In our small town, everyone knew each other and there were no secrets, a fact that would make life somewhat unpleasant occasionally. You couldn’t get away with anything.
It was safe for us to wander around. You could walk almost anywhere, cutting through the fields and your neighbors’ yards, and never worry. There were very few fences. If we wandered too far, someone would call our parents and let them know where we were in case they were looking for us. Mom never locked her car. In fact, she never even took the keys out of it. It would sit in front of the house or a store unlocked with the windows down and the keys in the ignition, and no one ever touched it.
As a child growing up in this environment, my existence was uncomplicated and uncluttered. Life was simple and carefree. There was nothing to worry about and I was free to let my imagination run wild. We had a small library made from limestone quarried in a neighboring town where I spent hours reading and dreaming.We had three TV stations starting with CBS in the early 50’s, NBC a year or 2 later and ABC a year after that. They broadcast from Cape Girardeau, Missouri, Paducah, Kentucky and Harrisburg, Illinois. I was always disappointed when 10:30 rolled around and the National Anthem played and the test pattern appeared. Of course, we had to have a huge antenna attached to our roof and if the weather was bad, so was the reception.
Most of our radio stations were small and played country music with lots of talk and local news. But at night when everything was still, you could get the rock and roll stations from St. Louis 100 miles away. Rock and roll was taboo at first, but gradually it was accepted, especially after Elvis appeared on Ed Sullivan.
Going to the movies was a real adventure – in the summer at the local drive-in and the rest of the year at the Rodgers Theater in town. My favorites were romantic comedies, musicals, science fiction and Westerns. And of course, I loved the cartoons. It wasn’t all good though. Bambi totally traumatized me and I was so terrified by Psycho and Murders at the Rue Morgue I haven’t been able to go to a horror movie since. I’m a movie and book wimp. We had a party line on the phone. That sometimes made life interesting unless my Mom caught me listening in on their conversations. My Dad owned a local car dealership at the time and his phone number at work was 405. But when I wanted to talk to him, I just picked up the phone and told the operator that I wanted to talk to my Daddy and she connected me without even asking who I was. It was like magic to me. I thought that was how everyone lived.
Occasionally something really special would happen. The Circus came to town and we got to see all the lions, tigers, bears and elephants up close. We would watch the performers and dream of the day when we would join the circus and go on tour as famous acts with our faces on posters – thrilling the crowds. Once the Harlem Globetrotters came and performed at the local high school. I actually got to see Meadowlark Lemon and his teammates put on a very funny show and soundly beat the other team. It was incredibly exciting and everyone in town talked about it for months.
We had a corner grocery store down the street from home – just a little place. We always went there for candy and ice cream bars. They had all the wonderful penny candies in jars and a nickel or dime would buy enough tiny soda bottles or candy lips to keep us happy for hours. If we didn’t have any money, they just put it on our account and either we paid the next time we were in or our parents paid.
We went to grade school from Kindergarten through 5th grade, then you went with all the medium sized kids to Anna Jr. High. There were 2 elementary schools in town and I went to Davie. It was a 3 story brick building with a big central hall and stairwell. The restrooms were in the basement, there were 2 first grade and 2 second grade classrooms on the first floor and 2 third and 2 fourth grade classrooms on the second floor. An addition in the early 50’s housed the Kindergarten and 5th grade classrooms and a new gymnasium that doubled as a cafeteria and auditorium for performances. The building is now a bed and breakfast and all the classrooms are suites.
At the other end of town was the Anna State Hospital (now PC named the Clyde Choate Mental Health and Development Center.) Originally it housed the insane and just about anyone else who couldn’t care for themselves. The father of a friend was the head of it at the time and they had a huge apartment on the top floor of the central building. We never felt unsafe there. For years afterwards when I told people I was from Anna they always asked which end of town.
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