Saturday, July 19, 2014

Fifty Years Ago This Week in West Rome - 7/20/1964 to 7/26/1964

The series of weeklong summer camps at Glen Holla Boys' Camp came to an end this week in 1964. These weeklong sessions were sponsored by the Rome Boys Club (located in the heart of Chieftain territory); counselors at the camp included Chieftains Jerry Coalson and Ronnie Kennedy. The camp, located off Walker Mountain Road, offered attendees a chance to enjoy a five-day camp experience not too far away from home, under the watchful supervision of camp director Max Bass, four senior counselors, and six junior counselors.

A group of West Rome girls, including Jeanie Maxwell, Jackie Lupo, Patti Tolbert, Donna Mayne, Becky Wood, Yvonne Housch, Nelda Myers, Susan Wade, Jan Nutt, Susan Penn, Barbara Helie, Ann Holbrook, and Gail Rogers, spent their summer volunteering at the hospital and the Floyd County Health Department as a part of the Candy Stripers volunteer program during the summer of '64. The girls worked in pairs for approximately five hours every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday; some of the girls indicated that their experience in the program had inspired them to pursue post-high-school careers or courses of study in medicine.

Rome's first Soap Box Derby was held on Saturday, July 25th, with more than two dozen entries from Rome and Floyd County. Almost 4000 people were on hand to watch the event.

Seven years after Rome lost its WROM-TV station to Chattanooga, the State Board of Education approved funding to establish a new educational TV station to Rome. Alas, by the time Channel 18 went on the air, it was located not in Rome but in Chatsworth/Dalton instead... Rome just wasn't destined to have a television station, apparently!

By popular demand, The Shrimp Boat brought back its shrimp and fish combo dinner (with hush puppies, tartar sauce, and french fries) for only 97¢. Why 97¢? Because in 1964, sales tax was still 3%, so that made it exactly a dollar with tax.

McDonald's was attracting people to their relatively new Rome location with their 47¢ All-American Meal, which included a hamburger, french fries, and a milkshake. As a special prize, kids received a Golden Arches bank--and if they filled out a birthday club card, they'd get a postcard good for a free All-American Meal on their birthday.

Piggly Wiggly had sirloin steak for 79¢ a pound, canned English peas or green beans for 20¢ each, and whole watermelons for 49¢. Kroger had smoked ham for 35¢ a pound, Kroger bread for 8¢ a loaf, and bananas for a dime a pound. A&P had 7 ounce cans of tuna for a quarter each, round roast for 69¢ a pound, and cantaloupes for 33¢ each. Big Apple had spare ribs for 29¢ a pound, baking potatoes for a dime a pound, and bell peppers for 7¢ each. Couch's had T-bone steak for 69¢ a pound, canned peaches for a quarter a can, and Scott bathroom tissue for a dime a roll.

For the first half of the week, moviegoers had a choice of The Three Lives of Thomasina at the DeSoto, Wild & Wonderful at the First Avenue, and a double feature of Last Train from Gun Hill and Walt Disney's Grand Canyon at the West Rome Drive-In. The midweek switch up brought Zulu to the First Avenue, The Patsy (with Jerry Lewis) to the DeSoto, and Walt Disney's Summer Magic (with Hayley Mills) to the West Rome Drive-In.

The Beatles were back on top as "A Hard Day's Night" took the number one spot on the Top Ten charts. Other top ten songs included "Rag Doll" by the Four Seasons (#2); "The Little Old Lady (from Pasadena)" by Jan & Dean (#3); "Everybody Loves Somebody" by Dean Martin (#4); "Where Did Our Love Go?" by the Supremes (#5); "Wishin' & Hopin'" by Dusty Springfield (#6); "Dang Me" by Roger Miller (#7); "I Get Around" by the Beach Boys (#8); "Memphis" by Johnny Rivers (#9); and "The Girl from Ipanema" by Getz/Gilberto (#10).

The number one album? A Hard Day's Night soundtrack by the Beatles (on the United Artists label) of course! The number two album? Something New by the Beatles (on the Capitol label), which included several A Hard Day's Night songs that weren't on the soundtrack album in the US, along with some odds and ends such as German versions of "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "She Loves You."

Friday, July 11, 2014

Fifty Years Ago This Week in West Rome - 7/13/1964 to 7/19/1964

Rome and Floyd County continued to show strong economic growth in the summer of 1964, with Rome unemployment coming in at only 4.4% for the summer, almost a full percentage point below the national average of 5.3%. This wasn't as bad as it sounds, though, because students looking for summer jobs routinely registered as unemployed every summer in order to take advantage of the employment office's job listings. Adult unemployment remained steady at about 3.1% in Floyd County... a number we all consider almost unattainable today. And remember, back in 1964 a much higher percentage of the working-age population was participating in the work force, making that figure even more impressive.

