Saturday, October 31, 2009

Hawkinsville, My Home Town, Another Look

In Hawkinsville, Saturdays were almost like school in a different location. Every store—grocery, furniture, hardware, clothing and drug store—had teens working on Saturdays to fill the void needed for clerks. All the country folks came to town that day, ready to spend their money or charge things until they could pay for them later.
Many stores had benches for the customers to sit and visit a spell. For grocery clerks, that could spell danger when they were carrying groceries out to the cars and trucks for the customers. Conversation and laughter outside on the benches was raucous and snuff and tobacco spit was flying, literally causing the clerks to tap dance their way through the maze.
Betty Jo Hadden worked at Ben Silver’s Clothing store. Little Ernie Mashburn and Tony Anderson were busy dipping ice cream cones at Goode’s Drugs. (On the left below is a picture of Goodes Drugs and Soda Fountain during the 1950s. On the right are four classmates from HHS, L-R, Jill Joiner, Billy Shepherd, Lottye Reynolds, and Sayde Fowler, regulars at the soda fountain.)
The Cabero boys were working at Hawkinsville Fruit & Candy Store, something to do with the fact their father was a working partner in the business. Bo or Hans Mayer could be seen walking around town with a cigar box which doubled as a temporary collection box. ( On a recent trip down memory lane, Bo Mayer, right, and her son, Ronnie, showing a striking resemblance to his late father, Hans Mayer enjoyed a visit at the Steak House Restaurant in Hawkinsville.)

In Massee’s Furniture, some of the outstanding athletes from the Red Devils were moving furniture and appliances from the store to customer’s homes. ( Members of the 1954 and 1953 State Champs at Hawkinsville all had to work on Saturdays in the fabulous fifties. L-R, Melvin Borum, Eddie Dunn and David Nelson.)
Near Massee’s Furniture was a very popular business owned by Eddie and Ruby Dunn. Their sons, Edward and Dennis were bussing the counter and keeping the hamburger-satisfied customers moving. The brothers told this writer that the secret to the delicious hamburgers was a mixture of beef and sausage. Coca Colas in the small bottles were good by themselves. The name of the restaurant was the Green Grill.
Every day, Mother would leave my three brothers and me 35 cents each to buy our lunch in town; there was no lunchroom in those days. A typical lunch hour for me would include a fast run to town when school let out for noon break. My first stop would be the aforementioned Green Grill with an order for two of those great hamburgers and a coke—total cost, two bits. After wolfing those down, I had just enough time to survey the counter in Jones Bakery where the PlantersFirst Bank now is located. My big decision was whether to buy 2 donuts or 2 cinnamon rolls, or one of each. Either of the two would set me back the other dime which Mother left me. My nourishing meal was taken care of, leaving me just enough time to trot at a fast pace back to school.
A couple more grocery stores occupied the other end of Commerce Street and Jackson—Sims and A & P, later to become Lancaster’s and Fowlers. Directly across the street was a clothing store operated by a Jewish man named Jack Robbins. Daddy always bought his felt hats in the United Department Store owned by Mister Robbins, a short, strange-looking man with eyes that were magnified by his need for glasses. He was one of several merchants in town who were Jewish, including Ben and Minnie Silver, Myer and Goldie Freed, Hans and Bo Mayer, Sam Sommers, the pecan man, and Sam Dobkins.
Two of the more enjoyable stores for me, as a child, were the ten cent store owned by Freed and his wife. The name of the business was Crests Five & Dime. Almost directly across the street was a competitor named Wynn’s Ten Cent Store. Oh, the things that a young boy could buy in one of those stores—toy cars and trucks, tops, Yo Yos, cap guns, and kites were among some of the things I have purchased for a nickel or a dime during those years. They must have done very well with the small change stores, because memory serves me that a third five and dime named McConnell’s Ten Cent Store opened later.
There were multiple numbers of stores for many things. Altogether, there were about eight or nine grocery stores, at least three furniture stores, several drug stores, and any kind of gasoline station one chose for a favorite.
(Shown below is Bill Goode one of the owners of the Chevy dealers in the city by the muddy riverduring the 1950s.)
The Chevy dealership was owned by Willie Pate and Bill Goode.
The Oldsmobile dealership was owned by Louie Blount, and the Buick dealership was Glenn and Thomas Herrington.
The Way Brothers had a dealership back then also. They were the Plymouth-Dodge dealers.
(An ardent salesman in nhis time, Sam Way ran a promotion giving away anew Plymouth amd it was won by Mrs. Virginia Cobb.
Today, in stark contrast to so many other bygone dealers, Way Brothers has Ford and Chevy dealerships, fierce competitors for a century.
Someone owned a Hudson dealership, and the last Studebaker I recall was a black, sharp-looking one driven by Judge Sloan. (Below is a picture of Billy Judge Sloan a NASCAR fan still. He owned the last Studebaker after they ceased manufacturing them in America.)
There was no shortage of liquor stores in the city by the muddy river either. It was kind of strange that Hawkinsville was the only town that seemed to be “wet.” Little did it matter though because “bootleggers,” a nickname given to those who sold bonded liquor without a license, could still be found. Some even made moonshine and sold it by the fruit jar.
I had a brother seven years older than me who was “bad to drink” as they said in those days. I took it upon myself to keep tabs on him by following his car on my bicycle and watching where he went.
(Looking very much like my old bike, "Paint," it freed me up to travel many miles with very little restriction.)
Mother didn’t want him to drink, and I loved playing spy for my mother. It almost got me killed once. A local saloon named Marchman’s Beer Joint or something like that was a place he went into on one occasion. Sitting astride my trusty bike, “Paint,” I took up a position where I could peek inside without him seeing me. After seeing him swigging on a bottle of beer, I took off for our house to report in to my mother. The problem happened when Mother challenged him about his whereabouts after he got home. In full denial, my brother said she was mistaken. My mother revealed her source quicker than you can shake a stick. I was ratted out! Immediately, I made a dead run for the front door with him in hot pursuit. I was saved that day by another brother, a non-drinking one, just younger that the one I had spied on. He jumped out of a chair and threatened to ‘bust his head open if he touched me. Whew! I was almost a goner. I decided maybe it wasn’t the best idea to spy on my beer-swizzling brother again.

