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, May 30, 2011

The Beta Club Convention

One of the highlights of my high school years was the annual trip to Little Rock for the state Beta Club convention.  It was held the last weekend in January, and Waldron would send a bus full of excited 10th - 12th graders each year.  In the early 70's, our superintendent, L.R. Sawyer, was on the state board of directors for the Beta Club and Eddie Harrison, our sponsor, was state chairman.  So Waldron was always well represented at the convention.

Trips to even Fort Smith were somewhat rare for us, so a trip to the thriving state capitol city of Little Rock was a sheer delight.  We marveled at the huge buildings and crowds of people.  One year, our bus ran out of fuel in the middle of Markham Avenue, so we got an extended view of downtown Little Rock until help arrived.
 We always stayed at the Sam Peck Hotel in downtown Little Rock.  We stayed four to a room usually, and we found the accommodations there quite luxurious.  The hotel staff must have been quite patient with a hotel full of high school students, and I recall that they all treated us with great respect.  After unpacking our luggage, we were eager to hit the streets of the Big City before the convention got under way later that evening.  One of our first stops was always a wondrous place called Woolworth's.
Woolworth's was downtown, within walking distance
 of the Sam Peck.  It was a true five and dime store, similar to our beloved Parsley's back home but many, many times larger.  We would spend hours looking through the rows of novelties, or maybe get our pictures taken in the little booth that took three pictures for a quarter.  They also had a lunch counter that was always quite busy with businessmen and women who where grabbing a quick bite for lunch. 
 I don't remember exactly what I bought there, but for some reason I saved my sack, along with my cash register receipt.  Always frugal, I bought two items that were thirty-nine cents each.  Whatever they were, they have been lost to time, but not the sack they came in.  The slogan on their sack is quite accurate; Woolworth was a fun place to shop!  After wandering around Woolworth for a while, we would then stroll back toward the hotel, but we had one more stop to make.  The drive to Little Rock had left us hungry, and the greatest burger joint on the planet was right on our way.

The last remaining Minute Man on the planet, located in Pine Bluff.  Looks just like I remember the one in Little Rock looking.

Still on the menu, my favorite, the Number 5.  I always got mine without onions.(Previous two photos from Kat Robinson's excellent blog TieDyeTravels.com)

 Yes, I seem to have saved a napkin as a memento.  Perhaps I knew that 38 years later, I would still be talking about the great hamburgers we got at Minute Man.  Minute Man was a chain of hamburger places throughout the south, and their burgers were something to look forward to.  I always ordered the Number 5 without onions.  This was a traditional cheeseburger that was topped with chili.  It was so delicious, I can almost taste it now!  In all my many travels in the past 38 years, I've never had a hamburger that tasted better than a Number 5 without onions.  (However, the Rooster Burger from The Red Rooster in Alma is a close, close second!)  I can remember how sad it felt on the last day of the convention when I had my last Number 5 without onions and knew it would be a year before I could have another one.
 Life back at the Sam Peck was exciting.  Our school bus carried us to the meetings that were held in Robinson Auditorium, but in the time we were not at the convention we got to hang out, usually in the hall, and visit.  In this picture, it looks like John York, Lisa Davis, Terry Plummer, and several others are doing something productive like playing cards.  The sessions of the convention consisted of a lot of speeches, but there was also a talent competition that was pretty entertaining.  There was also elections for state officers, and one year one of our classmates, Argie Franklin, ran for a state office (Vice-President, I think).  That was exciting, because we all got to participate in a short skit that we performed on stage after her speech.  I portrayed The Devil in the skit, and had to wear a pair of long underwear that had been dyed red, along with a pitchfork and a set of horns.  I have a picture, but I chose not to share.
Terry Plummer contemplates a phone call
Mr. Harrison, our long-suffering sponsor, kept us out of trouble.  But we were pretty good kids, and nobody was really trying to cause any problems.  Nothing major, at least.  I remember one year when Terry Plummer called the front desk and informed them, "Hello, my name is Eddie Harrison in room 304.  I'd like a wake-up call in the morning at 3:30 a.m."  The tolerant front desk attendant, recognizing that the call had not come from room 304, called Mr. Harrison and asked him to please encourage the students not to be making prank calls to the front desk.

