Look Out, Roy!

roy rogers

Early in the history of our fair city, there was erected a special gathering place; a place of blinking amber lights and bright posters and pretentious, longed-for confections; a place that beckoned to visitors from town and countryside. This enchanted location was called The Eagle Theatre. The well-loved attraction was first opened for business sometime in the 1920’s. It was where the large, fancy gazebo along Central Avenue now stands; and for many decades was a wondrous, flickering Mecca for hoards of local movie goers.
Not only was it the host to many an old cowboy and mystery film; but the stage was often utilized by small one-night-only travelling shows, like a live wrestling troupe or authentic Hawaiian Tiki dancers. And cinema stars from that era would sometimes make appearances there to promote their movies- Bobby Blake, Roy Rogers, Bob Steele, Tex Ritter, Fuzzy Saint John, to name a few.
Jim Kearce recalls that back in 1947 when he turned twelve, his dad started giving him thirty-five cents for the regular weekend show, instead of the nine cents for a children’s ticket that he use to pay. Even so, Jimmy pretended like he was still eleven when he went. He would reach in his pocket and give the owner’s wife (Eloise- she sold the tickets) his dime, and she would hand him back a penny and a ticket. Then he would give his ticket to R. L. Bailey, the owner. (The Bailey’s had a daughter who was around Jimmy’s age, so Mr. Bailey was suspicious.) Jimmy would use the penny in change and the quarter that was still in his pocket to buy himself and his friends popcorn and RC’s.
He ran this little mischievous, personal scam week after week; for months, actually- being twelve years old while getting in at eleven and under prices. He said he believed that a devil was on one shoulder and an angel was on the other. He could always hear the devil say, “But, she doesn’t know that you had a birthday.” Then one night, Mr. Bailey raised a stern eyebrow and vehemently asked, “Jimmy, when are you ever gonna be twelve?” Jimmy’s eyes bulged and he said, “Next week!”
Years and years later, my kindergarten class had an early morning field trip to watch “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.” It was 1968. The bus parked right next to the sidewalk at the very front of the theatre; and we all walked hand-in-hand into that place of wonder; calm and well-behaved on the outside, but exited and about to burst on the inside.
I had never been to a movie before and I thought it was the greatest thing I had ever seen: the daring, out of control car race; all the songs; the sweets factory scenes; the old, eccentric grandfather; the fantastical home of the main character, and all his inventions; the life-sized music box deception; and the absolute creepiness of that sinister child catcher with his giant butterfly net, somehow luring children into his wagon with sugary words and the hopes of candy- in spite of everything seeming so very wrong about him. The spasmodically flashing lights in that dark and narrow room were magical to me, somehow.
But perhaps the best story to ever come out of the old Eagle Theatre was something that shocked and caught everyone off guard one night long, long ago. The story goes that late on a Friday, back in the early 1940’s, the place was packed for a new Roy Rogers western flick that had just come out. All that were present were on the edge of their seats as Roy valiantly fought the bad guys- shooting and punching and outsmarting; trying to maintain justice in his small, dusty, one horse town.
There was a particular woman sitting in the cramped balcony, on the front row. She was a huge Roy Rogers fan, and was completely caught up in all the action; drawn into the movie like she was right there. At some point near the end of the show, as the local crowd held its collective breath, a villain (with his pistol aimed to kill) started to sneak up on the cowboy hero when the cowboy hero wasn’t looking. Unable to take it any longer, that same woman high in the balcony jumped out of her seat and hollered, “LOOK OUT ROY!”
With her arms erratically flinging the alarm, she jerked at an extreme and awkward angle as she yelled out to Roy, and lost her balance. She then doubled over the waist-high banister that was in front of her and let go a panicked scream. THEN her legs kicked up behind her, causing her to exit the balcony all together. The enthusiastic and unfortunate fan cartwheeled through the air and landed with a hard crash onto the preoccupied crowd that was ten feet below. No one was seriously hurt, but there was a lot of talk for quite some time about what ended up being the most exciting part of the show that night- of any night, probably.
Unfortunately, sometime in 1972, the theatre caught on fire. Leann Shoemake said that her mom actually signed her out from school to go and watch. The news of it spread quickly, and almost everyone was already there when she and her mom pulled up; out on the sidewalks and in the street- helplessly watching an icon burn away to ashes. It had been abandoned for a while before then, but the loss was still very profound for the whole town.
It was never determined how The Eagle Theatre was destroyed. Some say that a local vagrant got careless with an initially harmless flame meant for a scant, unimpressive little meal- or maybe a cigarette. And now, the memories and the stories are all that remain of the long-lost Central Avenue legend; the place where cowboys and Saturday night monsters and travelling side shows made indelible marks on the imaginations of every man, woman, and child who ever chanced to survey that fantastic, flickering stage. . .