Batts Drugs had a championship soda fountain in those days, and a would-be Miss America dipping ice cream and making shakes. Although Pansy Lollis was several years older than my buddies and me, we loved to go in and flirt with her. She just laughed at us and tried to keep us away from the comic book section too long.
(bove picture is current owner of Batts Drugstore, Ben Cravey sitting on Santa's lap seeking an early Christmas present. There is no soda fountain today.)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Hawkinsville, Georgia, My Hometown

Hawkinsville is small by many standards, but the heart that beats beneath the surface of the city by the muddy river is huge.
Most of my life has been spent in or near Hawkinsville. As a matter of fact, when the old Taylor Memorial Hospital was completed in 1938, this writer was born shortly afterwards on the last day of the year—not in the hospital—in our home which was the norm for most babies born during that time period.
This will be the first of a series of articles about our fair city and county.
Around 1830, the larger of the two settlements separated by the Ocmulgee River was the more prosperous, that is, until a plague hit Hartford, a community that lost by one vote in becoming the capital of Georgia. People began to move west across the river into smaller Hawkinsville to escape the illness that had infected the would-be capital of the Peach State.
At that time, travel across the river was by ferry. Almost unbelievable, the Taylor mansion was torn down in Hartford and transported by ferry to Hawkinsville where it was re-built.
The first bridge across the river was a small wooden structure.

The second bridge is the one which is most remembered by people born between 1920 and 1958. (The above picture is leading into Hawkinsville from Hartford. In my lifetime, I witnessed the river lapping te underneath part of the bridge seen here above the river.) It is remembered as the crooked bridge, with the highway from Hartford joining the high structure leading to the scary part over the river before connecting with Hawkinsville. For those of us who walked the bridge on a regular basis—or rode across it on our bicycles—there was a great respect and fear of possible dangerous consequences. First of all, it was narrow, barely enough room for oncoming cars to pass. Meeting large trucks insured that the frightening factor was at a maximum.
There were frequent wrecks on the bridge, and several deadly ones come to mind. On one occasion a car-hauling truck crashed through the concrete barrier and was suspended precariously from the bridge. Far below, a pickup truck which broke free from its chains at the top of the trailer, lay in a crumpled state on the ground. The driver managed to crawl to safety from his cab back onto the bridge.

As people came across the bridge, one of the first structures to come into view was the old cotton mill which sat high up on the banks of the river. The mill was one of the largest sources of employment in its heyday, much the same as it was in most southern towns.

My father and mother worked in the factory when it was known as Superba Mills, and my father continued after it was purchased and renamed Opelika Manufacturing. As was the case with many people who were employed in the hot, dusty conditions of textile work, my mother became ill with chronic asthma brought on by the stifling conditions of cotton mill work. She was forced to quit working in the extreme conditions.

