Do any of you remember the days when Saturdays in Tallapoosa meant people shopping and congregating in front of stores and talking about the weather, how the Tallapoosa Red Devils were doing in sports, the price of groceries and how there seems to not be any grown ups in Washington, D.C.?
Remember when we had several taxi services? Walton Cab was on the edge of Freeman Street and Lyon Street. There were a few others, but the Waltons were neighbors and from time to time my grandmother would need a taxi to go shopping for groceries. A man named Scott started a new taxi service a couple of months ago in Tallapoosa called Dial-A-Ride.
I remember those days of how U. S. Highway 78 was bumper to bumper through town most Saturdays before I-20 re-routed travelers going to Birmingham or Atlanta. G. B. Evans gave me a job the summer of 1965 and I remember bagging groceries, stocking shelves and learning what hard work was all about. It helped to develop a sense of how important it was to do a good job. I think the pay was about 60 cents an hour and Saturday evenings just before closing was getting paid.
The store stayed open until 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights, and I recall a woman who still lives in Tallapoosa would stroll in about 6:55 p.m. and leisurely fill her shopping cart. I never saw her in the store except on Saturday evenings just before it was time to go home. We never complained because she was a customer and Mr. Evans believed that old axiom that the customer is always right.
Working in a grocery store taught me so much. I learned how to pick a ripe watermelon by thumping it from our produce manager Forney Walker. His rich booming voice resonated when he’d sometimes sing in the stock room, which was in the basement of the store. I remember many days of climbing those 19 steps with 50 pounds of sugar or flour headed for the shelves. Those 50 pounds seemed more like 500. I learned that it is hard to clean up a broken jar of sorghum or a jar of Blue Plate Mayonaise.
John Hallman was the meat manager. He taught me about selecting cuts of meat from marbling and he taught me how to cut up a chicken. On weekends, the rotisserie in the meat market was cranking for 12 hours roasting barbecued chickens that sold for $1.99 for a whole chicken. I still remember the sawdust on the floor of the meat market and how the entire meat counter was scrubbed down before closing on Saturday nights. I learned about doing a good job and to always be friendly because that is what Mr. Evans insisted on “because customers have a choice,” meaning Smith’s Thrift Town was just a couple of blocks away. They had a bigger store and larger parking lot.
Do you recall when the Smith’s owned the Red Dot on Head Avenue that was next to Benefield’s barbershop where I got my hair cut for 85 cents back in the day. Mr. Benefield’s son Andy would sometimes come by. I admire Andy Benefield a lot for his entering marathons all over the nation. I bet he will win at the Dogwood Festival 5K next month.
I read the other day Dr. Oz saying we need to walk 10,000 steps a day. I am starting slow on his advice as the quest right now is 100 steps a day. Walking and exercise keeps the heart and cardiovascular system strong. Dr. Parrish the other day X-rayed my heart and found one of my arteries is made out of pepperoni.
This weekend is a happy one for so many. Tomorrow it is corned beef and cabbage, Irish soda bread and other things associated with St. Patrick’s Day. The 17th of March exactly 30 years ago the Lord called me home to the only saint I ever came in contact with.
Mamanier, who taught me how to cook when I was 7 years old, loved the Lawrence Welk Show on Saturday nights and her dream for me was to either be one day be the governor of Georgia, a Baptist minister or the drummer on Hee Haw. She thought the Beatles “seemed to be fine boys, but they should cut their hair,” and she liked Elvis Presley because he loved his mama.
I remember my early days in radio playing Bill Withers “Lean on Me.” She loved that song. I can’t hear it without thinking of her and the night Bill Withers sang it on stage in the old gym at West Georgia College. My grandmother never missed a day that I was on the air while in college. She lived to be 95 and died from a form of lymphoma. Her suffering and dying from that form of blood cancer inspired me to work for some 20 plus years raising funds for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
Mamanier loved her family. She loved her church. She loved her neighbors. Most importantly she loved Jesus and reading her Bible. I will probably place some pink roses on her grave at Hollywood Cemetery tomorrow. She loved the color pink. She was buried in a pink dress that she loved to wear to First Baptist and hear Rev. S. T. Skaggs preach from the Word and loved the voice of Bud Jones in the choir.
She could fry chicken like nobody I’ve ever known. Her cat head biscuits were manna from heaven. She made tea cakes that I still recall how they tasted with that hint of lemon in them. She saw me graduate from high school, from junior college and in 1974 was there when Dr. Ward Pafford handed me my diploma at West Georgia College.
I wish I could have spent more time with her after I graduated and moved off to places like Columbus, Asheville and Montgomery. I remember calling her on the phone and her shouting into the receiver “we can’t talk long, this is long-distance and costs money.” I remember how proud she was of her grandchildren. I can’t think of a one that didn’t attend college. If there was a hall of fame for grandmothers, I’d like to nominate Mary Etta Nimmons Meunier. Mamanier, I miss you everyday. There hasn’t been a single day, and there have been 10,950 of them since you left, that I haven’t thought about you. If you are blessed enough to still have your grandparents. Go see them this weekend. I sure wish I had.
Rhubarb Jones is a Tallapoosa native and a member of the Georgia Radio Hall of Fame and the Country Music Disc Jockey Hall of Fame in Nashville. Comments are welcome at P. O. Box 6, Tallapoosa, GA 30176. Previous columns can be found at www.tallapoosa-journal.com.