Daddy sure was right about Main Street

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Remember when?

By Bill Evans

Now I know times and customs have changed, but I’m at a loss to guess what today’s teenagers look forward to on the weekends as warm weather approaches.

Take the spring of my senior year of high school for example. Lancaster was a hopping place, despite downtown merchants closing at noon every Tuesday for the day.

We were making news for several reasons. My classmates in the textile and home economics classes had come together an sent the state superintendent of education a box of handkerchiefs they had made.

The man was so impressed that he wrote Mr. Lockwood a letter, calling us one of the best high schools in the state.

Arthur Smith and his Crackerjacks, with their newest member, Lancaster’s Tommy Faile was coming here for a Saturday night shindig at the high school auditorium, courtesy of the local Civitans.

If that didn’t strike your fancy, the Motor-In Theatre’s weekend double feature was “Timber Stampede” and “Panther Island,” starring Bomba the Jungle boy. Bless Pete, I sure would like to win that $175 jackpot. That might pay for a meal or two at Larry’s County Kitchen on Monroe Road.

If that wasn’t enough, tickets were on sale for the Biller Brothers Circus. It was coming to town with its “Big 3 Ring Wild” animal performance, 20 clowns and all-girl aerial ballet. Since I was shaving and wearing aftershave in an effort to impress Mary Rankin, getting 50 cents children’s tickets was out ot the question. I’d have to come up with $1.50 to take her to see Ki-Gor the tiger tamer and the baby elephants that were coming here “all the way from Bangkok, Siam.”

Yep, there was always something to do. I’m sure we could find something to do after the school bell ended for the week.     

The only thing that had us wondering was who the next high school football coach would be since Tom McConnell had resigned those responsibilities.

Besides, if we got bored, there was also the old stand-by; riding bumper to bumper in a circle.

It had become a Saturday night tradition for the 16-to-20 (and then some, crowd).

We started at the U.S. Post Office at Main and Arch streets, rode past Lingles down to Catawba Street, and hung a right. You drove north to Dunlap, cut a right by the courthouse, turned right again back onto Main Street and headed south. You took another right at the post office and did it again.

There were only two requirements to making downtown donuts on Saturday night in the spring of 1951.

First, your car had to be loaded with friends. That was especially helpful when it came to buyin’ gas.

Secondly, if your jalopy had a radio, it had to be set on the Colossus of the South, WBT Radio.

You turned it up as loud as it would go. That way, everybody could roll down the windows and listen to the Kurt Webster’s Midnight Dancing Party.

Yes sir, the “patter and platter” of the  “Night Mayor of Charlotte” would have us all sayin’ “What’s Cookin?” before the night was up. 

And we weren’t the only ones. WBT beamed out of his show  as far away as northern New York and south to the Miami shores. Eat your hearts out. Between Gordon Jenkins and The Weavers,  “Bonaparte’s Retreat” and “Hoop-Dee-Doo,” we never got bored.

Plenty of good music with lyrics you could understand. Rappers were folks who rapped on your screen door on a summer afternoon.

Now that circling Main was usually the nightcap, after an evening under the stars at the Hillcrest Outdoor Drive-In on Great Falls Road or at the Motor-In with Bomba, and his pet monkey, Kimbo.
If we were lucky that week, Ann Biggart managed to slip us some free passes to her daddy’s show.

Of course, there are no free rides. If we wanted snacks and popcorn, that was up to us. It was also up to us to return the speaker we drove off with that was still attached to the car window.

Before the city police broke up our circling, we would ease down south to George Huntley’s Jiffy Grill or up north to the Hub for a burger and “Co-Cola.”

If money was tight and the gas tank was light, we’d just order a big drink with six straws. Nobody ever batted an eye about it.

Despite such a busy night, we still made it home and were dressed for Sunday school the next morning with not too many minutes to spare.

Now, I gotta be honest, we really didn’t circle Main Street every Saturday night, although we wished we could.

Most us boys sorta hung out in front of the drug store beside the Parr Theater, which belonged to the Pat Williams’ daddy. At the time, none of us ever imagine the fella behind the counter  poppin’ popcorn would one day make Pat his wife and become a doctor.

Nope, I didn’t get to drive or ride down Main Street as much as I wanted to.

My days of hanging out in front of Williams Drug Center were somewhat limited after Sheriff Evans saw me there one time too many for his liking. That night, I quickly turned around and dropped a penny into the scales, but he knew what was up. So did I when I got home.

The sheriff, who knew me better than most, said more than once that “nothing good comes from hanging out with the guys like that.”

After spending a couple of Saturdays shoveling manure out the cow sheds down at the farm, I understood fully what he was talkin’ about.

He was right; no good did come from it.

Now I ain’t one to brag, but there was one summer when Dr. Pittman could operate in any stall and be germ-free.

Gone were those days when we dug up a can of red worms and walked down to one of the creeks surrounding Lancaster. 

I remember Mr. Joe Connors telling us in his fifth-grade class that Lancaster was technically an island, cause we had creeks all around us. Claude Jr. and Robert Parker along with their cousin, Ned Plyler, usually invited me over to Parker’s Pond for some frog gigging and pan-frying some small fish, you know a tad larger than minnows.

On hot summer nights we camped out under the stars and told ghost stories until we began to get nervous about some monster rising up from the wet pussy willows around the edge of the water. 

Sad to say, the Parker brothers who we called Tootsie and Bobby along with Ned Plyler have passed away.

No one left to tell of our adventures and no one to correct my accounts of those long ago camp-outs.