During the days of my youth, trains still included Hawkinsville on some of their routes. Hawkinsville eventually fell victim, deemed to be no longer necessary by the railroad.
One of my childhood memories was a train ride from Hawkinsville to Cochran which included the train trestle, a twin to the crooked bridge of terror. (My first train ride was with my Mother to Cochran and included a scary ride across the trestle scanning the ocmulgee River.)Both the bridge and the trestle met their fate when they were dynamited into oblivion in the late 1950s—changed in a heartbeat, left only in our memories and old photographs.
Many businesses in the next block played a large role in my life. The Hawkinsville Grocery Store where I worked for four years as a grocery clerk during my high school years would lead out in memories. Alton Woodard owned the store when I was a small boy. My mother would send me to the store several times a week to buy necessary items for our meals. In those days, it wasn’t viewed as a threat to the safety of a young child to go to town alone. When I entered the ninth-grade I was hired by new owner, Joe Berryhill, father of Patsy Berryhill Tripp.

(Picture above is the first automobile and gas company. In later years, this building was located near the C & W Hardware Company and just beyond the Hawkinsville Grocery Store, one of which were seven in the two block area.)
Only a couple of doors down was the C & W Hardware Store which was owned by Fussell and Robert Culpepper, brothers, and their partner, Mister Weddington. That store set the pattern for what I would always think a hardware store should be like—employees who knew where all of the thousands of screws and nuts and bolts were located. In addition, they could instruct anyone how to repair anything from plumbing, to building, to electrical repairs. I remember thinking they were the smartest men in the world.
Across the street was the B. C. Moore Store and the manager was a man named Bud Freeney. What a merchant he was! I knew what clothes I needed and he allowed me to pay a dollar a week for them until they were paid in full. What a deal! Only when a giant of a man, with a cigar firmly planted in his mouth, offered me enough reasons to purchase my shoes from his place, called Bohans Shoe Store, did I start to diversify my purchases of foot wear.
Next to Dobkins Store was a drugstore (Second store on left) where I enjoyed an occasional ice cream at a nickel a pop or ten cents for a double dip.

Along that same side of the street was a small restaurant named Shepherd’s Café (Fourth sign on left) which was owned and operated by Billy Shepherd’s parents. It was obvious to me that Mister Shepherd had some sort of crippling disease because he limped badly and his arm was crooked. My mother and father did not go out to eat often because money was very scarce, however on one very vivid occasion, they took me with them to the small café. After they ordered, they turned to me to see what I wanted. I had always had a passion for Oyster Stew, and when I saw the word oysters on the menu, I promptly told them that was what I wanted. Imagine my surprise and disappointment when the waiter came back with a strange-looking dish of fried oysters. I recall being heartbroken that it wasn’t in a bowl of milk with crackers like Mother made. As I recall, Daddy ate the fried oysters and I must have eaten whatever he had ordered.
Journeying on down the sidewalk was Silver’s Clothing Store, Nick’s Grocery Store with more stuff displayed on the sidewalk than most of the other merchants. I vividly recall the great candy counter with all of the great chocolates.
We’ve only made it part way down the sidewalk and have yet to get to Crest’s Five & Dime Store. My home town had so much to offer. Please continue to read as I travel further into my past life.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

M & T Meats Third Generation

Hawkinsville's M & T Meats
Business Still Growing

The old shack still stands at the water’s edge, a lot more worse for the wear than in the 1950s when a few locals would show up on Fred Thompson’s back lot about once a week to play poker. How did they know there would be a poker game? If they smelled chicken and dumplings from Mrs. Alma’s kitchen, they knew it was poker night.
Sure! Playing poker in those days was illegal, but who really cared. The scene was huge moss-laden oak trees, and it was a men’s only night out in the little thatched roofed shack. My guess is that it was table stakes.
Mister Fred as he was known to most everyone was a little bit entrepreneur and a little bit gambler, but he came by both honestly. As a young boy, around fourteen-years-old, his mother kicked him out of the house. Quickly, he found out it was sink or swim. He followed the railroad tracks from Cochran walking toward a new existence in nearby—if ten miles walking could be considered nearby—Hawkinsville. Along the way, he ran into some men rolling dice. When he left home that day, he had a quarter in his pocket. He jumped into the game and when he quit, he had over two dollars. Still no fortune, however it was enough to get him a place to stay, something he couldn’t have done with the quarter.
During his growing up years, his life was hardscrabble, but he didn’t quit. By the time the 1950s rolled around he had been married to Alma Beeland for over a decade. In Mrs. Alma, he found a lifetime mate who would do anything he wanted to do. They were true lifetime soul mates. He built a small business on the Eastman Highway and named it Fred’s Drive-in, a barbecue specialty restaurant with dancing and private dining rooms. No alcohol beverages were sold on the premises, but like other businesses, they let their customers who came to dance, “brown-bag” their own spirits and the diner sold setups for the customers. Again, that’s just the way things were done back then. The location of Fred’s Drive-in was just east of WCEH Radio Station. After ten years, Thompson sold the business lock, stock and barrel. Always the entrepreneur, Mister Fred had a fish market in Hawkinsville which Mrs. Alma ran for him. He also had a Dollarama Store in Eastman for a couple of years, but again like most entrepreneurs, some businesses fail. That was the case with the Dollar store. Probably a good thing for Sam Walton that it did fail. In 1963, he and his son-in-law, Alvin Mathis, Jr. decided to begin making sausage for public consumption. They purchased a meat grinder and a casing packer for selling link sausage.
His son-in-law, and his daughter, Judy were both employed at Robins AFB and Junior delivered and sold the fresh sausage to his co-workers.
“When they started,” Judy Mathis said, “they were killing one hog a week, and the reputation for the pork began to spread and it jumped to two, then three, then four a week. They named the business M & T Meats.”

