August 11, 2018
I have concluded that most of us can name persons from our past that taught us lessons about life. Some were in themselves living proof that despite handicaps, we can make it in life. It only takes determination and faith in the outcome. For some readers, a grandparent, or a neighbor, teacher, preacher or coach demonstrated this truth. It might have also been you having influence on others. Remember, we are watched and have an opportunity to be a model for others.
It might have been the guy who for some unknown reason rode his bike to meet the train every night, or the fellow that sat on a mechanics dolly selling pencils, or the janitor that rang the church bell to mark the hour that taught you it is possible to make a difference. In many cases it is a parent that tells you that you can accomplish anything if you try. The people all around us interacted and gave us reason to feel good about ourselves and to dismiss fear and anxiety. They gave us comfort in this fast-moving world. When it comes down to it, we owe a big part of any of our successes in life to those people who lived their lives alongside of us. It wasn’t about them being older, younger, related or not related, but rather that they shared a little piece of their lives with us. We were walking life’s paths together.
Prime examples of some people I recall are some of the men and women who helped me just by being there. Some taught me things by examples, or by verbally sharing stories of others. They stood as models that I could use in growing up. After achieving one goal, I discovered that another would soon appear. This was one way we all learned to cope with what life handed us.
In those early days I was but a street urchin who took notice of many of the people who I encountered daily and the effect they had on my life. They contributed to my understanding of life and helped me to deal with the ups and downs that are a natural part of life. As I was writing this my mind began to conger pictures of faces and the names of a few. Some shone brighter than others, but all were remembered for a reason. For example, here are a few that appeared: Ed Bradley, Pee Wee, Andy York, Johnnie Justice, Pat Brown, Bill Elkins, Sr., Dr. Joe Carter, Sheepie Queen, Quincy Childers, nurse Logan, Willa Bell Heston, Ed Land, Merrill Rice, Jake Jordan (Sheriff/Judge), Earnest Compton, Mrs. Sparks (Big Sandy News), Liz Shannon, John Pennington (Webbville), Lafe Wellman, Francis Cain, George Vinson, Bernard Nelson, J. Lynn See, Kit Elswick, Wayne Wooten, Frances Cain, Luke Varney, Eldered Adams, Russell Dobyns, Eddie and Maggie Boggs, Currlean Rice, Jim Cheek, Doc Skaggs, Buell Lyon, Kenneth Hayes, Ed ‘Tootie’ Vanhoose, Russ Wheeler, Frank Webster, Opal Lyons, Funny Miller, Jim Moore, Doc Burgess, Doc McNabb, Giles Simpson, Blanche Hughes, Jim and Charlie Walker, J.R. Miller, Dr. McNabb, Dr. Jim Smith, Leon Compton, Doc Sheley, and countless other townspeople. We were collectively influenced by grade school teachers like Mrs. Armstrong, Mrs. Hayes, Mrs. Burgess, Mrs. Jackson, Frank Webster (principal) and Rev. Charles Perry (principal), I’m sorry but I’m overlooking some, for sure. We also remember very well high school teachers like Ellen Lacky, Beulah Moore, and, of course, Bascomb Boyd who many of my generation remembers with fear and fondness.
There were many more, but it could take a lifetime to list them all. You may well have a more complete list, but then different people are remembered by each of us according to our personal experiences. Listed or not, you get the idea that everyone had a part of supporting the others.
There were plenty of school mates. Some were classmates, while others were upper or lower classmen. Regardless, they were there and I saw them. When you are part of the secondary school system, you become amalgamated into one student-body. The upper and lower classmen thing is discounted because the older ones looked out for the younger ones. Yes, a very minor bit of snobbishness appeared with a few, and there might have been a bully, or two, but that wasn’t the rule. Some kids were funny, some sweet, some were good losers, but others were not. Some were active and into many diverse interests, while others were shy, or disinterested. Nonetheless, they were there and they had an influence. We simply were not alone. Not then, not now. Like a strand of rope, we are stronger when we interact and support each other. Support from others, whether intended or not often gave us strength and hope.
