Growing Up In Thomasville, Georgia
By Wiley Julian Holland, Jr.
This short narrative is dedicated to my 14 grandchildren who have been so concerned their “Poppie” was “bored out of his mind” before the advent of television and computer games. Hopefully this narrative will put an end to their apprehensions.
Several years ago, I boarded an airplane in Chicago, returning to my home in Alexandria, Virginia by way of National Airport in Washington D.C. After stowing my overnight luggage overhead and wedging my briefcase under the seat, I buckled my seat belt, anxious to get home. After a bumpy takeoff, I and the other passengers relaxed after the plane reached a smooth altitude and began the hour flight to Washington.
After exchanging pleasantries with the passenger seated next to me, we began a casual conversation to pass the time. He lived in Chicago and was traveling to Washington on business. Like me, he was in his early fifties at the time and during the course of our conversation asked me where I was from in the South, apparently recognizing my lingering accent. I informed him I had lived in Alexandria, Virginia for many years, but my original hometown was in South Georgia, thirty five miles north of Tallahassee, Florida.
Doubting he would recognize the name of my hometown, I assumed he would be familiar with the Capital of Florida and it’s location. His eyes widened as he sat upright in his seat. Leaning close to me, he said, “You must be from Thomasville, Georgia. The pool room in that town serves the best hot dogs in the world.”
Embarrassed at being unaware of his knowledge of Thomasville, I continued to listen. He said his family traveled I-75 to Florida every year on vacation and when he reached Valdosta, he would detour west on US 84 and drive the fifty miles to Thomasville. Parking on Broad Street, he eagerly walked to the Pool Room order window and rapidly devoured two chili dogs while waiting for several more to be wrapped for his family.
Parking his car in front of the Big Oak, his family would enjoy the hotdogs, whose taste was enhanced by the tingle of bottled Cokes. After eating and taking pictures of his family posing under the Big Oak, he continued his journey south into Florida. He finished his story by saying, ”Mr. Holland, Thomasville is a beautiful town and I bet you have wonderful memories of growing up there”.
He was right. I always felt Thomasville was a special place, or perhaps, a unique state of mind to those of us who no longer lived there. As I reclined in the seat and closed my eyes for a quick nap before landing, those half forgotten memories of my childhood raced through my mind.
According to my mother, I was introduced to this world on Saturday, December 30th 1939, when Doctor Futch delivered me at Archbold Memorial Hospital. I was the first of my parent’s children to be delivered in a hospital and the only one born in Thomasville, my two oldest sisters arriving in Waycross, and my third in Americus.
The usual double feature cowboy movies featuring such stars as Johnny Mack Brown and Gene Autry, interspersed with cartoons, were playing at the Rose Theatre that Saturday. My mother’s contractions were five minutes apart and my father, knowing he should take his wife to the hospital as soon as possible, drove my three sisters to the theatre, leaving them in the care of my oldest sister, ten years my senior, with instructions to stay until he returned.
Believing complete bed rest was best for new mothers, she remained in the hospital for ten days and then, with me, wrapped in a blue blanket, returned to our home at 528 Remington Avenue. One year and eleven months later, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and the United States entered the Second World War. My mother’s younger brother was serving in the Army Air Corps at Wheeler Field in Honolulu when the Japanese attacked and she later related how she and my father anguished for a week before learning he had survived.
As a four and five year old youngster at the time, my memories of the war years are somewhat clouded, but because it was such a traumatic time in our history, many still remain. Or perhaps it’s typical of many people, who, as they grow older, remember things from their early childhood more vividly than events that occurred yesterday.
My Uncle Alton Cannon, having survived Pearl Harbor, and the Battle of Midway in 1942 spent his leave with us in Thomasville before shipping out to England with the 8th Army Air Force. He related to my parents how he escaped death by diving under the wing of a fighter plane as the Japanese strafed the Wheeler airfield, killing many men and destroying defenseless aircraft on the tarmac.
As I clutched his leg, he gently placed his military cap on my head and grasping his hand, I introduced him to my neighborhood friends. As his leave grew shorter, I remember watching as he paced the main hall in our house in the middle of the night, lighting one cigarette after another.
Following the surrender of Germany, he was in San Francisco waiting to be deployed for the invasion of Japan. Thankfully the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, ended the Second World War. Granted a leave to visit my parents in Thomasville, he caught military hops east bound from San Francisco. A few minutes following take off from New Orleans to Jacksonville, Florida, his military transport was struck by lightning over Mississippi and crashed, killing all the soldiers on board.
At his funeral in Waycross, I clutched my Mother’s hand as the military honor guard fired a 21gun salute. The American flag was carefully folded and presented to my grandmother, a tribute to her youngest child, who had turned down a football scholarship to the University of Florida in 1937 to join the Army Air Corps.
During the war, I played with Leila and Butch Applewhite whose father was serving in the Pacific with the navy. Standing in my Remington Avenue front yard, we stared as German POWs, imprisoned at Phinney General Hospital, were driven to work on the local farms. I recall how young they looked as a few acknowledged us with a weak smile. Not knowing exactly which enemy they were and never before seeing a Japanese, I called them Germanese.
Leila, Butch and I would wave and cheer to the American GIs as convoys continually traveled on Remington Avenue, either leaving or returning to the local Army Base One afternoon a speeding jeep failed to make the sharp curve on Remington in front of Dr. Reid’s house. The jeep overturned, violently ejecting the soldiers into a deep, kudzu covered ditch with the jeep following close behind. Some neighbors rushed to investigate and returning with a look of sadness, it was obvious to us children, there had been fatalities.
In the early evenings, our Remington Avenue yard and trees magically gleamed as the blinking of the “lightning bugs” illuminated the darkening sky. We would carefully place some in mason jars, and tighten the lid, pierced with holes, allowing air to enter. Lying on the floor with chins resting in our palms, we followed the flight of the insects until the last glow slowly vanished; contented in the knowledge that tomorrow was another day. My chest filled with pride when my Mother allowed me to hand her clothes pins as she hung the laundry in the back yard.
