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Raising Julia Ann Pickett was a full-time, full-town chore

It really did take the whole downtown to raise this Columbian, whose mischief kept her in the spot light and hot water from the time she was the star of the wedding at the Presbyterian church, to getting stuck crossing Burkesville Street in a culvert, to the beautiful, but unappreciated haircut she gave Benny Burr, to the disastrous first trip to buy bread at Kroger's: She was the kid everybody loved, who got in one scrape after another. Whose mother readily admits her brother is the better kid (anybody would have been she says with a laugh). The grandmother of today, with unbelieveable humor when she tells her own story, has a powerful love for Columbia. "The people don't come any better and the love any stronger than we all had, and have, for one another. That's what made our childhood so special here," she says now. The story will have revisions. We hope you'll check back at times. And it won't be complete until Julia Ann Pickett takes over and completes a book, which would be, for certain, an American classic.

By Ed Waggener

Nothing in has ever seemed to connect with so many people as Billy Conn's picture of the "Birthday Party, ca 1952" which was posted August 14, 2007."

It didn't take long for the identification asked for to come in, with very few errors from anyone. Now we know that the event was to celebrate the sixth birthday of Julia Ann Pickett (Thompson), on May 29, 1951. She remembers it like it was yesterday, and has identified almost everyone in the picture."

"Birthdays were different, then," she said. "You didn't have a party every year. You chose a year and that was your birthday party year. I chose my sixth birthday," she recalls, and that is how so many of the town's most popular kids came to be there."

Because a real birthday party was so special, she remembers another thing about it: The kids all came in their best party clothes. They all had new hairdos or new haircuts, and the parties were well supervised."

The party was at the home of her parents, Ellis and Mary Welch Miller Pickett, at the southeast corner of Guardian and Monroe Streets, where Sandy and Brad Conover live today. They've extensively remodelled the house, so it doesn't look much like it did then. To zoom in on the location and how it was then, clockwise around the crossing was the Pickett house, then the home of the Dr. J.C. Salato house, where his wife, Jane, still lives; then the Lewis and Mary Wood Coffey home, and then the Dr. George Otis Nell clinic, now the home of Johnny and James Ray Hammonds."

Those in attendance were an impressive list: Benny Burr, Betsy Cheatham, Charlotte Cheatham (Krauss), Billy Conn, Jimmy Flowers, Charles Lynnwood Gore, Danny Hadley, Ann Sutton Heskamp (Curtis), Donnie Howell, Terry Howell, Billy Fred Hughes, Bradley Jeffries, Gordon Kelsey, Sharon Kelsey, Jimmy Marshall, Patti Rowe (Noll), Richard Royce, Ronnie Sewell, J.M Shelley, Mary Jane Young, and of course, Julia Ann Pickett, now a grown up six year old, ready to start first grade two blocks away on the same street she lived on, Guardian, at Columbia Graded and High School. "

The adults were Naomi Cheatham, Dimple Howell, Effie Heskamp, Irene Marshall, and two adults and two children we're still trying to evaluate; and, of course, Julia's mother, Mary Welch Miller Pickett.

A few have asked about the bare spot in the scalp

Since the photo first appeared, a few people have wondered about the little boy with his back to the camera, showing a patch of bare scalp. There is, in fact, a story, there, Julia Ann recalls."That little boy standing there with the gap on his head is turned that way to show the best side of the haircut I had given him," she remembers from that day 55 years ago. "It's Benny Burr," she said."

"Daddy left his clippers in a drawer at home. Benny Burr's mother and father, John and Nellie Dean Burr, were visiting and Benny and I were playing. We talked about the haircut. He was older than me, but agreed."

"When Nellie Dean and John saw it, they both screamed and Nellie Dean really screamed. Momma and Daddy were upset."

"I didn't understand why and Benny didn't. We both thought it was a good haircut.

"Momma spanked me pretty good."

"And later Benny saw the front side in the mirror and he didn't think it was too good, either. That may be why he's got the back side to the camera in the picture, because that was the good side."

"Now he just laughs about it," Julia Ann says. "He finally forgave me. It was after he graduated from Lindsey Wilson College and left town. Now he says it's the best haircut he ever had." Benny Burr did survive the haircut. He now lives in Bardstown, but returns unafraid of the phantom shearer, to preside as President of the Lindsey Wilson Alumni Association.

The picture brought back other memories of Columbia of that day

It was a marvelous time to be alive in Columbia in those days. Many think Hillary must have gotten the idea for her book, "It Takes a Village," from Columbia. In those days, whole neighborhoods took care of all the kids."