A Graduation to Forget (Though Some Never Will)

mosquito truckI was recalling, a few days ago- since it is coming nigh to that anticipated graduation season, once more- the unfortunate instance of a particular glitch in the ceremony of 1988, on Bowle’s Field.

I was there that evening, along with a thousand or more citizens, friends, and proud parents and family members of that year’s high school graduating class. It was a splendid scene. Ornate urns were filled with ferns and masses of beautiful gladiolas. Birds were reveling in the warm, breezy, late afternoon air. Relatives and guest speakers were clothed in their Sunday best. The graduating seniors were adorned in burgundy-red, tasseled, medal-laden robes. Last minute gifts, and envelopes filled with crisp dollar bills, were imparted. Elaborately embossed programs were bestowed unto the masses. Decorative ribbons were festooned and hung from rose-covered lattice. The Processional was completed. Many kind introductory words were spoken. The school band played the appropriate tunes, and the chorus sang an ancient hymn.

But when it came to the part where the top scholar was giving the much anticipated Valedictory Address, we all could hear what sounded like a low, grating, far away noise slowly encroaching upon our esteemed event. We soon realized that the municipal mosquito truck was to blame. And as it finally approached the football field, the irritating and continual racket of it was almost deafening. In addition to the rude, blaring interruption, it was (sadly) doing the very thing that a mosquito truck is suppose to do- spread large amounts of toxic, bug-killing gases.

The speaker ignored it as best he could and continued with his inspiring words, while the unwelcomed pest control engineer took his spewing, bellowing vehicle at a leisurely pace; down not one, but two roads that were adjacent to the ball field. And the longer the driver loitered, as the sun sank low in the western sky; the more was the volume of the thick poisonous fog that descended upon and spread out across the crowd in their bleachers, as well as the graduates and dignitaries that were positioned on the grassy gridiron of that fledgling June.

The spectral white, deadly mist barely crept above the well manicured turf, and then simply hung there- suspended in the atmosphere for a while. It was nearly ten minutes before the sound of the bug truck dwindled away to the point where it was no longer a distraction- as it searched for other neighborhoods; but the lethal effects lingered.

You would’ve thought that the driver might have eventually caught on, or someone would have rushed to stop him, but neither ever happened. I even heard that the following year gas masks and hazmat suits were issued to all of the loved ones and well-wishers as they entered the stadium. Even so, there would never be another mosquito truck incident. Some say that the driver was secretly bound and gagged in a boiler room somewhere- maybe in the courthouse basement, until that next spring’s ceremony was completed. And in a few short years after, it was decided (by the powers which be) that it would be far less risky to just hold the much respected ceremony indoors. They have been held indoors ever since. . .

Boiled Peanuts

 

boiled peanuts

 

There is an editorial every month, written by Rick Bragg, on the back page of Southern Living magazine. He always does a really great job. This time around he wrote about the differences between people in the north and people in the south- focusing on our love for the wonderful tomato sandwich, versus the lack of this delicious gastronomic experience above the Mason/Dixon line. I agree that they are amazing- with their salty, juicy, drippy, acid/sweet, mayonnaisey greatness, between two slices of fresh white bread- they are definitely yummy. In fact, I love tomato sandwiches so much that I have posted messages on Face Book about them. I even wrote a grandiose and silly tomato sandwich poem one time. Anyhow, after I read the article I got to thinking about other things that are different down here where we live, compared to the northern states- or all of the rest of the states, or maybe even the rest of the world. And that’s when I thought about boiled peanuts, and a funny situation that happened a long, long time ago.
Back when I was just out of high school, there was an Ohio evangelist and his wife whom we scheduled to hold a week long revival at our church. The man had sent a letter to our pastor with the proposal of holding services whenever we would like. They pulled their travel trailer onto a space of lawn between the church and the parsonage, almost a month after our pastor made the arrangements for them to come.