It was considered patriotic to conserve cloth which was needed by our military so my Mother, as many others, made our clothes from cotton flour and feed sacks during the war. The flour and feed distributors designed bags with attractive prints and pasted labels, which were easily removed. My mother bought twenty pound bags of flour and after tracing paper patterns on the empty cotton material, guided the needle on her manual Singer sewing machine with her deft fingers, while operating the treadle with both feet.
My father was exempt from the draft in the Second World War because of his age and occupation. He was a toll transmission supervisor with Southern Bell Telephone Company and spent countless hours at the Army Air Force base assisting in the the maintenance of their communication systems. My father's morse code identification was H.O. and until he died in 1982 he was affectionately called H.O. His office was located across the street from the Thomasville Municipal Auditorium on the corner of Jackson and Crawford Street. The men worked downstairs and the women operated the switchboards on the upper level.
At some point, my mother and three older sisters all worked as telephone operators in that building responding to callers with that familiar phrase,” Number Please?” During and after the war the telephone number for the Rose theater was 7 and the Mode, 9. Our telephone number was 9083 and because my father was a supervisor with the telephone company, we had a single line, not having to be concerned with nosy neighbors “listnen in” on party lines.
Wakened by a loud hammering noise one morning, I watched as my father fenced our entire back yard on Remington Avenue with chicken wire. With everything in short supply because of the war and ration cards needed to buy food my father decided to raise a few turkeys in our back yard. Our neighbors watched as he released several tamed hens and a tom in the enclosure, no doubt anticipating a succulent meal of turkey and dressing in the near future.
As so often happened in South Georgia summer afternoons, a driving rainstorm pelted the area with sheets of wind driven rain, accompanied by brilliant flashes of lightning. Never known for their intelligence, the turkeys remained in the open, continually gazing upward as the rain filled their nostrils, resting on their beaks. Within a few minutes, all had drowned and my family enjoyed turkey and dressing, however much sooner than expected.
Our summer vacations were spent in a rented cottage fronting Fernandina Beach, Florida. During the day, I watched my father surf fish, landing buckets of “whities”, which my mother would fillet and serve with stacks of French fries, sliced tomatoes, hushpuppies and sweet tea. As darkness approached, our parents ushered the children indoors and following strict wartime blackout rules, lowered the black window shades as twilight approached.
As I peeked under the shades, ship silhouettes would appear on the Atlantic horizon, running without lights to avoid detection by German submarines that menaced American shipping lanes off the coast of Jacksonville. Spotting the horse mounted American soldiers and their dogs patrolling the beach, I quickly turned away from the window, shaking with fear, afraid I would be caught and punished for breaking a war time rule.
With the war nearing an end and the final outcome seeming less in doubt, my Mother and I visited her family in Miami, Florida. My father would drive through the “Bottom” and after unloading our suitcases, remain with us until the train arrived. A few minutes before midnight, we could hear the distinctive forlorn whistle of the “Southwind”as it approached Thomasville from New Orleans. As the engine slowly braked, steam was released, creating a surreal atmosphere on the loading platform as the overhead lights pierced the swirling cloud of moisture.
When the conductor called “All Aboard” we said goodbye to my father, climbed the three metal steps and settled into our assigned seats. Our car, as all the others, was crowded with khaki clad soldiers and sailors sporting their white bell- bottom trousers. Some aimlessly stared quietly out the windows, perhaps reliving the battles they had survived, while others sat atop their duffel bags playing cards in the aisles. I was captivated by their fun loving antics, which made the seventeen hour trip appear much shorter.
The winter of 1944/45 was unusually cold and our fireplaces burned continually, fired by chunks of coal stored beneath our back porch. Like all small boys in Thomasville, I helped my father carry buckets of coal into the house and scatter the spent ashes in a far corner of the back yard. We welcomed the warm breezes that finally arrived in April. In August, 1945 Japan surrendered, thus ending the Second World War.
I did not fully comprehend the significance of this news, but even at the age of six, I knew some dramatic event had occurred. My oldest sister was working as a telephone operator that summer when the news flashed Japan had surrendered. She wanted to join the celebration downtown but every circuit on the switchboard board lit up and the operators were inundated with calls to handle.
My parents took me downtown the day the surrender was announced and Broad Street was filled with masses of celebrating people, venting four long years of doubts and frustration, but with confidence that the United States would eventually prevail. Waving Old Glory, hugging friends and strangers alike, the citizens of Thomasville were rejoicing in unbridled exhilaration.
Perched atop my father’s shoulders to better see the ongoing events, I recall looking skyward as an Army Air Corps plane from the local base buzzed the crowd. It was as if the pilots “tipping of the wings” represented a tribute to the residents of Thomasville who had suffered through the Depression and so unselfishly supported the war effort.
ELEMENTARY SCHOOL YEARS
A crisp breeze blew that September morning of 1945 as my mother escorted me to my first grade class at East Side Elementary School. More consumer products had become available since the War and I was dressed in new “store bought” clothes, unlike some shirts my mother had made from cloth flour sacks during the war years. My teacher, Daisy Neel, welcomed us and after seeing the ABCs in capital letters surrounding the room and realizing the seriousness of the moment, I felt a sudden urge to seek protection and security by clinging to my mother’s skirt or hiding under a desk. I quickly adapted to my new school surroundings and eventually lost my fear of sliding down the long escape tube during fire drills.
My family moved to 227 Hill Street, in 1945 and the four years we lived there were filled with wonderful boyhood experiences. The neighborhood was rampant with young children and when not attending school, no one stayed indoors during the day. No one had air conditioning so to escape the torrid summer heat, our parents rocked on the front porch in the evening, watching as we played tag, kick the can and street ball. Beneath the backyards, the world was transformed into a maze of magical tunnels covered by pieces of used boards, topped off with sandy soil.
