To listen to the audio version of this post, click Yesteryear.
This blog posting is dedicated to my forever friend, Lynn Womble Buchman.
Memories for Young and Old
I grew up in a small South Carolina town in the late 50s to mid 60s. The town and the way of life has radically changed from those days. But the memories of a quieter, more peaceful time are still comforts and delights to me.
I offer my memories as a trip back for those who once enjoyed being there. I offer them as a history lesson for those who have grown up in the fast paced electronic age and have never had the joy of experiencing life in the slow lane.
Home Life at The Priesters
We didn’t have air conditioning in the early parts of my childhood. We had open windows for most of the year, electric fans, and good old funeral home hand fans for the times on the porch. Most everyone had a porch.
We didn’t have a tv for years. We listened to the radio, the record player, played cards and board games, or just talked to each other. When we finally did get a tv, we thought we were at the height of progress. There was no remote except us. We actually had to get out of our chairs and turn knobs on the tv to change channels.
We were excited we could get three channels. We could tune in to Charleston, Savannah or Augusta … if we turned the outside antenna just right. We had a little box on top of the tv to control the direction of the rooftop antenna. But often, if the picture was fuzzy, one of us stood outside and looked up to be sure the antenna was facing in the correct direction, while the ones inside reported on the clarity of the picture.
We went barefoot a lot. In the spring when we first went out without shoes, our feet were “tender.” We were assured that as we continued walking barefoot, our feet would “toughen up.” They did.
The rite of spring also included taking up the rugs in the living room and dining room, hauling them outside for a good beating, rolling them up and storing them in the attic until winter. After the rugs were stored, it was time for the local cleaning lady to come and sand and wax the hardwood floors. She polished them to a shine, but they were slippery for awhile!
There was no clothes dryer, except fresh air delivered to the clothes on the outside clothes line. Clothes hung in the open air until dry or at the first signs of a coming shower. In case of rain, everyone participated in the team effort to run and get the clothes off the line.
As children, we played outside a lot. My best friend, Lynn, lived across the street. We spent our inside free time, enjoying board games like Parcheesi, Clue, Monopoly, Prince Valiant, Shopping Center and others. We spent our outside time, shooting hoops on the basketball goal my father put up on the pecan tree or swinging in the swing he hung from the other pecan tree. We would “pump” our feet to get that swing to go as high as possible and then jump out, flying through the air.
We also gave free rein to our imaginations, making up stories and dreaming of other worlds far beyond our small town. Somebody once said something about a person digging a hole so deep it almost went clear through to China. We were convinced we could be the ones to get there. We started digging the tunnel to end all tunnels before my father put a stop to it, when he almost fell in. Guess he didn’t want to go to China!
We always knew when to go in for supper because Miss Helen, who lived down the street. called her son, Ernie, in for supper. She would go out her back door and send out the call from what I was sure was the most powerful set of lungs in town!
If, for some reason, we didn’t respond to the Ernie call, our next cue was the appearance of “the foggin’ machine.” It was the deep south and mosquitos were plentiful. A man in town installed a machine that sprayed insect repellent from the back of his pick up truck. He drove around town at dusk, spraying. It put out a thick fog that we were warned might kill us too. So that was a definite cue to go inside!
People knew each other well. There was, of course, gossip that circulated in town, but most of the time, it was a good natured poke or an expression of concern for other people. My father jokingly said the good thing about a small town was that you knew everyone else’s business. The bad thing was that they knew yours.
We had one phone and it was attached to the wall by a long cord. We were on a party line with Miss Daisy. That meant that we shared phone service. If we wanted to make a call and Miss Daisy was on the phone, we could hear her talking when we picked up. We then had to wait our turn.
And likewise, with her, sometimes she had to wait her turn. Occasionally, my father was a little slow to put the phone down if Miss Daisy was talking. My mother accused him of listening. He would just grin and say, “How else am I going to know what she is talking about, if I don’t listen! All the women know the best gossip.”
My father had a big garden. Having grown up on a farm, he never lost his love for the outdoors and gardening. He often said, “I always just liked to see things grow.” He planted some things he didn’t even eat. He said he liked to have things he “could divide” with other people. He looked forward to the harvest and delivering gifts from his garden to others.
We went to church every time the doors were open. It was never a question of whether we would go or not. We knew we would be going, unless we were very ill. And if we had to stay home, we either listened to a sermon on the radio or watched a sermon on tv. Every day was The Lord’s Day, but Sundays were definitely a time aside. Stores were closed. It was a time for church, rest and visiting others, especially “shut ins.”
Everyone dressed up for church. Women often wore their high heels, gloves and hats. Men wore suits and ties. In this day of informality, it seems a little funny to remember, but that was the way it was then. It was considered a sign of respect for being in “The Lord’s House.”
There were three main churches. At that time the Methodist Church was right across the street from the Lutheran Church. My father used to joke that one church choir would be singing, “Will there be any stars in my crown?” and the other church choir would be singing, “No, not one!”
There was a town doctor, who not only would see you in the office or hospital, but also in your home. As people lay in bed, he would arrive with his doctor’s bag and a few rounds of medicine. The nurses who worked with him in the office all wore crisply starched white uniforms and white nursing caps. And the office smelled highly of alcohol!
