My earliest memories involve my childhood home on Ormewood Avenue, very near Grant Park. My 92 year old mother still lives there with my sister, but the layout of the house was a little different when I was a child. Then, the house had a rickety old wooden enclosed back porch, later converted into a bedroom and laundry room, and a large storage closet at the end of the entrance hallway has been turned into a bathroom. The house is a Craftsman bungalow, probably built in the late 1890s, like most of the houses on the older part of Ormewood Avenue.
I remember my first day at Jerome Jones elementary school on Home Avenue, only three blocks from our house. My mother walked me there, and children, parents, and the teacher assembled in the kindergarten room. The teacher gave an orientation talk, and I thought I'd entered heaven, because there was a small sliding board on one side of the room, and toys were lined up along a wall. One of the kids got impatient, and ran to the sliding board before being captured by his mother. That's the complete extent of my memory of kindergarten. I assume it settled into an unmemorable routine after that first day.
My later memories of Jerome Jones include a fearsome fourth grade teacher named Mrs. Staley. She was built like a short stocky longshoreman, and her natural facial expression was a snarl. I was a pretty good kid, so I didn't often incur her wrath, but I once saw her grab an unruly child by the arm and practically carry him to the principal's office in a one handed grip.
Television was a novelty when I was a small child, and it acted as a supplemental babysitter after school. My favorite show was Miss Boo. Miss Boo was a television producer's dream. It had practically no budget beyond the salary of the woman who played the title character, a witch, on the show. If memory serves me correctly, one of the daily high points was an off-camera "dinosaur" lowering a bucket full of mail from children for Miss Boo to read. The set seemed to consist of cardboard boxes. In recent years, due to the wonders of the internet, I've learned Miss Boo's real life identity, and what she did after her career as a witch on a children's show. I'll save that information for a later article.
Wallpaper comes in and out of fashion, but in our house most of the rooms were wallpapered. One of my earliest memories was of my maternal grandmother, known by us as Granny, putting away clothes against the backdrop of a wall covered with red rose print.
I remember segregation. The 1950s in Atlanta was as most people imagine it, two worlds, one white, the other black. Grant Park had African-American enclaves scattered throughout the neighborhood, but the interaction between the two communities was limited. I can't remember having a complete conversation with a black person before going to Roosevelt High School, which had been recently integrated when I entered in 1965. The closest African-American community to my house was directly behind the elementary school I attended. Buses had lettering at the front stating "Colored People Please Move to the Back of the Bus". Drinking fountains were labeled "White" and "Colored".
There was a corner drug store a few yards away from our house, owned by our next door neighbors Jenny and James Turpin. Mama would send me to the store to pick up cigarettes. She quit smoking in the early 60s, but the trips to the store were fun for me, since the comic book rack at the store was one of the high points of my childhood. At the time I preferred Superman and Batman. Later, when Marvel Comics became popular among little boys, I switched loyalties to Spiderman, Dr. Strange, and the Fantastic Four.
Grant Park was a quick walk up the street, and it was free of admission cost at the time. Later in life I recognized that the old granite and metal bar enclosures were an awful way for animals to live, but I'd often go visit the monkey houses. I wasn't too interested in lions or tigers, but the monkeys, with their human appearance and hyperactive antics, fascinated me.
One of the oddest things I remember is how the hot Atlanta sun would melt the pavement on Ormewood Avenue. I don't know much about paving methods, but whatever aggregate was used in the 1950s would puddle into a sticky mess on the edges of the road if the outside temperature got hot enough. We'd dig small lumps of it up, and use it for somewhat ineffective modelling clay.
I remember braiding lanyards at the Day Camp in Grant Park. I have no idea to this day what we were expected to do with the lanyards once we had completed them. Six or seven year old children didn't often carry keys with them. As an adult I suspect that it was a way to keep us seated and out of mischief, and to give the adult camp counsellors a break.
I remember Mama Jessie, my father's mother, sitting in a wheel-chair, small and frail, listening to the radio quietly. She was born sometime around 1880, since her first child, Coy, was born in 1900. That would mean she was in her in her seventies in the 1950s. But to me she seemed to be over a hundred years old.
I remember being taken to Confederate Avenue Baptist Church, less than a block from our house. The preacher from my earliest memories, Brother Ralph Webb, was a terrifying old fashioned fire-and-brimstone orator. I became convinced that his entire fury was being directed at me, and that I was slated for eternal torment for all the sins and crimes that a six year old chalks up.
Those are just a few things I can remember. As additional disconnected memories bubble to the surface I might write a followup.