Sunday, August 23, 2009

No.41: Television Viewing in Days Gone By

Imagine telling someone in the 1950s that we would one day hang flat-screen television sets (color, of course) on the wall. Such an idea would have been totally incomprehensible in an era when televisions were huge console models, built to accommodate picture tubes that were two and a half feet in length. And of course, they were almost all black and white.
Unlike modern televisions with buttons and digital displays, television sets in the 50s had knobs for everything. Turn a knob and the set clicked and came on. Of course you had to wait for the picture tube to warm up before you could see anything. There was another knob that allowed you to select a channel – from 2 to 13. And you had to turn past several channels for which there were no stations. Before sitting down, you waited for the picture to come on to see if you needed to adjust the vertical or horizontal hold knobs. Nothing was more aggravating than trying to watch a TV whose picture was rolling. Television viewing was a different proposition in those days.
Unless you had cable, you fiddled with the rabbit ears every time you changed channels, or you had to send someone outside to turn the antenna. It might even require a third person to relay the instructions out the window or door – “… turn it a little bit more. No that's too far.”
When a television went irreconcilably on the blink, you called a TV repairman who would come to your house and bring a wondrous “tube caddy” full of hundreds of replacement vacuum tubes. He would pull the set away from the wall and take the back off, then patiently try one tube after another until he found the one that needed to be replaced. Bill Wiggins was the man who rescued our television set from time to time. Nowadays, televisions almost never need adjustments, other than the volume, and we are prone to replace a TV if it gives us too much trouble. Not in those days.
Stan Byrd told me that his father had one of the original television remote control devices.
“Stan, why don’t we see what’s on Channel 13?”
We had one of those, too.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

No.40: A Driving Lesson

A red Volkswagen Beetle similar to the one in the following story

When I was growing up automatic transmissions were pretty common, but from time to time my dad would buy a car with a manual transmission. I remember sitting in the backseat when my dad tried to teach my older siblings how to drive a straight shift. That old car bucked like an unbroken stallion in a bad mood as they tried to coordinate the clutch and accelerator. Of course the ultimate embarrassment to the novice driver was to have to motion for other drivers to come around when you came to a stop on an incline. Having witnessed their frustrations, I never wanted to try to learn to drive a straight shift until I was a licensed driver.

When I got my license, we had a 1965 Ford Galaxie with an automatic transmission and a 1964 Mercury Comet with a three-speed-on-the-column stick. I immediately saw the advantage of having more than one car I could borrow, so I took that old Comet out one afternoon, by myself, and drove around and around in the neighborhood. I practiced starting in first gear on a flat surface, then on an incline until I was pretty comfortable. I learned to clutch when I slowed down and how to downshift as I turned corners. I actually got good enough that I was then able to drive in traffic in one self-taught lesson where I probably burned 50 cents worth of gas. (Gas was pretty cheap in those days, but as I think about it, 50 cents was probably harder to come by, too.)

Later I was in the high school gym one afternoon after school, and Coach Cheney asked me if I would pick up something for him at the hardware store. As was often the case, I didn’t have a car that day, so he offered me the keys to his car, saying: “You do know how to drive a stick shift, don’t you?” I was profoundly glad that I was able to assure him of my driving prowess. Now everyone in school knew Coach Cheney drove the old red Volkswagen Beetle that was parked in front of the school, so I didn’t have to ask him which car was his. When I got in the car, the first thing I realized was that the stick was not on the column; it was in the floor. Not a problem. I depressed the clutch and started the car. Everyone knows you park a car with the gear in reverse, so I eased off on the clutch. Other than the embarrassing sound of the motor revving, nothing happened. He had parked it in neutral with the parking brake on. I released the break and shifted into reverse or, at least what I thought was reverse. When I let off on the clutch and eased down on the accelerator a little, the car bounced off the curb in front of me. I tried again, but I couldn’t seem to find reverse. The diagram on top of the gear shift was completely worn off, so there was no help there. I didn’t want to have to go back in the gym and ask Coach Cheney where reverse was, especially since he had been sitting with a bunch of other coaches when I left him. So I kept working with it until, much to my relief, I finally found reverse. I backed down off the curb where I was by this time and completed my hardware errand without further complications.

The lesson I learned that day was that pride and ignorance are a bad combination.

Friday, July 3, 2009

No.39: Public School Music

"Apples with rosy cheeks grow in September.
Also the golden rod so tall and slender…"

These were the opening lines, and really all I remember, of a song we learned in public school music. Our teacher was the young and lovely Miss Betty Duvall who made everyone want to learn, just to please her. Joyner shared Miss Duvall with the other elementary schools, so we only had music about once a week. We met in the auditorium, sitting on the first three rows nearest the piano. Some songs were seasonal like “Little Jackie Jack Frost,” and others were traditional like “The Erie Canal” and “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain” and “Clementine.” We learned basic music notation and rhythm, all of which was a lot easier for the girls and the few boys who took piano lessons. But mostly we just sang and sang. Sometimes we practiced songs for a play we would perform in the auditorium for the rest of the school and a handful of parents.

And then one day when we were in the fifth grade Miss Duvall passed out our flutophones, magically simple instruments that made virtuosos out of even the most musically challenged of us. Each flutophone was packaged in its own box so you could be sure no one else had ever had it in his mouth. The flutophone had seven holes along the top that you played with the first three fingers of your left and right hands and the little finger of your right hand. The instrument rested on your two thumbs, and the left thumb played the hole on the bottom side of the instrument. Cover the hole completely and you made beautiful music that could charm a cobra out of a basket; otherwise you made a screech that made everyone around you wince. Over and over we practiced “Lightly Row” and “Mary Had A Little Lamb,” until even the worst of us had some mastery of the instrument.

The only time I remember our ever playing them in public was in our fifth grade graduation exercises when we joined with the other fifth grade class in a mass flutophone orchestra. “Lightly row, lightly row; o’er the shining waves we go …” We were magnificent, or at least that’s the way I choose to remember it.

Fifth grade graduation at Joyner, May 1963
To recall the sound of a flutophone concert, try the following link:
(We were much better.)

No.38: Summer Nights

Step outside after dark this time of year in the deep South and you will be greeted by a wall of heat and humidity. I walked out of the air conditioned comfort of the house the other night and my bifocals fogged over, blinding me enough that I paid attention to the sounds of a Mississippi summer night. On a low and nearby level, I heard crickets rubbing their hind legs together or whatever it is that they do to make that chirping sound. On a high and not so nearby level, I heard communities of noisy locusts competing in the tops of various trees. When my glasses cleared the scene was completed with a visual element – the faint yellow lights that blinked on and off across the yard. These sights and sounds carried me back to a time when central air conditioning was unheard of, when our house was cooled by open windows and an attic fan, and when children found the outdoors a much more inviting playground than today’s children can imagine.

