I grew up like the Reverend Billy Graham, who would say, “I did not know I was poor back then until someone told me that I was poor.” The country was still in the Great Depression throughout the 1930s, and we weren’t the only family that faced hardship. And there was a perk to being from “the other side of the tracks:” I was privileged to receive a real treat every Saturday morning – for I was a member of The Mayor’s Club.
The mayor was a pretty important person in our little town of about 6,000 people. His job was full time. He was in charge of the police and fire departments, the tax collection department, the water works and all other facets of the city’s operation. He was very proud of what he often referred to as “our wonderful little town.”
There were no special requirements for membership. All one had to do was to show up at the city hall at about 8 o’clock on Saturday morning and go to the top floor by elevator which was the jail area. There was a large meeting room where the boys where greeted by “His Honor, the Mayor, A.V. Edwards.” This is the way we all greeted him, and he seemed to appreciate it.
First off, “His Honor” would make a short talk about things that should be important to young boys. We would then go to the empty rooms (cells) in the jail area and remove our clothes for the purpose of taking a shower. It was the same shower room used by those men who were in jail for some reason or other. A few times there would be one or two “jailbirds” as we called them, taking their showers while we were there as the mayor’s guests. We struck up conversations with them. They seemed to enjoy having someone to talk with.
After our shower, we would dress and return to the meeting room where we spent some time learning to know one another better. Soon, a giant of a black man came from the kitchen that was just off of the meeting room with a large tray loaded with cinnamon buns, doughnuts, cookies, orange juice, cold drinks and whatever else the mayor had asked the bakery, food stores and others to provide for the meeting with his boys.
He was good at getting things for us to eat and drink. We would eat, talk to one another and cut up a bit until the mayor called for our attention, made another little talk, offered up a prayer and gave each one of us a ticket to the State Theater where most of us would stay all day watching the serials, a cowboy movie and the advertisements that went with them.
This was one of my boyhood loves. Most of us could hardly wait until we got to the movie. We called them “shoot ‘em ups.” We stayed most of the day and watched everything two or three times. By the time I left the theater, I had pretty well memorized the dialogue, which I would repeat to any of the boys in our neighborhood that had not gone to the Saturday movie and enjoyed the privileges of the Mayor’s Club.
We boys in the neighborhood would repeat many of the things we saw and learned at the movie as we went about playing “Cowboys and Indians.” My favorite cowboys were Hopalong Cassidy, Johnny Mack Brown and Buck Jones.
I liked Lash La Rue a lot too, particularly when he would do unbelievable things with his bullwhip. He came to Hendersonville once and appeared on stage of the theater doing tricks with his bullwhip. I had an opportunity to talk with him. I saw him again in Spartanburg some years later.
Looking back today on this experience. I am grateful to have had it. I met a lot of young people who were “poor as church mice,” far poorer than I was. We laughed and talked together and many of us became fast friends over the years. Bill Ponder was a member of the group. He and I went into the Marine Corps at the same time during the Korean War. Paul Smith was another member that I liked a lot. He died at age 89.
“His Honor, Mayor Edwards” was a good man. He loved his town. He worked hard and long at his job and he cared about the plight of young people. He was one of a kind, and there has not, to my knowledge, ever been another mayor quite like him. As my grandmother would say: “When they made Al Edwards, they threw away the pattern.” He certainly made a lasting impression on me.