|Church Street Memories - Part 2
|Church Street Memories - Part 2
by Mike Bailey
Church Street Memories - Part 2:
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|Menu to help you read about my love for Church Street, Part 2
In the late 40s and early 50s, heading down Guignard Drive from Calhoun Street towards Shot
Pouch Creek (about 4 tenths of a mile) on a bicycle was a ride of a lifetime to some of us on the
narrow, 2-lane road.
In my childhood, that ride on a bicycle was awesome –- due mainly because of the drop in elevation
of the land.
From up around Calhoun Street and down to Shot Pouch Creek there was an almost 17-foot drop in
elevation. Bottom line -– you could really get up to some wild hold-on-to-your-seat type speeds by
the time you whizzed over the creek at the bottom of the dip in Guignard Drive.
It seems strange in a way (for me) when I return to Sumter for visits to drive along there with the
road now a well maintained and wide 4-lane paved street, complete with curbs and a sidewalk on
both sides of the roadway. Take my word for it -- it was not like that in 1950.
Keep in mind that this street is also the old roadbed for the former North Western Railroad that
ran from Sumter up to Camden and was abandoned in 1935. This is basically why Guignard Drive
is/was straight as an arrow for over 3 miles from around present day Green Swamp Road all the
way up to Wesmark Boulevard. Anyway, by the 40s, the train trestle across Shot Pouch Creek had
been replaced and the old railroad bed replaced with the paved road we used to race on as we
headed towards the airport.
While the bike ride was exhilarating, what awaited some of us that made this trip even more
exciting was the old Sumter Municipal Airport where the paved part of Guignard Drive ended and
the long, bight red clay dirt road part of it continued on northwards. At this point on the road, it
was easy to see how this was an old railroad bed.
To us daring bicycle explorers from the Church Street area, this was just a quick trip (less than 2
miles) from our houses. Crescent Street all the way over to Haynsworth, a quick right and then on
out past Edmunds High School and boom, we were ready to haul tail on down Guignard Drive and
head for the airport.
Located off to the left of Guignard Drive, from just past Shot Pouch Creek up beyond the current
USC Campus, then all the way over to Alice Drive was a gigantic, almost flat, grass covered area
that served as the airport for Sumter and better still (to us kids anyway), it was where
I’m just guessing but I think the old airport was at least 250 acres in size. All that wide open
space with the grass kept cut low –- especially on the actual grass runways used by the airplanes
-– was beautiful. On clear, moonless nights in the late fall and winter time when it got dark early
in the day, we’d ride out there right after dark, slip out on to the airfield itself, and walk out to
the middle and just look up at all the stars.
Back then, since there was not a lot of what we call today city light pollution, the airport’s wide
open space made for a fantastic place close to home to be able the see almost the entire nighttime
sky without any obstructions. The goal was to count at least 10 shooting stars before we’d head
My life-long love and fascination with looking up at the nighttime sky and seeing all the stars and
constellations started here at the old airport and also while lying on top of my grandmother’s
grape arbor in the back yard of “410” that I have mentioned in another chapter. Star gazing was
mesmerizing then and still so today. Thankfully, some things seem to never change even after so
many years have passed.
While I am thinking about it, nighttime trips along Guignard Drive where it crossed over Shot
Pouch Creek were also spooky. As you can imagine, most people zoomed by there at night in a car
and never had the opportunity or even thought about easing up on the bridge that crossed over the
creek quietly like we did on our bikes and hearing all the sounds that filled our ears with
excitement and questions like, “What in the world was that?” as we sped up and pedaled like crazy
to get past the bridge!
Let’s just say that there were some weird noises coming from the dark swampy woods that
surrounded the area and no one wanted to linger around there to figure out what was making
While the swampy woods along the path of Shot Pouch Creek were spooky and weird at night, they
were -- in terms of being spooky or weird -- absolute rank amateur nights as compared to those
out at Poinsett State Park at night down by the dam.
Yes, I know -- no parent in their right mind would let their kids ride this far at night like we did
in the early 50s in Sumter. But hey, this was Sumter, early 1950s and we were ALL safe!
I remember one other weird thing that happened one day there where Guignard Drive crossed over
Shot Pouch Creek. Standing right along the edge of the road one day was a huge cow that was all
dirty and you could see cuts on its side. It acted like it wanted to cross the road but was scared
When we got to the airport, we told a man that was standing in front of the office there what we
had seen and he said, “I know whose cow that is,” and with that, went inside to call somebody. I
found out later from Mama what had happened.
Mama’s good friend Kate Poteet lived on the left side of Broad Street just past present day
Miller Road. Back then (early 50s before Miller Road was cut on through towards Guignard
Drive) she had a small farm there, including having milk cows. Mama used to swing by her place
some mornings when she was getting off work at the hospital and pick up some bottles of
Lord, I hated that stuff! Mama and those there at “410” that grew up on the farm up by Camden
might have loved it but not me. I was a city-born kid and I loved my Sumter Diaries homogenized,
pasteurized, whateverized milk in a carton!
Anyway, it seems like Katie had thought someone had stolen one of her milk cows. Turns out, it had
broken through the back fence there on her property and made its way into the swampy woods
surrounding Shot Pouch Creek which ran behind her farm, and then the cow made its way all the
way down to Guignard Drive before finally being seen a few days later.
Meanwhile -- back to the special attraction that I mentioned above that was located there at the
airport near where the hangers and airport buildings were located (close to the present day
technical school buildings at the corner of Bultman Drive and Guignard).
“They” were a few vintage biplanes that were owned, maintained, and more importantly, flown by
some of folks that lived in Sumter.
To us young kids, these simple but magnificent and beautiful planes were the planes we wanted to
be around, sit in, and ride in, etc., because we had seen so many of them in the movies we watched
at the Rex Theater in downtown Sumter. Piper Cub type planes were for sissy -– biplanes were
for real men!
Flying around in one of those beautiful old biplanes would be the closest thing to being like Buck
Rogers as we could get or experience what it might have been like to have been in an actual aerial
combat dogfight with the Red Barron during WWI in France.
There were all types of planes there of what I’d call average, general aviation type planes with
Piper Cub types being the most (in my memory anyway) common. There were also some larger,
multi-engine types tied down along with our type – the biplane – and there were (it seems) several
versions of these like hardworking, rode-hard, put-away-wet looking crop dusters with ugly and
smelly spray pipes, etc., attached beneath the plane’s wings.
While some of the plane owners at the airport always tried to shoo away us eager and inquisitive
kids when we showed up and walked around the planes, others greeted us warmly and took pride in
showing us their airplanes and answering all our questions about them.
I remember one man -– mid to late 30s, I guess (old to us kids) -- that had a biplane (Stearman I
think but it could have been something else). He loved this plane and kept it in clean, perfect
running order (at least ways to us kids it seemed).
The paint scheme was good and the man was always working and tinkering with the plane -- the
wings, fuselage, engine, landing gear, and wing cables -- the works. Over time, he had shown us
every square inch of the old plane -– describing in detail as he showed us every single part of it,
including all the places he had patched up on the wings and fuselage.
He showed and explained all the controls like the control stick connected via cables to the aileron
flaps on the wings and the elevators flaps on the rear tail and the rudder pedals and the cables
that hooked to the vertical rudder on the rear tail assembly.
He explained with his hands how these controls worked to make the plane turn, climb, and dive
with the plane moving through the air. His plane was still set up for dual controls -- rudder pedals
and a control stick in each cockpit that was mechanically linked together so that the plane could
be flown from either seat.
The highlight on any of our visits to the airport would be to get the see that gentleman when he
had his plane out and he would let us touch it, feel it, and yes, climb up in the cockpit and sit there
in the front cockpit seat while he sat in the rear seat and fired up the engine to test it out and
sometimes, even taxi around on the grass after someone removed the blocks from around the
On those visits when he had someone out on the ground help him start the engine so he could taxi
the plane around a bit with one of us as his co-pilot, the world of basic everyday silence exploded
when that huge 12-cylinder Lycoming radial engine fired up and the overwhelming noise and prop
blast hit your ears and face.
“Watch out Red Barron, her comes Captain Bailey on patrol!”
It was totally mesmerizing -- it was mind blowing, it was the most fantastic feeling in the world to
a young boy playing a WWI or II airplane pilot out at the Sumter Airport. It didn’t get any
better than this -- it was the absolute best!
It has been almost 60 years since I last experienced that overwhelming and exhilarating feeling
of sitting in the cockpit of a WWII era type biplane and I can close my eyes right now and hear
and feel the raw power of that radial engine vibrating through every part of my body and feel
the force of the air against my face-- with my goggles on or off!
And yes, after several years of many visits to the airport, this wonderful man finally let me go up
with him one time and we flew all over Sumter.
Mama probably would have skinned him alive if she knew he had let me take off and fly with him
in his plane but I trusted him and swore I’d never breathe a word to anyone that I had been flying
in his biplane.
OK, so now I’m telling but I just can’t remember his name. I hate getting old!
Anyway, even though I was maybe 12 and a half years old at the time when he finally let me go up
in the air with him, I was already 6 feet tall (and still growing) so I had no trouble sitting in the
open cockpit and able to reach and handle all the controls like he had explained to us a dozen times
-– like I was going to actually be able to fly his plane -– yeah, sure!
If you have not done it, you need to get goggled up, climb up in the front cockpit seat of a vintage
Stearman type biplane and cruise over the city you live in now, or if you get the chance, go back to
Sumter in the spring time when all the azaleas are in gorgeous full bloom and do a slow cruise over
Sumter at 75-80 miles an hour at about 1,500 feet off the ground.
You will hear, see, and feel exactly what I felt when I did it as a young boy.
Still not really believing that I was really actually going to go up flying with him on that magical
day when he asked me if I wanted to go up with him and fly over Sumter, I eagerly climbed up on
the left wing and made a bee-line for the front cockpit and climbed in. While helping me get in and
situated, he once again reminded me that unless he specifically told me to gently touch something,
to keep my hands off all the controls and especially, to keep my big feet off of the rudder pedals!
After making certain I was all strapped and buckled in tight into the front cockpit seat and that
my feet were positioned well away from the pedals, he jumped down off the wing and walked all
around the plane looking at things, touching the wings, etc., and then looked at the engine and
propeller for a long time before getting back up onto the wing and climbed into his cockpit and
buckled himself in.
Within seconds it seems, a friend of his appeared out of nowhere and pulled down on the huge prop
and the engine fired up right away. Once again, I felt that powerful blast of winds against my
face as the sound of the absolute raw and powerful sound made my entire body vibrate with
excitement -- and fear too -- I guess, all at the same time.
