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.
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.