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March 3, 2018

Growing up in Louisa  ...Boogying!

 Weekly feature . . . by Mike Coburn

“Jack be nimble, Jack be quick. Jack jump over the candle stick.” This little nursery rhyme that I still carry from early childhood is a bit disconcerting to me as I look back over the years. You see, I have never had the agility to walk around a candle stick without risking my trousers catching fire, let alone tempt fate by pushing myself airborne over a flickering flame. In fact, I owe apologies to an early tap dancing teacher in Louisa. Apologies are due not only for my failing her class, but for my displaying no interest whatsoever in the then faddish practice.

I recently saw a notice in the Lazer that a line-dancing class was being offered. While there’s little hope I would ever learn line-dancing, any more than I learned to ‘stroll,’ back in the day (I loved to watch others stroll). I do have memories of a time I when was TAKEN (dragged) to a dancing class. My mom must have seen all the Hollywood dance movies of the day. She apparently imagined that her precious muffin might dance to Shirley Temple’s ‘Good Ship Lollipop’ and gain fame and fortune in Hollywood. I suppose I was to bring fame and fortune to the family. It turned out that her goal was unreasonable and would not materialize. Despite my clumsiness she dragged me to Hewlett’s Shoe Shop adjacent to Moore’s grocery on Madison. She had a pair of my dress shoes fitted with heal taps and with toe taps, as well. I liked the ‘click’ when I walked in shoes with heal taps, but the heavier ones in the front just gave me something else to trip over. They were now dancing shoes and were not to be used in public, or during play.

 While I have no memory of who the dancing instructor was, I do remember the classroom. I learned this from the weekly visits when I was pushed up some long stairs in the Compton building that was on the corner of Lock Avenue and Pike Street. I think still exists. As mom shoved me up the steps I undoubtedly whined and resisted. Once I had arrived in that large, open, second-floor room the teacher lined all the kids up. (I may have been the only boy), We were to learn the fine art of tap dancing. In my case, it might have been more useful if she would have taught me to simply walk straight without stumbling. I was, and still am, a bit clumsy. I had developed what I believe is a special skill; that is, finding new ways to trip. It wasn’t as funny as Dick Van Dyke tripping in his TV show, because I frequently suffered injuries such as bruises.

After only three or four dancing lessons I was more than ready to give up. The teacher had likely given up earlier, but my mom was there to watch every move and cheer me on. After what seemed like forever, my mom finally accepted that I wasn’t progressing. The good part was that she wouldn’t have to continue to spend the three dollar fee every week. Sadly, neither would I bring the family money and fame in Hollywood, or at least not by dancing. It was just as well because Hollywood never asked me if I could dance, or even liked dancing. Frankly, when a dance number began in a film at the Garden Theater, I usually figured it was a good time to get some more ten-cent popcorn, or visit the small men’s room just off the lobby.

 Now that I’ve mentioned Hollywood, I remember once being in a long line of kids and their ‘stage mothers.’ It was at the Garden Theater where every kid was in line to pose for pictures. Everyone was clean and polished and wearing their best Sunday outfits. The photographer had promoted the idea to parents that this was a real Hollywood ‘screen test.’ Shirley Temple, move over. Mom explained that once the pictures were taken they’d be sent and reviewed by famous Hollywood producers who would select the next star from the lot. Alas, as far as I know, no one from our little town ever passed the screen test. We did get a package of pictures that parents could purchase for only a small sum. Some of those pictures may exist to this very day, perhaps in the far corners of an attic. Mine are gone, unless the one showing me in a sailor suit came from the session. That exists in a scrap-book that Suzie put together. Maybe she’ll put that out at a wake or memorial service one day. No one will believe I ever looked like that! At that point, I’d never admit it!

I may have posted this sometime in the past, but it fits well here and is worth repeating. Back in 1929-1930, a film was made of Louisa. Since my mother was around during the years following that, I suspect parts may have been filmed later. She graduated in 41 or ’42, but can been seen in the film as a member of the LHS band, and occasionally in groups of students who march in front of the cameras. I guess that was her screen test. They shot most of it in the winter and focused on LHS, ice skating at the locks, a band parade, and pictures of several leading merchants and leading businesses around town. Seeing those old cars and the outfits worn by the women make the movie worth watching. Billy Elkins was kind enough to send me a copy. I watch it every now and then, but it can be found on the web. I’ll post the link here for anyone wanting to see the old town when it was bustling. My mom was so short she was easy to spot, especially when she brought up the rear in the band holding her trumpet.

