It Was a Small Town

It was a proud moment when I looked at a map and found it, a small little dot north of Birmingham with the words “Tarrant City” next to it. Most maps didn’t recognize it existed. I guess there were people around that didn’t recognize it existed either. It was a small town by almost any definition of the word small. With a population of around 2,000 people, most of who knew each other, it seemed more like a large family.

But exist it did, with schools and drug stores and beauty shops full of gossip. If those beauty shop women hadn’t heard anything, they’d tell you something they THOUGHT they heard. If you wanted men gossip, you had to go to Jack’s in the morning, any morning, and just listen.

There was a quirky street sign that asked you to be “Quiet please. Sickness in block”. That sign was up my entire childhood and through my college years. For all I know, that poor soul is still suffering just beyond the top of Mountain Drive.

It was just a working class town, full of mechanics, firemen, policemen, teachers, truck drivers, plumbers, and preachers. Heaven above did we have the preachers, and we had a church for every one of them. I’ve never seen the number, but I’d guess Tarrant had more churches per capita than any town of any size in the state. The Methodists pretty much just went to Rock Methodist, or The Rock, as it was called. There was a Methodist Church on Ford Avenue, I think, but I don’t know anyone that went there. From that location, though, they were probably in and out of the Tarrant Coffee Shop before any other congregation adjourned. The Baptists, as Baptists do, couldn’t agree on much so there was First Baptist, Central Baptist, Boyles Baptist, Mt. Calvary Baptist, Springdale Baptist, the brick one on Jackson Street at Jefferson Boulevard – Plainview maybe, the one over near Fulton Avenue with the bells that played on the hour, and probably some others that I’m forgetting. There was a Church of Christ and a Church of God, but I don’t guess I met a Catholic until I went to college.

Anybody from Tarrant can tell you where they were when the tank exploded. I was in Mrs. Burchfield’s 8th grade class, sitting across from Keith with my back to the window. Keith was wearing a crimson Alabama jacket and, when the tank that held excess gas produced at the ABC Coke plant exploded, his face turned as deep red as his jacket. That’s where I was when the tanked exploded. Incidentally, it was that same year that painters were painting the outside of the school. A painter tried to toss a roller up to his partner, who was at the top of the ladder. The guy on the ground must have been a terrible aim because, instead of getting the roller up to his partner, he threw it through the window of Miss Layton’s second floor classroom. The window pane shattered and scared us to death. I think a piece of glass cut Stacey’s arm, but we weren’t a litigious lot. She just put a band-aid over the cut and that was the end of that, at least as far as I could tell. I’m sure Mr. Graham, the principal, had a few suggestions for the painters. He was a good man, Mr. Graham.

Friday nights in the late summer and fall were for high school football and, in Tarrant, it was an experience unlike most others.

Our football stadium, and I’m using the term “stadium” loosely here, was surrounded by neighborhoods. We would park at my grandmother’s house on Hanover Street and walk to the stadium, passing the Horton’s house where my dad played as a kid, Uncle Billy and Aunt Dean’s house where my dad fought with his cousin Bobby as a kid, and a host of other houses where we’d stop and talk along the way.

Once inside the stadium, well, that’s where this post really starts.

After the teams warmed up, the band – the Tarrant Blue Regiment – would march from the south end of the field to the north end. Tradition, I guess, dictated that the drum major would lead the way – blowing a whistle on the one and the two, with the drums adding some funky beat on every fourth count (that may not be the right terms, I don’t know music). Behind the drum major marched the majorettes. That’s where I focused. Marching with their batons and wearing swimsuits made of blue, white and gold sequins that shimmered under the stadium lights. I know more about music than I know about women but, as a 12-year-old boy, I didn’t see how it could get much better than that.

