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.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Walk Down Main Street

In a previous post, I talked about the wonderful Parsley’s Store, Waldron’s five and dime. Let’s take a little stroll along the rest of Main Street, shall we? I don’t remember every store, circa 1965, but certain ones stand out in my memory. I may have some of the locations mixed up, and not all of them may have been in operation at the same time, but I’ll get as close as I can.

Walking on the west side of Main, heading north, a little past Parsley’s, was Plemmons’ Store. Some of you young folks will remember it as Bethel’s, but in my childhood it was Plemmons’. I always thought of it as kind of upscale; we bought some things there but not a lot. It was kind of Waldron’s Dillard’s. But every summer, they had a huge sale, and there was quite often a line on the first day of the sale to get a door prize. I made it in the line one time and got a trash can as a prize. A little past Plemmons’ was a door that led upstairs to Hazel’s Beauty Shop. Mama didn’t treat herself to a beauty shop appointment very often, and normally when she did she went to Sybil Cabe’s Beauty Shop which was actually part of her house on Featherston just a short distance from our house. My sister and I always went with her, and we loved it because Sybil kept Highlights Magazine; a real treat for a kid. Anyway, Hazel’s was upstairs, and since there weren’t many things in Waldron that required stairs, it was an adventure.

Past Plemmons’ was The Ladies and Mens Shop, which I seem to recall, had a lot more ladies clothes than men’s. It also seemed kind of upscale to me. Next to The Ladies and Mens Shop was Otasco, short for Oklahoma Tire and Supply. I believe that Mr. Crutchfield owned Otasco when I was a kid, and then later it was purchased by John Evans. It was a wondrous place. My sister and I once got brand new 26-inch bikes from Otasco. They were beautiful; hers was blue and mine red, complete with headlights and those little platforms above the rear tire for carrying a passenger. I remember we picked them up from some kind of storage area near the telephone office, but I don’t remember where exactly. They were great bikes.

Past Otasco was Marsh Dry Goods. Marsh’s was our clothing store of choice. Walking in to Marsh’s, you were immediately hit with the incredibly wonderful smell of leather and denim. Marsh’s had everything; shoes and boots, men’s clothing, women’s, and kids’. The Yates boys got our Wrangler jeans at Marsh’s. Not only did you get a pair of jeans, but inside the pocket was a half-sized comic book about cowboys and rodeos. I wish I’d kept those!

At the end of Main were the two drug stores, Owens Drug and B&B. Our family always used Owens Drug, and we trusted Renee as much as we did Dr. Wright. Usually we were just there for medicine, but on occasion we got to stop at the counter and get something from the fountain. The only time I remember going to B&B was one time when there was a big encephalitis scare, and the whole town was taking sulpha drugs. Owen’s was out, so we got ours at B&B. Later on, when I was in high school, I got a job at B&B as janitor, delivery boy and occasional soda jerk.

Crossing Main, and now walking on the east side of the highway heading south, we can look back toward the north and see a couple of interesting places. I’m just looking, because I wasn’t really allowed to go there. The first place is the Pool Hall. If we were on that part of the block, we usually just hurried past, although I did occasionally steal a glance just to see what it looked like in there. Mama didn’t intend for any of the Yates boys to grow up and become pool players. A little farther north, in a little storefront that didn’t even have a sign, was an establishment known to all as Frankie’s Clip Joint. It was owned by Frankie Dean. I always heard that Frankie was a former boxer, and that he had photos of famous boxers on the walls of the Clip Joint. I never knew exactly what Frankie sold; I heard he had a little lunch counter in there but never having set foot in the place, I don’t know that for sure. One of my classmates, Terry Nichols, had a paper route and Frankie’s was where he picked up the papers for delivery each morning. One day he came to school with one of those whistle rings, the kind you blow on and get a sound like a siren. He got it at Frankie’s for a dime. Needless to say, we all turned in our orders and, dutifully, Terry came back to school with whistle rings for all of us.

