By John Fraizer
The weather was changing the week before Christmas and the cold air was descending on the small town in the mountains of his hometown. It was the decade of the seventies and in particular1975. It was going to be a typical small-town Christmas. The wind chills were piercing but the warm winter coat of red and black wool along with the plaid red scarf around his neck provided relief from the gusts that challenged the shopper. He tugged at his black fur-lined gloves before tucking one of them back in his pocket. Not having a baseball style hat, his only option was the hoody that was attached to the jacket to keep his long hair from being foofed and his ears from being frost bit by the wind. The other hand with the other black fur-lined glove was in the hand of another he dearly loved. Rosy cheeks were now present as he reached into his pocket for his handkerchief to stop the flow from the red runny nose.
The girl was his high school sweetheart that he asked to the school prom earlier that spring. The rendezvous had been planned to do some Christmas shopping as it was convenient and traditional in the small towns of West Virginia during the seventies. Most shopping was accomplished in the nearest small town and the citizens of Burnsville, Gassaway and Sutton in Braxton County were no exception. Seldom did shoppers travel outside their locale to shop before the interstate highway traversed the state. The shopping on this night would take place on Main Street in Gassaway.
Residents of rural West Virginia resorted to the Christmas Wish book from companies like Sears Robuck, Montogomery Wards, JC Penney, and Spiegel to find what they were seeking. If it was not available in the catalogs, some would take a trip to a neighboring county or the Christmas destination of Charleston, West Virginia. However, most shoppers relied on the merchants of their hometown to complete their Christmas List.
His lady was adorned in her gray wool tweed coat. Her long dark hair flowed from the strong breeze as she constantly removed it from her face, and he looked into her beautiful brown eyes that gave acceptance to be with him. As he made small talk, she gave him that cute little smirk just to keep him off guard as to what she was thinking. As they walked briskly to keep warm and reach their destination on Main Street from where he lived on Braxton Street it began to snow. The flakes were swirling down and cascading to the ground of the grass yards that lined the old cracked concrete sidewalk. As they began their descent downtown, they passed Harry and Mary Kyer’s home across from the elementary school which had multicolored bulb Christmas lights that glowed and lit up their porch and the blow mold plastic Santa waved as they passed by.
As they passed Davis Grade School the white flakes began descending quickly and the breeze began to deposit them on the coldest areas of the street. They gazed over at the windows to see construction paper Santas with cotton beards attached with school paste. Little green zig zagged cut paper Christmas trees which displayed the name of the little ones who made them in anticipation of Christmas were taped to the windows. As they investigated through the window the light of the streetlights lit the room enough for them to see the little white paper angels, candy canes and green and red construction paper chains used as garland made by the school children. They carefully maneuvered their feet as they descended the hill to the main stop light in Gassaway.
It was now dark and the town decorations of tinsel, lighted Christmas figures and decorations on the power poles of Main Street were aglow. As they safely made it to the bottom of the hill they looked to their left and saw the traffic stopped at the yellow housed stoplight in the intersection near the stone Community Building (Town Hall) with its glowing lamp post shining brightly. The boy stopped momentarily as he had a vision of the “Man In Blue” Ray Lemon protecting the little school children as they loaded the buses at Davis Grade School and the intersection. They then passed the Mobile gas station to their right run by Buddy Mowery which would later become the site of the Go-Mart founded by the Heater family.
As the snow began to accumulate on the sidewalk, they passed the present-day Sports Connection founded by Shorty Rader and his wife Charlene. Next was Chelsie Hamric’s style shop and shoe store which later was transformed into a roller rink. As they passed by, they began to window shop and look at the different decorations in the store windows. The displays were so beautiful in the imagination of the business owners. Decorated lighted trees, Santas, Frosty the Snow Man and his favorite Nativity Scenes of the baby Jesus adorned the windows that fronted the streets. The green and silver garland and every array of colors of Christmas brought that warm cozy small town country Christmas feeling that warms the soul.
The traffic meters and parking places were now taken up along the streets and the two got their first glimpse of the hustle and bustle of Christmas shoppers. The town of Gassaway businesses had agreed to stay open late the week before Christmas, thus their reason for shopping in the snowy wonderland. As they briskly walked the chilly evening, they passed other friends and neighbors that would stop for a quick chat or issue a Merry Christmas.
Their next stroll passed the City Dinner under the propriety of the Carr family who provided great meals to customers. The old Taxi Stand was next, and then the couple passed Rader’s barber shop with Fred and Shorty Rader manning the chairs for a cut and a warm foamy shave. He threw up his hand as Fred reciprocated and mouthed Merry Christmas Johnny! Passing on they graced the business of John and JoAnn Gawthrop (John’s Department Story) as they looked over their fine clothing for and customary gifts of gloves, mittens, scarves and socks. After a couple of purchases and a Merry Christmas they moved on up the street. Passing the Rexroad Furniture store, the two stopped to admire the lights, garland and a decorated Christmas tree in the window of the nowadays Howie McCormick Photography Studio.
