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, July 25, 2011

Stars on 45

It's too bad that young folks today don't get to experience vinyl records.  In the days when music was spun instead of downloaded, an inexpensive way to get to hear anytime the latest hits that WLS in Chicago played was to buy a 45 rpm record.  There were a few places in Waldron that sold records, but sometimes you had to go to Wal-Mart in Booneville or maybe Fort Smith to get the very latest.  By the way, for those youngsters who happen to be reading this, a "45" was so named because the vinyl record made 45 revolutions per minute as it turned on the record player.  An LP, or long-playing record, spun at a rate of 33 and one-third revolutions per minute.  And the generation before me listened to records that played at 78 revolutions per minute. 

Of course, if you found yourself with a surplus of funds, you might splurge on an entire LP, or "album" as we called them.  Madcats Music Seller in Fort Smith's Central Mall was a great place to look at albums.  It was easy to forget about time as you perused the "stacks"; looking at the fantastic art on the covers and reading the liner notes on the back of the album. 

I'm not sure where my older brothers bought their records back when I was in elementary school.  We didn't have many, but we practically wore the grooves off of the ones we did have, playing them endlessly on the little record player that we ordered from the Sears catalogue.  My sister and I loved to mime along to the records, while accompanying ourselves on our "guitars", which were actually badminton rackets.  (My sister Janet later became a skilled guitarist, but I, sadly, lacked the talent to advance beyond the badminton racket.)

So, while looking through my box of old 45's, I pulled out these records that we listened to in those days (all songs listed are linked to YouTube, so you can click and listen at any time; just don't forget to come back...):

The Universal Soldier (Glen Campbell)
Venus in Blue Jeans (Michael Reed)
Telstar (The Tornadoes)
Wondering (Roy Orbison)
Crazy Little Guitar Man (Red Foley) - featured lots of great badminton; er, guitar, solos...
Ruby Ann (Marty Robbins)
and, our particular favorite...
Sing a Goofy Song (Dave Seville and The Chipmunks)

Later, in junior high and high school, we put away the badminton rackets and put on headphones, to listen to records on our new stereo unit, also ordered from Sears.  In looking through my collection, I see a lot of country records from this particular period, as well as pop hits.  Digging deeper in the box, I found great songs like:

Why Me (Kris Kristofferson)
Leave Me Alone (Helen Reddy)
Paper Roses (Marie Osmond)
Danny's Song (Anne Murray)
Funny Face (Donna Fargo)
The Most Beautiful Girl (Charlie Rich)
You're Sixteen (Ringo Starr)
Stuck In The Middle With You (Stealers Wheel)
Hey Loretta (Loretta Lynn)
Sing (The Carpenters)
Jolene (Dolly Parton)
The Entertainer (Marvin Hamlisch)
When Will I Be Loved (Linda Ronstadt)
Let Me Be There (Olivia Newton-John)
Dueling Banjos (Eric Weissberg)
The Cover of "Rolling Stone" (Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show)
You're So Vain (Carly Simon)
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (Elton John)
Mockingbird (James Taylor and Carly Simon)
After the Goldrush (Prelude)
Lonely People (America)
Midnight at the Oasis (Maria Muldaur)
Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Ole Oak Tree (Tony Orlando and Dawn)
Help Me (Joni Mitchell) - one of my all time favorite records...

Yes, it's a collection that can best be described as eclectic.  With college and my high-paying student janitorial job, I was later able to greatly expand my 45 collection by making frequent stops at Madcats.  I have countless records from this period (mid to late '70s), but I'll not list them, since that era is a bit past the scope of this blog, although they are probably some of my favorite records.  But, rest assured, I still have every 45 that I ever bought, along with all my albums, and I even still have a record player to listen to them if I want.  But, sometimes it's easier to take the modern route, so feel free to click on any of the records above and visit the YouTube version of these old 45's.

Monday, July 18, 2011


My very first paying job was as a sweeper for Waldron Public Schools.  Sweepers were high school guys who, every day after school, went over the hallowed halls of WHS with a dust mop.  It was a pretty good job; I worked from about 3:15 to around 5:00 each day, and made $50 per month. 

