For two years, Freddy Lessly has been dreaming about the hamburgers he used to eat when he was a student at Central Ward School. The hamburgers were cooked on a grill at a little store called Durhamís Hamburger place just west of Central across North Armstrong Avenue.
The Durhams, Jack (Bumpy) and Rubye, had six children, two sons, Jack and Jimmy, and four daughters, Patsy Anderson, Joanne Leake, Raetta Ailey and Kay Nichols. Raetta and Jimmy passed away in the last two years. Jackís parents, Pappy Durham, who owned the 43 Taxi business, and his wife, "Grandma Amy" also lived in the little house at 801 West Sears back in the days of the hamburger place.
Jack Jr. now lives in Fort Worth, Pat and Joanne live in Denison and Kay lives in Knoxville, TN. Jimmy, the oldest child, lives in Fort Worth and once was circulation manager for The Denison Herald, and Pat was the first papergirl in Denison.
Freddy was so determined that something would be written about Durhams little store that he asked Ruby Moran to put a short item in an issue of the Denison Alumni Associationís "Traditions" newsletter last fall asking for remembrances of the place to be sent to me. I received several, but not enough to write an article.
Freddy doesnít give up though and recently e-mailed me a couple more short stories that had been sent in response to the "Traditions" article.
I went to Central a few years before the Durhamís place opened in the early 1950s but cannot remember the little store. I hate to admit that Iím older than Freddy. I do remember North Side Grocery on the corner of Armstrong Avenue and Morton Street that had the best dill pickles you ever put in your mouth. And I think they only cost a nickel.
The store also sometimes had bubble gum, but H.C. McRight or Uncle Mac as we always knew him since his niece, Patsy Christman has been a good friend since kindergarten days, limited the number of pieces of gum we could buy for a penny because this was during World War II and candy and gum were hard to come by. When he was able to get a box or two, he would limit it to share with everyone.
Pat Anderson said this week that her parents served the hamburgers for 15 cents and soda pop, candy and a play on the jukebox were a nickel each. For a quarter a child could have a hamburger, chips and a pop.
Her mother wouldnít allow the children to waste their money on candy or playing music, however, until they had eaten their meal, and if a child didnít have the money, she let them "charge" it, knowing she probably never would get her money. No child went hungry around Rubye, her daughter said.
Long after the store had closed when her parents had retired, she remembers that a man wearing a business suit came by their house and gave her mother a quarter. He said she had allowed him to eat one day and not pay and he was repaying his debt.
Rubye had a birthday book in which children wrote their names and dates of their birth. When that date rolled around, they got a hamburger free. She also had days when anyone who bought one hamburger got another one free. No doubt the kids especially enjoyed hamburgers on those days.
Pat remembered that her mother would fry up a big stack of hamburger patties in preparation for the noon rush of children coming to eat. Actually, the count was between 300 and 350 hamburgers a day. She would stack them up high on the side of the grill and be ready for the onslaught of youngsters.
Fresh ground hamburger meat and fresh vegetable were purchased every day fresh from Scott Dyer, who was owner of North Side Grocery by that time.
Bob Terrell, class of 1961, said the burgers must have been responsible for changing him from a skinny little boy, to as Bob put it "more of me" and he said he made it a point to eat them all through school.
Gay Pedigo Nix said she couldnít wait for lunch so she could go across the street for a great hamburger. She said she knew Kay before going to school at Central, then at the store. After Kay married they lived in the same block on Johnson Street and their sons were good friends.
Gay said that as a grade school student she loved looking at the great big football players who would come down from the high school to eat at noon. "They were co cute," she said, adding "you know how little girls are." At that time the high school was in the old brick school building now known as McDaniel that sits in the 700 block west Main begging to be restored, torn down or have SOMETHING done to it.
Jack Durham was a mechanic by trade and after returning home from the Navy in World War II. He built his own garage behind their house on Sears Street. Then added on to the shop for his wifeís small hamburger place. She did so well that he took part of his shop and made the hamburger place larger. He helped out by selling pop while she made the hamburgers. The Durham children also frequently helped out in the store.
Inside was a counter with red bar stools and several little booths. The newer section contained the candy counter and a number of other booths as well as a juke box.
Kids from Central went across the street, Freddy said, and ate there for years. Kids from the old junior high also went down there to eat as well as some St. Xavier students. The little building had a big picture window in it that today is boarded up. Freddy said the entire building is boarded and one day it will go the way of so much good history when it is either town down or falls down.
Tom Kellough also has great memories of the little hamburger store. He remembers Kay Durham (now Nichols who lives in Knoxville, TN) because he said she had the biggest, cutest dimples you ever saw and a great smile to set them off.
He said he stopped there many times to have a hamburger cooked by Kay when she probably was working in violation of the child-labor law since he guessed she was about 12 years old the first time he saw her. Tom said he moved away in 1953 and the last time he drove by the store the building was empty.
Laura Payne Jacobs also remembered the Durham store. Pat, was in her high school class. Laura went to Central Ward School beginning in the third grade. Her mother, Alice Payne, was a second grade teacher there for many years and her dad, George, worked at the Turner Grocery which was the little store behind the Durhamís north of the alley facing Armstrong Avenue. Turnerís grocery was owned by an elderly couple, Mr. and Mrs. J.S. Turner, Laura said, and it was truly a "jot-em-down" store. They didnít serve food, but did have a fresh meat market and Lauraís uncle, Marcus Payne, was the butcher.
Nelda Phillips Perdue lived in the middle of the 800 block West Sears and was a close friend of the Durham girls. She said she never ate hamburgers at the store because her mom always cooked lunch and she walked the half block home to eat. However, she remembers that on Saturdays after the Durhams had cleaned the building thoroughly, Rubye would allow them to play restaurant there and even go behind the counter. "Those were fun Saturday afternoons" she said, adding that they didnít actually cook anything, they just "played like".
Kay Nichols said that her granddaughter, Katelyn Nichols of Maryville, TN is a junior in high school and recently wrote an essay for a joint History and English class on the hamburger store. The Durhams have two grandchildren living in Denison, Ronald Ailey and Dr. Ken Anderson, Patís son, who practices at Texoma Medical Center.
Those memorable hamburgers helped raise six children. The parents married when they were 14 and 15 years old , and Patsy said she never heard a cross word between them. Jack died in 1097 and Rubye died seven years later.
Bumpy and Ruby now are gone and their little hamburger store has been closed for many years. But the memories the couple who loved and were loved by hundreds of Denisonís children, live on.
Donna Hunt is former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.