other small items my grandmother needed during my stay with her.
One of my favorite assignments was to be sent to Nelson’s Confectionary on hot, summer afternoons, to purchase two cones of “two scoops” of strawberry ice cream that my grandmother and I enjoyed in the comfort of her front porch rocking chairs.
By far, my most important assignment was to sit on the front porch early on Saturday morning, watching for Old Angus. Up and down the street other neighbors were also on watch.
Without exception, Old Angus would appear, sitting stooped on the seat of his old wagon, his tired, old mule plodding slowly along the route he knew so well.
On seeing Angus, I would call out to my grandmother and run down the steps to greet the old man I had known forever. His heavily creased, deeply tanned face etched with erosion of hard work and many years in the fields always broke into a smile as he lifted me onto the seat of the wagon.
The wagon on which Angus sat had once been painted green but the weathering of the years left few signs of paint. Metal clasps and wheel rims were heavily rusted but still functional.
Inside the wagon were wooden bushel baskets that held the treasures so valued by the neighbors: beautifully ripened tomatoes, corn, green peppers, freshly dug white and sweet potatoes, collard greens, green beans, okra, cucumbers, beets, turnips, hot peppers and many other seasonal vegetables.
In the front of the wagon was a large, straw-filled basket containing dozens of large, brown eggs.
With the wave of a neighbor’s hand, Old Angus would tug gently on the reins, give a low “whoa” to the old mule and slowly, almost painfully dismount the wagon.
A scale and metal basket suspended on the back of the wagon was used to weigh customers’ purchases. And customers would cheerfully hand Old Angus one or two dollars for what seemed like a wide variety of vegetables. Change, if required, was always refused as customers much valued the service Old Angus provided and loved this dear old man who was so much a part of their lives.
As I grew into my teens I lost track of Old Angus, but later learned from my grandmother that on word of his passing, the West End of Hampton turned out in large numbers to say a final goodbye to their dependable old friend.
I still value my time on Old Angus watch.