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.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

What I Wanted and What I Had

Like most kids, I always felt like other people had more than I had.  And, of course, I spent a lot of time wishing I had the latest and greatest of whatever, usually to no avail.  If the technology that exists today was around back in the 1960s, it would have driven me crazy, I suppose.  There's no way we could have stayed up to date with the newest version of the iPhone or the iPad.  Heck, we had enough trouble keeping a working version of the iRon that Mama used.  Anyway, in homage to my overly materialistic view of the world, here's a self-indulgent view of my childhood in terms of what I wanted, and what I had...

What I Wanted

The Ultimate:  The 64 pack of crayolas, complete with the ingenious sharpener on the side of the box.  Imagine, a limitless supply of colors, all precisely sharpened.  The possibilities were endless...

What I Had

The Crayola 8-pack.  Purchased at Parsley's 5 Cents to 1 Dollar store.  Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, brown, and black.  Precise coloring was possible for the first few uses, then you just did the best you could with the rounded crayon that you were left with.

What I Wanted

A Rock Tumbler from the Sears Catalog.  Every Christmas, I looked very long and hard at this item. I was amazed at the beautiful stones that could be created from the rocks in our driveway.

What I Had

A Woodburning set.  Fun for about 5 minutes.  The fun was always mitigated by an unnerving concern that you were going to be responsible for the house burning down. 

What I Wanted

A Road Grader.  Like the one my best friend Randy had, with the blade that swiveled and the little lever sticking out of the back window that actually turned the front wheels.  Perfect for the miles and miles of roads that Randy and I made every summer.

What I Had

A garden hoe.  You could still make roads, you just had to stand kind of far away to do it.

What I Wanted

A red wagon.  Again, just like the one Randy had.  We hauled all kinds of stuff in that wagon; I think we were still using it when it was just a rusted shell of it's original self.

What I Had

A stick horse.  With a vinyl head.  It was a lot of work riding the range with that rascal.

What I Wanted

One of the all-time great toys, heavily advertised on Saturday morning TV in the 60s.  A tense, fierce battle, ending with a horrible ratcheting sound and one of the kids on the commercial saying, "Hey, you knocked my block off."  It doesn't get much better than that.

What I Had

Mr. Potato Head.  Again, good for about 5 minutes of fun.  At least I had one of the later versions; when Mr. Potato Head first became available, you had to supply your own potato.

What I Wanted

Oh, the incredible things you could make with an erector set.  A toy that undoubtedly led to a high paying career later in life, like maybe an engineer or an architect. 

What I Had

A cardboard refrigerator box.  From Bud Rice's store downtown. Randy and I would each get one, drag them home behind our bikes, and attempt to stay out all night sleeping in them.  Of course, we had to cut a window so we could look up at the stars.  And the next day, we could cut down the length of one of the corners and make a slide on the bank in front of my house.  And you could take off your shoes and run and hit the cardboard in your sock feet and see if you could stay upright all the way down the slope.  And you could do that all afternoon and have an incredible amount of fun.  But an erector set...yeah...that would have been good too.

What I Wanted

A set of real Walky Talkies.

What I Had

Some sound-powered phones that Daddy brought back from the Navy at the end of World War II.  They were 20 years old when I played with them, but they still worked perfectly.  It was the way the crew of Daddy's PT Boat communicated with each other.  Without any other source of power, the energy created by the vibrations of your speech was transmitted over the wires to the person at the other end.  Randy and I even had enough wire to stretch them from my house to his.  And they didn't need a battery!  They were such fun.  Oh, but a walky talkie would have been fun too, I guess.  And maybe some extra batteries.

What I Wanted

Cable TV.  We got one channel, Channel 5 (KFSA) from Fort Smith.  They did offer shows from all three networks, but a little variety would have been nice.

What I Had

A homemade shortwave radio that Mama's cousin Omar Brigance let me borrow.  He had built it from a kit.  Our house had a length of wire outside the front window that had once been an antenna for a radio (back in the radio days), so I ran a wire from the shortwave and connected it to that outside wire and the results were pretty good.  I could pull in transmissions from far, far away in languages that I did not recognize.  Of course, I also got some broadcasts from England that I could understand.  Pretty amazing.  It made me realize how big the world was.  But I guess I could have been watching TV instead.  I guess.

What I Wanted

An awesome tree house.  High enough to see the whole neighborhood, maybe even as far away as Featherston Street...