I doubt the film received any Oscars, either, but it does record what otherwise may be lost history. It’s likely than many of our forefathers graced the movie, but it would take effort to figure out the names of many of the people featured.  Here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FDogQ4wVoSQ  The movie is about a Hollywood movie scout named Gary Owens who came to Louisa to film the little town and to tell its’ story. It was said that this fellow had come to town in search of local talent. The credit out there on the web gives mention that the movie was transferred from an old projection movie reel to VHS by the Daughters of American Revolution, and by Fred Jones & Patty Wallace in 2000. I was glad to see it and can still pull it up on my computer. ‘Thanks for the memories,’ Fred and the others.

 What is it about moms that makes them think their little prizes are somehow, ‘special?’ From the moment they brought us babies home from the hospital, they were keen to load us into a tram, (baby buggy) to tour the streets (Main, Main Cross, and Madison) of our town. I can understand that they wanted others to meet their beautiful babies and hear compliments and praise of their friends. We babies were victims of their parents hopes and thusly were expected to perform. We smiled, cooed, giggled, spit, filled our diapers, and sometimes cried, but Hollywood missed it all. Sadly, even today no one has yet invited me to make a film. I can still gurgle. That’s amazing they haven’t called considering that many movies are produced today with zombies. I could really get into that role, if I don’t trip.   

I think that fathers generally escape these fame and fortune urges relating to their kids. They tend to focus on sports or some great political achievements. In my years of watching and participating in Little League programs and other such endeavors, it is a rare father that thinks their child was given the deserved spotlight on the playing field. Every father thinks his son should pitch, or bat ‘clean-up,’ and that others should be benched in their favor. Dads with little girls also know that their darling ‘princess’ should be head-cheerleader, the female lead in the school play, or prima ballerina. Let’s face it, we all know that our little muffins are the best in the bunch.

Today, as a doting grand and great-grand father, I am quick to see how very special my little prodigies are. I know that each has their respective strengths, but I keep under wraps that they may have some areas needing work. It’s not that I wish mine always would obtain the top role, but rather they each have a chance to deal with victory, and that they may also learn to handle defeat and disappointment. It will make them stronger. They will be better prepared for those ups and downs that they will experience throughout life.

History proves that it isn’t always to a kid’s advantage to be a rock star, starlet, or the MVP. I knew early in life by watching by LHS basketball and football that being a good sport was a sign of maturity. I was saddened when I saw displays from kids that were uncontrollably angered by things going bad. A wise coach will teach their charges that playing sports must be tempered by good sportsmanship. After all, that is the real lesson to be learned.

I’ve seen a parallel in life about how we feel about our children. If we hurt when we see our kids making mistakes, how much more does the Heavenly Father hurt when He sees us make defiant decisions? We are but one generation and our kids are of the next. The model is the same for each generation since we can do no better. Mankind has become civilized, but are little better as seen in recent history. Time is short, but how precious it is when we raise kids who have become good parents. Therein lies the hope of mankind and the only basis for pride. We harbor hope that our progenies may do well in life. It’s their legacy that counts and those of the next generations.   

A funny thing happened the other day as I stood by myself. I heard an old tune from the past wafting through the air. I instinctively began to move to the music. To my surprise, I found myself doing a little ‘soft-shoe’ dance to those wonderful strands. In my mind I saw again that second-floor room of long ago. Surprise bellowed up when I realized that I was tap dancing. If only mom could see me now. Pray, where are those cameras? Hollywood, watch out!  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.    

    

Comments  

0 #2 Larry L Weeks 2018-03-04 17:27
Funny! I smiled throughout the entire article, especially the images of you and Bernard gliding across the dance floors of the day.

My memories of the Compton gym floor above the dealership go to pick-up games of basketball Ben Compton, Harry Richard and I would play there when we couldn't get into the gym at LHS. Thanks for the memories and keep up the Good Work.
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0 #1 Bernard 2018-03-03 16:18
Hey Mike, WOW another great article with tons of memories. I remember that film you talked about, would love to have a copy of it, if one could be found.

I also remember the ice skating on the river from the locks to the middle peer of the bridge.

As for dancing, WOW I love to dance. In fact when I was a Jr. & Sr. at LHS, I was known for my dancing ability, I could do them all. Arthur Murray Studio from Huntington was giving dance classes at the old ABC Club and needed someone to help out a couple of nights a week & on the week end and I was it. I can take credit for teaching some of our school teachers to dance. That's why in my annual it states, I have my way with the teachers & got away with it" ha. ha. The ABC Club was mainly the older folks and was off limits to anyone below 21 years old. I got cautions from several teachers & businessmen about not talking about who was doing what at the meetings. I had a blast & even got paid for it.
Enough about that, I was also sports minded, playin football, basketball, baseball & tennis, picking up golf latter in my 30's.

Again dear friend, thanks for the memories.
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