Hanging out and hanging on in Rocky Mount

“When you’re alone, and life is making you lonely, you can always go…downtown.”

Well, in my case, when you’re down and out about the corruption in your city that doesn’t seem to be getting fixed any time soon, it’s time to take a trip…downtown.

If you’re reading this blog and you’re not from Rocky Mount, NC, let me summarize:  we got a hot mess on our hands here with a city council that won’t fire a city manager who’s betrayed the public trust. It’s documented that her cronyism and mismanagement have cost Rocky Mount big bucks.

The saying goes you can’t fight City Hall, and it seems here we can’t fight City Council. So yeah, I’ve been feeling pretty low about this place I call home.

With so much that is wrong, I decided it was time for a field trip to remind myself of what is right about my city. Tuesday morning I got in my car and headed downtown.

It’s true that downtown is not what it used to be years ago when I was growing up out in the county and came in to shop at Belk-Tyler’s, go to the movies at the Center Theater, eat a hot dog at Almand’s Drug Store, and/or visit with Mama’s friend Annabelle at Bailey’s Jewelry. Back in the 70’s and 80’s, the retail stores moved to the mall just like everywhere else in America.

Nobody’s downtown is what it used to be. Cities everywhere have had to reinvent their core. And that’s what we’ve been trying to do here in Rocky Mount, an endeavor that is reported to have come to a near halt under our current city manager.

But enough with the gloom and doom. I went downtown to remind myself of what has been accomplished. Here are pictures of just some of what’s good about downtown Rocky Mount, North Carolina.


I love our multi-story, modern library. Being an avid reader, I save a ton of money each year by checking out books here. I drive downtown to visit at least every two weeks (due date of checked-out books!).

arts center

Pictured above is the Rocky Mount Imperial Centre for the Arts & Sciences, built after the old Children’s Museum and the Tank Theater were flooded by Hurricane Floyd in 1999. How cool is this renovated building, once a branch of the Imperial Tobacco Company of Great Britain and Ireland?


This is the church I attend downtown on the aptly named Church Street. I’m joined by plenty of other people who worship at not only First Methodist but First Baptist, First Presbyterian, and Church of the Good Shepherd. Did I miss anybody’s church on Church Street?

Okay, let’s head over to the Douglas Block. A lot of people were unhappy about all the money that was spent renovating what was once the hub of the black business community back in the days of segregation, but there is now new life where decay had set in.

bath place

My granddaughter enjoys this little store on the corner, the Bath Place, maker of those bath bombs she and all her teeny-bopper friends love. And if you want a dose of sunshine, stop in to talk to the proprietor, Kimberly Thigpen, who’s got a thriving online business as well as walk-in trade. Read her story on her website. The address is right above this paragraph.

booker t

Growing up, I’d pass the Booker T. Washington Theater on my way from Edgecombe County (country girl!) into downtown Rocky Mount. It was known as the black theater in those segregated days. I went to the movies across the railroad tracks at the Cardinal or the Center.

I was excited when the Booker T. Theater was renovated and open to the public for various functions. After years of riding by, I finally got to go inside.

prime smokehouse

If you live in the area and have never been to eat at the Prime Smokehouse, across the street from the Booker T. Theater, well, you’re missing some good food. My favorite meal there: the smoked beef brisket with sides of mac and cheese and collards. And that whole-kernel cornbread takes me back to my roots.

Close to downtown over on Falls Road is the reinvented Rocky Mount Mills. What’s been done here is a show-stopper. The two-hundred-year-old cotton mill complex has been renovated into a mixed-use area of craft beer pubs and restaurants as well as office and apartment spaces.

koi pond

Above is a picture of the Koi Pond, the first pub to go into one of the old houses on the campus of Rocky Mount Mills. I took the photo below of a close to full parking lot at noon on a Tuesday.

mill parking lot

There’s more I could talk about–the annual downtown Bulluck Warehouse Sale going on right now that draws in shoppers from everywhere, for example–but this post is already more than twice as long as I intended.

In closing, let me say I know things aren’t pretty in Rocky Mount right now. But those of us who love this city need to find bright spots to help us hang on while we hope for better days ahead.

