I Remember Anadarko
Athens, Greece; Rome, Italy; Berlin, Germany; Tokyo, Japan; London, England; Anadarko, Oklahoma – What do these cities have in common? Nothing at all except that I have been to all of them. More on that later.
Mrs. Maize Boone Ray passed away a few weeks ago at age 92. Mizz Boone was married in 1959 and became Mrs. Ray; however, she will forever be Mizz Boone to me. She was the third grade teacher for many of us. I saw her a few years ago at the Nazarene Church, where she had been a lifelong member. Clarence Thompson died in his late 70s a couple of months ago. Mrs. Amy Yount is still active, lives alone and does volunteer work at the local hospital. Mrs. Yount celebrated her 100th birthday last August. I occasionally see Mrs. Opal Meyers Kardokus around town. She is still Mrs. Meyers to me. Even though I am now 63 years old, I still refer to them as Mr. or Mrs.
These are but a few of the teachers who had such a great influence on those of us who grew up in Anadarko in the ‘40s and ‘50s. Mizz Boone’s passing caused me to reflect on those bygone days – days of innocence, days of carefree summer fun, days of establishing values and character that remain some half a century later.
F.F. Andrews – that was a name that struck fear in the hearts of many an elementary child. To be told to stand in the hallway and wait for Mr. F. F. Andrews to come by caused more of us to repent of our sins than many a church service. F.F. Andrews and the dreaded electric paddle. None of us ever saw it; however we knew of a certainty that it existed. In those days, it wasn’t our little psyches that got warped – it was something else.
Every adult had permission to correct a misbehaving child, no matter whose it was. And if we got a spanking in school, we could be assured of at least two more when we got home. One just for getting the spanking, and another when our parents found out the reason for the original spanking. There was never any doubt that we deserved the punishment.
I saw another of those teachers the other day, Mr. John Dawes. Mr. Dawes introduced me to Vocational Agriculture. I achieved the singularly most important goal of any Vo-Ag student under Mr. Dawes. I went to the State Chicken Judging Contest! Now you haven’t lived until you have been to the State Chicken Judging Contest! I wasn’t chosen because I was a good judge of chickens – I was chosen because I knew the names of all those weird foreign birds, like “East Siberian Rhode Island Wrongnecker” or something like that.
Speaking of chickens, my last hunting expedition involved a chicken. We lived on the south side of town, and if you walked across the street from our house, you were in the country. One very warm Thanksgiving morning when I was about ten or twelve, my younger brother and I decided to go hunting. We usually hunted for rabbits or squirrels, but on this occasion, I guess they were all somewhere having their own thanksgiving dinner. But finally, wild game! On the section line a mile south of our house, and about a quarter of a mile from a farmhouse, there was a white chicken in the road. I took careful aim with my shortbarreled pump 22 rifle and hit the chicken with my first shot. The chicken jumped about 20 feet into the air, squawking and carrying on, I ran up, put a finishing shot to the chicken, then headed for home. Never did tell my folks about murdering that poor chicken. If I had told them, I wouldn’t be here to tell the rest of this story. My younger brother blackmailed me for years over that one.
Summer time was a time of exploring. We wandered the caves of the South Hills, meandered through the Seven Canyons west of town, rummaged through the mission dump to see what we could find. And of course, on the 1st of March, we took an obligatory dip in the Washita River. Sometimes skinny dipping, sometimes in our underwear, which took on a particular red hue from the muddy river. We all had our favorite swimming holes along the Washita, and a farm pond was also open game. One of the older boys whose name will go unreported decided to do his imitation of Adam in the Garden of Eden. His knowledge of botany was sadly lacking when, much to his chagrin, he chose poison ivy as his fig leaf.
Everybody in town knew everybody else. Back then, houses had porches, and folks sat outside on hot summer evenings. Not many had air conditioning, and as people walked around the block, everyone stopped to chat for awhile. During the school year, most of us walked to school as well, so we got to know everyone. Of course, when we were going to school back then, we had to walk to school every day.
In the Snow.
Actually, some of us did go to school barefoot. It was always a challenge to see who would be the first in the spring to kick off the shoes, and the last in the fall to put them on.