Ledbetter Construction Company was chosen to complete the Rome/411 Interchange project, building one of the most ambitious non-interstate interchanges in Georgia  right across the site previously known as "Goat Hill." Rome had ambitious hopes that this interchange would lead to commercial growth on 411 between Rome and Cartersville and on 27 between Rome and Cedartown—and it eventually did, just not as quickly or as thoroughly as civic leaders anticipated back in 1964.

West Rome High School's beloved Mrs. Smiderski was one of 57 social studies teachers in the Southeast—and the only one in Rome—who successfully completed the University of North Caroline Summer Fellowship Program in Economic Education.

And the economic good news continued as Rome's department stores reported 2% sales growth over the first half of 1963.  This was less than the statewide growth average of 9%, but Rome's lower growth was due in part to the fact that it saw higher-than-the-state-average growth between 1962 and 1963 (maybe the rest of the state was just catching up).

This'll have you in stitches: a top-of-the-line Kenmore sewing machine could be had for only $53 at Sears—and that included an all-wood cabinet/sewing console with a folding top that opened out into a spacious work area.

Piggly Wiggly had Delmonico steaks for 99¢ a pound, watermelons for 69¢ each, and Sunset Gold biscuits for a nickel a can. Kroger had ground beef for 29¢ a pound, bananas for a dime a pound,and whole pineapples for 49¢ each—and to make them more attractive to price-conscious shoppers, they also became a Top Value Stamps store effective this week in 1964. Big Apple had chuck roast for 29¢ a pound, a five-pound bag of Domino sugar for 39¢, and fresh okra for 19¢ a pound. A&P had seedless grapes for 29¢ a pound, Porterhouse steak for 89¢ a pound, and Red Rock canned soft drinks for 9¢ each. Couch's had Duke's mayonnaise for 39¢ a jar, sirloin steak for 79¢, and white corn for a nickel an ear.

The DeSoto Theater began the week with special Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday matinee showings of Puss 'n' Boots ("all seats only 50¢"). The week of evening screenings began with Bedtime Story (with Marlon Brando, David Niven, & Shirley Jones) at the DeSoto, Good Neighbor Sam (with Jack Lemmon) at the First Avenue, and a double feature of Lady & the Tramp and Almost Angels at the West Rome Drive-In. The mid-week new movie switch out brought Walt Disney's Thomasina to the DeSoto, Wild and Wonderful (with Tony Curtis) at the First Avenue, and Savage Sam at the West Rome Drive-In.

They're baaaack... After a few weeks out of the Top Ten, the Beatles made their return this week as "A Hard Day's Night" entered the charts in the number two position, right behind "Rag Doll" by the Four Seasons. Other top ten hits included "I Get Around" by the Beach Boys (#3); "Memphis" by Johnny Rivers (#4); "The Girl from Ipanema" by Getz/Gilberto (#5); "The Little Old Lady From Pasadena" by Jan & Dean (#6); "Can't You See That She's Mind" by the Dave Clark Five (#7); "Dang Me" by Roger Miller (#8); "Wishin' & Hopin'" by Dusty Springfield (#9); and "Keep on Pushing" by the Impressions (#10).

The Beatles soundtrack album A Hard Day's Night  also jumped to number three on the charts this week in 1964—and this Beatles album appeared on yet another label, as United Artists had acquired the US rights to the film and its soundtrack. As a result, the  album, featuring a mix of eight Beatles songs and four instrumental tracks arranged by George Martin, would not be available on Capitol Records for another sixteen years, when EMI acquired United Artists and transferred the rights to the soundtrack to Capitol.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Fifty Years Ago This Week in West Rome - 7/6/1964 to 7/12/1964

Several Rome businesses—including some restaurants, drive-ins, and motion picture theaters—ended their policies of segregation this week in 1964 in keeping with the recently-passed civil rights bill. The DeSoto and the First Avenue were the first formerly-segregated businesses to open the doors to all regardless of race. This marked the long-overdue beginning of the end of segregation in Rome, in Georgia, in the South, and in the nation as a whole. It seems hard to believe that we're only a half-century removed from a time when segregation was still an accepted practice, isn't it?

Rapid residential and business growth in West Rome led to the City Commission "fast-laning" the four-laning of Shorter Avenue at the Underpass. In addition, City Manager Bruce Hamler reported that the City Commission had approved bids for two water storage tanks in the West Rome area to make sure that immediate water needs were met.