My dad, my sister, and I went to the first installment of the revival the following night, on a Monday. The evangelist delivered a good message, and I think his wife sang and maybe he did chalk art- not sure (I wish that I could remember their names). After the service, we were all standing around, shooting the breeze, and getting to know the friendly, Bible thumping couple a little better. That’s when my dad asked the evangelist if he could bring him and his wife some boiled peanuts tomorrow, as he had just cooked up a fresh batch the night before.
“Boiled PEANUTS! What is THAT? I’ve had them parched and salted and raw, but never BOILED! Really? Are you pulling my leg?”
“Nope,” said dear old Dad. “I’ll bring you some, and I can guarantee that you’ll like them.”
Well, Dad made good on his promise and delivered a ziplock bag full the the salty, runny, wondrous Southern treats to them the next morning- my dad standing on the thin iron steps of the home on wheels as the evangelist stood at the open door; accepting the gift with much apprehension, but willing to try them, at least. They talked there for a few minutes at that same door (“I know you’re gonna like ’em. Let me know what you and your wife think.”), smiled and said their thank-yous and goodbyes, and then Dad was on his way.
That night at the revival, a few minutes before things got started, Dad was anxious to see how well the two evangelists had enjoyed the new experience. He just knew they had been crazy over something so tasty.
“Well. . . they weren’t the best things that I ever had, but I guess they were alright,” the evangelist said, trying to sound half-way positive. “They were a little crunchier than I had expected. In fact, they were a lot crunchier that I had expected.”
“Crunchy? What do you mean?” asked my dad.
“Well, when I tried them, the shells were harder to eat than I thought they would be. I tried about three or four, but they just didn’t get any better.”
Yes, the evangelist had consumed the boiled peanuts whole. Dad did not think to fully explain when he presented them earlier that same day. He thought it was obvious not to eat the shells, I guess.
“No. No. No. You have to crack them open with your teeth and only eat the part that’s on the inside,” Dad told him.
He never could convince the evangelist to try them again the right way. His wife didn’t even try them the first time- she was basically repulsed by the notion.
But, at least Dad attempted to win them over to the idea. Sometimes you just can’t convert the ignorant with the truth. Hopefully, the evangelist made a convert or two. . . hopefully.

Adventures with Dad

cattle

Not too long ago, the family was sitting around a good supper table, eating a wonderful fried chicken and macaroni dinner, and remembering tales from the past. During the passing around of some huckleberry doobie, I reminded my dad about the time that I made him jump just a little, and a few other adventures. . . .

It happened way back in the seventies when I was in junior high school.  Dad and I were in a local store called Strickland’s Hardware. Dad was looking at some insulators at the electric fence section, right before we were leaving. I stealthily sneaked up behind him and tapped him on his backside, with a cattle prod that I found for sale on a shelf one row over- just for laughs. The problem was I did not know that the batteries were installed in the device. WHY WOULD THEY HAVE HAD THAT IN THERE?!!!! Well sir, Dad came up off of the floor about three inches and let out a good, little yell. Meanwhile, I headed back for the next aisle over, just knowing that MY backside’s fate was sealed. . . And after we got through laughing at the re-telling of it, my sister said that she’d bet money it was the only time Dad ever cussed. I said that it was a good test of his Christianity that he didn’t. Dad said, “If it ain’t in ya, it won’t come outta ya.” Hilarious!
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My father would occasionally take me to the cattle auction in Marianna, when I was a kid. Cattle auctions are usually set up in a large, tall room; with a semi-circular configuration of bleachers, set on very steep rows. If you are sitting at the very top (or anywhere below the top row, for that matter) you can look down toward the front and see the arena where the cows are brought in.
The auctioneer is bellowing out the bids. The individual cows that come through are bellowing out their aggravation. And the bidders in the crowd are actively indicating their pleasure; with a holler, or a raised index finger accompanied by a flick of the wrist.
As they come through, it is very interesting to see what each of the different livestock looks like, to watch their body language, and to notice how much money they end up going for.
But the best and coolest thing of all is what an occasional cow will do when he or she gets a little feisty. You see, every now and then a particular cow will jump, and carry on, and kick up its heels. (Cattle can be quite quick and athletic when agitated.) And if one decides to really kick up its heels, you just might get “lucky” enough to hear and see what comes out of the business end of a bovine go flying through the air- at an impressive loft and velocity. In fact, some cows can make it go all the way up to the top row.
Customers who frequent these venues often have to duck or shift in their seats to keep from getting hit with the stuff, but they react to this unusual occurrence with little or no emotion- apparently they are use to it. Even so, many of those who are regulars come prepared, utilizing raincoats and umbrellas. The after effects are here and there on the walls, and the seats, and sometimes the clothes and umbrellas and raincoats of the patrons.
Even to this day, it is utterly thrilling for me to attend one of these events. And I will admit that even though I love the atmosphere, and the cows, and the social aspect, and even the smells; the fresh, steamy, half-liquid, flying patties are the exciting highlight. It is AWESOME! (haha)
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One summer morning when I was probably just out of fourth grade, I went with Dad to take some diesel to the Overholt’s sand pit, where they lived off of Mason Road. My dad had a bulk plant and gas station back in the early 1970’s, and I would hang out with him on many-a-day, and do a little work with him. (I wasn’t into work nearly as much back then as I am now.) Anyhow, there was a pretty good-sized pond that had formed over time at the pit, as they regularly pumped out the sand- probably from an old creek bed to start with.
So, after we arrived and Dad hooked up the nozzle, he and I walked over to where the men were standing near this pond. Leroy Overholt, the owner, was there, and was casually playing with the moisture in a handful of white sand. He looked at me and said, “Here son, I want to show you something.”
He walked a few steps toward me, pulled open my left front pocket, and shoved that huge handful of wet sand- way deep down into said pocket. “Happy Birthday!” Mr. Overholt, my dad, and all the rest of the guys that were there standing around got a big laugh out of that one. Only one of us wasn’t laughing. The one not laughing had bad little thoughts going through his mind.
Then a few months later, Mr. Overholt walked into my dad’s Texaco station in town, asking to borrow a gas can, so that he could put a little gasoline in it. He had run out of gas in his truck just up the road. I was there that day, hanging out with my dad again (mainly for the hope of some ice cream- regularly begging and bugging him for some money, so I could go next door to the local Dairy Keen- I use to love their chocolate nut sundaes). So, I walked up to Leroy Overholt while he was asking Dad about the gas can, and said- “You want something to put some gas in? Well, why don’t you just put it in your pocket?”  To that he replied, with a tinge of amusement in his voice, “Son, you don’t have to hold a grudge for THAT long!” If only I would have had a cattle prod handy that day. . .