This was for real – this time we are going all the way and not just taxi around on the grass a bit
like we had done many times before. Soon we were all the way out at the end of the runway and
pointed straight down the runway. Then, hearing and feeling the engine come up to a powerful and
high-pitched sound, we started rolling down the runway and gathering speed each second that
I was exited beyond words as the scene around me started to blur past my eyes as I eagerly
looked out from side to side. Then I felt the tail lift up off the grass and I could see the tree
line now ahead of me in the distance as the old biplane began to level out as it raced across the
grass just before we lifted off.
Then it happened –- the noise beneath the plane instantly quit followed by a tiny downward
movement (could feel it in my seat) and we started climbing higher and higher above the ground.
We were airborne –- I was flying -– I was Captain Bailey of the Sumter Air Patrol on duty!
Soon, we banked to the left and started flying in a large circle around the airport –- getting
smaller and smaller beneath our wings. The view was unbelievably beautiful as I immediately
recognized landmarks from the air like the church steeples of churches like my church, Trinity
Methodist there at the top of Church Street, Shaw Field in the distance, the railroads lines into
and out of town, all the major highway, Broad Street, the huge city water tank and Dixie Life
Building in downtown, the Overhead Bridge, Riley Park, Swan Lake, the fairgrounds -– the list
When we finally straighten up and flew over the wide open spaces towards Camden, he hollered
out, “You ready to feel what the controls feel like?”
I could NOT believe it -- he was actually going to let me touch the controls while he flew the plane!
In a loud, clear voice he told me to gently put my feet against the rudder pedals -– lightly, not
push at all – and to carefully and lightly hold the control stick just like I had done many times on
the ground when he sat in the back seat and would operate the controls and let us feel how
Once I was settled in, if that was the word for it, he made a few slow turns and climbs, etc., so I
could feel what the pedal and control stick movements felt like in conjunction with what I was
actually feeling and seeing at the time.
I was amazed at how little effort it seemed for him to control the plane’s movement. Even though
my feet barely touched the pedals and my hand ever so lightly grasped the stick, I could feel them
being operated and at the same time, feel all of the plane’s responses to the movements. All the
movements felt natural to me and I was soon as one with the plane’s guidance controls.
He told me later I was probably a natural born pilot because I told him I could sense in the seat
of my pants all the movements, like when we took off, and I knew what was going to happen next.
Now that I think about it, maybe that is where the term, “by the seat of your pants” comes from
-- don’t know, but I just felt at ease with the movements and sensations I felt as I was buckled in
tight into that front cockpit seat.
After a few precious moments of this -- me feeling the flight controls movements as he flew the
plane -- he hollered, “Hands off!”
As soon as he saw me raise both hands to signal I had done so like we had done when we had taxied
around on the ground many times before, he banked the plane sharply and we headed back towards
downtown Sumter in the distance. I knew that this was probably my last opportunity to see things
I could recognize and sure enough, I soon saw Riley Park coming into view and within seconds, I saw
home -–“410” -- slip beneath the wings.
I had done it -- flown over my home –- I was the happiest kid in the world at that moment in
“OK … we've got to head for the barn,” sounded in my ears from the seat behind me as he banked
the biplane sharply one final time to the right and we headed back towards the airport. I was still
in awe of all that I could see and recognize from the air.
With those words, I knew that my career in the sky as a 12-year old biplane co-pilot was over and
I will forever be thankful for those few magical, exciting, and scary moments when I, Captain
Bailey, ruled the skies above Sumter.
As we made our way back to the airport, I couldn't’t help but ask him, “Can I land it?” A very loud
and immediate “Lord No!” was the only response I got.
Soon we approached the airport from the south as I could see Swan Lake and Second Mill slipping
rapidly by below us and soon the grassy runway at the airport was beneath us and with a gentle
couple of bounces we were down on the ground and zooming across the grassy field and taxing
towards the hanger area.
My day, my trip of a lifetime was complete.
As Sumter grew in the months and years after this fantastic day, the land the airport occupied (at
the time it was out of the city limits) became too valuable to not be developed for housing, etc.
Soon, Miller Road was extended on from over at Broad Street to Guignard Drive and then on
through the old airport property and all the way over to Alice Drive after the airport closed and
moved over to north of Sumter to its present location.
More streets, brand new houses, Alice Drive Middle School, and tall pine trees soon covered the
once wide open and beautiful grassy place in Sumter that gave a lot of excitement to a whole
bunch of kids that loved airplanes, especially the old biplanes.
I know the new airport has served Sumter well since its opening in 1957 but to me, it is just that
–- a well run, efficient, and functioning airport –- whereas the old airport with its wide open
grassy spaces and lots of old planes was an unbelievable and magical place to visit.
Once again, I thank my one-time pilot for allowing me to be his co-pilot for one of the most
exciting days that I have ever experienced in my long life and may God be his co-pilot as he
continues to explore the skies of heaven.
In the late 40s, my Aunt Ethel worked down on South Harvin Street very near the Atlantic Coast
Line (ACL) Railroad passenger station there off Harvin & Telephone Streets.
On Saturdays, I would walk from “410” to downtown (just 1 mile) and then on just a little bit
further to her office to meet her when she got off work at noon so we could go shopping together.
When I think back on all this now it still amazes me that no one, especially me, thought anything
whatsoever about me -- a 6, 7, or 8-year old boy -- walking a mile and a half by himself from a
home on Church Street to the ACL Depot on pass downtown. I seriously doubt that any parent
would allow that today.
Back then, I guess everyone figured if we could walk almost a mile to school by ourselves in the
first grade (Washington Elementary on the corner of Washington and W. Liberty Streets), what
was wrong with just a bit more (two blocks) to reach downtown?
Shopping in downtown Sumter on Saturday during this time period was an experience almost
beyond words. I’d give anything if my kids and especially my grandkids, could experience what it
was like to stand on the corner of Main and Liberty Streets at noon on any Saturday during
Anyway, each time I made my way towards the ACL Depot, I wandered through downtown and
thought about all the shopping I would do later. Even though I usually had little or no money with
me, I knew that it would be an exciting time.
Every time I walked along Main Street daydreaming about shopping later, I also realized that my
first goal was to hopefully get to the depot in time to see one of the gigantic monsters that
generally was seen lurking around there around noon and if I was really lucky, I might even get to
see more than one. Yeah -- that would really be scary!
Getting to the depot before noon was critical because I wanted to be there ahead of time so I
could be ready when one of the huge, hissing, growling, and moaning black monsters showed up,
breaking out of the fog of steam as it crept in – like a lion sneaking up on its prey -- closer and
closer until it was under the covered loading platform there at the depot.
Finally, when one did come rumbling in with sharp hisses of steam and toots from an air horn, the
living, breathing, hissing, groaning ACL steam engine locomotive came to a lurching stop as someone
on the train was yelling, “All out for Sumter … Sumter, SC … all out for Sumter!”
As a child, this gigantic thing, this huge black monster steam locomotive with driver wheels on
some of them that were 6 feet in diameter -- way taller than me when I stood next to it at
trackside -- was almost beyond words. The steam locomotives I remember the most were of the
These numbers meant that it had four leading guide wheels, about 36 inches tall and two per side,
followed by six 72-inch tall driver wheels and with three of those driver wheels all elaborately
linked together in a row on each side, and these followed by two 36-inch tall trailing guide wheels,
one per side.
All together, from a side view it was just absolutely amazing how powerful, massive, and beautiful
these great mechanical creations were -– especially on some of the locomotives that had all six
wheels per side painted a bright white on the sides of the outer rim edges of the wheels.
And we thought white side-walled tires looked great on our cars! Whoever thought of painting the
side walls of the steel wheels on a steam locomotive was way ahead of his time.
Anyway, back at the arrival and stopping of one of these monsters at the station.
The steam would continue to be expelled from dozens of places on the locomotive it seemed -- all
coming to make a symphony of high and low pitch sounds that made the engine seem like it was
alive and was just resting there on the tracks before lurching forwards again and moving on
The whole area was alive with sounds of steam hissing, baggage carts with iron rimed wheels being
moved all over the platform, a loud speaker somewhere crackling with the station master
announcing arrivals and departures, people laughing, talking, scurrying about to either get off
the train or to get onboard before they heard the Conductor -– the man in charge of the entire
train -- yell out those magical words, “All aboard!”
They also knew that very shortly after they saw the Conductor raise his hand above his head like
he was waving at the engineer up in the cab of the locomotive that the all aboard command had
been given and that two long blasts on the trains whistle would soon follow that signaled that the
brakes had been released and the train was leaving the station.
It was awesome, it was mesmerizing to me -- to anyone I guess -– that was lucky enough to be
standing there and seeing, feeling, and hearing all this at once. It was almost like a case of
sensory overload -– making the mind run wide open and imagine all sorts of things like the
locomotive was alive and raring to pounce on unsuspecting kids!
It was a rush like no other at the time and as you can tell, even 70 plus years of living in our
chaotic world with all its new and wondrous inventions has not diminished one bit the absolute
thrill and excitement of being a young boy and standing next to a living, breathing, steam
locomotive monster –- purring away before lurching forwards again to go racing against the wind
down a long track that led to places I could only dream about.
Each time that I stood there on the platform and watched a passenger train pull away from the
platform and head away from Sumter, I tried to imagine myself on one of those trains and
chugging away towards some new and exciting place far from home.
Recalling these memories about the steam engines that roared into the station where I was
standing made me recall another memory about these old trains.
As I have mentioned before, Grandmother and family lived on a farm off Tombfield Road, about
5 miles south of Camden on US 521.
Back in the late 1800s and early 1900s (before 1916 when Grandmother moved to Sumter), the
North Western Railroad of South Carolina, formally the Wilson & Summerton Railroad, ran out
of Sumter towards Camden where present day Guignard Street is located in Sumter. Guignard
was built on the old railroad bed.
Anyway, Mama loved to tell the story about whenever Grandmother wanted to come to Sumter
to go shopping, she and some of the kids (Mama included) would walk the one mile from their
home over to the NW train tracks (ran right along present day US 521 at that point) and “Flag
down Mr. Wilson’s train.”
I can not image that in today’s world -- flagging down a steam locomotive train so you could catch
a ride to the next town and then, on the way back towards home, getting the train to stop to let a
few people get off in the middle of nowhere!
Anyway, back to my story about the steam trains arriving and departing in Sumter.
When a train left the ACL station and disappeared from sight, I also knew it was time to head for
my aunt’s place of work so that we could meet up to go shopping. Even though her office was just
a few minutes away, I was usually late getting there and she would be standing outside holding her
pocketbook tightly, tapping right foot repeatedly on the sidewalk and anxiously awaiting
Bottom line, she was always very anxious to get on with shopping because next to baking wonderful
cakes and pies in the kitchen at “410,” she loved shopping more than anything else in the world.
As I mentioned earlier, being in downtown Sumter on a Saturday in the late 40s and early 50s
was like something out of a Hollywood movie -– complete with a bustling cast that seemed like
thousands filling the sidewalks to capacity and lots of cars, buses, and trucks on Main and
Sounds of people’s voices laughing and talking as they brushed past you, car and truck horns
blaring away, motors revving up, gears grinding in cars and trucks, the shrill whistle of a
policeman’s whistle as he tried to direct traffic at the intersection when things got hectic –- the
list of things that constantly teased the mind with sights and sounds was endless.
