Summertime in my hometown

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First a reminder that there was a lot of difference between a country boy and a town boy, even if it was a small town. With that in mind, lets look at the hometown of my youth … back in the day.
Town boys took for granted things like grass growing in the front yard, sidewalks, paved streets, easy access to the Rexall Drug Store where they made the greatest malted milks in the world and the picture show. All these things were viewed with awe and envy by country boys.
With that in mind, let’s get a country boy’s perspective of my hometown in the summer time. Three scenes come to mind, like snapshots of the past. First, almost every small southern town had a cotton gin. The owner of the gin was usually a PIP (Pretty Important Person). Ours was Mr. Duke. He lived in a very nice, but not ostentatious, house on the same street as the cotton gin, but far enough away to not be bothered by all the noise, dust and confusion of ginning time.
Mr. Duke had three beautiful, grown daughters. To these second-grader eyes, they looked like movie stars. In this summer flashback I see them running out of the house, all dressed in white, and getting into their father’s Buick Roadmaster and driving away, in something of a hurry. That’s all. Just three pretty girls and a big car … summer scene.
Then there’s the picture at Aunt Clara’s. She was my town aunt. She lived just around a graceful curve in the street on the way to Aberdeen. I was in town with Daddy. We were about to go home when he remembered that he needed to tell his sister about something.Her house had a big porch along the front. I stood there while he talked to Aunt Clara and watched what, to me, seemed the very epitome of town living.
Aunt Clara’s second daughter, beautiful, red-haired Lema Dee, and several of her friends were having a picnic, right there under the big magnolia tree. They were pretty dressed up. They were, I think, about to be high school seniors. In addition to cute little bits of food, they had a wind-up Victrola that was playing, among other things, “The Beer Barrel Polka.” My, how sophisticated could you get? Mother later said, “Well, it’d be a pretty song if it didn’t have that old “beer” in it.”
Lema Dee was quite talented. She and one of the Cartwright girls did an assembly program one morning that featured Lema’s tap dancing and Miss Cartwright singing “Franklin D. Roosevelt Jones,” which was a very popular tune at the time. They went on to do their act on WAPI in Birmingham.
And, there’s the picture of the two little pre-teen girls who ruled the town during the week. Frances and Peggy, with their bikes and skates, had free-run of the town. Everybody knew them. They might be zooming around the courthouse on their skates, because of the smooth surface, or way down on the lower bridge over Yellow Creek, same reason, or climbing trees, maybe hanging upside down by their legs on a limb over the sidewalk and teasing and taunting the Lollar boy when he came along.
Or they could be playing on the thousands of cotton bales in the warehouses close to the gin, or going to whatever movie was playing at the hallowed Lamar Theater or riding their bikes out to Turner’s Mill, the mill pond that serverd as the city swimming pool, or trying on Frances’ older sisters’ grown-up clothes or reading about the movie they had just seen in Photoplay at the drug store.
There were four different movies a week … some they showed more than once They didn’t miss a one, even the midnight show Saturday night. Right after a Dracula movie, they’d hop on their bikes and go high – balling down the semi-lit back street to home, not the least bit afraid.
These are just three scenes that pop into my mind about summertime in my home town. By the way, Aunt Clara: Grass in your front yard? You weren’t raised that way!
Bob Sanders can be reached at bobbypsanders@gmail.com.

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