Up until I was around 65 or 70, I told people I was born at the old St. Joseph’s Hospital in downtown Savannah. Then I got around to reading my birth certificate. I was actually born May 9, 1939, at the Candler Hospital for Women on Drayton Street in Savannah. Same Mama and Daddy as I originally claimed. I have fond memories of living in downtown Savannah. I came under the category of “street urchin.” World War II was happening for most of my young life. My father worked at the Mingledorff Shipyard where they made Liberty ships.
I was around 4 or 5 I guess the night Daddy brought home a real red rubber balloon for me. About the size of a volleyball and it was a treasure. Such things as real rubber were virtually non-existent during the war. Treasure to tragedy within 24 hours: I popped the damn balloon. Real rubber was in constant demand for a street kid to make rubber guns. On rare occasion we would find a damaged and thrown-away real rubber inner tube from a bike or a car. Rubber guns? One or two sticks of wood depending on how you fashioned it. Clothes pins attached to the back of the handle. Notches in the wood barrel at the muzzle. One to several notches depending on if you had a repeating gun or a single shot. You stretched the rubber circles, cut from an inner tube, from the muzzle to the rear and held it there with the clothes pin. That was your trigger. You could get someone’s attention from as much as 10 feet away by firing that stretched giant rubber band at them.
Now you had to ascertain the hazards of shooting someone – for instance, if they were twice your size and likely to be able to outrun you. One of life’s lifelong lessons. Over time, I ran into more than one kid bigger than me with no sense of humor what so ever.
At one point we lived in an apartment house on Abercorn Street, long since torn down, right cross from Colonial Park. For you non-natives, that is the cemetery at the corner of Oglethorpe and Abercorn with the graves of some famous people like Button Gwinnett.
No fence, completely open. There was actually a children’s playground at the south end. The grave stones, some dating back to 1789, suffered for that.
There were public playgrounds across the city in those days. They would be overseen by playground supervisors hired by the city. Mrs. Oliver was that playground supervisor. A real no nonsense lady.
There was also, and still is, a fire station on that corner. We kids were totally fascinated by the giant fire trucks inside.
The guys there were very understanding and very tolerant of our little street gang. The firemen would let us street urchins go upstairs and slide down the brass pole.
Just inside the side door used for foot traffic was an old fashioned Coke box. It was like a giant red cooler full of ice with a water fountain attached. They would let us drink the ice cold water from the drink box fountain.
I have no idea if we were drinking the melted ice or what. All I know is it was a treat beyond imagination for a bunch of hot, dirty little boys.
They had cloth hoses in those days. Every time the firemen used them, they had to pull them off the truck and string them up in a tower about 30 feet in the air to let them drain and dry.
We were invited to haul a hose. Couldn’t move it. Hard work for a full grown man.
In front of the station was a very high tower with a giant bell at the top. That was the fire bell. Warned everyone that there was a fire and the trucks would be rolling out. It’s there today but sitting on a much lower stand. It is no longer functioning and serves as a memorial to yesteryear.
My home was a block from the fire station. If I heard the fire bell ringing, I knew the trucks would be moving. I would run out to the porch to catch a glimpse if they were going the other way but sometimes would get the full rush of those giant engines flying by me, lights flashing, siren screaming.
The day that I remember the most – and really only after a few years went by and I came to realize the full implication of that day – was the day that I heard the bell ringing, ran out to the curb and waited for the trucks, which never left the firehouse.
I was worried. I asked my Mom what was happening. She told me it had just been announced that World War II was over! I didn’t have to ask. I just knew that we had won. God bless America!
Another wonderful part of that community was the police station on Oglethorpe. It’s still there and being utilized for something other than a police station, I believe.
The entire building is Savannah Grey Brick along with a tower about three stories high on the southwest corner of the building. There were barred windows at the very top. I never saw the inside of it but prisoners were held there or had access.
It was kind of scary for us kids. It was also kind of sad. Not so sad that we didn’t try our best to aggravate the prisoners that hung out in the barred openings at the top. We would throw pebbles at them till we spotted that blue uniform coming around the corner and scattered.
I thought of it as a form of entertainment for those incarcerated. We learned a lot of phrases and words from them that I doubt Webster has yet to pick up.
The station has a bricked-in back yard. The cemetery is butted up against one side of that wall. There are grave stones embedded in the wall.
On the other side was the police pistol firing range. We kids could hear the popping sound of weapons being fired. We would all line up with our backs flat against the wall – didn’t want to get shot.
Fat chance. The wall is at least 10 or 12 feet high. Or maybe it looked that high if you are only 3 feet tall yourself.
We would shout at them to throw us some bullets. They would! Expended of course and nothing more than a wad of metal, but these things were bargaining tools – highly sought after trade material amongst the street kids.
There was an automotive upholstery shop in the ally at the south end of the park. We would go there and collect the vinyl scraps, which were turned into chaps and vests and belts and whatnot for the sudden emergence of real cowboys on Abercorn Street.
When the shop owner found out what we were doing with the scraps the pieces miraculously got bigger.
There were some sad days. There was the day I walked through the graveyard and found the body of a dead woodpecker, a giant one with the flaming red head. Someone had shot him with a BB gun. I took him home and buried him.
I have to confess, that was well before I got my J.C. Higgins 16-shot .22 rifle from Sears. By then we had moved to the southside and my back yard was filled with my pitiful attempts at curing hides of squirrels and rabbits.
There was the elderly couple that lived in the basement under a stairwell on Abercorn. They had a little dog, a schnauzer. She was a very old and loving little dog. We kids would stop by every opportunity to pet her and chat with the couple who always insisted that we each give the dog a treat and have a cold lemonade.
That little dog died. We found out when the lady there called us in from the street one day to inform us about the passing of their beloved pet and insisted that we participate in a wake.
I am Scotch-English and was a dyed-in-thewool Baptist at the time, so I had no idea what a wake was, but it turned out that all they wanted was for us to join them in a quiet session remembering that little dog.
Those were my first introductions to the death of a pet or the death of anything. I have been through a few pets since then. Every passing is as deeply sad as the last and I keep saying, “That is absolutely the last one! I can’t stand this anymore!”
I have two of them at home now.
Roy Hubbard is a retired Green Beret and environmentalist who lives in South Bryan. He wrote this at our request.