Hustle-bustle seemed to be the order of the day and everyone was in full swing to shop or get
somewhere else in a hurry. It was wonderful, it was exciting and I loved it!
Aunt Ethel loved costume jewelry and the first place we always went to on our Saturday shopping
sprees was Kress Department store on the corner of South Main and Caldwell Streets.
Of course, I loved this place also as I usually had anywhere between 25 cents to a dollar or two
to spend and Kress was nickel & dime heaven –- especially at the candy counters! While Aunt
Ethel looked at and probably tried on dozens of pieces of costume jewelry, I perused the candy
counters trying to figure out just what all to buy with my little bit of spending money.
Looking back on this now, I realize what I did was no different from what she did in that looking
for and anxiously awaiting to see or find the next great deal or neat item to buy was just as
important and/or fulfilling as the actual purchase of an item. How else then, could you explain
shopping for hours on end and going home happy but not having bought anything?
Soon we’d leave Kress with a few items in bags – usually candy for me and who knows what for her
-– and we’d be off to the next store to cruise around inside of and shop.
Other than hitting the Kress Department store first, there was no set plan to follow as to which
stores to explore next. How much money she had, or time of year, or sales going on, or tips from
friends about new items for sale in town, etc., all contributed to the places we visited on our
weekly shopping sprees.
Sumter Dry Goods, Belk Stroman, The Capitol, Brody’s, several jewelry stores, the drugstores
(Lyon’s on S. Main Street for one -- her sister Louise owned it), or one of the stores like Burns
Hardware (she loved these because they had lots of gadgets to look at and possibly buy) -– all
were visited several times a month.
We even would swing by where her brother Hugh Humphries ran a filling station on the corner of
Sumter and West Liberty Streets. Uncle Hugh had the coldest Coca Colas in his drink box and to
get one on a hot summer day was a special treat!
As I got older, I started to shy away from wandering around inside all the clothing stores with her
and would just hang outside on the sidewalk and just watch all the goings on as Sumter literally
buzzed with Saturday shopping excitement. I loved just watching all the different cars going by
and dreaming about one day I was going to have one and that I was going to be driving downtown
on Main Street on a Saturday and just poking along, waving at friends, and enjoying all
My favorite place to hang out was on the corner of Main and Liberty Streets while Aunt Ethel
looked at everything inside of Sumter Dry Goods that was for sale! I was convinced that if you
stood here for a couple of hours on a Saturday, you would eventually see everyone you knew that
lived in Sumter pass by – either walking, on a bike, or in a passing car or truck.
This same intersection was where Mama said the traffic policeman in the middle of the
intersection would see her coming when she first started to drive in the early 20s and blow his
whistle and shout out, “Watch out, here comes a loose car!” Knowing Mama’s love for speed and
aggressive driving, I never doubted for a minute the truth of one of her favorite stories she
loved to tell.
Another place I liked to hang out was on the sidewalk on Liberty Street right where an alley way
went down by Brody’s and behind the stores like The Capitol over on Main Street. On Saturdays
when shopping was at its peek in Sumter, it was amazing and funny watching the clerks from The
Capital and Brody’s running back and forth between the two stores.
If someone was buying a pair of shoes in The Capital for example, and they were out of that size,
the clerk would run out the store, across the alley way into the back of Brody’s and see if they
had the shoe. If they did, they’d put a Capital price tag (usually marked up) on the shoes and run
back over to The Capital.
You guessed it -– Brody’s did the same thing if someone was buying a pair of shoes there and they
were out. Their clerk would be out the back door, over to The Capital and if they had it, they’d
put their price tag on it and usually mark the price down and run back across the alley way. By
the way, shoes were not the only items swapped/exchanged between the two stores.
As I stood there and watched all this, I was imagining that some lady was sitting up in the shoe
department in The Capital and anxiously waiting on the shoe clerk she thought was just in the
stock room finding her size. Little did she know that he was running out the back door and getting
her shoe size from another store across the alley way!
Anyway, all these mini-dramas and things like a delivery truck breaking down on the streets and
blocking traffic or watching some people trying to parallel park their cars (remember, some cars
were huge back then), all provided for a continuous side show of activities going on in downtown
Sumter on any given Saturday.
To say that being downtown in Sumter on a Saturday in the late 40s and early 50s was boring
or uneventful would flat out not be true for there was never a dull or quite moment to be
Sadly, visits to my beloved hometown over the past years have shown me that all that downtown
excitement has long since passed. So many times on my visits, it almost looked deserted. Failed
attempts to make it a pedestrian type mall, the constant spread of businesses out on the main
thoroughfares leaving the city, etc., have all contributed to the unfortunate decline in that once
wonderful and exciting experience of “going to and being downtown to shop!”
Anyway, by the time we’d reach SEACO’s store down across from the Court House and she would
check to see if they had gotten in any new sheet music for the piano she wanted to try out, we
both would be about done in for the day. Both Aunt Ethel and Uncle Andrew played the old
upright piano we had there in the hallway at “410” and church hymns were her favorite songs to
play and finding a new release (sheet music) of a favorite hymnal was great shopping find for her.
Sometimes, we would just leave downtown and both walk all the way back home over on Church
Street. Other times, she would use a phone in one of the stores and call home and see if Mama or
Uncles Andrew or John were free to drive downtown and give us a ride home.
Then there were other times that she waited on the ride and I took off walking and headed home
by way of several of my friends homes –- especially if I had bought something neat at Kress and
wanted to show them or share it with them like when Kress had gotten in a new type of candy.
For many years and countless Saturdays, I reveled in my Saturday adventures of meeting and
greeting the huge steam locomotive monsters that rolled into the train depot followed by a
whirlwind shopping spree with ample people watching activities thrown in to keep
I know now that my love for people watching grew out of my times sitting in the swing on the
front porch at “410” with my grandmother and watching cars leave Riley Ball Park at night and
parade by us with their lights on as they made they way home and then those exciting and
eventful times spent standing around on the sidewalks downtown on busy Saturday afternoons
while waiting on Aunt Ethel to finish shopping in a store.
The best part of all of this is that it taught me over time that so many great things in life that
pleases us and gives us enjoyment and fulfillment are free. All we had (have) to do was just stop,
look, and listen and yes, to daydream a little bit every now and then.
It is almost impossible for those of us that grew up in Sumter during WWII and afterwards to
not have memories directly related to family members who were swept up in the throws of WWII
and in lots of ways, deeply affected by those times and/or memories.
While a lot of our memories associated with these times are funny and heart warming, others are
sad and are filled with tears.
I should point out (my opinion, of course) that it is both those sad and funny things in our past that
helped defined and molded us into who we are today.
Even though I was born in early 1942, I knew by late 1944 that we were at war and lots of bad
things were happening in the world. Oh, our parents and grandparents tried their best to shield us
from all that but it was hard to hide the fact that so many of our loves ones were gone away.
Prior to WWII, my grandmother first lived through the ordeal of having three of her sons leave
the warmth and safety of home and go off to fight in the big one –- the war to end all wars -–
WWI and saw only one, my Uncle Roy Humphries, return home relatively safe and sound.
While Roy was in one part of France, two of his brothers, Will and Carl Humphries, were in
another unit elsewhere in France and gassed (mustard gas) in the trenches. Will died a few weeks
later in a field hospital in France and was buried nearby and Carl was so incapacitated by the
gassing, that the Army released him from duty and he came back home – never to fully function
again in a normal way.
Grandmother was so distraught about the fact that one of her boys was buried in a foreign
country that she begged the Army to please remove her son from France and send him home to her.
The Army said no.
What the Army did not know, but soon found out, was that Grandmother’s brother-in-law was
George Kershaw Laney -- at the time, the powerful and Honorable SC State Senator from
Chesterfield County. If ever there was a living example of a towering and commanding figure of a
Southern country lawyer (graduated from USC Law School) turned politician, he was it in spades.
Standing well over 6 feet tall and always dressed in his all black preaching suit as he fondly called
it, complete with formal long coat with tails, it was said he could put the fear of God in the Devil
with his great oratory skills.
Long story short, a few weeks after Grandmother had received the Army’s curt reply and she had
immediately called and asked for his help and Uncle George had completed his conversation with
the Army, Uncle Will was removed from his burial spot in France and interned at the Quaker
Cemetery in Camden with military honors and the Army’s apology to Grandmother for the delay in
returning her son home to her.
Lesson here -– never underestimate to will and powers that can be brought to bear by a grieving
and determined mother!
As Grandmother dealt with Uncle Will’s passing, she finally took charge of Uncle Carl after his
release from the Army hospital and brought him back to Church Street where he desperately
struggled with the lingering effects of the mustard gas for the rest of his life. Later on, he landed
a job up the street at the Sumter Water Works and passed away in early 1945.
My memories of all this basically centers on the stories I was told growing up and the man I knew
as a wild and curious 3-year old at the time. To me, Uncle Carl was a kind and very gentle man who
I loved dearly.
Although he struggled to breathe at times and some of his scars (mustard gas caused horrific
burns on his skin) sort of scared me, I have wonderful and vivid memories of him putting me in a
big old wheelbarrow and wheeling me -- laughing all the way -- across Church Street then bumping
across the plowed ground to go work in one of Grandmother’s gardens (a vacant lot that was
located where the house at 411 Church Street was eventually built).
Many a time when Uncle Carl was at the Water Works just two blocks away, he would call the
house and tell Grandmother or whoever answered the phone, “That boy is up here again … somebody
needs to come get him.” Three years old and I was already roaming the neighborhood far
Of course all of this was going on with Uncle Carl during the height of WWII and here was
Grandmother again with two more of her sons who were now also off in the war.
These two, my Uncles John and Andrew Humphries, were Grandmother’s youngest sons -- her
babies -- and I can not even begin to imagine the fears she bravely dealt with all the years that
they too were away.
One story I heard over and over again in the late 40s that stayed with me all my life, and am
reminded of it every time I return to Sumter for a visit, involves US 76 -- the highway into
Sumter from Columbia that goes by Shaw Field.
Uncle Andrew was a sergeant in the Army Air Corp and served from early 1941 until late 1946.
He was a crew chief on a B-24 Liberator Bomber and towards the end of the war he was stationed
at the Smyrna Army Airfield near Nashville, Tennessee.
As anyone who has even served in the military will tell you, one of the things they miss a lot and
long for is a good old home cooked meal and it was no different for Uncle Andrew and his buddies
in WWII. The only problem was home was 500 long and arduous car miles away.
However, that did not stop them from doing it anyway. This rambunctious group of airmen chipped
in together and bought an old car (Uncle Andrew swore they only paid $40 for it) and used it to
go home every now and then on a weekend pass.
