Another spot I almost always found on those Labor Days was the loading dock down at the Farm Bureau. To get there, one had to negotiate the metal fence below the theatre grounds before heading down the little path across the railroad tracks to the feed warehouse. It was fun and sometimes the train would rumble past and I would get to wave at the engineer who would smile and blow the whistle. It was the same menu every time for me. I always wanted a Betsy Ross honey bun and a little carton of Leatherwood chocolate milk. That honey bun cost a dime and the milk was either a dime or 15 cents. At any rate, a quarter would buy the treat for the day.
I could always find a cool place in the shade sitting on the concrete end of the loading dock out of the entry to the warehouse. Very often, a nice dark-haired man with a ready smile would stop and say hello. He was a good fellow with the children and we all liked him. That was Mr. Joe Wright, the manager of the Farm Bureau. I knew that he had played high school football at Tazewell High School so we usually talked about sports for a while. Mr. Wright always made me feel important and I suspect it was because of him — even more than the lunch time snack — that I truly looked forward to making that little journey on market day. He had a knack for cultivating friends as well as customers.
Even though we didn’t have a big herd of cattle (four was about the maximum number) there was always the amazing market itself to visit. Daddy knew Jim Bailey and Doc Gilmer, the owners, very well but since many of the fellows who worked at the mines went to the livestock sales, too, there was always a good conversation. You’d walk up those steep wooden steps, and enter the animal world all of a sudden. Pens with different ages and weights of cattle were usually full. It was a concert of noisy moos drifting up through the rafters. The auction ring with its throne in the middle where Mr. Gilmer would be perched was surrounded by sawdust, men raising their hands during the chant as animals were bought and sold by people far wiser than I. Sometimes goats, or sheep, horses, or donkeys would go on the block. I always hoped we would buy a burro but that is a treat I am still looking forward to some 50 years later.
Larry Hypes is a teacher at Tazewell High School and a columnist for the Daily Telegraph.