Remember iceboxes? The iceman would come every day and bring a block of ice. And us kids knew we were in for a real treat when he brought an extra block of ice. We knew we were going to have homemade ice cream! As the older folks turned the crank, the younger kids sat on top. That gave special meaning to the term, “Freezing our butts off!” Nothing much better than that homemade ice cream.
And in the winter, it was snow ice cream. Just take a bunch of snow, add milk and sugar, and there you go – hard to beat!
Soda pop was a nickel and you got two cents for each bottle returned to the mom and pop store on just about every corner in Anadarko. If we collected enough bottles, we could get an RC Cola and a Moon Pie. Guess those mom and pop stores evolved into the 7-11s of today.
Can you believe that Anadarko had five movie theaters at one time? There was the Columbia, the Broadway, the Moore, the Miller and the Redskin. A dime would buy enough sugar cookies to last all day, and another dime would get you into the Saturday matinees to catch up on the latest cliffhanger. Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Lash LaRue, Whip Wilson, Sunset Carson (He was from Gracemont, by the way), Rex Allen, the Cisco Kid, the Lone Ranger – and don’t forget the sidekicks – Fuzzy St. John, Gabby Hayes, Pancho, Dub Jones, Tonto.
And Hopalong Cassidy. Each of us at some point in our lives reachs the “age of reckoning,” that point when we transition from the innocence of childhood to the reality of adulthood. I believe that point came for me while reading a Hopalong Cassidy comic book. Of course, we all knew our heroes could outshoot, outfight, outride and out-anything the guys in the black hats. However, in this episode, the bad guy had already pulled the trigger to shoot the stagecoach driver when Hoppy drew and shot the bullet out of the air. Now I know Hoppy was fast, but that stretched it just a bit too much! That was my age of reckoning, and I lost faith in my childhood heroes. (Have to admit though that I still watch a few of the oldies on the Westerns Channel.)
Remember when OTASCO was on the corner of 1st and Broadway? They turned a TV towards the street and left it on – my first taste of TV. One of the first shows I ever saw, and I still remember it, took place in an old hotel. Don’t remember why now, but someone intended to murder the occupants one at a time. To accomplish this foul deed, he (may have been a she) would light a candle in the bedroom of the intended victim, then a trained gorilla would come out at night, follow the scent of the candle, and do in the hapless inhabitant. I had nightmares from that movie for years.
TVs were just becoming popular back in the 40s, and the kid who had a TV in his home immediately became the most popular kid on the block. In our neighborhood, it was Bernie Underwood. We would go to Bernie’s house, knock on the door, and ask “Is Bernie home?” Even if the parent said “Bernie is visiting his grandmother’s, won’t be back for two weeks”, we would innocently reply, “That’s OK, we’ll wait.”
The Safeway store on 1st street was the biggest store in the world. I couldn’t imagine anything being bigger than that store. And then there was West Hardware, with stores on both Broadway and Main. Everything ever invented could be found at West Hardware. Or so it seemed.
Another thing we had down on the south side was “The Big Ditch.” This ditch ran from about 6th street down to 4th street between Mississippi and Texas Streets, and to us, it was Anadarko’s answer to the Grand Canyon. Few of us had ever seen the Grand Canyon, but we had seen the Big Ditch, so we hadn’t missed anything.
Coal oil had more uses than just as a fuel. When we got scraped up from one misadventure or another, the cure all was, first, to bathe the wound in coal oil, then slather a bunch of Rawleigh’s yellow salve on it. The yellow salve was used on kids, cows, cats, dogs, anything that moved and was wounded.
Indoor lights came late to us sometime in the ‘40s. I remember climbing up a ladder on the back of the house, investigating those two wires coming off a pole in the alley. I was about four or five, I think. I touched one wire and nothing happened. I touched the other wire and nothing happened. I touched both wires, and something happened real quick. They found me somewhere in the back yard, luckily unhurt.
