Retro Crossroads 0202
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- This time on "Retro Tennessee Crossroads", we're headed down to historic Beale Street in Memphis to a famous store called Schwab's. Al Voecks interviews the late Tennessee humorous Cotton Ivy. Susan Thomas takes us for an inside look at 2nd Avenue in Nashville in 1987, and you'll get a romantic view of junkyards. That's the lineup for this edition of "Retro Tennessee Crossroads". I'm Joe Elmore. Sure glad to have you. Well, time again for another trip through time in Tennessee and I'm here again with Becky Magura. - Oh, it's always fun to travel with you, Joe. - You too. - I can't wait and I can't wait for this episode. You know, I remember Cotton Ivy and I'm a big fan of Beale Street. - Yeah, me too, it's been sometime since we've been to Beale Street and it's been much more time since I produced this segment at a Memphis landmark called A. Schwab. Now you can tell the story, it's kind of old from the gaudy retro jeans you're about to witness. The word is out that Beale Street is back, at least in a renovated version, complete with new blues clubs and cafes, but Beale will never be like it was in the old days, a gathering place of people from Delta Farm Towns who came here to shop and play on weekends. And since 1879, one of the most popular stores was Schwab's. The kind of store that was in everybody's childhood. Well, today, the store that has everything you want and more is almost 115 years old and the more they change things down here on Beale Street to attract tourists, the more, some things like Schwab's never change and that's just the way visitors like it. Come on in. In here you're surrounded by tons of simple, old fashioned, inexpensive merchandise and all of the charming touches of yesteryear's department store. Why, they even wrap your purchases in brown paper. No plastic sacks here, mind you. - We are 50 years behind time. See, we got behind and rather than try to catch up. We just let the rest of the world go by and we trudged along in our own way. People come in here, surprisingly, they say, I've been in this store before, but I've never been to Memphis in my life. It's a typical store 50 years ago. - [Joe] This A. Schwab is the third generation to run the place, and he's done so quite successfully, even when Beale Street was dead. His secret, finding the hard to find at closeout sales around the country. From pictures of Elvis suitable for framing to galvanized wash tubs suitable for Saturday night bathing, from discount fiesta wear to king-sized outerwear. - We stock pants up to 74s, overalls up to 70. That's made in Tennessee, just in Tennessee. We stock shoes up to 17s. Men's sweatshirt up to 8X. I don't know how big it is, but that it's about this wide, you cannot hold it out, I can't hold it out, it's that big. We handle ladies underwear, ladies bloomers. We still stock the bloomers. - [Joe] Bloomers - [Shwab] Still stock the bloomers. - [Joe] Anybody still wear them? - [Shwab] Yes, yes. Iron wear, which is made in Pittsburgh, Tennessee. - Now here in the household laundry section, depending on how old you are and where you grew up, you'll remember such things as Colgate Octagon Soap, wooden closed pens and the ever popular Maid-Rite washboard still made in Columbus, Ohio. Schwab's has gradually gained a worldwide reputation. Why, nowadays customers include locals, tourists, and even some famous stars - Cybill Shepherd, she's local, she's a Memphis girl, she's been in here. Geraldine Chaplin's been in here, and several of the music groups, rock groups have been in here and it's surprising to me how many people come to me after have been here shopping and tell us that this has been the most fun spot in the entire trip of being in this store. We had the unusual items. An older person, he remembers the items, a younger person don't know what they are anyway, but they're trying to figure out what is it. And we do have a museum that they can look through. - Okay, well, let's start with some of these things like, this one for example, that's pretty interesting. Looks like a kazoo or a pan. - Right? It's a cake pan with the kazoo. - [Joe] They really made this. - [Shwab] Oh yeah, somebody made that. I have a whole set it's about 10 pieces. - Yeah, this one would sure stump me. - Yeah, now this is a pretty heavy item, I'll tell you that. - Yeah. - It has a strap on it. It's used in, in this position exactly, on a Tennessee walking horse to hold his tail up. Helps you keep your tail up. I promise you he will hold that tail up. - [Joe] Looks like it would work. - [Shwab] Yeah. - [Joe] Visitors are encouraged to browse and take in the museum, but the corner of the store that attracts the most curious looks is this one. It's full of magic potions, especially scented candles and strange substances known to chase away evil spirits or attract good ones. - If you respond to colors, you can stop yourself from doing something or make yourself. You have favorable colors, unfavorable and like if a person wants something to be clean and purity, they'll use a white candle. If they want something, a love affair, they'll burn a pink candle and the colors carried into the oils, into incense and all the different items. Pink will represent love, purple represents power. Kings wear purple and if somebody's bothering you, you burn a purple candle, then they can't get to you. - [Joe] Okay. - This is in the spiritual sense I'm speaking of, this is part of that unseen powers. - You believe in them? - I believe it's possible. - [Joe] Of course, the real magic here is the store itself, a landmark from