Frankie Dean was truly a Waldron Original. I came across his and his wife’s headstone at Duncan Cemetery one time, and I noticed that the headstone had the simple inscription, “Show People.” I imagined Frankie and his wife as vaudeville comedians, or perhaps working in Hollywood during the Golden Age of movies. I asked my dad about the “Show People” inscription one time, and he kind of burst my bubble. He said he thought they had always worked with the carnival.

Oliver’s Jewelry was another Waldron institution. My most significant memory of there was the watch that Mama gave me on my 11th birthday. My first watch; I was so proud of it. It came from Oliver’s, as did the initial ring that I got the next year. Crutchfield’s Restaurant was next. We didn’t get to eat there often, but when we did it was a real treat. I remember that they kept a little basket near the cash register filled with what appeared to be little pills, and each one had “DOPE” imprinted on it. When you pulled the sections of the capsule apart, you found a little piece of paper with a fact about Waldron or Scott County. You were getting the “dope” on Waldron.

The Ben Franklin Store was next, built on what used to be the Buzzard’s Roost. I loved that store; you can read more about it on my previous “Back to School” post. Somewhere in this area of Main was, briefly, United Dollar Store. That store didn’t last long, but it was a really neat place. I remember buying a bunch of fishing stuff there. Waldron Hardware located in the next block south. It’s another place I didn’t visit often. It was owned by Thurman Jones. The Scott Theater was nearby. Although my dad had worked as a projectionist for the theater back in the 1940’s, the “moving picture shows” were preached against strongly at Waldron Assembly of God, so I was banned from the theater. I once asked my dad what went on there, and he said they showed a movie on a big screen up in front. The only screen I knew anything about was the screen on our screen door, so I could never figure out how anyone could watch a movie on something that had that many holes in it.

Next to the theater was Cagle’s Barber Shop. I was a regular customer of Cagle, after graduating from my dad’s haircuts as a small kid. I always got a crew cut, which was perfect for my active childhood. A crew cut doesn’t take much preparation in the morning. My hair was a little longer when my dad cut it, and I always wanted it parted. I didn’t know the word for part, so I just told Mama that I wanted a road in my hair like Pat Boone. Oh, the power of TV.

Once when I was about 7, Cagle was out of cigarettes, so he sent me over to the Seamon Store to get a pack of Camels. The Seamon store was somewhere in that same block, and it was run by Robert Craig. I was very fearful that someone from church would see me buying a pack of Camels, and assume that I intended them for my own use. “Smoking!” they would think. “What’s next, going to the movies?” But I would not disappoint Cagle, so I gristled up and got those Camels. But I was sure glad to get back to the barber shop and get rid of them!

At the end of the block, across from Parsley’s was Rice Furniture and Appliance. As I’ve posted before, I was less interested in the merchandise inside the store than I was in the empty refrigerator boxes outside. You could have a lot of fun with a good refrigerator box. However, shortly before they moved to the bypass, Mama bought a coppertone colored electric range there, and it still works today.

Mama used to tell me how, on a Saturday, there would be so many people on Main Street that you could barely make your way down the sidewalk.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Snow Cone Story

I am hesitant to tell this story, because I look so good in it and I fear that readers will think that is my intent. It is not. However, as you read the unvarnished facts, you can make that determination for yourself. But I do come out looking really good in this story.

One hot summer afternoon, as I, my Greatest Childhood Friend Randy Bottoms, my sister Janet, and Randy’s sister Swanna were out doing whatever little kids did on hot summer afternoons, we were startled to hear the sound of musical bells ringing in the distance. We had never heard a sound like this before, so we listened in fascination as the sound of the bells grew closer and closer. Suddenly, at the end of Pine Street, a white truck turned the corner and slowly proceeded in our direction. The sound of the bells was coming from speakers on top of the truck! On the side of the truck in large blue letters were the words, “Snow Cones,” accompanied by drawings of the colorful treats. All we could do was watch the truck as it went by; we weren’t ready. We would not make that mistake again.