Sometimes we gazed heavenward, picking out the one or two most familiar constellations and trying to distinguish between the blinking lights of stars and constant lights of planets. Sometimes we played hide-and-seek (or hide-and-go-seek). In the dark that was a much more challenging game. And often we chased those faint little yellow lights that much of the world calls fireflies. We called them lightning bugs, or more exactly, lightnin’ bugs. The only equipment you needed was a jar with holes punched in the lid. The first lightning bug was easy to catch. You looked for one silhouetted against the night sky or you simply waited for one to express himself with light, scooped him into the jar, and clamped the lid on. Thereafter, the challenge was much greater – trying to catch another one or two or three without losing your earlier captives. A jarful of bugs became a dim lantern of light. These hunts might continue long into the night, sometimes ending with a retreat into the house when a mosquito truck rounded the corner and started down the street, leaving behind a foul-smelling toxic cloud. I’ve heard of kids who chased after the mosquito truck on foot or on bicycles, but I was never that adventurous, or that crazy.

Later, in bed, you realized the price you paid for such an evening of bliss – mosquito bites.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

No.37: Lunchtime at Joyner

I remember like it was yesterday standing in line in the lunchroom at Joyner. While most of my classmates had a lunch ticket in their hands, I always had a quarter. My mother never wanted to pay for lunches in advance on Monday morning. Mrs. Tucker, the lunchroom manager, stood halfway down the north wall, waiting to take our tickets – or quarters. I always asked Mrs. Tucker what we were having, and she took great pleasure in describing the day’s fare. One day she told me: “It don’t look good, but it eats good.” I’m sure it didn’t look good. Most days it didn’t.

After passing Mrs. Tucker, we picked up a tray and moved to the milk cooler where a student cafeteria helper put a napkin, a straw, and a red, half-pint carton of Barber’s milk on our tray. (You could only get chocolate milk at morning recess.) The line then crawled in the direction of the serving windows where an adult cafeteria worker put a plate of food on our trays, and then we disbursed in the direction of the long rows of lunch tables. There was some strategy involved in getting to sit by your friends. It had to do with how you lined up, how fast you walked after you got your food, and which side of the long tables you went down. If you weren’t careful, you might have to sit next to girls. Of course you might try to work it out for a friend to save you a seat, but seat-saving was not really enforceable.

I remember we always had fish sticks on Friday, but other than that there was no discernable pattern to what we ate. Spaghetti days and hamburger days were good days, but they seemed few and far between. A lot of days we had an unrecognizable and therefore unnamed entrĂ©e we referred to as “square meat.” With square meat we might have English peas and mashed potatoes or rice. I recall how the peas were much larger and paler than the ones my mother served at home, so I never could eat them. Some of my classmates, however, enjoyed mixing them with the mashed potatoes, but I found that a disgusting way to ruin good potatoes. It is the rice I remember best. It was served with an ice cream scoop, and it was so gummy it retained the shape of the scoop, an unappetizing little mound of gelatinous goop.

“Hey. Are you going to eat your rice? I’ll trade you my square meat for your rice.”

Such was the trading that went on back and forth along and across the lunch tables. The kids that traded for rice were the ones who had the curious practice of putting spoonfuls of sugar on the rice. Since most of us did not subscribe to that practice, the rice-eaters could end up with a large mound of the stuff on their plates. And they usually didn’t even have to give away their square meat. The kids that really made out were the ones who could eat turnip greens. They could always count on having all they wanted.

Because I never did so, the kids I always envied were the ones who brought their lunch, sometimes in a paper bag, but most often in a lunch box. Lunch boxes were a part of the appeal of bringing your own lunch. The little tin boxes with a clasp and handle on the business side of the box were decorated with little murals to gladden the young heart. Besides the Lone Ranger box pictured above, they might have a Roy Rogers or a Yogi Bear motif that carried over to the little thermos clamped to the inside wall of the box. Of course the real appeal of the lunch box was the non-regulation food they contained – a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, some Cheetos, and Hostess Cupcakes or Twinkies. If that weren’t enough, the lunch box set nearly incited a riot by pouring iced tea or Kool-Aid from the thermos into the cup that was also the lid to the thermos. A kid that was willing to give up one of his cupcakes could get a whole plate full of sugar-sprinkled rice.

The final lunch alternative for the kids who lived closest to the school was to go home for lunch. Even though I lived close enough to go home, I usually didn’t. After all, the time it took to get home and back reduced or eliminated your playground time. I do remember going home several times in October 1959 when my White Sox were in the World Series. I was a big fan of Nellie Fox and Luis Aparicio, so I ran all the way home and ate lunch in front of the TV, then ran back to the school just before the bell called everyone in from the playground.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

No.36: Kindergarten at Joyner -- Mrs. Megginson's Morning Class

I’ve been wearing bifocals for years, and I’ve never had the first problem adapting to them. Lots of folks do, however. For many it is a nuisance to have to think about which lens to look through: nearsighted correction or farsighted correction. My eyes are so bad that they naturally seek out the right correction.
What do you see when you look at this picture of Mrs. Megginson’s 1957 morning kindergarten class at Joyner? (She also had an afternoon class.) Do you see a bunch of little kids, some looking a little happier than others; or do you see an artist, an architect, an airline pilot, a lawyer, a doctor, a CPA, at least three school teachers, and the guy that makes the best barbecue in Tupelo? I suppose what you see depends on which lens you are looking through. I’m glad Mrs. Megginson, like so many of the other good teachers I had over the years, was able to see through both lenses.
By the way, the little boy in the fringed cowboy shirt writes this blog.

No.35: Long's Laundry

Entry No. 18 on Fair Day mentioned the memorable Long's Laundry sign on the corner of Main Street and the little street that led to the fairgrounds years ago. After dark this neon sign was a thing of beauty as the washerwoman's arms moved back and forth, scrubbing her clothes on the washboard propped inside her washtub.
I assume the sign came down when the laundry closed. The building was one of several that were demolished when the City developed the new Fairpark District. See the link in Entry No. 18 for more information on that development.
Thanks to Stan Byrd for finding this photograph of the old sign. It came from the "Centennial Edition" of the old "See Tupelo" publication.

