Monthly Archives: January 2011

My Permanent Record

Investigating loose papers between the pages of a family photo album one day, I came across several old report cards. Some belonged to my children, but some belonged to me.

I read the teacher’s penciled comments at the end of one six weeks period and read, “Betty talks too much.” Odd, but I don’t remember talking too much in school. Another report card’s comments were on target, though. “Betty daydreams in class, she needs to pay better attention.” That I do remember, along with the teacher’s smiling admonition to me at one PTA meeting right in front of my parents. “You wouldn’t want that on your permanent record!”

I wasn’t sure what this mysterious permanent record was but I nodded agreement. “No ma’am, I sure wouldn’t.” That didn’t correct matters much, though. The next sunny spring day my imagination just took up where it left off.

I was easily distracted by the goings-on outside our classroom window – a little gray squirrel with swishy tail hunched over an acorn, or the squeal of brakes as a delivery truck slowed to turn the corner at Cheves Street and King Avenue. Even the routine of the mailman might catch my eye, as he climbed a few steps to shove letters from his bag into the metal mailbox on the front porch across the street.

My mind would wander as I silently cheered on the squirrel, scampering up the tree with his acorn before the yappy neighborhood dog got him. I might envision a shiny new Frigidaire in the back of that delivery truck, or better yet, construct an exciting adventure to break up the mailman’s dull daily activities.

Just when my story was developing really well, the teacher would call my name and my attention back to the humdrum arithmetic or geography assignment. I remember my frowned-on imaginings in those McKenzie School days. But they stood me in good stead when studying grammar, story interpretation, and best of all, story writing. A’s came easy to me in those subjects, despite the teacher’s dreaded permanent record threats.

Thinking back, I wonder – whatever happened to my permanent record? What did it contain? All those admonitions about talking or daydreaming, probably. I hope some of my A’s in language wound up in there too.

To get into college I had to submit my high school transcript, but it came in a sealed envelope marked Private, for admissions department eyes only. I never even got a look at it. Did that manila envelope include my permanent record? Well, they let me into college anyway so it must not have been too bad. It was comforting to know it was private, in a way. I wouldn’t want just any Tom, Dick and Harry reading my permanent record!

Fast forward to the present. These days most of your records aren’t all that private. With the advent of the internet, e-mail, Facebook, YouTube, instant messages, all those thousands of websites and data gatherers, who knows who is reading your records.

I myself use internet records in my family tree hobby – census records, city directories, military archives, maps, deeds, and wills. Hundreds of thousands of pieces of information from private and public records are being uploaded by professional and volunteer genealogists every year, and I’m grateful to all those folks.

But along with all that helpful stuff, credit reports, resumes, e-mails, even some medical records are flitting back and forth at the speed of light for all the world to access (some by paying a “small convenient fee” to a research company), and not all of those records are helpful or even accurate. You can try to delete inaccurate or regretted internet items but some of those faulty records could still be out there somewhere. Just Google your own name and you’ll see what I mean.

My, how the world has changed since the days of McKenzie School. The worldwide web gives a whole new meaning to the words “permanent record” – my old reports cards might just wind up in cyberspace one day. What a horrible thought!

Follow the Bouncing Ball

“Kim Jong Il wants everyone to follow the bouncing ball…” said one internet news headline a while back. That sentence startled me for a moment. Kim Jong Il, dictator of North Korea? As I read, I came across a link to an on-line anthem complete with English translation, music, and a little bouncing ball jumping from word to word, all about North Korean soldiers who defend their motherland. It could have been any country, any continent, actually, although the pictures in the background were plainly North Korean.

As the words moved across the computer screen I thought back to the first time I heard “follow the bouncing ball.” Suddenly I was back in the Colonial Theater watching old re-runs and newly released Sing-Along short films, run between the movies with previews and newsreels.

I didn’t learn all the latest catchy songs in the 1940’s and 50’s from records, or radio, or music classes at school — I learned a lot of popular and romantic and novelty songs right up there on the screen.

You Are My Sunshine, The Yellow Rose of Texas, The Sidewalks of New York, Bill Bailey, or Cruising Down the River would appear in large letters with a white ball bouncing from syllable to syllable in time with the music. Sometimes it was just the lyrics, and sometimes it was a Song Car-Tune with cartoon characters following the bouncing ball and singing the songs. The whole movie audience chimed in and soon you, your family and friends knew all the latest songs.

