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South Knox Original
Reflections of a River Rat

Copyright (c) 2002, South Knox Bubba, All Rights Reserved

South Knox Bubba is a South Knox Original. I grew up on Sevier Ave., near Kent's Drug Store (where I spent my weekly allowance on Superman comics and Fudgesicles) and Bob Easly's Sevier Hardware and Variety (where everybody knew my name). Bud Campbell's American station would fix any flat bike tire for ten cents, would let you use his tools for routine bike maintenance, and had some nice mounted trout caught from Little River alongside cool nudie calendars.

I had lots of Mighty Millie Burgers from Byrum and Townsend's Market, which sometimes delivered groceries to our house. Most of the time, though, we just walked across the street to the King's Grocery (where my pals and I would sometimes steal coke bottles out back and take them around front and turn them in for the deposit) or up the street a block to the White Store. All in all, there were three grocery stores, a hardware store, and a drug store within walking distance, with a fourth grocery if you wanted to take a little extra hike.

There was also Dot and Anne's (the coldest Bud draft and the loosest bingo pinball gambling machines in South Knoxville) and Jimmy's Tavern (the site of many a Saturday night knifing and/or shooting). On the side of his building, Jimmy had this gigantic red, round Coca Cola sign that rang like a gong when you hit it with an empty beer bottle thrown from across the street. Big old Jimmy would run outside cussing and pretend to chase us, but he wasn't exactly your athletic type so he never caught us.

We played on top of the tanks at National Molasses Co. down by the river, and dove off their piers. We also had the world's greatest rope swing nearby on which you could swing from the top of a high bank and drop way out into the river. We snuck into some of the hangars at Island Home Airport and played fighter pilot at the controls of the planes inside.

I spent endless summers at Buck Giffin's swimming pool. We could make an underwater pass or two of the deep end under the high dive and pick up enough loose change off the bottom for a Coke and some candy from the snack bar. If we were lucky, we'd scrape up enough for a burger with some left over for the jukebox, which seemed to only play "Satisfaction" by the Rolling Stones. The lifeguards would let us help close up at the end of the day, and sometimes they'd even let us hose down the pool deck and the locker rooms for them. They were swell guys.

In the winter, we sledded on Lippencott Hill off Davenport Rd. and built giant bonfires. The older kids usually had a car hood they would all pile on to, and somebody was always getting hurt. Or, if we weren't inclined to make the long trek up Davenport, we would stay closer to home and sled down Dixie Hill behind the White Store or go over to Philips Street. There was also a great sled hill off Island Home on TSD's property, but they weren't too keen on trespassers. The greatest words a kid could hear on Cas Walker's morning radio show (other than your birthday announcement) was "Knoxville City Schools closed today due to snow".

I went to South Knoxville Elementary, where Mrs. Hume taught me to read and write in the first grade, Mr. Blackwelder taught me to play a band instrument in the fourth grade, and Mrs. Simmons taught me to sing and diagram sentences in the sixth grade. For fifth grade, I missed getting Mrs. Barber, who drove a big shiny new Cadillac and wore expensive looking clothes and jewelry and seemed pretty cool. I went to South High before we moved further out into the 'burbs and I finished up at Doyle. My first True Loves lived on Philips Street. I am happily married now for nearly 30 years, but I still think about them every now and then and wonder what ever happened to them, or if they ever wonder about me.

I was friends with every River Rat and Trailer Trash that occupied that side of the river. Our family also hobnobbed with the City Council members and other local illuminati that occupied the upscale digs of Island Home and First Baptist Church (across from the Trailways station where my pals and I would sometimes go hang out while playing hooky from church).

I loved going with my Dad to Gateway Sporting Goods on Chapman Highway, where you could buy a Mitchell 300 spinning reel and a Gateway Custom rod for about twenty bucks and Doll Flys by the bucket for ten cents each. I spent countless days  fishing up and down the south banks of the Tennessee River. The best spot was a little concrete dock behind Buck Giffins, but the Molasses Co. and big culvert at the Island Home gates were good spots, too.

I could ride the bus (actually, a choice of two, the #4 Davenport Road or the #10 Island Home) downtown for a dime, and see a movie at the Riviera or the Tennessee or the Bijou (which was the easiest to sneak in to).

On a nice day I could walk across the Gay Street Bridge to my piano lessons at Fowler's (which had a music department complete with a full time teacher), or go shopping at J.C. Penney's or Millers or the Athletic House. On the way home, I could get a dip dog and an Orange Julias, and stop off at Lockett's to check out the latest nudie playing cards and their large assortment of gag and prank devices.

Then I grew up (sort of) and married my high school sweetheart, also a South Knoxville native. We bought a house on Fisher Place in Island Home (after renting a house from my Dad on Feather's Street for a while). We loved to walk and ride our bikes around Island Home. In the spring and summer we put our little john boat in at the airport and puttered around the island and caught big fat bluegill and an occasional bass. 

Even in the late seventies and early eighties the South Knoxville community spirit was alive and well. The best example was when we lived on Feather Street. Someone on the street had a bitch in heat they let run loose. Every dog in the neighborhood was chasing her and howling and carrying on like banshees. After a couple of days of being awakened at dawn by all this racket, I got fed up and went out on my front porch with my double barrel shotgun to let loose with a couple of warning shots and scare them off. To my amusement, my neighbor, his neighbor and and a guy across the street all had the same idea at the same time. We shared a pretty good laugh standing on our front porches in our boxer shorts with our shooting irons.

During the "morning after" of the 1982 Worlds Fair and the resulting fallout, I had to change jobs and move out of state for many  years. When I came back, I found a giant scar of a highway running across South Knoxville that had destroyed the homes of my friends and the businesses that served our family. I found most of the schools had shut down and consolidated into giant educational assembly lines. I found real estate that nobody could sell because nobody wanted to live in such horrible school districts, where just a few years before it was possible for almost any kid to walk to a great school.

I found all the local grocery stores, drug stores, and small businesses shut down, torn down, or otherwise gone. I wonder why the few that are left even bother. And, from looking around, it seemed that the future had bypassed South Knoxville, and skipped right across the county line to Maryville, land of God Fearing people and a nice place to raise up a family. Thankfully Island Home appears to have survived, but for how long?

I guess this is what they call "progress". It's a shame, really, but life goes on. Thomas Wolfe said you can't go home again. I don't know about that. Even when they take it away you can never really leave.

OK, then.

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