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A Winter Beach

Oh, what a difference a season makes. If you like solitude and serenity, visit Emerald Isle, NC, on a cold January weekend as I did recently. Of course, there’s no fun in the sun, but there are no crowds to contend with either.

Just a lot of lonely beach road.

solitary deer

And a deserted beach.

lonely walker me

That’s me in the beach picture. Photo credit shout-out to my husband, who takes much better pictures than I do.

What could look more abandoned than a winter pool at a North Carolina beach clubhouse? Was it really only five months ago that kids were hurling themselves into the water here, coming perilously close to landing on my head? The water still looks inviting; if only the temperature wasn’t something frigid.

deserted pool

Driving to the Food Lion for my weekend groceries, I noticed the almost-empty parking lot at the Emerald Isle location of Bert’s Surf Shop. I suspect the two cars belong to the employees holding down the fort. Does it pay to be open in winter, I wonder?


The most activity I saw all weekend was outside the entrance to the grocery store. One sign that life in a vacation town can sometimes be as normal as life anywhere: some local Girl Scouts were peddling Thin Mints and Peanut Butter Patties (my favorites), along with all the other varieties. They graciously posed for a picture. I thanked them with a purchase, although, as I explained, my Girl Scout granddaughter has forbidden me to buy from anyone else.

girl scouts

A hibernating winter beach can be the polar opposite of all the summer hoopla, but the ocean is always beautiful. The vacation advertisements call this area of North Carolina beaches “The Crystal Coast.” Look at the sparkle of the water. It’s worth a winter trip just to see that.

winter oceanAnother great photo by my husband, Al Pridgen Jr.

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New Year’s in Key West

Happy New Year. I’m home from ringing in the New Year in the southernmost city in the continental United States, tropical Key West. buoys

The warm, almost hot, winter temperatures were not the only difference I noticed in this Florida town. Key West is sort of an anything goes kind of place. Especially on New Year’s Eve. Of course, I asked for it, joining the mob on Duval Street, the main drag, counting off the seconds for the shoe to drop.

That’s the giant, artificial, very red ladies’ high heel in which Key West’s famous drag queen Sushi annually descends to ring in the New Year. CNN shows up to film, and it’s so crowded on the street in front of the pub where the drop is to happen, it’s scary. I got a photo of the shoe earlier in the night before the midnight mob made it impossible for me to get this close.

the shoe

Key West is known for its drag queens. Not judging, just saying. All night long, people lined up to have their picture made with these “ladies.” Can you pick out the tourist?

drag queens

New Year’s Eve in Key West was the height of weird (my opinion; again, not judging), but there were other signs that I wasn’t in eastern North Carolina anymore. For example, where else do people paint their trash cans?

painted trashcans

In what other town do folks go to the trouble to assemble an RIP 2018 display such as this?rip 2018

In Key West, even the Walgreens is different. No standard brick and mortar here but rather a renovated movie theater.


There was one sign, however, that Key West is still part of the United States and not just a town in La La Land. Even here, the federal government leaves its sometimes ugly mark.

government sign

I’d rather end this blog with a picture of a Key West sunset. Happy New Year.




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Holiday Fun in Halifax County

It’s my last post of the year, and I’m bringing you highlights from one of my favorite holiday activities of the 2018 season. Early in December, my oldest daughter and I spent a Saturday touring historic homes in Halifax County.

The Christmas Homes Tour was sponsored by the Downtown Enfield Restoration and Preservation group (DERP for short). Historic homes dressed up in their holiday finery and open for me to gawk at–definitely my cup of Christmas cheer! Here’s my pretty daughter who paid for my ticket (part of my December birthday present).

darla at house

It took us most of a Saturday to ride from one side of Halifax County to the other to see the six featured homes, but a day spent riding along country roads is good medicine for just about anybody. Before hitting the blacktop, though, we ate a bagged lunch in the little town of Enfield, where I bumped into an old acquaintance dressed for the occasion in her colonial attire.

terry anderson

The clothes weren’t the only colonial touch. Most of the homes on the tour were built in the late 1700’s or early 1800’s, and were period appropriate in their holiday decorations. Which meant I saw a lot of greenery, the real stuff. I’m guessing the magnolia leaves, cedar clippings, and pine branches came out of yards or nearby woods.

