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.

Friday, December 31, 2010

My Weekly Reader and Scholastic Books

A weekly highlight of my elementary school career was the arrival of that week's Weekly Reader.   My Weekly Reader was a little newspaper designed specifically for kids.  It was full of articles about current news events as well as stories about life in other countries and other cultures.  While most of us kids usually found something else to do when the news came on TV, we read with great fascination the stories in our Weekly Reader

Our Weekly Reader time was also a somewhat relaxing time in the classroom.  The teachers usually allowed us to read the paper at our own pace, so the classroom was quiet and peaceful.  Having been a teacher myself, I realize now that this was probably more for their benefit than ours, but nevertheless it was quite pleasant.  I think this probably set the stage for my daily ritual now of reading two newspapers.  Of course, to justify the expenditure of valuable class time, we were always assigned the task of completing the study questions on the last page.
 The study question page consisted of questions to gauge your comprehension of what you had read.  Looking at this sample page makes me realize the actual academic value of the exercise.  The questions required some higher-level thinking, and the vocabulary words were important words that were probably too current to appear in any textbook. 

I also remember that about every six weeks or so, Weekly Reader would send out a reading comprehension test that would be administered to the class.  I never excelled at sports or music or much else, but I was flat good at those reading comprehension tests.  But not quite good enough; my score was always second to that of my classmate Doug Cottrell.  I was never able to beat Doug's score, no matter how hard I tried.  But, like Avis, I tried harder.
 Even more exciting that the Weekly Reader was our occasional book order from Scholastic Books.  The teacher would send off an order about every six weeks.  I would eagerly peruse the flyer advertising the current book selection, making my best effort to keep it reasonable.  The books cost from fifty cents to a dollar, I think, and my dear Mama always allowed me to order a few books.

Sweeter than any flower, I think, is the aroma that wafts up from a brand new Scholastic book that has never been opened before.  I would take those books home and devour them, and even carried one with me back to school to read when I got a chance.  The little books were extremely well-written, and included titles of new books as well as classics from long ago.  Regrettably, I was normally not interested in the great works of fiction from the past, but eagerly purchased the latest from my favorite series like Encyclopedia Brown or Danny Dunn.  The Encyclopedia Brown books featured the exploits of a young genius named Leroy "Encyclopedia" Brown, who was an individual of considerable intellect who used his intelligence to

 figure out obvious clues to solve mysteries. Danny Dunn, likewise, was a bright young lad who had a knack for inventing incredible helpful devices such as homework machines.

I also greatly enjoyed reading about Homer Price.  The Homer Price books were actually written back in the 1940's by Robert McCloskey.  I loved McCloskey's humor and felt a sense of companionship with Homer, who often found himself in rather awkward and challenging situations, like trying to figure out how to turn off a donut machine that had gone rogue.

A particular favorite of mine was a book called Follow My Leader.  It was the story of a young boy who was outside with some of his friends from the neighborhood who had made a homemade firecracker.  The firecracker ended up exploding in the face of the boy in the story, resulting in blindness.  This great little book tells how he got his life back with the help of his guide dog, Leader.

As far as I know, Weekly Reader and Scholastic Books are still around today.  As a matter of fact, when I was elementary principal at Waldron, the teachers wanted to switch from Weekly Reader to Scholastic News.  Because of my strong commitment to Weekly Reader from my childhood, it took a lot of convincing to get me to go along with the idea! 

I hope kids still read books for enjoyment.  I know they have a lot of distractions today, and a lot of fun things to play with, but Mama's and Daddy's who foster a love of reading do a great service for their children.  Everybody should get to experience the pleasure of reading a book that's so good you can't put it down.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Gary and the Art of Chicken Hypnosis

Even though I was a town kid, we always seemed to have some farm animals around when I was growing up.  One time my older brother Phil, who was working at the furniture factory at the time, brought in two little runt piglets.  Somebody at the factory had given them to him; they had been rejected by the mama sow and so were on their own.  They were chubby little cuties, about the size of your hand.  Phil gave one to me and the other to my sister Janet, and we determined to raise them into adulthood.  Well, I guess the odds were stacked against the little pigs, because they only lasted a couple of days.  But they were cute, and they certainly appealed to my family's penchant for unusual animals.

