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, October 31, 2011

Over On Pine Street

Tonight, a rerun of a previous post that talks about Halloween on Pine Street...

I don’t know for sure that it was always called Pine Street; seems like in my early, early days, it didn’t have a name at all. It was a dirt road when I was little, like most of the streets in Waldron. Which was a good thing, actually, because our faithful dog Lucky’s favorite game was to chase rocks that we picked up from the road and threw. All you had to say was, “Lucky, you wanna go chase rocks?” and Lucky would bound out on the road and intently watch your every movement until the rock left your hand, whereupon he would chase the missile down. Fortunately, he never caught the rocks in his mouth, just let them roll and when they had slowed down, he would pick them up briefly and then drop them, just to show them he was in charge.

Watching the road graders come by and grade the road was a fascinating experience. We would sit on the sloping bank of our front yard and watch transfixed and the two Champion roadgraders transformed the pitted, rough surface of the road into a nice, smooth surface. Raymond Davis was one of the operators, and I don't remember the name of the other fellow, but they were celebrities among the kids on Pine Street. I doubt that an astronaut would have held any greater admiration than one of our roadgrader operators.

If I went out and stood in the middle of the road and looked to the north, I could see a grey house at the very end of Pine Street (even beyond where it crossed Church Street) which I was thoroughly convinced was a castle. This little grey house is still there, and when I was older and could ride my bicycle across the highway and see it, I was surprised at how small it actually was. I had seen pictures of castles in story books, and they were always grey, so I was convinced that at the very end of Pine Street you could find probably the only castle in the city of Waldron.

The part of Pine Street that belonged to my world was from Church Street to 8th Street. That was from Gentry Priest’s house up to my Aunt Lola’s house. Gentry Priest had the nicest house on our street, and it was always a thrill to go there on Halloween. After we got our candy from Gentry, we crossed the street and visited Norman Goodner’s house. Now this was usually the highlight of the night, because Norman gave out FULL-SIZED NICKLE HERSHEY BARS! This type of generosity was unprecedented anywhere else on Pine Street, and formed my earliest concept of what high-class meant. Next up the street were Thurman and Florene Douglass, whose kids were comparable in age to the kids in my family, and who have remained lifelong friends to all the Yates’. In fact, Cindy, their youngest, was more than likely trick-or-treating with us. From there, it was only a few steps over to Mr. Ayers’ house. Mr. and Mrs. Ayers were great neighbors to my grandmother. They were an older couple, very nice. After their house, my grandmother (Memaw) was next. She lived alone and had been widowed for many years but always spent a little of her meager income for some candy for Halloween.

Rapidly, we worked our way up the street. James Hicks’ house, Maude Rice, Violette Smith, George Hawkins’ house. George was fascinating because he operated a wrecker service, and he often brought in wrecked cars and put them in an empty lot beside his house. My older brothers once went over and staged some pictures of themselves, seemingly mortally injured, hanging out of one of the wrecked cars. George even had a military halftrack once, a tank-like vehicle that was incredibly fun to play in.

Across from our house were Bill and Clemmie Bobbitt. Their kids were older than my sister and I, but their youngest, Donnie, was a great friend to my brothers and my parents and often came to visit them as an adult. I distinctly remember standing in my front yard and singing “Oh My Darling Clementine” at the top of my lungs as I faced their house. Why, I have no idea; I think the similarity between “Clemmie” and “Clementine” was just too much to pass up. Dan and Margie Allen were in the next house. Dan and Margie drove a beautiful red 1962 Chevy Impala, possible the nicest car on our street. Dan worked at the furniture factory and was in the National Guard. Their little daughter Tammy (now Tammy Slagle) would stand out in their driveway and wait for us to come out and talk to her. Next to the Allen’s were Allie, her sister Rachel, and Rachel’s husband George. Don’t remember who was in the next few houses, but across the road was The Field, an open area that was our precious playground. Directly behind the field were Horace and Annabelle Bottoms, parents to my greatest childhood friend Randy and his sister Swanna. Hoss, as we called Horace, often took all of us kids riding in the back of his pickup out in the country. That was always great fun.

