Yamboree time has always been a special time for our family, one that we looked forward to when we were kids almost as much as we looked forward to Christmas.
It was always a family outing when we were small, usually made after Daddy got home from work on Friday. My sister Pat and I enjoyed all the smaller rides, but especially the flying airplanes which flew round and round attached to chains. Then one year the airplanes were no longer there, and they never came back. I never knew why; I really missed them.
Then there were the hobby horses. They were not on a huge carousel as the ones at the State Fair of Texas were, but rather were small enough for youger children to ride, and the kids loved them.
But the ride that has stayed with me through the years is the swings. We’d walked up to them that night and watched them swinging round and round. They weren’t going very high, and Daddy determined that they would be safe for us to ride -- or so he thought. The attendants got us each buckled in a swing, and the ride started going. First it was just going around near the ground, not very high at all. But then it started going faster and faster, and higher and higher, until the seats were flying almost straight out.
Daddy said he knew pretty soon that he’d made a big mistake, and that ride was not for small children at all. But the attendant wouldn’t stop the ride and get us off. He said Mother was white as a sheet, and that was the end of our swing riding days.
I’ve often wondered why the attendant put us on that swing, for he certainly knew that it was for older kids. That probably wouldn’t happen today, but at time my sister and I were about 4 and 6, a long, long time ago, and things were a lot different back then.
I loved the parades. I never got to be in a parade until my own daughter was in school and was in Blue Birds. But my husband did when he was in the third or fourth grade. The theme for Harmony’s float that year was "Cinderella," and he drove the magnificent horses from her beautiful pumpkin carriage, dressed in a handsome black tuxedo, wearing a top hat, and a mask that was the face of a rat. We have a picture somewhere, maybe we’ll locate it for another Yamboree story.
When I was about 16 my classmate Ann Bouknight and I were assigned the job of painting the backdrop for Harmony’s float. We spent many hours at that task. I don’t remember the theme that year, but I’m pretty sure that the backdrop included the Eifel Tower. As parade day got closer and closer, Lucille Bullard, who was in charge of that part of the float, realized that we were never going to have it ready in time unless we put in some after-school hours. We spent most of a weekend at Mrs. Bullard’s home finishing the painting, with finishing touches going on after it was back at the school to be put on the float.
We never minded working on the float, because that meant getting out of class for a period or two. Anyway, it was lots of fun.
The elementary school teachers at Harmony were super good at designing floats: Lucille Leach Bullard, Ruby Irons, Laura Bell Lindsey, Mavis Dacus, and Lois Morris, and the home economics teacher, Jewel Spivey. They also knew how to come up with just the right costumes for those riding the floats.
Daddy was a big fan of the Fiddler’s Contest, and spent most Saturday afternoons during the Yamboree sitting and listening to the fiddling. After we were older he would let us go with him and walk around the carnival while he listened to the fiddling. We had a couple of rules though: (1) We had to check in with him every hour or so (he never left the bandstand area, which was on the west side of the square at that time); and (2) We were not allowed to go around the games on the east side of the square. He told us that if he caught us throwing away our money at those booths we would not be allowed to go around by ourselves ever again.
I never did either. I’d sometimes watch back from a distance, but never got close to them. And if one of the attendants called to us, we got away from there fast.
A few years my sister and I were not able to go the the Saturday night carnival, for whatever reason. When this happened Daddy would always come home with several stalks of ribbon cane. He’d never allow us to cut it ourselves (he probably remembered my experience with the sweet potato). Instead, he would carefully peel the cane and cut it into bite size pieces for us with his pocket knife, Mother included.
This was in the days before the digital pianos and such. I wanted a piano so much. On Sunday morning following the Yamboree when I was 12, I got up to find Daddy gone, and Mother said we would not be going to church that morning. A while later I heard someone drive up in our front yard. I looked out to see a truck backing up to our front porch -- inside was a beautiful upright piano.
The piano had been rented from Keoun Music Company in Gladewater for use on the Yamboree Bandstand that year. On Saturday night Daddy had made arrangements to buy the piano after the Yamboree was over. He’d met the owners at the bandstand that morning and they delivered it out to our house.