Monday, June 15, 2009

No.34: Elementary School Jobs

A fifth grade was added at Joyner after my class completed the fourth grade. Prior to that time, Joyner students moved on to Milam Junior High for the fifth grade. We were saddened by not getting to move on to Milam, but we did have the opportunity to be the big kids at Joyner for two years. That meant that we got to serve two years in those important jobs that were reserved for the oldest and most responsible kids.
I don’t think I was alone in thinking it was a huge treat to get to work in the school store in the morning before school, selling pencils, writing tablets, and notebook paper, and especially getting to make change. The school store was just a small table in the doorway of the supply closet in the principal’s office, but it was a real retail experience to us.
Another important job was working in the school’s small library. Our job was to remove the book card and date stamp it and the little slip of paper inside the book cover. And of course we got to collect fines for overdue books.
Those were important jobs and very desirable in cold weather, but the real prestige jobs were the outside jobs. Every morning, weather permitting of course, the chosen two who served on the flag patrol solemnly unfolded the flag, taking care not to let it touch the ground. They then connected the snap hooks through the flag’s grommets and ran the flag up the pole that stood in front of the school. One patrol member raised the flag and other stood at attention and saluted. I suppose, though I don’t remember, the procedure was repeated in reverse at the end of the school day.
To be sure, flag patrol was an important and prestigious job, but the job that everyone looked forward to was serving on the safety patrol. First of all, you got to wear that white adjustable belt that ran diagonally across the chest and hooked around the waist with an impressive metallic clink. That belt with its tin badge conferred authority on the wearer, at least in his or her mind and in the minds of the kindergarteners and first graders. Two patrol members stood at posts near the street in front of the school and opened car doors for little kids whose moms brought them to school, all the while scanning the area like a Secret Service agent to make sure kids stayed on the sidewalks and out of the way of cars. The third patrol member was posted on the corner of Joyner and the little street that ran between the school and City Park, all the way to the Rockwell Youth Center. Children who walked to school from the neighborhoods in that direction had to wait for the patrol member to wade out into the crosswalk with his “Stop” flag and hold back the raging traffic. Of course there never was very much traffic on that little side street. The real traffic on Joyner was controlled by the smiling crossing guard in her blue police uniform. Ironically, her name was Mrs. Blue.
I don’t know why my mother saved my safety patrol certificate, but I may be the only person of my generation who can document that I served in that revered corps. I display it proudly at the top of this entry.

Friday, June 5, 2009

No.33: The Battle of Tupelo

The Enemy
I remember my dad coming home from work in the middle of the day once in the early 1960s. It had to have been in the summer because I was at home. After he quickly changed clothes, he asked if I wanted to go with him to the co-op. Now I might have heard of a co-op, but I’d certainly never been there, and I’m not sure he had either. Nevertheless, I always enjoyed it when he asked me to go somewhere with him, so off we went. On the way to the co-op he filled me in on something that to my young imagination sounded like a real adventure. An infestation of armyworms was moving through the neighborhoods of Tupelo, devouring lawns as they went. We were going to the co-op to pick up some poison, a sprayer, and an extra length of garden hose. People all over Tupelo were preparing their defenses against the invading worm. These were armyworms and we were going to war.
The actual battle wasn’t nearly as exciting as I had imagined. We sprayed the lawn with the poison and even went to several neighbors’ yards and helped them. And we never saw the first sign of an armyworm anywhere near our neighborhood. I was disappointed then, but now I realize the best wars are the ones that never happen.

Monday, June 1, 2009

No.32: Gum Wrapper Chains

Did you ever make one of these woven gum wrapper chains? They were a pretty big item in Tupelo at least once or twice that I remember. Of course ours were usually made with Wrigley flavors -- Juicy Fruit, Spearmint, and Doublemint. If you were going to make a really long chain, you had to chew a lot of gum, or you had to have a lot of friends who didn't know how to make a chain. They were everywhere.
Chewing gum in school was a serious offense in our day, and the underside of every desk was usually encrusted with an accumulation of nasty, dried-up gum from earlier generations of rule-flouters. Other significant offenses were talking in class, running in the hall, or cutting in line at the water fountain.
Teachers were allowed to use corporal punishment to keep us in line - and often did. The most common instruments of shame in the elementary grades were bolo paddles and rulers. In second grade, Mrs. Moore favored a yard stick. That was right after she got red in the face and threatened: "If you don't quit talking, I'm going to jerk your arm off and hit you over the head with the bloody end." This charming hyperbole was repeated often, and we understood the humor in which she said it.
One of the most serious threats for bad behavior was that it would affect your "citizenship grade." We were told that future employers would be every bit as concerned about our citizenship grades as our academic grades. When they really wanted to ramp up the pressure, teachers scared us by telling us our bad behavior would forever be recorded in our "Permanent Record." It's amazing to think that somewhere out there, and probably searchable with Google, is a little dossier on me that notes how many times I was caught chewing gum in school or running in the hall.
(A special thanks to Eddie and Elna for reminding me about citizenship grades and the Permanent Record.)

Sunday, May 31, 2009

No.31: Elementary School Recess

“Not-it...Not-it... Not-it...”
Almost before we got out of the door at recess, we sang out the ritual start of our games of chase. It may have been “tag” to most of the rest of the world, but to us it was “chase.”
“I called not-it.”
“No, you didn’t.”
And on and on it went until someone accepted the fact that he was indeed “it.”
”Only one person ‘on base’ at a time” and other rules were subject to modification in mid-game, depending on who could gather the most support and who could yell the loudest. A game of chase could last an entire recess, even if it weren’t for the inevitable arguing that might suspend the game at any point.
Chase was the most common game we played at recess, but sometimes we played a game we called "rough house," and rough it was. In this every-man-for-himself version of football, scraped knees and tears were the norm. The game began with someone punting a football into a crowd of everyone else. The person who came down with the ball took off running in the direction of the designated goal line while everyone else tried to tackle him. After he was brought down, he turned with his back to the masses and threw the ball over his head and the chaos continued. Small, quick guys might stay upright for a while by bobbing and weaving through the throng. Or sometimes a really big guy would move the ball forward with smaller guys dangling from his shoulders, waist and legs. Nobody made textbook tackles in this form of disorganized mayhem. Instead, the common practice was to stick out a foot and trip the unwary runner as he went by the tripper. I’m not sure how we avoided serious injury in such a game.
When we came in from recess, our classrooms were not air conditioned, so the teacher would urge us to be still and put our heads down on our desks while she read a story to us, shouting above the noise of several ineffective box fans that merely stirred the hot air. I still remember how sweaty arms stuck to a desktop when we were finally told we could raise our heads.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

No.30: The Dreaded Needle

Polio had been around a long time before we were born. A serious outbreak occurred in 1950, however, followed by an even more serious outbreak in 1952. For years the March of Dimes had funded research for a vaccine that would eradicate this plague of childhood. Finally in 1955, Jonas Salk announced a vaccine that he believed would do just that, and children all over the country began to be vaccinated against polio. Seven years later, Albert Sabin introduced an even more effective oral polio vaccine, and we all lined up to receive the vaccine-coated sugar cube that would eventually bring an end to polio.

