The Varsity and Duffy's Drive-in
In the late fifties, Tifton, GA was a wonderful place for teenagers to live. I have often said that our generation lived in the best time to be a teenager in the best years of the best country on the earth! We had a wonderful group of kids and those friendships extend even to today some 55+ years down the road of life. It was basically a more innocent time in which to live. The devastating things that teenagers have to deal with today were not yet such a problem. Drugs, pornography and a degenerating society were not on the radar screen for us in Tifton, GA. We were granted the great privilege of being able to have our childhood and teenage experiences in relative innocence.
One of the great thrills of life was in getting one's first car. I will never forget the one I bought. It was a 1949 Ford four door. The car was painted a battleship grey and I put red pin stripes on it and some moon hubcaps. Man!! Was it cool or what? It had a flat-head V-8 for a power plant and I thought that those ninety-five horses made it the most powerful thing on the street! I loved my little Ford. I soon discovered that anyone who did not have a car loved it too. I always had a car full of friends. Two places in town were our favorite hangouts. The Varsity was out on West Seventh Street near where the interstate came through town. Just about every night the parking lot was filled with cars and teenagers. Jerry Lee Lewis was blaring on the juke box under the covered area at the back of the Varsity building. It was so loud that you could hear it perfectly well in the car even if it was raining. All the drivers would back their car into their parking space so that they could see who was driving around and around the establishment. I probably put five-hundred miles on my little Ford driving around the Varsity. The guys who had a car that really wasn't anything much other than a standard vehicle tried to convince everyone else that they had a really BAD car by gunning the motor so that their glass pack mufflers would rumble and roar. Then they would pump the clutch and "get a wheel." BAD....really BAD!! Now, the few who really had a hot rod or souped up car didn't have to do that. They just loped around the Varsity, letting their car speak for itself. I was one that raced my engine so that my mufflers would rumble loudly.
I remember that inside the Varsity, there were some pictures that had been enlarged and hung on the wall. They were pictures of special things concerning Tifton High School (these were days long before the county school system.) There was a picture of Johnny Lipsey, a superstar in former football days. Then there was a picture of the Tifton High School Big Blue and White Band in all its glory. My wife and I are both in that picture. I am pictured on the big bass drum and she was a majorette who played the flute in the concert band. When all of those things were removed during later years, somehow that picture of the band wound up in the possession of Carolyn's family. We found it in a storage building and still have it. It was defaced somewhat by kids in the Varsity but it is still in relatively good shape.
Yes, the Varsity was a special place where many wonderful relationships were engendered. People fell in love there. Some of them married. Bonds of friendship were formed which will never cease to exist. I remember that we had our characters! One of my grandchildren asked me one day if our days of youth were like the t.v. show "Happy Days." I replied: "Yes." I told her that we lived the t.v. show "Happy Days." It was really like that even to having our own "Fonzie"....Darwyn Shannon. You had to know this guy!! Never another one like him! We are still great friends today. I could tell many stories about Darwyn and I'm sure he could enlighten some people on me as well. When we talk on the phone or visit in person, we spend a most of our time talking about our teenage years we spent together. All the events and personalities come to life again in all their glory. We have a lot of fun reliving all our favorite events and remembering the characters of our youth.
Now, there was another place across town on 12th Street. It was almost totally different from the Varsity but it had its own mystic which was very special. It was a former gas station turned BBQ place, turned teenage gathering spot. The building was just that; a former service station. They served some of the best BBQ in the world at Duffy's Drive In. The smell of BBQ being prepared on the pit out back was the most enticing thing in the world if one was hungry. An old black man was the BBQ cook and he knew how to do it! The parking lot of Duffy's was not paved so when it rained there were grassy places and also muddy pools of water. But no one cared...it was Duffy's Drive-In and we loved it. We would sit for hours and drink Dr. Peppers and eat French fries. Rain, shine, sleet or snow, we would be at Duffy's to listen to music, eat our favorite snacks and have a good time with our friends. When we visit Tifton today, I usually feel that I should take my hat off when I drive by the old Duffy's location. The old station is gone and has been replaced by a small restaurant but the memories are intact of those nights we spent on that undulating, pothole filled parking lot.
There was a young black guy that worked at Duffy's that became good friends with all of us. The name we knew him by was "Hambone." I called him that all of his life until he passed away a few years ago. Hambone was our buddy. He took care of all of us. He was about our same age and he was already quite hefty. He looked to be about 5'10" tall. Over the years, Hambone gained a little weight. He finally reached the point that, in adulthood, he weighed about 1100 pounds. Yes I said 1100 pounds!! I remember seeing pictures of him lying on his bed unable to get up and move about. More than once he entered a weight loss program and would lose several hundred pounds but, alas, he would gain them back. I found out that Hambone watched our television broadcast from my church called Strength for Today. He would tell people that he knew me and relate how we used to be close friends during our Duffy's Drive-In days. True friendships never die. I still remember "Hambone" with a smile on my face, and I will always treasure the memories of The Varsity and Duffy's Drive-In.
William F. Harrell