Submitted by Molly Liggin Rankin
BERNICE HIGH SCHOOL DECADE REUNION
1950 – 1960
BERNICE HIGH SCHOOL GYMNASIUM
JUNE 2, 1990
JOE L. GREEN
BHS CLASS OF ’54
(MASTER OF CEREMONIES)
On behalf of all the Bernice High School graduating classes of the 1950’s I want to say “Thank You” to everyone who, either formally or informally, had a part in planning and organizing this “Decade Party.” A special word of thanks goes to the class representatives who served as a coordinating committee. They are:
“CEO” – Jo Heard Tatum
1950 – Marjorie Bailiff Huff
1951 – Kathryn Platt Ward
1952 – Simon Pearson
1953 – Nelda Kay Herring
1954 – Frances Platt Burford
1955 – Sue Bailiff Farley
1956 – Bob Tubbs
1957 – Jerry Till
1958 – Glenda Sue Caldwell Fuller
1959 – Grethen Gresham Till and Jimmye Heard McNabb
Let’s give them a big hand!
Just to give a little perspective on our decade as high school students in Bernice in the 1950’s, we might take note of a few things about ourselves. Most of us were born during the years of the Great Depression, while the very youngest of us were born during the early days of World War II. Thus, we were born before television, before penicillin, before polio shots, and before frozen foods, Xerox, plastic, contact lenses, Frisbees, and before birth control pills.
We pre-dated radar, credit cards, the splitting of the atom, lazer beams, and ballpoint pens, as well as pantyhose, dishwashers, clothes dryers, electric blankets, air conditioners, drip-dry clothes, and moon-walking.
We were adults when the “sexual revolution” occurred, though some of us may have managed to get caught up in it — “old revolutionaries,” I suppose. But generally, we got married first, then lived together.
In out time, closets were for storing shoes and hanging clothes — not “coming out of”. Bunnies were small rabbits, Hugh Hefner nowithstanding; and rabbits were real animals, not Volkswagens, For us, ‘having a meaningful relationship” meant getting along with our cousins. “Commitment” meant “bringing in your homework”, a habit that Mrs. Goss had taught us well, and that Mrs. McIntosh later reinforced with treat of life and limb. “Discipline” and “control” were what Johnny Caldwell, Ben Carroll, and Johnny Emmons expected of us on the basketball court and playing field; and “punishment” and “bondage” meant being sentenced by Milton Hall to spend extra-school time picking up paper on the playground.
In Bernice in the 1950’s, “graffiti” was what Uncle Brooks had printed all over his famous Pan-Am station, an institution that I later learned was a source of entertainment up and down the Southern Trailways Line.
We thought that ” fast food” was a plate lunch at Buddy Till’s Cafe, and that “outer space” was the back row of Ms. Blanche Butterfield’s Royal Theater.
We knew nothing of house-husbands, gay rights, computer dating, dual careers, and commuter marriages. We were before day-care centers, group therapy, nursing homes and special education. For us, “being gifted” meant being able to tolerate the routines of school with good humor.
We never heard of FM radio, tape decks, electric typewriters, artificial hearts, word processors, yogurt, alfalfa sprouts, organ transplants, designer jeans, shopping malls, beatniks, hippies, yuppies, or guys wearing earrings. For us, “time=sharing” meant togetherness — not computers on condominiums. A “chip” was a piece of wood at Ed Hageman’s sawmill that had little to do with technological advance; “hardware” was a place owned by Martin Porter and Sam Tubbs, and “software” wasn’t even a word. We knew nothing of McDonald’s or Burger King. For us, McDonald’s referred to the home eco department on the third floor of the old school building, and “Burger King” was a title held by Buck Farris, who, according to legend, once at seven hamburgers at Mr. C. T. Salley’s old Meat Market Cafe. Pizzas were unheard of, and, if they had been, they wouldn’t have been any match for Bernice’s gourmet delight — the famous Pisgah steak — better known nationwide as a bowl of chili with catsup added and crackers crumbled on top.
