Monday, November 23, 2009
Mural pictures the Newtonia we remember
(The following is my column for this week's Newton County News.)
Though illustrations of the Civil War are featured prominently in the newly created Newtonia mural, other scenes, more quiet scenes, are the ones that make Carthage artist Sherry Pettey’s work so appealing to me.
After the work is officially unveiled during a 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 6, ceremony in the Newtonia Community Building, not only will the community’s Civil War heritage be preserved, but so will the memories of the last half-century, the Newtonia where I grew up.
Thanks to the artist and those who commissioned the mural, I can see the wizened face of Ted Arnall, standing outside his barbershop, a small wooden building that was town down three decades ago.
I can remember sitting in the wooden chairs, waiting for my turn to be sheared and listening to the adults swap stories, while reading from his stack of comic books. And when I finally climbed into the barber’s chair, I would find out that miraculously, Ted was able to find a nickel in my ear that had somehow escaped my attention when I was taking a bath.
Ted’s was also a favorite spot of mine three times a year when Billy Johnson would park the Bookmobile in front of it and I would check out my 10 books and read them within about three days.
The Bookmobile was always scheduled to arrive at 11 a.m., but Billy would generally pull in a half hour earlier, and I was always one of the first ones to look over the extensive collection of books he and his wife managed to shoehorn onto the shelves.
And next door to Ted’s Barber Shop, was Gum Mercantile with its owner Carroll Gum, the place that stood at the center of Newtonia’s social life for decades. I vividly remember sitting on the steps outside the store after school, drinking a 13-cent bottle of Dr. Pepper, while waiting for the Neosho Daily News to arrive.
Thinking of Carroll’s store (I don’t know of anyone who called it mercantile, despite the prominent sign above the door.), reminds me of that horrible day when Carroll decided to beginning charging deposit on pop bottles. The extra two cents drove the boys of Newtonia into a protesting frenzy. We grabbed some old wood out of a building behind my house and made picket signs, then rode our bicycles to the store, circled it for 10 or 15 minutes and made our opinions clear. The signs read “No Deposit, We Won’t Return,” ‘Charging Deposit is Unfair,” and my favorite, Danny Hilton’s contribution- “Bring back the days of seven-cent pop.”
Carroll knew just how to end the protest. He emerged from the post office (which was in the east side of the building) with a camera and asked us to get off our bicycles and pose for a picture so he could put it in the Neosho Daily.
We dutifully climbed off the bicycles and posed and that ended the picketing. The pictures never appeared in the Daily, but we were never charged deposit again.
The mural also features the Baptist and Methodist churches, the Ritchey Mansion and the Civil War, Newtonia’s famous gunfight, the school building and a couple of businesses from early in the 20th century.
My favorite parts of the mural are those devoted to my parents, Bill and JoAnn Turner.
Mom is featured next to a picture of the Community Building, which is fitting, since she has helped keep the building a central force in community life for years. She is also in a group picture of the Newtonia Battlefield Protection Association, which partially commissioned the mural.
The scene with my dad comes from an earlier day. He is shown working on his bicycle so he can complete the rounds on his paper route. Behind him is a loyal dog. Considering that Dad has always had dogs and has been the fix-it-man for Newtonia for the past 40 years, that depiction is fitting.
The upper right-hand corner of the mural features an important modern event in Newtonia history- the May 2008 tornado that destroyed City Hall and many houses and severely damaged others. The house shown being smashed by the tornado is the one across the street from where I grew up- a house that I remember as the home of Doc and Bernice Hailey.
The mural, which is on display in the Community Building, shows that Newtonia is a town where the citizens have faced many challenges, a war, a Depression, and a tornado among them, but they have always come through those challenges stronger. The proof is in Sherry Pettey’s art.