December 28, 2020 - It happened in my hometown of Center, Texas in 1939. I was six years old and had just enrolled in Miss Stanley’s First Grade Class. Mother asked me to go downtown (all by myself) to “ask for our mail” at the Post Office and to buy her a can of baking powder. It would be my first time to go to town alone.
So there I went… red-headed, freckle-faced, barefooted… (and nervous) on a day I’d never forget. Mother said, “Just walk up to the window at the Post Office and ask them if there’s any mail for J. H. Fincher.” Mrs. Leim thumbed through a handful of envelopes and handed me one with “Mr. and Mrs. J. H. Fincher, General Delivery, Center Texas” written on it.
My next stop was at Winkie Warr’s Grocery where I successfully purchased a can of Clabber Girl baking powder. Bursting with excitement over my accomplishments, I began sprinting gingerly toward home… past the Rio Theatre and L. C Smith’s Hardware Store. When I stopped in front of Jess and Bob’s Café, I spotted my Uncle Travis Watson at the door.
“Henry, do you want a “sodie water?” he asked. Since I’d never drunk one before, I quickly followed him to the coke box, plunged my hand into the icy water and came up with a small green bottle marked “7 Up.” After one swallow, I began coughing, tears ran down my face and a burst of CO2 fumed from my nose. I finally regained my composure, sipped the rest of the bottle and headed home to tell Mother.
Years ago in August of 2016 Pam and I drove around the Center Square to see how it had changed over the past 77 years. Naturally, Winkie Warr’s Grocery, L.C. Smith’s Hardware and Jess and Bob’s Cafe were many years gone… but to our utter amazement, the Rio Theatre was open and looked exactly like it did when I was a First-grader. I told Pam that I’d get out and walk around the square again if I still had my 6-year-old sense of wonder.
Center’s town Square has definitely changed but my memories of it have not… especially the day Mother let me go there…
… all by myself.