I was 8 years old in 1956. Although I lived on a small farm 2 1/2 miles southeast of Darlington, I was in town just about every day. I would tag along with my dad, who could always find some excuse to drive to town, either to take grain to the elevator, have a cup of coffee at the restaurant, stop in at the drug store for a pack of cigarettes, visit Warren's Hardware, get a haircut at Slim's barber shop, play a game or two of pool at the cigar store, check in at Cox's gas station to hear the latest gossip and jokes, go to the bank, visit the American legion hall for a game of cards . . . well, you get the idea. It was a needed break from the daily grind of working on the farm. I can't even imagine how many miles Dad put on that old Dodge pickup traveling back and forth to Darlington. Sometimes he let me sit on his lap and steer and shift the gears as he pushed in on the clutch. Most of time I rode in the back, and many times I laid on top of the cab as he drove down County Road 400 North at his usual pace of 30 mph.
It seemed like Main Street was always packed with cars and trucks. Many times Dad had to park on North Franklin as there were no parking spaces on Main. The many businesses were bustling with activity, and there were always people sitting on the numerous benches out front. In the evening, the town was often more crowded than the daytime, as the townsfolk and farm families would head to town for some ice cream, a soft drink, an evening snack . . . or just to shop as several businesses stayed open until 8 or 9 p.m. Many kids would also be downtown after sports or other school functions, often congregating at the drug store or restaurant. Of course, Friday and Saturday nights were always busy. The Sunshine Theater was usually jam-packed for the movie crowd.
I always enjoyed going to Darlington as a youngster. I often think about those days, and what kids of today are missing. You won't have any problem finding a place to park in town today. After the school was closed, along with the advent of large discount stores, fast-food restaurants, malls and "big business" corporate enterprises, the local stores started losing customers . . . and eventually closed. The buildings that housed the "Mom and Pop" stores have been converted into apartments. Like other towns in Montgomery County, Darlington is, for the most part, a bedroom community.
Today's kids are at home in a technology dominated world of phones, PlayStations, iPads, computers and television. Instead of visiting with friends at the drug store, they are texting their friends on their smartphone . . . so sad. In the 1950s, I was with people of all ages, gaining social skills, developing lifelong friendships, learning about life from the older generation, and having FUN!
Thanks, Dad, for letting me ride with you to town . . . I had a great time!

John "Butch" Dale is a retired teacher and County Sheriff. He has also been the librarian at Darlington the past 30 years, and is a well-known artist and author of local history.