Monday, August 30, 2010

Squared away memories

SAN DIEGO - Recently, J.B. Leftwich began a feature in his column I like called "Person of the Past."

Reading about Bill Baird, Waldo Seat, and others has brought fond memories.

Additionally, two "Democrat" news items told of the "Capitol Theater" renovation and a new shop locating in the square. The thrust of these additions is unclear to me from the Southwest comer. But the Lebanon square of the past is a living entity in my mind, with a vibrancy and identity of its own. It's my "Place of the Past."

Considering my fuzzy memory, I called my expert back home to fill blanks. Estelle Jewell, my mother, gave me a detailed account of the square's buildings and their occupants from the 1930s through the early 1960s.

So this is not a one-column feature. It will be continued.

In my mind, the square was the center of the universe. Nashville was a maze of monoliths a day's journey to the west, not of my world. Everything happened on or adjacent to the square. If you banked, needed hardware, had to have a prescription filled, needed new clothes, were getting a photograph made, had to replace shoes, required some general merchandise, or wanted to dine, the Lebanon square was the starting and end point. There were some outliers, but even they were nearly all adjacent to the square.

Two banks occupied east and south exit comers of the square. There were no drive-through teller windows and, until savings and loan places cropped up, everyone did their banking on the square.

The Lebanon Bank was located at the exit to South Cumberland across from the courthouse. The Commerce Union Bank, where my mother had her first full-time job after high school in 1935, occupied the north comer at the exit onto East Main.

The seat of government, the county courthouse oversaw the square affairs with its dominating presence, occupying the entire the southwest side of the square in its regal impartiality, a yellow-brick road to justice with worn out concrete steps into and center-worn wooden steps up to the courtrooms.

I associate smells as much as sight or sound with the court house. There was a dusty lingering of cigar smoke in those high ceilinged halls and offices overwhelmed with oak file cabinets. Julius Williams, the chancery court clerk, occupied a first floor office with tall, single pane windows. Mrs. Lucy Cummings, his secretary, tutored my mother in shorthand during part-time work in high school. She taught Estelle Jewell shorthand and let her use the office typewriter to learn to type (around 80 words a minute, as I recall) from a typing book.

I remember visiting that room and feeling like one should not talk in such an official, cavernous place of justice and records.

Later, my mother worked for Curry Dotson, the long-time county court clerk.
Court house recollection is not complete without mention of the older men sitting outside chewing, whittling and philosophizing.

Two drug stores, Bradshaw's and Shannon's stood almost opposite of each other across the square before grocery chains had their own pharmacies and drug stores were not the chain department-store giants with drive-by windows. Bradshaw's had aisles of stuff but mostly un-interesting to a young boy. However, I distinctly remember my mouth watering at the thought of a cream filled chocolate when buying a box of assorted candy.

Shannon's was an old-style drug store, located on the southeast side. When my mother was working on the square (she worked at four different jobs on the square), she would lunch on a ham sandwich for a dime and drink a coke for a nickel at Shannon's counter. Later, it was the first place I have ever had a cherry coke. For someone my age, it was the nectar of the gods.

Until the late 1950's, the Lebanon square was Lebanon itself. Everything emanated from the square. "Going to town" meant going to the square.

Recently, we visited members of my wife's family in Prescott, AZ. The square there is much larger than Lebanon's square. The vast and imposing gray courthouse sits in the middle: Yet Prescott's square induced me to recall Lebanon's square. In Prescott, the square remains the heart, the core of the city.

Ah, but they cannot look upon General Hatton in their square.

To be continued...