Tag Archives: 1950s

We didn’t need a car

HMotte@SanbornHotel0001Daddy (Harold Motte, Sr.) enjoying Sunday afternoon visit with friend in the lobby of the Sanborn Hotel. Love those socks!

Florence was easy to get around in when I was growing up. We had a variety of transportation modes, car for out-of-town, bicycle for around-town, and feet for in-town. Kids and grownups alike did a lot of walking in those days.

Things were closer together then, homes, gas stations, grocery stores, fish markets, churches, parks, schools, theaters, the shopping district, everything. You needed a car if you were going out to the airport, out to Second Loop Road or out to Five Points, but if you went downtown, you walked.

Buying something too big to carry, like a sofa or refrigerator? The store would deliver it right to your door. Weekly groceries too. The A&P and Colonial Grocery Stores were both in the 200 block of West Evans with smaller, locally-owned grocery stores sprinkled around. If you weren’t driving a car, the clerk would bag up your purchases and a nice fellow would bring them home for you.

Harvey’s Thriftway would even take your order over the telephone and deliver it, if you couldn’t make it in to buy your meat and canned goods.

Milk from Coble Dairy was plopped down on our front step every morning bright and early, just like the morning paper. Pickup trucks loaded down with produce fresh from the farm drove throughout our neighborhood, just like the ice-cream man. Mama selected our cabbages and butter beans and tomatoes just a few yards from our own kitchen.

Need ice? An old-fashioned ice box occupied a spot in our kitchen for much of my younger years. The mule-drawn ice wagon, later the flatbed ice truck, stopped at our address to haul in whatever we needed for the week.

One of my earliest memories is strolling down Pine Street sidewalk, headed to Sunday School at First Baptist Church where Daddy was a member. Daddy walked on the street side in case a car came along and splashed a mud puddle or something and mother on the house side. I usually walked in front of them, skipping along in my white Mary Jane shoes and frilly white socks.

They encouraged my brother and me to keep our young feet on the sidewalk and off the neighbors’ lawns, and discouraged us from taking a minor detour to chase a neighborhood cat or squirrel. After Sunday School, we all walked another block to attend the 11:00 o’clock worship service at Central Methodist, where Mother was a member.

BostonCafeSmallAll that walking naturally worked up an appetite, so after church we walked several more blocks to the Boston Cafe on Dargan Street. The few restaurants in downtown Florence were really busy on Sundays after church.

The Boston was one of our favorites, offering meat loaf and fried chicken and pork chops, butter beans and corn and string beans, dinner rolls, tea or coffee. Dessert might be vanilla pudding, chocolate cake, or lemon meringue pie.

We regularly saw a lot of Mama and Daddy’s friends there with their kids in tow and the low-back booths allowed easy conversation between families. If you cleaned your plate before Mama and Daddy were finished, you could go sit with a buddy in his booth and chat.

After lunch, the pace was a bit slower and this time the family split in two. Around the corner and up East Evans Street we would arrive at the Sanborn Hotel, where Daddy and Harold would sit in the great lobby and catch up on the week’s news with friend Sanborn Chase. (See photo above.)

Mother and I continued on, crossing East Evans Street to peruse the showcases in Belk’s before heading up one side of West Evans and down the other. We carefully examined every shop window. Dresses in Gladstone’s, shoes in Miller’s Bootery. Pocketbooks. Jewelry. Hardware. Men’s ties and suits.

Window displays changed every week and we needed to keep up with the newest merchandise, just in case we needed to come back and buy something in the near future. By the time we closed the circle back at the Sanborn, Daddy and Harold were ready to call it an afternoon. We might return home by a different route so we could check out somebody else’s lawn, or cat, or squirrel.

Families and kids walked other times, too, of course. There was always something entertaining to do, and sometimes getting there was part of the entertainment.


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.

Can’t Get There From Here

NDarganStGuarantyBldgFor 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 on West Evans and Dargan and no Kresses. If that fellow had been any younger, I probably would have had to walk him down the street and show him in person!

Our conversation was sort of like giving directions to get somewhere out in the county. “Remember when old man Kirby’s tobacco barn burned down? Twenty years or so back? Turn left just past there.” Unless you grew up around here, you might not be able to get there from here!

Of course, all that made me remember some other things from the 1950’s. Like the fact that banks in downtown Florence used to close at 1:00 o’clock every day. One day a week, I think it was Wednesday, they weren’t open at all. And of course nobody ever heard of a branch bank.