My Aunt Lola Ferguson and her husband Dennis lived at the end of the block. Most people called Dennis “Squirrel”, but we never did. He had a brother named "Strawberry.” Lola was my Daddy’s older sister and the owner of “The Field.” She also possessed the only set of encyclopedias on the street, and many school projects meant a trip to Lola’s house to do research. She also gave out popcorn balls on Halloween, which were as much anticipated as one of Norman Goodner’s candy bars. On Halloween, she always answered the door with a Halloween mask on, which normally terrified me, but hey, the popcorn balls were worth it. She had one of those joyous, explosive laughs that would ring out and just make you feel good to hear. She always laughed when she got us with the Halloween mask.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Little Game About Waldron

Okay, let's have a little fun on this rainy day.  Click the link below to play Waldron Jeopardy...with questions about that wonderful little place called Waldron, Arkansas.  See how much you know about your hometown in the 1960's.  You can play alone or make it a team competition.  Good luck, and enjoy the memories...

Waldron Jeopardy

Monday, October 24, 2011

I Try to Get Elected to Student Council

1968 was a pivotal year in American political history.  The civil rights struggle was ongoing, American politics and culture was shaken with the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, and the war in Vietnam was defining American political debate.  And on the local scene, I got elected to the Student Council. 

My political apex arrived early in my career; during the fall of my seventh grade year, to be exact.  For when all of the recently elementary but now seventh grade student body met, my name was put forth in nomination as student council representative, and somehow, when the final votes were tallied, I had won.  So, evidently, I had found my niche; leadership.  No, I wasn't on the football team, and no, I wasn't in band, but I was Seventh Grade Boys Representative on the Waldron Junior High Student Council.  I had, it seemed, arrived.

I don't recall actually doing much that year.  We met, with Mrs. May as our sponsor, periodically.  And, in an unfortunate circumstance that set a pattern for most of my later accomplishments, when the announcement was made for All Student Council Members To Report For Their Picture For The Yearbook, I was in the gym participating in that endearing exercise known as PE class, and couldn't hear the announcement, and was left out of the picture. 

I do, however, distinctly recall one of my last official acts as Seventh Grade Boys Representative.  I was in Mrs. Giddens' geography class, and evidently I had been absent and missed a test.  Since I had study hall the next period, I arranged with Mrs. Giddens to come in and take the test.  However, when I got to study hall, I found out that the student council members were supposed to go down to the office and count the votes for the election for next year's student council members.  Upon hearing this, I immediately forgot about going to Mrs. Giddens' room to take that test.  In fact, it didn't even cross my mind until I was walking back to study hall after counting the votes and happened to pass Mrs. Giddens' room.  Realizing my error, I at least had the decency to step in and tell Mrs. Giddens about my mistake.  She was somber but cordial, and allowed me to come back the next day to take it.  But the next day in class, she did deliver a lengthy lecture to the whole class about responsibility, standing immediately next to my desk as she spoke.  Point taken.

That particular election was a losing one for me.  I had sought reelection, campaigning with a series of cleverly crafted posters, but to no avail.  Perhaps I had taken the wrong approach; after all, one of my posters utilized a picture from one of Daddy's firefighting magazines (he was Waldron's volunteer fire chief at the time), a picture of a house totally engulfed in flames with a fireman standing in front of it, looking directly into the camera.  In a substantial lapse in judgement, I had inserted a caption that went something like, "These people didn't vote for Billy Yates for Eight Grade Student Council Representative.  Don't let it happen to you."  The humorous intent of the piece didn't translate well to the written format, I fear. 

My defeat in the election for Eighth Grade Student Council Representative didn't dissuade me from trying again.  And again.  I think I ran for student council each year, and each year suffered a crushing defeat.  I didn't get to be on student council again until eleventh grade, when I became president of the English Club, which also gave me a seat on the student council.  Again, I missed the memo about the picture for the yearbook.  I did, however, manage to make it for the English Club photo.

Although I wasn't on the student council for my senior year, I did get to participate in one of the student council projects.  The student council sponsored the Senior Lounge, which was set up in the lobby of the gym.  Seniors were, incredibly, allowed to go there at lunch and make purchases from the vending machines.  Since I had study hall during the morning, Mr. Hill, the student council sponsor, chose me to go over each morning and restock the vending machines.  I picked up the key in the office, and got the vending machine items from the storage room in the gym, and got everything restocked and ready to go for the lunch crowd.  If I remember correctly, the Senior Lounge was unsupervised by any school personnel and operated, quite well I must say, on the honor system.