Because Hill and Grady Streets were unpaved, we walked to Hansell Street and skated to Smith Avenue, occasionally resting in Paradise Park. We would display our skating prowess in front of the Mitchell house on Hansell, hoping the Mitchell sisters, if they were watching, would be impressed.
Returning home, my father allowed me to stand on the running board while he parked our car in the back yard. Dad would give me my daily nickel candy allowance and I would buy a giant Baby Ruth at Carter’s Grocery store. Following my mother’s orders, I broke the candy bar to check for worms and if I occasionally found one, I gingerly removed it, wiped my hands on my shirt and devoured the candy.
Following supper, which was always attended by the entire family, we gathered around the radio to listen to our favorite shows. We would laugh at Fibber McGee and Molly, assist Charlie Chan investigate a crime and become overcome with fear listening to Inner Sanctum, as the opening of the creaking door exposed horrors beyond the imagination.
Terrified by “Inner Sanctum” I scampered to bed, pulling the covers over my head, making sure none of my arms or legs dangled over the side. I was deathly afraid a monster was lurking beneath, waiting for the opportunity to seize an exposed arm or leg and pull me under. Escaping the monster’s wrath once again, we awoke each morning to the sound of Glenn Miller’s Sunrise Serenade on WPAX radio.
My father and several of his friends fished for shell crackers at Lake Iamonia and the following Saturday afternoon a gigantic fish fry would be held, attended by all our neighbors. The men would deep fry the filets in fifty gallon metal drums, split lengthwise, supported by four legs welded to the container and heated with a wood fire. When the fish turned crunchy and golden brown, they were drained on old newspapers and served with hushpuppies, cole slaw, French fries, baked beans and sweet steeped tea prepared by the women.
Watching some of the men visit a backyard storage shed, I wondered why they had an extra twinkle in their eye and a devilish grin on their face when they returned. Asking my father, he would simply say,” They went to say hello to Mr. Beam”. Taking my father’s words as gospel, I reasoned Mr. Beam had told a funny joke because the men became the life of the party after their visit. I never understood why Mr. Beam never joined the fun but looking back, I guess he did, in his own special way.
The veterans had returned from the war and two began regularly dating my two oldest sisters. Oliver DuPre was dating my sister, Jean, and he would court her in his 1937 black Ford convertible with a rumble seat. He lived in the Waverley House across from the Rose theatre and had worked there before joining the Navy in 1942. I would sit in the rumble seat in Oliver’s coupe while he toured the neighborhood, with my sister riding shotgun. Returning home, he called me aside and bribed me with a pack of Juicy Fruit chewing gum if I would disappear, an offer I never refused
My father demanded his daughters return home from dates by 10:00 PM and allowed the couple to sit on the front porch until 11:00. At 11:00, my father blinked the porch light as a signal and if my sisters weren’t in the house on the second blink, he opened the front door exclaiming, “ It’s time for all decent people to be in bed and all scoundrels to hit the road”. Dad’s overly dramatic strategy was always accompanied by a wink of the eye but my sister’s embarrassment was not lessened. Apparently Oliver and Charles were not overly offended at being called scoundrels; they later became my brothers-in- law.
In 1948 I received my first bicycle as a gift from Santa Claus. Still being a true believer, I questioned how he had maneuvered the bike down our small chimney. Dad explained that Santa possessed magical powers and after seeing he had eaten the cookies left for him, while pocketing the line of pennies, I remained convinced Santa Claus really existed.
On Christmas day, all the boys with new bikes immediately removed the fenders and chain guards. We attached cardboard strips to the spokes with clothes pins, producing a loud clacking sound and pedaling through mud puddles, without fenders, a vertical line of frigid water immediately appeared on the back of our shirts. Forgetting to roll up our right leg pants resulted in many crashes, as our cuffs became entangled in the unguarded chain.
Nestled among towering pines and oak trees located at the end of Grady Street was Shepherd’s Pool, surrounded by a tall wire fence and connected to a wooden pavilion. In the summer months we raced our bikes to the pool and quickly ran to be the first in the water. Holding pillow cases above our heads to inflate with air, we sailed off the twenty foot wobbly tower, intentionally splashing the unsuspecting teen age girls sunning by the pool. Floating on the pillow cases until the air disappeared, we sought refuge in the pavilion to escape the revenge, rightfully anticipated from the girls we had drenched.
Inside, we played the pinball machines until we ran out of change, very seldom ever winning a free game because our exuberance in controlling the ball usually resulted in a tilt. Exploring the deep woods to the rear of the pool, known as “Brown Hills”, we played war games while swinging on vines attached to the large oak trees, being ever so careful to avoid the small pond, having heard two alligators lurked beneath the lily pads. Before leaving, we cut small pieces of kindling from fat lightered stumps, wrapped twelve pieces with fence wire, and sold them throughout our neighborhood for fifteen cents a bundle.
The money made from the kindling guaranteed an ample supply of marbles, a Baby Ruth candy bar in our pocket at all times and a ticket for the Saturday afternoon cowboy double feature at the Rose theater. In those days it was called the picture show and a quarter would purchase a ticket, buy a coke and a bag of popcorn. We spent the entire afternoon cheering as Gene Autry defeated the outlaws and after he saved the West, we watched as he sat astride Champion and serenaded the audience with “Back in the Saddle Again”.
Saturday afternoons at the picture show was entertaining but shooting marbles in my neighborhood was entirely different. It was deadly serious and games would last for hours, ending only when we were called for supper or when all the shooters, except one, had lost their marbles The circle would be drawn in the sandy street and the shooters would get in the “knuckle down position.” We only shot marbles “for keeps” and if someone “fudged”, they lost their turn. My special marble bag and ”shooters” along with my “catseyes” were prized possessions.
