It was peppering snow, and the roads were getting covered, but the buses still ran. Every time I watch that movie, Christmas Story, with the kid who wanted the Red Ryder BB gun, it brings up those memories and feelings from those great times, because it used to look that way in downtown Harlan. Christmas was always bustling and busy downtown, and lots of people were out shopping for their families.
Dad was a coal miner then, and although he didn't make much money back then he always made sure we had a nice Christmas. Harlan had plenty of stores and restaurants, and other places to get anything you needed. Newberrys was my favorite. I used to go there almost every week with my mom or dad to go shopping, and they always had a great toy department, especially model cars, and I loved building model cars.
Me and my old pal, Larry Richmond, used to go there all the time to buy models, get something to eat, and although we were only about 12, we enjoyed looking at the pretty girls who ran the candy counter.
Newberrys had a downstairs section that had pets to buy, and we would always go down there to see what was there.
The lunch counter had some of the best food as I remember, especially hamburgers and vegetable plates. I can still remember sitting on the stools and spinning around waiting on my food, or looking around the toy aisles until it was ready. What a great place it was.
Scotts 5 & 10 was also a great store. It was later named TG&Y. It was a pretty big store and had almost any thing you needed. I spent a lot of time there, too.
We also went to Cumberland Valley Music, where you could buy the latest 45 records, sheet music and other music related stuff. I sure would love to see downtown Harlan built back up to like it was when I was a kid, and I know it can happen. We just need more people to open up some shops. It would be a great tourist town, as the buildings still look good and people love that old town feeling. Just so you don’t think I'm older than dirt, I’ll be turning 52 this month. I feel older than dirt but don’t know if I've reached that class yet.
Back to the VTC buses. Man, that was the way to travel. As I remember, it cost us 35 cents to catch the bus at Ages to Harlan. I remember one driver in particular, Clinton Cress, or “Badeye” Cress as he was nicknamed. He was about the nicest old fella, always had a big cigar hanging out of the corner of his mouth. He was a real character. He almost always drove our route up Clover Fork, and we would always cut up with him on the trip downtown. He also wore a captain’s style cap now that I remember. The VTC buses were diesel, and I still get memories of them when I smell something like that out somewhere. When you wanted to get off the bus, you just pulled on the cord hanging the length of the bus, which made a buzzing noise, and the driver would stop. When you got ready to go back home, you would just go to the VTC station, which was on Cumberland Avenue, and wait for your bus. Man, those things rode rough though. Every bump in the road, you felt it. And if you didn't like the smell of diesel, just stay home or drive yourself. Bumpy rides and diesel smoke — What more could you ask for?
This month also brings me to a story my dad used to tell. You see, I was born on Christmas Day, in 1956 — I think about 7 a.m. in the morning. Now, Mom was carrying me and they knew I was due to be born soon, but didn’t quite know which day it would be, so they went about their usual getting ready for Christmas stuff. My sister was already here, and about 2 years old (sorry sis, now they know your true age). Anyway, Dad had bought a big ol turkey for Christmas dinner, along with all the other fixins. He had put the turkey out to thaw the night before, so they could cook it up the next day. But, here I went and decided I wanted to come into the world, and Dad had to take Mom to the hospital, so I could do just that. They had to spend all day at the hospital with me, and the turkey had been out in the air too long, and got spoiled, so I ruined Christmas dinner.
I don’t remember it being my idea to come along that day, but I still apologized to Dad for messing up his supper.
I do know this, my Mamaw Deaton could cook up a storm, so I know Dad still got some Christmas vittles probably the next day, so I didn’t feel too bad. It still made for a good little story though. I might tell you later about the time my mom dropped a cigarette on my head and burnt my hair off in one little spot. Still got that spot too, just don’t show up as well due to the hair that made it show up being gone now.
Christmas this year is much different. We lost Dad in August and miss him very much. He was always big on Christmas, and one thing he always did for us keeps coming to mind. As long as I can remember since my teens on up, Dad would always put envelopes under the tree with money in them for us. He didn't care much for shopping and thought it better we used the money to get something for ourselves. Whenever a new addition would come into the family, he would add another envelope under the tree, except for the babies. He would always take the time to get them toys to play with. When my sister got married, and me too, he also added our spouses to his yearly Christmas envelope. I really didn’t care about the money that much, just that Dad was there to give us something and spend time with the family.
I’ll end this with best wishes for all you this holiday season, and especially you that lost someone this past year. Two that come to mind are Abe Fields’ dad, and Teana Burns’ mother. They are both friends of mine, and I know what they are going through. God blessed us with the many years that he did. Take comfort in that and that they are waiting for us to see them someday.
Footnote: I could never take my dad’s place writing columns as he did for the Enterprise, but so many people have suggested I write and submit it to the paper as they thought we both wrote a lot alike. I thought I would try every now and then to come up with a column or two and see what happens.
Remember to pray for the soldiers.