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Belk: Auburn was like some other small college towns

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Belk: Auburn was like some other small college towns

Mary Belk

In the 1950’s, Auburn was like a hundred other small college towns scattered across America. Downtown was only a couple of blocks long with Johnston and Malone Bookstore on one end and Barney’s Cub Café on the other.

If you walked east starting at Toomer Drug Store looking from one side of the street to the other, you’d see Jackson’s Photo, the bowling alley, Crest 5 & 10 Store, Herbert Music, Markle’s Drugstore and the Pitts Hotel with the only elevator in town. To the west, you’d go by Bank of Auburn, then down the hill to War Eagle Theater.

Like most Southern towns, there was a Methodist, Baptist and Presbyterian Church downtown along with church suppers, bake sales and cookouts at Prather’s Lake. We had lots of fresh air and plenty of well-fed dogs and cats lazing around all over town.

Nobody was rich, but we didn’t seem to notice. Almost everyone in town who had an extra room took in a boarder.

Those post-war years were peaceful days. I was born after the Japanese surrendered to General Douglas MacArthur, so in the ‘50s, I was a pigtailed girl, unaware that there had ever been a world war. But we had just beaten the Germans and the Japanese. We had helped save Europe. There were no more gut wrenching telegrams delivered by boys on bicycles. It was a time of hope and economic growth. The student population at API in Auburn had mushroomed thanks to the GI Bill.

Back then, we thought America was the greatest country in the world. We’d invented hamburgers, hotdogs, barbecue, hot fudge sundaes and ice-cream cones. We had Cracker Jacks, Coca-Cola, root-beer floats, roller coasters and roller skates.

We dreamed up comic books, football, baseball, basketball, jukeboxes and BB guns. Fords, Chevrolets, Kellogg’s Cornflakes, Campbell’s Soup, Colgate Toothpaste, Gerber’s Baby Foods and Kleenex Tissues. We had Roy Rogers, the Lone Ranger, Superman, Miss America, Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Yankees and the World Series. There was Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, and in the funny papers Blondie and Dagwood, Pogo, Snuffy Smith, Dick Tracy and Beetle Bailey.

At API, Shug Jordan was back from the war as head football coach leading our boys into big time SEC football and a national championship after years of disappointment. There was a filling station on every downtown corner, and stately fraternity houses lined North Gay Street. We played at Felton Little Park and ate soft-serve vanilla cones at Dari-Delite. We sat at Toomer’s soda fountain watching James squeeze lemons for his famous lemonade.

Everybody who lived in Auburn back then remembers the day Jack’s Hamburgers went up across the street from Ralph Brown Draughon Library. People were anxious, thinking life would never be the same. And in a way we were right.

Auburn wasn’t perfect by any means, but as far as small college towns in the post-war years go, it was about as perfect as you can get.

Mary Belk lives in Auburn and writes a column for the Opelika-Auburn News.

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