City of Roses

Morning. I am seated on a bench in downtown Thomasville with the ghost of someone’s granny beside me. I can feel her spirit, whoever she is. This is her town, where life still ambles slowly. Being here is like taking a trip into the 1950s.

“Not a bad town, huh?” says the ghost.

She wears a bell hat, and a floral dress. Nobody can see her but me.

“It’s nice,” I say.

“City of Roses,” she tells me.

“How about that.”

“It’s changed some,” she says.

The flawless storefronts catch the morning sunlight, the birds are making noise, markets and cafés are opening. And the ghost is right, it’s perfect. All that’s missing is Opie Taylor.

“You from around here?” I ask the ghost.

She doesn’t answer.

It’s as though time has overlooked the City of Roses and its elderly patron saint. I look around and immediately travel backward into an earlier age. Her era.

An era when Americans were a little more innocent, and the highest technology we possessed was the KitchenAid mixer. A period before 5G wireless networks, before Netflix, and before the advent of thong underwear.

On cue, a restored Chevy Bel Air passes us, rolling by slowly. Baby blue. White-walled tires. And I’m three quarters of a century away.

Truman is in office. Flags still wing from every post, pole, and porch. Ninety-seven percent of Americans still read a physical newspaper (whereas today it’s only 4 percent). Hitler’s War is long since over, our boys are home from hell. There are new possibilities in the wind.

The old woman is smiling now. We are back in her heyday.

This is the generation that features both the birth of rock and roll and the “Grand Ole Opry.” A time when mankind will begin producing Fords and Chevys with tail fins tall enough to slice low hanging telephone wires.

This historical period will also include the Cold War. American schoolkids will practice atomic-bomb drills in classrooms, simulating Soviet attacks, huddling beneath their desks for protection because these desks are, apparently, nuclear-proof.

I glance across the street and I see several TVs in a shop window. These are early television consoles, the size of chifforobes, with screens no bigger than a slice of Wonderbread.

Jackie Robinson is a household name. Chuck Yeager has just broken the sound barrier. And over in Paris, a little swimsuit nicknamed the “bikini” debuts at a fashion show, and will shake the very core foundations of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Speaking of fundamentalists. This is an age when people’s moms will start using a new kitchen product called Tupperware. Mom loves this stuff. She even sells it.

She holds Tupperware parties in her den where many other neighborhood ladies sit together and chain-smoke Chesterfields, partaking in gossip, eating teeny sandwiches that aren’t big enough to satisfy the appetites of hamsters.

Tupperware is rarely discussed.

Meantime, the theaters of the day are playing movies like, “Red River” with John Wayne and Montgomery Clift. “Monkey Business,” with Marilyn Monroe. And “On the Town,” starring Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra, tapping their shoes alongside the title holder for America’s tiniest waist, Vera-Ellen.

In this era the average price of a new house is $8,450. A Chevy Bel Air costs $1,800. Cost of a gallon of gasoline: 18 cents. A gallon of milk: 82 cents. A cup of coffee will run you a nickel.

And since we’re on the subject of cash, this is also the decade when a guy named Frank McNamara will be eating in a New York City restaurant and realize he has forgotten his wallet.

This will be such an embarrassing experience that Frank will come up with an idea for something he calls the “credit card.” Which is a novel concept, but it will probably never catch on.

Other things that will happen in this period:

Mother Teresa will enter the mission field.

Lucille Ball will have an idea for a new show many executives don’t think will work.

Swanson introduces the TV dinner, and an entire generation of Americans permanently scar the roofs of their mouths on mutant mashed potatoes.

Here comes the kid from Spavinaw, Oklahoma. Mickey Mantle.

Liz Taylor will snag husband number three, four, five, and thirty-seven.

Rosa Parks will change the world.

Young people are easier to please, too. These are the olden days, when teens still get deeply excited over simple things like outer space, Sandra Dee, and conical brassiers.

There are no cell phones, except in prisons. Text messages are something the preacher reads aloud on Sundays. Technology has not stunted children’s social abilities yet, therefore young people are unafraid of making eye contact with adults.

Celebrities are nothing like today’s lewd variety. Sure, Elvis might have shaken his pelvis a little, but at least he never took it out and showed it to anyone.

“No, it wasn’t a perfect time to be alive,” the old woman tells me. “We had problems just like you. Big problems. But life was much simpler.”

Simpler.

Eighty-nine percent of American families ate supper together. Nearly 20 percent of Americans got married in their teens and yet, somehow, the national divorce rate was 18 percent. Nobody knew what gluten was. There were no ridiculous social media rants like the one you’re reading now.