Their route home took them across Tennessee and down through the northeast corner of Georgia
on US Highway 76 and through Clayton, GA, then across an old wooden bridge over the Chattooga
River to South Carolina and then onto Westminster, Columbia, and finally home -– Sumter.
They usually did this with no problems but if there had been heavy rains prior to their late Friday
night arrival at the bridge and found it closed due to the river flooding over it, they would have to
turn around and go all the way back to Smyrna because to try and go another way to Sumter would
just take too long.
Keep in mind that this was in the mid 40s and highways – especially in a lot of rural places -- were
not the same as our super fast expressways we enjoy traveling on today. In 1945, this 500 mile
trip home took about 12 hours of straight through driving. This just barely gave then enough time
to leave the airbase in Smyrna after 5 in the evening on Friday, spend less than a full day in
Sumter, and be back on base by 6 PM on Sunday.
Anyway, back to the story and why US 76 means so much to me. Uncle Andrew said that if they
got to the Chattooga River and the bridge was open, they would all shout out as they bounced
across the old wooden bridge and into SC, “We’re on the home road now, boys.”
Every single time I drive home on old US 76 and come by way of Columbia and Shaw Field, I can
hear my Uncle’s happy and excited voice from a time long since gone shouting out that refrain and
I feel the same joy as he did for I too am “going home.”
While a lot of those brave men came home during and after the war happy and basically none the
worst for their long ordeal and sacrifice to serve their country, so many came home injured in
more ways we could imagine.
Those that came home with physical injuries we could actually see, like Uncle Carl’s physical
appearance and demeanor, or Uncle John’s badly injured leg that required him to stay in the VA
Hospital in Columbia for a very long time, were easy to see and to understand.
The VA Hospital in Columbia -– a double-sided sword of memories for me.
On the one hand, I have great memories associated with going over to see Uncle John at the VA
Hospital in Columbia.
Most of the time my Uncle Hugh Humphries (who live right around the corner from us on East
Charlotte Ave), my grandmother’s only son who did not serve in the military (was too young for
WWI and too old for WWII –- the government steadfastly refused to let him enlist), used to
drive Grandmother, me, Mama, and others, over to Columbia to see Uncle John.
These trips were magical in the car as Uncle Hugh was a wonderful, loving, and happy man who
loved to tease all us kids with his magic tricks and good humor jokes.
Tricks -- for years after the war when Uncle Hugh would come visit his mother on Sunday
afternoons there at “410”, he would entertain any kids that happened to be there at
Grandmother’s house with his famous penny trick.
The trick was quite simple -– he would put a penny in his hand, close it up and make a fist, blow on
it, open his fist back up and poof like magic, the penny was gone.
Then he would roll both his hands over to show us he did not have the penny and of course, we
(kids) were dying laughing and trying to figure out where the penny was. Then the real magic
happened – he would point to an object across the room somewhere and we would race over there,
pick it up and low and behold -– there was the penny!
We just knew he was the most magical person in the world because he could make pennies
disappear from his hand and make them magically fly across the room and hide them under things.
Years later when we were older and finally found out that the first thing he did upon arrival at
his mother’s house was to hide pennies all over the living room, we felt sort stupid that we fell for
such a simple trick. But, at the time, he was the best there was and we loved him (and his tricks)
By the way, even though we finally found out how the penny got across the room, so to speak, we
never did find out what happened to the original penny he had in his hands. Maybe it was magic
after all .... !
Anyway, back to another one of his infamous tricks -- his car light trick.
At night, when we returned home from Columbia after visiting Uncle John and drove through the
swamp (crossed over the Wateree Bridge and the 3 mile long causeway), he would tell all of us
(any kids who might be in the car) that he was making all the lights on the side of the roadway
come on and we drove along the causeway.
I was probably 6 or 7 years old before I finally realized that he had been funning us and that it
was the headlights on our car that made the reflective roadway markers shine (turn on) when the
car lights hit them as we drove along through the very dark swamp.
The other side of the VA Hospital visits was not fun.
As I was only about 4 years old, that place scared the devil out of me.
It was dark and drab inside, smelled funny, and worst still, was filled with sounds of pain and
agony as I could hear men dealing with their wounds and injuries received in combat as we made
our way down the long hallways to where Uncle John was located. Even this place scared me
because he had wires/cables connected to his leg from a metal frame above the bed that were used
to hold his leg up off the bed. I’m sure it was all necessary but to a 4-year old, it just looked
painful and scary.
All I wanted to do was to see Uncle John, say hey, get my nickel (he always had one ready for me),
then run back outside the front door and wait on Grandmother and the others to come back out.
To this day, I can still hear the murmurs and screams of pain in that old building.
Anyway, some of our brave soldiers came back home to Sumter not only with physical injuries like
I have already briefly described, but with silent ones as well and some with only that -- the silent
injuries that tormented them beyond our abilities to even recognize and/or to understand.
Uncle John was one of those that had both. Oh, he bravely dealt with his physical injury to his leg
like doing all the physical therapy stuff after he was released from the VA Hospital and came
back to “410.”
He rigged up a pulley on our front porch where he tied a rope to his leg and then ran the rope up
and over a pulley attached to the ceiling and back down to a lead weight attached to the other end
of the rope. He would then sit there in the swing and lift his leg up and down for what seemed like
hours on end. Of course with kids being kids, we played with that weighted pulley system all the
time when he was not using it.
While we all saw Uncle John healing physically, none of us saw the feelings of horror and trauma
he felt inside that tormented him his whole life. He always loved to talk about his days in the SC
National Guard and how his whole Unit was called up the day after Pear Harbor was bombed, and
how they retrained together and were then shipped overseas together, etc.
Lots of times when we were with him in the 60s down at his house he had built at Santee in 1948
(very near where the Camp Shelor Boy Scout camp is located today) and we were all having a few
beers after grilling some steaks, he would really loosen up and tell the funniest stories about all
his wild and crazy adventures in the Army.
However, every time that he did, he would get to the same basic point in his stories -- getting
ready to cross over the Rhine River and go into Germany – and he would just abruptly stop
talking and sometimes, would tear up and get up and leave the table.
This was so totally out of character for this strong willed man because he was a living example of
the old school raised on the farm, grew up tough, dealt with life’s challenges, and pressed on type
Did I love and respect him -- you bet I did for he was one of many my fathers I had growing up in
“410” with him.
Anyway, over the years of being around him and working for him while in high school as an
electrician’s helper I often wondered about why he refused to talk about the last part of his
long stint with the Army.
All I knew was that something bothered him greatly that centered on these last few months he was
in the Army. After he passed away in the spring of 1979 and I came home to attend his funeral
and then to help Mama and Uncle Andrew settle his estate, I finally found out what had bothered
and tormented this wonderful man his whole life after returning home from WWII.
Uncle John’s field artillery unit was assigned to support General Patton’s Third Army as it raced
across France and then into Germany itself on its way to Berlin. Part of this effort into Germany
also brought about the discovery and eventual liberation of some of the most horrific death camps
that were in use at the time.
As my son and I were going through all of Uncle John’s papers and memorabilia he had stored and
locked away in his huge, original Army issued footlocker, we came upon all those things he had
carefully packed away that covered all his time while in the SC National Guard, and then his
transfer into the regular Army, and then all that happened after that.
Part of this treasure-trove of military related items was photographs taken by him with his own
camera -– sort of a self-documented account of all his exploits. Not only did they cover the early
days in the Army –- training, off-base fun times in new towns, etc. -– but even photos of people
and places after his unit reached France and they were headed for Germany.
Then we found them -– pictures of his unit at one of the death camps. My mind froze and reeled
at the raw horror captured in the pictures taken by this gentle, God-fearing man.
The pictures showed sheds -– looked like what I call implement sheds found on farms -– that were
maybe 15-20 feet in height, 70-100 feet long, and only covered with a roof. Inside these buildings
of death (my words) were dead bodies, stacked like cord wood, from floor to ceiling and across
the entire length of the shed.
Multiple sheds, hundreds and hundreds of dead bodies awaiting something –- what, don’t know or
want to know -– filled photo after ghastly photo. I am not sure if this particular death camp was
liberated by my Uncle’s unit or it was one that his unit had been ordered to go see by
One of the things Eisenhower did, to his great credit in my opinion (but condemned by some) as
these German concentration/death camps were being liberated, was to make our own troops go
there and film and record what had been found.
He also forcibly ordered the residents (German) of the nearby towns, villages, etc., to march
through these places while still housing the dead bodies as well as the cell and yard areas that
still held the emaciated and starving men and women who were fortunate enough to still be alive.
In some camps, he even made the local town’s people bury the dead that were found by
Why did he do all these things, you might ask? It was because Eisenhower, ever mindful of how
time treats history, correctly foresaw the future and said, “Get it all on record now -- get the
films -- get the witnesses -- because somewhere down the road of history some bastard will get
up and say that this never happened.”
Until his peaceful death in 1979, my Uncle John quietly carried his remembrance of his visit to
the death camps and his efforts to remember all the horrific scenes that were almost beyond
human understanding haunted him his whole life.
There were many others of Sumter’s finest who returned home from WWII (and other wars that
followed, unfortunately) that appeared OK on the outside but on the inside, were fighting demons
and horrors that we could only begin to understand.
One of my oldest friends from high school days, Judith Weatherly McLeod, watched her dad
return home from WWII whole on the outside (basically -- only weighed 80 pounds after his
release) but was deeply troubled inside. It was only much later did Judy learn that Mr.
Weatherly had been a prisoner of war in Germany (POW camp Stalag 4B Muhlberg Sachsen),
during WWII and had suffered mind-numbing mental and physical tortures while held captive.
After his release from the POW camp and subsequent discharge from the Army, this brave and
courageous man who had left the safety of Sumter and family to join up at the beginning of the
war, also returned safely home but was haunted by demons until his passing.
Having two children myself and having watched just my one son leave home and go off to serve his
country in the Army, I am now and always have been in awe of my courageous and loving
grandmother who saw not one, but five of her six sons go off to war.
I can not even begin to understand the strength of faith it took for her to stand tall and to press
on as it were. I guess it might be because “She was from good stock,” I once heard my
While I am sure that was the case, it still amazed me how before her death in 1952, she handled
it all, including after WWII when she had to now start watching her grandchildren going off to
another war like my brother did who was gone from the safety of home and Sumter in 1950 and
ended up serving in the Navy during the Korean War.
In lots of ways, I’m glad Grandmother didn’t have to see me and so many of her other
grandchildren also leave home and go off to yet another war -- whether it was Vietnam, the Cold
War, Kosovo, Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan or wherever as time slipped by.
Funny stories, horror stories, laughter, and tears of sorrow as death came home in the form of a
Western Union telegram from the War Department -- all these things touched all of us that grew
up in Sumter during and after WWII.