By the time I graduated, all political ambition had been pretty much extinguished.  Now, I make my voice heard at the ballot box, and leave the political fighting to the professionals.  But, if my country ever needs someone to step in and restock vending machines; I'm your guy.  I'm standing by...

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Exotic Flora of Mama and Daddy's Yard

Lucky, Tom, and me, under the mimosa tree.
I've written before about the house itself, that little house on the corner of East 7th and Pine.  But out in the yard, and especially the field next to the house, that's where I spent my time on hot summer afternoons, and beautiful, wind-swept autumn days.  This is about some of my favorite places there.

In the corner next to the road, my absolute favorite tree; a pretty little mimosa.  The mimosa tree had expansive branches that made a wonderful shade to play under, and it's beautiful pink flowers were a sight to see.  But the mimosa was custom made for climbing.  It had two main trunks that grew farther apart the higher you climbed, which wasn't actually very high, but when you're little, even a small tree seems big.  We kept the grass wore down under the tree, we spent so much time there.  After we grew too big to climb trees, the mimosa became a favorite of my nieces and nephews, particularly with the installation of a swing under one of its branches.

Just west of the mimosa was a mulberry tree.  I haven't seen a mulberry tree in a long time, but ours always bore fruit.  Mulberries, to the best of my recollection, looked like raspberries.  Ours, unfortunately, almost always had a little white worm inside them.  But that didn't stop an occasional visitor to the mulberry tree, though - the neighborhood monkey.  Yes, we had a monkey on Pine Street.  Well, actually, he belonged to our neighbors, George and Beuna Hawkins.  They had somehow gotten a little monkey for their kids, Steven and Johnny.  The monkey was a bit of an escape artist, and whenever he found himself free he would make a bee line for our mulberry tree.  That's where he would be recaptured, happily munching on the tasty fruit.  I don't know what eventually happened to the monkey, but I guess he must have escaped one too many times, and was sent on to other mulberry trees.

West of the mulberry and on the other side of our driveway, at the end of our hedge, was a sweetgum tree.  At least I think that's what was there; I may just be mixed up because that's also where we put out the garbage to be picked up, and I remember that there was a kindly old man who drove the garbage truck who always gave us sticks of Juicy Fruit gum.  You see, in early 1960s Waldron, the weekly arrival of the garbage man was an event worth of attending, so my sister and I made it a point to be standing there, I guess by the sweetgum tree, whenever it was garbage day. 

Halfway up the driveway, in the middle of the hedge, was what Daddy identified as a possum grape vine.  I'm not sure what a possum grape looks like, because Daddy's possum grape vine never bore any grapes.  But year after year, it put on green leaves and acted like it had full intentions of producing a crop.  But, with the capable guidance of my older brothers, I did manage to pick up the skill of smoking grape vine.  A little piece of possum grape vine, lit at one end, and inhaled until it burned your tongue so badly you had to toss it away.

Another one of Daddy's projects was found at the upper end of the hedge.  This was his Indian peach tree.  The Indian peach tree did in fact produce peaches; tiny, dark, dried-out looking peaches that didn't look like anything you'd want to eat.

There was one tree in Mama and Daddy's yard that towered above all others.  It was Mama's magnolia tree.  It was located in the back yard, and was big enough to shade almost that entire part of the yard.  Daddy recalls that he bought the magnolia tree from a man who came around selling little sapling magnolia trees for a dollar and a half.  We have an old photo of my Uncle Paul, Aunt Addie, my brothers Gary and Gene, and an unidentified person who could possibly be a young Johnny Cash (kidding)  (My sister has informed me that it's our cousin John Elliot) standing next to the tiny little magnolia tree not long after it was planted.  The magnolia was Mama's pride and joy.  She never allowed anyone to trim it, and it's lower branches swept down to the ground and eventually took over most of the back yard.  Climbing in the magnolia was prohibited, but I did occasionally break that rule, since it's close branches made it so very easy to climb.  The magnolia stays green year-round, and in May it produces breathtakingly beautiful huge white flowers, that last only a few days before turning brown and ugly. 

