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Forest City native visits his boyhood home just before Christmas

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Downtown Forest City with the Nutcracker. Photo Contributed.

Robert B. "Little Jess" Hendrix returned to his hometown of Forest City recently with his wife Rilda and their daughter Ava Kennedy and visited some of the places he knew as a boy.

Hendrix said most guys had a nickname when he was young and when his friends began calling him Little Jess "It stuck with me."

The son of "Big Jess" and Eunice Thompson Hendrix, the now 90-year-old Little Jess Hendrix lives in Fairfax Station, Virginia about five minutes from his daughter Ava.

"We had a great time. I have such fond memories of this place," he said of their trip.

As a child growing up off East Main Street, he said he doesn't believe there was much snow, but "there was a lot of ice. So much ice."

He was often a part of the Forest City Christmas parade since his dad, "Big Jess" was the assistant fire chief of the Forest City Fire Department.

"The important things I remember most about the Christmas season was going to church. We went to Westside Baptist Church, no longer there, and we always had a Christmas play. I was one of the three Wise Men once and my mother took a sheet and made my costume," he said.

Going to church, participating in plays, the parades and flipping through the pages of the Sears & Roebuck catalogue were fond memories of Christmas. Hendrix and his sister would find "some sort" of clothes and would pick out a toy for Christmas. "I remember that," he said.

While in Forest City, family friend Rick Davis, spent some time with Hendrix and his family.

Davis said Hendrix wanted to go to the fire department and see the old fire engine he knew as a child.

"He had to go in and get up on the running board and show us how he used to ride and crank the siren." Davis said.

"I went back to the station and stood on the running board and blew that awful sounding siren again," Hendrix said of the restored engine. Davis captured that on video.

"He also had a lot of interesting stories of how the fire department worked back in the day," Davis said.

The elder Hendrix would tell his children later in life that he made $5 per month as assistant fire chief and the money was actually given back to the Town to pay for water and electric bills.

The family lived upstairs at the fire station and there was always one firefighter on duty at the station. When there was a fire call, the other firefighters would find the location tracing the water that had splashed from the fire truck onto the road on the route to the fire.

Hendrix graduated from Cool Springs High School in 1951. Among his classmates still in Rutherford County are Martha Jean McFarland, Katherine Washburn, Ginger Hunt.

After high school at age 18, Hendrix enlisted in the Navy.

"Five other Forest City guys rode the same bus to Asheville and joined the Navy," he said. Among those were Don Gurley and Jack Watts.

Hendrix came back to Rutherford County in 1955 after his military career, but decided six months later to move. "After being in the Navy and living around the world, Rutherford County was not for me anymore" he said.

When he moved to Alexandria, Va., Hendrix got a job as an electrician and six months later, "I met the most wonderful girl in the word, Rilda" he said. The couple had three daughters Ava, Laura and Lisa.

He retired in 2000 after a successful career as an electrical contractor, builder and developer. He was and the co-owner of Bee & H Electric for over 50 years.

Also in Forest City, Hendrix said he ate at his favorite Forest City Restaurant, Big Dave's; had his picture taken at his former alma mater, Cool Springs (now the Rutherford County Schools offices); walked around the Cool Springs Cemetery and visited McNair Stadium.

"I was good friends with Bob McNair," he added.

There is a plaque in a dugout at McNair Stadium with the elder Hendrix' name engraved. The family made a substantial contribution to the stadium, he said.

He and Ava walked around town and strolled down to the Park on Pavilion Square (POPS) and had photos taken there. Hendrix also had his photo taken between the large angel wings.

His visit to Forest City last month was the first time he'd been back home in five years and he came home for his sister Rachel's 85th birthday celebration in Union Mills.

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