Collectively, all these memories helped shape us as children grow into adulthood. Those memories,
those events in our childhood helped shape our spirits, our outlook on life and the rewards of
appreciating it through hard work, sacrifice, family remembrances, and a love for our country.
One of the things I thought about, worried about, as I started collecting my thoughts and
memories for Church Street Memories was what to do about memories involving my father.
As I started writing about hundreds of other events that directly affected my life growing up
there at “410,’ that as much as I didn’t really want to talk about my father, I realized over time
that I had to for those memories also helped shape my life.
When I think about memories and this category in particular -– memories of my father –- I
usually become very quite and depressed for compared to most other people, my memories of my
father are not all that good or that many.
In some ways, as my sister Sabra and my brother Storm have both told me more than once, I am
actually lucky that I have, as compared to them, so few memories of my father. By the time I
came along and was growing up at “410,” I had lots of people like her, Storm, Mama, and my
Grandmother to shield me from all the misery this man could inflict on those around him.
Keep in mind that for the 10 years that he was able to be in my life that he was physically gone -–
in the Navy, working overseas in Casablanca, Morocco building the airbase there or just gone on
one of his many drunken binges. For all his so called good qualities –- smooth talking, good looking,
super smart, etc. -- he was first and always a die-hard alcoholic like most of his brothers and his
father and the more he drank, the more abusive and mean he became.
One time when I was about 7 years old, a friend of Uncle Andrew came to visit us from Utah. The
Major, as we all called him, had been Uncle Andrew’s commanding officer when Uncle Andrew was
in the Army Air Corp. He always brought me something and when I saw him pull up into the front
yard in his car, I ran off the front porch and asked him, “What did you bring me, Major?”
For whatever reason, this infuriated my father –- he told me later that day in one of his drunken
rages while out in the shed behind the house when he held me down on top of the coal pile with his
foot and beat me with broken off bamboo fishing poles -- that I had “Embarrassed him by asking
the Major for a present.”
My next memory of him was around 1949 when I was seven years old. My Aunt Ethel and her
good friend Addie wanted to go to Highlands, NC and stay there at the Highlands Inn right in the
middle of town so that they could check out all the neat stores there in the day time and at night,
go to one of the several auction houses there and enjoy all the fast paced activities.
After supper at night, they would leave me there in the room while they went to the auction
houses nearby. Funny -– no one thought anything about this in 1949 but if they did that today
(leave a 7 year old alone in a hotel) they would probably lock them both up.
Anyway, Uncle Andrew drove the three of us up their and would return in four days to pick us
back up. On the morning he was to come pick us up, I was surprised to see not him driving his
almost new 1948 black Oldsmobile, but my father instead. He and Mama had decided to drive up
to get us and then we drove back pass Caesars Head and got out to check out the views.
I can remember standing next to him while he pointed out that was Greenville, SC way off in the
distance. He seemed calm, relaxed, and even smiled a lot and everyone seemed happy.
Next on my father memories was in Mama’s room there at “410” and I as I ran into the room
to excitedly tell her that Uncle John was taking me to the ball game up at Riley Park, I
accidentally knocked over a bottle -– Daddy’s liquor bottle -– and it fell onto the fireplace
hearth and broke. He flew into a rage and started slapping me all about the face and head and
finally Mama got him to quit after he threw me down on the floor.
As time went by, he became more aggressive in his outbursts.
My next memory of him was one night when I crouched down and hid at the top of the stairs
behind the stair balusters and watched him and my brother engaged in a horrific fight there in
the living room. Daddy’s drinking had become worst and was affecting everyone at the house
and Storm confronted him about it.
It was just like one of those brawling scenes in a Western movie -– kicking, gouging, chair
smashing, hair pulling, and bloody fists -– the works. I can still hear through my
scared-to-death tears at the time Mama screaming at both of them and trying to break
the fight up.
All this violence had taken a toll on “410” and soon afterwards as they were now fearful of
what else he might do in a drunken rage, they collectively (Mama, Uncles Andrew & John, and
Aunt Ether) threw him out of the house and forbade him to ever return.
My final memory of my father I shared with my sister.
Just as I turned ten years old a couple of months after my grandmother died in 1952, my sister
and I saw him get of a cab in front of “410” and stagger up the walk towards the house.
We both knew how Daddy acted when he was in one of his drunken moods and immediately started
looking for a place to hide from him. At the time, Sabra and I didn’t know about each other seeing
Daddy and we each thought that we were the only one in the house at the time.
It was almost 50 years later when we were talking about old times at “410” that we found out we
both had been there at the house at the same time.
Sabra was hiding upstairs and I was hiding under the house as Daddy ranted and raved as he
banged his way up and down the steps, going from room to room hollering for me or Sabra.
We both knew that if he had seen us, he might have tried to hurt us just out of rage –- booze
enabled once again. He was breaking and throwing things as he stormed around the house. Finally,
he staggered out the house and got into a cab and rode off.
I never laid eyes on him again.
When I think about the hundreds, even thousands of memories my children and grandchildren have
and will continue to accumulate of me and Deanna, I can’t help but feel a tiny bit of hurt that I
only have five memories of my father and four of them were horrible.
In Vegas terms, four out of five might be considered a good bet -– even if the results of that bet
were bad. However, even an amateur gambler will tell you that if your chances of success are just
one out of five, you are basically just rolling craps.
So, when I hear people talk about all the good times and memories they have of their dad, I am
reminded of my own memories -– the good and the bad.
Even though my odds of a happy life was supposed to have been diminished by having no father to
speak of while I grew up and also considering I only had one good memory out of five of him, I
think I can safely say without fear of contradiction that I succeeded, that is, I beat the odds and
really did achieve and know happiness and love as I grew up under the wonderful and watchful
eyes of all the others that lived in the shadow of “410.”
In more ways than I can count or probably imagine, the beating Daddy gave me that day in the
shed out behind “410” changed my life forever for I knew as I laid there on the coal pile and bit
into the rake handle to keep from crying as I felt my back being ripped open, that it would never
happen again because I was already set in my mind to do whatever was necessary to survive.
As the years went by, I hated him even more -- not so much for what he did to me -- but for what
he did to all of us, and especially to my mother. Even though the scars from the engagement with
the bamboo canes faded into all the other scars of a youthful and adventuresome youth, the scars
that were left under the skin never went away for they became one of the many course setting
events that changed my life forever.
Years later, that deep seated commitment to survive at any cost that was born on top of a blood
soaked coal pile behind “410” served me well when I was in the military. One day, I might tell you
more of this story but for now, I think you get the idea.
When I was gathering my thoughts about writing this chapter, I realized early on that I would
write about my schools days a lot differently than most would do. I knew immediately that I had
(or would have) no intentions of trying to recapture every grade, every teacher, every event, or
every person, etc., that I encountered in my 12-year journey through the school system in Sumter.
My journey actually started much earlier than September 13, 1948 (the first Monday after Labor
Day) when I walked into Washington School on the corner of W. Liberty and Washington Streets
to start the first grade.
My adventure started at “410” at least 4 years earlier when I was 2 years old and sitting in my
grandmother’s lap while she read the Sunday newspaper and funnies to me.
Every Sunday morning before the whole household got dressed to go to Sunday school and then to
church at Trinity Methodist Church down at the end of Church Street, I sat in Grandmother’s lap
and listen to her read the paper to me with her fingers moving across the pages right under the
words she was reading. To me, it was magical -– she could understand what all the tiny marks all
in a row across the wide paper meant.
More than that, the words she spoke were a story that told about exciting things like a fire that
had burned a warehouse down somewhere, somebody made a lot of runs in a baseball game, and that
we were fighting in a terrible war somewhere and she wished that her boys would soon come home
safe. Her boys were my Uncles Andrew and John who fortunately returned home safely after the
war to once again live there at “410.”
Meanwhile -- back to Grandmother reading to me. My favorite section of the paper was of course
the funnies. As the years went by, I intently followed Grandmother’s finger across the pages as
she read to me what the words were in those funny looking bubble things that were above the
heads of the characters in the comic strip.
Seeing the letters, the words, and hearing them spoken to me at the same time worked their magic
because long before, and I mean long before I ever set foot into the first grade, not only could
I read all the words myself but I could also write them in both block letters and in
“Boy, if you can’t read and write, you won’t amount to anything!” was my grandmother’s speech to
me that I heard a thousand times.
I can still see that smile on her beautiful face as I sat in her lap and ran my finger under the
words in the funny papers and said the words out loud for the first time. I was barely four years
old at the time but I remember it as if it was yesterday. I had made it -– I could read.
When I think back on all this now, it actually seems like I have always been able to read. I can
not image not being able to read and write and what makes me sad is when I hear stories today
about the large number of adults in our society that are functionally illiterate, that is, they are
grown adults trying to function in today’s world that can not read or write, except for maybe
their own names which they have learned to fake write it from memory (like a piece of art) to
avoid being found out.
Anyway, as my coming to grips with going to school and the first grade rapidly approached me in
the fall of 1948, I resigned myself to the fact that I would no longer be able to play all day long
in the large yard that surrounded “410.”
At the time, I thought who ever had invented schools and made the rules that we had to attend
them must have hated kids. I mean, I could already read and write so what else did I have
My days in the principal office’s in schools started early for me. I think I made it just one week
in the first grade before a disagreement on what to do in class came to a heated exchange of
ideas between me and Ms Grace Randle (my teacher).
Seems like she was insistent on all of us doing class work like trying to make stupid block letters
and draw looping circles, whatever, all in an attempt to learn how to write and then more
importantly, how to read. My argument was that I already knew how to read and write, even sign
my name in cursive handwriting and therefore, I shouldn't’t have to waste my time doing stupid
I thought everyone knew how to read and write -- I could for as long as I could remember, it
seemed. It was to my dismay that I found out that out of the 30 or so kids in my first grade
class, there were probably only one or two other kids that had the ability to read or write.
I was dumbfounded -– no wonder my teacher was so insistent of me learning how –- she thought I
was just being a smart-a** and trying to get out of doing the work. It took me showing her that
I could read and write for her to give me (and the other few who could) permission to break out
our drawing stuff and color (drawn in coloring books) while the others endured what seemed like
hours of dumb drills.
In 1948, it was not like it is now that by the time kids get into the first grade, they probably
already have had 1-4 years worth of kindergarten type schools learning under their belts. That
along with all sorts of specialized learning toys, computers, etc., has probably 90% or higher of
all first graders already well on their way to being accomplished readers and writers on the day
they walk into their 1st class for the first time.
Earlier, you might have wondered why I knew the exact date that I started to school. It was easy
-– just looked at a 1948 calendar and looked for the date of the first Monday after Labor Day.
Unlike in today’s world where school start and end dates are all over the board (most are stupid
as far as I am concerned), the school dates in South Carolina schools during by 12-year run
(1948-1960) was always the same -– every year, every school.
