Growing up in a small southern town in the 1940’s and 1950’s was wonderful for me. Life was simple, the environment was safe and except for the odor emitted from the local oil refineries there was no pollution. I had lots of good buddies with whom I loved playing baseball, basketball, golf and tennis; enjoyed hunting and fishing, swimming and water-skiing in a stump-filled river, and just plain having fun in a relatively stress-free life. If there were any dangers to us regarding serious crime I was not aware of them, and I don’t remember our making an effort at locking the doors of our home upon retiring at night.
Television was unknown to me until the early 1950’s when I was a teenager, and the idea of each person having a hand-held device to talk to another person miles away was only seen in Dick Tracy comic books. Going to the movies was a week-end ritual, and my buddies and I couldn’t wait to see the latest installment of the serial cowboy movies shown at the Majestic Theater. Those were the equivalent of our present weekly television series, except that it cost us ten cents to attend the movies, at least until you were fourteen years old when the price jumped to a staggering twenty-five cents! The more sophisticated theater in town was the Rialto, but the movies shown there tended to be more of what I called “love story movies,” like Gone With The Wind, It’s a Wonderful Life, The Philadelphia Story and Giant, and I wasn’t particularly interested in them. The high price I had to pay out of my fifty cents weekly allowance was also a deterrent to seeing very many of those “love stories.” I was looking for the real excitement of cowboy movies starring such heroes as John Wayne, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Tex Ritter, Lash LaRue, Johnny Mack Brown, Red Rider, and the Lone Ranger.
Summers were always exciting because life generally centered at the Boy’s Club playing baseball. As soon as the school year ended the kids were organized into teams according to age and location of residence, and the entire summer was spent in competition with each other. I generally played on the Gulf Refining Company team because that was the team which included kids on my side of town. Our uniforms were not at all like the matched uniforms the kids have today. We got a white t-shirt with the Gulf Refining logo printed on the front and back along with a matching ball cap and that was it. The remainder of our attire included blue jeans and baseball cleats, which we had to provide. I only wore my Gulf Refining shirt and cap for scheduled games so they would last the entire season. Our team was always competitive, and for a couple of years we won the city championship in our league.
The real prize for the best players in the league was to make the all-star team. Twice I was chosen for the prestigious team as third baseman, and one of those years we won the state championship held in Hot Springs. Going to the state tournament meant getting a complete uniform for the three day event and having all our expenses paid while there. It made us feel like real major league stars! Some of the better players over a four year span were; Berlie (Beryl Anthony), John Lee (John Lee Anthony, Berlie’s brother), Moody (Jim Moody), Mook (James Mook), Bussey (Richard Crawford), Buck (Jim Weedman), Norris (James Norris), Jody (Jody Mahoney), Pesnell (Larkus Pesnell), Tom (Tom McRae, Tommy (Tommy Murphree and Tommy Reeves) and Boo Boo (Jeff Murphree, Tommy’s younger brother). These guys were highly motivated to success on the ball field and later in life became prominent citizens such a U.S. Congressman, a Federal Judge, a candidate for governor of Arkansas, who came in second to Bill Clinton, an Arkansas State Senator, a touring PGA professional, a college football coach, an owner and CEO of a major surgical instrument company, and three physicians. Not one of us however, was thinking about future careers when we in the midst of the competition at the Boy’s Club.
During our high school years many of my friends gave up sports during the summer and opted for summer jobs to earn serious spending money when the top wages for a student was on the order of one dollar and twenty-five per hour. Good jobs were at a premium but were available to those who were persistent. I remember Pop telling me, “You need to have fun and just play while you are young. The time will come when you have to work and won’t have the option to play!” He was right, but I just couldn’t enjoy such a leisure lifestyle while most of my buddies were working.
Some of my most memorable summer jobs included working for Richardson Oil Company in maintenance, working at the Lion Oil Refinery in the chemistry lab, working at Southern Poultry as a “chicken plucker,” and working at Hanna Furniture Company for four weeks during their close-out auction. During those job experiences I learned how to relate to adults other than my parents and the parents of my friends. Some of the conversations and a few of the stories I heard from the adults with whom I worked were not things I heard at the Boys Club, but I was getting older and needed to learn how to filter the language and those stories through my maturing mind.
Fortunately, I was also receiving some spiritual training in the youth department at the First Baptist Church. Several of my baseball buddies also attended the same church so frequently our conversations tended to revolve around sports instead of the truths from that particular Sunday’s Bible lesson. Our teachers tried their best to keep us focused, but such wonderful men as Mr. J.D. Beazley, Mr. Mac McCollum and Mr. Homer Frisby taught us more by their examples of faithfulness than their specific knowledge of the Bible. I knew they were just ordinary men, but if they had any major faults in their lives I wasn’t aware of them nor was I trying to discover.
If I could script the ideal setting and the right individuals to associate with our grandchildren in order to offer them the best opportunity to develop character and purpose it would be similar to the ones I experienced. We did not have cell phones, IPads, IPods, video games, Facebook or Twitter, but we had good friends who enjoyed camping out, talking non-stop, playing sports, eating fast foods and dreaming about owning and driving fast cars. I lived in a safer time at a slower pace, but it is not my desire to go back to the past. The challenges for young people today are greater and the temptations to stray are more numerous, but God’s eternal promise for us is that His grace abound in us. When this happens He is able to make us abound in everything we do. Cathy and I have raised our three children to love Jesus with all their hearts, and they are now teaching their children to do the same. We face tomorrow with a steadfast confidence in Him.