Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Pool Hall Baby

by Jo Carolyn Anderson Beebe

The people in the town where I was born were hard-working, trustworthy, and caring. Some might say they lived a life of simple innocence—never locking doors, inviting traveling salesmen into their homes, and leaving their babies in pool halls.

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.


  1. I have fond memories of all those people but especially Mr. Gordon. There have been stories in the Baldwyn News of how he came to settle in Baldwyn but I can't locate any of mine. Very nice story.

  2. Agree with the above comment. I loved Baldwyn, wish I had never left.
    Loved the story JoAnn.

  3. Jo Carolyn,

    Thanks for the story. Brought back many fond memories of the Pool Room. On cold winter days my brother and I would stop there in the mornings to warm up on our way to school. I used to tell my students that the Baldwyn pool room was the best social science course I ever had.


  4. Ah hah, I've seen that sceneario before, too. The lady goes shopping, and left the husband and child in the poolroom. The husband plays on one table, and the child on another.
    You folks bring to life a lot of old memories!
    J D Hill

  5. Jo Carolyn, thank you so much for sharing your talent with us. Henry and I still take students & faculty to the Nantahala River, less than an hour from you. Hope we can connect and gab around a late night campfire(s)? We are familiar with Campbell Folk School and think you had some "writing" instructional workshops there. What a blast it would be to participate as a Bearcat Blog either at C.F.S. or on a scenic overlook re-creating old memories. Please give us your thoughts on such a venture. Carl said an all-out push is on to have a "big'un" this October in Baldwyn.

  6. You can't find any better scenic overlook than my back porch. Y'all make the plans, and I'll dust the furniture.