It is/was so simple. Schools started on the first Monday after Labor Day and ended on the last
Friday in May. Then they counted out the 180 days the State needed to satisfy some rule, and
then gave us time off like Thursday and Friday for Thanksgiving, two weeks at Christmas, and
Good Friday at Easter time. That was basically it –- everybody knew the schedule and could
make plans accordingly -- even in the future a few years if need be.
Another thing it gave us was a full 12 weeks -- three whole months -- off in the summer time and
by the time we were in junior high and especially in high school, it allowed us to go get jobs and
make some real money for college. Now days, kids in my school district are lucky if they get six
or seven weeks off in the summer.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch -– my mother drove me to Washington School for my first day there.
I think this was the only time in 12 years that she ever did that. “Boy, ain’t nothing wrong your
legs … get to walking” was her standard reply after that first day.
It wasn’t until I was 16years old and in the 11th grade before I was allowed to drive (on occasions
-- read that to mean when it was raining) to Edmunds High School. All the other times it was good
old foot power.
To help keep things hopping in my life, a neighbor of mine saw fit to cause me to loose a few school
days, that is, my days in the first grade were cut short.
In the fall of 1948 when I had only been in the first grade but for just a few weeks, a friend of
mine split my head open with an axe. He lived across Church Street from me and we were in the
backyard of the house on the corner of Church and Pear Streets messing around a campfire we
I was sitting on a log and he was cutting firewood next to me when his feet slipped and made him
loose his aim and the blade of the axe swing far to the left and strike me in the top of the head.
Hearing me screaming, his mother raced out of the house still carrying a dish towel in her hands
and when she saw the blood spurting out of my head, she immediately wrapped the towel around
my head to stop the bleeding as I struggled to my feet and bolted for home back across
I ran screaming into the kitchen and when Mama started unwrapping the towel and the blood
started spurting out, she immediately knew that the cut had hit an artery and that this was a
Long story short, I was rushed to the hospital and ended up staying there three weeks before
coming home. I was out of school for another three weeks. During this time, the family of my
friend up and moved and I never saw him again.
One of the numbers I remember from my childhood that was related to going to school was the
number 2222. It was two thousand, two hundred and twenty two steps – my walking stride steps
-– from the front porch of “410” to the bottom of the steps of the side of Washington School
that faced towards Central School.
I had used my Uncle John’s folding wood ruler (which I still have) to measure out exactly 100
feet in the dirt driveway that ran alongside “410” into the backyard. With the edge of the
sidewalk near the street as my starting point, I banged a stake into the ground at the other end
of my measured distance and started walking the driveway and counting my steps.
Right off the bat, I was almost dead on at 50 steps to reach the stake in the ground. I must have
walked that path hundreds of times -- each time carefully trying to make my stride as smooth as
possible and not vary in step size.
My 2,222 stride steps were of course 4,444 actual feet in the distance I walked every day to
and from grammar schools there at Washington, Hampton, and Central schools. Yeah, I know, I
must have been bored to death to count the steps I took but hey, what else are you going to do
on that long walk day after day? I must have counted the number of steps hundreds of times over
the six years I did the daily hike and was totally confident in my measurements.
I loved the buildings there on Washington Street spread out over the whole block between
Hampton and W. Liberty Streets. With the three building there – each one architecturally
different from the others, it made it seem like we were at some fancy college campus somewhere.
Because the buildings were set up to house specific grades, you felt like you were moving on up in
grades as you went from grades 1 and 2 in Washington, then grades 3 and 4 way over in Hampton,
and then finally grades 5 and 6 in Central.
When you finally made the move to Central, you were it -- kings of the hills and ruled
Speaking of those, the playground areas at the schools were great. There were basically two -– a
smaller one with the best Jungle Jim set (over next to the Library Building next door to the
school on Liberty Street ) for climbing all over it I have ever seen and of course, the huge open
area out front of Hampton and Central Schools where we played ball, etc.
With the Sumter District Confederate Dead Monument on the right side of it along with
Washington School itself, this area was a kid’s paradise for playing, running around, and giving
all of us lots of room to line up and march in line around the monument on Memorial Day as we
marched along carrying our little flags.
To be honest, I do not know it was the national Memorial Day observation (last Monday in
May) or what is known as “Confederate Memorial Day” celebrated on May 10 (anniversary death
date of Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson). Whichever it was, it was fun and we were not in class!
What I remember the most about the huge monument was that I used to tell the other kids they
put it up to celebrate my birthday because engraved in large letters inside of a shield design on
the west side (facing Central School) is the date, April 9. The kids used to say, “But it says 1865
My standard reply was, “Yeah, I know … they didn’t know for sure the year I was born so they
just guessed!” It blew my mind how many kids thought I was telling a whopper!
A lasting memory I have of the large play area was the water fountain near Hampton school -–
the kind that had like an open face bowl with an up-right water nozzle in the center. I was
drinking water there one day and my best friend Ransom Cooper came up behind me and hit me on
the back of the head. Long story short, I wear a special crown on my right upper front tooth
today to cover the chipped off bottom half of my tooth!
As the years went by and we all got older, natural progression of growing up took over and by
the time I was in the six grade, I was totally convinced that girls were the greatest things in the
world ever invented and was in and out of love many, many times.
I must admit though that there was one other thing that competed with my new found interest in
girls. The Rex Theater over on Main Street was only two blocks away from the school ground
and here is where I and so many of my friends were wooed, awed, and mesmerized by the movies
we saw there on a regular basis.
Westerns of course, were on top of our list followed by all the great movie serials like Captain
Video, Flash Gordon, The Copperhead, Rocketman, Radar Men from the Moon -– the list
What made all this appealing and possible was for just one quarter (our lunch money for the day)
we could buy a ticket, get a Coke, and a box of popcorn for that same quarter. Needless to say,
school lunches got skipped real often.
On those days we decided to skip lunch and go to the Rex Theater to see a new movie that had
arrived, we raced from the school yard after the closing bell had sounded and we were outside
the buildings. Our goal -- object of the race -– was not to see who could get to the theater first,
but who could get the prized seat in the theater first.
On the right hand side and all the way down pass the front row was the prized seat. What made it
special was that for some reason we never knew, there was a single seat in front of the first row.
If you got to that seat first, you were king of the theater for that day!
One of my lost prized possessions from growing up in Sumter was a half of a cigarette I got by
standing on stage at the Rex and letting the western star Lash Larue (who was on tour) use his
famous bull whip to cut in half the cigarette I held in my mouth.
Mama found it and threw it away -- thought “I had gone to smoking them cigarettes!”
I can’t even imagine that even being allowed in this day in age -- popping a cigarette out of an
8 year old kid’s mouth with a bull whip!
Anyway, back to the schoolyard!
I think the next thing that I enjoyed the most in grammar school was being on the School Safety
Patrol my last 2 years there at Central and then having been appointed Captain by my 5th
Of course the real highlight of the Safety Patrol was our trip to Washington DC and getting to go
through the Smithsonian Institute. Everyone needs to visit our nation’s capital in the springtime
and see the Capitol, the Mall, the reflecting pool, the Lincoln Memorial, and then wander around
for hours in the Smithsonian.
Another cool thing about being Captain of the Safety Patrol was getting out of class 10 minutes
early every day so I could walk around and check (make sure someone on the Safety Patrol was
there) all four corners we were responsible for (Liberty/Washington, Liberty/Church,
Hampton/Washington, and Hampton/Church). As soon as I had checked the corner of Hampton
and Church, I headed straight on down Church Street to home.
I would be remiss if I omitted another afternoon saga that I had many opportunities to perfect
over several years. As you all know, the use of real blackboards and lots of white chalk were in
heavy use in our schools when we all came along in the 40s, 50s, and I’m sure for many more years
until modern technology (white boards, dry erase markers, computers, etc) replaced a workhorse
that I suspect had been apart of our schools since day one.
Anyway, as you also know, blackboard erasers did not just magically clean themselves. Most of
the times, there were kids just like me out behind Washington or Central Schools after school (or
during recess some times) pounding the little “#$%*#&ds” against special boards to clean them.
Some days, by the time I left and got home, I looked like someone had dumped a bag of flower
When I got home, Mama would look at me and say with a very stern voice, “Well, I see you have
been talking in class again.” Only problem was, she would then just look at me and smile. She knew
there was no need to say or do anything else -– I had already been punished.
As I and my fellow 6th graders approached the end of our school year there at Central School, we
all (I know I was) were anxious and happy at the same time.
I knew that the comforting and secure feelings that I had for those special schools building –-
Washington, Hampton, and Central -– would soon be gone and replaced next fall by an even larger
school and filled with people and things none of us knew anything about. As the summer wore on,
we were already hearing the taunts from those already at McLaurin about our impending arrival
However, at the same time, we were also 12 years old and ready to tackle a whole new world of
adventures and were happy that we were finally getting closer to our ultimate goal -–
transferring from McLaurin to Edmunds as big, bad high schoolers.
The fall of 1954 brought me and my fellow classmates from Central School to the hallowed
grounds of McLaurin Junior High School there on Calhoun Street just past Church Street. Even
though we were thought of (and treated by the older kids) as lowly freshmen, we were still flying
high because we were no longer in grammar school!
The first thing I enjoyed about going to school here was if I walked to it and cut though to it
from the back coming from Haynsworth Street, it was only 1,522 steps from “410.” Oh yeah, this
was cool –- I was saving 700 steps each way (to and from school) every day!
While I had my share of visits to the principal’s office in my days at Washington, Hampton, and
Central Schools, they were mild in comparison to potential visits to the principal’s office
The thing I remember the most about McLaurin was how well all of us rowdy students were kept
in line by a very effective solution known as the “Tiller Effect.”
My personal experiences with encountering it several times during the three years (fall of ’54
through the spring of ’56) I attended McLaurin changed me forever for it forged into me a
life-long respect for doing the right thing and respecting authority (teachers, parents,
What was the Tiller Effect, you might ask?
The Tiller Effect was my 2nd cousin who was the Phys Ed teacher and had in his possession, a
home-made spanking paddle that was about 18 inches long, 4.5 inches wide, and about a quarter of
an inch thick!
Nothing put the fear of God into a mouthy student or one that had done something wrong like the
threat of being sent to see “Mr. Tiller.” And if you had the pleasure of an “Encounter of the 1st
Kind” with him, it would take at least a full day for your stinging butt to settle down.
I've often thought that maybe had their been more “Tiller Effects” along the way in our schools
of late, maybe we would not have had as many problems in school as we have had -– especially the
bullying of other students. Believe me -- one trip to Mr. Tiller’s office would cure anyone’s
tendency to be a harmful bully on the school grounds or in the classrooms.
I also recall another series of events that came to a head in the shop class. It seemed like the
thing to do in the mid 50s by those taking shop at McLaurin was to make a table lamp out of a
cypress tree knee.