There was a drug store called Knoff’s Pharmacy. Only a small part of the local drug store was for dispensing medicine. A big part was the soda fountain, which was a kind of bar for non-alcoholics. Mr. Ben, the pharmacist, who was then called “the druggist,” made the best milk shakes anywhere.
Next to the drug store was the “shoe shop.” It was not a place for selling shoes, although Mr. Bryant did offer a few second hand shoes. His primary business was repairing shoes. In contrast to today’s world, one did not throw their shoes away if they wore out. You had them repaired and wore them for another few years.
There were a couple of barber shops. Just like Floyd’s Barber Shop in Mayberry in tv land, the barber shops were a gathering place for men. No appointments were necessary. Men just dropped in and “chewed the fat” while waiting their turn.
A couple of doors down from one of the barber shops was Miss Maroma’s Beauty Shop. This was the gathering place for women in town. I had my hair curled with a “permanent” solution that smelled so bad, it would have been an excellent insect repellent.
There was a tiny shop called Winette’s Hat Shoppe. They sold fine clothing for women and amazing hats. Winette’s attracted customers from all around South Carolina and beyond.
Equally famous was the dining room at Barber’s Hotel. Mrs. Barber served up home cooking that left everyone wanting more. The hotel was at the intersection of two main highways that ran through town. All the truckers coming through ate there and they passed the word. So the dining room was always full.
There were a couple of gas stations in town. There was no self service. It would have been considered disrespectful to expect anyone to pump their own gas! One pulled up to the pump and waited for the nice man, who wore a uniform, to come out and ask what you would like. He then pumped the gas, washed your windshield and told you how much you owed. People paid him in cash.
There were a couple of grocery stores, both small. Horten’s Grocery delivered. My mother would call in her order, and Mr. Joe would bring it to the house in the large basket of his bicycle. When I got older and was able to ride a bike, my mother would call in her order. Mr. Joe would have it all bagged up and ready and I got the honor of taking it home in the basket of my bicycle. He had a butcher shop and a big freezer in the back of the store. Mr. Joe would cut the meat and cheese fresh.
The day came when a big grocery store came to town and offered so many new and exciting things, that people gravitated to the new “super” market. As novel as this was, it was sad that the smaller grocery stores then went out of business.
There were all kinds of “get togethers” for the people in town. We had many meals at the “community house.” There was a big playground outback with swings so sturdy that adults could swing. There was a tall sliding board, a merry go round, a couple of rocking horses and a jungle gym. It was fun for children and adults, who were taking a break from all the eating going on inside.
Additionally, there were parades and festivals where people came together. A highlight of the year was the annual Watermelon Festival held in a nearby town.
There were two swimming pools in the area and another in a nearby town. Tuten’s Pool also had a skating rink upstairs and a fishing pond out back. The Memorial Ground swimming pool was also lots of fun.
There were movies, but then it was called going to “the picture show.” The Pal Theater had the most recent movies. They were advertised on hand bills that were handed out or tacked up on telephone poles.
People could also go to the “drive-in” movie. You could drive your car up to a speaker, which you would hang on the window or side mirror of your car and then you could watch the movie on the big screen. People would take lawn chairs and sit outside their cars and listen and watch.
Some love birds, who had been told by parents, not to “make out” in the car, flaunted it by putting blankets on the hood of the car and making out there in full view. Sometimes they were more entertaining than the movie!
No Sounds of Silence There!
The sounds of our small town were also memorable. Two major railroads crossed in the middle of town. So it was a common occurrence to hear the sounds of trains. It was also very common to be stopped on one side of the tracks or another, as we waited for the trains to go through. No one seemed impatient in those days. Everyone just accepted the wait as a part of life. Sometimes people would get out of their cars and talk to each other, if they were not busy counting the number of cars on the train.
There was one volunteer fire department. The fire chief lived above the fire station. If there was a fire, Mr. Harry turned on the siren and all volunteer fire fighters had to report immediately. One long blast of the alarm signaled the fire on one side of the railroad tracks. Two long blasts indicated the fire was on the other side of the tracks.
Bonded Through The Good Times and The Bad
Life in those days was slower and no one minded. Life was more focused on God and people relating one to another. Life was simpler. Were they always “good old days?” Not always.
Life had its fair share of tragedies. One of my friends crashed in his father’s crop dusting plane. My girl scout leader’s husband was electrocuted when he was working to restore electricity after a storm. Our friend and long time neighbor was murdered.
But the tragedies only seemed to bring the survivors closer together. While we may have never seen the world as perfect or ideal again, life went on. People went to church, got their gas pumped, went to the barber and beauty shop, and swapped stories and observations about life. Most agreed there were some things they just didn’t understand.
Those of us who grew up there became adults. Many of us left and started lives elsewhere. Our parents grew old and died. The old home places were sold. And almost all of the places I remember are gone.
Some of us have kept in touch over the years. Some of us have reconnected in recent years. There is a Facebook Page that encourages others to look back to that time and place. Even today, when many of us have not seen each other since we were children, we reach out to each other through our memories.
Somewhere in time we can still smell the cookies baking, hear the sounds of the trains, feel the dirt between our toes, and still remember the feel of the hugs we loved so much.
In future blogs, I will share with you special memories of some of the people who once lived in that land of Yesteryear and who now live on in our hearts.
Good times are never gone.
They are always joys to look back on!