As an 85-year-old man living alone after the passing of my wife of 62 years, I have lots of time to sit and reflect on events of my life.
Some of the most precious memories of my life are from the first 17 years. I was born at McCall Hospital in Rome and raised for the first nine years at 37 Blanch Ave. in the Anchor Duck Mill Village. My father, Johnny, was an employee of Anchor Duck Cotton Mill.
In addition to my mother, Ruth, and my father, this house was occupied by a brother, Lidell, who passed away as an infant, my brother Ray, sisters, Opal, Dinky, Tootsie, Billie Ruth and myself.
My Dad was killed on Halloween of 1935 in a mill accident, leaving my mom and all the kids alone. The mill trained Mom and gave her a job, where she worked for the next 20 years. Mom purchased a home in West Rome at 116 Hughes St., where I lived until I was 17.
After begging my mom each day, we went to the post office on Fourth Avenue to the Navy Recruiter on the second floor and she signed the papers for me, a minor, to join the Navy. I left Rome at that early age, never to return to live, but visited relatives many times.
Christmas time was very special for me and my family as well as the entire city of Rome. I had never seen Santa Claus as Mom was busy working and never had the time, so I thought I would go by myself to see the man who brought so much fun and excitement at this time of year.
In those days there was only one Santa Claus, and in Rome he was at Sears-Roebuck, located on the northeast corner of Broad Street and Fifth Avenue. As a ten-year-old boy, I boarded a city bus (fare, five cents) and was very excited to be on such a journey to see ole Saint Nick. I got off the bus at Fifth Avenue and was greeted in a wonderful Christmas spirit by everyone I encountered. Broad Street was very much alive and busy during the Christmas season. This was in the days of no malls and Sears-Roebuck, Montgomery Ward and J.C. Penney, along with many other stores, were located on Broad Street.
I entered Sears-Roebuck and walked to the back where there was a large crowd of mothers and children waiting in line to see Santa. I felt out of place being by myself, so I just stood off to the side and watched and listened to the mothers and children, never getting to talk to Santa myself. It wasn’t too bad, as I was very excited to see him and listen as he talked to the others.
I left Sears-Roebuck and walked down to Montgomery Ward, located on the northwest side of Broad between Fourth and Fifth Avenues, just up from Sterchi’s Furniture. I always liked to go into Montgomery Ward and go to the basement where they displayed sporting goods, especially the footballs. After wandering around Broad Street I boarded the bus back to West Rome.
At Christmas time in the evenings and on weekend nights, Mom and I would tune the radio to WRGA and listen to the Cheerful Givers. When someone would make a donation the announcers, Cap Hicks or Ben Lucas, would ring a bell. There would be local singing and playing talent and we sure did enjoy listening.
Christmas season was not complete without a trip to Early’s Fruit Stand on the corner of Fifth Avenue and First Street. You could smell those Florida tangerines and oranges a block away and they had every kind of candy there was, from hard candy to orange slices, stick candy of all flavors, coconut bonbons and chocolate creams of all kinds. It was paradise for kids and grown-ups alike.
What sweet, pleasant memories of a golden past. Thinking of these past times as I sit in my recliner so blessed, I sometimes fall asleep, smiling and sleeping good.
Merry Christmas, happy New Year and many happy memories to you everywhere, and especially in Rome, Georgia.
Native Roman Jim Salmon now lives in Arroyo Grande, California.