It took us awhile to figure out the snow cone truck’s schedule. So, we always kept an ear out for the sound of the musical bells, and as soon as we heard it we would rush into the house and get our money, then stand patiently beside the road waiting. The truck was one of those old van-type vehicles, with a window on the side where the snow cones were served. An icy treat costs ten cents; any flavor, including the enormously popular Suicide, which contained a rainbow of color and flavor. The crunchy ice tasted delicious, but the real treat was at the end, when all of the left-over syrup had collected at the bottom of the cone-shaped paper cup. One giant swig of that, and you were set for the afternoon.

Well, it happened one time that the Yates family was a little short on snow cone money. We were, after all, a family of seven. My dad had a good job at the phone company, but there were times just before payday every now and then when things were a little tight, and this happened to be one of those times. After consulting all available sources of revenue, my sister and I were only able to come up with one dime. One dime would buy you one snow cone. As we waited for the truck to come by, my sister and I tried to resolve the dilemma we faced. We could share. No, we couldn’t, because she didn’t want to eat after me and I didn’t want to eat after her. We could dip half into a bowl. No, because which one of us would have to eat out of the bowl? Maybe the guy would make two half snow cones. No, not likely. Our desperation increased as the truck made its slow, musical turn onto Pine Street. Realizing that the point of decision was here, I made the call.

“Janet,” I said, “why don’t you just get the snow cone this time and I’ll wait and get one next time.”

“That, brother,” she said, “is an excellent suggestion.” Well, those might not have been her exact words, but something pretty close.

As the snow cone truck came to a stop, I watched as Janet, my Greatest Childhood Friend Randy, and his sister Swanna lined up for their snow cones. Unable to bear the sorrow, I turned away and began to walk dejectedly back to the house. But after one step, I stopped dead in my tracks. In the dirt, something shiny caught my attention. I reached down into the dust and picked up…a dime! It was lying at my feet, miraculously! I turned back to the truck. “I’ll take a Suicide, please.”

I don’t know where the dime came from. It’s possible that Randy might have placed it there, although I never asked him about it. That’s the kind of thing he would do, though. Or maybe it was there all along. Or maybe God just thought I needed a snow cone that day.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Grocery List

Waldron was home to five different grocery stores back in the 1960's. James Hicks had a small store on Danville Road near Elliott's Hardware, and Plummer's Grocery was located nearby on Featherston Street (back in those days the street sign said "Featherstone"). On Main Street you had Piggly Wiggly and Buddy Gray's, and over on Washington Street was Robert Davis' Grocery. We did some of our grocery shopping at Buddy Gray's, but the majority of our business went to Robert Davis.

Davis Grocery offered something that other stores didn't: home delivery. At that time, Mama didn't drive; in fact, we didn't even own a vehicle. Since Daddy worked for the phone company, he was provided with a telephone truck, which he brought home every night. When we needed to go somewhere, we either loaded into the telephone truck or caught a ride with someone else. So, when we needed groceries, Mama would make a list and call Davis Grocery. A few hours later, M.C. Maxwell would arrive in his little green 1965 Chevy Pick-up with our groceries loaded in the back. However, there was often a complication. Lucky, our family dog, would suddenly go into protection mode and bark furiously at M.C., and if we didn't get out there and corral him, he would probably try to bite. Which was strange, because under normal circumstances Lucky was one of the most congenial and sweet-natured dogs you would ever encounter. So often, grocery delivery day meant that Lucky would spend the afternoon tied up to the clothesline until M.C. had made the delivery.

But M.C. actually managed to solve the Lucky problem for us. One day, when Lucky was barking furiously at him, M.C. pulled out a bone and handed it to Lucky. Lucky immediately quieted down and walked off with his prize. From then on, whenever M.C. delivered groceries, he'd bring a bone for Lucky. Pretty soon Lucky considered M.C. his best friend.

