Archive for September 2008

Country Bumpkin Goes To Town by Arnie Dowdy

September 30, 2008




May 18, 2008

Country Bumpkin Goes to Town

  Looking back it seems like the experience should have affected me more. But my memory says that it didn’t.

It was 1955 and my family had decided to move from rural Kentucky to Los Angeles, California. We had been living in Milburn, Kentucky, population about four hundred. You might have needed to count the people in the cemetery to get up to that number. Milburn was a bucolic, idyllic sort of town. It was situated in Carlisle County which is located in the western end of the state.

The town wasn’t much, and really never had been. It was kept alive in the most part by the farming community that surrounded it. Almost all of the town was built along a curving, winding road that was a part of a state highway. The road only had two intersections. One went past our house and dead ended, pardon the pun, at the cemetery. The other led down to the school and continued on as a gravel road to some of the more remote farm areas.

There wasn’t much in the way of businesses. There was a Post Office, a Masonic Lodge, one small “belly up to the counter diner”, a barber, two small groceries and one general store. The diner was where I sometimes ate lunch. It cost a quarter. I could get a chili dog, an RC cola, and a bag of peanuts. You put the peanuts down the top of the bottle of soda and drank through them finally eating the peanuts when the cola was done.

There were two small grocery stores. One was called Crider’s and we never shopped much there. The other was Roy Evan’s Grocery. We lived down the lane from the Roy Evans family so our shopping dollars were mostly spent there. The owner was called “Mr. Roy” by everyone in the community. Most everyone was indebted to him as he allowed the whole community to buy on credit. Cash money was not always available. Visiting Mr. Roy’s store on the way home from school was always good, especially if you had a nickel burning a hole in your pocket. He also had newspapers for sale and I enjoyed glancing at the headlines to know of the latest world events.

Mr. Roy’s store was also one of the first places we checked out on November 1st each year. It was tradition that the young men would disassemble a wagon on Halloween night as a prank. It would then be reassembled on top of Mr. Roy’s grocery. As kids we loved it and never thought once about how it would come down. We just trusted that it would happen.

The general store was the most interesting place in town. It was run by an elderly man named D P Sanford. The store had been in his family for some years. It was an interesting eclectic collection of items to purchase. If what you wanted wasn’t on display, all you had to do was ask Mr. Sanford and it was likely he had it had it in the upstairs storage.

D P Sanford’s general store had one thing that no one else had. It was the only store with a real candy counter within ten miles. The sweet treasures located behind the glass at that candy counter tempted us every day. It was also in that counter that I discovered baseball cards. For a penny I could get not only a piece of gum, but a cardboard representation of a baseball player. These small pieces of cardboard thrilled the imagination of the young boys who bought and traded them. If I could get a player from my favorite team I was ecstatic for a week.

Alas! The candy counter has one horrible memory for me. One day after school as I was peering through the glass trying to decide what treat my penny should bring me, I threw up. I was so embarrassed. It was some bad sour kraut that I had eaten. Mr. Sanford tried to assure me that it was ok but I do admit that it took a few days before I was able to go back into his store. I also haven’t eaten sour kraut since.

Milburn had a collection of churches of varying protestant denominations. We didn’t discriminate. Each summer my brother and I attended each one’s vacation bible schools. It was just about the only entertainment available. We went just to have fun.

The school was located about mid ways along the curving state highway. Buses brought in all the students from the farms. My brother and I simply had to walk. There were a few crumbling sidewalks that had been constructed as a WPA project in the 1930’s. We walked past all of the homes, most of them starting to move towards varying states of decay. Most of the homes seemed to be occupied by elderly widows, no doubt waiting to join their spouse down past our house at the end of Cemetery Road. I loved these ladies; they were my best customers.

My enterprise as a young man getting ready to face his teens was that of a garden seed salesman. I had answered an ad from the back of a comic book and became affiliated with a seed company. They mailed me the seeds, I sold them and mailed in the money. Then they sent me whatever prize I had requested such as a baseball glove or a basket ball. Each year these widow ladies would wait to buy their seeds until I had visited with my selections. I wondered where they would get their seeds when I moved to California.

The walk to school each day was accompanied by our dog Trixie. She would walk with us as far as school and then turn around and go home once she knew we were safely there. The amazing thing was that she would come back to school in the afternoon to pick us up for the return journey. I know it sounds crazy, but that is what happened. My seed customer ladies would call out to each other that it was time for school to be out as they had seen the Dowdy boys dog heading that way.

Milburn school had students from all twelve grades. There were four rooms downstairs each holding two classes who were taught by one teacher. The upstairs, forbidden to us lower level students, was the high school. It always had an air of mystery. Every now and then we would get invited to come upstairs and purchase a treat for recess. I never was able to attend classes upstairs as we moved after my seventh grade year.

Milburn school also had one other building, much newer than the school itself. It was the basketball gym. Basketball in Kentucky is sort of a religion. Our team was the Milburn High School Blue Devils. Each year they would have tournaments at the grade level. First grade would play second grade and so on. I am convinced it was a way to find out which kids would be able to play on the high school team in later years.

Most of my Milburn school life was an experience of joy. There were a couple of exceptions that come to mind.

The first involved the game of marbles. The normal game for boys was called “for keeps”. You drew a circle around yours and your opponents marbles and you tried to knock them out side of the ring. If you knocked it out you got to keep the marble. Every boy traveled daily with his sack of marbles. I was no exception and considered myself a pretty good marble player. That is until I met up with an older boy. It was on a trip to the bathroom. An older boy, was also in the bathroom. He asked if I wanted to play marbles “for keeps”. Of course I did. A big mistake as it not too long afterwards I returned to my class with my marble sack almost empty. It was a difficult lesson to learn.

