CAMDEN For those reading this column in one of Arkansas’ larger cities, you may need to get out a state map to find the two towns I mention in Dallas County.
In the fall of 1954, Carthage Schools got a new 5th-6th grade teacher. She was newly out of college, pretty, unmarried and had a new way of teaching. Her name was Miss Steely. She said she hoped to get us involved in our lessons. We soon learned this meant she wanted us to answer a lot of questions.
That first day she asked us to stand and tell what we did every day when we weren’t in school. We all said the same thing in different words. Boys helped in the fields and girls sewed and churned and did other work around the house. The next day she tried another approach. “Tell me about your summer vacation with your family and where you went.” Now, this proved she must have been a big town girl. Some of my class had never heard about vacations.
“Where did you and your family go to have fun? What did you do?” One brave soul said he and his brother had gone swimming in the Saline River a couple of times but it was a long walk.
“I’m talking about an automobile trip,” she explained, “Did any of you travel out of state? Or maybe to Little Rock or Hot Springs or someplace where your family had fun?”
The room was quiet. She looked in my direction (perhaps because my daddy owned the store) and said, “Brenda, I’ll bet you have been on a vacation.” I stood up and told her that Daddy had taken Mama and me to Fordyce to catch the Greyhound bus to Houston that summer. We visited with two aunts and my borther and sister-in-law. I said I had fun going to Playland Park and the zoo and riding the littel train all through the big city park” Miss Steely smiled. She’d had one response. “Anyone else?” she then asked. Jimmy suddenly waved his arm in the air to get her attention.
“Ma’am, I just remembered I had a vacation, too!”
“Out of state?”
“No’m; I went outa’ Carthage though to the other end of the county.” She asked him to tell about his experience.
“Daddy’s sister in Princeton is well-off and she drives a 1950 black Plymouth and has a rich son, too, over in Sparkman. She come to see us in June to get some fresh tomatoes and asked if I could go with her to Sparkman to visit her son who has a boy about my age. She said we’d not stay long and Mama said I could go. She packed my stuff in a big bag and, I tell you, I didn’t sleep a wink that night.
“The next mornin’ I climbed inside that shiny Plymouth with its fat back end that looked a lot like Aunt Velma’s and went on vacation! On the way, we stopped by her house to put some tomatoes in her screened porch and her house was nice. We got to Sparkman about dinner time and Aunt Velma was right! These kinfolks in Sparkman was rich! The dinner table had a real tablecloth–not oil cloth–and all their plates and glasses matched. Boy! Did we have a time! They had a real pretty house with a big inside bathroom and a bunch of bedrooms and…(he paused for emphasis) … a new Motorola television set! I tell you, it wuz like having your own picture show in your living room.” The entire class perked up at this news.
“While we wuz there, we watched that thing the whole time. Well, not in the daytime because all you got was an Indian chief’s head…but shows come on about 5-6 o’clock.
While that Indian head was on, my younger cousin and me walked around town…you’n walk anywhere you want to in Sparkman as long as you’re careful crossin’ the highway.
“We went to the gymnasium and to the ball field and played with other kids. We went downtown and I wush we could have eat at the café on Main Street. It sure smelled good inside. Of course, Cousin Alice fixed good meals for us at home. She made a cake called “Fruit Cocktail Cake” and a pie called “caramel”and we eat on those the whole time. Aunt Velma got the recipes and said she’d make me one when she came to see us. The best thing we had was called a “waffle” that last mornin’ we wuz there. It was kinda’ like a hotcake but it was cooked in this special electric machine that makes little squares in the dough to hold the molasses. A red light on it lets you know when it’s ready. I almost swallowed my tongue and I eat four of ‘em!
“Nights was the best when we turned on that television. If it wuz “snowy” my cousin had to go outside and shake this antenna thing on top of the house to clear it up. We saw “The Cisco Kid,” “Death Valley Days,” “Dragnet” (it was real good but kept me nervous) and I got a kick out of “I Love Lucy” that first night. My cousin thought I looked like “Annie Oakley’s” brother Tad. I just wushed Aunt Velma had let us stay long enough to watch “The Roy Rogers Show on Friday.” I tell you one thing–when I get a job and make money, I’m gonna’ buy me a television set and a waffle machine. I had a real good time on my vacation and told Aunt Velma I hoped we could go back next summer. I hope she brings down that cake and pie purty soon but Daddy said she’ll prob’ly wait till the turnip greens come up.”
(Brenda Miles is an award-winning columnist and author residing in Hot Springs Village and responds to e-mail at email@example.com