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, February 28, 2011

A Bad Night On The Bull Creek Bridge

Daddy's work truck was our primary means of transportation.
"Why is Billy soaking wet?!"  That was Mama's question when we all came in the back door.  And a pretty good question it was, as a matter of fact.  After all, it was after dark, and I was only 5 years old, and everybody else was dry.  Well, everyone else except for Daddy.

It had been raining hard all day, and when Daddy came in from work that afternoon he said that the water was up almost to the top of the low-water bridge over Bull Creek when he crossed it. Bull Creek runs parallel to Danville Road, and the bridge is located just after you turn onto Highway 248 East.  It's a nice, tall bridge now, but back then it was of the "low-water" type, that is, it was a concrete slab with three or four large culverts to carry the water.  The Bull Creek bridge was one of the larger low-water bridges in the county, so it was unusual for water to crest over the top, but it did occasionally.

After supper, we decided that we would like to see this for ourselves.  It was still light outside as dusk was approaching, so we figured we could see the bridge and make it back home before it got too dark.  So, we loaded into Daddy's telephone truck.  That was our only vehicle, so we were used to making ourselves all fit into the cab.  It was Daddy, me, Janet, and at least two of the brothers.  Packed in like sardines, we made the short drive down Pine Street, turning right onto Danville Road for a short distance, and then left onto 248, arriving at the bridge.

It was a fascinating sight, for sure.  We stopped in the middle of the bridge, and all got out.  The skies had cleared, and the setting sun produced a golden light that reflected off the water.  And what a lot of water it was!  It seemed that we were floating on the water; everywhere we looked, water surrounded us.  Even the bridge itself seemed to be a part of the water.  I had never seen anything like this!

I looked back upstream, and I could see the current gently sweeping toward me.  I imagined myself on a boat, moving against the current.  I was in a world of my own, fascinated by what I was seeing.

Suddenly, I was engulfed by the water!  I don't know how, but I had managed to step off the side of the bridge.  The gentle, peaceful current was now smothering me; I could do nothing to help myself!  I reached out frantically for something to hold to, but there was nothing there.

But then Daddy was there with me.  He had jumped in when he saw me fall, and managed to grab me before I was sucked into one of the culverts.  He lifted me back up onto the bridge, then climbed back up himself. 

So, tragedy averted, we loaded back up in the truck and headed home.  One of the brothers had the misfortune of having a soaking wet 5 year old sitting on his knee, but that was the only way we could fit in the truck.  The sun had finally set, and I was beginning to shiver by the time we got home.  Mama met us when we went back in the house, and I think she was more than a little weak-kneed when we told her the story.

We made lots of trips back to the Bull Creek Bridge in the following years.  It was a popular destination for bike rides, and one time when we were in high school, Randy had an old jeep which we rode literally down the middle of Bull Creek almost as far as back to Highway 71.  We were a little sorry to see the old concrete slab go when they build the new bridge there.

I suffered no lasting problems from my experience, although I blame that episode for my complete inability to learn to swim.  When water goes over my head, I just about panic.  I was able to fight my subconscious fear long enough to get baptized back in 1971, but I tend to avoid submersion for nonreligious purposes.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Weekend Special: The Red Brick Building

What I remember most about the red brick building was the way it smelled; that unique mixture of crayons, paste, mimeograph fluid, and 50 years worth of floor wax, all blended together into a sweet aroma which made you know immediately that you were in a school.  It housed third and fourth grade students, three classroom of each.  When you walked in the building from the front (east) entrance, immediately to your left was the office of the elementary principal, Mr. Archie Hill, and his secretary Francis Hunt, who was still Francis Merriman in those days.  I don't remember the third grade teacher who's classroom was next (maybe someone can enlighten me), but the middle classroom was Mrs. Baugh, and the last one was Mrs. Elrod.  Directly across from her, on the north side of the building, was Mrs. Nelson's classroom, followed by Bonnie Hill's classroom and then Mrs. Ammons (I'm a little fuzzy on the order, but I think that's right). 

If we sat on the big steps on the west end of the building, we could get an occasional glimpse of the goings-on at that exotic, far-away place know as Waldron High School.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

An Award from Suldog

Growing Up In Waldron has been recognized by one of Blogspot's premier bloggers, Suldog, with a little award.  Suldog has passed along the Versatile Blogger Award in a manner that only Suldog could do, somewhat akin to scraping something off your shoe when you've been outside where the dogs play.  You can visit Suldog's blog here.

Along with the award comes a strict set of rules.  The recipient must, first of all, thank the person who gave you the award and link back to them in your post.  And, in true Suldog fashion, the thanks should be tinged with a bit of sarcasm and bite.  So, thank you again Suldog, and please allow me to show my readers a picture of you, along with a small observation:

As you can see, Sully looks a little like Opie Taylor, if Opie had lived a life of similar debauchery and hedonism.  In fairness, this picture of Suldog was taken before the extensive dental work that transformed him into the blogger idol that he is today.