In addition to the normal staples like pinto beans, potatoes, bread, and milk, we sometimes got some items of more interest to a kid like me. Maybe a carton of cokes (6 and a half ounce, of course), some Sunshine Chocolate Cookies (still haven't found any as good), or maybe even a half-gallon of ice cream. Of course, we were a family of seven, so Mama had to cut corners wherever she could, so we often got Ice Milk instead of Ice Cream. There were two brands of Ice Milk; Ward Dairy made one that I think had the unlikely name of Melamine or something like that, and White Dairy made one called Frozen Delight. Even my young palate could tell the difference between Ice Milk and Ice Cream. I can remember how we served up our half gallon of Frozen Delight for a family of seven: You peel away the cardboard packaging so that you have just a block of Frozen Delight, get a butcher knife and proceed to slice it into seven more or less equal slabs. Always enough for everybody!
Me, whipping up a batch of Scotch-a-roos.

If we didn’t have enough for store bought treats, Mama would usually get something to make for us. Maybe graham crackers with chocolate icing spread in the middle. Or our all-time favorite, Scotch-A-Roos. Mama found the recipe for Scotch-A-Roos on the back of a Rice Krispies box one time, and I’ll bet over the years she made a thousand batches. You take a cup of sugar and a cup of Karo syrup, mix it together and put it over medium heat until it just begins to boil. Then you take it away from the stove, stir in a cup of peanut butter and six cups of Rice Krispies. You can also throw in some butterscotch chips if you have them. Get it all mixed together, dump it in a cake pan, and then see if you have enough self-control to wait until it cools enough to cut in into squares. If you can’t wait, you get a spoon and start eating them while they are cooling. They are unbelievably tasty! I still make them now.

Buddy Gray's store was just a few blocks from our house, so when we needed something from there we could always walk or ride our bikes. The actual name of the business was Buddy Gray's Market, which was spelled out in large wooden letters on the front of the store. Over time, some of the letters deteriorated and fell off, so eventually the name of the store appeared to just be UDDY MARKET. But Uddy Market was where you could ride your bike on a blistering summer afternoon and head to the ice cream box, where Popsicles were stored in little cardboard boxes with white strings around them. Each box held a different flavor: Cherry, Grape, Banana, Root Beer, Blueberry, Lime, and even those white ones that we could never quite identify the flavor of (probably lemonade). Buddy had by far the best selection of Popsicles anywhere. They were only a nickel, so you picked your flavor and rode home on your bike, steering with one hand and working on your Popsicle with the other. It was always interesting to walk around Buddy's store; he had a little bit of everything in there. I always liked to look at his fishing tackle department. There was a little shed out back where he sold minnows, and there was a tall wooden tower that always had water cascading down it to supply oxygen to the minnow tank. He also had school supplies, cookware, and most anything else you might need. If you were there late at night, you could see the guys working for him sweeping the concrete floor. They used push brooms, and they sprinkled some kind of purple stuff on the floor that I guess absorbed any liquid that may have spilled during the day.

Grocery day was always a good day.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Carnival Comes To Waldron

When the carnival came to town every fall, it was usually sponsored by the Waldron Volunteer Fire Department. Every volunteer fireman got a packet of tickets to carnival rides that they were responsible for trying to sell, and since Daddy was Fire Chief at that time, he always carried his packet of tickets around with him. I used to eye that packet of tickets with anticipation, because there were enough tickets there to ride the Ferris Wheel, the Merry-Go-Round, the Tilt-A-Whirl, and even the Hammer probably forever if you wanted to. The only problem was, they weren’t really our tickets, and Daddy was careful to make sure that the Waldron Fire Department didn’t lose any money on unaccounted-for tickets. The tickets were in sheets of six, and my sister Janet and I were usually lucky to get to split a sheet of tickets between us. So basically, that was three rides apiece. But that really wasn’t that bad, because after all, I was much too chicken to ride the Hammer, and the Ferris Wheel kind of freaked me out too (scared of heights!), so the Merry-Go-Round and the Tilt-A-Whirl were right about my speed, and maybe that third ticket could get me in to one of the sideshows or maybe a game.

