Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Willie Wirehand: Friend or Fiend?

He appeared on REA Day.

No, not like "Leah"! "R-E-A"! Get it right.

REA was short for "Rural Electrification Administration" -- but I doubt that any of us kids knew that. What we did know was that every summer on what was officially called "REA Day," big tents would go up on the large grounds of the local Rural Electrical Co-operative in Salem, popcorn and snow cones would be hawked to quicken and quench thirst, grilled meat would be splattered onto paper plates, new electrical contraptions like the microwave oven would mystify the masses, and gospel music would come belting out of big speakers -- all brought to us courtesy of Willie Wirehand.

The entire population of Fulton County, Arkansas seemed to show up for a meeting that despite its official name went on for several days, from early morning till late at night.

As a kid, I worked at the popcorn and snowcone stand and dreamed of escaping town with Willie Wirehand, joining him in his travels around the country and enjoying REA Day every day.

I was a little confused. I must have imagined that the REA was a kind of circus . . . or like a carnival, rolling around with the seasons.

But what drew me to Wille? What can I say -- he had an electrifying personality. He was Lord of the Dynamos and could work miracles.

I saw some with my own eyes -- like the bacon slice inexplicably frying on an unheated paper plate in that microwave contraption. If that was 'technology,' it was indistinguishable from magic.

And they said that Willie turned water into electricity.

That part was a bit worrisome. I had seen Norfork Dam, where the transformation took place, and we sometimes swam in that lake. What if it all suddenly turned to electricity?

That would be hell.

Surely, Willie wouldn't do something like that.

Would he?

I decided to stay in Salem, town of peace, and keep my distance from Willie . . . just in case.

You can never be too careful.


At 10:13 AM, Blogger Ozark JazzFly said...

Ah yes, REA 'Day'. Willie Wirehand was the first corporate symbol I can remember (I also remember Mr. Zip but that's another story). I much preferred REA Day over the Fulton County Fair. Better food and a much better chance of taking something home from a raffle (the only items I generally 'won' from the carnies were plastic charms from the balloon dart throw--very emasculating).

When I was in Salem this summer visiting John & Sandy, et al, I stopped by the REA and visited Sandy at work. My attention was quickly drawn to her work area where a small plastic Willie Wirehand model graced her desk.

"No," she replied,"we don't have any more Willie's. The co-op no longer uses Willie as a promotion. That's not even mine, it belongs to the co-op."

My heart sank...that Willie was enticing. However, my mind wandered back to my only shoplifting episode, circa 1964, at Mr. Fletcher's Ben Franklin store on the square. How I ever thought I could sneak that Matchbox car past the steady (and steely) eyes of Mr. Fletcher's minions (including Mrs. Fletcher), I'll never know. Shivering from the memory, I decided not to lift Willie from Sandy's desk (although I had already--in my mind's eye--reserved a place for Willie right between the yellow idea buld stress squeeze and the fake $10,000 bill). I briefly considered arguing that since it was a co-op, didn't all items really belong to the People. However, I doubt if I'd be considered one of the People, not being a member and all. Oh well.

Good post Jeff...nice memories.

At 10:21 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Well . . . I keep on tinkering with the details of this post. I hope that you've caught the last changes.

Your comment alone deserves a post of its own. I'm always impressed by the details preserved in your memory. I can't remember all those shopkeepers' names.

Some historian I am!

At 8:25 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I've just noticed that the link on "magic" is not working with precision.

I intended to link to Arthur C. Clarke's "Third Law":

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. "

The link won't stick, but it should be:

Try that if you're interested.


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