Me, Eddie Saucier, and Paul Frazier play a game of cards
in our room at the Sam Peck
Finally, Sunday Morning would roll around, and it
would be time to load back up on the bus and head back to Waldron.  The noise and excitement of the trip to the convention would be replaced by tired young people who preferred sleeping to talking.  When we arrived back at the gym, we would tote our luggage and our tired bodies over to our parents' cars.  But, although we were tired, we knew we had seen some sights, and shared some laughs, and made some memories.  Now, just 12 more months, and it will be time to do it all over again!

Monday, May 16, 2011

B & B Drug Store

During my junior and senior years of high school, I had a part-time job at B&B Drug store on Main Street.  My job description was eclectic:  I did janitorial duties like vacuuming and taking out the trash, made an occasional delivery of medicine, and also filled in at the counter as a "soda jerk."  I kind of just happened upon the job; I had worked the year before as a "sweeper" at school, sweeping the high school classrooms after school, and evidently Bill Black, the pharmacist and owner of B&B, had called the school to see if they could recommend someone to work for him and they had recommended me.  So, I went to work at B&B, working from 3:30 to 7:30 Monday through Saturday.

When I first started there, Bill was off every Wednesday and Thursday, and the pharmacist on duty was Mrs. Baber, whose husband had started the business.  Mrs. Baber was quite elderly, but I looked forward to the days when she would work because if a medicine delivery had to be made, I got to drive her car.  She drove a new Oldsmobile Delta 88, and it was by far the slickest vehicle I had ever operated.  It even had a retractable radio antenna that was controlled by a switch on the dashboard.  I had a few regular deliveries that I made, and there was often a delivery to be made to the Nursing Home.  Mrs. Baber retired after I'd been there about a year, and Bill had other pharmacists come in to work the two days he was off.

Bill and Dr. Wright went fishing every Wednesday.  Sometimes Dr. Wright would come in late in the evening when he finished up at his office and drink coffee and read magazines.  We had a section for magazines and B&B was one of the few places in Waldron where you could buy an album or a 45 single of the latest big hit.  Well, it might not be the absolute latest big hit; we had a guy who came around about every 6 weeks or so to update the albums and 45's.  I was always so excited to browse through the new records, and I often spent a good part of my $18 weekly paycheck on records!

When things were slow, I would spend a few minutes swatting flies up at the front of the store.  I would pull an ice cold Fresca out of the coke box, and drink it while I cut down on the fly population.  Those big windows were fun to look out of, because you could see everything that happened on Main Street.  One of my jobs was to wash those windows every week, and without fail I always got a little shock when I touched the neon sign as I cleaned the inside windows.  One day I was outside cleaning windows, and a total stranger came up to me and said that he always used old newspapers to clean windows, because it would get rid of the streaks.  I tried it and sure enough, the old newspapers made the windows gleam!

It took a while to get the hang of working the soda fountain.  We got coke syrup in large, gallon-sized cartons, and I filled the reservoir in the dispenser with syrup every day.  The dispenser mixed the syrup with carbonated water.  We had several varieties of bottled pop that we kept in the coke box at the end of the counter.  We also had a tap that dispensed carbonated water which we used to make sodas with cherry syrup.  We made milkshakes and malts, but our number one item was the nickel cup of coffee.  Bill surely must have lost money on coffee sales, but he kept the price at 5 cents a cup all the time I worked for him and many years after.  We had a lot of regular customers who came in at the same time each day for their cup of coffee. 

B&B was part of the Rexall chain of drug stores, so every spring we had a big Rexall sale.  It was exciting because we got lots of new merchandise that we had to find display space for.  In fact, it's amazing to think of the variety of products that were sold at that little store.  If you needed glycerin, salt petre, or cattle dewormer, B&B had you covered. 

