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.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Weekend Special: Streeter the Wonder Dog

Charles Goodner was gracious enough to send me this picture of Edgar Floyd's dog streeter.  This was an article that appeared in The Waldron News.  See my blog entry Edgar Floyd and Streeter for the full story of these two Waldron characters.  Thanks Charles, I really appreciate it.  I didn't think I'd ever find a picture of Streeter!

Friday, January 14, 2011

I Flunk A Homemade Eye Exam

I had no idea I couldn't see well.  The change must have occurred gradually, my eyesight progressively getting worse without me picking up on any of the subtle changes.  I guess there was one warning sign, though, in about 4th grade.  I remember I was in Mrs. Laird's music class, and we had a test which consisted of answering questions that were written on the blackboard.  I suppose I couldn't see the questions, but not being one to make trouble, I must have written down some random music terms that sprang to mind.  I recall my paper being handed back to me with a grade of "F."  I normally didn't make that kind of grade, but still blissfully unaware of my condition, I quickly dismissed my misfortune.  For the rest of 4th grade and all of 5th, I continued to function as normal, at least as best as I could. 

Sometime in the fall of 1967, I arrived home from school to discover that my brother Gary had constructed an eye chart.  He proceeded to administer a professional eye exam to both my sister Janet and I.  Gary was and is somewhat of a Renaissance Man, so a rudimentary eye exam was no problem for him to produce.  Janet went first and did fine.  When it was my turn, I could see that there was in fact a piece of cardboard tacked to the wall, but as to the particular contents of that piece of cardboard, I had not a clue.  Gary took his own glasses off and put them on me, and instantly I was able to read the script on the cardboard.  There was much discussion that night as to how I was able to move about without running into things.

Well, an appointment was made with Dr. Broomfield, our local optometrist.  His results confirmed Gary's earlier diagnosis; I was significantly nearsighted.  I was not upset at all; in fact, I had been secretly wishing that I wore glasses for some time.  It was not because I knew I needed them, I just thought they would undoubtedly improve my appearance.  Dr. Broomfield took me and Mama out to where all the frames were on display, and I picked out a great-looking pair of tortoiseshell frames.  I wished I could have had my glasses right then, but it would be a week before my pair arrived. 

Finally the day arrived when I could get my new glasses.  Dr. Broomfield carefully placed them on my face, taking them off and on to make minor adjustments in the frame until he was satisfied that they fit just right.  He gave me a nice glasses case with a small picture of a rocket on the front and a snap to hold it closed.  I immediately began to see the benefits of my new glasses.  As we drove home, I was incredulous to see what all I had been missing.  The trees had individual leaves!  I had forgotten what they were supposed to look like!  And my beloved Scholastic books could be read at arms length, without having to pull them up close to my eyes. 

The first person I went to show my glasses to was my grandmother, who lived down the street.  She bragged effusively on how good I looked wearing them.  I took them off and on quite often to make sure that there was nothing on the lenses, prompting her to express her concern that I might wear through the lenses by rubbing on them so much. 

Well, obviously, my enthusiasm for wearing glasses waned over the following years.  I broke several pairs, once from sliding down on an icy street, another time in a pick-up basketball game, and a few other incidents that I no longer recall.  At one point I invested in a little plastic strap to wear behind my head to keep them from sliding down my nose, which didn't help my looks any but did keep the glasses in place.  In wintertime, it was impossible to walk into a room from outside without having them fog up to the point of being unable to see.  And, my eyes continued to worsen, resulting in thicker and thicker lenses.  So, after my freshman year in college, I went back to Dr. Broomfield to make the switch to contact lenses. 

It is amazing to think how I was so unaware that I needed glasses.  I always kept that in mind when I was a teacher, realizing that some of my students might be in the same predicament as I was. 

Monday, January 3, 2011

Random Memories, Part 1

Let's start 2011 off by catching up on some little things.  These are little fragments of memories that individually are too small to make up a blog entry, so let's put them all together to make one nice, big, fluffy blog entry.  They're a bit disjointed, but then again, so am I...

Jello Kites

Next to the Jello at Buddy Gray's store one day, they had Jello kites for sale for ten cents apiece.  Even in the early sixties, ten cents for a kite was a true bargain.  So, we got two - one for me and one for my sister Janet.  They were true paper kites, none of that indestructible plastic that they have nowadays.  We put them together and had great fun flying them in the field next to our house.  It must have been an unusually good day, I guess, because the pleasant memory of flying those Jello kites has stayed with me for about 45 years.  There's always room for Jello.

White Stuff Falling From The Sky

No, it wasn't snow on that summer Sunday afternoon.  It was late afternoon, just before it was time to come in and get ready for church.  I don't remember it being particularly stormy, just extremely windy like when a front is about to move in.  We were playing out in the front yard when these large white fluffy things started falling from the sky.  They were about the size of a quarter, and they were being blown in on the wind.  I think they must have been some kind of plant material like seed pods or spores or something, but it was weird.  We thought at the time that maybe they had been sucked up by the wind in some place far away and were now being released by the same wind that had picked them up.  Who knows?  I've never seen that happen since then, though.