Or the fact that you could set your watch by the whistle at Florence Manufacturing Company just outside of town. For years nearly every working woman in Florence had a job in that sewing plant, down at the end of Chase Street near the Darlington Highway railroad tracks. Some days they made shirts, other days they made dresses.

Every drug store had a soda fountain and a soda jerk, something you seldom see these days. I can hear some of you young’uns ask, “Soda jerk, what’s a soda jerk?” (Look it up.) High school kids hung out at their favorite fountain after school.

One on the corner of West Evans and South Irby Street had black and white hexagonal ceramic tile floors, tiny glass-top tables and bow-legged metal chairs.

Fountain Coke was served in hourglass-shaped glasses and cherry coke came with a real cherry on top of crushed ice. Banana splits were available but few teenagers had enough cash for one of those. We usually made do with scoops of plain vanilla.

Remember “white coat hypertension?” It’s when your blood pressure goes up when you see the doctor in his white coat. When was the last time your doctor wore a white coat in his office? Or a nurse wore a white uniform and white cap?

Remember when Dr. Sylvester’s office was in the little house on South Irby? Across from where the Florence Morning News used to be? He was my doctor in the early 1960’s and he was the first one that I’d ever seen not wearing a white coat in his office.

All the businessmen wore suits and ties and hats, and women wore dresses, hose and heels. High school kids did not wear jeans. The guys wore slacks and button-downs, the girls wore skirts with twin sets, penny loafers and bobby socks.

I have a collection of historical and pictorial books about Florence, town and county. Every one of them feature the 100 block of West Evans showing the businesses at various incarnations from the early 1900’s to the 1960’s. Remember what’s at the end of that block? The Lake’s Drug Store building, later known as the McCown-Smith Department Store building, used to be there.

florencedowntownIt was a Florence icon, that building. It was probably the oldest continually-used building downtown, appearing in the very earliest maps and photos of Florence. Today it’s an empty lot. Planted with grass, but still an empty lot.

Reminiscing can be contagious and addictive when you run into an old friend, and your speech may be liberally sprinkled with “remembers.” I love those conversations… some are bittersweet these days.

The Irresistible Power of Dirt

Betty and Harold Motte with their Uncle Mike Powers at Mimi and Da’s, late 1940’s.

We’re posing for a photo, probably on a Sunday since we have on shoes and socks. Da’s field behind us beckons where we loved digging for arrowheads. We found quite a few over those summers…

Even though I live in a condo I’ve been watching a lot of Home and Garden TV lately, admiring the way talented landscapers transform an ordinary lawn into a sunken garden complete with waterfall. I’m with them – no more mowing! But then my thoughts and memories began to wander back a few decades, to my childhood days of playing outside in the yard.

We didn’t have “lawns” in those days. Everybody had a front yard and a back yard, maybe a side yard too. Gardens were where you planted tomatoes and butter beans and some city yards had a little garden too, way at the back of their regular yard.

To a city kid raised in the middle of town, ordinary grass was what everybody had in their yard, unexciting, turned-brown-in-the-summer, plain grass. There might be a little square of bare dirt in an unpaved driveway or neighborhood park, but it was usually a puny little patch.

But on those summer occasions when my brother and I got to spend time at Mimi’s house, we had great expanses of exciting, inviting dirt. She did have some flower beds near the house which were strictly off-limits, but she also had something us city-dwellers didn’t have – a huge side yard and back yard full of mostly weed-free dirt.

The color of dirt can be quite varied here in the Pee Dee, ranging from blackish-brown just right to plant vegetables, to gooey yellow clay that seldom washed completely out of your clothes, to whitish-tan sandy stuff. Mimi’s dirt was medium brown, not gooey at all but sort of sandy.

Mimi’s dirt was just right for us little kids with long summer days to fill with exploration, excavation and other assorted outdoor fun. It didn’t make sticky tracks in the house, which was a good thing, considering that a favorite pastime was running in and out of the house with a brief pause in the kitchen for a drink of cool water.

There’s just something about the smell of dirt right before, during and after a summer rain shower. If it only sprinkled and didn’t pour, you got the full flavor of it. It drew you right outside to splash or stomp, if you could find the right size puddle.

You could make neat mud pies to serve to your companions – usually a kitten or an old doll baby in my case. Or if the dirt was just damp and not soppy wet, you could draw major house plans which would stay put on the ground for a while. Dry dirt was better for playing marbles, of course.

The texture of dirt was also interesting. Once the weather warmed up we went barefooted most of the time. That first feel of hot summer dirt on my bare feet was so luscious, so luxuriating, the grit between my toes was hardly noticeable. If we had to put on sandals for a ride to the store, we seldom washed our feet first. Why wash? They were just going to get dirty again soon. Sandals off, back to bare feet ASAP, that was our motto.