I loved how this door was decorated with magnolia leaves and pine wreaths and garlands.

door in greenery

Having a husband who is a hunter, I’m not opposed to a taxidermied head in the house, especially when it can be adorned with a swag of greenery and hung over an antique mantle.


This huge cedar was decked out with mainly white lights and just a few ornaments. I guess in Colonial times these lights would have been candles, lit only for a brief spell on Christmas Eve, but practicality (and safety) needed to prevail. The tiny white lights were lovely and all this magnificent cedar needed.


The last house my daughter and I visited held a surprise. Two sweet carolers, classmates of my grandson, sang carols acapella in front of the fireplace. The simplicity of the performance fit the understated, natural decorations of the house.


To read more about my tour, click on the link to my column in the Rocky Mount Telegram: http://www.rockymounttelegram.com/Patsy-Pridgen/2018/12/23/Enfield-Christmas-Homes-Tour-Offered-More-Than-Expected.html

Thanks to all of you who’ve read my blog this past year. I’ll be back in January.  Merry Christmas!

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The Ghosts of Christmas Past

One good thing about a snow day in early December: being housebound, I got some serious indoor Christmas decorating done. That is, when I wasn’t looking out the window at the exquisite snow globe my backyard had become.snowy backyard

This year, I’m continuing the tradition of putting up two Christmas trees. One features a hodge-podge of ornaments: for example, crafts my young daughters made in kindergarten, Sunday School, Girl Scouts, wherever. The seven-year-old who cross-stitched this Santa stocking in 1985 is now forty years old. I wouldn’t trade these irregular stitches for the finest ornament sold.


I call this hodge-podge tree my memory tree. My Grandma Hinton, who’s been gone for more than thirty years now, made these little felt gingerbread men for one of my first Christmas trees when I was married. Each year I think of her as I hang them together on the memory tree.

gingerbread men

One year, my sister undertook what I consider the labor-intensive task of making dough ornaments. (Anything you have to roll out, cut out, bake, and paint sounds labor-intensive to me.) She gave me a wreath, a reindeer, and this Santa. He’s held up well over quite a few Christmases, considering he spends the off-season sweltering in the attic. That’s a little ceramic Santa in the corner of the picture. I have no idea where he came from.

santa bread dough

Over the years, my mother-in-law has given me lots of Christmas decorations. I became the recipient of her old manger scene when she decided to buy a new one. This is one hand-me-down I’ve loved. The nativity set was sold by Sears, made in Italy, and was marked down to $19.00. I’m getting all this information from the box. I have no idea what year my mother-in-law bought the manger scene or how long she used it, but I’ve had it at least twenty? thirty? years now. I added the colored lights and the angel on top.


Remember the Department 56 villages? For several years, my mother-in-law would give me pieces of the New England Village for my December birthday and/or Christmas. I wound up with quite a collection, so much that I now set it up in two locations. I joke that the village has a suburb. Here’s what I consider the main village (since it has the sign; look closely).

villageI try not to get too nostalgic as I decorate for Christmas each year. But taking these ornaments and accessories out of their boxes and putting them up is definitely a trip down memory lane.



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A Touch of Red

I’m old enough for Medicare, but I’ve caved in to peer pressure. Even though it’s not yet December 1, I’ve hung my Christmas wreath on the front door. With all the Yuletide decorations going up in my neighborhood, I was a little ashamed of my fall wreath, even though it’s still November, people.

best wreath pic

No doubt about it, folks decorate for Christmas a lot earlier than they used to. Add to that the fact that Thanksgiving was in the third week of November this year. Soon after the turkey was served (for the first time), people started putting up the Christmas stuff.

Me, I don’t even want to think about Christmas until all the leftover Thanksgiving stuffing, cranberry salad, and collards are gone—at least a week later.

best nandina picStill, I can’t deny Thanksgiving /fall is shifting into Christmas/winter outdoors. Today, it’s cold and there are touches of red in my yard. In a couple of weeks, I’ll bring in some of these Nandina berries for a Christmas arrangement.


