A whimsical look at life growing up in the small town of Waldron, Arkansas in the 1960s and 1970s, plus occasional observations from the present. Want to start at the very beginning? Click HERE.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Out In The Field

Clowning around in The Field.
 I think I’ve mentioned before about our great playground, which we called The Field. The Field was a vacant lot immediately between our house and my Aunt Lola’s house. Lola and her husband Dennis actually owned The Field, but they were happy to let us and the rest of the neighborhood kids play in it any time we wanted. It was about an acre in size, and I remember Dennis used to mow it with a big, walk-behind mowing machine that had a scythe-type blade on the front rather than the traditional rotating blade. That must have been a chore with that much to mow! Later on, Lola bought a riding mower, and we kids used to take turns mowing with it. It was great fun, because you could put it in gear and let off of the brake quickly and pop a wheelie. For some reason, Lola eventually decided she’d just mow it herself.

On the edge of The Field lived my Greatest Childhood Friend Randy Bottoms. We must have been friends since we were babies, because I don’t ever remember a time when we weren’t buddies. We spent countless happy hours playing trucks, riding our bikes, or just lying on our backs and staring up at the clouds. Randy once took possession of an abandoned dog, a friendly jet-black mutt that I suggested should be named Snowball. Appreciating the irony, Randy went with the name, and Snowball became a regular member of our group. Early on, Randy and I recognized the need for some type of signal; a way to let each other know that one of us was outside and available to visit. During our early elementary days, the recognized signal was a Tarzan yell. If I went outside to play, I would face in the direction of Randy’s house and cut loose, unashamedly, with my best Tarzan yell. Invariably, Randy would soon emerge from his house, ready for whatever we had in store. As we got on into the upper elementary years, the Tarzan yell became a bit of overkill. Our signal evolved into an indescribable falsetto mechanism, something like a controlled scream that went kind of like, “Rhee –aaaaa-Rheet!” It was a sound later perfected by Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees. By our junior high years, I was still doing the “Rhee –a –Rheet,” but Randy had developed a whistled version of Rhee-a-rheet that was just as effective but not nearly as taxing on the vocal chords.

The Blue Thing
 On another edge of The Field, directly behind our smokehouse, was The Blue Thing. The Blue Thing was actually the work box from an old telephone truck, but to me it was a boat, an airplane, a tank, or whatever else I happened to need it to be. It had a large flat surface on top, with a reel on the side that had been used to lay out telephone cable, but now made a great steering wheel. There were lots of little doors and drawers and levers to pull. All you needed was a little imagination, and I had plenty of that.

Another thing you would find in The Field was The Wheels. The Wheels were just that; a set of iron wheels about 4 feet in diameter connected with an iron axle. What you did with The Wheels was push them. You pushed them and pushed them and hoped nobody would get in your way, because it took a little effort to get them to come to a stop. If you got tired of pushing them, and you had someone else there, you could turn them on their side with one wheel on the ground and the other wheel in the air, and then climb on the wheel that was in the air and get the other person to push you and you had a merry-go-round. And, if you were my older brother Phil, you could pick them up like a set of weights and raise them over your head.

Speaking of Phil, one time he and my brother Gene brought home a bunch of black one-inch sticks from the furniture factory. They were intended for tomato stakes, but they decided to stack them up like Lincoln Logs to build a rectangular structure, about 5ft x 5 ft x 5 ft tall. They put a piece of cardboard on the top, and I decided that it would make a great clubhouse. I immediately appointed myself as president of the unnamed club. The clubhouse had everything; proper ventilation, plenty of space, and it looked real good. Well, I guess it didn’t actually have everything; it didn’t have a door. To resolve this minor problem, we dug a hole on one side, and I and Vice-President Randy gained entry by slithering under the bottom rail. The thrill of the clubhouse quickly wore off.