I come from a proud line of sweepers.  Two of my brothers, Gary and Phil, were both sweepers in their day, before graduating and going off to more glamourous pursuits.  In fact, my brother Phil helped me land the job.  Once when he was in on leave from the Navy, we came up to school and Phil talked to Sherman Oliver, the high school janitor, about me and I got hired soon after.  So, during my sophomore year, the 1971-1972 school year, I worked as a sweeper.

The job had it's moments.  We sweepers took a certain pride in our position, and should some incident occur during the school day in which some sort of cleanup was required, we proudly accessed the janitor's closet to get the needed provisions, something the mere nonsweepers would never even consider doing.  We also felt an added comeraderie with the teachers, since we were all employees of the Waldron School District.  Add to this the fact that we were free to go across the street to get a Coke at the candy store before we started working; something that I rarely did but just knowing that I could made me feel good. 

We also took pride in our individual technique.  I, along with Paul Frazier, swept the High School, and a couple of other guys swept the Junior High.  I had all the rooms on the south side of the building as well as half of the study hall/library.  Working slowly didn't pay off, because we worked until we were finished, so the faster you worked the sooner you got to go home.  So, we quickly learned how to sweep as rapidly as possible while still doing a quality job.  There was nothing more embarrassing than walking into a classroom some morning and seeing a pile of dust and trash that you overlooked the afternoon before.  Most of the classrooms had individual desk and chair combinations, and the speedy technique for working with those was to go down the aisle, pushing your broom with one hand and slinging the desks next to you into the adjoining aisle with the other hand, so that when you turned around to come back up your newly created space, you could hold the broom with one hand and pull the desks back into place with the other.  Then you were ready to repeat the process on the next row of desks.  This required a great deal of energy, so sometimes near the end of the day all you could do was go through and push a whole row of desks into the aisle and then sweep that space, and lay down your broom and go back and put them in the correct place.  This was not nearly as fast but much less effort.  I had both the science classrooms to do as well, and they were harder, since each lab station had a wooden stool which had to be moved.  First thing, I would go in and rapidly put all the stools on top of the lab tables, and then sweep the floor.  When that was done, I'd go as fast as I could putting the stools back on the floor.  Same as with the tables and chairs in study hall; go through first and put every chair on top of the tables, sweep the floor, and then replace all of the chairs. 

Our brooms were kept in the boiler room.  About once every couple of weeks, we would treat our dust mops with some kind of oily stuff that came in a gallon jug.  We had to be careful because too much of that stuff would leave muddy streaks on the tile.  I'm pretty sure that every single 12-inch tile in the building had a broom go over it each day.  We were diligent; we swept everywhere we could get our brooms to reach.  In addition, we often cleaned the blackboards in the classrooms.  We used water and sponges on them, which if you were careful could make them look almost like new, but if you were too hurried could make them look really bad and streaked. 

I can remember my first paycheck.  I walked down to The Bank of Waldron and opened up a savings account, depositing $40 and keeping $10 out for myself.  I can remember how wonderful that felt, walking home knowing I had money in the bank.  Each month, I'd deposit some of my check into that little savings account.  I don't remember how much I built it up to, but it came in handy when I was getting ready to go to college!

Sometime in the middle of that sophomore year of sweeping, there was a bit of labor unrest.  It seems the Junior High guys felt that they were not making enough, and staged some sort of a walkout.  It did not sit well with Mr. L.R. Sawyer, Superintendent of Waldron Public Schools.  Paul and I were not involved in this, but I remember being called over to Mr. Sawyer's office one morning.  There, along with Mr. Sawyer, was Gilbert Davis, High School Principal, and James Staggs, Junior High Principal.  I had no idea why I was being summoned, and felt somewhat nervous.  But, it turns out, all they wanted was to see if I knew of anyone who might be interested in a sweeping job.  I first thought of my best friend Randy Bottoms, but he had a job sacking groceries at Piggly Wiggly.  So, I suggested another close friend, Bruce Keener.  By the end of that day, Bruce was one of the new sweepers in Junior High.