Rome Police Chief Nelson Camp announced that, in response to concerns from residents and businesses, the city would actively enforce the 11pm curfew for all residents under the age of 21. Chief Camp said that officers would allow for reasonable extensions for people coming home from work, a movie, etc.

The Rome City and Floyd County school systems continued to discuss a merger of the two systems, with State Board of Education chairman James Peters saying it was the only only path to progress. Today, no one remembers James Peters and the two systems remain un-merged...

We're accustomed to seeing cheaper prices from a half-century ago, but interest rates that banks were paying were certainly much, much higher--more than 16 times today's rates for a standard savings account. Citizens Federal was paying 4.25% interest on all savings accounts this week in 1964... and today, most banks are barely paying the .25% part of that! 

Piggly Wiggly had chicken breasts for 39¢ each, bananas for a dime a pound, and Pillsbury flaky biscuits for a nickel a can. Kroger had ham for 39¢ a pound, cream style corn for a dime a can, and a 24-bottle case of Coca-Cola or Tab for 99¢ plus deposit. Big Apple had chuck roast for 29¢ a pound, watermelons for 33¢ each, and ice cream for 39¢  a half-gallon. A&P had ground beef for 33¢ a pound, potato salad for 29¢ a pound, and smoked sausage for 59¢ a pound. Couch's had sirloin steak for 79¢ a pound, cantaloupes for 29¢ each, and a 16-ounce jar of JFG Peanut Butter for 49¢.

Rome's cinematic week began with The Unsinkable Molly Brown at the DeSoto, How The West Was Won at the First Avenue, and The Dream Maker at the West Rome Drive-In. The mid-week movie switch up brought Good Neighbor Sam (with Jack Lemmon) to both the First Avenue and the West Rome Drive-In and Bedtime Story (with Marlon Brando, David Niven, and Shirley Jones) to the DeSoto.

The number one song this week in 1964 was "Rag Doll" by the Four Seasons. Other top ten hits included "Memphis" by Johnny Rivers (#2); "I Get Around" by the Beach Boys (#3); "Can't You See That She's Mine" by the Dave Clark Five (#4); "The Girl from Ipanema" by Getz/Gilberto (#5); "The Little Old Lady (From Pasadena)" by Jan & Dean (#6); "Don't Let The Sun Catch You Crying" by Gerry & the Pacemakers (#7); "Dang Me" by Roger Miller (#8); "My Boy Lollipop" by Millie Small (#9); and "Keep On Pushing" by the Impressions" (#10).

Comic book readers were happy to see that the Hulk became a regular feature in Marvel Comics' Tales to Astonish beginning with #60, which went on sale this week in 1964. Meanwhile, Captain America and Iron Man were slugging it out on the cover of Tales of Suspense #58, also on sale this week in 1964... and their face-off was the precursor to an ongoing Captain America feature in Tales of Suspense beginning in the next issue.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Lucky Thirteen

Today's mail was noteworthy in that it contained a copy of the 1959 Watanyah, the first West Rome High School yearbook. I've been searching for the 1959 and 1960 yearbooks for quite a while, and only this week did I acquire the final volume to complete my set of the first thirteen yearbooks. These thirteen books cover West Rome High from the year the school began until the year I graduated. It's not the sort of thing that many people are likely to place high on their book-collecting priority list, but I find it fascinating to go through these books, looking at familiar names from the years before my time at West Rome, as well as classmates from my years there.

West Rome was a relatively small community--fewer than 400 students when the school opened in 1959, growing to about 600 students by the time I graduated--and many of the students in the early yearbooks were siblings of my classmates. It's also interesting to check the advertisers and sponsors list and see businesses that were a part of my childhood--businesses that have been gone for decades now. It's a nostalgic look at a community I was proud to be a part of, and a community that will always be a part of me. I will always believe that Rome lost a wonderful sense of community when West and East Rome High Schools were closed in 1992 and merged into Rome High (a school located so far on the outskirts of Rome that it isn't close to any significant portion of the student body). Rome thrived when these two schools existed, and its decline began soon after they were closed an demolished to make way for a Walmart and a Kmart, respectively. These books preserve a much better era in Rome's history.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Fifty Years Ago This Week in West Rome - 6/29/1964 to 7/5/1964

With school out, kids had plenty of time on their hands—which is why the Carnegie and Tri-County Regional Libraries launched their Summer Safari reading program for first through eighth graders, urging them to read at least ten books during the summer.  The library offered various award incentives for young readers who completed ten, fifteen, and twenty-five books.  (Since I was a voracious reader, hitting the 25-book mark was no problem.)