Our Cool Book Satchels

Once upon a time, in a land far away, little children carried their books to school in book satchels.  When we started first grade, Mama got a little plaid book satchel each for me and Janet.  They were red and green, made of vinyl, and had a little slot where we could put our name.  Mama probably got them at Parsley's.  We were so proud of them, and they probably made going off to school a little easier.  I've seen our little satchels somewhere in recent years, in a box stored somewhere.  I just don't remember exactly where.

My Cowboy Lunch Box

Somewhere along about the same time as the book satchels, I got a cowboy lunchbox.  It was brown vinyl, had a snap-down lid, and had one of those plastic things on the front that was a picture of a cowboy riding a bucking bronc, and when you turned it at a different angle, the picture shifted, so that by moving the thing back and forth you could make the horse and cowboy look like they were in motion.  I carried that lunch box from first through third grade, at which point I started having lunch at the candy store (see my blog entry Lunch At The Candy Store).  A few years ago, I saw a lunch box just like it at a flea market, and the price tag was $250.  Dang.
Say Hello, Herbie

Herbie the Guinea Pig

Sometime in the late 1960's, we became the owners of a pet guinea pig.  Why, I don't know, although I believe my brother Phil was involved somehow.  Herbie was a sweet little fellow who loved to munch on clover in the field, which we could let him do because guinea pigs are slow and there was not much danger of him running away, as long as we kept an eye on him.  Of course, he had to stay in his cage most of the time, which was located in the back yard.  Early on, Herbie began to associate the sound of the screen door opening with the potential for food, so he established the pattern of squealing whenever he heard the back door open.  This became a regular occurrence, and was in truth not one of Herbie's most endearing characteristics.  I don't recall what eventually happened to Herbie, but once we were out of the guinea pig business, we never pursued it again.

The Bates Wild Man

For a brief period of time in about third or fourth grade, all the elementary students were gravely concerned about stories we had heard concerning a wild man who lived at Bates.  Uniformly, we felt that if there was a wild man at Bates, it was very likely that he would soon make his way to Waldron.  This rumor was spread primarily at the candy store at lunch, and we cautiously examined every adult face on the premises in the event that the wild man may have infiltrated our favorite hangout.  Over time, we were able to suppress our fears, and the Bates Wild Man was never heard from again.


My brother Gene had a radio beside his bed that he kept tuned to WLS in Chicago.  When Gene and later my brother Phil were serving in the Navy in Vietnam, I inherited the bed and WLS.  WLS was an AM station, which meant that its signal could only be picked up at night. FM radio, with it's less powerful but more clear signal, hadn't really caught on that much, so WLS was one of the few sources to hear popular music.  I would lie in bed at night with the radio on, volume down as low as I could go and still hear it, and listen to groups like the Bee Gees, Jefferson Airplane, Blood Sweat and Tears, The 5th Dimension, and many, many others.  I remember one of my favorite disc jockeys was John "Records" Landecker, who always followed his name by saying, "Records truly is my middle name."  John once announced an upcoming concert in Chicago by the Bee Gees, saying the Bee Gees would be accompanied by a full orchestra.  That, I thought, was cool. 

Click here to see John Records Landecker in action.

Nine Bowen

I can just barely remember Nine Bowen.  He lived in a little shed not far from our house, and one of the things Nine did to make his way in life was to plow people's garden spot.  Nine had a missing finger, thus the first name Nine.  This happened before my time, but the story is told about Nine plowing up our family's garden spot, and the ever curious little Phil being out there watching him.  Well, Nine stopped to take a drink of water from his fruit jar, and Phil joined him by taking a swig of Nine's water as well.  When Mama discovered this, she got in a bit of a panic, unsure of the cleanliness of the enterprise.  When Daddy got home from work, Mama said, "Abb, Phil took a drink of water from Nine Bowen's jar!"  Daddy, calm as usual, replied, "Oh, I wouldn't care to drink after Nine."  Mama, reassured, began to relax, but the next time the garden got plowed, Phil was kept inside.

A Bit of Serious Drama

Before I had my dog Skipper (see "Skipper Breaks His Leg!"), I had a little dog named Scooter.  When I was about ten, Scooter got killed.  A Mr. Kitchens, who lived around the block from us, shot him and some other dogs who were in his yard.  I don't remember how I found out about it, but I was brokenhearted.  However, my grief was tempered by genuine concern because my best friend Randy's sister Swanna was sitting on her porch swing when the moronic Mr. Kitchens fired his shotgun, and one of the pellets hit her in the neck.  She was rushed to the hospital, the pellet barely missing the arteries in her neck.  What a sad day!

A Note of Thanks

I would like to say thanks to all of you who have been reading my blog.  Your comments, either on the blog or on Facebook, are greatly appreciated.  I get a great deal of joy from writing down these memories, and I'd like to encourage all of you to do the same.  Making a blog is the easiest thing in the world, and I would love to read some of your memories!  So, if you decide to make a blog, let me know so that I can follow it.  And thanks for letting others know about this blog.  I wish you all the best, and I hope 2011 is the best year yet!  I'm almost out of elementary school memories, so this blog is soon moving into the Junior High years, during which I redefined nerddom and started my Jr. High School career off with the worst decision I ever made.  But, that's a story for another day...