by Jo Carolyn Anderson Beebe
When my mother went shopping, she would often drop me off at the pool hall where I would rule the parlor from my vantage point in the middle of a pool table. The proprietor was also the rural mail carrier and a good friend of my parents. I don't remember this of course, but I can imagine Mr. Palmer surrounding me with billiard balls which I rolled into the side pockets. From time to time, Mother would walk by and sneak a look through the plate glass window to see if I was okay.
When I was older, of course, I was never allowed to go inside the pool hall. By the time I was six or seven, the pool hall became a den of iniquity and remained so until I was a teenager, and we moved away. The same men hung out there, as they did when I was holding court; however, they now were labeled drunks and loafers, and the dandies with the bow ties went by another name.
Now if it seems that my mother was irresponsible for leaving me in the pool hall with the above mentioned men, nothing could be farther from the truth. Those men respected my mother and cherished me and would have fought each other to protect me from anything vile or harmful. And when I saw them at church on Sunday, I saw my friends.
There was another store where Mother found eager babysitters—Gordon's Department Store, staffed by Mr. M. Gordon, Mrs. Gordon, and Mr. Luster Williamson. Mr. Gordon was a Jewish immigrant from Russia. He and his wife and their son, Phil, were the only Jews in town, but no one ever seemed to think about that. Those folks loved for Mother and me to come into their store, and Mother said they argued over who was going to hold me. They would tell Mother to go do her shopping. They would take care of me. I can vaguely remember strutting around on the counters as if I was on a stage. Being dressed in copies of Shirley Temple dresses made by Mother probably prompted such showing off.
By the time I was nine or ten, my favorite babysitters were Mr. and Mrs. Claude Gentry. These were the years when Daddy worked at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, helping construct the atomic energy facility. At the time, no one knew its purpose. The men just knew the government was paying their salaries. So anyway, if Mother had a women's evening meeting at church, she would have me walk to town to go to the picture show. Mr. Gentry owned the Ritz Theater, and Mrs. Gentry sold the tickets. Mr. Gentry always stood by the ticket booth, and if he didn't think the movie was appropriate for kids, he wouldn't let us buy a ticket. I remember going back to the church in tears because he wouldn't let me see "Forever Amber." But if the movie was okay, I stayed happily for the previews, RKO News, a cartoon or short subject, and the feature show. Mother would usually be waiting for me in the lobby, but if she wasn't there, Mr. and Mrs. Gentry would watch after me until she arrived.
There are many reasons for not going back to the good old days, but memories of the days of simple innocence bring a longing in my heart.