Following morning church and dinner, our compulsory Sunday afternoon family drive began. My sisters and I would crowd into the back seat and the journey embarked by cruising Broad Street where the sweet aroma of bread; baked the previous day at Flowers’ downtown plant, still permeated the air. Continuing out Gordon Avenue, we passed the hospital and marveled at the beauty of the imposing Three Toms Inn, surrounded by tall pines and magnolia trees. Following the same route every Sunday, we followed each step of the Veteran’s Stadium’s construction in 1948.
The County Line Bridge was our final destination as my father slowly maneuvered the car down the sandy furrowed road alongside the bridge, parking under the trees, whose every limb appeared to droop under the weight of large cascading Spanish moss. We joined the many families who frolicked on the sand bar and enjoyed the cold, dark water in the Ochlochnee River. An occasional moccasin, nonchalantly slithering through the crowd of swimmers, did nothing to dampen our good time.
On Friday nights in the fall, we cheered for our beloved Thomasville High School Bulldogs as they played football in the old wooden stadium on Fletcher Street, across from the power and light plant. We watched my sister’s classmates and our heroes, including Gus Watt, Sonny Callahan, Joe May, Tommy McComb and Norman Chastain perform their football magic.
Sitting in the same stadium on summer evenings, we rooted for the young men who played baseball for the Class D, Georgia Florida League, Thomasville Tigers. Leaving our parents in the stands, we roamed behind the home plate fence, hoping an errant foul ball would fly our way. These young ball players arrived in Thomasville from cities and towns throughout the country, chasing their boyhood dreams, and we welcomed them as our own, eagerly requesting their autographs. One player, Paul Foytack, married a Hill Street girl and we followed his career as he became a pitching mainstay for the Detroit Tigers.
Before the high school gymnasium was completed, the girl and boys basketball games were played in the upstairs court at the YMCA where the baskets were attached to padded walls at each end of the court. Forgetting to turn one’s back after shooting a driving lay-up resulted in many skinned noses after bouncing off the coarse padding.
The makeup of the girl’s team and style of play differed dramatically from the boys. Each team included six players, three guards and three forwards, playing a half court game. Only forwards shot the ball and the guards, who could not cross the centerline, remained on their end, defending against the opposition’s forwards. During the 1946 season, I watched as my sister arched a high, two handed set shot from the perimeter and after watching the ball pass through the untouched rim. I turned to the cheering fans and proudly exclaimed,”That’s my sister!”
I began school at East Side but attended my third and fourth grade classes at Jerger Elementary when it opened in 1948. My most vivid memory of Jerger was the overwhelming smell of newness when first entering the school, so different from East Side. The desks had no scratch marks and the playground equipment was original. Miss Spence was my third grade teacher and Mrs. Kindred, a gentle and kind lady, taught my fourth. After leaving school with my mother, we stopped at the Cottage Grill, located in the triangle where Mimosa Drive intersected with south Broad Street, ordering carry out sandwiches.
In 1949, we moved into a new home on Arden Drive, and I returned to East Side Elementary for fifth and sixth grade classes. Russia had developed the atomic bomb by this time and we received instructions from Mrs. Crawford, my fifth grade teacher, on precautions to take if a nuclear attack occurred. We practiced crouching under our desk while covering our faces with our hands, which seems ludicrous, looking back now, that such simple precautions would protect us from an atomic holocaust, but that was a sign of the times.
After being promoted to the sixth and final elementary school grade, we displayed an air of superiority toward our fellow students in the lower grades at East Side. This ill-advised attitude ended when we first entered our sixth grade class and met our teacher, the incomparable and notorious Miss Bessie Ray. Tall, thin and with taste buds requiring an occasional taste of chalk, Miss Ray put us in a state of awe from the beginning. A stern but fair disciplinarian, Miss Ray was undoubtedly my best teacher at all educational levels and she challenged our minds to the point where Junior High courses were effortless.
JUNIOR HIGH YEARS:
Here we were at the bottom again, the objects of disdain as the eighth and ninth graders gazed down their noses at us as we entered the seventh grade in 1951. After becoming acquainted with our new surroundings, and learning to change classes for the first time, we settled into a normal routine. Bobby Blais, and I would rapidly reach full speed on our bikes at the top of Washington Street; coast past Fred Scott’s house, jump the curb on Glenwood and race into Miss Mount’s homeroom class. It never entered our mind to put a chain on our bikes to protect it from being stolen. I don't recall a bicycle ever being stolen from the bike racks outside.
On warm afternoons we fished in the small ponds on the Floyd Searcy and Driver properties, taking breaks to buy snacks at Mitch Sampson’s M&M Grocery store on the Moultrie Road. Racing our bikes or skating on Clay Street, we passed the Vashti girls, walking in groups, totally oblivious to our presence, and never acknowledging our hellos. Donning our Boy Scout uniforms, we attended meetings at Bellamy’s Boat Shop and went on Scout outings at Dog Island.
In the evenings, I would listen, spellbound, as my father spoke of his two grandfathers who fought for the Confederacy during the War Between the States. He related stories his grandfather Bell told of fighting in Northern Virginia under General Lee and surrendering at Appomattox with only eight of the original 128 men in his company remaining. Listening as my father described his grandfather’s harrowing two month journey returning home to Webster County, Georgia kindled my youthful imagination and strengthen the love of my family’s Southern heritage.
When school adjourned for the day, the massive red brick building, on the corner of Dawson and Jackson Streets, housing the YMCA. served as our second home. Our relationship with the Y began as four and five year olds, when mothers carried us to the Y to enjoy the large indoor swimming pool. By the time we reached the seventh grade we had participated in every athletic program sponsored by the Y.
