I opened a vinegar bottle one day and suddenly Easter popped into my mind. Vinegar, food coloring, hardboiled eggs, and granddaddy’s hound dog…
In the early 1950’s Easter had several meanings around my house. Jesus’ resurrection was first and foremost. All the other meanings sprang out of that one, like new Easter dresses. We had to have new clothes for Easter, because Easter represents new life, new beginnings, a new start.
I don’t know when my brother Harold’s new outfits were acquired but mama always took me shopping for mine. We browsed through J. C. Penney’s dress racks. “Why don’t we change colors this year?” mama would suggest, examining pink selections with frills and bows and poufy sleeves. “What about pleats?”
Yuk. I really, really preferred blue. Since mama preferred not to have crying fits or temper tantrums on her hands, blue it was for my dress, again. Next came…
Saturday movie rituals were set in stone for 1950’s kids in Florence. Get up, do your chores, get your movie money, and trek downtown to the theater. Admission was a dime and a snack could be had for fifteen cents so a quarter would do it.
Kingstree’s Jimmy Richardson (who grew up in Florence) and Florence optician Jimmy Rhodes recall double-features at the State Theater on East Evans Street. McLeod Hospital occupies that space today. Kids patronized double-features when they had enough tolerance to be glued to hard seats for such a long time. I stuck to the Carolina on South Dargan Street or the Colonial on West Evans.
The smell of hot popcorn dripping in butter and dashed with salt wafted to the sidewalk, drawing you in. Ticket in hand, the concession stand was next. With your fountain Coke you could might enjoy Red Hots, Three Musketeers, Milk Duds…
I was the first-born grandchild to Marena and Dewey Powers (Mimi and Da to us grandkids). Although I spent most of my summer-time visits indoors with Mimi, Da tried on occasion to teach me the finer points of outdoor country living.
Lynches River always offered prime fishing for a variety of fresh-water fish. One morning Da decided to forego plowing and took me fishing. He baited both our hooks, then we dropped our cane pole lines over the side of a little bridge and waited.
“Watch the cork, now, watch the cork. The fish’ll take the bait and the cork’ll disappear and then we got him, but you got to watch that cork.” I watched the cork for a few minutes, then watched a butterfly, then watched a few birds, then watched the assorted branches and turtles floating by in the black river water.
For a while in the late 1940’s, my father worked as a professional photographer.
“Where was your daddy’s photography studio?” a fellow asked me one day.
“Well, I went to his studio once or twice when I was little. Remember when the China Shop used to be downtown? (No.) Next door to the old Post Office on West Evans? (Okay.) I thought it was upstairs in that building but then somebody told me his studio was somewhere else. (Where?) Remember the bank on West Evans with the back door on Dargan Street?” (No.)
“Well, remember the Kresses downtown that had a back door on Dargan?” (Oh, yeah.) “The back door of the bank was next to the back door of Kresses. There were some offices upstairs in that building. Daddy supposedly had a studio up there.”
Notice all the “remembers?” Well, there’s no China Shop downtown any more. No bank…
At my brother’s house a while back, I sniffed the fragrance of a blooming shrub at the side door and suddenly I was back in the 1950’s… I was standing beside my mother in the back yard of that same house, handing her a home-made milk shake.
Mama loved planting, pruning, or digging in the dirt, always doing something with the flowers and bushes. When she got hot and sweaty she’d call me outside and request a milk shake, usually just sweetened milk with vanilla flavoring in a glass full of ice cubes.
Not interested in gardening myself in those days, I was grateful she didn’t make me stay out there to help rid the world of errant bamboo. The sweet smell of that shrubbery had taken me back fifty years in an instant.
Back at home, I recently rearranged seldom used dresser drawers and came across an old yellow nightgown. Not mine, though – my mother’s. It was probably my imagination, but the faint fragrance of her cologne seemed to still cling to it. Though mama died in 1970, I couldn’t possibly throw that gown away. It helps me visualize her, not like she looks in her posed portraits, but sitting at the breakfast table on weekend mornings, sipping a cup of coffee and reading the newspaper. I can see one bedroom slipper dangling from her foot as it swung it back and forth in time with music from the table-top radio.
One day I pulled up in my condo parking lot, opened my car door to get out and was greeted by “whoo, whoo?” from an owl perched somewhere in a nearby tree. Suddenly that distant sound seemed to be coming through my childhood bedroom window. I was back in the 1940’s and 50’s again.
With no central air-conditioning, our windows were open on warm nights to catch a cross-breeze. We’d occasionally hear the cry-baby call of a bobcat prowling deep in the swamp behind our house, but we could always count on the owls. Their mellow “whoo, whoo” has always sounded like home to me.
Walking across the parking lot at a nearby Food Lion, I sniff that hot pavement smell and think of Harvey’s Thriftway, only a block and a half from my rented house in the early 60’s. I would push my son in his stroller down to Harvey’s for a quart of milk or loaf of bread, enjoying the fresh air and sunshine on our short, slow walk. When I needed a whole list of items, I simply telephoned Harvey’s and someone shopped for me, then brought my order right to my front door.
