Category Archives: 1960s

Plunderer’s paradise

CouldHaveBeenRogersBrothersFurnitureMy grandmother always called me a “plunderer.” I preferred to call myself an explorer, I just explored closets and chifferobes, kitchen cabinets and junk drawers.

You never knew what you might find in a dresser drawer at Mimi’s, stray pennies, nails, jar lids or rubber bands.

And in the early 1960’s the curiosity and snoopiness caused no doubt by my plundering gene hadn’t diminished much. I went shopping one Saturday afternoon for inexpensive pots and pans, cereal bowls and silverware.

My household budget was fairly small. I had dropped out of college to get married and although my family graciously threw me a bridal shower, these more mundane items weren’t among my shower gifts.

I browsed through the stores of downtown Florence, deciding to comparison shop a bit before making my selections. My little notebook was getting crammed with descriptions and prices of current needs plus future wants as I walked out of the back door of Kresses, meaning to cross over to McCown-Smith Department Store.

It was a pretty day, I was in no particular hurry, so I decided to stroll north on Dargan Street. I made note of several places I might like to check out later, especially the shoe repair shop.

I paused at the end of the block in front of the Army-Navy Store. No pots and pans were visible through the window glass, so I turned to cross the street and discovered a treasure — Rogers Brothers Furniture.

The front of the store seemed completely open to the street. Blue and black enamel cook pots, brooms and mops, mop buckets and chamber pots sat on the sidewalk and floor, while small tables held stacks of thick white china plates and saucers and cups, assorted farm utensils interspersed with more housewifely gadgets.

One side of the entrance was lined with leaf rakes and circles of garden hose. Hanging high on the walls were a variety of household items like coils of clothesline and sacks of clothespins. Rogers Brothers Furniture had more than furniture!

To a born plunderer, Rogers Brothers seemed a virtual paradise to browse through and snoop in to my heart’s content. I entered the store proper and found the furniture: dining room tables that could seat ten or twelve, overstuffed sofas, white metal kitchen tables and straight-back chairs, dark wood end tables and tall skinny magazine racks.

There were stacks and stacks of wood furniture, some shiny and expensive looking, some pretty ordinary and more my budget.

In between larger pieces were small rolled-up throw rugs and larger rolled-up lengths of linoleum in floral patterns of pink, green or yellow. No amount of space was wasted in that store.

As I explored, I stopped and counted the items in one furniture pyramid that rose to the ceiling. Anchoring the bottom was a dining room table, a smaller kitchen table topping that. Then came several kitchen chairs fitted into each other like a jig-saw puzzle, two end tables laid on their side atop those, with one large table lamp crowning the peak.

Milk-glass what-nots and large ceramic ash trays covered what space was left over on the bottom tiers of the pyramid. Multiple furniture pyramids occupied the store front to back, some with sofa bases, some with armchairs, but all decorated with knick-knacks galore.

Nestled here and there among the various pieces of household furniture were man-of-the-house tool chests and lady-of-the-house tool kits. Stacks of hand towel “seconds” wrapped with cord ready for the yard mechanic’s use lay next to kitchen towels and washcloths for the housewife.

As I slowly made my way toward the back of the first “aisle,” I found the kitchenware. Laid out helter-skelter on top of a table were piles of pots and pans of every size, plus soup bowls, spoons and forks, and more stacks of plates and cups.

None of the pots came with lids, but that was okay. Over on the floor to the side of the table was a large pasteboard box overflowing with pot lids, metal or enamel. Everything on my shopping list was right there, all well within my price range.

One of the twin Rogers brothers spotted me and came over, asking if he could help me find anything. He pointed out other sections of the store for me to peruse, including books! An old wooden bookcase stuffed with water-stained paperbacks, recipe books with loose pages and out-of-date magazines attracted me like a magnet.

I spent a very pleasant few minutes tugging books and magazines out to look over, finally adding a Fannie Farmer paperback recipe book with browning pages to my stack of purchases. A practical purchase it proved to be over the years, held together in its last days with rubber bands.

When I finally left the store with my finds, I had acquired several more items than on my shopping list, including the recipe book — isn’t that always the way? I still have the assortment of pot lids I bought that day, although the cook pots they were bought for wore out long ago.