We made it through the ‘40s relatively unscathed, and started another decade of life in Anadarko. Life began to take on meaning, as our lives continued to be molded and shaped by events in and around Anadarko. Character was built in places like Henry’s and the Palace Pool Hall. Some of us even hung out at the Mint Grill on Main Street. Of course, there was Jay’s Drive In, the Frosty Mug, Miller’s Confectionery, the Kandy Kitchen, The Blue Goose, Rock Castle, the Tastee Freeze, Bert’s Drive In, Miller Drug, O’Connel’s, Lakeview, the Community Building and Anadarko Bandstand, Snakepit, Trader’s and the Toot ‘N Tell ‘Em. I have no personal knowledge of Bert’s Drive In, Lakeview, the Snakepit, Trader’s and the Toot ‘N Tell ‘Em. Everything I know about these places, someone from the class of ’58 told me. If you could reach the service window at Bert’s Drive In, you could buy a quart of Hamm’s beer. Many were initiated into things alcoholic by a quart of Hamm’s beer from Bert’s. Or so I’m told.
Why did they call it the Blue Goose?
Drive In movies – Another phenomenon of that era. Stuff six kids in the trunk, one driver, pay for one ticket, then everyone pile out and enjoy the movie. These uniquely American entertainment venues were also knows as passion pits. Don’t really know why. ?
Bobbie Beeler and I went to the Anadarko Drive-In movie on Bobbie’s horse. We tied the horse to the speaker pole and sat on a blanket on the ground and watched the movie. Bobbie passed away a few months ago.
Saturday night in Anadarko – wall-to-wall people. All the farmers came to town to do their shopping, visit with their friends and catch up on the latest news. And then there was the late night preview at the Redskin. I think they showed movies at the preview, but most of us were too busy in the upper balcony to concentrate on the movie.
We had a murder one Saturday night in the alley behind the Miller Theatre. Three of us, ah, that is, three Anadarko teenagers staged a fight and a murder in the alley with a blank pistol. We, ah, that is, they saw three or four girls on the opposite side of the street, and when the girls got near the alley, the “fight” started. One of the guys pulled a blank pistol, fired it, another grabbed his chest and fell to the ground. He could have earned an Oscar for that performance. The girls ran off screaming and called the police. But of course the “victim” got up, and the three of them made themselves scarce before the local gendarmes showed up.
Randlett park swimming pool – many a lazy summer afternoon spent here. The pool was closed for many years, but reopened a few years ago and is still going strong. It’s sure good to see a reminder of my childhood just as it was fifty years ago.
Who can forget Bill Haley and the Comets? “Rock Around the Clock” and dancing in the aisles of the Miller Theater? American Bandstand, Annette Funicello, Frankie Avalon, Fabian, Elvis, Pat Boone, Sam Cooke, the Platters, Little Richard Fats Domino – did I mention Elvis? Blue Moon and Blueberry Hill, Strollin’, the Bop. My whole generation went to hell in a handbasket because of that music. Fortunately, we came back. Most of us, that is.
We were all James Dean and Rebels Without a Cause, with slicked back hair and turned up collars. All the guys were in love with Natalie Wood and hated Elvis because all the girls were in love with him.
The oldtimers (guess I’m one of them now) give directions in relation to geographical landmarks – which completely befuddles strangers. We all know where Jeremiah’s Bridge is, although the original is now gone, replaced by a modern concrete bridge. It’s only a mile from Windmill Corner. Then there is Peck’s Country, Square Top, Shirley Hill… Was Grafitti Bridge around back then? It’s there now, northeast of town, but I don’t recall it from long ago.
Even today, if you drive across Jeremiah’s late on a moonless night, you can hear the plaintive cry of a distraught mother as she calls for her child:
“J e r e m i a h, J e r e m i a h…..”
I was doing an art show in Wichita, Kansas, a few years back and mentioned to another artist that my home town was Anadarko. He said he had relatives who lived near “Round Top.” Rather perplexed, I asked just exactly where is “Round Top.” He replied, “go west past Randlett Park a few miles, and there is Round Top. It dawned on me that he was trying to put the proverbial round peg in a square hole – he meant, of course, “Square Top.”
Any of you have clothing purchased at Youngheim’s?