On Monday the first time I had a chance I went to Miss Stella McClelland’s music room to enroll in piano lessons. I went home with a music book -- and a statement for a month’s lessons. Daddy told me he really hadn’t intended for me to start lessons that soon, but since I’d already signed up, he left it that way. I guess I was just so anxious to start learning to play, at that age I didn’t realize that he’d probably spent all the money he could afford right then on the piano.
But they never had to make me practice. I spent every spare minute at that piano. And usually when it was time for Daddy to come in from work he’d find me sitting at the piano because I knew he would stop and sing a couple of gospel songs with me, no matter how tired he was.
My older sister, Ruby Ida Denton, entered a prize-winning yam pie one year. I still use her recipe every time I make what we call a "Sweet Potato Pie."
One of my favorite Yamboree memories after I was grown was seeing "The Singing Sellers" sing on the bandstand. It was still located on the west side of the square, in front of Perry’s 5 and 10. I was standing in front of Perry’s when I saw their big shiny bus come around the corner and park on the north side of the bandstand. The Sellers boys were young at that time, and everyone raved at their music. They probably made lots of Yamboree appearances after that, but that’s the one I remember.
During those years the Gospel Music shared the stage with the Country music and Fiddlers’ Contest. I don’t remember just how they divided the time up, but do remember that Mr. Merle Rutledge was in charge of the Gospel Music portion.
I first performed on the Gospel Stage in 1990, when Betty Varner was chairman and the stage was located on the North side of the courthouse. In 1995 I assumed the position of Gospel Stage chairmen after Mrs. Varner’s husband, Skeeter, became ill with cancer. The Varners had worked together on the Gospel Stage for several years. Steve Dean furnished a crew from Dean Lumber Company to construct the stage and hang the banners every year.
In 1996 a gunman ran through the crowd, causing people around the stage to duck for cover. I remember the late Richard Foster and his wife Lottie diving under a table where I was sitting. The Fosters owned the Winnsboro radio station and were a great help to the Gospel Stage.
Thankfully no one was injured, but there were a lot of folks awfully scared. One little lady was sitting in a wheel chair listening to the music. Her husband had gone to get them something to eat when the shooting started. The wheels were locked and she was terrified.
The Dorsey Quartet from Henderson was singing on stage, and just dropped their microphones and headed for cover.
That night’s a long story, but after that the police shut the Yamboree down for the night. We still had to take our sound system down and lock it inside the courthouse. Needless to say we were all just a little bit nervous.
In 1997 the Yamboree Association was kind enough to allow the Gospel Stage to be held at the Civic Center on Friday and Saturday. Of course the final presentation of the Queen’s Pageant was held at the Civic Center on Thursday night, so the Gospel Stage held a Thursday night program at Upshur Rural Electric Auditorium.
Moving and setting up twice proved to be quite a chore, and it was difficult to get singers on Thursday because so many people had to work, so after a few years the Thursday night portion was discontinued.
The Gospel Stage is still presented at the Civic Center on Friday and Saturday. This year marks 20 years that it has been held there.
It’s a perfect location, and one that we are so thankful for.
This year’s program will begin at 4 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 20, and continue until 9 p.m. Saturday’s program begins at 11 a.m. and will also continue until 9 p.m.
Admission is by donation. Everyone is invited to come out and join us for a wonderful weekend of old time Southern Gospel music.
I have attended Yamboree’s when it was so cold that we’d think we were going to freeze. There have also been years when it was uncomfortably hot, and well as years when it just about rained the Yamboree out altogether.
Once during the early years that the Gospel Stage was held at the Civic Center some kids somehow managed to set the fire alarm off. We couldn’t locate the manager, so decided we’d better alert the fire department that the alarm was going off.
Later we learned that often happened. And we made a point of learning what to do if it happened again. Another year a tornado warning went off during Saturday night’s program. We didn’t have a tornado, and the program continued as usual.
According to forecasts that I’ve seen, we should have perfect weather for this year’s Yamboree. Come out and see the School Parade on Friday at 11 a.m. and the Queen’s Parade on Saturday at 11 a.m., and help show those who have worked so hard in putting these events together how much we appreciate them.
See last Thursday's (Oct. 12), Gilmer Mirror for schedules for all the activities.