In the fall, our midget football team would assemble at the Veteran’s Memorial Stadium practice fields, and on several occasions, were allowed to run a few plays at half time on Friday nights during a high school football game. We represented the T'Ville Y at state ping pong tournaments in Macon and competed against boys throughout the United States in a four event athletic competition.
Y softball games were played on the diamond at Veteran’s Stadium field and while waiting for our time to bat, we crossed Washington Street, stuffing our pockets with luscious yellow dates, hanging in large clusters on Mrs. McComb’s front yard tree. Our basketball team played in the upstairs gym at the Y and we learned quickly how to safely collide with the padding behind the basket and awaiting our turn at the ping pong table located in the front entrance, we pitched horseshoes in front of the building.
Our activities at the Y enabled us to play under the care and supervision of Mr. Francis Weston, a man of African descent. He mediated our fights, consoled us when we suffered minor scrapes, patted us on the back for encouragement and even taught us the basics of playing the piano. Francis was an exemplary gentleman and role model, enhancing our lives by his presence.
In the summer of 1952, we sat atop McClellan’s Department Store on Broad Street as Thomasville welcomed home Joey Lunn, a local boy who had won the National Soap Box Derby in Akron, Ohio. Seeing his racer paraded on a flat bed truck ignited my desire to enter the competition the following year and over the following months completed the racer.
My brother-in-law and I carefully loaded the car on a pick-up truck, traveled to the regional qualifying races in Tallahassee and received my heat assignments. As the starting blocks were removed, the car slowly coasted down the three hundred yard course as the crowd, cheered. My visions of winning the National quickly faded as I discovered my racer shared the same speed characteristics as a snail and I finished last in my first heat. My disappointment soon vanished upon reaching home, as I joined the celebrations honoring Thomasville’s Mary Lena Faulk, the 1953 United States Ladies Amateur golf champion.
Upon entering the eighth grade, our hormones apparently surged, because we noticed, for the first time, an amazing transformation among the girls in our class, as if they had emerged from their cocoons over the summer and appeared as beautiful and fragile butterflies. Unlike us, their bodies had become more rounded, their braces had been removed, and their pigtails replaced with shoulder length hair turned up at the ends. They had a touch of pink on their cheeks, a light red glow on the lips, and if we accidentally brushed against them in the hall, found them soft to the touch. Asking one why they smelled different now, she simply answered, “Evening in Paris”
An individual conversation with these newly discovered coeds was accompanied with intense nervous anxiety and the inability to correctly pronounce simple English words. Inevitable “crushes” would arise and using friends as intermediaries, the girl would soon learn she was “liked” by a certain boy. If a like response was returned, the same communication system determined if she would “meet” him at the picture show on Saturday afternoon.
That weekend, the boys took their seats at the Rose theater, followed closely by the group of girls, sitting several rows ahead. After a few glances from the girls and a few elbow prods by the boys, eliciting the reply,”I’m going, I’m going”, the nervous boy slipped into the seat adjoining the object of his new affection. Relying on his last ounce of remaining courage, the boy slowly interlocked hands with the young girl, closed his eyes in disbelief at what was happening, and wondered if they were now “going steady.”
Becoming more relaxed around the fairer sex, our time at the Y was now shared with the Youth Center located on the corner of Dawson Street and Remington Avenue. Parking our bikes, we ascended the wide stairs and entering the ballroom, were welcomed by Mrs. Eldridge, a lovely lady, who attempted to teach us the fine art of ballroom dancing. Following a sheepish hello to the girls, attired in poodle skirts, bobby sox and penny loafers, couples were paired and Mrs. Eldridge demonstrated the basic foxtrot movements. We never understood how we could turn on a dime running with a football, perform a perfect hook slide into second base and execute a reverse lay up on the basketball court but were cursed with two left feet when dancing.
Our idyllic lives received a reality check when, in 1952, we learned an older Grady Street friend, Joe Carter, had been in killed in Korea, having recently celebrated his eighteenth birthday. The following year, I was deeply saddened when my playmate and cousin, Freddie Bell, accidentally died and was buried at Laurel Hill. Freddie’s father, Vereen, had been lost at sea during the battle of the Phillipines in 1944.
As ninth graders, Mr.Vann taught our Sunday school class at the First Baptist Church, followed by Preacher Calloway’s sermons. Our Youth Choir would practice on Thursday nights and in the summer we toured throughout Georgia performing in local churches. Our finale was “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”and we began the last stanza,”In the beauty of the lilies” in soft hushed harmony. Gradually lifting our voices, we reached “Let us die to make men free” in a thunderous crescendo, reverberating throughout the church. The audience sat in stunned silence as tears ran down their cheeks and chills raced up our spines.
Having survived three years of conjugating Latin verbs, Algebra 1 formulas, Junior High football and learning to eat huge pickle slices in the lunchroom everyday, we graduated from Junior High and could now officially cross the walkway leading to Thomasville High School.
HIGH SCHOOL YEARS:
In 1955, the summer before I entered the tenth grade, my father purchased a farm located on the Hall Road and, after remodeling an existing house, we suddenly became part time hog farmers. Having never lived on a farm, my knowledge of hogs was limited to the ham I ate with eggs at breakfast. Growing up in the city of Waycross and never spending time on a farm, my mother laughingly said she was a grown woman before she determined mules were not males and horses, females of the specie.
At the time, the Hall Road was unpaved and following a heavy rain, families could be stranded for a week before the mud hardened enough to grip the wheels of a car. The Thomasville city limits ended at Bellamy’s Boat Shop on the Moultrie Road and with few exceptions, no real sign of civilization was visible until Coolidge came into view. If an eye blinked, the narrow Hall Road would be easily overlooked.
My Father hired several of my friends at $2.00 per day to help me install fences on Saturdays to hopefully contain those independent minded hogs my father had bought. We quickly learned what happens when creosote post are installed in smoldering July weather while wearing Levis with no shirts. Following two years of matching wits with an animal, obviously much more intelligent than us, our ability to successfully raise hogs became highly questionable.