A Bee Goes to Church

shocked-look

My nephew was recently given a going away party by one of his former high school teachers, as he will soon be attending the University of Oxford for his masters degree. The send-off, held in an old, well-maintained log cabin in a historical part of town, was attended by many of the family members and familiar friends that have always been a part of our small, friendly community. There were pictures from the past on the tables and the stony hearth; lots of smiles and laughter, delicious confections, plenty of nostalgic atmosphere, and sentimental stories told by teachers who helped to influence Casey’s life during all of his growing-up years. Thinking back to his past made me remember an unusual situation that happened one Halloween night- long, long ago. . .

My sister pulled into the parking lot of her church, to take in some of that night’s much anticipated fall festival; after a somewhat brief time of trick-or-treating with her son, Casey, when he was three years old. (She had earlier taken off his awkward and bulky little bumble bee suit, so that she could put him in his child seat.) Casey’s mom got out and opened the back door of the car, unhooked her cute little tyke from his safety device, and hurriedly dressed him- so that they wouldn’t miss any more of the festivities than they already had. She lovingly held his tiny hand as they walked down the sidewalk and through the side door of the church- past many people- in order to eventually make it to the activity building, where a large and mirthful crowd was gathered inside for fun and games.

Casey’s bumble bee costume was a fat, round orb, with black-and-yellow stripes, which covered him from his little neck down to the top of his two little legs. It had a black, cone-shaped stinger about a foot long that stuck out in the back where his little bottom was; as well as little black leggings, little black shoes, long black sleeves covering his two little arms, and two cute little antennae that stood straight up on the top of his cute little head. His chubby little cheeks were painted with a couple of rosy circles, along with a  little black bee nose. He carried his tiny little pumpkin bucket, full of candy, as he bounced alongside his mom.

My sister soon started to notice that she and her son were getting many odd stares, concerned looks, and awkward smiles- even a few snickers- as they moved through the meandering church crowd toward the activity building. She shook several hands along the way and said the usual pleasantries; but everyone she met and spoke with seemed to make a point not to look down at the bee. Then, when the two finally got inside the gym where the games (and even more people) were, they met the pastor’s wife walking toward them, as she carried in her arms an overstuffed box-full of unneeded, tangled streamers. Her mouth dropped as she stopped dead in her tracks. “What is he suppose to be?”she asked, with a bit of uncomfortable surprise in her voice.

“A bee,” said my sister, thinking it was obvious.

“Really?” was the confused and concerned reply from the wife of her pastor.