In life there will be those that are a strong influence and others that you barely know. Often, it’s the little things that make a difference. A word of encouragement, a smile, or a nod of understanding makes a difference. Not everyone has a major effect on us like Bascomb Boyd or Bill Cheek.
I remember one time when John Pennington asked me to come home with him one night on the school bus. He was a math teacher who held his classes in one of the basement rooms in the newer school building, but we had very little personal interaction up to then. I asked my great aunt if I should accept the invitation. She knew him and encouraged me to make the trip. He lived up on a hill in ‘downtown’ Webbville, whatever that meant. When the bus dropped us off, we climbed the path where I met Mrs. Pennington. After a wonderful, plenteous supper, Mr. Pennington and I went down the hill to a nearby baseball field where I met several boys my age. They all knew and liked my teacher, who later gave me some pitching instruction. Frankly, I was a catcher and never wanted to pitch, but we practiced because it seemed to please him. He had a bad leg, perhaps deformed at birth, but he proved to be more agile and able than many ‘normal’ men. I learned that we must live with what life gives us. With a good attitude we can overcome the problems we face. This nice man provided a most comfortable bed with clean sheets (top and bottom) and treated me like a fancy guest. When I awoke the next morning, I found that breakfast was larger than any I had ever eaten and very good. I was still eating when I was reminded that we had to hurry to catch the bus back to school. Even today when I look back, I enjoyed that evening and the attention he gave me. He taught me that attitude and perseverance is what is required to be successful. All men aren’t literally created equal, but they can rise and achieve their dreams.
I watched Ern Compton dealing with the loss of his eyesight and a missing arm that was the result of an accident. He was fast at counting money, making change, and working to turn out popcorn, magazines and newspapers. I had many talks with him and remember praying for him when he had a replacement surgery that gave us some hope he might see again. It was improved, but he mostly saw shadows and cloudy figures. He never saw me, but he knew me when I stopped by. He gave me hope that we can overcome difficulties and achieve. He certainly did.
I have long forgotten the names of the two ladies who used to live in Cyprus Inn, just a block from my home. I was tall for my age, but inside I was still very much a little boy. My mom had bought me a set of ‘six-shooters’ with holsters and a cowboy hat. I was on the street playing with imaginary cowboys, slowing only to twirl my guns and pretend to shoot. I had pulled my bandana over my face since I was playing the role of a desperado. As happens, one of the two elderly ladies who was hanging out the wash, saw me and yelled to her sister to run inside. Wow! They were scared, but suddenly, so was I. I ran home and took off my guns and hid in my room. Matters got worse when the Sheriff’s car pulled up and Sheriff Jordan climbed out. I figured he was placing me under arrest when he put me in the car and drove away. When he pulled in at the Cyprus Inn he had me get out and follow him to the front door. He explained that they had nothing to fear from me, and told me in front of the ladies to never run around scaring people again. I agreed. He told me I could leave. I ran all the way home, relieved that there was mercy and I wasn’t going to jail.
One of my mom’s very best friends was Alice Queen. I had first met her when we had walked the tracks up to the waterworks housing next to the plant. Little did I know that there would be a time when I would be a plant operator for the waterworks. This visit was when I was either preschool, or barely in grade school. We were invited inside where we played some records that were popular at the time. There was one about ‘Water’ sung by thirsty cowboys, and another about ‘Button & Bows.’ I remember ‘Ghost Riders in the Sky,’ too. Alice’s husband, Sheepy worked at the water plant. I think he later ran for mayor and won, but I’m mixing up the story. Sorry. It wasn’t long after that when Sheepy was involved in a truck wreck. Apparently after going around ‘dead man’s curve’ the steering stiffened up on the truck and finally locked up as he approached the turn off to Blaine. He jumped, breaking a leg and getting other injuries, and the truck went on its own hitting the store on the corner. No one inside the store was hurt. I saw that accidents happen to anyone and life is not always safe. I began to see that folks died regularly from car wrecks, train accidents, fires, and illnesses in general. I don’t think I was fearful, but I did come to respect making good decisions and avoiding reckless actions.