But I preferred to shop in person, and sometimes we walked around an entire block or two before heading to Harvey’s, the baby jingling his rattle as we stopped to visit with the elderly spinster sisters who lived down the block. One or the other was usually snapping peas or shelling butter beans on her front porch as we strolled up, oohing and aahing about how big the baby was getting, what a handsome boy he was. I liked that.
One year’s Mother’s Day the children in our church distributed long-stemmed roses to all the moms in the congregation. I smiled as a determined-faced little girl stretched out her hand with my rose, and I saw again the cut stems from my own rose bushes, gathered for a dining room vase in the 1980’s. Their first growing season those bushes thrived in the flower beds surrounding our back deck.
Tim and I had planted those roses soon after we were married, along with several dozen red-tips against the back yard fence. The memory of the roses made me think about the red tips, the dogwoods and river birches, the azaleas, honeysuckle and wisteria, all gracing the yard of the house we eventually moved away from. Amazing what the sight of a single rose bud can do.
As I drive around Florence these days, recollections and remembrances carry me further than my car does. Nostalgia can sometimes be bittersweet, but I’m glad I grew up in this town, glad I still live here. All my best and some of my worst memories are here, and I’m grateful for the hometown sights and sounds and smells that bring them all back.
Recess at McKenzie Elementary School was often sports centered – not baseball, football or basketball, but tag, hopscotch, jump rope, and other “team” activities. The boys had their side of the yard, the girls had ours and never the twain did meet, so I can’t speak to what the boys engaged in, but tag and double-dutch jump rope were big things for us girls.
We did have real teams, too. The leader, whoever that might be, picked her best friend to captain the opposing team. Sides were then picked, always a daunting necessity. Some girls were good at chase, being taller and long-legged. Some were better at jumping, some at hopping, and some at tripping up the rest of us.
I did okay getting picked until about the fourth grade. That’s when the visiting eye doctor checked everybody’s vision and I started wearing glasses. Of course I could see the…
The first day I walked into McKenzie School I loved it. Except for McLeod Infirmary (where I’d spent a memorable few hours in the X-ray department once after swallowing a nickle), it was the most interesting building I’d ever seen.
There were so many fascinating niches and stairwells to explore, steps going up here a few steps, down there a few steps. Down a long hallway were corners leading to short hallways and more corners.
My mother accompanied me that very first day, knowing I was academically ready for the work but not sure I would find the right room on my own. She was too familiar with my innate curiosity and snoopiness, I guess.
The academic aromas at McKenzie were interesting. I could stand in the front middle hallway and smell the odors of hardwood floors and fresh bread baking in the school kitchen. School lunchrooms had working kitchens…
Da bought a new Mercury almost every year (this is a 1949 model). After I got my driver’s license he let me drive it when we went anywhere together. Those were happy days!
Summer Sundays at my grandparents Mimi and Da’s house were laid back, restful, and full of fun things to do. Everyone but Mimi slept as late as possible, rising to wonderful smells wafting throughout the house of her bacon frying.
Breakfast was dependable, good old grits, eggs however you wanted them, bacon and maybe ham, fluffy biscuits slathered with butter, and milk to drink for Harold and me, coffee for the grownups.
Actually, after I was six or so Mimi allowed me a cup of coffee too, a lovely pale brown liquid, mostly hot milk with a splash or two of perked coffee and lots of sugar added.
I’ve loved coffee ever since I first tasted Mimi’s…
When I was two years old, I knew my daddy, in some ways. I didn’t know him as a WW II veteran of the US Army Air Force.
I didn’t know him as an airplane pilot or airplane mechanic, small engine repairman or insurance salesman.
I didn’t know him as a brother, uncle or son, or as a husband, son-in-law or brother-in-law.
I didn’t know him as a house painter, screen door fixer, lawn mower, or light-bulb replacer. Or as a banjo player / barbershop quartet singer, neighbor, friend, or as a ballroom dancer. Yet he was all those things, to other people.
To two-year-old me he was just a marvelous big creature who loved me. He was a smiler. A carrier-on-the-shoulder. A hugger and tickler who got down on the floor and played baby dolls with me, or wound up the wobbly spinning top for me, over, and over…
I tend to wait till my cats run out of food before I go grocery shopping. Of course, by then we’re nearly out of people food too and by the time I get everything checked off my list, my buggy is piled high.
Back at home I try to find a way to wedge more stuff into the freezer compartment of my refrigerator. Bags of broccoli, boxes of waffles, shrink-wrapped corn on the cob and trays of hamburger — try as I might they refuse to stack neatly. Oh well, maybe the air can circulate better if things aren’t too orderly.
I usually shop in the supermarket closest to home for convenience sake. I don’t have to drive too far, there’s a handy drug store, a gas station on the corner and even a Burger King in case I don’t want to cook some of that stuff I just bought.