Some years later Rogers Brothers moved to a larger location in the center of that block, and later still to a location on the edge of town where the family business morphed from furniture to fabrics. I browsed through there one day, but it wasn’t nearly as much fun.

I still have fond memories of my shopping trips to Rogers Brothers on North Dargan Street. I’ve never found another plunderer’s paradise quite like that one.

Note: The photos are not of Rogers Brothers Furniture, alas – I couldn’t find any from those day. These are internet photos of similar shops across the country, still popular with young housewives and curio collectors.

Easter: Vinegar, Hardboiled Eggs and Granddaddy’s Hound Dog

EasterAtMimiShelbyI 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 the bonnet, of course. Wide brim? Chiffon roses? Fabric or straw? Whatever matched the dress, that’s what we wound up with.

Dress and bonnet in hand, over to the shoe department we marched. That was a neat place. It was such fun to see your foot skeleton in the x-ray machine. “Can I have black this time, please, please?” No, Easter needs white shoes and white frilly socks.

Easter eve meant pulling out the vinegar, an assortment of coffee cups and tiny food coloring bottles. Mama boiled a dozen white eggs, then let Harold and me dip them one by one in the smelly dye. I had a blast making mine light blue, and dark blue, and darker blue. Of course I was dipping the same egg over and over.

But mama said we needed pinks and yellows and greens too so she put a stop to my experiment. (I was trying to make a black egg but my curiosity was never satisfied in that regard. Pity.) We set aside our masterpieces for the morrow and went to bed early.

Easter Sunday Harold and I awoke bright and early to see what the “Easter bunny” brought. We were well aware there was no actual bunny, but here was another meaning that went with Easter: gifts, representing the gift of eternal life in Jesus.

Green cellophane grass spilled over the edges of a brand new basket. Nestled atop the grass would be a chocolate egg surrounded with other candy goodies and a small toy or two. The entire basket was encased in yellow or gold cellophane, gathered and tied at the top with a big bow.

Easter1967We usually didn’t get up early enough for the sunrise service at Timrod Park, but 11:00 worship usually featured “Up From The Grave He Arose” and “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.” The sanctuary was filled to capacity and a sea of new ladies’ millinery met your eye in every direction.

After church we didn’t go home for lunch. Still in our new finery we headed for Mimi and Da’s house, a sumptuous Easter dinner of ham, fried chicken and potato salad, and another meaning of Easter: family. Being part of a family. Being reunited with family. Our family Egg Hunt with Mimi, Da, aunts, uncles and cousins, included lots of in-laws and sometimes some of their family, totally unrelated to us except on this special day.

The kids had to stay inside while the parents hid the eggs outside, naturally. We champed at the bit until finally the signal was given and we made a mad dash with our baskets. Mimi’s large farm yard was full of likely hiding places. Climbing rose bushes adjoined chinaberry trees. A fenced chicken pen was lined with clumps of jonquils, border grass and assorted weeds.

Upturned foot tubs and cracked enamel pots were scattered amidst bits and pieces of farm tools. A rolled-up clothes line lay across a pile of clothes pins. Partially empty chicken feed sacks sat side by side with a stack of dried corn cobs at the edge of the porch. Porch steps! Truck tires! Every imaginable spot was a potential hiding place for a dyed egg.

HoundDogEasterEggsThere was an egg count, of course, and a prize egg made of plastic. If you found that one you were awarded something really special, perhaps a chocolate bunny.

The race was to see how many eggs we could find before time was called, and how many eggs granddaddy’s hound dog could find. He wasn’t supposed to take part in the hunt but somehow he had developed a taste for boiled eggs, shell and all. If we did our job well he would be disappointed. If not — oh well, the lost eggs wouldn’t go to waste.

While us kids compared our basket totals, folding chairs were set up outside. Cups of fresh perked Maxwell House were handed around with wedges of Mimi’s pound cake for the grown-ups. The kids quenched our thirst with Kool-Aid, and more Easter eggs accompanied by salt and pepper shakers were distributed to anyone interested in actually eating them. Many were.

