September 12, 2000
An unexpected bit of correspondence the other day evoked another one of those waves of nostalgia, conjuring up names and remembered faces from an almost forgotten era in this little city. We were all several decades younger then and our day to day concerns were different. They seemed important at the time, but as we know now, they were mere speed bumps on the road to what we have become today.
The writer was a former Perry resident, Elfreda Kerr Wells, now of Stillwater, whose family lived here in the 1930s and early 1940s. Her father, James C. Kerr, was the Dodge and Plymouth automobile dealer here at that time. His showroom and shop were on "automobile row,” the stretch of Sixth street between Fir avenue and Delaware where several other car dealerships were located. The Kerr family lived in the 700 block of Locust street, but Elfreda spent a lot of time at our house at Eighth and Elm. She and my older sister, Jeanice, were close friends. Many of their contemporaries at Perry high school hung out at our house after school hours or in the evenings when none of them had the price of admission to the Roxy or Annex Movie Theater. As the curious little kid of that time, I ate a lot of their fudge, listened carefully to their banter and came to feel I was almost one of them, although I was far from it. Anyway, their names and personalities became familiar and I remember nearly all of them. I'll bet many of you do, too.
“What fun we had," Elfreda writes, "I remember when the Wade family came to town. They lived upstairs on the square. They played music with bells and I was fascinated. I remember Sydney and Prudye (the Wades' son and daughter) the most. Sydney was a hunk. Our whole gang of girls were out to get him. Alas! Jeanice won. We were all very jealous. Our gang consisted of Jeanice, Dorothy Davis, Genevieve Samuelson, Gov. Johnston's daughter (Gertrude), Ethel Maurice Gottlieb, Rosemary McEwen and Frances Baer. We wound the Maypoles as 'Red Hots' pep squad members, and we proudly marched around the square on Friday nights before a Saturday afternoon football game. Our crushes were Ralph Foster Jr., Bill and Denver Dearborn, Billy Elliott, Herbert Hirschman, Pete Cutsinger, Ezra Klinglesmith, and more.
"We girls had slumber parties. We got up at 4 a.m. and walked to town, following the scent of freshly baked doughnuts, bought a bunch and hiked to the Country Club to eat breakfast and swim. Some of the guys were aware of this. Need I say more? I took dancing lessons and Ashley Alexander played piano for my recital. Bobby Donaldson and I did some radio commercials from an Enid radio station. Our moms drove us over there."
Elfreda's letter is fascinating in the details she recalls. In the portion quoted above, she discussed the Wade family. They included Mom and Pop Wade, Leigh and Gussie, and their children, Sydney and Prudye. Syd married my sister Jeanice and Prudye at one time was married to Frank Marshall. The family had been Swiss bell ringers with the 101 Ranch Show. While here, Pop Wade worked in the box office at the Annex Theater. Somewhat later, the family moved to Oklahoma City and Gussie was secretary to the manager of the Oklahoma Chamber of Commerce. Syd became a member of the Oklahoma City police force. While in Perry the Wades had an apartment above our family's City Drug Store on the north side of the square. I'll have more recollections from Elfreda in another column.