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, August 15, 2011

Off To School

It's a difficult thing for Mamas to send their little ones off
to school for the first time.
A trip to Parsley's helped make it a little easier for my twin sister Janet and me to transition into the whole going to school routine.  Mama had bought us matching book satchels, the plaid kind made of vinyl, with lots of little straps and buckles to hold your belongings in place.  We packed up our Blue Horse tablets, the kind with the little red dotted lines to help you shape your letters, our pencils, our exquisitely smelling box of Crayola crayons, a bottle of paste, and a few pencils, and off to Mrs. Clara Evatt's class we went. 

I don't remember much about that first day.  Mama often related how Janet and I came home and excitedly told her about the day's events, including how a little boy named Jimmie Wayne Sims stood by the water fountain and, holding the lever so the water would flow, very courteously inquired, "Anybody want a naink?"  As the year went on, I remember almost getting in trouble when a boy sitting at our table took a swing at me and knocked over the fish bowl containing a little turtle, and I remember learning to read and discovering some fascinating tales of a little boy and girl named Dick and Jane, and their little sister Sally, and their dog Spot, who had a particular affinity for running, as I recall, and even their little cat Puff.  But Janet and I were the babies, and I know it must have been hard for Mama to send us off on that first day.

There was another first day of school, the day Janet and I went off to college.  It wasn't far, just to Fort Smith to Westark, but we would be living away from home, with my brother Gary and his wife.  Janet and I had pooled our life savings and bought a car that my sister-in-law had found for us.  It was a 1973 Buick Century, only two years old, with a meager 9,000 miles on the odometer.  We bought it at Crawford County Motors for $3,000, for which we each contributed half. 

I have one astounding memory of the day we left for Westark.  It was a Sunday, I believe, and we were packed up and ready to go and were saying goodbye (although we planned to come home on the weekends), and Daddy, with whom I had a somewhat distant relationship at the time, unexpectedly reached out and hugged me.  I hardly knew what to think.  It was, I think, the beginning of a long thaw.

My sister Janet recalls that, as we left town, we stopped down the street to say goodbye to our grandmother.  "Memaw," as we called her, was a widow who lived alone in a tiny little house on Pine Street.  Janet remembers that Memaw was so sad to see us go away that she could hardly talk.

Well, we loved Westark.  Gary's house was not far from campus; Janet and I went home for lunch most days but on Tuesdays and Thursdays, we went to the Hardee's that was located by Central Mall (not there anymore) and got a hamburger.  Janet got a job working with my sister-in-law in the campus business office, and I got what, in hindsight, was probably the best job I ever had.  My job was to walk around the campus, carrying a mechanical "grabber" and a trash can, and pick up any trash that I encountered on my journey.  So, for about three hours a day, no matter what the weather, I walked.  I got to keep any Coke bottles that I found, which could be turned in for a few cents each at Buddy Gray's store on my weekends home.  I even occasionally found a dollar bill or some loose change.  As a side benefit, I got three hours of exercise each day, and I began to slim up. 

I recall a particularly cold winter day, when I was out picking up trash as usual, when a faculty member, Dr. Curtis Ivory, came out of the Holt Building to where I was working.  Dr. Ivory said, "I just wanted to tell you, I appreciate what you're doing.  The campus looks really good, and I see you out here every day working, and I really admire that."

I thanked Dr. Ivory, and went on my way, but I never forgot what he had taken the time to do.  Years later, when I was again working at what was now known as the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith, I googled Dr. Ivory's name and found him at a university in Wisconsin.  I sent him an email, relating my memory of what he had said to me, and got a very nice email in return from him.

After Westark, which at that time was only a two-year institution, I transferred to Arkansas Tech in Russellville.  Janet, on the other hand, had completed her Associates Degree and had found gainful employment, so she stayed in Waldron.  I sold her my half of the car, and invested the proceeds in having our family's old 1967 Ford Custom 500 rebuilt.  We had to tow it down to the Brigance boys to have the engine rebuilt.  It wasn't finished until literally the day before I was to go over to Tech, but sure enough that Saturday, they called and said it was ready.  I went down to get it with Daddy, but when I got out my billfold to pay them the $500 it cost to have the work done, Daddy had already gotten his billfold out.  I tried to pay, but Daddy insisted on paying the full cost himself.  He hadn't said a word to me about doing that, but he did it anyway.  I think it was kind of like another hug.  A little more ice melted.

Later that day, a crisis.  Daddy had gone to get me a tank of gas, and when he came back the muffler fell off of the old Ford.  Mama called Bill and Fred Harris and they told her to bring the car on down.  So, on a Saturday afternoon, Harris Motor Company fixed my car so I could go off to college.

I remember driving over to Russellville on that Sunday morning.  It seemed so weird to be missing church, and every time I drove past a church with a full parking lot, I felt a little guilty.  This was really going to be different; I was truly on my own for the first time, would have a roommate that I had never seen before in my life, and would be living in a town I'd never been to before.  Let the adventure begin...

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