By John ‘Butch’ Dale
Some of the best memories of my childhood were those many trips to town on Saturday nights. Just about all of the stores in downtown Darlington were open.
On many occasions, there were no parking spaces open on Main street, and Dad had to park on North Franklin street. On that corner, in front of the Dry Goods store, was a bench where the “regulars” sat … Clarence “Doozy” Dain, Rufus “Bullet” Remington, Harley Cain, and Frank Cox. You can bet that each one had a little bottle of whiskey in their back pocket.
Bob and Thelma Peebles ran the dry goods store. My mother would usually head there to look for sale items … and various types of cloth, as she made many of our school clothes and also sewed for others. She would then sit and chat with the other women the rest of the evening.
As three more of my siblings came along, Mom was stuck at home most of the time in later years. Dad normally went to the Darlington Cafe for a cup of coffee and to talk with all of the other farmers. The cafe was owned by various people though the years, Raymon and Grace Brown, Kate Newby, and Clyde and Billie Hall … just to mention a few.
One thing I remember about Billie is that she never shaved under her arms. Dad asked me one time if I knew how Billie made hamburgers. I fell for it, and asked how. He said she rolled up a ball of hamburger, placed it in her armpit, and squeezed it into a patty. I realized he was joking, but I never ordered a hamburger after that. No use taking chances!
After his coffee, Dad walked to the Cigar Store to play pool and try to win some “pool chips,” which were worth 5 cents in trade. Dad could beat just about everyone! In those days, the cigar store was owned first by Damon “Skeet” Wray, and then later by Haskell Renick.
Most of the kids made a beeline to the Sunshine Theater to watch the newest movie, which was usually a western, a horror movie, or comedy … 25 cents admission and a dime for buttered popcorn. After it was over, we dashed across the street to the drug store, operated by Arthur and Pauline Friend. Cones were 5 cents a dip, and a sundae was 15 cents.
Sometimes I ordered a 10-cent cherry phosphate or “green river” soda drink, and bought some cashews, which were located up front in a heated tray near the candy rack. If I had extra money, I forked over a nickel for a pack of Topps baseball cards, always hoping to get a star player.
The round stools by the counter were always taken, and most of the teenagers sat in the wooden booths, so I sat outside the front door on a bench with my friends. Sometimes Lulu Chambers also sat on that bench. She was quite old and wore one of those large old-fashioned hearing aids. Lulu owned the hotel, which was located above the restaurant. I also remember that square dancing was held on Main street for a few years, and it was always fun to watch.
Oftentimes there was a hundred or more people in town on Saturday nights. Several men visited the two barbershops, run by Emil “Slim” Greve and Oscar Endicott, for a shave and a haircut … and hear the latest gossip.
I sometimes took my ice cream cone and walked to Slim’s to read the comic books, which he kept on a ledge by the front window. Many folks enjoyed a full supper meal at the cafe, perhaps their only time for “eating out” that month. Brown’s furniture store was also open, along with the appliance store, owned by Norman “Red” Hiatt.
The American Legion Hall was located above the appliance store. Many World War I and World War II veterans could be found there, playing cards, having a beer, or playing the “punch cards” or the “one-armed bandit” slot machines, which I found out later were likely illegal. On a few occasions, a veteran offered me a taste of beer. “Have a sip, it’s good for what ails you.” I never tried it, but I did peek at a Marilyn Monroe calendar once. She had on a bathing suit, but when I lifted up the front cover, she was nude … Oh, my Lord!
During the winter, the high school boys often had basketball games on Saturday nights. If the team won an upset victory, the coach took the boys and cheerleaders to the cafe and bought all of them hamburgers, fries, and a milkshake, but I think the PTO actually paid for it. Of course many of the spectators joined in on the celebration, and the restaurant made some good money on those nights.
The Darlington Telephone Company was located just east of the Dry Goods store … in the upstairs of a house. I walked over there a couple of times to watch the operator take calls and plug wires into the switchboard … fascinating! However, it closed in 1958 when Bell Telephone took over and everyone got dial phones.
Probably the most fun on a Saturday night was when the Legion sponsored a fish fry and carnival during the summer. There were hundreds and hundreds of people in town. Kids played games and went on the rides. Adults ate, talked, and listened to the musical entertainment … while waiting for the much anticipated drawing for prizes.
My Dad served as the emcee during most of those years, as he could always adlib and come up with some humorous comments. The big prizes were cash, but most of the prizes were donations from local merchants. The prize I remember most was when Ollie Crull won a free hairstyle from Kay’s Cut and Curl beauty salon. The crowd roared with laughter … you see, Ollie was as bald as a billiard ball!
Those Saturday nights in Darlington when I was a child will forever be a pleasant memory for me.