July 13, 1995
Two of our favorite relatives spent a few days here recently and our morale has been more than just a little bit higher ever since. They are that kind of people. They make you feel good about yourself and the world in general just by being around them. I will do a column all about them one day, but today's words of wisdom relate to some of the things we did while they were here.
"They" are my niece, Sydney Jean Flynn, and her husband, Vince. The Flynns have been teachers in American schools abroad for something like 25 years. For the past five years they have been in Karachi, Pakistan, and they have signed a contract to return there later this summer for one more year. Sydney is the daughter of my sister, Jeanice, and her husband, Syd Wade, both now deceased. Sydney Jean did part of her growing up in Perry before, during and after World War II and she has many fond recollections of this place.
Laura and I look forward to Sydney and Vince's visit each summer, because they bring back nostalgia time. She remembers a brief spell in the late 1930s when she and her mother visited here while the Beers family lived upstairs over the City Drug Store, where the Cherokee Strip Antique Mall is I now located. Sydney loves seeking out people and places from her past and its fun for us to help her find them.
At her request, we made a special effort this summer to visit the second story of the Palmer & Smelser building on the north side of the square. Roy Kendrick, who operates the Cherokee Strip Mall on the ground floor there, more than welcomed us. He closed the mall, unrolled an extension cord at least 100 feet long with a lamp attached to one end, and led us personally into the dark recesses of that upper story, exploring it room by room. It was a revealing adventure for him.
Our living quarters were on the north side of the building, and that was in the days before air-conditioning was available. Lacking any south breeze, we had 12-inch oscillating electric fans sitting on small tables, on our Majestic radio console, or on the floor in every room. There were four bedrooms, a living room, dining room, kitchen and one bathroom, which our family shared with all the other "upstairs" occupants.
On the south side, eight large arched windows (now sealed) looked out on the old sand stone post office building and the lush green courthouse park. Those renting south side rooms or office suites kept their windows open all day during the summer months. Charlie Dunshee and his father had a two-room apartment in the southeast corner. Charlie worked in Gay Marcy's New & Used Furniture Store. Various bachelors, including Wilbur Weldon, Freeman Jones and Wayne McIntyre, shared another two-room apartment next to the Dunshees from time to time. All three worked as grocery clerks at different stores around the square, and all three caught the eyes of numerous young local maidens. Next to the bachelor pad was Dr. J. W. Francis' office suite, consisting of four rooms. Doctor's office staff included a paid receptionist/nurse and Jack Stone, an unpaid volunteer who answered the phone, read all the newspapers and magazines, tuned the radio to any available ball game, and greeted patients when the receptionist was busy assisting Dr. Francis.
Our family, across the hall on the north side, consisted of Mother, Cousin Fred, my sister Gloria, and me. When Jeanice and Sydney Jean came to visit from their home in Oklahoma City, where Syd was a police officer, that made six of us. Another apartment at the east end of the hall was a one-room efficiency, and it had various occupants through the years. Syd Wade and his dad, Leigh, once lived there, before Syd and Jeanice were married. Mr. Wade sold tickets at the Annex Movie Theater box office and Syd was a partner with Bailey Render in a Texaco station on south Seventh street, where the YMCA parking lot is now located. Their motto was "Wade In and We Render You Service." Syd also played trombone in some dance bands with Ashley Alexander and others on weekends from time to time. Jesse and Fredonna Eisenhauer made their home in that snug little apartment at one time, also.
I keep thinking about those folks, and the fact that ALL of us shared just one bathroom. It is hard to believe now, but that's the way it was.
At the west end of the hall was another collection of offices and sleeping rooms. These were located over the old Bank of Commerce, which later became the Oklahoma Tire & Supply (OTASCO) store, until it burned down. In the 1930s those rooms were occupied by attorney H. A. Johnson on the south front, and for a few years Leo and Helen Robinson, operators of the Temple Lunch and Unk's Barbecue, lived in an apartment on the west front with their son, Tommy, one of my classmates at Perry high school. Those folks also shared a single bathroom on their side of the building. I think we all had an understanding that if one bathroom was occupied during an emergency, we were free to check out the other. We also shared a common stairway which opened onto the Delaware street sidewalk, between A. C. Lamb's Jewelry Store and J. M. Taylor's insurance agency in the old bank building.
The walls in our rooms were plaster. When we moved up there in the mid-1930s, most of the family helped with the decorating by daubing the walls with sponges dampened with a paint solution that contrasted with the color of the previously applied base coat. Amazingly, the walls are still pretty much like we left them more than 55 years ago, and they don't look too bad. Ceilings in all the rooms were at least 10 feet high, and most of the corridor doors had glass transoms (which still work). For the most part, the baroque, dark-stained woodwork is intact and as ornamental as it was before we moved in about 60 years ago. Everything needs a good cleaning, but all the windows have been sealed for years so the layer of dust is really surprisingly thin. All the furnishings have been removed and there is only a small clutter of junk here and there. It would take some renovating, but the place could be a perfect bed and breakfast location one day.
Touring that vast upstairs expanse was really a trip back in time for Sydney and me, although she was too young back then to have a very vivid memory of it today, but those accompanying us on the sentimental expedition seemed to be as interested as we were. It took me back to an interesting and innocent time, one that remains fresh and very real after all these years. Thanks to Sydney for coming back to Perry now and then to remind us of those days. We'll continue this story at a later date.