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, January 31, 2011

The Little House at East 7th and Pine

My brother Phil calls it Alberta's Mansion.  When it and Mama were both in their prime, that little house blossomed in the spring like the azaleas around the front porch.  When we kids were around, we did so much playing in the yard that it was hard to keep a flower alive.  But Mama loved her flowers, and when she got the yard back after we went out on our own, she turned it into a showplace.  She spent hours working in her yard, watering her flowers and growing new ones that she got from "starts" that Aunt Addie had given her.

One summer she ordered some plugs of zoysia grass through the mail.  When they came in, we were sure they were dead.  But Mama set them out throughout the yard, and she got great delight from noticing every year how much more of the yard had been overtaken by the zoysia.

Daddy spent much of his childhood in this house.  I and my siblings spent all of ours in it.  Incredibly, the little two bedroom one bath house was home to a family of seven.  I'm still not sure how we all fit in there, but Mama made it work somehow.  When I was little, the house was heated mainly by a coal-burning potbellied stove in the living room.  Phil has called it a magic stove, for every cold morning when we woke up, it always had a warm fire.  I am famous in my family for my particular affectation of eating coal.  We would get our coal by the dump truck load, which was deposited outside in an area we called the coal pile.  For some unnerving reason, it appears that I found the taste and texture of the fresh coal to my liking.  When I would appear at the back door with my slightly blackened face, Mama would say, "Billy, what have you been eating."  My response, it has been often reported, would be, "copile."  Fortunately, the direct ingestion of fossil fuel appears to have done me no lasting harm.

Gary, Phil, and Gene, holding a squirming set of twins.
Sometime in the early sixties, gas lines were installed in Waldron.  It was an exciting time, with crews digging trenches all over town that were ideal for playing army.  And the heavy equipment required for a job of this magnitude made for fascinating viewing!

Our little house had rock steps off the front porch.  When Randy and Swanna and Cindy or any of the other neighborhood kids were over, we played a simple game on those steps that we called "School." The "teacher" would pick up one of the little white rocks that surrounded our porch and conceal it in one hand behind their back.  The "students" would all be sitting on the top step, and would take turn picking which hand we thought the "teacher" had the pebble in.  If you guessed right, you passed on to the next step.  Whoever got to the bottom step first was the winner.  Probably not quite as exciting as Play Station, but we spent countless hours doing it anyway.

The back door was secured at night by placing a butter knife between the door and the door sill.  Just outside the back door, a few steps led to a piece of concrete that was the remains of a well that once was there.  I was always fascinated by the well, which had been filled in, because it seems that my older brothers had contributed to the filling in of the well by chunking some of their toy trucks down into the depths.  Why, for one thing, would anyone put a perfectly good Tonka truck down a well, I wondered; and also, would it be possible to dig up the well and recover the toys?  This question haunted me throughout my childhood.  But, when my brothers would tell me stories of Christmases past when all they got was an apple and perhaps, if it was a good year, an orange, I would blisteringly point out that I, at least, could not afford the luxury of chunking perfectly good Tonka toys down wells.  That would usually shut them up.

Gary standing in front of the smokehouse.  That's not a
costume, that's how they dressed when Gary was little.
Behind the house was another structure that we called the smokehouse.  Actually, it was half smokehouse and half garage, but in reality both were just places where we stored stuff.  The smokehouse was very interesting; that's where Daddy kept stuff he was working on, so there was always lots of stuff in there to play with.  The garage was also full of fun stuff, including an old wooden telephone booth that, had it survived, would today be worth a small fortune.  From the garage, you could climb up into a space above the smokehouse that made an ideal clubhouse.  It was also full of stuff, including some old reels of film left over from the days when Daddy was a projectionist at the Scott Theater (it was called The Pines when he worked there).  I believe that my brothers once discovered a reel of footage from Sally Rand, a particularly artistic performer of exotic dance, but they chose not to share their find.  There was even an old projector that the boys got to light up, but it wouldn't advance the film. 

Our house had an attic, but it was too spooky for any of us to go up into.  Mama had warned us that there might be exposed electrical wires up there, so that, in addition to the dark and dust, kept us at bay.  Mama said that when she and Daddy first moved into the house, they found in the attic a trunk of old letters that had been left by the lady who lived there before them.  Mama felt that it would have been an invasion of privacy to read them, so she burned them all.  If you know Mama, you can understand that.  But a less conscientious person such as myself would have loved to have had a chance to read those letters!

That's Marilyn and Carolyn Douglas (not sure who's in
the middle between them) and the Yates bunch in front
of our little house at East 7th and Pine.
Growing up in a mansion like I did certainly had its advantages.  For one thing, the cuisine was beyond compare.  Pinto beans and cornbread, the crunchy kind prepared in an iron skillet; tuna croquettes, hamburgers (1 pound of meat equals 7 burgers); donuts made from canned biscuits; a delicious Rice Krispy treat called Scotcharoos; just to name a few favorites.  And our professional housekeeper always made sure that we had clean clothes to wear and that the dishes were washed and ready for the next meal.  We even had a Spiritual Advisor on staff who taught us how to live, and made sure that we went to church even on Sunday nights when Bonanza came on.  And our bookkeeper somehow always managed to make our available funds last the entire month, and by taking an occasional deferral of her own salary, managed to find enough money for an occasional trip to Parsley's.  Oh, I can't help but feel a little bit sorry for the folks who grew up in a regular house.  But one thing I noticed about Waldron; it was dotted with little mansions that looked a whole lot like ours.


9 comments:

  1. Mr. Yates, I had alot of memories with your mom on her front porch. I loved your Momma dearly. I have a picture of my brother Toby on her porch swing with a trantula on his head. I have a picture of myself and Ronnie standing in the front yard behind the big circle flower bed.. My granny Frances Kelley, would always go to the big magnolia tree(for my birthday) and pick off some of the flowers and take a tooth pick and "write" on the petals "Happy Birthday Heather!" Thanks so much for sharing your stories, We love them!

    Heather King (Urban)

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  2. Thanks Heather. Mama and Larry had many long conversations about flowers over the years. They both got enjoyment from working outside and loved getting the chance to visit.

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  4. We didn't have clothes that fancy when I was little. I had the part of Captain John Smith in the school play. Momma had only a few days to create the outfit, but she did it. The actor looks a tad homely but the wardrobe was sharp.

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  5. This is truly wonderful stuff. I love reminiscences of this sort, full of juicy little warm personal memories. Nice job.

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  6. Thanks Suldog. I appreciate the kind words, and I'm sure enjoying reading your blog!

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  7. James B. JettMarch 15, 2011

    I played on that porch many times growing up. Always enjoyed visiting with your Dad and Mom. He gave me an old fishing pole that I kept for over 20 years. It was already really old when he gave it to me so it must have been over 30 years when it was stolen from me. That was the best pole I ever owned.

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