Now crossing the street that comes down the hill from Braxton Street they pass by the Baker Texaco Station and see “the man who wears the star” as acclaimed in a TV commercial of the time. Could that be Craig Dean pumping gas or maybe it was Frankie Jefferies as it was snowing so hard, they could not tell. They are sure Wilda Boggs could have told them as she held down the fort for the owner J.C. Baker by working her office magic. The wind and snow now became so brisk they hurried along hand in hand with their heads down for the next destination.
Approaching the next store front up the street, they came to Cross Jewelers with its windows all aglow! Beautiful necklaces, bracelets and rings lined the front windows. The boy thought he saw his sweetheart eyeing the engagement rings. (He ran for his life and headed home! No, the writer jests!) They admired the fine jewelry trying to figure out what to purchase for a gift for his mother and left after purchasing and receiving the gift neatly wrapped in the foil wrap with red bow bidding another Merry Christmas.
Near the area of the present Forever Young Medical Spa in the building where Dr. Lohr had his chiropractic practice was Price Beane’s grocery store with all the commodities and fresh meat hand cut by Price. His sons, Coach Sterling and Steve, were coming in from groceries deliveries to some of the elderly who could not get out for fear of falling in the winter weather. Mrs. Beane managed their store in our little hometown and ensured Price and the boys took care of everyone. The small red brick C&P telephone building next to the grocery was even decorated!
The adjacent vacant lot was in use by Nolan Hamric’s Ford Garage with Jim Gump seeing to it that the autos were in place on the lot in good fashion. The new shiny cars on the lot took on a glow of Christmas as the streetlights reflected off the metal of the cars and tinsel garland hung over the lot. Shoppers dreamed of “There goes another Gassaway Ford” as the slogan said. This business would later be purchased by the Rexroad family who outgrew the location and moved up the river to another destination.
As the young couple crossed another access street from Braxton Street that came down the hill from the previous John Heater residence across this street, they saw the Methodist Church with its amazing blow mold Nativity scene slightly up the street. His date stood still momentarily in the cold wind to take in the manger scene, and they reflected on the true meaning of Christmas.
Directly in front of the two loomed the old Gassaway Hospital building that had closed earlier that year. Currently a pay parking lot they could see Dr. Hoylman’s office nearby whereas the little boy had received school shots. The boy told the girl of talks between the doctor and him of being an honorable grouse hunter by never shooting a grouse unless pointed by a dog. The office windows were outlined by a string of shining colored bulbs. During office hours, Mildred Carder, who was an office-manager extraordinaire, would be there to make a joke and escort one to Doc’s Office. Later Dr. William (AKA Doc Given to the writer) along with Dr. Brosius would locate here early in their careers to provide health care to the local community in this building. O yes we must not forget Dr. Huffman who set many a broken leg or arm in the little town. The locale of Dr. Hoylman’s office was near Chad Lancaster’s dental practice.
The stroll provided a winter wonderland scene as the Old Gassaway High School in the distance with its drooping spaghetti evergreen branches of the Norway Spruce trees lined the building. The boy remembered in his little years of Mr. Westfall and then Mr. Claude Cunningham putting the Christmas tree on top of the tall high school building with its glowing bulbs circling to the top and its lighted star near the flagpole. The Norway Spruce was adorned with strings of lights and the snow clung to the limbs and refracted the light from the bulbs creating an allusion of beautiful hues of multicolored snow.
As the two jay-walked horizontally across the street to continue their shopping spree from their new vantage point, in the distance, they saw the glow of Lee Street (known by the locals as Turtleburg) across the bridge of the Elk River. In this area was Calvin and Barbara Chapman’s Dairy Queen seen in the midst of the snowflakes blown by the cold North Wind. They could also see Bud Tom’s Gas Station lighted as he was working late putting on snow tires. Also, they spied the Rader families’ International Harvester and Buick Car Sales and Jim Frame’s Insurance practice, the NAPA parts store, and Otis Mick’s Old Country store at the end of the bridge. At the foot of the hill near the old practice football field was the U Turn In which at one time had served quick food orders to its customers. Of course they could not miss seeing where the Hutchinson family feed store/Southern States was located.
Moving up this street, they passed the propriety of the Pletcher Pontiac Company that boasts the famous Indian Head sign on the building. They could see Skeeter working late as usual. Milo Gumm, there with his cap cocked and turned slightly on his head and with a cigar in hand ready to do some needed mechanical work for a customer. In the front room which housed the Christmas display, Ralph and his son Jason were busy working. Waves were exchanged as they passed.
