Glady True - Slower Times, A Vintage Vignette

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Glady True - Slower Times
A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin
May 12, 2011

Madison was typical of small Southern towns in the 1940s and the 1950s, before the Army came to the area to build Redstone Arsenal. Sometimes it seems that the depictions of life in “Mayberry” on the popular Andy Griffith TV show of past decades were perhaps inspired by Madison's ambiance of the time. It was a time of much slower pace in almost all aspects of every day activities. The “really big” news events of that time now don't seem so significant as they were then. It was in 1944 when a man who was thought to have shot someone was chased by storeowner, mayor, and pharmacist Walton “Doc” Hughes along Main Street and up Church Street. Both were firing guns at each other, a real shoot-out in our little town. That was probably the most excitement of the times back then. Nobody was hit by the gunfire, but it gave the town something to talk about for years. In fact, it was also in 1944 that a storm took the roof off of the second City Hall, a two-story wooden building located at the junction of Garner and Martin Streets, so with World War II going on, plus these events, it was an unusual year for the town. The third City Hall, now Main Street Cafe, fit the “Mayberry” format quite well. It had the jail and the firehouse housed in the same building with the city offices. Spartan functionality, not elaborate appearance, was the philosophy of those days.

Many depictions of routine life in those days are provided by Gladys McFarlen True's autobiographical book “My Life from Wagons to Rockets” (1998). Gladys was born in 1913 in Trenton, Alabama (Jackson County), where her father had a general store. She described her “early years” experience of learning to drive her father's first car, when she drove it upon the porch of her dad's store. “The cars were not made for women to drive because we all wore skirts then, and the driver’s door would not open. You just jumped over the opening and sat down on the seat. Those old men sitting on the porch were begging me to stop, sitting up on those nail kegs as I was just going right on up the porch. A T-Model car had three pedals on the floor. The left pedal made it go, the middle one was reverse, and the one on the right was the brake. I should have been pushing on the right pedal instead of the left when I went up on the porch. That car kept right on going up that porch, and I could not stop it. Daddy kept on yelling at me and begging me to stop, and those old men on those nail kegs were jumping off the porch and the nail kegs were flying everywhere! The car motor went all the way through the double doors of the store. Well, the car finally did stop, up on the porch, and it took twelve men to get it off that porch.”

“I did not try to drive any more until my first child (Eleanor Ann) was five years old. (At that time Gladys was living in Madison, where she moved in 1939.) One day I was chiding Eleanor Ann because she still could not tie her shoes. She looked me straight in the eye and said, 'Every mama in town can drive the car but you!' So I got in our car and backed it up behind the house to practice. Then I backed up and down the driveway until I felt confident I could drive.”

Back in Trenton, neighboring Dr. Vandiver used his car to make house calls when he could, but his wife couldn't drive her own car. Frequently the doctor had to ride a horse in the mountains rather than taking his car. Some stored motor oil caught on fire in his garage while he was gone on the horse. Mrs. Vandiver backed both of their cars out without any trouble. It became a standing joke that she could not drive a car unless she was excited, according to Gladys' account.

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