The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

1930's: Saturday Afternoon in Town

By Grace Cash © 1990

Issue: July, 1990

Editor's Note... The following is one of a series of articles written by Grace Cash. She lives in Flowery Branch, Georgia. Watch for more of her stories in future issues.

Papa turned over his plowstock Friday night at sundown if there wasn't an emergency, such as grass on the rampage after Spring rains, or cotton rottening in the opened-boll because of a long rainy spell at harvest time. We stacked our hoes in the crib, along with the sharpened plows, and got ready to go to town on Saturday afternoon. Even in an emergency, we stopped work at dinner time in order to prepare for Sunday. We filled up a big tin tub in the kitchen and took our Saturday baths. (The boys took their baths in the crib, or at the creek.) We ironed dresses and polished shoes, and we wore to town what we would wear the next day, Sunday. The young men wore suits and ties even in 100 degree temperature.

We helped Mama bake a cake and pies, and get a chicken dressed for frying, and vegetables prepared for the pot, and then we were free to take the afternoon off. In those days girls didn't own cars till they got a public job and none of us started to work till 1937, in the Silk Mill. Our brothers had jobs at the Chicopee Mill, and they immediately added to themselves another car, so that they each owned one. Frank was going steady with the girl he would marry, known as having a standing date with someone you chose. We went in Carl's car, him driving, feeling superior in his second hand Model A Ford.

We didn't have any money to spend - not till Fall anyway, depending on the price of cotton, which dropped to three cents a pound in the early years of the Depression. We did have Sunday School and church-preaching, and all-day singings and at night we had B.Y.P.U. We already knew the young people in our community, but in town there would be a congregation of young people from surrounding villages, and some from out of the county. Soon after the dinner hour, we arrived at the Town Square. If he was lucky, Carl parked his car at the curb, nosing it toward the sidewalk. Otherwise, he found a place surrounding the little central park where men sat on green wood-slatted benches and talked men's talk, "Nice women" were cautioned to stay as far away from the park as possible.

Before we left home, Mama doled out her butter-and-egg money, getting across to us we were not to bother Papa, worried sick about debts that were mounting during the Depression. The farmers felt they were giving away their cotton and farm produce - the prices were at rock-bottom prices - but the Depression worked for us in a different way. We could get a three-dip chocolate or vanilla or pecan or strawberry cone at Cinciolo's Ice Cream Parlor, down the side street from the National Bank for a nickel. We would drop in at a cafe off the square and sit down at a table and order bottled Coca-Colas or a Nehi or a Nugrape at five cents each. If our money allowed, we might buy a slice of chocolate meringue pie or stacked rainbow colored cake for ten cents.

The most popular place in town was McClelland's Ten Cent Store. There was a Rose's 5 and 10 Cent Store on the block cater-cornered from McClelland's, just up from Estes Department Store, but the atmosphere there was less for celebration, sort of a down-to-business store. On the corner, at McClelland's, we had ourselves a time. Upon entering the store, you were all but knocked down with the smell of popcorn bursting open in the hot vats like cotton bolls in September. Also on the front counter there was a place for showmen to stand, such as a pretty girl demonstrating the many ways a peasant scarf could be worn - on the head tied three cornered, or as a narrow band to hold the hair back from the forehead, or around the neck as a kerchief, or draped around the waist as a sash. Her purpose was to lead the ladies to the scarf counter on down the aisle where they were selling silk scarves for ten cents each.

In the middle aisle you came face-to-face with an eager medicine man, selling tonics and ointments guaranteed to cure a run-down disposition, or a rheumy-feeling, or to combat poison from insect bites. He had his wares right there with him, and he looked black-eyed daggers at any person who passed on by without making a purchase. Strong robust farm boys and girls comprised a poor audience for the medicine man hawking off his wares. We never missed a day in the fields, and we thought we were healthy as horses, and we marched straight to the glass covered counters, showing little mountains of chocolate drops, caramels, orange slices and coconut candy, which was sold by the ounce, or by the pound if you had a quarter. On up front, at the other entrance door, a photographer set up his tiny tent, making shadowy black and white photos, three for a quarter. Young people congregated here for a giggling session. It was a good place for bashful suitors to tease the girls about how their pictures turned out, and after a time of back and forth talk, they would get acquainted with each other.

If the Saturday revelers got tired, or if their Sunday hard leather ($1.99 per pair) high heel pumps started pinching the feet, then there was the long circular counter to have a bite to eat. You could just order a cup of coffee, or an iced soft drink, if you couldn't buy anything else. A girl was lucky if a fellow invited her to sit with him at this counter since young farm men always had more money than their sisters.

There was the lingerie counter to stare at - the lace trimmed and ribbon laced garments, different from Grandma's sheeting shifts still sewed and worn by her granddaughters. There were socks and hosiery counters, and the men's clothing counters and clothing for children. And on a rack in the clothes section, there was a stock of ready-made cotton-printed dresses, and in the Fall, a row of woolen sweaters and stocking caps. McClelland's Ten Cent Store took the place of the Sears, Roebuck & Co. "wish book," not that nearly every household had an automobile. There were many other stores in town - department stores, and stores designed for men only, and exclusive shops for women, such as the wives and daughters of doctors, lawyers and merchants. There was Newman's Department Store, and the Bargain Basement beneath the first floor, and the "Jew Stores" known as Jake Sikes and The Hub Store, next to the Citizens Bank. Even these stores, where our parents traded in the Spring and Fall, didn't bristle with life and expectancy of better things to come as did McClelland's Ten Cent Store.

Yet what went on around the Square, outside the stores, added a fair share to the Saturday excitement. There might be a local election coming up, and the candidates would advertise with banners flying from lamp posts, and billboards on the side streets. They would drive an open-topped car around the square, music blaring loudly, and over the loudspeaker, the candidate's husky voice would hammer-out why he was the best-qualified candidate in the race. He would warn the voters of the mistake they would make if they voted for his opponent, who would do nothing for the people.

Sometimes we had enough money to see a movie. Our town had three theaters, one on Main, one on Bradford and another on a side street to the north. We would study the billboards - and the movie stars pictured thereon - and choose which movie we liked. Once they showed a Jesse James movie, which sent us all away in tears. We regretted that a very handsome man, married to a pretty young woman, came to such a sad end, even though the name of Jesse James, the notorious bank robber of the 1800's was mentioned with terror in every household. Wild West movies were popular, a favorite of rural people, but some of us preferred films that brought a throb to the throat. These were performed by great actors and actresses, such as Greta Garbo and Bing Crosby and a dancing team known as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Eddie Cantor and Shirley Temple were much talked about. We had first become acquainted with most of the movie stars whose pictures had been nailed on abandoned farm buildings and houses. All these stars became household names in the 1930's, but nothing compared with simply going to town on Saturday.