Secondly, the recipient must state seven things about yourself.  So,

1.  I haven't thrown up since 1977.
2.  I may have once felt a tear roll down my cheek while watching Army Wives.
3.  I once worked on a garbage truck.
4.  I've always been a big fan of The Bee Gees.
5.  I cannot swim.
6.  I have a wonderful wife who tolerates my attempts at humor.
7.  I am a twin.

Next rule:  Pass the award along to other newly discovered bloggers.  Easy.  You will enjoy reading what these folks have to say:

Eggs In My Pocket, A Needle In My Hand

It's A Small Town Life

Cow Patty Surprise

A Boy From Down East - Growing Up In Aurora NC


And, the last rule is to let these folks know that they've been selected.  So, that's how the Versatile Blogger Award works.  Pass it on.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Getting A Haircut

One of the most iconic traditions of small-town life was the monthly visit to the barber shop. The barber shop was a lively place, full of animated conversation that was often above the level of a little kid, but nevertheless fascinating to listen to. You could witness the full spectrum of Scott County life in any of the various barber shops scattered around town.

Daddy did my haircuts at home at the beginning; I remember a pink plastic cover draped around me and a pair of spring-operated clippers that sometimes had a tendency to pinch. I favored the classic crew-cut in those days, a style I gave up but then returned to later in elementary school. The reason for my initial style change was my desire to have a part in my hair, which is impossible with a crew cut. Evidently, my exact preference was to have a “road in my hair like Pat Boone,” who had a popular TV show on Channel 5 at that time.

So, I was deemed ready for an outside barber, specifically, Herman Atchley, who was a distant relative of Mama’s. Herman had a shop downtown, by the theater. This was within walking distance of home, so I could go by myself. So, I was a regular patron of Herman, and later Cagle, who took over the shop. The first time Cagle cut my hair, he asked me my name and when I told him, he said, “Oh, are you kin to that Yates guy…” and I just figured he must be thinking of Daddy, so I said “Albert?” Cagle said, “No, I’m talking about that Yates guy on TV…Oh yeah, Rowdy!” For those of you who don’t remember, the great Clint Eastwood got his start playing Rowdy Yates on Wagon Train Rawhide. I never actually knew Cagle’s first name, but it was Cagle who expressed enough confidence in me one time to send me unaccompanied down to the Seamons Store to buy him a package of Camels. I completed the mission as discretely as possible, fearful that I would be spotted by a Sunday School teacher or school official, traipsing along Main Street sporting a package of Camels. But, no one spotted me and Robert Craig, the store owner, didn’t seem to be suspicious of me.

About this time my brother Phil was working for Herman Atchley as a shoeshine boy. Waiting to get a haircut was a good opportunity to get a shoeshine; so many shops offered local teenagers that employment opportunity. Although Phil didn’t exactly get rich, he did learn a lot about life. I remember one particular customer he has mentioned, who always wore white socks with his black shoes, and took great offence if any black shoe polish ended up on his white socks.

At some point, I switched over and became a customer of King’s Barber Shop. Ernest King and Bill Slagle had their shop on the north-facing side of the block that contained the library and the side entrance to B&B Drug; they later moved over to Main Street. King was often fondly referred to as “Windy.” King’s Barber Shop was truly the kind of place, just like Floyd’s Barber Shop on The Andy Griffith Show, where not everybody that stopped by came for a haircut. Sometimes people just came by to visit or to hear the latest. One lively topic of conversation that I remember centered around a belief that a colony of hippies had settled in Boles, and they just happened to live near Bill Slagle’s place. There was a lot of curiosity about the new people, and folks were always asking Bill if he’d seen anything unusual going on.

King always used to have a little fun when he asked my about how I wanted my hair to be cut. He would usually ask a series of questions, like, “Block it off in the back?” and “Short on the sides?” and then he would usually throw in “Leave a light sideburn?” and occasionally “Trim the moustache?” And, when he was finished and would be brushing the stray hairs off my shoulders, he would finish by twirling the brush in his hand and gently tapping the end of my nose with the handle.

Of course, the best part of any haircut was the finishing trim with a straight razor. It was nice because it included the application of gently warmed shaving cream that felt really good on your neck and behind your ears. The barber would sharpen the straight razor by drawing it back and forth on the razor strop, a long piece of leather that was attached to the side of the chair. A good barber had his own technique and rhythm, and could polish and straighten the razor on the strop in just a few seconds. Then, the delicate work of finishing off the haircut with the straight razor would begin.

