Family, memories

Midnight and Queenie – My Introduction to the Dark Side of Humanity, Part Two

My writing exercise last week had us exploring our experience with loss and grief. For me, it all started with two pets. My first pet was a cat. She was mine. She was dark black and full of love. Her dark coat was the reason I named her Midnight. Queenie, on the other hand, was a family dog, a beagle.

Tuesday, I wrote about Midnight. Today I will write the second part – about Queenie.

I will warn you, this could be triggering for some people.


Part Two, Queenie

I grew up in the country as many of my longtime followers know. Life was different there. We did not have quick and ready access to grocery stores nor did we have an abundance of money to purchase from the store. This meant we raised a large garden and the vegetables were put away (canned in Ball canning jars) for the winter months. Potatoes were harvested and stored in a dark cellar and used throughout the winter. Nothing was wasted.

Our streams were full of rainbow and brown trout, and fishing was also a way of life as was hunting. People hunted for food rather than sport and the abundance of the land and what it provided was highly revered.

My Dad hunted and we ate what was gathered. It was a way of life. When we moved into town, there was less open land in which to hunt. I think my father had a vision of raising hunting dogs. I loved my father a great deal, but often his plans were, well, let’s say flawed, often never coming to fruition.

The house we rented was a small three bedroom built in 1932. There was an alleyway that ran behind the street. The back yard had a deep downward slope. There was a coal chute on the side where coal was delivered and dropped directly into a small basement room off the furnace. Alongside the back yard was a small half-wall made from concrete block. We only had neighbors on one side of us and the lots were substantial.

I am not sure when or where Dad got the beagles, but King and Queenie lived in a chainlink pen in the back yard with a cozy dog house. I cannot even recall how long we had them, but eventually, Queenie had a litter of pups. I can still remember how cute they were. Dad did not want us to get too attached to them so we did not get to play with them or handle them much. But we all loved them dearly.

I am fuzzy on the details, but one morning, Dad got up for work and went out back to feed the dogs as was his routine. He found Queenie and all the puppies dead. They had been poisoned. I am also not sure if King was there or even is King was our dog. He may have been borrowed for breeding. I just do not remember.

What I do remember was this was the second time I realized just how cruel people could be. I have often wondered what possessed someone to come into our yard under the cloak of darkness and purposefully poison the dogs. It is possible Queenie was poisoned and the poison passed through her milk to the pups, but that is supposition on my part. All I know for sure, was that it was an intentional act.

Dad would not let us see the dogs. I think he tried to protect us from the heartache he felt when he saw them. We would not have another dog until I was in junior high school and my boyfriend gave me a Cocker Spaniel my mother named Whiskey, because he was the color of a nice aged whiskey.

Thankfully, we had no other horrendous stories associated with our pets. Two was too many. Far too many.

Blog, memories

Country Store Memories, Part IV Final: Ruth Esther’s Store

If you look up the definition for a holler it will say something to the effect of it being a hollow or a valley in the mountains. A holler is much more than that. It is a community within or an offshoot of a larger community. Where I grew up, a holler was somewhat isolated, but populated with a close community. A holler has one way in and you must traverse the same road out.

Our holler was a little more open that some around where we lived, but it was definitely away from the central part of the Valley. At one time (before I remember) there was a small foot bridge that crossed the creek providing a shorter journey into the Valley itself. I believe it was washed out during a bad storm and never rebuilt. The walk into the Valley could be a 30 to 40 minute walk even by walking the railroad tracks which provdes a shorter path.

When the depot closed, Arthur’s store was still not such a long walk, but once he closed his store, that meant everyone in the holler would need to walk all the way to Clarence’s which was in the upper end of the Valley. I have no way of knowing if this is why Ruth Esther opened her store, but it was definitely closer than walking into the Valley.

Ruth Esther and Vernon (her husband) lived in a large white house at the crest of the last large hill before the road dipped down heading into the holler. (When we finally got bikes, climbing this gravel covered road might have been the place you would choose to get off and walk your bike to the top.) I believe Vernon built the bluish block building in front of their house which became the store.

