Longing for something far away, long ago
By Lowell McGill
What is nostalgia anyhow? That’s what a 71-year-old man from Idaho asked me in an email this week.
Well, according to Mr. Webster, nostalgia is a return, homesickness or longing for something far away or long ago.
As for the man in Idaho, he said he had a longing to see south Alabama again after living and working in the timber business in Idaho for almost 25 years. He was born in Greenville and says he reads all the news he can find on the Internet from south Alabama newspapers. Discovering my column a few months ago, he said he looks forward to retiring next year and returning to his former Butler County home.
His question caused me to think about all my longings of long ago, especially the 1950-60 eras.
I remember while attending college and working part time in radio the fashion was charcoal suits and pink shirts. One of the first persons I ever saw wearing these colors was Chuck Connors when he played baseball for the Mobile Bears double A baseball team. You will remember him as one of a long line of first basemen who played for the Bears. He will also be remembered as TV’s famous “Rifleman.”
And, speaking of the Mobile Bears, there was another player, with a local connection, who made good in the major leagues. I am speaking, of course of Norm Larker. Norm married Louise Hanks from the Oak Grove-Bratt community when he was playing for Mobile in the 1950s.
Larker and Conners played for the Dodgers during the late ‘40s and ‘50s. Sadly, Norm passed away in 2007.
Norm and Louise raised their family on the west coast where he played ball. Their son, Wayne, is the head baseball coach at Faulkner Junior College. He has been at that school for several years now. He frequently comes to Atmore to visit relatives. Several ball players from the Atmore area, including my son, Bryan, played for him. They now have a binding friendship. My grandson, Haden, looks forward to getting the opportunity to play for Wayne in a couple more years.
But getting back to those 1950s nostalgic days, there are other events special to me. I was married and my first son was born in this era.
The first time I saw Murray Johnson was in 1954. Sam Ford and I went to Evergreen to make a play by play tape of the Evergreen and ECHS football game. Murray was an Evergreen lineman and a good one. I knew then he would become an avid Auburn man because the public address announcer kept saying during the heat of the game “those tackles made by Johnson were as a fierce as a tiger on the loose.”
Back in those days when games were played at old Byrne Field we had no cover over our broadcast booth. Abner Jernigan, the crafty person he was, took it upon himself to build us wooden press box. He built it on the very top seats as you walked into the stadium. He constructed it in a manner that eliminated all the bad weather elements.
One dark spot in this decade was in 1955. I heard Randolph Maxwell, a local investor, talking about the fall of the stock market. At the radio station I remember seeing it come across our UPI news ticker machine. If I remember correctly, that fall was the greatest since 1929. Several other local investors rushed to the station that morning in an effort to gain more information after they heard our newscast.
Some of the most memorial TV shows began in the ‘50s. There were “Gunsmoke,” “Mr. Lucky,” “Peter Gunn,” “The Real McCoys,” “Wagon Train” and “Have Gun Will Travel.” From a nostalgic viewpoint we would not enjoy today’s TV Land show if it were not for these old shows.
While talking about shows from this era, “The Mickey Mouse Club” made its debut in 1955. Now in 1960-64 I taught a young man at McCullough School who in later life would have a son that would become a member of TMM Club. Roy Chasez, who was a good little league baseball player, moved back to his former home in Maryland after he graduated from ECHS. J.C. Chasez was born to Roy and his wife Karen. Not only was J.C. affiliated with the Disney group, he helped organize a group of musicians known as *NSync. This group, a favorite of the younger contemporary set, became nationally known with their string of hit songs.
So what does nostalgic mean to you? Or does it have any meaning at all? I guess it depends on your age. Some people don’t want to think about things of the past. They prefer to look ahead, thinking about the past only makes them get older
You might wonder why a nostalgic column like this is necessary anyway. I can truthfully say as I approach my 74th birthday next week, I find it more difficult to recall people and events of the past. So if, one day, you look for this column on page two and find a blank space, you know time has caught up with me. You notice I did not say I was looking forward to my birthday. I said it is now approaching. I say all this in jest. If my column is different, I make it that way. You will notice that I never fail to drop a half dozen names or so. These are names that I hope will help in your nostalgic “longing” from years gone by. So, I guess you will have to put up with me for a few more years with these old stories anyway.
Speaking of nostalgia, I had the opportunity (or maybe I should say displeasure) to look at a photo of myself this week when our Brooks Memorial church had all the members assemble for the church directory.
Now, can you imagine my growing up and attending my “little church on the hill” down in Perdido having a church family photo directory? Unlike churches today, we never heard of such a thing like that back in the 1940s.But today most churches have photo directories.
My wife arrived on time for our portrait sitting. The skilled photographers used a unique method in our selecting the photo that was most pleasing. I was shown two photos. One was an original photo with all my wrinkles and old age spots evident. The second photo could not be seen that day. It would be sent to the main office where it would be touched up to erase those facial discrepancies. Now, I just positively know for sure whoever that person is at the main office will say,”hey, look at this one (talking about me). I’m not sure we can do much to help this old man’s looks He is too far over the hill.”
Again, I jest, as I honestly believe our church directory will contain one of the best looking congregations around. Actually our, members really don’t need any photo touch-ups. They are, indeed, beautiful people.
And staying with our good friends here, I have found we have some of the best, if not the very best, cooks in the Atmore area. We will be having a big Sunday dinner this Sunday and I want to learn the identity of those fine ladies who prepare that mouth watering fresh cream style corn. It is positively out of this world, just like my mother cooked many years ago.
And, finally talking about fine food, the Rev. James Boyd and I are exchanging goods. He supplies me with honey from his beehives and some of the largest yard eggs I have ever seen. In exchange, my wife I give him and his wife tasty nectarines from our backyard trees and packages of shelled pecans from the few pecans trees left standing after the hurricane came through here a few years ago.
Forgive me for being personal about our church as I know all of you also enjoy similar fellowship at your respective churches. There are great people in all the local congregations and I am sure there are some wonderful cooks too.
Well, nostalgia is memories of days and events time gone by. It is my sincere hope that those many names I use each week help instill memories for you and all your friends
Again, I quote Ken Nordine from the opening lines of the 1955 Billy Vaughan song “The Shifting Whispering Sands.” “Yes, it always whispers to me ‘those days of long ago’.”
Lowell McGill is a historical columnist for The Atmore Advance. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org