In examining the possibilities of dirt, we discovered that sandy dirt doesn’t stick together too well unless it’s just the right consistency and dampness. Even then, when it dries out it tends to fall apart. You needed to mix in a bit of granddaddy’s dirt to make good building material, such as for walls around a mud puddle to keep beetles or small turtles in, or to deepen the puddle for floating twig-boats and popsicle-stick barges.

Da’s field dirt was darker brown than Mimi’s yard dirt. A cross between sandy and loamy, the dirt in the plowed fields beyond the house was where granddaddy planted watermelons, or tobacco, or cotton. After his tractor made neat straight rows but before the seeds went in, that dirt was perfect for investigating and excavating.

We loved digging there for arrowheads. We found quite a few over those summers but for some strange reason Mimi and Da didn’t want us to make real arrows with them, just save them for “show and tell” at school later on. When not on one of our archeological digs, Da’s field was excellent for seeing how deep we could bury our feet, or shoveling up a bucket full for later use.

I haven’t gone barefooted in years but I believe my feet retain the memory! The closer summer gets, the more my toes seem to yearn for Mimi’s warm yards and Da’s fresh-plowed fields. I really have fond memories of most things about dirt, except the tin tub baths that Mimi insisted we take at night to remove it from our persons.

Summers were safe in the 1950’s

Timrod Park Swimming Pool, 1950’s… the scent of chloride, “thunk thunk” of the diving board and splashes of fun-loving swimmers. Summers were pretty safe for kids in search of fun in the late 1940’s and early 50’s Florence.

After school and on Saturday afternoons, pals could inhabit city streets without parents going nuts with worry. You could leave your unlocked house, ride your bike or roller skate along city streets, come home for a quick parent check, then go again.

Round up a few friends and you could play a game of hopscotch drawn on the sidewalks with bits of rock, play tag, pick-up-sticks, marbles or jacks.

If a neighbor had recently acquired a new wringer-washer, you could use the left-over packing crate for a handy jeep. A real find might be a sturdy refrigerator box — handy for two-man tanks. Gather up a few more kids and war games, cops and robbers or good old cowboys and Indians might occupy the territory from McQueen Street to Warley.

Some afternoons when usual buddies were occupied with other stuff, I liked to wander around town and eventually end up at the Library or Timrod Park. The interior of the block between McLeod Hospital and downtown made for interesting exploration. The hospital laundry with its open doorways, rising clouds of steam and swoosh, swoosh of the iron presses was an attraction.

Several straggly trees and bushes divided the interior of the block into parking sections, and narrow alleyways lead to Evans Street, Irby, Cheves or South Dargan. The back doors to Barringer Hardware or Waters Furniture Store accumulated piles of discarded pasteboard boxes and packing crates. Here was a great source of components for our make-shift jeeps, tanks and body armor. I made a mental note.

Nowadays the tarry smell of Pinesol triggers a mini-vision. One day as I was studiously avoiding the mud puddles between Dr. Stokes’ office building and McLeod on my shortcut to Kresses, an odd odor wafted by my nose. Looking toward the rear of stores along West Evans, I spotted workmen up on a flat-top roof, spreading out thick black tar. I slowed my pace to watch a bit, then took a wide detour around the roaring tar kettle surrounded by globs of cooling goo.

The Library was another destination of choice on summer afternoons. When it was too hot to continue outdoor games, the cool stacks encouraged “well-mannered” kids to browse and stay awhile. Over several years I graduated from the basement Children’s Department and the Bobbsey Twins mysteries up to the main floor and Sherlock Holmes, reading chapters at a time before I ever made it to the check-out counter.

I admire our new Library, of course, but there was an atmosphere of world-wide adventure in those old stacks that drew me back week after summer week. I’d leave with my limit, arms full of mystery and mayhem, one book propped open to read as I made my way home, one eye on the page and the other on my feet.

After my family’s move to Mohawk Drive, my path home lead through Timrod Park. Of course, reading about England, Timrod became London’s St. James Park, and Sherlock Holmes inspired a less than straight line of travel. I’d enter at the Coit Street edge, avoid the swing sets, sliding boards and Timrod School, then skirt the swimming pool with its scent of chloride, “thunk thunk” of the diving board and splashes of fun-loving swimmers.