the living heritage of Memphis and while the voices of tourism cry out that Beale Street is back, the voices of history and A. Schwab remind us that it never really left. - Wow. Joe, I love Schwab's on Bill Street. What a fun store and do you still have those jeans? - No. and I wish you wouldn't have asked, but I hope somebody's wearing them somewhere because I gave 'em away. - Well, they'd be popular, That's all I can say. - A state government would be a lot more fun like we're having here if more politicians were as funny as Cotton Ivy. Now, Cotton passed away a few years ago, but as Al Voecks once discovered, he left a legacy of upstanding political service and down home country humor. - This is Decaturville, Tennessee. Decaturville Tennessee is the Tennessee crossroads of Highway 100 and Highway 69. It's a small west Tennessee community of about a thousand, but more importantly, it's the hometown of a very special Tennesseean, a man who spends part of his time in Nashville, sitting in the legislature. A man who spends part of his time traveling all around Tennessee and the Southeast, practicing his own brand of humor and a man who spends a great deal of time right here in Decaturville with his family and his friends. We call this the three faces of Ivy. - [Cotton] I'm ready to go, I'm ready to go. - [Al] He is Lamarse Howard Ivy, but only his family and close friends like hunting partner Jeff Milam, call him that to everyone else, it's just Cotton Ivy. Cotton Ivy was born and raised in Decatur County about a half a mile from where he now lives. He and his wife Pat, have been together for 38 years. As of November, 1986 he is also state representative Cotton Ivy, representing the 63rd District. - Alright, we're home, big man. Let's go. Come on, Pete. Pete, come on big man. Learn to get, they would have a few more birds. - [Al] Cotton Ivy graduated from UT, did little selling, taught school, worked for the farm bureau, but none of that was very satisfying. He wanted to tell stories and after some lean years, he's finally doing what he loves and it doesn't bother him a bit that he is referred to as a good old country boy. - I'll make the law son, I'll abide by the law. Not a top. No, I enjoy it. I enjoy, and in the legislature, I enjoy folks taking me real lightly. Because when I was running for legislature, my opponent said, do you really want a clown to represent you? And I have taken laughter and turned it around and used it as door openers as a way to get a bill in a committee and outta a committee and a way to enhance my position in a lot of situations in the legislature, - It is rather unusual that you are in the legislature or humorist in the legislature. Do you have trouble having them take you seriously? - Well, at first I did, but I found the legislature to be the greatest source of humor. - [Al] How do you describe yourself politically? - Well, I'm a moderately a conservative, because my people are, I think maybe the first time that the cameras picked me up in Nashville, I was talking about the seatbelt, mandatory seatbelt. And I wear one and I advise you to, but my people are not for mandating, they're for liberty and freedom. That drum is beating and the reason we can't hear is that our eyes are them and our ears are calloused and we can't hear because we're marching to a different drum, a drum of big business, a drum where money is the bottom line. And I think that's the first time the legislature saw the serious side of me that I can laugh about it. But there comes a time when we get down to the nitty gritty, and I'm conservative, I represent these four counties, two on each side of the river. And I really wanted to see if I could get in there and do something. And maybe a politician will have been gone a few years before something good happens that he initiated. So you gotta take the old adage that as long as you don't worry who gets credit for it, just get in there and hustle and let things fall where they may. And I can see how people stay a long time and get very little reward. - I've got to ask you this Lamarse Howard, where did that come from? - Well, I was hoping we could get through without that. Mama read Lamarse in a catalog. She always told me, and Howard is my daddy's name, they call him Harod. So Lamarse Howard Ivy was my whole title. So when some youngun called me Cotton, I acted like I didn't like it, so it'd stick because I hated that name. - [Al] Now where did they get Cotton? - Well, I used to have hair, believe it or not. And it was a shock of white hair and I also picked Cotton. Now it used to be the only cash crop we had was a little cotton. - Now you quit your job in Union City, which was a good job to hit the road as a humorist. Why did you do that? - I made more money the last month I sold insurance than the first year and a half I'm on the road. I just, my wife said to me, she said, honey, we can't eat these cuff links and plaques that you bringing home. You got to make some money. And I have not arrived, but the other day when I made Music City News' Who's Who, that meant that I'm in the top 250 country acts recognized on the road. And those folks ought all be making a living. And that's all I'm doing. But it's a great accomplishment to make a living in something you really enjoy doing. - [Al] You like to make people laugh? - I love it. I'm addicted to it. Remember one Sunday, uncle Eve, he goes to sleep. He preaches in a monotone sometimes, he gets started and he gets about 10 or 15 minutes in his sermon, don't get up or down too much. And Uncle Ebb go sleep. A lot of people do that when you get still hope y'all don't here