Google Maps image of Mama's magnolia tree today.
If you drive by the little house where I grew up, you won't see any sign of the beautiful mimosa in the front yard, or any of the other trees I mentioned, except for one.  Mama's magnolia tree is still there, standing guard over the little house, towering above any other tree in the neighborhood.  It's never been trimmed.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Ed Sullivan Show

He was about as unlikely a TV star as you could possibly imagine.  He was stiff, wore an expression like he had just taken a bite out of a lemon, and had a particular way of speaking that was ripe for mockery.  But Ed Sullivan was the biggest thing on TV in the late '60s.  In the days before downloads, YouTube, and iPods, Ed was our source of whatever was hot at the moment.  Every Sunday night, you would get a mix of the very best of rock music, Broadway tunes, comedy, and dance, all in one neat package.  It was, as Ed was often parodied, a "really big shew."

I usually got home from church in time to catch the last half of the show.  My favorites were the comedians.  Jackie Mason, Shecky Green, and probably Ed's most frequent guest, Allan King.  Some of the comedians specialized in impersonations, which has become almost a lost art today.  Frank Gorshin was a particularly good impressionist, and he did an impression of Ed himself that was extremely funny.  Frank later went on to play The Riddler in another favorite TV show, Batman.  Another great impressionist was David Frye, who did a side-splitting impression of LBJ and later, President Richard Nixon.  And of course, we all were introduced to a clean-cut young man named George Carlin, who gave us the character of Al Sleet, the Hippy Dippy Weatherman.

For those who think their job comes with a lot of stress, I suggest viewing this video of one of Ed's regular guests, Erich Brenn the Plate Spinner.  Ed was known for his novelty acts, whether it be the Plate Spinner, an animal act like the Berosini Chimps, or the perennial favorite Senor Wences and his creative hand puppet. 

And speaking of puppets, Ed Sullivan introduced the world to a very talented young man named Jim Henson, who created a unique world inhabited by creatures he called Muppets.  When The Muppets first appeared on Ed Sullivan, they were a somewhat darker and slightly ominous troup, who's skits usually ended with one or more of the Muppets being eaten.  Here's a clip of an early Muppet routine featuring their version of the song Manah-Manah.

Perhaps the most unique novelty act of all was Topo Gigio.  Ed eventually became a part of the act whenever Topo was on the show, and it was actually kind of sweet when Topt would request, shyly, "Edddddie.......keees me goodnite."

Of course, everyone of my generation knows that in 1964, American was introduced to The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show.  You see, kids, there once was a group of four young men from Liverpool, England who sailed across the ocean an conquered America, long before anyone ever thought of Lady Gaga.  In this clip of their first appearance, the near pandemonium of the young females in the audience is evident.  The producers conveniently superimposed the name of each Beatle over their image on the screen, adding to John's name the information, "Sorry girls; he's married."

We also cracked up at the antics of two musical brothers, Tom and Dick Smothers.  The Smothers Brothers combined skillful folk singing with a recurring comedy theme of Tom's jealousy over his mother's favoritism toward his brother.  Later on, the brothers got their own show on CBS, but as their politics became more radicalized, their show was eventually cancelled.

By 1971, America had grown tired of the variety show format, and The Ed Sullivan Show was cancelled.  But a generation had grown up with Ed, and countless performers had established their careers there.  There's never been a show like it since.

I Meet Festus Haggen

A yearly treat back in the 1960’s was our annual trip to Fort Smith to go to the rodeo. My brother Gary and his wife would come down to Waldron to pick us up, and we would not only go to the rodeo but also get to spend the night at their house. We also got to spend some quality time with Moe, their little poodle, who was just as excited to see us as we were to see her.

One year, it was decided that, instead of them coming to Waldron to pick us up, Janet and I would ride the bus to Fort Smith, where Gary would pick us up at the bus station. Well, needless to say, we were excited beyond measure. Mama walked us down to Denver Plummer’s station, where we got our bus tickets and waited for the bus to arrive. Soon, we were on board, and on our way. We really felt big, riding that bus to Fort Smith. The driver made some kind of announcement when we got into the city, but it was hard to understand what he said. That was pretty unfortunate, because he probably said something to the effect that we would be making two stops in Fort Smith, one at the Trailways station and then at the Greyhound station. So, at the first stop, we got off and proceeded to the waiting room, expecting to see Gary waiting for us there. But there was no Gary. So, we sat down and waited. And waited. And waited. Gary, meanwhile, was frantically contacting Mama to find out why we hadn’t gotten on the bus, and then frantically trying to figure out where we were. After what seemed like a few hours but was probably about 45 minutes, Gary showed up. We were glad to see him.
Richard Long and Peter Breck, stars of The Big Valley on
ABC, sign autographs at the Fort Smith Rodeo

