THE WAY I SEE IT: Did I just imagine my childhood?
In July 12 issue, Russell County News By Barbara Sharp Zimmerman, Columnist
Growing up in Jamestown in the 1950s is preserved like a Norman Rockwell painting in my overly mature memory. What has stayed with me over the years is an untroubled sense of freedom I had while at the same time feeling like I belonged in a place where everybody knew everybody else.
I remember playing outside on bare feet during long, hot summers punctuated by occasional cold watermelons and ice cream cones from Smith’s Drug Store. During summer rains, if it wasn’t stormy, we’d play in the water in our bathing suits. I recall talking with my sister and the neighbor kids (Ruben Leveridge, Gary and Pam McClure, Larry Holt and others) about all the things we were going to do at the much-anticipated Russell County Fair at the end of the summer.
I remember catching fireflies – we called them “lightnin’ bugs” – in a jar on summer nights while my folks watched from the porch swing. I remember playing Monopoly on Uncle Walter and Aunt Nina’s screened porch with Cheryl Bates, Jack Lawless and others.
Once in a while, when Dad got home from work, we’d talk him into taking us swimming – maybe to the pool of water where the old mill was, or to Joby Falls or to the shallow creek near the old Reese woolen mill.
There were baseball and sometimes girl’s softball games over at the city ballpark, where Shy Ramsey and a number of men played championship croquet off to one side. I once saw Teddy York hit a home run over the fence there; I thought he was the best ballplayer I had ever seen.
I remember the neighbor women gathering at our house to break green beans for canning. Mother’s good friend, Bernice Dunbar, often would come over for a cup of coffee mid-morning, and sometimes, before I started to school, we’d go over to her house.
In the winter, there were high school basketball games and occasional big snows, and big fun on Doc Lester’s hill where we gathered to sled. When we got too cold, we’d go into the Lester house for hot chocolate and Rook games. To pass the time during the gray days of winter, we’d stock up with books to read from the library; Mrs. (Elizabeth) Phelps knew which books each of us liked, and she’d help us pick them out.
I had playmates all over town, and a bicycle to ride everywhere. Jack and Winfrey Phelps, Joan Bernard, Roger Blankenship and Sarah Eastham were down along West Cumberland Avenue, as were the Meadows sisters. Alben and Gibson Foley were nearby. On the east side of town were Diana Gamblin and Ronny Flatt. We didn’t worry about traffic or pedophiles; they just didn’t seem to exist. As a tweener, I would ride my bike to the Dock to swim in the swimming crib.
I remember walking – WALKING – to school, and coming home for lunch! I remember my brother Vaughan riding his bike helter-skelter down the hill to our house, parking it between the porch and shrubs and dismounting – seemingly all in one motion. I remember my Dad taking away his bee-bee gun for a month when he shot my sister, Janie, to keep her from following him, but that’s another story.
I remember the aforementioned Smith’s Drug Store when it was down by Butler’s (now Kay’s) Market, where we gathered after school to have ice cream and cokes and read the comic books without ever buying a single one. The bigger kids went to Tanner’s, where they had a jukebox, but no comic books.
I remember Meadows Dime Store, which was just chocked full of wonderful toys plus a glass candy counter with a dozen different sweet delights. And you could buy a nickel or dime’s worth of just about any of them.
I remember seeing Royden Covington jump from the high bridge into Greasy Creek; it was scary, but he survived. I remember big crowds on the square when they’d have those Golden Harvest drawings.
I remember going to the Mary Agnes Theater on Saturday afternoons to see Gene Autry and his beautiful horse, Champion, in sepiatone. I remember Claude Beck’s garage with its big dark, mysterious back end. I remember Monson’s Department Store, later People’s, where we bought underwear, socks, jeans, tennis shoes – just about everything we needed.
I remember being able to walk from our house on Meadows Lane, up across the square, down to my Dad’s newspaper office and seeing a whole bunch of people I knew. I remember how bad the old Courthouse smelled (they spit in there!) and how medicinal it smelled at Doctor Popplewell’s office.
I remember the time before air conditioning and television, when people visited on their front porches on warm summer evenings, gathered for potluck picnics down at the bridge or at the overlook near the dam and went to church on Sundays, Sunday nights and even Wednesdays.
It was a swell way to grow up, but it all seems so long ago and so different now. And there are other memories – lots of them. When snippets of the past come floating back to me, I wonder – did all these things really happen? Was it all as wonderful as I remember it now?
The Times Journal is a weekly newspaper issued on Thursdays. It was first published on October 13, 1949, by Andrew J. and Terry Norfleet.
P.O. Box 190
120 Wilson St.
Russell Springs KY 42642
Russell County News is a weekly newspaper issued on Saturdays, and is mailed free to every address in Russell County, Ky. It was first published on February 1, 1913.
404 Monument Square
Jamestown KY 42629