Radium Springs – Albany Georgia – My Home Town – Luke Battles the Radium Slide

Radium 8

This view as the same as the one below except this one shows the attraction the water at Radium was to local residents.

I grew up in Albany, Georgia not more than two miles through the woods from the largest natural spring in the state. Radium Springs or Radium as we called the springs is still the stuff that dreams are made of especially if you grew up there when I did. The kids who hung out there all those golden summers ago are still flush with the memories we made there and many of us have never stopped dreaming about Radium.

Radium 3

Crystal clear 68° water (that’s bone-rattling cold) pumping at a rate of 70,000 gallons per minute.

But the memory I have to share with you does not include the gorgeous southern belles we longed for in sweet dreams. My memorable story comes from an earlier age before our fragile and crushed libidos emerged scathed, and scorched from the narrow halls of junior high school straight into the cavernous hallways of Albany High School.

This memory is from that long lost age of prepubescence when Luke and I were only about ten years old. This would have been in 1951 or ’52. My Mother dropped us off one beautiful Sunday morning and left us to swim and play to the point of exhaustion so we would be too tired to bother her when we came back home after the big swim.

Luke and I were built pretty much alike. We both looked exactly like spider monkeys. We were skinny and had the long limbs of the world’s most successful tree swingers. Our simian good looks destined us to pretty much play together because other normal looking kids usually were intimidated by our tree climbing and limb swinging abilities. Our faces even looked like those of long limbed monkeys.

Radium 7

The front entrance to Radium Springs Casino during Christmas.

Radium 4

The Casino and springs viewed from the rear of the building.

Once we arrived at the springs we hit the ground running. We went all out. We swam around the island about a dozen times. We ventured down the creek that emptied into the Flint River at least twice before life guards told us they would kick our butts if we didn’t cut it out. We had worked the place over petty good that morning and we were headed for more of the same that afternoon up until the moment Luke fell in love with a slide that was at least as high as a two story building. I lost sight of him for a few minutes and when I next caught sight of him he was climbing up that long slide the same way most people use to slide down it. He was all over that sliding board. The picture shown below has the slide located on the Casino side of the swimming area but back when Luke commandeered the slide it was mounted on the island.

He fell madly in love with the slide. I temporarily lost sight of him again and when I finally spotted him he was swinging just like one of those old spider monkeys from the supporting structure beneath the slide. I felt sure he was going to set up a rhythmic swinging of the slide that would result in its crashing into the water on top of a dozen swimmers.

Radium 6It was hard to keep up with loose limbed Luke. I next saw him going up the slide by walking it from the bottom to the top. Man could he move. There is a man in this old picture of one of the slides doing the same crazy backward slide walk.

His great downfall finally came when he tried sliding down backward on his hands and knees. It was more fun than watching acrobats at a circus. As he went down the thing on his hands and knees he hit that little dip in the board where two sections were joined. He commenced to do a back flip that would have worked perfectly except for the fact he didn’t know he was going to do a back flip. When he completed the flip he lost his grip and his face hit that same joint between the slide sections.

Hitting your face wouldn’t normally have been much of a problem for either of us because we were far less than handsome boys. To be honest we were fairly ugly boys. The trouble with hitting his face right at that spot at that moment was, like most human type people, Luke had a mouth full of teeth. That joint in the slide sections got a good grip on one of Luke’s upper incisors and drove it deep into the roof of his mouth where the Lord did not intend it to be. It was noticeable and it was not pretty.

Radium 2

High water here has caused the water to be murky rather than crystal clear as is normal.

I don’t remember how I got in touch with my Daddy but it seems like it was no time at all before he had us in the car, still in our floppy swimsuits, and on the road to town.

I also have no idea how Daddy had arranged for a dentist to meet us downtown but the dentist was there in full regalia and with a huge assortment of stainless steel tools of torture waiting for Luke to show up. I do not remember the name of the dentist but I remember his office was on the second floor of a building on Front Street and it was across the street from Keenan’s Auto Parts Company.

Luke was quickly ushered into the dentist’s chair and as the dentist picked up a syringe with a pretty good sized needle attached I saw Luke’s spider monkey eyes accelerate to saucer size in a split second. Now I don’t really know how needles are measured in diameter but I understand that the smaller the number, the bigger the needle. A size seven is probably the largest they make but this dentist had somehow scraped up a number one needle and old Luke had not missed a beat when the dentist picked it up from his tray.

