Valdosta Daily Times

Local News

March 12, 2012

Life and memories at the Pouting House

VALDOSTA — There are places that can withstand the quick grip of time and establish an existence of era whispered about but known solely by a steadily declining portion of the population.

Such a place exists in Lowndes County.

It is known simply as the Pouting House.

One step inside the building transports the guest into a time when airwaves were filled with the sounds of Patsy Cline and Little Richie, phonographs were powered by the crank of a handle, secret decoder rings and Hopalong Cassidy cowboy outfits were the norm and an all-day movie ticket could be purchased for 10 cents.   

For Ralph Russell, or Radio Ralph, those days still exist in the confines of his Pouting House, which is modeled after an old-time country corner store. A model A Ford sits outside and old war toys lie about. It is a collection of living memories; a place to reflect; a place to tinker and a place to “pout.”

Each wall inside is covered with a relic of the past, from the Marlboro Red Cigarette pocket radio to the Red Ryder BB gun hanging over the entry.

There are countless radios. Each one in pristine condition and each with a story to tell. Russell has a story to tell as well. A story of hard-work, love and family but perhaps most importantly for Russell today, a story of retirement full of enjoyment and the opportunity to enjoy and preserve life’s treasures each day.

Russell’s story begins in Valdosta back in 1948 at the Little Griffin Hospital, which no longer exists. His father was 51 and his mother was 28. They had met while working at the Western Union Telegraph service and were married a year prior to Russell’s birth.

Valdosta was a much different place 50 years ago. There was no Five Points shopping center nor Walmart, no Valdosta Mall. There was a downtown and this became Russell’s stomping grounds for much of his youth where he would sell newspapers and peanuts to earn enough money to see the pictures on Saturday. He had a paper route with 150 addresses and remembers a weekly subscription cost 31 cents.

“I started selling papers in the fourth grade for half-a-cent each,” he said. “Both my parents brought us up to be self-sufficient and, if we were poor, I didn’t know it.”

He recalls the first family vehicle, a Plymouth Fury, which was purchased in 1959 and the first television, which they picked up a few years earlier in ’54, watching “Walt Disney” on Sunday evenings with neighbors and relatives.

He met his future wife, Sara “Lark,” at Lowndes High School, which is now used as Lowndes Middle School and the couple were married in 1968. She attended Valdosta High School and was one year younger. They met through a mutual friend.

Like many young men of his age, one could always rely on military recruitment. He enlisted in ’68 and served four years with the Navy where he gained training with electronics leading to a career, a hobby and eventually an escape for the man.

“She lived with her parents at first when I was stationed,” he said of his wife. “I remember when she would stand on the pier and wave good-bye to me as I left.”

Stationed on a destroyer with an experimental sonar system, Russell was responsible for the repair and application of the device. He also knew it was a technology highly desired by the Russians.

“They knew we had it,” he said. “They were very interested in getting beside us and fly over us; we had to constantly be on guard.”

He returned in late ’72 and soon landed a job with Southern Bell by ’73. He remembers coming home and being spit on by some of the Vietnam War protesters.

“I certainly think about it better than I did then,” he explained. “I was really hot and very aggravated. We had been told this was likely to occur and to ignore it.”

Russell admits he doesn’t care for every decision made by the government, both locally and federally; but he believes that all citizens should be supportive of their country.

He also remembers segregation in Valdosta, but he doesn’t remember it being as big of an issue in Valdosta as it was in Mississippi or Alabama. There were separate water fountains and blacks were required to wait for their food outside.

Some of these relics of racial perceptions still exist in small spots at his country store; there is a small business card on his Seeburg Select-o-matic jukebox that warns of the dangers of allowing white youth to listen to black musicians.

Russell it seems, never got that memo. When he was supposed to be sleeping, he was listening to his handheld radio which was able to capture airwaves from Nashville, Tenn., where artists like Little Richie played the original versions of songs being covered by white musicians. These versions weren’t available locally.

For Russell, these issues were not a priority to solve or face. His ambition was to work hard at Southern Bell, raise his two sons Cory and Casey of whom he is exceptionally proud, and cherish a marriage that has lasted 44 years.

“My parents’ teachings were biblically based,” he said. “The Bible says to live within your means and not be envious. When you put that all together and try to be a good steward and store for the future, we can get by.”

But storing treasures on earth is not Russell’s goal in life. He enjoys having his grandchildren over and teaching them about the past; the gadgets that existed, like crystal-powered radios and artifacts from his past.

On a sign above all his earthly treasures, a fluorescent fixture bears words from Proverbs to keep it all in perspective.

“Through wisdom is a house builded; and by understanding it is established: And by knowledge shall the chambers be filled with all precious and pleasant riches.”

So why is it called the Pouting House?

A cousin from Tennessee called it that originally and it just stuck, he said. No pouting is involved when he goes there though — life has been great since retirement. He keeps busy with church and radios.

He believes this was because instead of sitting down after work, he was still going strong; working on things and spending time with his wife and children.

The Pouting House will never be finished it seems. Outside on the corner of the property there are three palm trees, a throwback he said to when the area near the Gold Plate Restaurant was once called “Little Miami,” because of all the palm trees and activity for passing motorists. Those palm trees are gone today, but their memory is preserved at his country store.

As are thousands more.

For more on this story and other local news, subscribe to The Valdosta Daily Times e-Edition, or our print edition

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