Miss Anita Hale just always was. I don’t remember “meeting” her. No one said, “There’s this nice lady living over on Forrest Avenue.” I don’t remember the first time I went home with Ricky. It was before we started to elementary school.
Miss Anita had a lot going for her right off the bat. She had that good laugh. And she knew how to share it. She could really cook. That counts for more than you know when you go to picking whose house you need to be playing at come super time! She liked little boys……she raised Gene, Ricky and Randy, plus me and the Mabry boys next door and anyone else her sons drug home. And I especially liked that she was always telling me what a special lady my Mother was.
They had a TV. And this was like, 1955. I took to spending the night over there so I could wake up with Captain Kangaroo. She would fix breakfast, let us take it into the living room and eat on the floor right in front of the set. I’m telling you, I felt like one of those Egyptian pharaohs, she was waiting on us so.
Mr. Arvie Hale wasn’t so accommodating on Saturday nights. If me or Rick made a little noise during Gunsmoke he’d lay that Lucky Strike down and threaten us with bodily harm if we didn’t hush.
Ricky was the middle son. Just like me. We allowed that it was a tough position. One parent doted on the oldest and both “took care” of the youngest. The middle child was just naturally overlooked and under appreciated. We’d complain to Miss Anita. She’d throw her head back and through the laughter proclaim, “Don’t neither one of you look like you’re suffering too much!”
Miss Anita was our CNN anchor lady. She knew everything about everybody in town. She was the first to know who got hired out at the Dairy Bar. Who was visiting their kinfolks in Memphis. Who’d run off with the International Harvester tractor salesman from Paducah. What was playing next week at the Park Theatre. Who was thinking about getting married and who wished they weren’t!
I think it all stemmed from her job at Mr. James Williams’ Ben Franklin Store. Listen, there wasn’t a soul in town that didn’t filter through that five and ten cent building looking for some sewing material, writing paper or Brach’s candy in a week’s time. It became customary to “visit” with Miss Anita as you perused the aisles. She didn’t take notes mind you, but she kept track nevertheless.
And don’t let that friendliness or her diminutive size fool you. She could be tough as whit leather if the occasion demanded. She’s set me and Ricky straight any number of times. And when Mr. Arvie came home a little on the gruff side, I’ve seen him get the same treatment!
That was a by product of her upbringing down in Yuma, Tennessee, in the 1920’s. The town consisted mostly of cotton gins and sawmills. It wasn’t a time or place for the faint of heart.
Yuma is where Miss Anita’s dad kept the machine that made fake one hundred dollar bills. The whole community swore it would turn out perfect looking “Franklins” just as fast as you could “ink it” and crank the handle.
Dwayne Melton, a cousin, was rumored to have inherited the lucrative contraption. I know he didn’t have much when he moved up from Clarksburg……and bought that big house and barn and new pick-up and cattle and all those show horses. I dated his daughter for years hoping to find some cash floating around in the basement.
Needless to say, Ricky and I never got a cent out of that machine. But he did help make those school years tolerable. We played ball together, had pillow fights, explored the world via the Park Theatre, smoked our first cigarette in that ditch across from his house and rode his Moped all over town. He, and his family, are as entwined in my formative years as anyone on earth.
Maybe that’s why I wound myself by that familiar white house on Forrest Avenue just a couple of years back. Mother had passed away and I was home taking care of a few things. It just seemed natural to check in. It dawned on me about the time I knocked that Miss Anita might not recognize a guy showing up out of nowhere from her distant past…. “Kesley Colbert,” she laughed before I could say a word, her hug like I remembered, “I’m so sorry to hear about your Mother. Ophelia was such a dear person.”
Anita Hale celebrates her one hundredth birthday this week. She’s one of the last remnants of some shinning times.
I hope she lives forever.