I have never seen an Olympic speedster move as fast as Luke did. He came out of that chair like it had a built in catapult. He went out the door and down the stairs. I could see him running past Keenan’s Auto Parts and heading for the river before the dentist could say, “What the hell happened?”

We chased Luke. Correction: I chased Luke for more than an hour all along Front Street to Broad Avenue up to Jackson Street and back down Pine Street. At times we passed the same businesses more than once. It had to be a Sunday because the streets were empty of cars and people and it was a good thing that few people saw us because I don’t think my Daddy could have taken the embarrassment of having Tift Park zoo keepers join the chase for a couple of spider monkeys running loose on the Flint River Bridge. Luke could run even faster than he could swing from limbs. Daddy tried to keep up in his car. Finally he told me, “Just yell to him that we won’t take him back to the dentist. We’ll take him home to his Mother and Daddy.”  And that’s what we did.

I understand Luke’s folks got him to settle down so the family dentist could get his tooth back in shape. I used to see him from time to time. I would look for signs of the tooth being false but I never could tell if they saved his tooth or if he had a new one stuck on a retainer. I was always afraid to ask. I didn’t want to take an ass whipping from a spider monkey.

Luke never went back to Radium springs with me and maybe it was best that way. I eventually became acceptable to a few local girls who apparently decided it was okay to have to put up with just one spider monkey.

Radium 14Radium 18

 

 

 

 

Spider monkey 3

Luke – Taking a rare rest.

Spider Monkey

Ben

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spider monkey 2

Luke at Work.

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The 1956 Pontiac SkiWagon – Albany, Georgia – My Hometown

For Johann Bleicher and Vic Miller.

56 Pontiac 3

The magnificent 1956 Pontiac Star Chief that pulled our feckless friends on skis through water filled ditches in Dougherty County, Georgia after heavy rains.

Pontiac-4

This looks much like the same station wagon we used. Friends who skied had lost at least three of their five senses. That would be touch, hearing and sight.

Ever aware of the old axiom ”Idle hands are the devil’s workshop”, Vic Miller, Johann Bleicher and I constantly struggled with our collective conscience to come up with different ideas and new efforts to entertain ourselves and to stay as far away from the devil’s workshop as possible.

Johann lived with his family adjacent to the Merck Chemical Plant south of Albany. There were great expanses of constantly trimmed and mowed acres all around and we sometimes flew kites there. Kite flying was getting pretty close to the devil’s workshop because it was so boring. We didn’t know how to fight with the air born kites so tiring of constantly looking up at them I got my old 410 Savage shotgun out of the car and blew Vic’s kite out of the air.

The most fun we had out there was the day we got some wine, cheese and crackers and invited a high school counselor to go to Johann’s with us. He was a fanciful lad and giggled nervously a lot. Did I mention the bows and arrows? Well, we also had three bows and a box full of arrows.

We got out in the middle of one of those large grassy areas and we began to fire the arrows heavenward. We pretty much knew the wind would take the arrows from directly over us and drop them a few feet downwind. we didn’t know beans about downdrafts and wind shear but the Lord was with us that particular day.

The counselor knew less about the wind than we knew. He would stand as straight up as possible to make himself a smaller target after we shot the arrows straight up. At that point all three of us would start to yell, “Do you hear that, do you hear that? It’s coming, Do you hear it? It’s coming.” Then we would make whooooshing noises and thooomping noises. This guy was a city boy and he didn’t realize we were making all that noise with our mouths. He thought the arrows were swooshing all about us and thudding deeply into the ground.

He got pretty shaky and I wish I could reproduce his giggle for you. That nervous giggle was a thing of beauty to us. We needed fearful reactions from him to keep our adrenaline pumping at high levels. A few weeks later I heard he had quit his job and was doing a stint in a North Georgia nursing home.

And so that’s partly how we passed a couple of the summer months and then it began to rain. It rained and it rained and I thought it would never stop. The ditches around Albany were filling and overflowing and I think it was Vic Miller I caught staring at the trailer hitch on my mother’s station wagon and when he said, “You know I have an old slalom ski and we can tie a ski rope to the trailer hitch on your Mother’s station wagon and we can pull a skier down those water filled ditches with her car pulling the skier from the road side.

When Miller had a brilliant idea (to him) Johann and I would say even more brilliant things to dissuade him from following through with it. We would say things like, “Duh, snarfle, snarfle, snarfle, duh, duh.” That was our way of buying time in an attempt to tell him that his idea was the craziest, stupidest, lamest thought he had ever had. We never won because to win would make you chicken and nobody was going to be called a chicken.