As you know, Swan Lake had (still does) an abundant supply of beautiful cypress trees there in
the gardens and especially in those on the north side of Liberty (right-hand side if driving out
Liberty Street towards Alice Drive). Anyway, the groundskeeper there finally had enough of
seeing his beautiful cypress trees being harmed by people sneaking into the gardens and cutting
off the large, beautiful knees that were so close to the gardens and trails amongst them.
The groundskeeper had heard what they were being used for and came to the school to complain
about it. The shop teacher took it to heart and put the word out that the next kid that showed up
in his shop class with a cypress tree knee –- regardless of where they said they got it -- would
get an immediate “F” for a grade. Needless to say, making table lamps out of Swan Lake cypress
tree knees fell out of favor overnight!
Meanwhile back in class, a lot of us were introduced to “Vini, vidi vici” -– “I came, I saw, I
conquered,” a Latin sentence reportedly written by Julius Caesar in 47 BC.
Lord, I think most of us that endured Latin classes at McLaurin and those suffering the same fate
out in the new junior high school out by Alice Drive near the old airport must have had the same
feelings, misgivings about our futures as we did. I mean, we were all saying, “What in the world
did all this Latin gobbledygook have to do with us?”
While most of us had heard of and knew “Dum Spiro Spero,” meaning "While I Breathe I Hope"
(taken from the seal of the great state of South Carolina) and “E Pluribus Unum,” meaning "Out
of many, one" (a phrase on the Great Seal of the United States), the rest of the stuff we had to
learn and memorize became torture. Little did we know what awaited us at high school!
Meaning no disrespect to our illustrious and dedicated Latin teachers at both schools, most of us
were convinced that these two great ladies (one at McLaurin and one at Edmunds) must have
actually been apart of Caesar’s army and were quoting, in fluent Latin, events of those times
from first-hand knowledge.
Anyway, as the years passed there at McLaurin I and all my friends were really starting to grow
up in the world around us. The Korean War was over, all of our combat troops were back home
and we were cruising -– literally in beautiful new designs from Detroit – towards nothing but
good times with cheap hamburgers and milkshakes to satisfy our growing appetites.
As you can well imagine, the summer of 1957 was spent in anxious anticipation of what came next
-– finally arriving at the door to our futures -- Edmunds High School.
Hopefully by now you have a sense of how I am going about describing my days in school while
growing up in Sumter in the 40s and 50s.
Originally, McLaurin Junior High School was grades 7 and 8 only with grades 9-12 at Edmunds
High School. However, by the time we came along in the mid 50s, the 9th grade had been pushed
back to McLaurin (and to Alice Drive Junior High when it came on line) and we lost out being a
freshman at Edmunds.
However, in many ways it was a good idea because as time went by, I realized more and more that
9th graders who were 13 or 14 years old probably had no business hanging around 12th graders
who were 18 or 19 years old. Others might disagree but to me, even now, that four year or so gap
was miles and miles apart in meaningful peer associations and activities.
Anyway, after a summer long period of anxious thoughts about high school, the fall of 1957 made
wimpy McLaurin Junior High School just a fading memory in my rear view mirror as I cruised out
Broad Street towards Big Jim’s and Cole’s Restaurants as a bona fide high schooler –- 10th Grade
at Edmunds High School!
Edmunds introduced all of us newbies to the magical colors of “Purple & White,” the exciting spirit
of the “Fighting Gamecocks,” and the absolute sternness of several administrators and teachers
whose daily tasks were to keep all of us safe, behaved, and graduated so they could start all over
with the next batch of incorrigibles!
There are so many things that happened to all of us in high school during my years at Edmunds and
I am not even going to try and recapture all of them. What I do want to do is just touch on a few
memories and observations.
One of the first things I remember about Edmunds that blows my mind when I think about it now
-– especially since what took place -- is that in today’s world, it is so absolutely not allowed,
looked down on, and illegal is so many places.
What was this terrible happening at dear Ole Edmunds High School you might ask? Why it was
the school approved and designated smoking area on the back side of the school under the shade
of a huge old oak tree! All you had to do was have a signed note from your parents that it was OK
for you to smoke there at the school and boom -– you were puffing away on your favorite brand!
Can you imagine the public outrage, protest, marches on city hall and the school board if a parent
or anyone for that matter brought forth a suggestion/recommendation at a school board meeting
that would allow such activity today?
I am quite certain if Ms Burnett had brought in a forensic handwriting expert from SLED (South
Carolina Law Enforcement Division -- like a modern day CSI unit), the conclusion would have been
that at least 25% of the signed notes were done by the same person. I’m not admitting anything
but it was rumored that all I requested was paper and pen from their homes and an example of the
intended signer’s handwriting.
Hey, I wanted to make sure all my smoking buddies had the same opportunity to light up like I did
-– you know, help relieve all the stress that all of us rising seniors faced on a daily basis!
One of the things that signified that you had made it –- especially for the boys -– was the day
you got permission to drive YOUR car to Edmunds and park it there in the parking lot. Oh yeah,
uh huh, that’s what I am talking about -– cruising into the parking lot, slow, mufflers loud, engine
throbbing, looking for a parking space.
Oh, there were plenty of parking spaces but just like circling Big Jim’s or Cole’s Restaurants on
Friday and Saturday nights, you had to go slow, look, wave, be seen, and most of all, be cool.
One the things I remember about the parking lot was the school buses that also used them. My
good friend Ransom Cooper was one of the bus drivers and let’s just says he had no fear of
driving one and also had no fear of letting one roll -- pedal to the metal, understand?
I always admired him for doing what he did, especially since it required/demanded so much
responsibility and actual time to drive a school bus route before and after school –- every day,
As best as I can remember, all the drivers were students in our classes and when I see buses
today, they are all driven by older adults. I guess somewhere along the line, someone thought it
was a bad idea to have a 17-year-old driving a school bus around full of kids.
As I sit here now and think back on all this, I realize how truly wonderful our schools years were
there at Edmunds in the late 50s. We were young, we were free, and there were no wars, no drugs,
no strife or major stress on us – except of course, dealing with Ms Burnett, and a few other
courageous teachers and finally, us worrying about having enough money to cruise up and down
Broad Street on the weekend.
The teachers -– the administrators -– all were there for us. I know at the time we didn’t see it
that way and that thought they were tyrannical, overbearing, fussy, picky, sticklers for the truth
and obeying the laws and the rules governing the schools etc., but now -- 50+ years later –- we
are who we are today in large part due to their love and caring for our well being while we were
in their charge.
I for one am forever grateful for their care and guidance. I think the most influential thing that
happened to me in high school was having my next door neighbor (our back yards ran together) as
my senior class English teacher. To this day, I can hear Ms Susie Mae Osteen stating with fierce
determination and without fear of contradiction, “A first impression is a lasting impression.”
No truer piece of advice has ever been given to me (and others, I am sure) than that simple but
rock-solid piece if wisdom/advice.
That phrase stuck with me on a daily basis all though my days in the Navy and then though out my
long career (42 years) working for the IBM Corporation. It helped guide me towards always
trying to do better, what was right, what was best for others, putting my best foot forward and
not afraid to stand tall and be counted.
If I could point to just one thing that I have seen in my life that I thought killed more good ideas,
plans, etc., it was the simple act that they were all immediately disabled by a bad first impression
put into motion by the presenter.
There were not enough mission maps, or sloppy charts were used, or they had dirty shoes, stained
suits, or dresses, or they used wrong numbers/estimates, gutter humor, smirky overconfident
remarks, or were underdressed, and had contemptuous arrogance and disrespect for the location,
logistics, people, customs, etc, associated with the concept/plan in the spotlight.
Thank you Ms Osteen –- your love and fierce determination to show us that having character and
always trying to do our best is what really defined us -– served me and a whole lot of my fellow
classmates well on our journeys past the doors of your classroom!
Meanwhile – back in school -- all the various clubs at Edmunds kept a lot of us occupied during
and after school. I doubt if high schools today have all the various clubs and organizations that
tied us all together so closely.
We had the Hi-News school paper, guest columns in Sumter’s daily newspaper, Student Council,
the Mechanics Club, Business Club, Edmunds Marching Band, Wildlife Club (and yes, we handled
guns), the Mixed Chorus, Hi-Ways (yearly school annual), Quill & Scroll writers for the
publications that were put out.
We also had the National Honor Society, Fellowship Club, Key Club (worked with local clubs like
Kiwanis Club), Dramatics Club, Music Club, Library Assistants Club, Speech Club, Future
Teachers of America, Future Homemakers of America, the Science Club, and the Photography
Club to name but a few.
There were other school clubs like the Block “S” Club for those that had lettered in sports there
at school and some outside clubs like the Counts that had nothing to do with the school (except
that you had to go to Edmunds and be a boy to be a member).
I'll never forget the morning after I was initiated into the Counts Club the night before. Part of
my initiation was to have my head shaved and as I sat there at the breakfast table looking
embarrassed, my Uncle John kept looking at me and smiling to himself. Not one for many words on
any subject, he finally laughed out loud and said, "Well, I see you haven't totally figured out how
to shave yet."
Anyway, with all this together with our football and baseball teams, field and track teams, etc.,
we were always into something that kept us connected and fired up for parades, special pep
rallies, crazy plays and sketches performed during assemblies in the auditorium, headed for the
Canteen on Salem Avenue on weeknights to play games and dance -– the list was endless.
There was one more important thing that helped tie all of us together -– our music. I have XM
Radio in my Suburban and I keep it tuned to the “50s on 5” station just about all the time. Music,
just like a smell, can trigger a memory from yesterday or 50 years ago in the wink of an eye.
We didn’t have iPods, cellphones, whatever, to play music on like kids do today. All we had were
45 rpm records and the radio.
Fantastic songs like Yakety Yak, Sixty Minute Man, Searchin', Poison Ivy, Sea Cruise, Only You,
All I Have To Do Is Dream, Chantilly Lace, Johnny B. Goode, What'd I Say, Whole Lot of Shakin'
Going On, Tutti-Frutti, Maybellene, Why Do Fools Fall In Love, Be-Bop-A-Lula, Blueberry Hill,
Ain't It A Shame, Let The Good Times Roll -- the list just goes on and on –- filled the radio
waves and the speakers on our record players with foot stomping, toe tapping, and heart-string
tugging sounds that helped define who we were.
We sang the songs and danced the night away as our hearts and minds were filled with the words.
All the songs were fun, up-lifting, meaningful, and expressed our hopes and fears -- they were our
escapes from homework, broken hearts, and then at the same time, filled our minds with memories
of great times with our sweethearts and friends.
Everything we did always seemed to lead towards one of several things -- college or the military
after graduation, summer time jobs to get money, holidays (the few we got) and of course, the
big one, the every week event that consumed most of our free time.
What was this all consuming event? It was actually very simple. It all boiled down to “What in
the world are you going to do THIS weekend –- date who, go where, do what, and do you have
enough money for gas to cruise around Big Jim’s and Cole’s?”
