By LARRY HYPES
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Christmas for a first-grader was doubly exciting. We had a little party planned in about five days in Mrs. Alice Deaton’s room at Abbs Valley School and I needed a present for someone in my class. It was cold and cloudy that Saturday morning before the Yuletide but with no snow when I waked up. Daddy had the fire going in the Warm Morning and Mom had made gravy and biscuits. We ate breakfast before Dad walked to the top of the yard and started the blue ’53 Ford. Our landlord, Mr. John Williams, came out to say hello.
The Morning Star Restaurant was lit up and so was Chalk-eye Marrs’ place beside the Moore’s Memorial Methodist Church as we rolled down the Valley. Lots of folks were in the Boissevain company store beside the coal tipple with the massive cable car wheels looming cold above the darkened shaft.
Andy Geeson’s Rexall Drug Store in Pocahontas twinkled as we passed. Union Funeral Home director Barnes Shumate was talking with his assistant Frankie Rodriguez in front of the bank and along with company store manager A.O. Bishop they waved a greeting. We saw the frozen icicles on the rock wall at Wolfe, motored past Nemours Grocery and Dad blew the horn at Bill Armentrout standing near his store just down the road from Abe Leedy’s Garage and the Double Cola bottling plant in Falls Mills.
Under the brown concrete culvert we went into Bluefield, and of course we had to stop at New Graham Pharmacy to see “Bus” McNeer and pick up a holiday copy of The Sporting News. While Mom walked around to Virginia Ann Jewelry to talk with Mr. Ted White, Dad and I crossed over at the Chicago House Furniture Company and at the Ben Franklin Store across from Kroger’s he bought a toy car for my school party.
Back in the car and on up the avenue we crawled stopping for a minute at the light beside General Tire, where I noticed a sale poster for retread tires. It was slow going with heavy traffic past Bluefield Supply, Superior-Sterling, and the bus station but we finally found a place to park in the lower lot below the Bluefield Sanitarium. We had passed Beaver High School and Park Central across from each other. That reminded Daddy WVU had beaten Tennessee in basketball and Jerry West had scored 37 points.
As we shuffled past the Moose Lodge at the top of Ramsey Street, Big Jim Dalton of the Daily Telegraph drove past. Down the sidewalk at the hospital we walked and headed for Cohen’s Drug Store. Mom got a box of candy, smiling because they gave her double Top Value Stamps. Max Kammer was standing in the midst of a crowd of furniture customers right near the newspaper office. We ducked in the back door at Montgomery Ward across the street so that I could look in the basement at the big toy section before we finally worked our way into Kresge’s. I got my gray cardboard box of chocolate donuts, watching the dough bubble in the hot grease in the cooker beside the lunch counter.
I was so happy. Mom headed down to Alfred Land’s, where she was (secretly) going to buy Dad an elgin wrist watch. He had an anniversary sale and the watches were going for just $22.95. We waited outside, and it was exciting to see the billowing steam engines and hear their rumbling among the coal cars but I noticed more and more diesels on the Norfolk & Western yard across the avenue. A crowd was already gathering down at the station across from Jimmie’s Restaurant near the Matz Hotel because the Powhatan Arrow was due to arrive from Roanoke in just a few minutes.
Daddy wanted to get home before dark, so we kept moving. Once we got back in the car, we paid a visit to Fred Roland at the Red Rose feed store on Bland Street and turned around to get groceries at the Acme below Bluefield State. I ran to the dairy case and got a green carton of Leatherwood egg nog while the parents shopped. One of Dad’s U.S. Steel No. 14 mining buddies was there and mentioned that Tazewell had beaten Bluefield the night before in basketball.
Eddie Young was the big star for the winning Bulldogs with 25 points and Bill Kinser had scored 19 for Beaver. I heard them say that was the first game of any kind Merrill Gainer had ever “lost” at Bluefield. His unbeaten football team had won the state championship a few weeks earlier and Kinser was the quarterback.
We had copy of the Daily Telegraph and there was a story that the last Civil War veteran, some man named Walter Washington Williams, had died at age 117 in Texas. Another story said that more than 1,800 children would get presents from the Community Christmas tree in just a few days uptown.
I was tired, full of donuts, and ready to go home. Mom said we’d watch Dinah Shore and Flatt & Scruggs on WHIS-TV later. The little Ford was warm and I got sleepy even before we passed the Feuchtenberger bakery below the bridge. I kept my hand on the toy car for my school party. In little more than a week the 1950s would be history.
First, however, Santa Claus had to hitch up the reindeer and deliver loads of presents from bustling Bluefield to towns and communities all over our grand area.
Larry Hypes is a teacher at Tazewell High School and a columnist for the Daily Telegraph.