Completed 14. Visit Hamlet, North Carolina
My dad is from a small town called Hamlet, North Carolina. He’s very proud of where he grew up. I wish I could describe the joy on my dad’s face when he talks about Hamlet or goes back to visit. He’s in his element and I love to see it. I’ve only been there a handful of times for funerals or family obligations, but I’ve never actually visited it as an adult to explore it by myself.
After a six-hour drive to the sleepy town, my first stop was Dobbins Heights Cemetery. Most of my dad’s side of the family — my grandfather, my uncles, and my grandmother — are buried here. The only time I ever visit, a family funeral is typically taking place, so it was nice to experience it from a different point of view. I was able to enjoy the serenity of being alone in the cemetery and quietly paying my respects.
A few miles away from the cemetery is downtown Hamlet, which has a really interesting history. It used to be a bustling train city, known as “The Hub of the Seaboard.” Unfortunately, as the train business slowed down and paths diverted, the city went into decline.
I visited the renowned train station, a location many travelers in the last century have had to pass through in order to make their way either north or south. The station, which is still active, looked really great. I took the tour and spoke to the staff, who were really informative. I also got to see a snapshot of what the city used to look like back in the ‘60s. The best part is the museum has a miniature toy train station, modeled after Hamlet in its prime.
No trip to Hamlet would be complete without visiting one of my oldest living relatives, my 94-year-old Great Aunt Missy. This woman is a legend, not just in my family, but in the town. I’m not sure I know a nicer or more caring person. She even had the physical scars to prove how far she would go to help someone out — requiring multiple knee replacements later in life because she would walk all of the way across the town to visit someone else in need. And she didn’t just care for humans. Aunt Missy took in stray neighborhood animals, always making sure they were fed. After she and Lyssa first met ten years ago and bonded over food, she sent Lyssa a sweet potato pie and hundreds of recipes. When my parents would visit, she made them take little gifts for us, whether it was hand sewn aprons or harvested walnuts from her tree.
Aunt Missy, real name Lillie Ann, lived in Hamlet her entire life and has been living in the same house since the ‘30s. Yes, 1930s! She was a little shocked when I showed up at her door, but typical Aunt Missy, she warmly welcome me and immediately took me into her kitchen and asked me if I wanted something to eat… over and over again. My dad warned me about this, but I wasn’t ready for it. I had some food, but had to politely decline more times than not.
We sat at the kitchen table and talked for about an hour and a half. There was something particularly great about visiting her house, I got to see her in her element, which was great, since I usually only see her when she’s at my parents’ house. I got to learn even more about my family and from someone who has been around to see it all. When you talk to someone that age, you can’t help but be amazed thinking about all of the things they’ve been through. Think about it… when the Civil Rights movement was going on, she was in her forties. That’s just crazy.
I eventually had to leave, but she didn’t let me go empty handed. She made me take homemade pear preserves, pie, and more walnuts from her tree.
The worst part of the trip was the feeling that it might be my last time I would talk to her and unfortunately I was correct. Aunt Missy passed away a couple months later. During her funeral, we heard even more stories that increased her legend, like her basketball prowess in high school, how she taught a neighbor boy how to dance for his prom, and her dedication to volunteering at the hospital. There’s not a day that goes by I don’t think about her. I still miss her.
Though I never lived there, with all of my family connections, I feel like there’s a small part of me in Hamlet and understanding these connections was one of the reasons I wanted to visit and added it to my 2014 bucket list.