And the Square, with so many small businesses in those days, took care of all the town kids, from all the neighborhoods. Julia Ann was especially lucky. Her mother's people, the Millers and Harpers, were in all parts of good neighborhoods in Columbia. And her dad, Ellis Pickett, was always one of the most popular barbers. Then, all the barber shops were on the Square. Ellis Pickett practiced his art in two of the best remembered, Hotel Barber Shop, where the rare barber's tip came more often from overnight guests at the Miller Hotel, and later, in the little shop on the North Walk Off the Square, in a section being built up by the Columbian Theatre, the Richardson Building with Marshall's Shoe Store, the Bakery Building, Amlie Royse's shoe shop, and the little building that housed Cole & Pickett Barber Shop."

Down the street was one of the all-time great gathering places, the G&M Grill. And around the Square, a kid could see more toys, clothes, hardware, barber & beauty shops, groceries, and places to buy food than you can in downtown Gatlinburg today, square foot for square foot. No matter the inventory, it's doubtful that the new Wal-Mart could match, in the eyes of a kid who saw it back then, the wonders of downtown Columbia of 1951."

Julia Ann Pickett remembers it well. "The town took care of us," she said. "Everybody knew me. Everybody knew Momma and Daddy. I could go anywhere I was allowed to go and the people welcomed me. I've sometimes thought how nice it would be if my grandchildren could have just one of those days as a child that I had.""

Downtown was a special place then, with all the kids

Another thing which made downtown Columbia super fantastic to grow up in, back then, were the kids. Not only was there an abundance young people living in walking distance of downtown Columbia and exciting new friends to meet among the hundreds of youngsters who came from all over the county, expecially in the evenings and on Saturdays, there were actually kids living on the Square.

"I'll never forget how neat it was to have the McKinley's live upstairs, over the parts store, across from Daddy's barbershop," Julia Ann remembers. "Momma and Daddy would play cards with Peanut and Fay, and I would play with the Marcia and Mitzi."

That she remembers, was the beginning of a beautiful family friendship which blossomed into a lifelong special bond between Marcia and her little brother, Billy Burns, which was cut short by Marcia's death, on March 14, 2003, in a tragic auto accident.

That special friendship, like so many others which live on to this day for her, started because of that unique environment which was the now idealized Columbia of the 1940s, '50s, and early '60s.

Downtown Columbia was a self contained universe

It was a time, Julia Ann remembers, when Columbia and just two or three blocks beyond the Square was a self-contained universe, where doctors made housecalls to deliver babies, where schools, churches, and supermarkets, drug stores, department and hardware stores, had goods well beyond what most could afford to buy. Those who had the money could choose from among some ten makes of cars. Chevrolets, Pontiacs, Hudsons, Kaisers and Fraziers, Fords, Willys, Plymouth and Desotos and GMC trucks could be bought during much of that time, all less than two city blocks away.

That was something a person would think about now. Having a car. What is so special about this period was that people could live an entire lifetime within the confines of a dozen blocks and never need a motorized vehicle beyond Walker's or Baker's Cabs, unless they needed to get to Louisville, and there was twice a day service by Greyhound and a competitor, to boot.For the Picketts, then, it wasn't so unusual for the family not to have a vehicle. "We didn't own a car when we lived on Guardian," Julia Ann said. "We walked everywhere we went. When we did have to have a car, we could rely on Momma and Daddy's good friend Rabbit Vanhoy. He had a car, and he'd take us anywhere we had to go."

Then, as now, choices of funeral homes and one place to be buried was handy, for those who never wanted to get out of earshot of the courthouse bell or the Baptist Church chimes.

There were unforgettable moments

There were unforgettable moments growing up. Like the time she went to the wedding at the Presbyterian Church, diagonally behind her house. Naked."

"Momma was giving me a bath," she said, and left me in the tub with a toy duck. "I got out and saw something was going on at the church," she remembers, "I was pulling the little duck. Didn't have a stitch of clothes on," she said. Even without clothes, she was instantly recognized. "They brought me home," she said. "Momma hadn't missed me." But Julia Ann got a spanking just the same.