I always loved Ruth Esther. If you read my earlier story about the train depot, you may remember she worked at the train depot when I was a child. I thought she was beautiful with her vivid red lipstick and her vivid red nails. She looked like a movie star to me. She was always well dressed and as I said, such a kind woman.

Writing these stories now makes me wonder what must have required to maintain these little stores and also manage a house and a farm. It could not have been easy, although I am not sure what, if any, regulations they may have been required to follow. Back then, however, this store made a nice halfway stopping point to get a cold drink or a snack heading to or from the holler.

The inventory was slim as I think the intent was to provide basic necessities. Unfortunately, the lack of necessary staples still forced people to go to Clarence’s store to get the supplies they needed. I cannot tell you how long the store was open, but it was short-lived in comparison to the other stores. The building still stands, echoing memories from the past.

The last I knew, Ruth Esther was still alive, living in the same house on top of that last hill heading into the holler.

Blog, memories

Country Store Memories, Part III: Clarence’s Store

You could divide the Valley into three parts, each divided by a bridge that crossed a creek. Clarence’s store was ‘above’ the orange Valley bridge. Even though it was the farthest for many residents, he carried more inventory than most.

Clarence’s store was an old wooden building. In the early days, he sold gasoline — the pump having three small plastic balls that floated around as the gas was pumped. Outside the store was a scattered array of old metal milk crates, turned upside down and used for makeshift stools.

Inside the store was a wooden counter with a base encased in glass. Clarence was almost always in the store, more often than not sitting around the old cast iron pot bellied stove where a game of checkers was always in play. This was the gathering spot and safe haven for the men in the Valley taking a break from the summer sun or the boredom associated with a cold winter and yapping women.

More often than not, you would find Clarence sitting in the back of the store jawing with someone when you entered the store. He would stand and meander over to the counter waiting for you to select your purchase.

The glass-front case protected the goodies from being handled by kids. These treats were usually things like horehound candy, licorice, Tootsie-Pops, Red Hots, Fireballs, Sugar Daddys, Mallow Cups, and Necco Wafers. On the counter were glass jars that contained individual cookies. There was often a cardboard display that contained Moon Pies and Nabs (Nabisco crackers).

Milk and drinks were kept in a cooler with doors than opened on a hinge from the top. Milk was often in glass jugs, produced by local farmers. The selections of pop ranged from King Cola (a local Virginia company), to Nehi Grape, Orange Crush, RC (Royal Crown), Mountain Dew (with its hillbilly graphics), Yoo-Hoo and Chocolate Soldiers (both chocolate drinks), and of course 7-Up. Oddly, I do not remember drinking much Pepsi or Coke. Trust me — pop pulled from one of those coolers was the coldest I’ve ever had! There was a bottle opener on the side so you could pop the top and drink your pop on the walk home.

Of course, Clarence sold things to adults, too. Corn meal and flour, a small selection of canned foods, bread, fishing lures and of course tobacco products (chewing tobacco, snuff, and cigarettes). Chewing tobacco was the favorite for many farmers and snuff was used by a lot of the older generation women.

Clarence spoke with a slow drawl. Once you made your selection, he would do his figuring on the side of an unfolded paper bag while he spoke as he computed: “2 and 2 is four, plus 7 is eleven carry the one.” It would all be written on the side of the bag he put your purchases in.

Clarence had the misfortune of living beside the store. I can remember so many times my grandmother saying “Go up and ask Clarence to open the store. I need some shortening.” Oftentimes, his wife, Mary Ellen, would open the store on these out of hour requests.

Almost everyone in the Valley had a tab at Clarence’s. I assume this was because people only got paid at harvest time, or perhaps at the end of the month when checks would come in. People were honest. No one would think about reneging on what they owed him. I liked Clarence. I can still see his face vividly.

When Clarence passed away, his son Eddie took over the store. It soon became “Eddie’s store” and a new block building was built beside the old store. The gas pumps were long gone, but the milk crates and checkerboard remained. Eddie passed away last year. It is hard to think this will be the end of such a long legacy.