“Oh, there you are,” says my wife.

I am interrupted from my daze. My wife is walking downtown, carrying shopping bags and a paper cup of coffee.

“I wondered where you were,” she says. “What’re you doing on this bench? And why are you talking to yourself?”

“No reason,” says I.

38 comments

  1. CHARALEEN WRIGHT - February 17, 2022 7:06 am

    Reply
  2. Dru Brown - February 17, 2022 7:34 am

    Thomasville is going on my bucket list.

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  3. Sharon Wichmann - February 17, 2022 9:43 am

    Yes, time to visit Thomasville again. Their downtown is a perfect example of how to keep the old and enjoy the new.

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  4. Sheilla Dawn Boyd - February 17, 2022 11:02 am

    loved this one!

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  5. Debbie - February 17, 2022 12:04 pm

    I’ve never been to Thomasville, but it certainly sounds enticing! They should hire you at the Visitors Bureau!!

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  6. Ann Williams - February 17, 2022 12:35 pm

    What a wonderful trip back to my childhood! Thank you for those memories.

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  7. Kate - February 17, 2022 12:46 pm

    Guess I will be joining others in going to Thomasville too. I was there about 40 years ago, but I do not remember much about it. Can anyone recommend a nice Bed and Breakfast to stay.

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  8. Paul McCutchen - February 17, 2022 1:11 pm

    My mom still has a console for a tv. I recently put the fourth television inside. She loves the wood work and the way the doors close. I told her I had enough room behind the tv to set a small refrigerator but she just gives me that “mom look”..

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  9. Joann Thompson - February 17, 2022 1:13 pm

    I don’t want to be a damper on your reverie, but for every town like Thomasville today in this country, there are likely two like my (unnamed) hometown in Alabama. It was in its heyday during the 50’s and 60’s, but is now a sad shell of closed storefronts, few opportunities for the young, and racial division. Had it faced the future instead of trying to cling to the past, it possibly could have thrived.

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  10. Brenda VanSant - February 17, 2022 1:19 pm

    While you’re ruminating on Thomasville, here’s a little trivia for you. Delia Owens, author of Where the Crawdads Sing is from Thomasville. She has led an incredibly exciting life prior to writing that best-selling book. You should read the previously co-authored books by Mark and Delia Owens. Fascinating!

    Reply
  11. Pat Deas - February 17, 2022 1:26 pm

    If only we could go back!

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  12. Shelton A. - February 17, 2022 1:48 pm

    I remember ducking under my desk and the teacher telling us that it would help protect from falling debris. When I got just a little older, I realized the drills were pointless. Our two nearest cities weren’t targets. Charlotte was not the banking center it is now and Winston-Salem was known for aluminum foil from Reynolds and lots of cigarettes. Then I learned about nuclear winter and radiation sickness and knew the lucky ones went so fast they did not have time to even know what had happened. I remember Cuba and Kennedy and my parents telling me he was a great and brave leader. I also remember tail fins and Elvis only being shown from the waist up! I do miss a time without cell phones. God bless, Sean (and Jamie!). Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

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  13. Richard Owen - February 17, 2022 2:24 pm

    Most of our “boys” from the Hitler War are gone now. My dad among them. Now the “boys” have returned from another hell overseas. Hopefully they will have the fortitude that the our “boys” did from 1945.

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  14. Cathy M - February 17, 2022 2:30 pm

    Love this and it was calming just to read it. I wish my children could live only one day in this time where life was more simple and peaceful. I would love to hear their comments. Progress is certainly a good thing but with it you lose so much.

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  15. Lisa Anderson - February 17, 2022 2:46 pm

    Sure hope you and Jamie got to grab some shrimp and grits at Jonah’s and picked up a bag of Shotgun coffee while you were there! We live in Tallahassee and my husband has worked in Thomasville for over 30 years. It’s a wonderful little town and a great place to bring our guests. To see the Big Oak.

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  16. JACKIE LEON DARNELL - February 17, 2022 2:55 pm

    sweet, again!

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  17. Janette H Campbell - February 17, 2022 3:00 pm

    You forgot the endless practicing with hula hoops!

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  18. annasgran - February 17, 2022 3:14 pm

    Love your stories Sean ❤

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  19. Leigh Amiot - February 17, 2022 3:57 pm

    I love day-tripping to Thomasville, only an hour away from me. One of the downtown merchants put up a “blessing tree” during the Christmas season, had a little table set up beside it with tag ornaments, pens, and festive holiday stickers. I stood there with tears in my eyes reading all the blessings people wrote out and hung on the tree. That moment was Christmas for me. My husband and I were waiting for a table at Jonah’s—a restaurant written about in Southern Living, deserving the accolades for their shrimp and grits. Lovely drawing of a rose, by the way.