Our foray into hog farming ended in much the same manner, though not self inflicted, as my father’s efforts to breed turkeys during the war. On the positive side; however, our farm provided ample land for hunting and fishing, pleasures thoroughly enjoyed by my friends and I for the following three years.
In September of 1955, WCTV Television opened in Tallahassee with a branch studio in Thomasville. My father brought our first TV home, a black and white Dumont, and climbing on the roof, attached the antenna, which resembled the offspring of a towel rack and steam radiator. To receive the reception signal, the antenna needed to point in the correct direction.
Grasping the chimney with one hand, I manually turned the antenna with the other. My father would keep an eye on the screen and after shouting,”No, too far, come back a little” several times, the adjustment was accomplished. Rushing into the house, I joined my parents and we witnessed this new electronic marvel, a snow covered test pattern at 11:00 am in the morning.
During the first few months, TV shows aired only in the afternoons and evenings. We watched live performances of local piano players, grade school ballet classes, amateur singers and occasionally Jim and Jesse and the Virginia Boys, when they toured Tallahassee. After receiving network programming, we enjoyed such shows as “I Love Lucy, Gunsmoke, The Ed Sullivan Show, and Washington Redskin football games on Sunday afternoons.
Having moved to the Hall Road, seeing my first TV and receiving permission to drive the 1952 pick-up used on our farm, I was ready to enter high school. Parking my truck behind the school, I joined my friends on the front steps and walked into Thomasville High School on that September morning of 1955.
Passing the trophy case, we entered the auditorium, took our seats with the other sophomores, anticipating the appearance of Coach Garner, our principal. He slowly walked to the podium, welcomed all the students to a new school year and promptly reminded us,” the way of the transgressor is hard.” Over the next three years, we realized, on several occasions, his admonition was not an idle threat.
We experienced Coach Garner’s wrath, for the most part, during dove season in the fall. Several of my friends and I could not resist the temptation to hunt doves in the mornings before school and inevitably missed the homeroom roll call. Words cannot describe the rush of adrenalin as you watch the doves darting over the treeline against a back drop of a brilliantly colored sunrise. Leaving our shotguns in my truck, we peeked in our homeroom class, acknowledged our presence with a wave, and promptly walked to Coach Garner’s office, aware of what awaited our arrival.
Wearing our army field jackets, still stuffed with doves, we grasped the radiator as Coach administered three blows to our posterior with his paddle, drilled with holes to heighten the effect. With a sly smile, he always asked if we had any luck that morning and added insult to injury by taking possession of our doves. Coach Garner was a large, lovable man, who could immediately separate fighting boys with a swift rap on the head with his huge knuckles and my senior year high school Yearbook was dedicated to him.
When football season ended, we joined other high school students congregating at Terry’s Drug Store in the afternoon, after “dragging Broad” several times. By 3:30pm on weekday afternoons, every booth and counter stool was occupied, and those, without seats, crowded in front of the jukebox.
Before eating slaw dogs, used gum joined the many layers, previously deposited under the table, and dampened straw coverings were blown to the ceiling. Disregarding the noisy chatter and blaring music, a brave adult would elbow through the crowd to fill a prescription, no doubt experiencing severe trepidations for the well being of the nation once we became adults.
Taking a break from the crowd, we checked the movie schedule at the Mode theater knowing we would only attend if the movie warranted the constant battle with cockroaches scampering around the floor. We placed our loose change in the tin cup held by the blind man, a fixture at the Mode entrance for many years. Reservations about his physical handicap arose when we noticed a young man with scarlet red hair, without saying a word, fill the cup with change and silently walk away. Unaware of our presence behind him, the blind man peered over his dark sunglasses and quietly commented,”Thanks, Red” We never divulged his secret.
Crossing Broad, we bought peanuts from Mr. Zalumas’ stand parked next to Neel’s Department Store on Jackson Street and was inevitably confronted by the bag lady whose head supported what appeared to be a gigantic sphere covered with fabric. Some speculated she had never cut her hair and sixty years of growth was matted on top while others heard she was wealthy and her life savings was hoarded in her head covering. Without provocation, she would launch into a tirade, ending only when locating another target to direct her wrath.
Slipping away while her attention was focused elsewhere, we continued walking down Broad Street until we reached CoCroft’s music store. Crowding into the sound proof booths, we played our favorite records, leaving the door ajar enough for our friends to hear the music. Leaving CoCrofts we continued walking to our final destination, the poolroom.
Being under age we sneaked down alleys between buildings and entered the rear door. We were permitted to remain in the rear and shoot eight ball when not watching the adult pool sharks perform magic with the cue ball on the snooker tables. While the wall signs declared “no gambling allowed”, a few dollars were thrown on the table following a game.
We ordered our chili dogs and cokes at the end of the counter and while eating, compared the names of the towns on the bottom of the bottles to determine which one had been bottled the greatest distance from Thomasville. My father usually stopped to buy a hotdog before joining the 5 o’clock coffee crowd, gathered at the Plaza Café, and not wanting to be confronted by him, we quickly scampered out the back door, returning to Terrys.
While Terry’s Drug Store served as our daytime hangout, our base of operations at night was the Hill Top Restaurant parking lot, Dodson’s Grill and later Pals Drive-In. Many nighttime forays were planned and launched from these two locations. Some students performed a “hands on” service by controlling the over production of satsumas in the neighborhoods, while others determined the 11:00 pm freight train “boarding” schedules, as it slowly crossed South Broad Street. Other excursions included night hunting in the fall, frog gigging in the late spring and attempted unpaid visits to the HIWA drive in after feasting on the best hamburgers in town at Henderson’s Drive In.
