(Editor’s note: Long-time Clinton educator Susan Sautter provided this column which she wrote and used as a speech for the recent Clinton High School Class of 1966 reunion.)
Please indulge me for a few minutes and let me share with you some of my reminiscences about growing up and about being part of the Clinton High Class of ’66.
We are the fortunate ones…or should I say blessed. Not because we are still here – although that is reason to be happy – but because of our life experiences. And we have had many during these past 50 plus years. It’s hard to imagine, but most of our fathers (and maybe some mothers) served in World War II, and we were born just a few years after the war was over…thus becoming part of the baby boomers.
It is such a blessing to have grown up when we did: in the peaceful yet productive 50’s. At least, that’s how the 50’s felt to me. For one thing, having parents who grew up during the Depression kept us from being too materialistic. I was talking with my sister Debbie the other day, and we were reminiscing about what a treat it was to go to the Dairy Queen on the occasional summer night when we were children and get a vanilla cone or a dipped cone or even a Dilly Bar. The idea of ordering a milkshake or a sundae or heaven forbid! a banana split simply never crossed our minds. We never even asked.
Like all of you, my childhood was in a great part unsupervised. The concept of a helicopter parent simply did not exist for most of us. For a moment, think back on how you spent your summer days when you were a child. Some of you may remember the song we sang every June with Mrs. Jolitz: “Is there anything you want to know?/ Just ask us; we can tell./ We’ve studied hard for nine long months/ And we know our lessons well.”
Of course, we all had things to do around the house and/or the farm, and I know many of you spent your summers barning tobacco. In fact, tobacco was such a big part of Sampson County life that school didn’t even start until after Labor Day, when tobacco season was pretty much over. Our schools weren’t air-conditioned, so it was probably too hot to go back in August anyway. I spent many of my summer days getting places by walking or riding my bike. I would ride my bike downtown and park it outside of Roses’ or Eagles’ dime store and go in and read comic books – like Millie the Model or Katy Keene or Archie and Veronica – for hours at a time. And no one said anything. When I got home, I don’t recall Mama ever saying “Where have you BEEN? I was worried sick.” As long as I was back by dark, it was fine.
We all slept with our windows open (we had to…no one had air conditioning), our doors weren’t locked, and our parents left their car keys in the ignition. We could go to the movies for fifteen cents until we turned 12, and then we had to pay twenty-five cents. Drinks and candy bars were a nickel each.
And thank heavens today’s technology didn’t exist back then. We actually had to think of things to do. Our moms would say, “Go outside and play,” and we did. If it was raining, we might read or play Monopoly or Candy Land or play dolls (but not Barbie…she didn’t exist yet), but for the most part, we were outside. We would make up games or build forts or ride our bikes or play in cattail or camp out or play tag and kick the can or go roller skating ( I hated those skate keys!). If we were really lucky, we could go swimming.
I remember Daddy driving his blue ’55 Chevrolet home for lunch (we had one car) in probably 1957 or 58. It was summer, and Mama had said Debbie and I could go to the Fisher Drive pool after lunch. I guess we were afraid Daddy would forget us, so we would sit in the car with sweat running down our backs, clutching our towels and bathing caps, waiting for Daddy to eat and leave so we could get to the pool. Of course, sun block didn’t exist back then. (When we got to high school, baby oil and iodine were the go-to tanning lotions, and we would put Sun-In or lemon juice or peroxide in our hair to lighten it.)
In talking with a friend of mine a few months ago, it occurred to me that when I was growing up, NOT ONE of my friends’ fathers ever changed jobs. Think about that for a minute. As best I can remember, all of my friends’ fathers had the SAME JOBS as long as I can remember. That is unheard of today. I don’t know whether or not our fathers loved their jobs, or whether it was just the thing to do to find a job and stay there whether they liked it or not, but they stayed.