Perhaps I could have continued on throughout my High School career as a sweeper, but fate intervened.  Bill Black, the owner of B&B Drug, was looking for a student to work as janitor/delivery boy for the drug store, replacing Nathan Pearson who was quitting.  So, he contacted the high school office to see if they could suggest someone, and due undoubtedly to my exemplary performance as a sweeper, my name was proffered.  So, Bill called me and I became the B&B janitor, some of my advertures at which you can read about here.

But I was not finished with the janitorial arts.  I worked as a janitor during my first two years in college, and even had a janitorial contract for a year or two after I started teaching.  And so, to my first mentor, Sherman Oliver, I say a big thank you.

Monday, July 11, 2011

A Day In The Life

Me, Lucky, and Tom, under the Mimosa tree.
I want to imagine a summer day, let's say sometime in the summer of 1967.  I'd be 11 years old, just about the age when summers are perfect.  I'd be impervious to the heat, staying out hours at a time, riding my bike when I needed to cool off.  This is what a day in my life, Summer 1967, might have looked like.

The day would begin, of course, with breakfast.  Daddy would have already gone to work at the phone company, the green Jadeite cup that he'd had his coffee in would be in the sink.  I'd fix myself a bowl of either Captain Crunch or Sugar Smacks, and sit down at the kitchen table in the chair by the open window that my sister and I constantly fought over.  It became a ritual, in fact, that before any meal, whichever one of us was the first to sing out, "I get by the win-doooooow," did, in fact, get the chosen seat.  After breakfast, I might sit in the living room for a bit, watching a game show on TV.  But soon, the call of the outdoors would reach me, and I'd head out on the porch, the sound of the screen door slamming behind me, which would alert Lucky, Skipper, and even Tom the cat that I was outside. 

My first stop would be the Mimosa tree in the front yard.  Underneath the Mimosa was one of the coolest places around.  It was also a perfect tree for climbing, it's two main trunks providing plenty of places to step while you climbed.  And, there was a notch just a short ways up that provided an ideal place to sit and relax.  It was easy to lose track of time in the Mimosa tree; the shade, the cool breeze, even the pretty little pink blossoms that looked unlike any other flower; all contributed to a very wonderful way to pass the time. 

But we had places to go.  Mama was needing to go to town, so Janet and I would be going with her.  Since we'd be walking, Mama wanted to go before it got too hot, so the three of us headed up the lane.  It was a short walk, probably a little over a quarter of a mile, and our first stop was Marsh Dry Goods.  When you opened the door to Marsh's, you were met with the most pleasant of aromas, which I can only describe as a mixture of new shoes and denim.  We were there to buy me a couple of new pairs of jeans.  I was loyal to one brand:  Wrangler.  Most of the guys preferred Levis, but not me.  With Wranglers, you got a great pair of jeans, and in the pocket of every pair was a little half-sized comic book about cowboys.  Although I protested, I did have to try them on, since I was growing pretty fast.  But Marsh's kept a good selection on hand, so they had the right size.  Mrs. Marsh wrapped up my jeans, recorded the tab on our account, and we were off to the next stop.  This was going to be good, because Mama needed stationery, and that meant a stop at Parsley's.

When we walked through the front door of Parsley's, I headed straight to the Matchbox Series cars.  They were fairly inexpensive, so I was pretty sure Mama would let me have one.  Parsley's had a wonderful selection of Matchbox Series vehicles.  Every time I visited the store, there seemed to be some new ones.  And I saw immediately which one I wanted:  a little red pickup truck.  And this one had a new feature:  as you rolled it along the floor, if you pressed harder on one side, the truck would turn slightly in that direction.  Sure enough, Mama ok'd my purchase, and we headed on to the next stop.  We were actually almost done, but we needed to stop by the post office.  This meant we would leave Parsley's by the back door, since the post office was just behind the store. 

We checked our mailbox, Box 213.  Daddy had taught me how to remember the combination for the lock.  Huge Fat Boy.  Two turns right to H, two turns left to F, one turn right to B.  Inside, a letter from Mama's brother John in California.  She was happy to hear from him.