As I meandered, I was peopling the park with 1890’s ladies and gentlemen, with perhaps a detective or two from Scotland Yard thrown in for good measure. The lifeguard’s whistle might be a London Bobby calling for reinforcements as he chased the bad guys through a cobbled street.

Continuing on, I would usually cut by the amphitheater and picnic tables and wind up my westward route at the rose garden. “London” bridge would take me across the “Thames” to weave my way in and out of shaggy oleander bushes, struggling to maintain my hold on all those books while climbing the steep path to Waters Avenue. I was only a block out from home.

Arrival home might mean present tense pots and pans to wash or potatoes to peel for supper, but by then I didn’t mind — another shortcut through the innards of a city block, another adventure at the Library or meander through Timrod Park was always coming up.

Department Store Browsing in the 1950’s

By the time I was nine or ten years old, I found department stores could be just as much fun as dime stores for browsing, the great pastime for kids in pre-television days.

McCown-Smith Department Store was located on Dargan Street right where Evans runs into it. One entrance was on Dargan and a second one on East Evans — another two-main door store.

McCown-Smith sold a lot of blue and white enamel basins and cast aluminum cook pots, but they seemed to specialize in linens. You know, cotton sheets and chenille bedspreads.

They also featured crocheted antimacassars, tatted doilies, lace-edged dresser scarves, and embroidered table runners. My grandmother Mimi took me shopping for those in McCown-Smith one time. I’d never heard the word “antimacassar” before that day — but most folks had one on the back of every armchair and couch. Those were the days of Wildroot Cream Oil hair tonic, and when a fellow leaned back some of his Wildroot would come off, and naturally you needed an antimacassar to keep it off the sofa.

Of course, these things would wear out fast with weekly washing, so you’d have to take another trip to Mc-Cown Smith. And of course your knickknacks couldn’t sit on a naked table-top, they needed a lace doily. Likewise your hairbrush and bare wood needed a dresser scarf in between them. McCown-Smith sold them all.

Across East Evans Street was Belk’s Department Store. You could go in a big glass swinging door on Evans Street, march in a straight line back to the shoe department and come out on Dargan, then circle back up the sidewalk to re-enter on Evans. It drove the salesladies batty but it seemed like fun at the time.

Riding Belk’s elevator was an adventure, if you could convince the attendant you weren’t just horsing around. Running up the staircase was faster anyhow. By the time the attendant closed the door, worked the lift, and on arrival jerked the car up and down several times trying to get the elevator floor level, you could have been up and down the staircase two or three times.

Belk’s second floor Ladies Ready-to-Wear seemed hushed and dignified. I liked to sashay between the long, silky evening dresses or run my fingers back and forth on wool coat fur collars, but the clerks lingered at your elbow, sweetly suspicious if a parent wasn’t in sight. “May I help you find your mother, honey?”

I really preferred downstairs Belk’s, anyway. Perfume, bedroom slippers or earbobs, just about any gift item you could want was displayed atop glass cases. Dusting powder or leather wallets, everything had such a neat smell. Belk’s smelled almost as good as the Donut Dinette over on Palmetto Street.

In the middle of the 100 block of West Evans was an amazing store – J. C. Penney. I was fascinated by the cables running through the air from ground-floor countertops to second-floor business offices. Little round containers zipped along those cables carrying money and sales slips, who knows what all. Mechanical ding-ding sounds accompanied the containers up those cables.

Today we think nothing of putting our deposits into a vacuum tube at the drive-through and watching it zoom up, over and into the bank building. I guess Penney’s had the idea first, at least here in Florence.

On down West Evans, if you crossed the street and turned right on Irby you came to the big Sears Roebuck and Company. Another two-main entrance store (front and back), it offered lots more for a kid to investigate. Clothing took up the front, ladies and girls on the left, men and boys on the right. Cosmetics, jewelry, and shoes occupied the middle.

Serious stuff like electric cook stoves and wringer washers were way in the back. There were lots of tools and tires and men shoppers back there. Girls found that department dull and boring; we didn’t do much browsing back there.

Hats were a must in the 1950’s and every department store had a millinery section. Big round mirrors were provided with stools to sit on while ladies tried on the latest fashion. Aunt Myrtle, a millinery specialist most of her life, believed in hats! My mother had floppy straw ones with feathers for Sunday go-to-meeting, pill-box types for funerals, and silk-flower caps for weddings.

Sears frowned on little girls trying hats on for fun, but switching hats around on the fake heads was amusing when the saleslady was elsewhere.

Over in the unmentionables department, long fake legs showed off nylon stockings. No shoes. No torsos either, just legs and hose. There wasn’t any such thing as pantyhose then, just stockings. Ladies wore garters around their thighs to keep them up, or a girdle if they needed extra help holding their tummy in.