Following a rainstorm, Pinetree Boulevard was almost impassible but not to be deterred, our trucks negotiated the hazards, as we rotated the spotlight across the road and adjoining fields in search of rabbits and “possums”. Saturday night rabbit hunting in the fall was a time honored tradition and after donating the prey to families who enjoyed rabbit and possum stew, we adjourned for midnight breakfast at Sangster’s Truck Stop.
Attending the HIWA Drive In was not necessarily a desire to watch the movie but rather a harmless challenge matching wits with Mr. Nat William’s employees. The object was attempting to sneak into the movie by hiding several students in the car trunk without being caught. We were rarely successful since a giggle or a foot colliding with the trunk in total darkness alerted the ticket seller to our presence.
Abandoning the trunk, we were permitted to buy tickets and after parking inside, attached the speaker to the window. Being unsuccessful in our effort to see a free movie and with no interest in the picture show, we soon returned to Dodson’s Grill, leaving only the “steadies” on the back row, whose primary interest for being there had nothing to do with the movie.
Before receiving permission to drive my truck out of town, our mode of transportation to Panama City Beach in the summer was hitchhiking. Splitting into twosomes, one hundred yards apart, we usually caught rides with long haul truck drivers, but if luck was running our way, a convoy of college girls from FSU or Auburn, bound for a beach weekend, offered us a lift. The first order of business, once we arrived on the beach, was dousing our flat tops with peroxide, which by the end of the day, colored our hair cinnamon yellow.
After riding the Ferris Wheel and driving the bumper cars, we strolled the beach, seeking courage to approach the girls, lying on their towels, applying sun tan lotion. A few of the girls were courageous enough to actually wear two piece bathing suits but we were quickly informed they had no interest in high school boys.
Evenings were spent in the open air pavilions dancing on concrete floors and avoiding fights between students from Auburn and Alabama. When we heard a voice cry out, “War Eagle” prompting a response, “Roll Tide” we knew a speedy exit on our part was not only warranted, but highly desirable for the continued well being of our health. With fists flying and the Panama City police sirens blaring, we slipped away, collected driftwood to build our bonfire on the beach. After rehashing the day’s activities we wrapped ourselves in army blankets bought at Stafford’s that served as our sleeping accommodations.
On Sunday afternoons, Thomasville residents, owning small aircraft, used the Campbell Street airfield to fly paying passengers on aerial sightseeing tours of Thomasville. I always flew with Mr. Allen Black, a coworker with my father, who gave me longer rides at discounted prices and allowed me to take the controls once we were airborne.
We located all the city landmarks and viewed the beautiful plantation homes surrounding the town. Climbing to 5000 feet, Mr. Black performed “loop de loops” and stalled the engine in a steep climb, resulting in a controlled downward spin for 1000 feet before leveling the plane. After the last maneuver, I welcomed the sound of wheels meeting the grass runway.
On two occasions, we were excused from class for different reasons, the first to welcome President Eisenhower on his 1956 vacation in Thomasville and the second to romp in the snowfall in the winter of 1957/58. President Eisenhower’s plane landed at Spence Field in Moultrie and the motorcade sped past the high school in route to Milestone Plantation, owned by Secretary of the Treasury George Humphrey.
No satellite communications existed in the 1950s and my father was designated to supervise the placing of the phone cables along the route the President's hunting carriage would travel. While the President hunted my father supervised the cable placements at Glen Arven in order for the President to have communications when he played golf. Knowing how technically precise he was, Dad probably asked if Ike sliced or hooked his drives to determine which side of the fairway to place the cables
A cold wintry January night in 1958 surprised the people of Thomasville with something most, including myself, had never seen before, two inches of snow. Arriving at school, I joined the other boisterous students being goaded by Coach Garner and the teachers to report to their homerooms. After concluding schoolwork would be impossible, Mr. Garner dismissed the students who converged on the football field in a child like frenzy, mauling each other with wet snowballs. With the temperature rising and the snow rapidly disappearing, enough was collected to create a three foot snowman on the front steps of the school, replete with a hat and buttoned eyes.
In the spring Thomasville was transformed into a plethora of radiant colors and enchanting aromas. Lofty pines, hovered over the town while lilac colored wisteria hung from the limbs, swaying, ever so gently, in a mild breeze. Fragrant magnolia flowers intermingled with fragile dogwood blossoms, becoming airborne with the slightest puff of wind. Large clusters of azaleas provided shade for the jasmine vine whose intoxicating fragrance evoked scenes of warm humid nights and ante bellum hoop skirts. Uniting the diverse panorama was the majestic rose, it’s delicate petals saturating the air with a sweet bouquet.
Against this background, Thomasville celebrated its Rose festival every April with visitors attending from throughout the country. We sat atop the buildings, legs dangling over the sides, watching the parade slowly proceed down Broad Street. Marching bands and elaborate floats, blanketed with roses, representing towns and organizations throughout Georgia and Florida participated. A large crowd pleaser, especially among the children, was the Shriners, driving their go-carts and throwing candy to the children in the crowd. A local favorite was the Flowers Baking Company float carrying Miss Sunbeam and her young court.
While we occasionally attended the Mode and HIWA theaters, the “Rose” was our primary source of movie entertainment. The stately brick building on the corner of Crawford and Jefferson Streets was our second home on Friday and Saturday nights during the school year before we adjourned to the Hill Top and Dodson’s Grill. After buying a ticket, popcorn and coke, we entered a small lobby with balcony stairs on each end, flanked by porcelain, wall mounted, water fountains. Two doors, with small windows at the top, opened to allow viewers to enter the theater down the left and right aisles. Our seats were always on the right aisle and rather than sit on the left side, we watched the movie through the lobby windows until a seat on “our” side became available.
There were no movie ratings as the actors stayed fully clothed and foul language was limited to an occasional darn. Scenes involving married couples pictured them sleeping in twin beds and in war movies, with men being wounded, no blood was ever shown. The only controversy at the time involved whether to air the light comedy, “The Moon is Blue”, because Maggie McNamara uttered the word virgin.