Blog, memories

Country Store Memories, Part II: Arthur’s Store

My grandmother’s house was on the main road in the Valley. I am sure it must have had a county or state route number, but I never knew what it was.  The main road came to a dead end at another road. Arthur’s house was at this intersection – a small white house with a poured concrete porch. It was Arthur’s house I wrote about in a post about taking solace from the storm.

Arthur’s store was about halfway between my grandfather’s house and his house. I can still see him leaving his house in his denim overalls and walking down the road to the store. The building’s exterior was covered with brown asphalt shingles. On the front facade was a large tin sign that read “Say Pepsi Please” and a large illustration of a Pepsi bottle. There were lots of those old tin signs gracing the front of the building.

I do not remember Arthur as a particularly kind man. When my brother was young, he used to ‘tease’ him by telling him he was going to cut his ears off. He would reach in the pocket of his overalls and pull out his pocket knife. I guess he thought it was funny that my brother would cover his ears and run. Looking back, it was a terribly cruel thing to say to a child. I think he did something similar to my father when he grew up there.

Like many country stores, they were opened only when convenient for the owner. Any other work, like farming or chores around the house came first. If someone desperately needed something and the store was not open, it was common to go to their house, knock on the door and ask if they would open the store for you. Imagine doing that today.

Arthur’s store was not large. It consisted of a small rectangular room with a counter behind which Arthur stood. His image fades in and out as I try to remember him. I am sure we kids might have been a nuisance to him running in and out to buy candy because he never seemed particularly happy. Along the counter were glass jars filled with rectangular shaped coconut cookies which I loved. I am sure they probably cost about 2¢ each.

Beside the counter, Arthur had a chest freezer. The lid was hinged on the back, facing the customers and opened toward him. This is where he kept frozen items and for me that meant ice cream – a Nutty Buddy, a Push-Up or a Fudgsicle. My most vivid memory of his store was the day I went in to buy an ice cream. I was so excited!

When Arthur opened the freezer, it created an opening along the lid. As I waited for him to retrieve my ice cream, I inadvertently put my fingers in the crack created when he opened the freezer. When he had my treat, he let the freezer door drop onto all eight of my fingers. I screamed until he opened the lid. No broken bones – perhaps there was insulation around the lid of the freezer that protected me somewhat. What a memory!

When Arthur closed the store, he used the building for storage. At one time I think they may have used it to hang tobacco to dry. It was still standing the last time I went home unlike Arthur’s house which was eventually torn down.

Tomorrow I will introduce you to Clarence and his store. It was the men’s social gathering spot and the store that stayed operational the longest.

Blog, memories

Country Store Memories, Part I: The Train Depot

My memories of the depot are fuzzy.  A large wooden counter separated the open room from the merchandise. There may have been benches for people waiting on the train — I do not remember. The depot was also where everyone got their mail. A bank of individual bronze-faced rectangular boxes lined the back wall. Box numbers were assigned (ours was P.O. Box 23) snd mail was accessed by turning the small gold pointer back and forth entering the appropriate combination.

The main room was quite big and open with a long wooden counter behind which Ruth Esther worked.  She was a local resident, married to a farmer and raising three sons who looked like their father and a daughter who favored her. I thought she was beautiful with her bright red lipstick and bright red fingernails. We never saw people wear lipstick or paint their nails much in those days. She was filled with kindness with such a gentle manner. If I close my eyes, I can still see the little scrunch in her eyes when she smiled. Ruth Esther sold penny candy to the kids. That was my big takeaway. I honestly do not know what else they sold because I was only interested in the candy.

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Uploaded by TeVe, Railway turnout – Oulu Finland, marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons

Being a depot, there was a railway switch that could guide the trains to another track. For our community, the switch was used to route the trains off the track while stopped or as a holding place when the cars were not used. We loved it when that happened! That was a prime playground for us.

The resting railroad cars were never locked and there were never more than one or two cars parked at any given time. I have written before about the hours we spent playing there.

When the trains stopped carrying passengers, the depot closed. This would leave two stores in our little Valley and would inspire Ruth Esther to open her own. Join me tomorrow when I introduce you to Arthur who owned the store closest to my grandparent’s house.