Did you remember that Shorter Avenue was still a two-lane road at the underpass in 1964? It's true—but that was about to change as the Rome City Commission unveiled its grand plan to widen Shorter to four lanes at the underpass. Some may not even remember the old railway underpass at the east end of Shorter, near the former Marine Corps Armory, but it was one of those landmarks that Romans used in giving directions back in 1964—and it was a major bottleneck for traffic during rush hour, often backing up westbound traffic well past the hospital every afternoon. The underpass was such a landmark, in fact, that some longtime Romans still give directions using the phrase "go past where the underpass used to be."

Floyd Outlaw's Rome Appliance Center was promoting their new high-capacity 14 cubic foot refrigerator-freezers this week in 1964; for only $295, you could have this state-of-the-art frost-free model delivered to your home. (Today, 14 cubic feet is on the lower end of refrigerator sizes, but in 1964, it was the Cadillac of fridges!)

This week in 1964, Piggly Wiggly had oleomargarine for a dime a pound, Van Camp's pork & beans for 9¢ a can, and a July 4th special of Coca-Cola, Tab, or Sprite for only 75¢ for a 24-bottle case (plus deposit, of course). Kroger had ground beef for 37¢ a pound, strawberries for 29¢ a pint, and Polar Pak ice milk for 19¢ a half-gallon. Big Apple had a 12-ounce jar of Jif peanut butter for 39¢, Swift's bacon for 49¢ a pound, and whole watermelons for 79¢ each. A&P had a pint of blueberries for 35¢, Super-Right hot dogs for 49¢ a pound, and a bag of marshmallows for a quarter—just perfect for toasting over the grill after the big July 4th cookout! Couch's had JFG mayonnaise for 39¢ a quart, Kraft tasty-loaf American cheese for 25¢ a pound, and pork steak for 39¢ a pound.

Rome's cinematic week began with Flipper's New Adventure  at the DeSoto, How the West Was Won at the First Avenue, and a double feature of Four For Texas and Strait-Jacket at the West Rome Drive-In. The mid-week switch up (because new movie day was Wednesday back then, not Friday) brought The Unsinkable Molly Brown (with Debbie Reynolds) to the DeSoto and a double feature of The Victors and The Dream Maker to the West Rome Drive-In, while How the West Was Won continued for a third week at the First Avenue.

The number one song this week in 1964 was "I Get Around" by the Beach Boys. Other top ten hits included "Memphis" by Johnny Rivers (#2); "Rag Doll" by the Four Seasons (#3); "Don't Let The Sun Catch You Crying" by Gerry & the Pacemakers (#4); "Can't You See That She's Mine" by the Dave Clark Five (#5); "My Boy Lollipop" by Millie Small (#6); "People" by Barbra Streisand (#7); "A World Without Love" by Peter & Gordon (#8); "The Girl from Ipanema" by Getz/Gilberto (#9); and "No Particular Place to Go" by Chuck Berry (#10).

And this week in 1964, two of my favorite things—comic books and the Beatles—merged when Dell released their 64-page biographical comic book spotlighting The Beatles. This was the first of many Beatles biographies I have read over the years--but to this day, whenever I hear about the Beatles' early years, I always picture artist Joe Sinnott's depiction of the Fab Four. Sinnott, who would be best known as an inker on Jack Kirby's Fantastic Four, was quite a skilled penciller, and he turned in an outstanding art job on this comic. Of course, it was a must-have for me as soon as I saw a copy at Enloe's Rexall Drugs on Shorter Avenue...

A Life In Four Colors Sidebar--1964: Teevee & Me

 Anyone who knows me is aware that I'm an enthusiastic television viewer. I still consider the sitcom to be television's finest contribution to entertainment; I enjoy watching syndicated reruns (commercials and all) of programs that I already own on DVD or blu-ray; and I frequently work with a television providing background noise and interludes of entertainment, just as my parents did when I was young.

For the past few years, I've done a weekly column about everyday life in the community of West Rome fifty years ago. In prepping the columns each week, I would sometimes look at the television listing in each day's newspapers, remembering some shows and drawing blanks on others because my family never watched them. But that got me thinking about television and me fifty years ago, when the medium was much newer and less regimented, when local programming was more diverse, and when we had far fewer viewing choices.

One of the things that I remember most fondly about my childhood summers was television. I am old enough to remember when there was no television in our home, and I also recall the excitement we all felt when Dad brought him that first black and white TV in 1959. By 1964, we had a large (by 1964 standards, at least--it was a 21" screen) black and white set that we watched as a family every evening. I also remember getting up early on weekends to watch television, and I remember watching television on summer mornings when school was out. But what was I watching in 1964?