When Bill would tally up the days proceeds each night, he would put the leftover loose change in a cigar box.  In the back storage room, shelves were lined with cigar boxes that all had loose change in them.  One day, Bill decided to have me count up the change and roll it, so to make it easier he borrowed a change counting and rolling machine from the city.  I had never seen anything like it before; it had a round "bowl" where you dumped the change, and then you turned a big crank that slung the coins against the side of the bowl, where they would fall into the slot that corresponded to their size.  It took about 3 days of working a few hours each day, but we ended up with over $700 in rolled coins.

Working at B&B was a great experience for me; I learned the importance of having a strong work ethic and being dependable.  I got to work with some great people:  Bill and his wife JoAnne, Virgie Montegue, Paige Bethel, Shirley Slaughterbeck, Gwinda Scott, Beverly Self, Vickie Owens, and Evelyn Thompson, among others.  A drug store with a fountain is a rare thing nowadays; and I'm pretty sure there aren't any nickel cups of coffee around anywhere.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Mother of All Firecrackers

Due to a little accident that I experienced this weekend, I was unable to write this week's blog entry.  But, that's a good thing, because it allowed me to share an entry from my brother Phil's blog, which bears the whimsical name Sackett Land and Cattle Company.  I'm on the mend now, and I'll be back next Monday with a new entry.  Till then, enjoy Phil's story of The Mother of All Firecrackers...

In the late 50s and early 60s the Fourth of July was right up there with Christmas on our favorite holiday list. We were not burdened down by all the rules, regulations and safety concerns they have now. We would sell our Coke bottles and cash in coupons from Readers Digest at Buddy Grey's Grocery Store, beg for whatever we could get from our parents and head to the Crumptown Store. We were not interested in the expensive stuff that looked pretty. We wanted cheap and above all loud! We could hardly contain our excitement as we headed back down Bonstien hill for home. We would choose up sides and with one unit on the south end of the field and the opposing unit on the north end we would shoot bottle rockets at each other until one unit member cried. It was the most fun after dark. We would also line up all the plastic army men and equipment we had bought at Parsley's 5 and dime in strategic battlefield formations on opposing sides. From ten feet away we launched Black Cats at them until one army was decimated. Our parents would often remind us of the boy that blew his hand off somewhere. We never pressed for details.

I can't remember all who were involved but one day we decided to build a Sputnik Killer. After one more trip to the Crumptown Store, we used a razor blade to disassemble 100 Black Cat firecrackers and wrapped the black powder in a piece of a brown paper bag, like we used for smoking corn silk, but we put a fuse in one end and taped it to a dollar bottle rocket with daddy's black electrical tape. We made a small hole in the nosecone of the rocket and inserted the fuse figuring once the rocket reached it's maximum altitude of over 200 feet the powder in the nosecone would ignite the "bomb" and there would be a big cool explosion that we would be famous for for years to come.

The launch was scheduled for just before supper figuring the moms would all be cooking supper and the dads would be inside reading the paper or doing whatever dads do after work. The "rocket-bomb" was top heavy so instead of a coke bottle we used a piece of pipe stuck in the ground for a launchpad. Having drawn the short straw, I quivered with excitement as I lit a punk and cautiously approached the launch pad. Glancing back over my shoulder I watched the last of my comrades disappear behind the smokehouse.

I touched the glowing punk to the fuse. It seemed to take forever for the fuse to ignite but when it did it ignite, it ignited with great intensity. I dropped the punk and turned to run for my life but tripped and fell flat on my face. Before I could get up again, there was a loud hissing noise accompanied by a huge cloud of white smoke. As I struggled to breath, through the smoke and fire I could see the Sputnik Killer slowly rising into the heavens. 20 feet....25 feet......30 feet .... 25 feet......20 feet........BOOOOOOOOOM!!! Windows Shook...dogs barked....chickens squawked. People came running out of houses....every house. By the time the smoke had cleared I had managed to scramble, crawl and run to join my brave comrades behind the smokehouse. We didn't come out for a long time.

I don't remember what our punishment was or whether law enforcement was involved. I just remember it was one of the greatest summers I can remember growing up in a small town in America.