The News In Gay: My Best Summer Internship EVER

There’s been talk this week about giving your kids a 1970s summer. It got me thinking about those days of playing outside, drinking from the hose, watching reruns and soaps on TV, heating up a can of Spaghettios on the stove for lunch, then maybe wandering across the pasture to the creek and playing until Mom honked the horn on the Ford LTD when she got home from work. HEAVEN, right?

I am the baby of my family, so there were a couple of summers right around 1979-1980 when I was the only kid who still needed to be watched when school let out for the summer. My brother, Joe, spent all day with Daddy going on veterinary calls and my sister, Gay, sold peaches at a roadside stand. We didn’t have summer camps and all those ACTIVITIES back then. Maybe a week at Vacation Bible School–maybe two if you had cousins who went to another church. There might be some swimming lessons at the community pool, but that was it.

So I lucked out and got to spend weekdays every summer with Grandmama Eunice. Grandmama Eunice lived in an old white farmhouse about halfway between Gay and Greenville, right up the road from Jack Findley’s store. Mom dropped me off on her way to work at the DFCS office in Greenville. The screen door smacked behind me as I stepped into the wonderland that was Grandmama’s house.

It was HOT. Even though she had a big airy bedroom with purple velvet curtains and a vanity table, Grandmama slept in the dining room during the summer. It was the easiest room to cool with one window unit air conditioner, so she had a little cot in the corner next to the kitchen wall. She had her TV on a rolling cart, her big black telephone perched on the corner of the dining table, her makeup mirror on the corner of the mantle.

I sat on the scratchy carpet and turned the TV on while she made me a hot breakfast the likes of which you normally only saw on Christmas morning. Biscuits, grits, scrambled eggs, sausages. She’d scrape up that sausage grease and put it in a coffee can on the back of the stove. That TV was tricky. The sound came through right away, but some days it took a while for the picture tube to warm up. Price Is Right came on at 10, so I turned the TV on before 8 a.m. when I got there, in hopes that we’d be able to watch Bob Barker. It was OK to listen to the news with no picture, and the Rozelle show out of Columbus was OK, but we needed to SEE the Price Is Right to make our guesses.

phoneMid-morning, Grandmama’s phone would start to ring. She had the COOLEST little job ever and I observed the mystery of it like a novice nun. Grandmama Eunice wrote a weekly column in the little county paper, the Meriwether Vindicator. Her column was called “News In Gay” and it ran every week under her by-line and a picture of her with perfectly coiffed black curls and Sunday best lipstick. She kept a yellow legal pad and an “ink pen” next to that heavy black rotary phone on the corner of the dining room table. When people called with a bit of news, she would jot down some notes as they talked. The “News In Gay” covered everything from who put the flowers in the First Baptist vestibule that week, who was in the hospital and who was recovering at home, who had driven over to Newnan to have dinner at Red Lobster with their daughter and her new husband, a dentist. Who had extra tomatoes for sale, who hosted the Methodist Women’s Union, who was having a milestone birthday. My grandmother decided whose name GOT IN THE
PAPER. That was a huge deal from where I sat, right there on the carpet waiting for Bob Barker.

In the afternoons, we would get in Grandmama Eunice’s baby blue Mercury Cougar and toodle around doing errands. She’d stop at Jack Findley’s and let me get a cold drink from the metal cooler with the sliding door on top. We’d drive over to Woodbury and pay the gas bill, or maybe go to visit a shut-in. Everywhere we went, people told her their stories for the paper. It was mostly good news, things they wanted to share.

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As best I recall, the Vindicator came out on Fridays, so on Thursday mornings, Grandmama would sit down at the table and turn her notes into her column for the week. In her beautiful Palmer script, she wrote out each tidbit longhand, with a blank line between each story. I wish I had some of those old columns. I searched on-line and the Vindicator only has digital archives back to 2002. Her language turned those ordinary events into NEWS. “The patriotic red, white and blue flowers on the altar at First Baptist Church were given by Mr. and Mrs. Lee Nash in memory of his great uncle, Mr. Hiram Nash.” “Please pray for Miss Willie Fish, who is recuperating at home after surgery.” “Vacation Bible School will be held June 3 – 7 from 8 a.m. – 12 noon each day at First Methodist Church in Greenville. All school-age children are welcome to participate.”

She used words to build community. I think I fell in love with writing on those hot summer days, traveling beside her as she gathered the news. Watching her turn everyday life into something special.