As it turns out, not very much! The syndicated programming and children's shows that I remember most fondly from my childhood actually date from a few years later; The Dick Van Dyke Show, for instance, had just wrapped its third-season run and was not yet syndicated. Likewise My Favorite Martian, The Andy Griffith Show, Petticoat Junction, The Beverly Hillbillies, My Three Sons, The Twilight Zone... none of these shows were airing in syndication at that time. It would be several more years before most of those shows became a part of weekday morning television.

Furthermore, our television viewing options were limited. There was no cable system in Rome in 1964, so we were reliant on an external pole-mounted antenna to bring in signals from Atlanta (3 channels ) or Chattanooga (3 more channels, one of which had briefly been a Rome television station). That's six channels showing programming from 3 networks: WSB Channel 2 (Atlanta) and WRCB Channel 3 (Chattanooga), both of which were NBC affiliates; WAGA Channel 5 (Atlanta) and WDEF Channel 12 (Chattanooga), both CBS affiliates; and WTVC Channel 9 (Chattanooga) and WAII Channel 11 (Atlanta), both ABC affiliates. And that was it--no specialty channels, no UHF channels, nothing else. (Our TV Guide listed programming for a Macon channel, but we never had an antenna powerful enough to pick it up.)

And as you might realize if you know geography, Rome is more or less equidistant between Chattanooga (which was 60 to 70 miles north of us) and Atlanta (which was 60 or 70 miles south of us). This meant that anyone who wanted to watch programming from both cities had to either turn their antenna 90 degrees, yelling to someone indoors "How does it look now?" or they had to invest in a motorized antenna rotor. In 1964, I was our antenna rotor; I learned very early more or less where the arrow of the antenna had to point for Chattanooga or Atlanta, and was quite skilled at changing antenna directions quickly. Nevertheless, I was quite happy when we finally bought a motorized antenna rotor in 1965.

We had no means of timeshifting our television choices back then--no VCRs, no DVRs, no video on demand. If you wanted to watch a show, you had to be there at the TV set when it came on. If you didn't want to miss a minute, you needed to plan your snack breaks and restroom runs accordingly. In 1964, television brought my family together; some of my fondest memories involve me lying in the floor of the living room, watch comedies that elicited loud laughter from my father and a lighter, lilting laugh from my mother--and my sister and I would laugh, too, even if we didn't get all the jokes, because it had to be funny since my parents were laughing.

But what was I watching in 1964 when I had control of the television dial (no remote back then)? On Saturday mornings, the choices were largely syndicated cartoons or adventure shows, with a few network cartoons thrown in for good measure. Jungle Jim, Ramar, The Lone Ranger, B'wana Don, Fury, Sky King, Rin Tin Tin, Roy Rogers--I would watch any and all of them because even a child could follow the premise right away, and the stories made sense within minutes even if you switched over half-way through the episode. And I did that a lot--if one series wasn't holding my interest, I was perfectly willing to switch over to something else in mid-episode. (That carries over today, in fact--I have no problem tuning into a movie midway through, or starting a television episode well into its storyline, just as I did when I was a child.)

The cartoons were a mix of classic Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies along with new stuff like Hector Heathcoat, Tennesee Tuxedo, Mr. Magoo, Alvin, and Mighty Mouse (apparently children's programmers were quite fond of alliteration), all of which I loved as a child. The toughest part was that networks would sometimes counter-program, putting their most popular cartoon on at the same time as another network's most popular cartoon, which forced me to pick and choose.  So as it turns out, television helped me to develop critical thinking skills necessary to determine which show was most likely to appeal to me!

Saturday afternoons were filled with programs that did nothing for me. Country and gospel thrived in the South in the 1960s, with such shows as Flatt & Scruggs, Porter Wagoner, The Mull's Singing Convention, and The Wilburn Brothers filling the air, along with sports programming. I didn't enjoy either, so I rarely watched any television on Saturday afternoons; the only exception would be the occasional syndicated film, usually a Western, a war story, or occasionally a horror movie.

Sunday morning programming was primarily religious in nature, and for the most part it bored me. The highlight of the morning programming for me was the animated Hercules, which ran at 10am on Channel 2. "Hercules, hero of song and story"--I can still sing (badly) the lyrics to that theme song, a half-century later.

Weekday mornings offered a few more syndicated choices, along with some original children's programming. Captain Kangaroo was a weekday regular, and even thought I thought of myself as too old for the show in 1964, I wasn't averse to watching it with my sister Kim, who was just the right age for the good Captain and Mister Green Jeans and the gang. There were plenty of syndicated half-hour cartoon segments, as well as some Three Stooges and Little Rascals shorts. The Lone Ranger, Dennis the Menace, Deputy Dawg, Make Room for Daddy, I Love Lucy, The Real McCoys, Pete & Gladys—I watched any and all of them eagerly if I was in front of the television when they were on, but I never arranged my morning plans around any of those shows. Good thing—many of them were on up against such game shows as Concentration or The Price Is Right or the relatively new Jeopardy, and my Mom was quite the game show devotee.

