By M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal
The metal “V” atop Dixie Game Room isn’t impressive, but it’s a holdover from a different time.
It used to be green and lit up at night, and people “could see it all the way to the Big Star parking lot,” said Ken “Bud” Pharis, who’s owned the building for the past 19 years.
At one time it was part of a sign for the Von Theater, where movies were screened and at least one cowboy brought his trick horse on stage.
Rock ‘n’ roll history rolled through the venue in 1955, when Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins performed.
“A lot of people don’t know about the history of this place,” Pharis said.
Many don’t even notice that metal “V.”
“People come in and say, ‘Bud, there’s an antenna on your roof.’ I say, ‘You don’t know it was a theater,’ the 70-year-old said. “People who’ve been coming in for years will just notice it one day.”
There’s not much in the building to remind people of its history. That “V” on the roof and a photo of Elvis are about it.
But other reminders point toward the place’s more recent history as a pool hall and game room. Names of regulars are written on bright yellow, pink, orange and red paper, and they’re not just any regulars.
“They write the names on the wall. The old guys, the ones who are gone,” said Cody Windham of Booneville.
“We don’t like putting names on the board, but we do. A bunch of good people up there,” Pharis said. “People grow up and you get the next group, and the older ones leave. You get attached.”
Though he’s 22 years old, Windham counts as an old hand. He’s been visiting Dixie Game Room with his father since he learned to shoot pool at age 6.
“I grew up in this place,” said Windham, who didn’t know about the “V” on the building until last week.
His dad, 72-year-old Frankie Windham, is a regular, too, and often can be found sitting on a bench and watching others play.
“Sometimes I’ll shoot pool, but I broke my back and I can’t hardly stand up,” said Frankie Windham, who uses a converted pool stick as a cane.
His history with the building stretches through the decades. He said he was there the day Elvis performed at the Von.
“I remember that day. He stepped off a curb,” Frankie Windham said, pointing through glass double doors to West College Street. “He almost got hit, but didn’t. He was getting his guitar or something.”
He also recalls a cowboy who brought his trick horse to town.
“If someone would pull a gun on him, that horse would rear up and knock it out of your hands with its hoof,” he said. “I can remember that. He brought the horse in.”
The horse might explain why the game room’s checkerboard floor is so scarred and scraped-up, but the more likely reason is time and constant use. The place had been a pool hall long before Pharis bought it.
The building still hosts the game room’s own version of celebrities, though certainly nowhere near Elvis’ caliber.
A few of the regulars have won dominoes tournaments over the years, and a trophy shelf celebrates the pool prowess of Wade “Eck” Lauderdale, 55, of Pisgah. He’s won the Lee County Shark Hunt pool tournament four times.
“I farm for a living. I grow soybeans,” Lauderdale said. “I’ve been playing pool since I was 12. When I’m not in the field, I come in. It’s just something I do.”
He’s trying for another Lee County Shark Hunt title on March 23.
“You have to be a little lucky and play pretty good,” he said, “but you’ve got to be lucky.”
On a recent Monday, Lauderdale sat and watched a group of guys play cards.
Not far away sat Charlie Cox, a 76-year-old from Iuka, who’s more interested in watching than playing. The Dixie Game Room gives him a place to go each day.
“It’s just to pass the time away,” he said. “I bring my lunch and watch them play pool or cards or dominoes.”
He used to go to another pool hall in Booneville, but it closed down.
“This is the only thing left,” Cox said.
The place draws different crowds at different times. It’s often busy in the morning, then slows during the day, only to pick up at night when students from Northeast Mississippi Community College drop by to play pool for 50 cents a game or $5 an hour.
“We’re open from 6:30 in the morning, and go until whenever,” Pharis said.
There’s a snooker tournament every Sunday, and an 85-year-old man is usually there.
“That old man starts shooting at 3 in the afternoon and he’s still shooting at 9 o’clock,” Pharis said. “These kids can’t keep up with him.”
Rickey Hood of Booneville is 58 and probably doesn’t count as a kid any more, but he could keep up with the old snooker player if he had to.
His father owned a pool hall when Hood was growing up, so it’s in his blood. He’s an employee at Dixie Game Room, and one of his responsibilities is playing pool with patrons.
“Today, there haven’t been too many people in here, so I have to play anybody who wants me to,” he said. “That’s one of my jobs, as long as we don’t have a full house. If we have a full house, I’m busy racking the tables.”
He said playing can feel like work, but he usually enjoys himself.
“I just like meeting the people,” he said. “That’s the reason I do it.”
The days of Elvis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash coming to the Von Theater with the big green “V” on the roof are long gone. For all practical purposes, the Von Theater is gone, too.
But the building remains a place where different generations gather to entertain themselves. They play games, tell stories and generally pass the time together.
“A lot of people have come and gone,” Pharis said. “It’s just a good place. People have fun here.”