The J.D. Hatfield General Store, in Melvin, and the E.H. Hall General Store, at the mouth of Hen Pen, both were places a kid could go for a candy stick, men for a plug of chewing tobacco, and women to look at a piece of cloth for a new dress.
The post office that served all the hollers was in the center of the village. The post office was one place where everyone showed up at one time or another. The postmaster's name was Gracie. Gracie had two boys, Allen and Phillip (who we called "Moe"). Gracie and her boys lived in a three room house on the hill behind the post office building. Their house was much like the one Mutt and me lived in.
The mail arrived every morning by train. It was brought in from Martin, a nearby town. Martin was a hub for Right and Left Beaver Creeks which ran into the Big Sandy River, at Allen.
The train ran from Martin to Weeksbury twice a day. There was a passenger car on the train and the fare to ride from Weeksbury to Martin and back again was ten cents. Some people went just for the ride, while others went to buy things from the stores in Martin. The train station, back in those days, was no more than a platform where the train dropped the mail and picked up the people who wanted to ride.
Being born in 1936, the post office meant more to me in the 1940's. I always liked going to the post office. I loved Postmaster Gracie. She was a sweet lady who knew how to get along with everyone in our village. I also enjoyed playing on the hillside behind the post office.
Wherever we went, when I was a kid, we walked the railroad tracks. Some of us walked the rail. At night, though, we walked on the dirt road. Reason being that too many stories got told about all the people who got shot down in the middle of the tracks at night, or got run over by the train.
People would tell stories about seeing lights on the tracks and spirits floating above the tracks. The ones who told me stories were mostly on spirits for sure - the kind that came in a mason jar called moonshine. After drinking that moonshine, one was liable to see about anything.
It really was something to see that old coal train up the tracks. It's whistle blowing and smoke a-billowing high into the sky. When the train stopped at the station platform, all of us who lived near ran out into our yards to see how many people got off the train, or how many bags of mail came in that day.
There are two stories I want to share with you today. They are too good to keep to myself. Are you ready? Welll, okay, then, here we go:
My dad's father was a preacher man in the Old Regular Baptist Church. He married a woman from somewhere on Beaver Creek who loved to dance. Their marriage didn't go well because they didn't get along too well.
My father, who was 17 years old at the time, took matters into his own hands one day. When Grandpa got up early to go to work in his country store, Daddy told her, "Pack your clothes, you're leaving on the morning train."
She said, "Oh, no, I'm not going anyplace."
My daddy said back, "Oh, yes, you are." Then he got the old Hog rifle down from over the fireplace and said, "Start packing."
Well, she did just that and after she was all packed, Daddy said, "Let's hit it down the road now so you don't miss your train."
He marched her down to the station and stayed with her until she got on the train. Daddy said that when she got on that train, she danced a step or two and said, "See you around, boy." That was the last day that she ever lived with Grandpa and the best thing that ever happened to either of them.
There was another day I will never forget for the rest of my life. One of the Tackett girls from over in Hen Pen ordered her a mail order cowboy. Well, we all heard he was coming on the train. I think everyone from all the hollers around came to the train station that day. The train pulled up to the station and stopped. A man threw out the bags of mail. Every eye was on that door. Well, the cowboy came through the door, stepped down on the platform and every eye there popped right out!
What a sight to see! Six-foot-three, wearing a real cowboy hat, boots and the whole cowboy outfit! The only cowboys I had ever seen were old Gene and Roy over at the showhouse in Melvin. After seeing that cowboy that was ordered up from Texas, I swore I'd never play "Wild Bill" over at the graveyard again. Hadn't never been an Indian before, but I thought I'd just have to do my best. That was a hard notion for a little country boy, I sure missed playing Wild Bill.
That Tackett girl kept that cowboy hid well. I never saw him again. I guess she kept him hid from the other girls in the village.
One day, Mutt and me went over to the post office to buy a three-cent stamp for Mother. She was going to write a letter to my Uncle Sylvian who was overseas somewhere fighting with some general called "Patton." We had two pennies left from the nickel she had given us for the stamp, so me and Mutt took off down the tracks to J.D. Hatfield's store to get us a peppermint stick. As always, when we got to the store, a bunch of old lazy hound dogs were lying out in the yard. Some old men were sitting on the porch telling fish stories. We listened to them for awhile and then took off up the tracks for home. When we got there, we were still licking on our candy sticks.
Mother asked us, "Did you boys get my stamp?"
"Sure did," said Mutt.
Mother stamped the letter and sent me back to the post office so the letter would go out with the afternoon mail.
It being a hot afternoon, Mutt and I walked down to the big hole of water for a swim. Mutt jumped first. He walked out on the root of a big old tree that stood over the water and did a cannonball into the swimming hole. After we had been swimming for a little, two of our cousins, John D. and Danny Ray, came by for a dip in the creek.
John D. asked, "Is the water cold?"
We told him,"Come on in, it's warm!"
About that time, Danny hit the water headfirst! All of us boys had a wonderful time swimming in old Beaver Creek that afternoon. We stayed in the water until it was time for Daddy to come home from work. Daddy worked at Koppers Coal Company over in the town of Weeksbury.
Mother liked to have supper waiting on the table when Daddy got home. I went out to sit on the porch and wait for Daddy to get home. The truck Daddy rode in was owned by a man named Ellis Johnson who lived in Pike County, up Long Fork.
Soon, the truck, and Daddy, came along. Daddy got out of the truck and came walking slowly up our yard. I could tell he had worked hard that day. I was so proud of him, he was a good man who had pretty much raised himself after his mother had died when he was nine years old. I wanted to be just like him.
I met him at the edge of the porch and said, "Let me carry your dinner bucket," as I had done so many times before. Sometimes he would leave a cookie in his bucket for me, but not today. This day, he had eaten everything. When he walked into the kitchen, Mother said, "How was your day, Harold?"
"Not too bad," he replied. He went over to the wash bench and washed his hands in a pan of clean water that Mother had set out for him.
Then, the four of us, Daddy, Mother, me and Mutt, sat down to a soup bean and cornbread supper. We had no sooner set down at the table until John D. and Danny Ray walked through the back door. I guess the smell of those good old soup beans had just pulled their noses and feet toward our kitchen.
Daddy told them, "Get a plate and pull up a chair." My daddy never turned anyone away from our table. John D. loved soup beans - he would take a piece of cornbread, break it up, scatter it all around his plate, then pour soup beans on top of it. Then, he'd top it off with a big spoon of homemade cow butter. Danny Ray never took time for all that, he just poured beans into a plate, broke a piece of cornbread and said, "Goldia, pass me them taters."
I sure did love them two boys.
After supper, John D. and Danny Ray said they had better head down the tracks for home before it got too dark. Never knew how many spirits would be floating the rails on a given night, you know.
After they left, Mutt and I fed the animals before we went to bed. Before I went to sleep, I thought back over the day, as was my custom. What a day it had been! A cowboy had come up from Texas to marry a girl over in Hen Pen Holler, I had made two trips to the post office and bought a candy stick at the store. I had heard tales from old men of days gone by, had taken a dip in the swimming hole, and ate supper with two of my cousins and my family.
For two little boys who seemingly had so little in the world, me and Mutt were both the happiest little boys in all the world. After all, we had the whole world right before our eyes to explore everyday, didn't we? I couldn't wait to wake up the next morning to see what the world had in store for me and Mutt, so I went ahead and closed my eyes and said, "Good night, world. See you in the morning."
"Shut up, big mouth," Mutt said. "And go to sleep!"
I just smiled and dug my head into my pillow.