One of my earliest memories relates to some chickens that we kept in the smokehouse.  I was about four or five, I guess, and we had a couple of chickens in coops.  I have no idea where we got them; probably somebody that Daddy had fixed an appliance for gave them to us.  Anyway, these were not pets - they were supper.  I remember sitting on the back steps watching while Mama performed the regretful task of "wringing" the hapless chickens' necks.  To be graphic, for the benefit of the more cityfied reader, this consisted of grasping the chicken's head and twirling the chicken's body in a circular motion, producing a catastrophic separation of head and body.  To add to the trauma of the five-year-old viewer, the chicken, at first seemingly unaware that his head and body were no longer functioning in unison, proceeded to thrash about wildly, apparently seeking some sort of reunification with the missing part.  The participants in this unlikely drama could do nothing but watch sheepishly until the chicken, realizing the futility of its pursuit, decided to hang it up.  Then, it became a matter of plucking the feathers and heating up the frying pan.  But the story is told today of me, sitting there on the back steps, a little tear rolling down my tender cheek, experiencing a brief moment of compassion for the departed fowl.

My brother Gary, the oldest in the family and a genius on many levels, once provided a demonstration of chicken mental capacity that left a profound impact on me, even to this day.  He took one of our chickens, sat it down on a board, and with a piece of chalk, began to slowly draw a line down the length of the board.  The chicken, undoubtedly sensing that something was up, first attempted to ignore the strange proceedings, but ultimately was caught up in the transaction.  The chicken cocked its head, watching as the line slowly grew longer and longer.  In a matter of seconds, the chicken's cocked head remained motionless.  Gary reached over and pushed the chicken's head back a few inches, and it stayed in its new position.  He then gently pushed the chicken's head down closer to the board, and it stayed in the spot he left it.  This went on for several minutes, and we all took turns positioning the chicken's head.  Each time, the hypnotized chicken would remain motionless in the position we left it.  After a bit, the chicken, having enough of this nonsense, began to stir, and quickly resumed its noncompliant attitude.  Years later, I tried this with some of the little chicks that we would get at Easter time.  It still worked, and I even altered the process by swinging a little silver necklace in front of the chick, which worked just as well.

By the way, when it came to fried chicken, Mama was an artist.  She made the best fried chicken ever, and she fried it up in the old iron skillet that had been a wedding present for her and Daddy.  I didn't think anything could top Mama's fried chicken, but she managed to even outdo herself when she ran across a new recipe.  She started rolling the chicken in cracker crumbs and baking it, producing a whole different chicken experience that was nothing less than superb.  I cannot count the number of Sundays when we had Mama's baked chicken, but we never got tired of it. 

I'll take the pully-bone, please.

Click here to see a chicken get hypnotized.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Few Folks from Church

The congregation of Waldron Assembly of God, circa 1972
My formative years were spent at the Waldron Assembly of God Church.  It was what you might call a conservative church; I was 21 years old before I mustered up enough nerve to step into a movie theater.  At my church, “moving picture shows” in general were frowned upon. 

