Family generations have watched the region change

by Kathy Blake

Editor’s note: This is a chronicle of life in a pocket of northwestern Mecklenburg County in no hurry to grow up. It’s about how one man has watched his family evolve to five living generations of men. And about how landmarks and gathering places can be bulldozed in the name of progress, but family remains solid, uninfluenced.

Mike Puckett, left, and his father Ed Puckett have five generations of men alive in their family, and the lives of each have been different from the one before. The story on page 12 tracks the lives of each in the family. (Martina Helton/MI Monitor photo)

Each life is a different story, bonded to the others by blood and telephone lines. Their roots are in Shuffletown and Long Creek, where the oldest, Ed Puckett, was born 88 years ago in a house off Beatties Ford Road, near Lakeview and Vance. It’s a place still ripe with horse pastures and baled hay in fields, where the two-lane road remains.

“Part of the house is still there, but it’s just about fell in,” he said. “It was a one-story house. Mama and Daddy moved from there when I was about 6 years old. Went over to Reames Road.”

Puckett and his wife of 67 years, Lois, had two daughters and a son. The boy, Mike, has sons named Robert and Scott. Robert has a son, Robbie, and daughter, Courtney, who is the mother of 1-year-old Gavin. Five generations.

When Ed was a child, time was measured by physical labor. People survived through the work of their hands, not the click of mouse. They grew food, chopped wood for heat, built and fixed things with muscle and Southern know-how.

“I can’t even visualize what life will be like for Gavin,” Ed said. “It’s not going to be as simple as mine.”

“His future probably will be in a tall building somewhere,” Lois said, “with a computer in each hand.”

Ed Puckett

Mount Holly-Huntersville was a dirt road. There wasn’t any Interstate 77.

“We didn’t have no electric lights, and we had a telephone line with nine parties on it,” Ed said.

Life was lived from sun-up to sundown, with work, school and later, a little bit of courtin’. Lois, 87, was born in a house on First Street in Charlotte, and the two went to school at Long Creek High.

“I don’t know if you’d call us dating, then,” Lois said. “We went to church together on Sunday night. We’d just get together with a lot of people. Whoever had a car, we’d go.”

The two still live off Beatties Ford, just south of Mount Holly-Huntersville. “I been right here in this community for 78 years. Moving ain’t never crossed my mind,” Ed said. “I’m at home right here in Long Creek.”

Ed was in the Army from 1945 to 1946, stationed in Missouri. They let him go, after his second child was born, to be a family man. He visited Missouri once more, while working for the A&P grocery, which also sent him to Gastonia for nine years. Back then, an employee had to relocate.

Ed worked 31 years with A&P as a meat cutter. He stays busy now with his garden, cutting grass, singing bass in the St. James Male Chorus gospel group.

“Been there 54 years,” he said. “Been singing all my life, I reckon.”

Their daughters, Carol and Brenda, live nearby. So does Mike.

“Life was really simple,” Lois said. “Plowing with a mule, gardening – it was hard work, but it was simple. People think there’s life on other planets. I don’t much think there is. But then, I didn’t think you could pick up a phone and talk to someone miles away.”

“The good Lord’s been good to us,” Ed said. “I’ve seen a lot of things in my lifetime.”

Mike Puckett

Mike, 66, and his wife, Marsha, 60, live in Shuffletown, toward where the Catawba River eases lazily past tree-lined roads and single-family boat docks. There was a bait ‘n food store, with a family-owned gas station, on the corner of Mount Holly-Huntersville and Rozzelle’s Ferry, but the place was leveled in 2004. A Goodwill took over.

“You could get bait, fresh meat, minnows, all that,” Mike said. “And across from it, where the Bi-Lo is, that was a broom straw field. Down a little bit, toward new (highway) 16, that was a dairy farm.”

The Shuffletown dragstrip, on Belhaven, was silenced in 1992, when residents of new, vinyl-sided neighborhoods grumbled about noise. The Shuffletown Grill, opened in 1958, remains.

“I grew up in Long Creek, but my wife and I have been out here 17 years. She was raised on Statesville Road. We’ve seen a lot of change,” Mike said.

He mentioned the Wal-Mart, at Highway 16.

“There was a lake, a little fishing pond back there,” he said. “Caught the biggest fish I ever caught. A 5-pound bass.”

Like his daddy, Mike worked as a meat cutter for A&P, then for Bi-Lo. He graduated from North Mecklenburg High in 1964, then landed in the Army, during the Vietnam War. He served in Germany.

“One of the fortunate ones,” he said.

He lost seven classmates to Vietnam.

Mike’s childhood had a black-and-white television, with two channels. And an AM radio. They grew their own vegetables.

“We had a work horse named Nellie. All she’d do was eat, poop and plow,” he said.

The only boy, he used the saw and splittin’ log to keep wood in the house. He followed a push mower. They boiled water on the stove to put in the washtub, to bathe.

Slowly, technology snuck in. They have DirecTV and she owns an iPod.

“You just roll with it,” he said. “That’s all you do.”

Robert Puckett

Robert, 42, was the first to leave. He met Wendy at a game room in Charlotte and when her father retired from IBM, her parents returned to their roots, in Berea, Ky. Robert took early retirement from the railroad and went, too. They’ve been married 23 years.

The children – Robbie, 22; Courtney, 20; and Jordan, 19 – live at home. Courtney is a single mom, and Gavin stays with Wendy’s mom while Courtney is at school, or work.

The 360-mile trip to Charlotte is an easy drive, he said.

“I just go with the flow,” he said.

Robbie Puckett

“Me, personally, I would like to go back and live then (like Ed and Mike), maybe for about a year or so, to get that experience,” Robbie said. “It would be different, but I’m sure we could do without. Televisions, cell phones, they make us feel good, and you’re always wondering what the next thing is, and how nice it would be to have it.”

Robbie works for a heat-and-air company. He has the gadgets a 22-year-old is accustomed to.

“But there’s a whole lot of people that’s still living that same old routine, that don’t have water or electricity or are killing for food,” he said. “They’re showing people you don’t need all that to get by.”

He said he goes to bed at night and sometimes just stares at the walls.

“You can’t get but so much in that box when you go,” he said. “You just think about stuff like that.”

Gavin Puckett

Gavin was born in August 2011. Courtney attends a Paul Mitchell cosmetology school and works in an art gallery. She wants her own business, in a big city.

“I can not even imagine how advanced Gavin’s future will be,” she said. “We’re technology babies. He’ll probably have robots.”

The baby has blond hair, big blue eyes.

His grandpa, Robert, predicts Gavin will own the best of what money can buy.

“I hate to be like that,” he said, “but he’s probably going to be high-maintenance.”

Mike agreed.

“His life is going to be filled with a lot of stuff you do mentally, not physically,” he said. “A lot of high-tech electronics. He won’t see nothing like what I’ve seen.”

The Puckett clan usually gathers at Christmas, at Mike and Marsha’s; sometimes at a restaurant.

Recently, Ed and Mike, and their wives, stood with some visitors outside Shuffletown Grill. Mike pointed to a vacant corner across the street.

“Used to be a little grocery,” he said. “Used to thumb from Beatties Ford to the ball field, where that church sits now (past the Goodwill). We’d stop in there for bubblegum. Course, it was a dirt road then.”

It was late; they were hungry. The grill was closed. They drove east, toward new 16, to the fast-food chicken restaurant in the shopping center that used to be a dairy farm. q

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