Fake hands at an adjoining counter wore short “Dress Gloves for Any Occasion,” white or tan for summer, navy blue or black for winter. I wondered if the skin tone went all the way down to the fingers and if the hand had any fingernails, but I never got up the nerve to peel off a glove and see.

Watchful sales clerks kept a close eye out when kids went browsing in the department stores (some called it snooping). “Don’t run, don’t touch, and if you break it, you bought it” sort of cramped our style, but browsing was still good entertainment. Even grownups liked to do it in the pre-TV 1950’s downtown Florence.

Childhood misadventures (and memories of Dr. Price)

MRI’s, CT scans, x-rays and angiograms – the older we get, the more those terms become familiar to us. But when was the last time you had an old-fashioned fluoroscope?

I was four or five the last time I had one. Chewing on things like little rubber dolls and fingernails was an “unattractive habit,” according to mama. She tried to discourage me from putting non-food items into my mouth, but how else can a little kid tell what things are made of, if you don’t taste them?

Many interesting things invited a bite or a taste, like the tangy popsicle stick after the frozen orange flavor was gone, or the salty-sweet coated paper lining the Cracker Jacks box, or the chewy wax bottle once the syrupy contents were sucked dry.

But I have to agree, the nickle shouldn’t have been one of those things. That metallic flavor was very different from anything sweet or salty, you couldn’t suck any further taste out of it, and it was entirely too easy to swallow accidentally. Which is what I did, much to the dismay of my mother.

I had to tell her; after all, I wanted my nickle back. A nickle would buy something good, like a tootsie roll or two, and I didn’t come by too many nickles in those days.

Mama’s reaction was a bit extreme, I thought. “Oh my Lord, what did you swallow?!” Bundled into the car in a flash, down to Dr. Price’s exam room we went. From there I was rushed over to a strange room at McLeod Infirmary, conveniently located next door to the doctor’s office.

Lying still on that hard table was scary, especially when all the lights were off. And then came the stern admonishment from normally jovial Dr. Price: Go home, lie in the bed and read comic books, don’t play outside, don’t run or jump or do anything fun for several days, and things will “work themselves out.” And of course they did, in due time.

I quit trying to use my taste buds to determine the make-up of inedible objects for a while after that.

Several years and bouts of sore throats later, Dr. Price made a pronouncement to me with a smile as he prepared a penicillin shot: “Next time you’re in here with tonsillitis, we’re going to yank those tonsils right out.”

That was the last time I was in there with tonsillitis! Believe me, whenever I got a sore throat after that I never let on to anybody. I may have snuck into the bathroom and gargled with salt water a few times, taken an aspirin or two, but no horrible tonsil-yanking for me. I wasn’t sure how they went about it but it didn’t sound too pleasant. I didn’t intend to find out.

I made it from grammar school to junior high without too many misadventures, until the amazing ambulance ride from school to the hospital one afternoon. Sometimes with a head cold I’d get a tickle in the back of my throat, caused by a swollen soft palate. I’d learned that if a tickle evolved into a cough, I could easily stop it with a few sprinkles of table salt. Accordingly my pockets usually held one or two little salt packs (like you get with french fries), and just a bit of salt licked off the palm of my hand would do the trick.

This particular day I was all out of salt when the tickle started. Soon a cough developed, and after a couple of minutes I couldn’t stop coughing. I tried to tell the teacher I needed some salt but she thought I was nuts. Cough, cough, salt, please get me some salt, cough, cough! Instead she got me a cup of cold water, which just made things worse.

Worried by then, she did what any responsible teacher would do: she sent for the ambulance. Now, in those days, there was no EMS – the ambulances looked a lot like hearses. I was a real star, coughing my head off while the attendants in white uniforms laid me out on a stretcher and loaded me in the back of that long white car.

My fellow students watched and waved as off we went to McLeod Infirmary, probably thinking they’d never see me again.

Of course by the time we pulled up to the emergency entrance at McLeod, the cough had run its course. I guess I’d sweated enough from all that coughing that licking my damp salty palms was enough to stop it. There at the hospital door was my anxious mother, who soon understood my problem. A simple cough triggered by a simple tickle, the whole thing avoidable with a simple application of table salt.

No matter, I was there, Dr. Price was there, and I had to be checked out for the sake of the school officials. After a brief listen to my lungs, a look down my throat and a “tch, tch, tonsils still there, hmmm?” I was declared fit to go home. My star status was dimmed somewhat when I turned up at school the next day none the worse for wear, several salt packets stowed in my pocket.