Judy and Junior helped him with the business as much as possible, but finally he hired some help and they continued working at the base.
By 1970, Thompson was ready to retire from the meat business and Judy left her job at RAFB and began to ease into the M & T Meats business. She and Junior finally agreed to buy her father out and become the sole owners. They moved into the building on the back of the lot and began to re-model it. They added another room and soon were doing all of the meat smoking and curing in that location. They fixed up the front of the building for their customers to come into and the business continued to prosper.

Nearly twenty years later, 1992, their son, Phil Mathis left Georgia Southern College in Statesboro, one subject shy of a diploma. He began working in the business and they soon saw that he was made for it. His aplomb with customers was noticed immediately. Judy and Junior Mathis who had never let their children work in the business soon agreed that he was a limb off his grandfather’s tree.
“Phil was a natural in this business,” his mother said. “Within a year, he had a change in his life. A young woman from Apopka, Florida came up to Pulaski County with her father to go deer hunting. He bagged one and someone told his daughter that Phil would process it for her. It was an incredible meeting for the two young people and before long, Tammy and Phil decided to get married.”
As Phil eased into the business, it became evident that he had a vision to bring other products to his customers which would include beef, cheese, vegetables, Irish and Sweet potatoes, syrup, frozen biscuits and barbecue sauce—the original recipe of Mrs. Alma.

It seems that Phil and Tammy knew by instinct what their customers wanted, and they were constantly looking at a full house of customers, clamoring for a spot nearer the meat counter display. Once near the meat counter, the customers eyes reminded this writer of a child with sparkly eyes at Christmas time. Sausage—fresh and smoked, ground or in links—along with pork chops, ham, red links, souse meat and bacon all glistened with freshness in their appearance. Ask for a pound of sausage, and one scoop would place it on the scales at a few ounces over a pound. Informed that it was a little more than a pound, customers always say, “That’s okay. Just leave it on there.” Incredible how much extra sausage can be sold that way over the course of a year. However, if it didn’t meet the expectations of superb and fresh taste, the customers would not return. But return they do, from our community, and others as well.
Just a week ago, the third move of the M & T business was completed, a few months later than expected, but moved it was. M & T Meats in a nice new building.
You won’t believe it until you come in and take a look for yourself.
“I can’t say enough for our employees,” Phil Mathis said. “A business is only as good as its employees. Throughout this huge process of moving, I have seen their dedication. They have been absolutely superb. We could not have done it without their great effort.”
In looking at the new edifice either from the outside or the inside is almost beyond belief. Mathis, with his visionary skills has designed a state of the arts business with all new equipment from the front to the back and side to side which will sell wholesale, retail and e-Commerce (Internet.)

Customers will be standing by the all new beef-only counter drooling at the wonderful cuts of fresh beef. Exit that and go to the right and take a look at their deli counter featuring top sandwich meats and Tammy’s special chicken salad recipe. From there to the far right is a huge rotisserie which will have all kinds of meats prepared for take-home. Oh yes, and there is a fresh seafood counter with scrumptious shrimp, salmon and crab legs. Did I forget? They also have the signature sausage and pork counter—bigger and better than ever. Add to these delicacies, a contingent of fresh and frozen vegetables in the middle of the store’s display.

Reminiscent of a newly christened ship, the all-new, gleaming M & T Meats stands proudly on the southern side of the Lower River Road full of treats. Phil, Tammy and all of their employees are ready for a new chapter and stand ready to welcome all their old customers and the new ones as well.
To place an order for shipment in the continental United States, call (478) 892-9810 and they will ship it to you. Ummm good! Sausage and biscuits for breakfast.