We hit the scene when Bernice had Gil Harris”s 5 and 10¢ store, where you bought things for five and ten cents. Miller’s Drug Store sold ice cream cones for a nickel or a dime, real milk shakes for 20¢, and malted milks for 25¢. For certain old men seeking to retain a measure of virility, Keldron Thaxton would even add a raw egg to their milkshake. For a nickel you could by a bottle of coke with slivers of ice in it at Taft Burn’s Esso Station, and for a dime you could get an RC and a moon pie anywhere in town. If you could catch Hugh Martin away from his grocery store, Joe Billy Pilgreen would even give you a slice of hoop cheese from the meat counter. Mrs. Minnie Baldwin’s postage stamps were only 3¢ each, and if Bernice had had any pay phones, a call would have been only a nickel.
For 50¢ you could ride the “Doodle Bug” on the Rock Island line all the was to Dubach. And for $50 to $100 you could buy a pretty decent used car, but who could afford it, because regular gasoline sold for a whopping 19¢ a gallon.
In our day cigarette smoking was still fashionable, though some of us managed to hold our ground against it, although we would drop by “Bull Durham Corner” at the school to catch the latest jokes. The only “grass” we knew about, however, was that we mowed; “coke” was something we drank, and “pot” was what our mams cooked in.
We got our haircuts either at home or from Frank Gray or Cliff McIntosh, unless were careless enough to try one from Jimmie’s Barber Shop at the risk of losing our social status. For the girls, the new Toni Home Permanents were the rage, if you could stand the smell. Or, if girls wanted added humor or social atmosphere, they could get their hair curled professionally at Wawee’s Beauty Shop.
Before the stately sycamores were cut along main street to make way for black-topping, Bernice had two shaded benches where old men gathered to talk about politics, farming, and baseball. One was in front of Hick’s Store; the other was across the street along the east side of the bank. As a twelve-year-old I earned spending money by hawking shoe shines on those two benches. By the time the ’50s arrived, the one in front of Hick’s Store was gone, along with the sycamores. But the one beside the bank remained. It became known infamously as the “DP Bench”, I’ll not offer nay further comment on what “DP” meant, since it might constitute a stinging reminder of how near some of us now are to “the DP stage of life”!
Most of us were born during the days when Huey Long or his immediate successors ran Louisiana. When we entered high school in 1949 Earl Long was in his second term as governor, and when our decade ended ten years later Earl was in his third term as governor of Louisiana. The mayors of Bernice during the 1950’s were Taft Burns and Van Salley, and our town marshal was Otis Elliott, a man whose appearance defied the “John Wayne image”, but who was as tough as they ever get when “push comes to shove”. Our mayor industries were the Salley Grocery Company, the Lindsey Bonded Warehouse Company, and the several sawmills that have always been the economic mainstay of our part of the state. Our school principals were Milton Hall and Johnny Caldwell. And our real live heroes were the Big-8 League baseball players who livened our summers with many a trill. (For those who do not remember, the Bernice Lions won either the Big-8 League pennant or the Shaughnessy Playoff every year between 1949 and 1958).
Practically every kid who graduated at Bernice during the 1950’s had been “delivered” at birth by Dr. C. C. Colvin. And it was most likely a “home delivery”. We had our teeth drilled either by Dr. Laurence or Dr. Wick, and if you had them both, you knew the difference. By the time the 1950’s rolled around, however, there was a medical revolution in Bernice with the appearance of Dr. Calvin Reeves and the development of the Colvin-Reeves clinic.
Sometime during the mid-fifties a new cultural center and gathering place appeared on the Bernice scene. It was the “Dairy Queen”. With its coming, a new center of action and social activity for Bernice’s constituents, it was also a drawing card for people in a three-parish area. On any given evening there would be kids (as well as their mamas and daddies), from everywhere, at the “Dairy Queen”: Hico, Spearsville, Lisbon, Summerfield, Junction City, and especially Dubach.