So we did it. I did not tempt fate. I knew I could refuse to let anybody else drive Mother’s car so that automatically made me a non-skier and it proved to me at an early age that I was not suicidal. Vic and Johann were the main skiers. There were others who skied but I only recall Vic and Johann because they became major players in the game.

At first we tried the ditches along the route that is now known as GA300. We were at the interchange on the Moultrie Road and GA300 right by Procter and Gamble. The road back then was still under construction and the ditches were wide and fairly safe because the water was also deep. If a skier fell the deep mud would soften the fall. Fortunately there was no paving at the time. Paving would have been destroyed by an impact from Vic or Johann’s head and we would have been liable for damaging the roadway.

The Eastside ditches turned out to be too easy. Now Victor had to ski the ditches of the Gillionville Road just a few miles out of town. These ditches were not only extremely narrow but there were high patches a few inches to a few feet long where there was no water at all.

The first time we hit a dry patch old Vic skied through the mud. The next little dry spot he came through equally well but the third was a little too much for him and I saw him in the rear view mirror when he tossed the ski rope up in the air and then he almost planted a full lip lock on a road sign.

Vic was through for the day but he coerced Johann into giving it a try. Johann made it through the first two spots okay but that third stretch of dry dirt threw him like he had been on the back of a wild horse. That wouldn’t have been too bad for Johann but he didn’t turn loose of the ski rope. We dragged him for a couple of hundred yards on his belly before I wisely hit the brake pedal and stopped the car.

Even all these years later I can still see deep scars from the unforgiving briars and brambles that raked his shirt off and tore his chest up like he had been whipped unmercifully with a cat-of-nine-tails.

Most people might not see it but now, almost 55 years later, I can still clearly make out the scars on his stomach that read, “AHS 1961.” The loop at the top of the number nine perfectly encircles his belly button.

It was a great summer.

water skiing in ditch

Water skiing in a ditch.

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water skiing in ditch 2

Good-bye to Uncle Billy Loveless.

Uncle Billy, Sara and Grace

Uncle Billy – Thanksgiving at the lodge.

Uncle Billy and Family

Uncle Billy and Family – Thanksgiving at the lodge.

The phrase ‘Best Man’ has stuck in my mind for days now and I can’t seem to shake it. ‘Best Man’ is reserved as a title for the principal groomsman at a wedding but the reason the phrase won’t leave me is I have known who the best man was for many years.

In our extended family, Uncle Billy Loveless was always the best man. All of us knew it and none doubted it. The males in our extended family were always sure we would not go wrong if we followed Uncle Billy’s example.

One week ago today on a beautiful first Wednesday in April, William David Loveless was laid to rest in our old home town of Albany, Georgia. It seems a paradox of nature itself for such a good man to pass away and be buried just when azaleas in a multitude of gorgeous, rich colors adorn every Southern lawn with wisteria and dogwood trees flashing and blooming their beauty from wooded areas along the roadways.

Billy was a young man in Macon, Georgia before he came to Albany. He moved to Albany in 1952 and retired from the Albany Fire Department as a Captain after 35 years. This proven stability in his life’s work followed him as a true and telling benchmark of his life for well over sixty years and he never wavered in following the path he marked for himself as a young man so many years ago.

Billy was only about ten years older than me but by virtue of his long marriage to Kay’s Aunt Sara (Sister to Kay’s Mother Grace) he was Kay’s Uncle Billy and certainly, by default, he was my Uncle Billy. When you get right down to it Billy Loveless was ‘Uncle’ to a host of people.

He and his lovely wife Sara were married for 63 years. Sara and Billy were blessed with three pretty daughters. Judy Loveless married Fred Burt. Delores Loveless is married to Ken Phillips. Lisa, Billy and Sara’s youngest Daughter tragically passed away when she was only sixteen. Delores and Judy are sweet mothers to four children of their own and at Billy’s passing he and Sara had been blessed with six great-grandchildren as well and what a fantastic brood of children they are.

He loved them dearly and each of them is a living testament to the caliber of man he was. He was kind, generous to a fault, warm and tenderhearted, loving and caring and those fine qualities of an honorable man are reflected in the personalities of his progeny. They are all loving and happy children.They have inherited from Billy and Sara the capacity to face adversity with brave and joyous laughter.

