FOUR DOLLARS

       BY

WILLIAM WATSON

 

My first  DeeJays dance was October 1962. And I remember that for the first hour or so there was a lot of sitting and listening and little dancing. I hated when people just sat. Our music was not that great anyway, but we always played better when people were dancing. Many years later when in our Harmon Drew Group days in the 70's, 80's, and 90's when we'd have a group that was slow to begin dancing, Harmon and I would call those those "Community House crowds." That became an inside joke with us.

 
When I played with the DeeJays, we never played at Hunters Playhouse, although I remember going to several of their dances. Maybe one reason we didn't play was that they had paid a lot more than we charged for a feature band from out of town that was much better than we were.  Harmon and I were asked to come the afternoon before the dance and put the piano up on Coke case boxes so that the piano player could play sanding up. The piano player was Joe Stamply and the band was, of course, the Uniques. I believe they go about $150 for that performance. That's right--not per person, but $150 for the whole  band. I believe we charged $80 at that time for a DeeJays performance. The dances we threw ourselves at the community house, we made our money from admission at the door and Coke sales. (After my first job at the Community House, our admission prices went from 25 cents Single/ 35 cents Couple to 35 cents Single / 50 cents Couple, and I remember making as much as a whopping $20 for my share of the take for a few jobs. (The price of admission was stated on advertisement posters printed by Eddie Lowe: "35 cents Stag/ 50 cents Drag."  Today, "Drag" would have a whole different connotation!) Our parents worked the door and the Coke sales and even helped sweep up later. Mrs. Margaret Drew, whom all the young people called "Momma Drew" usually took up the money at the door with my mother, Grace Watson.  (We used the term young people and teenagers then rather than "kids." "Kids" was considered a derogatory term then in referring to teenagers. Years later when I taught school, I was telling my mom, also a teacher, about some of the "kids" one of my history  classes. She corrected me and told me I had better not use that term around their parents or other teachers.) Mrs. Drew was strategically placed at the entrance, because she could smell beer a mile away, and would not allow any guy through the door with beer on his breath. Several young men had to go to the Dixie Cream and eat a hamburger before gaining entrance into a DeeJays dance. The Community House was a good place for such dances because it was cheap. The rent was only $5.00, but we had to have it spick and span clean afterwards.
 
Later, when I had a band of my own called (appropriately!) The Teardrops, we had a Friday night dance there, and we were too tired to clean up, so it was agreed that we'd meet up at 7AM to clean up. At 7 AM I was the only one there.  There was a piano on the stage that needed to be moved down three steps to the floor. I decided that I could do it on my own and soon realized that I had bit off more than I could chew. After I got it onto the floor, it started leaning backwards, and I could not stop it. I finally had it almost on the floor (on it's back), but when I dropped it those few inches, I could not get my hand clear. So I was stuck with a piano lying on its back and on on my hand. It had also bent my ring, cutting off circulation and turning my ring finger a dark shade of blue! 
 
Harmon and Earl "Red" Walker just happened to be cruising by and saw my car outside. They walked in just as I dropped the piano on my hand, and were much amused at my plight.  I did not share in their delight! Finally they lifted the piano off my hand and righted it and found some pliers to straighten out my ring and restore circulation to my finger. They were still laughing, but I didn't find anything funny, especially when I looked at the piano keyboard. About a third of the keys were all the way down, a third of them were too high, and a third were the way the should have been. But of course, none of them would play.
I had the unpleasant task of calling Mr. Earle Cooke, the MHS choir director who was also a piano tuner and repairman on a Saturday morning. Fortunately he lived nearby on Victory Drive. My band share from the night before was about $15, and I remember I had eight dollars of it in my pockets. I just knew that when Mr. Cooke came out , he would pronounce the piano "dead," and I would be going into my savings account for college at the Minden Building and Loan and withdrawing a couple of hundres dollars for a new piano.
 
Instead, when Mr. Cooke arrived, he just smiled and asked me how it happened. When I told my story, he was much more sympathetic than Harmon and Red Walker had been! He got his box of tools and started to work. He spent what seemed forever--about two hours--fixing my damage and then re-tuning and regulating the piano. It was a warm morning, and the Community House was, of course, not air conditioned. When he finished, the tuned piano was in better shape than when I had dropped it on my hand. And we were both wringing wet with sweat.
 
Now I began to worry about what Mr. Cooke would charge me. I figured that tuning and regulating alone would be $50--aside from making the keys work again. When he was through, I nervously asked him how much I owed him. Mr. Earle Cooke may have been a choir director and a piano tuner by trade. But that morning he was an angel of God. He simply asked me how much money I had on me. I pulled out my eight sweaty one dollar bills. Then he said: "William, I don't want to take all of your music money," and he took four of the damp one dollar bills from my hand.
 
Praise be to God working through Earle Cooke that morning. All those who read the Memories of Minden website who grew up in Minden during those golden years will agree that the beautiful thing about growing up in a small town where everybody knew your family were all of what I call the "safety nets." My daughter was amazed when I told her that I drove almost all my first year of driving without a drivers license. That's because my parents didn't want me going out of town. They knew if I were stopped by the Minden police for anything, I would get a warning or they would get a call. But they knew I wouldn't dare drive to Bossier or Shreveport without a license. There a teen driver without a license would likely be arrested. Such are the safety nets that were in Minden which allowed us to make all those learning mistakes without hurting ourselves too badly.
 
That Saturday morning at Minden's old Community House, Mr. Earle B. Cooke was playing his role as one of those safety nets.
And as he, with his hard earned four dollars, began putting his tools back into his car, the other band members began showing up!