    Reply
  20. Pingback: Sean of the South: City of Roses | The Trussville Tribune

  21. LIN ARNOLD - February 17, 2022 4:07 pm

    Today’s story stirs up so many memories. Thank you!
    I wish the kids today could experience the carefree fun … and life … we had back then.

    Reply
  22. Helen De Prima - February 17, 2022 4:10 pm

    A wonderful time to up, despite polio and drills for nuclear attack.

    Reply
  23. Norma I Herbold - February 17, 2022 4:34 pm

    My mom sold Tupperware too! For over 50 years. I think I have every piece that came out during those years. She even sent some of her collection from the early years to the Smithsonian for a display they did some years ago. I still miss her and her packages of the newest items she would send. Mostly I still miss her.

    Reply
  24. Charlotte Virginia McCraw - February 17, 2022 5:28 pm

    Oh, such a PERFECT picture of what seems in looking back a perfect time. I was there. The watercolor memories cause my mouth to curve upward into a smile and a tear escapes my eye. Thanks for the memories, Sean.

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  25. Gordon - February 17, 2022 5:31 pm

    Thanks for your remembrance of the “good old days” with fondness! Those were my days (born in 1951) and I truly miss them.

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  26. Linda Moon - February 17, 2022 7:24 pm

    You made me think of my granny and the time we were once together in her town at a theatre near her resting place. “Mama On The Hill” is what we grandkids called her, and her Dutch Girl Quilt is here beside me. Your daily “rants” are good for me because you know what this thing called LIFE really means, says I. So I’ll always be replying and saying in real-time or as a ghost.

    Reply
  27. MAM - February 17, 2022 7:45 pm

    The saddest thing about those days is losing the folks from those, in hindsight, wondrous days. Isn’t it wonderful that we retain mostly the good memories? I just received an obituary to post for a local WWII veteran who died at 97. He was a real character and I will miss him and all those that went before us. I have to look forward to seeing them in heaven if I make it there. Thanks as always, Sean, for bringing back the good memories. We need them these days!

    Reply
  28. Linda Redmon Willson - February 17, 2022 8:24 pm

    FYI It was also the era where you had to mail order your Hamster…unless you could coerce a friend from the big city to find a pet store, make a purchase and bring it to you….true story. I grew up in a sweet “Mayberry” town in Virginia and we were two hours from Washington, DC where the pet shops hailed. Most of my Hamsters arrived by mail order and once a Chipmunk arrived mail order too!!

    Reply
  29. Steve McCaleb - February 17, 2022 8:29 pm

    Singing crawdads ? Somebody got their mushroom varieties mixed up whilst in the cowpasture. Whoopee!

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  30. Becky+Souders - February 17, 2022 10:16 pm

    I was there, 7 years old in 1950 and it truly was a happier, safer, friendly world…. despite the cold war. Thanks again, Sean, for good memories!

    Reply
  31. AlaRedClayGirl - February 17, 2022 10:18 pm

    Loved this trip down memory lane! A scary thought: One day years from now, will our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren look back on the 2020’s and call them the “good ol’ days”?

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  32. Karen - February 17, 2022 11:59 pm

    Thank you for some wonderful memories.

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  33. Janet Gilchrist - February 18, 2022 3:12 am

    Wonderful article. I think Eisenhower was the President though. I loved this time in my childhood.

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  34. Pam Williams - February 18, 2022 8:47 pm

    Such vivid images of my era. Thoroughly enjoyed the step back in time.

    Reply
  35. Morrie K - February 21, 2022 4:04 am

    That was my Grandmommy. She lived in Thomasville from 1947-1990. She loved to walk into town from her home on Junius Street.

    Reply
  36. Anne Marie Robinson - February 22, 2022 2:36 pm

    All the memories, all those incredible people from my life. I look forward to visiting with them in heaven someday. This old world is spinning out of control . My mom awlays said to pray and than pray harder. Thank you Sean.

    Reply
  37. Anne M Robinson - February 22, 2022 2:37 pm

    my 2 blogs are mixed up. SO one blog comment prints here, the other does not. Thanks for your stories. They are appreciated.

    Reply
  38. Johnny Bracey - February 23, 2022 5:15 pm

    Thank you Sean. It has been a pleasure to live here all of my 73 years. I wish I had known you were here, but I am one of the 96% that no longer take the newspaper. I enjoy your daily blog and your books. Thomasville is truly “A Place Apart”

    Reply

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