Weekday afternoons were dominated by soap operas and games shows. Mom never watched soap operas, so I grew up with such shows as Password, You Don't Say, and The Match Game. Dad sometimes got home by 3:30 or 4 on weekday afternoons (working for an afternoon newspaper, he went in very early and was often able to come home once the paper had gone to press), so we would often watch some game shows as a family, competing with the players on screen and with one another in our living room.

But for me, the real television fun began at 4:30, when Channel 2 ran The Officer Don Show. Don Kennedy hosted the show as Officer Don, bringing kids into the studio to serve as a live audience--and as participants in a  variety of contests, including the always-popular Oooey Gooey (blindfolded children picked from three bags on a rotating base, two of which contained goodies and one of which contained the mix of eggs, chocolate syrup, and other substances that elicited the appropriate "Oooey Gooey" response when the unwitting child contestant stuck his hand into the morass. And of course, there were the cartoons--lots of Popeye cartoons, which led to the Officer Don show being renamed The Popeye Club after a while.

And at 5, Channel 9 gave us Bob Brandy, the cowboy host who shared screen time with his horse Rebel and his lovely wife Ingrid, bringing children in his studio and introducing cartoons between in-studio bits that often involved a prize of an RC Cola and a Moon Pie. The Bob Brandy Show was more refined and less manic than the Officer Don Show, but it was nevertheless quite entertaining.

From 6pm on, I relinquished any marginal control of the television to my parents. The news ran from 6 to 7 on almost every channel (30 minutes local news followed by 30 minutes national news), followed by 30 minutes of local or syndicated programming after which network programming began (networks started their shows at 7:30). I watched whatever my parents chose to watch then, although with enough wheedling I could sometimes convince them to let us tune into ABC's The Outer Limits instead of CBS's game-show double header of To Tell The Truth and I've Got a Secret.

Television began to change in the 1964-1965 season as networks realized there was money to be made in series with more youth appeal. But in the summer of 1964, television was an enjoyable but nonessential diversion for a ten-year-old, which is probably why I spent so much time playing outside rather than sitting in front of the TV.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Fifty Years Ago This Week in West Rome - 6/22/1964 to 6/28/1964

Rome's summer heat wave continued as high temperatures continued in the upper 90s early in the week, with a 100-degree temperature on June 23rd setting a new record. There were very few thunderstorms to break the heat, so we did the only thing we could: we endured it, with most of us relying on fans and cold drinks to keep cool, since fewer than 10% of all homes had central air conditioning and only 25% of homes had any air conditioning at all.

The second All-Comers track meet took place at West Rome High School on Saturday, June 27th, directed by Coach Paul Kennedy. Among the participants who posted wins in the meet was West Rome's Dickie Sapp.

Rome was the center of excitement as 200 Georgia postal clerks convened in our city for a two-day seminar. No word as to whether they had to stand in long lines to register, only to have someone close the registration window when they got to the front of the line...

West Rome had a bit of a traffic situation when a truck carrying a crane discovered the hard way that the underpass at the east end of Shorter Avenue (near the old Marine Armory) wasn't quite as high as he thought. When he attempted to drive under the underpass, the crane was knocked off the trailer and fell to the pavement, blocking Shorter Avenue access to downtown and East Rome for several hours until it could be removed.

Rome's Carnegie Library added some pretty impressive tomes to its book selection, thanks to Roman Hugh West, who donated eight rare signed books, including The Good Earth by Pearl Buck, Mr. Wilson's War by John Dos Passos, Caravans by John Michener, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, Flood by Robert Penn Warren, Dorothy and Red by Vincent Sheean, The Best Short Stories by Somerset Maugham, and—the rarest of all—A Movable Feast by Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway signed a copy of the title sheet for Best a week before he died; however, the books weren't bound until after Hemingway's suicide, meaning that Rome's library had the only known legitimate signed copy of the book. (I wonder if the Rome library still has these books today, or were the sold off or stolen years ago?)

West Rome Baptist Church was celebrating its 20th anniversary at its current Shorter Avenue site in the summer of 1964, complete with open houses, homecoming events, and more. The church actually began on Division Street in 1893, later moving to 606 Shorter Avenue before finally relocating to its current site.