I suppose one of the most common fears and dreads of childhood was the shot needle. It seems that almost every time you turned around, sometimes literally, someone wanted to give you a shot – in the arm or, even worse, in the hip. There were shots that felt like you had been kicked by a mule, and there were others that made you feel like you couldn’t lift your arm the next day. I remember the Health Department nurse came to the school from time to time to give shots to kids who had not already had theirs. The nurse had a deep voice and a hairy upper lip, and she was all business. We stood in a long line, waiting our turn and watching as she took boys and girls behind the screen to give them a shot. I remember hoping she would believe me when I told her that I got my shots at the doctor’s office.

The most unusual inoculation was the smallpox vaccination. They told you not to worry because it would feel like a chicken pecking your arm. I was skeptical because I’d never had a chicken peck my arm, and I wasn’t sure how that would feel. Indeed, it was not as painful as other shots. On the other hand, if it “took” as they said, an ugly scab developed on your arm and lingered for days. Everyone’s fear was that they would somehow knock the scab off. I remember seeing a friend come to school with his vaccination covered by the bottom part of a Dixie Cup taped to his arm with adhesive tape. When our scabs finally fell off on their own, we were left with permanent scars that marked us as safe from smallpox.

For a PBS American Experience documentary on what the world was like when polio was a major concern, visit the following:

No.29: Penmanship

Learning to write has never been easy. It all began for my generation with having the right supplies. Little fingers have to learn to manipulate a pencil, a skill that is apparently unnatural. First graders were supposed to overcome this unnaturalness with oversized pencils the size of a grown man’s index finger. The other necessary supply item was lined tablet paper. In the first grade, our tablet paper was short and wide, with solid lines about an inch apart and a dotted line in the middle. This tablet paper had a rag content that was roughly the equivalent of a cheap coloring book. The lead in those big pencils was so soft it quickly wore down to a rounded nub that made accuracy even more difficult – not to mention leaving an ugly smear when we dragged our sweaty little hands across the page. Thank goodness I wasn’t left-handed.

They say practice makes perfect, so we practiced our letters over and over, first tracing over the dotted outlines of letters in worksheets, then progressing to filling lines of our tablets with “Aa” then “Bb” and so on. With great effort we reproduced the letters as they appeared on the cards displayed above the blackboard. And when at last we began to conquer the art of writing, we were allowed to use regular pencils and the lines on the tablet paper were closer together. Somewhere along the way, we took up the art of cursive writing with its loops and swirls, all done at just the right angle.

To whatever degree we may have mastered penmanship in the lower grades, it went to pot in high school and college when note-taking put a premium on speed. Nowadays, computer use has completely destroyed the art of penmanship.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

No.28: The Ice House

The ice house isn't much to look at now, but then it never did look as special as it was.

Today we buy our ice in plastic bags at convenience stores all over town. Back in the day, Tupelo residents visited the ice house on the south end of Broadway and bought ice in double-walled brown paper bags. The ice house crew used huge tongs to drop blocks of ice into the crusher. The crushed ice emptied through a spout into the bags. I remember the special joy of visiting the ice house with my dad and riding home sitting on the 50 pound bag. We bought ice to make hand-cranked freezer ice cream. Of course, the ice cream was the real treat.

No.27: Top Dawg Radio

When I found this April 1965 hit chart on EBay the other day, it led to some serious eye strain and some research to figure out the Top 10 on this random date. First of all, notice the DJs pictured on the left. I can make out Charlie Brewer, Wayne Coleman, and Dave Hall. Maybe someone else will recognize some of the others. Nevertheless, let's countdown the hits:

Coming in at No. 10, Gary Lewis and the Playboys with Count Me In.

Our No. 9 hit of the week is The Race Is On by Jack Jones.

This week's No. 8 hit, Herman's Hermits singing Silhouettes.

You're listening to WTUP, Top Dawg Radio 1490 in Tupelo. Stay tuned as we count down the hits ...

Put those hands together and join us for No. 7, The Clapping Song by Shirley Ellis.

Still hanging in there at No. 6, The Supremes sing Stop In the Name of Love.

We'll be back with the top five songs in the land after these words from our sponsor ...

On the rise at No. 5, Marvin Gaye sings I'll Be Doggone.

Now The Kinks sing the No. 4 song in the land, Tired of Waiting for You.

This week's No. 3 hit, I'm Telling You Now by Freddie and the Dreamers.

The lovely Petula Clark sings this week's No. 2 hit, I Know A Place.

And now, the No. 1 song in the land: Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders doing The Game of Love.

Looking back on what were the top songs for a random week in 1965 is instructive. You won't remember some or most of these songs. And you won't understand how several of them could have ever been top songs. But for one ordinary week in our ordinary lives, they were the best. Our memories play tricks on us. We remember the highlights of our lives, and the ordinary weeks are just a blur.

Friday, May 15, 2009

No.26: Haircuts, Shoe Shines, and 6 Cent Cokes

This picture reminds me of the Coke machine at the barber shop where I went for hair cuts as a child. The Broadway Barbershop had a machine like this one that dispensed 6 ½ ounce bottles of Coke for 6 cents. Deposit a nickel and a penny, turn the crank, and a classic green, contoured glass bottle tumbled noisily down the innards of the machine to the little knee-level door below. The purchaser removed the cork-lined bottle cap with the machine’s built-in opener, releasing a little puff of gas and the familiar pop/sigh sound, accompanied by the clink of the bottle cap hitting the inside the collection box.
My barbershop was located below street level on Broadway, just south of Main Street and under what was then Pryor’s. Otis Roberts and three other barbers in white coats greeted patrons as they came through the door. If a minister came into the shop, the first barber who recognized him as a man of the cloth would sing out, “Hey, Preacher.” Years later I came to understand that this was the universal signal to barbers and patrons alike to be careful what they said. As a young child, however, I was oblivious to this subtlety and to the kind of conversation that made it necessary.
While we waited our turn in the barber chair, we could flip through the worn-out pages of an ancient Field and Stream magazine or watch the shoeshine man work his magic on the shoes of a customer seated high in his chair. The shoeshine man applied the polish and rubbed it in with his bare hands, and I marveled as I watched him brush shoes, first with one hand, and then toss the brush expertly into his other hand and continue on the other side. Then he would do the part I liked best – the final buffing and popping with a shoeshine rag. I never could make a rag pop the way the shoeshine man did. I can still remember the faint smell of shoe polish mingled with the more predominant odors of lanolin and talcum powder in that barbershop.
“Next,” the barber would say. Sometimes the insurance salesman from the office next door would pass his turn to the next person, saying, “I’m not in a hurry.” Indeed he must not have been because he always seemed to be there when I went for a haircut.
When I was a young child, the barber always put a board across the arms of the chair to elevate me to the proper cutting level. I suppose the day he didn’t have to use the board was the second proudest day of my barbershop life. The proudest day was when, for the first time, he lathered up the back of my neck and shaved it with a straight razor.