Now, I must confess, I wasn’t that much into livestock. No, I went to the rodeo for another reason. In those days, the rodeo always featured a big TV star as entertainment. One year we saw Fess Parker, who played Daniel Boone (a great TV show, by the way). I believe we also saw Ed Ames, who played the Indian Mingo on the same show. Another time, we saw two stars from The Big Valley, Peter Breck and Richard Long, who played brothers Nick and Jarrod Barkley. But this year, this year, I couldn’t wait. The featured entertainer was Ken Curtis, who played Festus Haggen on Gunsmoke. Festus was a particular favorite around the Yates household. So much so, in fact, that we later named a cat after him.

Of course, the Grand Entry was pretty spectacular, and the calf-roping was pretty exciting, as well as the bareback bronc riding. But I was just waiting for the entertainment, which normally occurred around the mid-point of the night. Sure enough, the announcer finally introduced Ken Curtis, who rode out on a silver horse, riding around the arena before finally coming to a stop at the stage that had been set up in the center. Much to my surprise, Festus began to sing. My jaw dropped open as I heard one of the most beautiful singing voices I have ever heard. Ken Curtis sang with a deep, rich baritone; completely opposite of the nasally twang that he gave Festus. Ken told us that he once sang with The Sons of the Pioneers, and he followed that with a rendition of the classic Tumbling Tumbleweeds. It was sublime.

Too soon, his part of the show was over. But I had my mind made up. I was going to wait in the autograph line after the rodeo was over, I was going to get the picture in my program signed, and I was going to shake Festus Haggen’s hand.

It was a long line, and it moved achingly slowly. But I was patient as I inched ever closer to the table where Ken Curtis was sitting. Finally, I was there, standing before Festus. He took the program from my hand, and signed his picture with one of those old white-barreled marker pens. He handed me back my program, and when he did, I extended my right hand toward him. He reached out, still holding the pen in his right hand, and grasped my hand firmly (or, as firmly as you can grasp a hand while holding a pen.) He looked me squarely in the eyes, and said, “Pleased to meet you, Sonny.”

Pleased to meet you too, Mr. Curtis.

Click here to view Festus singing "Tumbling Tumbleweeds."

Parsley's 5 Cents to One Dollar

I can thank Parsley’s Store for the fact that I still have pretty good teeth. When my sister and I were little, we, like most kids, really hated going to the dentist. Never mind that Dr. Luther was one of the kindest and best dentists there ever was, it still was just a generally unpleasant experience. One day, after listening to my sister and I cry and complain about our upcoming dentist visit, Mama told us that after we got finished at the dentist, we could go over to Parsley’s and get a book. That not only quieted us down but started a tradition that continued on for many years.

Parsley’s was a downtown institution. They had just about anything a person needed, and in particular anything a kid needed. When we came from the dentist office, since it was located on Washington Street, we entered Parsley’s through the back door. It always felt to me like we were doing something illegal when we went in that way. But there was Mr. Parsley, smiling to greet us, and Helen Faye Taff was usually behind the counter or waiting on a customer. Just to the right of the counter was our destination: The Little Golden Books. I seem to recall that they cost 35 cents each. Janet and I would carefully look over the titles and the colorful front covers. We could only get one book; we would have to share, so it had to be something that appealed to both of us. Some of the titles that became part of our collection included Sneezer, a story about a courageous little train; Fuzzy Dan, a little book about a young cowboy who showed a preference for chaps made of felt (completely interactive book, the chaps were really fuzzy when you felt them on the front cover!); Over In The Meadow, a beautiful little book in the form of a poem that taught counting; Mr. Moggs’ Dogs, the story of a gentleman who had a lot of dogs; and Scaredy Cat, a story of a cat who overcame his fears and began using his given name, which on the last page was revealed to be Bill. Since he had the same name as me, I felt compelled to take that book to school and share it with my class. There were many other Little Golden Books that we bought, and most have survived over the years and still belong to my sister or me.