Over the years, I’ve written about many people that made a difference in my life. Some may have been instrumental in your lives, as well. Many names appear multiple times and consistently among our peers. As I have mentioned before, my best friend’s father, Eddie Boggs, was also my coach and teacher not just in sports, but in life. I saw examples of how a young man should behave, play sports, and look out for others. I learned some about what is honorable behavior and what isn’t.
Bill Keeton was busy teaching Sunday School and working. He had his hands in numerous businesses around town and was an officer in the national guard. Emily Young prayed for me. I know this because she told me. I needed the prayer but was pretty clueless. Reverend Perry influenced me as my pastor, but so did Rev. Buskirk. His stories that gave witness to the truth of the Gospel made a big difference later during my adulthood.
Smith ‘Pete’ Armstrong and Richard ‘Dick’ Wilson got me involved in the band. Perhaps more than I intended, but it made a wonderful difference in my life because of the music appreciation I learned along the way. I also had many friends who were fellow musicians. I could never imagine not having memories of the practices, performances, trips, and experiences that came with that involvement. Some of the band members were serious about learning to play and doing it well. Stanley Brown sat next to me in band and taught me how to count, and how and when to add vibrato. Hours and hours of practice were required for me to learn how to perform.
I often practiced music with Joan Carrol Bailey (Koskoski) who accompanied me on a concerto I had to present at the Morehead State Band Competition. I was so grateful, especially with her positive attitude. I also remember a dark day when she had a minor wreck and hung her car over a drop near ‘deadman’s’ curve above the Varney home. I was so worried over her injuries. Staying positive was a lesson I learned from her.
Still, in thinking about music, I remember my friend and classmate, Merrill Stevens, who seemed to work miracles on various instruments. He played by ear which must be a gift from God. I stood in amazement when he was handed an instrument he’d never played before and immediately sent sweet music gracing the air. Whether a banjo, or bassoon, he could play anything like a professional. I knew his problem was learning to read music instead of playing by ear. Regardless, he was a talented musician.
There are people that I passed on the streets every day whose name I didn’t know. They still represented something to me. Whether it was to sell tickets to the Garden Theater, collect toll on the bridge, make a BLT at the lunch counter, share funny jokes at the barber shop, or help me pick out a present for mom, they were all a part of my life. When I was in grade school I loved my friend Quincy Childress. He would let me ‘ride’ the rope with him to ring the school bell. We’d both be pulled high off the landing only to come down again. We’d laugh together, but only when a teacher or principal wasn’t around. Sometimes he would take an official position and have to run me off, but I knew he was just doing his job. Likely, he saw a set of eyes I didn’t and needed to keep decorum. I knew that there would be another time riding the bell rope.
I remember when Mrs. Jackson, my fourth-grade teacher, took a trip to Virginia. She toured Colonial Williamsburg, a town that had been Virginia’s capitol during colonial times. The gardens, buildings, and general atmosphere impressed her. When she came back from Williamsburg, she had her front porch removed and the façade of her home remodeled to duplicate the homes she had seen on her trip. There were people who didn’t understand but she ignored the comments and took pride in the remodel. As it happens, I currently live just minutes away from Williamsburg and have seen inside of nearly all of the building that are open to the public. It is a charming place, for sure. It shows us the environment that our nation’s founding fathers created. The last time I was home I passed Mrs. Jackson’s house and think she did a great job making it look like those colonial houses in Williamsburg. History is very much part of life for it is on those foundations that we have built our own lives. I thought Mrs. Jackson was wise to discover and then duplicate that which made her happy.
When I think of it, even George Washington and Thomas Jefferson had an influence on my life. There is even a chance that you contributed in some way, too. If so, I appreciate your being there with me. Hopefully, in turn, somewhere along the line, I have had a positive influence in your life. If not then maybe with this articles that focus on life the way it was. I don’t think looking back is so much about nostalgia, but a way to understand relationships that we all have had. Each of us has added value to the lives of the other. We have brothers, sisters, and friends who have all contributed to our growing up. I hope we have helped influencing them in a positive way. So please let me say ‘thank you for being there as we tried to grow up and figure life out. Be sure you have influenced others and be glad for the affection you have shared.’
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