The order of the program didn’t change much through my high school years. Once the band took their place in the stands, one of the town’s preachers would lead to audience in the invocation. After that, the band would play the national anthem and then, for good measure, the team would kneel and say The Lord’s Prayer together. You could tell a person’s denomination by whether they said “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever” or “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever AND ever”. It seemed the Methodists were content with leaving it at “forever” while the Baptists added “and ever” for a little extra emphasis.

After The Lord’s Prayer, the final item on the pre-game agenda was for the team to run through a giant paper sign that the cheerleaders made. To this day, one of my favorite high school sports traditions. I like a good paper sign with a witty saying. Anyway, hours of cheerleader work decimated in a matter of seconds.

As a player, your attention is supposed to be on the game, but there was a show going on behind us in the stands. Hollywood’s dad brought an airhorn to the game and, whenever our team made a play – or needed to make a play – Mr. McGraw would blow the horn.

HONNNNNNNNNNNNNNK!

It would’ve been okay with me if he blew the thing a little more, but I’m sure those people around him disagree with me.

My granddad came to a lot of the games. If my brother or I ever made a play, he’d stand up and yell “that’s my grandson!” Once, I tossed the ball to Quinton, who made a nice run. My granddad stood up and yelled “that’s my grandson!” Bud from the hardware store said, “CT, that was Quinton.” Undeterred PawPaw just said, “well, he’s my grandson, too!” And that’s how every player on our team became CT Labore’s grandson.

Aside from the personalities in the stands, I don’t suppose the actual game was much different from the one playing out at high schools across the country. Coaches coaching, players playing, cheerleaders cheering, fans fanning, band banding.

One thing that I remember, in this time of kneeling during the National Anthem, was the lowering of the flag at the end of the third quarter.

Immediately after time expired for the third quarter, before teams switched sides of the field and held up 4 fingers, before bands geared up for the home stretch with their school’s fight song, everyone would stand, remove their hats or their helmets, and face the flag. Even the kids playing smear in area beyond the south end zone would stop, for a moment, stand still, and watch.

Then, as a lone trumpeter played Taps, someone would slowly lower the flag. As the music haunted the stadium, you could’ve heard a pin drop.

It was a special time. Right there in the middle of second half hysteria, we took a moment to stop and remember. Nowadays – and even then at a few schools we visited – we just go home at the end of the game with Old Glory still flying.

I know that times change and old ways get replaced, but I think we’re losing something when we don’t pause to lower the flag.

As the trumpeter finished and the flag was safely lowered without touching the ground, Mr. McGraw would blast the air horn and the band would strike up the Tarrant fight song, and so the fourth quarter would begin.

It was a small town. It was home. I suppose, in a lot of ways, it still is.

27 thoughts on “It Was a Small Town”

  1. And this is why Tarrant was the greatest place a kid could grow up. Jammy those Friday nights were the same for over 50 years.

  2. Jammy, you nailed it! Those were great days and are now great memories. And, yes, Tarrant is still “home.”

  3. I miss that place and that time. And all those people. I’m so glad I got to grow up there. You said it very well.

  4. Oh my! I just love this and a wonderful job of describing our sweet wonderful community we were so fortunate and blessed to have grown up in. Thank you!

    1. This is also true of many small towns in our great country, especially in Alabama. My family lived in little Hanceville, Alabama until I was 18. It’s so much fun to go back and sit in the Hanceville drug store, which still has the stools at the counter that we liked to sit at after school. We would order a coke float or icee. Such a simple Happy life. 🤗❤️

  5. Fantastic reading, and oh so true. The names changed over the years, but basically it was always the same story. That is the way it was in our hometown, Tarrant. Loved it. Thank you Jammy.

  6. What a great place to grow up. So many wonderful memories! This article brought back a lot of those memories! Love it!

  7. This put me right back to the 70,s and 80,s what a wonderful time and friends made for life. Thanks for sharing. THS Wildcat 4ever! 💕 🏈 float decorations parades and the town was the best kept secret.

