Ex-City Resident Shares Memories of Band, Buda’s Burgers, Zoot Suits

James Garrett shared his memories (band, Buda's burgers, zoot suits) of living in Johnson City from 1939 until he went away to college in 1957.

“My Junior High music instructor was Vernon ‘Sleepy’ Weaver,” said James. “I attended the old downtown Science Hill High School where my major subject was music under the direction of Mr. Warren Weddell. I was one of the drum majors in the school marching band and often twirled a fire baton at football games at half time in Memorial Stadium at night while all the lights were turned off.”

James commented about John's (Buda) Sandwich Shop that operated in the 1950s at 105 Buffalo: “Circa 1951, my family lived near Antioch Baptist Church (Little Cherokee Road). Since we did not have a car, we rode the city bus to A.L. Street's Grocery (2501 W. Walnut) and walked past Bernard School (Old Jonesborough Highway) to home. I often ate at John's before my bus arrived. “I cannot remember eating a hot dog at John's as I always had a hamburger or hot tamale. Both were delicious. I have tried to duplicate John's hamburger and tamale many times but always come up short. Is there any possibility of obtaining the recipe for either?”

I checked with George and Wanda Buda. George is the son of John and Ethel Buda. Wanda sent me the recipe for a John Buda Chili Burger, one that came from Ethel and was used by Patty Smithdeal Fulton in her book, And Garnished with Memories, (The Overmountain Press, 1985). 

According to Wanda: “Obtain one pound of ground round or sirloin; two eggs, beaten; one roll chili, water; two tablespoon dry bread crumbs; salt and pepper to taste; and sliced onion and tomato, mustard and mayo. Beat the eggs and mix with breadcrumbs into the ground beef. Mix thoroughly with hands and then pat into desired thickness. Grill until done, turning only once. Do not mash down with spatula. To make chili, use a roll from a grocery store and mix with one tablespoon of water. Keep thick. Put chili on top of hamburger, then tomato, onion, mayo and mustard and salt and pepper. Get a bib, open wide and enjoy.” George and Wanda said that John didn’t make the hot tamales; instead, he bought them from an older black gentleman named Will Cope who delivered them on a bicycle. I often hear people speak of him and his terrific tamales.

“I worked at the Majestic Theatre (237 E. Main) as an usher.” continued James. “The popcorn sold at the Majestic was made by the Liberty Theatre. I took two empty sacks about the size of a kitchen garbage bag to the Liberty where the concession girl filled them. I then took them back to the Majestic. At one time, I recall making the popcorn in a machine under the stage at the Majestic and taking it in bags to the Liberty.

“The ushers at the Majestic wore ‘Zoot Suits’ to work. We got tired of wearing them so we jointly asked the manager if we could buy some real suits from Hannah's, Inc. (‘Fashions for Men,’ 213 E. Main) if we paid for them. He agreed. The song, “A Pink Sport Coat and a White Carnation” (sung by country singer, Marty Robbins) was on the top ten list of popular songs at the time so we all bought pink sport jackets and black slacks.”

Zoot Suits were a fashion fad in the 1940s. They consisted of baggy men’s suits; tight-cuffed pegged trousers; usually high waisted; an oversized jacket with inflated broad, padded shoulders and wide lapels; and an equally exaggerated wide-brim hat. They were worn with suspenders and a long watch chain. Big band leader, Cab Callaway, often donned one when he performed his novelty hit song, “Minnie the Moocher,” (“Hi-de-hi-de-hi-de-hi, Ho-de-ho-de-ho-de-ho”).

Ah, what great memories from yesteryear. Keep them coming, folks.