What I Had

We called it the Smokehouse.  That's my older brother Gary standing in front of it, in costume for a school play.  Half of the building was a garage, and the other part was the Smokehouse.  Both were filled with what the casual observer might call junk, but to a kid it was treasures.  Daddy worked for the phone company, so there were all kinds of broken phones and obsolete telephone equipment.  He also was a handyman who liked to tinker with things, so there were lots and lots of appliances and things that no longer worked that he just couldn't bear to throw away.  You could even climb up on the garage side to the top of the Smokehouse ceiling, where there was even more stuff to play with.  And that space made a great clubhouse; you had to climb up the wall to get there.  There was so much fun stuff in that smokehouse to play with, and Daddy was always bringing in something new.  But a treehouse, I guess, would have been fun too.  Probably. 

Hmm.  Maybe some of the things I had were actually better than those things I saw on TV or in the Sears catalog.  Maybe I don't need an iPad afterall...

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Hangin' on Pine Street

Our guest blogger again this week is our friend Floyd Folsom, who spent his wonder years growing up in Waldron.  Floyd recalls a tale of drama and frontier justice that virtually eliminated all cattle rustling on Pine Street.  Good thing that's all it eliminated...

It was a hot summer day back in 1962 when the hangin' occurred.  It was on the dusty road that would eventually be named Pine Street.  But, let me go back a few years to explain why there was a hangin' in the first place.

It was a much simpler time way back in the 50s.  We bought our first TV in '52 or '53 when we lived across the street from Donald Poe, just a block or so from the Waldron school.  I remember the impatience any six-year-old would have waiting for the TV antenna to be erected and having the TV adjusted to be sure to get the very best picture.  Finally, Dad backed away from the TV and the vast world of Channel 5 from Fort Smith poured into our living room.

I was amazed at the mostly snowy picture that took me to a world of Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Commando Cody, John Chandler, and the magnetic hot and cold fronts he slid around on the weather board, Pat Porta and his news broadcasts, and so many more.

I was instantly enraptured by Roy Rogers and Trigger.  Roy quickly replaced Stan Musual as my hero.  I watched episode after episode.  I watched every Western I could because that would surely be the lifestyle I would choose when I grew up.

I noticed that the only way to handle rustlers was to hang 'em.  Now, this was way before Clint Eastwood and his Hang 'Em High movie.  My brother Arthur and I played cowboy almost every day.  We could only wing the shoulder or gun hand because that's how Roy did it.  Occasionally, we would hang some make-believe rustlers we had rounded up while riding our stick horses.

Time marched on and we outgrew the stick horses and Cowboy and Indian wars.  Our family moved to Carlsbad, New Mexico in 1958 because of my dad's breathing problem.  He passed away in May of 1961 and we moved back to Waldron.  My mother had a small white house built across the street from the Yates family and right beside the Bobbitt family.

It is now a hot summer day in 1962 on that dusty street that would later be named Pine Street.  JW and Donald Bobbitt and I were playing a more grown up version of cowboy and rustlers that day.  By this time we were all teenagers.

For some reason, JW and I were the "good guys" and Donald was the rustler.  Needless to say, we caught up with Donald and the herd he had rustled and he knew there would be vigilante justice for sure.

JW and I dragged our prisoner to the front yard where a rather large tree stood.  Every cowboy knew you needed a tall tree to hang 'em high.  We found a rope and even had enough sense to at least not put it around Donald's neck.  JW and I came up with a plan.  He would hold Donald up off the ground and I would tie the rope around his stomach up around the bottom of the ribs.  What a plan!  JW lifted, I tied, and we let him hang and swing.

Things were going as planned until we noticed that Donald looked sorta funny.  His face was real red and he didn't appear to be breathing so good. He hung parallel to the ground and kept swinging his arms with this wild-eyed, excited look while mumbling something we couldn't quite make out.  It finally dawned on us that he was going to die if we didn't do something.  We came up with a plan.  What a plan!  JW lifted him up and I untied the rope.  JW laid Donald on the ground and we watched as he gasped for air while mumbling something we still couldn't quite make out.

It all tuned out well.  In spite of some serious rope burn, Donald made a full recovery.  I think he now lives in Wichita, Kansas.  I figure he's afraid to come back to Waldron lest there be a hangin' party waiting on him. 

It sure is fun playing cowboy and rustler.

That is, if you ain't the rustler.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Hoosiers

Today's story comes courtesy of Floyd Folsom, a former resident of Waldron whose family were neighbors of ours on Pine Street.  Floyd now lives in Mena.  Thanks Floyd for the laugh!

