Monday, August 19, 2013


At age eight, just before starting the second grade, my grandmother moved us from Kentucky to her ancestral home in the Mississippi Delta.  

Just so you know - an eight year old is capable of experiencing cultural shock. 

Kentucky was all I knew.   My grandfather’s people were rooted into the history of Crittenden County Kentucky all the way back to the Civil War.  Family ties extended across the county - people knew me there and I was accepted. 

My grandfather had worked for the Illinois Central Railroad until retirement.  My grandmother and grandfather were divorced, but my grandmother has a pass to ride the trains.   We rode an old steam engine passenger train from Paducah, Kentucky to Rolling Fork, Mississippi.

Rolling Fork is located in the center of Sharkey County, which is located in the heart of the Mississippi Delta.  The land is flat and hot – cotton country.   The black people greatly outnumbered the white people in the county, but this was segregation and black people didn't count. 

It is funny when you think about it:  in the late 1940’s black people in Rolling Fork were considered inferior – just above field animals.   Now, in the twenty-first century, the only thing Rolling Fork is known for is as the home of McKinley Morganfield: Muddy Waters.

The house we moved into was one side of a duplex; then known as a shotgun house because you could shoot a shotgun through the front door and it would exit through the backdoor – the hall went down the center of the house from front door to back.   The house was built off the ground on brick pilings, as were most of the older houses because, before the Corps of Engineers built levies, yearly flooding of the Mississippi river was once common in the area. We had three rooms: two bedrooms and a kitchen.  

We shared the house with an older couple – the owners.  There was a screened porch across the front of the house furnished with some wicker rocking chairs and a swing.   During the summer, because of the heat, my grandmother and I and the old couple would sit on the porch at night until bed time.  I would often fall asleep in the swing.   There were screens on the windows and at night we slept with the windows open and an oscillating fan blowing air across the bed.   I can remember many nights trying to get to sleep, sweating – with the sheet pulled over my head, as mosquitoes buzzed over the bed.

My entrance into school was not pleasant.  I was from Kentucky and so the students decided I was a Yankee.   The Civil War was the proud culture of the area.    ‘The 4th of July’ was not celebrated because that was the date that Vicksburg fell to ‘Grants army of northern aggression.’ 

Mississippi State Flag

We had a telephone.  This was before dial phones.  Our telephone number was 26.   My grandmother’s brother’s telephone number was 3.   Numbers really didn't matter, because you could pick up the phone and tell the operator you wanted Claude Kelly’s telephone and she would ring it.   The operators knew everybody in town, and it wasn't unusual for an operator to tell you that the person you were calling had gone to Vicksburg and wouldn't be home for a couple of days. 

Note: I could not find a picture of a telephone on Google without the dial on it.   Our phone was black with just a small white placard in the center of the receiver that had our telephone number printed on it. 

School ran from 7:30 in the morning until 4:00 in the afternoon.  There were no spring or fall breaks – straight through until Christmas and then straight through until summer; I believe we did get Thanksgiving off.  

Just before moving to Mississippi my sister/mother gave me a J.C. Higgins, 26 inch, red and white bicycle.  

I rode this bicycle to school and back until I entered the eleventh grade.    In the early days the bicycle was my get away vehicle after school.   My bicycle was named Fury for the horse of Straight Arrow – my comic book and radio hero.

The high point of each day began after school at 5 p.m. when I would sit on the floor at home, in front of the large Philco radio, with a mayonnaise sandwich and a glass of milk, and tune into one hour of kids programming. 

For those of you that can’t imagine a time before television - radio was just as exciting – and perhaps more so than TV.    Kids today watch television along with distractions; but radio took your full concentration.   Somehow you became more a part of the program than you can with television.  

The afternoon programming could be Sergeant Preston of the Yukon and his wonder dog King; The Lone Ranger and Tonto; Tarzan; Roy Rogers; Rex the wonder dog; Lassie – or others.   Saturday mornings were also kid’s time: I listened to Sky King; Flash Gordon and Space Cadets.  

My favorite Saturday radio show was Straight Arrow.  

In a moment Steve Adams rancher is gone - and in his place
Yes Fury it is I Straight Arrow.

The mild rancher Steve Adams would be confronted by evil doers then ride his horse across the badlands and jump it across a canyon into a secret cave– there he would change into his Indian outfit and emerge as Straight Arrow riding his golden horse Fury.    With his bow and arrow he would defeat the villains and then return to his persona as the mild rancher. 


Nabisco shredded wheat included Straight Arrow Indian craft cards with its cereal.  These cards were magical: they showed you how to build tepees  identify animal tracks and make all sorts of Indian paraphernalia.   I hated shredded wheat but ate it to get the cards.

I spent hours making war shields, tomahawks, spears, bow and arrows, and building shelters.   When away from school I spent much of my time occupying some elaborate fantasy

My toys were simple by today’s standards.  Along with my Indian outfit that I made, my other prize possessions (other than Fury) were two cap pistols and a cigar box of toy plastic soldiers.   The soldiers entertained me for hours on rainy days in the house. 

Now that I think about it, guns (toys or otherwise) have been a part of my life almost as far back as I can remember.  

Kids today can not fathom life without electronics.   If they aren't in front of a television or their computer then they are on their cell phones or being entertained with some organized activity – otherwise they are bored. 

I also had electronics when I was a kid: I owned a flashlight.

On Saturdays my grandmother would give me a quarter and I would go to the movies.    It cost a dime to get in – popcorn was a dime and a coke was a nickel.    There was usually a western double feature showing on Saturdays.   Black people could go to the movie but had to sit in the balcony – they had no concession stand.  

The town was a safe place to live and since we lived three blocks from the movie theater my grandmother would sometimes let me go to movies at night.  They always showed the horror movies at night.  They scared the hell out of me but I loved them.  I remember hiding under the seats during the scary parts; and after the movie I would run home through the dark streets so fast I don’t think my feet touched the ground.  


When I was ten years old I got a Daisy air rifle for Christmas.  Like the boy in A Christmas Story, I slept with the BB gun beside my bed.   It was the greatest gift I ever received. 

BB’s were ten cents a tube.  I don’t remember how many BB’s were in a tube but there must have been at least a hundred.  You would twist the cap on the end of the barrel and pour the BB down the loading chute.  I must have shot thousands of rounds over a four year period.  

When I was fourteen I helped an uncle pack a van with his household furniture when he moved his family to New Orleans.  Just before he left he gave me a bolt action 22 cal. rifle (which I still have.)    I am not sure what happened to the BB gun; perhaps it got passed down to a cousin. 

That gift pretty much ended my childhood.  


  1. OB,
    Dear me! I never knew what the term "shotgun house" meant until now - lived in one in the 50's - Where did you live - Mayfield?

    Great post!


  2. great wife remembers life before television, I can't imagine life before Ernie Kovacs. What you call a shotgun house is like what we called a railroad flat. I spent most of my early years believing that huge cardboard boxes were the best most prized electronic possession was my radio that required at least 4 big ass C batteries....or a direct plug into the wall...I learned about Chicago Blues and Nashville, to me it was like being in contact with alien cultures....I never had a gun, but I was an archery buff...I was pretty good...I still have some ribbons for the early 60's.


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