Below street-level on Broadway, where the barbershop was located.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

No.25: Vinewood 2

These days many people are foregoing land-line telephones in their homes in favor of cell phones. Think about how far we've come. Before there were answerring machines, before there were portable phones, before push-button phones, before phones even came in colors, all phones were black and had to be dialed. You didn't buy them, you rented them from the telephone company -- Southern Bell. If you had a second phone in your home, an extension, you paid double. And telephone prefixes had names. All Tupelo numbers began with Vinewood 2.

No.24: Cecil Waters' Service Station on Gloster

In the days before skyrocketing oil prices made consumers decide to pump their own gasoline, gas stations were known as service stations. You could pull into a service station, roll your window down, and ask the owner or his teenage surrogate to "Fill 'er up." While he was filling your tank, he would clean your windshield, offer to check under your hood, and check the pressure in your tires. When he brought you your credit card receipt to sign, he might also bring you some green stamps.
Cecil Waters owned just such a service station on Gloster, across from Milam. Junior High students liked to hang out there after school, waiting for their rides. I don't see how Cecil was able to conduct much real business between 3:00 and 3:30 during the school year, but he certainly sold a lot of Cokes and candy.
The picture above is not Cecil Waters' station, but it reminds me of it. The picture came from a road map of the type that service stations once gave away. Imagine that.
Now we pump our own gas at convenience stores and, if we swipe our credit card at the pump, we can complete the entire transaction without any human contact.
(Jim Bain has a drug store on the site where Cecil Waters' station once was.)

Saturday, May 9, 2009

No.23: Collecting Baseball Cards

1960 Topps Baseball Cards

Baseball cards are a big business today for serious (way too serious) adult collectors. In my childhood, however, they were a wonderful diversion for little boys. They provided hours of fun debating whether a Mays was better than a Mantle or how to pronounce Yastrzemski. And we learned useful bargaining skills trading “doubles” or “unknowns.” These trading sessions could be a brutal case of caveat emptor, and experienced traders often took advantage of younger or less knowledgeable collectors.

The cards were sold five to a pack along with a stick of the most wretched bubble gum you ever put in your mouth. This so-called gum was powdery and brittle and had a distinctive smell. In your mouth it disintegrated into little pebbles that took a lot of serious chewing to develop into something you could blow a bubble with. And it left a really vile after-taste. Of course the gum was just a necessary by-product of the real transaction, and we usually threw it away before we left the store.

I’m sure you could buy baseball cards all over Tupelo, but my favorite shopping venues were Wren’s on Clayton, Booker’s on Joyner or, if you dared, Dale Walton’s on Jackson. If the store had a new shipment, you might get four or five cards you didn’t have. Otherwise you might end up with a whole pack of doubles or even triples. The best use for triples was to attach them to your bicycle wheel with a clothes pin so they sputtered against the spokes when you rode down the street, converting your bike into an imaginary motorcycle.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

No.22: Fallout Shelters and Modern Math

We were children of the Cold War.

One of the memorable impacts of historical events on our generation was the appearance around Tupelo of “fallout shelters” during the early 60s in response to a wide-spread concern about the build-up of Soviet nuclear capacity. I remember seeing signs like this one at Milam where the school’s basement became a Civil Defense fallout shelter. Somehow the tension of the Cuban Missile Crisis managed to penetrate the innocence of our childhood.

In 1957 the Soviets successfully launched their Sputnik, throwing our national leadership into a tailspin about the state of math and science education in this country. By the time we were in the seventh grade, Tupelo schools caught up with “modern math” and those horrible yellow paperback math books introduced more abstract math concepts to kids who were still learning the basics. All of a sudden we were talking about sets and subsets and alternatives to our base 10 system. And then there was the threat of the metric system overtaking our understanding of weights and measures.

It’s amazing we survived all of that spookiness with any sense of humor at all.

Friday, April 17, 2009

No.21: Learning to Read

Children of the 50s and 60s, in Tupelo and elsewhere, learned to read with Dick and Jane. They were the stars of the Scott, Foresman basal readers of that era, with a supporting cast that included their baby sister Sally, their dog Spot, their cat Puff, and Sally’s teddy bear Tim. Mother and Father appeared in cameo roles.

We learned by reading such exciting sentences as: “See Jane. See Jane run.” Or my all time favorite: “Come, Puff, come.” Imagine a child with no front teeth reading that sentence.

I remember classes being divided into reading groups, but I certainly didn’t understand at the time that we were ability grouped. We sat in little chairs in a circle and watched the teacher introduce new words on a large flip-chart and then each of us read aloud. We were hooked on repetition rather than phonics.

When each of the other groups was in the reading circle, the rest of us did “seatwork” from the board, or we could work on our homework if we had finished our seatwork.

I don’t think that’s how reading is taught in the twenty-first century, but it did seem to work for most of us.

No.20: Sivad: Your Monster of Ceremonies

"a-Good Eeevening. I am Sivad, your Monster of Ceremonies"

In the 1960's Sivad began appearing on WHBQ-Memphis as the host of Fantastic Features, a late night (Saturday, I think) showing of old B movies of the "horror" genre. Tupelo adolescents of this era spent a lot of time discussing the most recent Feature, assuring one another that it wasn't all that scary, and laughing about how hokey Sivad was.

