Another Thank You Note

By J. D. Hansard e-mail: jdhansard@verizon. Net

The Charleston High School graduating class of 1958 was special. We were intelligent, hardworking, and organized. We thought that graduating in ’58 was the exact right time, the optimal moment in history. People who graduated before 1958 ranged from a little too old to over the hill, and those destined to graduate after 1958 were either somewhat too young or downright juvenile. We knew we were better than other classes but we didn’t say so out loud. We didn’t want to offend our inferiors.

(The previous paragraph reflects my personal opinion regarding our class. It is how I saw things in 1958 and for quite a few years thereafter. In fact, we were probably not much different from many other classes. Perhaps every graduating class thinks they are special. I hope they do.)

There was one thing at which my class was outstanding. We could raise money! When it came time to plan our senior trip we had so much money our president Don Moore reported we could, if we chose, travel to Havana, Cuba! We opted to forgo a trip to Cuba -that was a year before Castro came to power - and instead took a two part trip – first, several days in New Orleans and then on to the beaches of Galveston, Texas. It was a grand adventure.

Our superintendent of schools Woodrow Haynes traveled with us and, in order to inject a small element of education into our trip, he had us visit the Vicksburg Battlefield in Mississippi and the San Jacinto Monument in Texas. Otherwise, we just had fun.

In New Orleans one night a group of us went to dinner and a show in which the headliner was the leading comic of the era, Jimmie Durante. I believe there were twelve of us at the table and the bill for the evening was $120. That was $10 per person which, in today’s money, would be at least $100 for each of us. To me, having since sixth grade been very frugal, that number was stunning, but I thought the adventure was worth it.

While in Sin City a waiter asked for my drink order. I was 17 and looked 15. The only drink whose name I could remember was a martini. I ordered one. When it arrived it looked like a small glass of water, except for the olive at the bottom of the glass. I had never before tasted a drink containing "hard liquor." My experience of drinking liquids consisted of water, milk, iced tea and soft drinks. I picked up that glass and took an iced tea sized swallow. To my shock, a ball of fire rolled down my throat into my stomach. It tumbled around there momentarily but then started back up my throat. Doing my best to appear cool, I closed my mouth and the fire spilled out of my nostrils. I spent more than an hour finishing the remainder of that drink. It was an educational moment for me.

In my family 10 PM was bedtime. I rarely stayed up late. But one of those nights in New Orleans several of us boys stayed up all night. I remember watching the sun come up while standing on the Mississippi River levee in front of Jackson Square in the French Quarter. It was a lovely sight and I was, I thought, a man of the world.

In Galveston our hotel was beach-front, and near the hotel there was an amusement park with a wooden roller coaster. (I didn’t like roller coasters, even then.) I remember, as I rode it, worrying about the safety of the wooden rails that kept the cars from flying off the tracks. The next year that park made national news when the roller coaster collapsed killing several people.

What did we do to raise all of the money for our grand adventure? There must have been a number of things but the only one I remember is this: we sold ads to local merchants to be run in our high school "newspaper." Don Moore, Dick Shumate and I were the salesmen. Don did almost all of the selling. We were allowed to leave school regularly to make our sales pitches to local businesses.

Beginning at the east end of Main Street we would approach J. D. Raney. He would help us. Then we moved to the bank where Clyde Hiatt could be relied on to pitch in. Next there was Floyd Sturdy’s drug store and soda fountain. The soda fountain was where one of my heroes worked, Rose Shelby. (I was sad to read of her recent passing.) They always bought an ad. Next there was the City Market run by Bill Neissl and Claude Jones. They would hand us money out of the cash register and they often seemed to enjoy our visits. There was usually some word play between them and us, some of it a little racy. Luther Smith at the dry cleaners gave us money. At the café next door, Basel King, my mother’s cousin, helped us. Urb Seifert, the barber, helped us. (Urb’s shop was where my dad, in his final years, used to go just to hang out and visit.)

Of course, the Hug Chevrolet Company always helped us. The lady who wrote the checks was in an office immediately adjacent to Main Street. Across the street the Smith Mortuary was always generous. The owners, Dugan and Mamie Rainwater, were good friends with my parents and I did the talking there. At the Bumpers Hardware, Dale always bought an ad. He would greet us with that soothing welcoming voice of his, the one that Miss Doll Means recognized as being remarkable so many years before. His "office" was a raised platform near the center of the store with no walls on the front or sides, and he would retreat to the desk in his office and retrieve a large checkbook. His checks were larger and more ornate than most others.

When we, the class of 1958, were taking our grand adventure to the Gulf Coast we thought we had "earned" all of the money that we spent. Now I see things differently.

When Don, Dick and I sold those ads to local merchants, who had very little money to spare, they agreed to give some of it to us in order that we might experience a really special senior trip. They didn’t need to advertise. People in Charleston knew where the Bank was and that we had a drug store and a hardware store. The shop owners were practicing community building and helping weave a web that bound us all together. And they were making sacrifices for the class of 1958. They gave us far more than we gave them. To this day we owe them a debt.

This piece is a THANK YOU note to all of those Charleston merchants, the ones I named and the ones I may have forgotten, who pitched in to help make our senior trip so grand. Even now, 55 years later, my heart is warmed remembering bouncing along in that yellow school bus experiencing the final days of our class…together. And that trip, to a great extent, was given to us by merchants who, from the little they had, chose to share some of it with us.

Final note: I owe thanks to Buster Womack for reminding me of who ran the City Market. Buster’s memory of merchants in Charleston dating back into the 40’s is amazing.