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Birney Imes: Random notes


Birney Imes



Friday afternoon on the way to meet a friend at the Riverwalk, a poster on a downtown store window caught my eye. The image of a building on the poster was strangely familiar; it was Demonstration School, the elementary school on The W campus three generations of my family attended. 


This year''s Junior Auxiliary Charity Ball will feature a play based on the history of the now closed laboratory school. Titled "If These Walls Could Talk" and written by Pam Rhea, a former Dem School mom, the production will celebrate the careers of some of the memorable characters who taught there during the school''s 70-plus year existence. 


"That school was always a true love of my heart and of my children''s," said Rhea. "I''m not a playwright; it''s one of the hardest things I''ve ever done." 


The play will feature the likes of Virginia Mae Ferrill, Willa Savelle, Fran Brown, Maude Walker and Alma Turner. Can''t imagine who would be up to the role of Miss Ferrill, a sixth grade teacher like no other. Alma Turner, the person most responsible for what was the golden era at the school, could play herself. 


Alma was principal when our children attended. If every elementary school in America were like Dem School was during the Alma Turner era, this would be a very different country. Diverse in every way, the school was a nurturing environment overrun with involved parents. Even now, decades later, I''m occasionally approached by a young adult, a Dem School alumnus, who recognizes me from those days who wants to reminisce about what they say were the best of times. 




Oysters for Christmas 


Did you know oysters used to be a Christmas tradition in Columbus? 


This according to local historian Rufus Ward who delighted Columbus Rotarians last week with a tutorial about steamboats on the Tombigbee. 


In the riverboat heyday -- the middle and latter part of the 19th century -- as many as nine packet boats a week ran between Columbus and Mobile. Steamboats brought oysters from Mobile and ice from New England; here they were exchanged for bales of cotton, which were taken back to Mobile and then to Europe or New England. 


Earlier in the week Rufus had received word that a publisher was interested in his book on Tombigbee Riverboat history, tentatively titled, "Rollodores, Dead-Heads and Side-Wheelers." 


Rufus has also agreed to answer reader questions about local history in a Sunday column titled "Ask Rufus." The first installment appears today on page 2. E-mail your local history questions to Rufus at [email protected] 


Rufus said the steamboats brought so many oysters, the shells were crushed up and used to repair the streets. 




Road work 


The subject of road repair brings us to Military Road, which, as we reported two weeks ago, is finally going to be resurfaced with work beginning in March. This comes after extensive infrastructure work (drainage, sidewalks and water pipes). The area has for months looked (and felt) like a war zone. I know it''s been a boon for those who sell tires and front-end alignments. Recently a motorist, while bouncing down Military in her aging pickup, lost a rear view mirror. Wish the city would also consider resurfacing the one block of Eight Street North between Main Street Presbyterian and Cadence Bank. It''s at least as bad as Military. 


Earlier in the month we also reported on Mayor Robert Smith''s announcement that MDOT plans to resurface 182 from downtown to the Alabama state line. Also, in early March look for a public hearing to discuss two proposed routes for the 45 Bypass. Both routes begin near Waters Truck and Tractor. Some have wondered if it might make more sense to run the bypass from the Macon/Meridian exit. That route would require a river bridge and more miles of pavement; it might be cost prohibitive. 




What about the bees? 


On the occasional warm day this time of year, my backyard bees emerge from their semi-hibernation to take cleansing flights, forming a gyrating cloud in front of their hives. The foragers in a couple of the hives are going out and finding pollen somewhere. You can see the yellow granules stuck to their hairy back legs as they return to their hives. 


The girls have seized upon the cat''s water as their source of moisture. The cats aren''t happy about it, but they seem to tolerate their prickly, airborne neighbors. I''ve floated a couple of sticks in the bowl to serve as life rafts for wayward bees -- they''re not good swimmers. 


Honey production won''t begin for another month at least.


Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.


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