For more information about Watson Davis, Memphis theater owner, better known as Sivad, click on the following link:

Monday, April 13, 2009

No.19: Electric Football

Did you ever have one of these? In the low-tech era that was my childhood, when the people who would later invent video games were still children just like I was, every boy had to have one -- an electric football game. The fascination with this quaint marvel was a sort of precursor of the gadget fever that strikes some of us these days. Maybe you saw one of these in an ad and imagined hours of fun coaching your own team, controlling the outcome of a game with the brilliance of your own strategy. And then you owned one. What a colossal disappointment!
Bill Bryson wrote a terrifically funny book about his childhood in the same era: The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir. The book captures my sentiments about a lot of things. (I recommend it.) Here's what he had to say about electric football:
"The worst toy of the decade [the 1950s], possibly the worst toy ever took forever to set up each play because the men were so fiddly and kept falling over, and because you argued continuously with your opponent about what formations were legal and who got to position the final hardly mattered how they were set up because electric football players never went in the direction intended. In practice what happened was that half the players instantly fell over and lay twitching violently as if suffering from some extreme gastric disorder, while the others streamed off in as many different directions as there were upright players before eventually clumping together in a corner, where they pushed against the unyielding sides like victims of a nightclub fire at a locked exit. The one exception to this was the running back who just trembled in place for five or six minutes, then slowly turned and went on an unopposed glide toward the wrong end zone until knocked over with a finger on the two-yard line by his distressed manager, occasioning more bickering."

Thursday, April 9, 2009

No.18: Fair Day in Tupelo

Children enjoying a game of chance at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show.

Every year in mid-September, schools in Tupelo and Lee County dismissed for Fair Day. Children who marched in the fair parade were admitted free of charge to the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show. The Fair was a big event in Tupelo in my childhood and youth. Downtown stores gave away tickets for chances on cars that were given away by a drawing each night of the Fair. (In the weeks leading up to the Fair, and during Fair week, those cars were prominently parked in different locations around the downtown area with signs on top of them advertising the Fair.) One of my sister's friends won a car before she had a driver's license. When she turned 15 she took possession of her big black Buick.

The Fair featured a mid-way full of rides, games of chance, freak shows and other exotic shows. The kids in the newspaper photo above were playing one of those games of chance. (Look carefully, and you may see someone you recognize.) Various charitable and civic organizations operated booths where hamburgers and hot dogs were sold or where you could play bingo for prizes. And of course Fair visitors walked around eating candy apples and cotton candy.

Of less interest to me, but obviously a lot of interest to some, were the livestock shows and other judged events that were exhibited in the permanent Fair structures. These events were sponsored by the RCDC (Rural Community Development Council) that operated in Lee County.

Elvis made a well-documented appearance and performed at the Fair in 1956. To see several photos from this appearance, visit You can find several excerpts of that performance at using the key words "Elvis Fair 1956." Or you can try for one of those videos.

Thinking about the Fair reminded me of Long's Laundry which was located on the corner of Main Street and the little street that led to the entrance to the Fairgrounds. The most memorable part of the laundry was its neon sign that featured a washerwoman in motion, washing clothes on a scrub-board.

Today the old Fairgrounds have been developed by the City of Tupelo as Fairpark District, a growing collection of retail, office and residential space. The new City Hall is located square in the middle of the old mid-way. (Visit for information about the Fairpark District development.

The new City Hall located in the middle of the old Fair's mid-way.

Friday, April 3, 2009

No.17: The Swimming Pool

Until it was replaced by the pool at City Park on Joyner, this was THE pool in Tupelo. It was located on Madison, behind Church Street School and just south of Robins Field. Swimmers entered through a white clapboard bathhouse, guys to the left and girls to the right. Everyone was supposed to shower before leaving the bathhouse, but the water was cold and often avoided. What you couldn't avoid was a trench that was about five feet across that held six inches of dark, nasty, cold water. The only way through the back door that led to the pool was to wade through the trench. I suppose this was a way of making sure that those who only pretended to shower at least got their feet wet. I'm guessing their feet may have been cleaner before wading through the trench.

The pool itself, as pictured in the postcard above, was a large round one with a shallow section on the outer edge that gradually sloped to the deep part toward the center and beyond the chain. In the center of the pool was a diving platform with a low board and a high board. I've been told that the pool didn't have a filtration system, so it was drained once a week for cleaning. You wanted to know the schedule before you went for a dip.

In the late 60's the old pool was filled in and paved over to provide parking for the football stadium. All that's left is a postcard and a memory.

No.16: Test Patterns and Tupelo Television

Do you remember "test patterns"? These days television stations, and particularly cable channels, are 24-hour operations. But when television first arrived in Tupelo in 1957 in the form of WTWV, most stations ended their broadcast day at midnight and didn't resume until something like 7:00 am. If you fell asleep watching The Late Show, you woke up to the test pattern. Young children were known to rise early on Saturday morning and watch the test pattern until the cartoons came on.

My family got our first television set (a cabinet model RCA, I think) about that time, and I became a fan of Captain Kangaroo (and Mr. Greenjeans, Grandfather Clock, Mr. Moose, Bunny Rabbit, etc.) as a kindergartner. As I remember it, network news was only a 15 minute proposition, and local news with Bill Landers filled the remaining 15 minutes. Tupelo's Hilda Hill starred in a cooking show and sometimes interviewed local personalities. WTWV's commercials were mostly close-ups of posters on an easel with voice-overs that were basically radio ads.

Of course, my taste ran toward network programs like The Mickey Mouse Club with Bobby, Cubby and Annette and the rest of the Mousekateers. The show featured song and dance numbers (these I merely endured), old Disney cartoons and serials like Spin and Marty and The Hardy Boys. Later in the 50's an evening program called Walt Disney Presents introduced such unforgettable dramas as Zorro, The Swamp Fox, and The Nine Lives of Elfego Baca. Am I the only one who remembers Elfego Baca?

Some quality programs were produced in the 50's (Playhouse 90, Westinghouse Theater, Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows, etc,) and that era is sometimes referred to as the Golden Age of Television. But I was young and enjoyed junk TV like Westerns (Wagon Train, The Rifleman, Maverick, Gunsmoke) and game shows (Truth or Consequences, Concentration, What's My Line, Beat the Clock).

If you remember all of those shows, you can't be a lot younger than I am.

To read a history of WTWV (now WTVA), click on the following link:

Monday, March 30, 2009

No.15: Basketball Crazy

In the mid-1960s Tupelo went absolutely crazy over high school basketball. In that era the Mississippi High School Activities Association divided high schools into 4 classifications: AA, A, BB, and B. State basketball champions in each classification met in the Grand Slam Tournament in Jackson. While Tupelo High School had won AA championships before, the 1964-1965 team was the first to win the Grand Slam in 1965. The Golden Wave won another Grand Slam in 1966, took a year off in 1967 and won the Grand Slam again in 1968. The trip to Jackson became an annual expectation. Students all over town would check out of school and go to Jackson to back the Golden Wave. When the conquerring heroes returned to Tupelo in their caravan of team cars and fan cars, they were met at the high school by a huge contingent of fans of all ages. Basketball goals sprang up on driveways all over Tupelo, and many of us bought leg weights to emulate Jumpin' Jim Mattox who supposedly learned to jump out of the gym by wearing leg weights. Tupelo was absolutely basketball crazy.