It was during our decade that automobiles sprouted “fins” and quadrupled the amount of body chrome. And it was our decade that saw the demise of fins, if not the chromes (Remember Chevrolet’s rounded “sweet, smoothe, and sassy” style of 1958?). Incidentally, there was a direct correlation between “having wheels” and being popular in the 1950’s. Perhaps there still is. But in our day, we all fantasized that “having wheels’ was a necessary condition for “making out”. Actually, I’m not sure that anybody was “making out” in those days, but at least the car fenders were made out of metal strong enough for us to sit on “up town” at night while we listened to the car owners tell heroic tales about “making out”.
For my part, the most creative vehicle in Bernice during the 1950’s was James Larkin Dendy’s jalopy. I never knew whether it was a Model-T or a Model-A, but it featured an anchor which James Larkin threw out of the window when he came to a stop and was covered with pithy inscriptions. One of these said, “Don’t laugh lady. Your daughter may be inside”.
Anybody who knew anything about Bernice knew that there were town kids and country kids. That’s why I was so shocked to learn in a college sociology class that all of us were considered rural folks according to the scholars who write sociology textbooks. I almost failed the course trying to convince the professor that he didn’t know what he was talking about!
Not only were there town kids, but there were different sections and neighborhoods in the town. Also, there were different kinds of country kids and country communities, depending, of course, on how well organized they were. The name and organizing force was usually a community Baptist church, but the churches were not the only distinguishing characteristics of these communities. Each one was unique in its own right. Closer in were Pine Grove, Pisgah, Mt. Patrick and Shiloh. A place like Grafton’s Crossing was considered a suburb of Pisgah. Farther out were Weldon, Lille, Union Gin and Evergreen. (Johnny Bledsoe and Joe Warren Farrar used to claim that they had to “pipe sunshine” to Ira Simpson down at Evergreen). Some of these communities had had their own schools earlier, but by the time the 1950’s rolled around we were all together in school at Bernice. E Pluribue IIpum!
Our world at school was a pretty safe one. At noon each day, the school kids had a full hour off for lunch, compared to less than half that time in today’s schools. This allowed those who rode buses an opportunity to walk the four blocks to town to buy their Mamas whatever they needed, whether it was a spool of thread or a box of baking powder while the rest of us blew off steam on the playgrounds. Some of the great, heroic events I have witnessed during my lifetime occurred on the Bernice playground. I’ll always remember seeing Marzelle Kelley take on the whole playground one time. My God, what a gladiator he was!
Another act of authentic heroism and sheer bravery on the playground involved my friend Max Weir. It was become customary around the Agriculture Building for big kids to exercise their dominance over little kids holding them down and chewing their ear, a perverse practice known as “getting a little ear”. One day Bill Washam, one of the playground’s strong men, undertook to “get a little ear” from Max. Severely threatened, Max responded by grabbing Bill by the crotch of his blue jeans and holding him, immobilized, for some twenty minutes. Actually, the bravery in this act was not in grabbing Bill by his “private parts”, but in finally letting him go. Strangely, Bill let Max off with a mere warning. There is probably a serious lesson somewhere in this episode.
The leading family name in Bernice High School was either Farrar or Copeland, depending on what your meant by “family”. There were more Farrars in all but they weren’t all brothers and sisters like the Copelands were. But this would probably change if you subtracted from the Farrar clan all of those who changed their names to FAIR-er, Fu-RAH after they left Bernice.
Bernice kids had their own specialized language in the 1950’s, which was actually a form of “Pisgah vernacular”. It was grounded in a kind of humor and self affirmation that amused us all while allowing us to laugh at ourselves. In our self-made lingo, the word “she” was neuter pronoun used to signify our own funny self-images. For example, if a hungry looking character walked by us, no matter who or where, someone was likely to whisper, “Do you believe ‘she’d’ eat a chili?!” Semantically, things finally go to the point where, especially during the mid-and late – 1950’s, the school faculty and the entire town, and even a few folks from Dubach, had learned the Bernice funny language. We even got to calling each other “funny girl” or “funny man”, so much that one of our illustrious graduates of the Class of 1957 is still know in Bernice as “the Funny Man”. Things really went full circle; we weren’t just a bunch of smart alecks; we really were caught up in a “kidding – around language” the likes of which I’ve never seen anywhere else. All in all, it helped to civilize us, to give us a creative means of communications, and to allow us to avoid some of the silly seriousness of the 1960’s, the fakery of the 1970’s and the foolish fundamentalisn of the 1980’s. A guy like Jimmy Swaggart would never have made it in Bernice in the 1950’s. We would have laughed him out of town.