At one time in her early days, her range did not include crossing Burkesville Street. She had a need to do so. Bill and Maxine Walker at Meadow Hill Inn doted on her. "Everytime I'd go there, Bill Walker would give me something. I'll never forget how proud I was on Easter when he made me an easter bonnet of fresh flowers." It all came to a screeching halt when, for some reason, she was ordered not to go across Burkesville Street. "I took that literally," she remembers, "and found another way to go Meadow Hill Inn. There was a culvert under Burkesville Street and I decided to use it. But the tunnel was smaller than I expected and I got hung. I remember the rescue. Some of the adults were yelling for me to crawl on through. Others were hollering that I should back out.""

She finally made it out; she doesn't remember how. But a fiat was issued to stop her trips to Meadow Hill Inn. "They were told not to give me anything unless at least one parent was along." She never tried the tunnel passage again. There was no incentive."

The Columbia Presbyterian Church wasn't her church. They went to the Columbia Baptist Church, which was also on the same street she lived on, but the other one, Monroe Street, and it was less than two blocks away. "We'd walk to church," she remembers. "We'd be all dressed up, carrying our Bibles, and along the way, people would join us, all dressed up and carrying Bibles, too.""

One person who frequently joined the group was Miss Mamie Smith, the Social Editor, proofreader, and office manager of the Adair County News.

She was also the Beginners Class teacher. Beginners were those old enough to be left by themselves for the first time. They had a little room at the foot of the steps off Monroe Street, on the right, before one wandered into the BTU and the Intermediates department, and they had a little blue table and little blue chairs to sit around.

Julia Ann had the confidence, while in the class, to get to carry her Mother's Bible to Sunday School. "I felt really important," she said. "Of course it got attention, and Miss Mamie asked to see it," she remembers. "I told her, 'no, Momma told me not to let anybody else look at it. It's Momma's Bible. She bought it new," Julie Ann told Miss Mamie, and added, "It's a hundred years old.' Miss Mamie thought that was funny, since Momma was only about 30 at the time."

In those days, there wasn't any need for Day Care, they had Vacation Bible Schools

Today, working or otherwise gainfully employed parents must have day cares. When Julia was growing up in Columbia, it was different. In the summertime, everybody else took care of the kids. Especially the churches. When you lived in town, there were rotations of Vacation Bible Schools. Somehow, the VBS sessions were rotated so that no two happened at the same time. Kids could walk to the Christian Church, the Baptist, the Methodist and the Presbyterian. It wasn't so much religiosity as it was a double stitching in the social fabric of the community. Julia remembers making them all."

She remembers, too, that other events in town kept them occupied. Plenty of picture shows at the Columbian, Rialto. Or just being able to walk around the Square until 10:00pm. "The town was full every night," she remembers. "Daddy kept the barber shop open until 10:00pm a lot of nights. And the drug stores and restaurants stayed open until after the picture shows let out, and there were always adults you knew who watched you and made sure you were protected.""

Responsibility was carefully bestowed then

Kids grew up and had adult responsibilities bestowed early on them. Parents carefully decided when they were responsible enough.

Julia Ann remembers how proud she was where her mother sent her to Kroger's, then on the Square where Barger Insurance Agency building is today. It only occupied one half of the building. Maybe it was the Jim Flowers' Edward D. Jones Agency side. In any case Mary Welch dispatched Julia Ann with the coins for a loaf of bread.

"I was so proud," she remembers. "Momma was depending on me. I did stop along the way, to look at shop windows. When I got to Nell's Variety store I saw the most wonderful wind-up doll. I bought it and went home to show it to Momma," but, she found out, "Momma wasn't happy. She gave me a spanking and marched me back to Nell's."

"I was humiliated. She made to exchange it for the bread money, and then marched me over to Kroger's to get the bread," and, when she got home, she got another scolding so she'd learn the lesson. "Momma never sent me shopping with her money after that," she said."

But the Nells hadn't thought it a great transgression. "They offered to give me the doll, but Momma wouldn't let them.""

But she did learn responsibility babysitting Billy Burns Pickett

But all wasn't lost, Julia Ann remembers. Her mother did recognize her parenting and housekeeping skills. Billy Burns Pickett, who was born a some eight months after Julia Ann's big birthday party, became, at times, her charge. "Momma would ask me to take care of him while she went on other errands and she'd leave me some household things to do."

"I found out that the best thing to do was to lock him in his room and he'd be okay and I could get my housework done."

"Billy Burns didn't like it much," she says, "but he didn't tell and Momma didn't catch me. So that worked out real well.""

