In March 1944, an article about our historic downtown appeared in the Wake Forest College newspaper, the Old Gold & Black. Essentially a love letter to South White Street, it was written by student reporter Emily Crandall.
Some people are just people, and most main streets are only main streets. Every now and then you run into a person of a main street, and you stop and scratch your head and think, “Ah, now here’s something different.” It’s personality that makes the difference, that’s all.
Take Wake Forest, for instance. You can walk down Main Street–a tiny street in a tiny town–and it’s the strangest thing in the world, but you can see the hat on its head, and feel the warmth of its smile, and feel good inside at the dimple in its cheek, and like the looks of its fingernails. It wakes up and goes to bed quite conventionally, and it dreams at night and sometimes tosses in its bed from nightmares. You can tell when it’s had a nightmare, because the next morning it has circles under its eyes.
Yes sir, Main Street, Wake Forest breathes the real thing, and it lives the best old life in all the world. Of course, we know its real name is White Street. But “Main Street” seems to suit it so much better, and let’s just call it that.
The railroad track is its bosom buddy. Day in and day out, long sleek coaches dash by with a wave of the hand and occasionally stay for tea. Interminable freights chatter volubly as they go by, displaying their new garments and telling all the latest gossip. They have been all the way from Miami to Boston and they know all the news. Main Street is never lonely. It never dresses for its company, for its relationships are informal, and there’s no need to put on a show.
People always remember little things. It’s funny, how the big things stand meekly back in a shadow and let the little things worm their way into a sentimental heart–or any heart, for that matter. Main Street, Wake Forest has a million and one little things.
There’s Eddie’s, and “Walking the Floor Over You,” wafting out onto the street, bringing with it the very faint smell of barbecue and coffee. Main Street likes Eddie’s–they have a special kinship. And Wilkinson’s Cleaners… if the door is ever open the least bit, you can smell the dry cleaning and pressing smell, and you dream just a little of clean suits and pleated skirts–brand new pleats. It gives you a clean feeling.
Hollowell’s grocery store is like a brand new shine on Main Street’s shoes. It’s not a sore thumb or a 1944 penny–it’s just a new shine, something that’s needed, that belongs there, and that looks good. If you get to thinking ahead about midnight and hunger, Main Street’s shiny shoes will help you out.
Its heart beats slowly, precisely, unrelentingly. You can see it on your way downtown, if you look onto the wall through the window of the bank. The old clock there will tell you exactly how much time you’ll have for breakfast, if you want to get to class on time, and it’ll give you just enough for a game of pool before the seven o’clock show. Holding’s Drugstore feeds milkshakes to Main Street, Wake Forest, slaps shaving lotion on its face and doses out good stiff medicine if it has a cold. Then–you puzzle and frown over the “S&F” sign hanging neatly over the street. Well, you wonder, who’s S? Who’s F? And Main Street laughs to itself. It knows.
You can walk by then and hear the sound of cue sticks, and pool balls, and loud laughter, and a cuss here and there–that’s strictly masculine stuff–the bachelor’s haven. Main Street, Wake Forest loves the pool room, although it doesn’t do much playing anymore–crick in the right arm, dadgummit–but it watches every move and hollers when it catches any cheating. Why, it wouldn’t miss a game for anything.
Then comes a note of class, or “clawss,” as the highbrow would say it. Main Street, Wake Forest rubs noses with Fifth Avenue through the medium of a five-and-ten. Of course, Fifth Avenue’s is some larger, but they sell the same things, and Main Street lifts up its nose and peers blindly through a dusty monocle that it found in Grandma’s attic, and says, “Look at me!…”
You’ll remember the frost on the windows of Miss Jo’s, and the piles of books along the ledges, and the fattening, congenial look of all the round tables inside.
There’s the Forest Theater, with its runner-up, the Collegiate, across the street. Its platinum blondes, batmen, and Mr. Rabbits take you for a little while into a world of popcorn and fancy, it makes you forget that quiz the next day, or being broke, or not getting a letter from your girl. For a couple of hours, you’re killing hundreds of Japs, or chasing spies, or–better yet–wooing Betty Grable. Main Street, Wake Forest kind of takes a shine to Betty Grable, and it straightens its tie every time she comes to town. But she’s not in town every day, or even every weekend, and when it has a spare moment or two to think, Main Street looks sadly over at what used to be Smut’s, with the windows soaped up and the door locked. Smut was a good guy–there used to be some gay times in there, and the best soup… oh well, there isn’t any door that can stay open forever.
The old post office has an air of enchantment of it, with its musty old boxes and dirty brown floor, and all the tininess inside. It stands meekly by while the shiny new post office graciously accepts the glory of eager, muddy feet, and out thrust keys, and fat letters and newspapers. Main Street, Wake Forest is pretty proud of its new post office, but it fondly remembers the old one.
Across the street is Service Chevrolet with its nice, mechanical insides, and the delicious odor of precious gasoline, reminding you of several years ago… red convertibles, motorboats and oily piers… Main Street lovingly pats the gas coupons in its pocket, hidden away securely for a rainy day. Next door is the Collegiate Theater, which isn’t running shows anymore, but still lends a “big-town” note. It looks good, but tears are running down its face in the little lobby.
Then there are a couple more grocery stores… Main Street has to be careful of its waistline, but it’s pretty hard to. And it always casts a longing eye in Bolus’s window at the little baby shoes, especially the white ones. All of its babies are wearing big, dirty saddle shoes now, and pretty black high-heeled pumps. Main Street, Wake Forest has had many, many offspring… the best to be had.
Main Street, Wake Forest doesn’t have an extensive wardrobe, and looks pretty much the same most every day. But on Saturday it puts on overalls and its brown hat and explores. Things are quite different on Saturdays. Main Street hums a busy little song to itself and roves around with the white and the black. Mule carts are hitched by the freight office, and old Fords crowd the curbs. Everybody’s come to the big city, and Main Street happily rubs noses with its country cousins.
But on Sundays it shaves and puts on its navy blue suit with the pinstripes and goes to Sunday School. It’s just a little bit lonesome because everything’s so quiet, but it does feel good to rest up a bit. Things stay pretty busy most of the week.
On Sunday Night, Main Street, Wake Forest yawns and wiggles its toes in front of the fire, worries a little about its kids, then shrugs its shoulders and goes to bed. As usual, it left a tiny ember in its pipe on the mantle.