As the couple walked further up the street, he held her hand as the snow continued to fall. The two could see beautiful displays of floral decorations for Christmas in the windows of Minnich Florist which is no longer in business. Both could see Dick and Kathryn manning the business with their children Margaret and Louise passing out the red Christmas Poinsettias to brothers Tracy and Tom to be loaded and delivered via their van. Reaching the destination of Acme Wholesale, they were greeted by Ms. Carr who was glad to suggest some bargains for her wayward shoppers. Next came Dr. Fisher’s office where Aleece Fisher Smith and Donna Sanders McQuain were leaving after taking care of patients all day long.
The Christmas shopping couple continued down the street to the next block toward the center of town. There was the Old Gassaway Armory with its Spanish- style architecture that provided the weekly auctions and the boy envisioned the old codgers standing around blowing about their good deals. He could still see in his vision his father standing there trying to cut a deal on a pocket watch with one of the traders.
Now they saw the Ford Dealership with its lights and garland and a new car decorated for display. They pass it by crossing the little street leading down to River Street and immediately smell the aroma of pastries from Sweet Cloud Bakery housed next to Hope Natural Gas Office on the corner. Earlier in the day, the boy saw Agnes Rexroad manning the billing desk as Homer Fleming, Babe Six, Stanley Perrine, Gordon Jenkins, Eugene Carr and Marty Given were leaving to repair pipeline following a report of gas freezing off and to give some families relief from the cold.
Along this block of the street were housed many businesses which may not be in the order of the writer’s memory. But as they passed each little shop in the small town patronized that evening, many of the people met by the couple noted the generosity of the storekeepers who stayed open late for the customers. There was the furniture store, Walker Drug all decked out in holiday fashion. Western Auto was owned by Charlie Straub and now owned and operated by Revelea and Bob Hart family. The couple mused that any child would want a Western Flyer sled to “ride the Big Ride” from Skeeter Pletcher’s residence passed Ken Carder’s and the Bogg’s residence to the foot of Catholic Hill and the Gassaway High School.
Next, the A&P Grocery provided last-minute Christmas goodies for candy and baking goods for Christmas. There was I.J. Cottrill and all the clerks and workers ready to help the partakers with assistance. Also, we must not forget Sand’s grocery store that always displayed its goods out front in the warm season but had retreated them to the store in cold snowy days.
The shopping duo hopped into the Dixie five and dime with that big yellow Dixie sign above its window to smell the popcorn popping and the aroma of the chocolate candies and to warm up from the grueling wind. In the dime stores of the ‘70s, which offered a vast array of goods including clothing, toys, household goods, and paper goods similar to but much larger than the Dollar General Stores of today, a shopper could buy most anything on his shopping list. The couple observed many children, their eyes sparkling in anticipation pining over popular toys. After browsing and talking to Mr. And Mrs. Long and their daughter Judy, a close friend of my sister Susie, they left and proceeded along their way.
Leaving the store and all along the journey, the couple met friends and families and they stopped to chat. Shoppers were dressed in red and white toboggans that had been knitted for the occasion, warm furry winter coats of various colors, and red scarves which adorned their necks in an effort to keep out the chill and furry Golashes to avoid the puddles caused by the falling snow. Old farmers wore rubber five buckle arctics which jingled as they walked up the street. Little ones along the sidewalks were being watched by mothers and fathers trying to keep them out of the street and automobile traffic looking for a parking space in front of their favorite store. Even the Elk Lunch was open for business as they passed people, who were now chanting Merry Christmas! A snowball was hurled from across the street by the boy’s good friend Rick Chapman as it exploded on the parking meter next to him scaring his girl out of her wits. The boy yelled, “that was close!” and hurled one back with no better luck for it hitting its target. All laughed and yelled Merry Christmas only to have others start yelling Merry Christmas.
Moving down the street, the shoppers passed Byrne Hardware and waved as they were adjusting their window in front of their establishment. The next propriety was the Midland Company clothing store, that recently housed the Red Rooster Café. It was owned by Junior Groves and as they went in Jenny Wagner gave them a warm welcome and the boy noticed neighbor Lela Fulks waiting on a customer at the counter. Also on Main Street were other clothing stores including Tunstall’s and Cox’s stores. Mrs. Tunstall was always arranging her clothing to ensure each garment was carefully displayed and ready for the customers. Following a purchase and after picking up some clothing items for his mother to alter for the store, the couple returned to the street to see the pouring snow. There they observed, getting into his car, Harry Wright who had stayed late for some last-minute business at the bank.
