Last week, I wrote about memories of Muskogee, which was my "stomping grounds" when I was growing up. There wasn't much stomping to do in Fort Gibson.
Jerry Cook, the former Tahlequah mayor who has served the city in countless ways, took note because the column brought back memories for him, too. He and his wife, Barbra, grew up in Muskogee and were high school sweethearts. They graduated from Central High School. At one time, there were letters outside the complex that is now Muskogee High School. Once desegregation occurred, someone removed the C-E-N-T-R and the L, and it was just "A High School" for a while.
Jerry shared some of his memories with me, and hopefully he and Barb will share them with our readers. I asked him if he could remember the store on Broadway that had the glass elevator. You could see inside the shaft, and people inside the car as it passed up or down. I thought it was Holly's; Jerry thought it might have been the Barnes Building. He's just a few years older than I am, so I'd take his word over mine. Jerry also talked about car dealerships downtown. I remember Kuykendall Pontiac, because it was on this jagged little street, cattywampus to the YMCA-YWCA, where my siblings went every summer as kids. I eventually had advanced so far in swimming, there were no more classes that could teach me anything, so I joined water ballet. I'll let your imaginations run wild on that.
The Y was the coolest place, with many rooms and weird nooks and crannies for mischievous kids to explore. There was an cavernous, high-ceilinged gym that boasted a number of contraptions - parallel bars, the rings, pommel horse - that I've never seen since then except on TV, for the Olympics. Down the hall, there were offices, and closets where games were stored, for use in the "game room," across from the gym. A ballroom was around the corner from the vending machines, where we bought Love's soda pop - mostly Juicy Fruit - and packs of peanuts to pour into the pop. We could buy candy bars I'm not sure are made anymore: Zero, Clark Bar, Fifth Avenue, Hollywood bar. Across from the ballroom, a door led to the stairs, where there were rooms for people. Whispered rumors among the mothers of the Y kids defined what sort of "people" lived there.
The best part was the "basement," which featured a large room with a juke box and a snack bar. They used to let us dance down there in the afternoon. Being Baptist, I didn't know much about dancing, but a girl named Cindy Walters taught me. She and another girl named Laura and I hung out for three or four summers. During gym, we played dodge ball and pushed ourselves around on these little flat boards with four wheels - kind of like square skateboards. Later, we boogied down to The Beatles' "Get Back" and Three Dog Night's "Mama Told Me Not to Come," and other tunes of the era. I found Cindy on Facebook and sent her a private message, asking if she was the person who taught me how to dance. She never replied; probably figured I was some crackpot. (I might ask former Tahlequah banker Max Boydstun about her; he appears to be a mutual friend.)
Back farther was a huge, foggy steam room; the vast locker room and showers; and the pool. It and the natatorium, according to my memory, had tan tile. There was a 1-meter board, and on either side of it, at the bottom of the "deep end," were gaping rectangular maws: the dreaded pool drains. Those freaked me out, and even the tidy little ones in the NSU pool make me shudder. I almost drowned there. While I was in the deep end, a girl who couldn't swim and had been admonished to stay in the shallow end went off the board. She started flailing and tried to pull me down to those awful drains. Fortunately, I recalled my training and got her by the scruff of the neck until the lifeguard - Edwyna Synar, sister of a boy who later became the late, great Congressman Mike Synar - extracted her with a hook.
I understand the Y is a day care center now. Lots of things aren't like what they used to be; Gene Ruth Brumback told me she knows the folks who run Ark of Faith, which is in the old Carnegie Library. Kuykendall - where my dad bought our first station wagon - is long gone, as are the establishments that gave way to make room for the mall. Back then, downtown was vibrant. In addition to everything else, there was a large Continental Trailways bus station, behind the Civic Center - which, as far as I know, is still the Civic Center, although no buses rumble by. My mom used to go to Weight Watchers meetings every Thursday night at the Civics Center, leaving us three kids to roam those halls, with their echoes, polished floors, and staggered stairways. We used to try to open doors to the various rooms, and were sometimes successful.
The Civic Center is on Okmulgee, but the block braced by Okmulgee on one side and Broadway on the other had all the stores everyone shopped at. There was Dillard's, with its scalloped awning, and a ways down, JC Penney and Sears, and even Montgomery Ward. You could enter these stores from the Broadway or Okmulgee side. We used to get to spend $50 at the start of every school year on clothes at Sears, and when my mom took us kids to the stores, my brother would always hide among the circular racks. My mom, much to the embarrassment of my sister and me, would stand on tiptoe and scream, "Kevin? Kevin? KEVIN!" until he reappeared.
And then, of course, there was Hunt's, which deserves a column all its own - and will probably get it, with a few side trips to other places that are no longer around, or have changed drastically. But that's for a later time.