So, nowadays, I still go to a barber shop. Oh, there were a few years there, during the ‘70’s, when longer hair was in fashion, that I went to a hair stylist, but I got past it. And once, my wife made me go to her beautician to get my hair cut. But I couldn’t go back; it just didn’t seem natural. You just get a better caliber of story in a barber shop.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Box of Cookies for Vietnam

Me, in my homemade Navy uniform.
My brother Gene was the first to be sent. When he graduated high school in the late 60's, the war in Vietnam was raging, and we all knew that being drafted was inevitable. So, since Daddy had served in the Navy in World War II, Gene decided that he, too, would be a Navy man. So, after completing Basic Training in San Diego, Gene soon found himself on his way to Southeast Asia.

Gene was stationed on an aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. Ranger. Just a couple of years earlier, the Ranger had been the scene of a horrific fire caused by the crash landing of a jet. But it was back in service by this time, and it became Gene's home.  He even got to see Bob Hope perform one of his Christmas shows on the ship.

All I knew of this place called Vietnam was what I heard other people talking about, or maybe from a story from Frank Blair on the Today Show in the mornings when I was waiting to leave for school. I just knew it was a place far away where young men had to go, and many of my classmates had brothers over there too. We did what we could to support Gene while he was serving his country. My Aunt Addie and Uncle Joe had gotten a new horse, a sweet natured little pony that Addie named Mollie De Ranger, in honor of Gene's ship. And Mama showed her support with boxes of cookies.

Gene in the radio room of the U.S.S. Ranger
Actually, Gene loved homemade chocolate icing spread between two graham crackers. So Mama would make up a giant box of icing, and Janet and I would help spread it on the graham crackers. I also performed an occasional quality check, to verify that the combination tasted right. Mama would carefully wrap the cookies in wax paper, and place them in a box for shipping. Then, a week or so later, a letter from Gene would arrive describing what a hit the package had been with is shipmates, and requesting a resupply. We would then gladly begin the process again.

Phil aboard the U.S.S. Saratoga, off the coast of Vietnam.
About a year or two after Gene enlisted, it became time for my brother Phil to make his decision. He too chose to join the Navy. He was assigned to the U.S.S. Saratoga, or the "Sinking Sara," as it was lovingly known. Before sailing to Southeast Asia, the Saratoga was based in Pensacola, Florida. Phil and his wife Glenda lived there, and I once sent the money for Phil to buy me a tape recorder at the PX there. I'll never forget my excitement when it arrived in the mail. It had that great, electronic smell and I put it to great use, recording songs off the radio and even a few things from TV (pre-VCR days!)

Phil bought himself an 8mm movie camera at the PX, and made some great movies of planes landing on the aircraft carrier. It was a fascinating thing to watch, as the F-4 Phantoms came in at blazing speed and managed to catch what looked like a thin cable with a hook extending from the aircraft's tail. I bought a plastic model of an F-4 Phantom and put it together, and I remember being amazed at the precision that had to have been required to land one of those on a ship.

Occasionally, Phil or Gene would get to come in on leave. The first time Gene came in, I was really impressed by his Navy uniform. Gene offered to make the old white sweatshirt I was wearing into a copy of a uniform, and proceeded to take a magic marker and start drawing. He drew a Navy tie, and drew on a nice collection of medals as well as some stripes on the sleeve. By that time, Phil was helping him, and when they began to draw on the back I heard some muffled laughing. When I looked in the mirror, they had drawn a large "P.O.W" on the back, and informed me that it meant Prisoner of War. I didn't want to be a P.O.W. and protested loudly, so Gene drew a series of X's through the "P.O.W" and told me that was the Navy way of saying I was not a P.O.W. That sounded right to me.

Phil and his wife Glenda, along with Mama and my sister
Janet at the Fort Smith airport, waiting on Phil's return flight.
Leaves were fun, but they were always followed by the inevitable trip to the Fort Smith Airport to say good-bye again. I remember those trips very well; the sadness of knowing that we were sending our loved one away, but at the same time the excitement of seeing the big Frontier and Braniff airplanes landing and taking off. We never said much on the long drive back to Waldron.

By the time I graduated High School in 1974, the draft was no longer an issue. The United States was still withdrawing troops from Vietnam, but I don't think anybody had been drafted for a couple of years. I had dreaded it for several years. I always assumed that I would also join the Navy, and I knew from stories my brothers had told me that part of Basic Training included being thrown into a pool and having to swim your way out. I was particular horrified by tales from my brother Gary, who had joined the Navy Reserve and who, being a non-swimmer like myself, had actually experienced this nightmarish scenario. Gary said that as he was struggling to stay afloat, one of the men in charge had extended a long wooden pole to him, and as he grasped it to climb up, the man just let it slip through his hands, leaving Gary to get out as best as he could. Somehow, Gary survived.

You know, maybe I should have considered the Air Force...

Friday, February 11, 2011

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Weekend Special: Charley's Birthday Party

My cousin Charley's birthday party, as reported in The Waldron News.  A good time was had by all.