Mother made no bones about the better kid

Her mother can laugh about Julia Ann's childhood misadventures now. She's amused by them. And when Julia ask her which child was the best, she or sib Billy Burns, Mary Welch says, "That's easy. Billy Burns," and Julia admits, "He was a good child," and then she says, "Momma tells me Billy Burns was better than me, but then, the real kicker, she tells me that anybody else would have been a better child than me.""

But, like so many of her childhood misadventures, one did cause outrage, and severe penalties

The Randalls had the best toys in the neighborhood, she remembers. There were three of them: Dale, the oldest girl. Terry, the oldest boy who was one of Columbia's all-time outstanding students and athletes. And Phillip, the youngest, who, according to Coach John Burr, was one of the most athletic idividuals he'd ever coached. "Phillip just doesn't know his own strength," Mr. Burr would say. And that may have been why, considering his ability, his success in the game of basketball was hampered a bit because he lacked some of the ballet skills needed to make it into the upper echelons of the game."

Anyway, Julia Ann says she always wanted to play with those toys. "One day I went in the house and got upstairs where Phillip's toys were." She remembers how engrossing, how marvelous that surreptitious visit was."

While she was playing, the Randalls left the house. When she decided to go home, she couldn't. "Dr. Randall had locked the door from the outside," she said. She was a prisoner and didn't have the voice to raise attention."

Pretty soon, she said, in a scene reminiscent of something out of Tom Sawyer the yard outside was filled with adults from all over the neighborhood. The men were yelling, "Jule YAH!" and appeared to be frantically searching every corner."

But a voice both frantic and ominous was the "Julia ANN!" ones, which could only be her parents. Occasionally, their yells bent to the ominous side, when they yelled "Julia ANN! Julia Ann PICKETT!" and then she knew that her parents relief at finding her would be brief, that there'd be a penalty to pay."

But it wasn't too long until they saw her frantic little face in the window. "They couldn't get me out because the door was locked," she remembers. "and that meant they had more time to get over the joy of finding me and more time to be getting mad." She says that someone thought of going to town to get Dr. Randall, and he came back, opened the door, and freed her.

Knowing the consequences about to be faced, she hid, they finally found her hiding under a bed."

Her dread was well grounded.

"I got the worst spanking Momma ever gave me for that," she said.

Sometimes, attempts at humor backfired

People in Columbia were good, but sometimes adult humor would backfire, and well meaning adults would tease, and the teasing would backfire. She remembers when the Nell Clinic was being built. They started digging a hole for the structure. Julia was curious, and asked the mean what they were doing. "'Why,'" she remembers them saying, "'we're digging a hole to put Ellis Picket in.' That scared me to death," she said. "I ran as hard as I could to Daddy's barber shop. And they came after me to the barber shop to tell Daddy they were only joking. But it wasn't funny to me. It scared me out of my wits."Opportunities for advancement: Her career as dancer, chanteuse

Life downtown was fun. It also offered fascinating opportunities to earn money, whatever the age. Older kids got to clerk in stores. Younger kids could get income by helping unload trucks. Or have a shoeshine box if no barber shop would give you their concession. There were paperboys who earned money with paper route sublet by the town's Courier-Journal and Louisville Times distributor, Elmer Warren."

There was street entertainment, including some of the great itinerant preachers, who took turns preaching from the Greensburg Street side of the old courthouse."

Some of the town characters would sing for pay; often the pay was to get them to sing all day somewhere else."

Julia Ann discovered there was money in singing. She'd go to her father's barber shop, where he Johnny and Gillam Fudge, and Mr. Everett Smith worked, in the corner of the Hotel Miller. The shop stood about four steps up from the Square, on the corner of the Adair Annex Building parking lot closest to the Public Square-Greensburg Street intersection. "

It was a wonderful place for a small child. She was treated like a princess. And beyond the back door was an entrance to the magnificent lobby of the Hotel Miller. Across the hall way was Columbia's main banquet hall. To the left, a real, honest to God hotel coffee shop (which meant they served full country breakfasts, narcoleptic lunches, and full suppers, and during he day, any kind of snack you wanted.) Julia Ann's interest, when her Daddy would go with her, was to be in he lobby when a royal entrance was made. "She would come down the long steps," Julia Ann remembers. "I thought she was the most beautiful person I'd ever seen, with her long red hair, her beautiful clothes. Her make up," she said, recalling Celia Rowe, the daughter of the owners. "

But the big thing, she said, was that she was a singer, and made money, at the shop. "I'd sing," she said, "and the customers would smile and clap and give me coins," all done in under the aegis of an adoring father. "Sometimes I'd dance," she said. "it was fun. And I was making money.""