We had an all-school reunion a few years back, and a member of the class of ’50 was wearing the suit he graduated in. The label inside said “Youngheim’s.” That he had a suit over 45 years old was remarkable in and of itself; that he could still get into it was absolutely amazing . I wistfully mused that the only thing from my high school days that still fits was my socks.
Anadarko had its 100-year flood in 1949 when the Washita overflowed its banks. I was eight years old, but I remember the guys who worked at the power plant in Randlett Park having to take a boat to work. The next 100-year flood was in 1983. The old-timers compared that flood to the one in 1949. Then we had another 100-year flood in 1986, another in 1987 and one in 1988. Just proves that time sure does fly.
There is a small town in North Carolina called Hamlet. It’s about the same size as Anadarko, population of around 6500. An Air Force friend has a website entitled “I Remember Hamlet.” This friend grew up in Hamlet, and graduated with the Hamlet High School class of ’59, the same year I graduated in Anadarko. I have read many of his anecdotes, and the similarities are striking. We could take his stories, change the names and locations, and it would be Anadarko all over. Guess small-town life in the ‘40s and 50’s is pretty much the same all over.
Oklahoma has every right to be proud of its Army National Guard – the 45th Infantry Division. This division has won its battle stars in conflicts ranging from WWII to the current crisis in the Middle East. In 1956, I joined Anadarko’s contingent of this unit – at that time, B Battery, 158th Field Artillery. When I put on that uniform, web belt, combat boots, helmet and steel pot, and carried an M1 Garand rifle, my weight just about doubled. I was fifteen years old.
Many of you will remember Potato Hill at Fort Sill, Fort Hood and summer camp, Monday night drills at the armory. Ah yes, the armory! After ball games, there were the sock hops at the armory. They were called sock hops since we all had to remove our street shoes so as not to damage the floor. But then the National Guard guys would march all over that same floor in combat boots on Monday nights! We applied a military fix to that floor once. On the west side, the floor had gotten wet and buckled. We ran a 105 MM Howitzer over it to push the boards back down. But you still couldn’t wear street shoes on that very same floor.
We would get an Oklahoma City disc jockey to spin records at the sock hops. Remember 3D Danny? Danny Williams was one of the first TV personalities back in those early days. Our fourth-grade class went to Oklahoma City and some of our classmates were on his TV show. At that time, it was WKY. He is still active as a disc jockey on KOMA radio out of Oklahoma City.
Remember the Pepooses? Our all-male cheering squad? That chant we used would drive our opponents crazy. Wonder if Chickasha still calls its team “The Chicks?” Funny things used to happen to chickens when we played them. Of course, I never took part, but I’ve been told about these incidents.
A night we may not wish to remember was the Friday night in 1957 when the Anadarko Warrior football team visited Lawton. The Lawton team at that time was ranked Number One in the nation. Final score was 87-7, and it was not in our favor. The Lawton team knocked out just about all of our starting players and most of the substitutes. We finally suited up the waterboy and put him in as quarterback. Perhaps it’s best not to dwell too much on that game. However, one reason the Lawton schools had such good football players was because on average, their high school seniors were three to four years older than our high school seniors. That came from spending three years in the fourth grade.
We graduated in 1959, and split in many different directions. Some went to college, some stayed in Anadarko, some joined the service. One classmate joined the Navy to see the world, and was stationed in Death Valley, California – not much world to see from there. I joined the Air Force in December, 1959, and spent the next 27 years floating around the world. In those 27 years, I visited every state in the union and about 40 foreign countries. I lived in Europe somewhere for about fifteen years, participated in a few wars here and there.
I came back to Anadarko from time to time over the years, saw a few friends now and then, and moved back here permanently in 1986. Anadarko has changed a lot, but then maybe it hasn’t changed much at all. The population is still about the same, around 6500. I drive up and down the streets from time to time, remembering who lived here or there, or what business was on that corner. It is with both sadness and joy that I remember those days of so long ago. Sadness for friends who have passed on without my having a chance to say goodby, but joy for the memories of those same friends.
So what do Athens, Rome, Berlin, Tokyo, London have in common with Anadarko, Oklahoma? Nothing really, except I have been to all of them. Anadarko will never have much of what those cities have.
But Anadarko will always be home.
April 15, 2004