The Mel-O-Dee restaurant once sat where Frisch’s now sits on Rombach Avenue. Owned by Mr. and Mrs. Lewis Fuller, the popular drive-in was the main destination for “cruising” in the 1960s. If you hadn’t driven around the Mel-O-Dee a dozen times during the evening, you weren’t ready to go home.
In 1966, my senior year in high school, a song came on the jukebox that caught my attention. It was different from anything I’d ever heard. Despite its offbeat lyrics, the tune was catchy, and as Famous Hook once said on American Bandstand, “It’s easy to dance to.”
“Countin’ flowers on the wall,
That don’t bother me at all.
Playin’ solitaire till dawn, with a deck of fifty-one,
Smokin’ cigarettes and watchin’ Captain Kangaroo …”
As Cindy Correll once noted, “Every time the song played, we all couldn’t wait to sing the low bass (“Kang”) Captain Kangaroo” in “Flowers on the Wall” by the Statler Brothers.
The song is about a guy whose girlfriend had left him, and he is in a bad spot, counting flowers on the wall and playing solitaire with a deck that’s missing a card.
Harold Reid was the bass singer for the Statler Brothers who hit that low note.
Once I became a fan of the Statler Brothers, son Greg, six years old at the time, soon followed. He and I would sit in our old Cutlass in the driveway and sing along with the Statlers’ 8-track tapes. We even traveled to Staunton on the Fourth of July celebration to watch the parade and concert.
Midway into the parade, the Statler Brothers’ float turned the corner of the parade route and stopped directly in front of us. Harold reached down and tousled Greg’s blond hair and said, “Hi, Buddy!”
Greg still remembers, and asked me about it after hearing of Harold’s death.
Brenda and I relocated to Staunton, Virginia in 1993. We moved into a lovely, older two-story, brick home that occupied the corner of North Coalter and Taylor Streets. It was a peaceful, welcoming neighborhood.
Unbeknownst to us, Harold and his wife lived just around the corner and down the hill from us on East Beverley Street. His brother, Don, lived only a couple of blocks away from us, going the other direction on North Augusta Street.
Underneath Harold’s clownish exterior, he was a serious, religious, smart, and polite gentleman. Harold saw Brenda and me standing outside in our front yard after a hurricane had struck our area. He stopped to chat for a few minutes, and I happened to tell him about our flooded basement.
“I have just what you need,” he said, as he turned his old pickup around and took off without saying another word.
It wasn’t long before he returned with a sump pump and a generator in tow. “Keep them as long you need them,” he said with a wave of his hand as he drove off.
A few years ago, Harold penned a song that gave us a glimpse of his more serious side, titled “Second Thoughts.” The song was about a girlfriend’s mother who didn’t think Harold was good enough for her daughter and wouldn’t allow her to see him. As life turned out, it may have given Harold a bit of glee.
“Thanks to her she made me want to prove I could succeed,
And if she reads the papers and remembers who I am,
She’s probably having second thoughts again.”
Harold and Don seldom missed a Sunday at the Olivet Presbyterian Church on Richmond Avenue. Don was the adult class Sunday School teacher, and every week Harold sat across from his brother listening intently.
Harold was a humble man. A week before the Statler Brothers’ final concert in Roanoke, Virginia, he mentioned it would be their last time to perform. “I don’t know if anyone will show up or not,” he said. And he meant it.
The concert was a sellout.
Harold once told the Staunton News Leader that looking back on his life in the limelight almost felt surreal.
“Some days, I sit on my beautiful front porch here in Staunton, Virginia, and sometimes I literally have to pinch myself. Did that really happen to me, or did I just dream that?” he mused.
The Statler Brothers put on their Happy Birthday USA free concerts every July 4th in Staunton at Gypsy Hill Park for 25 years. The musical show became a must-see event and grew so large, estimates eventually placed crowd attendance figures near 100,000 people. They were beloved.
Sadly, Harold Reid passed away Friday evening, April 24, 2020, after he bravely endured a prolonged battle with kidney failure.
Just as the Statler Brothers always ended their annual Happy Birthday USA concerts with fireworks, last Friday evening at about 10:30 p.m., fountains of fireworks lit the sky near Harold Reid’s home, Boxley Farm.
As the last glow flickered out, now the Reid family patriarch, Don Reid said quietly, “He has taken a big piece of our hearts with him.”
He has indeed.
Pat Haley is a former Clinton County Commissioner and former Clinton County Sheriff.