Once Upon a Time

Jim Howell posed a question to me on a Facebook post today, although the post was made quite some time ago. His question was about John Walker and Bill Cowan. Jimmy was on our undefeated 1956 team and the post included a photo of the team at Lebanon Junior High the next year when John, Bill, and i were in the eighth grade. i responded accordingly while my mind went back to once upon a time a long time ago.

Lebanon, Tennessee. Late 1940’s, early 1950’s.

Bill Cowan was probably my best friend for those first years. The Cowans lived in the first house on the west side of Castle Heights Avenue before they moved to West End Heights when he and i were in second grade. We remained close and visited each other through junior high. Bill, Townley Johnson, and i worked on being a band in junior high. They were good. i was not.  They went on to musical careers. Bill was killed in an auto accident in his early twenties, a tragedy.

John was another soul i liked and lost our connection. John Walker was much involved in my early years because we played sports together. He played on our junior high football and basketball teams and our Castle Heights freshman football team. Then he left. Texas as i recall. Good man. Went to Baylor i heard. That was the last i heard many years ago.

There were two others to whom i was closer in those years who took off from my memories. Bobby Weatherly was one cool dude if you could be a cool dude in Lebanon in the first through third grades at McClain School in 1950 through 1954. He was a good friend and as much of a heart throb for the girls as a boy could be in the third grade. His family left after our third grade. Lost track.

Then there was the year older Bill Simpson. He was Mr. Jackson’s grandson, you know the guy who ran “Little Eskew’s” on the intersection of West Main and South Tarver. We all would stop there walking home from McClain School (they didn’t feel the need to add “elementary” to the name back then) to get candy bars, bubble gum, and baseball cards we could put in our bicycle spokes to make them sound like a really bad motorbike when we pedaled.

Even though Bill was a year older, i played with him constantly in those early years, many games and cowboy fantasies in the Padgett’s lot next our house and in the tree house Mr. Jackson built for him in the large lot behind their house next to the Baird’s at the top of the hill. If i remember correctly, Bill’s father was killed in World War II and Bill and his mother, the Jackson’s daughter lived with them until the daughter and Bill moved to Nashville in my third or fourth grade year. i missed him a lot.

Now, of course, the memories are streaming through this old brain. Strangely, the one that keeps sticking is the traffic light. It was elementary school and i don’t remember exactly when they enlarged West Main from two to four lanes but it was sometime around then. Probably no need for that back then except for bragging rights. West Main was mostly larger homes of established families. We thought the traffic was terrible, but of course, it would be considered a trickle today.

The city considered the traffic so bad, they decided to put a traffic light at the intersection of Castle Heights Avenue and West Main. On the north side was the entrance to Castle Heights Military Academy.

Well, they put it in along with the newest high fangled technologically advanced system for traffic control at the  time. i’m guessing this was sometime around my third or fourth grade years. About ten to twenty yards up Castle Heights Avenue in the middle of the north bound land, they installed a rubber activating strip about six inches wide and five feet long. When a car ran over the strip, the weight would depress the strip sending a signal to the traffic light, which would turn the light on West Main to red, allowing the car or cars on Castle Heights to enter West Main.

Oh yes, there were some other things that could activate the traffic light…like two or three boys jumping on the rubber strip simultaneously. i know because it was fun. Coming home from McClain, whoever was with me would join the fun and jump with me in sync on the rubber strip, then we would hide in the bush row next to the road and watch the cars stop with drivers wondering why there was a red light.

Yep, i can remember some real strange things.

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