I suppose there was probably a Fair in association with the carnival, but I was oblivious to that fact. I was a town kid, I wouldn’t have the foggiest idea how to raise a calf or lamb or pig, and the only chicken I was interested in was the one that Mama would be cooking on Sunday. So the carnival midway was where I spent my time. There were all kinds of interesting little enterprises set up along the midway. One of the most fascinating to me was the guy who sold you a little ring or bracelet and then engraved your name on it. I found the concept of having your name etched in metal to be quite unique, but the price was out of my range so all I could do was watch. There were all kinds of games to consider playing, and if you happened to pass one by, the helpful attendant would shout at you to encourage you to try your luck. I was usually pretty good at the one where you picked up a little rubber duck and got whatever prize was listed on the bottom. Didn’t have much luck at Ring-Toss, and popping those balloons with a dart was practically impossible for me.

The best part of walking through the midway was smelling the food. The cotton candy booth was a particular favorite. Cotton candy has to be one of the all time great smells. And talk about portion size; you got an unbelievable amount of cotton candy on that little cardboard tube! If you wanted a more nutritious alternative, then you went to the candy apple booth. There, you got a wholesome apple, smothered in a hard shell that tasted like melted red hots. None of that caramel topping for us; these were real HARD-SHELL candy apples. They were delicious. And boy, those carnival hot dogs were good too.

I never could get up enough nerve to ride the Hammer. My brothers always rode it, and some of my more adventuresome friends from school had ridden it and told amazing tales of overcoming the sheer terror as it plummeted to earth. Every year, I resolved that this would be the year that I rode the Hammer, and that resolve lasted right up until I walked on to the midway and saw that monstrous contraption, whereupon my resolve withered away like the last of the cotton candy.

The best part of the carnival was seeing how everyone was having such a good time. It was just a happy place. At least for the visitors; some of the carnival workers did look a little glum though. One time I went to see a sideshow that advertised on giant signs outside the tent that inside, you would encounter a true Wild Man. I gave the man at the booth my last ticket, and went inside the tent along with the rest of the crowd. Inside the tent, safely secured inside a cage that I took to be iron, was indeed a Wild Man. He sat rather forlornly in a chair in the middle of the cage, occasionally emitting an animal-like snarl that was less than enthusiastic. However, should anyone doubt his Wildness, he suddenly picked up a cigarette butt from the floor of the cage and proceeded to eat it. Yes, he was a true Wild Man. I didn’t tell Mama about going to that one.

Years later, the lure of the sideshow overcame me as I was walking around at the Fort Smith Fair. It was those giant signs again, this time beckoning me to come inside the tent to see The Lobster Boy. I couldn’t pass this up, half-man, half-entrĂ©e. So, I paid my money and went inside the tent, whereupon I found myself to be in the rather awkward position of being the only spectator. It was me and the Lobster Boy, all alone. He was actually an older man with that particular birth defect in which the fingers are fused together to form two distinct stubs, which did have a certain claw-like appearance. The Lobster Boy gave a short talk, and then looked at me and said, “Do you have any questions.” I did, indeed, have questions, but the moment just didn’t seem right to ask any of them, so I just mumbled something and beat an awkward retreat. Now, you would think that that’s probably the last I ever heard of The Lobster Boy, but you would be wrong. I actually found a book about him one time, and read his story and it was quite fascinating. Then, incredibly, I was watching the news one night and they had the story of how The Lobster Boy had been brutally murdered by his ex-wife and her son. He evidently had amassed some cash over the years, and became a victim of greed.

The carnival coming to town was a BIG deal back in the 1960’s. It was truly one of the highlights of the year.