Love and Marriage: “Looking Back”

Reprinted here by special permission of the author, Cindy Beckman, a retired Conway High School history teacher who writes local history.

his is the time of year I am especially reminded of my grandmother, Viola Hankins Burnett. She passed away in September, 2007 at the age of 85. Some may remember her as the friendly clerk who waited on customers at Cordia’s Gift Shoppe. Others knew her as the dedicated church member who never failed to do everything in her power to serve others.

But in the summer of 1998, she shared with me the stories of her life. Together we started a project to document the history of Pleasant Valley, a small community just north of Conway where she lived her whole life. I interviewed her and her friends. I went through her scrapbooks. What follows is her account of how she and my grandfather dated and married in the 1930s.

Unis Cicero Burnett was eleven years older than Viola Faye Hankins. Their families lived near one another and attended the Pleasant Valley Baptist Church . Unis farmed with his family but in the 1930s, he and many other young men went to the Civilian Conservation Corps camps to work. Most of the money they earned went back to their families.

Unis was working in the CCC camp at Ozone during the time he was dating Viola. He would come back by train every weekend to Conway and then get a bus out to Pleasant Valley. He had to return on Sunday evening but part of his weekend was always spent with her.

Most “dating” in the 1930s consisted of walking someone home from church. People didn’t have a whole lot of money to go to the movies or out to eat because of the Depression. They could not afford fancy weddings either. Weddings were usually quiet affairs at the preacher’s house or the courthouse.

“Unis and I got married at the courthouse on October 2, 1937. I rode the bus to town [Conway]. Unis, I think, went with Crate Browning in his car. Mama gave me money to buy a new dress so I bought a new dress. That was the first store-bought dress I ever remember having. She also gave me money for a perm. It was the first time in my life, I had ever done this.”

“I went upstairs at Penney’s which was located downtown. I bought a blue dress. My perm was given when they rolled your hair and then put a clamp on the curlers that was electric. I sat under it until I was just about tired out.”

“We met somewhere in town and went to the courthouse to get the license. It was raining. Then we went to Judge Harper’s office. He was the county judge but he was also a Church of Christ preacher. Swan Burnett [Unis’ brother] happened to be there so he was our only witness.”

“Mildred and Doyle Havens had two rooms that they rented in town. They were out visiting family so they said we could stay at their apartment. Havis Havens, Virginia Shettle and Evelyn Shaw came over. The guys played cards. We went home the next day with Havis Havens to his mother’s house.” (Viola Hankins Burnett, interview, February, 1999)

About three weeks later, they were “shivereed.” They were walking home when they were suddenly surrounded by friends and neighbors. This was a common practice to celebrate a new marriage. They made lots of noise and rode each of them around in a wheelbarrow. Then everyone came inside and visited for a while.

So when October 2 nd rolls around each year, I am reminded of this story and all the others that she told me that wonderful summer of 1998.