One of my strangest memories is the mosquito truck. We all LOVED the mosquito truck. There is still a mosquito truck that comes around in the summer, but it’s pretty boring. It shoots the pesticide straight up in the air…can you imagine? The mosquito truck of our day shot out a horizontal dense fog of DDT, and all the local children would run out and play in it. It was so much fun because you could barely see two feet in front of you. The truck didn’t move that fast, so we would all follow it either on foot or on our bikes as long as we could. The part I think is the strangest – and sort of funny – is that our parents let us! In defense of them, however, no one knew that DDT was a health hazard and that it would be banned in a few years.
As far as school went, things were definitely different back then. For one thing, we learned cursive, how to tell time with a regular clock, and our multiplication tables. I remember being in Mrs. Wooten’s room in the third grade, and all of us would march around the room saying, “One times one is one. One times two is two…” all the way to “nine times nine is eighty-one.”
This has almost been overstated, but it is nevertheless true. The teacher – right or wrong – was the boss. If you attended College Street School, you will remember the cattail that served as the boundary of the playground. The cattail was a forbidden area. I remember being in the 6th grade, and our class was playing dodgeball or something like that way out in the playground. A student ran out to tell me my teacher wanted to see me. I ran to where she sat on those folding metal chairs with the other 6th grade teachers, and she asked me, “What were you doing in the cattail?” Well, I hadn’t BEEN in cattail because I knew it was a no-man’s land, and I was not one to break the rules. So I said, “Mrs. —-, I wasn’t in the cattail.” She said,”Go back to the classroom and write 300 times ‘I must not go in the cattail.’” I thought this was VERY unfair, so I said, “But, Mrs. S—-, I wasn’t in the cattail.” She said, “Go back and write it 500 times.” I realized I’d better let it go or I could be writing for the remainder of the 6th grade, so I said, “Yes, ma’am,” and slowly walked back to the classroom, sniffling all the way. To this day, I can remember sitting all alone in the classroom, and it must have been winter because I can still hear those radiators hissing. It sounds melodramatic, but it is true that tears were actually falling on the notebook paper as I wrote. But the point I’m trying to make with this story is that it didn’t remotely occur to me to tell my parents about the incident. The teacher was wrong, and I was wrongfully accused, but I wasn’t about to tell my parents because they would probably still be on her side. And there is absolutely no way that they would have ever gone to school to complain about how I was treated.
Our class (which became the Class of ’66) – whether from Kerr School or College Street School – was the first to be put together in the 7th grade at the high school building…and that’s where some of us met for the first time. We thought we were hot stuff! To be at the high school! All the junior high students (7th and 8th graders) were on the second floor of the original high school building, the one that burned down and was then rebuilt.
Some of us had TV math in the 8th grade (I wasn’t one of them), which sounded pretty cool to me. And when the space program was in its early stages, all of the junior high classes would gather in the school lunchroom to watch the different rockets being launched.
I can still remember being in the cafeteria at lunch when the high school Seniors walked in. I guess the junior high students ate first, and as we were finishing the Seniors came in (Senior privileges and all that). I can still remember seeing those Senior girls come in in their sewn-down pleated skirts with oxford-cloth Gant shirts and Canterbury belts. Of course, they had on Weejuns, and their Gold Cup bobby socks matched their shirts: yellow blouses with yellow socks, blue blouses with blue socks, and so on. On the Peter Pan collars of their blouses were either circular virgin pins, Villager pins, or Ladybug pins, and most hairstyles were either bouffant or in a flip. We thought those Seniors were AWESOME!
Speaking of clothes, whatever happened to madras? I LOVED madras! Remember you could get madras shorts, madras slacks, madras skirts (sometimes wrap-around skirts), madras cummerbunds, madras suspenders, and of course madras shirts. The funny thing about madras was the tag in the back that said “guaranteed to bleed” (which really meant “guaranteed to fade”), but we loved madras! Remember that in the summer the guys would wear madras shirts, white slacks, Canterbury belts, and Weejuns with no socks? So groovy.
