— By WILLIAM J. KELLY
Have you ever gone back to your old hometown? The Christmas Epiphany was Jan. 6th and the last of the season’s decorations have been put away. I thought about the brilliant star that led the Magi to the stable in Bethlehem some two thousand years ago. Then for some reason, while thinking about that, my mind traveled back to my youngster days in my home town at Christmas time.
I grew up in a small river town of about 2,800 people. My star took me back to the approximately two-block business district in the 1920s before The Great Depression. The town’s business area was just off the river’s shore, which had a boat yard where the boats for the Lewis & Clark expedition were built. Then came the railroad tracks, busy with smoke belching steam engines hauling coal from the mines up river. Then came the two-block business district.
It was very exciting for a 7-year-old boy at Christmastime. It was a bustling area, full of people because most people walked in those days, but still the curbs had many model T cars parked there. All the stores had Christmas displays in their windows and of course there was the Salvation Army Santa Claus in front of Murphy’s 5 and 10 cent store ringing his bell. Red, green, blue and yellow lights were every where, getting everyone in the Christmas spirit.
Of course I was only interested in the windows with toys for good boys and girls. There was the Stanier hardware store with the American Flyer electric train running around all the other toys in the window. Next door was the candy store whose Christmas-decorated candies somehow found their way into my long, black stocking hung on our fireplace mantel.
The entire area of 57 stores (I counted them later) was decorated and Wylie Brothers had a display of Flexible Flyer sleds, the most popular one in our snow area.
The drug store corner with the movie theater next door, where the older boys hung out in the evenings, was the center of the business district. George, the pharmacist of one of them, was usually standing on the corner greeting and talking to the adults coming by. We kids liked him because he would always give us a mint. The man from the post office would roll his decorated dolly filled with mail sacks down to the railroad station to meet the mail train. Men were selling cut pine Christmas trees on different corners. It was a fun place at Christmastime.
I dragged my dad back to Staniers and coaxed him to buy me that train for my Christmas present. Mr. Stanier showed me how to work everything; he was a nice, patient man. I finally got a maybe from dad. I even remember the price of that train was $14.95, probably a lot for that time.
A few years ago I visited my brother in the area and I went back to my old hometown. It was a sad experience. The area was now almost deserted and in disrepair. This once busy place had just three businesses and the bank was still there. The residential area was in excellent condition, thank goodness.
The business district had fallen victim to people shopping at the big box stores as most small town shopping areas have. I walked up and down each side of Second Street and stopped at each store. I could see, in my mind, the faces of the owner and clerks and how friendly and nice they had been to me. Mr. Trafalas in his restaurant making me the best combination sandwich I have ever had.
No, you can’t go back.
Yes, I did get that train.
William J. Kelly is a Weatherford resident and regular columnist for the Democrat.