Casey’s mom then looked down at the little person whose hand she held. She immediately reacted with shock at what she saw. For you see, in the earlier darkness out in the parking lot, when she rushed and struggled to cram the bee suit over her son’s head, and stick his arms and legs through, she had inadvertently put the darn thing on backwards. The unfortunate and unforgettable result was that she’d unknowingly just paraded her son through the church, in front of hundreds of people; with his disproportionately long bee stinger sticking straight out in front, instead of the back where it was suppose to be! Picture it- quite a disturbing (albeit amusing) image at a church fall festival. Obviously, the little bee made a big impression that night.

Casey has been making big impressions ever since, ones that are more meaningful than what an ill-positioned stinger could ever do. His academic achievements are second to none. He has a creatively fertile mind. He has a terrific and respected work ethic. He has a fun-loving, caring personality.

He’ll be missed by all that know him, for the year that he will be gone away to England. Sometimes it just has to be that way, when you’re getting trained to make a difference- a little hometown bee, taking on the world. . .

 

 

Pets. . .

When we were kchincillasids, we lived on the outskirts of a small town in the panhandle of Florida. We rescued/captured/adopted/purchased and kept all types of animals, on and off, the whole time we lived there- turtles that came into the yard from the woods after a hard rain, guinea pigs, ordinary cats and dogs, salamanders from the next door neighbor’s back property, horses and Shetland ponies, an occasional fattening steer, dominecker chickens, flying squirrels, aquarium fish, parakeets, and even chinchillas one time. The pair of parakeets squawked and chirped and used their wings to unmaliciously (but aggravatingly) fling their food and poop continuously all over the dining room floor, over which their cage was suspended from a stand. They did not last more than three or four days before they were returned to the local Seed and Feed where we bought them. And dad’s effort to raise chinchillas ended after their amazing fur began to fall out- only a few days into that venture. We mistakenly kept them in the only un-airconditioned room in the house (the foyer) for about a week, after they arrived via courier. They stank too much to bring into the main part of the house where it was cooler. We did not know then that they had to be kept continuously cool, like in their native Andes mountain region. Obviously, mangy looking chinchillas are not desirable to the fur industry. So, they too, went the way of the parakeets. But most of our childhood experiences with pets were awesome, and made some great memories, and helped to make us more responsible people. Having animals around is definitely a good thing.

Just a Little Worried

worried boy

I was often upset by a few silly, recurring things as a young child. When the back of my right sock would work its way down into my shoe below my ankle- that bothered me fairly persistently. We called it “your shoes eating your socks.” I would also throw-up, get the hiccups, and twist my ankles a lot back then. (My ankles would twist- just casually walking, sometimes.) All of those things aggravated me pretty regularly, but there were at least a couple of issues that really messed with my head.

Homemade milkshakes worried me when I was about six years old. I would tip the tumbler toward my open mouth to get the last clump of ice cream that was stuck in the bottom. But it would stay there, even if I jiggled the glass. (I always looked into the tall, upturned glass when this would happen, for some reason.) Then, with no warning, the ice cream would loosen; and I would see it suddenly rush toward my face, like a frozen vanilla avalanche in a cup.  I guess I panicked because I thought it was going to shoot down my throat and strangle me. I could imagine the back of the inside of my mouth getting packed with the frozen mass, not allowing me to breathe- death by milkshake asphyxiation! But one day when I was about eight, something told me to just let it come and nothing bad would happen.

Another thing that bothered me- actually scared me on a very deep level during that time- was any news story about our troops overseas involved  with guerilla warfare. My ears heard “gorilla.” I was immediately terror-stricken every time a related story came on the TV, thinking that thousands of vicious, hairy, combat-trained primates might one day be brought to our shores to plow us down with their M16s, and sling us around like luggage, and rip our limbs off. I was in the fifth grade when I came to believe that they were only human soldiers who fought with the savagery  of gorillas, and not actual gorillas. But it was not until I was in my late twenties that I read a newspaper article, where I saw the word in print for the first time- guerilla. I subsequently looked up the meaning to discover that the word has nothing to do with any kind of ape.

It’s funny in a way, when you get to be an adult, that the things from the far away past which caused grief are hardly, if ever, even an issue anymore. My socks have not once worked their way down inside the backs of my shoes since I have been grown. I never get hiccups or throw-up anymore. And I don’t think that I have twisted my ankle since I was a kid, either. Even so, there are other more serious, more real things that replace any anguish over a bunch of guerilla gorillas or childhood milkshake clumps. Sometimes, I think I would trade grown-up troubles for the silly, naive fears of my youth. I wonder if one day, my current worries won’t seem so big, either. Maybe, they too, won’t even exist anymore. . . some day. . .