Yes cars were a big part of high school (still is, I suspect). They were our high school rewards if
you will, of becoming a full fledged teenager and strutting high schooler. They were our tickets to
freedom, expression, excitement, adventure, and falling in love.
As I mentioned earlier, there were other things during these years that gave us this same type of
rush –- like the Iris Festival every spring with parades and music, school dances, preparations for
and then going to the Junior-Senior proms, our clubs, Teenage Canteen, drive-in movies, Cole’s and
Big Jim’s, and just cruising around endlessly and quite possibly, aimlessly on the weekend.
Cars made so much of all these things possible and one of the things that took place on Monday
mornings out in the parking lot behind Edmunds was the discussion groups that raved on about all
the happenings over the weekend.
Parking privileges at school were one of the things that we could be (and were) threatened with
(revoking the permit) as punishment for breaking school rules. Getting called to the office to see
Ms Burnett could result in various penalties for being late, rude to a teacher, talking/laughing
too much in class, being disruptive in class or the cafeteria, or during assemblies, parking in
reserved places, illegally parking on the sidewalks – the list was endless.
I’m just glad I heard about all the things that could get you into trouble so I could give you a
sense of what could have prompted a week suspension of a parking space at Edmunds.
Speaking of being disruptive in class -– I had the pleasure of coming to Edmunds and following
along in the big footsteps of a natural-born instigator of things to keep one in a continuous sea
of hot water. Of course, I’m talking about my big brother who blazed a trail for me ten
I remember the first day in Latin class and Ms Bass was calling on each one of us to give our
names. Everything was going fine as the person stood and said their name, and then quickly sat
down and the next person stood up, etc. When it came my turn, I stood up, said my name, and then
before I could sit down, Ms Bass raised her hand, looked at me and sternly asked, “Is Storm
Bailey your brother?”
At first I was excited that she knew who my big brother was but the look on her face told me she
was not too happy – especially after I told her, “Yes” and she just stood there with both hands on
her hips and said, “Oh Lord, another one!”
The next week or so was tough in her class and she was starting to get to me by constantly harping
on me about all the things my brother had done to her. I guess it was payback but it got old. I
happened to mentioned it to Mama a few weeks later and boom, for the first time I could
remember, she was at the school the next day and had a talk with Ms Bass. To this day, I do not
know what was said but my brother’s name never came up again and my days in Latin class drifted
off into total boredom.
Fall times in my high school years showcased two events that were special to all of us –- going to
all the football games there at the fairground stadium and on the out of town football game road
trips in the school buses and then the grand finale, the annual county fair topped off with a game
there at the stadium next to the fairgrounds and midway.
Sitting up in the stands with our dates and friends and watching our great team beat the pants off
other teams -- especially Florence or Camden -– were exhilarating and fun filled times. We were
happy, we were in love, and we were rowdy. We got to scream loudly, sing songs, and chant taunts
at the opposing teams and cheers to our own team. We were together as friends, classmates –- we
were on top of the world.
After the games, it was a mad rush to Big Jim’s or Cole’s to meet up with more friends, get more
food to eat, maybe sneak one beer for 6 kids, and just hang out and celebrate the victory or
lament the loss.
Either way, it was Edmunds High School football night and we were told this is what you had to do
on football night!
During the time the county fair was in town, we cruised around the sawdust walkways of the
midway playing games, eating the best French fries and hamburgers ever made on earth, and riding
all the scary rides and laughing all the time.
Back in class -- I remember one thing that happened that made me feel bad –- for real. Harking
back to my days out behind Hampton or Central Schools and beating erasers to clean them and
then washing the blackboards, I continued that tradition in punishment for talking in class not
only at McLaurin but at Edmunds as well.
For whatever reason, I seemed to run my mouth in Mr. Gillam’s Biology class the most. Maybe it
was the variety of subject matter that was available, who knows. Anyway, more than once, I had
to stay after school and clean the erasers and parts of his blackboards in his classroom. I say
parts because he had drawn with colored chalk, intricate drawings on most of them and these were
One day, I was doing my thing -– cleaning erasers and washing blackboards -- and without really
thinking or paying attention because I was so mad that I could not meet with my girl friend that
afternoon, I washed all of the blackboards! I’m talking squeaky clean -- every square inch
Months -- maybe years, I do not know –- worth of intricate and beautiful drawings in color were
gone! Mr. Gillam broke down and cried his heart out the next day when he came into his classroom.
I tried to explain that it was an accident and that I was sorry, but none of it mattered –- he was
devastated. Things were never the same in class after that and I honestly felt bad about what
happened -- even to this day.
There was one other thing that bothered me while I was in high school and even to this day, it still
bugs me. While going to high school was exciting, challenging, fulfilling, and all that good stuff -–
like realizing as we went through those years we were actually growing up and becoming young
adults, etc. -- it also showed me another side of people that was hurtful in lots of ways.
“Cliques” -– those semi-private, unspoken rule governed groups of people that we all seemed to be
apart of in some fashion and unfortunately for some, not a part of -– were very prevalent during
my years at Edmunds.
I guess (looking on it now as an older, wiser adult) belong to or not belong to a clique or group of
friends was just part of growing up and to a large extent, continued on in our adult life as we
made new friends, joined certain clubs, hung out with certain groups, belonged to different
political parties, went to different churches, etc. But in high school (at the time), it could be
(was?) devastating to be disallowed or ignored by your peers.
Where you lived (part of town), what your parents did, the clothes you wore, the car you drove,
played sports or not, etc., all played a part in determining what clique or cliques you were a part
of or excluded from. Even then, I felt something was wrong and resented them quietly as I, like
so many others (all maybe), were affected by them.
I think being a teenager in high school is where and when the art of smugness and exclusion starts
and grows. It is also where deep seated feelings of loneliness can set in and fester as the years
go by. I do not think it is/was intentional –- but just a by-product of the process of growing up
and trying to fit in, whatever the heck that means.
In today’s world, I can only imagine what all the kids have to deal with on a daily basis – with the
social media environment that surrounds all of us, instant electronic communications at their
finger tips, almost no privacy, and exposure to the world at large every minute with a constant
parade of video images of death, destruction, sadness, diseases, drugs –- the list is endless.
As a parent and grandparent all I can say is listen to those in your charge and love them, support
them, and help show them clear and clean paths to follow. Be a lighthouse that they can always
find and see to help them on their journey though life.
As I wind down my journey back though my time at Edmunds, I can’t help but remember one night
in the spring of 1960 just before graduation when my good friend Joe Cannarella and I were up
on top of Edmunds working out the final details on how we were going to hoist a particular
Volkswagen car we had in mind up and dangle it against the front of the school just below the roof
line for a senior prank.
Our plan was to utilize a Dodge Power Wagon we had access to that had a humongous power winch
and enough cable to go up and over the school. With the cable end hooked to the front of the car
on the ground, the plan was for the winch to then hoist the car up with the cable guided over the
roof edges with two steel rollers we also had access to. A large tree behind the school was
destined to be the holding point for the cable after the car was hoisted and the cable secured
to the tree.
Anyway, we were leaning on the coping at the edge of the front of the building and just looking
down at the street below and the ground beneath us. Being up there was like being on top of a
fort or something and Joe must have felt the same thing because out of the blue, he said, “You
know what Beetle, we are two lucky SOBs!”
Beetle was one of my nicknames growing up and Joe called me that probably more than anyone
else. Anyway, I was stunned by his comment and asked him what the heck was he talking about.
“Because no one is shooting at us up here like they are doing over in Vietnam.”
I was again stunned by Joe’s intent look and scary prediction that he blurted out next.
“It won't be long before they will have our dumb asses sent over there.
Even though here we were still in high school and safe and sound in peaceful Sumter, we were
already hearing the rumblings about us, the United States, getting swept up into another possible
war/military conflict over in Vietnam. We already had military advisors there on the ground and
just the previous July, we had heard that two of them had been killed by offensive attacks by the
Viet Cong against South Vietnam forces.
Just a short time later it seemed (was actually 3 years), while cruising around on the black
ops/snoop submarine I was stationed on in the Navy, I thought about that night up on the top of
Edmunds and realized how absolutely uncannily accurate Joe’s prediction of the future was at
Meanwhile, back on the top of Edmunds -- we both had gotten caught up in our discussion about
what the future might hold for us and forgot we were hanging over the edge of the roof with
flashlights in our hands.
I guess someone was either in a car or was walking by and saw us up there, lights flashing all
around as I am sure we were animated in our discussion, and the next thing we knew, Sumter’s
finest were pulling up to the front of the school with red light flashing and yelling up at us.
Thankfully we had been smart enough to not park on the school grounds but had instead, parked
on the street out in front of a house over on Hasel Street. We returned back to the ground
behind the school on the ladders that had been used to gain access to the roof and then ran across
the parking lot and around the corner to my car. We casually walked up to it, got in, and quietly
drove away -– laughing our behinds off all the way to Big Jim’s.
Needless to say, our grand scheme to hoist the car up the side of the school never made it past
What did make it past that night was the memory of a good friend who so eerily foresaw the pain
and anguish that our nation would soon suffer through as the Vietnam War grew way beyond
unbelievable proportions and so many of our brave servicemen never came home safely.
As graduation approached, we had to practice in the auditorium what to do, where to stand, what
to say and sing etc., in preparation for the big day when we would get our diplomas and head out
into the world as genuine high school graduates ready to set the world on fire. The only problem
was all the prep work was boring (to a lot of us) as we were all just ready to rock and roll -– do
it and get on with the diploma stuff.
Then some genius figured out that if he cut a hole in an orange, squeezed out some of the juice,
and then used a kitchen syringe to inject a copious amount of vodka back into the orange, “One
could simply stand there innocently sucking on a healthy orange and no one would be the wiser.”
It took Mr. Jordan, our wonderful Chorus leader/teacher, a few days to figure out why a bunch
of us were so happy and unsteady on the bleachers we had to stand on. To his credit and to our
disbelief, but wonderful relief, all he did was grin and say, “Give me those!”
With diploma in hand, I -- like my classmates -- walked into the future that was still just a dream
ahead of me. I think we all were prepared as best as we could be -- given the safe, loving, and
peaceful environment that we all shared there in the late 50s.
Were there also bad times in high school, tearful times, and hurtful times? Absolutely yes, but
somehow we got through those moments and moved on. They did, as I look back on it now, help
shape who we were and guided us on to our next goals and challenges to face and overcome.
I had a blast at Edmunds and my path to there and beyond started with me sitting on the lap of a
loving grandmother who believed and knew with all her heart that for me to succeed in life, I had
to learn to read and write.
In my mind’s eye, I can still see her and hear her gentle voice as she ran her fingers under the
words in the funny papers and spoke them softly to me.
|End Part 2 of 3 for Church Street Memories.|
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