March 14, 2015
Weekly feature . . . by Mike Coburn
There were lots of names I heard from grownups during the time I was growing up. Being a kid I was usually more concerned with the facts of any accompanying story. If too dull, then what kind of steps I needed to escape in hopes of finding better amusement. Some of the common names were with such caring that they were obviously dear comrades referred to as ‘friends of the family.’ I was impressed with the nature of family relationship, even if I didn’t personally know them that well. I’m sure many of the friendships were cemented in earlier times, perhaps either as old neighbors, church families, or in school. That kind of information doesn’t come to kids via osmosis, but then again, kids don’t usually worry a great deal about ‘pre-historic’ times.
Before I began making my own friends I lived with my mother, my great aunt and her two kids, and my great grandmother. I took for granted that any and all people that stopped in were friends. By the time of my birth my great grandfather, a doctor who is reputed to have delivered a good number of babies throughout Lawrence County, had already passed away. I’ve only seen one picture of him and that was sent me by a cousin only recently. When he died he left a number of friends. I had no idea of how they came about as family friends, especially those we didn’t see often. Many of these people were called Doc something or another. Some were medical doctors, but others were pharmacists, or who knows what. Doc Brumley was one of those names, like Doc Skaggs, Doc McClure, Doc Burgess, Doc McNab, and many others whose names just haven’t popped into my mind at the moment. I’m sure at least some of these are known to you.
Before I was more than two or three years old, my great aunt and my mother took us to live in the first floor apartment of the Louisa Inn. Later that apartment became the office of an eye doctor, Dr. Tisco. I remember a good many things about this location, including some of the others that dwelt in the other apartments. Billy Elkins was one of those, as was Mary Ellen. I met all of the surrounding families but remember nothing of their names. I remember a stone house that held a young man confined from playing with us. I think his name was Mickey.
Before starting school we moved back in with my great grandmother at 103 Clay Street, on the corner of Franklin. Next door the Lyons family had a big stone house with a wide, comfortable front porch. It was there that I suffered though my first experience of death. Mr. Lyons passed away and I cried for some time after that. I had often gathered eggs with him in his barnyard across the street, near Pocahontas. I truly mourned his passing but finally had to accept that life was short and we all would die sooner or later. It was part of growing up.
In life, the people we know come from various generations and many backgrounds. The ones I focused on were closer to my age, but I could not have made it without the others. Wayne Wooten was nearer my mother’s age so I knew a little of him besides his name. It turned out that after graduation I was putting in applications everywhere to get any kind of a job. Finally giving up, I boarded a train and left for Detroit where I enlisted in the Air Force. When I arrived in Detroit my mother told me that Wayne had called my Louisa home to hire me. Too late, but I appreciated that someone cared. Had I stayed I would have had an entirely different life, I’m sure.
A number of the older folks around me served in the war, but were back by the time I became aware of them. Living next door to Billy Elkins brought me to the place I came to know Bill Elkins, Senior. He had served. I know this because little Billy had shown me his dog tags. Since they shared the same name, he could wear them when we played war. Big Bill rescued me from the height of a cedar tree at the Louisa Inn when I climbed and became stuck. Mom had panicked and called the fire department. I didn’t know to be scared of being up there, but mom taught me that before I was out of that tree. Bill senior was my best friend’s dad but would become truant officer for the school system. I know Tennie VanHoose’s father had served because I was told of his heroics on the battlefield and the Purple Heart he earned. The men of that age were mostly of out of my vision because I tended only to see those that meant something at the particular time. They were shadows moving about around us, but not noticed. For that matter, the rest of the world is there, but we don’t see them. I met Bill Keeton because he was my Sunday school teacher and ran the frozen food lockers behind Bradley’s store. My mom pointed out when Bill made captain in the Kentucky National Guard. She told me that was an important rank. Later I would know that anyway, but at the time it was impressive because she took the time to tell me so.
I know that a favorite teacher, Frank Webster, also served in the war because the subject came up now and again in classes. I think he was army. I was surprised with the number of guys that went off to the navy since we were not near any big water. My uncle John Walters served as a merchant marine in the North Atlantic. I watched and now have copies of the early TV program, “Victory at Sea.” I loved the music and the history, but didn’t envy the men stuck on those cold waves that were washing over the deck. One could get seasick just watching the films. I prefer something further South, if you please, but then again, they have hurricanes in the tropics.