With a bit of research, I learned that “Come Away with Me Lucile” was one of the first animated films to actually have sound. The Oldsmobile automotive company no doubt loved it since it featured the best-known song ever written about a car.

The story line was a bit racy for the day: Lucile was getting ready for a date when a villainous peeping-tom caught a glimpse of her through a crack in her window shade. Lucile yanked down the shade, then reached down to her hemline and pulled off one, then another, then another and yet another dress. Shedding striped, plaid, polka dotted and flowered dress after dress, she went from pleasantly plump to skinny as a rail before getting down to her slip.

She was sliding an evening gown over her head about the time the villain chopped his way through her front door. He sang this little song to her as he chased her around the room, trying to steal a little kiss:

Come away with me, Lucile, in my merry Oldsmobile,
Down the road of life we’ll fly, automo-bubbling you and I.
To the church we’ll swiftly steal, then our wedding bells will peal,
You can go as far as you like with me in my merry Oldsmobile.

The song had multiple verses and the audience followed the bouncing ball through them all, cheering Lucile on to get away from the bad guy. Of course she did. Her hero arrived on the scene and made short work of the peeping tom. Naturally Lucile and her fellow lived happily ever after.

These were forerunners of Popeye, Olive Oyl and Bluto who had many such adventures over the years, some with and some without the bouncing ball sing-alongs.

Movie sing-alongs actually started in the early 1920’s, in the days of silent movies. The house organist or pianist would play popular music of the day in between pictures and invite the audience to sing along. If you didn’t know the song, that was okay; the words were shown on the screen by way of slides. In the middle 20’s animated films and sound came along with various cartoon characters acting out a short story, complete with popular songs.

Song lyrics and bouncing ball accompanied the spinach-guzzling Popeye The Sailor Man, or big-eyed beauty Betty Boop’s Let Me Call You Sweetheart. Pretty soon “Follow the Bouncing Ball” became part of the American culture.

I loved the Song Car-Tunes at the Colonial. In addition to human cartoon characters, Tom and Jerry ran from the farmer’s wife to the words and music of Three Blind Mice. Bugs Bunny outwitted farmer Elmer Fudd, wielding his garden hoe in time with Row, Row, Row Your Boat. I can still visualize Porky Pig and Petunia’s duet rendering of When I’m Calling You-oo-oo-oo,-oo-oo-oo.

When television came along, Sing Along with Mitch Miller became a well-watched TV show, complete with bouncing ball. You could sing with Mitch as loud as you wanted, off key or on, in the comfort of your own living room. Families watched the show together, laughing and critiqueing each other’s singing style.

The Hit Parade and Name That Tune soon came along. We still heard the popular songs of the day, but it wasn’t as much fun without that bouncing ball to follow. They didn’t sing Mairzy Doats and Dozy Doats (mares eat oats and does eat oats and little lambs eat ivy, a kid’ll eat ivy too, wouldn’t you) much on the Hit Parade…

Sing-alongs haven’t died out, though, they’ve just evolved over the years. Nowadays you don’t need a theater or a television set, you can attend karaoke night at a local restaurant or club. You might select your favorite Oldie but Goodie and imitate Old Blue Eyes (Frank Sinatra for you young-uns) “your way” or “dream of a white Christmas” with the Crooner (Bing Crosby).

People still like being one of the audience singing the old songs, and you can count on the crowd laughing and critiquing your singing style!

Sunday Go to Ride in Cuba, SC

Mercury1949SedanDa 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 wonderful Luzianne coffee with chicory. I can still smell that wonderful flavor as I type these words. Remarkable.  (But today I don’t add sugar, don’t buy chicory flavored brands and don’t perk it, either… is it even still real coffee?)

After breakfast we read the Sunday paper, of course. The sections were carefully doled out by granddaddy, news and sales sections for Mimi, sports and farm-to-market for himself, funnies for Harold and me.

Afterwards Harold and I headed outdoors to play hide and seek in the barns and packhouse, dig for arrowheads in the fields close to the house, or see how far we could explore the “back 40” until hindered by ditches full of murky water. Mimi’s yell of “Din-nerrrrrrr!” out the back door brought us and our appetites running.