She doesn't remember why she didn't pursue the career. It just stopped."

But she does remember more great times, growing up in downtown Columbia in those wonderful post-war, Korean War, and Cold War times. That was all far away, with only an occasional hint of the sorrow that struck some families from so far away."

Life in Columbia was so good, so safe from foreign attack, that civic clubs had to get an anti-communist leader in so we could worry do a little surmising and come up with a local to suspect of being un-American."

For the most part, there was absolutely nothing to fear. For the most part, doors were unlocked and there was collective parenting, collective surrogate parents, and the town shared the glory of collective successes and the rare pain of a disappointment."

"I could go anywhere I was allowed to go, any time," she remembers. That meant she had the run of the Square. Except: She could not go in the pool rooms. Girls didn't go in any of them. The boys couldn't go into the basement pool room until they got old enough to fight for themselves."

"I remember going the the poolroom with Daddy, and I had to sit on the step while he bought our hamburgers to take home for supper," Julia Ann said. "he wouldn't even let me go to the counter with him. I thought there must be something wicked, something evil going on in there.""

Things did turn around in the liberal 1960's though. "That was a big event. The first time I was allowed to buy hamburgers at the counter at Bob's. I was about 11 then, and I thought I was an adult." But with the liberation, there was only the opportunity to eat at the counter. Girls were still segregated when it came to the wicked game of pocket billiards. It would take a decade or more for Columbians to accept girls in pool halls, girls playing pocket billiards, without being branded for life. By then, Julia Ann says, the interest had passed."

Peers were good influences, one tried to reform her

The village it took to raise Julia Ann included well meaning peers. Chief among these was Charlotte Cheatham. "She tried to reform me," Julia Ann said. When she was asked, "In what way?", Julia says, "She tried to make me more lady-like, she was a really good girl. She had good manners. She's was a a good deal quieter than me.""

There were so many people in Columbia who loved and looked after everybody, she remembers."

"I realize how blessed we were growing up in a place like Columbia with family and friends. The people don't come any better and the love any stronger than we all had, and have, for one another. That's what made our childhood so special here."
See Photo: The Birthday Party, ca 1951

This story was posted on 2007-08-20 11:28:16
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The Birthday Party ca 1950: Julia Pickett, May 29, 1951

2007-08-14 - Columbia, KY - Photo From the collection of Bily Conn; photo by Joseph Allison.
BILLY CONN found this great photo of a birthday party, which he thinks took place in 1948 to 1950. A request was made for help in identifying the group. A number of people have sent names, but the complete list, which follows, was sent by the birhday honoree herself: Julia Pickett Thompson. It was her birthday party in the big yard at home. The location was the home of her parents, Ellis and Mary Welch Miller Pickett, at the southeast corner of Guardian and Monroe Streets, where the Brad Conovers live today. From left, by face in photo: Bradley Jeffries, Ronnie Sewell, Jimmy Flowers, Gordon Kelsey, Patti Rowe (Noll), Danny Hadley, Richard Royce, Billy Fred Hughes, Donnie Howell (can just see two little eyes peeking out), Julia Pickett (Thompson), Charlotte Cheatham (Krauss), Jimmy Marshall, Charles Lynnwood Gore, Benny Burr (with recent haircut by Julia Pickett), Billy Conn, Mary Jane Young, J.M Shelley, Sharon Kelsey: Last row, from left:Pauline Cheatham, holding Brenda Cheatham (McQueary); Mrs. Howell holding little Terry Howell; Lady Unknown with child; Effie Heskamp, holding Ann Sutton Heskamp, Irene (Mrs. Clyde) Marshall, Lady and child on end (unknown). Thanks to everyone who helped.As always, comments, corrections, and other recollections inspired by the birthday list is welcome.

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Julia Ann Pickett Thompson: Another birthday party

2007-08-16 - Photo By Mary Margaret Blackwell. STILL THE BIRTHDAY GIRL: This occasion was another birthday get together on May 29, 2007, at AuntBillie Jo Edwards' house. Present were Aunt Thelma Harper Cundiff and cousins Mary Margaret Blackwell and Sara Jean Corbin, and a few other friends. With the photo, Julia Thompson wrote, "I never had any sisters, but if I had they would not be any closer to me than Billie and Thelma. Going over all the old stories I realize how blessed we were growing up in a place like Columbia with family and friends. The people don't come any better and the love any stronger than we all had, and have, for one another. That's what made our childhood so special."
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