All in all, my childhood Easters were wonderful times. There were weeks of preparation as choirs rehearsed musicals, schools prepared for Easter break and we shopped for the latest spring fashions. Easter meant thoughtfulness, forgiveness, newness, celebration, reunions, food, fun and fellowship. (It still does.)

Even granddaddy’s hound dog had a good time on Easter! And the smell of vinegar brings it all back.

Rolling stores and locker plants

RollingStore1939TennesseeI 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.

I don’t have a separate food freezer in my condo, but I think about shopping for one every summer when all the fresh vegetables are on display at the Pee Dee Farmer’s Market.

When I was growing up, a farmer with a pickup truck came through our neighborhood every week or so. His truck bed was loaded down with fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, butter beans in the hull or already shelled and bagged up. Wooden baskets were piled high with cabbages, string beans, yellow squash and ears of white or yellow corn, sometimes even peaches or watermelons.

It was nice to have such a selection to choose from, right there at our front door. Of course, we lived in town so if the farmer didn’t come by we could run right down to the A & P for what we needed.

Listening to Tim’s mom and other folks around town recount stories of their childhood days, I have a fresh appreciation of how easy we have it today.

Shopping wasn’t so convenient in the decade or so before I was born, and especially not out in the country. Many farm families had no automobile and some that did couldn’t afford to drive it.

Trips to town for the things the family didn’t grow or raise might be made in a mule-drawn wagon once every few months, and if you ran out of something, you might have to do without it for a while — unless the rolling store came through your “neck of the woods.”

The rolling store was a big truck with sides built up and a cover on top. Inside, two rows of tall shelves were loaded with staple goods of every kind, a narrow aisle running down the center just wide enough for one shopper at a time.

Cash was short, and not every family had ready spending money to pay for their purchases. So, large crates were attached to the back of the truck to hold live chickens, fresh eggs and newly churned butter, traded to the rolling store for sugar, salt or coffee, maybe dress fabric, smoking tobacco or penny candy.

From about 1947 until 1964, D. C. McFadden operated a rolling store in Williamsburg County, a large speaker mounted on top to let folks know he was coming.

A former bread truck, his store had a feature many others lacked — a cooler for soft drinks and ice cream. Tim’s dad Theron Cox had helped him install it and rigged up a power cord.

He’d leave the cooler plugged in overnight, thus as he made his route during the day the ice cream would stay frozen and the cold drinks would stay cold. It was a popular attraction for all the neighborhood kids to hear Mr. McFadden’s store coming!

Most meat and produce were consumed fresh, dried, canned or salted at that time. There wasn’t any other way to keep perishable food. Only large cities had “locker plants,” refrigerated buildings containing rows of individual meat lockers, rented (and locked up) by folks needing a place to store large quantities of meat or vegetables.

Many Pee Dee area homes still used ice boxes, and actual refrigerators had small freezer compartments, only big enough for an ice tray or two.

After WWII, Theron Cox began putting his refrigeration skills to work. Locker plants began to appear throughout lower South Carolina, and plant owners hired Theron to install the equipment to make them work.

Now a family could purchase a side of beef or bring in their own pork and poultry, rent one or more lockers by the month to freeze and store their meat until needed.

Families could have fresh-frozen meat and vegetables year round, although they might have to travel many miles to get to their locker.

As home deep freezers began to appear, gradually locker plants around the state began to close down. Supermarkets with adjacent locker plants began offering meat cutting services, sausage grinding, hickory smoking or sugar curing for hams in order to maintain their customer base. Jim’s IGA over in Lake City was one of those.

These days an ice cream truck comes through our neighborhood in the summer time. The musical melody that announces its presence brings back fond memories of popsicles and moo bars, vanilla ice cream cups and wooden spoons. But I’d love to see a rolling store come by my house, even if I don’t have any live chickens to trade.

“Little Red Caboose, Chug, Chug, Chug…”

“Little red caboose, chug, chug, chug” — remember that? I was stuck waiting for a freight train to go by at Coles Crossroads one day and as the caboose-less rear end passed by that little song popped into my head.