When I was sixteen years old, a friend and I were “draggin’ main” (You older folks will know that term.) one Saturday night in the small western Arkansas town of Waldron, where we lived. We saw a car parked by the side of the road and a man looking under the hood. I told my friend that we should stop and see if we could help them.

When we pulled in behind the car, I noticed it had Indiana license plates. It meant nothing to me at the time, but I did notice. The man said that it couldn’t be fixed until morning and that he would appreciate a ride to Ft Smith, which was about fifty miles to our north. We discovered that he had a wife and two children with him so we decided to drive them to Ft Smith where they had family waiting.

I had never heard the term “Hoosier” before and didn’t know that it was a nickname for someone from Indiana. After everyone had settled down for the trip, the lady made the comment, “I’ll bet you never thought you’d be carrying a car load of Hoosiers?”

I turned around to face her and answered in my most polite voice, “No Mrs Hoosier, we sure didn’t.” For fifty miles I called them Mr and Mrs. Hoosier. I noticed they smiled a lot on the trip and wondered how they could grin and chuckle like they did considering the circumstances.

My friend and I drove up to Indiana later that summer to visit his sister and we both learned what a Hoosier was. Humiliating it was!

Remember, get a healthy dose of humor today. Doctor’s orders!

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Telephone Man

Daddy, and his younger brother Calton
I watched my Daddy being spoon fed his supper last night.  It does something to you to see that, but that's what it's come to.  His tray had three different colors of baby food on it.  Not actual baby food, but the pureed version of whatever was on the menu of the nursing home last night.  The lady feeding him seemed hurried, and I suppose she probably was; there were others needing to be fed.  "He's probably not going to like me," she said.  She was making him finish, and Daddy in recent years has not exactly been a big eater. 

The odds of Daddy not liking anyone are very small.  He may protest, he may say, "I don't want any more groceries," or something like that, but he'll never dislike you.  His food is now pureed; the last of his teeth came out a couple of months ago.  He hasn't really taken a shine to his new dentures.  My sister is doing a good job of convincing him to wear them though. 

There he sat, in his wheelchair last night, at the table with the worker who was feeding him, when I walked into the dining room at the nursing home.  I was struck by his quiet dignity as he sat there, complying with the unwanted spoonfuls of color relentlessly coming his way.  His toothless jaw seemed set in resolve; he would eat because he didn't want to be a problem to anyone. 

He held a crumpled piece of paper towel in his hand.  His nose was running, and he kept using the paper towel to dry it.  He was coughing too, and by the time the lady left him to eat his liquid dessert on his own, he had started sneezing repeatedly.  I could tell he didn't feel well, and I reached over and felt his forehead to see if he had fever.  He didn't seem to; he said he didn't anyway.  I pulled out my handkerchief and gave it to him, and he immediately put it to work.

He didn't eat much of his dessert, which was unusual.  He also said he didn't want any coffee.  When I rolled him back to his room, I noticed that his scalp had shed a layer of dandruff on his shoulder, from when they combed his hair for supper.  When we got back to his room, I noticed a little sign on his door saying he had been recognized for some little honor, I can't remember now even what it was.  He seems to participate in the various activities they have for the residents, which I find both surprising and delightful.  He is and always has been a people person, in spite of his natural shyness.  He was very isolated when he lived at home after Mama died; I think he missed being around other people.  I'm glad he has that now. 

I backed his wheelchair up so that he could see the TV.  We watched the news.  We never talk much; it's never come naturally for either of us.  I wish that was different.  It's just that way for some fathers and sons.  Sometimes I can get him to talk about PT Boats; he served on one during World War II.  But I've pretty much used up all of my PT Boat conversation starters, so we sat in silence, watching the days events unfold as told by Darren Bobb. 

It was time to leave.  I checked his supply of sweets; still okay on soft Little Debby bars and powdered donuts.  I asked him if he wanted to lay down in his bed; no, he would just sit in his wheelchair.  I put the remote to the TV on the bed beside his chair.  "Do you need anything Daddy?"  "Nope," the standard reply.  "I guess I'll head on up the road.  See you next Thursday."

"Okay.  Come back."

And there he sits, the man who used to climb telephone poles with metal spikes attached to his boots, the man who used to fight fires as Chief, the man who could fix anything that was broken, and charge you about five dollars to do it.  The man who stopped his telephone truck  between Waldron and Mansfield on a cold winter night and brought home giant icicles from the frozen cliffs beside the road.

