Back in the last century it was fashionable to talk about the "generation gap." I haven't heard that term lately but can readily testify that the gap does still exist. Does it ever!
Back when I was in that stage - you know, the one where your parents didn't know anything yet - my mother and I would go round and round about many issues, but we always had one thing in common. Bob Hope.
Yes. I said Bob Hope. Old Ski-nose. Mr. USO. My mama loved Bob Hope, and so did I. No matter what else we could or could not agree on, when it was time for one of his specials to come on television, we set all other business aside and sat down together for an hour and watched.
You might remember those old Bob Hope specials if you are from my generation - or my mother's. My favorites were the Christmas shows - the ones filmed when he went overseas to entertain the troops. Those were filmed mostly in Vietnam during my era and always featured beautiful women like Ann Margaret and Joey Heatherton, along with Les Brown, of course, and his Band of Renown, and Jerry Colona, Bob's comedic sidekick. As if Bob Hope needed a comedic sidekick.
The Christmas shows also included heart-rendering footage of our soldiers, mostly young mean barely out of their teens, enjoying a few laughs before facing possible death at the hands of the Communist menace as soon as they left the show.
Our appreciation for Bob Hope wasn't limited to his television specials, of course. My mama was also a big fan of his movies, especially the "road" movies, with Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour. Whenever one of those would come on TV, we would be glued to the screen, too, although honesty compels me to admit that I didn't like his movies as much as I liked his stand-up routines. I watched, though, every time they came on. Like I said, my mama and I had Bob Hope in common.
When I was a freshman at the great and wonderful University of Georgia, hallowed be thy name, I had the unbelievable experience of spending an entire afternoon with the great man, himself. Let me tell you how that happened.
I was the manager for the Georgia basketball team and part of my duties included hanging out at the Georgia Coliseum every afternoon and keeping an eye on things. Bob Hope came to the Georgia Coliseum to put on a show. I was instructed to meet him at the front door and stay at his beck and call all afternoon, just in case he needed anything. Me. Darrell Huckaby - a linthead from Porterdale - assigned to spend the afternoon with Bob Hope!
Nobody ever did a better job of carrying out an assignment. I met him and his troupe, which included Miss America, by the way, at the door and stayed right at his elbow all day. He was gracious and kind and spent a lot of time asking me questions about local people and issues. He weaved the information I gave him into his act that night.
I was walking on air all day and couldn't wait to tell my mama about meeting Bob Hope. I briefly considered taking my mother to the show with me, but invited Brenda Croom instead because she was closer to my age and a lot prettier.
Well, I told you all of that Bob Hope stuff to tell you this. It seems like I wasn't the only Newton County native to have a close encounter with the Hollywood legend. So did Oxford's own Elmer Blankenship.
It was in the spring of 1943, May 15, to be exact. Although Elmer admitted to me that he didn't remember the exact date, he looked it up. Hope and his entourage were headed to Milledgeville, to entertain the WAVES who were being trained there. (Women Accepted for Emergency Volunteer Service, in case you were wondering - a female attachment to the Navy.)
Elmer was working at the Bank of Covington when word reached the mail room that Bob Hope, escorted by two large economy size paratroopers, was crossing the Square, headed from Green's Drugs, on the north Square, toward City Pharmacy.
Naturally, this event warranted a break from sorting mail, and Elmer and a few of his friends quickly hurried across to the drug store, although he admitted being torn between wanting to stay at City Pharmacy and watch Bob Hope eat his ice cream and going over to Green's where Frances Langford, who was his generation's Ann Margaret, ate hers.
Elmer told me that Hope was just like a regular guy, joking around and cutting up with the crowd. He was the same way in 1971, when I met him.
It turns out that Hope's group made a return visit to Covington that day. Ms. Langford lost her necklace at Green's Pharmacy and Dr. Green waited there until midnight for her to come and retrieve it.
What a great story! And y'all thought Archie Bunker was the most famous person to pass through town.
And, by the way, two years after Elmer met Bob Hope at City Pharmacy, he, Elmer, was in uniform himself, halfway around the world, at Okinawa. Thanks, Elmer, for the memories and for your service to our nation.