Piggly Wiggly had Swift's hot dogs for 39¢ a pound, watermelons for 79¢ each, and Coca-Cola, Sprite, or Tab for 25¢ plus deposit for a six-bottle carton. Kroger had chuck roast for 29¢ a pound, tomatoes for 8¢ a can, and bananas for a dime a pound. Big Apple had ground beef for 39¢ a pound, five pounds of Dixie Crystals sugar for 39¢, and Lady Alice ice milk for 33¢ a half-gallon. A&P had cantaloupes for 29¢ each, rib roast for 65¢ a pound, and Ritz crackers for 33¢ for a one-pound box. Couch's had Shoppers brand bacon for 49¢ a pound, 24-ounce cans of Castleberry's Brunswick stew for 59¢, and 12-ounce cans of Red Rock drinks in assorted flavors for a dime each.

The cinematic week began with How the West Was Won (with Henry Fonda, Gregory Peck, James Stewart, and John Wayne, among others) at the First Avenue Theater, The Pink Panther (with Peter Sellers) at the DeSoto, and The Prize (with Paul Newman and Edward G. Robinson) at the West Rome Drive-In. Midweek movie change-ups brought Flipper's New Adventure (starring a dolphin, of course) to the DeSoto and a double feature of Panic Button and Fury of the Pagans (no one cares who was in either film, believe me) to the West Rome Drive-In, while How the West Was Won continued at the First Avenue for a second week.

The number one song this week in 1964 was "I Get Around" by the Beach Boys. Other top ten hits included "My Boy Lollipop" by Millie Small (#2); "Memphis" by Johnny Rivers (#3); "Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying" by Gerry and the Pacemakers (#4); "People" by Barbra Streisand (#5); "A World Without Love" by Peter & Gordon (#6); "Chapel of Love" by the Dixie Cups (#7); "Rag Doll" by the Four Seasons (#8); "Bad to Me" by Billy J. Kramer (#9); and "Can't You See That She's Mine" by the Dave Clark Five (#10).

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Fifty Years Ago This Week in West Rome - 6/15/1964 to 6/21/1964

Rome's heat wave continued into the last half of June 1964, with temperatures regularly hitting the 90s almost every day and very little precipitation to break the heat. I'm sure we'd all have felt more miserable if this wasn't a time when air conditioning in homes was relatively rare, so we were forced to seek the comfort of shade and open windows and fans and didn't realize how oppressive the weather actually was... Turns out we were luckier than we realized, though: temperatures were hitting 100 degrees regularly in Savannah and other parts of South Georgia!

Outdoor chefs interested in moving beyond charcoal could have Atlanta Gas Light Company install a natural gas grill and gas light (so that you could see what you were grilling, I guess) for only $2 down and $5.75 a month for 16 months—and that included the grill, the light, and the installation. Apparently there was an upside to a utility monopoly back then—low prices and no-interest financing!

If you were a summer reader, then Wyatt's was the place to shop: their bookstore not only was discounting young adult mystery/adventure series like Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, The Dana Girls, Tom Swift Jr., and The Bobbsey Twins from $3.75 to $2.50 a book, but they were also implementing a summer special "by two and get one free" offer on these series. I think this is when I first developed my interest in both Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew (although, truth be told, Nancy Drew always had the better mysteries).

Julian Harrison Ford was pushing its new Ford Mustang, which first made its way into the showroom this week in 1964. To be fair, the car had been released almost two months earlier, but demand had been strong and Julian Harrison was only getting enough to fill customer orders for the first couple of months. By mid-June, though, we could all drive to the dealership and check out this vehicle that had become the automotive success story of the year. (I don't know anyone who picked up a Mustang in its premiere year, but two friends of the family became Mustang owners a year later.)

Piggly Wiggly had chicken breast for 39¢ a pound, white corn for 6¢ an ear, and whole watermelons for 99¢ each. Kroger had fresh whole fryers for 23¢ a pound, large cantaloupes for 29¢ each, and Showboat pork & beans for 15¢ a can. Big Apple had Swift bacon for 49¢ a pound, Sealtest ice cream for 49¢ a half-gallon, and lettuce for a dime a head. A&P had whole hams for 39¢ a pound ice milk for 39¢ a half-gallon, and a five-pound bag of sugar for 39¢. Couch's had pork steak for 49¢ a pound, Blue Plate peanut butter for 29¢ a jar, and four rolls of Northern bathroom tissue for 29¢.

