Family Memories

For several years Bette's "Family Memories" columns were published regularly in The News Journal newspapers of Florence and Marion, SC. Special focus is on growing up in or around the Pee Dee area of South Carolina in the 1930's, 40's and 50's, plus or minus a generation. Some are Bette's own stories of life growing up, some are interviews she has done with others. Some are serious, some are fun, and some are just glimpses of the way life used to be in the "good old days." Here's the current issue.

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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Wedding

Florence Cotton Warehouse Fire


Ah, Christmas!

Moving Around

Mama's Cookbook

I Voted

School Sports in the 1950's

Childhood misadventures and memories of Dr. Price

Airport fun in the 1950's

Who's Your Daddy?

Saturday nights were focused on Sunday


Household Help 1940's to 1960's

Where and When are You?

Losing Your Home When Times are Hard

My Permanent Record

The Irresistable Power of Dirt

Easter Traditions, Part Two

After Supper Activities, 1950s

Where Have All Our Icons Gone?

Fifty Years and Counting

Good Old Southern Cooking

I Sure Do Miss You, Honey

Mimi's Holiday Dessert Crew

The Circus is in Town!

Ora Lee's First Taste of Iced Tea

You Can't Get There From Here


Ready When You Are?

Back From the Top of the World

Vacation Logistics in the 1950's

Childhood Pets

Altheas, Tiger Lilies and Grandfather's Beard

Huckleberry Hunting and the Forty Acre Rock

The Fifties Kid's Favorite Toy - Dirt!

Memorable Makeovers

Role Models, Mentors and Examples

The Family's First Car

Strains of Music


Spring Brings Invitations

Sewing in the Sixties

Rogers Brothers Furniture

"Little Red Caboose, Chug, Chug, Chug..."

Walking is Better Exercise

Cats, Rats and Bats

Treasure City in the 1960's

Five Servings A Day?!

Thank You

Oil Heat and Mummy-Wrapped Bricks

Spending Time With Granddaddy

The Boykin Broom Lady

Grammar School Field Trips

The "Dumb Bull"

The Pee Dee River Headless Brakeman

The Girlie Show at the Fair

Growing Up in a Railroad Town

Sunday Go to Ride

You're the Dog Lady!

The Dreadful Vocabulary Drill

Camping Out With Hobo Harry

Rolling Stores and Locker Plants

Drive-in Movies and Mosquito Coils

Wash Day

Cruising the Sky View

Duz Does Everything

My Mother's Apron

Need Some Help?

Follow the Bouncing Ball

Frank's Shot of Redeye Adventure

Loneliness, Stanley Parties and Quilting Bees

All of My Heroes Have Always been Soldiers, and Sailors, and Airmen, and Marines...

Singing in the Shower

Mother's Day Memories

Summers Were Safe in the 1950's

Shortcut Home From Turkey

Going to the Movies

1950's Dime-Store Shopping

Department Store Browsing in the 1950's

Vinegar, Hardboiled Eggs and Granddaddy's Hound Dog

Why I Love Murder Mysteries

Mimi My Ordinary Grandmother

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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Wedding

In my forty-plus years of being a church organist and pianist, I've been privileged to play for many weddings. Most were normal. But there were a few occasions when things didn't go quite as planned or rehearsed...

In the 1970's down at Parkwood Presbyterian on the Pamplico Highway, the bride was ready, the bridesmaids were ready, the flower girl and ring bearer were ready. The music was simple and elegant, mostly traditional with a few interspersed classical pieces. I had been playing softly for some minutes while friends and family of the young couple were seated by the handsome ushers. It was nearly time for me to switch gears and play the chosen piece for the mothers to be seated, when the door beside the organ opened a few inches and the pastor whispered to me. I saw a worried frown on his face.

"Keep playing, the groom's not here," he said. "I'll let you know when he gets here," he added. Okay, just a little glitch, I said to myself, flipping back to the front of my music book. But fifteen minutes later the pastor whispered again, "He's still not here, keep playing." Oh oh, he's stood her up, I thought, expecting the next message to be "Stop playing, the wedding's off."

I played to increasingly loud whispers and foot shuffling of the congregation when finally the pastor spoke through the cracked door. "He's here, we can start." I started the piece to seat the mothers, who were so ready to get this show on the road they practically ran down the aisle. Three or four measures of bridesmaid music and they were all in place too, followed by three or four measures of music for the bride. I improvised a quick musical "Amen," the much relieved wedding party took a deep breath, and the service finally got under way thirty minutes late.

At the reception I discovered what had happened. The groom lived on the wrong side of the railroad tracks at Coles Crossroads and was held up by a stopped freight train. Surely the train wouldn't be stopped long, right? Wrong. The only alternative in those days was to drive many miles around, which in hindsight would have been a good thing to do. I'm sure they all laughed about it later, but it sure wasn't funny at the time.

Several years later, I was invited to play for a more formal and lengthy wedding at Christian Assembly. The decorations were lovely, the music the bride had selected was lovely, and the wedding vows were lovely. All was perfect. Near the end of the ceremony, the bride and groom knelt at the altar to receive communion. The pastor served the elements, said a prayer of blessing, and it was time for the bride and groom to rise, turn and be introduced as a married couple to the congregation. I was poised to begin the Wedding March as soon as the pastor made the pronouncement.