Oklahoma, Carousel and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers were some of the musicals we watched as we marveled at the dance scenes and memorized the lyrics of Oklahoma. We developed deep crushes on Kim Novak in her roll as the good witch in Bell Book and Candle and fell in love with Jennifer Jones after seeing her in Love is a Many- Splendored Thing.
The House of Wax and It Came from Outer Space terrified us as the 3D effects enveloped us with horror and Rebel Without a Cause, starring James Dean, resulted in a mad rush to buy red windbreakers with collars that would easily turn up, worn over white T- shirts. With few exceptions, most movies had happy endings, the good guys won and true love prevailed.
In the late 1970s, I had the opportunity to spend some time with Jennifer Jones in my office in Washington DC. She was in Washington expressing her support for some mental health legislation in which she had an interest. After five minutes of discussing the legislation, we visited for an hour, and she related stories of working with “Bill” Holden, Joseph Cotton and Gregory Peck, Her beautiful almond shaped eyes twinkled when I told her, ”Ms Jones, you can not possibly imagine how many teen age boys, fell in love with you when we were growing up in Thomasville, Georgia.”
Following religion, the most worshiped event was Thomasville High School football and on Friday nights in the fall, residents and students converged on Veterans Stadium to watch the Bulldogs battle their adversaries. The season began with two weeks of football practice at the Boy Scout camp on the Cairo Road, which made military boot camp tame by comparison.
Twice a day practices on sand covered fields, wearing heavy canvass pants, scheduled around morning calisthenics, two mile runs and nightly “skull” sessions, left time only to sleep and recuperate from soreness and pain. If fire and brimstone were present, the description of football camp would have been complete.
Erskine Mills, a former PT Boat Commander in the Second World War, was our coach and his philosophy was “if you can survive practice, games will be painless”. He was a demanding coach and team infractions could result in a player being “live tackled” or placed in the “bull ring.” Players who continually dropped passes or fumbled could be seen sleeping with a football and cradling it in their arms between practices.
While Coach Mills was a strict disciplinarian, he knew what was necessary to produce winning teams, as evidenced by our won loss record He was highly respected by all his players and was highly respected by all the players.
Game nights began with players arriving at the gym around 6:30 and issued game uniforms, silver pants and red jerseys, complimented by red helmets. While donning our uniforms and having ankles taped, college fight songs blared throughout the dressing room raising our intensity to unimaginable levels.
Led by our cheerleaders, we ran onto the field as the screams of 6000 onlookers shifted to, “Glory glory to ole T’Ville”, further intensifying our desire to uphold the winning tradition of Thomasville football. With the stands on both sides of the field overflowing, people crowded behind both end zones, while several Southern Bell linemen viewed the game perched atop telephone poles, supported by their spikes and leather belts.
With a cool September breeze blowing across the stadium, the first tackle of the game eased the intense butterflies in our stomachs and we were now benefiting from all those hard practices. Most team members performed on both offense and defense and plays were called on the field by the quarterback, not by a sideline coach. We were probably crazy but it never entered our mind to run out of bounds to avoid being tackled and showboating following a touchdown was met with contempt by coaches and teammates alike.
If a member of the opposing team played “dirty”, several of our linemen strongly encouraged him to undergo an “attitude readjustment” before the game ended, usually at the bottom of a pileup. On one occasion our team was guilty of possible harsh behavior when we played a team with a barefoot punter. Standing forty yards downfield to receive the punt, I watched as our rushers aimed their cleated shoes at the kicker’s feet, rather than attempting to block the punt.
The scene was so comical, I began laughing, lost my concentration, and was lucky to field the punt. The referees huddled to discuss a possible penalty but after determining the punter’s expressive dancing had prevented any contact, decided there were no rules governing “attempted” unnecessary roughness.
Following the game, usually a victory, student dances were held at the Elks Club and later at the YMCA We “slow danced” to songs by the Four Lads, Four Aces, Sam Cook, Johnny Mathis, the Platters, Joni James and many others too numerous to name. Couples bopped to such songs as Maybelline, Long Tall Sally, Yakety Yak and Rockin Robin. Most lyrics to our songs were understandable with the possible exception of Little Richard’s Tutti Fruiti. To this day I still don't know the meaning of “a wop bop a loo bop a lop bam bam.”
In the spring, prior to graduation, the boys rented white dinner jackets and the girls dressed in their finest formals as we attended the annual Junior Senior prom held in the Junior High School auditorium, aptly decorated for the special occasion. Even the most reserved students set aside their inhibitions that night and the dance floor was alive with youthful abandonment.
As the evening was drawing to a close, a feeling of serenity coupled with a sense of melancholy gripped the seniors, realizing their days as carefree students at Thomasville High School were nearing an end. As we began the final dance of the night, no sounds were heard, except the music, as we intently embraced our dates, forever savoring the moment.
I graduated from Thomasville High School in June 1958. Central High School opened the following September and our coach, Erskine Mills, became that school’s first principal. During the summer, following graduation, some classmates married, others joined the military while others prepared for college, saying goodbye to friends remaining in high school.
I departed for Wake Forest University in August and>>> “Ladies and gentlemen, please remain seated and fasten your seat belts. We have been cleared for landing at Washington National Airport”. Awakened in mid dream by the announcement, I said goodbye to my Chicago traveling companion, and upon landing, rushed through the terminal to the waiting car driven by my wife. Driving home on the Mount Vernon Parkway, she asked why I was being so quiet and reflective. Rather than responding to her question, I simply said, “Wini, why don’t we plan a trip to Thomasville? I have a gigantic craving for a poolroom hotdog.” She smiled as her large brown eyes sparkled and responded, “When can we leave?”
"We don't know where we're going if we don't know where we have been"
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Published 10 Nov 1996 ~ This page added 26 January 2012 ~ Last updated 10 March 2014
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