Pastime: Those FFA little paper popcorn bags of heaven

With the start of Lumberjack football comes that unique salty scented memory of freshly popped popcorn.

By Maylon T. Rice

Just inside the southeast gate at old O. O. Axley Field, on the home stand side, is where the scent of this Pastime memory begins and I can smell it every time I step inside any football stadium.

That lovely smell (and its sounds of being freshly made) sends me back to a Pastime I so relished and enjoyed.

It is not the very delicious aroma of those Mary Lou Martin chili dogs – but that simple staple of all Lumberjack football games – the Future Farmers of America Popcorn.

I can still see the tall and lanky Bruce Simpson, the lead vocational technical teacher, standing outside the very small, and I mean very, very small, popcorn shack.

He was always offering the blue corduroy jackets wearing Future Farmers of America guys a little advice on the popping of the popcorn.

Simpson, to his credit, was always marketing the FFA programs product, passing out bags of the popped corn to small kids, older adults and other friends of the FFA program, as the crowds rolled in to see the Lumberjack’s pregame activities.

And Simpson who was possibly one of the most well-educated members of the WHS. Faculty. He already held a full Master’s degree in education and was constantly working summers on his Ph.D., He later left Warren, to do just that – obtaining his doctorate degree.

A native of rural north central Arkansas, he had the real Midas touch for communicating with the common man and getting things done. And helping the FFA sell popcorn.

The enterprise was housed in a tiny and I mean tiny, white board washed shack. There was a shiny metal barrel-like popper inside the structure and only about 1 or 2 people could navigate inside the tiny operation at a time.

The front, facing the field, had a small window on which to pass out the popcorn boxes and bags and collect the sale monies.

One FFA volunteer usually made change for the purchases while the other FFA member popped the corn. And the loud pop, pop, popping sound echoed across the stadium and that hot, freshly smell of popcorn was intoxicating.

Hot, fresh, slightly buttery oily salty kernels and each one light as air – that was the popcorn offered up for the ball games.

Always there were one of two more on the crew, to switch places and help run back to the Vocational Agricultural building, which was just on the other side of the new Lumberjack gymnasium for additional supplies – such as those signature little red and white sacks – ironically the same design and style as sold at the Pastime Theater in downtown Warren or out of the Warren Drive In on the Banks Highway.

The kettle sound of that rat-a-tat-tat popcorn popping in hot, buttery oil, on a nice, cool fall evening was indeed intoxicating.

So was that oh, so delicious smell.

And that was ALL the FFA sold at the ballgames – popcorn.

All the Coca-colas, hot dogs, chili dogs, gum, and other items from Warren Wholesale (the Green family) were displayed and sold next door at the Warren Band parents Concession stand, a much larger and open-air stand.

The FFA, to my recollection, also sold popcorn also on the visitor’s side of O.O. Axley Field, but had no popper over there. All the popcorn, popped into boxes or bags, was simply transported across the south end zone to the smaller, more compact visitor’s concession stand where it was sold along with all the other treats.

Popcorn, I think, was a dime a bag.

But what a hot, salty treat it was.

One time as a joke, I had pre-arranged with some of the FFA boys, upon my pre-payment of a couple of bags in advance, for the popcorn bags to run out to the band marching into the stadium.

I recall, the Rev. James Tate, was among my co-conspirators in this prank.

The FFA members stood along the steel cable that separated the end zone and yard markers from the walkway to the stadium seats and handed me and another co-conspirator Mitch Forest (who played the saxophone) each a bag of popcorn as the band marched into Axley Stadium.

The popcorn made it all the way to the bandstand on the Northeast Corner of the field.

But the sharp and ever watching eyes of Curry Martin, caught onto the prank.

Swift justice resulted in some demerits and a sharp scolding went with his confiscation of the popcorn. Alas, the now-half-empty bag was poured mercifully over the side of the tall bandstand to the ground below.

A crunchy, buttery Pastime prank and treat that even today was still worthy of a band man’s rebuke and some points on a demerit sheet.

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