Sunday, July 23, 2006

The Five-Fifty-Five

Most of my childhood family memories center around the two blocks that circled Mama's family's compound. Her parents had a nice brick house on College Street right across from Dyersburg High School. Right down the hill, the Methodist church is still standin' and flapping open the doors every Sunday for our family. It's the best sledding place in town. Next to that is the Baird Brewer building where Herman ran the elevator and across the street from there is...a bank. That wasn't always the case, y'all.

paw paw

Where the bank stands now used to be my Grandaddy's service station...full service, complete with guys to pump gas and clean those windshields. The Silver Castle was nestled against the side of the station and the scent of burgers on the griddle was way too enticing for anybody to pass up. Mama worked there as a teenager and fed all of her friends on her Daddy's dime. I can't say for sure, but I imagine the gas we pay three bucks for now was about a nickel a gallon. Can you imagine? My grandaddy, Pawpaw, was a well respected businessman and land owner. As the first grandchild, I christened my grandmother "Gaga" since I couldn't say Geraldine. Her parents, Ethel and Oskie, lived a few streets over by the elementary school that both my mother and I attended. Their house was down the hill from the playground and I would slip down there for lunch sometimes. Oh MY! What a treat that was. She cooked smothered chicken in an iron skillet and accompanied it with stewed 'taters and berries and cream for dessert. After Oskie died, Ethel's only company was her parakeets. I'd watch as she changed the newspapers in the bottom of the cages and get them to say "pretty bird" just to make me smile. Mama says she used to take the birds to Easter sunrise service so everybody could hear their songs as the sun came up.

Sometimes Ethel would take me downtown to Woolworth's in her faded old '49 Ford. The top was painted red and the story goes that was so you could see her coming! She had this habit of backing straight out instead of puttin' a turn on it and woe be unto anyone in her way. We would wander around Woolworth's looking at the birds and fish and underwear, and then we'd sidle up to the lunch counter for a bite to eat and a fountain coke. The courthouse was right across the street, smack in the center of town. You could find anything you needed all right there around court square. Forked Deere hardware was, and still is, on the opposite side of the courthouse. Peppered in between the retail stores were the lawyer's offices, an easy walk across the street.

Most of those businesses are gone now, replaced by newer ones that have refurbished the vintage buildings with love and care. Any respectable southern town has a Confederate war monument perched somewhere visible, and ours is right there on court square next to the benches that nobody but the street people use. As the decades and generations whiz quickly by, I'm grateful to have this heritage to hold close and remember fondly. Like I've always told my daughter: " Remember who you are."