Stan Byrd found this 1965 North Big 8 Basketball Tournament program among his sports memorabilia, and it brought back memories of those basketball crazy days. To give you some idea of how good this team was, four of them went on to earn scholarships to Mississippi State and four earned scholarships to Itawamba Junior College. And Coach Kermit Davis became the head basketball coach at State.

Incidentally, the old Big 8 conference consisted of 2 or 3 times that number of the biggest high schools in the state before the state started having football playoffs in each classification.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

No.14: Where Are They Now?

Graduates of Tupelo High School found on the Web include:

Bryan Hawkins, Class of 1970, hasn't left Tupelo, but he's come a long way. He's the founder and president of Hawkeye Industries, "one of the most technologically advanced contract sheet metal fabrication companies in the South."

Dr. Daniel Dotter, Class of 1970, is a professor of criminal justice at Grambling State University, and author of the book "Creating Deviance: An Interactionist Approach." (See Page 2 of the link below.)

Lon Rains, Class of 1970, is now the Director of Communications for Northrup Grumman Corporation.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

No.13: Milam Coaches

Milam Coaches: Jerry Clayton, Bubba Thompson, and Walker Wood

Jerry Clayton was the head basketball coach at Milam until he succeeded Kermit Davis as the basketball coach at the high school. Davis left to become the head basketball coach at Mississippi State after winning back-to-back Grand Slam titles in 1965 and 1966 (I think). Clayton left coaching a year or two later when he was elected Lee County Chancery Clerk. When Coach Clayton left Milam to go to the high school, he was succeeded by Freddie Joe Chiles.

Bubba Thompson was the laid-back head football coach at Milam. I remember having him for PE in the seventh grade. It seems like he popped popcorn everyday and ate it while he watched us sweat. Coach Thompson was a gentle sort, but he could swing a mean paddle if he were pushed too far.

Walker Wood (even now I cringe at the thought of calling him anything other than Coach Wood) was just out of the Marines when he came to Milam to coach eighth grade football and assist with ninth grade football. He swung the hardest paddle of anyone I ever saw, and he seemed to enjoy doing it. I had him for eighth grade health, and we were all absolutely terrified of him. Those who knew him best could tell story after story about how he gained his reputation. I ran into him in Tupelo several years ago and really enjoyed visiting with him. He had really mellowed. More recently I ran into a group of his former football players enjoying a reunion with him over lunch. What a guy.

No.12: The Lyric

Built originally as an "opera house" for use by traveling vaudeville acts and other entertainers, the Lyric is now the home of Tupelo Community Theatre. But in my day, it was a grand movie theater. As young children we sometimes went there on Saturdays for matinees that lasted all afternoon. Later on it was the primary destination for dating couples. It seems strange to think of it now, but in that era movies repeated on a continuous basis with only the cartoons in between. So it was not necessary to know exactly when the movie started. You could always watch the end and then watch the beginning after the cartoon. When the movie got back to something you remembered, someone would always say, "I believe this is where we came in." Of course, many would watch the movie more than once. I suppose that came in handy if they didn't really understand it the first time.

The alternative movie house in my day was the Tupelo Theater, located on the south side of Main Street next to Reed's. (It's now part of Reed's.) A long, narrow building, it only had two seats on one side of the aisle and maybe six on the other side. The other alternatives were the two drive-ins: the Lee Drive-In on Robert E. Lee Drive and the 78 Drive-In on what is now McCullough Boulevard. Who can forget pulling into a spot on the gravel lot of those drive-ins and hooking the speaker to the rolled down window. Before air conditioning was commonplace, we didn't really think about what an uncomfortable way that was to watch a movie.

Now all of those old movie houses and drive-ins have given way to multi-plex theaters. And the movies aren't quite as good, either.

No.11: Dudies Diner

Some will remember this Tupelo landmark better than I do. I'm not sure I ever ate there, but people always talked about Dudies Diner, Home of the Dudie-Burger. I believe it may have been at one time a Memphis trolley car that was moved to Tupelo to become a diner. In my memory, it was parked just south of Crosstown on the east side of Gloster. Dudies Diner has been restored and is now found at the museum at Ballard Park.

Thinking about Dudies reminds me of other similar dining experiences from my childhood and youth. O'Callaghan's Dairy Bar was located on the southeast corner of the intersection of Gloster and Jackson. The large parking lot was gravel rather than paved, and I can still hear the sound of the gravel when you pulled onto the lot. That sound was known to make a child salivate like Pavlov's dog. You could honk your horn and a carhop would come to the driver's side window. The driver placed the order after consulting with the other riders. When the carhop brought the food (burgers, malts, shakes, or maybe just an ice cream cone), the driver rolled his window down part of the way and the tray hooked onto the window. Of course you could go inside and eat at the counter from the stools or sit in a booth if you were lucky enough to get one.

Folks on the east side of town had similar dining experiences at Johnny's Drive-In. Johnny's is still an operating diner. Of course, the carhops have long since retired.

At the top of the 'Blog is a picture of Sherer's, by far the most popular spot for teenagers when I was that age. Before Sherer's there was Little Joe's Clover Leaf Drive-In on the west side of Gloster, just north of Jackson. I believe it took its name from the planned interchange of Highway 78 (now McCullough Boulevard) and Highway 45 (Gloster). The interchange never became a full clover-leaf, but Little Joe's kept the name.
A blog follower sent the following link to some historical information about the Sherer's franchise:

No.10: An Interesting Experiment

In the early 1960s, Tupelo and Lee County students began to experience what is now known as "distance learning." Today's distance learning is via the Internet. In our day, the innovation was "educational television." Channel 9 (WTWV, now known as WTVA) in Tupelo began broadcasting educational programming during the school day at the request of Tupelo school superintendent Charles Holliday. Some of the stars of educational television, Tupelo style, are pictured above. Left to right, they are: Senora Wilson, Betty Duvall, John Shelton, Terry Thornton, and Sarah Tate. You may remember another, Elizabeth Taylor, who taught a science class via educational television in the last stages of the educational television experiment. Some of us had her live and in person for ninth grade general science class at Milam. One day she wanted us to watch a recorded version of her television lesson where she sang: "The earth is like a great big grapefruit, 26,000 miles around. You could dig right through to China, if you could get through the ground." (If you want to charm your grandchildren with that little educational ditty, she sang it to the tune of Rueben, Rueben, I've Been Thinking.)

