Monday, May 4, 2009

Laughing with the Legends

We were amongst the few people who attended the last show of the season at the Old Opera House in Hawkinsville a week ago. Of all the great performances this past year, this one had to be near the top with all around good fun, especially for those of us who lived through that period.
Oh sure! Most of us men are crowned with gray hair or none at all, but we still feel the rhythm, and the women for the most part are still beautiful in a wonderful, mature way. Sometimes I wonder who coined that phrase, “The Fabulous Fifties.” As most of us remember those days, we smile at those treasured memories—sometimes we even joke about them now. Ahh! We were so young!
A man and his wife—entertainers for sure—put on quite a show on that old historic stage that night. With the unlikely last name of Gurl, his Brian and hers Joey, they sang, danced, did comedy sketches, and, boy oh boy, did he play the piano! He began with a medley of 1950s songs, beginning with some from the “Sound of Music” and going all the way to Little Richard with some of his “Tuti Fruiti” and “Long Tall Sally” which showed us right away his diversity with the piano.
His wife, Joey came on stage and did a great old Lucy rendition of advertisement of a vitamin type drink loaded with 25% alcohol and wound up with a side-splitting skit for those of us in the audience. The two of them teamed up to show us their version of The Hit Parade with Joey in a big box representing Old Gold Cigarettes. Afterwards, Brian hit the stage again with a special on Elvis, while Joey played the role of an awe-struck teeny bopper.
There was a smattering of kids in the audience, but by and large it was the over the hill group who laughed the longest and the loudest at ourselves as they performed what much of the world viewed us as in the 1950s.
In the second act after a short intermission for them to catch their breath, and why wouldn’t they need to do that? After all, they were imitating us, a very energetic bunch in those days.
Perhaps, Brian Gurl’s most enthusiastic act was when he began as Liberace with his famous suits and a candelabra for the piano. By the time he was through with the “smiley one,” he literally flew into a Jerry Lee Lewis aka “The Killer” playing the piano from head to toe, frontwards to backwards, fingers and feet, all flying across the keyboard. That act reminded me so much of one day in our World History class when the teacher was late getting to the room. Most of the boys and some of the girls literally forced Billy (last name withheld to protect the innocent) to play his lively rendition of “Lady of Spain” on the upright antique piano. When she came in, everyone else was quiet and he was playing hard. The teacher grabbed him by the nap of the neck and practically flung him in the direction of his desk.
Tell me the fifties weren’t fabulous!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

A Young Boy’s Summer

Granted it has been a few decades since I was in school, but in those days, school began the beginning of September and closed for the summer as May came to an end. June, July, and August were created for the children to enjoy. When the last bell rang at the end of May, shoes and shirts were suddenly tossed aside, and other than Sunday School and Church during the summer, our small bodies were not encumbered with them.
The asphalt roads were hot and rough, which helped to toughen the soles of our feet to the point that it was difficult for glass, nails or sand spurs to penetrate them. Shirts came off resulting in tans, hair became involuntarily sun-bleached, and our feet enjoyed the experience that one can only get from toes feeling the sand and soil pushing upward between them.
Creeks were fair game for swimming and fishing. Pick-up baseball games happened as quickly as someone suggested, "Let’s play some ball!" Baseball covers had been knocked off, but still served us well, as long as the string did not unravel. Bats that had been broken were repaired with a hammer, a few nails, and reinforced with some tape. Watermelons, cantaloupes, and peaches seemed to be in abundance for our enjoyment. Home-made ice cream sometimes was hand-churned on Sunday afternoon.
June Bugs, a beautiful metallic green insect about the size of a thumb were fair game for a toy. They were slow moving critters when they landed and fairly easy to catch. One only needed some thread from Mother’s sewing machine to attach to one leg of the bug, and then presto, he would provide plenty of entertainment by flying round and round. After we tired of this toy, we loosened the string and returned him to his life of flying in freedom.
Home-made kites were lots of fun when the wind provided enough impetus to keep it aloft. I close my eyes now, and I can still see the message (piece of paper with a hole in the center) working its way upward toward the kite. Tails strung downward from the kites several feet long in a variety of colors knotted together in strips of 6 to 12 inches each. Lightweight sticks, newspaper from the Macon News, and a small amount of glue made wonderful kites. Rolls of string could be found in the trash at the cotton mill.
Seems strange now that we never used to ask what the temperature was. Our biggest concern seemed to be, not how hot the weather would be, but rather whether we could find some tadpoles in a ditch where some rainwater had been trapped. Occasionally the men from the city water department came out to test the fire hydrants, and that was an open invitation to enjoy an impromptu treat as the water pored from the hydrant in a great stream.
Sometimes in the early evening, "lightning bugs", (some people refer to them as fireflies) darted through the air teasing a young boy with its tail section going on and off. The thrill was in capturing the little creature, and placing him in a small jar, enjoying the up close observation of the mysterious changing dark to light phenomenon. Decades later, I find myself still intrigued with them. However I no longer try to catch them, rather I enjoy watching them from a distance.
Nights were some of the most wonderful times of my youth as we gathered under the street light that hung in front of our house as the cry went out loud and clear, "Let’s play hide and seek!" Shrieks of delight came from all the boys and girls who enjoyed the wonderful experience of playing under that old light.