My mother would sometimes say “Get your caboose on in here” when calling me for something. That phrase usually meant she’d already called me several times and I hadn’t come yet. Sometimes she’d say “You’re always the caboose,” meaning the last to get somewhere like out of the house or into the car. If I said that to one of my grandkids today they’d probably say “What’s a caboose?”

As the barricades lifted and I drove on down the Pamplico Highway, I thought about my first train trip over thirty years ago. I’d had a month’s worth of frustrating days at work. I needed to escape from phones, typewriters, and people piling more work on my desk.

After giving it some thought I made plans to take a vacation day. I’d never been on a train before…

Early one morning I drove to the train station and bought a same-day round-trip ticket to Savannah. A sandwich in my pocket and a murder mystery in my purse, I anticipated a no-stress restful train trip to Georgia and back.

The platform was crowded with what seemed to be seasoned travelers, some with small children in tow, some with shopping bags at their feet. I tried to figure out which track my train was on — I didn’t want to get left behind. When the conductor called out “All aboard,” most of the crowd headed toward the same track. Were we all going to Savannah?

I maneuvered up the aisle looking for an empty window seat. The train car was half-full already and there was a noisy hum of adult voices and a few wails coming from unhappy toddlers.

We got underway slowly with jerks and clangs and a bit of a wobble, and the noise level increased considerably. Some of the older children traded seats, friends sitting with friends instead of parents. Some adults exchanged greetings and others continued a conversation obviously already in progress.

I just kept my eyes glued to the window trying to determine which streets we were crossing. Soon we were leaving the city limits and picking up speed.

“Tickets please, have your tickets ready.” The uniformed conductor was punching our tickets. What would he do if somebody doesn’t have a ticket? I wanted to ask him but I simply handed him my ticket, then closed my eyes and tried to tune out the other passengers. It wasn’t quite as quiet in the compartment as I had anticipated. The rhythmic clack-clack of train wheels on tracks became a little song in my head to drown out the “people” noise.

A few minutes later we were slowing down. What’s wrong? I wondered. Train wheels squealed to a stop and the conductor moved through the car again, this time calling out “Lake City, South Carolina.” Lake City? We’re stopping in Lake City? Even before the door could open some folks had gathered up their belongings and squeezed their way toward it.

I had neglected to ask the ticket clerk an important question: Is this train non-stop to Savannah? It wasn’t.

Between Lake City and Kingstree I read a few pages in my novel, but mostly I looked through my window, wondering who lived on that farm or what crossroads was this. I didn’t have to wonder about some places — the sing-songy conductor announced every small town and a few country crossroads as the train stopped every few miles. This train was a local.

Okay, so maybe it wouldn’t be quite as restful as I’d thought, I told myself, but it was certainly interesting. I tried to imagine why my fellow passengers were traveling, wondering if any of them had as strange a reason for their trip as I did.

It was easy to tell which of us were new to this train-ride business, we were all doing the same thing. But most of the passengers seemed to be old-hat. They had picnics in those shopping bags. Cellophane-wrapped sandwiches, fried chicken legs, boxes of saltine crackers and vanilla wafers, even milk jugs of grape or orange Kool-Aid.

Foodstuffs were pulled out and passed around between seats, paper napkins and paper cups serving as dinnerware. When it neared my normal lunchtime, I pulled out my own sandwich and munched half of it slowly as I tried to read.

That’s about when we entered the low country, and somewhere between St. Stephen and Charleston the tracks lost their level. The train car tipped sideways a few degrees and I found myself gazing into swamp water as we crossed a trestle.

Clinging to the seat in front of me for dear life I glanced at my seat-mate with a nervous question on my face, but the business-suited gentleman wasn’t fazed in the least. “Don’t worry, this doesn’t last long,” he reassured me with a smile. One of the old-hat bunch, he was very familiar with this section of the line. He was right, within a minute or two we were as upright as ever and I tried to relax.

When we arrived in Savannah I had to change trains, obviously. I didn’t want to wind up in Jacksonville. Exiting the compartment I got up the nerve to ask the conductor if my return trip to Florence had to be on a local too. “Check inside” was all he said, so I did. To my considerable relief my north-bound train made stops only in Charleston and Florence before heading on to other points.