  8. Mr. Erwin:

    Great article, but you should have wrote something about that old practice field! I always enjoyed getting tackled onto rocks and old pieces of glass and metal embedded in the dirt. I guess it made us all tough! I reckon you still have plenty of untapped material for future posts.

  9. Jammy, what precious memorial you bring back to mind. I loved every minute of you and Buddy’s growing up years in Tarrant. We made a lot of sweet, sweet friends during these years. I wish we could stayed there and our grandchildren could have grown up there.

  10. Jammy: we moved to Tarrant in the late 50’s and I started 1st grade in 1958. Graduated THS in 1970. Married, but moved back to Tarrant with my little family in 1978. We left in 1985 but I will never, ever forget the things you describe here; wonderdul life, wonderful memories. Thanks.

  11. Jammy, great discription of Tarrant. My dad’s family grew up there and when I started teaching there in’79, it was like Mayberry. I loved the traditions and stayed 29 years. I have to correct one memory, though. You and Keith were in my room(math) when the painter threw something that broke the window. You two were closest to the window as was my desk. I ran,too, but I have never seen two students come across desks as fast as you two. It was scary but I think we laughed about it later.(or at least I did, remembering how fast you two flew across the desks)

    1. You are correct, it was your classroom. Pre-algebra. I thought that the tank exploded again, only big enough this time to break the window. I’ve edited this story a hundred times today. I had Mr. Burchfield as the TMS principal and my dad living next door to Mike Brand at 6AM today. I’m all out of edit energy today! Good to hear from you. I hope you’re well.

  12. Oh my gosh! What years? My mom and dad grew up in Tarrant. I went to plainview Baptist church as a young child. When we moved to Huntsville , I spent my summers in Tarrant. Do you remember Mr. Reid’s rolling store. That was my papaw. I have so many wonderful memories of that little town!!

    1. I lived 4 doors down from your Pawpaw. Spent a lot of time with him during the 60’s. He was a fine, fine man’ I used to do a little impersonation of him, certainly not to mock him, but out of remembering him. Wish I could walk through the old bus one more time and buy a banana.

  13. Tarrant City was a great place to grow up and live. Both of my parents graduated from Jefferson County High School, later to become Tarrant High School, my alma mater. I will say to the writer that he missed knowing a lot of good people, because he wrote that he never knew anyone who went to Tarrant First Methodist Church; we had a large congregation of fine people. I do not believe that I could have chosen a better hometown than T.C.

  14. WOW! What precious, priceless memories you sooooo thoughtfully and respectfully helped use easily walk down memory lane. I taught at the elementary school for 13 years, and I would do it all over again.
    Thanks‼️ You did good!!

  15. Thank you so much for this walk down memory lane. What a great place to have had the honor of growing up there. My friends for life. Proud to be a Tarrant City Wilcat.

  16. Such a lovely read this morning! Takes me back to a place where my heart belongs and my body longs for. I haven’t found a place that feels like home yet. The memories of Tarrant, the streets, the stores, the schools and, oh so many people, who each lended a helping hand to make me who I am today, will never be forgotten. Thanks for sharing. The world needs a little bit of Tarrant City everyday, even if it’s just a memory!

  17. awesome memories. Gosh there is still so much we did when we were growing up. Remember Halloween at the Rec Center. EXCELLENT. Kids covered the streets,going house 2 house 4 candy. So many hours we put into the floats 4 Homecoming. EPIC times man.can’t remember how many times i played games at JackPot. Richardson Hsrdware is still open and doing good. Chris O’rear’s oldest son works there……..Talk about a 1986 flash back. lol he looks just like his dad.Anyway, you got alot of memories going now so thanks Jammy…..Tarrant will always be my home. 🙂

  18. Brings back great memories! Everyone knew each other. Loved how everyone came to the football games whether your child played or not. Kids would walk to school, ride your bikes, play king of the hill. We were always playing outside. Miss the way it was.

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