26 thoughts on “The News In Gay: My Best Summer Internship EVER

  1. Mike

    Such a rich and wonderfully evocative journey back to summer, friend. Just the kind of “News in Gay” that makes me feel like summer is finally here. There was nothing like being in the one room at my grandparents’ house that was cooled by their window unit A/C. Reading your words here, I can feel those June afternoons in their big antique upholstered rocker sitting directly in the streaming hum of that freshly chilled air with a new book my grandmother and I had strolled up to the square in Decatur to get. Those were some special days (in my case, a huge foundation under my love of reading). Thanks for conjuring them on this rather more trying summer workday so many years later–I needed that stroll back into my growing-up today.

    Reply
    1. Baddest Mother Ever Post author

      Thank YOU, my darlingest friend, for the idea. You always know how to push me in the right direction. I love you.

      Reply
  2. Susie

    When we first moved to Oconee county the Oconee Enterprise had those wonderful weekly columns from each little town & community. One of my home health patients wrote the one for Antioch & she took it as seriously as if she was writing for the AP! I don’t know when they were phased out, but I sure miss them!

    Reply
    1. Baddest Mother Ever Post author

      Yes! There were 3 or 4 in the Vindicator from all the little towns in the county.

      Reply
  3. Michele

    Oh this is a wonderful story. You made me feel like I was back home in a GA summer–we had two rooms cooled by a unit AC–my parent’s bed room where dad slept after working the graveyard shift and the den, where the TV was.

    I LOVE your story about news in Gay. Small town newspapers, even today, are such treasures. My daughter often helps me out with Cheese Grits, my column in our local, weekly newspaper. It’s been the thing that keeps me writing every week. Deadlines help.

    Reply
      1. Michele

        I think we have a readership of about– two–. But it’s funny when someone suddenly discovers that I am the person who writes that column they’ve been reading every week. 😉

      2. Baddest Mother Ever Post author

        HA! I got a note from a reader who spotted the kids and me at Trader Joe’s…that’ll make you think when someone you don’t know knows YOU!

  4. Lori Lee Bennett

    Ashley, thank you for reminding me of summer. I spent every summer in Manchester with my Nannie. Swimming lessons, summer reading programs, farmer’s market to get lunchtime vegetables, soap operas, VBS, free swimming time. My Nannie treated me like a queen. If I could go back in time, I’d spend a summer day with her.

    Reply
    1. Baddest Mother Ever Post author

      I’m so glad you saw this, Lori Lee! I was going to use your mother’s name in one of those “stories” about VBS, but I couldn’t remember if y’all went to Baptist or Methodist!

      Reply
  5. Annette Mitchell

    I love this. I also loved my Aunt Eunice. She was beautiful, kind and deeply religious. I miss her. Thanks for taking me back in time.

    Reply
  6. Susie Cooke Byce

    Lori Lee called me (from Florida) early this morning before I finished eating breakfast to tell me about today’s blog. It was an emotional call because what you had written threw her smack dab in her grandmother’s apartment in Manchester. I think maybe she and her Little Nannie had just gotten back from swimming lessons and had fresh peas plus other vegetables because goodness knows Lori Lee never got enough fresh vegetables! She said it also made her think how important it is for Max and Morgan to have their Greenville time. (You write in such a way that I could hear Bob Barker’s voice and could see the spaghettios and the metal drink box….keep writing, girl.)

    Reply
    1. Baddest Mother Ever Post author

      I think she mixed bacon and sausage grease in the can. Grease was grease and it sure made eggs taste good!

      Reply
  7. Marian Love

    I read this to Gene. He loved it. He said that he could see all of this in his minds eye. He asked me to write and tell you that he really enjoyed it. He remembers your family. Thanks for taking us back to those memorable days. Marian Love

    Reply
  8. tanyadiva

    My summer in 1979 involved the roller rink, my first cigarette and listening to a lot of The Cars.
    I would do it all again tomorrow if I could!

    Reply
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  10. Paul Moss

    Ashley, thank you for reminding me of many summers and time spent in Gay. My grandparents owned both Moss Antiques and the small gas station that was in Gay. I remember going to VBS at the Baptist Church in Gay. I also remember meeting several wrestlers that traveled through Gay on their way to Columbus for their Saturday night matches. Hope that your family is doing well. Thanks again.

    Reply
    1. Baddest Mother Ever Post author

      Hey, Paul! I think everyone owned that gas station at one time or another–my Pop owned it in the 60’s! I remember looking in the window of y’all’s antique store at this fantastic bed with a wooden canopy lined in gold tufted velvet. It was the prettiest piece of furniture I had ever seen.

      Reply

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