Other than our trips to the dentist, we normally entered Parsley’s through the front door. That was the best way to get the full Parsley’s experience. When you walked in, immediately to your left was the candy counter. Not candy bars, but good old bulk candy that you purchased individually. The pieces were handed to you in a little white paper sack, which is by far the best way to eat candy. To the right was all the stuff of interest to grown-ups like household items and dish towels, so we paid that part no mind. Just past the candy, also on the left side of the store, were the toys. Now let me tell you, there was no more wondrous place on the planet than the toy section of Parsley’s . And Mr. Parsley took great delight in showing off his latest toys to any kid who happened by. It was not a hard sell; I think Mr. Parsley was just enjoying the toys along with us. It was in this section that I discovered one of my all-time favorite childhood toys, Matchbox Series vehicles. Matchbox Series cars and trucks were small, very detailed representations of real vehicles. They were metal, very durable, and great fun. They were about the size of Hot Wheels, which came along a few years after Matchbox. But Hot Wheels were built for speed, with their thin wire axles that clogged irreparably whenever you played with them on dirt. Matchbox, on the other hand, was made for playing. You could make roads in the dirt and it didn’t hurt them. They came packaged along with a little cardboard box just about the size of a medium-sized matchbox, which had a picture of the car or truck on it. That was where you were supposed to store your vehicle. Of the dozens of Matchbox Series toys that I bought over the years, not a single box has survived. But my Matchbox vehicles did; I still have several of them. I think part of the allure of Matchbox vehicles was that they were made in England. Some of the cars and trucks that I bought (even a double-decker bus) seemed quite exotic to me.

Just past the toys, still on the left, was another wonderful section of the store: comic books. This is where I became friends with Archie, that perpetually happy Riverdale High School student; Betty, the wholesome and beautiful blonde classmate; Veronica, the darker and more mysterious beauty; Jughead, the goofy beatnik friend, and the somewhat sinister and conniving Reggie. I also liked The Sad Sack, a comic about a soldier that was similar to Beetle Bailey, another favorite. If there were no new Archie comics available, sometimes I bought Richie Rich or Casper. My older brothers had taught me that to be a truly frugal comic shopper, you needed to look through the cardboard box that was on the floor next to the comic rack. It was full of comics that had the top half of the front cover cut off. They were older comics that I guess Mr. Parsley got a refund on because they didn’t sell. Evidently he just had to turn in the part of the cover with the title on it, and the leftover part of the book could then be sold for a mere nickel, which was right in my price range.

The rest of the store was stationary, paper goods, and stuff that Mama was interested in, but not me. I loved going in that store; even loved just looking at the displays in the front windows. I guess it was what was known as a dime store. I have a couple of ceramic frogs that my grandmother, Vivian Waganer, gave me. I know they came from Parsley’s. On the bottom of one of the frogs is stamped “10 cents". On the bottom of the other one, my grandmother carefully printed out “BILLY” with a pencil, to make sure that I got those frogs after she passed away. I see those little frogs every morning on my bathroom counter as I’m getting ready for work, and I always think of two of my favorite things: my grandmother and Parsley’s.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A Little Bit of Mid-Week Humor

I first heard this story probably 30 years ago; it cracked me up then and is still funny today. 

My friend is a rather old-fashioned lady, always quite delicate and elegant, especially in her language. She and her husband were planning a week's vacation in Florida, so she wrote to a particular campground and asked for a reservation.

She wanted to make sure the campground was fully equipped, but didn't quite know how to ask about the toilet facilities. She just couldn't bring herself to write the word "toilet" in her letter. After much deliberation she finally came up with the old-fashioned term "bathroom commode." But when she wrote that down, she still felt that she was being too forward. So she started all over again, rewrote the entire letter, and referred to the bathroom commode merely as the B.C. "Does the campground have its own B.C.?" is what she finally wrote.

Well, the campground owner wasn't old-fashioned at all, and when he got the letter he just couldn't figure out what the woman was talking about. That B.C. business really stumped him. After worrying about it for a while, he showed the letter to several campers, but no one could imagine what the lady meant, either. So the campground owner, finally coming to the conclusion that the lady must be asking about the location of the Baptist Church, sat down and wrote the following reply:

Dear Madam:

I regret very much the delay in answering your letter, but I now take the pleasure of informing you that a B.C. is located nine miles north of the campground, and is capable of seating 250 people at one time. I admit it is quite a distance away if you are in the habit of going regularly, but no doubt you will be pleased to learn that a great number of our people take their lunches along and make a day of it. They usually arrive early and stay late. If you don't start early, you probably will not make it in time.