The second bad experience involved our high school basketball star, Sonny Fristoe. Sonny had caught me in the bathroom having a smoke with my buddies. All of us being raised in tobacco country thought nothing of trying out the commodity each time we could snitch some from our fathers. Sonny told me he was going to tell my parents. I was scared to death. To make matters worse Sonny worked in the grocery store in Mayfield where we went on Friday night to buy our provisions. Every time we went he would make my evening miserable. He was a stock boy there and he would peer around the end of the counter and hold up two fingers to his lips as if smoking. He would then point to me. I hated Sonny Fristoe. Maybe one of the reasons I was so happy to go to California was to get away from Sonny Fristoe.

A couple of years ago while visiting with my family in Kentucky I was driving back from Mayfield. Along the side of the road, I notice a sign that said Sonny Fristoes Truck Stop and Convenience Store”. It had to be him. It was just too much of a coincidence. Once inside the store I looked around to see if I could possibly recognize Sonny. There he was behind the counter. He asked if I needed help. I told him that he probably did not remember me, but that I had remembered him all my life. I explained how I had hated him because of what he had threatened to do to me. I also told him that I had now forgiven him. He was in a bit of shock, to say the least. Suddenly another couple standing near by started to laugh. It was Sonny’s daughter and son-in-law. They did so much enjoy seeing his discomfort. With a wave and a laugh I was out the door never to be troubled with the memory of Sonny again.


Arnie’s Birth by Arnie Dowdy

September 30, 2008



September 11, 2007


  The place of my birth has always seemed like an irritating accident to me. My Mom and Dad just happened to be there. It was a place not connected to our family but we were there due to the force of world events and family economy.

  The world event was World War II. The ability to find a good paying job had moved our family to the St. Louis area where my Dad was working in the war industry. His pay was certainly more than the one dollar a day he had been receiving as a farm laborer in western Kentucky. I am sure to him it seemed like a good thing.

  It is in this point that I came into the world. My birth was on December 31, 1942 in East St. Louis, Illinois. That was a part of the irritation. My whole family had been bred and born in the south. I was the first and only one with the dubious distinction of being born in the “north”.

Yes, I was born in the Land of Lincoln. I can only hope that at least my conception occurred in the south. After all, Lincoln did have the honor of being born in Kentucky.

My paternal grandmother had hoped that I would be born on Christmas Day. That was her birthday as well as that of Aunt Vivian, her oldest daughter. No Christmas Day for me as I held out for New Years Eve. Mom always told me that she was just sure that she would win the prizes for having the baby born closest to the new year. My arrival about ten in the morning even messed that up.

The hospital where I arrived has always been a source of irritation and even embarrassment to me and my Mom. It is because I was born in a “welfare” hospital. Of course, it was not the government welfare program that we know of today. That type of program did not exist in 1942. If there was such a program it is very likely that my families economic station in life would have let us qualify. My birth occurred at the Christian Welfare Hospital in East St. Louis, Illinois. The name did not in any way imply that it was anything other than a normal type of hospital.

The hospital has long been closed and the structure is, at last visit, simply a partial brick shell of its former self. Proving once again that the world is a small, small one, I met and became friends through Rotary International with the gentleman who was the last Hospital Administrator of the Christian Welfare Hospital in East St. Louis, Illinois.

Another irritation surrounding my birth is the confusion that was created about the year of my birth. As noted, I was born on the last day of 1942. Some many years later my Mom passed on to me a framed copy of my birth certificate. It is one of those typically ornate ones with fancy script and even a photo of the hospital. It also proudly identifies the birth as occurring at the Christian Welfare Hospital.

Some time after she had provided me with this documentation of my birth, I started to examine it in detail. “Holy Mackeral”, or some other less suitable expletive, I shouted, “My birth certificate says I was born in 1943”. My first assumption was that my parents had been lying to me about the date of my birth to protect my mothers reputation.

A quick phone call to Mom cleared it all up. This was the first birth certificate she had been given. The clerk who filled out the form some time after my birth simply made an error in recording the date and reflected the new year. I would have been much happier if she had filled out the certificate to reflect that I had been born in East St. Louis, Kentucky.

How many times a year do you have to fill out forms asking for your place of birth. I can assure you that it is very many. And how many of those forms leave room for someone to write in East Saint Louis, Illinois. With spaces and commas, that comes out to twenty five little boxes on those forms. Have you ever seen enough space on these forms to record my place of birth?

Many people proudly proclaim that they were born in some idyllic location that gave them a great start in life. East St. Louis, Illinois is not a place that you proudly proclaim anything. This city has, however, been given the honor of being proclaimed the worst city in the United States.

Their only current claim to fame is a river boat casino and a large concentration of nude bars. This city has been so corrupt and poorly managed that it actually lost title to its City Hall in a liability law suit and for many years rented their offices from the new owner.

I know it is difficult to believe, but the city could not afford gas for their police cars. Police Officers were forced to sit in the cars which were parked on the street rather than going on patrol. I can only imagine that they must have tried to chase down speeders on foot.

Life for me, began in East St. Louis, Illinois. About thirty days after my birth my parents made the wise choice to go to Detroit, Michigan where my maternal grandfather and an uncle were also working in the war industry. Mom stayed with her parents and worked in the defense industry. Dad went off to Europe to serve in Patton’s army.

I didn’t know it at that time but I was pleased that my Dad could see East St. Louis, Illinois in his rearview mirror.