tonight, but some of you may, I'll forgive you for it. But Brother Bill said, I worked on my sermons and Uncle Ebb got to snoring in church and that's very distracting. So Brother Bill came upon a plan and said, "I'm gonna break him one time forever for disturbing my service." So we got to preaching this particular Sunday, about 10, 15 minutes, uncle Ebb sitting on the second seat, he hit that and Uncle Ebb fell over and he got to snoring and Brother Bill just stopped the sermon. He said, "I want every one of this congregation within the sound of my voice that wants to go to heaven, please rise." Everybody stood, but Uncle Ebb. He said, please be seated. Now everybody wants to go to hell stand up. Uncle Ebb dropped about three inches off that floor. But he began to rub his eyes and he said, "brother Bill, I don't write to know what we voting on, but ain't nobody but me and you for it." Sandy Rice bills me as a country humorist. And I've been introduced as a raconteur, but I tell stories, hopefully funny about country people and try to embellish 'em and try to inject a lot of country humor into it. Well, you know, we get our kicks from simple things, we country folks. Like the other day, Cletus came in the grocery walking like a turtle with an ingrown toenail. Hurt all over his face. Uncle Ebb said, "boy, you in pain, ain't you?" He said, "yeah, I am". He looked down there and his ankles all swollen up and he said, "boy" said, "ain't your shoes too little?" He said, "yeah, they are." He said, "why don't you get your a bigger pair of shoes?" He said, "cause they serve a great purpose in my life, that's why." Said, "I'm in debt, head over heels. Things are going so bad for me my own dog growled at me last week." Said, "I'm coughing, can't quit smoking, fat and can't quit eating. My wife left me, my children ignore me, and I hate my job. About the only pleasure I got left in life when I get home, take off these tight shoes." I love it. I'm addicted to it. - [Al] When Cotton Ivy passes on and people remember him, what do you want them to remember? - I want 'em to remember that the master gave me a little of the ability to help my fellow human being laugh. And through laughter, I have seen problems disappear. I've seen high blood pressure, age, digestion, help circulation. I've seen troubles float away through some sort of chemical that's secreted by the human being when he laughs Grayden , my good friend, the late Grayden said, "if you don't think that God is a humorist, y'all look in the mirror every now and then." And then my friend Clauer says, "when you look in that mirror and you still can't laugh, at least you will know what the rest of us are laughing at." So laughter to me is the is God's hand on the shoulder of a troubled world. - Cotton Ivy possesses the qualities that most of us wish we had. It may be a trite way to say it, but it is true. When they made Cotton ivy, they threw away the mold. And that's unfortunate. - What a guy. I never got to meet him, did you? - Yes, I remember him when he served in the legislature, but then when I really met him was when he was commissioner of Agriculture. Just what a tremendous fella. - Was he funny then? - Oh, he was funny and you're right. We just need more people to be a little lighthearted and fun like he was. - I agree. Well, I've always believed our dearly departed friend, Jerry Thompson could find a story just about anywhere. Case in point, one day Jerry decided to create a video essay of sorts all designed to pay homage to the occupants of an old junkyard - Old cars. Great old cars never really die. Some people might say they never die because they never really were alive. But those of us who owned them and drove them and loved them, just know it isn't true. Oh, they may not have a pulse and they may not breathe. They may not have several of the other things that normally signify life. But one thing they do have, each and every one of 'em is a personality. They also have their own characteristics and mannerisms. Disregard all these things at your own risk because I know they exist. But like all things, whether living or not, great old cars become victims of old age. When it comes, as it always does, it does not necessarily mean the end is near. The car may never run again as it once proudly did. But in most cases, all of it has never reached the end of the road. I'm here today in Billy Evans's salvage yard in Orlando, Tennessee. It's a place where Fords, Chevvies, Dodges, Plymouth, and all the others come to rest a while. They don't come here to die, they just stop here to await a new life. All are welcome. Once they're here, it's kind of like an organ bank. They just wait until someone needs a specific part, whether it be the wheel, the bumper, the carburetor alternator, or even an entire engine of transmission. They just wait until they're needed. Many of the parts they have to offer are no longer manufactured. That makes their wait all the more worthwhile. However, once the scavengers have rescued all the usable parts, the remainder finally find its way to the scrap heat. But again, the metal is recycled and possibly will find its way into another automobile that would've once again proudly roam the highway with a new life, a new owner and a new personality. No sir, great old cars just never really die. - Boy, Jerry was such a storyteller and I love this segment. It was a quirky segment really, when you think about it. - Junkyards. - Yeah but he just sort of made you feel so poetic about a junkyard. How about that? - Well, as we said earlier, he could do a story on just about anything and everything. - That's