As a teenager I was blessed to have the opportunity to be a part of life experiences that opened windows from which I could view more than my home and community. Compared to the experiences that are a part of a teenager’s life now, those we had 50 plus years ago pale in comparison. Even so, that doesn’t diminish the joy of my experiences, some of which were structured, but many were just plain fun.
The best example of a fun time is an event that took place on a chilly spring weekend in 1965. Wally Fowler’s All-Night Singing was coming to the Boutwell Auditorium in Birmingham. All the well-known Southern Gospel quartets of the time were going to be there: The Blackwood Brothers, JD Sumner and the Stamps Quartet, Hovie Lister and his group, the Chuck Wagon Gang, and The Spear Family. That is just a few of the groups who were going to be on stage, singing all night. Now that was not a gathering that I was really crazy about attending but circumstances opened up the opportunity and away I went in a green Volkswagen, driven by a speeding gray-haired lady the age of my grandmother. Two of my best friends were also along. And, yes, that “little bug” of a car was just about as full as it could handle.
This is how it all began. Earlier that year our high school English teacher and her husband built a beautiful new hotel in Hamilton. It was unique in every way, including the fact that it had both an upstairs and downstairs dining room. Oh, it was nice. The teacher was a favorite of mine. She is the one who chaperoned most of the school trips of which I was a part. When she and her husband opened up their new hotel, they had plenty of full time employees but they were in need of part time workers. Shortly before the opening she asked my friends Jane, Mack, and I to come by her room and talk with her. She wanted us to work the dining room three nights a week. She said she had already talked with our mothers and all three had agreed, as long as our grades did not suffer. She said on the nights we worked she would give us 45 minutes to do our homework before the beginning of our shift. Opportunity had knocked!
What an experience. The three of us learned more about people in the time we worked there than we had before or have since. We made $2 a night in salary plus tips. That was good pay for kids who were totally green when it came to serving food and bussing tables. There was another plus to our high-paying job: the “Pie Lady.” Annie baked pies and worked because she wanted to, not because she had to. She kept us laughing even when we made mistakes and she was always on our side, which kept us out of trouble with our boss, a German chef who had previously owned a restaurant in Huntsville. He didn’t like teenagers in general, the three of us in particular. Annie loved us and that was the best we could ask for. He needed Annie and if he had Annie, he had the three of us. She made that clear.
There is so much that could be written about our “hits and misses” as we became richer than we had ever been as far as money of our own was concerned. We truly enjoyed our job but seethed when the chef took credit for the wonderful pies that Annie made. That didn’t bother our Pie Lady one bit. She was a hoot – and she loved gospel singing. It was at her invitation that we traveled in that little green car, speeding down the highway, headed for a day of shopping and the all-night singing.
Jane, Mack and I had saved our money and we were planning on doing more than window shopping. When one makes $2 a shift, one can dream big! We left at 5 a.m. the day of the event, arriving in the Magic City in time to enjoy a delicious breakfast. Then we decided what we wanted to do first. We soon found out that our “big money” didn’t go very far in stores such as Loveman’s and Pizitz! Our best buying was done at Newberry’s Bargain Basement, but we did have lunch in the Pizitz Tea Room. By 6 p.m. we were in our seats at Boutwell Auditorium. The music was wonderful. At 3 a.m. all the singers were too hoarse to sing anymore so it was time to head back to Hamilton.
Mack offered to drive but Annie said she could get us back faster – and believe me, she could! We laughed and sang as we headed northwest. We had been up almost 24 hours but none of us were one bit sleepy. Hunger pains hit in Jasper, so we stopped at an all-night BBQ place and had a barbecue sandwich and slaw as an early breakfast. When we arrived at Annie’s, Jane and I called our mothers to report that we were back and planned to take a short nap before seeing them at church later. Mack had to go with no chance for a quick nap. He had to be at his church to play the piano. When one is 18, or any Annie’s case, when one is young at heart, a lot of sleep is not required.
As a whole, that was one of the most fun outings I ever had. I remember it every time I hear the Chuck Wagon Gang on the radio, see a Volkswagen, or hear from the two friends who were a part of the experience. Annie is no longer with us but the memories she left us with are as good as the pies she baked!