After a scrumptious lunch of fried chicken, fresh vegetables and pineapple layer cake, it was time for a short nap. For the adults, that is. Us kids meandered around the house and yard, drawing hopscotch patterns in the dirt (me) or laying out roads for toy trucks (Harold), whatever came to mind that didn’t take us too far afield.

Because Mimi and Da’s fun thing to do on Sunday afternoon was “go to ride.” Many folks did that on Sunday afternoons, so you took a chance on finding somebody at home, just part of the adventure.

About three o’clock we piled in his latest Mercury sedan, Mimi in her fresh apron sitting up front beside Da in his fresh overalls, Harold and me holding down the back.

We kneeled on the seat and stuck our heads out of the windows, eyes squinted nearly shut to let the wind blow on our faces. Da turned left out of the driveway onto Stagecoach Road and we headed south toward Elim.

Several miles down we hit the Sand Hills. The road became mostly whitish sand, the trees mostly scrub, and if you stopped the car in the wrong place the sand dunes – i.e. ruts in the road – would get the tires stuck but good.

This was where the ocean had come many eons ago and there were still bits of sea shells in the sandy soil all through there, Da explained. That’s why they call this the Sand Hills, he added.

He didn’t slow the Mercury down too much as he made a left turn in deep ruts onto another narrow dirt road. Within a mile or two we had arrived at our first stop of the afternoon, Cuba, South Carolina.

We rolled to a stop in the front yard of a big farmhouse, built up off the ground just like Mimi’s. Shade trees made good places to “set a spell” and visit, straight-back chairs brought from indoors to give everyone a seat.

The men leaned their chairs back against a tree trunk, lighting up hand-rolled cigarettes while they discussed crops and fertilizers, tractors and combines.

Mimi and her friend sat upright with their aprons spread in their laps, comparing recipes and sharing news of neighbors, babies and poundings. If there were any “young’uns” for Harold and me to play with here, we might be treated to a tour of the barn and the latest batch of kittens, or invited to climb the stable fence and peer at a mule or a goat. Both were signs of hospitality when neighbor kids came to call.

After a cool drink of home-made lemonade, we bid Cuba goodbye and piled back into the car. What direction would we take next?

Maybe down the country to see a friend’s new Farmall at Wisacky, over the swamp to see how the crops were faring at Hogeye, or perhaps into Darlington County to visit relatives at Philadelphia. Possum Fork, Camp Branch or Meadow Prong might be this week’s destinations.

No matter where we wound up, the house would be similar. Sometimes the grownups would sit on the front porch, sometimes in the front yard, sometimes under a shade tree. The visits would be similar too, adults catching up on news and gossip, kids eager to show off their new hound dog puppy or sow and piglets.

The roads and lanes were all dirt back then. Even without road signs granddaddy always knew where to turn but to save me I couldn’t find those places today. The names have stuck with me through the years, though, and some seem to make sense.

Did they raise hogs at Hogeye? Hunt possums at Possum Fork? Camp out at Camp Branch? “Boogie down” in Boogie Bottom? But why name a place Cuba? Or Wisacky? Or Sheminally, over toward Lake City?

There’s still a New Hope – was there ever an Old Hope? There’s the Neck and Old Neck. Whose neck were they named for? Maybe that’s just the “neck of the woods” where somebody lived.

Deep Hole Swamp is pretty understandable, you don’t want to get lost in there! There’s Oates, Oak Grove, Gum Branch, Mineral Springs, and Smith’s Mill, all self-explanatory.

Bible names were sprinkled all over the place too, like New Zion, Bethlehem, Ebenezer and Shiloh. We didn’t visit all of those on Sundays but the odd names dropped during conversations stuck in my head like glue.

As I searched online for a reference to Cuba, SC one day (no luck), I found some unfamiliar places in a Pee Dee map from 1895. I don’t know if any of these still exist but I’d love to know how they came to be called Single, Lucile, Max, Bee, Blossom or Jay. Or Othello, Parnassus, Green Plain, Key or Church.

Still, the place I remember most is that farm house in Cuba, where we stopped first on many a Sunday afternoon when Mimi and Da wanted to “go to ride.”