Gary and Me
Everyone has certain people who are their "running buddies" in high school. I had several and we all made up a group of unique individuals. In other articles I have mentioned people such as Pinky Durham, who won the medal of honor. There were several others who were great buddies. One of those was a fellow named Gary Roberts. I remember his father who was a very good paint contractor. He painted the furniture store that my dad, Frank Harrell, formed about 1962. Mr. Roberts was a great guy. I remember that he had some glasses that had the bifocal part of the lens at the top instead of the bottom. It made perfect sense because he could look up and see the close work of trimming out with paint. He didn't have to bend his head way back which is hard on the neck and shoulders. I thought those glasses were so unique! Anyway, Gary and his parents lived out Tift Avenue just beyond 16th Street on which I had lived years before.
Now, Gary was a character! He had some unique qualities which defined him in such a way that he has been unforgettable. I remember that Gary and I would walk all over Tifton. If we wanted to go somewhere, we walked. And, from the High School to his house was quite a hike. No one had a car so we had to "hoof" it if we wanted to go just about anywhere. So off we would go. Thought nothing about it. It was the way of life for most teenagers in the mid fifties and early sixties. Wore out a lot of shoes in those days.
Gary and I both had haircuts what were notable in those days. One of the most popular Rock and Roll stars of the day was Jerry Lee Lewis. He had long yellow hair (not blond) which was wavy and he combed it straight back with a little bit that fell on his forehead. It was called a "waterfall." Gary had one of those. It was spectacular in its design. I say "design" because we all used Butch Wax in our hair to "sculpt" it the way we wanted it to stay. Butch Wax was wonderful stuff however, late in the day if one stood with the sun in the background, others could see a strange little "halo" around their head. It was the dust that had settled on the Butch Wax during the day. It just stuck there and it was illuminated by the glow of the sun in the background. We would rub out hands lightly over our head several times a day to mash the dust down so it wouldn't stick up. Really clean hair! Anyway, Gary had a champion head of hair! Some tried to emulate his haircut but he had the "patent" on it in Tifton. In addition to the cut, Gary's hair was more like the color of Jerry Lee Lewis's hair. Cool!! Haircuts were popular in those days and I had an Elvis Presley hairdo. My hair was dark brown like Elvis's and it was very thick (still is thankfully). I used the same Butch Way Gary did and sculpted my hair like Elvis wore it. Those hairdos must have made a bigger impact than we realized because at our 50th High School Reunion, Gary and I were mentioned several times in relation to our hair. I really didn't expect that to happen. We were not remembered for being so popular or scholarly but for our sculpted haircuts although I must admit that Gary was much better at school work than I was in those days.
Now Gary and I were cool! We thought we were the coolest of the cool. In fact we knew we were. You had to walk a certain way. Sort of a lope and in the process you made sure the taps that were installed on the heels of your shoes would scrub the sidewalk in a certain way. It set up sort of a rhythm and was very cool! Sometimes we would time our strides so that we would be striking the pavement with our taps at the same times. It sounded like a herd of horses coming down the sidewalk. I remember that Brooks Drug store was a favorite hangout for sever teenagers. I don't know how those people stood us because we would take over the booths in the store and stay there all day on Saturday reading magazines and drinking cherry cokes. Then it would be time to tour the town. We would all get up and make the round through downtown Tifton loping along and showing off our taps all the way. Brooks Drugstore was a cool place in those days. We also liked Tift County Drug Company but Brooks was the Saturday hangout. I'm sure the Tift County Drug folks were good with that.
As time went on, we graduated from High School and our little group dissolved. Gary went on to college, got a degree in History and ultimately became a faculty member at Abraham Baldwin College. He is an outstanding historian and later became the Director of the Social Studies Department at the college. I was late going to college because I just wasn't ready for it at the end of High School. I was working in radio and continued to follow that career. As it turned out, I finally started college at the ripe old age of 26 and registered at ABAC. Lo and behold, who was my history teacher but Gary Roberts. I was amazed at his command of the subject. It was obviously his calling! He treated me like everyone else which was the proper thing to do. I couldn't believe that my ole buddy was actually a History teacher at college but he was. The Jerry Lee Lewis hairdo was gone but Gary was still there. It was a good time for both of us.
Gary became a highly respected expert on Western history. He has written a book on Doc Holiday entitled: Doc Holiday, The Life and the Legend. It is one of my prized possessions and I read it intently and completely. I treasure the inscription he placed in the front of the book. Today, when one sees Gary Roberts they would swear they are looking a character from the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. He still lopes along but instead of his "waterfall haircut" he has a big handlebar moustache and likes western wear. Gary is still a character. He is still fun to be with as we talk over old times. I always try to have lunch with him when I am in Tifton so we can keep our old friendship current. As I look back, I remember the days when two of the real "characters" among Tifton teenagers were Me and Gary.
William F. Harrell