The last time my wife and I went was six years ago, and it was so crowded we had to stand up the whole time we were there. It may interest you to know that right now, there is a supper planned to raise money to buy more seats. They're going to hold it in the basement of the B.C.

It's a beautiful facility, and the acoustics are marvelous.  I would like to say it pains me very much not being able to go more often, but it surely is no lack of desire on my part. As we grow older, it seems to be more of an effort, particularly in cold weather.

If you decide to come down to our campground, perhaps I could go with you the first time you go, sit with you, and introduce you to all the other folks. Remember, this is a friendly community!

Monday, October 3, 2011

My Arkansas History Notebook

Mrs. Hazel Smoot was my sixth grade teacher.  The "middle school" concept didn't exist in those days, so sixth grade was still considered part of elementary school, although we did change classes for reading and math.  Those two classes consumed most of the morning, but the afternoon was a time for other subjects.  One of those subjects was Arkansas History.

In conjunction with our study of our home state, every student was to compile an "Arkansas History Notebook."  This was to be a sort of scrapbook in which we collected information from outside the classroom that related in some way to the history of Arkansas. 

Our notebook project soon evolved into a true example of cooperative learning.  At first, we just put things in our notebooks like newspaper articles and pictures from magazines.  Then, someone got the idea of including a postcard from some town in Arkansas.  When we saw this, we all started looking for postcards from other towns, and soon we all had supplemented our notebooks with various postcards. 

Then, someone got the idea of writing a letter to the Chamber of Commerce in some other town, asking for any information they might have available about their town.  This resulted in a mini-treasure trove of material to include in the notebook.  Seeing the excellent results produced by this letter, we all started writing letters to Chambers of Commerce across the state.  It became a bit of a competition to see who could get information from the least-heard-of town.

With this influx of new content for our notebooks, it quickly became necessary to expand our project from the original spiral notebook that we started with.  This was accomplished by stapling a new notebook to the back cover of the original. 

Another new development occurred when someone came in one morning with an autographed picture of Winthrop Rockefeller, Governor of the State of Arkansas.  They also had a beautiful full-color imprint of the official state seal.  Needless to say, the Governor's office was immediately inundated with letters requesting autographed pictures and state seals.  We quickly expanded our targets to the other state constitutional offices; Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, State Treasurer, and Land Commissioner.  Most resulted in autographed pictures and nice letters.  Time to staple on another spiral notebook.

About this time, I had developed a fondness for magazines about cowboys and the Old West.  You could buy them at Parsleys, sometimes at greatly reduced prices if you got one that was a couple of months old.  To my delight, I would occasionally run across an old photograph of some town in Arkansas that happened to be mentioned in an article.  This is what separated my Arkansas History Notebook from the rest of the crowd, because nobody else thought of looking in Old West magazines for content.  Not that my notebook was any better than anyone else's, because other people had personalized their notebooks in other ways.  But I was really proud of my Old West pictures of Arkansas. 

At some point one of my classmates, and I don't recall who it was, had the brilliant idea of writing a letter to the Arkansas Geology Commission.  How they even knew that such an entity existed, I don't know, but their letter resulted in a small package that was sent to the student.  Inside the package was a little cloth bag, and inside the little bag was a collection of small samples of all of the significant kinds of rocks found in our state.  Each sample was about the size of a large marble, and they were all labeled with the type of rock they were.  This was an unprecedented achievement, and we all quickly fired off letters to the Arkansas Geology Commission, which graciously complied with our requests and sent us all our own bag of rocks.

The only problem was, how do you put a bag of rocks in a notebook?  A few people tried gluing the rocks to a page of paper, but they never stayed glued.  So, our rocks, while probably the most interesting we had, never actually became a part of our notebooks.

I guess we got some kind of grade on our notebooks, but I don't remember it.  When I turned mine it, I think it was up to four or five notebooks stapled together.  I kept it for many years, but when I recently looked for it, I couldn't find it.  I fear it must not have survived one of my various moves. 

But what a great learning opportunity it was!  We had fun, we learned how to write letters, we learned how to work together and share, we learned how to do research, and we learned how to use our creativity.  Mrs. Smoot was way ahead of her time, I think.  And she instilled in me a love of the history of our state that still exists today.