Billy managed to do things I have never been able to do. He volunteered freely of his time and life for causes he believed in. He served in the Navy during the Korean War. He was a member of Sherwood Baptist Church and The Encouragers Sunday School Class. He was a member of Triangle Lodge #708 F&AM. He was a 32nd Degree Scottish Rite Mason, a member of Hasan Shrine Temple, The Red Devil Clown Unit and a member of Royal Order of the Jesters, Court #159.

Billy Loveless was a noble and godly man. He believed in God with all his heart. He was honorable, faithful and caring. He adored his wife Sara and a number of his final days were spent in worry about her future existence if he would not be there to care for her.

And now you may think I have run out of good adjectives in describing Uncle Billy Loveless but I knew I had the right adjective from the very start. Uncle Billy was ‘The Best Man.’ He was the Best Man I have ever known. I will miss him.

Uncle Billy and Hudson

Uncle Billy and Hudson Vallandingham at the Lodge, Thanksgiving

Billy, Sara with Cake

Uncle Billy, Aunt Sara and Aunt Sara’s Birthday Cake.

 

 

 

 

Billy's Birthday

Uncle Billy’s Clan in it’s entirety.

Sara, Judy and Delores

The Lovely Loveless Ladies – Judy,  Aunt Sara and Delores.

 

Double Hump Day in Albany, Georgia – My Home Town

Camel

This is Mac getting her picture taken with Bogart the famous Bactrian camel. He is a brother to Humphrey Bogart. If you are an older person you might remember seeing both Bogart brothers in the famous movie, ‘Casablanca.’ Mac was not in the movie. She was too young.

Camel 3

This is a close up of Bogart, brother to Humphrey and Humphrey’s co-star in the movie, ‘Casablanca.’ Note the same manly space between his nostrils and the devilishly romantic length of his eyelashes.

 

Katie Mae and I have been married forty years in July. I just counted up and we have lived in nine towns or cities since we first so bravely said, ‘I Do.’ We are both natives of Albany, Georgia and although Albany has now fallen on harder times than when we lived there the good citizens never fail to amaze me with their dogged and never give up attitude when it comes to their continuing efforts to make it a great place to live.

We sometimes complain about conditions in our old home town and we love to reminisce about the way things were when we were young but you really have to stop and consider that a town the size of Albany has more things to do for young people than any place I can think of.

Radium Springs is only four or five miles from downtown and is the largest natural spring in Georgia. It retains the gracefully designed walls, walks and enclosures that once made it a showplace of the south. The water is generally a crystal clear blue and when the spring is pumping at its best it produces 70,000 gallons of water per minute at a constant 68 degrees.

Albany has a beautiful aquarium dubbed ‘The Riverquarium’ that’s brimming with examples of plants, shrubs, fish and reptiles all native to the area.

When we were kids, Albany had a zoo that could be compared with zoos in large cities. We had it all. Gators, an anaconda, other reptiles, monkeys, a crazy chimpanzee, ferocious psychotic baboons, blubbery manatees, otters, swans, an elephant, a buffalo that looked like an American bison, big cats, and a donkey. There were exotic eagles from Africa and South America. We even had a lion that could hike his rear end high in the air on the chain link fence enclosure and urinate a stream like it came from a fire hose and woe be it to the poor spectator standing there in the front of the cage with mouth agape.

Later the animals were all transferred out into the county to Chehaw State Park where a huge area had been converted into natural habitats for all the wild animals.

And here is where my cue came in and rapped its knuckles on my thick skull to wake me and remind me that the governing fathers of Albany and its surrounding area are still at it. Even in these trying times they have produced a great new addition to Chehaw. If you live near there be sure to stop in and say hello to Bogart, the Bactrian camel in his new house.

Bogart has a set of lips you won’t believe. He can twist and screw up his lips so they look like a long straw and he can empty a 55 gallon drum full of water in just a few minutes.

But the greatest thing about Bogart is he has two humps. He is an Eastern Asia camel so that makes him eligible for a second hump. Dromedaries are from Western Asia and Northern Africa and they have only one hump. So now you know all you need to know about hump-backed camels.

We asked our young friend Mac, who is pictured above admiring Bogart, how she likes the new camel. She said she loved Bogart but the whole thing makes her kind of sad.

We said, ‘Sad, how in the world can Bogart make you sad?’

And she said, ‘People who have a hump day have hump day only one time a week on Wednesday but poor old Bogart has a double-hump day every day of his life.

It makes good sense to me and I don’t think Mac will be sad too long. I know I won’t.

Camel 2

Bogart checking out his new digs at The Parks at Chehaw – Wild Animal Park.

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