One group of people that I knew were the school teachers. Others will testify to the same, I’m sure. I’ve seen the reaction that readers give even at the mention of Bascomb Boyd. I think he was one of the most beloved, and at the same time, feared teachers in history. Maybe other school systems have their Mr. Boyd’s, but somehow he seems truly unique. There’s no question he turned out a lot of good math students. Unfortunately, I wasn’t one of them. I remember J. Walter Thompson as one of the teachers I had classes under. I think the course he taught was General Business. We learned to balance checkbooks, figure compound interest, and more, I’m sure. Some of the lessons I continue to use to this day. Kenneth Hayes was well-liked. He went to our church so I saw him there, too. I recall that he and Mrs. Hayes, a grade school teacher, adopted some twin girls and proudly paraded them to Sunday school. I think he lived on Lock Avenue about half way between the General Hospital and the Locks. I think that Ellen Lackey and Alva Jordan were good friends of my Aunt, Shirley Chapman. I guess it was because they were colleagues, but maybe it went back further than that.
I knew Merrill Rice because he lived on the next block and we’d play baseball with his sons on that corner lot at Franklin and Lady Washington. Mr. Dobson lived across the street and we’d hit baseballs over there and run for the hills. I don’t remember hurting anything, but the potential was there to dent a car or bust a window. I played under some fairly controlled and supervised conditions with Joe Rice, Merrill’s oldest son. I knew Merrill had a gun collection to beat everything, but I was more interested in hearing about the Civil War. He was an expert on that subject. I remember him once telling some of us a story on himself. It seems he had a new 44 magnum pistol, shaped much the same as the old frontier Colt Peacemaker. He had been driving his Cadillac along a road out in the county when he saw a rabbit. Not able to resist the temptation, he fired off a round and then another. He didn’t say if he got the rabbit, but told us that the pistol had considerable kickback. Firing it while still sitting in his car resulted in putting two dents above the window of his Cadillac.
Lew Wallace lived out toward Smokey Valley next to what I knew as the Wallace farm. I think he worked for the Department of Transportation. He attended my church so I knew him from there. He was a relative to Jimmy Young and was reputed to be a relative of the Lew Wallace that wrote ‘The Robe,’ a wonderful book that later was made into a movie. That Lew Wallace had been a Civil War general of some fame I was told. I had ridden on a Calvary saddle that was supposed to have been his.
There are names I remember including some that come to mind when I hear the family name, but I could in no way put faces or history with them, but in a way thought that I should certainly know them. One of those names was Burgess Kilgore and another was Ed or Lafe Wellman. Maybe I’m confusing two people. Maybe one of them owned the Wellman Hardware store, but I really don’t know. Maybe one of you readers could tell me.
I remember these names, but don’t know why: Mac Crutcher (there was a Crutcher’s store), Bob Fugate, and Bill Short. You can see my education was lacking. In life there are a lot of names we hear and a lot of faces we may remember, but putting them together, especially with any dug up history, is a difficult chore.
I remember when Goldie Childress, who taught school somewhere up toward Torchlight, Whitehouse, or Peach Orchard, would come down for the teacher’s meetings that were held once or twice a year. She was a nice lady and smart. She dressed rather plainly, and wore glasses. She looked a bit matronly, but very wise and honest. We looked forward to her visits. She stayed in the spare room and spent a good bit of time reading when she was down. I mentioned her once to a friend that lived up around Inez and she remember Goldie with fondness. I wondered a few time if she were related to my bell-ringing friend in Grade school.
I know my mother loved Alice Queen and her husband, Sheepie. I remember he was mayor once and he had a wreck once out on Mayo Trail just at the turnoff to Blaine. Steering wheel locked up and he had to abandon the truck by jumping. I heard it hit the store, but was too young to run out there and look. I think he broke some bones and we were all worried for him.
So many names come back, sometimes very familiar to my tongue, yet I struggle with the faces and the history behind them. Of course, no one knows everyone, but we often count those around us as fellow pilgrims and trustworthy friends. For me, it takes ‘sleeping on it’ to bring back particular memories, sometime mulling the name over and over in hopes that something will pop out of the shadows. Others have memories that are strong, seeped in stories worth repeating. I confess I struggle, embarrassing myself that I have forgotten my helpmates and kin alike. Maybe this is what getting older does to you. One thing I do know, once I get a name and face together, it is like dessert is served. The joy and warmth of returning memories is sweet and is one of life’s greatest pleasures.
Over time I’ll float a few more names out there and you readers can maybe fill in the gaps. I’m not sensitive about being corrected and would love to know the history that you know. In fact, your mere mention of a name opens doors in my mind that have long been shut. Write comments or email me stories. I’d love to hear from you. Nets of friendships cast wide, and often from a different perspective. This makes harvest good and worthwhile.
PS: For those that like murder mysteries I have two books on Amazon. You can download them on your computer, tablet, or Kindle.