Some other random things I remember from growing up in the 50’s and 60’s: the freezer locker, the siren that went off at the fire department whenever there was a fire, the series of three polio vaccines on sugar cubes given at Kerr School, the ice plant, Dixie Cups of ice cream (you could lick the inside of the lid and find a picture of a movie star), buying 45’s (obsolete records) at Reynold’s Music Company, and those different colored biddies and baby ducks at the dime stores around Easter. I used to LOVE those! Unfortunately, the biddies and baby ducks grew up, and we usually had to give them away…if neighborhood dogs didn’t get them first. And all the little league sports: football teams with names like Duke, Carolina, Wake Forest, and State…Saturday morning rec basketball in the old CHS gym…and Little League baseball. Fisher Drive was the place to be on many summer nights.
Yes, the 50’s were awesome years in which to grow up. But then came the 60’s with all those radical changes. Those years were so different from the 50’s, but it was an experience to grow up then also. We didn’t realize it at the time, but we were actually living the history that is in school textbooks now. The 60’s brought integration, drugs, hippies, the Cold War, Woodstock, women’s lib (burn your bra), Black is Beautiful, the first moon landing, protest marches in Washington, DC, and of course, Vietnam. I imagine every guy in here can probably remember what his draft lottery number was during the Vietnam War. The draft was a huge deal. We lost one of our classmates, Tommy Williams, in Vietnam.
The great defining moment of our generation was the assassination of President Kennedy. We were in the 10th grade, and although I wasn’t at school that day, I understand Mr. Caruso called for an assembly that afternoon. Actually, that day Mary Anne Britt’s mother and my mother had taken Mary Anne and me shopping in Fayetteville, so we found out about the assassination from a clerk in the Capitol Department Store. (I have no idea why our moms took us out of school to go shopping, but I’m sure Mary Anne and I loved it!)
Some of our dances were the Twist, line dances like the Continental and the Slop, and of course, Shagging. And who didn’t love the Beatles! Being able to see them for two consecutive Sunday nights on the Ed Sullivan Show was such a thrill. We all had our favorite Beatles…mine was George.
Another thing that was so different back then was the way we dressed for school. No one wore jeans or tee-shirts to school. Girls even wore girdles or garter belts, hose, and skirts and blouses or shifts or dresses. Certainly not long pants! That was not allowed. Boys wore slacks and shirts with collars. And girls taking P.E. in the ninth grade wore very attractive (!) gym uniforms.
Some of the shops downtown were Jackson’s Ltd., the Town Shop, Leder’s, the Glamour Shop, Wimbish’s, The Children’s Shop, Powell’s Shoes, Cecil’s Shoes (where you could get Weejuns), Gay’s Men Shop, and of course, Hargrove’s Men Shop, which added a women’s section in the back of the store.
Back then, there wasn’t a whole lot to do but drive around the grill on weekend nights or maybe sneak in the drive-in or go to a movie at the Clinton or Austin theaters. We hardly ever ate out because there were no fast food restaurants for most of our school years, so going out to eat was a BIG DEAL. There was a Teen Age Club at the Fisher Drive Rec Center, and I remember a place called The Scuttlebutt on Beaman Street.
But the best was Williams Lake! We could hear some of the best bands and see some of the best dancers there…and the only thing scary about it (to me, anyway) was going through the parking lot to get from your car to the dance floor. Who was the drummer who would hang upside down from the rafters to play the drums? Robert Honeycutt, do you remember? I remember that when we were Seniors, “The Toys” were going to play at Williams Lake on a week night…but Mary Anne’s mother and my mother wouldn’t let us go. Mama did let me drive her station wagon to Mary Anne’s house for a few minutes, though, and Mary Anne came out to the car and we cried and cried.
On top of all that, when we went to Williams Lake or really anywhere, our parents had absolutely no way to get up with us from the time we left the house until we got back. But it wasn’t a big deal.
Technology like cell phones with cameras, email, computers, texting, and faxes didn’t exist…only old-fashioned face-to-face conversation and letters mailed through the post office. Things may be faster and more efficient now, but we have lost something. Our children will not have our letters to put in albums or shoeboxes to show their children and grandchildren. I have about a zillion pictures on my computer, but most of them will never be seen by anyone but me. Speaking of pictures, do you remember how careful you used to be when taking a picture because each roll of film had just a few exposures on it…and you then had to pay to get the film developed?
