I remember when….

Irene Abemathy

In the early days Bernice people didn’t live on streets. They lived on the road by Mr. Wainwright’s house, next to the old Ferguson place, or they lived down the road a piece after you passed the gully on the right near the Glover’s home. I am exaggerating because we did have streets but we didn’t know the names. Even Main Street wasn’t called that because it was “downtown” and everybody knew where most of the businesses were located.

Our Main Street had a sycamore tree shading Miller’s drugstore and several teen-aged girls could drive up in a Model A Ford, honk the horn and some cute boy would come out to take your order. It was the height of sophistication to order an olive coke or one of a very sweet syrup with a cherry swimming on top. You could also get milk shakes or malted milks but they were more expensive.

Mr. Thaxton was the pharmacist and I think he mixed the drugs to make up the medicines prescribed by Dr. Colvin. As I recall, most prescriptions came in bottles in contrast to the thousands that are in pill or capsule form today.

We had department stores in Bernice. There were Hick’s, Patterson’s, Heard’s Talbot’s and possibly other places with general merchandise. Then there was Maude Phillip’s Dress Shop and Salley’s Meat Market and Cafe. There was a movie theater, hardware store, bank, post office and Mrs. Still’s Dime Store. On the top floor of stores you could get your teeth pulled or go across the hall to get your appendicitis diagnosed. Most of life’s necessities you could find on our Main Street.

Along the highway were other businesses which sold gasoline, cars, dry cleaning services or provided a place for the fellows to shoot pool.  Too, there was a shoe repair shop and a place or two where you could get car repairs. Those were the days when you tried to make do with what you had!

There probable were other business endeavors that I didn’t know about.

Turn left off Main Street by The Meat Market and go straight for awhile and you would come to the Baptist Church. Look to your right, across all the bales of cotton placed near the cotton gin and you could see the Methodist Church. Go on down the road a piece and you’d come to the biggest industry in town—the Saw Mill.

Bernice was a little town with no great civic intentions. As far as I know there were never any fabulously rich individuals in the area. No libraries or other public buildings were contributed for the general welfare of the community. During the Great Depression years nobody flaunted their wealth so if they had it they kept quiet. Of course some had more than others. Most of the saw mill laborers earned a dollar for a ten hour day, I have been told, and they were glad to have a job.

But we were a moral village. The preachers disapproved of dancing, card-playing and picture shows (movies). Somehow those activities took place, but quietly. The good, the bad and the really wicked all made it to Church on Sunday morning.

Bernice was a segregated town as were all others in the South at that time. There could have been many more of Willis Reed’s stature that slipped through the cracks; we will never know.

This is a new day and progress is evident in the nation. I have not included the Afro-American community in these memories because I don’t know that story. I hope that history is being written by some old timer who remembers “Monday” and his service with Dr. Colvin and the many other contributions made without fanfare.

Highway 167 was always the straight way through town. There were no traffic lights, no traffic jams and just plain, easy driving. But to youngsters it was an important place. We would have copied the sign that says, “Go ahead and blink, We’re bigger than you think” or painted one declaiming, “You are now in Louisiana, the very best state in all the 48!” We had spirit.

People living in northern states are beginning to migrate south, not in great numbers maybe but they are discovering that southern states have lots to offer. Who knows, Bernice may become quite a metropolis. And my Spirit will be saying, “I remember when —–“


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