Well, today I seldom have sore throats or coughs that can’t be stopped with a sprinkle of salt. But I do still have my tonsils, thanks to Dr. Julian Price’s penicillin shots – or his “yank-’em-right-out” promise, depending on your point of view!

Girlie Show at the Fair

Wall of Death, Two-Headed Monsters and the Girlie Show – The Fair’s in Town! I loved the fair as a kid, all the smells, the feels, the sights and the sounds, from greasy grilled onions on a hot dog to baby pigs and cows, sawdust to mud puddles, bright neon lights to hawkers hawking wares: “Get Your Weight Guessed Right Here,” “Get Your Foot Long Dogs Right Here,” “Get Your Fortune Told Right Here!”

In the very early 1950’s I was thrilled at the possibility of riding the big wheel – not the Big Wheel my children peddled in later years – the really big wheel. The Ferris Wheel. Every year I”d beg to go on that ride but every year either my parents or the ticket taker would crush my hopes with “Maybe next year, you’re a little too short.”

Finally the year of my dreams came when I was eight or so and I got to go on that wonderful contraption. With some strange kid I’d never met in the seat beside me, we rode up, up and away. We thought the headlights on Highway 76 looked like strings of glowing pearls in the night as cars lined up to turn into the fairgrounds. The wheel paused occasionally to let people on or off and once we sat at the tip-top for a few moments. We gripped the hand-bar for dear life as the car jerked to a stop, but we could see everything for miles and miles and I wished the ride would last forever.

It didn’t, of course, so we made the circle of the fairway and my brother Harold and I rode everything we could. The Bullet looked too scary even for me but there was plenty of other stuff to do, rings to toss over Coke bottles and coins to skip across plates hoping to win a prize. We ate sticky cotton candy and corn dogs on a stick, then tried our hand at shooting the little assembly line of moving ducks. Lacking enough muscle power in our skinny little arms, we watched teenage athletes throwing power pitches to dunk guys in a vat of chilly water. That was a blast.

We passed by the multicolored Fortune Teller’s Tent, tripped through the House of Mirrors and Fun House and ended up with the Tunnel of Love. When spooky vampires jumped out of the walls or Frankenstein’s monster dropped suddenly from the ceiling, teenage girls squealed in fear and inched closer to their boyfriends. (After a few years I understood all that a bit better.)

Right outside the fairway was Hit the Bell with the big sledge hammer. No winners there. A few yards over, the weight-guesser was so good at it that I wondered if a scale was hidden under the dirt somewhere. For supper we headed to a civic club booth for hamburgers, fries and Pepsis, then meandered through the Exhibition Buildings to look at all the blue-ribbon winners. Pumpkins. Pumpkin pies. Quilts. Tractors. Chicks. Hogs.

Every year Mama played Bingo at least one night. Harold and I wandered around the Exhibition Buildings with Daddy while she tried for a table lamp or a portable radio. She always brought something home but I’m sure she paid full value for it. “B-9 is the number,” I can still hear that voice ringing out.

By the late 1950’s my teenage friends and I disdained the Ferris Wheel for the Tilt-A-Whirl and Round-Up, then made our way to The Wall of Death, the Two-Headed Monsters and the Girlie Show! The Wall of Death is still around, motorcycles zooming around a circular wooden wall or even inside a ball-shaped metal cage. (I watched that online one day, complete with sound effects. Still impressive!)

The two-headed monsters were disappointing, just cloudy pickle jars with unfortunate dead lizards floating in formaldehyde. What next? The boys talked us into it, and we made a beeline for the Girlie Show.

I was about 16 years old and my date 17, but the bored ticket-taker acted like he thought we were grownups and let us in. We huddled like criminals in the dimly-lit tent but when the show started there wasn’t much to see. A plump lady wearing lots of greasepaint, pink feathers, silver sequins and high-heel slippers did a modified burlesque number, flung her feather boa into the “crowd” (all five of us), then ducked behind a curtain and tossed out what was supposedly the rest of her costume.

That ended the Girlie Show, all five or six minutes of it. Of course, if we had actually been adults the performance may have gone a little differently.

When my children were small they loved the fair as much as I did. One year my daughter won a nearly life-size purple gorilla, bigger than she was. She happily lugged him home where he lived among her teddy bears for many years. One day he got left outdoors in damp weather and developed a bad case of dirt-and-mold smell. Too big for the washer, he resided in the outside storage room until it became obvious that his lumpy stuffing and purple fake fur were beyond redemption. We held a sad burial service for him in the back garden.