The two holly trees on the side of my house always have beautiful red berries around Christmas. The two holly trees flanking my front door haven’t had any berries in a good ten years. I don’t understand the difference. If the birds are eating them, wouldn’t the berries be gone on all the trees? Why do holly trees that once had berries no longer produce them? Does it have something to do with some kind of missing pollination? Nature can be complex.

holly berries

Inside the house, my Christmas cactus is beginning to flower. Come on, come on, I tell it, you can do it. Burst into bloom for the season, the way you’re supposed to. The way you were blooming the year my husband bought you at my request, instead of yet another poinsettia.

best christmas cactus

Red is the commercial color of Christmas. I’m already seeing lots of it and will see even more as I wade deeper into the holiday season. But the biggest splash of red that’s caught my attention thus far had nothing to do with Christmas.

Back in early November, I was in a Charlotte Chick-fil-A when I saw a lovely young lady in red. “Do you mind if I take a picture of your dress?” I asked. She fluffed her skirt and looked my way.

lady in red

The occasion? I wasn’t sure and hated to further interrupt her lunch by asking. My guess is she was celebrating her quinceañera. In many Hispanic cultures, a girl’s 15th birthday is a big deal. It’s a coming of age thing, sorta like a cross between a debutante event and a sweet sixteen party.

My first vision of red–before the early Christmas decorations or Mother Nature.



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We Gather Together

It’s almost Thanksgiving and in honor of the holiday, I’ve created two fall floral arrangements. Not one, mind you, but two.

This summer, I had a bumper crop of okra. When I boasted about this on Facebook, a friend informed me that if I got tired of eating the stuff, I could dry some pods for decorating. Hmm, I thought at the time and then forgot about doing so. However, I also forgot to pick the last of the crop, and Mother Nature did most of the drying.

Here’s what I salvaged from my garden. I like what I’ve done with these few stalks of dried okra, even though my husband’s comment was a lukewarm, “Well, that’s different.”

Photo by Sammy Bowles (grandson)

Arrangement number two was started at a meeting of the Rocky Mount Garden Club. One of our members, Kathy Hutcheson, demonstrated how to arrange fall flowers and foliage, using a carved-out pumpkin as a base. (She had a vase inside the pumpkin filled with water-soaked florist sponge.) The rest of us tried to copy what she was doing.

I began with a big sprig of nandina out of my yard combined with $8.00 worth of Harris Teeter fall flowers. Later at home I added the pumpkin base, nandina berries, and snips of cypress. I’m really quite proud of how it turned out, although it’s SO BIG I won’t be able to use it as a centerpiece when we eat. No one could see over it to talk to anyone on the other side of the table.

pumpkin arrangement

I haven’t just been flower arranging to get ready for Thanksgiving. I’ve already made two big grocery runs. My frozen 17-pound turkey has been thawing in the refrigerator now for three days and has a couple more to go. I’ve learned from past experience it’s smart to give a big turkey plenty of time to thaw before game time. One year, I was running cold water over a still frozen bird on Thanksgiving morning.


My mother was an excellent cook. In addition to her biscuits and chicken pastry, I’ve never been able to duplicate her oyster dressing. In fact, I’ve given up, and just stir in a can of oysters in my finished Stove Top dressing.

stovetop with oysters

Photo by Sammy Bowles

But I’ve got Mama beat in one area: cranberry. Mama’s idea of cranberry at Thanksgiving was to open a can of the jellied kind (no whole berries), slice it along the lines left by the can, and serve it on a cut-glass plate.

I like to bite into the occasional whole cranberry, so over the years I’ve played with recipes using whole canned cranberries. Here’s one I’ve tweaked:

Cranberry Gelatin Salad (Yield: 8 servings)

  • 1 6-oz. package of cherry gelatin
  • 1 20-oz. can of crushed pineapple (undrained)
  • 2 cans (14 oz.) of whole-berry cranberry sauce
  • 1½ cups of seedless grapes, sliced
  • ¼ cup of chopped pecans

Dissolve the gelatin in 1½ cups of boiling water. Stir in pineapple and cranberry sauce. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.  Stir in grapes and pecans. Pour into 2-quart serving bowl. Refrigerate until firm.

cranberry salad

To read what I’m thankful for this year (last Sunday’s Telegram column), click here: http://www.rockymounttelegram.com/Patsy-Pridgen/2018/11/18/Thanksgiving-Calls-for-Counting-Blessings.html

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all.


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