Written by Edna Liggin
The new masonic building on the main street of Bernice had only been there for ten years when Dr. M. Wick Laurence, Jr. opened offices on the second floor in 1937 that he might begin his practice of dentistry.
He had completed his education in the school of dentistry, was already married to Cortez Hicks, and would be in an adjoining office to his father, the Senior Laurence dentist. Also, Dr. C.C. Colvin had offices on this floor, in time, Dr. J.F. Tanner. Dr. Glover came earlier.
Dr. Wick, as he is affectionately known today, remembers that his father began his dental practice on the second floor of the Miller Drug Store building, recently demolished. He had already established a good practice by the time his son was born. Dr. Wick remembers also that Drs. Colvin and Glover had offices on this second floor of the drug store.
In these days a close friendship was formed between Drs. Colvin and Laurence, and the druggist Miller, that was to last for many years. Willie Belle Bowan McGee was later to recall for a newspaper article that often the doctors, Colvin and Laurence would come out to the Bowen home to eat chitterlings at hog killing time.
Sometimes the three were seen sitting on a bench by the bank, talking and whittling with knife and stick. Many tender memories of these three could probably be recalled. Malda Farrar will never forget Dr. Colvin helping her with her school tuition when she was in grammar school. Many times as he made house calls, her father Gid Grafton, would ride with him. He helped the Gid Grafton of seven children get a home.
Hundreds of women may have memories of Dr. Colvin calling them “sister”, and that a pat on the shoulder was as good as a pill.
Dr. Wick remembers that some of his father’s patients arrived on the train, so perhaps they had a check-up with Dr. Colvin, to be sure of their health, got the necessary prescriptions filled at Miller’s, then took the train home. His son remembers that the first car the senior Dr. Laurence owned was a Saxon.
Young Wick Laurence remembers he played a saxophone in Guy McDonald’s band in high school. Cortez Laurence recalls that a close friendship existed between the Hicks and McDonald families, and after Louise Jarmon and Guy McDonald married August 10, 1927, they shared living apartments for a few months.
As Dr. Wick grew up in Bernice and attended school, he found a variety of work during the summer months. One summer he worked at Miller Drug Store in the ice cream or soda fountain section when curb service was offered. The car windows were rolled down, a tray fastened, and whatever ice cream was wanted, was delivered to the car.
What else did Dr. Laurence remember doing as a youth in Bernice in the 1920’s? Once he tested eggs in the Lindsey store, once he was a waterboy; at times he worked for loggers and rode the dummy train as far as it would go.
The two story Masonic building was constructed in 1927, remembers Cortez Laurence, and it was in that year that her parents Grover and Annie Williams Hicks opened a general merchandise store on the first floor. Except for a short period during the depression years, the store was in operation until 1964 though Annie Hicks died in 1957. Regular meetings of the Masons and the Eastern Star were held in all these years. Cortez Laurence remembers her mother-in-law, Margie Heard Laurence, was a leading member of the Eastern Star.
This Lodge activity overhead on Saturday nights began long before the store closed, usually at 11 p.m. Cortez Laurence pointed out that Saturday was the day for farmers to bring wagon loads of cotton, to line up at the Lindsey gin, and await their turn. Thus it was late when shopping began at Hicks Store.
Annie Williams Hicks was the central figure in the Hicks Store. She had taught school at Hico, Dubach and Bernice. She rode the train to markets at St. Louis, Mo, and Dallas, Texas. She befriended several beginning teachers of Bernice High School, among them Lucille Robinson. The store handled everything. In 1939 an ad stated Hicks Store had new dress patterns.
The Hicks lived near the school, but in time they were to acquire land south of Bernice that once belonged to the Lowerys, so speculation is made as to how much of land where now stands Bernice was once owned by Lowerys. The wife of Ben Cole, brother to Clara Henderson, remembers that the Cole family did too, own much land before the town was established, and named for a Lowery baby.
Cortez Laurence affirmed in memory the legend of Aunt Easter Bailey, who clad in finery and jewelry, roamed the streets of Bernice, frightening Mrs. Laurence and little girls. Mattie Smith remembers she visited her home east of Bernice, saying, “I ain’t got no folks and no way of getting any.”
Many living persons remember the familiar figures of John Newton Bowen and Clay McNeal working in the Hicks store, the latter working for 25 years.
Cortez Laurence prizes an old Selig & Cromwell billhead, saying that they bought cotton in 1908. When this old building, across from the depot, was torn down, the bricks, made at Pisgah, they were used for a home built by a Mr. Heard at El Dorado, Arkansas.
What else happened to old bricks at Bernice? Cleo Colvin remembers those from the old grammar school were used to build the Colvin Courts.
Sudie Mae Carroll was an outstanding teacher in Bernice High School in this time frame, and is remembered by Malda Farrar as always raising windows in the classroom. Caroline Henry remembers being taught algebra in the summer by Sudie Mae Carroll.
Jim Porter is remembered as beginning his career in the Bernice Hardware with Martin Porter to work 60 years in this store. Originally, it was two buildings with an arch between. Before the town was 30 years old, one of these areas became Harris Five & Ten Store, with the G.G. Harris, Sr. family moving to Bernice from Texas, and soon becoming a part of the Bernice community. The Five and Ten store belonged in this era, and the little candy container figurals sold then are valuable collector’s items today.
Martin Porter was to begin work in the Bernice Hardware and Furniture business, to assist his brother, Jim Porter, already there, with Martin Porter to give sixty years of labor.
An old 1939 Bernice News Journal states that in 1939 the dial telephone system made its event into Bernice. In that year the town had the Midget cafe, claiming to have the best barbecue and coffee in town. The P & T cafe also flourished.
The rural economy in these years was based on cotton. Cortez Laurence recalls that there were five Lindsey gins- at Cherry Ridge, Summerfield, Spearsville, Junction City and Bernice. The Hicks store had a warehouse for feedstuffs, brought in by the carloads by train.
CORRECTIONS: It is Malda Farrar, not Malta. The Caldwell house was built by Jacob Cruze, who built several of the older Bernice homes, and was the first mayor.Third correction; Clara Cole Henderson was born in 1905.
(To be continued)