true. Yeah. - Well today's 2nd Avenue is in our final story, and it's part of Nashville that's really booming as an entertainment district. But it's been a long hard journey. Back in 1987, our old friend Susan Thomas, explored 2nd Avenue and it was, well, just at the onset of a resurgence, here's what she discovered. - This is 2nd Avenue North, a place most people probably think of as a discarded remnant of Nashville's past, but something is happening here. In the last few years, and especially in the last few months, this once empty street has taken on a new look and a new feel. All of a sudden 2nd Avenue is the place to be. - Well, 2nd Avenue has the potential of being Nashville's Greenwich Village. I see it as a 24 hour street. It needs to be the kind of place where people can come down knowing that there's always gonna be something to do. - [Susan] This is Anne Reynolds, director of the Metro Historic Commission. - There has been a remarkable change in the last six months, and I think that's happened because the buildings began to be rehabilitated. People began to discover this, and then there have been another series of things that have happened. The trolleys are here and I think they've made a, we think they've made a tremendous difference. They bring people down here and it's a safe way to travel and it's fun, Union Station has been done. That's open and that's a stop on the trolley line and the Riverfront Park is open and people have begun to come back downtown. And 2nd Avenue is just a vital ingredient in that festive part of downtown I think - [Susan] Fun and business, that's what's bringing people back down to 2nd Avenue. And today you can find old businesses right alongside the new. And that's only fitting, considering how the street first got its start over 200 years ago. - 2nd Avenue started as a market street. Goods came in on the river and were brought in on the 1st Avenue side and sold out the 2nd Avenue side. So it was really the center of all the mercantile activity down here. The first store in Nashville was located just north of Church Street on 2nd. - [Susan] Still 2nd Avenue has seen some lean years, especially when the railroads began overtaking river travel. But the street no longer depends on riverboats and barges for its livelihood. Now it's a place to find what Nashville doesn't offer anywhere else, like jazz in the afternoon. And a lot of people are coming to places like Windows on the Cumberland to hear the music. ♪ That's why I know ♪ ♪ Yes, I know, Hallelujah ♪ ♪ I just love his soul, son ♪ - We get all kinds, we get lawyers, judges, politicians, musicians, Roseanne Cash every now and then. - [Susan] Ralph White, white manager of Windows likes the mix of his new customers in historic 2nd Avenue. - Well, there's a lot of tradition and there's a lot of new people too. So it's kind of an exciting mix because you've got history all over the place and history being made too. It's really exciting. - [Susan] Beyond the glitz and glamour, 2nd Avenue has also become home for people like Y107, disc jockey, Coyote McLeod, who can afford the very high rent loft apartments. - I had to be in the most exciting part of the city and the most exciting part of the city right now is 2nd Avenue. It's exploding. It's great. - [Susan] What do you like about living here? - There's art galleries, there's restaurants, there's taverns. The people are coming back downtown and the people make Nashville exciting and all the exciting people are on 2nd Avenue. - [Susan] Do you think this is the new Nashville? - Yeah. Nashville's exploding in downtown. It's fixing to explode. And if they do what they say they're gonna do, they're talking about putting up this atrium between fifth and third avenue and it's a reality in five, six years. And they're gonna be sidewalk cafes, they're gonna be restaurants, they're gonna be the old merchants hotel. There's gonna be a three story restaurant. There's gonna be no place like it. - [Susan] And with 2nd Avenue coming into its own, once again, it seems only right that the street already has an unofficial mayor of sorts. How did Bart Graves earn this distinction? - Well, it started as a joke and I think it's because I spent all my time down here. I live downtown, work downtown and I love 2nd Avenue so much and get so excited about it that I have to, everyone I meet, I have to show 'em my loft and show 'em up and down the street and give 'em a tour and this sort of thing. And tourists would come in and I'd say, have you seen this? And it so it kind of got to be a joke, the mayor of 2nd Avenue and so that's how the street knows me now. - 2nd Avenue is where Nashville got its start. And now that the street is coming back to life, if you've got a few spare minutes, come on down, ride a trolley, take a taxi. You'll see the new place to be in Nashville. Well Joe, Nashville is evolving constantly. And back then we thought it was way ahead of its time. And now look at 2nd Avenue. - Oh gosh. Well it's history now. - That's true. - And so is our show for this time, it's time for us to get back to the present, but we really hope you enjoyed the journey. - And if you'd like to keep time traveling with us, remember you can watch episodes on any device any time with the PBS app. - Bye for now. - See ya.
Retro Tennessee Crossroads
November 06, 2023
Season 02 | Episode 02
In this episode, we’re headed down to historic Beale Street in Memphis to a famous store called Schwab’s. Al Voecks interviews Tennessee humorist Cotton Ivy. You’ll get a romantic view of junkyards. And Susan Thomas takes us for an inside look at Nashville's Second Avenue in 1987.