Anyone who has ever sought directions in Marietta, Georgia, a city north of Atlanta, has been treated to the following: "Well, just go to the Big Chicken and turn right and go three miles, or go to the Big Chicken and look for highway 41. Follow it for six blocks and turn left."
The common denominator is always the Big Chicken, a giant sign that protrudes upward approximately 100 feet. The crown at the top is a caricature likeness of a chicken—eyes rolling and beak opening and closing—seemingly overlooking all the traffic below. Inside is a name brand fried chicken fast-food restaurant created and made popular by a man in a white suit, black string bow tie dressed immaculately. The man with a colonel in front of his name sported a gray goatee beard to match his gray hair.
According to legend, at first the colonel protested the original monstrosity of a big chicken, however he finally relented and allowed it. To the folks of Marietta, it was soon adopted as a landmark, finally becoming the central figure of direction-giving, as mentioned above. As time and pigeons took its toll on the original sign—also very large—people began to seek the prevention of the structure, or a new one going back up. There was quite a battle between the ayes and the nays, causing not a few politicians to become involved. Bottom line was a replacement big chicken was constructed and stands today as a beacon for directions to find anything in that fair city.
At least twenty years ago, several of my adult-like children prodded me into going to Six-Flags Over Georgia, a mammoth recreation facility that covers several acres. To find the location of the complex, simply go to the Big Chicken in Marietta and turn south towards I-75. Follow that to I-285 West, connecting with I-20 West. Several miles later the Six-Flags exit will dominate the road signs directing you to the giant playground.
Upon our arrival, we walked around, ate cotton candy or funnel cakes looking for the rides which we wanted to enjoy. Ever since I was a child, rides that go around in circles, such as Merry-go-Rounds or flying airplanes make me deathly ill—something akin to dizziness brought on by traveling in circles. I stay away from them, choosing to watch from the sidelines. I can tolerate the Ferris Wheel, assuming they don’t get carried away with stopping it on top for very long.
Suffice it to say that I tremble in fear when I look at a Roller Coaster. They just don’t look safe. Then these people who claim to love their daddy spotted a ride called the Big Drop or something close to that. "C’mon Dad," they insisted, "this will be a hoot, and it doesn’t go around in circles."
For some unknown reason, I allowed myself to be talked into this inane ride. It chugged upward slowly, grunting and straining, creaking and growling. I could see the Parachute Drop nearby and I had thoughts of maybe trying it out afterwards. Our cage surrounded us, a steel bar kept us in place as it progressed slowly outward, and then it happened! Faster than the speed of a bullet we dropped straight down—faster than any drop I have ever experienced—toward the ground. I knew I was dead before I hit the ground. My stomach was a few seconds behind me.
Once the machine stopped, and I crawled to safety, I realized I was the real Big Chicken!

Front Porches 1940 Circa

My brother, Billy, prompted my memory about our porches when we were boys. This Cotton Patch column is a compilation of both of our memories of just what role porches played in our youth.
Porches are has-beens, written about by many, but not carried forth into our lives today, but even more so wherein our children and grandchildren are concerned. Porches played such a huge role in our lives and I am proud to say that we have a front porch today, because we bought an old house over a hundred years old in 1972. If we had built a house in 1972, it probably would have had a front stoop on it, not to be confused with a front porch.
Porches were a mainstay in people’s lives.
“I remember Daddy and Mister Bob Lee sitting on the metal glider chairs on the front porch where they visited,” Billy said. Our mother painted the chairs frequently to keep the appearance of them good.
“Front porches,” Billy said, “were a nice place for people to sit and enjoy a cold glass of iced tea or lemonade. Furthermore, Mother shelled peas or butter beans, or shucked fresh corn.”
It was cool enough to enjoy, because Mother hung strings from the edge of the roof to the floor of the porch and completed the home made shade-maker by attaching kudzu to the bottom. As you can imagine, it didn’t take long before it was closed in from the afternoon setting of the sun.
The front porch was the spot where the Macon News landed; we enjoyed lying on our stomachs while reading the comics and sports page.
People walked by casually waving or speaking. Some even came up to set a spell.
“I remember people coming up on our porch at night,” Billy said, “knocking on the door; some were tipsy from strong drink, while others were lost or looking for directions.”
We both have painful memories of the po-leece shooting two of our dogs which we had tied underneath the front porch. One of our homes had two front doors coming out to the porch. One door was numbered 202 and the other was numbered 204. Really! I couldn’t make that up.
Oh, the memories flood our minds thinking of that front porch which was bombarded on Valentine night with hearts and rocks—the rocks made the noise to alert us that the Valentines had arrived.
Mother would feed hobos from the edge of the front porch when they came looking for a hand out.
Some people extended their front porch out under the old oak tree where stories were shared and laughter enjoyed.
In those days, the front porch and the back porch had totally different functions—the front being for visiting as noted above—and the back porch was for work. On the back porch was a wringer washing machine including accessory tubs for rinsing. In the yard was a clothes line for drying the clothes by wind and sunlight.
On the back porch at Grandma's house, she had a shallow well where we drew water for our showers, one standing beneath a shelf while the other brother tilted the five gallon jug on its side for a very cold shower.
Brrr! The glory days of porches!