It was an uneventful ride. I took the low-country sideways section calmly, as if it was no big deal for an entire train to cross a swamp tilted on its side.

To this day I can’t tell you what the reaction was from my family when I arrived home that evening. I doubt if the pile of paper at work was reduced any but my attitude was certainly improved.

Whenever anybody added to my stress level, I just hummed my little clack-clack song, tuned them out and wondered where else the train went to and back in a day.

Short-cut home from Turkey / Six Day War

By Harold W. Motte, Florence, SC

During the hostilities leading to the Six Day War in 1967, I was a Navy radioman on the ammunition ship Mazama in the Mediterranean Sea. When our ship hit port in Turkey, I got word that my mother was very sick and I had to come home.

The Turkish Air Force got me from the ship to the dock and took me to the end of a commercial air base where I boarded a military plane. I flew from there to the big naval base at Rota, Spain, where you took off to come to Virginia or New Jersey.

So I’m just sitting there waiting on my flight and about 3:00 that afternoon, a Navy petty officer comes and wants to know if anybody there has any kind of secret clearance. He said they needed a guard to go with the courier, an Air Force colonel, on a C130 that was leaving in 30 minutes and would arrive about midnight in Norfolk, Virginia.

I’m thinking, okay, I’ve got clearance. I’m not supposed to take the jet out of here until about midnight and we’d get to New Jersey about 3:00 or so in the morning. But if I go on the C130 now as a courier guard, I’ll land in Norfolk about 12:00 o’clock and I’ll be a lot closer to home. Makes sense, right? So I agreed to go.

He took me over to a hangar where there’s this pallet about 15 feet square piled with canvas bags, all classified material going to the States. Then he hands me a 32 revolver in a shoulder holster and four bullets taped up in masking tape, in a little row like you buy screws.

I felt like Barney Fife on the Andy Griffith show and I’m thinking, what good would that do me — “Just a minute, let me get these bullets out of this tape and load up my gun before you do anything”?!

Then a fork lift hoisted that pallet and me, my 32 revolver and my taped-up bullets up into the back of this giant C130 cargo plane. The colonel is already there, and all there was in the back of that huge plane was me, the colonel, two little cots, this pallet of stuff, the Cargo Master, and the pilots.

Well, we take off and we’re flying along when all of a sudden, the Cargo Master comes back and says, “Y’all come up to the cockpit, we got to descend to about 2000 feet — the back of this thing didn’t close up like it’s supposed to.”

So we went up with the pilots, they descended to 2000 feet, opened up the back end of the plane and re-shut it, re-pressurized it, and we went on back to our cots.

A little later I’m sitting there talking to the colonel when I noticed a small box strapped down on the belly of the plane. I was curious, so next time the Cargo Master came by I asked him what it was. He hesitated a little, then he said, “That’s white phosphorus.”

See, we’re on a plane with all this classified material and if something was to happen, such as somebody tries to get that material, then the white phosphorus would be ignited. And if the plane crashed, it would ignite.

If you even breathe on it very closely and you have hot breath, you’re liable to disappear! White phosphorus is highly volatile at a very low flash point, and it would literally disintegrate that whole plane and us and everything around it.

I said, “Okay, how much longer before we land somewhere and I can get off of here!”

Well, the next thing we know, the Cargo Master comes back again and says, “We’re landing.” I said, “Landing?  We’re in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean!”

He said, “No, we’re not that far out, we’re going to have to land at the Azores, we got some write-ups.” I said, “I’ve just got two more questions — what’s a write-up, and how many we got?”

He said a write-up was something wrong with the plane that needed fixing, and we had eight write-ups, “nothing major.” Yeah, right. By this time I didn’t want to know anything else about that plane!

So we land and taxi all the way down to the end of the airstrip, way away from everything. You know, what with the white phosphorus on board and all.

Here comes two vans, each with a driver and one other guy. One guy takes the papers the colonel was carrying and the other guy wants my gun and my four bullets. These were replacements to stay with the plane so we could have some liberty while it was being fixed. The colonel got in one van and I got in the other van.