Daddy made one innovation to The Field for which he became famous among kids from several blocks away. He stretched a strong rope between two electric poles, one end slightly higher than the other, attached a pulley with a little piece of rope to hang on to, and put a ladder leading up to the higher end of the stretched rope. Kids climbed the ladder, took hold of the pulley, and rode the zip line to the other electric pole. A line quickly formed at the base of the ladder with kids I didn’t even know showing up for a ride. I, however, with my fear of heights and lack of self-confidence, couldn’t make myself ride the zip line, although everyone else did, including my sister Janet. After about half a day, a truck from the electric company showed up and the zip line was taken down. But still today, I encounter people who remember Daddy’s zip line.

The Field doesn’t exist today; there’s a house there now and a fence. If you had a field to play in when you were a kid, you’re lucky. There aren’t many places like that today. And if you had a Greatest Childhood Friend, you’re even luckier.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Green Stamps Are Mine

 Back in the pioneer days of the 1960's, many merchants offered S&H Green Stamps as an incentive to draw in customers.  Green stamps were doled out according to the amount of your purchase; the more you bought, the more Green Stamps you got.  Upon arriving back at home, the stamps were generally tossed into a paper sack full of other Green Stamps, until someone took the initiative to start putting them in an official Green Stamp Book.  This usually occurred the day before a trip to Fort Smith, because that's where the Green Stamp Redemption Center (what a happy sounding name!) was located.

My sister Janet and I were active participants in the process.  The stamps had to be licked, then placed in the book to align with the squares that were printed on the page.  After a page or two of licking, you tongue had developed a toxic, yucky aftertaste, so at that point we would usually get a wet wash rag and start using it to activate the glue on the back of the stamps.  This stamp-licking process was usually done somewhat unenthusiastically, since we knew that the stamps were probably going to be redeemed for something like a set of sheets, or maybe curtains, or perhaps an iron.

But, every third rotation, the Green Stamps were mine.  That is, one trip to the Redemption Center was devoted to something for the house, the next trip to the Center would be Janet's turn to get something, and the third trip would be for me to get something.  Which worked out pretty good, since we probably didn't make it to Fort Smith much more than three times a year.  So, on those times when we were dealing with MY Green Stamps, I must admit I was a much more efficient stamp-licker.

Each year, they came out with a new Green Stamp Catalogue.  In it, you would find pictures and descriptions of everything that you could get with Green Stamps.  In the toy section, I found my goal:  a Tonka Road Grader.  I had always had a fascination for road graders, going back to the days when Pine Street was a dirt road and I would watch the county road graders as they worked on our road.  My Greatest Childhood Friend Randy Bottoms had a toy road grader, and I could use it any time I wanted, but I really wanted one of my own.  Four books of Green Stamps was all it would take, and we had it.  I couldn't wait to get to the Redemption Center.

The Green Stamp Redemption Center was located on Phoenix Street in Fort Smith, across from Phoenix Village.  I believe there is a restaurant supply store now in that building, but back then it was an incredibly fascinating place for a kid.  All the items in the catalog were there on display.  It was like a store full of free toys!  I had looked at my road grader many times before, when we were there to pick up sheets or an iron. So, I knew right where it was located.  I hurried over to the toy section, rounded the corner to the Tonka toys, and it wasn't there.  This can't be!  We asked the lady at the counter, and she said they were out of that particular toy.  Some chump had beat me to it!  I was terribly disappointed. 

Resigned to my fate, I began to look through the other Tonka toys for an acceptable substitute.  They did have a bulldozer, which was similar to a road grader.  However, being the savvy toy expert that I was, I knew that toy bulldozers had a common shortcoming - the rubber tracks would consistently come off every time you rolled them.  So, the dozer was out of consideration.  However, they did have a tractor that featured a fully functioning steering wheel.  When you turned the steering wheel, the front wheels moved accordingly.  So, I settled on the Oliver tractor. 

I still have my Oliver tractor.  It is identical to the one in this picture, except mine has the top half of the steering wheel broken off.  I did have a lot of fun with that tractor, but probably not as much fun as I would have had with a road grader.  Several years later, when Clyde Hawkins was county judge, I worked one summer between college semesters for the county road department, driving a service truck behind two road graders.  I got to fuel the graders every morning, clean the glass around the cab, and help the operators when they had to replace flat tires or change the blades.  I even got to ride along with them a couple of times.  So, I guess I got to have the "road grader experience" after all.