I was glad I was able to give him my handkerchief.

"I will Daddy.  I will."

Thursday, March 1, 2012

My Pet Alligator

I think I inherited from my father a love for the unusual. I guess that’s why, when I was about 12, I decided I needed a pet alligator.

Back then, it was a rare treat to get to go to Fort Smith, and a trip always included a visit to our favorite Fort Smith store, K-Mart. K-Mart was a fascinating place, and after spending time looking at the toys, I always gravitated over to the pet department. The exotic fish and the little hamsters all were nice, but what got my attention was the baby alligators. Yes, K-Mart sold baby alligators as pets. Technically, they were caimans, a close relative of the alligator, but nevertheless, they were awesome. I knew I had to have one.

Incredibly, I somehow convinced Mama and Daddy of the soundness of this idea. So, one Saturday morning, we found ourselves in K-Mart buying an alligator. We had gone up to visit my brother and his wife, and they had driven us over to make the purchase. I very excitedly picked out which alligator I wanted (yes, they had several to choose from), and I also purchased a small rectangular glass fishbowl (not quite an aquarium) to keep it in. They placed my alligator in a little box that had a picture of a hamster on the outside, and we headed back to my brother’s house. Along the way, I could hear my alligator scratching on the box, wanting out. I grew concerned after a bit, because the scratching eventually stopped. I didn’t dare open the box to check on the contents; I wasn’t sure how to put an alligator back in a box. But, by the time we arrived at my brother’s house, I was gravely concerned about my alligator.

In my brother’s kitchen, I prepared for the transfer to the fishbowl. Still no signs of life from the hamster box. Gingerly, I opened one end of the box and tilted it toward the fishbowl. The whole family watched in silent anticipation. Nothing was happening; perhaps the lifeless alligator corpse had become lodged in the hamster box. But suddenly, and without warning, my little alligator sprang from the hamster box into the fishbowl, his fierce mouth agape, emitting a fierce hiss that signaled, “I mean business.”

My sister-in-law, a mild, quiet woman, let out a blood-curdling shriek. My alligator, evaluating the situation, began jumping against the sides of the fish bowl. Fortunately, he was only about 8 inches from head to tail, so he wasn’t quite big enough to make a break for it. So, once a sense of calm was restored, we put a piece of cardboard on top of the fishbowl and headed home.

At home, I quickly realized a couple of important facts. One, my alligator needed a bigger habitat than his little fishbowl. And two, I really knew nothing about taking care of an alligator. I solved problem one by dragging out an old vinyl swimming pool that we had used a few years earlier, the kind with sides made of sheet metal about 3 feet high, and covered with a vinyl lining. I placed an old tire rim under the plastic lining to serve as an island, and filled the pool up with water. As for the care and feeding of an alligator, I attempted to solve this by going up to Buddy Gray’s store and buying two dozen minnows. I dumped them into the water, figuring my little alligator could then have a snack anytime he wanted it.

Unfortunately, my little alligator didn’t appear to know how to catch fish. However, if I caught a minnow by hand and laid it down on his island beside him, he would oblige me by biting the minnow in half when it started flopping. However, he seemed content to just kill the minnow and showed no interest in actually eating it. He would take a bite of raw hamburger meat, which I eventually became brave enough to allow him to snap out of my hand, much to the awe and amazement of anyone who happened to be watching.

But, as summer passed and fall arrived, tragedy struck. One morning, as I was on my way to school, I stopped by to check on my alligator and found his lifeless body curled up in a fold in the vinyl. I don’t know if the temperature had dropped too low during the night, or perhaps he just couldn’t find enough to eat. Whatever the reason, my little alligator was dead.

When I got home from school, I prepared his body for burial. I placed him in a cigar box and buried him in a hole I had dug in the garden. Sadness, mixed with a bit of relief. You know, it’s a little more difficult to bond with an alligator than, say, a kitten or a dog. In fact, in absence of that bond, I did get a little curious over the winter about what an alligator skeleton looked like. So, I am quite ashamed to report, the next spring I dug up my little alligator. There, inside the cigar box, was a perfectly preserved alligator skeleton. I kept it as intact as I could, although over the years it ended up being a collection of bones in a little jar rather than a fully formed scientific specimen. And somewhere, I’m not quite sure where, maybe in a box in a storage cabinet in my garage, there is still a little jar full of alligator bones.