King of Vacation Bible School, along with
Brenda Owens, Queen, about 1966
 I have many happy memories from church; the Vacation Bible Schools we had every summer, the flannel board Sunday School lessons, the gospel singing groups we had on occasion, to name a few. But it was the people who made up the congregation that made the greatest impression on me. They were for the most part simple country people, people for whom a trip outside of Waldron was a rarity. But they loved their church! Here are just a few who stand out in my memory:

Nelis and Margaurite Brewer

Anyone who knew Nelis knew that he was a working man. He had more energy in his little frame than most men twice his size. Nelis was the Sunday School Superintendent, which meant that he directed the first part of the Sunday Service before we were dismissed to our classes. Nelis always wore a smile, which nicely complimented his plaid slacks and plaid sport coat. Margaurite was my Sunday School teacher when I was in Jr. High; she used to call me The Professor. She also led the singing every service and on Sunday mornings led the Booster Band, in which the children of the church got up in front and sang. The Brewer’s were two of the sweetest people ever to walk the planet. When my sister and I left for college, we had expended pretty much every cent we had to enroll and buy books. On the first Wednesday night service after we left, Nelis got up and took up an offering for us, raising a vitally needed $50. This act of thoughtfulness even today almost brings tears to my eyes.

Luke Langley

Luther “Luke” Langley and his wife Lois were mainstays at the church. Luke was always very caring and considerate with Lois, I recall. I had many extended conversations with Luke after services were over as we stood on the porch outside the church house. Luke was a firm believer in the benefits of garlic to prevent heart trouble. He described to me how he would cut up some garlic on the “gritter”, mix it with a little tomato juice and drink it down.

The church record board, with "Enrollment"
misspelled.  Sister Trix would faithfully post
the numbers every Sunday morning.
Thurman and Trix Davenport

Thurman and Trix were also very sweet people. Trix was the Sunday School Treasurer; every Sunday morning, she would give the Treasurer’s report just before Booster Band, reporting on our attendance and offering. After reporting our current balance, she would always say, “taking out 50 cents for the Boosters, that leaves (whatever amount) in the treasury now.” Trix also helped Margaurite with the drawing of the fish, in which one Booster Band member would go home with 50 cents. Thurman was a quiet and soft-spoken man. He was known as a skilled coon hunter, and always had a story to share.

Brother Lee Humphries

You didn’t hear much out of Brother Humphries. He and his wife (Lillie, I think?) sat on the same row as my Aunt Addie and Uncle Joe, near the back. I got acquainted with Brother Humphries when, as a teenager, I and my friends moved to the very back row. Brother Humphries was always friendly to us and never acted like he was bothered by our being back there. One time, Fred Hunt, who also sat on the back row (in a lawn chair that he kept there for that purpose) came through and, addressing the row of teenagers on the back row, said, “Look at all the juveniles.” Brother Humphries heard this and took offense, confusing the term “juvenile” with the less favorable “juvenile delinquent.” After Fred had passed by, Brother Humphries turned in his seat and, frowning, said, “Do you know what he just called you? Outlaws!”

Opal Yandell

Brother Opal was a larger than life character. Part of each evening service consisted of “testimony service,” in which people stood and shared a short bit of praise and thankfulness. Well, Brother Opal didn’t believe in making his testimony short. He would stand and begin to testify, and as he spoke he would become more and more animated until he finally would be pacing across the front of the church. I once clocked Brother Opal at 45 minutes from beginning to end of his testimony. It wasn’t normally that long, but you could generally count on Brother Opal to ensure that you wouldn’t be getting home on Sunday night in time to watch any of Bonanza.

Brother Hubert Barnett

Brother Barnett was not exclusively a member of our congregation; he visited several churches around town. He once explained during testimony service that he believed in having three doctors, three lawyers, and three preachers. Whatever church he happened to be attending, he normally arrived late and made his presence known with a loud and unexpected “Well….Glory to God” delivered from the back of the church as he walked in. This arrhythmia-inducing outburst was enough to shake the cobwebs from even the most sleep-deprived teenager. Brother Barnett had another disarming propensity; if someone was singing a special, and Brother Barnett liked it, he would walk to the pulpit where the singer was standing and place a dollar bill on the singer’s head. Then, turning, he would unleash another “Well….Glory to God!” as he headed back to his seat.

You know, come to think of it, there were times when even Bonanza paled in comparison to that.

The church as it originally looked, circa 1947.  The little house to the right
was the parsonage.