The plan was for the groom to stand first, then assist the bride so she wouldn't get tangled in the train of her dress. But the groom didn't stand up. He couldn't -- he was unconscious. He had the stomach flu, had been taking medicine all day, and now he had passed out cold on the altar. While the bride leaned over him calling, "Honey, honey, what's wrong," the pastor suddenly left the platform, jogged down the aisle and out of the sanctuary. He also had the stomach flu!

I was wondering what to do when several ushers gathered around the groom and helped get him over to the front pew. A few moments later the pastor returned, apologized to the congregation and dismissed the service without the normal pronouncement. The bride sat down beside her groggy groom as some of the congregation came up to offer congratulations and sympathy at the same time. I just played a couple of old hymns while folks milled around and called it a day.

There were several other memorable weddings, like the one where the rehearsal went fine but on the day of the wedding, tall banks of flowers obscured my view of the doorway and the wedding director. I just went by my watch and began the Bridal March on the hour, but to my dismay after the first few notes I saw the bride arrive at the altar. The director had started her down the aisle when her watch said it was time. While the happy couple stood there, I gracefully wound it up and made myself a mental note: next time, synchronize the watches. Then there was the time the guest violinist lost his place in the Wedding Prayer and we had to fake it from there to the end of the piece. I don't think anybody else even noticed. We were good!

Pipe organs and grand pianos, classical music and traditional, over the years I've played many styles of wedding music on many instruments. Some ceremonies were small and simple, others long and elaborate. Some brides were easy-going, some high-strung. One wanted an R-rated love song in the middle of the wedding, which I declined to play. The pastor vetoed it too and the bride was a little miffed. When we explained that a wedding was a worship service, she said, "Really? Just play whatever, then, it doesn't matter." So I picked out all my own favorite pieces and things went really smoothly, but I skipped the reception on that one.

Now that Iím officially retired as a church musician I really don't miss playing for weddings. Still, whenever Iím invited to one I think back and smile, remembering those times when a funny thing happened on the way to the wedding...

Florence Cotton Warehouse Fire of 1948

"RUSSIA REJECTS PLAN FOR SOLVING BERLIN CRISIS," read the Florence Morning News front page headline Sunday, October 24, 1948. Directly under it in smaller letters was another headline, "$80,000 Fire Destroys ACL Cotton Platform Here."

It took me several years to find this story -- not the one about Russia and Berlin; the one about the fire. I remember that night clearly, the sight, the sounds, the smells. And the people. It was well past my bedtime when the alarm went off that night. Half of downtown Florence must have heard it. My parents hurriedly got us up and dressed and the next thing I remember, we were headed down the street toward the railroad tracks.

"The fire attracted a large crowd of people from all sections of the city," read the newspaper article. Despite the late hour hundreds of people crowded the streets, all of us drawn to see what was going on. There wasn't just a foot-traffic jam, there was a car-traffic jam too, as more and more people drove in and parked haphazardly along the streets. Some men simply left their cars or trucks in the middle of the street, jumping out and running toward the fire. Looking back, I realize they were hurrying to help the overwhelmed fire department. From the horrible glow against the night sky we knew it had to be bad, and it was.

As we got near, water hoses criss-crossed the street and we had to watch our step. Mama and Daddy each held one of us kids in a tight grip while we walked with the growing crowd of other parents and children.

The fire engine roar nearly drowned out their speech as adults tried to talk. "Wonder what started it?" "What's in there?" Then we began to smell it. The combined odors of burning cotton, rubberized roofing and wood veneer furniture created a stench. At one point, "a drum containing tar or oil exploded and was heard all over the city."

When we had gotten as close as we were permitted by police and firemen, the crowd spread out and stood assembled to watch and to pray. Now and then through gaps in buildings we'd see flames shooting into the air, but mostly we just saw a dark red glare extending upward and outward. Clouds of smoke could be seen rising in the night sky, illuminated by the glare. People shuffled around, jockeying for position and inching forward. "Can't see much," one man said, turning back to give his spot to someone else.

I don't know how long we stayed out there in the night, watching and listening and smelling. Gradually the crowd began to thin out as people returned to their homes or their cars. The next day's newspaper article began, "100 Bales of Cotton Are Burned, Weaver Furniture Co. Warehouse, Frank Key Roofing Building Lost... The cotton platform itself, about 200 by 300 feet in dimensions, was said to be almost a total loss."

On Sunday afternoon our family joined several others at the scene of the fire. Nothing much was left but pile after pile of blackened rubble. Several fire hoses were still in place, I guess in case of a flare-up. I don't know how there could have been one, considering the thousands of gallons of water poured onto the fire. We had to step around black puddles of run-off on sidewalks, ground and street as we walked closer. The smell wasn't as much of a stench now, it was more like the stink from garbage piles burning down at the city dump.

That fire was a huge loss to the City of Florence. The cotton platform was the only one of its kind in town, according to the ACL spokesman, and I have no idea if it was ever re-built.

Why did I search for this news article for several years? Other major fires had happened in town before and several more after that, but this one imprinted itself in my memory. I could remember how old I was at the time. I could still feel the coolness of the night air on my face, so I knew it had to be fall or spring. I could still see the glare of the flames in my mind, hear the fire engines and smell that horrible odor. I could still hear the word "warehouse" passed from person to person as we walked along. But I didn't know exactly what had happened and it bugged me.

So I'm glad to finally learn what did happen that night, but sorry too. My mother's house burned in 1965, also in the middle of the night. I'm not ready to write about those memories yet. A fire is a dreadful thing, whether it's a business or a house, no matter what the year.

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