Well, it’s late at night by this time and while the Colonel was probably relaxing in the officer’s club or something, most everything else was closed up. So my driver took me to the civilian bar at the airport terminal.

They started serving me rum and cokes in tall, skinny bottles about eight inches tall. I don’t know how many I drank. I vaguely remember the guy taking me back to the plane, but I don’t remember anything else until we landed in Norfolk about 8:30 the next morning.

Now, if I’d just waited on that jet to New Jersey and got another flight from there, I’d have been home in Florence, South Carolina long before we ever got to Norfolk, Virginia!

(Harold had forgotten his very first military lesson: never volunteer.)

Treasure City in the 1960’s

On-line is my favorite holiday shopping method these days.

Is it laziness to want to avoid the malls and big store crowds? Maybe so, but I no longer go from store to store looking for the right gift, or right size, or right color of anything. I let my fingers do the walking — not through the yellow pages, but through my computer keyboard.

There are lots of great buys on the internet these days, and from some of the same stores as at the mall. Except online they always have my favorite color, blue (blue jeans, blue shirts, blue towels, whatever).

In the late 1960’s I’d never heard of a credit card but most stores had layaway plans. For a few dollars down you could reserve holiday presents till a week or so before Christmas, when you hauled your goodies home and hid them under the bed or up in the attic.

Along the way you had to make regular payments, of course, or whatever you’d laid away would vanish back onto the store shelves. All in all it was very helpful to young couples with youngsters who expected Santa to bring the latest Mattel toys.

One year to help out with Christmas costs I took an extra part-time job. The Monday after Thanksgiving I left my regular secretarial work at quitting time and headed out to become a cashier at Treasure City on Highway 301 North. Today we take Wal-Mart and Lowes for granted but in those days Treasure City was unique. Like today’s big-box stores it featured every imaginable kind of department, plus a super snack bar.

“I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” played over the loudspeaker. Extra toys, bicycles and Christmas trees were everywhere, and so were the customers, driving in from all over the Pee Dee to take advantage of holiday specials.

To get the job as a money-handler I had to pass a lie-detector test. Unfortunately I flunked the test. The machine called me a liar on the date, the day of the week, my name, address, eye color, everything — but they hired me anyway. I guess they figured if I really lied about anything it would show up as the truth, so in a way they could still figure out the results.

I discovered a love of hot dogs at Treasure City. Every supper break found me at the snack bar munching on the best hot dog I’ve ever tasted. It had the normal weiner, bun, catsup and mustard, but they added heaping helpings of cole slaw, pickle relish, chopped onions and chili. Yummmm! A few breath mints for desert obliterated onion breath; after all, it’s not a real hot dog without onions!

That first afternoon I arrived a few minutes early, donned my blue smock and took over my register. By the end of the shift my feet were tired, my fingers were tired and my brain was tired. And I still had to total up all those dollar bills, fives and tens, plus coins. Cash and checks had to balance with the internal register tape, or else. Or else I had to make up the deficit, that is. It was okay if I wound up with a few cents over but never okay if I came up a few cents under.

One evening my register rang up about $75.00 short. It wasn’t exactly $75.00, it was something odd, like $74.37. Panic-stricken, I went back through every bill of every denomination, re-counted every check, totaled every nickel and dime.

I had resigned myself to having a short paycheck when suddenly a light bulb went on in my head. A man had purchased items in sporting goods, then brought some bluejeans to my check-out. He plunked everything down on the counter and began fumbling in his pocket. I had already rung up his fishing tackle and shotgun shells by the time he pulled out his receipt.

I should have voided the transaction and started over but with a long noisy line behind him, I simply subtracted that amount from his total and made a mental note to fix it later. My supervisor was very understanding; I wasn’t the first newbie to make that awful mistake.

It was nearly closing time one evening when a tired young woman with two cranky children pushed her loaded shopping cart my way. It contained a few toys but mostly warm winter clothes for the kids. I rung everything up and bagged the doll baby, fire truck, jackets and pants. When she handed me her check I flipped through a “bad check” list to be sure her name wasn’t on it — but it was.

