Saturday Night Live!
By Bill Shepard
Just when I think I have written all there is to write about Darlington and the way it was when I was a boy, I get a letter from someone in Darlington and memories begin to flow. This week, I received a letter from a long time Darlingtonian and it stirred a lot of memories. Thank you Mr. Sam Grant, Jr. for your letter!
I have read the letter over and over, and each time I feel that I am back on the “Corner” at the west end of Pearl Street in my hometown! Though there is a little difference in our ages, we seem to be on the same page. You mentioned your Dad’s Barber Shop on the corner and I recalled the times I sat in his barbershop and he cut my hair. The cost of a haircut was .35 cents! Also, you mentioned Epworth Methodist Church, and I recalled going there with my Dad when I was a little boy. The preacher preached a long sermon, and I stretched out on the pew and went to sleep.
The last paragraph in your letter grabbed hold of me, and would not let go! You asked if I remember Doc’s Place on Pearl and Bunyun Hill’s filling station on the corner of Pearl and Washington? How could I forget? I went to my files and found the following article that was printed in this paper a way back when. I do not know how long it was. I bet it will stir some old memories; here it is again!
Doc’s Place Holds Fond Memories for Many
In that part of Darlington where Washington Street intersects with Pearl, forming an intersection, there was a spot that came to be known as “The Corner.” In the early ‘30s, and possibly before, a service station occupied that spot. It was an ideal location for such a business. Pearl was and remains a direct route in and out of town. The problem was in those days, that one could count on his fingers and toes the number of gasoline users (cars!) owned by the villagers. Gasoline sold for .15 cents a gallon, so it is understandable that the “service man” needed another income, as well as something to keep him busy. A young man (last name Hill, I can’t recall his first) operated the station. He developed a deep interest in the repair of radios, which was the coming thing in that time, and a mark of distinction for those who owned one. From the nearby communities, people brought their old Stewart Warner and Crosley radios to be repaired. If the radio broke down, it was as urgent to get fixed as the TV is today. After all, when evening came, it would be time to drag up the chair to the radio and learn what was going on down at “Pineridge.” Pineridge was where the “Jot ‘em Down Store” was located. Here, Lum and Abner would meet with Sedrick for a 15-minute program of pure and wholesome entertainment. Late at night, after daytime traffic had stilled, this young man could be found at work in his station. “The atmospheric conditions were better at night,” he often said.
On the same corner and just behind, but facing Pearl directly, was Truett’s Grocery Store. It was a rather large wooden building with gables reaching out over the sidewalk. Here those with leisure time on their hands could be seen whittling, chewing and spitting as they traded yarns about what had gone on at the big cotton mill the day before. A checker game might be observed in progress.
By the late ‘30s, the time of which I write, a change had come to the corner. A big and jolly man everyone called “Doc” had converted the grocery to the best little “hot dog” stand anywhere. For a nickel, one could sink his teeth into the most savory hot dog, covered with mustard, onions and chili that could be found anywhere. For another nickel, he could have a soft drink to wash it down. Ah, that chili! I think it was one of the strong motivators that brought so many of the boys home from World War II. They remembered Doc’s chili. You could always count on being greeted with an aroma and a friendly smile when you visited Doc’s place. His wife, Thelma, and later his daughter, Eva Lou, added warmth and sunshine to the place. A friendly and pleasant black lady lit up the kitchen with her warm mannerisms. There is no wonder that Doc’s Place came to be the fun place to be on any weekend. When the war came along and young men began leaving for military training, Doc added another room to the building, creating a sizeable dance floor. There the big jukebox dominated the full floor. For a nickel, one could start the music flowing and the building would seem to rock. Music to dance by, music to cry by. The choice was left to the man who furnished the nickel.
“In the Mood”, “Down South”, or “Goodbye Little Darling” along with many other tearjerkers could be heard in one evening. I watched as a lot of young men said goodbye to the tune of “I’ll Be Back in a Year.” For most, that was the longest year of their lives. I was 16 when I was first introduced to Doc’s Place. No place provided a better place for young people to meet than Doc’s. During the early ‘40s, America found itself at war, training camps were springing up everywhere and maneuvers were in progress all over South Carolina. From every branch in the service, men in uniform could be seen at Doc’s Place. I missed a lot of that as I, too, was away in uniform. Occasionally, when I returned, I would experience another night at Doc’s Place.
Years passed; the war had been over for along time. I returned to Darlington and traveling down Pearl Street, and I saw the saddest sights! Doc’s Place was closed, boarded up! A sign on the window read “Fish House” and another sign under that one which read “Closed.”
There are other things I remember about “the corner,” but none of them made such memories as those of going to Doc’s Place to browse with the young, listen to the music and make memories that have lasted a lifetime!
See You at Doc’s Place! It was the place where “Saturday Nights” really came alive![Editor’s Note: The delightful antique store B&B Variety Antiques owned by Marcie Blackwell is now at the former Doc’s Place location, 703 Pearl Street in Darlington.]
Mr. Shepard is a native of Darlington, S.C., and a current resident of Piedmont, S.C. He is the author of “Mill Town Boy” and “Bruised”. He has been sharing his tales of growing up in Darlington for decades, and we are delighted to share them each week. His mailing address for cards and letters is: Bill Shepard 324 Sunny Lane, Piedmont, S.C., 29673.