The trip back home went quickly.  I had a chance to play with my new pickup for a while on the living room floor.  I enjoyed the cool air from our evaporative fan, or "water cooler" as we called it.  Mama had finished reading the letter from John, and wanted me to take it down to my grandmother for her to read.  Memaw lived just down the street from us, so I got on my bike and headed down to her house with John's letter.  Memaw lived alone and was always glad to have some company, but I liked to explore the branch that ran through her front yard.  It was deep enough that it required a little footbridge to cross it, and you could usually see tadpoles or frogs if you looked long enough.  So, before heading back up the street, I took a little time to see what I could find in the branch.

When I got back home, Mama had dinner almost ready.  It was one of my favorites:  tuna croquettes.  Mama had the knack for making them; she coated them in cracker crumbs and fried them to perfection.  We had mashed potatoes too; when we scooped them on our plate, we always put a slice of cheese under them.  Yates' felt that everything was better with cheese.  We washed it all down with iced tea from the earthenware pitcher that was kept under the cabinet. 

After lunch, Mama set up her ironing board under the ceiling fan in the back bedroom.  She kept an empty Griffin's Syrup bottle by her iron, which had holes punched in the lid with an ice pick.  She filled the bottle with water and sprinkled the clothes with it while she ironed.  I headed back outside; I had a little project to take care of.  I noticed Skipper was scratching alot lately, so it must be time for his flea bath.  Lucky probably needed one too, but he was too big to fit into the wash tub that we used.  But Skipper was smaller, so after I filled up the wash tub with water, I lifted a somewhat uncooperative Skipper into the water and scrubbed him down with a bar of flea soap.  Skipper endured the process, but as soon as I got him dried off, he headed straight to the field to roll around in the grass and dirt.  Nevertheless, after one of his flea baths, his black coat would shine like coal.

Sometimes, there would be some watermelon rinds out by the garden.  These were irresistible to June bugs, who found them to be a source of moisture on hot summer days.  I liked to pick up one of the June bugs and tie a piece of sewing thread to one of his legs.  Then, the June bug would take off and fly in circles above me while I held his "leash."  This was usually good for a few minutes of entertainment before I would slip the thread off the little guy's leg and let him go.

Then, it would be time to spend a little time in the pool.  We had a wonderful pool; Daddy had bought it for us at OTASCO.  It had a metal rim about 24 inches tall and a vinyl liner.  The water was a little cool, but that was no problem.  We were one of the few houses that I knew of that had an outside HOT water faucet as well as cold.  We even had a little "Y" water hose adaptor, so we could get just the perfect mix of water temperatures for the pool.  My sister and I spent countless hours in our little pool; it sure made a hot afternoon a lot more tolerable.

After we got tired of "swimming", we would head out to the field beside the house.  If I saw my friend Randy in his yard, I'd get his attention with our customary signal, a modified scream to the effect of "Rhee-A-Rheet."  Randy and his sister Swanna might come over, and we'd play a game of Flies and Skinners.  That's three people in the outfield, and the batter tosses up the baseball and hits it.  A good hitter could control whether he hit a fly ball or a grounder, or "skinner."  My sister would drive me crazy when she was at bat, tossing the ball up in the air and then deciding at the last minute that she didn't like the direction of the fall and catching it instead of hitting it. But we all played like we were big-leaguers, and had tons of fun.

Late in the afternoon, the Snow Cone truck would come by, and the four of us would be waiting for it beside the road.  We'd listen for the sound of the musical bells from the speaker on top of the truck.  We'd have our dimes ready, and when he stopped we ordered our favorite flavor and quickly devoured the icy treat. 

As the afternoon faded and evening approached, we might decide that it would be a good night to have a wiener roast.  A quick bike trip to Buddy Gray's store would get us the provisions we needed:  a package of wieners, some buns, and maybe a bag of chips.  We'd get Cokes from the vending machine at the laundry on the way home, and cut sticks from one of the peach trees to use for roasting the dogs over a fire.  We'd sit by the fire until dark, and then catch some lightening bugs or maybe look at the night sky and watch for satellites.  Whenever we'd finally done all we could do outside, we'd head back in the house. 

And sleep, to play again tomorrow.

