My hometown, Geneva, Alabama at one time listed its official population as 5,000 people. However, I think this was a little bit of a stretch. Okay, if you counted the farmers and their families that lived beyond the fringe of the city limits…and a few of their cows, too, you might scrounge up 5,000. But it was still a lot like Mayberry. The county was dry (no alcohol) and yet there was at least one town drunk, maybe more. There were a few kooks and a few ambitious souls and a lot of hard-working people, but not all. We had some who seemed to have an aversion to work and the rest of us shook our heads when we spoke of them. Women didn’t work outside the home except as schoolteachers and nurses. Mostly the dads worked and the mothers stayed home with the children.
I remember three soda fountain drug stores that could all have been the set for a 50’s movie. We had a department store, a dime store, a couple of banks, and a municipal library that even then was a cherished antique and was run by another cherished antique named Miss Rebekah. There was no movie theatre but there were two drive-in movies within a few miles. If you haven’t ever had the drive-in movie experience, it is the best! You don’t have to get out of your car (except to go to the concession stand.) You can bed the kids down in the back seat if you’d like and watch a not-too-current movie on a huge screen that you listen to through a shot speaker that hangs on the driver’s side window. All for just a couple of bucks. You can bring lawn chairs and sit out on the grass if you want. Hey, you can even bring in your own food!
On Saturdays once a month, everybody came to town for the Silver Saturday ticket drawing. The ticket stubs were given to patrons of the town’s businesses when they purchased something and on those Saturdays, the mayor would draw out and announce numbers that corresponded with numbers on the stubs held by said patrons. The winners would claim a wide array of valuable prizes. It was the place to be.
All children attended the public schools and the whole town supported the high school sporting events. On Friday afternoons of a home football game, there was a parade down Main Street. The band and the cheerleaders marched through town after school to invite the citizens to that night’s game. It wasn’t necessary though. Everybody came to the football game anyway because that’s what we did.
There were a half dozen churches in the town, all Protestant in those days, and everybody identified with one of them in some way, even though not everybody attended regularly or had his name on a roll. When one church had a big event, we all went to it. Vacation Bible Schools at the various churches were deliberately not run simultaneously so that us kids could attend them all. Before each summer was over I had attended at least three VBS’s, maybe four. If there was a revival, a youth activities week, an oyster shucking, or a pancake supper at any one of the churches, we all attended. That’s just what we did.
The schools and the churches cooperated, too. No school events were ever planned on Wednesday nights or on Sundays. Ever. And the proms, the Christmas dances, and the football banquets were always on Friday nights so that the attendees, kids and chaperones, could have a day to recuperate. There were no excuses, at least none precipitated by the school board, for missing church on Sunday.
Geneva was truly a great place to grow up. We were 60 miles from the world’s most beautiful beaches on the Emerald Coast of the Gulf of Mexico. We were also in the center of a booming agricultural area that produced everything from peanuts, to cotton, to fruits and vegetables that grew almost year ‘round. If you didn’t have a garden in your back yard, there was someone you knew who did and they would shower you with vine ripened tomatoes, peas, butter beans, corn, collard greens, whatever you wanted. And what you couldn’t eat immediately you could freeze or can for use in the off-season. A great place to live and grow up! No doubt.
At some point, however, I began to wonder what else was out there.