The cold shoppers proceeded to enter the Ideal Cut rate , a beautiful vintage restaurant of the soda counter of the 1950’s-60’s. It had been a hangout of the high school students before consolidation of the county schools. It was also where the boy used to purchase his textbooks for school during his elementary and Jr. High School years. There was Revelea, the proprietor dressed in her white uniform, with other helpers who had made plenty of hot chocolate with marshmallows on top. The stools at the counter were full along with the booths that lined the wall of shoppers with their bags full of presents wrapped with all kinds of colorful Christmas paper designs. Coats, toboggans, and gloves were peeled off and hair in disarray, pink noses and rosy cheeks from the winter chill were observed on the customers. A juke box belched out traditional Christmas Songs on its turntable with the vinyl disc rotating around and around cracking and popping with white noise before the needle reached its destination to a cheery Christmas song. The juke box played “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” and all inside including the couple, sure were having one!
After paying their bill the couple came back to the street and passed the appliance store that later accommodated Moorefield plumbing run by Randy Duffield. There was also Adams RCA Victor television store where the boy’s father upon moving to Gassaway and many others in the county purchased their first black and white TV from Norman and Edith Adams. The townspeople cannot forget Peanut Hayhurst’s Pool Room and its delicious hotdogs. A watering hole known by the name of Greenland was passed. Of course, there was Bickel’s Barber Shop with Denzil Bickle and John Smith getting everyone trimmed up before Christmas Day festivities. It is now the Rader Barber Shop, now owned and operated by Ryan Rader.
As the snow was now pouring, the gift seekers slid down the snow-covered street to the Jarvis five and dime store. Mrs. Jarvis had it decorated and stocked well for Christmas. The smell of candies as we opened the door, and the sound of the Christmas melodies produced the nostalgia of years gone by. They could hear Kenny Jarvis downstairs talking to a sporting goods customer as they passed down the aisles looking for a bargain. After conversing with Mrs. Jarvis, the girls and Wanda Perrine, they wished them a Merry Christmas and left the store loaded with presents. The shoppers in all stores took advantage of free gift wrapping of every purchase and watched as it was performed on each of their precious gifts.
Upon exiting the store, the couple passed by Woody’s Meat Market at the end of the street and took note of the public telephone booth located outside. The boy wondered aloud how many people could be stuffed into it as that was a craze at the time. Just beyond the phone booth was Ansel Friend’s Exxon gas station where Dave Hensley worked and in the parking lot of the station was a small lot of Christmas trees of all shapes and sizes waiting to be bought by those who had not yet obtained a tree. The boy questioned the owner, Ansel Friend, whether he had the assistance of the “Tiger in a Tank” to help load the trees in the customer’s vehicle.
Walking further down the street, the couple could see the lights on in the Fire Department below. The police cruiser was sitting in front of city hall. Larry Emgee, Sargent Perkins and “Super-Cop” Stanley Anderson along with Betty Helmick were all standing on the steps conversing after leaving a meeting at City Hall. We now passed the city park to go to the post office to drop off some Christmas cards the young girl had not yet mailed.
The Lincoln Hotel was across the street on the other side of the Gassaway Laundromat just above lived it lived his friend Scott Gallaher and family. His church, the Gassaway Baptist, with its stained-glass windows reflecting the light of the Christmas Nativity brought the thought of the good times of Bible School, BYF Youth, Sunday School, the day he gave his life to Jesus and his baptism flashed in his memory and told of the beauty and memories made there.
Instead of heading up the hill home to Braxton Street, the boy asked his date if she would like to stop in Clara and Art Thorn’s drug store and to have another hot chocolate to warm themselves. He had noticed the light still on in Mr. Stouts Barber Shop that was in the location of the no longer Valley Hotel that had served the railroaders of days gone by. The railroad diesel engines were now idling in front of the Depot in the rail yard of the current Meadows family property with the release of a blast of air from the compressors. The boy would be lulled to sleep spring, summer and fall of screened windows of a night on Braxton Street. She agreed and Clara and Art were glad to see them. They now sat in that old-time drug store booth with the ceiling fans and conversed with the owners about the people they had seen and all the shopping activities. Wishing them a wonderful Christmas, they headed out the door. Clara sent greetings to the boy’s mom who she had known for years. As they departed, the couple saw the Christmas lights and display in Jones Baker Chevrolet.
The boy suggested they walk up the street, going past Mr. and Mrs. Rexroad’s place at the end of Braxton Street, and walking back out the street to his home. His sweetheart agreed as she wanted to see the Christmas lights on that end of town. As they progressed to the corner, they could see Fred James and his son Johnny still working at a late hour at the Texaco located in the big curve of the state road that heads toward Stewart Addition. The couple turned left, crossed the street and walked up the incline of the hill as they gazed at the beautiful fallen snow with the Christmas lights shining over the town. They made their way back down the street looking at the beautiful decorations in each yard along the way until they reached the boy’s home. O my, the memories of the little hometown Christmas that are dear and near to the writer’s heart. Merry Christmas O Little Town of Gassaway!
By John Fraizer