Search news

Friday, January 22, 2021

Clear as day, 5 decades ago...

As a child of the 70's growing up in rural Bates County, the closest 'city' was of course Butler, Mo. Country life was full of things to do, but going to town with my mother every Thursday in the Summer to get groceries brought an exciting, added dimension; as it seemed there was a lot to explore around the square.

It offered a ton of interesting options to me anyway, a nosey 9 year old. Mom would shop and I would wander off to make stops like Robertson's on the north side. This included a beeline directly to the desk of LeRoy Cook, aviation God, in my eyes. Several times I bugged him about an airplane ride and he conveniently would say that he needed to go up. Now, I realize he did it just for me and the fun of it. Thanks to this added attention, I later went on to get my pilots license which brought nearly a thousand hours off the ground.

Next stop was a few doors down at the Headliner office. C.A. Moore seemed to always be available to show me something related to taking pictures and offered free instruction on how to develop film and print photos. Thanks to his advice, I saved my money and bought a 'darkroom kit', a rather cheesy $18 investment from the local Wards store on the east side. It worked, not great, but as were my photos; but it was good fodder to impress classmates at show and tell.

The north side sure seemed to have a lot to offer. The Rexall store had a soda fountain right out of the 1950's. I'd drop a penny in the scales not because I cared about my poundage, but it would provide my daily horoscope that always seemed to be spot on even if it got my birthdate wrong.

Back out on the sidewalk I remember seeing a super nice fella who was not able to walk but traversed quite well in a Red Flyer wagon. A couple doors down was Mattingly's (current Custom Creations location) with a majestic curved staircase the led to heaven- the entire space was filled with toys and often included the purchase of a 99 cent Hot Wheels that now would be worth a small fortune. 

These stops were always followed by a dash to Henry Radio on north main. Shirley Umstattd would wave me through as I made my way to the repair shop in the back. There, George Ray and Mike McGrath were surrounded by a literal wall of radio chassis, test equipment and the air was hazed with smoke from George's pipe. No matter what they were doing, they would always stop and chat with a pesky kid that had an unimaginable amount of questions. George and I became good friends, he loved to fish and we had a stocked pond that made for a great relationship.

The courthouse offered a bit of mystique with all the nooks and crannys... I found there was a door in the back of the library (northeast corner) that led to a room I didn't know existed and the janitor, Perry Burke was quick to remind me that it was off limits. I later got the same reminder from Perry when he caught me coming down from the third floor after checking out the clockworks. Little did he know I had walked the plank and opened the little doors in the clock face to get a birds eye view of the square. Thinking back, he seemed to know that I wasn't going to bring any harm, just a bit annoying.

In years to come, so came more memories. I remember buying my first .22 rifle at Otasco and carrying it in the open back to mom's car on the square. In those days, no one thought any different. I also remember watching the Seelinger building burn and the tragedy of a person dying in it. Just around the corner the lumberyard burned and even days later there was immense heat coming from the ash. It seemed strange that there was a huge pile of smoldering rubble and no one was around.

There was Western Auto (Corner Hardware location) where Elmer Morton would always offer a high volume how-do-you-do that made you want to buy something even if you didn't need it. And the sweet old ladies at Jennings Market, who often didn't charge if you just wanted a couple pieces of penny candy from the Brach's display.

I could go on. But today as I gaze from my perch in the former Levy's building, squint my eyes a little, it all clearly comes back in focus. The smell of pipe smoke and all. I can only hope there are many others with equally good memories of our town. - Doug Mager