By LARRY HYPES
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
What a day — that would have been the first thing on our minds. On any evening when the silver-dollar sized flakes drifted down through murky skies among the bare trees in Abbs Valley, that would signal no school the next morning. We’d stay longer in bed — no, that would never do. O.C. Young would be announcing schedules on WKOY Radio and in each of our houses, we’d listen to the news at least twice just to make sure that Tazewell County would be out.
It was always warm inside, of course. Dad to No. 14 Gary, along with Wes Parton out the road near Mrs.Goss’s house, and “Pug” Taylor next door, then Alden Lee Murphy on to Bishop, Clarence Baldwin on his way to the mine at Jenkinjones, all the coal men were already off to work.
In each house, the coal stoves had been filled so that heat was flowing through every warm room, that great feeling that only a coal fire can give when winter is fighting to break down the front door. Looking in my mind’s eye through frosted windows, I can still see those puffy streams of coal smoke escaping above every house.
On many deep winter mornings the coal smell mingled with Mom downstairs in the kitchen frying sausage, fresh eggs cooking, and hot, steaming gravy right off the stove top as fluffy biscuits came out of the oven. Blackberry jelly, canned after being picked on the hill below the fire tower above the Horsepen valley on Orville Wiley’s land, was a sweet treat on that bread laced with butter from Star, the family milk cow.
Once the morning meal had been finished, and we had all checked again to make certain that Sid Harman would really not be making the morning bus run, it was time to head out to Wiley’s Store on the crossroads between Horsepen and Mudfork. By that time, all the miners from the third shift had already come home and the day shift men were hard at work so the road was fairly clear for a few hours.
I shuffled up the driveway, kicking snow as I went out of the right-side car track. Not, mind you, just to help clear out a path so we could move the truck, but with a more clever plan in mind. After all, with no school, that particular track would come in handy before much longer. At the top of the hill, the store lights were already on so Mr. Dee Haven had made it in. His little Chevy truck was parked at the east end of the store, same as every day and he waved as I walked past in my heavy jacket and toboggan on the way out the road.
At Wiley’s store was the first prize of the day. Ronnie Nash was already there, and we couldn’t wait to grab the paper. That was always one of my top priorities. There was no telling what “Stubby” Currence had written in his Press Box column and we all liked to read the stories Johnny Mayo put in the paper. It was an exciting time to be a Pocahontas Indians fan, after all. The great coach, Tommy Lucas, had put together a great team for another year.
On snow days, all of the “little kids” knew that Coach Lucas would have basketball practice. That meant that Eddie Goss would soon be on his way to “Poky” for practice. Eddie was a guard, quick and a good shooter, and we always wanted to be on his side if he showed up for any games over in the bottom behind the store. When we played baseball over there, it was that same way if we could get Gerald Parton to let us play on his team because he was the best hitter we had in the neighborhood. Sure enough, within a little while, Eddie would show up and sometimes he didn’t put on a hat. With his crew cut, he’d have a little snow cap on his head before finding a ride down the road. It never took long for an Indian basketball player to find a ride to practice because anybody who made coach Lucas’ team was a very important person. Once we had read through the paper and warmed ourselves completely next to the piping hot coal stove nestled right in the middle of the floor, we usually searched through our pockets to see who might have a nickel. That would give us at least one game on the pinball machine. If Ronnie took one flipper and I the other, then we could share a game.
If we were lucky then maybe we’d win another one or two and get to play longer. On days when it didn’t snow then before we caught the bus, the older kids, like Eddie or Gerald or Ray Nash would play and sometimes they would win enough games so that free ones were left on the machine when Sid came to pick us up. For the rest of the day, they would wonder just what lucky person played off “their” nickel.
On this day, though, of no school, we rounded up Mike and Martin Murphy, Dennis Baldwin, and Paul Cox so that we could get down to the serious business of using snow.
The orchard behind Dennis’ house was always a good place to start. For instance, there would be no traffic and since the Murphys and Baldwins lived across from each other with the Coxes right out the road and just behind my house, it was most convenient.
Just as importantly, it was very handy to walk into the Baldwin basement and warm ourselves by the coal furnace when we got too cold. Dennis had a great Flexible Flyer sled — the fastest — and Ronnie had one, too. The rest of us got our sleds at Montgomery Ward’s or Penney’s and they were not quite so good but we kept the skids greased and slick all around so everybody had a fast ride. We usually managed to find an inner tube or two, and we slid on those.
It was tricky going, flying past and around the apple trees in the orchard. Once in a while, we got to see stars in the daytime when we ran into a tree on the way down. After an hour or two, it was usually time to head back to that driveway because once we cleared a path down the side, we could ride all the way down, and past our barn, and into the hollow. That was so much fun, sometimes we didn’t think about having to walk the quarter of a mile back up the hill to do it again.
Oh, well, it seems almost time to head back over to Dennis’ basement and see if we can find a cup of hot chocolate so we take a real break just in case “Tiny” Thompson or Mel Barnett tells us on WHIS-TV that we are going to have school tomorrow.
Larry Hypes is a teacher at Tazewell High School and a columnist for the Daily Telegraph.