The kids at Bernice were big on conferring nicknames. Everyone had one at one time or another. The biggest category of nicknames was probably animal names. At Bernice we had a Possum, a Bull, a Burro, a Bear, a Duck, a Flea, a Frog, a Calf, a Hawk, a Hound, and a Peckerwood (sometimes pronounced “Pet-na-wood”). There were many others, too numerous to recount – – some offensive and some self-proclaimed. Bernice was probably the only school anywhere that had two Truby Gays. We settled the confusion by calling one “Truby” and the other “Gay”.
Of course, as is usually the case in Southern home towns, everybody was called by both names. Thus, we had Kenny Wayne, Bennie Mac, Joe Henry, Vicki Sue, Willie B., Mary Frances, Mary Alice, Patsy Ruth, Gene Raymond, Mary Beth, Billy Wayne, James Wayne, Rose Marie, Bobby Dean, Joy Ann, Clyde Mitchell, Johnny Frank, Bobby Ray, Johnny Wayne, Nona Ruth, Helen Ann, Billy Troy, John Tom, James Allen, Mary Draper, Carol Ann, Mildred Ann, Mary Sue, Shirley Sue, Linda Lou, Daniel Paul, Charles Edward, Betty Jean, Billy Doyle, Billy Herschel, Billy Robert, Billy Keith, George, Dean, Frances Lucille, Mary Faye, Stanley Dean, Paul Keith, Walter Earl, Barbara Ellen, Ruthie Dean, Charles Lamar, Bobby Joe, Dan James, Bobby Ray, Billie Ann, Jo Ann, and , of course, Joe Leonard and many more.
Initials were also popular names: we had an O. C., and O. D., a W. L., a T. D., a B. J., a B. T., a G. B., an L. D ., an M. F. and two R. B.s.
There were also the unique nicknames, such as Nugget, Slick, Mazewski, Dune, Potsy, Tu-tu, Bo-bo, Biscuit, Jelly, Dillinger, Snapper, Slob, Lukesy, Buzzy, Jello, Bo-Dick, Round, Curly, Droopy, Norton, Dead Man, Schooner, Dete, Sheller, Freaky, Nookie, Rastus, Jessie Mac, Franco, Sonny, Skippy, Perk, Reserk, and St. Peter.
Of Bernice’s girls of the 1950’s, I can only say that we had about the best looking and most talented bunch of girls of any school in the whole region. I’ll always remember being surrounded by a whole gaggle of them in geometry. Mr. Ferrell never understood why I couldn’t concentrate on axioms, postulates, and isosceles triangles in the middle of such stimulation at age sixteen. I almost failed the course!
I would be remiss if I did not mention Bernice’s athletic team of the 1950’s. Who can forget those terrific girls basketball teams throughout that decade? From 1950 on they were in the finals of practically every tournament they entered. And what about those exciting boys teams? I’ll never forget sitting on the bench as a sophomore in 1952 as “we” won the Dual-State Tournament, beating Jackie Moreland and Co. in the finals. “We”, of course, was Joe Warren Farrar, Johnny Bledsoe, Ira Simpson, Philip Reeves, Horace Farrar, and Billy Doyle Ferguson. By the way, that was the tournament where Billy Doyle enthusiastically plastered the poor kid from Athens to the brick wall in the old Junction City gym as he went in for a lay-up. And the baseball teams were every bit as good as the basketball teams.
In 1956, due to the efforts of Johnny Caldwell, Bernice High School re-instituted its football program after a fifteen-year lapse. Our first star, as you remember, was Stephen Fitzgerald. And there were many more to come.
If anybody ever writes an authoritative history of “Bernice During the 20th Century”, I predict that the decade of the 1950’s will be viewed as the town’s peak period, — the zenith of its prosperity, sense of unity, progressivism, and togetherness — Bernice’s Golden Age. But who knows such things?
Well, enough of this reminiscing. Let’s get on with our program.