These days I don’t have the energy to tromp around the fairway and my stomach doesn’t dare try the rides. But I wouldn’t mind touring the blue-ribbon winners or enjoying a foot-long hot dog slathered with grilled onions. I don’t think they have Girlie Shows at the fair any more, do they?

1950’s Dime-Store Shopping

Evans Street looking west, 1937. Postcard.

Evans Street looking west, 1937. Postcard.

The 100 block of West Evans was a shopping mecca in the 1950’s. Downtown Florence had everything a kid could want, all in one block. Of course, we had our share of department stores and grownups did a lot of shopping in those. But for us kids, the five and ten cent stores were the place to go.

Saturday when the movie was over and it was too early to go home, you went dime-store window shopping. And if sometimes you had to go present shopping, naturally you had to make the rounds to be sure you got the best thing.

One Saturday in early June, I declared my desire to pick out daddy’s Father’s Day present all by myself without mama tagging along looking at every blooming thing in the store. With a smile and shake of the head, she gave me some extra cash for my trip downtown.

After the latest Hopalong Cassidy movie at the Carolina Theater, I went shopping. I turned left on Dargan toward Evans Street, crossed at the light and turned in to Kresses Five and Ten Cents Store. I really loved Kresses. The dark wood floor had a substantial sound when you walked on it, and there was usually something interesting smelling in the air, as well as a nice echoey sound when people talked.

One plate-glass window in the front featured a lady dummy with painted-on hair, wearing a short-sleeve summer dress. Another window had a little kid dummy wearing a sunsuit and carrying a sand pail. Stores were big on dummies. Most of them had heads in the dime stores. Some of the department store dummies were missing their heads, I never knew why…

At Kresses and Woolworth’s there were lots of waist-high counters arranged in a rectangle with a saleslady and her cash register in the middle.

Shallow bins with wooden dividers were arranged around the counter tops. One might contain embroidered hankies, the next one after-shave lotion. After you perused the stuff in the bins and decided on something, the saleslady rang you up and gave back your purchase in a thin paper bag. Then you went on down the aisle to another counter and another saleslady.

Down the right-hand wall in Kresses were racks of ladies undies, nighties and hand-bags, all different colors and sizes. Down the left side of the store was a lunch counter with a big sign picturing an oval-shaped chopped steak and mashed potatoes covered with shiny brown gravy, garden peas, a dinner roll and a glass of iced tea for a “Reasonable Price.”

I didn’t eat there. Daddy wouldn’t have considered any price reasonable if it wasn’t Sunday after church, and Kresses wasn’t open on Sundays.

At the back of the store there were flat tables low to the floor piled with bolts of cloth. Pyramid- shaped shelves held sewing scissors, spools of thread and dress patterns. If you turned right and headed toward Dargan Street, you found the housewares and toy sections with pots and pans, hammers and nails, and every kind of toy imaginable from Red Ryder cap guns to cry-baby dolls.

After Thanksgiving, the Dargan Street windows would gurgle with bubble lights on decorated Christmas trees, Lionel trains running around in circles underneath the trees.

This summer day, I merely glanced at the ladies and kids’ stuff as I browsed through the store, examining Old Spice cologne and cotton handerkerchiefs, billfolds and pocket knives, making careful note of prices as I went.

I considered a little leatherette travel kit with toothbrush, dental floss and toothpaste, but they wanted too much money for that and daddy didn’t travel much anyway. That saleslady gave me a closed-mouth smile like she didn’t believe I actually had any money to spend. I smiled back as I left her counter.

McLellan’s was on the other side of the street so I looked both ways before crossing in the middle of the block. McLellan’s had something the other stores didn’t — long counters and cash registers lined up like cattle stalls near the front door.

You loaded whatever you wanted in a buggy, unloaded the buggy onto the counter and paid for everything right there in one spot. It cut down on hiring so many salesladies, I guess, but McLellan’s didn’t last long. Maybe Florence wasn’t ready for that much self-service.

I didn’t find anything good for daddy in McLellan’s. Walking on down the street, I stopped and pressed my face to the window at several shops to see inside a little better. Painted neckties, Bulova watches and wing-tip shoes were all out of my price range.

Woolworth’s (at the corner of Evans and Irby) had some things Kresses and McLellan’s didn’t have, like floor lamps and big paintings of seascapes. At the back of the store, two ladies discussed pickle recipes over a shelf of glass jars.

