I had already scribbled down the thoughts I would put on paper for today’s issue of the Tribune … all about my own memories of the host and star of WSB’s Popeye Club, the same Officer Don.
Many of those thoughts came to me on the day I read in the Tribune that Ball Ground would welcome Officer Don to its Christmas Parade as grand marshal this Friday. That was what was on my mind as I settled down for a few minutes under the hair dryer at Beverly’s Day Spa and quickly turned to the back page of Southern Living magazine for my monthly treat there … Rick Bragg’s “Southern Journal.”
The man knows how to share his memories, and how to tell a story that takes his reader into that world of our past where we all go for comfort and pleasure, where the bitter and sweet combine to make us laugh and cry in the same breath. What an inspiration!
And so I made a few notes about my Officer Don memories, checked the Tribune again for the Ball Ground parade date, and decided I would share some memories of my own on Dec. 4. A best-laid plan, so to speak. The plan went awry, but nevertheless, here’s my story.
I had never heard of Don Kennedy when Officer Don came to Canton. We had no need to know his last name. It was some time in the early ’60s. Our three girls were probably 4, 5 and 6 or thereabouts, perfect ages to be avid fans of the Popeye Club program.
I doubt I ever watched an entire program, but I saw enough to know that we shouldn’t miss it, ever. His rapport with children who made up the audience for his live shows was something to see.
No wonder we made a point of going to town that day.
It wasn’t Christmas, and Officer Don wasn’t Santa Claus, but this special event was as close to Christmas as you can get in the summertime.
You see, Kessler’s was magic. It was a five-and-dime, a ten-cent store at its finest, to Canton’s children. There were two front doors, as I recall, just like Lee Routh’s 5&10 in my hometown, Dalton.
And they sold everything any child would want … on layaway, no less. On that special day the line stretched all the way westward from those doors up to Jones Mercantile and around the corner. (Perhaps I exaggerate, but I seem to have that memory.)
I cannot say for sure if there were souvenirs of any kind. If so, ours didn’t survive. We just have a garbled memory.
But my personal memory has nothing to do with my little girls. I was a 20-something who was enjoying an occasion with my children, and I had dressed for the visit.
I was wearing a pale blue cameo necklace and earrings set, and matching outfit of some kind. (Strange way to describe attire. Usually one wears an outfit with matching accessories, but I would have no memory at all of what I was wearing were it not for the cameo.)
Unless you have met Don Kennedy in person, you cannot imagine my shock when he looked up from where he was seated and said to me, “What a beautiful cameo.”
The shock was not from the words, but from those “Ol’ Blue Eyes,” those eyes like Sinatra’s where you kinda fall into them and can’t swim back. I guess I thanked him, and I guess I didn’t faint. But I never forgot.
We moved to Bremen in a year or so, and Officer Don came to the theater there one Saturday afternoon.
A neighbor offered to take the girls with her children to see him. They had a wonderful time.
One of them was allowed on stage to participate in one of his funny games.
I stayed home. We just couldn’t keep meeting like that.
If great minds are going to run together, (as in Cline and Hughes), I suppose they couldn’t have a better subject than Officer Don.
Thanks to Cline for filling in the years with Don Kennedy’s other life.
It’s just as well that I couldn’t see into the future the day that I met Officer Don.
Those baby blues might have had dollar marks in them.
Juanita Hughes is retired head of the Woodstock Library.