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Remembering Christmas Past: Gainesville girl watched the plaza turn into a ‘magical place’ from her grandfather’s storefront

By on December 22, 2021 0

Pamela Carter Hutchinson remembers watching Christmas unfold around Gainesville Square in the 1950s as she sat many late afternoons in the large window of her grandfather’s AD McDonald’s grocery store , now the Ozark County Historium. She remembers seeing single strands of Christmas lights light up around the square, depicting shop windows decorated with holiday scenes topped with spray snow and mounds of fluffy cotton (probably quilt wadding). The remembered scene creates a sparkling fantasy in Pam’s memory that still makes her smile 70 years later.

“Western Auto and the hardware store always had dolls and carts in their windows, and Rex [Johnson] always had the snow spray decorating the windows at Johnson’s, ”she said. “The shops in the square stayed open later, and when the lights came on I just remember it as a magical place. “

Sometimes during the holiday season, Daddy Mac would put on a Santa costume and walk the sidewalks around the plaza, handing out apples and oranges, Pam said.

During most of Pam’s childhood years, her parents, Hayden and Beulah “Toots” McDonald Carter, worked in businesses in the plaza. For a while, they both worked in the store owned by McDonald’s (known to his grandchildren as “Daddy Mac”). Hayden was a meat cutter and Toots worked at the cash register.

The shoes were sold at the back of the store, and Pam recalls sitting on the bench one day “when people could sit and try on shoes. I was crying looking at one of those little red introductory books, the “See Dick run” kind of readers, ”she said. “I was crying and mom came back that way. She said, “What’s wrong? I told him, ‘I’m going to start school in a few days, and I can’t read.’ “

“Idiot, that’s what you’re going for,” Toots told his daughter.

“Oh, is that it? Pam remembers responding, feeling reassured.

Growing Up In Daddy Mac’s Store

She started grade one in 1954 and walked to the after school store, which was on what is now Elm Street, where the Missouri Ozarks Post Office and Community Health Clinic is now located.

Pam would often sit in one of the large windows in the store “the one on the right if you’re in the store looking outside,” she said. But that wasn’t all she did during the hours she waited for her parents to leave work when the store closed, often at 6 or 7 p.m. – later on Saturdays, she said.

In winter, “when the old men were at the back of the store, sitting around the wood stove, pruning and chewing, I would go up to the balcony and sit down to listen to them talk. I discovered a lot of things there when I was little, ”she said with a laugh.

Ten years ago, when a group of loving people from Ozark County purchased the old store building and began its transformation into the Historium, Pam made a donation to help restore the balcony where she had spent so many happy hours during her childhood.

Another part of the store where she played – the 20-foot-high poles supporting the store’s high ceilings – did not need to be restored. Today, more than 90 years after the store was built in 1929, the original poles still stand, though they are now enclosed in squares of drywall that also include electrical wiring.

“I would climb these posts all the way to the ceiling,” said Pam, who was a small child and as an adult is barely 5 feet tall. “It must have been dangerous. I can’t believe nobody told me not to do this.

She and her friends and cousins ​​also played in the adjacent feeding room. “We were playing on those feed bags and jumping from one big stack to the next. Children today should have a helmet and knee pads to do this. It was probably even more dangerous than climbing the poles, ”she said.

Like her fellow “city children” at the time, Pam was allowed to roam the area without parental supervision. She especially enjoyed walking down three doors down to what was then the Bank of Gainesville, which still operated in its old building next to Ford’s Village Market (now Bouquet Palace).

“I loved going to the bank and going back to where Madge Brown and Juanita McClendon worked. Sure, Papa Mac let me have all the soda I wanted at the store, but the bank had a Coke machine, and I thought it was so fun to take a Coke out of that machine, ”he said. she declared.

Over the summer after finishing third grade, Pam and her parents moved to Kansas City, where Hayden attended hairdressing school. “I was crying every day, I wanted to come home so badly,” she said. “The kids weren’t friendly and I don’t think the teacher ever knew my name.

When Hayden graduated, they moved to Springfield, where he got his first job as a barber. “We rented a small house for two months near SMS [now Missouri State University],” she said.

Then longtime Gainesville barber, Homer Reynolds, passed away, “and I guess they asked dad,” Would you come back to be the barber? “” Pam remembers.

Rufus Luna and his son Joe, who operated the Gainesville-based Luna line of trucks, picked up the Carters’ furniture and brought it back to Gainesville. “Papa Mac and Grandma came to help me and I went home with them,” Pam said. “We got home at noon and I said, ‘I’m going to school. “

Her mother’s sister, Pam’s aunt, Genelle Breeding, taught grades three and four, and Pam happily returned to her aunt’s class and settled in. She graduated from Gainesville High School in 1966.

Hayden moved into the barber shop which was just around the corner from Daddy Mac’s store, where Doris Sayles’ House of Angels most recently operated, and Pam resumed her after school ritual of looking at the world through. the large window of his grandfather’s store.

Alva McDonald developed health problems a few years after the Carter’s return to Gainesville; he died in 1961, shortly after his son-in-law, Gene Luna, took over the store.

Pam continued to hang out at the store, with her dad cutting hair off two doors and her mom working either at the store or at Gradie’s, a dry goods store on the north side of the plaza. Sometimes she was joined by a younger friend, Shirley Rhine, whose mother and stepfather, Betty and Doyle Garfit, worked at the store.

“When we saw the lights come on in store windows, we knew Christmas was coming,” Pam said.

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