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January 27, 2004

Growing up in downtown Perry during the 1930s was an unforgettable experience. Our family was not the only one sharing apartment space during that period. Several others occupied rooms in second story locations around the square. We lived downtown because the family business, which was the City Drug Store on the north side of the square, had living space on the second floor and we could then rent our house at 8th and Elm ($35 per month, partially furnished) for additional income. The apartment gave us four bedrooms, a compact kitchen, large dining room, larger living room and a bathroom that we shared with Dr. J.W. Francis, his office staff; and at least three tenants in the other apartments. The rooms we occupied were on the north side of the building and, yes, those Depression-era summers were miserable. Our family at the time consisted of Mother, my sisters Gloria and Jeanice, my cousin Fred W. Beers, and me.

Jeanice graduated from Perry High School in the middle of that decade and was married in the fall. The rest of us worked in the drug store. Then Gloria became a waitress at the Palace Café and that left cousin Fred, Mother and me to run the business. That was OK. I was not yet a teen-ager but I already knew everything. We lived downtown until the drug store yield-ed to the Great Depression and was closed in 1940. We moved back to our house, just across the alley from Perry High School where the school now has a large concrete parking lot. But while we lived on the square folks of my age had to test their resourcefulness to find amusement. We had two movie houses to choose from and each of them changed features three times a week. That occupied a lot of time, as did the drug store, but other leisure activity also was necessary. One of my friends was Tommy Robinson, a classmate at PHS, who lived with his parents in an apartment over Bush & Joe's Smoke House, a gentleman's recreation parlor on the northeast corner of the square. Tommy and I walked to school from the square each weekday morning and we generally finished the day with a teen-age conversation in the courthouse park.

On one such occasion we discovered that neither of us had ever seen the county jail atop the courthouse. We made an inquiry about a tour the following day and Sheriff Merl Harman arranged for us to be walked through those forbidding corridors. In one grimy cell block we noticed that several inmates had left their autographs on the walls, usually adding some other piece of information. One that caught our eye was the signature of a respected Perry professional man, accused of being a public drunk. Beneath his name he wrote the name of the Ivy League school where he had graduated with honors, plus a line or so about his family's home in a fashionable Eastern community. Other names scratched on that wall were those of habitual drunks and addicts, and a few others of assorted backgrounds. But only one Ivy Leaguer, and a very highly regarded one at that. It was only one of the facts of life we discovered that summer.