Back in the dark ages of the ’50s, we didn’t get a lot of holidays from Christmas till school was out. There were a few scattered throughout the long winter and spring months, but it was a long grind. So, around June 1, when school was out for the summer, we had a lot of pent up energy to spend. In the mill village we roamed the hills on either side of the town, swam in Silver Creek, played baseball every day, stayed out playing games till the street lights came on, and somebody started yelling to come home. The next day was a repeat.
But we could hear the whispers of our parents, and knew what they were talking about. They were wondering how many days the mill would close down over the 4th of July for summer vacation. It always depended on the contract. They tried to judge by how many days a week the mill was running. If it was on six days, you could almost bet they were doing all they could to keep up with the demand.
My two aunts worked in the cloth room, and usually had a pretty good idea of what was shipping, and how much. The number of days the mill was closing was important to them. After the announcement came, they were on the phone to Edgewater Beach Apartments in Panama CityBeach to make reservations, as was about a third of the mill.
They saved a little each week to finance the trip. The women bought all the swimwear several weeks before the mill closed. We would usually make a Saturday trip to Tanner Beach in Carrollton, or maybe Allatoona or Acworth Beach to check everything out. Seems like we were at Tanner an awful lot, and I think my entire family loved the place. I remember my mother seeing Susan Hayward there one weekend and just had a fit. She was a big Hayward fan.
The mill usually closed with the second shift. My mother and one aunt worked the second. They would have plans to get home and get ready, then meet at my grandmother’s house on Park Street. The plan was to try and leave by 3 or 4 a.m., and drive part of the eight or nine hour trip during the cool of the morning (nobody had air conditioning). But as soon as the last one got there we took off.
It was an exciting and slow trip compared to today’s standards. The trick then was to try and average forty miles an hour. And driving on two lane roads, through all the little towns, it wasn’t easy to do. Breakfast was at a little café on the main street in Dothan. They always had a great meal. That last 90 miles from Dothan to the beach was the longest part of the trip it seemed like.
Edgewater was about seven streets deep, and consisted of duplex brick apartment houses. The farther back you went, the cheaper it got. We were usually on row two or three. The apartments were on the opposite side of the road from the beach, and it would set your feet on fire walking to the ocean.
My uncle Alvin would roust everybody up at daylight for a morning dip before breakfast. His theory was to not waste a minute of time while in Florida. My cousin Joe and I were just turned loose.
At 10 or 12 we were on our own. We grew up on vacation week at the little boardwalk about a half mile up the street. It was like the fair, rides and games in an arcade, and then there was the “Hangout.”
It was an open air pavilion where all the kids (mostly teenagers) gathered to dance, meet and greet, and to hear the latest sounds of a mushrooming music industry that we loved called “Rock ’n’ Roll.” I remember when “Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” came out, and they were everywhere. I must have sounded like “Pete” on “O, Brother Where Art Thou” when he first saw the Sirens bathing in the creek.
Those Panama City days are forever branded into my memory banks. We ate at Captain Anderson’s at least once, went deep sea fishing on another day, and brought back fish every year. Even then my cousin Joe would catch more than all of us.
Back at home we continued trips to Tanners, Acworth, and TurkeyMountain. We kept our parents moving from beach to beach, and during the week we were at Windwood, Cave Spring, Roy’s or our own indoor pool in the bottom of the Lindale Auditorium.
Then it happened. I joined the Navy. I went through boot camp at Great Lakes, Illinois SubmarineSchool in New London, Connecticut, and then got orders to Key West. I got there a few days after JFK was killed. We thought we were going to Cuba right away, but it was early January before I made my first trip to Gitmo for six weeks. We were still watching Russian ships. As a helmsman I could hear the officers describing and writing down what they saw (that’s another story).
Then we went to Mardi Gras in New Orleans. I think that’s where I saw the elephant. I was still 18, and was growing up fast. One morning after we were safely in Key West, a friend said, “Let’s go north for the weekend, I want to show you something.”
We pulled onto Fort Lauderdale beach at nearly dark. On Dec. 28, 1960, a little movie called “Where the Boys Are” was released. It didn’t hit most theatres till 1961 in the summer time.
You can’t imagine what it was like a few years after the movie unless you were there. I told the guys I was with, “Anytime y’all are looking for me when I’m off, I’ll be right here.”