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.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

I Wonder What Ever Became Of...

Mad Men's Don Draper said it best:  Life is a carousel.  People get on, people get off.  All of us have people that we knew when we were in elementary school, but they went away and we never heard from them again.  With that in mind, here are a few people that I wonder what ever became of...

Denise Blair.  Denise had a particular distinction:  she was the only kid in our class whose parents were divorced.  We knew that Denise lived with her mother, and we never heard anything about her father.  Denise was a pretty, sweet girl.

Bobby Overby.  Bobby's dad was my dad's boss at the telephone company.  Bobby was a great kid, very outgoing and loved to laugh.

Jackie Ford.  I remember that Jackie was a kid who loved to play army.  Every time I see generals on TV, I always look for Jackie.

Jeff Hottinger.  Jeff was good friends with Jackie Ford, and also liked to play army.  I remember an unfortunate incident involving Jeff, when he swallowed a nickel in the classroom one day.  Evidently, no permanent damage was done, but I remember Jeff crying and saying, "I swallowed my other nickel."

Lisa Bain.  One of our class beauties, Lisa was with us until sometime in high school, I think.  I believe Lisa's dad was a pharmacist, and she had a brother John who was in the class ahead of us.

Rozann Hopwood.  Rozann was Terri Churchill's cousin, and went to school in Waldron for a few years.  Interestingly, I was on vacation with my sister Janet and her husband Harold one time, and in Owen's Restaurant in Arlington, Texas, Janet said to me, "I believe that's Rozann Hopwood over there."  After assuring her that she had to be wrong, Janet went over and, sure enough, it was indeed Rozann Hopwood. 

Steve Shurley.  Steve was with us in the early elementary years.  I seem to recall that his dad may have been the minister at First Baptist in Waldron.  Steve was my friend in first grade, a nice kid who we just didn't have a chance to get to know very well before he moved away.

And, I'm sure there are others, but these are the ones I recall.  I hope they had good lives.  Maybe we can get some of them back for one of our reunions some day.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Batman, Beatles, and Mrs. Nelson

Me in front of The Red Brick Building
I was reminded this week of my fourth grade year at Waldron Elementary.  The reminder was a sad one; I read about the passing of my fourth grade teacher's husband.  I was fortunate enough to be in Mrs. Allena Nelson's class that year, and Mrs. Nelson was one of my all time favorite teachers.

It was the 1965-1966 school year.  The previous year had been a rough one.  My sister and I had struggled with sickness and school anxiety; I had both the mumps and the three-day measles, and I ended up missing about 25 days.  But after meeting Mrs. Nelson, the school anxiety was gone and fourth grade ended up being one of my best years. 

The Red Brick Building, as we called it, housed third and fourth grade classrooms; there were three of each.  Walking in to that old building, you knew you were in a school.  The unmistakable scent of crayons, paste, and 50 years of floor wax on hardwood floors was like a pleasant bouquet.  The classrooms featured those old school desks that were all connected by steel rails on the floor; the seat of the desk in front of you was attached to the front of your desk, and likewise the seat you were sitting on was connected to the front of the desk behind you.  The wooden surface of the desk featured a hole at the upper left-hand corner to accommodate an inkwell.  Never say that the Waldron School District didn't get it's money's worth out of school equipment. 

Recess was fun.  The playground featured a merry-go-round, upon which I and my classmates spent countless hours in total.  We also played games, and the south side of the Red Brick Building was particularly suited for dodge ball.  One day, when we were playing dodge ball, we invited our custodian, Troxie Taylor, to participate.  Troxie was a wonderful, kind, and gentle old man who was loved by all the kids.  It happened that, on that day, I had brought to school a piece of paper with Japanese writing on it that I hand found in a new wallet that my dad had bought.  I was quite proud of it, and was showing it around to everyone.  For some reason, we played dodge ball with joined hands, and when Troxie joined the group, he took hold of my hand in which I was holding my treasure.  After a minute or two of the game, Troxie went back to work, and somehow my precious piece of Japanese writing had managed to transfer from my hand to Troxie's.  I guess he figured that it would be one less piece of paper to have to pick up off the playground later.

In January of 1966, the TV show Batman premiered.  We were all quite taken with the show, and sometimes at recess we would play Batman.  Randy Jones was Batman, and Terry Nichols was his sidekick Robin.  The rest of us were bats.  We would swoop around the playground, arms outstretched, doing whatever we figured bats did to fight crime. 

Once Mrs. Nelson let us do a kind of a talent show.  I don't remember much about it, just that some of us got up and moved our lips to a record.  I do remember that the record was Day Tripper by The Beatles, which had been released in December of our fourth grade year.  I believe that four of us performed, each playing one particular member of The Beatles.  I think I might have been George, and I believe that Randy Jones was Paul.  I made one suggestion that was incorporated into the act.  Completely misunderstanding the title of the song, and not realizing that a "day trip" was a short vacation, I went with the alternate meaning of trip and suggested that, upon completing our performance, Randy should appear to trip as he walked back to this desk.  The rest of the guys though it was an excellent suggestion, and the visual stunt was indeed performed at the end of our song.