Friday, February 27, 2009

No.9: Tupelo High School Band - 1968

(Photo courtesy of S. Byrd)

The 1968 Tupelo High School Band is pictured above with their director Jim Scott. As I look at the faces in that picture, it seems the band would have been very small indeed had it not been for the sophomore class.

Did you ever wonder why the band wore red and blue uniforms when the school colors were blue and gold? I think I remember someone telling me years ago that the official school colors were actually red and blue, but the blue and gold were a later version after the athletic teams first started being called the Golden Wave. If anyone has a better explanation for the colors of the band uniforms or any idea when the Golden Wave became the Golden Wave, please add a comment.

Monday, February 23, 2009

No.8: Tupelo Golden Wave

This 1968 newspaper photo shows D. Adams, J. Reed, Coach Purvis, D. Cruse, and B. Worthen. Coach Purvis came to Tupelo along with Coach Cheney and other staffmembers Coach Waite, and Coach Thompson in the late 1960s. They brought option football, isometric exercise, and wrestling mats to Tupelo. The football uniforms in the late 60s were a washed out yellow and the white helmets had a large T on the sides. On the whole, they looked a lot like Tennessee Volunteers. "Here's to old Tupelo, faltering never. We pledge our loyalty forever and ever ... Fight, fight, fight with all our might for Tu-pe-lo. Tahee, taha, tahee, ha, ha, Tupelo, Tupelo, rah, rah, rah." Does that bring back memories?

Monday, January 19, 2009

No.7: Hotel Tupelo

The Hotel Tupelo was THE hotel in Tupelo in the 50s and 60s (and before). All the civic clubs met there and formal events were held there. It was the only place in Tupelo with an elevator until the new four-story federal building that housed the post office was built in the 60s. The THS Key Club met at the Hotel Tupelo when I was in high school. I remember one meeting when one of our members found a cooked cricket among his green beans. After that we started meeting at the Rex Plaza and other locations. This was an ad photo from The Album, the very original name for the THS annual. Note that WTUP broadcast from the upper floor of the Hotel. You may remember that WTUP was the young folks' radio station and WELO was the grown-ups station - except of course if you wanted to listen to Tupelo athletic events. Jack Cristol was the voice of the Wave on WELO and Wallopin' Wayne Coleman broadcast the games on WTUP, Top Dawg Radio 1490. Wallopin' Wayne was a better DJ than play-by-play announcer.

The Hotel was torn down and a new five-story BancorpSouth (formerly Bank of Mississippi, formerly Bank of Tupelo) headquarters was built on that site. BancorpSouth is a major regional bank with branches all over the Southeast. The post office in the federal building that was built in the 60s is now a branch with the main post office on Thomas Street in West Tupelo. WTUP and WELO are still on the air, but both have a very small audience now.

BancorpSouth Bank, located on South Spring Street, where the Hotel Tupelo once stood

No.6: Homecoming Parade

Back in the day, the Tupelo High School Band led the way for each year's Homecoming Parade through Downtown Tupelo. (They still do.) Each class constructed a float by covering someone's truck with a chicken wire frame stuffed with toilet paper. I remember working on our sophomore float at the Coca Cola Bottling Plant.

High School students met for pep rallies in the gym on the afternoon of home football games, and sometimes for big basketball games. Each class would sit together in sections of the bleachers. At one point in the pep rally, the sophomore cheerleaders would lead the sophomores in a cheer, the juniors cheerleaders would lead the juniors, and the senior cheerleaders ... You get the idea. A group of teachers would decide among themselves which class had out-cheered the other classes and the winner was awarded the "spirit stick."
For homecoming, the pep rally had the added feature of the presentation of the homecoming court.

No.5: Downtown Tupelo

McGaughy's, a women's department store, was one of many retail establishments in downtown Tupelo when my generation was growing up. Other women's stores included Westbrook's, Pryor's and several others that came and went during my childhood. Men shopped at MLM and Hinds Brothers and of course, Reed's and Black's were department stores for the entire family. As a child, Woolworth's and Ben Franklin and Marlin-Cook's were some of my favorites. Amazingly, there were three jewelry stores next door to each other on Main Street (Dreyfus, Riley's, and Brasfield's), as well as Martin's and Estes Jewelry elsewhere downtown. And there were a number of shoe stores like the Corner Shoe Store, Lyle's, and several others. I always wanted Red Goose shoes because you could get a prize-filled egg with each purchase, but most of my shoes, other than tennis shoes, were Buster Browns from Reed's.

I remember fondly our annual Christmas shopping experiences Downtown, where Christmas music could be heard over speakers throughout the Downtown area. We bought bath powder for our mother at TKE Drug Store and socks or handkerchiefs for our dad at any one of the department stores. Those were simpler times. I don't suppose malls had even been thought of at that time, at least not yet in Memphis or Birmingham.

Today, there is very little retail shopping in Downtown Tupelo other than Reed's and MLM. Tupelo Hardware is still where it was, but all of the others mentioned above have long since departed. Downtown Tupelo is still a vital area with very few vacant buildings, but much of the old retail space is now filled with various business and professional offices.

No.4: Tupelo HIgh School

Tupelo High School moved to this site on Varsity Drive on the north end of Lee Acres in 1961. This early picture dates to the time when my generation was in high school and shows just how sparsely developed the area still was in the late 60s. The Civic Auditorium had been added by our time at the high school.

Before we were in the 10th grade, they removed the permanent walls between some of the classrooms and inserted folding walls to allow for "team teaching." I remember Mrs. Robinson teaming with Mr. Murphey for geometry, Miss Yerby teaming with Mrs. Stepp for sophomore English, and Mr. Richardson teaming with Mr. Horton for biology. Large group biology lectures were done in the air-conditioned rooms at the back of the Auditorium.

Coach Waite and Mr. Shelton were the drivers' ed teachers in the "classroom" behind the curtain at one end of the gym. When we moved from the simulators to the real cars (complete with brakes on both sides of the front seat), I had Mr. Shelton. Coach Waite's drivers got to go to Bill Bates Grocery for ice cream cones, but we just drove around and around in Lee Acres, giving hand signals to slow down or turn.

Tupelo High School moved to its current location on Cliff Gookin in 1991. If you live out of town and haven't seen that campus, you'd be amazed -- lots of buildings arranged around a quadrangle. It looks more like a junior college campus than a high school. The football stadium is on site, and it is much larger than the old Robins Field venue. But it will never have the ambiance of the old field.