Elvis Presley & Ann-Margret continued to rock moviegoers as Viva Las Vegas continued at the DeSoto for the first half of the week, while William Holden & Alec Guinness reminded us that the Japanese were too big for their bridges as Bridge On the River Kwai continued at the First Avenue. The West Rome Drive-In entertained with the unlikely double feature of Soldier in the Rain and King Kong Vs. Godzilla. The last half of the week brought Peter Sellers' Inspector Clouseau to Rome as The Pink Panther opened at the DeSoto, while How the West Was Won (with "24 great stars and 3 top directors!") opened at the First Avenue. The West Rome Drive-In gave us a weekend double feature of Pillow Talk (with Doris Day & Rock Hudson) and Operation Petticoat (with Cary Grant & Tony Curtis).

The number one song this week in 1964 was the Lennon & McCartney-written "A World Without Love" by Peter & Gordon. Other top ten hits included "I Get Around" by the Beach Boys (#2); "Chapel of Love" by the Dixie Cups (#3); "My Boy Lollipop" by Millie Small (#4); "People" by Barbra Streisand (#5); "Memphis" by Johnny Rivers (#6); "Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying" by Gerry & the Pacemakers (#7); "Love Me With All Your Heart" by the Ray Charles Singers (#8); "Bad to Me" by Billy J. Kramer—another Lennon & McCartney-written song (#9); and "Walk on By" by Dionne Warwick (#10).

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Some Coye Words

I have always enjoyed the bold, stylistically distinctive art of Lee Brown Coye, but what I knew about him was distilled from brief segments of a number of books. Until recently, I wasn't even familiar with Arts Unknown: The Life and Art of Lee Brown Coye—but once I learned of it, I had to have a copy. Finally got a chance to read through it, and it was everything I had hoped for and more.

This isn't just a Coye art book. Oh, there's plenty of art, and the reproduction quality is superb, so art fans won't be disappointed. But it's also a great look at the career of this influential and largely underrated artist whose horror work brings a folk art sensibility to a field that's usually dominated by other, very different styles.

If you've ever enjoyed Coye's work, you'll be glad you checked this one out. If you haven't, this might the book that makes you a Coye fan.

Monday, June 09, 2014

What Makes Us So Special?

Someone asked me recently, "What makes West Rome in the 1960s so special? You do these posts every week, and it doesn't seem like really big things ever happen."

I wholeheartedly agree.

I do these columns every week because there's something wonderful about everyday life that we all too frequently overlook. We're so focused on the big events and the life-changing moments that we forget that life is composed of a million little events, and they matter. Those little events helped to shape us into what we became.

In Our Town, Thornton Wilder's Stage Manager commented, "This is the way we were: in our growing up and in our marrying and in our living and in our dying." These were the everyday events that shaped us into what we  became. We are the product of a thousand thousand mundane happenings; they comprise our small-city life in a time when people could be born and grow up and go to school and graduate and get a job and have a family and buy cars and houses and clothes and food and books and comics and Christmas presents and get older and retire and get sick and get better and eventually die—and never, ever have to leave Rome if we didn't want to. 

It's a time that simply doesn't exist now. Our nation and our world are no longer made up of self-sufficient communities that were capable of meeting all the needs and wants of its people. I don't think that a lot of people born in the 1980s and beyond fully realize just how different life was in the pre-internet, pre-computer, pre-credit-card era. (Can you believe that hardly any of us—or more specifically, our parents— actually had a general purpose credit card in 1964?) 

It's hard to imagine a time when most small town and cities were home to locally owned businesses that were supported by their communities; the chain store was rare in the early 1960s. We knew the names of many of the people with whom we did business. We appreciated them and respected them and built relationships with them.  When Conn's closed down, or when Mr. Candler sold his pharmacy to a major chain and closed Candler's Drugs, we were sad for our community's loss.

These columns are written to remind me—and anyone else who reads them—just what life was like in a time when most of us could watch six TV channels (three from Atlanta, three from Chattanooga), could choose from two indoor theaters and a drive-in, could shop at a half-dozen grocery stores, could do business with six department stores, could eat at a variety of locally-owned restaurants, could think of McDonald's as a New Thing in Rome, could get excited about the records we bought at Redford's and Murphy's and The Record Shop.

We bought brands that don't exist today. We listened to musical artists who, in some cases, are all but fogotten nowadays—and we listened to other musical artists who changed popular music forever. We eagerly watched television shows that had entertained us in countless reruns since then. We were enthralled by Officer Don and Mister Pix & Pixie and Bob Brandy and Bestoink Dooley. The world in which we lived no longer exists, and never will again... but it's worth remembering, I think.

So I write these columns each week. They bring back the many little things that we took for granted back then, and I hope they say a little bit about what it was like to live in the 1960s. No matter what popular culture tells us, it wasn't beatniks, or hippies, or counter-culture, or political radicalism, or protests, or drugs. All of those things existed, but they didn't define the era. All of us who lived in it... we defined the era.