We also got to go on a field trip in fourth grade, to our local chicken processing plant.  At that time it was known as Arkansas Valley Industries, or AVI.  We walked the long walk from school to the plant, and then got to see the unfortunate fate that awaited the poultry population of Scott County.  On the way back, we passed the little donut shop that had been built across the street from the plant.  We didn't get to stop and have a donut, unfortunately.  The little building is still there; it is a house now, I believe.

These were the days when we could go across the street at lunch recess to the Green Candy Store.  You can see my previous post, Lunch At The Candy Store, for more on this unique experience.  Let me just say that getting to have a bologna and chili "hot dog" at the candy store was wonderful beyond measure.

Fourth grade was, I think, when I began to be an actual person.  Maybe it's just that the memories before that time are faded, but it seems that during that fourth grade year, I began to interact with other kids more; joking and teasing Terri Churchill and Cathy Newberry, who sat immediately in front of and behind me, and feeling more of a sense of belonging.  Looking back, I have to attribute much of that to Mrs. Nelson, whose kindness and love for her students was so evident.  But that's what good teachers do.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Trip To Rich Mountain

Me and Uncle Joe at the Lodge.  Addie had Joe hold my
hand so I wouldn't fall off the side of the mountain.

One Sunday afternoon in May of 1965, my Aunt Addie and Uncle Joe Carmack decided to drive to Rich Mountain. They offered to take me and my sister Janet along with them, but for some reason Janet declined.  Not me.  I'd heard about Rich Mountain.  I'd never been there, but I knew they had a little train that you could ride on, so that was enough for me to overcome my fear about being so far away from home.  I was going to Rich Mountain!

Addie and Joe had no children of their own, so Addie was like a second Mama to all the Yates kids.  Addie was one of the sweetest people you would ever meet, but she had one drawback - she was a worrier.  She worried about whether or not we were warm enough, or cool enough, or worried that we might get sick from something we ate.  Right now, she was worried about my eyes.  There we would be, on top of that mountain, that much closer to the sun.  But there would be no retinal damage on young Billy.  Joe, give him your sunglasses.

Uncle Joe and me riding the train.

So, Addie, Joe, and a sufficiently Ray-Banned Billy set out for Rich Mountain.  The drive must have been uneventful, since I don't remember anything about it.  But, as soon as we arrived at the top of the mountain, I spotted the miniature train.  That would be our first order of business.  So, my Uncle Joe and I waited in line for the train load up.  Uncle Joe managed to pry his lanky frame into the seat beside me, and off we went.  I was amazed at how long the train ride was.  We passed through woods that seemed far removed from the rest of the park.  When we'd come up to a road, the little train would let out a whistle just like the big trains did.  Too soon we arrived back at the little train station. 

A rare moment without my sunglasses

Just a short distance from the miniature train was a real, full-sized steam locomotive.  They must have had a time getting that thing on top of Rich Mountain, but it was a major attraction.  I climbed all over it, operating the controls and pretending to blow the whistle.  Aunt Addie made Uncle Joe climb up on there with me, just in case I got hurt.  When I got tired of playing engineer, I walked over to the old military tank that was next to the locomotive.  I climbed on top of it, but didn't go inside; the hatch was welded shut. 

Me and Uncle Joe atop the tank.

After that, we got back in the car and drove up to the lodge.  This was the old lodge, not the one that you see on Rich Mountain now.  It burned down sometime in the 70's, I think.  It was the most elaborate thing I had ever seen.  We didn't go in, we just looked around outside. 

I don't remember anything about the trip home.  But I did enjoy telling Janet about all the things she had missed.  I really felt big; it was the first time I had done anything like that by myself without my twin. 

Addie and Joe are both gone now.  They were very special to me and to the rest of my family. 

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Places of Business in Waldron - 1966

Waldron, like most small towns, has seen a dramatic decline in small, family-owned businesses since their heyday back in the 1960's.  It's no one's fault, really.  We have just become more mobile as a society; we don't think anything of running to Fort Smith to get something.  But, there was a time when most people got what they needed right here in Waldron.  Here are the places of business that advertised in the 1966 Waldron High School yearbook:

Bank of Waldron
Arkansas Valley Industries (AVI, later to become Tyson)
ACEE Milk Company (Fort Smith)
Piggly Wiggly
Waldron Butane & Currier Bros.
Hughes Insurance Agency
Waldron Furniture Manufacturing Corporation
Waldron Lumber Company, Inc. (T.M. Works, Manager)
Rock Cafe
Scott County Hardware (Thurman Jones)
Denton Motor Company (Dodge - Dart - Two Great Cars)
Waldron News
Rice Funeral Home
Ladies and Mens Shop
Atchley's Barber Shop
Syble's Beauty Shop
Crutchfield Restaurant
Ray Harrison, County Treasurer
Parsley's (Everything for Everybody)
Bill's Three Way Cafe (Bill and Norma Cobb)
Blythes Salvage
Oliver Furniture (Everything for the Home)
Clyde Hawkins, County Sheriff
Dewey McGaugh
Glenn Abbott, County Judge
B&B Rexall Drug
Oliver's Jewelry
Harris Motor Company (Ford)
71 Flower and Gift Shop (Polly and R.D. Beard)
Lee's Service Station
Main Street Laundry and Cleaners
Dee's Cut 'N Curl
W.A. McKeown, Mayor
Hazel's Beauty Shop
Judy's Drive In
Spark's & King's Barber Shop
Waldron Cleaners
Fort Smith Gas Corporation
Scott County Lumber Co.
Dairy Kreme (Mr. and Mrs. Winfred Oliver)
Marsh Dry Goods and Shoes
Jack Plemmons' Department Store
Rice Furniture and Appliance
Post Office Personnel
Ivan Plummer Grocery (Free Delivery)
Owens' Drug
Elliott Hardware
Waldron Flower and Gift Shop
Waldron Tractor Company (W.W. Dick Davis)
Interstate Telephone Company
Buddy Gray's Super Market
The Advance Reporter
White Dairy Ice Cream Company (Fort Smith)
Don's Clothing
Coca-Cola Bottling Company (Fort Smith)
Dalmac Mills (Joe Huie, John McGraw)
Theo Money Chevrolet Company
Beckman Dairy (Fort Smith)
Oklahoma Tire and Supply Company (A.C. Crutchfield)
Sims Building Materials
Robert Davis Grocery & Market
Waldron Stave Company (Clyde Sarratt)
Gatlin Farm Agency

Wow!  Three grocery stores, three new car dealerships, two newspapers, and a thriving downtown.  Those were the days.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Pickin' Em Up and Settin' Em Down

Quite often, we got where we needed to go by walking. For a big part of my childhood, my family’s only vehicle was Daddy’s telephone truck, which really was not conducive for a family of seven. Aunt Addie and Uncle Joe gave us rides to church, and sometimes we rode to school with my friend Randy’s dad Hoss Bottoms (actual name Horace, but for some reason we always called him Hoss). But for general purpose traveling, nothing was as convenient as our own feet.

Whether we were walking to school or town, we always started off walking up The Lane. The Lane was the side street next to our house on Pine. Later on, it got the official name of East 7th Street, but to us it was always The Lane. It was just wide enough for one car, so lots of time when you started down it in a vehicle you ended up having to back up to let someone pass. Nothing in the world smelt as sweet as the flowers growing in The Lane when you walked down it on the last day of school.

Walking up The Lane, you passed Edgar and Sophie Floyd’s house, and Henry and Toni Forrest’s house, and somewhere behind Edgar and Sophie was a railroad boxcar that had been turned into a little house. I don’t remember who lived in it, but it always made me think of one of my favorite books, The Boxcar Children. Henry and Toni had a daughter named Minnielle, who, the story goes, once set out on a bus to Hollywood. Minnielle actually was a talented singer who perhaps could have made it, but I think at some point before she reached her destination she turned around and came back home. But I always thought that was a pretty courageous thing to do anyway.

Across the street from Henry lived Malvin Rowlette. Malvin had a tractor that he used for plowing people’s garden spot every spring, which kept him pretty busy, since most people in Waldron had a garden. Malvin had a relative, maybe a cousin or nephew, who would come to see him about once a year. This guy had a truck with a big trailer that contained, of all things, a giant alligator. I guess he traveled around the country exhibiting it, and would come see Malvin whenever he got close to Waldron. Once, he let the neighborhood kids climb up and see it, which really seemed like a treat since we didn’t have to pay anything.

At the end of The Lane, if you were going to Buddy Gray’s Store or The Shed Drive-In, you would cut across the yard of the big house that is now owned by Donald Goodner. I can’t remember the name of the elderly lady who lived there at that time, but the house looked very different than it does now. It was a white frame house then, and we kept a permanent trail cut through the yard. If you were going to school or to town, you turned right on Featherston and walked down the sidewalk in front of the May Hotel. The May Hotel was more of a rooming house than an actual hotel, and was always a little bit spooky to us kids. To add to the spookiness, there was someone who lived there who, whenever school kids walked by, would make a “beep-beep” sound. We would stop and linger against the wrought iron fence, trying to figure out where the sound was coming from. About the time we were ready to give up, we would hear it again. We probably provided a few chuckles for somebody living there.

Across from the May hotel was where Sybil and Earl Cabe lived, and where Sybil’s Beauty Shop was located. My sister and I spent many happy hours there reading Highlights magazine while Mama got her hair fixed. Just past Sybil’s was the Methodist Church. If you were going to town, you crossed Church Street and continued on Featherston, cutting through at George Hawkins’ Garage to get to Main Street. But if you were headed to school, you cut through the Methodist Church yard, walking on another permanent trail we kept worn into the grass. (We did a lot of cutting through; I guess that’s a characteristic of walkers).

After waiting at the stoplight, you walked past the nice houses that lined the western half of Church Street. We always kept an eye out for the horse in the pasture behind the Crutchfield’s house on the corner of Washington and Church. We figured the horse belonged to their daughter Rebecca, who we knew was a popular student in Jr. High. Just a short way ahead was our destination, Waldron Elementary.

We walked more out of necessity than anything else, but life moved at a slower pace back then, it seems. But when you move a little slower, you see more.