Monday, July 4, 2011

I'll See You In A Little Over Six Hours

Long ago and far away, when I was just a little guy, my Mama was a pretty important part of my life.  When life was confusing and didn't make sense, Mama could usually explain it to me.  She was so important, in fact, that I think I lived my life with my main objective being not to do anything that would disappoint or hurt her.  She was a continual source of goodness and calm, and she wasn't reluctant to go out to the hedge and pick off a switch should the need arise.  To maximize the effect of the switch, she would deftly pull it through her closed fingers before each use, stripping off the little hedge leaves that might provide wind resistance while the switch was in motion.  Though rare, her swats got the job done.

When I got old enough for school, I had mixed emotions.  There was no kindergarten available back in those pioneer days, so we started off in first grade.  I was excited about going to school, but a little bit scared too.  I'd have my twin sister Janet with me, of course, but I was still apprehensive about The Great Unknown.  I was quite used to the routine of  home, and I'd never been away for any extended length of time, except the one time when some cousins were visiting from Texas and we spent the night at Addie and Joe's farm.  As the story has been told in the family many times, the next morning Addie asked me if I'd like to spend the night again sometime, and I replied succinctly, "I wouldn't dare."

But, school was important, and my excitement level was a bit higher than my apprehension level, so I made it off to school.  I do have a vague memory, however, of carrying a picture of Mama with me to look at if I ever felt lonesome.  I honestly am not sure whether that happened or not, but it probably did. 

Once I got into the routine of school, things went OK.  Mama would fix us a good breakfast each morning; sometimes we had oatmeal or cereal, occasionally Mama would fix us pancakes (we liked to smear them with peanut butter before pouring on the syrup), and we even had waffles sometimes.  Janet and I had milk in our special Captain Kangaroo plastic glasses that we got out of a cereal box.  When it was warm, we would usually walk to school, and on cold or rainy days we would catch a ride with my friend Randy's dad, Horace Bottoms. 

It occurred to me at one time that even though I missed Mama, school didn't really last that long.  I took great comfort in my calculation that the school day actually lasted only about six and a half hours.  This was a bit of a revelation to me; you weren't really at school all day like it seemed, but only a short time.  So, when my sister and I would leave the house in the morning, after we got our good-bye hug from Mama, I would tell her, reassuringly, "I'll see you in a little over six hours."

Well, every single morning for at least a year (maybe longer), I would make that statement to Mama when I left for school.  But then, I started getting older, and didn't miss Mama so much, so somewhere in there I quit saying it.  She was still important to me, but I was a big kid then, and didn't get lonesome like I did when I was younger.

Life rolled on, of course.  Elementary school gave way to junior high.  By then, our family had gotten a used car from Harris Motor Company, and Mama had "relearned" how to drive.  She had a drivers license in her younger days, but it had long since expired, so she took the driver's test again.  I remember the afternoon that she came in after taking the test; we all asked anxiously, "Did you pass?" and Mama replied, "By the skin of my teeth!"  So Mama started taking us to school then.  I remember one morning when I had forgotten to get any money for my lunch, and when I realized it shortly after arriving at school, I hurried down to the office to call home.  But there was Mama, standing uncomfortably in the school lobby (she hadn't planned on getting out of the car and wasn't dressed up to her usual standard), talking to Mr. Rackley.  When she saw me, she smiled and handed me my lunch money.

My brothers and sister and I were so fortunate to maintain a close and loving relationship with our Mama in the intervening years.  Honestly, I can truly say that I don't believe there has ever been a cross word exchanged between any of us as adults, and that is a direct result of our relationship with our Mama, I think.  If Mama ever had a negative opinion about someone, she kept it to herself.  I don't believe she had it in her to make a harsh comment about anyone or anything. 

So, I got to the point where I could make it more than six and a half hours without seeing her, but it will now soon be four years since we said good-bye.  I miss her every day, and so do my brothers and sister.  We still catch ourselves sometimes thinking we need to pick up the phone and call and ask her something.

I've saved a phone message on tape that she left me one time.  In it, she says, "Billy, if you want to come down, I just fixed a big pot of beans and some cornbread."

Mama's beans and cornbread.  The best meal I ever had.