The VTC bus —Valley Transportation Company — brought folks into the county seat by the score. People packed into a host of shops, restaurants, motion picture houses and grocery stores.
It was also a day when preachers such as Deacon Johnson held forth with hell-fire and damnation sermons on the courthouse square near the World War I Doughboy. Deacon Johnson was physically handicapped, but that didn’t stop him from delivering his talks even when he held his Bible upside down. He wanted to look more ministerial when he conveyed his message, so he asked local ministers what was the best stance to take when holding his Bible and delivering his sermon.
Deacon was advised to hold his coat lapel with his left hand while glancing at an open Bible in his right. Never mind that the Bible was often upside down. He had memorized many passages of scripture. One particular morning I passed by Deacon as he stood leaning on his crutch with his Bible in hand and holding his lapel as he had been instructed. No one was around or listening, but I heard him say with great sincerity and conviction, “I want to thank all you good folks for coming out this morning.”
Not far from the courthouse was Dr. L.V. Lee’s drug store. Jimmy Mitchell was chief pharmacist of the establishment. He loved children and often teased them when they came to trade with their parents or who had a nickel for ice cream. My father, Dr. J.W. Nolan, had an office over Lee Drug. Consequently, I was in and out of there frequently when I was a child. In those days, it was well-known that there were only three ice cream flavors, vanilla, chocolate and strawberry. Jimmy, however, loved to tease me. When I asked, “How many flavors do you have?” With a gentle smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye, Jimmy answered me with “Today, we have cushaw, paw-paw, punkin and gourd.” Then he pretended to pluck a nickel from behind my ear, with which I bought an ice cream cone the flavor of my choice.
Jimmy’s wife, Elsie, owned and operated a beauty shop above the drug store and next door to my father’s medical practice. Often when I climbed the steps to his office in search of a nickel or dime for ice cream, I encountered my World War I veteran father sparing the time to teach Jim and Elsie’s toddler daughter, Julia Ann, the fundamentals of marching.
“Attention! Forward march! Left, right, left, right, halt! About face! Right, left, right, left.” After marching up and down the wooden hallway, Julia broke ranks and went into her mother’s beauty shop where she might have found her giving a lady a finger wave which cost 75 cents, or a permanent wave which required the hair to be rolled on chemically-soaked curler clamps and hooked up to electricity. That cost as much as $3.
Each of the aforementioned, in his own unique way, made a lasting impression on countless folks who remember them with admiration and affection. Although Harlan’s downtown area has changed a great deal, there are many who recall those “good old days” with fondness.