Woolworth’s wasn’t as much fun as Kresses but it had pretty neat stuff on sale sometimes. Sure enough, oxblood shoe polish was on sale, but Daddy didn’t wear oxblood-colored shoes. I was running out of options.

Then an aisle display of “Restore Your Patent Leather Shine” black liquid polish and “Long-Lasting Woven Shoelaces” caught my eye. As she bagged up my selections, the nice saleslady said they were sure to please my dad, and I was pleased and relieved to come up with something good for Father’s Day on my very own.

I even had enough coins left over for a cherry coke at the corner drug store on the way home. Not a bad shopping trip for a kid in downtown Florence, in the 1950’s.

After Supper Activities

After-supper activities around our house in the 1950’s didn’t include video games, surfing the web, cell phones or i-pods, and very little television. It did include things like board games of Monopoly, Scrabble, Chinese or regular checkers.

Now, I was pretty good at Scrabble. After all, I was my class spelling champ, I studied words right along with math and geography. As long as my opponents were other kids I did just fine. But if Mama got into the game, she’d have to spot us so many points – she subscribed to crossword puzzle books!

Mama could use a handful of z’s and q’s and u’s to make the most outlandish combinations and we’d cry foul. “Look it up,” she’d say with a smile, totaling up her score. “Look it up.” Flipping through the pages of our oversize dictionary, we’d do our best to prove her wrong. Naturally she’d turn out to be right.

Card games like gin rummy were more fun and more likely to result in a random winner. Depending on who was in charge, some variety of poker (played for toothpicks, not for money, of course) might be allowed.

During summer vacation one year Uncle Mike had taken it upon himself to teach me the elements of a good poker hand and poker face, much to the dismay of my non-gambling grandparents. We used seed corn or bottle caps instead of cash, and after a summer of practice I could beat him occasionally. If I accumulated enough kernels of corn, he’d treat me to a Dr. Pepper or Red Rock Cola.

My brother and Mama learned how to play chess one year but my patience for such a high-brow endeavor in those days was entirely too low. Sit and stare at the chess board for a long time, don’t talk, just stare. Finally pick up a bishop or a knight, pretend to set him down in one square but don’t take your fingers off yet. Move him somewhere else, hover over a different square while your eyes rove back and forth, and finally plop him down in another place entirely.

Uh uh, too boring for words. I found something to do with faster action, like solitaire. If we didn’t feel like a full-fledged board or card game, we settled for simple pencil and paper games like tic-tac-toe or hangman.

No matter what combination of family and friends were in the house, there was always something interesting, educational or just plain fun to occupy our time in the evenings.

Before the advent of television in our living room, the table-top radio was usually on in the evenings. In between board games we listened to Jack Benny, Bob Hope or Burns and Allen, perhaps The Shadow (Who knows what evil lurks in the heart of men? The Shadow Knows!) or Boston Blackie.

All these old programs are still available on CD today. I actually bought some Jack Benny, complete with full-length Lucky Strike commercials. Nostalgia galore!

If nothing of interest was on the radio, Mama usually stacked several LP’s on the stereo. The Best of the Hit Parade, Easy Listening, Big Band, folk or pop music, even the classics kept us company while we competed for houses and hotels and racked up points.

Of course, there were always things to do outside the house between school and supper time, too. Some days there were Cub Scouts or violin lessons for my brother, Brownie Scouts or piano lessons for me. Unorganized afternoons meant we could hang out with friends in a neighborhood playground or stop off at somebody else’s house on the way home.

One year my hopeful mother enrolled me in dance lessons. Our little class was supposed to learn the basic elements of ballet and ballroom dancing, starting with ballet. I did strive to get the hang of ballet steps, I really did. First position: heels together, toes out to the side, knees straight. Straight? Forget plies, I never quite achieved first, second or third position.

Then came the disastrous afternoon I arrived home without my dance costume – somehow in the few blocks between dance studio and home the bag with my dress of green and lavender ruffles simply vanished. Shortly afterward the instructor informed my disappointed mother that I wasn’t “dance material,” but without that frilly dress my heart wasn’t in it anyway. I never really missed those lessons.

These days when there’s nothing but re-runs on TV and I’ve run out of something new or interesting to read, I might settle down to play a game of Mah Jong or Solitaire. They’re on a computer screen, of course. Stashed in a drawer somewhere is an old deck of Bicycle cards but I haven’t dealt a hand with it in many years.

And the last time I played Monopoly was when Tim and I joined our church home group for game night, and Tim and the preacher teamed up on the rest of us. Now that was fun! Brought back fond memories of 1950’s Monopoly, Mama, Scrabble and all.