Of course, high school was the best. What a great time! Discipline was a lot different than it is today; breaking the rules often consisted of chewing gum or not having your homework. It would have been humiliating to get suspended, much less expelled! Hardly anyone drove to school except for Camille (who lived in Garland), Joe and Jay, and a few others. Did any of you drive to school? And do you remember that teen-agers drove school buses? Some of you probably drove a school bus. The faculty was also memorable. Some of the teachers I remember are:
• Mrs. Newbold (Ellen), Mrs. Bunch (Barbara), and Mr. Mendenhall (Guy)…thank you all for being with us tonight
• Mr. Gaskill
• Miss Watson
• Mr. Fish
• Mr. Taylor
• Mrs. Powell
• Mrs. McClanahan
• Miss Burns
• Mrs. Waters
• Mrs. Shipp
• Mr. Hamilton
• Mrs. Williams, the librarian
• Miss Hardie
• Mr. Dempsey
• Mrs. Crumpler
• Mrs. Spell
• Mr. and Mrs. Cummings (R.E. and Grace)
• Mr. Parsons
• Mrs. Hamilton
• Mrs. Chambliss
• Mr. Beck
• Mrs. McGrigor
• Coach Carr
• Coach Caison
• Coach Poindexter
• Coach George
• Mrs. Sutton in office
• Mr. Caruso, the principal
What great memories! If you’ll allow me, I’ll tell one more quick story. Goldman Lovell’s store was across the street from the high school, and it was absolutely forbidden to go there during school hours. Helen, Betty, and I decided one day that we were going to the store – during school hours…well, actually, Betty was going to the store, and Helen and I were going to be the lookouts. (Betty was braver than we were.) If you remember, during the school day the buses were parked on either side of the circular driveway in front of the school (facing the store). I was going to stand in the door to the school, Helen was going to stand between the two front buses, and Betty was going to make the run to the store. She had a long list of items to get.
I gave the all-clear sign to Helen, Helen gave the all-clear sign to Betty, and Betty ran across the street to the store. She was in there for several minutes (she had a long list!), and Helen and I were fidgeting, waiting for Betty to come out. Soon Betty came to the door with a large paper sack full of items like honey buns, Mountain Dews, nabs, and candy bars. I gave Helen the all-clear sign, and Helen motioned Betty that it was safe to come back across the street.
Just as Betty came out of the door and starting crossing the street, Mr. Caruso’s car stopped at the stop sign on Finch Street, and turned left toward the store. Betty panicked and dropped the bag of “groceries” in the middle of the street! Mr. Caruso didn’t stop, and the three of us went back inside to await our fate.
Helen, Betty, and I all had 6th period together in Mrs. McClanahan’s English class, and before long a student came to the class (there were no intercoms) and said, “Mr. Caruso wants to see Helen Woodside, Betty Cromartie, and Susan Nance.” We were terrified! When we got to his office, Mr. Caruso gave us a talking-to and said how disappointed he was in us, and that he hoped we had learned our lesson…but he didn’t punish us.
On our way back to class, I can assure you that there was no flippant attitude about “getting away with it.” We were SO relieved not to have been punished, and I can guarantee you we didn’t try that again.
In conclusion, I have to say I had a great time walking down memory lane and remembering all these things.
So we ARE blessed. We lived through the 50’s, and we were a part of the history-making 60’s. There is a frame of reference that we all share. Whether I talk about different teachers at CHS or American Bandstand or the Cold War or the polio vaccine or Martin Luther King, Jr. or Williams Lake or the Vietnam War, YOU ALL GET IT. You know exactly what I’m talking about because we all LIVED those events.
We graduated from Clinton High School exactly 50 years and 3 days ago – on June 1, 1966. Our graduation ceremony was in the auditorium – the UN-air conditioned auditorium – but we didn’t mind. On that day who could have known – or who would have wanted to predict – what lay ahead for each of us? And back in 1966, who could have ever imagined all the changes that would take place in the world during the next fifty years? But we have managed to weather them all. We were blessed then, and we are blessed now. We have lost too many classmates, but we are all still here and we all still love each other.