She could tell from my expression that I couldn’t accept her check before I ever said the words “I’m sorry.” She silently grabbed the kids’ hands and walked toward the exit with tears running down her face. As her little girl asked “What about our stuff, mama?” my heart went out to her. I said a little prayer for her and the children as I cancelled the transaction and turned to the next customer.

That was my first and last season as a part-time holiday cashier at Treasure City. As my own children exclaimed over their new toys and winter clothes that Christmas morning, I thought again about that young mother and said another prayer.

Whenever I drive down 301 North and pass Treasure City, I still do.

Drive-in Movies and Mosquito Coils

Drive-in movies were popular dating destinations when I was in high school. It was first-come, first-serve on the parking spots and you’d arrive early to guarantee a good one. Not too close to the screen, not too far from the snack bar, you’d pick your spot and hope a family car full of rowdy toddlers didn’t park next to you.

Each parking place had its own speaker, pulled off a post and attached to the car window. In earlier days thoughtful theater owners located small bleachers down in front of the parking spots. Neighborhood kids would congregate there and watch for free, hoping enough sound would bleed out from unused speakers for them to follow the action. (That is, if they were paying any attention to the movie and not yelling at each other the whole time).

Of course, cars didn’t come with air conditioners in those days and rolled-down windows were open invitations for mosquitoes to make themselves at home with you. Since no self-respecting teenagers would go out slathered with insect repellent, a considerate date would head to the concession stand for a Pic mosquito coil, place it prominently on the dashboard and light it up. The thin wisps of smoke supposedly kept the biting bugs at bay.

The cartoons would begin at dusk followed by concession stand commercials. Dancing popcorn boxes and singing soft drinks signaled time for the girls to make their way to the ladies room. There they would meet other friends and catch up on who was dating who, while the guys hit the snack bar for hot buttery popcorn and large fountain cokes.

On the 100 block of Cashua Drive between West Evans and King Avenue (later the location of a Kroger, then a Winn-Dixie supermarket), the Circle Drive-In screen faced the street. It was clearly visible from certain vantage points on Cashua but if you wanted sound with your movie you had to buy a ticket and drive on in.

I liked the Circle Drive-In but the Palmetto was my favorite. Out on Highway 52 between Florence and Darlington (Efird Pontiac located there in recent years), the Palmetto snack bar offered the best hamburgers with chili and good old greasy, not crispy, french fries.

One memorable evening at the Palmetto, I was double dating with a friend, my date and I occupying the back seat. We’d sat through all the cartoons and commercials, enjoyed burgers, fries and cokes, and it was finally dark enough for the main attraction to begin. It may have been the newest Audie Murphy or John Wayne movie but as the opening credits began to roll, something else began to roll. Thunder.

A flash of lightening suddenly split the sky and the bottom dropped out. As car windows started going up and windshields fogging over, most dating couples probably didn’t care. But our car had a problem the others didn’t have, a leak across the top of the back windshield — drip, drip, drip, right down our necks.

We kept sliding forward until our heads were right against the back of the front seat, not cool with our friends. A steady drizzle was soon falling into the car and onto the back seat. The cloth seat cover acted like a wick and before long the wet spot spread from the back of the seat cushion all the way to the front edge.

With the thunder, lightening and downpour we couldn’t see the movie, we couldn’t hear the sound, and with all the windows rolled up the car interior began to steam-heat up. The guys kept saying “It’ll quit any minute.” I was thinking, okay, you guys sit back here and us girls will take the front seat! The back of my blouse was already wet and now my skirt was getting soaked too.

Our disgruntled dates finally gave in to our threats to find somebody else’s car to ride home in, cranked up and took us home. I refused to ever ride in that car again, friends or no friends, although I did go out on a few more double-dates with them.

Outdoor theaters are making a comeback in the United States, according to Reuters News Service. In the 1950’s there were more than 4,000 across the country. Last year there were only 420 but twenty of those were brand new drive-in cinemas.

Today’s drive-in movies don’t need speakers on a post, you just tune the car radio to an FM frequency and listen to the sound in stereo. Double-daters can leave the windows rolled up (no smoky mosquito coil required) and watch the feature in air conditioned comfort, thunderstorm or no thunderstorm — as long as the back windshield doesn’t leak!